Levi Abrams and his roommate were about to traipse off into the woods to smoke a bowl when the headmaster, who unfortunately was also Levi’s father, called from his office and demanded Levi come in. “Everyone’s left me,” he said. “The place is a mess. I can’t think.” He was slurring his words. Not unusual for a Friday afternoon. Julian Abrams poured scotch into his coffee like most people did cream.
Except, he shouldn’t have been this far gone already. It wasn’t even five o’clock.
Levi had sensed something was off. His father had been agitated more than usual. Uneasy. And lashing out at everyone within reach. One of his secretaries had quit as a result.
Levi searched for a lie. “I have a yearbook meeting and—”
His father cut him off. “I need boxes.”
Boxes? “Dad, what are you talking about?”
It was like his father knew Levi wanted to get high. No, not wanted. Needed. Because being Julian Abrams’s son came with its own, unique case of mental anguish, and the only way to escape the bullshit was to smoke weed with his roommate behind the maintenance shed near the football field on the far side of campus.
Which he fucking would do, thank you very much. Let his father smell it on him. Levi was a goddamn senior applying to colleges hours from their isolated prep school. He would be out from under his father’s thumb soon enough. He only needed to survive the next few months. Levi rubbed his forehead. “You need boxes?”
“I need boxes,” his father said, sounding defeated.
“Can it wait until after dinner?” Levi sounded equally defeated.
“Sure.” Levi could hear the ice clinking in his father’s highball glass. “After dinner.”
A few hours later, Levi finally made his way to Winchester Hall, a long red-bricked building with an old clock tower that loomed over Hulbert Academy like a stodgy school mistress. He was carrying several flattened cardboard boxes which he’d found in the dumpster behind the cafeteria. After he and Todd got stoned out of their minds.
But the calming effects from the weed were wearing off and Levi’s stomach grumbled. He flung open the door, practically throwing himself into the headmaster’s office. He was hoping his father had gone home, instead choosing to write Levi a note with instructions—that was how they communicated best—nonverbal, passive aggressive scribbling on Agnes’s stationery. He wasn’t sure what he was supposed to box up.
Levi grumbled, “Dad, I’m here.”
Levi slumped his shoulders and exhaled slowly. He rummaged around Agnes’s desk hunting for a post-it but there was only Agnes’s souvenirs from her lame vacations to Williamsburg and Hershey Park and wherever the fuck South of the Border was located. Levi then checked Zara’s desk, which sat on the opposite side of the room, closest to the coffee pot. Aside from a calendar, a small firebox, a pen cup, and a poli sci textbook Zara must have forgotten to take with her when she’d quit, there was nothing here for Levi either.
Jesus, this inflamed his anger. His father expecting him in the office on a Friday night, as if Levi didn’t have a social life of his own. He didn’t, but that was beside the point.
The office was so quiet, Levi thought he could hear the faucet dripping in the bathroom.
Levi’s dad said he had the custodian take care of that weeks ago.
But, it was an old school. Shit broke all the time.
Levi stomped over to the bathroom and flipped the light switch. The florescent bulb ticked then illuminated the porcelain sink, which had old rust stains but was otherwise dry.
The more Levi considered the noise, the more he realized it didn’t really sound like dripping. It sounded more like tapping or plopping. A liquid of some kind padding softly on the carpet. Only there wasn’t any carpeting in the office. Just the rug under his father’s desk.
The headmaster’s door was slightly ajar.
Levi rubbed his arms despite the building’s ancient radiators pulsing out steam heat and despite his long-sleeved shirt. He stalked his father’s office and tilted his head to the side, trying to squint into the inch of darkness. Julian must’ve left for the night but forgotten to lock the door. It’s not like it couldn’t happen. Except, it had never happened before.
Levi sighed and kneaded his forehead, regretting how much he’d smoked. He should just go back to his dorm room.
He heard the noise again.
Levi glanced up, expecting to see water pooling on the cracked ceiling, a problem with the plumbing on the third floor.
He shook out his hands. The paranoia was the worst part of weed. He pushed open his father’s door. No one was here. Except the noise was definitely coming from inside the office. Maybe a bottle of scotch had cracked or fallen, the amber liquid hitting the Oriental rug in distinct tones.
Levi found the light switch, and flicked it on.
He instantly wished he hadn’t.
His father sat in his leather chair, slumped over the desk. His head lay next to a red-splattered bottle of liquor. His temple oozed blood that ran across the glossy desk surface in a stream. Crimson beads dropped onto the floor, one at a time.
Levi swallowed a scream. He didn’t really have it in him to cry. His heart thundered in his rib cage as he trudged to the desk. Glass shards crunched underfoot. The crystal decanters that normally sat on top of the liquor cabinet lay in pieces on the floor as if someone had lobbed a grenade at them. Levi wasn’t certain but he thought he spotted two round bullet holes in the wall.
He inched closer to the chair as if he was trying to hear something, but really he was trying to see his father’s face. If the blood was still dripping, did it mean he had just died? What was the time frame on this sort of thing? And why did he feel like he was so detached? As if he wasn’t in the room at all. As if all this was some movie he was watching on cable.
“Dad?” Levi asked it anyway knowing there would be no response. Only because he thought hearing his own voice might make him feel better. It didn’t work.
For some reason, Levi’s eyes darted to the bottle on the desk. Not scotch, but Ouzo, a gift from one of Julian’s old cronies. There was still liquid in the bar glass, although it was now mixed with droplets of blood, or what Levi presumed was blood because what else could it be?
Shakily, Levi picked up the telephone on the desk and dialed 9-1-1. A person with a deep voice—Levi couldn’t discern if it was a man or a woman—answered.
“Send help,” he said. “My father’s been shot.”
“Are you injured?”
“Is the assailant still there?”
“Was this a self-inflicted wound?”
Levi peeked around his father’s body. Then he glanced under the desk. A revolver was on the floor near his father’s oxford loafers. “I-I don’t know. I see the gun. I don’t know how this happened.” Could his father have been shot? Or did he do this to himself?
Oh God, was there someone lurking in Winchester Hall waiting to come after Levi next? But the gun was still here. Sitting in a pool of congealing bodily fluid. Was Levi standing in the midst of his father’s suicide? Or did someone kill the headmaster of Hulbert Academy, one of the most prestigious schools in the Northeast?
Levi struggled to intake breath. How was it possible that two hours ago he was smoking weed from a bong made out of a soda bottle only now to have stumbled upon his father’s lifeless body?
Had he arrived earlier, could he have stopped this? He’d purposely avoided coming here. He didn’t want to be alone in this office with his father filing paperwork, surrounded by Levi’s awkward silences and Julian’s veiled criticisms.
And yet, here he was, alone with his dad. Except, no one was reprimanding him now. All Levi could hear was his own obsessive, neurotic thoughts.
“Okay, stay on the line with me,” said the 9-1-1 dispatcher. “I’m sending the paramedics.”
Levi clutched the phone in a tight grasp. “I’m holding on.” But only barely. He could only barely hold on.
Six months later
Troy Byrne was already buzzed off two beers when Zach finally showed up, his light brown hair damp, but combed, and surrounded by an invisible cloud of CK One cologne.
“Dude, you were supposed to be here half an hour ago.” Troy stared up at Zach from his spot at the base of the headstone. He shoved aside his Jansport backpack, tattered and covered with patches of his favorite bands, to make space beside him.
“Sorry. Practice ran late and then my brother was hogging the bathroom.” Zach clicked off his flashlight and glanced down, his dark eyes clearly searching for a blanket to sit on, and when he saw there was none, he reluctantly shrugged off his varsity jacket and laid it on the ground before joining Troy.
Belching, Troy dangled the six-pack of Budweiser off his finger. He’d swiped it from Jerry’s stash in the garage fridge, not that his stepdad would care. Jerry’s craft brews and European stouts were safely tucked away inside the Sub-Zero in the newly renovated kitchen. Jerry reserved the cheap beer for the gardener or the occasional appliance repairman. He always wanted to offer them something, just not his expensive Belgian imports.
Zach removed a can from the plastic ring and cracked open the tab. A hiss escaped. He took a sip and leaned his head against the cold gravestone, its epitaph long eroded by centuries.
Troy pushed up the long sleeves of his T-shirt and wiped a line of sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand. It was warm out tonight. Oddly warm for May in Cohosh. But, it wasn’t uncommon to turn on the heat in the morning, only to open the windows in the afternoon. “Your parents say anything?”
Zach shifted closer to Troy so that their legs were touching. “Nah. They were too absorbed watching Unsolved Mysteries to ask where I was going. It was Heather I had to deal with. She wanted me to take her to see some lame Sandra Bullock movie.”
Troy laughed. “Sorry, dude.”
“Don’t be. Come September, my ass will be at Penn State and I won’t have to deal with her shit.”
“You could just break up with her,” Troy said.
“That’s more trouble than it’s worth.”
Troy dug a small stone out of the dirt and threw it onto the path. It skidded across the gravel and landed in a pool of yellow lamplight from the nearby church. The graveyard closed an hour ago, but Troy had jumped over the locked gate. It was quiet and deserted and they needed the space.
“I didn’t see you in school today,” Zach said.
“I skipped the last few periods. Why? You missed me?”
He scoffed. “You wish. I thought maybe you were celebrating Cinco de Mayo.”
Troy rolled his eyes. “My mom’s from Guatemala, not Mexico, asshole.”
Zach held up his hands. “Jeez, my bad. They don’t celebrate that there?”
“No.” Troy rummaged through his backpack for another beer. “It’s a regional holiday. I can give you a lesson on the Battle of Puebla, if you want.”
Somewhere outside the graveyard’s perimeter, a car sped down the street blasting Green Day from the radio, the music fading as the vehicle moved further away. Zach tensed beside him.
“Relax. We’ll be fine.”
Zach nervously checked his surroundings. “Maybe we shouldn’t have come here.”
“You picked the spot.”
“Yeah, well, everyone at school is freaked out by this place. I figured it was our best bet.” The headstones, many cracked, others completely overturned, some consumed by ivy, stood guard like dead soldiers. Spooky cemeteries didn’t scare Troy. People did, though.
“We should’ve gone to your house. You’re the one who says your parents don’t care.”
“I never said that.” Jerry didn’t care if Zach came over, but Troy’s mother certainly did. Troy wanted to add, “Also the yelling might be a bit of a buzz kill,” but he kept silent. Zach didn’t need to hear about his parents’ marital trouble. Hell, Troy didn’t even want to hear about it, even though he thought he was partly to blame. Jerry’s beautiful blonde secretary might be the other part.
“Dude, you’re the one who should get used to sneaking around.” Zach chugged a final sip before crushing the can and tossing it aside. He pressed his hand on Troy’s thigh and leaned over him to grab another beer.
“They can’t ask me, you know.”
“That doesn’t mean they won’t find out. Eventually.”
That sounded rich coming from Zach who was determined that no one ever discover he liked guys. Troy plucked a tall weed and rubbed it between his fingers, surprised the grass had grown this tall already. He felt anxious for summer, anxious for the escape. “Enlisting is a tradition in my family. Jerry was in the Navy and so was his father and grandfather.”
“So what? It’s not like Jerry’s your real dad.”
I don’t want to be anything like my real dad.
Troy was antsy to get to basic training as soon as he tossed his mortarboard in the air. And Jerry promised Troy that he’d sign off on his enlistment paperwork even before his eighteenth birthday in August.
“I like the brotherhood,” Troy added.
Zach burped. “I have brothers. They’re pains in the asses. Ben’s always stealing my shit, my clothes, my stereo, my Air Jordans. And Paul is constantly bragging about his grades, like getting into Brown is so hard.” He shook his head. Troy could easily picture holiday dinners at Zach’s house—loud conversation, football on the television, playful jabs to the shoulder. He smiled sadly to himself. He’d never have that, not unless he had sons of his own, but that wasn’t going to happen.
“What about you? Do you have any brothers or sisters?”
“No.” Well, that wasn’t really true. Troy had Miranda, but she ran away from home right after Troy’d been expelled from Hulbert. She was eighteen, legally old enough to disappear, but too young to be smart about it. Troy hadn’t heard from his sister in three years, not a postcard or phone call. Nothing. It was like she had died.
Zach faced Troy and gently pushed a strand of Troy’s wavy, dark hair away from his brow. “Your hair’s in your eyes.”
“The Navy’s going to buzz it all off anyway.” Troy’s tongue weighed heavy in his mouth. The alcohol softened the noise in his head. He reached his hand around Zach’s neck, pulled him close, and kissed him. The Altoids barely masked the beer on Zach’s breath.
This was really why they were both here. It was easy to avoid everything outside the gates—girlfriends, parents, school—when you were sucking face six feet above ancient bones.
Troy sensed a flickering light in his side vision. A voice cried, “You two!”
“Shit.” Zach sprang back. Troy scrambled for his backpack. Beer cans scattered with the boys’ movement. A man, wielding a flashlight, was striding toward them.
The boys clamored to their feet. Troy wanted to run, but was hypnotized by the moving light. As the man approached, Troy’s stomach plunged to his socks.
It was a cop.
“Shit, Zach,” Troy whispered, but Zach had already taken off and was sprinting for the fence, his varsity jacket abandoned in his escape.
The officer made no move to chase him.
“Look what I found. A couple of queers. Well, only one now. You boyfriend abandoned you?” The police officer shone the flashlight directly into Troy’s eyes. Troy held up his hand to shield the relentless glare.
Finally, the cop trained the light on the jacket and shook his head with an expression of resigned disappointment. Troy had forgotten that Zach’s name was embroidered on the front. Cohosh wasn’t a big town. There was only one Zach who played varsity baseball.
“Are you corrupting that good boy, son?”
“What?” Troy asked incredulously. He squinted at the cop’s uniform, trying to make out the name on the badge—Jones.
“Come on. I’m taking you in.” Jones ushered Troy to the church’s parking lot where Troy could now see a police cruiser waited, its engine idling.
But, Jones didn’t respond to Troy directly. Instead, he yanked his radio from his holster and mumbled into it about trespassing, drinking, and indecency.
Troy glanced back behind him, but Zach was long gone. He exhaled a long breath. That was another thing the Navy provided—loyalty. Clearly, not everyone embodied that.
Troy scooped his backpack off the ground and swung it onto his shoulder. He debated whether to collect Zach’s beloved varsity jacket, but decided to leave it there.
Troy hoped that someone would steal the jacket or maybe a possum would take a dump in it—either way it made no difference to him.
When Agnes Bernstein telephoned Levi in his dorm room on a Friday night, it felt like déjàvu. She sounded on the verge of tears. “Levi, honey, I know it’s asking a lot, but can you please come down to Winchester Hall? I’m supposed to be in Poughkeepsie tomorrow morning and I can’t get out of here without help. I’ll pay cash for your trouble.”
It was asking a lot. Because the coroner only recently concluded that Levi’s father had accidentally shot himself with a revolver that he had purchased for protection. With a blood alcohol level of 0.25, Julian had apparently been using his bourbon decanters as target practice only to somehow slip up and shoot himself in the head. Levi still didn’t believe it. How could it be true that the only person Julian Abrams really needed protection from was himself? After finding his father’s body curved over the desk, Levi hadn’t set foot inside the headmaster’s office. He’d been mostly working in Admissions, until tonight.
Levi exhaled a steadying breath as he stood outside the office door. The frosted paned glass still read Headmaster, but underneath, the custodian had removed the old black vinyl letters that spelled out JULIAN ABRAMS, although Levi could still spot a leftover B. Graham Jansen’s name had not been added to the door. At a meeting, a board member made a big point of emphasizing the word interim when talking about Jansen’s position. Levi got the impression Jansen shouldn’t be making himself too comfortable in his father’s old office.
Levi overheard that same trustee say that the board really wanted time to heavily consider the next headmaster, making sure that the new hire was a good fit for Hulbert, i.e. not a mental case. Hulbert Academy was a beacon of respectability and tradition. After all, politicians, ambassadors, and CEOs all sent their boys here. And now the only thing stopping parents from diverting their tuition checks to Salisbury or Kiski was a principal who wouldn’t eat his gun.
Levi wondered if Jansen, with his pretty boy good looks, went to bars to pick up women, or whatever guys in their thirties did on the weekends. He certainly wasn’t at Hulbert.
Levi’s father had always said that a strong headmaster could do all the jobs below him. Levi wasn’t even sure Jansen knew how to send a fax.
Levi could barely admit this to himself, but his father’s death, as disturbing and weird as it had been, was like gulping air after nearly drowning.
Which was why Levi struggled so much to be here, not because his brain flashed on images of blood, but because he couldn’t overcome the guilt of not really missing his old man. Julian Abrams had been a difficult person to love, maybe because he hadn’t been one to give his love so freely. And Levi grew exhausted trying to earn something he had little chance of getting.
He twisted the brass doorknob and quietly slipped inside the office.
Agnes sat pert at her desk, typing frantically on a word processor. She brought her close-set eyes up to Levi and offered a sympathetic smile.
Zara’s desk was empty. She’d been his father’s hire, a young college student. Pretty, quiet, and hard working. But out of nowhere, Zara quit. Levi never got the full story on that.
Agnes dashed around her desk and shoved a box of folders into Levi’s waiting hands. He still hadn’t had a chance to take off his navy blazer, the Hulbert crest patch peeling from the pocket. He could stitch it back into place, but why bother? He was out of here in forty-one days, well forty if he didn’t count the graduation ceremony. Once he took off his cap and gown, and suffered through the subsequent celebratory dinner with his mother, sister, and grandmother, Levi was going to burn that Hulbert jacket in a barrel behind the gymnasium.
“I’m sorry to make you do this.” Agnes lowered her voice, despite no one else being in the room with them. “But Jansen’s made things so difficult. He’s too busy trying to ingratiate himself into state politics, and the work’s piling up without any help. I don’t trust anyone else to be in the records room. Speaking of, you have your keys, right?”
He patted his pants pocket. “I must’ve left them in the dorm.”
Agnes slid a large key ring off her desk, and placed it into the box. “Return it when you’re done.”
Levi made a mental reminder to dig through his backpack for the keys. He hadn’t needed them in awhile, and so he forgot where he put them.
She exhaled loudly and smoothed down her skirt. “If you can get those filed, I can get the hell out of here and be off to see my sister tomorrow morning.”
Levi cocked his brow.
“She’s getting divorced,” she said by way of explanation.
Levi hefted up the box. “See you in a bit.”
The records room was down the hall, a small space the size of most walk-in closets with a square window. The glass had a spider-web crack, and thus was never opened. The room usually smelled of old papers and dust. Levi never took comfort in the confining space. He needed to pace, burn energy, so he kept the door open, giving him the illusion of more room.
Inside, olive drab file cabinets stood like lean soldiers, guarding precious student records—enrolled, matriculated, expelled, or deceased—for the past seven years. The faculty files were housed in the headmaster’s office.
Levi loosened the knot in his tie and set the box on a folding chair. A breeze ruffled his blonde hair and there was a scattering of papers at his feet. He glanced up and frowned. Someone had opened the window several inches. Sure, the room could get stuffy, but no one wanted to combat a swirling mass of Xerox copies. Levi pushed the window closed, struggling with the swollen wooden frame. It shut with a thud.
He turned his attention to the box and combed through the student files. Mostly outgoing freshmen, a few daytime kids in the upper classes, and the record for a very late transfer student.
With everything alphabetized, the entire task took no more than twenty minutes. Levi’s fingers danced on top of the file cabinet. A white label had been affixed to the top, A-B written in faded black marker. He knew the file would be in the third drawer. He yanked it open and rummaged through the tabs. Baker. Baez. Bletchley. Brandon. Byrne.
He removed Troy’s student folder.
He heard footsteps outside the room and paused. This was strictly confidential information. Mostly medical reports, paid tuition bills, social security numbers, addresses, transcripts from old schools. Levi glanced at the open door before quietly nudging it closed with his shoulder.
He tensed thinking someone could hear him but he chalked it up to paranoia. Troy used to say that to him a lot. “You’re always looking over your shoulder. No one’s coming for you.” And then he’d convince Levi to sneak out in the middle of the night to watch a meteor shower.
Levi wasn’t quite so suspicious anymore, only because he knew how to be more careful.
Every year he wondered what became of his freshman roommate. He wondered how much Troy had changed over the last three years. Would Levi recognize him? Would Troy hate him? They never spoke again after Troy got expelled.
Levi’s palms were sweaty as he flipped open the folder and read the middle school transcripts. Levi noted the straight As, the commendations from Troy’s teachers. “He can do whatever he wants in life,” they’d written. The guidance counselor had something different to say. “Troy doesn’t put forth effort in things that don’t come naturally to him.” That was definitely something Levi remembered. But it was also something he envied. Troy wasn’t trying to become the best at everything—he just did what he wanted.
Levi caught Troy’s address. He lived on the outskirts of Cohosh, a mansion tucked away in the woods. Levi had memorized the street and the directions to get there. On a few occasions, Levi had even driven past it. He’d never stopped, though. Not ever.
He traced Troy’s old school photo with the tip of his finger. He wondered if Troy’s dark, wavy hair was long or short. Was he taller now? He was so tall then, even as a freshman. Taller than Levi, but most guys were. Levi came from short, Eastern European stock.
Levi closed the file. He really needed to stop this ritual—missing someone who probably didn’t waste two seconds thinking about him. Despite their relationship, their lives were better off now. Shit had gotten too real, too quick and Levi had been too unsure of himself to drag Troy down with him.
Yeah, when Levi thought about it, he had done Troy a favor.
Just then the door opened causing Levi to jump. Troy’s folder fluttered to the floor, the papers sliding out on the old hardwood. Agnes stood in the doorframe, her skinny shadow stretched longer by the hall light.
“Are you done?” she asked, slightly annoyed. “I thought I’d have more work for you, but I really need to go.”
“Yes.” Levi crouched to gather the errant papers and hastily shoved them inside the folder. He opened up the nearest cabinet and slipped Troy’s file inside.
Agnes held out her hand, beckoning for the key ring. Levi placed it into her palm. She locked up the records room and then said to him, “Your mom called. She said she left you messages, but you don’t call her back.”
Levi blew out a breath. “Did she say what she wanted?”
Agnes handed him a ten-dollar bill. “She wants you to come home for dinner tomorrow night.” Agnes bade him goodbye and then hurried toward the elevator, the clicking sound of her heels echoing off the walls.
Levi stood in the middle of the hallway and ran his hands through his hair, reminding himself that he simply had to wait it out. Freedom would come soon enough.
Troy sat in the hard plastic chair, one leg crossed over the other, picking at the loose threads from where he’d cut the hem of his jeans to fit over his Doc Martens.
Officer Jones, who Troy could now see clearly in the bright lights of the police station, was short, balding, and probably envisioning a retirement in Boca. He sat at an old metal desk, a mid-century relic, with the phone to his ear. Jones made a valiant attempt to appear like he was in charge of the conversation, but Troy had little doubt that Jerry was reaming him out on the other end of that line. Jerry was nothing if not formidable and he had little patience for bullshit. Even Troy’s.
Jones hung up and pinched the bridge of his fleshy nose. “Well, your stepfather is on his way. Had to interrupt his work dinner. He seemed none too pleased about that.” Funny, how Jones seemed very pleased about it.
“Am I being arrested?” Troy tried to keep his voice flat, neutral. No way was he going to let this asshole get him riled up. However, it was a fair question because he hadn’t been handcuffed. Jones’s glance to the corner office where a burly man stood in a suit, sipping coffee, told Troy everything he needed to know. Jerry was going to make all this go away.
Troy often listened to his classmates bitch about their stepparents, but he could never relate. Sure, if he wanted, he could write a 600-page encyclopedia article on all the ways his biological father, Billy Byrne, screwed over Troy and his mother, but Jerry was nothing short of miraculous. That a man, as rich and shrewd and handsome as Jerry Concord, would not only embrace another guy’s kid and all the baggage he brought with him, but also treat him like the son he’d always wanted still amazed Troy. There was no doubt in his mind that Jerry loved him. And that was what scared Troy the most—that he was easily going to lose that love once his mother and stepfather were no longer married.
But Troy didn’t have too much time to dwell on that once Jerry stormed into the station—dressed in a light, blue sweater and gray dress slacks—and made a beeline for Jones’s desk.
Officer Jones rose from his chair and gestured for Jerry to sit down. Jerry unhooked his pager from his belt loop, slammed it on the desk, and plopped into the cushier chair. He ran his hands through his sandy hair, and didn’t even look at Jones when he said, “I need a moment with my son.”
Not stepson, but son. Why couldn’t Troy take solace in that?
Jerry rested his arm on the officer’s desk, the fluorescent lights glinting off his expensive watch. He waited until Jones lumbered over to the coffee pot before hissing, “What the hell is going on, Troy? I’m at dinner and my beeper goes off with the phone number for the goddamn police station. Explain.”
Troy leaned forward and rubbed his hands over his face. “That prick brought me in because I was hanging out in the graveyard with Zach.”
“And?” Jerry stole a glance at the officer, probably trying to get a read on him. Jerry trusted Troy, but he trusted his own instincts more.
“And we were drinking.”
Jerry narrowed his eyes. “Which beer?”
“The cheap stuff, don’t worry.” Troy leaned back in the chair and smoothed down his black shirt, which was coated in white lint he didn’t know how he accumulated.
Jerry glanced around the station. “And Zach?”
“He took off. I should’ve done the same.”
“Yeah, you should’ve.” Jerry closed his eyes and exhaled slowly, his face a mask of exhaustion. Troy wasn’t the only person worn down from the fighting.
Jerry opened his eyes and peered at the man in the corner office. He patted Troy’s leg, collected his beeper, and said, “Sit tight.”
Troy watched Jerry approach the man, who based on Troy’s understanding of Law and Order episodes, was probably the police chief or sergeant. What was Troy going to do when Jerry wasn’t there to bail him out anymore? Troy knew he was on borrowed time. He couldn’t get himself into anymore shit, not unless he had a way to get out of it on his own.
Jones shared a laugh with another police officer, probably at Troy’s expense, before he stalked back to his desk, and perched his butt on the edge of it. “Does your stepdaddy know what you are?”
Troy pretended to take a keen interest in his fingernails rather than answer Jones’s vile question. The world was full of Jonseses—closed-minded pricks who looked at everything they couldn’t fathom with an air of disgust and fear. It was easy to dismiss men likes Jones. It was less easy when it was a classmate or so-called friend.
Jones sucked on his teeth. “The Montgomerys are good people. Zach has a bright future.” He pointed a stubby finger at Troy. “You keep your perversions away from him.”
A hand pressed onto Troy’s shoulder. Jerry had returned, looking like he aged five years in five minutes. “The fine’s paid. We can go now.”
Troy got to his feet, his boots thumping the linoleum floor. He flipped off Jones when Jerry’s back was turned, then followed Jerry out to the BMW and climbed inside. The pager went off again. Jerry read the number and mashed his lips together into a tight line. “I’ll drop you home, then I need to return to my guest.”
Troy wanted to ask whose phone number it was, if it was the blonde secretary, but he wasn’t really in a position to demand answers. Jerry had a way of excusing things as “business talk.” It might have been one of the reasons Troy’s mother was so angry all the time. But Jerry wasn’t a cheater. He was a good man.
Troy said, “I’m sorry. You know it’s hard. We can’t go to Zach’s house. He can’t come to ours.”
“He can come to our house.” Jerry stuck the key into the ignition. The engine purred.
No, he can’t. Not if Carmen Villatoro Lopez had anything to say about it. There was a reason Troy’s first instinct was to call Jerry, and not his mother. Troy didn’t want to believe that Jerry could betray the family by doing something stupid like having an affair. Because Jerry was Troy’s only ally in their house, and Troy needed him.