Tyler entered his house and slammed the front door behind him.
His mother sat at the kitchen table. She wore a sundress and her hair curled around her cheeks. With her right hand, she swirled a glass of red wine. In her left, she stared at her phone.
“Hey, honey. How was your day?”
“Fucking shit,” he said, muttering the curses.
“Tyler Grant Jameson. Watch your mouth,” she said with half-hearted conviction. She didn’t even take her eyes from her phone.
He wanted to say fuck you, too, but sat down beside her. “Mom, can I ask you something?”
“Anything.” Her attention never left her screen.
First his friends ignore him. Then he comes home and his mom doesn’t even see him. What would it take for someone to notice him?
Tyler shook his head. What did he have to ask her? What advice did she have to offer? He knew what she’d say. Tell the cops. Tell me. Like you should’ve done with your brother. He would be alive right now if only you had said something.
Did he want to hear that right now? Did he want to listen to her as she chastised him, all the while staring at the screen of her damned phone, too ashamed to look at her own son?
He stood. “Never mind.”
He began to walk away, but she stopped him.
Hey,” she said, glancing up. Not at him. Just up and in his direction.
“I’m going out in about twenty minutes. Will you be okay here?”
“Where you going?” he asked, not caring, but wanting to irk her.
“It doesn’t matter. I’m allowed to go out.”
Tyler nodded. “I’ll be fine.”
As he climbed the stairs, his phone vibrated. He glanced at the screen.
Robert: Dude, can I come by?
Three dots appeared under the message, indicating Robert was typing more. Then the phone vibrated again.
Robert: I just wanted to apologize. I’m not mad.
Tyler began to reply, than erased what he had written and placed his phone in his pocket.
Tyler paced his room. He wanted to cry, to scream, to bang his head against the wall until either sheetrock of bone broke.
As he paced, he held his cellphone. He had dialed 9-1-1 and his thumb hovered over the green call button. Except he couldn’t quite find the strength to tap the screen.
“Fuck,” he said, tossing his phone onto the bed.
He grabbed a pillow and screamed into it. He knew what was right, and what was wrong. All he needed to do was press that damn green button and tell the authorities what the hell had happened. That’s all.
That and lose the respect and trust of his friends.
His family, like Robert had said.
Fucking Robert, he thought. Why’d he have to apologize? He had punched Robert in the face, given him the bloody nose. Yet that scrawny bastard had apologized to him.
That’s what held Tyler back. A fucking child’s sense of loyalty. He would wait for Robert to show up at the house, because he would, and he’d hear him out. Hell, Tyler would probably go to the cemetery and help them dispose of the body now.
Tyler sat in his reading chair, an egg-shaped thing that he curled into. And he read.
That’s what he did to escape. To forget.
When Tyler was nine, his older brother, Mark, had died in a car accident.
Mark had sneaked out of the house to go to a friend’s party. Tyler knew about his brother’s plan, but he hadn’t said anything.
How could he betray his big brother? His hero? Especially when Mark had given him an assignment.
“You’re pivotal to the plan,” he had said to Tyler. “You need to stay in my room and build a blanket fort. If they come in, tell them we’re playing. Okay? I have some books you can read, if you want.”
Tyler had grabbed a Goosebumps novel after building the blanket fort. He sat down with a flashlight and read. His mom walked into the room, once.
“What’s going on in here?” she had asked.
Tyler stayed in the fort. He didn’t dare move. “We’re playing fort,” he had said.
“Well don’t stay up too late.”
“We won’t. I think I’m going to sleep in here tonight, though.”
And that was that. He could’ve told the truth. He could’ve told her that Mark had left for a party. That he sat alone in the blanket fort and read novels she didn’t approve of. But he couldn’t abuse his brother’s trust.
And what did that get him? A dead brother.
Red and blue lights strobed in their driveway. Tyler had crawled to the window and peered outside to watch.
He saw his mom wrapped in a robe, holding the cotton flaps tight around her shoulders to shield off the cold. He saw his dad barefoot on the cement. He wore shorts and no shirt. His gray chest illuminated blue, then red from the cop lights.
The officers wore black uniforms that blended with the night, as if the darkness had sent them as messengers.
Tyler had crawled back under the blanket fort. He grabbed another Goosebumps book, and he lost himself in a world far away from this one. Where the monsters and the horrors weren’t dark-clad authorities highlighted red and blue, but they lived on a white page, disguised as black ink.
And he had read nonstop from that moment forward.
He graduated from R.L. Stine to Stephen King and Dean Koontz.
Currently, in his egg-shaped chair, he read IT for the third time. A group of kids tasked with taking on a demonic force. If life were only that simple, he thought.
But then, maybe life was that simple.
Maybe he didn’t have to carry his demons. Keep them silent and secret from the world. Maybe he could grab his cellphone and dial Ayser PD and tell them what he had witnessed.
Evan and Robert had murdered Jimmy. Then they all buried him.
Tyler dropped his book onto his lap and dug through the bed pillows for his cellphone. He Googled the number to the local police department.
What if he had just told his mom about Mark sneaking out of the house? Would he have tried to drive home? Would he had crashed into that family, killing two young children?
Tyler blamed himself for those three lives. Mark Cooper. Jasmine Bell. Ezekiel Bell. Did Jimmy have to live in his conscious, as well? And what were the unforeseen consequences of not informing the police?
Just as he touched the number to call the department, he received an incoming call. QP’s name and picture showed on his screen.
“Hey, dipshit,” QP said.
Tyler could almost hear the fake smile on the big guy’s face. He also heard the heaviness, the lack joy.
“What’re you up to?”
“What’s up, QP? I was just reading a book.” Anger started to simmer within him.
“Dude,” QP said. “I read this fact the other day. They say ninety-five percent. You hear that? Ninety-five percent of people who read, they turn out to be gay. And you read like two-hundred percent of the time. That makes you like, I don’t know, ultra gay or something. Tell me, is it true. Were you born that way?”
Tyler sighed and thought about hanging up the phone. “What do you want?”
“Well,” QP’s voice softened. “Listen. I know the thing in the library happened. Right? You and Bobby-Boy probably have all this pent up sexual tension that you had to release. Unfortunately—”
“Get to the point.”
“Right. Are we still on for tonight? I mean, to go to the cemetery? Everyone’s planning to meet at your place at eleven.”
This was QP’s lame attempt at an apology. Per usual, he didn’t know what he was apologizing about, or why he needed to. He probably just felt something amiss and needed to right it. Had it been any other night, QP would’ve barged into Tyler’s house, uninvited and unwanted. But, now, he took the time to call and receive permission.
This simple gesture struck a cord with Tyler.
“We can get together at my place. My mom will be gone later.”
“Slow down, Brokeback. Don’t get your panties all wet.”
“Can we drop the gay thing? It’s not funny.”
“Whoah. Dude. Are you homophobic or something? That’s messed up.”
Tyler blew air through his lips. “You want to meet here or not?”
“Yeah. Around eleven o’clock. You think your boyfriend can get out of mommy duty by then?”
“So you don’t deny it?”
“See you around 1.”
Tyler hung up the phone before QP could get another word in, which was nearly impossible.
The precinct’s phone number reappeared on his screen. Tyler stared at it, confused now. If he told the cops, he would incriminate Evan. Worse, he’d incriminate Robert.
What were the positives to saying something?
Tyler racked his brain. He couldn’t think of a single reason as to why he should call the authorities. He couldn’t remember why he had been so close to pressing the button in the first place.
Because of Mark? That was a different situation. Right?
He dog-eared his paperback, then walked downstairs and to the kitchen.
The kitchen smelled like bacon and burnt eggs.
Tyler grabbed a piece of black toast, slathered butter on it, then poured a glass of milk.
“Breakfast for dinner again?” he asked.
“You need to eat more of that,” his mom said. She sat at the nook and scrolled through her phone.
She tortured herself with other people’s lives. Kept track of their perfect, living families. She didn’t get mad. She just ignored Tyler, as if she had forgotten that he still lived and needed attention.
Her and his father constantly fought. Tyler suspected he was having an affair, and deep down, he didn’t even blame his dad.
His mother offered no affection. No love. Just cold shoulders and icy glares, and that’s when she decided to make an attempt at contact.
“A few friends are coming over later.”
“You seen your father?” She chewed a strip of bacon as she scrolled. As she spoke to him, her eyes never left the social media feed.
Tyler hadn’t seen his father since yesterday morning. His absences were normal, though. He often spent the night out of town for business. Tyler wondered what that business meant. Did his mom?
“You don’t know where he is?” he asked.
She sucked in her cheeks, biting back words. She had that habit too. Her last words to Mark had been less than flattering. Tyler remembered she had sat in the same spot she sat now, Mark across from her.
They had just finished dinner.
“I saw your report card,” she had started the conversation. Always grades and achievement with her. Never curiosity. Never interest into the lives of those she loved.
“Yeah?” Mark had asked, mouthful of food.
“Don’t speak with your mouth full,” she had said, cutting her chicken breast. “You’re smarter than that. Why can’t you get straight As? You’re going to be like that Brome kid. Addicted to drugs. Failing school. A loser. With no opportunity in life.” She placed the chicken in her mouth and chewed the breast. Her face was sharp, like the edge of knife. Her eyes gleaming.
“Well, you did great job raising me then.” Mark pushed back his chair and dragged Tyler into the upstairs room. He told him his plan to go to the party. He then went, got shit-faced. Drove a vehicle. Killed two kids under the age of eight, and himself.
Now, whenever she had something negative on her tongue, she sucked in her cheeks. Tyler briefly wondered what insult she had withheld, then remembered he didn’t care.