“Seems you got a problem with acne there,” the cop said.
I bit back the urge to say, “No shit,” and mumbled, “Yeah.”
He looked at me for a moment. “I’m thinking that might be a sign.”
It took a second for me to figure it out. “Steroids?”
“Acne. Violent outbursts. Moodiness. That tells me you’ve got a little something extra running through your veins.”
I snorted a laugh. The guy had no idea how right he was.
“Kinda, isn’t it? I’m not into sports. I’m not buffing up for girls. So why would I take steroids?”
He glowered at me. “You think you’re smart, don’t you?”
“I have no idea why you’re doping up. I don’t know how your mind works.” He leaned in, sliding onto his tiptoes to get closer to my eye level. “But I’m going to find out.”
“Now, detective,” said a voice behind me, in a deceptively pleasant tone. “I’m going to suggest you take a step back from my son. You wouldn’t want to give anyone the impression that you’re threatening him.”
I turned to see Dad walking over. He smiled at me, clapped me on the back, then told the detective we needed a few moments alone. The guy didn’t like that. Dad didn’t care. He motioned me into a private conference.
“How’re you holding up?” Dad asked when we were a dozen feet away.
I looked out at the schoolyard a moment before answering. “Not so good. I’m trying, but . . .”
Simon jogged over and Dad asked if he’d been hurt.
“The detective thinks I’m on steroids.” I paused. “Maybe I should cop to that. It’d keep them from running blood tests.”
Dad shook his head. “Admitting to steroid use won’t fix this. The only test I’m going to let them run is a urine sample, and only to look for drugs.” He turned to Simon. “How about you run over to Angelo’s? Order us a couple of pizzas. I don’t think there’ll be much time for cooking tonight.”
Simon took the two twenties he offered and jogged off.
Simon put his hands behind his ears, making a face like he couldn’t hear. Dad took out his cell phone and waved it. Simon rolled his eyes and motioned that he’d get salad. Then Dad turned back to me.
We didn’t get anything straightened out. The hospital called the detective to confirm that the kid was in a coma and they were checking him for spinal damage. Dad assured me it wasn’t as bad as it sounded—the detective was exaggerating in hopes of guilting me into a confession. But I knew even if he wasn’t, Dad would say that to make me feel better.
I wasn’t charged with anything. They just sent me home and told me not to go anywhere. I suspected we’d be hitting the road before morning, maybe even needing new identities, and while I couldn’t care less, Simon would and that only made things worse.
We ate the pizza. I don’t think anyone tasted it. Even Simon only had one slice and didn’t complain about the salad. The greens were for him—to balance out the carb-heavy pizza for his diabetes.
As we ate, Dad told us stories about his day in court. He was working as a public defender in Albany. Not exactly the best paying job in law, but there was always an opening. When we’d first gone on the run, his contacts hooked him up with the ironclad ID of a New York lawyer—a sorcerer who’d been “disappeared” by the Cabals. Still, you never wanted anyone digging too deep, just in case, so Dad took the jobs most other lawyers didn’t want. Being a public defender meant he always came home with stories, and I usually liked listening, but that night I barely heard them.
I kept thinking about what I’d done. How I could have handled it better. How I could have handled the police interview better.
When the phone rang, and it was for Simon, Dad shooed him into our bedroom to take it, then asked me how I was doing.
I picked a burnt piece of onion off my half-eaten pizza slice.
“I tried with that cop.” I looked up. “I answered his questions. I cooperated. I was respectful. Maybe I got a bit snarky about the steroid stuff, but it didn’t matter by then—he’d made up his mind and even when I was trying to behave, it pissed him off.”
“You know that’s not your fault. You’re big for your age and that intimidates—”
“I’m not thatbig. Lots of guys are my size. It doesn’t matter. It feels like . . .”
Like they can sense what I am, I wanted to say. Like deep down they know I’m a werewolf, even if they don’t realize it.
I didn’t say that because it would only upset him, another problem he couldn’t solve for me. I hated being so much trouble. I never used to be. When we were kids, Simon was always the one mouthing off and pushing the boundaries. I was the one who did as he was told and never gave Dad any trouble.
Then I turned thirteen and everything changed. I’d always kept to myself, not trying to make friends, but not pissing people off either. Suddenly I became “Simon’s jerk brother.”
I could say that it’s not my fault, but a lot of times it is. People annoy me easier. I’d go through days of feeling like shit, cranky and irritable, snapping at everyone who talked to me. The good son turned into the difficult one. It felt as if it wasn’t just my clothing that didn’t fit anymore. The world didn’t fit me and I didn’t fit it.
I felt like I did before I came to live with Dad and Simon. Like I didn’t belong, like I was one step away from totally screwing up. I couldn’t tell Dad that. He thought I didn’t remember much about that time, and I let him think that because he wanted me to forget it.
Even Simon seemed to forget. He’d talk about when Dad brought me home and I’d remind him he used to come play with me before that, and he’d shrug and say he didn’t remember it. I guess that could be because he was almost a year younger than me. But I got the feeling there was more to it, that Dad worked to make us forget, not just because I’d been miserable there, but—
Dad smiled. “Lost you for a second there, bud. You were saying?”
“Something about being bigger than most kids, how it makes you feel.”
I shook my head, swallowed my mouthful, then rose to clear the table. Dad said he’d get it, but I did it anyway.
After dinner, Simon and I played football on the Xbox while Dad worked at the kitchen table. It was almost nine when the phone rang.
“Simon!” Dad called without looking up from his work.
Dad sighed and answered. A pause. Then he said, “Yes, that’s me.”
“Who gave you this number?” Dad’s tone had us both looking over, the game forgotten.
“My son is fifteen years old. As a criminal lawyer, I know his rights and your obligations as a reporter. Now, naturally we feel for the family of the boy who was injured when my son saved his brother from a racial attack. We hope for his full recovery. Both my sons are understandably upset about the incident. Perhaps in a day or two they’ll feel ready to speak to you about it.”
Dad snorted. “If you can call her that. Just someone from the local rag.”
“It’s not exactly the New York Times.” Dad laughed, but there was a tightness to it. “Hardly anyone herereads it. I’m not worried about someone in Buffalo picking up a copy.”
“It wouldn’t be a problem anyway, right?” Simon said. “You’re the one who needs to be careful, not Derek.”
I kept watching Dad. He avoided my gaze. It did matter. It always had. Dad made all three of us fly under the radar. Why?
“Did she say anything about the guy?” I asked.
“The guy I threw. His condition. Did she know anything?”
“No.” Dad shuffled his papers. “He’s probably home right now playing hisXbox.”
I could tell by his voice that he didn’t believe that any more than I did. I got up from the floor.
“Hey,” Simon called. “We’re in the middle of a game. Where’re you going?”
“Oh sure, when I was seconds away from kicking your ass.”
I tried to shoot back a retort, but couldn’t find one, and just mumbled, “Sorry” before continuing on to the bathroom.
In the shower, I could finally be alone with my thoughts, no one trying to cheer me up, no one lying and telling me everything was okay. It wasn’t okay. I was in serious trouble, and I wasn’t going to feel better until I came up with a solution.
I couldn’t solve this mess until I knew all the facts. How bad was the kid hurt? Was I going to be charged? I couldn’t find out that for a while. But there was one thing I could do now. Think of a way to make sure I never screwed up like that again, never let the wolf take over again.