Authors: J. Roman
Jason grabbed my hand and tugged me back. “Back up behind the building. If they see us, they’ll do the same to us.”
“We can’t just leave him!” The idea was abhorrent to me. I could go and talk to them, offer to take him home, something.
Jason snorted. “What are you going to do? Fight two cops? Give me your cell. I’ll call one of the twins to pick us up.”
“Jason, we can’t just walk away!”
His expression hardened. “What are we supposed to do, Tommy boy? Dean has the keys. The minute the cops see two other drunk, underage kids, they’re going to drag us down to the station too. And what will that accomplish? Nothing. Instead of picking up one kid, Mark and Charlie will have to pick up three. We have one option, and that is to call for a ride and go home before anything else happens. Trust me.”
“None of this would’ve happened if you hadn’t needed to drown your sorrows, so don’t talk to me about our options!” The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them or call them back.
“Hey, who’s over there?” one of the cops shouted from across the parking lot. The uniformed man started in our direction.
“Go, Tommy,” he said, shoving me deeper into the shadows. I hesitated but followed his command. I was always weak where he was concerned, but this felt like cowardice to me. I was sick to my stomach at leaving my cousin. Like rats, we disappeared into the thickest shadows, the tap of our feet on the pavement the only indication that we’d been there at all and the smell of mold a lingering sickness in my nose. For the first time, I walked away from something that was my responsibility, and the sickness of shame joined the churning of uncertainty that had taken up residence in my gut.
pulled up at the minimart in his white Prius with the purple interior lights on the floorboards. I was shivering, arm draped around Jason as I sobered in the wake of adrenaline and the cold. My thoughts were on the horrible turn the night had taken. With a record, could Dean get a scholarship? With all the kids in the house, he would need one. God, what would Uncle Mark and Uncle Charlie think? Dean was always the one in trouble, and they’d worked really hard to put him on the right path.
Aaron and Adrian Vargas were not my favorite people. Both of them were arrogant punk-rock jocks who weren’t really individuals but more a part of the same cocky organism. I was convinced that they didn’t have independent thoughts. To see Aaron without his brother was a rare thing. But I put up with them because Jason had a friendship with them that was relatively close.
“Hey, guys, wassup?” Aaron drawled as he rolled down the window and hit the unlock button. He grinned in that cocky way that set my teeth on edge.
“Glad you’re here, man,” Jason said, smiling right back. How could he smile at a time like this? “You know Kev can’t get out of the house after eleven. Why you still up?”
Aaron shrugged. “Party over at Meghan Daughtery’s place. Adrian was getting cozy with her, so it was about time to leave anyway. You crashing at our place?”
“Nah. Just need a ride back to Tommy boy’s.” Jason squeezed my waist for emphasis.
Aaron giggled. “Then get in, man. It’s cold as balls out here, and I want to get home. Goin’ to be awful having to sleep by myself, J.J. Sure you two fags don’t wanna come cuddle?”
I blinked in confusion, bristling over being called a “fag” even if he was half joking.
What the hell? Cuddle? Seriously
? “You don’t sleep by yourself?”
Jason elbowed me in the side. “Aaron and Adrian share a room. Sorry, Aaron. Maybe next time.”
“Yeah. Sure. Cool. Get in.”
I opened the back door behind the driver’s side and crawled in while Jason circled around the car and got into the passenger seat. Aaron cranked up the stereo to some “music” that was more screaming than actual words, and he and Jason shouted at one another over the bass. I stared out the window and watched the city pass as we sped toward our destination. What was I going to tell Uncle Mark?
We arrived in ten minutes, much sooner than I really wanted to. I needed some time to get my thoughts together, and as tired as I was, ten minutes wasn’t enough. Jason and Aaron shook hands, and I even managed to wave as I got out of the car.
“Do you think Mark and Charlie will be mad?” Jason asked as he walked around the side of the house to the side door.
I turned to look at him. Had his parents
gotten onto him? “Uh, yeah. Hell yeah. They’re going to kill us.”
“So they’ll what? Ground us?” His lips twitched like he was amused by the idea.
“It’s not funny, Jason.”
The porch light came on, and fear flooded me.
. The door opened, and from the darkened interior stepped Uncle Charlie in his bathrobe.
My uncle crossed his arms over his chest and motioned with his head toward the door. “Get in this house. Right.
.” I’d never heard Uncle Charlie shout, but the last word had a definite punch to it. He stepped back and glared at the pair of us as we climbed the steps that led into the house. Uncle Charlie brought up the rear and slammed the door behind us. “Go into the living room and sit down.”
Jason opened his mouth, but I shook my head quickly.
Please, don’t be stupid about this, Jason
. I couldn’t say it out loud, but I really wanted to. Two of the softer lamps were lit, throwing the world into a golden light. The rest of the house was still dark, so Danny and Christian were probably still in bed. Thank God I wouldn’t have witnesses to my humiliation.
I plopped down on the couch, and Jason followed my lead, intertwining our fingers as we waited for Uncle Charlie to speak. He didn’t seem to be able to sit. Instead, he squared his shoulders and took a deep breath.
Finally he started to speak. “We have rules in this house.” I knew that. “We give more leeway to you boys than most parents. We have respected you, cared for you, and given you the benefit of the doubt in situations where most would accuse. So please, explain to me, why did we find your beds empty with no note? And then we get a phone call from the police to inform us that Dean was down at the police station for underage drinking. We had
idea where the two of you were. I didn’t know if you were dead in a ditch somewhere or at a party or passed out.”
“Charlie—” Jason began.
“Do not interrupt me, Jason. You are the newest person in this household, but you are no less subject to our rules. If you would’ve been arrested, you would’ve destroyed your chances at that scholarship from NYU. Dean’s entire future may be compromised because of your actions. He was already on probation because of his record. Your parents may have been okay with this behavior, but I assure you I am not. And, Tommy, your wrestling career is
as far as I am concerned. So I suggest you stop trying to shrink into the couch and play invisible man.”
My mouth fell open. “What do you mean? I made cocaptain this year!”
“I don’t know if you’re responsible enough to be a member of the team.”
I started to protest, but Jason beat me to the punch. “That’s not fair. Extracurriculars look good on college apps.”
Uncle Charlie held up a hand to silence him. “We’ll discuss it tomorrow. I’m too mad to deal with you two right now. Mark will be back with Dean in a little bit. Go get your keys, Tommy, and put them on the coffee table. From this moment on, your driving privileges are rescinded.”
I didn’t argue, didn’t bother. I just stood. I couldn’t even look at Jason as I slunk off toward the kitchen and my bedroom. It was officially the worst night of my life, and I just hoped everything would look better in the daylight. Of course, with the headache that was already pounding behind my eyeballs, I somehow doubted it.
banging on my bedroom door was agony. I groaned, squeezing my eyes shut to ward off the shards of light that were attempting to pierce my skull along with the banging noise.
“Get up, Tommy. Get up and come into the kitchen. We’ve got things to discuss,” Uncle Mark shouted through the wood. His deep baritone was sleep-roughened, like he hadn’t had his coffee yet. “Now, Tommy!”
“All right!” I managed to rumble. My hair even hurt.
I rolled out of bed and prayed for coffee. I managed to put on a pair of blue jeans but left off the shirt. Coffee was my main priority. I shuffled to my door and pushed it open. Uncle Mark stood there in his robe with a glass of water and two aspirin.
“For the headache,” he said by way of explanation.
I grunted my thanks and headed in the direction of the coffeemaker. Christian, his meaty little baby arms waving, gurgled his good morning at me where he sat in his highchair eating Cheerios. He was a cheerful little thing. My other cousin, Danny, sat beside Christian, scribbling out some last-minute homework and eating toast.
“You’re going to be late for the bus, Danny. Hurry up,” Uncle Mark said, patting Danny’s head. Danny nodded and scribbled faster. I tossed the two aspirin in the back of my throat and chased them with water. It wasn’t the coffee kick I wanted, but it would go a long way to curing my headache.
“Should I get ready for school?” I asked, recalling how Uncle Charlie had announced his rescinding my driving privileges.
“No. We’re driving you to school late today,” Uncle Mark announced, crossing over to the stove to stir a skillet of eggs he was cooking. I was shocked. We went to school unless we were absolutely dying.
“Morning,” Jason greeted as he came through the door. What had he been doing outside this early? “The windshield has been scraped off and the cars are started.” He was bundled up in the new jacket Uncle Charlie had brought home for him a week ago, and he was wearing the scarf I bought him downtown earlier in the week. Naturally warm, Jason rarely wore both together. It was one or the other. It must’ve been colder outside than normal.
Uncle Mark nodded. “Good. I suggest that you sit and eat breakfast while you can. Go on, Danny. You’re going to be late.”
My cousin shot us a curious glance before gathering his things and pushing back from the table. I poured myself a cup of coffee and added a half ton of sugar before shuffling back to the kitchen table to sit beside my boyfriend. Christian gurgled and slammed his little fists on the tray of his high chair, amused for whatever reason and unquestionably loud. I winced at the god-awful clank.
Danny left out the door. “Where is Dean?” I asked as Uncle Mark put a plate of eggs in front of Jason.
“Upstairs showering,” Uncle Mark said. “He’s got to meet with his probation officer and tell him about his arrest last night. You two are going to go with him and explain your role in all of it. It took some very big promises to get him to be able to move between states on probation. I dread to hear what Brad is going to say.”
Depression settled on my shoulders. It was our fault Dean was in trouble again. “I’m sorry, Uncle Mark.”
Uncle Mark sighed like I’d made him aware of the burden he was carrying. “You have greatly disappointed me and your Uncle Charlie.”
“I know.” And I did know. I knew I had screwed up big time. I glanced at Jason’s sullen expression. He didn’t seem the least bit repentant. He looked more pissed than anything.
“We’ll discuss your punishments later.”
Uncle Charlie came through the door from the living room already dressed in his suit. He beelined to the coffee pot and poured the last of it in his favorite travel mug. He didn’t say a word to us but exchanged a brief kiss with Uncle Mark.
“Is Dean almost ready?” Uncle Mark asked.
“Yes, but he’s going to have to eat his breakfast on the go because we don’t really have time for him to eat with the other boys. We’re supposed to be there at eight, and it’s seven thirty now.” Uncle Charlie got some bread out of the breadbox and started laying peanut butter and banana slices on them. It was Dean’s favorite snack.
“Is this going to take all day? Because I have a chemistry test this afternoon. I’m already missing my calculus quiz,” Jason piped up. I turned to look at him. Was he crazy? You could cut the tension in the room with a butcher knife.
“Jason, you will be there for your chemistry test, and I will give you a note so that you can make up your calculus quiz this afternoon after school,” Uncle Mark said. It didn’t bode well that Uncle Charlie was still not speaking.
Jason seemed to settle down after that, and it wasn’t another three minutes before Uncle Mark was rushing us out of the kitchen to get dressed. Jason and I still hadn’t had the opportunity to say anything to one another. I didn’t know where he was in his head today. Was he crazy and wild like he’d been last night, or had he settled and returned to his normal sweet-and-sour self? I just didn’t know, and I was terrified he’d show that wild streak to Uncle Mark and Uncle Charlie. I had no way of knowing how they would react, what they would do. At the least, they would demand answers for it. Would they put him in therapy like they had Dean and Danny? Like they’d been trying to make me do since my mom passed away? Or would they kick him out after they realized just how damaged my boyfriend really was?
I rubbed my breastbone as an ache formed behind it. The pressure was always there, heavy, sitting on my chest. Lately it had seemed four times as thick. I shut myself in my room and dressed on autopilot. I didn’t even look at the wardrobe I picked out before shoving my feet into my sneakers. I hesitated as I looked at my backpack and the homework I’d left unfinished. Was I supposed to take it with me? Might as well. I could possibly do some of the stuff that was due today while we were riding around with Uncle Mark and Uncle Charlie.
I heard the familiar creak of my bedroom door as it opened. I half turned and was surprised to find Jason leaning against the door he’d just opened. He grinned at me before slipping inside and closing the door behind him. My heart fell. I’d seen that look before.
“Charlie and Mark went upstairs. Can you believe how serious they are about Dean getting arrested? I mean, come on. It wasn’t like Dean could get into a four-year university anyway with his record. Yeah, it could’ve been worse if we would’ve gotten caught, but we didn’t.” The words were like an icepick being driven into my heart over and over again. With every callous word, my temper rose.