Books by Gracie C. McKeever
Evian, a grief stricken teen, moves across country with his like-minded father and is befriended by a young boy who knows more about Evian's past than he lets on.
by Gracie C. McKeever
Copyright © October 1998
(First Published in the January 1999 Issue of TimeWinder Ė Gateway to Dreams)
Evian had flipped when his dad first spilled the news several months ago that they were moving out of New York City. He'd figured they'd be going somewhere dead like the suburbs or maybe a little further away but reasonable traveling distance for a resourceful and sophisticated metropolitan teen like himself to still be able to get back to the city, hang with his homeboys and enjoy a little night life. Maybe Jersey, Philly, Delaware or like Washington--where his dad had met his mom more than sixteen years ago during a business trip before having him a little more than a year later. But his dad threw him for an even bigger loop and made Evian go on the major defensive when he told him they were moving all the way to the West Coast, taking Evian like three-gazillion miles away from everything. And a guy wasn't even supposed to have one lousy thing to say about it!
What the hell was he supposed to do out on the Coast except get a narly tan, dude and surf and get eaten by a Great White or shop until he dropped in one of those prissy Pretty Woman shops on Rodeo?
His father had tried to mollify him and smooth over the situation by describing their destination as "an area in San Francisco". Could be kewl, Evian had thought. Golden Gate Bridge and all the artsy-fartsy stuff he was really into only didn't like to let on to his gang cause they thought photography and painting was like dorky stuff. So then dad had blown it totally when he'd gone on to tell Evian their new home was a place with "small town charm" in a "rural environment". All this without ever once saying where exactly they were going.
Only after they were well into their ride from the airport in San Francisco and had hit Highway 4 extending easterly through Brentwood, did the alarm bells start going off again in Evian's head. And the closer they got to their new "home"--some rinky-dink city in Contra Costa County no less, whoever heard of the place?--the more Evian understood why he was getting antsy and his dad had acted so cloak-and-dagger-Inspector-Gadget-like before this move.
A guy could die of boredom out here, Evian told himself, surrounded by all the nature and clean air and purple majestic mountains. Cripes! The more he saw signs like "Walnut Creek", "Lone Tree Way" and "Sand Creek", the more he realized they were leaving civilization and life and that his dad must have made a bargain with Lucifer to move them to Hicksville USA.
Pick a description, any "rural environment" adjective/noun combination, and a guy still came up with Hicksville.
His dad could have it, Evian thought. Trees, trees, woods, woods and more future paper for his loose-leaf binders. He figured a guy could die out here from oxygen overload. Too much of a good thing and all. Evian was ready to leap from the SUV and take a suck on the Cherokeeís exhaust pipe just to reassure and let his lungs know he wasnít trying to deprive them of the familiar East Coast pollution they were so used to.
Good thing a guy wasnít allergic to all the greenery and bark because he would have had a coronary thrombosis somewhere between Oakland and Concord by now. He wondered if maybe this had been his dear old pop's ultimate plan all along, to finally off his disobedient and only, problem kid.
Like the new scenery was supposed to bring them closer, Evian thought. Fat chance of him and Troy becoming Eddie and Mr. Eddie's Father. But it certainly wouldnít be the first time he and his dad hadnít seen eye-to-eye on anything. Especially not since his mom and Kevin had gone belly-up at Jones Beach six years ago.
Cripes, Kevin would be twelve now, Evian thought and closed his eyes against the vision of his little brother, face all bloated and blue when the divers had finally found and fished him and their mom out of the ocean.
Evian opened his eyes to glance down at his hands, reflexively rubbed each of his scarred wrists as his father turned to him.
"You okay?" Troy asked.
"Yeah," Evian blurted without looking up.
"Youíve been a little quiet. At least for you."
"Donít worry about me. Iím just ducky."
"It wonít be so bad, you know," Troy said.
Evian slanted a glare at his father; morose and silent as he glanced back down at his own hands resting in his lap.
What had he meant by "so bad"? Evian wondered. Had he meant it was only going to be a little bad? He was tempted to be mean and ask but he didnít have the energy to start another fight with his dad. Especially not one he couldn't win. Besides, he and Troy had been at each other's throats since theyíd been left alone together after the "accident", more in the last year than ever before but Evianís gramps on his momís side had tried to explain to Troy that this was only because Evian was a teen "smelling his piss" and testing his fatherís limits and that Troy needed to be patient and try to understand what the boy was going through after the trauma of losing his mom and brother and all. But his pop hadnít wanted to hear any of the grief counseling psychobabble. After all, hadnít he lost a wife and son? So, his dad had been putting his foot down in a mean way the last several months, not letting anyone--especially not his dead wifeís father or Evian--get in any objections edgewise, to anything and basically just acting like some bizarre Irish mix of Castro and Mussolini with a little bit of Hitler sprinkled in.
Evian tried to like go along because it was either go along or run away and for all his big bad boy talk, Evian knew he wasn't anywhere near ready to become some loser, half-way house resident. Things weren't that bad yet. And he decided they wouldn't get that bad if he had anything to say about it. Just a few more years anyway and he'd be outty. Three and he could hit the streets on his own. He could hardly wait.
Evian looked up just in time to see the German shepherd dart into the road in front of the Cherokee. "Jesus, Dad, look out!" He automatically grabbed the steering wheel and the car swerved, just missing the dog and the kid who was chasing behind it.
"What the--" Troy slammed the brake and the SUV screeched to a halt flinging him, and Evian beside him, against their seatbelts. He turned on his son, eyes wide. "What is the matter with you?"
"Me? You almost hit that dog and..." Evian glanced through the windshield. The road was deserted. No dog. No kid. No sign of anything or anyone. He could have sworn heíd seen....
"Look Evian, I know youíre not crazy about this move out here, but trying to scare the hell out me isnít going to get you back to New York."
"Never mind. Weíre here now, whether you like it or not."
Evian glared out the passenger side window, saw the house they were parked in front of and helplessly gaped.
He'd always figured his father was kind of flush and made a pretty good living at what he did. The old man was almost never strapped for green with the salary and profits he made at the architectural firm where he was a partner. And most times he was pretty generous with allowances and advances if his son sincerely, really needed, like, extra stuff. But Evian'd had no idea his pop was living quite this large.
Their new house was an enormous Victorian Colonial with a circular drive and wraparound porch on cul-de-sac and stood on some lonely rolling property except for an almost identical house next door, maybe several yards away.
Would have thought Kevin and Mom were still alive and moving in along with all the grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles too, Evian told himself and wondered what dope his dad had been smoking when heíd decided to purchase such a domestic monstrosity. Cripes! There were only two of them. Two guys. Wasn't like anyone was going to be throwing any Tupperware parties.
Besides, what had been wrong with the brownstone they'd had in Brooklyn? Or didnít they make brownstones out in Hicksville, Brentwood?
"I know it might seem a little big..."
"A little?" Evian snapped. He couldn't help himself. His dad had gone too far.
"You'll have room to grow, spread out..."
"Got a wife and six other kids I don't know about?"
Troy only smiled at his son's sarcasm, continued as if Evian hadn't spoken. "It's an excellent area, centrally located and near an excellent school system with--"
"How excellent," Evian drawled.
"Look Dad, I don't need the Century 21 pitch, okay. It's not like I have a choice anyway."
His dad sounded almost smug, which only served to annoy Evian more than the long scenic trip out here. It was like the guy was having fun at his sonís expense.
"Let's get a move on. Donít want to prolong the torture now do we?" Troy got out of the Cherokee on his side, shut the door and headed round the back of the SUV.
Smug, Evian thought, almost hating his old man. If thoughts could kill, the man would have keeled over from a brain hemorrhage weeks ago.
Evian joined his dad at the back of the Cherokee, helped him unload their several duffel bags and luggage and carry them up to the front of the house.
Troy pushed open the door and entered the bright spacious living room and Evian followed behind, thinking Cripes! The door was unlocked? What kind of Goober planet had they moved to, anyway?
Evian felt lost beneath the high ceilings and among the fully furnished, wood-paneled room, clutching his duffel to his chest as he walked a tight little circle in the plush Persian rug.
"Nice, isn't it?"
He stopped gawking long enough to look at his father, couldn't admit how nice he thought it really was without seeming like a total dork. "Itís okay," he stated.
Troy smirked, pointed his son towards the upstairs bedrooms. "Go drop your stuff, last room on the left. Come back down and weíll take a drive into town, get some ice cream or something."
Ice cream? How...quaint, Evian thought, heading for the stairs. He guessed he should be grateful. At least the old man was trying. But, geesh. Ice cream? "Right."
"Don't take too long."
"Yeah, yeah, sure."
Evian took the stairs three at a time and hit the top of the carpeted flight barely winded. When he saw the polished wood floors, he snatched off his Air Jordans and left them at the top of the case before taking a running slide in his socks down the hall and skidding to a stop on a dime in front of his bedroom. He was much more proficient and graceful than their old cat that used to fly down the halls of their house in Brooklyn like he thought he had Mercedes' brakes. But when he used to get near the end of the hall he'd never been able to stop in time to miss smacking full-force into the doorframe. Evian wasn't sure anymore if the cat had been cock-eyed when his dad had first brought him home for a birthday present six years ago or if the cock-eyedness had come after so many times playing Mario Andretti without a helmet or brakes.
He sure missed that stupid cat.
Evian took a deep breath now before he went into the bedroom, not sure if he was going to like what he found, wondered now why he hadn't insisted on being in on the decorating of his new digs. But then he remembered he hadn't wanted to have anything to do with this stupid move and if he had, only in the minutest way. He just hoped his dad had left him a little dignity and hadn't gone the early Wally and Beaver route.
Evian opened his door on a large masculine room that was almost the exact replica of his bedroom back in Brooklyn, minus the clutter of flung jeans, sneakers and sports equipment. Otherwise, everything was the same all the way down from the autographed, floor-to-ceiling Michael Jordan poster plastered to the back of his door, to the Knicks team poster tacked over the head of his platform bed. (He was a split personality where his basketball was concerned, loved Mike but hated Chicago and he was a New York fan through and through.)
Kewl. Not too much of a trauma. He could sleep among at least that much familiarity. If he hadn't still been so pissed at his father, he might have been tempted to like run down the stairs and give the old man a big hug.
Evian headed over to the bed, dumped his duffel in the center of the mattress and headed over to the two large bay windows adjacent. He glanced out to get a quick view and was struck by the two big trees, one on either side of him, tall and sturdy like sentries guarding his room. Directly below this was a secluded pool. Ke-wl. He looked beyond their property to the quiet streets and did a double take when he noticed the boy and the dog. The ones-he-and-his-dad-had-almost-run-down-but-hadn't- because-they-hadnít-really-been-there boy and dog.
The kid, an athletic-looking All-American blond, maybe a couple of inches shorter than Evianís five-nine, was clad in a pair of denim shorts--hood-style baggy--and a "Lakers Rule!" T-shirt. He looked up at Evian's bedroom window, smiled and waved as if heíd been expecting him.
Evian raised his hand to wave back but thought better of it. Wouldn't want to start waving at figments of his imagination now would he?
The kid didn't move and didn't stop smiling. Just kept ruffling his big dogís fur as he waved with his free hand.
Okay, fine. Evian guessed he'd better wave back, just to be like neighborly. But as soon as he opened the window to call out, the kid disappeared.
Evian goggled then rubbed his eyes with his knuckles. He was sure he hadn't blinked and he was sure the kid had been there. But now he--and the dog--were gone. Like poof, Houdini gone.
Evian lowered his hand, feeling like Jethro from the Beverly
HillbilliesóY'all come back now, ya hear!--and wondering if he'd already been out in the California sun too long.
What the heck was going on?
"Evian, c'mon! Let's get a move on."
He closed the window, ran to the stairs to put on his sneakers and slid down the banister to the main floor.
"So, how'd you like it?" Troy asked when his son made it back down to the living room, breathless and flushed.
"Don't look so smug, aw-ight." Evian grinned. "Room's kewl."
"Just kewl? Not narly dude?"
Evian rolled his eyes at his dadís son-in-the-throes-of-a-my-life-is-over-lament imitation. He hated to admit it, but it was a pretty passable imitation too. Smug old man.
"Yeah. Just 'kewl'."
Troy chuckled and ruffled Evian's long auburn hair. "You are one tough customer." He threw an arm around his son's shoulder, led him to the front door. "Let's go get that ice cream, dude."
Evian sucked in a deep breath, jolted by the sudden separation--his ethereal body from his physical. He had thought he would welcome it, be better prepared for the surge of energy--since he had invited it--but he wasn't. Only shocked by the vibrations, small tingling sensations in the pit of his stomach that grew and radiated out until it felt like an electrical field encompassed his entire body.
He didn't know the source-- himself or the place where he was heading--just felt jittery because he didnít know what to expect. He never did. Each trip to see them revealed something new.
He held his breath, automatically clenched his eyes. There was nothing for a long time--seconds, minutes, maybe hours passing with no thoughts, no feelings, and no existence. Then there was everything.
Evian opened his eyes; aware of another plane and The Others--The Protector and The Protected--close by.
She was pretty and young, just as he remembered, her high cheeks flushed and peachy, not blue and cold as theyíd been the last time he had seen her on the beach. And the boy was beside her, with twin colors of pink on his round cheeks, beaming a snaggle-toothed grin. Here they were alive and lively. Whole and solid. Real. He knew they were. No one could tell him differently. Not his dad or his gramps. Not anyone.
Evian reached out to touch his mom, ready for another jolt, surprised when skin only met skin. Warm and soft. His skin, her skin, smooth and rough palms meeting.
He tried to thread his fingers through hers but she pulled back, gave him a sad smile and wagged a finger at him.
"You can't save us now, Evian. You let us die."
He shook his head, frowning though he knew what she meant. He couldn't admit to it because what would this make him then? A murderer, was what. A little-brother-and-mama killer. He wasn't, he told himself, reaching out for her again, trying to catch her nearest hand but she jerked it away, stepped back.
"You are," she murmured as if reading his denials.
"No..." He choked on a sob even though he knew she was right to accuse him, to shun him like a leper.
His mom had told him to watch Kevin closely, had warned him not to let his little brother go too far into the water by himself. But heíd not only disobeyed, heíd taken Kevin real far, so far that neither of their feet could touch the ocean's bottom. Treading water, growing tired and cold and caught in an undertow. Kevin first then Evian, dragged down into the living thing that had crept up on them like Spiderman climbing a building, quick and quiet. He tried to pull his brother out, tried to pull himself out, finally screamed, sputtering salty water that sloshed into his mouth. "Mom!" And she'd come running, shouting to her husband, behind her at a concession stand, that their boys were in trouble.
She made it out to them, grabbed the nearest boy--her eldest--and pulled him clear of the tide until he was able to hold his own. But by the time she made it back to the rough patch, Kevin had already disappeared, sucked down beneath the waves as if in a sinkhole. Their mom dived and emerged like several-gazillion times, empty-handed, screaming her babyís name over and over.
Evian made it to shore as his dad and two lifeguards rushed past him, towards the water.
"Go back to your father where you belong," his mother said now.
"Go. Thereís no place for you here with us. Not yet. Weíre not ready for you."
"Please don't leave me alone again."
"You're not alone."
But Evian didn't believe this. He was alone, or might as well have been because his dad.... He knew his dad hated him and, he told himself, the old man had like every right to too.
He watched his mom grab Kevin by a hand as they both turned their backs on him and walked away. His heart sped then dropped to his stomach. This separation was like a thousand times worst than their drowning because he felt like he could stop them if he really wanted to. He would stop them.
Evian heard the alarm, loud and piercing, yet far away and muffled as if coming from another room. Or another plane.
He bolted upright and slapped the top of his digital clock/radio, killing the noise before his dad could wake up. The last thing he wanted to have to do was explain what he was up to setting his alarm when school was out, for cripes sake. It was such a silly dorky habit anyway, waking himself up after three or four hours of sleep so he could have like these lucid dreams about what had happened. He didn't want his dad to think he was like this total loon, cause the old man already thought he was like halfway loon since heíd tried to do a final exit five years ago. Evian hadnít tried it again--hadnít had the inclination to what with all the deep talks heíd had to have with grief counselors as well as his concerned dad and other well-meaning relatives after the last and only time heíd tried.
Cripes, a guy couldnít even try to off himself in peace without everyone like coming down on him as if he had already measured himself for a straight jacket or a coffin.
Anyways, he'd been doing the lucid dream thing for years now--without his dad being the wiser. Heíd read about it once in a book on telepathy and OBEís (Out of Body Experiences) when he'd been really getting into himself after Kevin and his mom had like bit it. He didn't know why he kept trying to go back and relive it--like he thought heíd be a hero or something and could change history and save somebody. He just knew the lucid dreaming made him feel less defenseless and damned, helped him get through the days and nights sane. Although it didnít stop him from waking in a cold sweat, the salt of tears or his perspiration--he never knew which anymore--stinging his eyes as bad as the beach water had in his dream.
Evian leapt from his bed, lurched to the bay windows and looked out onto the dark-blue night.
One thing a guy could get used to was the clear view of starlit skies. A star-gazer's dream, enough to make him wish his pops had let his gramps give him the telescope that had been passed down from generation to generation of Riley men. It was one of those like collectorís item things that his dad had said was too extravagant a gift for an eleven-year-old even though Evian's gramps had offered it as like this token to help his only
Daughter's eldest get over losing his mom and little brother.
Evian caught movement in the underbrush below. There they were, near the pool. The boy and that dog again, lounging on the tile.
The kid glanced up at him--moonlight glinting off his golden waves as he tilted back his head and waved at Evian as if inviting him down for a party.
Okay. He'd just about had it--I-T--with the stalking bit. Besides being a pain-in-the-ass pest, the kid was trespassing on private property.
Evian pulled on a pair of thread-bare Levi's over his shorts, grabbed his pack of Newports (a five-finger discount he had lifted in the Towne Centre drug store while his dad had been getting their ice cream) and stuffed them in a back jeans pocket as he rushed to the staircase. He barreled down the flight as quickly as he could without waking up his dad and flew outside to the pool area fully expecting the kid and the dog to be gone. But they weren't, both just sitting as he'd seen them earlier--the kid with his bare feet dangling over the water's surface, soles just getting wet, dog faithfully poised at his side.
The kid looked up as he approached, fixed Evian with this deep denim-blue gaze.
Evian paused as if struck, couldn't figure out who the kid reminded him of, just knew he seemed familiar. Then it hit him all of a sudden as he sat down, the dog between him and the strangely quiet boy: Kevin.
He didn't like making such comparisons, even to himself, but the kid had the same build and coloring, the same old-man gaze.
Evian sat quietly for a long time, wondering who was going to break the Mexican standoff. The kid seemed inclined to just sit with a hand buried deep in his dog's rich mane. Well, two could play that game.
Evian shook out a cigarette, lit it with the lighter from his pocket and took a deep drag before reaching for the dog and rubbing him behind an ear with his free hand. The dog leaned into his hand as if asking for more--please sir more--and Evian smiled as the kid gaped at him.
"He doesn't usually let anyone but me touch him like that," he blurted.
"Oh, so you do speak."
"When I need to."
Smart answer, Evian thought. Kid was almost as smart as he was. "What's the mutt's name?"
The dog yelped and started growling deep in his throat as he pulled away from Evianís touch.
"He's not a mutt."
Evian arched a brow. "Sor-ry."
"His name is Sergeant."
"Kewl. So, you got a name?"
"Noel. Noel Christopher."
Noel smiled, scratching Sergeant behind an ear. "Yeah, itís kind of corny. My friends used to call me ĎNoeí most of the time."
Evian grimaced. "Used to?"
"Yeah, well...I sorta moved and..."
"You used to live around here then?"
Noel was quiet for a long time then nodded. "Used to. Not anymore."
Cripes, it was like pulling teeth, getting information from this kid but Evian decided to try again. "So, miss the nabe, huh?"
Noel silently nodded.
No wonder the kid kept lurking around, he thought, almost feeling as sorry for him as he felt for himself. "I know how you feel, kid. My dad just up and dragged us from our digs in New York."
"I thought you had an accent."
If one more hick in this town told him he had an accent, Evian thought he would go ballistic on somebody. "Yeah, sure. An accent. If you say so."
Noel chuckled. "And an attitude."
Evian whirled on him. "Attitude?"
Noel nodded. "But I like it."
"It's like that I-don't-take-any-shit-or-give-a-shit chip on a shoulder thing."
Evian smiled; proud the kid saw things his way.
"Does everyone from New York act like you?"
Evian laughed, for the first time in a long while. "You don't get out much, do you kid?"
"So, like what does a guy do for fun around here?" Evian asked then quickly added, "Besides lurk around peopleís pools in the wee hours?"
Noel looked embarrassed for a second and ducked his head before glancing up at Evian through baby-curly lashes. "Oh, that. Sorry. I just...I just like hanging around here."
Evian wondered if Brentwood had like runaways the way New York did. Like, they didnít have beggars and street people, not as far as heíd seen. Did they even allow such aberrations?
But then, he was up and outside before dawn. Who was to say he had cornered a market on intrepidness and insomnia anyway?
Suddenly, he remembered his manners and offered Noel a toke of his Newport but the kid made a face and pushed it away as if Evian had offered him a puff of a crack pipe.
"Those things'll kill ya," Noel said, standing.
"Yeah. I was thinking of quitting like tomorrow," Evian said, matching Noel's ironic tone.
Noel giggled and dusted off the back of his jeans. "I gotta be splitting," he said.
"So, where do you live anyway?"
"What's 'not fa--'"
He winced, hesitated before glancing up at his father's bedroom window.
The old man was leaning over the ledge, shirtless like Evian and irritated like Papa Bear discovering Goldilocks in his bed. "Do you know what time it is?"
"I was just--"
"It's two in the morning."
"I know but--"
"Get in here before you catch pneumonia."
Evian couldn't help thinking how much his old man sounded like a mom. Well, since his pops was playing both roles.... He turned to Noel and froze. The kid and his dog were gone. What was it with the Houdini act?
Evian glanced behind him, into the underbrush, almost sighed when he saw the denim-blue eyes looking back at him. At least the kid hadn't just gone up in his usual puff of smoke.
"I'll see you tomorrow."
"But where do you li--"
"Evian! Who the heck are you talking to down there?"
"Just No..." He shook his head. Forget it. His pop would never believe him, would only think he was acting out again.
"Get up here. Now."
"All right, all right."
"See ya, Evian."
"Later," he whispered.
"Oh and Evian...you can call me 'Noe'."
Then the kid did his like vanishing act for the night.
Evian felt his dadís eyes on him all through breakfast. Wary and patient like his pops was just waiting for the right moment to blow up the spot.
"So, what do you and Noel do all day while Iím slaving away at work?"
At least the old man was trying to lighten his interrogation with a joke, Evian thought and a guy had to like respect the old man for at least that much. "Nothing much." He shrugged, mumbling around a mouthful of Frosted Flakes, milk and sliced banana. He reached for his o.j., washed down the cereal with a mouthful, staring at his pop.
"Nothing much, huh?"
Evian guessed he should have expected the third degree. Things had been going too smooth for the last couple of weeks.
"Dad, we just, you know, like do stuff. Okay?"
Troy arched a brow, surprised Evian when he smiled. "Yes, I think I do know. And not that I donít trust you, but do like what?"
Evian shrugged again, not as prepared as he probably should have been for the cross-examination. Cripes, he was spending his days with one of the cleanest-cut kids this side of Mayberry, just lounging around the pool by day or running the dog and getting in some catch and batting practice at one of the community parks. Wasnít like he and Noel spent their days smoking dope and knocking off ATMs like Evian used to do back in Brooklyn with his crew. Hell, heíd comparatively been a saint the last several days with Noel. His old man should have been thankful instead of accusatory.
Evian took a deep breath, decided not to rock the boat with belligerence. "Dad, we chill. Do this and that. Hang, swim..."
"In the pool?"
Evian sighed, rolled his eyes. "Dad."
"Hey, there's plenty of water around, kiddo. We're on the coast, surrounded by water. I'm not assuming anything."
"Be kewl, Dad. It's the pool."
Hey, his pop could assume or not all he wanted, Evian thought. Cause no way was he going into a body of water wider and deeper than their backyard pool. Not if he could help it. Ten feet max was deep enough, thankyouverymuch.
Troy lifted his cup to sip his coffee. "So, made any other friends yet?"
Evian laughed as his father winced and put down his cup.
"What's so funny?"
"Dad, you're so Fifties..."
"And how would you know about that?"
"I watch Nick at Nite."
"Well, Mr. Nick-at-Nite, Fifties or not..."
"And corny too."
"Either way, if I don't ask, you won't tell."
"There's nothing to tell, General."
"Hmph." Troy just smirked at his smart alecky son.
Cripes, the old man was such an open book. Did he really think Evian didn't know what he was doing? Checking up, plain and simple, was what. And he could just check it cause there really was nothing to tell.
Besides, it wasn't like there were that many other kids around this no-manís-land and if there were, Evian had yet to meet any except Noel, who came and went as he pleased and didnít seem to live anywhere and everywhere and seemed to live in the same pair of jeans and T-shirt that always looked as if theyíd just been washed. What was all that about?
Strange thing was, the kid also seemed to like Evian which was no mean feat cause Evian did most anything in his power not to be likable. But the kid kept coming back like a boomerang, looked up to Evian and Evian hadnít been admired and felt so big and brotherly towards anyone in a long time. Not since Kevin.
Hell, he guessed he liked Noel too. What wasnít to like with the kid being like Einstein smart and as athletic as a decathlete? And on top of everything, he had a kewl dog that followed him every where he went like a Secret Service agent.
Evian almost hated to admit it but he looked forward to his hangout time with the kid.
He slanted a look at his watch now and what did he do that for? Cause his dad couldnít wait to jump all over it.
"Hot date, huh? And I bet you just canít wait to get rid of me."
"Aw, c'mon, Dad."
Troy threw up his hands as if in surrender, pushed back from the table and grabbed his leather case and a tube of blueprints. He took one last sip of his coffee, leaned in to kiss his sonís forehead, much to Evian's chagrin.
"Daaad..." He rolled his eyes.
"You kids have fun. And stay out of trouble."
Troy peered down at his son for so long, Evian thought he was going to change his mind and ditch work to go on like one of his play-hooky-to-bond-with-my-boy trips but after hovering for a solid minute he finally left.
And Evian practically, audibly sighed with relief when he heard the old man pull off in the Cherokee.
They hadnít had a major fight in like days and Evian was glad his pop hadnít started one just now over something as simple as how much time Evian spent with his one and only Brentwood homeboy.
And though his dad had spoken to Noel on the phone, had even carried on a civil conversation with the kid, Evian had a feeling his dad didnít totally approve of their exclusive relationship. He couldnít put a finger on why he thought this. Maybe because Noel himself was so cagey about where he lived and adamant about not wanting to meet Evianís dad.
What was all that about anyway?
Evian turned to the living room bay windows just as pebbles struck the panes. The Signal. Noel and Sergeant were waiting.
He headed outside; admitted to himself he kind of liked having a cloak-and-dagger friend his dad had not met. Like the stolen Newports and the twelve-year-old Scotch he and Noel siphoned from Troyís wetbar, the relationship was his, a special secret that belonged to him, something he could hold close to his chest, take to his grave if he wanted cause he had the choice and the power.
"Hey." Evian took a seat in his customary spot, beside Noel with Sergeant between them.
He noticed today Noel had on a pair of red swim trunks like the dudes on Baywatch. Usually, the kid just let his feet get wet, seemed more weirded out about going into the water than Evian had ever been. Evian sometimes teased the kid about his phobia, had unsuccessfully tried to pull him in a couple of times. But today, he looked ready to try a dip on his own.
Evian pulled off his own jeans and T-shirt, liked the feeling of the warm California sun on his bare thighs and chest as he lounged back on the cool tile. He already had a copper tan like weeks before he would have gotten one in New York. He usually didnít care about this type of stuff on a normal basis but the tan looked kewl and blended nicely with his dark auburn locks. He figured a guy could get used to the beach-bum-surfer-boy life without having to worry about a winter wardrobe or Nor'Easters burying him under like tons of snow.
"How're things going with you and your dad?"
Evian opened his eyes to glance at Noel. The kid always asked him how things were going with him and his father--like some concerned family friend or an adult who had a stake. Sounded like a trained grief counselor half the time. Even looked like one now, come to think of it.
"Things are going," he murmured and Noel nodded as if in approval. "What about you? You never talk about your folks?"
Noel shrugged. "Nothin' much to talk about. My mom and dad are divorced."
Now why wasn't Evian surprised? He wondered but couldn't quite decide if it was better to lose a parent to tragic death or tragic divorce. Hmmm...Lucifer or Satan?
"I stay with my..."
Evian leaned up on his elbows, curiosity piqued as he peered at Noel through hooded lids.
"I stay with my mom...most times," Noe finished.
"Here in Brentwood?"
Noel silently nodded.
Evian sat upright. "Címon, Noe. The place next door is deserted. Has been for--"
"Months." Noel stood, looked down at Evian.
Was it his imagination or was the kid looking like... threatening? Evian wondered as he peered up at Noel.
"They need you now, you know."
Evian frowned, suddenly nervous. "Who?" he asked and stood to even things up. "Whoíre you talking about?"
"Your mom and Kevin..."
Evian goggled. He had never mentioned his mom and brother to Noel. Not once.
"They have a place for you now. They're ready..." Noel advanced and Evian backed away from him until he couldn't any more and was tottering on the edge of the pool.
"What do you want?" he whispered.
"It's what you want, Evian. What you've always wanted."
"Who are you?" Evian demanded and Noel came at him.
Evian took another step back, one foot dangling in mid-air for an endless moment before he lost his balance and toppled backwards. He came up sputtering almost immediately and Noel dove in beside him.
Sergeant stood at the poolís edge, barking like crazy as if he were shouting a warning. Evian just didn't know whom the dog thought he was protecting: Noel, his master or Evian his friend.
Noel swam up behind him and Evian whirled as the kid grabbed him around the shoulders. He twisted and turned until he slipped Noel's grasp, kicked towards the pool's edge.
Noel was on him in seconds, caught him around the legs and dragged him under the water. "It's easier if you donít fight, Evian," he whispered. "Trust me, it is..."
He was quicker and stronger than Evian had first thought, only having gotten hints before when Noel had resisted his dunkings. But now the kid had turned things around, pulling him farther away from the edge, towards the middle of the pool. And every time Evian broke the surface for air, he'd get a mouth- and noseful of chlorinated water as Noel jerked him down, deeper and deeper until Evian thought his lungs would burst from the labor.
The more he struggled, the more water he took in until Evian just stopped fighting the kid altogether. After all, he had been trying to get back--to that place, that moment in time when he had lost them--for years now. Noel was taking him where heíd always wanted to be. Easily. So easily.
Evian opened his eyes, still and quiet in Noel's embrace and then he saw them swimming towards him--or was he swimming towards them? He couldnít tell anymore. He opened his mouth to call and it was as if he was a fish with gills and could breathe the water. It was the most natural thing in the world for him to do, without fear. Without pain. It was so easy now. Noel had been right. Noel was his friend. Noel was always right.
Evian closed his eyes as Noel released him, felt himself floating out to them--his mom and Kevin. Reaching, reaching out through the vast space of time and distance. Closing them. Until everything went quiet and black as their arms finally engulfed him in a long overdue welcome.
Troy slanted a look at his walnut and gold Tiffany pendulum desk clock--one of the more "tasteful" gifts he had gotten as a going- away present from the gang in New York. (From his more testosterone-enlightened brethren he had gotten a couple of gag gifts, one of the more memorable being a Malibu Barbie complete with her Dream House and Convertible with a smart-ass note that told him he was "a lucky S.O.B." who would be "daily surrounded by these type of babes from now on").
He smiled now at the thought of the old gang, rubbed his eyes, fighting the urge to dial the house and check up on his son.
Ever since the first several times last week when heíd called the house and Evian had accused him of--a) worrying too much, b) being a mother hen, and c) treating a fifteen-year-old like an infant--Troy hadnít called the house again, only counted the minutes until he could get home and see his teen was still whole and okay.
The first week had been rough going convincing himself that his son was right and could take care of himself without being bugged by an over-protective parent every five minutes. But realizing Evian wasnít really alone and was spending his days hanging with the "neighborhood icon" and his very vigilant "guard dog", helped him overcome his working-single-parent demons.
Troy had at least spoken to the kid over the phone once. He didnít know if the boy was as All-American as Evian had built him up to be, but the kid had sounded relatively mature and level-headed even though he was a couple of years younger than Evian. And though he had yet to meet the boy--Noel always breaking out at a reasonable hour before Troy made it home at the unreasonable, new-partner-on-the-block hours of seven, eight, sometimes nine at night--Troy made a mental note to invite the kid and his parents over for dinner one evening. It was way past due, he decided. He needed to make an effort to reach out and touch the neighbors--few and far between though they may have been.
Just as it was past due for him to spend more time with his son, Troy told himself, blaming his sonís difficult adjustment to the move on his own neglect.
He had thought the move itself--far away from the crowds and distractions of the city and the past tragedy at the root of
Evian's problems--would have been enough of a cure-all. But Troy knew his son wasnít sleeping well, knew, in fact, that Evian hadn't slept straight through one night since the move.
He heard the bumps and cries in the night, heard the boy's alarm go off at all hours of the morning, always before dawn and like clockwork, no more than five or ten minutes after, the kid would make his way down the stairs and out the house to prowl around by the pool.
Troy understood the restlessness. He guessed he even understood his sonís obsession with water and since the first night when he had discovered the boyís nightly jaunts, he hadn't bothered to call him in, only periodically looked out to make sure the kid was all right and not on the verge of some setback.
Troy stifled a yawn and put aside a mechanical drawing just as one of his new co-workers stopped at the threshold of his office.
"Hey Grainger! Donít they let you out to eat or do you subsist on pressure and charcoal fumes?"
"A little bit of both, actually." Troy smiled as Andie Hardiway made her way over the plush cream carpeting on four-inch pumps that accentuated her athletic calves.
Now here was the Malibu Barbie of his New York City partnersí dreams, he told himself as he glanced at his clock again and actually noted the time. Two o'clock and he hadn't realized it was so late.
"But you do eat?"
"I've been known to acquire an appetite for nutritional sustenance every now and then," Troy said, watched as Andie giggled and settled her rear on a corner of his oak desk before dangling a brown paper bag under his nose. He admired the shapely curves of her hips as she crossed one thigh over the other, wasnít sure if he was salivating over her or the aroma of roast beef and mustard wafting to him from the sack.
Andie leaned forward and pecked his cheek before hopping down from the desk to poise herself in an adjacent black-leather armchair and Troy unconsciously fidgeted, embarrassed as his face warmed with blood. He had yet to get used to the forward West Coast vibe--so openly free and friendly. Heíd encountered it with everyone out here so far. Especially the females. Especially this female.
"Watching you work, I was beginning to wonder what type of slave-driving operation our guys are running down there in New York."
"Blame me. Iím a workaholic."
"Well, we'll just have to put a stop to that now, won't we?" Andie opened her brown bag and spread out a small feast--mile-high sandwich with thinly sliced fresh rare meat and a container of potato salad. "Now I know itís not quite Blarney Stones, but we have Melís and Melís makes a pretty good roast beef on rye out here. The best in the West."
Troy eyed the sandwich and had no doubts.
"Dig in. Thereís way too much for me."
"Watching that beautiful figure, are we?"
"Have to if we want it to stay that way. Besides, watching your figure is a way of life, especially out here."
Troy decided it was a way she could do without. Half the male employees at the firm were watching her figure close enough. Including him.
Troy gratefully dug into the offered half of roast beef, his hunger coming down on him full-force with the first bite.
"See that. You are hungry." Andie produced two containers of o.j. from the bag as if by magic, offered Troy one, watching him so closely as he popped it open and took a swallow that he wondered if he had spilled some on his tie, or worse had mustard on his nose.
He wasn't used to the scrutiny, especially from a woman like Andie, but then maybe his son was right and he had his nose buried so deep in his blueprints he was missing a whole world of beautiful babes giving him the once over.
"...Youíre a pretty young cat. And you ain't half bad looking either. Iím sure you can still pull Ďem if you got out more and put your mind to it..."
Troy smiled, didn't think his son could be anymore magnanimous or reassuring as when he was trying to get his way or get his old man off his back and out of the house for a night.
"You need to do that more often," Andie said and Troy arched a brow, waited. "Smile. Does wonders for those dark brooding looks."
"Thanks," he drawled and Andie laughed.
"Not that I donít dig the serious pensive types. I do. You just need to lighten up a little."
"I'll keep that in mind."
Andie grinned, took a bite of her sandwich, thoughtful and silent as she continued to stare. So hard and long, Troy started to fidget again.
"You're going to give me a complex in a minute."
"Oh..." She gasped, covered her full mouth with a hand and nervously chuckled. "Iím sorry. Bad habit. It's just you..."
"You look so much like Matt...Matthew Christopher. You know the partner who was here right before you?"
Troy's antennae slid up and he didnít know why. There was something about the name that rang a bell just now.
"Terrible what happened to him...the family. But I guess you already heard.
"There was a death in the family as I recall."
Andie solemnly nodded. "Terrible accident. His son drowned. I believe it happened right next door to your place. Around the holidays of all things. Six months ago today, as a matter of fact." She gawked suddenly, as if shocked by her own memory of the incident and its timing.
Alarm bells went off in Troyís head. He wasnít sure why yet but something was starting to click into place and he cleared his throat before asking, "How did it happen exactly?"
"Weirdest thing.... The kid's dog, big shepherd he'd had since it was a pup? Well, according to the police and M.E. reports, poor thing must have gotten a little over-zealous one day playing with its master out by the pool. They think he jumped on the boy and the kid probably lost his balance, slipped on the tile and hit his head on the concrete. Anyway, he must have slid unconscious into the water because they found him facedown in the shallow end of the family pool. Dead."
Troy swallowed hard and closed his eyes. "Must have been rough on the parents," he said, finding it hard to voice his sympathy further, images of his own lost son knotting his vocal cords.
"They got divorced not long after. Like the boy had been holding them together. Or maybe his death drove them apart. When something like that happens, itís hard to tell which came first: the chicken or the egg. You know?"
Troy nodded. "Real tragedy," he managed, mind reeling.
"Yes, especially when you consider how sweet the kid was. Sweetest teenager youíd ever want to know, really. Great athlete. Smart as all get-out, had so much going for him...."
Troy absently nodded as Andie took a deep breath as if to deliver a final deathblow.
"Know what the really terrible thing was?" she asked and Troy shook his head, wondered what more there could be. "The dog was up there in age I guess, maybe fifty or so. But I donít think he was like old enough to die of old age."
"But don't you know a few days after they buried the boy, the dog just up and died?"
But I spoke to him on the phone. I know I did...
"Personally, I think he died from grief. After Noel drowned he--"
"Noel?" Evian...Jesus, Evian!
Andie gulped a bite of her sandwich, gaped at him. "Well, yes. Matt's son. Noel Christopher. I thought I...I thought you knew..."
Troy snatched the receiver from its cradled and dialed his home. He listened as it rang...one, two, three....
"Troy? Are you all right?"
"I..." He heard the machine pick up and knew it was over.
For all his complaints and teenage griping, Evian always answered the phone faithfully on the second ring. Unless he was out.
"Troy!" Andie grasped his shoulders, worried when she saw the color suddenly drain from his face.
Troy looked at her, couldn't answer because he knew Evian wasn't just out. He knew Evian was gone.
His son was gone.
Site: Gracie McKeever Homepage
Reader Reviews for
"The Symbiotic Invitation"
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|Reviewed by Mary Coe
|Very good write. The story held my interest from beginning to end.|
|Reviewed by Tami Ryan
|I DO like your style, Gracie. I'm impressed. Very. I look forward to reading more from you.
|Reviewed by Shirley Cheng
|This is a very spooky ghost story...always enjoy a story like this|
|Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado
|good write, gracie; enjoyed~ (((HUGS))) and much love, your friend in texas, karen lynn. :D|