The Gone Guy
T A Y A :
“You’re nothing to me,” Judah growled as he lifted the gun in his hand, aiming straight for his father’s heart.
There was so much anger and hatred in his eyes. All that bitterness that he was harboring finally took its toll on him. Meanwhile, Mr. Harrison could only look up at his son in fear as he begged for his life.
“Jaden, please, I… love you,”
“Love? Nice try, but you’re dead to me,” Judah scoffed mockingly and the gun clicked.
“No!” I screamed.
And all of a sudden, I wasn’t watching Judah aim the gun at his father’s heart anymore—he was aiming the gun at me. At my heart!
The loud booming voice echoed in my ear and I jerked up immediately. I thought I’d have fallen to the floor or something, but the next thing I saw was my bedroom wall and that I was sitting on my bed.
It was just a dream… Only a dream…
“It’s been three days since he last contacted me. I’m going crazy over here,” I said I slumped against the cafeteria table, pushing my lunch to the side.
“If my boyfriend disappeared for three days, I would be too,” Hallee sighed in agreement.
“I can’t go to the police… I can’t tell anybody…”
That was what Ava kept telling me, no police could be involved because we didn’t know how that would affect Judah.
“What did he say to you exactly?” Gabe asked.
“Just… to trust him. Have some faith in me, he said,”
“Cryptic… yet romantic. Typical Judah,” Hallee rolled her eyes. I would laugh at her joke, but I was way too anxious to laugh.
“Guys, what if something bad happened to him?”
Gabe took in a deep breath and glanced away. Hallee also didn’t have an answer for me, so she just took my hand and gave me a small smile.
“No, you’re right. I’m being paranoid. He’s all right,” I said to myself, “He has to be,”
He promised me he will be back. So I know he will.
My eyes wandered out the large windows of our cafeteria and I found myself watching the liveliness outside. The football team was jogging around the track, the cheerleaders were practicing their routine, the marching band kids were cleaning their instruments, and some other kids were enjoying their lunch under the sun.
“So um, I know this is probably not the best time, but do you wanna come prom-dress shopping this Saturday with me?” Hallee asked cautiously as she sorted through the stack of papers in her binder. I noticed they were posters for the prom.
It had been three days since Judah was gone, and life seemed to just continue on without him. But not for me. When all the seniors were getting hyped up with college results and the prom, I couldn’t be bothered.
“I don’t know Hals…” I sighed dramatically, “At this point, I don’t even know if I’m gonna make it to the prom,”
“What? Taya, we’ve been dreaming about the senior prom ever since we were in the ninth grade,”
“Yeah, I’m not gonna go either,” Gabe shrugged weakly. I gave him a knowing look and we ended up high-fiving each other.
“What? No. Guys, we’re seniors now. This is our prom and we’re all going!” Hallee declared.
“But—“ Gabe and I protested in unison.
“No buts. You’re asking Maddie to the prom, Serrano. And you,” Hallee motioned her finger to me, “Judah will be back before then. Have some faith in him, right?”
After school that day, Hallee was busy with prom stuff as she was in the dance committee, and Gabe had to go home to record some Youtube stuff. All alone by lonesome, I found myself walking around Judah’s neighborhood. I was just entertaining myself with the thought that I might run into him there.
Instead, I came across an old, familiar-looking playground next to an elementary school. This was the playground where Judah and I first became friends. Although, I suppose his name wasn’t Judah then. The boy never told me his name though. He never said one word to me.
Yeah, I thought he was a weird kid. But I was also weird. So we matched.
“Come on, let’s be princesses today. I’m gonna be Ariel,” I remembered I told him once.
He never protested. He just quietly obeyed whatever it was I wanted to do that day. One time, he even let me paint his face with markers because I was trying to turn him into the Beast. We were re-enacting Beauty and the Beast that day.
Talk about best-friend material. Or boyfriend.
Remembering him like this got my heart aching. I missed him so bad. Yes, he had turned my life upside down. From lies, to fights, to love, and trust. But life without him was just no life at all.
The sun was setting now and I found myself wandering in front of Judah’s house. I remembered the first time I came by here, asking for some extra-credit kissing lesson. Boy, was he shocked to see me.
I was amazed at how good he was at kissing. I had even wondered how he learned it or if anyone taught him, or if Ava was a good kisser too.
Sure, call me petty and jealous. But I’m a girl. Do the math.
“Taya?” Jenny’s voice suddenly broke through my daydreaming. I didn’t even realize that she was inside, looking right at me through the glass window.
Quickly, I mustered up a smile and a wave to her. She motioned her hand for me to come in and I replied with a nod.
“I didn’t know you’re coming over,” she greeted me as she swung the front door open.
“Yeah, I wasn’t planning on it,” I said and I paused for a beat before saying, “Any word from Judah?”
“That’s what I was about to ask you,” she chuckled, with a glint of bitterness there.
“He only called once, three days ago. Left me a message, saying he was out of town and that he’d be back soon. Pretty much what he told you,” she said again.
“Are you hungry? I’m about to make dinner,” Jenny said as she turned towards the kitchen.
I ended up staying around for dinner. It was impossible to turn down dinner from Jenny as she was making her famous homemade pasta. And as she was cooking, she couldn’t stop dishing out stories about Judah’s childhood. At one point, Jenny even got out the old photo album. Judah would yell at her if he was here, sharing all his embarrassing moments to me. But I was loving this.
“That was him after he got chased by a goose at the lake,” Jenny pointed to a photo where a little boy was crying his eyes out, clothes all torn and muddy.
“Jenny, you are evil,” I couldn’t help but laugh too, which also made me evil I suppose.
“Ah, first time taking a bath by himself,” Jenny pointed to the next photo. A cute, little skinny boy was standing in all his naked glory in front of a bathtub. In his hand was a dinosaur-patterned underwear.
Some things just never change.
“That is just so precious,” I smiled.
“He’s gonna kill me, isn’t he? I just showed his girlfriend a picture of his four-year-old peepee,”
“Is that what he called it?”
“All the way until the fifth grade,”
My cheeks were sore from laughing way too much. My heart was so full after talking with Jenny. Not just my heart, my stomach too.
“I swear, you make the best pasta dish ever. You should be a chef or something,” I said to Jenny as I finished devouring her fettuccine Alfredo.
“Thank you. Tell that to the stupid new owner,” she scoffed and rolled her eyes.
“Yeah…” I gulped.
If only she knew that she wasn’t being let go because she wasn’t competent enough. It was just because of stupid Blake and the stupid Harrison family.
My appetite was gone now all of a sudden as I thought about the Harrisons and Jenny and Judah. It must have been difficult for all of them. Hudson was Jenny’s last name, so Judah’s probably changed his name because he didn’t want to be associated with the Harrisons anymore. Just as Mr. Harrison was rejecting him, he rejected the man back.
And Jenny. I could only imagine the amount of guilt and regret that she must carry. And how helpless she must feel right now.
“So, you really have no idea where he’s at or what he’s doing?” Jenny said suddenly, referring to her son.
“Sorry, I don’t mean to be pesky, I’m just a little worried about him,” she said again.
“Jenny,” I paused for a second to think over my response, “Judah’s in… Nevada,”
“Nevada… oh,” something clicked in her mind as she heard the name of that state. As if she knew what was happening, she then said, “Nevada’s James’ hometown... Is Judah going to meet him?”
“I think so…”
“Huh,” she swallowed hard and said, “So… you know? About everything?”
“Yes,” I nodded slowly.
Jenny sighed and glanced away, before pouring another glass of wine for herself. The room grew cold and uncomfortable all of a sudden. So many things were going through her head, and she couldn’t bring herself to speak.
“Judah said he never wants to see his dad again. He hated James. Everything about him,” Jenny started as she took a big gulp of her wine, “Why is he seeing him now all of a sudden?”
“I don’t know… he didn’t tell me that part,”
She put the glass down and her eyes turned a shade redder. Biting on her bottom lip, she then looked up to me, tears brimming on the corner of her eyes as she spoke.
“You must think I’m the worst person ever,”
“No, I don’t think that. At all,”
“I was young… naïve… and in love,” she scoffed as a tear trickled down her cheek.
“But despite everything, I don’t regret it… because I got my son. And he’s the most amazing person ever,”
“He really is,” I nodded in agreement, and my hand reached to hold hers.
Jenny smiled at my response as she wiped her tears away. When she finally had calmed herself down, she looked up at me and said, “Taya, honey, should I be worried about him?”
“No,” I said reassuringly. That’s what Judah would have wanted me to say to his mother.
“He said he’s not gonna get himself in trouble. Have some faith in him,” I said again.
It was easier said than done. Having faith in someone, or having faith in anything, really. Jenny was still feeling uneasy about the fact that Judah went to Nevada, but she was glad that I told her that. At least she knew where he was now.
As I was making my way home from Judah’s house that night, I still couldn’t stop myself from replaying and thinking about it all. So I decided to go to town, back to the dark and familiar alleyways towards Castro’s.
The guys at the door absolutely knew that I wasn’t twenty-one, so I wasn’t allowed inside. But, luckily I saw the bouncer-guy that I met before and I asked him to get Ava to come out. He was annoyed to see me at first, but I gave him twenty dollars and he became much more cooperative afterwards.
“Any news?” I said as soon as Ava slipped out the back door.
“Max just got back today, but there’s no sign of Judah,”
“Did Max say anything?”
“He said that everything went according to plan and that Judah will be back soon. But I’m not buying it, I think Max is hiding something,”
My body stiffened instinctively. If Max came back but Judah didn’t, what does that mean?
“So what do we do now?” I said to Ava.
She took in a deep breath before reaching for the pack of cigarettes in her jeans’ pocket. I waited anxiously as she stuck one cigarette in between her mouth and flicked her lighter on.
“Nothing,” she murmured as she released a cloud of smoke from her lips, “You’re the one that wanted to trust him and wait it out. So we just wait,”
That was not the answer I was looking for. Letting out a frustrated sigh, I turned my head up to the sky, cursing the air for not bringing my boyfriend back home tonight.
“I don’t know how you do it. If I was you, I woudda jump on the first plane out there and get his ass back here, whether he like it or not,” she said again.
“I don’t wanna force him into doing anything he doesn’t want to. I don’t wanna run his life for him. He can do what he wants. And I’ll just be here… waiting for him to come home,”
Despite my brave response, Ava noticed my frustration, and she handed her cigarette pack over to me as a sign of condolences. For a moment I thought about taking it, thinking maybe it would help with the stress.
“Yeah, that’s not gonna happen. Lung cancer’s mine. You can pick another deadly illness,” I remembered Judah told me once when I asked him if I could have a smoke.
A small smile escaped my lips as I shook my head to Ava. Shrugging it off, she turned to her heels, about to reach for the door handle, but then she suddenly stopped herself.
“He’ll be back,” she paused for a moment and said, “He’s bat-shit crazy about you, so there’s no way he’s not coming back,”
“Did he tell you that?” I said with a wry laugh.
“Only about everyday when he was here,” she snorted under her breath, followed by dramatically rolling her eyes.
As she was about to head inside, I called out to her one last time and said, “Thank you,”
Ava didn’t say anything back. She just shrugged coolly, as if to say ‘whatever’ and she disappeared through the door. I didn’t know if she was just exaggerating or that she was just trying to make me feel better, but I did feel better.
I guess I could understand how Judah would tolerate her. She’s not so bad.
I had just turned around and walked a few feet away from the back door, when suddenly a voice called out to me.
“You again. Back so soon?”
It was Max, looking sinister as always as he stepped out of the dark and into the light. Now this guy, I still didn’t get how Judah would tolerate him.
“Where’s Judah? Is he okay?” I said to him.
“I don’t know, I haven’t heard from him,” he snickered as he strode towards me.
“Liar, you were with him in Nevada, weren’t you?” I said as I backed away slightly.
“How did you know about Nevada? He’s been snitching to you?”
“Where is he?” he snapped all of a sudden.
“How would I know? He was with you,”
“Nah, he disappeared. He went rogue,”
“Tell me, where is he?” he gripped both arms roughly this time.
“I don’t know! Let me go!” I squirmed around, trying to find ways to kick or to punch or something.
“Look, I ain’t gonna hurt you ’cause you’s his girl and all. But you know something and you ain’t telling me. Where is he?”
“Please, you’re hurting me,” I begged, but his grip just got tighter.
“Get your motherfucking hands off her!” suddenly, a loud booming voice thundered from behind me.
Before I could even blink, a guy had shoved Max away from me and he punched Max straight across the face. It was one hell of a punch too, I could almost hear the sound of skin ripping and bone cracking.
I was trying to make out who the guy was, but before I could do anything, he had grabbed my hand and pulled me away in a matter of seconds. Max was still on the ground as the both of us made a dash out of there. Other people were starting to come out of Castro’s and things would only get worse once they found out someone had attacked their leader.
We ran out of there as fast as we could. I was all out of breath, but I knew I had to keep going.
“What the hell are you doing in a place like this!” the guy scowled at me.
I wanted to open my mouth to speak, but I was so out of breath, I ended up falling down instead. My hands went down first, covering my face from the hard concrete as my body tumbled down.
“T! Are you okay?” the guy quickly bent down and reached for me.
His two strong hands gripped the side of my arms and they were shaking me. Slowly, I pried my eyes open and made out the figure staring right at me.