Plan C: Mawg Dilligs
Believe it or not, our kitchen has a television, a little under-the-counter thing, and I turned it on to watch while I found something to eat. As you'd expect, the school shootings were now the talk of the planet, even though I didn't hear anything new. I knew my Dad was already up, because the coffee was made his way, which is strong.
I decided on a big breakfast, and was foraging for eggs when Dad came in, sounding too cheerful. "Ah! Yes, a good breakfast before the big test! Don't skip lunch. I'll be there at around 12:30."
That had to register, then I looked at him in surprise. "You're picking me up?"
His eyebrows shifted up a little, "You were expecting ..."
"No," I said quickly, then shrugged, "I don't know what I expected."
Dad smiled as he pulled on his overcoat, "I wouldn't miss it, Ev. I'll see you at about 12:30. Oh!" His look turned more serious, "Donovan called after you went to bed. The police are going to want to talk to you." He frowned, "Tell them you'll see them tomorrow!"
I did a double take. "?"
Dad smiled wickedly, "Evan, today will be one of the best days of your life. Their questions can wait" He squinted as only he could, "You should have known they'd want to talk to you, but for today ... they can take a hike!"
Yay, Dad. I mean, "Yay, Dad! You think they'll let me?"
Dad smiled warmly, "Even an old doughnut like Donovan knows better than to mess with a driver's test."
He was out the door before I could respond. I looked where he had just stood, and wondered why it had taken me until I was sixteen to truly appreciate my father for the man he was.
Perception. That's all I could come up with as I cooked my eggs, toasted my muffin and poured out my juice. I had always perceived my Dad as this angry guy, and he was loud and vocal when he got angry. My perception had somehow turned his outbursts into the idea that he disliked me, and it was reinforced every time he got angry. That always made me shy away from him.
Now I was feeling this new fondness for him, and it came after I told him I was gay. He was still my dad, the man in charge, but nowadays he seemed to be cheering me on at whatever I did, and running point guard for me at the same time, and I really liked it.
I ate my breakfast, then had second thoughts about what I was wearing. I went upstairs and changed clothes into something more conservative before I headed out to meet Chris. I had everything that I needed for DMV with me, and no reason to believe that I'd do anything but ace their test.
Talk on the way to school, and once we got there, was all about the events of the day before, of course. It had shaken everyone, me included, but other kids were closer to the people involved so there were some very upset kids around.
Attendance was down like you might expect. There was a fear factor involved for some families, and I'm sure some kids just took advantage of everything for an extra day off. Just getting into the building was a project. All but the main front doors were blocked, and we got funneled through sawhorse barricades to the steps. They had metal detectors set up that we all had to go through, and x-ray machines like in an airport for our bags and jackets to pass through. Probably half the kids set the thing off and had to be wanded, so it was very slow getting into the building.
The outside was crowded with police cars and vans and other official looking vehicles. There were local and state police cars, cars with federal plates that probably were for FBI agents or whoever. A coroner's van was there from the Public Safety department. There were also an ambulance and a fire engine that must have been there for good measure.
For the students, speculation as to the underlying reasons for the shootings ran rampant, and it was clear that people were grasping at straws. The talk wouldn't stop, not even for class, and the teachers let us go on, though they tried to bring some focus to the speculation.
I listened to people, but I didn't say much. I had no idea about what was going on with Mr. Throckmorton and Ron, and nothing I could think of made much sense. So, I just listened, hoping that the random ideas floating around might gel into something coherent.
I ran into Kevin Hatch just before lunch. He said, "Evan, do you have a minute?"
"For you, anything."
He smiled, "Right, huh? Listen, I wonder if you have any ideas about what happened."
I shook my head slowly, "Not really. You?"
"No, it makes no sense."
I snickered nervously, knowing it wasn't funny. "Well, news at eleven, I guess."
He eyed me, "Yeah, right. Didn't you tell me you were going to rat on Ron?"
I stared at him. "Um, I think you have a bad idea. After I talked to you ... yesterday actually ... I talked to Mike, Ron's brother. I asked if Mike thought Ron might be messing with drugs, and he was pretty sure he wasn't. Then we talked about someone else who's been abused, and suddenly it made sense."
Kevin was staring at me, his eyes narrowed. I snickered, "Did you sleep through that assembly we had about signs of abuse? This was classic. No drug use, no drinking, but still a major personality shift. It just seemed to fit."
Kevin was still staring, but now he was nodding dumbly, which I took to acknowledge understanding if not agreement.
"I told Throckmorton I thought Ron was being abused somehow. I thought it'd get him help, not shot!"
"What did you tell him? What kind of abuse?"
I shook my head, "I just said abuse, man. There's all kinds ... plenty to go around."
Kevin was glaring at me by then, and I felt defensive. "What?" I asked, "I'm not supposed to care? How the hell should I know that a guidance counselor would shoot him? I didn't ask for Throckmorton, he's just the guy I got."
Kevin seemed to relax a little, and he said, "Oh man, I'm not accusing you of anything. I'm just ... I don't know. I don't know!" He looked conciliatory, "Don't think I blame you, Evan. I just don't have any ..."
He stopped, so I offered, "Frame of reference? Neither do I."
He nodded, then turned and walked away like he was lost in thought. I headed for the cafeteria, and saw Chris at the salad bar as I approached. I wasn't taking my test on an empty stomach. I hurried over to join Chris, and I went kind of wild with the unhealthy aspects of our salad bar. I ended up with what was more like an antipasto - Caesar salad on the bottom, scoops of tuna salad, egg salad, and potato salad over that, then cubes of ham and cheese, and slices of salami and pepperoni.
It was all delicious, but eating did nothing to quell my excitement. I ate quickly, and Chris wished me luck with my test. I had almost a half hour before my father was due, but I took my pass and checked out anyhow, and I read some of my English assignment on the steps while I waited for him.
I was too distracted to absorb any of what I was reading, and meanwhile my ass was absorbing all kinds of cold from the step, so I put my book away and started walking out to the street.
Miraculously, a dazzlingly clean, blue Acura GS coupe pulled up to the curb when I was only twenty feet away. It looked exactly like mine, and the sunroof was tilted up like it was waving hello. I actually started to admire it before I realized it was mine, then I laughed at myself and ran to the passenger side. I flung my bag into the back as soon as I got in, and I grinned at my father while I buckled up.
"I didn't know it was you," I said. "You washed it?"
Dad smiled, "Free wash with a fill up. Your first tank's on me."
I settled in, "Thanks, Dad. I ... I .. I don't know when I've been this excited!"
He chuckled as he pulled out, "I think I know the feeling. Just don't let your excitement translate into a lead foot, okay?"
"I won't," I hoped.
When we got near the DMV building, I checked out the road we were on because part of the test would take place there. I'd been there before to check it out, and nothing had changed since then except there was dirty snow at the sides.
We had a little time, so when we got there we sat in the car and sorted out the paperwork. I'd take my test, and Dad would get the car registered. I couldn't put it in my name, anyhow.
When we got inside we looked at the signs, and there was one for 'Driver Testing', so I went that way while Dad went to the registration area.
I knew I'd pass the test. First up was an eye exam, and I breezed through it. Next was the so-called 'written' test, which had been replaced by what amounted to a bad video game. I'd taken it many times before, and on the same piece of equipment. The driving school I went to had one just like it. There were about one hundred questions in total, but I'd get a random ten of them, and the answers had been drilled into me.
This was rote learning at its pinnacle, and I aced it with a perfect ten. Then I had to wait for a live tester to take me out on the road.
He turned out to be of the silent type, and the only event of note during the test was when I stopped for a stop sign at a tee intersection. I was careful to stop at the line first, then pull forward. Right then, a big SUV came up from the right, and it didn't even slow down for the stop sign.
I rolled my eyes, and the guy testing me groaned, "I should just fail you right now, to keep you out of harm's way."
I shot him a panicked look, and he seemed taken aback. "Just kidding! You're doing fine, let's get this over with."
When we were back at the DMV building, he told me to back into a slot, which I did. I said, "My father says people who back in are really dumb, because it's a lot easier to back out."
The guy chuckled, "We're testing ability, not intellect. Your father is right."
He made notes on a clipboard while we walked in, then right at the door he tore off the paper and handed it to me. "You passed. Perfect score." He pointed to where I had to go and stand next, and said, "Good job." Then he walked away.
I looked around for my father, and I spotted him sitting among lots of other people. He was already looking my way, so I held up the paper with one hand and I stuck my thumb up with the other, though I'm sure all he saw were my teeth because I was grinning so hard.
After that, I had my picture taken, waited awhile longer, then they presented me with a driver's license. 'Provisional' was embossed right into it in about ten places, but I had it just the same. Provisional meant nothing at all about where or when I could go places, it just severely limited who could ride with me for the next six months.
Dad was still waiting when I was done, so I went to where he was. There was no place for me to sit, so he stood and examined my license when I showed it to him. He was only two numbers away by then, so it wasn't long before I had exactly everything it took. A license. A car that was all registered and legal. Insurance. A full tank of gas. And keys!
We went outside, and Dad attached the plate to the back. He stood up and pulled a pen from his pocket and a little pad from a different pocket, and he wrote down the plate number. "Remember your tag number, Ev, in case anything ever happens."
I looked, and it read, '867-JZX', and I figured I'd write it down myself somewhere, then I felt such a hard laugh coming on that I had to turn away to suppress it. I am a sick individual sometimes, and my father was there. I'd learned memorization by association, and it worked for me, and I knew right then that for all time, my jizzy, X-rated plate would never be forgotten. Nay, it would become part of Evan-related lore.
My mirth wanted out, though, and when my father saw me turn around he asked, "Are you alright? Is something funny?"
I snickered. "Just happy," I managed to gasp out. "I didn't park this way on purpose. They made me .. part of the test."
"Oh, I know that," Dad said, and he got in the passenger side while I triumphantly opened my own door.
I don't know that a thing, an object will ever make me feel like that again, but opening the door to my own car that day felt almost Holy. It was the door to a car for sure, but it felt like the door to Manhood, and I climbed in eagerly.
I got buckled in, pressed the clutch, turned the key, and I wasn't Evan anymore, I was EVAN! And the exclamation point came with it.
I dropped Dad off at the house so he could go back to work. Then I considered going over to the school to show off, and figured I'd do that the next day anyhow, so I headed toward Riverton and Aaron. Just the simple idea that I could do that hinted at the freedom that lay ahead for me.
I could complain about that stretch of road forever, but that day it didn't bother me even a little bit. I was EVAN! Smiley, and I was in my own cool Acura, and I was looking good as I headed out to see my boyfriend.
And man, could that car move. Even on that road, there were stretches where I could at least poke the gas, and I could close a hundred yard gap in the blink of an eye.
I came to one light where I was first in line. It was one of the ones that everyone complained about because it was red so long, and all the time I sat there not a single car entered from the road that teed in from the left. Heh. That meant that when it finally went green, I had about a mile of open straightaway, so I put my foot down hard and held off shifting.
I loved the whine of that little engine already, but when the revs hit six thousand it started to scream, and I shot forward like I'd been hit from behind by a fast moving truck.
Jesus! That was my car doing that! I upshifted and backed off the gas, but I was thrilled and excited. What a car! And all along, I had Avril cranking from the loud speakers! I loved more than just Aaron in this world!
When I got to Riverton there was town traffic, but I took pleasure when someone looked at my car. Well they should, because mine was clean and shiny, whereas most others were covered with winter crud, but I had a standout car, anyhow.
When I got to Aaron's, I wondered if he was even home from school yet, because Justin's car wasn't there. Aaron answered the door on my knock, though, and he backed up a step in surprise.
"Evan!" He grinned, "Holy ..." then he pulled me in and kissed me, but broke it right off when he saw my car out there. "You did it! Take me for a ride!"
I glared at him, "I can't!"
He grinned, "Oh, yes you can! Just around here ... just up the street! You won't get caught."
"Come on, Aaron," I protested, and he gave me such a sweet, hopeful look, that I said, "We can sit in the car."
"Sit, shit," Aaron said. "At least take me around the block!"
I grinned, "Get your coat!"
I did! I did I did I did! I broke the law taking Aaron for a ride, but I never left the neighborhood, and I took it very easy. People saw us, but nobody was used to the new laws yet anyhow, so we didn't get reported. No, just two kids out for a ride, and driving slowly while obeying all traffic regulations.
When we were back at Aaron's house, alone in his bedroom, he said, "Vroom! It's so cool that you got a car with a shifter!"
I smiled in agreement, then wondered out loud, "Do you even know how to shift, Aaron?"
He snorted, "Of course I do! I love sticks! Especially yours!"
I looked at him, then I burst out laughing, and I laughed for a long time.
Aaron would catch me off guard sometimes, and he just did, and it was funny! I had to laugh. It felt good, because I knew things would become serious again soon enough. Everyone in the world knew by then about the shooting at my school, and I knew the questions weren't far off.
For the moment, I had Aaron, and right where I wanted him, which was cuddled up together on his bed, his stupid Korn music playing in the background. His taste in music wasn't uniformly good, if you haven't noticed.
He had the volume down so we could hear if someone came home, and the music wasn't intrusive, it was just awful. I felt serene enough to keep my mouth shut, about the music anyhow, and we had a nice quiet hour together.
Aaron did eventually ask, "Are you alright, Ev? You haven't said anything about the things that happened. Something must have changed since last night."
I smiled, "There's nothing new, and I don't know what to think yet." I turned on my side and looked at Aaron's face, "It happened, that's what I know. I saw the guy who did the shooting that same day. I was right in his office where it happened. I probably said something to set it off."
"Jesus," Aaron swore in a whisper. "And the kid he shot was bugging Lee?"
I nodded. And Aaron stretched out, "What's the deal? Does anybody know?"
I said, "I sure don't. People were talking about all kinds of things today ... drugs, sex ... you know!"
Aaron blinked, "I do know. My dad says when something rotten happens, there's usually money involved. Do you see money there?"
I shook my head and gave Aaron a kiss. "I don't see anything, but you're probably right. I don't know what to say ... the story will come out when it does."
Aaron giggled at me, "You're a dick, you know that? Won't you ever speculate?"
I giggled, "Okay, I will! I speculate that Mr. Throckmorton was Lee's other mother's brother, and that when I didn't die when Lee's other mother's brother's brother-in-law couldn't kill me, he figured he'd just go and shoot up all the kids who didn't like Lee. Only he's a piss-poor shot!"
Aaron snickered, "You scare me sometimes."
His eyes narrowed, "I mean it. That was very ... um ... lucid, but I didn't learn a thing!"
I grinned, "You talk junk when you want to, I talk junk when I want to!" I made a face, "Egg!"
Aaron looked at me in surprise, then he laughed hard and gasped out, "Fair! Okay!"
I just looked. The t-shirt Aaron was wearing was all stretched down over his shoulder. Maybe it was one of Justin's, or maybe I'd done that. It was the only thing he still had on, with the remote possibility of socks, but he was showing an awful lot of shoulder, and I suddenly didn't care if the President
himself had shot up our school. I was ready for seconds!
When we were spent a second time, the time of day entered my mind, and I knew I had to go home. "I gotta go," I groaned.
Aaron kissed my cheek, "I know." He drew in a breath, "I love you, Ev. I know you know, and it's hard to say how much. And I know you'll say the same thing back, but here!"
He pulled me to him and gave me the tenderest, sweetest kiss he could come up with, and I felt like a limp elastic when I finally got up. Not all limp, you understand, just mostly limp.
Aaron seemed kind of rubbery himself, and he pulled on some sweats and slippers to see me out. He was coming to my house the next night anyhow, so it wasn't going to be goodbye for long.
The drive home took longer than I liked, and I knew I'd have to get used to that road and the lights and traffic. I got to use my headlights, though, and it was fun turning them on. I did radio pre-sets at each light I had to stop for, but I realized I'd have to do them over again. For the most part, the stations you could hear in Riverton were different from the ones you could hear in Mr. Harman, but I could do eight of each so it wasn't a problem.
My car really fit me like a glove, and I loved everything about it. It was nice having a long drive, really, because every mile I drove made me feel happier about my luck in finding it.
When I got to the house, Alton's car wasn't there yet, so I was still on time for dinner. When I went inside, Dad was on the phone in his office and Mom was in the kitchen. I glanced at the mail, then hung up my coat and went to my room. I had homework. I didn't want to start on it before dinner, so all I did was lay my things out so I'd be ready afterwards.
I washed up and went back downstairs to see that Bruce had just come in. We didn't usually greet each other, but I managed to mumble, "Hey, Bruce," as I walked by. He grunted something in return, and I went into the kitchen, where my mother was also on the phone. Something smelled good, but she wasn't frantic so I probably had time.
I went back to my room so I, too, could be on the phone, and I debated who to call first. I wanted to know what was happening at school, and Paul probably would have had the best information. I called Chris first anyhow.
I was wired up about having my license, and I let Chris know it. I wasn't too evil, because he is my best friend after all. Then I asked, "What's going on at school? Did they say anything?"
"Nothing," Chris replied. "Not a word, but there were a lot of different police there later on. They had the local police, the state guys, the FBI and ATF. The whole office wing is closed down. Even the principal's set up in a teacher's lounge."
I breathed, "Wow!" as I tried to picture it. "Does anybody know?"
"I don't think so. There's enough gossip going around to fill a freight train with bullshit, but if anybody really knows, they're not talking."
I knew how that worked, and said, "Find somebody who isn't talking, then. That's probably who knows."
He snickered, "You might be right. Listen, I gotta eat. I'll call you later."
"Have fun," I said, and we hung up. Maybe I'd learn more when the police talked to me.
* * * * * * * *
Paul was at my house early the next morning, and I could tell he had something on his mind. I put my muffin on a paper towel and took it and my coffee to the family room so we could talk privately.
"Evan," he said, "I heard some things." He touched my arm so I'd pay attention, "This is just stuff I heard, so don't take it as fact. The FBI is all over Throckmorton's office and his house. They have his wife and kids in a hotel somewhere."
I looked at him incredulously, "What are they looking for?"
Paul smiled, "I don't know. They haven't consulted me yet. I think that ATF being there says it might be drugs, but the buzz is about sex."
I felt my jaw drop. "Sex?"
Paul nodded, "Yeah, like in pornography."
I just stared until Paul said, "Eat your bun, we'll be late. I'm just telling you what I heard, and it's getting more consistent. Yesterday it was everything from motorcycle gangs to drugs to stolen cars. Nobody's saying anything, but people with eyes see what's going on. The ATF guys went home, so it's probably not about drugs or guns." His eyebrows went up, "I know ... that leaves a lot of things, and I don't know more than I've said, and that's just noise."
I choked down my muffin while I thought about it. Drugs had made sense when Kevin Hatch first brought up the idea, but that only applied to Ron Mastracchio. The question at hand was, why the hell did Mr. Throckmorton shoot Ron, then take his own life?
That was more than a question, because it really troubled me that someone could be that desperate. Lee's father was on my mind, of course, because he killed himself after he tried to kill me. I knew what that was about, but Throckmorton's actions had me baffled.
I just gave Paul a helpless look and shrugged my shoulders.
He nodded, then stood to go, saying, "Figures." He looked at me while I was getting my coat, and said, "It'll come out. It's not worth the energy right now."
I giggled, pulled my coat on, and we left to pick up Chris. Dad chased us out the door. "Evan!" When he caught up, he handed me his business card, "They'll talk to you today. If you want me there, just call. The lawyer's number is on the back, too."
I looked, and it was there. "What?" I asked. "Is there something I don't know about?"
Dad shook his head, "Not that I know of. Just call if you have to." He held his phone out, "Take this." He noticed my shocked expression and softened his tone, "Jesus, I'm sorry." He patted my shoulder, "This is just in case. You'll probably be out of there in thirty seconds." I took the phone, and he repeated, "Just in case, okay?"
I nodded, and he went back into the house. I pocketed the phone and thought about the shield Donovan had given me, about the commendation that came with it. Surely they meant something.
I got a sense of how things had changed when I got to school. Everything but the front entrance was still closed, and yellow tape had replaced the barricade that led us up front from the parking lot. There seemed to be even more police cars and police vans everywhere, and there were lots of people in uniform making sure that nobody strayed from where they wanted us. There were television and news people crawling all over the place too, but they were located where they couldn't get close to anyone else.
The metal detectors were still there, but the line was going faster now that kids knew what would set the gizmos off. They were now wise enough to send watches, heavy jewelry, cell phones and Walkman players through the x-ray machines to avoid being wanded.
We all understood the added security, but that didn't make anyone like it. Still, the grumbling was low-key, and once we were past it things seemed normal. I just hoped that it would be temporary.
When I sat down in my homeroom, I sorted through my things so they'd be ready when I needed them. People were very quiet, and I didn't feel like talking either, so it was just nods and almost inaudible greetings while we waited for announcements. Even those were subdued. They did say that there were counselors available for anyone who had a need. They added that certain students would be interviewed by the police, and that we'd be notified before we left for classes if we were among the interviewees.
My teacher dropped a note on my desk before the announcements were over, and I was first up. I had an appointment instead of first period.
It was in a detention hall, so when the bell rang that's where I headed. I'd been forewarned that the police wanted to talk to me, and it seemed pretty obvious that they would. What surprised me was the standing-room-only crowd of people in that room; at least forty of us to be interviewed, and that was just for first period.
There was nobody in charge, just a bunch of kids, then a man appeared at the door and called out a bunch of names. The kids followed him out, and the rest of us waited. Again, it was really quiet, with just a smattering of gallows humor, but things seemed to go quickly. They called out names every five or ten minutes, and I was in the third wave.
I was surprised to learn that some construction had taken place in the school. They brought us to a classroom that had these cubicles that went floor to ceiling, and had room for three people in them, and places to write that were like you'd see on an airplane; they came out of the armrests and folded across your lap.
There were two people waiting for me, a man and a woman, and neither was in uniform. When I stood at the door, the woman looked up and said, "Name, please."
"I'm Evan Smiley."
She held a paper to the guy sitting beside her and said, "Red flag. Call the locals." Then she looked at me and said kindly, "Come on in, Evan. Have a seat."
I took the only one available, and waited for just a few moments before Detective Munro showed up. He stood just inside the door, making the little space feel crowded, and he smiled at me. "Hi, Evan." He glanced at the others, "The red flag in Evan's case means he's a friend."
He turned back to me, "Let me explain, Evan. This is an FBI investigation, but in cases where we know the person being interviewed, we get called in to keep you honest, so to speak." He grinned, "Not that we'd expect anything but the truth from you." He gestured towards the woman and said, "This is Senior Investigator Milligan," then at the man, "and Inspector Novak. Today, we're talking to everyone who had any interaction with either Mr. Throckmorton or Ronald Mastracchio this week."
Milligan took over, and she smiled before she spoke. "Evan, we see that you talked to Mr. Throckmorton the morning of the shooting, and that you brought a harassment complaint to him. Please tell us about that."
I said, "Well, Ron was picking on a friend of mine ..."
"Ron Mastracchio was?" she asked in surprise.
I nodded, "Yeah, him. I talked to him at lunch the day before, and his brother said they'd back off. Then that same day, Ron went and told people I was gay, which is what he was calling my friend Lee."
Munro interrupted, "Lee Erasmus?" He made an odd face, "He's your friend now?"
I nodded, and Munro interrupted again, turning to the FBI people. "I need to fill you in." He went on to explain about Lee and his father, and they knew who he was talking about when he brought up the events of Thanksgiving weekend. Then he told them about the attacks on me, and who was involved.
I think I felt weirder than I ever had when I realized that these people, from wherever they came from, knew all about that.
They were both staring at me before Milligan continued, and again a little smile appeared on her face. I found that smile both attractive and reassuring, and I smiled back.
She continued her questioning, and I told them what I knew, and how Mr. Throckmorton seemed to rush me out after I said I suspected Ron of being abused.
It didn't seem like it took very long, but when I left the police, second period was almost over, so I just headed to my French class.
It felt good to settle into a class, and I liked French. I had chosen French because two years of a language were required, and French came up first alphabetically on the list of offerings.
The main reason I liked the class was the teacher, Mrs. Dussault. She was an elegant woman, tall and regal. She always dressed well and looked her best. She was a great teacher, too, maintaining multiple paces for the different abilities in the class. What I liked best, though, was that she had a wicked sense of humor. Unlike most teachers, she supported laughter in her class. That was a necessary ingredient, because except for emergencies the entire class was conducted in French. That became easier to accept as time went on, but at first none of us ever knew what she was talking about, so she'd say things in French and write them on the board in English.
Last year, after about six months of it, the following transpired:
"Aujourd'hui nous composerons de la poésie. M. Smiley, veuillez venir à l'avant de la salle?" (Today we will compose poetry. Mr. Smiley, please come to the front of the room.)
"Moi?" I asked, my hand on my heart. I was appalled, because I couldn't write a poem in English if my life depended on it.
She pointed at a spot on the floor and said, "Ici."
I got up and edged past my tittering classmates. I was already blushing at my impending failure. I stood there and looked at Mrs. Dussault with fear in my eyes.
She said, "Quand, vous serez prêt, Evan." (Any time.)
I was ready to break out in a sweat, while I thought furiously. I finally started, "Um, Parlez vous Français?"
I looked around, recklessly searching my limited vocabulary for a rhyme, "Ah, Chevrolet coupé,"
It was hopeless, and everyone was snickering at my discomfort already. I looked helplessly at Mrs. Dussault and ended, "Back seat, we play."
Well, Mrs. Dussault's mouth opened huge like she was going to scream, and in a way she did, but what came out was such a wild laugh that it scared me back to my seat, and the whole class busted up. It took long enough for everyone to get settled that everyone else was assigned a poem for homework. That's how it should have been to begin with, and after that day Mrs. Dussault was a favorite of mine, and apparently I was one of hers.
When she came in the class after I left the detectives, I said, "Conjecture ce qui ai obtenu je?" (Guess what I got?)
She looked at me, "Je suis impatiente de l'entendre." (I can't wait to hear.)
"Un coupe d'Acura!" I announced triumphantly.
She smiled sweetly. "Ces voitures ont des sièges arrières ont notoirement petits," she smirked, "Mais je suis certaine que vous trouverez l'espace pour vous amuser." (Those cars have notoriously small back seats ... but I'm sure you'll find room for your fun.)
Class went well, with no references in French to the events of the prior day. English followed, and people there were still talking about things until the teacher came in and announced that we were back to lessons.
Then it was time for lunch, and I was seriously hungry. I met Chris in the cafeteria, and we saw Lee for the first time in a few days. He was sitting with someone else, but when I asked he said he was doing alright, and that we needed to talk. I told him that I'd call him after school, then Chris and I sat with some other people.
I was occupied with filling myself up at first, but I listened to what the other kids were thinking and saying. Content was working its way into the gossip, and some things were interesting, even if they weren't easy to attach importance to. I had no way to separate fact from fiction, but if what I heard was true then Ron had a much larger background with Mr. Throckmorton than just school.
Ron's a swimmer, and he'd been on the YMCA swim team since he was a little kid. Throckmorton was one of the coaches for that team. He was also a Deacon and a youth leader at the church the Mastracchios went to. On top of that, his wife had been Den Mother when Ron was in Cub Scouts, so Ron had known Throckmorton for a long time; ten years at least.
That led to all kinds of speculation, and I became annoyed with myself when I started listening to it. One thing that had been drilled into the Smiley boys was that speculation was for land developers. My father absolutely hated it when we tried to put thoughts in each other's heads, much less into the heads of strangers.
I did notice that the people who had interviewed me were eating in the cafeteria, as were several other adults I didn't recognize. I thought they might be more of the team of investigators. They weren't sitting at tables with the students, but they had to be hearing the same kinds of things that we were. I thought wryly that they'd probably learn more by eavesdropping than they would by asking anything.
The good news was that things seemed to have settled out, at least with the students. The smell of fear that had ben prevalent for two days was gone. The gossip was less frantic, too, and more down to earth.
I saw Detective Munro sitting with some other guys when I went to unload my tray, and I said hi to him.
"Oh, Evan," he said. "We have some more questions for you. Can you talk to us again this afternoon?"
I stared at him, "Can I? I guess ... if you want."
He saw that he'd confused me, and said, "If you have a test or something, then later, or even tomorrow is fine." He grinned, "It wasn't a trick question, I promise."
I understood him then. "I have gym last period, and I really don't want to miss it. No tests today, though."
Munro nodded, "It won't take long. Just head on over to where we talked this morning, and we'll be there in about ten minutes."
I nodded and walked away, wondering what they wanted now. Chris said, "You're the star, man! They want you for seconds already."
I elbowed him, "I'm no star." I looked at my friend, "I'm getting nervous, Chris. What if they think I have something to do with it?"
Chris patted my shoulder, "Why would they think that? Don't go getting paranoid, Evan."
I wondered if I was. I'd answered a lot of questions that morning, and I thought I was done with it. Chris got my attention and said, "They talked to a lot of kids, Ev. They're probably gonna cross reference things you said just to double-check. It doesn't mean anything."
"You think?" I asked.
Chris stopped and tugged my arm. "Evan, you didn't do anything. Look at it in those terms. No, wait! That's only one term, so look at it in that term." He grinned.
Chris had this contagious grin, and I felt the tug in my own cheeks, then I was grinning too. "You're right, man. For once, I didn't do anything."
Chris split off, saying, "Told ya. You're gonna be a bear in gym, right?"
He had that right. I had all kinds of pent up energy, and the frustrations to go with it. It was Friday, and that usually meant open gym, which meant free-for-all basketball. That was just what I wanted, what I needed! I wanted to run and jump and throw, and yell and crash into people! That was the natural me, and I needed a serious dose of it right then.
Chris was right about what the police wanted, too. They fine-tuned my earlier answers, pinning down times and things like that. They did ask how well I knew Ron, then Mr. Throckmorton. The honest answer for both was 'not well at all', and I said a simple no when they asked if I had any more thoughts about what transpired.
I was like a madman in gym. I needed it, I really did, and I stirred things up until we had a real frenzied game going. Everyone moved fast, and we all took chances, and it turned into the wildest game I'd ever played in school. We probably got wilder a few times in the park, but in the gym we were more constrained by space, so it seemed more intense.
I love how I felt afterwards. I was hot and sweaty, sore, totally exhausted, and felt like I was on top of the world. I was high from busting out like that, and I loved the feeling.
I did think to look around in the locker room, for any indication that I'd been outed. I didn't notice anything, and the only words directed at me were about my game. They weren't all complimentary, but the negatives came from the other team and they were wrong. I never cheated, I just played hard. They lost and they were sore about it, plain and simple.
I showered with everyone like I always did, and I never had a problem doing that. I liked guys for sure, but I never saw anything sexy at all about them washing sweat off.
I'd started showering with guys in Junior High. In all that time, I had seen exactly one hardon, and that was a kid named Ward who was showing off. There were guys I liked to see for sure, but I never got wired by watching someone take a shower. This was my fourth year of taking showers after gym, and it occurred to me that there must have been other gay kids somewhere along the line. Yet Ward's bone was the only one I ever saw in public, and even that was funny rather than a turn-on.
After the workout and the shower, I felt limp but good. Evan the damp noodle. I really loved it when I felt like that, and when I walked out of school I felt just about perfect physically.
Aaron would be coming for the weekend, and that was good. I was done with the police, and that was good, too.
I didn't really believe that anyone would manage to just guess what took place in Mr. Throckmorton's office, or what led up to it. Once the police figured it out, they'd say something. Until then, there wasn't much to be done about it.
I met up with Chris out front, and just when we reached the sidewalk Paul pulled up. Lee was in the front seat, so Chris and I climbed in back, happy for the ride.
I knew Lee wanted to talk to me, so I suggested that Paul just drop him at my house, and somebody would give him a ride later. We dropped Chris at his house, then Paul left us at mine. Nobody else was home yet, so we sat in the kitchen. I got Lee a Coke and poured some juice for myself, then I sat opposite him and asked, "How's it going, anyhow?"
He looked down and mumbled, "Pretty good."
I saw a troubled look cross his face and asked, "Something wrong?"
He swallowed and sighed, then said barely audibly, "Things are always wrong when I'm around."
"What?" I cried. "What brings that on?"
Lee's voice was still quiet and tremulous, "It's like I hex everything. Now somebody else is dead, and that kid Ron got shot." His voice got a little louder and he stared at me, "I know you went in there to report him, and look what happened this time! I ..." he threw his hands up, "I shouldn't be around people. Bad things happen."
I sagged and tugged at my hair with one hand. "Oh God, Lee, don't talk like that. I don't know what Throckmorton and Ron were doing, but it had zip to do with you. I told Throckmorton I thought Ron was being abused. I didn't even mention your name, only that Ron changed so much from the way he used to be."
Lee seemed like he hadn't heard, then suddenly turned and eyed me, "Is that true?"
I shook my head, "I'm not lying, Lee. Why would I? I don't know what to believe about Ron and Throckmorton, but I can promise it had nothing to do with you. They go back a long time."
Lee took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. That was a calming technique they taught us for baseball, and I used it when I had to be steady for a crucial at-bat. After he did it a second time, I asked, "Better?"
He inhaled deeply again, then he spoke, flirting with a smile, "Better ... yeah. Thank you."
I snickered, "Don't thank me. Anything else I can do for you?"
That got a smile and a wisecrack, "Yeah, you can take my place in court next week."
I said, "Uh-oh. What's gonna happen?"
Lee shrugged, "Probably nothing. The D.A.'s ripped that he couldn't do me as an adult, so he's all hell-bent to put me away. There's a new prosecutor, but she's gonna do what he tells her to do."
"What the fuck is his problem?" I asked angrily. "Wait! It's an election year, right?"
Lee nodded glumly, and I said, "What a fucking asshole. He wants to notch his belt with kids behind bars? Who wants to vote for a piece of shit like that?"
Well, my little outburst elicited a dimply grin from Lee, and that made me calm right down and giggle.
Lee didn't say anything, he just giggled with me. He finally said, "You're funny. I don't even have to get pissed off when you're around, you do it for me."
I laughed out loud, "Just trying to take the pressure off."
Lee was smiling at me, "Thanks, Evan," he said softly.
"No problem," I said. "You know, I already told that prosecutor some things. I can tell him some more if you think it'll help, and I'm sure my Dad will, too."
Lee seemed suddenly distant, like he was looking through me. "I'll get convicted, I know that. I already am in a way. The court will just decide what they're gonna do to me."
"What are their options," I asked, because I only knew a few of them.
"Well, there's jail. They call it a correctional school, but it's basically jail with classrooms attached. If I go there, it'll be until I'm eighteen."
I winced, and Lee went on, "Then there's boot camp. It's probably worse than jail. They try to make you a citizen by humiliating you seven by twenty four. It would be less time, though; maybe six months or a year, then probably probation."
"Jesus," I swore in a whisper.
Lee went on, "Then there's the looney bin if they decide I'm nuts. They can just keep me there forever if they want to. The judge doesn't assign a time, they just keep me there until I'm so-called cured." His voice picked up an acid tone, "Nobody gets cured there. If you're not crazy when you get there, they'll see to it that you're certifiable by the next morning."
I was feeling frustrated, "Oh, fuck, Lee! Isn't there anything good that can happen?"
He seemed undecided. "Well ... the judge could just send my home with my mother, but that's not likely."
"What about probation? I thought you could get all this free counseling and everything."
Lee looked grim. "Yeah, it's possible. There are flavors of probation, too. I could just get released to my mom and have to check in with them. I could get released to my mom, but confined to the house and school. Then I'd have to wear a bracelet that shows them where I am. I could get released with all kinds of provisions, like do this and don't do that, and that's what you're thinking of. I'd be in a young offenders program, and get private counseling, have to go to group therapy ... I guess it wouldn't be bad. I already know that what I did was wrong and crazy." He looked sad, "I like the counselor I'm seeing now, and it's helping ... I feel better every day. I don't want to change programs."
"I think you need a break," I added quickly. "That's why I'm offering."
Lee said, "I'll tell my lawyer you offered." He smiled, "I really appreciate it, too."
I decided to change the subject. "So .. anything going on with you and Carly?"
"What?" he asked, caught off guard.
I smirked, "I saw you holding hands."
He blushed, "Oh, well ... yeah." Then the dimples came back, "So what? I saw you kissing your boyfriend. Tell me how I'm weird."
I stood up, "Lee, I didn't say anything about weird. I just asked. Am I allowed to ask in my own house?" I pointed at him and grinned, "I was just making con-ver-sa-tion, not trying to learn all your secrets."
He'd already stood, and he grinned impudently, "And I was just tal-king! I like Carly. We took a walk, we held hands, end of discussion."
I leered, I think, "Love at first sight, then?"
Lee laughed, "You're nuts."
"I know," I said as I landed an arm across his shoulder. "Chris taught me, so it's him you should thank."
"You're holding me closer than I held Carly. Are you trying to tell me something?"
I let go of him like I'd been burned, saying, "You little ..."
Lee immediately put his arm around my own shoulder and gave me a little squeeze. "Let me tell you something. I like you, Evan, and I love that you stick up for me after what happened."
I felt good hearing that, and when we got to the family room we separated and I turned the television on.
We sat in arm chairs, and smiled briefly at each other.
I turned to the television, working the remote in hope of finding something about the school shooting.
I said, "I like you, Lee. Chris and Aaron do too, and I know Paul does. Ask your lawyer. If we can say something to help you, we'll do it. My parents can maybe help, too. They're won't be afraid of a big, bad prosecutor."
Lee studied my face, then sank into his chair with his arms crossed. He smiled his understanding of my offer.
Lee Erasmus was in my house with me, and we were alone. He wasn't a big dog breathing down my neck anymore, just kid with a past that gave him reasons to be uncertain about his future.
I was there to help him, because he was my friend.
End Plan C
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