"So, you want to come over after school?"
Adam asked me when we were filing out of history class, during the five-minute window between periods. It was the offer I'd been waiting for last Friday but today it caught me by surprise. According to Adam, we were friends, but he'd barely said a word to me all week. I'd been trying to convince myself not to read into that.
"To your house?" I asked, just in case I was missing something.
Adam nodded. "Yeah, no Service Club today, remember? So, come over. We can play more video games or whatever."
I could have played it cool. But after another week of watching Mom loll around on the sofa and listening to Teek dissect all the details of her upcoming date, I could not think of anything I wanted more than to play video games (or whatever) at Adam's house.
"Could we go now?" I asked.
"And skip last period?" Adam glanced over his shoulder, as if to check if anyone was listening. I looked too, almost instinctively. Two girls had followed us out of history, but they were engrossed in their own conversation.
"Sure," I said, "why not?"
He seemed to consider it. "We shouldn't go to my place then. Mom stayed home today. A little too much"—he tipped his hand to his mouth, thumb and pinky extended, the internationally-recognized sign for boozing—"You know, last night." Was Adam's mom a drunk? This was the first time he'd even mentioned it. "We could tell her we got let out early, I guess. But she might not believe it."
I checked over my shoulder again. We'd been loitering in the lunch area with the other stragglers waiting for the official bell, but the crowd was starting to thin. "I have an idea," I said, tightening my grip on my book bag, "if you do want to skip last period."
Adam considered me for a moment, scratching the back of his neck. "Yeah, okay. It's just P.E. for me, and I was gonna sit out anyway."
I pointed Adam in the direction of the gym—the best way to escape to the parking lot was around the back and through the soccer field.
"Come on," I said, taking the lead.
"So where are we going?" Adam asked, climbing into the driver's seat of his ancient pick-up.
"My dad's," I said. My apartment with Mom, that was obviously off-limits since she now spent every hour of the day there. But Dad would still be at work; according to Lionel he was famous for working late, working too hard. It seemed perfect. "It's close to here, just get out onto Applewood and I can tell you from there."
"What's there to do at your dad's?" Adam backed out his parking space and into a curb. He looked over his shoulder, cursing under his breath before he cranked the wheel and steered us out of the lot.
"Same stuff as at your house, I guess," I said. "Lionel will be there."
"He won't care that we skipped out early?"
"Nah, we won't even have to tell him. Lionel doesn't believe in clocks."
"Nice fucking life," said Adam.
"Yeah." I couldn't imagine being Lionel, having nowhere I had to be all day, nothing I had to do. He said he would go to college eventually, but now he wanted to focus on his music now, so why rush things?
Why rush things? That could be Lionel's motto, Mom said once, when she was pissed at him for not picking me up on time. Or better yet, why do things at all? That kid has no motivation, she said, shaking her head. It's your father's doing. Blaming Dad was in vogue at our house. Anything that was wrong with me or wrong with my brother, well, it was Dad's fault.
Your father spoiled him, Mom said, Kids shouldn't grow up with that kind of money.
Which was a ridiculous statement because hello, Dad was already making mad bank when Mom married him, thanks to, I think, Grandpa and nepotism. I should have grown up with that kind of money! But I guess Mom meant that Dad wasn't thrifty or money-conscience because he'd always had a lot. Supposedly they fought about it a lot when they were together. And from what Mom told me, I would have taken Dad's side on this one—wasn't money for spending? Why shop at Wal-Mart when you can afford not to? And since Mom hadn't made the money in the first place, why had she thought she knew best when it came to managing it? Because otherwise we would have been spoiled, I guess. And Lionel was spoiled. I'd escaped it though and could say that I did indeed know the value of a dollar. I also knew the sick feeling that one day, somehow, we would run out of food and end up in the streets. It was a trade-off.
I realized I'd zoned out for a second when I almost let Adam miss a turn. When I pointed to where he should hang a right, all Adam said was, "Okay." If I were in the car with Teek, she would have asked me why I was so quiet by now. I liked not being asked.
"What's the house number?" Adam asked once we were cruising down Dad's street.
"I don't remember. But I'll recognize the house."
"You sure?" Adam asked. Facetiously, I guess. The tract houses on Dad's street were so similar they made Adam's neighborhood look like a hodge-podge. Dad's house was mostly recognizable by Lionel's Mazda parked in the driveway.
I pointed past Adam. “That’s it.” He pulled up alongside the curb and killed the engine. Then he glanced over his shoulder.
"There aren't truant officers anymore, right?"
I laughed before I could stop myself. It was funny, how at one moment Adam would seem so much cooler, so much more experienced in life than I was, and at another he was... not. I had never in my life met a truant officer. "Not around here, I don't think."
"Right," he said. He looked sheepish for about a second, then he opened the door and jumped out of the pick-up. "Remember to lock that," he called as I followed suit. I joined him on the porch, digging around in my bag's front pocket for my keys. I'd only recently added a key to Dad's house to my key chain. Mom didn't see why I should have one, since I was usually only here when Dad or Lionel picked me up. That and maybe she didn't like the idea of me having a second home. We were all trying to get along, but it was still weird.
"Big house," Adam said.
I jammed the key in the lock. "I guess." Through the door I could hear Lionel's electric guitar and it was loud when I opened it, spilling out into the quiet street.
"Who's he playing with?" Adam asked, following me inside.
"Two guitars," Adam said.
He was right.
"Lionel!" I called, unconcerned that I was interrupting what was apparently a jam session. Lionel had all day to do this stuff. "Hey, Lionel!" I called again, louder this time.
The music stopped.
"Yeah?" Lionel's voice called back. "That you, Dillon?"
I motioned for Adam to follow me, around the dining room table and down the hall to Lionel's enormous room. The door, which Lionel had adorned with a cliché biohazard sign, was open. I stuck my head inside.
"Hey," I said. Lionel was standing by the amps with another guy, who I recognized as one of his friends. He was skinny with a broad flat face half hidden behind the bangs of his hipster-scene haircut. And he was holding a flashy-looking guitar. I'd met him maybe twice, but he was the kind of the person you wouldn't forget.
"Hey, Dillon," Lionel's friend said, his face breaking into a grin that revealed the gap in his front teeth. He remembered me too. That was cool.
"Hey, Stacey," I said. I gestured to Adam who'd walked in behind me. "This is Adam."
"Hey.” Stacey looked at his watch, one of those geeky-looking calculator deals that he was probably wearing ironically. "Wow, you guys get out early or something? I mean, you are in still in high school right?"
"Half day," I said. "Teacher conferences." I felt stupid lying to Stacey, because I was almost positive he didn't care. He'd probably think it was cool that we cut out early, but with Lionel, I wasn't so sure. He might feel the need to tell Dad who would tell Mom, and that was the last thing I needed.
"Cool," Lionel said. He pulled the guitar strap over his shoulder and set his instrument down on its stand. "We're due for a break anyway."
"Hey, you look familiar," I heard Adam say to Stacey. "Did you know a girl named Megan Gozman?"
"Megan?" Stacey looked thoughtful as he set down his own guitar. "Oh, yeah, Meggy! Totally. You know her?"
Adam laughed, but looked a little uncomfortable. "She's my sister."
"You're Meggy's little brother? No way!"
"Small world," I said.
"I'm gonna go get a soda," Lionel said. "You guys want anything?"
"I'll come see what you have," said Stacey.
"Cool." Lionel looked at Adam and me, just standing in the middle of his huge room. "You guys, uh, make yourselves comfortable. We'll be right back."
Once Lionel and Stacey had stepped into the hall, Adam whirled on me, slapping his hands to my shoulders. "Dude!" he said.
"That Stacey guy! You know him?"
"Uh, I've met him a couple of times. He seems... nice." He had always seemed nice to me. He'd also seemed kind of flamboyant, which made me a little nervous about what Adam was going to tell me. Was Stacey gay? I'd wondered this a couple of times, thought about asking Lionel, then chickened out. "What are you freaking out about?" I asked Adam.
Adam's voice was an excited whisper, "He used to sell my sister drugs!"
I felt my eyebrows shoot up my forehead. "Really?"
"Yeah! They were both big ravers. I mean, she never told me, but I'd see him come up pick her up sometimes and she'd give him money and he'd give her…"
"Pot?" I asked.
"No, pills and stuff." Adam shook his hands around some more. "Ravers, dude."
"Oh, right." I'd just been thinking about Lionel and how he's always so mellow; I thought maybe I was onto something.
"Man," Adam was saying, "that's too funny."
"Yeah, weird coincidence." I remembered Adam's sister from that staged family photo in his entryway. She'd been wearing a polo dress, her hair a perfect black bob. "Where's your sister now?"
"College on the east coast." Adam made a face like he disapproved, when he said, "I think she cleaned up her act. But that's not the point.”
"What's the point?" I asked. I thought we were talking about Adam's sister.
Adam gave my shoulders a shake. " Stacey could get us drugs!" he said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
"Oh!" I said, biting off the rest of what I was thinking. Which was, we want drugs? I didn't know we wanted drugs!
That was when Lionel and Stacey walked back in with their drinks.
"Sup," said Lionel.
Adam looked up and released my shoulders. We were standing exactly where they had left us in the middle of the room.
"Maybe we should go watch TV in the other room," I said. “You guys can keep playing.”
"Nah, it's okay." Lionel waved it away. “Can I talk to you out here for a sec, Dillon?"
I looked at Adam, thinking, oh fuck, he knows we didn't have a half day. "Sure," I said, forcing a smile. I watched Adam and Stacey plop down the beanbag chairs as I followed Lionel in the hall. He looked at me for a second, then took a long drink from his Coke and swallowed.
"What?" I asked when he still didn't say anything. I was building a defense in my mind, maybe, if you tell Dad about this, I'll tell Dad that you almost made us crash the car! and I just wished he would say it and get it over with.
But instead, he asked, "How's Mom?"
I frowned. "What?"
"Dad's been trying to call her, since I let slip about the job thing"—Lionel made a guilty face for a fraction of second, blink and you'd miss it—"and she hasn't been answering any of his calls. He talked to that guy um... Raymond? But he hasn't been able to talk to Mom."
"Richard," I said, "But I didn't know about that. I guess I wasn't there when Dad called."
Lionel pushed his hair back off his forehead. "Well, how is she?"
I was trying not to think about Mom, because the more I thought about it, the harder it would be to answer him.
"She's fine," I said. "She's bummed out, but wouldn't anyone be? I mean, that's been her job forever. It's not like she can run out and find a new career tomorrow.”
"It's been a couple weeks, right?” Lionel asked. “What’s she been doing?”
"Um…" I rolled my tongue around in my mouth, trying to come up with something to say to that. "Why should she talk to Dad anyway? They're divorced, Dad's out of her life. You know she only talks to him for us."
"They still care about each other.“ Now Lionel seemed kind of agitated; I was glad we were out in the hall, not having this conversation while Adam and Stacey watched. The Hudson-Laskowski Brothers Side Show. Me and Lionel, with our different houses, different last names, different everything. Trying to act like part of the same family.
“Okay," I said.
"If something was up with Mom, you'd tell me, right?" Lionel was trying to make eye contact with me, but I kept looking away; I couldn't help it.
"Yeah," I said, "Of course I'd tell you." I tried to convince myself I wasn't lying, reminding myself that Mom had only been like this for two weeks, which wasn't that long. She could snap out of it of it any day now. She could start looking for jobs on the laptop Richard gave her. She could return Dad's phone calls.
"And…are you okay?" Lionel asked.
"I'm great!" I said, much too quickly to be sincere. I forced a smile for good measure. Lionel really was worried; he really did care if I was okay. That should have been comforting, I think, but it just made me feel awkward.
"Well…think you'll be up for more driving tomorrow? I'm free all morning," Lionel said, like he could possibly have other plans.
"Um, sure," I said. "I mean, maybe."
My non-committal response hung in the air between us before Lionel cleared his throat. "So…it's good to see your friend again," he said, "I guess his knee is better?"
"Adam," I said. “It was his ankle."
"I remembered his name," Lionel said. "Just not the injured body part. I remember that he plays bass."
"Wow, you really are taking an active interest in my life." I said it so flatly, it took Lionel a second to figure out if I was being serious or not. Then the corners of his mouth twitched, and he was snickering.
"Pain in the ass.” He punched me in the arm. There was even something awkward about that, like it was a parody of brotherly affection, something from a poorly written sitcom. Then I got mad at myself for thinking that; not being able to have a normal, decent, human interaction was more likely my problem than his. I must have had a weird look on my face because Lionel's expression shifted to one of concern. "Hey, you know I didn't mean it," he said. "Are you sure you're okay?"
I wiped at my face with my hands, shook my head trying to clear it. I stumbled back against the wall a little. Lionel's cool facade had cracked—he looked actually worried. But I didn't want his full attention like this. It was too weird, too much. "No, I'm fine," I said quickly. "I'm great.”
Lionel was still frowning, but he nodded. "Okay, if you're sure."
"I'm sure," I said. Before he could say anything else, I ducked back into the room.
And the first thing I saw was Adam and Stacey on the beanbags, passing an enormous blue glass bong between them.
Up Next Thursday, Chapter Thirteen: Smoking