I am at work when I get the news that Quentin Moss has died. It was peaceful, in his sleep, according to the obituary. I had not received a phone call from anyone to let me know that he had passed. Not that I am surprised, but part of me had always hoped that they would have thought of me. I stumbled across the words while checking my horoscope. A dumb habit, I know, but one that soothes me in my morning ritual. There, besides the lonely hearts and want ads was the news of my friend’s death.
I sit here, the phone ringing, staring at my computer screen. I minimize all of the open programs, revealing my wallpaper. I had found the image on the internet, a website dedicated to Chicago neighborhood history. I don’t know what made me look for it, let alone just days ago, but as soon as I had I set it on my screen. It is black and white, but not that old. Twenty years old, the image shows three young boys dressed in winter coats with gloves and hats: Quentin, Simon, and me. All have smiles on their faces; a couple of missing teeth disrupting the otherwise glistening grins. This was the only image left of us, together at least. It was used in the newspaper the day after… it happened.
It was a cloudy day, made more so by the stagnant smog coming off the industrial buildings close to the river. On a day like this, the wind whipped off the lake, pushing the black smoke into the rows of houses. With shingles dirtied and faded by smoke, the houses were lined up in little patches of land separated by chain link fences. Each parcel was decorated with autumn as the leaves from the trees cascaded down upon the lawns to be collected by fathers with rakes and young teens earning some after school cash. The city rolled by in the distance; close enough yet still far away in the eyes of a 12 year old boy. The only buildings here that exceeded two stories were older than the oldest living residents, maintained down the generations and only recently converted to storefronts and cafes. The innocuous nature of the neighborhood only added to its charm. It could have been anywhere in America, yet maintained its Chicago charm.
It was an early Saturday morning for Brandon. His mother and sister had left early to head downtown for some new school clothes and it was his intention to spend as much time with Quentin. This was the first opportunity to get out of the house in weeks. His mother had him doing chores and helping his sister do her homework as a punishment for the week of detention he had received the past week in school. He had been looking forward to today ever since the three of them agreed to play, despite what Simon’s mother had said about associating with Quentin and him.
Those boys are nothing but trouble, especially that Davidson boy, she had admonished. Brandon was not sure why she had picked him out specifically. Sure, he got into trouble here and there, but never any more than Quentin did. Brandon could feel his face redden at the thought of Simon’s mother scowling at him. But, the thought of sneaking out and playing behind her back made his heart race in a way it had not since the cat experiment. Brandon’s eyes closed and he ran his tongue over his chapped lips as he thought about the little tabby.
“Hey, Dickwad!” Quentin came bounding up the block, Brandon pulling out of his thoughts and back into the chilled morning. He exhaled deeply, a puff of white dissipating in front of him. Quentin was wearing a wool vest over a long sleeved shirt, gloves on his hands and a black and blue snowcap on his head. His dark brown hair stuck out from beneath the hat on all sides. His sneakers were untied and damp with mud.
“Hey, Jerk-a*s!” Brandon raised his hand as Quentin’s palm smacked it. Quentin kneeled to the ground to tie his shoelaces, head down. Brandon looked down at the top of his friend’s head, Quentin’s breath curling around the sides like an exhaust pipe.
“How long do we have before your mom gets back?” Quentin was always confirming and scheduling. His mother had a rigorous routine for him and his brothers until she got sick the previous year. Since then, Quentin had maintained scheduling his own days almost to the minute.
“I don’t know for sure. She said she would be back by one o’clock, but Patty gets fussy when shopping too long.” Brandon’s sister, the thorn in his side, was only six years old but constantly trying to break into his room to see what Brandon was doing with the little animals he kept sneaking in there. He told her he was doing an experiment for school, but she was worried he was hurting them.
“Well, in that case, we should have time to throw the ball around, grab some food from Ziegler’s, and maybe explore the old houses over on Maxwell. What do you think?” Quentin then spat onto the sidewalk, a ball of mucus that splattered inches away from Brandon’s shoes.
Brandon looked up at Quentin, his face screwed up into an expression of disgust. Quentin looked past Brandon and down the street, barely registering his friend’s appearance.
“Hey, Simon!” Brandon turned his head to see their friend bounding down the street, moppy hair going up and down with his stride. It bothered Brandon that Quentin would refer to Simon by name, while he was always dickwad, gay-mo, or fucknut. Brandon assumed Simon was treated differently because he was a little smaller than them, but Simon dished it out as well.
“Hey, Q! Hey, A*s-face!” Quentin slapped hands with Simon and then with Brandon. Brandon looked at his two friends, faces full of smiles and excitement and mimicked the expression. He felt better being around his friends than not, but felt making himself look like he was happy more of a chore than something automatic.
A breeze blew down the street, the leaves whirring around the pant legs of the three boys. Brandon zipped his coat a little higher, Simon doing the same.
“So, what’s the plan?” Simon, though the same age as Quentin and Brandon, was a good foot shorter and appeared a year younger. He was constantly picked on by kids at school because of this. Quentin had stepped in during a particularly ugly scene at the end of the last school year with Dusty Gravchek, the son of their Chemistry teacher. Dusty was a heavyset boy a good two inches taller than anyone in the school, including the eighth-graders. He had been pushing Simon around the last week of classes. Brandon had watched it, but Quentin felt the need to step in, despite being outmatched physically. It had resulted in Quentin being suspended for the end of the school year, Dusty nursing a broken nose, and Simon becoming their new partner in crime.
Brandon started “We were just trying to figure that…”
“…toss the ball, grab some dogs and fries, and maybe check out some old houses for stuff.” Quentin finished with an air of finality, as if this wasn’t a suggestion but a mandate. Brandon didn’t interfere.
“Sounds awesome! I got a couple of bucks from my dad, maybe we can eat first?” Simon’s eyes were opened wide, almost glowing green despite the overcast sky. He looked like a kid about to embark on an adventure rather than some minor vandalism.
Brandon didn’t like being the follower, especially to someone like Simon. It had always been him and Quentin, Quentin and him. They did everything together. But, Simon came along and took to being Robin to Quentin’s Batman. Brandon went to open his mouth, to say “no, I don’t want to go to Ziegler’s. Their dogs taste like s**t. I want to go down to Pony Joe’s and get a hamburger.” He wanted Simon to whine about it so he could turn and shake him and scream in his face to shut up, to just shut the f**k up.
But, instead, hands in pockets, he nodded and said “alright, let’s go then!” With a forced smile on his face. A quick nod from Quentin and they were off down the street.
They were within walking distance of the train, but Brandon’s mother had taken it downtown and he didn’t want to risk running into her while cavorting with his friends. Brandon had only ever had been close to one person outside of his family since his father left, and that was Quentin. Brandon’s mother had given birth to him when she was just out of college; before she had time to decide whether she truly wanted children or not. She was very protective of him and his well being.
The three friends made their way down the street, laughing and talking, worried about nothing but how much trouble they could get in that day.
I turn off the computer monitor, unable to look at those faces any more. I tilt the last dregs of cold coffee into my mouth, wincing at the tartness of it. Crumpling the paper cup, I toss it into the wastebasket below my desk. The fluorescent lights are starting to hurt my eyes. I never noticed them until today, at least not in a negative way. I massage the bridge of my nose. I always saw my mother do this and assumed it made the headache go away. It doesn’t.
“Hey, Brandon!” I look over and see Julie. She is pretty in the traditional way that all men consider pretty. She is petite, brunette, with a small frame that is the definition of feminine. Every man in the office stares at her when she walks by, but she only talks to me. I have no interest in her at all which must be why she keeps talking to me. She is not used to a man not fawning over her.
“Hey Julie. What’s going on?” I feign a smile, hoping this will be quick.
“Oh, not much. Just wanted to say hi…” She bites her lip gently and looks over her shoulder to see if anyone is watching her speak to me. “Hey, did you get that memo about the new software upgrades?”
“Yeah, I saw it.” I speak without looking at her, maybe she will get the hint that I am not in the mood to talk.
“Wow that is going to s**k, huh?” She giggles playfully.
“Well, anyway, just wanted to make sure you got it.” She starts to walk away. “Hey, do you have any plans after work?”
I turn and look at her, her eyes are quite beautiful and she is smiling with genuine interest in me. I wish I felt bad, but I don’t feel anything.
“Sorry, Julie. I have to get going. I have a…a friend to see.”
She is obviously disappointed. Her shoulders sag and the color in her cheeks fade. “Oh, that’s ok, maybe another time.”
She quickly walks away and sits down at her cubicle. I will have to take the long way out of the office to avoid passing by her desk. Under other circumstances, I might have said yes, but today I cannot think of anything besides that day.
The weather had changed suddenly just days before, going from an unseasonably warm September to the sudden chill of October. The leaves turned a fiery red and brown almost overnight and had just begun to cascade down to the sidewalks and yards below. A few older residents on Brandon’s block were out raking and bagging the errant leaves, but not many people were outside.
Quentin pulled his backpack from his arm and unzipped it in one fluid motion. He pulled out a football and tossed it to Brandon without looking. Brandon fumbled the ball in his hands before steadying it and tucking it under his arm.
“Hey! Toss it to me!” Simon jogged ahead a few paces and put his arms out in front of him.
“No way, Simon. Last time I threw you a pass it ended up in the middle of the intersection.” Brandon liked being superior to Simon in any way possible. Brandon tossed the ball in the air a few inches and then tucked it back under his arm.
“That was one time! Come on, I thought we were going to play?” Simon was beginning to whine. When he didn’t get his way, he began to act his age. All three of the boys liked to think they were mature compared to others in their class, but they were just as capable of acting like children.
“For chrissakes, Bran’, just throw him the f*****g ball!” Quentin had not even looked up at his compatriots; he was still fumbling with something in his pack.
“Fine. Go long.” Simon smiled and took off down the block, turning his head quickly to see if the ball was coming. Brandon waited and waited, waving his hand to tell Simon to keep going further.
“Throw the ball!” Simon yelled from a good hundred feet away. Brandon just smiled. Simon threw up his hands and started jogging back. At that moment, Brandon tossed the ball. It came down right on Simon’s chest, knocking him off balance and into a pile of leaves.
“You a*****e!” Simon stood and brushed himself off.
Brandon laughed, “Hey, I told you to go long!” He grabbed the ball and returned it to the nook of his arm.
“You two act like a couple of whiners, you know that?” Quentin was chuckling. Brandon and Simon turned to face him and saw their friend lighting up a cigarette.
“And what exactly are you doing?” Brandon looked at his friend like he had just stuck a dog turd in his mouth.
“Me? Oh, this,” Quentin said indicating the cigarette in his hand as if it had been there the entire day. “I picked this up the other day. I think its pretty badass.”
Quentin took a long drag, the cherry glowing red and black. He held it for a second, grinned at his buddies, and then exhaled through his nose. Brandon could not be sure whether it was smoke or cold breath escaping Quentin’s mouth, but either way he was shocked. His mother used to berate his father constantly for the stale stink of smoke on his clothes. Whenever he saw a cigarette it reminded him of his father, asleep in the living room, an empty glass tumbler with ice below his dangling hand to catch the errant ashes. A chill went down Brandon’s spine and he shook it off.
“Let me have one!” Simon begged.
“No way, little man. Not a chance in hell you are getting one of these. I had to sneak these out of my old man’s packs one by one until I could fill this box up. These are a precious commodity.”
“Well, can I at least take a drag off of yours?”
Quentin looked at Brandon and must have registered the obvious discomfort the cigarette was putting him in. He stubbed out the barely smoked b**t and put it in his pocket. “Maybe later, Simon.”
“Fine.” Simon sounded like a child denied a toy at the store. He began to walk ahead of the two boys.
“You alright?” Brandon looked up to see Quentin with a look of concern on his face.
“Yeah, no big deal. I just…I just am not a big fan of…”
Quentin interjected, “say no more, buddy. Say no more. Hey, I can always grab a puff when you aren’t around right?” He slapped Brandon on the shoulder and jogged off after Simon.
Brandon hoped there wouldn’t be a day when he wasn’t around. He wanted every day to be just like this.
I light the cigarette the moment I get outside of the office. I take the smoke deep inside my lungs and feel the cool burn in my chest. I haven’t had one in over a week, my vain attempt to improve my life. Under the circumstances, I figured I could have one right now.
The day is overcast and a little cool. The skies look like they can open up at any minute and drench the ground with rain. I don’t have an umbrella, let alone a jacket today. I make my way across the parking lot towards my car. It is parked almost a hundred yards away, another attempt to force myself to exercise. As I walk, I smoke the cigarette to the filter and immediately light another. I don’t usually chain smoke, let alone this quickly. As I take the first drag off the second, I remember the smell of Quentin’s brand. I cannot remember the name of it, but the scent was unmistakable. I had only smelled it that single day off of that single drag, but I never forgot it.
Most days I don’t even think about that day, but today it plays out like a movie in my head. Almost like it didn’t even happen to me. Most days I wish it hadn’t.
I open my car door and get inside, the upholstery faded and old; the stale dried smell of tobacco has permeated every inch of the interior. I slide the key into the ignition and the car stumbles to life. I back out of the parking spot, turn on the radio, and light another cigarette. I look at the clock; there is just enough time to get home, shower, and get to Quentin’s wake.
The old painted sign hanging above the entrance says Zeigler’s Sandwiches. It lists a myriad of items they sell, the names of which have begun to fade. While classmates would spend their time at McDonalds or Dennys, Zeigler’s was Brandon’s haunt of choice. He had taken Quentin there the first day they had hung out and Simon on the first day he had tagged along.
The restaurant was musty and old; a place Brandon’s father had introduced him to. It had been his favorite childhood spot and he had bequeathed it down to Brandon. The food was not spectacular, but they served hamburgers and hot dogs and fries, things no one could screw up. Hanging on the walls were generic paintings and photos of Chicago history. Cubs, White Sox, Lake Shore Drive, the skyline, they all decorated the tiny sitting area that was built to accommodate a hundred or so patrons. Upon their entrance, there was only an old man eating soup in the corner and a couple of waitresses reading a newspaper near the kitchen. One of them looked up to see the boys and slowly laid the paper down on the table before making her way over to them.
“Hows it going today, fellas?” The voice emanating from the waitress’ throat was raspy and deep; a smoker’s voice.
“Morning, Sandy! What are today’s specials?” Quentin spoke to adults in a way that Brandon would never dare. Brandon could count on one hand the number of people his mother’s age he referred to by their first name. But, when Quentin did it, it sounded natural.
“You know we don’t have specials, Funny Guy.” Sandy snapped her gum and blinked so slowly Brandon was not quite sure if she would even reopen them.
“Aw, you break my heart, Sandy. One day you guys are going to have to make a special!”
Quentin winked at her; another taboo Brandon could not foresee breaking.
“Sit wherever, Hon’. I will be back with some Cokes.”
As Sandy made her way back to the kitchen, the three boys scrambled to the closest booth. Quentin sat down quickly and grabbed a menu while Simon and Brandon fought over the seat next to him. Simon pushed his way over Brandon, stepping on his foot hard. Brandon winced, but did not show the pain on his face. HE relented and Simon sat down, mildly out of breath.
Brandon sat down opposite them, his brow furrowed.
“So, the usual, guys? Three burgers and a large chili cheese fry?” Quentin looked at Simon, then Brandon for confirmation.
“Sure, works for me,” Brandon said gruffly.
“Yeah, me too!” Simon reached over Quentin and grabbed the cup of sugar packets. He dumped them on the table and began to slowly assemble them like a playing card castle.
Brandon grabbed a menu and looked it over for himself. The list of foods looked to have been printed over thirty years earlier and never revised. Someone, possibly Sandy, had gone through each one and crossed out the entrees they did not make any more. Brandon saw things he wasn’t even sure what they were: egg creams and patty melts and other things Brandon considered tasting or trying, if only they were still offered.
Sandy walked up with the three glasses of soda on a plastic tray, placing each one in front of the boys followed by three paper-wrapped straws. Quentin and Brandon grabbed theirs, but Simon was engrossed in his architectural masterpiece.
“So, what’ll it be?” Sandy didn’t bother to pull out her pad and pen. She shifted her weight to her back leg and looked at Quentin.
“Three burgers and a large chili cheese fry.”
“Alright, be up in about five minutes.” She snapped her gum to close the statement and walked away.
Quentin and Brandon sat silently while Simon worked. Quentin was looking around, almost casing the joint. Brandon looked at Quentin. He looked at his friend’s face and smiled. Quentin’s survey of the room came around and he saw Brandon looking at him.
“What the f**k are you looking at?” Quentin chuckled as he said it, but underneath he was honestly asking the question looking for an answer.
Brandon quickly looked down at his hands and said “sorry, sorry.”
“No, seriously, what was up with that? That isn’t the first time I have caught you staring at me. It’s kind of creepy.”
Simon laughed. “Maybe he’s in loooooooove with you!”
Quentin laughed too, and Brandon’s face went scarlet. “Shut up, Simon.”
“No, you looooove him! You loooooove Quentin!” Simon laughed and put his hands on his stomach, rolling into Quentin’s shoulder who was also laughing just as hard.
“I said shut up, you f*****g baby!” With that, Brandon leaned over the table and slapped Simon across the cheek. Simon recoiled from the smack and looked at Brandon with sheer and utter shock on his face.
Brandon quickly relented. “Simon…I’m….I’m so—“
But before he could finish, Simon was jumping over the table. “You don’t f*****g touch me! You don’t f*****g touch me, not ever!”
Brandon lifted his arms over his face, deflecting the furious slaps and punches from the little blonde boy. He kept repeating his statement over and over, becoming choked with tears as he wailed on Brandon.
Quentin pulled Simon off and sat him down in the seat. “Calm the f**k down, both of you! Jesus Christ!”
Sandy came bounding out from the kitchen, faster than any of them had ever seen her move. “What in the holiest of hells is going on out here?” She looked at the three seated in front of her: Brandon’s face red and hair mussed, Quentin sitting quietly, and Simon with the fading imprint of fingers on his cheek. “Am I gonna have to ask you lot to leave?”
“No, Sandy, that won’t be necessary. We are okay.”
Sandy rolled her eyes. “Alright, one more peep out of you boys and its outside.” She pointed to the door to accentuate her statement.
“Not to worry, Sandy. I promise.” Quentin smiled until the waitress disappeared behind the counter. Quentin’s smile instantly disappeared and he coarsely whispered “what the f**k was that, guys?”
They sat in silence while Quentin look at Brandon, then Simon, and back to Brandon again. Brandon sat silent, brow furrowed, and stared at the empty seat next to him. Simon stared straight ahead, breathing heavily through his teeth.
“I don’t know where that came from, but you two better knock it off or I am out of here. I don’t have time to deal with babies.” Quentin flicked the menu back open as if he still had to decide on what to eat.
They sat this way for several minutes, Simon occasionally taking a piece of bread out of the basket between them, stuffing it into his mouth and chewing quietly. Brandon refused eye contact with either of his companions. He did not speak until the food arrived.
Sandy placed the three plates before each of the boys, a porcelain clink as each touched the table. The basket of fries sat between all three of them. No one made a move to eat. “I’ll get you refills in a sec,” she said as she walked away.
Brandon turned his body to face Simon before speaking. “I’m sorry, Simon. I didn’t mean to go off on you.” Brandon spoke methodically; he didn’t mean his apology, but he wanted to get it behind him as soon as possible.
“I’m sorry, too. I didn’t realize you were so sensitive.” Simon smirked and grabbed at his sandwich, taking a big bite.
Brandon ignored this non-apology and grabbed his burger. He held it in his hands and thought about what he wanted to happen to Simon. He considered all of the horrible possibilities for vengeance.
“Alright then, let’s eat!” Quentin grabbed his meal as well and took a large bite. Only then did Brandon follow suit. All three dug into the fries and ate briskly. There was still so much to do and so little time to do it.
I park in the street a block away from my apartment. It is colder now, closer to Lake Michigan. I cross my arms under each other but not before lighting one more cigarette for the walk home. The tree-lined sidewalks are littered with wet newspapers and leaves. No one is around.
I lift my bag onto my shoulder and walk. I can hear the traffic in the distance and a dog barking. I used to come for walks out here when I first moved in last year, but have since lost the desire for it. That is the most common hobby I have: giving up. I used to collect things as a kid: baseball cards, action figures, rocks, and even stamps for a short while. I dedicate myself so deeply to them and then lose all interest. Quentin and I used to go to the lake and collect old bottles and things we found in the sand and the drift. The air would be salty and cold and we would get sand in every pocket and fold of our clothes. My mother hated cleaning up those days, but it was worth every minute.
I feel a pang in my gut thinking about it. I stub out my cigarette and pick up my stride towards my door.
Plates emptied, Sandy dropped off the check and the three comrades pooled their money on the table. Coins and crumpled bills in a small pile, Quentin pulled the entire mess towards him and scanned the bill. Pen in hand, he figured the tip and left the money on top of the receipt. Simon got back two dollars and Brandon one. Brandon did not challenge Quentin; he did not feel like another fight.
The three boys rose and waved a quick goodbye to Sandy who did not even look up from her paper. They walked outside from the warmth of Zeigler’s into the chill of Chicago.
“Let’s go, b*****s!” Quentin turned left and broke into a jog. Simon looked back at Brandon and then followed suit. By the time Brandon got moving he was already a good fifty paces off Quentin’s lead.
Brandon was never good at running. Not that he wasn’t an athletic kid; he just preferred something a bit less strenuous like baseball or football. His father had always called him a sprinter, something that Brandon took to heart. His legs pumped and his arms swung. He saw the back of Simon’s head and just above it Quentin’s. They were getting further and further away. Brandon saw the two of them cross the street as the sign began to flash DON’T WALK in red letters. Brandon pushed himself harder to pick up some speed. He was feet away from the crosswalk and Quentin was still chugging along. Brandon could not stand being left behind. He pushed for that final bit of strength deep down in himself and lunged into the street as the flashing red sign became solid.
His left foot caught on his right leg, sending him sprawling into the street. He saw the white lines of the crosswalk getting closer as his face came into contact with the asphalt. His backpack kept moving as his body did not, sending the top of it into the back of his head, driving his skull harder to the ground. For a split second, his vision went white and he could not see. As his body tumbled down, his vision returned to see the grill and tires of a taxi screeching to a halt. He watched his own look of horror distorted in the metal bumper of the yellow cab.
Brandon thought to himself, I am ok, and then lay on his back looking up at the sky. He exhaled hard and tried to assess if he was in serious trouble. At that moment, Quentin’s face came into his line of sight followed quickly by Simon.
“Holy s**t, man, are you okay?” Quentin was doing his own scan of Brandon, checking for broken bones or any blood.
“I… I think so.” Brandon didn’t want to move, worried he may not like where the pain would register.
The cab driver exited his vehicle and slammed the door. He was a middle-aged man, possibly Hispanic or European. He did not look happy.
“Get out of the road! What are you just laying there for! Get moving or I call the police!” The cab driver waved his hands like he was shooing away an animal.
“Chill out, man, you almost killed my friend!” Quentin shouted right back at the cab driver in defense of his fallen friend.
“F*****g kids always causing trouble! Get out of here!”
“F**k you, man! This was your fault!”
Quentin helped Brandon to a standing position and asked if he was okay. Brandon put weight on both legs and felt nothing, just the scrapes and scratches on his hands and knees. He nodded back at Quentin.
The cab driver was still yelling, but got back into his cab. Brandon looked over his shoulder as the made it to the other side of the street and saw the driver pull away, still emoting with his arms, most likely to the chagrin of his passengers.
Once safely out of the path of traffic, Brandon dropped his bag to the ground and leaned against the closest wall. Did I almost just die, he thought. He felt his face to double check for injury. As his fingers felt his right cheek, he winced. A fiery sting went down the side of his face. He pulled back his hand and looked at the fingers which were lightly dotted with blood.
“It’s not bleeding that much, but it looks pretty deep.” Quentin looked it Brandon’s face closely like a doctor in the emergency room. “We are gonna have to think of a good excuse for how you got this.”
“I was in the yard and thought a dog was coming and tripped on the front step?” Brandon looked at Quentin for approval.
Quentin laughed, “Man, you always come up with the wildest s**t. Yeah, you think your mom will buy it?”
Brandon shrugged, “yeah, she knows I can’t stand dogs. We should be okay.”
During the entire incident, Simon remained silent. Brandon looked at him and his face was pale and withdrawn. Hands in pockets, his hair hung in his face as his chin was firmly pressed against his chest.
“Whets up with him?” Brandon asked.
Quentin looked at Simon, then leaned in to whisper in Brandon’s ear. “His brother was hit by a car a couple of years ago. Simon saw it happen. His brother died.”
Brandon looked at Quentin as he stepped back. They nodded at each other and looked over at their silent friend.
“Hey, Simon?” Brandon’s voice was calm and sincere. Simon looked up at him; his eyes brimmed with tears that had yet to spill over his lashes. “I’m. I’m okay, Simon. I just fell down, no big deal.”
Simon nodded unconvincingly and looked back down at his feet. Brandon looked at Quentin and motioned for something. Quentin smiled and unzipped his pack, removing the football. He handed it to Brandon.
“Here, you take this.” Brandon held the football out. Simon looked at it without moving his head, and then looked up at Quentin, then Simon.
“Really?” Simon asked meekly.
Brandon nodded, “Yeah, you are quarterback today.”
Simon’s face illuminated with a smile. He was back to the vibrant youth that caused Brandon nothing but annoyance. “Alright,” he yelled, “let’s go!”
He tore off down the street. Quentin looked over at Brandon and asked if he was okay to get moving.
“Yeah, I will be fine. Go on ahead, I’ll catch up.”
I flick the light switch and my apartment comes to light revealing my cat asleep atop the sofa. He sleepily opens his eyes, looks at me, and replaces his chin on his paws and goes back to sleep.
“Hey, Nutter,” I say quietly but he does not turn again. I toss my keys onto the table to my left and drop my bag to the floor. I step over it and into the kitchen. I open the refrigerator door and see nothing worth eating. I realize I am not hungry, but eating seems like the right thing to do. I grab a bottle of beer and close the door.
As I twist off the cap, the pressure hissing out of the green glass neck, I see my voicemail light is flashing. I bring the bottle to my lips and press the play button on the answering machine. The first sound is of sob, followed by a sniffle.
“Bran…Brandon, its me.” The crying voice is my mother. She never identifies herself when she leaves a message, but I know it is her. “Brandon, I wanted to let you know that Quentin…died. You probably already know, saw it in the paper or something, but I wanted to tell you myself. I, I don’t know what you are feeling right now. I don’t even know what I am feeling right now. My God, this is so horrible…”
I take another gulp of the beer. My mother was always trying to keep me away from Quentin, for reasons I never knew, but she was never critical of someone’s loss. Any person who died, friend of hers or barely an acquaintance, they all struck her equally. Life was life and death was death, and all should be mourned or celebrated equally in her eyes.
“…The wake is tonight, and, and I don’t want you to go. I want you to stay away. The Moss’ have enough going on right now and we have no right to infringe on that. I know they haven’t called you, if they had I would know about it. I saw Mrs. Moss at church the other day. She looked at me the same way as she did when…well, when this all started back then…”
I press the button again and erase the message from the machine. I don’t want to hear another word she has to say. Who is she to tell me not to go to his wake? I have as much a right to be there as anyone. He was my best friend in the entire world and now he is gone. I had to read about it in the f*****g newspaper, secondhand. I want to squeeze the bottle in my hand until it shatters. I want to rip the walls down with my bare hands. I want to scream and scream and scream until I have nothing left. I want this world to know how much I hurt, how much I despair, how much I want to atone.
But, I don’t. I take a final swig off of the bottle and leave it on the counter. I walk past my couch and let my fingers run along Nutter’s back. I walk into the bathroom and turn the shower on as hot as it will go. I unbutton my shirt and look at myself in the mirror. I am paler than this morning and I can already see the stubble sticking out on my face. I will shave and pull out my best tie and I will go to the funeral home to pay my last respects and set this right, once and for all.
The three boys turn onto Wollter Street, their final destination. The trees were older and taller than back near Brandon’s house. Here, the sidewalk was cracked in places where roots penetrated the cement. There were few cars parked on the street and the ones that were had broken windows, flat tires, and the occasional traffic boot. The houses were nice and big, brick red and abandoned. Some had realtor signs in the unkempt yards while others were boarded up. The street was oddly isolated considering going one street over in any direction would reveal bright green lawns and signs of vibrancy and life.
Brandon’s mother had grounded him the last time she found out he was in this part of town. It was just a few short years before that a local man was found here with the body of a young boy, mutilated and r***d. Of course, as time had passed, stories had been exaggerated and embellished to the point that Quentin, Brandon, and Simon all were convinced that the ghost of the boy haunted one of the houses here. Brandon’s mother was more worried that there was someone else just waiting for an innocent boy to wander into an isolated trap where no one would find them.
“Alright, well we have checked out the first two on this side of the street,” Quentin motioned to the closest houses on their left. In his hands he held a hand-drawn map of the block. Their plan had always been to explore every house and find some proof that the little boy’s spirit was around. Brandon didn’t believe in ghosts, but he did enjoy the thrill of the quest.
“Can’t we toss the ball around for a bit, first? I am quarterback, remember?” Simon tossed the ball in the air just a bit to emphasize his new title.
Quentin looked up at Simon and smiled. “Sure thing, man. Alright, you call the plays, Simon. Brandon, you cover me and I will go long!”
Brandon nodded unenthusiastically. He was beginning to feel soreness in his arms and legs from the fall in the street. But, he wouldn’t let anyone see this. He jogged out down the street, leaving his backpack on the sidewalk.
“Here it comes!” Simon reached back and threw the ball awkwardly. It hit the ground a few feet in front of Quentin. He picked it up and tossed it back softly to Simon.
“No big deal, Si. Let’s go again!” Brandon tried to cover Quentin, but he was not quick enough. This time, Simon’s throw went right over his head, landing cleanly in Quentin’s hands.
“Alright!” Simon jumped in the air triumphantly.
“Good throw, man!” Quentin tossed the ball back and turned to Brandon. “But you, my friend, have got to work on your moves. That was kind of sad.”
Simon chuckled. Brandon looked at him coldly. Simon didn’t register the stare and turned to begin another play.
This went on, again and again, with the same results. Each time, Brandon was not quick enough and every time Quentin and Simon laughed at his expense. With each passing joke, Brandon felt himself getting more and more frustrated. Normally, it didn’t faze him. He enjoyed being outside with his friend, laughing and playing, oblivious to ability or disability. He would return home and be scolded for getting himself covered in dirt, but would gladly suffer the consequences each and every time. Today, something was different. Something was not right.
“You ready?” Simon spoke in sing-song way that made Brandon clench his teeth.
“Just throw the f*****g ball.” Brandon said sharply.
“Oooh, alright then, Mr. Testy!”
Quentin took off down the street, turning suddenly to the left. Brandon lost his footing and almost fell. Quentin was wide open, but also further from Simon than any prior throw. Simon reached back with all his strength and chucked the ball “hail Mary” towards his receiver.
The ball overshot Quentin by several feet. Brandon looked up to see it hit the side of the last house on the left with a ricochet into the side yard, over a fence, and out of sight.
I finish with my tie and grab my black sports coat. I don’t bother to look in the mirror before grabbing my keys and heading out the door. The wake starts within the hour and it will take me almost half an hour to get there, especially since it is rush hour. I consider taking the train, but I want to be able to make a quick escape if I have to. The last thing I want is to answer questions tonight. I just want to say my peace and be free of it. I hope this is the right thing to do.
But, taking the car means driving past Wollter Street. I haven’t been back there since that day, and the last thing I want is to see the scene of the crime. I don’t need any more reminders of this. Seeing Quentin’s final remains will be enough reminder.
I get back to my car quickly and pull away from the curb. The radio is playing some new song by some artist I don’t know. I can barely hear it over my own heartbeat. I feel the thump of blood pumping in my temples and a brief sense of dizziness. My body doesn’t want to do this, but I force a cigarette between my lips and drive away. I will do this. I owe it to him, after all these years.
The fence was five feet taller than Quentin, which made it an extra foot taller than Simon. It was chain link with bits of plastic and rust sticking every which way like tinsel. There was no barbed wire at the top, a rare exception for fencing in the city. Their side of the alley was clear of rubble or obstruction since it was most likely used for parking a car during the evening hours. The other side was a jumble of garbage bags, old boxes, and scrap metal. There was at least two feet of junk blocking a landing, which would mean whoever went after the ball was going to have to land amidst the piles of rust and likely risk tetanus.
“Nice throw, a*****e!” Quentin’s face was flushed red as he marked past Brandon and Simon towards the ball’s final landing spot. Quentin would often berate himself for mistakes, something Brandon always found unsettling.
“No big deal, Quentin. We can just go around and get it.” Simon smiled up at Quentin who did not return the gaze.
“No f*****g time! We have to get home or Brandon’s mom is going explode! Goddamnit!”
Quentin stomped his right foot and pounded the fence, rattling the junk on the other side.
Brandon stood there silently looking at the ball. It was a good fifty feet away from the fence. There was no chance to get it with a stick or a plank. The only options were to either go around, which would mean either finding another fence with nothing on the other side or going all the way around the block which could take a good ten minutes even if they ran for it, or…
“We could jump the fence.” Brandon spoke as if to the ball, hoping it would get up on its own and bounce right back over to them.
“You want to jump into a pile of metal, be my guest.” Quentin crossed his arms in front of him.
“No, I don’t want to jump into a pile of metal, Quentin, but what choice do we have? My mom is going to be back in…” Brandon looked at his watch. It was almost twelve thirty. They only had enough time to jump the fence; that was their only option.
Quentin looked at his watch as well. Simon was not wearing one so he tried to look at Brandon’s. All three of them knew they were running on minutes instead of hours.
Quentin threw up his hands in mock surrender. “Aw, f**k it. I’ll do it.” He took a step towards the fence and felt a hand tug on his coat.
Simon let go as Quentin turned to face him. “I’ll do it, Q. I’ll jump the fence!” His voice was almost one of excitement rather than the peril one would expect from someone his size. He wasn’t smiling, but Brandon could tell he was grinning on the inside, desperate to prove himself to his two bigger friends.
“Alright, Simon!” Quentin high fived him before continuing to say, “But I can’t let you. That is way too dangerous for you, man. Brandon or I will do it.”
Brandon stood silently looking at Quentin. He didn’t change his expression or flinch at the suggestion that he would risk his neck for a stupid football. He would rather let Simon do it. Let the little brat impress Quentin, he thought.
“I say let him go.” Brandon’s words were like slap to Quentin. He stiffened and looked at his friend, sheer incredulity on his face.
“What do you mean, ‘let him go?’ He is barely big enough to catch up when we are running, let alone jump a fence like that!”
“I’m just saying, Quentin, that if he wants to try…”
Quentin’s voice got louder, the cracking giving indication that he was just a kid like Brandon was. “This isn’t a time to try! We need to get out of here and get home, or have you forgotten the fact that your mom hates my f*****g guts?”
Brandon’s face reddened, but not with anger. He didn’t like being talked to like this. But, instead of defending himself, he put his hands in his pockets and stared at the ground near his feet. His shoulders shrugged up, the only hint of a response to Quentin.
“Get your f*****g head out of your a*s, Brandon. Jesus Christ! Simon!”
Both boys looked up to see their friend a good 4 feet off the ground, and rising. His gloves sat on the ground by the fence as Simon scaled the metal wall barrier without abandon.
He’s doing it. I can’t believe it, thought Brandon.
“Be careful, Simon! I am not taking you to the goddamn hospital, you hear me?” Quentin’s voice sounded more like a concerned parent than a teenage boy at that moment, and Brandon wondered what kind of a father Quentin would make when he grew up.
“Yeah, Simon, watch out up there.” Brandon’s voice held little concern for his friend. In fact, he was more concerned whether Quentin was truly mad at him or not. He couldn’t live with himself if Quentin hated him.
Simon’s hands were red from gripping the cold, hard metal rings. His sneakers slipped now and then, but he kept his moving upward without looking down. As he ascended, Quentin kept his eyes on him ready to catch if his grip should be lost. Brandon kept glancing in either direction, hoping no one was watching.
Reaching the top, Simon straddled one leg on either side and smiled down at his friends below.
“Holy s**t! Simon! You f*****g did it!” Quentin clapped his gloved hands together, barely making a sound.
“I told you guys! Yeah!” Simon pumped his fists in the air and smiled wider than any smile he had previously had. At this moment, he had proved himself to Quentin; proved that he wasn’t just some little kid but rather one of the guys. A worthy partner in crime; the one thing he had always wanted to be.
Brandon looked up at his little rival, the boy who he dreaded seeing more and more with each passing day, the boy who had stolen the undivided attention from Quentin. This boy who had cost him his best friend. All Brandon could think was how much he hated Simon at this moment; how he had wished it was he who had climbed the fenced and been cheered on by Quentin.
Instead, he stood hands in pockets, lips wetting the corner of his scarf, and waiting for Simon to finish his celebration.
“I am so sorry I doubted you, man. Seriously, I will never doubt you again!” Quentin was bouncing from shoe to shoe, smiling up at Simon.
Simon swung his leg over the side of the fence to begin the trip down. He looked below at the pile of miscellany to try and spot a good place to land. Everything looked uncomfortable and dangerous and was bound to leave a scar. But, he had come this far, and there was no turning back.
Quentin was assessing the same thing from his vantage point. “Alright, Simon. If you just keep heading straight down, it looks like just some boxes below you. There could be anything under there, but at least you can avoid anything jagged. Just keep going the way you have been.”
“Yeah, and hurry up! We need to get out of here in the next… five minutes!” Brandon knew they had double that time, but he wanted Simon to fail, to lose favor with Quentin. Anything he could do to help that he would. His dislike of the little runt boy with the blonde hair was growing with each step he took.
Simon’s footing slipped at Brandon’s words. He tried to reach back with the other foot, but that one slipped as well. His fingertips were the only thing keeping him from falling. He still had another 5 feet to go.
“What the hell, a*****e!” Quentin shot Brandon a glance of complete abhorrence. Brandon felt his stomach flop over on itself and misery set in. He wanted Simon gone, not Quentin to hate him.
Simon let out a screech that sounded less like a boy than a cat in distress. His shoes slipped against the slick metal, making soft squeaking noises. He was losing control.
“It’s alright, Simon! Calm down!” Quentin was trying to maintain composure himself. “Just stop moving! There, now lift your shoe straight into a hole. There, you got it! Now, do the same with the other one. Yeah! Now, keep going! You are doing fine!”
Simon followed the orders directly and began to move down. His bangs stuck to his forehead with cold sweat. His jacket was lifted, exposing his stomach to the cold air, turning it a rosy pink.
Brandon wanted to leave, just run home and close the door and never think about this day ever again. He hated today. He hated that there was no one waiting for him at home, no one to play in the yard with and tell him this is something that happens between friends. There was no one to comfort him and tell him that this happened to them when they were his age. There was no one to tell him that he would have other friends and he had so much ahead of him. There was no one he could trust.
“Quentin, look… I’m…” Brandon wanted to tell him everything, about what he felt and that he didn’t want him to hate him, it was just the way he felt. He couldn’t help himself; something about Simon just set him off. If he would just go away, everything could go back to the way it was. Everything is Simon’s fault, Brandon thought.
But Quentin was focused on Simon. Brandon turned to see Simon just feet from the rubble. Simon looked down to assess the distance.
“I’m just gonna jump from here!” He yelled this almost like a question, but before anyone could respond, he let go of the fence and dropped down to the pile below.
What happened next came within seconds, but to Quentin and Brandon it seemed infinitely longer. If they were to describe the next sequence of events it would seem as if they spent hours as opposed to seconds standing there.
Simon’s feet hit the wooden planks below. There was a screech of metal and wood against one another. For a split second, they both saw Simon smile his victory grin, lips pursing to utter something like “I did it” or “f**k yeah” or some other celebratory statement. But, there would be no words from his mouth.
Immediately following his feet touching the rubble, the loudest sound they had ever heard rung out, echoing amongst the brick buildings. There was a spray of blood that misted in the air and Simon’s body flying backwards as if pulled by an invisible string. His body hit the wall behind him and slumped to the ground.
“Simon?” It was several minutes before Quentin uttered Simon’s name the first time. Both he and Brandon stood still in their respective places, looking where Simon had been standing.
Sticking out of the pile of trash was a long, slender black barrel with a wisp of smoke curling out of the exposed end. Brandon felt every inch of his body freeze, a tingling sensation moving from head to toe and coming to a rest in his stomach. His face felt hot and warm. I think I am getting sick, I need to go home, he thought. His legs felt glued to the spot and he assumed Quentin was as well.
“Simon?” Quentin said it again, a question posed in the meekest voice Brandon had ever heard from his friend. “Simon, you there buddy? Answer me and tell me you are okay.” A gurgle came back in response. It was quiet and Brandon was not sure he had even heard it.
“Did you hear that? He’s okay! Simon!” Quentin regained control over his body and went up to the fence to get confirmation that Simon just had the wind knocked out of him.
Brandon followed a moment later. He knew in the deepest part of himself that Simon was anything but okay. He followed Quentin’s gaze to the ground just beyond the rubble.
Simon lay propped against the wall, almost in a sitting position. His hands were at either side of his body, palm up. His legs stuck straight out with the toes of his shoes pointing to the left and the right. There were spots of red dotting his pants and exposed skin. The collar of his shirt was a deep burgundy; his neck drenched in blood. His eyes were open and looking directly back at his two friends on the other side of the fence. Brandon was sure that Simon was still smiling his victory grin.
“Oh, Jesus! Oh, God! Simon! Talk to me buddy, talk to me!” Quentin was quickly spiraling into tears. His hands gripped the fence while he talked to Simon.
Quentin began to sob, “This isn’t happening! This isn’t happening!” He kept repeating it as he stared at his dead friend. He leaned on Brandon and slowly sat down on the dirty ground.
Brandon patted his friend’s head like he would a sobbing child and tried to calm him, all the while looking down the street, not knowing what to do next.
I don’t slow down the entire drive. I passed Wollter Street without a pause, briefly glimpsing its darkness like a bruise on the neighborhood. I drive as fast as possible without getting a ticket. I make it to the funeral home as the streetlights click on. I sit in the car for a moment, my body heavy and harder to move. I look at the door and the solemn faces filing in. I see old faces from those days; faces I haven’t thought about since I graduated from high school. I half expect to see Quentin walk in himself, an opportunity to say this to him instead of everyone else.
I get out of the car and move to the door slowly. Like a dream, my legs feel heavy and cumbersome. It is even colder than this morning, but it may just be the heat coming off of my body. If anyone looks at me, I am sure they will see steam rising off of my skin like smoke. I light one last cigarette and lean against the side of the building before I go in.
“We have to call the police, Brandon. We need to tell someone.” Quentin says, his voice choked with tears.
“We can’t call anyone; we aren’t supposed to be here.”
Quentin pulled himself away from Brandon and looked directly at him. “Who f*****g cares? This is a little beyond your mom being pissed. Simon is dead!”
Brandon looked right back. “We can’t call anyone.”
Quentin stood and put his hands on his head. “Are you out of your f*****g mind? We have to call someone! We have to!”
“No one knows we are here, we can just walk away. Someone will find him. It can just be an accident and we don’t have to get in trouble for it.”
“No way. No way!” Quentin screamed at Brandon. “This isn’t us trying to cover up a cut on your face! This is someone we know! This is someone who is dead!”
Brandon took a deep breath. “I know that. I know he is dead. But, just imagine what will happen if our parents knew we were here again? Think about it! If my mom knew we were here, she would never let me see you again! Do you want to lose our friendship over…over this?”
“I can’t believe what you are saying. You are f*****g mental!” Quentin marched past Brandon, bumping him in the shoulder.
“Don’t you leave, Quentin. Don’t you f*****g leave!”
Quentin continued to walk aimed right at his backpack at the end of the block. His brow furrowed, he didn’t listen to Brandon’s pleading yells.
“Quentin, don’t go! I swear to God, if you go, I will tell them that you did it.”
Brandon saw Quentin freeze in his path. His body stiffened and he stood there as still and quiet as he had ever been. He turned to face Brandon, a look of incredulity smeared across his visage. Only one word escaped his lips: “What?”
“I swear on my life if you don’t listen to me I will tell the cops you killed Simon.” Brandon was dead serious and Quentin knew it. He had never been more certain of someone’s action than he was of what his friend was promising to do.
“You f*****g liar,” Quentin challenged.
“It’s your football over there. Sandy saw us at Zeigler’s. It would be your word against mine and I can be very convincing.” Brandon did not waver. His words were even and steady as if he had practiced saying this.
“Why? Why wouldn’t we say anything? This wasn’t our fault! It was an accident!”
“Because,” Brandon replied, “because I don’t want to lose you.”
“You are f*****g crazy. I can tell you right now, if you make me lie, our friendship is over anyway.”
“Don’t you see? They will never be able to blame us. There is always someone to blame. We don’t have to ruin our lives because of this.”
Quentin shook his head. Brandon dropped his hands to his side. He knew that Quentin wouldn’t say anything, but he also didn’t want to lose him over Simon.
His shoulders slumped and face gray, he asks me what we need to do.
I walk in to the entryway and see black-clad mourners huddled around the closest room on the right. As I walk in, a tall man in glasses approaches me. I tell him I am here for the Moss wake and he points with his hand to the same room.
Most of the chairs are full of indistinguishable dresses and suits. I can see the coffin on display surrounded by flowers and wreaths. To the side is a blown-up photograph of Quentin, probably from high school: his face has the faded scars of teenage acne, the short cropped hair of a military cadet, and the forced smile of an unhappy soul.
No one seems to regard my arrival, which I am thankful for. My mother’s message resonates in my mind and I truly don’t want to take this day away from Quentin’s family, but I do need to speak my heart and tell the truth.
A man approaches the podium near the casket. He leans forward into the microphone and asks if anyone would care to speak a few words about Quentin. A small older man gets up first and begins to talk about his nephew. I listen and hear things about him that I never knew, that he had never shared with me before.
While his uncle speaks, a small line begins to queue next to him. I wish I had time for another cigarette, but instead I press forward and get in line to speak. I don’t look around the room, but I can feel several eyes on me. I have been recognized and I can feel the whispers begin to make their rounds through the room.
But I do not acknowledge I even hear them. I watch the old man return to his seat while a high school friend of Quentin’s takes over and begins a story about a double date they went on. The line moves up and I await my turn.
In the end, Brandon explained the entire story. He sensed that Brandon was off put by the detail he had, almost as if he had planned this day to end this way. The two boys reviewed everything they needed to say and what not to say, the whole while Simon’s body was mere feet away, out of sight and blocked by the rubble and garbage.
The story Brandon concocted was this: the three of them had agreed to meet up to play football, but after lunch Brandon felt guilty and rushed home. Simon had gotten frustrated and ran off with Quentin’s ball. Instead of chasing after him, Quentin went home. Neither of them had heard or seen Simon after that.
They would tell their story and stick with it, no matter what happened. Brandon insisted it would work and there would be no question that Simon had been alone. It was the only way it would work.
“This is so messed up,” said Quentin. It wasn’t a question, just a statement of fact. Brandon wiped the snot from his cold nose on the sleeve of his coat. They had been sitting there for the better part of an hour.
“It’s time to go,” Brandon stated as he rose. Quentin, shook his head, and stood as well. “Thanks, Quentin.”
Quentin recoiled. “Don’t touch me. I only agreed to this because you threatened me. After this is over and done with, I never want to see you again.”
“No, not f*****g ever. Do you hear me?”
Brandon nodded reluctantly. The two stood for a moment before walking over to the fence. Simon had not moved, though neither knew why they had expected him to. His skin was already becoming waxy and gray. There were still plumes of steam rising from the back of his head.
“Goodbye, Simon.” Quentin sniffed into one hand, wiping tears away with the other. “I am so sorry.”
He turned and began to walk away. Brandon looked down at the corpse of his rival and didn’t say a word.
It is my turn at the podium. I walk up and place my hand on either side of the mahogany pedestal. I run my fingers gently along the weathered wood wondering how many confessions had been made in this very room under these very circumstances. I keep wondering until I hear a cough. I look up and see every face is upon me. Not a single person is whispering or consoling. The room is entirely silent. They all await my speech, so I begin.
Brandon walked in his front door and quickly peeled his clothes from his body, tossing them into the laundry hamper. He washed his face and sat down in front of the television and waited for his mother to get home. He already was worried that Quentin was truly mad at him.
“I only learned of Quentin’s passing earlier today, but I have had a long time to think about what I was going to say if this day should ever arrive. I have thought about it every day for the past twenty years, and with each day that goes by I feel it grow bigger and bigger in the pit of my stomach. I can’t keep the secret any longer.”
It was not until late Sunday afternoon that the phone rang. Brandon’s mother answered it. He heard her say hello to Quentin’s mother and then she gasped. Brandon felt his heart racing a mile a minute, but maintained his composure while he was told that Simon was killed in a bizarre accident.
“The day I will never forget was the day that Simon McAllister died. Not a moment goes by that I don’t see the last moment we played football, the last time we walked home from school; the last time we shared a laugh. A moment doesn’t go by that I don’t remember the jealousy I felt that Simon was taking away the best friend I ever had in Quentin Moss.”
Both Brandon and Quentin spoke to the police and told their stories of what had happened that day. Under the terrible circumstances, Brandon’s mother was not upset he had snuck out that day. She was just glad that he was okay.
“So, I stand here in front of you today to tell you the story of what happened that day that I am sure all of you know, is a lie. It did not happen the way the newspapers reported or the way that Quentin and I told the police.”
Now the murmurs begin to spread through the crowd. I press on.
Since the homes were abandoned, no one was charged with any crime. The gun was assumed to have been hidden there by someone. The police checked it for fingerprints but nothing came back in their search. It could have been there for months, freezing and thawing as the seasons changed. Simon’s death was ruled a tragic freak accident. Simon’s family held a private memorial service for their son. Brandon would attend, but Quentin did not.
“The gun that went of that day was not hidden beneath a pile of garbage. I know it was so easy to just think it was an accident and that Simon had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. But, I cannot keep lying anymore.”
Over the years, despite living blocks apart, Brandon and Quentin grew apart. They attended the same high school but did not share mutual friends. They would pass in the halls and Brandon would look at his friend for a glimpse of recognition, but as if sensing he was watching, Quentin would avert his eyes and hurry away. Brandon would never forget those moments, not for twenty years.
I take a deep breath. I can see the tears in Mrs. Moss’ eyes but it is too late to stop now. Everything that happened that day and since has led to this.
“That day; that cold day that seems so much colder now, was the day that I watched Quentin Moss murder Simon McAllister. I never knew why and I never got a chance to ask him. That was the day our friendship ended.
“I’m sorry, Quentin, but I had to tell the truth.”