Seconds Away Page 44

I gave her a curious look as my cell phone buzzed. Ema made a big production of staring hard at my eyes, then at my phone, and I got the message, so to speak. I picked up the mobile and saw that I had text from her: don\'t say anything about shooting in front of Niles. he\'ll worry. let\'s talk later and try to sneak out to Bat Lady\'s tunnel tonight. just talk dumb stuff now, like you\'re a typical boy obsessed with sports.

I frowned at her. She shrugged.

’’Yes,’’ Niles said, pulling away, ’’how did your important basketball game go?’’

’’Great, thanks.’’

’’It was a very short game, wasn\'t it?’’

’’Uh, yeah,’’ I said.

’’And I had no idea Miss Emma was into helping facilitate your basketball prowess by having me drive down here.’’

’’Yeah,’’ I said. ’’She\'s a big, uh, facilitator.’’

’’Miss Emma is just full of surprises today,’’ Niles said, turning onto Route 280. ’’And I guess I\'m supposed to just believe every word she says.’’

’’Niles,’’ Ema said.

’’No, no, Miss Emma, I am merely a servant. You owe me no explanation.’’

I texted Ema: Niles isn\'t buying it.

’’Ya think?’’ Ema said to me, not even bothering with the text.

In the driver\'s seat, Niles smiled.

We stayed silent for the ride home. Niles dropped me off at Uncle Myron\'s house. I sat in the kitchen and tried to sort through the last day. Nothing came to me. I grabbed the phone and dialed my mother\'s rehabilitation center. I asked for my mother\'s room. ’’Please hold.’’

Two rings, a pickup, and a heavy sigh. ’’You know you can\'t talk to her, Mickey.’’

I did know. Mom had had a ’’relapse’’ in short, she had taken drugs again within hours of her earlier release and was now being isolated. The woman on the other end of line was Christine Shippee, the head of the rehab center. ’’I just want to hear her voice,’’ I said.

’’You know I can\'t do that.’’

I did. But I missed her, especially now when it felt as though everything was caving in on me again. Before my dad died, Mom had been so vibrant, so wise and wonderful I\'d have called her the perfect mother, but many of us think that, don\'t we?

’’How is she?’’

’’You know I can\'t answer that either.’’

’’What can you answer?’’

’’I\'m pretty good at math.’’

’’No, you\'re not.’’

’’Yeah, that\'s true,’’ Christine Shippee said. ’’How are you, Mickey?’’

’’How do you think I am?’’

’’You don\'t sound good.’’

’’I\'ll be fine.’’

’’Your uncle.’’

I frowned. ’’What about him?’’

’’I know you blame him for a lot, but he\'s not a bad guy.’’

’’Thanks.’’

’’Cute too.’’

’’Well, that changes everything,’’ I said.

’’Talk to him, Mickey.’’

Christine Shippee hung up then. I stared at the phone and frowned. I tried not to think about what my mother might now be going through. I had tried to be there for her. I had gotten a job and supported us. I had dragged her home from bars, motels, and trailers. I had cleaned her off. I had made her shower and dress and get out of the house, all in the hopes that she would pull out of her nosedive. But that just wasn\'t happening. I was, according to Christine Shippee, an enabler. I wasn\'t so sure, but I decided to listen to the supposed expert. So now, much as it went against every innate tendency in my body, I let her be.

Except, well, when I weakened and called. Like this.

The front door opened. ’’Hello?’’ Myron shouted. ’’Mickey?’’

’’In the kitchen,’’ I said.

Uncle Myron hurried in with an expectant smile on his face. ’’So how was basketball?’’

My gut reaction, I\'m not proud to say, was to lie. I didn\'t want to get into it. I didn\'t want to have Uncle Myron lecturing me about all the wrong I\'d done or, worse, looking at me with pity. But I didn\'t have the strength to lie and he\'d know soon enough.

’’I got thrown off the team.’’

The look was closer to shock than pity. ’’What? What happened?’’

So I sketched it out for him, awaiting the inevitable I-told-you-so, you-knew-the-rules, what-did-you-expect but that didn\'t happen. Uncle Myron\'s muscles began to tighten. When I mentioned Chief Taylor\'s involvement, I saw the vein in his neck start to throb in anger.

Once I finished, there was silence. I was okay with silence. Uncle Myron wasn\'t. He was one of those guys who couldn\'t stand quiet, who constantly had to interrupt it because quiet made him feel uncomfortable. But right now, he stayed silent, unmoving, and for the first time, I could see what must have made him such a great basketball player. There was a fury in him now, one that made even me want to step back. His eyes had gone dark, and he had a look on his face that not only challenged the world but knew he could whip it.

’’Ed Taylor,’’ Uncle Myron finally said between clenched teeth.

’’It\'s okay,’’ I replied, which was dumb to say on several levels, not the lowest being that it was totally untrue.

’’I\'ll talk to him.’’

’’Who? Wait, with Chief Taylor?’’

He didn\'t reply.

’’Please don\'t,’’ I said. ’’This is my battle.’’

’’With Taylor?’’ He shook his head. ’’No, it\'s mine. You\'re just an innocent bystander caught in the line of fire.’’

’’It won\'t make a difference. I broke the rules. Coach Grady made the call, not Taylor.’’

Uncle Myron didn\'t reply.

’’Myron?’’

’’Do you remember what you asked me yesterday?’’ Myron asked.

For a second I was confused by the shift in topic. But then I remembered. ’’About exhuming my dad\'s body?’’

’’Yes. Why do you want to do that?’’

’’I told you.’’

’’For closure.’’

’’Right.’’

Uncle Myron shook his head. ’’You can\'t just exhume a body for reasons like that. There are strict regulations. That particular cemetery doesn\'t grant any exhumations. Even if they did, we\'d need to get the permission of the next of kin. That would be your mother. Do you want to ask her to sign a certificate like that right now?’’

I could feel my hope deflate. ’’No.’’

’’So let me ask you again. Why do you want to exhume your father\'s body?’’


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