I am on fire. The end of part one is in sight.
When we lost our money, I remember the looks the neighbors gave us. “A combination of pity and fear” is how Dad described it. Pity because they knew it wasn’t our fault that all our furniture was on the lawn for sale, and fear because in this economy, they could be next. People started avoiding us, acting like bad luck is catching – maybe they’re right.
This time around, fear was pretty much the only response from the neighbors. After all, when the FBI busts down your door, they have to have a reason, right? And even if they don’t, everyone who sees it happen presumes guilt. I guess we were lucky that it was a white-collar crime Dad was being prosecuted for, since the building management didn’t evict us the way I’m sure they would have if it had been something else. And it helped that Dad was Dad, and had cracked wise with the staff and tipped the maintenance people (even now, on a reduced income).
But it was still pretty stressful every day, going through the motions, trying to act normal – going to school, going grocery shopping with Mom, having casual conversations around the dinner table, ignoring the elephant. We were using disposable phones like drug dealers, carefully rationing the minutes. Mom had commandeered one of Aunt Janice’s old computers so that Liz and I could do homework. Texting was agony, when you had to push 2 three times to type a C – how did they do it in the old days?
Then one day Dad’s phone rang. He listened for a minute, nodded, asked a couple questions. “Really? Why? No, no complaints. We’ll be down in a bit.” He hung up with a befuddled look.
“That was the lawyer. He has our stuff. We can go pick it up.”
“What?” Mom asked, equally befuddled.
“The charges have been dropped.”
Poof went the elephant. We all let the air out of our balloons a different way. Liz screamed, Mom blew her hair out of her eyes, I fell down on the couch. Dad and I looked at each other, shocked and confused.
“So what happened?” I asked.
“I don’t know. He doesn’t know. The FBI just called him and said come get their stuff, the end.”
“What about Christopher?”
“What about him?” Mom said angrily. “Maybe he took responsibility for the whole thing like he should have in the first place.”
“At any rate,” Dad said, cutting her off. “Family outing. Let’s go get back to the 21st century.”
School was nearly over. I could actually focus on my final tests and papers. Well, sort of. The fear was gone with the dropped charges, but that only emptied out the big hole where Alex had been. It was a first world problem, no doubt; when we were facing life without Dad I didn’t think much about it, but now that we were back to normal, I started realizing how much a part of my personal normal Alex had become. I found myself getting stuck on a problem, or doing some Googling that led nowhere, and wanting to ask Alex. I came home to an empty apartment and wanted to turn Alex on to keep me company. Mom put a big vase of sand dollars where Alex had sat because it didn’t take long for it to feel like there was a giant hole in the house where his big head had been.
Christopher never came back. The administration was tight-lipped but thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster for all that sensitivity training they had. They couldn’t just let him vaporize and traumatize their sensitive charges; so they announced that Christopher had withdrawn from school to deal with some family issues. I nearly burst out laughing – family issues, yeah, his family issue is he doesn’t have one.
That was mean, and I should have regretted it, but I was mad. I hated him. It took a while to come around to that. Or at least to admit it. He acted like my friend, and he used me. He gave me Alex, then he took him away. He nearly destroyed our family, and we never heard a peep from him – no apology, no explanation. He was just…gone, like some grifter.
So imagine my surprise when I opened my locker on the last day of school, and there was a greeting card in there. At first I thought it might have been one of those nice Harrison Academy touches, thanks for a great year or some such. So I opened it.
It was a picture of a backspace key on an old typewriter. On the front, in Courier, it says “wish I could take it back…” Inside, it said, “but I can’t. I’m really sorry.”
I read the note.
I’m so sorry your family got entangled in all this. I was working on a plan that would have avoided all this legal trouble but that fell through. At any rate, I want you to know that the whole legal situation is done and won’t be coming back to haunt you and your family. I doubt you’ll believe anything I say right now, but I wanted you to know that Alex wouldn’t be Alex today without you. If you want, please visit this address and say goodbye to him.
There was an IP address at the bottom of the card. My first instinct was to tear it up, burn it, stomp on it. No way I was going to visit that address. Well, not from home.