The sleet wrapped against the window sounding more like an injured monster dragging it’s broken bits along the paved path outside. Minus myself and Simon, my loyal polar bear, we’re alone in the house. We’re not supposed to be, but the babysitter cancelled due to the weather and Mom had to go to work. She had called Dad to cover. She yelled at him for being half in a bag. Either he did a really bad job and the bag had already fallen off, or Mom made him take it off completely before he came upstairs to tuck us in because neither of us saw any bag at all. Mom left, but not before reminding all of us of the rules: right to bed, no drinks, no adventures, everyone on their best behavior until morning.
Simon and I agreed, smiling as she pulled the cover up to our chins. We had already had our water and were tucked in bed; we were on the fast track to be the best behaved. Dad had smiled, but it didn’t seem to be a nice one. Mom hadn’t been gone too long, since I was still mostly awake, when I heard Dad open the door to my room. Since I’ve been known to untuck myself to work on a puzzle or science experiment – it was instinct to squeeze my eyes shut and pretend we were sleeping. Simon sleeps with his eyes open. I always tell him how lucky he is, no matter how weird it seems to me, I want him to feel good about himself. Plus, it comes in handy when mom checks in on us!
“Sweet dreams kiddo,” he half whispered, half drooled. He tried to say something else about having a playdate with Jose and Tina, but it was hard to understand him. I wasn’t sure who those people were, but Tina loves Jose and my dad. He sounded too tired to drive. Like how he used to get on holidays when Mom would send him to bed before she even put dinner on the table.
Neither of us moved, until we heard the front door close. Our apartment is unique, that’s what Mom say, when first moved in. There’s a big loft upstairs that is her palace. The metal and wood stairs wrap in a big circle to get to the top. The stairs divide the living room and the kitchen and are the first thing you see when we come home. My room is behind the living room, across from the laundry room and bathroom, which are behind the kitchen. It makes a lopsided circle. Mom wasn’t happy my room was going to be on the first floor, especially since it’s next to the driveway, but the real estate guy said somethings that made her feel okay about. The front door used to scare me when Mom would be coming home from work, but now I’ve gotten used to the loud clunk of the lock. Dad doesn’t clink the lock when he leaves. But I hear him go out and start the car.
Loud music fights with the sleet now slamming against my window. Mom was nervous about going to work, but when they call her in for a nightshift it means she has to go. So now, Simon and I are alone. Mom would be mad if I left my room to get ice cream or to go through her closet. Jimmy at school said Santa sent one of his gifts early and his mom hid it in her bedroom closet. Johnny made fun of him for even going in his mom’s closet, but then Brenda said that her old sister said everyone knows that’s where parents hide the presents that Santa sends early. The only reason I’m contemplating it is because Joanie said her brother told her that only good kids get presents early. The earlier Santa sends your present, the higher up on the nice list you are. I’m pretty sure we’ve been really good boys this year, but it couldn’t hurt to check.
I get out of bed and grab a pair of mittens Grandma made me when we were all supposed to stay home and not see people. We’re still not allowed to see her, because the home where she is staying has strict rules, Mom gets so upset with them, but she can still send things. We sent her a picture I made of the three of us: her, me, and Simon. The next week, Simon got a hat from Grandma. Anyway, everyone knows if you’re a detective you can’t touch things without gloves. Since I don’t have the real kind, I use my mittens for detective work. With our mittens and hat on we grab our flashlight and leave our bedroom.
The house is really dark. Even with the flashlight. Very quietly we make our way to the staircase. I forgot about this part. Mom would send me to a home for boys instead of grandmas if she knew I was going to climb them myself. She just started letting me take them over the summer, and only when she is home. When I told Dad how cool it was that I was allowed to take the stairs, he said it’s because Mom doesn’t want me in her room. I asked him why, but he just elbowed his friends we were sitting with and ate his wings. Mom was so mad that we had gone to a bar that I didn’t tell her what he said about her room. It’s hard to do the stairs and hold on to the flashlight and Simon. Using the hat Grandma made for him, I manage to make him a swing and tie him around my neck. I made sure to tell him he didn’t look like a baby and reminded him he’s one of the bravest people I know. Who cares if he looked like a baby?
We could have eaten the whole container of ice cream by the time we get to the top of the stairs. We don’t celebrate too long though, instead we make our way to the closet. Very carefully we look behind her long dresses, a stack of backpacks and suitcases, and wooden crates of shoes and another one of books. Nothing. We’re about to head back downstairs when Simon jumps out of his swing toward the bed. Veronica did say she once found a present under her parent’s bed. I pick Simon up and tell him good work! We head over to the bed, there are shoe boxes underneath. The first one is a shoebox for a pair of heels Mom was very excited to buy herself. We open it and immediately I cover Simon’s eyes. For a minute I don’t know what to do. I remember Dad’s friend Becky telling him once that Mom really took his man parts away when they thought I couldn’t hear. We were at the arcade. It was loud. Becky kept telling Dad that he had to tell me something. He said no, and she started screaming loud enough that security came over. Dad told her he wouldn’t be calling her ever again and that’s when she really lost it. That was before Mom and I moved here.
I blink and put the lid back on the box. Sliding it carefully back under the bed. I hope my wife doesn’t take my man parts away like Mom did to Dad. Grandma always tells me that I’m going to grow up to be a great man. She never says that about Dad, so maybe I’ll be so good my wife will let me keep my parts. Hopefully mine will grow to be as big. Dad’s pretty tall, and the doctor says I’m supposed to be even taller. Right now, all of me is pretty small, and I can’t imagine how becoming a grown-up works. I asked Mom once, and she said I’ll grow into myself. She’s right about almost everything too.
The second shoe box feels heavier and is what Grandma calls a gift box. It’s supposed to plain so the person opening it doesn’t know what it is. I’m feeling better about this one. So is Simon, who is not sure he believes what I told him was in the box, but I won’t take it back out or show him. He’s way too young for that. In slow motion we open the box, one corner at a time until, *pop* it’s off. Neither of us can believe our eyes. We must have been the best boys ever this year!!! I close the box and blow out all the air I had been holding. Maybe I saw it wrong? I want to open to the box again, but I hear a loud song coming from downstairs. Dad must have come back mid-snoop. Simon and I don’t plan on finding out caught in the act.
As quiet as we can be we push the box under the bed and make our way toward the stairs. No lights are on, so maybe Dad is back but sleeping. He falls asleep faster than anyone or anything I’ve ever met. We stuff the flightlight under our shirt, so the light won’t shine downstairs, and scooch to the stairs. Mom calls it our Butt Scratch Scooch because it reminds her of when a dog sits on its butt and drags it on the floor. We move inch by inch until our feet find the ledge. Once my foot is on the stair, I shut the light and put Simon back in his swing. It feels like I’ll be in my twenties before I reach the bottom, but we can’t be loud and it’s really hard not going down the stairs on your butt loudly or quickly. But we do it. Still no sign of Dad, no snoring, no burping, no farting, and no gulping. Maybe he left his phone here when he went to go see Tina? We crawl back to our room, this time Simon says I look like a baby, but we have to be safe. Not sorry!
We make it back to our bed and stick our heads under the pillows to muffle our giggles. We did it! We went on a full-blown adventure. Most importantly we have answered the yearlong question: have we been good boys? YES! At least according to the brand new books under Mom’s bed. We flip our pillow under our heads and look up at the stars on our ceiling. I yawn, and Simon says he’s pretty tired too. I put him on top of my stack of pillows, his own homemade bed area, and I roll onto my side. Eventually Simon and I fall asleep. By the time we do there’s almost a whole handful tall snowdrift against our window.
Everything hurts. It’s loud and cold. Then it everything just stops.
“Something is not right,” I say hanging up my phone.
“Still no answer?”
“No. That’s now a dozen texts and a missed call.” I take the cigarette Janet offers me.
“You said he was drunk when he got there though,” Janet says matter of factly. “Maybe he’s just passed out?”
“Maybe, but I’m telling you, something isn’t right.”
We’re standing outside. The cold air is calming my nerves. I’ve just taken my first drag and both of our pages our going off. We drop the cigarettes and run into the building. I wish I had been able to get in touch with Simon before this call. My feelings are pounding the VCT floors. Male, 44, car accident. First responders believe he is drunk. Crashed into a townhouse across town. Mayor’s Common. My breathing is slowing down, but my body is still running.
Male. 44. Car accident. Drunk Driver. Mayor’s Common.
The air is caught in my windpipe. I’m moving, but I can’t breathe. Up ahead I see the stretcher.
The blood dripping off the man’s face. Simon’s face.
Child, male, about 7 or 8. Dead on scene.
I’m on my knees. I hear screaming, and don’t know it’s me.
Janet is goes with the stretcher, with Dr. Roberts, with Simon. The police officer, Robbie, we’ve gone on a few dates. He’s in front of me, but I can’t hear him.
Finally, the cold touch of a needle redirects my thinking. The world is dulling around me. I can hear him now, but he’s no longer talking to me. “Shit. Tell Genera and Kerns to snap a picture of the kid from the house and send it over. I think it’s her son.”
The cloudy world around me goes dark as my eyes close. I always thought I would hate being sedated, but I don’t. It’s Christmas morning here. We’re sitting in front of the tree, surrounded by wrapping paper. Noah, and his stuffed penguin Simon, curled up against me. His brand new book, “The Tower Treasure” in his little fist. His eyes big and bright blue, like the cover. My own little Hardy Boy.