I waited in my room. During dinner, my mom said she wanted to talk to Andrew. It was probably only a couple of minutes, but it seemed like a long time. I wondered if Andrew was still high, and if he was, could my mom tell? Finally, I heard steps coming up the stairs.
Andrew didn’t say anything but moved across my room and opened his book bag.
“I think we should start working on something new.”
Andrew pulled out a stack of notebooks and loose papers and laid them out on my bedroom floor.
“I started drawing this scientist. He makes these different potions that give him different abilities.”
“Okay, that’s cool. What’s his story?”
“Like I said, he’s a scientist.”
I flipped through Andrew’s drawings. His scientist definitely looked cool. He was tall and thin; he wore circle glasses. He wore a lab coat and a belt that held his potions. He seemed to always be standing in a wide stance.
“You don’t like him.”
“No, he’s cool. We just need to figure out what he’s going to do, write some stories, ya know?”
Andrew lay down on my bed while I flipped through his drawings. He looked at the ceiling for a long time then finally spoke up.
“Your mom talked to my dad. She said it’s okay for me to stay the weekend, let things cool down. I’ll be going home Sunday.”
I put the drawings down and curled my knees up to my chest.
“Is that what you want, to go home?”
Andrew didn’t answer.
“So what did you two fight about anyway?”
While I was glad I could give Andrew a place to stay while he and his old man fought, I knew it was going to be a long weekend if this was how our time together was going to go. I was starting to get a little mad. I kept thinking about the two kids Andrew went to find to smoke pot with. Were those his real friends? Would he tell them about his fight with his dad? Chris and Steve told me every stupid thing that happened in their lives; how Chris’s dad was always flying off the handle, how Steve’s older brother never refilled the gas in the car—everything! But here was this kid staying at my house for the weekend because he and his dad were fighting, and I didn’t even know what they were fighting about.
After a minute, I went back to leafing through Andrew’s drawings. If we were going to start a new project, I needed something to hit me.
“Wow, what’s this one all about?”
“What? Put that down; give it to me. Put it back; that’s not for you.”
“What is it? Did you draw this?”
“Yes. Now put it back.”
The picture was like nothing else I ever saw Andrew draw. It wasn’t just one picture really; it was dozens of pictures connected together, all melting into one another. It was this elaborate tower of images all trapped inside one another, trying to free themselves from their own identity.
“This isn’t yours; I know your stuff. Who drew this?”
That’s all he needed to say. I knew it was Jeremy. I couldn’t take my eyes off the images, the way they were pulling at each other, twisting, rending. The faces were a sea of struggle and torment, confusion and agony. And mixed in with the people were strange things. Brick walls like skin. A bird’s head threatening to eat someone’s eye. A football helmet resting on a foot that protruded from someone’s forehead. Even at the bottom of the page where the tower grew small and stretched to infinity, you could see little details. A picnic basket, I think, and some kind of a spoked wheel.
“When did he draw this? It had to be years ago now.”
“I think eighth grade; I think I remember when he was working on it.”
“I. . .I always saw him drawing, I mean, of course, it’s all he did. But. . .I only ever saw comics and stuff. Funny things or copies of stuff out of comics. He drew a Wolverine on the back of one of my notebooks, looked like he had traced it. But I never saw anything like this.”
“He didn’t share a lot, even with me. I found these in his room, and his mom said I could keep them. The others are at home.”
I traced my fingers over Jeremy’s pencil strokes. I closed my eyes and rolled over them like braille.
“This was his pain,” I said.
“His pain, it’s his pain eating at him. It’s everything he felt inside him.” We were both quiet for a moment. “You know I didn’t know he was sick, right? I mean, you know that.”
“Cuz I wouldn’t have. . .if I knew I would have, you know. I just would have been there.”
“He didn’t let people know; he didn’t want you to know.”
“But this.” I touched the picture. “This was real. This is what he was going through, and I. . .”
“He probably didn’t know how much you cared, Casey. I didn’t. And even if he did, that doesn’t mean he would have let you in. He. . .he told me he had to go to the hospital. He said it as if he were having his tonsils out. We were at his kitchen table. He was drawing, and he didn’t even look up, just said, “Gotta go to the hospital tomorrow. Sucks.” Just like that, “Sucks,” that was it. He went in. A couple days later, his mom called me crying and said he’d passed away. I still don’t know all the details of what happened; it just seems insensitive to ask. And, I guess it doesn’t really matter, does it?”
I shrugged and shook my head. I pulled Jeremy’s drawing close to my face, trying to soak in every detail.
“He was better than me, wasn’t he?”
“No.” I lied.
“He was a great storyteller too. What he could have done.”
“Yeah. Coulda done great.”
Dan Pullen lives in Connecticut with his wife and three children. He writes stories about simple people and their complex lives.