“Yeah, so. . .he’s a scientist.”
“Haven’t we established that?”
“Yeah, but, I just don’t know what to do with him.”
Things were not going well with Andrew’s new character. All the pictures looked cool, but I couldn’t figure out what his story was or what to do with him.
“Well, what if we make him like a mad scientist? I mean, like at first he takes these potions and everything’s cool and he’s stronger and faster, and he can, I dunno, stick to walls and stuff. Superhero stuff. But then he. . .it’s like a mystery because there’s a person or being or something who’s pulling all these crimes, and you think, is it just the scientist himself? Like he’s not sleeping well and there’s some adverse effects from the potions, headaches and stuff, but all the while, he’s hunting this super-powered villain, but all along it’s him and he doesn’t know it!”
Andrew continued sketching.
“No, I think he’s just a straight hero. I mean, look at him; he’s obviously a hero.”
He turned his pages toward me, and there was the scientist with his gleaming smile and wide stance.
“I see what you mean. Look at the legs.”
I winced. Andrew whipped the paper back toward him and looked overly close.
“What about the legs?”
“Uh, I dunno, nothing really. Just, ya know, the way he stands?”
Andrew grabbed some of his other pages, flipped through them.
“What’s wrong with the way he stands? That’s just the way he stands, it’s strong.”
“Yeah. But who stands that way?”
Andrew hunched up and continued drawing. He’d been more testy than usual after moving back home. For everything we’d gone through, I felt like we’d gone back to the beginning in some ways.
“I have to go; my father expects me home.”
I knew Andrew didn’t need to go home; he just wanted to go home. I sort of wanted him to go home too. We were getting nowhere with this scientist character, and the pressure of having to write a story that wasn’t there was growing on me.
I flopped on my bed and wrapped my arms around my pillow. I wasn’t looking forward to navigating this road with Andrew again, dealing with the tension. Maybe we weren’t that great a team; maybe Death Man was a fluke. Maybe this was another example of how I just wasn’t measuring up to Jeremy. My reasonable facsimile of being a storyteller wasn’t cutting it. Jeremy could have made the scientist work. By Andrew’s accounts, stories just flowed out of Jeremy’s head unbridled. I was a one shot, and I was going out with a bang.
I don’t know if I was lost in thought or if I dozed off for a bit, but when I looked up at my clock radio, it was 7:07 p.m., and I was late getting to Uncle Todd’s. We were supposed to have dinner and put up Christmas decorations. I threw on a coat and headed down across town.
As I passed the Texaco station near the McDonald’s, I saw Andrew and the short kid from the pot smoking walking on the other side of the street. I knew he didn’t have to go home.
They were laughing at something, and Andrew threw an arm around the short kid and gave him a sort of half-headlock, half-hug thing. I rolled down my window a bit, in part because I wanted to shout something at them and in part because I could feel heat rising off my chest.
When I got to Uncle Todd’s, I could see the Christmas tree already up in the front window, lights on and ornaments all over it.
“Casey! You almost missed it! Here, man, I was saving this one for you.”
Uncle Todd handed me the ornament I had made him out of popsicle sticks when I was in second grade. Cheryl came over and gave me a kiss on the cheek, and Lizzie followed with a hug. Behind them was a tall, blond kid with his hands in his pockets staring at me. His name is probably ‘Dana,’ too, I thought.
“Casey, this is my friend Jordan.”
I reached out and shook his hand. It was worse than “Dana”; this kid had a cool-guy name. He had a cool-guy sweater on, and he had Paul Newman cool-guy eyes.
“He’s a senior like you.”
I nodded my head and stamped a little more slosh out of my boots and made to take my coat off.
“Nah, bud, leave it on. We were just headed outside to hang the big wreath. I’ll let you man the ladder; you’re a big boy now.” Uncle Todd gave me a wink. I knew he meant it playfully, but after the Andrew thing and now this Jordan kid, I was not in a playful mood.
Todd got the ladder out of his shed and propped it up against the side of the garage. I slung the wreath over my shoulder, and he handed me the hammer and a nail.
“Don’t hit it too hard; you don’t want to split a shingle. Just nicey nice, ‘kay?”
I climbed about two thirds of the way up the ladder and stuck the wreath out.
“Little higher, Case.”
I reached up a bit.
“A little higher.”
I climbed up two rungs.
“Naw, Case, a little higher.”
I could hear the laugh in Uncle Todd’s voice.
“Yeah, Casey, come on, a little higher,” Cheryl chimed in.
I reached up just a bit.
Jordan shouted up, “Little higher, Casey,” and I heard Lizzie titter.
I looked down over my shoulder, and he had put his arm around Lizzie’s shoulder. They were all grinning up at me. I gripped my hammer tight.
“Higher, Casey, higher!”
I gave my nail two quick pounds before I remembered about the shingle. I tapped it in gently the rest of the way and hung the wreath.
“Higher, Casey! Higher! Higher!”
Even as I was coming down the ladder, they kept saying it.
“Higher, higher, higher, higher!”
Dan Pullen lives in Connecticut with his wife and three children. He writes stories about simple people and their complex lives.