Curfew minus twenty-five minutes, Dad dragged scotch fumes
and cigar smoke and a melodramatic scowl of exhaustion into my room. Mom
settled against the doorjamb in wary vigil as he punched off my netflow of naked
people leaping off a cliff.
I sat up. "Hey. I was watching that." Not that I
watch that reality crap. They make it all deadly dramatic but it's a con. It
was the principle that he could walk in and do whatever he wanted with my
things and I know all the logic of, 'But he pays the bills.' That's a
"I think you owe me a moment without background
residue." Dad wore his Marine Corps officer persona like a favorite shirt.
His eyes go Bruce Willis flat whenever he's drinking and mad, something seen
more than sunshine. Everything is war for Dad. Business. Raising kids. Sports.
Driving. "It's done. You're in. Taken care of."
Because I've decided not to be like Dad, I fought him for
clarification. "They're not putting me to sleep?"
"Geoffry." Mom swirled scotch and ice into a
soothing rattle. "We don't say that."
Circles weighing his eyes, Dad clamped his mouth shut.
"What the hell else would I be talking about?"
Mom's face closed against remembered battles.
"Slam." I sat back and laughed. "Swift."
Dad stared at me. "It cost us." His jaw jumped.
"It cost me, I guess I should say, seeing as I…. I can't sit on my own ass
anymore. Too much chewed off." He licked his thin lips. "I'll be
working this off forever." A flaccid smile went out to Mom. "We can
never get divorced now."
As if they would. That was a joke. Mom and I looked at each
other. Head down, Dad swallowed on the edge of my vision. "Well. Don't get
too grateful. Don't tell anyone. They can send me…" He stormed away.
Mom watched Dad's passage out and then tendered me her
favorite tipsy smile. Photos of her from her youth show a sexy girl. Surprised
me seeing Mom in those crop tops and bikinis. Some zombie had replaced her.
Like she'd been shipped to sleep. "You should have said thank you."
I suspected Dad wanted me to sleep because I didn't fight
like he did. I quit football and hated golf, dismissing it for my boxes and
Japanese anime. "I know, I know, I couldn't, I was in shock." Bands
were popping free, pressure draining from my head. I wanted to eat. Something
meaty. I hadn't eaten anything for three days. Now I was ravenous. I hopped up
and hugged Mom. "He only did it because you made him."
"The important thing is, he did it," she said.
"Sure." I moved back from her. "He do
anything for Twitch?"
"Twitch." Mom glared at me. "Don't even ask
your father that. You should have heard him. It was embarrassing. He begged
people. Begged. People like Lehto. Lehto, Geoffrey." She waited for my
reaction, like Lehto was our family nemesis. "It was everything he could
do to get you in." Blinking, she smiled and then giggled. "Out. In,
out." Her giggle flared into a weak guffaw. "Like you're gay."
She whispered it like a naughty word. "What a mess this is. What's the
best way to say this? Are you in or out?"
I was in the Exempt Program and out of the Free Sleep
Project, out of the Resuscitation Lottery, spared the Freezer. I would live my
life, one of the charmed twenty-five percent for my birth year and county. Yea
me. "Let's say in. Better to be in than out."
Smiling, Mom nodded with tired heaviness. "You need to
get some sleep, baby. It's a big day tomorrow." She kissed my cheek and
hugged me again. "Remember, don't tell anyone. Look surprised when it's
"Don't worry, I'll look surprised." Dancing down
the hall, I headed for the kitchen to nuke a pizza.
Twitch and I went to Selection Day
without each other. It was like leaving without my shadow.
He wouldn't like such a simile. Twitch
didn't like many things. Hated the nickname Twitch but stayed with it because
he didn't like being called Curt and his nickname ground his parents' teeth
down. I'd known him since we met in pre-school computer camp. Ages and
boundaries kept us in the same classes at school and soccer, football, baseball
and the other crap our parents pushed on us before we pushed back. Our moms
went through rehab together. His family was mine and mine was his, although
they weren't on my family's social level, not even after Dad's fall. We'd dated
cousins and sisters, planned trips and schools…futures. Once we were three but
Orson, smart, tall and geeky, found an obit in a military orientation accident
on an obstacle course when we were fifteen. Poor Orson.
Dad got me and Twitch exempt from that. It was all very open
back then. Dad bagged on who he knew, how he pinged the right people to make it
happen, "Two calls, just two calls." They adored his connections, the
Godfather, my friends joked, the proud nexus of fawning congratulations.
Three years later, call it a new era. Dad was raked through
scandals. A reality show caught him stuffing the turkey with some hooker in an
alley one night. Then some blogger exposed his mistress and the kid he had with
her. Next were bribery, fraud and corruption charges, the grand jury, and then,
whack, Dad has a dead signal. Dad was just doing business, same thing everyone
else did if they could, but that didn't matter once he got caught. He did a
country club three sixty-five and paid a slew of fines. What was killer was how
he slid off the screen and out of existence. Friends run like roaches when the
spotlight finds you.
Selection Day was supposed to be a
festival. Tents fluttered around the Armory's parking lot and lawns. Red, white
and blue balloons energetically bobbed on the wind. A brass band played weak
marching crap, Stars and Stripes Forever, like that. Vendors sold anything
fried, pretzels, cotton candy and caramel apples. There was a Ferris wheel,
games, a petting zoo and a bunch of kiddie rides.
But the Armory was the focal, brick and steel in the
thinning morning fog. Olive Humvees sat in rows in a fenced parking lot behind
it and a tank with a big white star on its flanks guarded the front. Everything
got solemn as we gave shaved head shiny Marine guards our tickets and went in.
Mom shivered. "Brrr. It's cold this morning." She
wore shorts, slope heel sandals and a tight white knit top. A silver cross
rested in her cleavage. She looked amazing.
My sisters all looked good, too, sexy in a clean way. I saw
the Marines check them out. I felt pretty proud of them. We're a good-looking
Mom squeezed my hand and kissed my cheek. "Don't worry.
You'll be all right." She crowded me. "Have faith in the lord."
Suffocation zone. I extricated. "I want to find Twitch.
That good? Please?"
Mom looked at Dad without being direct. The please was for
him. He nodded. "Of course. Why stay with your family? What have we ever
done for you?" He waved to one of his ex-partners, Goldman. Goldman made
his way to us.
Mom patted me. "Go ahead, find Twitch but be back at
our table before the ceremonies start."
"Do you know what table we are?" Dad asked.
"Forty nine," I said.
It was like a knife over his throat. "Right." Pain
glazed his eyes. "Forty nine. Mid pack."