ROOTS // Professorfic
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December 6th, 2012 (01:50 PM). Edited December 6th, 2012 by Haruka of Hoenn.
Haruka of Hoenn
Join Date: Nov 2007
They say what goes around comes around.
No one knew it better than Patricia Rowan.
In the days that followed her son’s departure, the once cozy, enviable home of the Rowans had declined into a disorderly den, cluttered with the fragments of something that her hands hadn’t been quick enough to mend.
She did not know what exactly had happened the night that Michael left. She had been in her room, doing something or other, when a sudden loud banging in the kitchen had roused her from her comatose state. She had gone downstairs, and found the traces of what looked like a struggle—a broken vase on the floor, papers scattered all over the rug, and a front door that stood slightly ajar, as if it had been slammed only moments before. It wasn’t hard to put two and two together — Michael had done this. He was somewhere outside now, probably off to a friend’s house, or anywhere that she wasn’t.
Patricia remembered thinking, caught in a brewing storm of anger.
Let him go. We’ll see how he likes it with those precious hooligans of his.
And then, without a backward glance, she had gone up to her room, thinking that when he had blown off enough steam, Michael would come to his senses and return.
But he didn’t.
The next morning, Patricia woke up to find the house in the exact same state as before—broken vase, rumpled pillows, scattered papers. She went outside, but Michael wasn’t sprawled out on the porch with a sleeping bag, or crouched behind a bush. She remembered phoning his friends’ parents, but they only returned her queries with surprise. No, Michael hadn’t showed up at their doorstep the previous night. No, he wasn’t having breakfast with them that very moment, not wanting to speak to her. Neither Cory nor Brendan had heard from their friend since he had visited them the previous Saturday.
Patricia tried to ask others. She phoned her next-door neighbors, neighbors across the street, neighbors five doors down. By the end of the hour, she had telephoned the entire community, it seemed, but each voice that answered her only told her the same thing: “I’m sorry, miss, but we haven’t seen him.”
Patricia sat home for the entire day, not knowing what to do. Betty Arlington, an old family friend, stopped by at noon and offered to start a neighborhood investigation. Patricia accepted. She was slumped on the old leather couch, her head tilted down, her hands resting uselessly in the lap of her skirt. She remembered looking at her hands.
What have I done?
Patricia had mulled, picking her cuticles.
I have done?
Those two questions swirled around and around in her mind, pestering her constantly, giving her no rest. She couldn’t pinpoint what exactly had set Michael off that night, and as the shock of his absence escalated into a panic, the memory became all the more muddled in her mind. Eventually, Patricia decided that it didn’t matter what had caused her son to leave. She wanted him back. Promptly.
The neighborhood search team assembled in her driveway the following day, consisting of over thirty people—both friends and friends of friends, some of whom Patricia barely knew. The hunt wore on for three days that seemed like weeks. They checked houses, the neighborhood park, and other remote areas, but found nothing. There was no sign of Michael Rowan’s presence or departure, almost as if he had never been among them at all.
Patricia’s patience quickly wore thin. As a last resort, on the morning of June 1st, she got into her car and drove to Jubilife City. She stopped by the police station and filed a request for a city-wide search, giving the officer a recent school picture of Michael’s to identify him by.
“Name?” asked the officer, taking a clipboard from his desk.
“Michael Rowan,” Patricia replied. As soon as those words left her, her heart seemed to sink.
“Where do you live in the city?”
“In the suburbs,” she said. “My address is 984, Old Bay Road.”
“When did he run away?”
Patricia paused briefly, without meaning to. “He left on May 28th in the evening. I didn’t know what he was up to at first, and it wasn’t until the next morning that I realized he was gone.”
“Do you know if he took anything with him that could reveal his identity? A credit card? Pokémon?”
Patricia froze, then flushed with shame. She had been so immersed in her worries that she hadn’t even bothered to check Michael’s room to see what he had taken. “I don’t know,” she said at last. “He couldn’t have taken a wallet… I have all my things right here.” She touched the purse that hung from her shoulder.
The officer nodded. “And pokémon? Is your son a trainer?”
Patricia was silent in her mulling for a while. Finally, she let out a breath. “No. He’s not a trainer. I don’t think he has any pokémon with him.”
The officer finished writing the last bits of what she had told him. When he clipped his pen back to the edge of the board, he looked up at her. “Okay. Thank you, Miss Rowan. I’ll dispatch a search party and we’ll begin a city-wide investigation. I’ll let you know if we get any leads.”
“And if not?” she asked.
The officer’s gaze hung on her hers for a moment, placid and grave. “We’ll let you know.”
After leaving her address and telephone number with the office, Patricia went home. She pulled the car into the driveway and rushed inside, slamming the door behind her. A part of her still hoped that Michael would reappear somewhere, like a lost shoe, from behind the lamp or inside a closet. Patricia spent a whole ten minutes pacing the house, but it was empty. And not for the first time.
Days passed. The Jubilife Police posted notices around the city, even resorting to the old milk carton headline that, up until that point, Patricia had thought to be an effort in vain. No one ever looked at the milk cartons. They just took out the milk when they needed it, let it rest on the table for the duration of a meal, then put it back, ignoring all the advertisements that tried to wheedle into the serenity of their day. But now that she was on the losing side of the game, Patricia was gripped by a desperate sort of anger. It couldn’t be her son in that picture. Maybe someone else’s, but not hers. (Soon, she stopped drinking milk entirely, since she couldn’t bear to see the face that stared back at her, gray and lifeless.)
The investigation office updated her twice a week, but so far, nothing had come up. In the meantime, Patricia’s previous attachment to order and cleanliness had utterly dissolved. Wherein the days before Michael’s departure, the only mar to the otherwise clean home had been a few empty take-out boxes scattered over the counter, now the house was a disaster. Dirty laundry and half-washed dishes accumulated in the areas that Patricia frequented, while dust settled over the barren wood furnishings. Meals had lost all ceremony and significance to her. In the first few days, Patricia had been content to cook something new every evening, but as time wore on, she stopped doing even that. Her leftovers remained for over four days, which she spooned out gradually till the pot or skillet was completely clean. Then she would set it aside and cook on a fresh one, repeating the process.
Days grew into weeks, and eventually, Patricia had severed all ties with the woman she once was. She no longer bothered to put on makeup in the mornings, and often strolled around in her nightgown well into the afternoon. Phone calls and visitors became less frequent, as her friends probably realized that she didn’t want or need their comforting words. The only people she was interested in talking to were those from the police office, though over time she grew to suspect that they were just as inept as everyone else.
On the morning of June 17th, more than two weeks after Michael’s disappearance, Patricia reached her all-time low. Stepping into her home, a former friend would have been appalled at its appearance, even more so at the ghost of a woman who skulked inside.
Patricia was curled up on an armchair in the living room, where she had fallen asleep the previous evening without bothering to turn off the TV. The muted set was still playing, flashing bright pictures and colors into her sore eyes. A cup of coffee stood on the table beside her, cold and forgotten. With a grunt, Patricia leaned forward, pushing herself out of the chair to kneel beside the quacking box. She turned it off with the jamb of a thumb, and the flashing lights vanished, as did the false-white smiles, and the stupid-happy commercials. The picture dissipated into a screen of black, and Patricia was able to see her face in the reflection, against the backdrop of the room.
She looked no better than the house did. Her eyes had narrowed into slits, and were weighed down with heavy bags from lack of sleep. The corner of her mouth were drooped into a permanent downward ‘C’, and her hair was a frazzled brown mop.
Is this what I’ve become?
she wondered. But there was no question about it.
Slowly, Patricia rose to her feet, grimacing at the pain that flared in her legs and back, from all the slouching and sitting. She lumbered over to the kitchen, which after days of incremental dishwashing, looked as if it had hosted a dinner party for twelve. The table and counter were littered with empty tea cups, crumbs, and utensils of all sorts. Every pot and pan she owned was in use, resting at various points on the counter and table, containing meals from previous days. Patricia grabbed a clean plate from the sink and began to snoop around the buffet, looking for a source of breakfast. She paced the whole kitchen twice, lifting lid after lid, but to her surprise, all the pots were empty. She checked the fridge, but was met with a similar situation—the eggs were all gone, as were the vegetables and dairy. It was as if a hungry monster had ransacked her food supply, scraping out all the containers, clearing the shelves and drawers.
As Patricia’s frenzied eyes swept over the inside of the fridge, they alighted upon a crumpled candy wrapper that lay on the third shelf, right under her nose. A Hershey bar. No doubt, it had been someone’s midnight snack, and that someone had been so careless and ravenous that they hadn’t even bothered with proper disposal, just taking out the chocolate and leaving the package to rot in 38 degrees Fahrenheit.
Feeling her heart sink, Patricia pressed a hand to her belly. The other hand was leaning against the cold wall of the refrigerator, supporting her slack weight.
She had finally run out of food.
After keeping her gaze locked on the candy wrapper for a good minute, Patricia’s face darkened. She backed away from the fridge and let the door swing shut as she turned away. Hands on hips, she began to pace the kitchen again, her hunger at odds with the laziness that wrapped her like a too-warm blanket.
Gazing up at the wall, Patricia let out a frustrated sigh.
I guess I just won’t eat today, then.
She sighed again, with finality, and went back to the living room to turn on the TV. But she stopped midway. Was she really going to spend the next five hours watching the same reruns of Jukebox? There was nothing good on the news, and there were only so many times that one could watch the same commercials over and over again before their brains fried. She already had one foot in the couch potato camp, and if she broke down and placed in the other, there would be no turning back.
A fresh, passing anger clouded Patricia’s face again. She wouldn’t watch TV either. But then what would she do?
Walking around the house with that question in her mind, Patricia visited her room and skimmed the bookshelf, perhaps to occupy herself with reading. But none of the books she had at that moment interested her. Avoiding the mirror on her vanity, she steered herself out. She went into Brian’s old room, which had remained untouched, and therefore protected from degradation. Michael, obviously, had never had any use for it, and in the years after Brian’s departure to boarding school, neither had she. Patricia only visited it to clean at least twice a month, but she left the furniture and decorations mainly as they were. Brian’s bed was smooth and dormant, patiently awaiting his return, and the swivel chair at his desk was turned slightly to the side, as if he had stood up to leave only moments ago.
His books and albums were still in place, as were the photos framed on the wall. Patricia looked at them. There was Brian, side-by-side with her. Brian and Richard. Brian and Michael. Brian, Michael, Andrew, and Richard.
Richard had left too. The burning she felt in her stomach only intensified at the memory. He was her son. He had no right. Was he happy, now that he had torn apart their family, and her heart along with it? She could answer that question too — of course he was. After Andrew’s death, Richard’s life in the household had been nothing short of miserable. She could have helped him, but he didn’t let her. He had grown distant in the last few weeks, more so than usual. And then?
What had he said that night at dinner?
She wracked her brain for almost a minute, then suddenly, the curt, placid face of her middle son appeared before her.
"And when was the last time you were happy for either of us?"
Patricia smiled, more at the fact that she had remembered than at the words that had pierced her like a knife. And they were still hurting to this very day. How could she, the mother of three boys, not care equally for every one of them? How could she have succumbed to such a sick form of favoritism, treating her sons like trophies when they were all that anchored her to sanity? Andrew had been the love of her life. They hadn’t always gotten along, but they were happy together for a long while. When Brian and Richard were added to the picture, however, their differences were made all the more striking.
She and Andrew had always been good at keeping their arguments hidden from the boys, and at the time it seemed like the proper thing to do. Why spoil a child’s fun at the park or day home from school with angry glares and reprimands? It seemed like a much better solution to keep apart for the time being, instead devoting their energies solely to the young boys. But as Patricia was only starting to realize now, that had been a grave mistake. While she and Andrew gave each other the cold shoulder, whichever boy happened to be at Patricia’s side would be the one she would see for most of the day, and talk to, and play with. That boy was Brian. He was surprisingly similar to her, and they enjoyed many of the same things. Likewise, Richard grew to be more like Andrew, both in character and in attitude. Relationships across this boundary were amiable, but not wholly loving, even when everything was all right between the parents. By the time Patricia realized what was happening, it was too late. Instead of their children patching up the tensions between her and her husband, she and Andrew had used them to pull themselves further apart.
Michael had been her last child. At the time of his birth and early childhood, it seemed that Patricia and Andrew had survived enough time together to put their problems behind them. For once, they tried to balance their work schedules so that both of them could have equal time with the kids, but the damage had already been done. Richard and Brian viewed their mother and father in two different lights, and Michael soon caught on to the pattern. Patricia loathed to see her young, innocent boy be degraded by something so frivolous as parental competition, and in her blind anger, she had associated his habits with his father. She tried to pull Michael away from him, but he, of course, saw this as an attack, and distanced himself even more.
By the time Andrew fell ill, he and Patricia were barely speaking. Richard and Michael, who loved him more than they loved her, were especially attentive to their father’s needs, and treated Patricia as if she had been at fault. Brian was the only one who tried to comfort her, and for that, she probably loved him more at that point too.
All stupid… so stupid.
Patricia bit her lip. He face began to heat up, her vision clouding.
Maybe Michael was right to leave,
I’m a monster. I could’ve changed things early on, but I didn’t. I just had to hang on to that stupid hate, those stupid fights… Whatever came over me… I’m sorry.
Patricia swallowed. Pretty soon, the tears began to stream down her cheeks with a force that she was powerless to stop. Her knees buckled, and she collapsed against the bed, burying her face in her arms. The sound of her wails echoed through the silent house. It was all over. All the people she cared about had left her, and for good measure, too. There was no going back. She had made a mess of her life, and now the only thing left to do was die, to plunge into the bottomless depths of darkness and wait for her misery to come to an end. She would never see any of their faces again, never get the chance to see her family all around the table, happy, talking. Life had given her countless opportunities to change her ways — but she had thrown them all aside, clinging to the conviction that she was right, and as a result, her family had split before her very eyes. First Andrew had gone, then Richard, now Michael. Slipped through her fingers like sand, and she had done nothing to stop it. All those times she had seen the faces of her three sons, she had not once tried to get them together, to mutually comfort them after the death of their father. No, she had adhered to the old boundaries… she had kept up the old game, and she had paid for it. She had paid dearly.
A few hours later, Patricia stumbled out of the room, her cheeks wet, her eyes red and puffy. She took a look around the house, at the sunlight that was subtly streaming from the blinds in the living room, and felt the silence return—oh, it was dreadful, that silence. It was the silence of solitude, the kind that pervaded everything, pressing down upon her with an almost tangible weight.
But for the first time in a while, her head was clear.
Setting her hands on her hips, Patricia walked down the rest of the hallway and turned into Michael’s room. She hadn’t set foot in it since he had left, and was briefly disoriented by its reappearance, for it didn’t look quite the same as she remembered it. The bed was smooth like a slab of stone, clear of all objects save for a single pillow. The writing desk with its lamp askew stood in its usual spot by the door, containing what appeared to be the same assortment of objects that had lain there for months. Michael had never been a desk-worker. He always preferred to see things for himself, writing down only what he thought was important, regardless of what an assignment demanded. And so the desk became just another flat surface, on which he would throw old papers, pencils, coins, and records that weren’t in use. It always drove her crazy.
Now, however, Patricia looked upon the mess with an odd wonder, as if seeing it for the first time. The assortment of items seemed to be the same as it always was, but for some reason it still looked different, just like everything else in the room, changed on some level deeper than appearance. The bookshelves, although dusty, seemed emptier, as if their contents had been hastily rearranged. Opening the doors to the closet, Patricia saw that it had been sorted through as well, though (as always) the person who did it had forgotten to straighten the shirts that hung in the middle. Patricia let out an exasperated sort of sigh, and fixed a sleeve that had slipped off the edge of a hanger, then proceeded to turn all the hooks in the same direction.
Once she was done, she stepped back and allowed herself a faint smile.
There. At least that’s done.
As her gaze swept over the closet, she alighted upon the inner shelves, where other articles of clothing were balled up in Michael fashion. Patricia swiped her finger across the bottom surface of one, and found to her surprise that it was covered in dust. She was stricken by a momentary appall.
When was the last time I cleaned here?
She stood still for a moment, eyes scanning the room, then made a firm turn for the door and went down to the kitchen. A few moments later, she came back up with a rag, and began to clean the room, skimming over all the surfaces and wiping off anything that looked dusty. It was more of a memory ritual than an attempt at cleaning—she left all the items where they were, and did not venture anywhere she couldn’t immediately reach, so in the end, the room remained in the same state as before. But it was a start.
Over the course of the next few days, Patricia worked her way through the rest of the bedrooms, overcoming her stagnancy to snoop around. This time, she devoted her energies to a full overhaul: she vacuumed the carpet, cleaned the blinds, and wiped every surface she could reach. Patricia emptied entire closets, throwing nothing away, but setting aside anything that needed to be cleaned and putting the rest back where it belonged. Soon, she amassed a heap of dirty laundry from all four rooms, which afterwards she washed in segments, leaving the washer and dryer machines rumbling for the whole day. When she was done she moved on to the living room, straightening the decorations and cleaning the furniture, then proceeded to the kitchen, where she scrubbed off the grime from her dishes, washing away the remnants of her decline under the powerful faucet stream.
Within a week, the house had risen back to its former state of order—and this time, along with it, so had Patricia. During the time she spent sorting through the house, digging layer by layer through years of history, something had reawakened within her. It was a change that had come about with the suddenness of a lightning strike, something that she hadn’t felt for what seemed like an eternity. She felt better.
The shadows of her past would always be with her, she knew, but it was up to her to learn from them and make the best of what she had. It wouldn’t honor her husband’s memory to keep alive the old torment, and let it seep into their children’s lives. Rather, Patricia took the hardest step of all—to overcome it for their sake, and hope that one day they’d be free of it too.
And though she knew that Brian and Richard had moved on in their lives without her, she still had one more son to watch over and support. And from now on, she would.
“So why’s she calling us now?”
“I ain’t got a clue, man, stop asking me!”
The hushed whispers of two boys rose out from the empty streets of the neighborhood, a tiny stir of life beneath the vast canopy of trees. Cory and Brendan were walking down the sidewalk together, keeping a slightly quickened pace, passing rows of houses on their way to Michael’s.
As usual, their clothing was loose and plain, the ‘badass’ trademark that they were known for at school. There was no strict uniform, but students were nevertheless expected to show up prim and tidy, which the two boys almost never did. While the obedient kids wore pretty shirts and shiny belts, Cory and Brendan dressed functionally, avoiding collars so that their teachers had nothing to yank them by, and wearing shorts with lots of pockets to hold notes, coins, and homework answers.
Today, the edges of their shoes were coated with a layer of mud, for they had been exploring the area beyond the neighborhood, near Route 202. They had left that morning without a single comment from their parents, but when they returned, they had found Brendan’s mother waiting for them by her porch, who told them that Patricia Rowan wanted to see the both of them immediately. The boys had exchanged surprised glances, though there was really little to be surprised about. Ever since Michael had disappeared, all they would hear about from their parents and friends of their parents was the investigation in Jubilife, the one that wasn’t turning up jack, as Cory liked to say.
Their friend’s leave had affected the boys perhaps the most out of anyone else, but in a way that the adults in their lives didn’t understand. While the parents scurried about, exchanging apologies and offers to help, Cory was consumed by a philosophical sort of silence, which Brendan imitated of his own accord. They rarely shared more than a few words about Michael, though he remained in their minds at all times, like a guardian angel who watched over them from some place up in the sky.
Over the days, the boys watched as the people from their neighborhood and even their school were visited by the police, and asked for anything that they knew about Michael Rowan and his whereabouts. Cory and Brendan had escaped much of the scrutiny that plagued others. After an initial few questions from their parents, and a brief routine visit from the police, they were left to their own devices, as the investigators probably realized that they had no useful information. That was the way it always was, and Cory and Brendan were used to it. They were the black sheep, the spare parts, the ones who were always overlooked by the rosier members of society. But over the years, that had become their strength. They answered to no one, and followed the path they thought was right, rather than the one prescribed to them by others. Michael had been a kindred spirit, and often displayed such an embodiment of that goal that Cory and Brendan found themselves learning from him. When it was just the three of them, no one else mattered.
And then, coming out of the blue, Patricia’s call to them had caught them unawares—both by the fact that no one during the search had ever called them anywhere, and from the fact that she wanted to do it privately, rather than going through the police. Michael’s mother had never gone to great lengths to mask her dislike for Cory and Brendan, and the boys had never gone to great lengths to care. Even when Michael had been there, Patricia liked to act as if the two boys didn’t exist, letting her son settle his own arrangements. She never said anything to them outright, but they knew at the back of their minds that she didn’t think highly of them, much less believe that they had anything worthwhile to say to anyone.
Normally, this didn’t bother the boys, and they were perfectly happy to hang out with their friend without the parental cling that weighed down other aspects of their lives. But now Patricia had as good as invited them over. Which, if their experience with her enigmatic nature had taught them anything, wasn’t necessarily a gesture of friendship.
As they made their way over to the house, Brendan was eager to voice his speculations, but Cory preferred to just go with the flow and wait to see what would happen.
“But don’t you think it’s kinda weird, all of a sudden like that?” Brendan was continuing. “I thought we already said everything we knew.”
“So why’s she asking us? It’s like she suspects us or something. Maybe she wants us to frame ourselves for the police.”
“Look, I don’t know! Just shut up and we’ll find out a few feet from now.”
To the left, the familiar roof of the Rowan house emerged from behind the trees. Cory and Brendan stepped up to the front porch and rang the doorbell, and waited side-by-side for Michael’s mother to open it.
A minute later, Patricia Rowan appeared. She stepped out in a dress, as usual, and had pulled back her hair away from her face and shoulders. Her face was completely smooth, devoid of emotion, but when she laid eyes on the boys she smiled softly. Cory didn’t like the look it brought to her face. It made her look knowing, and slightly dangerous. He stared back at her silently, letting his face reflect the utter calm he felt on the inside. Brendan did the same.
“Hello boys,” Patricia said. “Just come right in here.” She stepped back to allow them in, leading them straight to the kitchen. The house looked as if it had been put through a speedy cleanup. The dining table was clear, save for a cup of tea and a spoon. Patricia sat down at the spot, and motion for Cory and Brendan to the empty chairs.
Patricia waited for them to get settled. She took a few sips of her tea, keeping her gaze fixed on the window behind them, as if searching for something beyond the hedges along the road. Then, she leaned back and finally turned her gaze to the boys that sat side-by-side in front of her, their slouched shoulders nearly touching.
“Okay, fellas. Here’s the deal.” Patricia let go of the cup and folded her hands on the table. “Michael’s gone. I want you to tell me, honestly, if you know where he is. The police have been searching Jubilife for weeks, and from what they’ve told me, it seems that he’s no longer there. He must’ve moved on to someplace else.” She paused, shifting her gaze from one boy’s face to the next. “I know you two are his closest friends. And I know that there’s a whole bunch of things that Michael told you that he wouldn’t tell me or anyone else. All I’m asking for is the truth. Tell me anything and everything that you know about all this.”
After a short silence, Cory was the first to respond. “We don’t know where he is. Honest. I mean, he’d tell us if he was planning on going somewhere, but neither of us heard anything about it from him. Right?” He looked over to Brendan, who nodded in agreement.
Patricia sighed, and began to stir her tea. “Well, suppose that he did tell you that he was about to run away. Where would he go? The three of you spend entire days together running off to all sorts of places—don’t tell me that you’ve never, not even once, made some crazy plan to go somewhere far away.”
“Well…” Brendan cast his gaze up at the ceiling. “There was one time we wanted to sneak aboard a ship to Iron Island.”
Cory began to crack up.
“We heard there were lots of jewels and stuff there, and we wanted to get some to bring home.” A smile tugged at the corners of Brendan’s lips, which he fought to restrain under Patricia’s gaze. She looked somewhat irked at this development, as if part of her was still appalled at the things thirteen-year-olds got themselves into, but she quickly overrode it with a nod.
Brendan shrugged. “Well, we couldn’t get tickets. Plus we had exams that week, so we had to put it on hold so we could, um…”
“Study,” Cory put in.
Patricia ran her fingers through her hair. “Okay… well, I doubt Michael ran away so that he could go treasure hunting. Maybe I should put this to you another way: Did anything Michael say to you, or did any ideas that he share with you, indicate that he was serious about leaving?”
The two boys began to ponder. After a minute of silence, Patricia intervened.
“Maybe this will help. What did the three of you do when you last saw each other?”
At once, Cory and Brendan seemed to jolt awake, and faced each other with wide eyes.
“We… well, we met up at my house,” Cory began. “And we watched the Space Race.”
“Uh-huh…” Patricia narrowed her eyes. “And, is that all you do together?”
“What else do you like to do, then? What kinds of things does Michael show an interest for that he might not say to me?”
The boys shrugged in unison. Their facial expression were so synchronous that it was almost comical. In a flash of rage and disbelief, Patricia slapped the table. “Did you two know him at
Brendan shook his head. “I’m sorry Miss Rowan, but we don’t know. We’re sorry.”
It seemed that Patricia wanted to say more, but at the last minute, she waved her hand. “Okay. You two can go. Thank you.”
Nodding their heads, the boys got up and left.
Stepping down from the Rowans’ front porch, Cory and Brendan set off together down the sidewalk. They walked in silence for a few moments, then stopped when they reached the edge of the block. Brendan turned to his friend, eyes narrowed against the glare of the afternoon sun. “I can’t believe this, man. Michael was always the guy with the big ideas, but I never expected him to do this. Weird that he didn’t tell us, too.”
Cory hooked his thumbs into his pockets and let out a long, slow breath. “Nah, I don’t blame him. What’s the point in telling? If his mind was set, nuthin’ we would’ve said could’ve stopped him anyway. I bet our old pal just got sick of this place and decided to move on.”
“But still,” said Brendan. “We could’ve gone with him. It could’ve been the three of us out there, surviving, exploring... I don’t get why he had to be such a jerk about it and not tell us.”
Cory scowled. “Shut up. Michael ain’t no jerk. Kid’s smarter than the both of us put together, and unlike us, he knows what he’s doing. Maybe he didn’t want us to come with him. Maybe he knew he had to make the trip alone, to find himself or get away from something in his life. It doesn’t matter. Point is, it ain’t our business. And that’s what these parents don’t get. They want to read everything that’s going on in our minds, because the minute they stop getting us, they get scared we’ll tear away from them. But sometimes, that’s exactly what you gotta do.” He looked down at a rock that lay on the side of the road and kicked it with one dirty shoe, watching it skitter into a gutter. “Kid’ll go places. Just wait.”
“And what about us?” Brendan said.
Cory looked at him and shrugged. “Well, we’re still here, aren’t we?”
Brendan’s frown lingered a moment longer, then he lowered his shoulders in resignation. The boys fell into silence. They looked up at the sky, which was a stained sheet of yellow and orange above them.
“Wherever he is, I just hope he’s okay,” said Brendan, finally. “Wish he’d come back soon.”
It was a while before Cory responded. “He’ll come back,” he said, and smiled. “Exactly when he wants to.”
By some magnetic pull, a smile tugged at the corners of Brendan’s lips. The two boys stared at the clouds, not speaking, for — in the space of those brief few words— all the questions had been answered between them.
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