What is it like when those closest to you are not there any longer?
Friday, March 29, 2019; Early Evening
It was almost five-thirty when Kevin got home from his session with Dr. Ranse. It had been intense, as he’d expected. Answering the six questions she’d given him wasn’t a big deal. Then she’d asked him for the date when his family had been murdered. He was surprised that she hadn’t asked that before. Or maybe she had, and they both had forgot.
What was a big deal was telling her about going into Kathy’s bedroom. He was glad he did it and that he’d told her about it. Now it would be a little easier to go into his brothers’ bedroom. But it wouldn’t be any easier when he finally made up his mind and went into his parents’ bedroom.
He still wanted advice from Dr. Ranse about whether he should tell his Uncle Graeme about the meeting with the police and FBI. And if he should ask his uncle if he wanted to come to the meeting or not.
But all that could wait until his next session with her on Wednesday.
For now, he decided to do his homework before anything else. He checked School Loop to see if there were any assignments he hadn’t already known about. Of course, there was one. Of course, it was from Mrs. Weston. That wasn’t atypical in her class. The assignment was to read the next chapter in the World History textbook and be ready for an exam on that material on Tuesday, the second of April. At least it wasn’t on Monday, the first of April!
There were several homework assignments that Kevin already knew about. In Spanish 3 they were to write an original 500-word story and turn it in on Wednesday. Then they would read their stories out loud in class, reciting them in Spanish. Grades would be based on two factors: the story itself, including originality, correct word selection, spelling, grammar, and continuity. When reading the story out loud, the grade would be based on accurate pronunciation and clarity. Kevin had completed the first draft of his story. He liked what he’d written; all it needed was a final pass to make sure spelling and punctuation were correct. That should take less than a half-hour.
In English 2 they were to continue the discussion of the prologue and chapter one of The Dream Weaver on Monday. Then they were to read chapters two and three and be ready to discuss them on Tuesday. Kevin decided that he’d read chapters two and three tonight before going to bed.
In Algebra 2/Pre-Calc, as usual, there would be an exam on Monday. Yeah, the first of April, April Fool’s Day. Kevin was sure that Laura would make a big deal about the date. Fortunately, there was no homework to turn in. As usual, he’d go to Laura’s house on Sunday for lunch and to finish the last make up exam. He was glad all the make up work was drawing to a close. Laura and Dr. Ranse were right: the make up assignments and exams — and chemistry experiments — along with everything that was current was probably screwing up his brain. Whether it was adrenaline causing it or something else was beyond his comprehension.
Kevin, had no homework left to do for his Chemistry and AP Computer Science classes. The next exam in chemistry was on Wednesday, and he was ready to take it. He was way ahead of the class in AP Computer Science; he needed a new assignment!
He decided that he’d read the chapter assigned in World History after dinner. It had sixty-seven pages, with illustrations, charts, tables, and graphs in addition to the text, so he estimated it should take him forty minutes to read the chapter based on his experience reading this textbook.
He checked the freezer and found a roast chicken and vegetable dish Connie had prepared. He decided to have that for dinner, so he put it in the microwave for five minutes.
While it was heating, he went to the sports section of School Loop and found that the schedule for the tennis matches had been posted. The season started on the twelfth of August; Edison’s schedule included 22 matches. He saved the schedule as a text file so he could copy it on his To Do List.
Kevin emailed his counselor, Mr. Langer, and asked if they could have a meeting. He wanted to know how everyone — Mr. Langer and his teachers — thought he was doing. During the meeting, he’d also mention which of his teachers gave him encouragement and which didn’t. That would definitely be an interesting part of their meeting.
He heard the signal that the five minutes were up. He checked to make sure his dinner was hot enough and was ready to eat. As usual, it was delicious. There was a little vanilla ice cream left, so he didn’t bother putting it in a dish. Instead, he got a spoon and ate it out of the carton.
After he finished eating, he sat down in the family room and read the chapter from his World History textbook. His estimate was a little short, but that was because he read it twice. Still, an hour wasn’t too long to skim the material and then go back and read it in-depth, taking notes so he’d be prepared for the exam.
He went upstairs to his bedroom, opened his desktop PC, set the keyboard to Spanish mode, and brought up the draft of his story. He ran the translation program he’d found online and checked the Spanish vocabulary, spelling, and punctuation of his story. He made a few of the suggested changes, then checked the word count. It had had 548 words. He saved it, read it through a final time to make sure that he hadn’t missed anything, then submitted it to Mr. Contreras on School Loop.
Kevin checked the time. It was eight forty-five PM. All he had left was to read chapters two and three of The Dream Weaver. He checked the number of pages, and that made him laugh. It was 67 pages — the same as the number of pages in the World History chapter. Maybe this was a good omen. He thought about adding it to his To Do List as a joke. But he didn’t. He thought it was funny, but to add it to the list would be past funny and into silly. He assumed that Dr. Ranse wouldn’t appreciate it.
He wasn’t sure how long it would take to read the two chapters from The Dream Weaver. But there was no reason not to start, so that’s what he did.
The first thing that made the page comparison meaningless was that the typeface in The Dream Weaver was much smaller than in the World History textbook, even though the size of the printed area of The Dream Weaver pages was about half that of the textbook’s pages. Also, there were only three small illustrations compared to two illustrations, five charts, two graphs, and one table in the textbook — which were all much larger.
Kevin took over an hour and forty-five minutes to read the two chapters. He’d still have to reread them, probably two times, to get their full meaning. These chapters were more complex and harder to follow than the prologue and chapter one.
It was ten twenty-five PM. Time to take a shower, brush his teeth, and go to bed.
Saturday, March 30, 2019; Morning
Kevin woke to his clock radio. It was tuned to KKDV which was playing REM’s It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine). He tried to remember the last time he’d heard that song. It was probably when he was about ten or eleven years old. REM was his favorite band back then. Well, maybe one of his favorites. He realized he still liked them. He wondered why he didn’t play his old CDs anymore. He’d have to find his favorites, organize them, and start listening to them again.
The song made him smile. Maybe it wasn’t appropriate for him with everything going on in his life, but he still had to smile. It made him happy like it always had. He stayed in bed until it finished.
He looked at the clock. Six-thirty. He gave himself an extra half hour of sleep on the weekends. This was Saturday. Last time he’d looked, Saturday was definitely on the weekend. That thought made him chuckle.
“Time to get up and go out for my run,” he thought. Still, he waited, listening until the song segued into Five for Fighting’s It’s Not Easy, another favorite song from his pre-teen days. After it finished playing he reached over, turned off his clock radio, and got out of bed.
When he got back from his run he took a shower then went downstairs to the kitchen. Connie was there.
“Good morning, Kevin. How are you today?”
“Good. Really good after my run. I’m hungry, so I’m ready for breakfast. But I’m going out to lunch with friends, so I don’t want a huge breakfast.”
“Would you like eggs and toast?” she asked.
“Yes. Thank you. I’ll toast a slice of sourdough bread.”
“Would you like your eggs scrambled or over-easy?”
“Two or three?”
“I think two eggs will be enough this morning.”
“Coming up. What are you doing today?”
“I’m going to the movies with my friend Ted Gering and his brother. We’re going to see Black Panther. Before the movie, we’re going to Gott’s Roadside for lunch. It’s a new burger place that opened a couple months ago. That’s why I don’t want a big breakfast today.”
“That should be fun for you. I’ve read reviews of that movie; and all of the critics seem to like it.”
“I think we’ll enjoy it. I’m looking forward to lunch, too. I haven’t had a bacon cheeseburger and fries in a long time. I hope they’re good.”
“Where is the restaurant?”
“Gott’s is on South Main Street across from Broadway Plaza. It’s about three blocks from the Century 14 theater.”
“Well, have fun. I’m fixing some meals for you that I’ll freeze. Do you want me to leave one or two in the refrigerator for you to have this weekend?”
“Yes, please. Two would be good. Alex is coming home with me on Monday, and we’ll have dinner and watch a movie or play some video games. Maybe you could make several of your world-famous shrimp, vegetable, and fettuccini noodle dinners and freeze them. That way on Thursday when Jeff comes over we can have that, too. He told me that he doesn’t like fish, but he likes shrimp. I think that’s strange. He told me his mother thinks it’s strange, too.
“Laura is coming home with me on Tuesday. I’ll heat the leftover pot roast that you made last week. We'll have it for dinner.”
“Three of your friends are coming home with you each week?”
“Yes. Having three people come over during the week is a big help. That means I don’t feel lonely when I get home from school those nights. Before they started coming home with me, I’d get home every day with no one here in the house, it just felt so empty and lonely. It’s really nice that I have friends who will come home with me.”
“I’m sorry you’d been feeling lonely when you came home from school.”
“You know, when they come home with me, they get to have one of your excellent dinners. They always rave about what you’ve fixed for us.”
Connie smiled. “Thank you. I’m happy that your friends enjoy my cooking as much as you do.” Then she asked, “Is there anything that you’d like me to get when I go to the store today?”
“Could you get whatever you need to make your wonderful cranberry bread pudding?”
She grinned. “Thank you for the compliment. I’ll add any of the ingredients I don’t already have to my list. When I get back, I’ll prepare a large casserole for you and your friends.”
“Thank you. And please get two containers of Tillamook vanilla bean ice cream, too. I ate the last that we had with my dinner last night.”
“Alright. If there isn’t anything else, I’ll go to the store now.”
“Okay. I think I’ll see you before I leave. Ted and Brad are going to pick me up around noon.”
“It’s nine-thirty, and I should be back in a little over an hour. So I’ll see you then.”
“Oh, one other thing, Connie. I’m going to dinner at the Burney’s house on Sunday.”
“That’s the family where you had dinner on Monday, isn’t it?”
“Yes. Their son Alex and I have become really good friends.” Kevin thought about telling her he and Alex were boyfriends, but he’d do that some other time — if ever. Not this morning.
“I’ll consider that in what I’m preparing for your dinners this weekend. Thanks for letting me know.”
“Okay. I’ll see you later, Connie.”
Kevin brushed his teeth, then returned to his bedroom. He had time to scan the World History chapter once again to prepare for the exam scheduled for Tuesday. He added to the notes he’d written as he read.
It took about a half-hour; that was less time than when he’d read it the first time. This time he focused on what he expected Mrs. Weston to include on the exam. He’d learned how to read his teachers and figure out what they’d usually include and exclude. That made his studying more organized and successful, too, as reflected by his grades.
He thought about reading chapters two and three of The Dream Weaver again but decided not to. It was too complex to get into before going to the movies. Instead, he got his tablet and read Hal Spacejock, a science fiction novel listed as “A Humorous Science Fiction Comedy.”
Did they need both ‘Humorous’ and ‘Comedy’ in the blurb? Kevin thought that was redundant.
It was also subtitled, “Book one in the Hal Spacejock series.” That seemed to be a trend with science fiction stories these days. Every book seemed to have pre-planned sequels. More money for the publishers and, hopefully, for the authors, too.
Still, it was advertised as a comedy, and that suited his current mood. Once he got started, he found he was laughing as he read the story. He also discovered the author was Australian; it originated from the website www.spacejock.com.au.
He hoped that the story lived up to the hype. And, as he got into it, he realized it did.
A half-hour later he heard Connie return from her shopping trip. He walked into the kitchen.
“Would you like a hand?” he asked.
“If you don’t mind, there’s one heavy shopping bag next to my car. If you bring it in, I’ll unpack it.”
“Okay.” Kevin brought in the shopping bag and set it on the floor next to the refrigerator. He looked inside. Most of what was in the bag needed to be kept frozen, so he put them into the freezer.
“Anything else I can do, Connie?” he asked when he’d finished.
“No, thank you, Kevin. I’m going to fix the cranberry bread pudding now.”
“Okay. I’ll be in the family room reading. When Ted and Brad get here and ring the doorbell, I’ll answer the front door, and I’ll call out ‘goodbye’ to you so you know we’re leaving.”
“Alright. Have a good time. Let me know if the hamburger place is good. What was the name?”
“Thank you. If you think it’s good, I’ll take my grandson there the next time he wants to have a hamburger.”
Saturday, March 30, 2019; Noon
Kevin continued reading Hal Spacejock until he heard the doorbell. He turned off his phone and answered the door. As he expected, it was Ted.
“Hi, Kevin. Are you ready for lunch and the Black Panther?”
“I am. Hold on a second.” He called out, “Connie, I’m leaving now.”
She replied, “Have a good time.”
“Let’s go!” he said.
They walked onto the front porch, and Kevin closed and locked the front door.
When they got to the car, Ted said, “You’re tall, so go ahead and sit in the front seat. This is my brother, Brad. Brad, this tall guy is Kevin Young.”
They shook hands, and Kevin smiled. “Hi, Brad. Nice to meet another tall guy.”
“Same, Kevin. We’ll park in the garage at the theater, buy our tickets, then walk to Gott’s. Okay with you guys?”
Kevin and Ted both said, “Yes,” and they talked about what they were planning to order for lunch, even though they’d never been to Gott’s and said they hadn’t looked at the menu on the Gott’s Roadside website. They laughed about that but decided it was a good idea to keep a new restaurant as a surprise until you actually ate there for the first time.
Brad didn’t agree. “You guys are weird. I want to know what a new restaurant is going to be like before I go there and spend my money,” he said.
“So, did you look up their menu?” Ted asked.
“So, what’s it going to be like? Just plain burgers and fries, or anything different?”
“Sorry, you said you wanted it to be a surprise, and I’m not going to spoil that by telling you what’s on their menu.”
“What about prices? Can we afford to eat there?” Kevin asked.
“I guess I can tell you about the prices. It’s an upscale burger place, so it’s expensive but cheaper than some sit-down table service burger places.”
Ted nodded. “Okay, I think that means we can afford to eat here.” He pointed at the entrance to Gott’s Roadside. It was across the street from where they were standing.
Kevin enjoyed the brothers’ banter and being part of it.
Gott’s was counter service. There was a line, but it moved faster than Kevin expected. The prices were a lot higher than counter service fast-food place like Habit. Kevin’s bacon-cheeseburger was $10.99, fries were $3.49, and a shake was $6.99. So, with tax, Kevin’s bill was just over $23.00 — not including a tip. That was okay because his burger was excellent, the fries were very crisp and not over-salted, and the chocolate shake was made with real ice cream and was thick and tasty. Of course, it was definitely not on the tennis team diet.
While they ate, they talked about how Brad liked going to the University of California at Davis and living in a dorm. He described his major, biotechnology, and what he planned to do after getting his degree. Ted talked about some of the latest rumors at Edison High, and problems he was having with one of his teachers. It wasn’t a surprise to Kevin when Ted said it was Mrs. Weston. That made Kevin laugh, and they talked about how grouchy she always seemed. Brad added that she was the same when he was at Edison.
Ted asked Kevin how he liked playing varsity tennis, and since this was a topic Kevin enjoyed talking about, he spent several minutes discussing the team and their prospects for the season which would start in August.
“What do you do between now and then?” Brad asked.
“Practice, play matches against the other guys on the team, practice, use the weight training room, practice, run every morning, run after each practice… did I mention that we practice a lot?”
Brad was holding his hands over his ears. “I think I figured that out, and all that exercise is absolutely frightening!” he replied. Kevin and Ted laughed.
They walked to the theater and showed their pre-paid reserved seat tickets. Their seats were right in the center, and the ability to see what was going on was perfect. All three enjoyed the movie.
On their way out they discussed the scenes they especially liked. Kevin wondered about the music. “I wonder if there’s a CD of the music?”
“I’d think so,” Ted replied. “The movie’s been out for quite a while.”
“I’ll check it when I get home. I’ve got Amazon Music on my PC.” That made him realize that he could take his CD’s he’d thought about this morning and copy them to his Amazon Music app and have them wherever he had the app installed, including his phone. He should have thought of that!
Brad dropped him off at home, and Kevin thanked him for the ride and said goodbye to Tim. When he got inside, he checked the time; it was a little past five PM. He thought about the day and smiled. He’d had a good time with Ted and Brad. Getting out of the house and doing something different that wasn’t related to school and studying and homework was a good idea.
He checked the house phone; there weren’t any calls. He took his phone out of his pocket and turned off airplane mode. There were three calls. One was from Laura confirming their noon study session on Sunday. One was from Alex confirming that Kevin was invited to dinner at their house on Sunday evening, and he should get there by six PM. The third was from his Uncle Graeme. He left a voicemail message asking how Kevin was doing. He decided he’d call them back this evening.
That made Kevin think about the meeting on Saturday, April thirteenth. He realized that it was in exactly two weeks. That surprised him. For some reason, he still thought it was further in the future. So, if he was going to tell Uncle Graeme about the meeting, he couldn’t wait until after his next session with Dr. Ranse on Wednesday. If he did, it would leave less than a week and a half for his uncle to decide to attend and make a flight reservation. Shit! This was another example of how he was losing track of time.
Since his uncle had phoned him, it gave him a reason to phone him back. When he returned the call, he’d talk to them about how he was doing. Then he would tell Uncle Graeme he needed to talk to him about something private, and that’s when he would bring up the April meeting.
Saturday, March 30, 2019; Early Evening
After thinking about what he needed to say, Kevin went downstairs to the family room and sat down. He thought more about how to word his invitation to the meeting so his uncle wouldn’t realize he was the last to be asked.
Finally, he shook his head and decided he was doing what his cousin Don had said he did when he worried about telling his folks that he was gay. Overthinking everything.
‘Just do it!’ he said to himself. ‘Stop this god-damned procrastinating and just call them!’
Kevin took a deep breath then returned the call left by his Uncle Graeme. It was answered by his Aunt Beth.
“Hello, Kevin! Graeme and I have been wondering how you’ve been doing.” He heard her call out, “Graeme, it’s Kevin. Pick up the phone in the Den.”
Then he heard his uncle say, “Hi, Kevin! So, how are you doing?”
“I’m doing much better. I’m doing things other than just going to school and coming home to do homework, so it’s not just wash, rinse, and repeat over and over again every weekday.” He chuckled. “Friends of mine, Ted and Brad Gering, picked me up at noon. We went to a new burger place, and it was excellent but expensive. Then we went to see Black Panther, and we all liked it.
“Tennis practice started, and I have to go for a run every morning. That’s in addition to using the weight training room and practicing by playing the other members of the team, then running one circuit of the track, showering, and coming home. We do that three days a week, Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays.”
He heard Don, who must have joined the call in his bedroom, say, “So, what happened to Wednesdays and Fridays? Getting lazy in your old age?”
“No, it’s just how our class schedule is set up at Edison High.” He gave them a short explanation of how their schedule worked.
“Jeez, that sounds complicated. How do you know when and where you have to go every day?”
“It’s actually easy. I like it a lot. It’s more like how it’s done at the University of California. You don’t go to every class every day in college.”
“Really? I never thought about that. I’ll have to check how it’s done at UBC — that’s the University of British Columbia, by the way.”
“So,” he heard Uncle Graeme say in a loud voice, “what else are you doing, Kevin?”
He laughed. “Well, there’s homework, exams, and the rest of the stuff that happens when you’re a high school student. Three of my friends come home with me, each person one day a week. Alex on Mondays, Laura on Tuesdays, and Jeff on Thursdays. That way, I’m not always coming home to an empty house. We do homework, play video games, watch movies on cable TV, and we eat dinner. Then they go home. Connie fixes meals for my friends and me and puts them in the freezer or refrigerator so I can reheat them. My friends love her cooking — and so do I, of course!
“I go to Laura’s house on Sundays for lunch, and we work on our Algebra 2 and PreCalc assignments and study for exams. Besides being a math wizard, she’s one of my best friends.
“By the way, I have a boyfriend now.” He stopped to hear their response.
“Cool!” Don said. “That’s wonderful,” Aunt Beth said. “I agree,” Uncle Graeme added. “What’s his name? That’s if you don’t mind my asking.”
“His name is Alex Burney. He was my chemistry tutor, and we just clicked. We became friends, then best friends, and now boyfriends. What’s convenient, the Burneys live on the next street over from me. Unfortunately, our backyards don’t back against each other, so we can’t build gates in our fences to enable us to walk across and into each other’s yard that way. We have to walk, or ride our bikes, all the way around the block if we’re going to see each other.”
“You are getting lazy in your old age,” he heard Don say.
“Do you know his family?” Aunt Beth interjected.
“Yes. I’ve been invited twice to have dinner with them, and I’m going again tomorrow night.”
“Do they have other children?” she asked.
“Yes, a son, Rick, he’s a freshman at Edison High, and a daughter, Ruth, who’s taking media studies at U.C. Berkeley. It’s nice having dinner with them because they’re a family.”
“I assume you like being with them,” Uncle Graeme said.
“Yes, I do. I like them, and they like me, too.”
“It’s nice having friends who aren’t just kids, isn’t it,” Aunt Beth said.
“Yes, it is.”
“So, Don, how are you doing?” Kevin asked.
“Pretty much same-as, same-as. School, homework, tests, etcetera.”
Kevin could almost hear Don’s smile. “He’s great. We’re great!”
“Has anyone tried to steal your new bike yet?”
“Oh, no, please don’t even talk about that! So far, I’ve been lucky. And my new lock hasn’t been cut apart, either.”
Don breathed a loud sigh that Kevin could hear over the phone, and that made him laugh. “I’m glad to hear that,” he said.
“Hey, there’s some news. They caught the guy who stole my bike.”
“Yup, really. He was some old guy, like forty or fifty or something like that. He had a bike chop-shop where he’d cut them up for parts. He hadn’t gotten to mine when the cops showed up and arrested him and a couple other guys who were in on it with him.”
“So, do you get your bike back?”
“No, the insurance company that replaced my bike gets it. I keep my new bike, and that’s fine with me.”
“Sounds like you came out ahead, Don.”
“Yeah, that I did.”
Kevin decided that it was time to talk to his uncle about the April meeting with the police and the FBI. He needed to come out ahead in that conversation.
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