All the way home, Guardian raged. So many times, he broke down crying. He cursed everything he knew, and he hurt. But more than anything else, Guardian was shutting down. They say that when you are freezing to death your body starts to shut down its extremities. Your fingers stop working and die first, along with your toes. Then, your hands and your feet. Slowly, death comes for your chest, taking out everything from the outside first. The reason this happens is because the body redirects blood to your chest and organs, and shuts down flow to your fingers and toes.
While he drove, Guardian began to shut everything down. All of his love for his mother. All of his love for Grasp. All of his love for Honed and Horrid. All of his love for Bekah. Everything he didn’t need, he shut off. He reevaluated everything in his life.
For years he had served and guarded. He had held love for those in his life and he had protected everyone and everything. Now, all of that died. He held a spot in his heart for his cousins and his little sisters, but no one else.
Bekah drops us off at home. “Do you want me to come in?” she asks.
“No, I’m not staying,” Guardian says. He grabs his bags and tosses them in the Nova. He jumps in as she yells, “I love you.”
Guardian turns to her and thinks. If he walks away saying nothing, he might lose her forever. She might just walk away. He thinks about the trips to Waynesville he will have to make, and the favors he will need in order to wage this war, and he calculates all of it. To keep her as an ally, he needs to lie to her. “I love you, too,” he says. “Talk to you tomorrow.”
“If you need me tonight—”
But he has already closed the door and is backing out. He heads for Steak and Shake, to a little group of friends that he has been getting closer to every day.
Their names are Danee and Rasha and they are two black lesbians Shadow has been hanging out with for about four months. They are part of a group that can be found at Steak and Shake every night from about ten until about two in the morning. They eat, and drink coffee, and hold court in their tiny kingdom. They are smart, funny and they are loyal. After we broke up with Sapphire we started coming to hang out with them. But there are two others.
Clean joins us most nights. He is smart and funny and charismatic and he talks a lot about loyalty and brotherhood. He has a group of friends that he is loyal to and he likes to say that I am in this group but we will see that I am not.
Then there is Snow. She is a lesbian as well, a white girl who loves black culture and wants to be a rapper. She said her rapper name would be Snow so we are going with that.
When I get to Steak and Shake, they are being thrown out for something Snow has done. They decide to go to this strung-out chick’s house that we all know.
I end up at this girl’s house sitting on a threadbare couch hearing her talk about her glass dining room table and how great it is for snorting coke off of. Shadow looks at her and really sees her for the first time. She is tall and thin with wild eyes and hair just right of disheveled. Her hands twitch when she talks and her lips look to have been stained red. The rings of her nostrils are bright and enflamed and she is dressed in clothing that does not fit her anymore, if it ever had.
There is a clear moment in this memory I want to stop at before I start the next part. Shadow sees her talking, and he knows this is his future. This is what he will be soon. The horror of it all will overcome him and he will need to escape. A vice will pull him under. It will take him aside and crawl into his skin. It will cling to his bones and begin to drink his blood. A vice will kill him, he is sure of it. In this moment he has to figure out what it will be.
Coke will ramp him up. Maybe he needs to start coke. If he is high on coke all the time, he will be ready to fight at all times. Heroin is too extreme, he thinks, but not by much. He will need an escape and there is no better escape than heroin. It is hard to hide though, and leaves marks. Weed is heroin’s nerdy little sister. Maybe he could start smoking a lot of weed and get out of it. Get out of this state of mind. Everyone knows it is hard to stay mad when you’re high. If I can stick to weed, then it will become a way of feeling the pain, but not caring. But then there is alcohol.
This is where things pick up. Beer was there for him when he was called a coward. Guardian has already proven he will drink. Shadow likes to drink and it is a good way to punish himself. Good way to leave yourself sick, but not do any real damage to yourself. Shadow decides this is how he will go, but it has to be whiskey. Bourbon. Something he will hate. Something no one will want to take away from him. He can’t see Johnson taking nips of his whiskey. Can’t see Bekah wanting to drink any. He needs a brand. Something he can stay loyal to. Something that can define his anger and sadness. He needs a name he can call out for.
After he has chosen the hole he will drop into, he looks at Rasha and smiles.
“My brother is a child molester,” Shadow says. He heard Bekah say it in the car and heard Uncle Ball talking about it with Guardian. He thinks about his brother and all the traits he should have seen before. All of the things he remembers about the way the guy conducts himself that makes him seedy and untrustworthy. And he wonders about the fact that the moment he heard the accusation, he never doubted that it was true. It rang like a bell. It was a statement that instantly made sense. He would never believe it about other people, but Grasp fits the mold, this is truth.
“What did you say?” Danee says.
“My brother, my little brother, I found out tonight that he is a child molester,” Shadow says. “Four that we know of so far.” A new reality sits down on the couch beside us. “My mother used to run a day care. My brother was one of her employees. He has been around potential victims for years.”
Everyone in the room is looking at me, puzzled. “This isn’t funny, Jesse,” Snow says.
“I fuckin’ know, Snow!” Guardian yells. He does not move from the couch or even flinch. He goes from resting angry, to raging angry with no visible sign of change in his posture or face. “It wasn’t funny when I found out about it tonight, and it wasn’t funny when I called the cops on him, and it wasn’t funny when my mother threw me out of her house when I told her. And it has not gotten any funnier as I drove back from Waynesville, or the entire time I have been sitting here trying to decide what will destroy me. None of it is funny and it never will be!”
Danee sits down beside me and nods. “It’s fucked up. How can I help?”
“Party this weekend?” Guardian says.
“My house, Friday, after you get out of class. I’m buying,” she says.
Rasha winked at me.
“Did you really call the cops yourself?” Snow asks.
“Yep, I sure did. Without a moment’s pause. And I would do it again.”
“Fuck man, that is hardcore,” the strung-out chick says.
When we get home, I walk in without turning the lights on and sit in the dining room. The clock says five fifteen, and that means in fifteen minutes Johnson will wake up. We sit in the dark, letting it all slowly fall onto us.
With no audience to rage to, Guardian is left with his thoughts for the first time since it all happened. He sees the faces of his cousins and the faces of his sisters, and he hears their voices as they say his name. He thinks of what they are going through, the things they will have to see, and the things they will have to say. There will be physical inspections. There will be statements made, and they will have to give those same statements over and over again. The horrors of the gathering of data falls upon him and he tries to cry.
He thinks of how horrible the next couple of days will be for those kids and wants to weep. He wants to feel the pain they will feel, but he can’t. He can feel nothing but anger. He can feel nothing but hate.
I hear Johnson’s alarm go off and hear him moving around in his room. When he gets out of his room, he ducks into the shower without seeing me at all. He is out in a flash and dressed. Then, he steps into the dining room, snaps on the light and jumps as he sees me sitting, staring at him.
“Shit man, you scared the fuck out of me,” he laughs. “What the hell are you doing up?”
He nods. “You know it.” He has three coffee pots. He has six different kinds of coffee beans from six different countries in his freezer. He keeps six different kinds of coffee creamer in house at all times, and he makes his coffee. “You want to talk?” he laughs. “You gotta be up for a reason.”
“I have to let you know what happened yesterday and see where you stand on it. If you don’t side with me, I need to move out. If you do then you need to know.”
He is quiet in the kitchen before walking to the doorway and looking at me. He has his camp coffee pot in his hand. A small tin percolator that will take about twenty minutes to brew to his tastes. “Are you okay?”
“No man, I’m not okay at all. I’m at war and I need to know where you come down on it.”
He stares at the coffee and sits across from me. “Lay it on me.”
So, I told him. I told him all of it. Everything down to the minutia of the call I made and the names of the people I talked to. I tell him all of it and when I am done, he gets the coffee. He sets a cup down in front of me. It has the chocolate creamer that I love so much. He looks at me after I say it all, and he nods.
“I’m kind of in awe of you right now, man,” Johnson says. “You are, I think, my hero now. First thing you need to hear is that you absolutely did the right thing. Second, is that you absolutely did the right thing.”
I nod. I take a drink of my coffee and burst into tears. He gets up and comes to sit beside me and pulls me into a hug. I collapse on him and I weep.
“Thank you for doing this, man,” Johnson said. “You made the world a better place last night.”
More sobs, and he weathered it all. I don’t know how long I cried on him. I will never know. All I know is that he never complained and he did not move.
I didn’t go to school that first day. I don’t remember what I did. I remember pacing a lot. I remember accepting that I would have to tell this story for the rest of my life. That a lot of the people I tell it to would think me a monster. Even more would think me a hero.
I had flashes of darkness, the sounds of crickets. Pain. Sweat. I remember husky breathing in my ear. The sound of a man telling me not to fucking move. Then it is all gone. I was panting in my broken chair with a knife in my hand I didn’t remember pulling.
I remember jumping when I heard the scream of the phone. I grabbed the receiver. “Hello.”
“Jesse?” It was a woman’s voice. She sounded at peace.
“Who is this?” I said.
“It’s your Aunt Breezy.” This was Uncle Ball’s ex-wife. She was always good to me.
“Good morning,” I said. I looked at the clock seeing it was four in the afternoon.
“I wanted to call to, well, I wanted to say that… I wanted to thank you,” she said.
“For calling the cops. I have been telling Ball to make that call for years and he never did. He forbid me from doing it and I just… Well, I wanted to thank you, for Dewdrop and Little Man, in case they never do.”
“I gotta go,” I said. I hung up the phone and ran to the bathroom. I threw up hard, hurting my throat as I did it. I dropped to my knees and gripped the bowl. I needed a bourbon. A cheap one.