“Mom?” Greg spoke louder the second time he knocked on the bathroom door. Still no answer. “I’m coming in,” he twisted the knob slowly, then pushed the door open. “Where the hell is she?” he asked his reflection in the empty bathroom. His mom’s car was still in the driveway, so she should have been around. He shrugged to himself, then left her bathroom and room to wait for her in the kitchen.
Five minutes later, Greg sat at the kitchen table with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a glass of milk. He was about to start eating when his mother walked into the kitchen. She seemingly came from the direction of her bedroom; not through either the garage or front door. She was still in her work clothes, white scrubs with a pattern of red scissors covering it.
“Greg!” she was surprised to see him. “You’re early, I’m about to start on dinner if you want to wait,” she nodded at his unbitten sandwich.
“Mom?” he asked with only minor surprise. “When did you get here?” This was the first time he “caught” his mom with 100% certainty. While growing up, his mother tended to show up when he was sure she wasn’t around. He chalked it up to a mother’s sneakiness and his own lack of attention. But this time, he searched the whole house for her. He knew for a fact she wasn’t anywhere in the house when he arrived.
“Oh, just a few minutes ago. I was in the restroom,” she lied casually while she considered dinner in front of an open fridge.
“No you weren’t,” Greg replied. He had always been a mama’s boy, but it stung that the lie came so effortlessly. In the back of his mind, he wondered how much she lied to his dad about. “I searched the whole house for you because your car was outside. I went into your bathroom.”
“Shit..,” Greg heard his mother sigh under her breath and her posture deflated. She closed the refrigerator, then turned around. “I guess we need to have a talk,” she said. “Let’s get Chinese for dinner,” his mother walked out of the kitchen toward her bedroom. She paused, then turned to look at him.
“Come on,” she said with a warm smile. Greg’s mind flooded with questions, including wondering why she headed to the bedroom instead of the front door. To avoid being overwhelmed, he defaulted to listening to his mother. He stood from the table, leaving the sandwich there, and followed.
He caught up to her in her room as she was pulling something from her purse. It looked like a cellphone, but it appeared more futuristic than even his top of the line phone.
“What’s that?” Greg asked.
“It’s a node, I’ll tell you about them too.” She tapped on the glassy rectangle several times, then she rotated it into landscape mode. She held it with both hands, then pulled. Greg’s mother held the transparent node with her left hand, and pulled something black out of it with her right hand. It was the darkest black that Greg ever saw, and it boggled his mind that it came from seemingly nowhere. The node was clear enough to see his mother’s fingers through it, but somehow it produced a pitch black card. She whirled around and threw the card against her bedroom wall; a black portal appeared.
“This place has the best Chinese food,” she said, then walked into the hole. On her way through, she waved at Greg to encourage him to follow. He walked through and in a blink Greg stood in a packed red and gold restaurant. Perfectly tailored dark suits and dresses, obviously he was now in a high-class restaurant.
“Mary!” Greg suddenly heard someone call his mom’s name. It was a short, ancient woman wearing a golden dress under a messy apron.
“Hi, Donna, is this a bad time?” she asked.
“For you, never,” Donna replied. She waved a dismissive hand at the diners. “Vampire convention, no big deal. I put you in a back room.” Donna turned around and headed toward the back. Mary followed her, and Greg trailed behind while trying to look over the customers without staring.
“Did she say ‘vampires?’,” Greg whispered into his mom’s ear. Immediately the tables around them burst into laughter.
“I did,” Donna spoke up as she led them through the kitchen doors. “And they have excellent hearing,” she added. As they walked through the kitchen, Greg was surprised to see only one cook. A giant mountain of a man that toward over his own 6’2″ frame, and twice as wide. Despite his girth, the single chef almost seemed to be dancing between several stoves with all burners going. Greg noted the chef’s tattoos with interest. Dozens of colorful dragons on each arm, with no single color repeated.
“Two more sesame beef, T,” Mary called out as they passed the chef.
“Yes, Ms. Mary,” he replied without missing a beat. They continued through the kitchen and ended up in a small single table room.
“Enjoy,” Donna said, then she turned and left. Greg sat at one of the two chairs, and his mother sat across from him. After they were settled, Greg realized he didn’t need to look at the menu. His mom ordered for him already.
“Mom. What the hell’s going on? Where are we?” he asked.
“Let me give you the short version of everything first, then you can ask questions, okay?” Greg nodded.
“I work for a company called Sharp Medical Services. It’s a company in another universe. Right now, we’re in another universe than the one you were born in,” Mary pulled her node out of her pocket.
“This is from work, it lets me get to and from work, and lets me travel to other universes too.” If Greg had not already followed her from her bedroom to a Chinese restaurant, he knew he wouldn’t believe her. But, as it stood now, he could not deny it. The knowledge added a new light to his upbringing. His parents argued often and, looking back on it, a lot of things made more sense.
“Why didn’t you tell dad and me?” Greg asked.
“Ohh, honey,” Mary reached across the small table for her son’s hand. “Of course I told your father,” she sighed. “Your dad is… a simple man. We tried to make it work. In the end, he didn’t want anything to do with “other universes”, including my job,” she shook her head. “Sharp Medical is the best company I could hope to work for. I couldn’t give it up.”
“And why not me?” Greg asked. He had more questions about his parent’s relationship, but he could definitely see his mom’s point. His father did have a tendency to be closed minded.
“That’s… that’s my fault,” she said. “I was worried you would be too much like your father. I didn’t want to lose you too,” she said.
“Well, you still might,” Greg said. “Unless you answer this: Are those really vampires?” he asked. Mary nodded.
“It’s a big multi-verse. Vampires, werewolves, fairies. Anything you want is out there, if you want a tour.”
“Dragons!?” Greg blurted out. At that moment Donna walked in again holding two steaming plates of food.
“Dragons too,” Mary smiled.