I rode my bike home. My house wasn’t far from the school. There were only a few roads in Agenton, all of them off of Main Street. Reb waved bye to me as he got into his car. (I hadn’t realized that he had his licence.) He was new to school; this was only his third week at Agenton High. I couldn’t help but wonder why he’d talked to me so much today.
I shrugged away the question, however, and hopped onto my bike, making sure that my headphones were firmly set in my ears. (My IPod did have certain uses.) “Behind Blue Eyes” by The Who was playing as I started my ride home:
It was a cloudy day–typical spring weather. One minute it could be stormy, the next it could be sunny. There was a definite scent of rain in the air as I swerved onto Main Street, tapping my handle bars slightly as I listened to the music.
I pushed hard against the brakes as I came to the road I needed to cross in order to get home. The song was finishing, the music slowing as I waited impatiently for the cars to pass.
Behind me were several apartments, which were right above an ice cream parlor. My dad and I had always come here during the summer. It was an unofficial tradition: every time Dad came home from a business trip, we’d go and get ice cream. It would always be vanilla because The Agenton Ice Cream Shoppe didn’t have chocolate. Dad and I always thought that was strange because we considered chocolate to be worth more than gold. So we always asked for extra chocolate syrup.
I grinned at the memory. It wasn’t until I felt a drop of rain that I realized the light had turned red. I pushed my bike forward, pedaling quickly as I crossed the street.
I didn’t see the truck until it was right on top of me.
For a split second, I stopped, eyes widening. Then I sped up, my feet moving so quickly that they slipped from the pedals. I crashed onto the sidewalk, skinning my knee. The bike flew out from below me, skidding three feet from where I lay.
The truck made a loud screeching sound as it attempted to brake, then sped up, the driver shouting, “Watch it, kid!”
“You watch it!” I yelled back, far more loudly than I normally would have. (Remarkably, my IPod was still playing as though nothing had happened.)
I frowned, breathing heavily, my knee stinging.
I turned to retrieve my bike, but stopped, looking across the street. My eyes fell on the apartments; I could’ve sworn that one of the blinds had snapped closed. I continued to stare at the windows. I couldn’t see any shadows across the blinds–the apartment seemed deserted.
I shrugged. The truck hadn’t impaled me. What did it matter if someone had been watching?
I positioned my bike, and began pedaling as quickly as I could. It was really raining now, and I hadn’t worn my coat. I knew I would be soaked by the time I reached home.
And I was right. My clothes were sticking to my body, and my socks made sloshing noises in my shoes as I ran to the front door, holding my hand above my head (as though that would do a lot of good against the torrent of rain).
Mom wasn’t home yet. Virgil was sitting in the darkened living room, watching Jerry Springer. He didn’t even notice that I’d come home.
I went to my room immediately, unlocking the door. I was grateful that the house was fairly old. Each door could be locked, and each lock needed a different key. They were the big brass keys that you see in movies, and the door handles were large and ornate.
I opened my door, throwing my bag into a corner. I threw off my wet clothes, tossing my IPod onto my bed. I dug through my closet until I found a pair of jeans and an AC/DC t-shirt.
I fell onto my bed, staring at my book bag skeptically. At last, I caved into temptation and retrieved my composition book. I reread what I’d written in study hall, and sighed. Not only did I not know what that disc was for, I also didn’t know who The Man and Derek were talking about:
“–Not looking over a stupid brat while someone goes off to see his girlfriend.”
I flipped back a few pages, to what I’d written yesterday:
“I can still protect him.”
I narrowed my eyes in concentration. Had The Man and Derek been talking about the same person as Aislynn?
I should know the answer to that question. I’m the writer, right? I should know the use of that disc. I should know… everything!
I racked my brains, trying to figure out my own plot; I drew a complete blank.
Mom’s voice shook me from my thoughts (for which I was incredibly grateful), and I threw my composition book onto the floor.
I hated meatloaf. Virgil was shoving into his mouth, and Mom was eating it quietly.
I was picking at it, taking a bite occasionally.
“What were you doing up there, kid?”
I turned to Virgil–at school I was Everett, at home I was Kid. I was considering getting my name changed because no one used “Todd” anymore.
“Homework,” I lied.
“Weren’t listening to any of those records were ya’, kid?”
I shook my head.
“How often you listen to them things?”
“Daily.” This was the truth, but I still didn’t make eye contact.
“You know, kid, you could really get something for those.”
“No I couldn’t.” It was the same conversation we’d had Monday. I’d yelled in protest, and Virgil had responded.
The bruise on my shoulder was healing nicely.
“Virgil, we talked about this.” Mom’s voice was nice to hear. It was hesitant and soft, but still carried to Virgil. I don’t think he heard, though, because all he said was:
“They’re records! It’s not like asking him to sell his dads’ effin’ ashes!”
I gulped. “They’re all I have.”
I’d said the statement several times–screamed it over and over. They were all I’d inherited. Mom hadn’t been able to look at Dad’s things. She’d given most of the stuff to Goodwill, but I’d demanded the records. I needed them for the same reason she still wore his wedding ring.
“Your mom can give you somethin’, kid.”
“No, the records because that’s… that’s my dad.”
“That ain’t your dad, kid.”
I was half-expecting Virgil to say something cheesy like “your dad’s in your heart.” But he didn’t respond immediately, just shoved more meatloaf into his pudgy face.
“Your dad would want you to move on, kid. He’d want those records to go toward something useful.”
Apparently Virgil was trying a new tactic–usually he just shouted.
“Something useful like your whisky?”
“Don’t use that tone with me, kid!”
I smirked inwardly. There was the yelling again. I knew it wouldn’t take long.
“Kid, these are tough times, and you need to help out–”
“Why don’t you help out and go to an AA meeting?” The sarcastic remark had left me before I’d even had the chance to think about it.
I regretted it instantly.
There had been rule. If Dad had been listening to his record player, I’d known that it wasn’t the time to talk. It was time to sit back and listen.
It was a rule I had always obeyed.
And it was a rule that I had adopted.
I was sitting on the floor beside my record player. Queen was blaring loudly so that I couldn’t hear Mom and Virgil fighting.
The metallic taste of blood was still in my mouth, though I’d washed most of it from my face. I knew I’d be sporting a fat lip tomorrow. I’d probably blame it on that truck from my ride home–it wouldn’t be a complete lie.
Before me was a large, silver case–like an oversized toolbox. It was where I kept all of my writing–every notebook from the past three years. That was when I’d first started writing The Man In The Shadows. My dad had been the first person to read it:
“Did you write this, Todd?”
“Yeah. I mean, it’s not perfect, but whaddaya think?”
“What do I think?”
“Well… I think that Todd Everett sounds like the name of an author.”
Dad was the only family member who had ever read my story. I’d never let Mom read it because then I would have to tell her what Dad had thought.
We hadn’t talked about Dad since the accident.
I sighed, flipping through each notebook that caught my eye. Nowhere in any of the pages could I find even a hint of the person that The Man, Aislynn, and Derek had been talking about.
I frowned. Maybe he was a new character? One that I hadn’t even realized I’d invented? I tried to think of a name for this person, yet no name came. I kicked the case, and it hit my dresser with a clang.
A photo album fell from atop my dresser and landed at my feet. After a moment of hesitation, I opened it.
Dad looked back at me.
I’d always thought that my father looked like a rock star, but that could have just been because I’d always seen him listening to the albums. His dark hair was slightly long, though not past his ears. He’d moved with the same ease that singers do while on stage, and his eyes sparkled with the same enthusiasm.
He was kinder than a rock star, though–gentler. He was the type of man you could tell a secret and know that he would never tell a soul.
I gulped slightly as I turned the page. It was a picture of all three of us: Mom, Dad, and me. It was at one of my birthday parties; I looked like I was about ten years old. We were all smiling and laughing.
Dad had once said that he’d married Mom for her laugh. Once, he’d relived their first date, saying how remarkable her laugh had been to him. He had–being the smooth Romeo that he was–spilt his wine across the table, staining the white cloth a deep red.
But, rather than jumping at the mess, Mom had laughed, opening her mouth in an unbelieving cackle. Dad had always teased that she sounded very similar to The Wicked Witch of the West, and, at first, her laugh had startled him.
But, then he’d grown to love the sound–it was a real laugh, a laugh that “completely let loose all emotion–no worries… genuine.” Yes, that’s how Dad had described her laugh–genuine.
But Mom didn’t laugh any more.
The last time I’d seen her laugh was the day before the accident. We’d been playing charades (another tradition–we always played charades while Dad was away on business).
Then we’d gotten the news.
I’d been in the eighth grade. I couldn’t stop the memory from coming back to me:
“Is Dad back yet?”
“‘Cuz he said he was coming back today, Mom. I need to ask him something. I wrote more. I have to see what he thinks. He’d really like it, but my main character still doesn’t have a name.”
“That’s good, Todd. Why don’t you come sit down?”
“Todd–Todd… did you have a good day at school?”
“Huh? Yeah, you know, Linda said she’d go to the dance with me. Mary turned me down, but–hey! Dad’ll want to know that! When’s his flight getting in?”
“Todd, your Dad’s not coming home today.”
I closed the album and pushed it under my bed. I tried to erase the memory from my mind, but the more I tried to forget, the easier it was to remember. I realized that my eyes were stinging, and I wiped them harshly against my arm, rising to go to bed.
Copyright Sarah Davidson 2020