November 27, 2012: Lima
Shannon's not the kind of person who gets flustered over nothing, so when Casey can hear her from his bedroom when she's out in the kitchen, getting louder and louder with whoever's on the phone, he knows it can't mean anything good. This month hasn't exactly been good in general, so one more bad thing wouldn't be a huge surprise, and he hopes at least it's not anything to do with Monty or work or anything too important.
Casey moves quietly to open his door wider. He doesn’t want to eavesdrop, but he spent too many years needing to know exactly what a raised voice means, so he can respond the right way and minimize the fallout. It’s a ‘learned behavior’, Dr. Naser says, and he might unlearn it over time, or he might not; brains are unpredictable like that, apparently, not that Casey needed a psychiatrist to tell him that one. If he could make himself not think or feel certain things, or if he always guessed ahead of time how he or somebody else was going to respond to something, life would be a lot easier, but the fact is that he can’t, so it’s not.
When Casey hears Shannon, voice still raised, refer to the person on the phone as Ms. Hoffman—the social worker assigned to Casey—his heart starts pounding. No, definitely not anything good. After a few more minutes of discussion that Casey can’t make out, other than a couple of repetitions of his name and a statement about how Shannon doesn’t feel reassured, she slams the phone down and says, “Shit.”
Casey hears the murmur of her voice and Monty’s in the kitchen, and he waits, trying to take those deep breaths that are supposed to help, but that he thinks are really more a distraction technique than anything else. Another few minutes pass before Shannon starts walking in the direction of Casey’s room, so he quickly sits down on his bed and picks up a book, pretending to read as she raps on his door and pushes it open.
“Casey,” Shannon says with a sigh. “C’mere for a minute. We’ve got to tell you something.”
He manages to stay calm throughout the conversation, too calm maybe, because Shannon and Monty keep exchanging looks, and Monty keeps reassuring him that it’s understandable to be upset, and how he doesn’t have to repress his emotions for their sake or anything like that. Casey’s not repressing anything, though. He doesn’t have any sudden urge to cry or freak out; mostly he just wants to go to his room and lie down in the dark and go to sleep, which he can’t do because it’s only 4:30 in the afternoon.
No, he doesn’t have any questions. No, he doesn’t want to talk about it. Yes, he’ll be sure to let them know if he does have any questions or want to talk about it. He’ll just go back to his room and read his book for a while, if it’s all the same to them.
Maybe they’re afraid to argue, because neither Shannon nor Monty seem interested in trying to make him stay and keep talking, for once. Good thing, too, because Casey has nothing at all to say to either of them about it. Well, he might have a few things to say, but nothing either of them would want to hear.
When Casey’s back in his room, he doesn’t actually pick up his book again. He just throws himself down on his bed and puts his pillow over his head and tries not to think. There’s probably some kind of reaction he’s supposed to be having, but he’s not sure what, and he doesn’t even have anybody he can ask about what the correct reaction is supposed to be. David would probably have some idea, but that’s not a viable option, so Casey decides he’ll call Miles instead – not for answers or anything, because he’s still Miles and Miles isn’t the person to call for answers, so much as the person to call for distraction or entertainment or to stop feeling upset.
Miles answers on the second ring. “Hey, Cherry!”
“Hi, Miles. Hey.” Casey puts the pillow back over his head, phone still pressed to his ear.
“What’s wrong?” Miles asks instantly, sounding more alert than when he answered the phone. “Coach isn’t giving you any trouble, right?”
“No. No, that’s fine. Everything’s fine with that,” Casey says. “It’s, um.” He exhales loudly, which is mostly muffled by the pillow. “Is it okay if I come over?”
“Yeah, of course. You want to stay for dinner? Ma’s cooking, so you’re safe to eat it.”
“If you’re sure that’s alright with your Ma?”
“Duh, Cherry. She’s always asking me why you don’t eat dinner here more often.”
“I have to let Aunt Shannon know, but as long as you’re sure,” Casey says. “I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
“Don’t let Lima PD give you a speeding ticket on the way here. It happens a lot when people are coming to the Browns’.”
“That’s me, Miles. Chronic speeder,” Casey says, then ends the call. He smooshes the pillow onto his face until he needs to take a breath, then he stands up, shoves his phone in his pocket, and walks back into the living room, where Shannon and Monty are still sitting. They look at him with a mix of concern and pity, and it’s really more than Casey can take at the moment. “I’m going to Miles’ house for dinner,” he announces.
Shannon nods. “Let us know if it’ll be after nine before you get back.”
“It’ll be after nine,” Casey says. It’s possible he could come home earlier, but he’s far more likely to stay until he absolutely has to leave, because Miles is way better than sitting around the house trying to not think about all the reasons he now has to hate November.
Shannon and Monty exchange a glance, but they both nod. “Okay,” Shannon says after a moment. “Drive safely.”
Casey does drive safely. He drives to the Speedway and buys two Code Red Mountain Dews, some Skittles, an Almond Joy for Miles, who is the only person Casey has ever met in his entire life who actually eats Almond Joy, and a handful of Atomic Fireballs from a display next to the lighters. He doesn’t even eat Atomic Fireballs; it’s like his hand just shot out of its own accord and Fireballs were what it came back with. When he gets back into the Lemon, he shoves the Fireballs into the glovebox and then drives the rest of the way to Miles’ – still safely.
He parks on the street in front of Miles’ house, pop and candy in hand, and goes up to knock on the door. When the door opens, Casey’s surprised to see Miles’ dad standing in the doorway, looking slightly disgruntled in that friendly sort of way that he has every single time Casey’s come over to the Brown house.
“Miles is in the kitchen,” Mr. Brown announces instead of any kind of actual greeting.
“Thanks, Mr. Brown,” Casey says, and Mr. Brown steps out of the way so Casey can walk inside and towards the kitchen. Miles and his Ma are involved in an enthusiastic discussion about something. The first time Casey heard Miles and his Ma having a discussion, he’d been sure one or both of them was mad about something, but by now he’s figured out that full volume and lots of hand gestures is just how Miles, Alicia, and their Ma talk to each other. Not Mr. Brown, though. Mostly he just sighs a lot and shakes his head.
“Cherry!” Miles greets him as soon as he spots Casey. “We’ll talk more later, Ma?” he says to her, then turns towards Casey without waiting for an answer. “C’mon, let’s go upstairs.”
“Oh! Ok. Hi, Miles’ Ma, bye Miles’ Ma,” Casey says over his shoulder, as Miles puts an arm across his back and steers him out of the kitchen and up to Miles’ room.
When they enter Miles’ room, Miles closes the room and sits down on his bed with a little frown. “What’s going on?”
“I brought candy,” Casey answers. “Here. See? I brought Almond Joy, even though that isn’t even real candy.”
Miles puts one hand over his chest. “I’m hurt, Cherry!” He takes the Almond Joy with the other hand, though, opening it quickly and taking a bite. “Now I really want to know what’s up.”
“I brought pop, too.” Casey hands a bottle of Mountain Dew to Miles. Miles accepts the bottle with a skeptical look, and raises his eyebrow, clearly waiting on something. Casey’s not ready to launch into it yet. He came over to Miles’ because he does want to tell somebody, at least, but now that he’s there, he can’t quite make himself talk. Instead, he opens his bottle of pop and drinks it, and opens his Skittles and fishes out a few of the red ones, and eats them.
“C’mon, Cherry, tell me what’s got you sounding all…” Miles makes a gesture in the air that is evidently supposed to mean something, though it’s not immediately clear what.
Casey sighs and sits down next to Miles. “So, um.” He twists a piece of his hair around his fingers and sighs again. “So, that lady who does my papers, the social work stuff. She, well, she called Aunt Shannon today.”
Miles groans. “Don’t tell me they’re making you move again.”
“No. No, it’s not that. I was worried about that, but they promise I won’t have to. Aunt Shannon swears I won’t have to move, that they won’t ever make me go back there,” Casey says. He wonders if he sounds as frantic as he feels, because even though he didn’t panic outwardly when Shannon was assuring him, now that he’s saying it out loud… well, there would be good reason to panic if that were actually a risk.
“Back there?” Miles narrows his eyes. “What do you mean, back there?”
“They, um.” Casey breathes out loudly. “Let him out. My dad. They let him out of jail today.”
Miles swears. “Today? And they just called up all friendly to let you know or something?” He shakes his head. “That’s not right.”
“They were supposed to call us last week, I guess. But, they didn’t, because of Thanksgiving, and, um. So then there was all this paperwork, and anyway.” Casey shrugs. “They called today. It had already happened. They let him out this morning, I guess.”
“That’s shit.” Miles exhales loudly. “That asshole doesn’t need to be out of jail. And.” He shakes his head. “He doesn’t know where you live now, does he?”
“I don’t think so. I don’t think that they’re allowed to tell him that. I don’t think he’d try to find me, anyway.” Casey pokes through the bag of Skittles for another red one, then chews it very slowly. “Why would he?’
Miles shrugs. “Dunno. Just wanted to be sure.”
“I mean, it’s not like…”
“Coach freak out?” Miles asks after a few more seconds pass.
“Yelled and slammed the phone. She wasn’t happy at all,” Casey says. “Monty just said I can express my emotions if I need to, but I called you instead.”
“I think Alicia still has a watercolor set in the basement,” Miles says with a straight face. “You could paint your emotions.”
“Miles, you know I’m not good with colors. I will draw stick figures of my emotions, and then, um. Oh! Rip them, like Dr. Naser says helps.” Casey nods to himself a few times. “It doesn’t really help, though.”
“Nah, doesn’t seem like it would,” Miles agrees. “Did she tell you to burn ‘em, too?”
Casey shakes his head slightly. “No,” he says in a quiet voice. “She, um. Doesn’t ever tell me to burn things, Miles.”
“Personally, I’d go with a punching bag, though.” Miles looks momentarily thoughtful. “Isn’t that a shrink thing, too? Put pictures on a punching bag and punch the hell out of it?”
“I don’t know if that’s something she does. Or tells people to do. She doesn’t tell me that.”
Miles shrugs. “Guess maybe they’re not supposed to tell teenage boys to hit things.” He grins slightly. “Right?”
“She’s probably afraid if I started, I wouldn’t stop,” Casey agrees. “I’d be a danger to society. No! I’d be a menace.”
“Too bad your name isn’t Dennis,” Miles cracks. “Otherwise she’d probably tell you to become a menace.”
“I don’t really want to be a menace, though. I just want… I don’t know, Miles. I just want stuff to be some way other than how it is.”
“I think the state of Ohio oughta be ashamed, is what I think,” Miles says definitively. “Assholes, all of ‘em.”
“I could see him at the grocery store. Or Wal-Mart. I could walk out of a gas station and run right into him,” Casey says.
Miles nods slowly. “Maybe he’ll run off to some other town. Some other part of the state, at least. I mean, he doesn’t have a job here anymore. Right?”
“I don’t know. I guess not, after nine months in jail, but maybe his old work’ll take him back.” Casey shrugs. “He might come in and try to buy coffee, even. Do you think I have to sell him coffee if he comes in and tries to buy it? I think Ms. Horatio might say it’s fine if I don’t.”
“I wouldn’t want to cross her if I were him!” Miles agrees. “She’d probably say it was fine for everyone there to refuse to sell him coffee, Cherry.”
“I hate this month,” Casey mutters. “I really hate it. It’s a stupid month and I hate it.”
“Three more days?” Miles offers. “Next year, we’ll just cancel November. Skip it altogether.”
“Let’s just skip to winter break so I can hibernate, then,” Casey says. “I’ll just sleep until spring. That might be better.”
“Sorry, Cherry, I don’t think you’re furry enough to hibernate,” Miles says wryly.
“I’ll just have to try harder, then.”
“That potion from the Bugs Bunny cartoons,” Casey counters. “About the right color, even.”
Miles laughs. “Let’s mix the two!”
“Nothing could ever go wrong with that,” Casey says. “No, nothing at all.”
“Better living through chemistry,” Miles says with a negligent shrug.