What is it like when those closest to you are not there any longer?
Tuesday, March 26, 2019; Late Afternoon
Kevin opened the front door. “Hi, Laura. Come on in.”
She came in and hugged him, then lifted a small paper bag. “Hi, Kevin. I brought dessert.”
“What is it?”
“Fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies with pecans.”
“Wow! That sounds good. Let’s take them to the kitchen.”
As they walked through the dining room, he pointed to the table. “We’ll do our homework here.” She dropped her book bag off next to the table, and they continued into the kitchen.
“You can put the cookies on the kitchen table. Would you like a snack? Something to drink?”
“Do you have Coke or Pepsi?”
“Coke, root beer, ginger ale, and Calistoga fruit drinks.”
“A Coke, please. I need the caffeine.”
“How about a snack? I’m going to have a banana; I eat them to prevent cramps in my calves when I’m playing tennis. Besides the bananas there are apples, and there are chips and salsa and mini-burritos.”
“I’ll have a banana, too, please.”
Kevin got a Coke for Laura and ginger ale for himself, and a banana for each of them.
“Glass or can?” he asked.
“Glass, with ice, please.”
He got her a glass and added ice from the dispenser in the refrigerator door. Then he opened the can and filled the glass. “There’s some left in the can. Let’s sit at the table and decide what homework to do first.”
They had three classes in common. Algebra 2/Pre-Calculus, English 2, and World History. They were both taking Spanish, but Laura was taking Spanish 2, and Kevin was taking Spanish 3; there was not much commonality between those classes. Kevin could answer questions that Laura might have, but she was getting an A so far, so she didn’t mention the class.
“Did you turn in your World History project on time?” she asked.
“Yes. Early, actually. You?”
“Same. I assume we’ll get them back on Thursday.”
“I got all of the problems right on the algebra homework,” Kevin said. “I’m glad because I think that shows our meeting on Sunday was useful. Are we going to get together this coming Sunday?”
“Yes. Unless you have something else to do.”
“Nope. At least… not that I know of.”
“You don’t sound real sure about it,” Laura said.
“The FBI called, and they want to have a meeting with me to tell me what they’ve found out about what happened to my family. I’m trying to schedule it. Having it on a Sunday is a possibility.”
Kevin told Laura the background and who he contacted to ask if they could be at the meeting.
“Alex?” She seemed surprised. “You asked him to be there?”
“Yes. Since his dad is going to be at the meeting, it’ll be easy to have Alex there as well. The problem is everyone has to send me their schedule so I can pick at least one date and time that works for everyone. I hope it will end up being on a weekend day. Saturday would be best.”
“This coming weekend?”
“Could be, or maybe one or two weekends after. It’s more likely it would be on a Saturday instead of a Sunday. But it could be either. I haven’t heard from everyone yet.”
“Who’ve you heard from?”
“Dr. Ranse and Alex. I think I’ll hear from Mr. Burney tonight. That means that I’m waiting for Mr. MacIntosh, my attorney. Then I can make a chart showing the dates and times each person has available. Then I’ll call the Walnut Creek police department and tell Lieutenant Richardson the dates and times. Then he’ll contact the FBI; I guess between the FBI and the police department they’ll pick which day and time for us to meet and let me know.”
“What if there’s only one day and time that everyone’s available, and then the police and FBI say they aren’t available.”
“I don’t know. I guess I’ll have to start over. I might have to move the meeting further out from now.”
“That could be messy,” Laura said.
“Unfortunately. I just hope that it all works out and I don’t have to start over.”
“Why is Mr. Burney going to be there?”
“I was telling Alex about it, sort of like I’m telling you. When I said my attorney was going to be there, he asked if what kind of attorney he is, and I told him he’s a family law attorney. Alex convinced me that I needed a criminal law attorney there, too, and his dad is that kind of attorney. He said I needed someone used to things like providing protection for me if they think the killers are still around. So that’s why I have two different kinds of attorneys to be with me when I meet with the FBI. Then Alex volunteered to be with me at the meeting, and stay with me overnight afterward.”
“He’s going to stay with you?”
“It’s going to be a tough meeting for me. It’s about the murder of my family. I’ll be getting a lot of details that… that are going to be difficult and really emotional to hear about.”
“I can stay with you.”
“Alex will sleep with me and hold me and wake me if I’m having a nightmare.”
“I can do that.”
“Laura, you’re a girl, and I’m a boy. Your folks would never let you stay overnight in my bed.”
“They’d never find out. They’d think I would be sleeping in your guest bedroom.”
“I sleep nude.”
“Oooo… kinky! I love that idea. I’ve never slept with a naked boy before. Sounds like a lotta fun.”
“Alex already asked me if I wanted him to stay over the night after the meeting, and I said yes.”
“I can stay tonight.” Laura wiggled her eyebrows.
Kevin decided to end that conversation with a different approach. “Okay. Sounds like fun. You can sleep with me. I’ll be naked, so you’ll have to be naked, too. I’ve never been in bed with a naked girl, so that should be fun. I might even discover that I’m bi.”
Laura sneered at him. “I just remembered, I can’t do it tonight. I have to fluff my pillows.”
Kevin burst out laughing. After he calmed down, he pointed at her and said, “Gotcha!”
“Let’s get started on our homework,” she said. What do you want to do first?”
“How about we review the Algebra 2/Pre-Calc homework and exams that I still have to do. Did you make up any more test handouts for me?”
“Yup. I made four more. So there’s only two more that I’ll need to make, and I’ll have those for you on Sunday. One thing, they’re not as neat as the first two.”
“That’s fine with me. There’s something else I was thinking about. Since we’re meeting every Tuesday, should we switch and meet here every other Sunday to finish catching up on the homework and exams I missed?”
“Sure. Why not? So that means I’ll come here Sunday, April seventh. In fact, we might be able to finish all of your makeup exams that day. Eleven o’clock okay?”
Kevin smiled. “Yes, and I’ll provide lunch. I’ll have Connie make something that will be really tasty and easy to eat. You like spicy?”
“Yes. Medium-hot spicy, not four-alarm spicy.”
“No problem. Let’s work on the algebra and pre-calc exams I need to make up.”
Kevin completed the first exam, and all of his solutions were correct. The second exam wasn’t a success.
“Damn!” Kevin growled. “I have five wrong out of twenty. How’d that happen?”
“Let me see which ones you missed. Okay, those are from our homework. Did you read chapter seventeen?”
“No, not yet.”
“The problem is, you’re not using the right approach to solving the problems you missed. You’ll have the same problem with the other two exams. You need to study the material that you missed because the steps to solve these problems are different. Read chapters seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen. You’ll also need it for Ms. Arnolds exams on Mondays.”
“Okay, I’ll read them then redo the homework. Then I can take your practice tests, including this one over again. What’s next?”
“World History is reading what Mrs. Weston posted as our reading assignment. We don’t need to do that together until we’ve both finished reading. Then we can run through the questions at the end of the chapters,” Laura said.
“Okay, I’ve already read those pages. I’ll need to read them again, but they don’t seem to be very complex and, best of all, there aren’t a lot of things to memorize. Do you agree?”
“Yes. We’re on the same page.”
“English 2. Mr. Sommers picked a book that we’re supposed to read part of. Did he tell your class about It?”
“Yes. It sounds… unusual.”
“Did you check out your copy of the book? It’s available in the school library.”
“No. What’s the book about?”
“The title is The Dream Weaver and it’s by a guy named Jack Bowen. We have a reading assignment, and it’s a little longer than A Rose for Emily.”
“I guess I need to get my copy from the library.”
“You should do that tomorrow morning. You can’t do the reading assignment without the book. They have the exact number of copies we need for our class and I assume for Mr. Sommers’ other English 2 classes. One copy of the book is reserved under the name of each student in our class. Your’s is under the name Laura Wilkes. Make sure you don’t forget it.”
She stuck out her tongue at Kevin.
“Did you get your copy?” she asked.
“Uh-huh. I found the assignment on School Loop and checked out my copy from the library this morning,” Kevin said. “Do you have a tablet or a laptop with you?”
“I have my phone, and I read stories on the Kindle app. Let me read the assignment that Mr. Sommers posted for our class,” she said.
Kevin already had the file, but he didn’t want to tell Laura that he’d already read the parts that had been assigned. The file was short, just the assignment about what Mr. Sommers wanted the class to read, to check out a copy of the book from the library, and that it would be discussed in class on Thursday. Laura went on School Loop and downloaded it to her phone.
“Okay, since you’re the only one in this building with the book,” Laura said, “What’s it like?”
“I have it in my room. I’ll get it and bring it down.” It took Kevin about just under five minutes to go upstairs and return with the book. He handed it to Laura to look at.
“Why’d it take you so long?” she asked.
“I had to take a leak.” He handed her the book.
“Oh.” She leafed through the beginning pages. “It’s pretty thick, isn’t it. Is there a Kindle version?”
“I wish this book were available in a Kindle version,” she said. She looked at the assignment. “What’s this part that says we can’t discuss the assignment with any other students?”
It doesn’t really say that, Laura. Read it again.”
She did. “Okay, it says we can’t discuss our opinions and conclusions with other students. I assume that you don’t want to discuss it, then?”
“You’re right. I can tell you one thing, I was overwhelmed — in a good way — by this book.”
“Whoa! It has 367 pages! And size of the font is really small!”
Kevin grinned. “Yes, it’s printed for those with good eyesight. I want to read the whole thing. I checked for a Kindle version and discovered there isn’t one, and a new paperback version is almost twenty dollars. But there are used versions listed as ‘very good condition with minor shelf wear’ for six dollars. I ordered one of those.”
“Wow, you really did like it. Just think about writing something as long as this. Say, that reminds me. Are you going to take the Creative Writing class next year?”
“Maybe. Do you think it’s worthwhile?”
“I like to write, and I’m finding that it’s a good class. We’ve been writing short stories, and I think that I’m getting enough out of it to try my hand at writing a novel.”
“Can I read some of the stories you wrote?”
“Sure. We’ll be posting them on School Loop. I’ll send you the link as soon as it’s set up and I’ve uploaded my stories.”
“Thanks. I’m looking forward to reading them. Is Creative Writing a full-year class?”
“No, it’s a one-semester class. It’s paired with Communication Studies, but you could take any other one-semester class that’s available in the second semester.”
“I’ll check into it when I’m planning my classes for next year. I think I’d like to try writing a short story.”
Laura was flipping through The Dream Weaver. “I’m going to read the Prologue and first chapter. They don’t seem too long. Is that okay with you?”
That’s what she did. It took her about ten minutes to finish reading the Prologue and chapter one.
“Okay. I finished. I can see why you’d like this book. I do too. It’s interesting.
“So, have we finished our homework?” she asked.
“I think so. It’s a little early for dinner, so we could play a video game, or we could watch a movie on Netflix or Fire TV.”
“You have both?”
“Yeah, and Hulu and Vudu, too. They were included with the TV when… when my folks bought it.”
“How do you decide?”
“They each have searches built-in, and the TiVo cable box has voice search so if there’s a movie I want to see I can ask for it.”
“Kinky stuff, too?”
“You mean porn?”
“Nope. None of those services have hard-core porn. Just some flicks that show a little tits and ass, same as you can see in a movie theater. You’ll have to search for porn on your computer.”
“The router we have to access the internet blocks porn sites.”
“Too bad for you, I guess.”
“Are there any gay movies?” Laura asked.
“There are some gay movies. Love, Simon, is one,” Kevin suggested.
“Have you seen it?”
“You want to watch it?” Laura asked.
“Yeah. I read the book and liked it. Did you read it? The title is Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.”
“I never heard of it.”
“I’m surprised. It got a lot of publicity when it came out a few years ago. It’s about two gay high school boys. What’s interesting it’s written by a woman.”
“Do we have enough time before dinner, or should we watch it after we eat?”
“It’s about quarter to five now. Most movies are about an hour and a half. So it should be over by six-fifteen. Getting dinner ready will take less than half an hour. Let’s watch it now.”
They watched Love, Simon. Kevin was surprised when Blue was revealed early; in the book, the reveal didn’t happen until close to the end. While he liked the book better than the movie, he enjoyed watching it anyway. However, he was glad they didn’t pay eight bucks each — or more — to see it in a theater.
When it was over, Kevin asked Laura how she liked it.
“I liked it a lot. I thought one scene was stupid. That’s where Simon was trying to chat up the gardener who was blowing leaves. I mean, what was that all about?”
“I have no idea, and I agree with you. It might have been in the book, but I sure don’t remember it.”
“You think Simon was hitting on him?” she asked. “Why would he do that? That guy was so much older looking than Simon.”
“That’s the main reason it was so stupid. One thing, I’m pissed that the movie showed us Blue sending an email to Simon early, so we knew. In the book, Simon was clueless about Blue until the carnival ride near the end. That made the story much more interesting to read. I was always looking for hints about who Blue might be when I read the story.” Kevin frowned. “I wonder why they changed it for the movie.”
“Did you guess who Blue was in the book?” Laura asked.
“Nope. Like Simon, I was clueless until near the end.”
“I’m glad that Blue was black. And cute!” she said.
“Ditto both of those. I think that the actor who played the part of Blue was a great choice. By the way, Blue is black in the book, too. And I liked the way they didn’t make a big deal about it either in the book or in the movie. It’s like, okay, my boyfriend is cute. That’s all that was needed.”
“Yeah, that was cool,” Laura said.
“I agree. Now, let’s get our dinner ready. I’m starting to get hungry.”
Laura grinned. “I agree with that!”
Kevin put the tuna-noodle casserole in the microwave to reheat. “What kind of veggies do you like? I have some green beans. They’re fast to cook because they’re frozen. And we can fix a salad, too.”
“I’ll do the salad,” Laura said. “You can be responsible for the cooking part. Green beans are fine.”
When the casserole was hot, and the green beans were cooked but still crisp, and Laura’s salad with blue cheese dressing and grape tomatoes was finished, they sat down to eat and chatted about school. Laura told Kevin some of the Edison High School rumors dating over the past seven weeks.
“You heard about the accident in the drop-off lane at school?”
“Yeah. Two kids were injured.”
“Did you hear how it happened?”
“There was a guy in a pickup truck, and even though it was early, before school started, his blood alcohol level was zero-point-two percent. That’s more than double the level for legally being drunk. He T-boned the woman’s car as she was letting her son off. He’s a freshman at Edison, and he ended up with a broken arm. His little brother goes to Walnut Creek Intermediate, and he ended up with a concussion and is still in the hospital. Their mother had cuts and scrapes. The article in the newspaper said the guy was arrested for felony drunk driving and causing great bodily harm and a bunch of other charges I don’t remember. The story was in today’s paper.”
“I don’t get a newspaper,” Kevin said. “I wouldn’t have time to read it every day.”
“Get the Sunday paper. It comes with free online access to the complete daily and weekend papers. That way you can look up things that you want to find out about. And it has color comics and lots of sports.”
“That’s a good idea. Now all I have to do is remember to go online and sign up.” He grinned.
“I’ll send you a reminder.” She did that; Kevin’s phone dinged that he’d received her text.
They finished eating. “Are you ready for dessert?” he asked.
“How about some of the chocolate chip cookies I brought?”
“Yes! I love home-baked chocolate chip cookies. I have some vanilla-bean ice cream, the all-natural kind with no weird chemicals or high-fructose corn syrup in the ingredients, and it’s made with real vanilla beans.”
“That sounds perfect.”
Kevin prepared two generous servings of ice cream, and they sat down at the kitchen table eating it with some of Laura’s chocolate chip cookies. They continued to talk about school and their friends, letting Kevin catch up about who was dating whom and who’d broken up, what the latest rumors were, which teachers were easier to get along with than before… or not, and so on.
They’d just finished their dessert when Kevin’s cellphone ringtone started to play.
“Excuse me, this might be a call about the meeting with the FBI.” He pulled out his phone and looked at the caller ID. It was Mr. MacIntosh, his attorney.
“This is one of them. I’m going to have to take this call.” He stepped into the dining room, sat down at the table, and answered the call.
“Hi, Mr. MacIntosh. Sorry to be bothering you in the evening about the meeting.”
“It’s never a bother, Kevin. I have the days and times I can be available. When do you think you’ll be able to let me know which one you’re going to choose?”
“I hope by Thursday or Friday when I get home from school. It depends on when I hear from the FBI and the Walnut Creek police; they’re going to pick the date from the options I’m going to send them. I’m going to try to schedule it on a Saturday so I don't miss school. Is that okay?”
“Yes, it is. If I need to make a change, I’ll call you. You said you’ll be able to take calls when you’re in school?”
“Yes, I got the approval to use my phone. It’s set on vibrate when I’m in class, and I can step out into the hall when I get a call.”
“It sounds like you have it well organized. Can you write down my dates and times?”
“Yes. I have paper and a pen here. I’m ready.”
Mr. MacIntosh gave him four dates and a total of seven times spread across those dates. Kevin confirmed by reading them back.
“There’s one other thing,” Kevin said. “A friend of mine said I should also have a criminal law attorney. His father just happens to be a criminal law attorney; his name is Thomas Burney.”
Mr. MacIntosh laughed. “Sorry about laughing, but telling me it’s Thomas Burney is amusing. I know him. He is associated with my law firm. If you had asked me for a name of a criminal law attorney, it would have been Thomas Burney. Have you told him that I’m your family law attorney?”
“No. I haven’t talked to Mr. Burney yet. My friend, Alex Burney, is going to talk to him tonight and ask him to call me.”
“Tell him I’m your family law attorney as soon as you start your conversation with him. That might help him decide if he’s otherwise reluctant. How did you find out that the FBI wants to meet with you?”
“Since Alex and I are friends, I was invited to have dinner at the Burney’s. When I got home last night I checked my voicemail and there had been a phone call from an FBI agent. He left for me a message about having a meeting so they can give me a status on the investigation into the murder of my family.”
“Are you certain the person who said he’s with the FBI is actually with the FBI?”
“Yes. The message said I should contact Lieutenant Richardson at the Walnut Creek Police Department but he didn’t include a phone number. So I’ll call the police department’s main number and ask for Lieutenant Richardson.”
“Okay, I’d say that verifies that the call is legitimate.”
They talked for a couple minutes more then said goodbye and ended the call.
Kevin returned to the family room where Laura was watching a rerun of some new comedy show.
“That was my attorney, Jonathan MacIntosh. He’s in family law, and is the one who set up my emancipation. Now the only one I’m waiting for is Alex’s father. Then I can pick the days and times that works for everyone and call the Walnut Creek Police lieutenant and tell him, and I guess that he’ll call the person from the FBI and they’ll pick the date and time. I’m selecting dates that are on a Saturday so Alex and I don’t miss school.”
“So you know how the dates and times you got already lined up?”
“No, I haven’t done that yet. I’ll do that after everyone has sent me their dates and times.”
“So do it with what you have already! Maybe they won’t match up at all.” Laura said.
“Okay. What Dr. Ranse gave me is already on my laptop.”
They went into the dining room and sat down. Kevin opened up the spreadsheet he’d created with Dr. Ranse’s dates and times. It looked like a calendar page with lots of room in the box for each date.
He added Mr. MacIntosh’s dates and times. Four dates and times corresponded with Dr. Ranse’s information, and were on Saturdays so they would work for him and Alex.
“That’s pretty good,” Laura said. “It avoids you and Alex missing school.”
As soon as she finished that sentence, Kevin got another call. “This must be from Alex’s father,” he nodded to indicate that It was.
Kevin told Mr. Burney that his family law attorney was Jonathan MacIntosh, and he laughed just the way Mr. MacIntosh had. He said the times he could get together were any time on any of the next four Saturdays.
“We’re good to go,” he told Laura. “Everybody has at least one or two times available on the each of the next four Saturdays. So now it’s up to Lieutenant Richardson of the Walnut Creek Police and Mr. Bradford of the FBI to pick the what date they prefer and the time from those four choices. I’ll phone Lieutenant Richardson during academy period tomorrow and give him the dates and times. Then after I get a confirmation about the day and time from the Walnut Creek police, I’ll let everyone know.”
“How about you let me know, too.”
“Okay. I’ll text you with the date.”
“How about Alex. Is he free on those Saturdays?”
“Yes. We already talked about it. He said if he has a preseason lacrosse practice his coach said he could get out of it. Same as I’ll be able to get out of any tennis practices if I have any that conflict with the meeting.”
“Doesn’t Alex come to help you with your chemistry class on Saturdays?”
“Last Saturday was a one-time session. Now we’re meeting during collaboration period on Wednesdays and Fridays for me to do the experiments and take the exams I missed. The next time I’m meeting with him is tomorrow morning.”
“So, how are you doing now? Will Jeff, Alex, and I getting together with you one day a week help?” Laura asked.
Kevin thought for a few seconds. “Yes, it really does help. I’d like to keep doing this with you on Tuesdays, with Alex on Mondays, and with Jeff on Thursdays. At least for a few more weeks — if it’s okay with all three of you.”
“Yes, it’s definitely okay with me. My mom likes you and thinks it’s a great idea. So I’ll see you next Tuesday. Anything you’d like me to bring?”
“Homemade cookies?” Kevin grinned and wiggled his eyebrows.
“Sure. How about snickerdoodles?”
“Sounds good. I haven’t had those in ages and I really like the cinnamon and sugar flavor.”
“Then I’ll see you next week. That’ll be… whoa, that’ll be in April. The semester’s almost half over,” she said.
Kevin thought for a couple seconds. “Yeah, that’s the second of April.”
“You calculated that in your head?”
“Sure. Today’s the Tuesday the 26th, plus 7 days would be the 33rd. There are 31 days in March, so 33 minus 31 is 2. So next Tuesday is the second of April.”
“That’s a clever way to calculate a date. I’ll have to remember it,” Laura said. Her cell started playing her ringtone. She looked at the screen. “My mom just got here to pick me up. Time to leave so she won’t come pounding on the door. I’ll see you at school tomorrow.” They hugged and said goodbye.
Kevin opened the front door and watched Laura walk to the driveway and get into her mom’s car. Mrs. Wilkes smiled and waved, and he smiled and waved in return, and they left.
He realized that getting together with Laura was a big help. Especially having someone to be with him when he got home. He was looking forward to Thursday when Greg would come home with him. And next Monday when Alex would come home with him.
He headed upstairs with his laptop and books. He walked past his brothers’ bedroom. He looked at the door for a few seconds and opened it. Like Kathy’s bedroom, it smelled sort of musty. He turned and went into his bedroom.
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