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4 - Friday

I saw Rowen. We didn’t talk very much anymore, but were still cool. We always acknowledged each other in the hallway if we passed, but we didn’t hang out anymore like we used to. Jake and I were really the only ones who did hang out anymore. Besides Audrey…on the phone, from time to time. We were just all too busy, I suppose. Freshman year found us all with different paths. Rowen went on to play football and wrestling. He’d always been athletic. He took Karate and Judo growing up. I didn’t know if he ever got his black belt. But anyway, in high school, he did more of it, and he started hanging out, almost exclusively, with his teammates. Audrey began to mature, sprout, become a woman. The prettiest girls were the most popular. But Audrey wasn’t the kind that was too cool to hang out with me. She was just busy. We talked maybe once a week. Of course, Scott moved.

I don’t mean to make myself out to be a dork, though, if that’s how it came across. I was just an average kid. I kept to myself. I did average work, made average grades. Not that I wasn’t smart enough, just that I didn’t really apply myself. My grade point was like a three-point, somewhere in there. Jake’s was like a two-point-five.

So Rowen came up to me at lunch. I was standing in line by the vending machine. He wanted to know about Kenny. Did I go see him? How’s he doing? I told him the truth. It was dark. He didn’t look so good. I’ll probably go see him again tomorrow. Did he want to go?

Rowen shook his head. “I’d like to, Conman.” He was the one that started calling me Conman. Everyone else took a cue from him. “My cousin’s getting married tomorrow.” He looked away, hesitated. He probably felt bad. I could tell he wanted to do more, to do something. He probably felt like he wasn’t a very good friend to Ken. I knew the feeling, but I smiled a little. If Ken could’ve seen the concern on Rowen’s face, he might’ve realized that he did have friends. He might not have tried to kill himself. “Well,” Rowen said, still not looking at me. “If you go some other time, let me know.”

“I will,” I told him. Honestly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back. The hospital just didn’t sit right with me. We spent a lot of time up there when my uncle had cancer. That was a few years ago. He’d since died. Hospitals didn’t work. Medicine didn’t cure people, just kept them alive a little longer so eventually they died more painfully.

I told Rowen what Jake said: That Ken needed a lot of prayer. He was surprised, too.

“Jake said that? Wow. He must feel really bad.”

I didn’t see Jake at lunch. He was in the library on the computer. He didn’t talk about Ken in fifth hour. Nothing in the car when I took him home. I brought it up, though. I told him I was thinking of going to see Ken tomorrow, if he wanted to go.

“You know I’d love to, Conman,” he said. “But you know I friggin hate hospitals.” He paused for a second. He wasn’t looking at me. He just stared out the window as the mailboxes passed like seconds. “I just can’t. If you go…tell him I’m sorry. Tell him I’m thinking about him. Tell him I’m…just tell him to get his butt home.”

Jake was never very good with his feelings. He wasn’t close to Ken, anyway. There was a falling out there. Ken hated the church Jake went to. And of course, Jake held his feelings inside, was sometimes bitter and sarcastic. He put up walls, wore masks. I know I wasn’t his shrink, but it had a lot to do with his mother.

That summer after eighth grade, that’s when it happened. It was a week before ninth grade, and we were standing in Jake’s kitchen. The rain was coming down sideways outside.

“I don’t know,” Jake was saying as he gazed intently out of the window. “She’s been gone for quite a while.”

“Like I said, Jake. It’s probably nothing.”

“It’s ten minutes to the pizza place. She’s been gone almost two hours now.” He didn’t turn to look at me. The rain pattered down against the ground outside and sounded like rocks against sheet metal as it pelted the kitchen window. I could see his vague reflection in the window glass. He wore a heavy, worried look.

“She probably just stopped at a store or something, buy groceries, a new pair of shoes, some skis, something. You know how women are. She’ll be home. Pizza’ll probably be cold, but she’ll be home.”

“You’re right.” There was resignation in his voice. Still, he tried to smile and put on a brave face. “You wanna go start the movie then?”

Jake crossed to the doorway that led into the living room. I followed, tired and lazy. Just as Jake disappeared into the other room, the phone next to the refrigerator rang.

“Do you want me to get that?”

“Sure,” came Jake’s voice. “It might be my mom.”

I answered the phone.

The man’s voice on the other end was dry, almost militant, void of emotion. “This is Officer Peterson. Is this either Andrew or Jake Sellers?”

“Umm, no,” I said, confused to be talking to a police officer. At the same time, my heart sunk. “Hold on.” I set the phone down on the counter and called to Jake, “Is your dad still home?”

“No, he’s out.”

“Then they wanna speak to you.”

“Who is it?” Jake asked as he entered the kitchen.

I didn’t answer, just held out the phone.

He looked at me suspiciously, stifling a ridiculous laugh. “What is it?” he asked.

I shrugged and shook my head.

Jake took the phone and positioned it on to his ear. “This is Jake,” he said coolly. The officer must have said something because Jake gave a confused look and said, “Really?” His face turned a ghostly pale. “Sh...Sh, what?” Jake stammered. “I know it’s wet outside. Yes, I’m aware the rain makes the roads slippery.” Jake shook his head, clutching the phone in a white-knuckled grip. His temper was slowly slipping away, his voice growing with rage. “Look, she’s a good driver. No, I don’t believe you. Run the plates again.” He fell silent for a second and then yelled, “I don’t care! DO IT AGAIN!” And he hung up, slamming the receiver down on the base.

His eyes closed, and his hands came up to cover his face. He fell back against the refrigerator, then slowly sank down to his knees, let out a loud sob, and his body convulsed as he cried.

“I’m sorry,” I said. I slunk down next to him, put an arm across his shoulders. “I’m so sorry, Jake.”

It totally devastated him. He never really dealt with it when it happened. He never wanted to talk about it. After the funeral, I never saw him cry. I couldn’t imagine what that must feel like. I bet it did some serious damage to keep it bottled up. It had to have hurt. It robbed his faith. And his father pulled backward, fell inside of himself. He became distant. Once, Jake said something like, “He blames me, ya know.” That was right after the accident. I didn’t know if his father actually said something or if Jake just felt that way. Either way, it had to bear a tremendous emotional weight. That was the last time he spoke about his mom. And that was over three years ago.

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