Matt sheds a skin
He was fifteen and fearful.
At primary school it had been okay to be brainy and bookish, but as puberty tightened its grip, everyone ruthlessly re-invented themselves, disowned their parents, ditched the homework and the neat haircuts, and scrabbled to join a clique. This new cool crew clutched fags, spliffs, and bottles of own-label cider, pinged invites to parent-free gatherings from one shiny iPhone to the next. No-one was interested in a geek with an Orwell novel tucked under his arm, a bad bout of acne, and an unbranded rucksack. Hell, my boy didn’t even have a partner for science practical’s.
I watched him every evening, curved over our kitchen table like a perfectly formed comma, glasses perched on the bump in his nose, mouth chock full of braces, another raw spot on his chin, slogging through the GCSE syllabus. Revision was his only buddy. I forced myself not to panic.
Then exams finished, and summer came. He turned sixteen, and I prayed for a miracle. He started a Facebook page, Maths with Matthew.
“I might as well max out my nerdiness mum, you can make good money tutoring.” I glimpsed a tiny spark. On June 30, he bagged his first client.
July sweltered. He got taller, the braces came off, he coaxed our GP into prescribing the strong acne pills he’d read about on the internet, and his Facebook page turned red-hot, swarming with helicopter mums hell-bent on A grades for their pre-pubescent darlings. He started smiling.
But it was clothes that sealed the deal. He followed me around the summer sales, flicking his fingers through the racks at H&M and Zara like a well-honed fashionista, finding the bargains and willing the prices to be squeezed again before he pounced.
There were skinny jeans, which made him look runway-thin and a teeny bit rock star, a stack of t-shirts in primary colours, and five check shirts which could double as jackets on in-between days. He found a vintage peacoat in the charity store, which hung on his bedroom door waiting patiently for the first spiky frost, and I spotted a pair of Converses sun-bathing on his windowsill.
“They need to be more faded,” he explained.
My boy and I had bonded. He was a fashion natural.
August slunk in, humid and sticky. On the twentieth, I drove him to school to pick up his GCSE results. He slammed the car door shut, leaving wet patches on the back of his seat. I shut my eyes and cranked the radio up. Five minutes later he thumped the window, waving yellow A4 sheets stamped with success. A dark haired girl hovered behind him.
He started sixth form on September 3. His tutoring list was full.
“I’m shortening my name to Matt,” he said at the breakfast table, clear-skinned, confident, poised. “It will make the others realise things have changed.”
His Converses crunched down our gravel drive that morning, his head up not down, shoulders taut, not sloping, his body no longer a comma, more an exclamation mark.
His next sentence would be unforgettable.
Theresa Sainsbury started tutoring English to teenagers after her eldest son was diagnosed with Dyslexia. She’s had short stories published by both Bradt Travel and Mslexia and is currently writing her first novel. This piece is inspired by her son’s transformation over one short summer from awkward to awe-inspiring.