I was daydreaming out my bedroom window, watching the cars race across the highway like I liked to do. I loved hearing the roar of the big trailer trucks go by and the sound when their tires hit the bumps in the pavement. I often lay on my bed with my pillow on the sill, watching and thinking. That’s where I was the night Andrew came over.
“Oh good, with you leaning out like that, I won’t have to throw rocks at your window.”
I did not see him coming. He was standing in the driveway, almost right below my window.
“What are you doing out? It’s late.”
“Can I come in?”
“Mmm, I dunno. It’s late; don’t know if mom and dad want friends over right now.”
He started walking down my driveway. I thought about it and didn’t remember seeing Andrew in school today.
“Hey, what are you doing out so late?”
He turned around and walked back within whisper-shot of my window.
“Dad and I aren’t communicating well.”
I wondered who could communicate well with Andrew’s dad.
“Wait there; I’ll see if mom and dad are up.”
My parents were in their usual spots asleep on the couch.
“Ma. Ma. Hey, Ma. Hey, Andrew is outside; I think he and his dad had a fight or something…can he come in?”
“Case…Case…what is he…does he want to spend the night or sumpin’?”
“I dunno, he’s just he’s outside, and I dunno.”
“Okay,” she got up and closed her robe, “just don’t wake Dad.”
Marching bands couldn’t wake up Dad.
“He can spend the night if he has to, Case, but I’m going to call his dad and let him know he’s here. I have to.”
I wasn’t sure how Andrew would feel about that, but it made sense. It’s not like Andrew’s dad didn’t care about him; I just wasn’t sure if he cared the right way. Not the right way for Andrew anyway.
I opened the front door and waved him in. I put a finger to my lips, and we went up to my bedroom.
“Casey, do you even like sports?”
I wasn’t sure what he was talking about, but then I followed his eyes to the autographed Yankees ball on my bookshelf.
“No, I just, it’s been in my room since I was little, I guess. It’s the ’82 team.” I wasn’t sure why I mentioned that; Andrew may or may not have been able to identify that particular sphere as a baseball.
“Anyway, uh, what are you…what, you know…”
“I told you, my father and I aren’t communicating well at the moment.”
As close as we’d become, Andrew was still tough to get inside of. And it was too late for me to try pushing him open; he verbally boxed circles around me on my best days.
“So, were you at school today?”
“No, I thought it best not to attend. After I left the house last night, I thought it best not to go anywhere too obvious at first.”
“You left last night? Where’d you go all day?”
Again, too tired to dance this dance.
“Are you going to school tomorrow?”
“That has yet to be determined.”
There was a quiet knock on the door, and my mom poked her head in.
“Andy, I called your dad, so he knows you’re here and you’re alright. He said to call him tomorrow.”
“Well, thank you for your concern, Mrs. Belden, though I wish you hadn’t contacted my father. But it’s understandable you would take that approach; I don’t fault you.”
“Okay, good, okay. Cuz that’s gonna help me sleep tonight. Go to bed, guys.”
I pulled my camping roll out of the closet and laid it out for Andrew. I climbed into my bed and closed the window most of the way. I turned out the light. With the shade up, it was just the glow from town lighting the room. I hadn’t had anybody sleep over like this in way over a year. And even though it was late and a school night, the sleepover setting got me giddy and gabby, and wanting to talk about girls.
“Hey, did you know Lizzie has an email address?”
“Why would I know this?”
“No, I didn’t think you’d know. It’s… I was thinking of sending her like an email, but like say I was a secret admirer and see what she says.”
“To see if she likes me. I could like set it all up to like meet her and then it would be me.”
“That’s stupid; just tell her you like her.”
“I can’t; it would be weird.”
“Of the two scenarios presented, that would be the weird one?”
He was right, so I didn’t say anything. I’m not sure if Andrew fell asleep after this or if he stayed awake thinking like I did. Where most nights I’d have been thinking about Lizzie and how I could turn this cousin-like friendship of ours into a romance, I was mostly thinking about Andrew that night. I wanted to know what was going on in his head, what could have been so bad with him and his dad that he’d left home. I’m not sure how long I laid awake, but it felt like a long time.
Andrew and I went to school together then next day. We didn’t say much on the walk over and just gave a wave as we parted for our morning classes. By the time the school day ended, I had almost forgotten that he might be coming home with me again. But he was waiting for me as I came out of the main entrance.
“Are you headed home?”
“Ah, I dunno. I don’t have anything planned, so yeah, I was just going to go home and do homework and stuff.”
“Can you take a walk with me?”
Mom and Dad both worked, so they just expected me to be home for dinner. What I did in between getting out of school and then was generally up to me.
I followed Andrew’s lead out to the football field and through the fence. There was a little trail that led to a shopping plaza. We walked through the parking lot and out the back. We were headed toward the edge of our town, towards Hopeville, which was a little farm kind of town. The kids from Hopeville didn’t have their own high school, so they either went to ours or went to Waterford.
“My father doesn’t think I’m making the right decisions for myself.”
So was this why Andrew wanted to walk? Did he actually want to open up to me?
“Well…do you think you are?”
“Hmmm, not so sure. I have little idea of what the right thing to do with my life is, though I definitely feel my father’s path is not the correct one.”
“What does he want you to do?”
“Go to college. Study. He does not feel art is a lofty enough pursuit, but he would consider letting me go to school for art if I so choose.”
“Well that’s cool.”
“Is it? I’m not sure school is the correct path for me, Casey. I don’t trust in their capacity.”
I wasn’t quite sure what that meant or exactly where Andrew was going with this. I saw two paths for my future. Graduate and go right to work in something like landscaping like Uncle Todd did or go to school for a “higher” purpose. I wasn’t exactly sure what that purpose would be for me at this point, but it seemed like the more logical path of the two. It’s what most everybody else was doing.
We walked for a while longer. We were on roads I’d never walked before, windy roads with very few houses. You could see the touches of an early fall on some of the trees.
“If you don’t go to school, what are you going to do?”
“I thought about the military, or maybe I’d move to New York. Lots of opportunity for an artist in New York.”
There were also a lot of good art schools in New York, but I didn’t say that. I’m sure that’s what Andrew’s dad would have said, and I didn’t think it would be helpful to reiterate it. We walked up and around a short hill. At the edge of the road, I saw two kids standing at a trailhead.
“I was wondering if I’d find you guys here.”
Andrew walked up and gave the taller kid a sort of lazy handshake/high five, and the shorter kid he hooked hands with, and they brought each other in for a shoulder bump. Andrew was currently, technically living in my house, and I wasn’t sure if he and I had ever had as much physical contact as he just had with these two kids.
“This is Casey.”
They both smiled in my direction, and I put my hands in my pockets and gave them a general head nod.
Tall kid said, “What are you doing way out this way?”
“Honestly, looking for you two. Any chance you haven’t hit it yet?”
The two kids smiled at each other. Short one said, “Yeah, but we’re always good for another!” At this point, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small tin of cough drops. He opened the tin and removed one of the thin, hand-rolled cigarettes that were in the case, as well as a lighter. He lit the cigarette, took a pull, and passed it to the tall kid. The tall kid did the same and then extended it to me.
“No, I’m cool.”
Andrew smiled at me and then reached for the cigarette.
It’s not that I was so naive that I didn’t know what was happening here; it’s just that this was my first direct contact with drugs of any kind. I had been to parties before where you knew kids had toked up in their car or something, and for all I know, some kids might have smoked at the party I had. But this was the first time I was seeing it directly in front of me. All the lessons I had learned about peer pressure and drug addiction from our town’s D.A.R.E. cop were running through my head. But, the casual nature of this interaction is never how I imagined my first run-in with illegal drugs to go.
“So, you still out of doors?”
“No, actually I’m staying with Casey for a couple of days. His parents are cool.”
I just nodded my head, and the two kids smiled and nodded back. They each took a couple more pulls on the joint; then the short kid knocked the head off it and put the roach back in his tin.
“Hey, we can’t stay, but glad we could hook you up. Let us know how things go with your dad.”
“Cool, thanks guys. See ya.”
We were almost back to the school before I said anything.
“So, how do you know those guys? And since when have you smoked?”
I waited for more of a response, but it seemed all I was going to get was an “Oh, Casey!”
We got back to my house just as my mom was pulling in.
“Arrrg, Casey, I thought you’d be home to start dinner.”
“Uh, yeah, we just walked around I guess.”
“It’s okay. Hi, Andrew. Alright, can you two at least peel some potatoes for me?”
We went into the kitchen, and I pulled six potatoes out of the sack Mom kept under the kitchen sink. I handed Andrew the peeler and grabbed a paring knife for myself. I sat there peeling but mostly watching Andrew. He seemed to be doing just fine in spite of being completely high on drugs. High on drugs, in my kitchen, peeling potatoes for my mom. On drugs.
Andrew looked up from his potato and just smiled.
Dan Pullen lives in Connecticut with his wife and three children. He writes stories about simple people and their complex lives.