Sixth period history class and I'm bored shitless, staring out the window at sun on green leaves, wishing I was out there. I slump in my seat, doodling in the margins of my notebook, hoping to Christ the teacher doesn't call on me because I haven't paid attention to anything she's said for the last fifty minutes.
The bell finally rings and I slam the book shut on King Henry and Thomas a' Becket. Sister Mary Roberta's voice drifts after me into the hall, reminding us of the test on Monday. Who gives a test on a fucking Monday? Christ.
I make a quick stop at the little boys' room and hit the stairs, taking them two at a time. Damn, I can't wait for summer vacation. Six weeks away, man. A fucking eternity. But I'm stoked as hell thinking about our summer place and waterskiing and bonfires on the beach, and I don't even see Ricky Dunavant until we slam into each other. He drops his Chemistry book and snarls a curse, his beady eyes narrowing in his pimply face.
"Hey! Why dontcha watch where the fuck you're-"
He breaks off in midsentence and his eyes widen. I stand there motionless, an innocent smile on my face. Waiting.
"Alex! Uh...I didn't know it was you."
I cock my head ever so slightly, my eyes never leaving his.
He reaches down and grabs his book, mumbling under his breath. I laugh as he walks away fast.
I'm still grinning as I toss my books in my locker and shut the door on the school week, ready to get out into the sun and leave the smell of chalk dust and floor wax behind.
I almost make it to the door.
I stop in my tracks and turn around.
"Oh, hi, Father Morrissey," I say casually. "What's up?"
He scowls at me and points to a spot on the floor about two feet in front of him, well within glowering range.
Reluctantly, I walk over to him and stand there, hands clasped behind my back, the very picture of a contrite schoolboy. Well, almost. His rheumy blue eyes are locked onto my black leather jacket like a cobra eyeing a mouse.
"Krycek!" he barks again, eyeing the offending garment with distaste. "Are you anticipating arctic conditions? Snow? Ice? Perhaps a stiff nor'easter blowing through the math and science wing?"
I shuffle my feet a little and bite my lip to keep from smiling. Father Morrissey on a tear has to be seen to be believed. Unfortunately, I seem to have more chances to see it than most.
"No, Father," I murmur, staring at the floor. I risk a quick look up through my eyelashes and the look on his face indicates that he is not fooled by my display of contrition.
"Are you cold, Mr. Krycek? Do you find this early Spring weather to be too much for you? Should we adjust the thermostat?"
I'm starting to squirm.
"Do you find your school blazer to be insufficiently warm and comfortable?"
He puts his gnarled hands on his hips and just stares at me. His lips twitch like they always do when he's tired of toying with me and he's ready to zoom in for the kill.
"Where is your school blazer, Alex?"
I sigh internally. The door is *right there*. I can feel the sun on my back through the window. I fidget a bit. I steal another look at his thunderous expression and settle. I know I'm not leaving until he's done with me.
"In my locker, Father."
He's silent for a minute, just holding me skewered there with his glare.
"You are aware of the dress code here at St. Francis Xavier, Alex?"
"In fact, I have discussed the dress code with you before. Haven't I, Alex?"
"How many times?"
I stare at my shoes and mumble.
"Speak up!" He snaps, his old man's voice cracking. I straighten my spine. He's right, we've been through this before. I know my part in this little play and the lines never change.
"Several times, Father."
He nods, folding his arms smugly. I raise my eyes to him pleadingly. Come on, man, please. Have mercy on this poor sinner. I'll wear a fucking tutu if it'll get me the hell out of here.
"And yet you persist in roaming these halls dressed like a hoodlum. Tell me,Alex, do you know how many boys apply for admission to this academy every year?"
No, but that chill running up my spine says you're going to tell me.
"Six hundred and fifty, Alex," he says before I can open my mouth. "And do you know how many are afforded the privilege of attending this fine institution of higher learning?"
"Three hundred!" he crows, one bony finger extended upward into the air. "If you find our rules and regulations too stifling, Mr. Krycek, might I remind you of the many young men who would love to be here in your place!"
I'm not sure how to respond to this so I jam my hands into my pockets and aim for a look somewhere between befuddlement and abject sorrow.
"Get those hands out of your pockets!"
Yes, Father. I promise to go home and flagellate myself into unconsciousness, Father. Please allow me to don the Scratchy Polyester Blazer of Shame and atone for my wicked ways, Father.
A giggle slips out and I quickly cover it with a cough, earning myself another glare from beneath Father Morrissey's bushy eyebrows.
"This is the last time I'm going to warn you, young man."
I practically scream with relief. Sweet freedom, here I come!
"Yes, Father," I say sincerely. "I'm very sorry, Father."
He waves me away impatiently.
I turn to go.
My shoulders slump and I turn around.
"The next time I see you, young man, you had better be properly attired."
"That includes the tie, Alex."
I burst through the doors and down the steps before he decides to start in on me about anything else. The way I breathe, maybe.
I head for the corner, ignoring the group of girls already gathered there. They're from St. Catherine's, just down the street. They whisper and giggle as I walk by. Damn, it's spooky, the way they hang out in packs like that. There's never just one of them, it's always five or six, their eyes always following you and them talking too low for you to hear. What the *fuck* are they always whispering about, anyway? Susan Shillady gives me a look as I turn the corner. Jesus, could she wear more lip gloss? She looks like she just ate a can of Crisco. I imagine kissing that and shudder.
I walk across the street to the little park there, a lush green triangle at the corner of St. James and Church. Chas and me used to sneak over there at lunch sometimes. There's benches and a fountain and even an old cannon from some war or another. We'd pick up sandwiches from the little shop down the block and sit under the trees, shoot the shit. It was cool to be out of the pen for half an hour, you know? But then they caught on to us and started making sure we went down to the cafeteria with everybody else. Now we just hang out there after school.
I unbutton my shirt collar and cruise on into the park, breathing deep, liking the smell of the flowers and the earth, the dark coolness all around. The trees seem to lean over me, sheltering me as I reach my favorite place. It's right at the edge of the park, on the Church Street side. Chas is already there, his striped tie in a ball beside him, his blond hair flopping into his eyes as he leans over something on his lap. I plop down beside him, leaning my back against the base of the cannon.
Chas looks up and grins.
I punch him on the shoulder.
He laughs and leans forward over his lap so I can't see what he's doing. I ignore him, knowing he's dying for me to ask him what he's up to, and watch the cars go by for a minute. I watch a lady push a stroller across the street. Chas pokes me in the arm and I turn to look at him. My mouth drops open.
"Holy shit, man!"
He's holding up a fat joint and grinning like a maniac. He passes it to me and I run it under my nose like I saw some guy do on the late late show the other night. I wink at him and hold out my hand for his lighter. I light the joint and inhale deeply, appreciatively. I hold the smoke in as long as I can and then let it out in one long forbidden plume.
"Chas, Chas, Chas. Very sweet, my friend."
He laughs and nods, deftly rolling another joint before making his rolling papers and baggie disappear into his pocket. I hand him back his lighter. He lights up and we smoke in silence, savoring the almost immediate buzz. I lean back and tuck my arm behind my head. Chas does the same, crossing his long legs at the ankle and blowing a few smoke rings in the direction of the green canopy overhead.
I turn my head, which seems to take a lot longer than normal. Man, this stuff is strong.
"Where the hell did you get this stuff, man?"
"Sean Mulvaney," Chas says around his joint. "He owed me thirty bucks, so he kifed a little weed off his brother for me. Danny deals so much shit, he'll never miss it."
I nod, my eyes watering a little. It's only the second time I've smoked and I fight the urge to cough, trying to emulate Chas' worldly style. He stretches out in the grass beside me and leans up on one elbow.
"What took ya so long? I was thinking you had to stay after or something."
"Father Morrissey caught me in the hallway, chewed my ass about my fucking jacket," I answer in a strangled voice, trying not to let the smoke out as I talk.
Chas nods knowingly, opening his mouth to say something else. Suddenly, he freezes and his face turns white.
"Hey, man, what the fuck is wrong with y-" I follow his gaze and my stomach does a slow roll.
Oh fuck. FUCK.
I've been so busy savoring my now rapidly depleting high I didn't even notice the midnight blue Caddy pulling up to the curb a few feet away.
"Jesus!" I hiss, quickly stubbing the joint out on the ground. I shove it in my pocket and wave my hands around, trying to clear the air of the sickly sweet smell of pot. "Chas-" I turn to him but he's gone. I catch a glimpse of his blond hair through the green leaves, his regulation brown loafers pounding on the narrow footpath. I stand up quickly, my heart pounding.
The Caddy's door creaks open and the whole car rocks from side to side as Big Jimmy hauls himself out, all three hundred sixty-five pounds of him, his suit wrinkled and creased. He has them custom-made by a Chinese guy down on 39th Street. He pants with the effort of getting out of the car and stares at me. I stand there, barely ten feet away, totally exposed by a break in the trees, like a rabbit in headlights.
"Alex!" he shouts, breathing heavy.
I pause, looking back over my shoulder at the inviting footpath. I could run. I could hide somewhere. I could...
I wouldn't get two blocks before somebody picked me up. I know it and Jimmy knows it.
"Alex," he says again, mopping his face with his handkerchief, his face shining with sweat despite the coolness of the afternoon. "Come on. Don't make me chase ya. It must be a hundred fucking degrees out here."
Under other circumstances, the idea of Jimmy chasing me would be hilarious. At the moment, however, my sense of humor seems to have vanished along withmy high. I roll my eyes and shove my hands in my pockets. Slowly, I stepover the low brick wall separating the park from the street and walk over tohim. I keep my undoubtedly bloodshot eyes averted and try not to breathe on him, hoping he doesn't smell the pot. Please let him think we were just sneaking a cigarette. Please Jesus, I'll be a good boy, I promise.
Jimmy stares at me, his deep-set eyes missing nothing. His nostrils flare and he leans forward slightly, giving me a good long sniff. I am frozen in place, sure he can hear my heart pounding.
Shit! What is he doing here? He's usually down at Sullivan's this time of day, with a corned beef in one hand and a racing form in the other.
"Jimmy!" I manage to squeak, trying to act casual and failing miserably. My smile feels off-kilter and I feel desperate sweat beading on my upper lip. "What's going on? What are you doing here this time of..." I trail off. He stands there, an impassive wall, just watching me.
Finally, he sighs, his expression genuinely pained. He holds out his hand.
"Hand it over, Alex."
I widen my eyes.
"Hand what over? We were just-"
Jimmy shakes his head, disappointed.
"Alex," he says sadly. "How long I been knowing you? Since you was, what, four? Five? You gonna look me in the eye and lie to me? You gonna tell me you wasn't doing what I just seen you doing?"
I flush hotly and stare at the sidewalk.
"Jeez, Jimmy," I mumble. "I..."
Wordlessly, I reach into my pocket and hand him the half-squashed joint. I swallow hard as he squints at it and drops it into his own pocket. His meaty paw drops on to my shoulder and he steers me toward the car. "Come on, Alex. You know where we gotta go."
He looks truly sorrowful as he propels me toward the passenger side of the Caddy.
"Come on, Jimmy, please."
"Get in the car, Alex."
I grab his arm and look up at him. The tears in my eyes are real.
"*Please* don't, Jimmy. I didn't mean to, honest. I swear to God I'll never do it again."
Jimmy rolls his eyes to heaven and mops his face again.
"Please don't tell him, Jimmy. He doesn't have to know. I promise, it was just this once and I didn't even like it and I won't do it anymore, I swear it. Just give me a break, just this once."
My voice is trembling. I cling to his arm, importuning him to just let this slide, just this one time. Please God, I pray silently. Just give me a pass this time and I swear, I won't smoke ever again. I'll even wear the blazer. Every single day, forever. Please.
Jimmy opens the door and waits for me to slide in. I stand rooted to the spot, seriously sniffling now, like a fucking little kid.
"Come on, Jimmy, you remember what it was like when you were my age, right? You musta done stuff, stuff you didn't want anybody to know about. Everybody does. Please, man, I swear I won't ever ask you for anything again."
Jimmy leans against the car wearily. I feel sorry for him, even in the midst of my own self-pity. He always looks like his back hurts, like his knees hurt. It's got to be hard on him, hauling all that weight around.
"This ain't about me, Alex. You know that. You ain't me and you ain't just anybody."
I hang my head. I know I'm putting him in a shitty position but I can't help it. I feel guilty for the lies I've just told him. Okay, I think, ashamed. It wasn't only this once and I really did like it but God, just get me out of this and I really won't ever do it again. I look up at Jimmy again, hating the whiny, begging tone of my own voice but unable to help it.
"Please Jimmy. Can't you just let me off with a warning, just this once? I swear I've learned my lesson. Please."
Jimmy shakes his head helplessly and runs a hand through his slicked-back hair.
"Jesus, Alex. If you was anybody else's kid brother..."
He doesn't need to say any more. Dejected, I slip past him into the big front seat of the Caddy. I close my eyes, feeling the car dip and rise as Jimmy gets in. He starts it up and points it toward the waterfront. A tear slides down my cheek and I turn my face toward the window so he won't see. Fuck. I rest my head against the back of the seat and hope a sanitation truck slams into us at the next intersection.
No such luck.
Jimmy eases the big Caddy into his space in the underground parking garage. It's a nice building, one of the big glass office towers on Boylston. He gets out slowly and waits for me. I get out reluctantly. He walks over to the elevator and punches the button. The doors open and he beckons to me. I drag my feet, looking at him pleadingly.
"Come on, Alex. Let's go."
I follow him into the elevator and stand in the rear corner, my arms wrapped around myself. With every beep that signals each passing floor, my heart beats faster. I stifle a whimper.
"Jimmy," I whisper, my voice trembling. "Jimmy, please don't. He's gonna kill me."
He turns to look at me as the doors slide open soundlessly.
"It ain't personal, kid. You know how it is."
I sniffle and follow him out into the entryway. The office takes up the whole top floor. I'm not supposed to know about everything that goes on here, but I've been coming here since I was a little kid. I know the place like the back of my hand. I've always loved it here, loved trying to hear what the guys are really talking about, always wishing I could be behind closed doors where the real business gets discussed. When they see me coming, the guys have a habit of suddenly and loudly talking about the Red Sox, and what the hell was that ump thinking, was he blind or what? But I know what all the guys do, what Mikey and Tommy and Jimmy and Pat do all day, and it isn't consulting or security design or any of the other names they come up with. That's just what they say in front of me because my brother wants it that way. But you'd be surprised just how much a kid can overhear when he wants to.
Jimmy leads the way through the office. Tommy hangs up the phone, his tone changing from low and menacing to jovial in an instant.
"Heyyy, Alex! How ya doin'?"
He comes around his desk to clap me on the back.
"Hey, Tommy," I reply nervously. "What's up?"
"Oh, the usual, the usual," he says with a smile. "Workin' hard."
"Hey, buddy," Mikey chimes in, coming out of the bathroom with the newspaper in his hand. He takes a drag off his cigarette and ruffles my hair. I didn't like it when I was eight and I like it even less now. I smile politely and duck my head. "How ya doin'? How are them grades, huh?"
"Okay," I mumble, stuffing my hands in my pockets and staring down at the carpet.
"Okay?" he laughs, his breath reeking of cigarette smoke and onions. "Better be better than okay, Alex," he says, tossing his head back and laughing uproariously. "Or I wouldn't wanna be in your shoes when your brother finds out!"
I nod wordlessly. At this point, even I don't want to be in my shoes. Jimmy goes over to the door on the other side of the room, the one that leads into the office that runs the whole length of the building. He knocks once and then opens it, sticks his head in. He looks back over at me and waves me over. My stomach does a sickening flip-flop.
This is it. Nice knowing you guys. Light a candle for me down at St. Paul's.
I reach the door and almost bump into the Chief of Police as he comes out, his face white and pinched. He looks like a man who has just had his ass handed to him, but when he sees me, he quickly pastes an expression of casual bonhomie on his face.
"Alex!" he says, all jolly and paternal. "How have you been?"
"Fine, sir," I say, shaking his hand. I bet he thinks he's pretty slick, but I catch the quick glimmer of revulsion in his eyes when he offers it to me.
"You're at St. Francis Xavier, aren't you?" he asks, determined to continue this line of inane chatter until my heart literally explodes in my chest. I can't see past him into the office but I know once that door closes behind me, my ass is toast. Being inches from doom and yet being forced to engage in this brainless small talk is making me twitchy as hell. I swallow hard and try to keep my voice level.
"Yes, sir. Your son David is in my French class." I have said this to him every single time I've seen him for the last four years.
The Chief pauses for a moment, trying not to look like he wants to vomit.
"Yes, well, I've got a meeting to get to. Good to see you again, Alex."
"Thank you, sir." I say politely.
Jimmy's face is grim as he ushers me into the sanctum sanctorum. Say what you want about infrastructures and politics. This is the real nerve center of the city, at least from Copley Square south. The Mayor, the Chief of Police, anybody who wants to do business or hold office in the city of Boston eventually finds himself here in this room, with its thick chocolate brown carpet and the floor-to-ceiling windows with the dazzling view of the harbor. Sure, there are other guys in Boston with a piece of the pie, but when it comes to Southie, my brother is the light and the way. Nothing happens in this part of town without his say-so and when they want it, they have to come to him. He doesn't go to them.
He thinks it's funny, the way the movies always show the bad guys holed up in the back of some restaurant or nightclub, or in some dingy room over a betting parlor. He loves having an office in the business district just like any straight CEO. He flaunts it in their faces, the swank Boylston Street address, Paula the admin assistant, who's so dumb she probably really does think she works for a consulting firm, the private car service. Large donations to all the right charities and a party for the Southie kids every Christmas. Everything very aboveboard. He loves making the boys wear suits and act respectable whenever some petty official drops by to beg a favor. Seeing Tommy dolled up in a Brooks Brothers, fidgeting and tugging at his collar like a little kid in church is worth the price of admission, I can tell you.
Nothing scares my brother. He knows what the press says about him, knows his reputation. He's the one who busted his ass to build it, after all. He's the master of the sound byte, the glib remark on the courthouse steps. He's way too slick for anyone to hang anything on him, and you should see him charm those lady reporters. One wink from him and they're like those giggly St. Cathy girls, blushing and stammering into their microphones. He flashes that boyish grin, looks right into their eyes the way he does, like he's really *listening* to them, hanging on their every word. Bet they have to go home and change their panties after that. He's got style, that's for sure.
Adrian Krycek, the King of South Boston.
He's standing behind his desk when I walk in, in shirtsleeves and suspenders, his Armani jacket hanging on the back of the leather chair. My tall, handsome big brother, with our no-good drunken father's Russian name, wherever the bastard is, and our mother's green eyes and Black Irish temper. I like to think we look alike and we do, same black hair, same green eyes. I eye his broad shoulders enviously, conscious of my slight build. But in old pictures of him at my age, he's built the same as me. Gives me hope that one day I can look like he does, command the respect he does. Everything he says, everything he does radiates power. He doesn't even have to talk half the time. Just cocks his head and watches with those serious green eyes, waits for them to give him what he wants. And they always do. The smart ones, anyway.
Adrian's face lights up when he sees me. He grins and comes around the desk, pulls me into a bear hug.
"Little brother," he says, his husky voice so familiar and so comforting, even though I'm sure he can feel my heart thumping against my ribs as he hugs me. He squeezes me tight and kisses the top of my head. When I was younger, I used to get kind of embarrassed when he'd do that in front of the boys, but Adrian doesn't care about that stuff. He's a tough guy with a tough reputation but he's never been shy about kissing me, hugging me, telling me he loves me, no matter who's around. Believe me, anybody who interprets that affection as a sign of weakness finds out pretty quick that the joke is on them. "The weekend, yeah? Glad to be out of school?"
I nod, burrowing into his embrace. I breathe in the scent of his expensive cologne, the one he buys in London. I sneaked a little of it once, but Father Morrissey got downwind of me and I ended up in the restroom washing it off under his reproachful eye. Adrian puts his hands on my shoulders and looks down at me, his eyes sparkling the way they do when he's really happy.
"How did you do on that math test, hm?"
I flush and look down, fidgeting with the zipper of my jacket. He bought this jacket for me in Dublin. I need a new one but I won't let him get rid of this one. I love it too much.
"Okay," I shrug. "I got a ninety-four."
He nods seriously, sitting on the edge of his desk and folding his arms. "Very good. I'm proud of you, Alex."
I grin despite myself, wanting to prolong the good feeling in the room as long as possible. I am very aware of Jimmy standing uncomfortably behind me like the Angel of Death. I feel a sudden surge of hatred for him. Fucking shithead. Why in hell did he have to choose that moment to cruise down Church Street? I immediately feel guilty. I know it's not Jimmy's fault. But knowing whose fault it really was doesn't keep me from feeling sorry for myself, no way.
"Thanks, Adrian. It was really hard."
He raises an eyebrow.
"A ninety-four is good, Alex, but you could have done better, couldn't you?"
I hesitate. Actually, I did spend more time listening to the new Depeche Mode album than I did studying for the test.
"Yes," I reluctantly admit.
Adrian smiles again. He looks like a kid himself when he smiles like that.
"And next time you will."
He pulls me close again, ruffles my hair. I like it when he does it. I laugh despite the fact that I know in about five minutes nobody in the room is going to be smiling, least of all me.
Jimmy clears his throat nervously. Adrian looks over at him.
"You picked Alex up from school, Jimmy?"
Jimmy shifts from foot to foot. He's sweating again, pouring rivers. My mouth suddenly feels glued shut. Here it comes, oh shit...I want to scream, run out of the room, hide under the desk like I did when I was a kid. But I just stand there by Adrian's side, too scared to breathe.
"Not exactly, Boss," Jimmy says in his thick voice. "I sorta...sorta ran into him."
Adrian walks back around behind his desk, sorts through some papers on it.
"Yeah? Where was that?" he says, glancing at an envelope and dropping it into the wastebasket.
"The park," I hear myself say faintly. "Across from school."
"Hmm," Adrian says absently, tossing the papers aside. Suddenly, he looks up. Takes a good long look at Jimmy's face, then mine.
"All right," he says, sitting down in his chair. "Why do I get the feeling the two of you didn't just drop by for a social call?"
Jimmy steps forward, his usually florid face paling considerably.
"Well, uh, you see, Boss...Alex..."
Adrian's eyes narrow. I can't look at him. I look down and squeeze my eyes shut.
"What about Alex?" Adrian says sharply. "Come on, out with it, Jimmy. Did something happen to him at school? Somebody bothering him?"
Jimmy stands beside me in front of Adrian's desk. I feel like shit for putting him in this position. For putting me in this position.
"No, no, nothin' like that, Boss," Jimmy says. "He was in the park, you know, the little park across from St. Francis, when I come up on him. He was..." Jimmy trailed off. I sense him looking at me and I open my eyes. He's looking down at me sympathetically.
Adrian is out of patience. I can tell by the way his breathing changes. His posture changes. He's coiled in his chair like a panther ready to spring.
"He was what?" Adrian snaps impatiently.
"Smokin'...ah...he was smokin' dope, Boss." Jimmy reaches into his pocket, pulls out the crumpled joint and slowly places it on Adrian's desk.
My throat closes up. Adrian's face undergoes a truly terrifying transformation. For a second - just a second - his mouth drops open. I'm not used to seeing my brother look surprised. It scares me. Almost as much as it scares me when his eyes go from green to black. Oh sweet Jesus, I am dead dead dead.
He picks up the joint, studies it for a moment, turns it over in his fingers. He sniffs it once and then drops it on the desk like a dead thing. He looks up at Jimmy questioningly, his eyebrows knitted together. Jimmy purses his lips and nods reluctantly.
"I'm sorry to have to tell ya, Boss. It's true. There was another kid there with him but he run off when I pulled up."
Adrian nods, almost absently. He stands up. I watch him, my eyes huge. He's too fucking quiet. He looks at me, his black-green eyes boring into me. I'm pinned by his gaze and couldn't move if I tried.
"You did this, Alex? It's true what Jimmy said?"
I close my eyes and nod, my lower lip already starting to tremble.
Adrian's hand slamming down on the desk sounds like a pistol shot. I jump a mile and my eyes snap open like windowshades.
"I heard it from him," Adrian says, his voice low and dark. "Now I want to hear it from you. Tell me, Alex. Tell me what you did."
I feel the hot tears flooding my eyes and fight to keep them back. My nose is running and I snuffle miserably. I don't want to cry in front of Jimmy.
"I..." I whisper. I can't tear my eyes away from Adrian's face. His eyes are furious and puzzled and wounded all at once. I swallow. It's hard to get the words out past the lump in my throat. "It's...it's mine, Adrian. I did it. What Jimmy said I did."
"Alex." He breathes my name more than he says it. I tremble.
"I was smoking pot, Adrian," I say, my voice barely audible. "I'm sorry."
Adrian stabs a button on the phone. "Paula, no calls."
He walks around the desk again. He stops right in front of me, his back to Jimmy.
"Thank you, Jimmy," he says tightly. "Close the door on your way out."
"Yessir," Jimmy says. His relief is palpable and he wastes no time getting out of here. I stare longingly after him, wishing I was going too. Adrian's hand cupping my jaw turns my attention back where it belongs. He stares into my eyes for a minute, saying nothing, just giving me that sad, searching look. Then he turns away, starts to pace.
Back and forth. Back and forth. After a moment, he speaks.
"Drugs, Alex," he says, his voice shaking. I instinctively back away even though there's nowhere to go. Adrian is emotional. Adrian doesn't get emotional. The tears in his eyes and the tremor in his voice mean he's close to losing control and Adrian out of control is a very, very bad thing.
"It was just a little weed, Adrian, it's no big deal," I whimper.
It's the wrong thing to say.
He whirls and stares at me for a moment, then walks toward me. I back Away even more until I'm pressed against the wall.
"What. Did. You. Say." Adrian growls.
His face is white and pinched. I don't think I've ever seen him this upset before. Still, being me, I have to push my luck.
"It was just one joint," I mumble sullenly, staring at the carpet. "It's not the end of the world."
Adrian's face is suddenly very close to mine. His eyes are ablaze. I stare into their depths, shaking. Alex, you idiot. Did you really just say that?
"You want to reconsider that attitude, little boy. Right now."
I flush and look away, irrationally pissed at the one person in this room who is not to blame for this situation.
"I'm not a little boy," I snarl, sounding exactly like one. "I'm seventeen."
Adrian exhales in exasperation, runs his hand through his wavy black hair.
"I know that, Alex," he replies tightly. "That's why I thought you could be trusted to go to and from school on your own and not get into trouble. Looks like maybe I thought wrong."
I fold my arms and risk a brief glare in his direction, knowing I'm digging myself in deeper but unable to stop.
"If Jimmy hadn't-"
"That's enough!" Adrian barks. "I'm not going to warn you again. Understand?" He puts a hand on my shoulder, ducks his head to make eye contact. He waits for me to raise my eyes to his. I nod, the hurt glimmering in his eyes making me swallow hard. I am such a tool sometimes.
"Yes," I murmur. Adrian turns and begins to stalk the length of the office again.
"I just don't understand this, Alex. Is this why I send you to the best school in the city of Boston? So you can sit in the park and get high like some-" He stops himself and closes his eyes, his lips pressed together tightly. I see how hard he is working to control himself. The lump in my throat gets bigger. Adrian's dark eyes are locked on mine again. "What have I told you about drugs?" he asks, his voice rising. "Since you were old enough to know what drugs were, what have I told you?"
I want to look away. I'm sad at having made him look like that, so worried and upset. I'm also piss-in-my-pants scared at the enormity of what I've done. Adrian's rules for me are clear-cut and not open for discussion. And Don't Even *Think* About Touching Drugs is pretty much the granddaddy of Them all.
"N-never to," I whisper. "You said I better not ever." I hang my head. "I know. I fu...I messed up. I'm sorry."
Adrian shakes his head.
"Alex...you've got to understand how serious this is. How seriously I take this. You're a good kid-" I open my mouth to protest but he silences me with a look. "You're my kid brother. Do you think this is what I want for you? What Ma wanted for you?"
My eyes sting. I want to accuse him of fighting dirty, bringing up Ma, but I know he's right. I picture the clear green eyes I remember, imagine them turning dark and cloudy with sorrow. I feel ashamed for being glad that she's not here to see what a bad thing I did.
I was four when she died. I remember the smell of her hair and the sound of her voice, the way I could feel it all through me when she held me and sang to me. I remember Adrian's face at her funeral, when I asked him if I would have to go to the orphanage now like in the David Copperfield book Ma had read to me. I remember how his eyes spilled over and how I patted his cheek and told him not to cry, that maybe if we prayed to God and told him how bad we missed Ma, he'd let her come home. I remember Adrian picking me up in his arms and carrying me out to the waiting car, how he whispered to me, told me he was always going to take care of me.
He always has.
"No," I whisper, dangerously close to blubbering. My face burns with shame. "I'm sorry, I really am. I know I shouldn't have and I won't ever do it again. I swear, Adrian."
He watches me for a moment, his eyes solemn. He stands close to me again, very close.
"I'm going to ask you something now, Alex," he says quietly, "and I want the truth. Who was with you in the park? Who gave it to you?"
I stare at him, horrified. Oh shit oh shit oh shit. I've been so worried about my own sorry ass, I didn't even stop to think about poor Chas and what Adrian is likely to do to him for giving me the shit.
His tone could cut sheet metal. I can practically hear his teeth grinding. I have about five seconds to tell him what he wants to know or else.
"Please," I beg, choking back tears. I feel a couple slide down my cheeks and I hate myself for my weakness. I don't like crying in front of anybody, but I especially hate crying in front of Adrian. "I'm really sorry-"
He leans even closer. I can feel little puffs of breath on my face as he speaks.
"Who, Alex?" he demands. "I want a name." His furious gaze holds me frozen. My stomach is doing a pretty good job of trying to climb up my throat.
"Adrian, I don't-"
"ALEX!" he barks. His anger is like a controlled explosion. I cringe. I'm between a rock and the proverbial hard place. I can either give Chas up and plead for leniency or I can...just lie. Just say it was some kid I never met before and when he saw Jimmy pull up, he took off. I look down again and bite my lip. My cheeks flame at the very thought of it. I get into my share of trouble and then some. Father Morrissey says I'm responsible for every grey hair on his head. He's probably right, too. But lie to Adrian? It's unthinkable.
Adrian is standing there watching me. Waiting. He leans down, his mouth barely moving as he speaks.
"Alexander," he says in that low, calm voice that tells me I am digging myself a deep, deep hole. "You are in more than enough trouble as it is. Are you going to make me ask you again? Because believe me, little boy, you don't want that to happen."
"Chas," I whisper finally, my voice shaking. I have to force the words out. "My friend Chas. But Adrian-"
"Son of a bitch!" Adrian snaps, stalking over to his desk and leaning on it with both hands. I can hear him fighting to control his breathing. After a minute he goes to the door and opens it. "Jimmy, get in here!" I stand against the wall, hugging myself, no longer able to hold back the tears.
"No!" I wail, rushing over to him. I grab his shirt with both hands and feel myself losing the little bit of control I have left. Adrian holds up a hand to Jimmy, who has just reached the door. Jimmy averts his eyes and pulls the door closed again, leaving us alone. I cling to Adrian and babble frantically. "Please, Adrian, don't do anything, please don't! He's my best friend! Please, it was my fault, I didn't have to do it but I did and I knew it was wrong and I knew I'd get in trouble. Please Adrian don't..."
I dissolve into incomprehensible sobs and bury my face in his chest. He stands stock still for a moment and then I feel his arms wrap around me. He holds me close and rocks me a little, one hand in my hair.
"Hey hey hey," he says softly, his voice gentle now. "Alex, hey, it's all right. Shhhh."
I have a death grip on his crisp white shirt, and the tearstains add to the toll this crisis is wreaking on my brother's wardrobe. He's silent and I just stand there in his arms, my sobs gradually giving way to hiccups. I raise my streaming eyes and search his face pleadingly.
"Please, Adrian," I beg, not even caring anymore about embarrassing myself. "Please don't do anything. Please don't. It was my fault, all my fault." I lower my head and sniffle miserably. I feel his strong fingers under my chin, tilting my face up. Adrian is smiling, his eyes soft and concerned.
"Hey," he says again gently. "Take it easy, Alex. It's all right."
I gulp air, trying to calm down. My eyes are still full of tears.
"Shhh," he says again, his voice soft and soothing. "Just what do you think I'm going to do, hm?" He moves his head a little, making me look at him.
"I...I don't know..." I whimper.
The truth is, I'm really *not* sure what Adrian might or might not do, especially when it comes to something like this. His reputation is such that even I don't know what's legend and what's truth anymore. I just know that I don't want anything to happen to Chas because of me.
"Do you think I'd hurt him? A kid your age? Is that what you think of me, little brother?"
I snuffle and shake my head helplessly.
He lets go of my chin and pats my cheek.
"Alex," he says with a sad smile. "I promise you, nothing is going to happen to your friend. I just want to talk to him. That's all."
I look at him miserably.
"Do you have to?"
Adrian pulls me in for another hug.
"Yes, Alex," he says into my hair. He gives me a kiss and lets me go. "I'm going to have a very long talk with him, explain to him exactly how I feel about him giving drugs to my little brother."
I nod hesitantly.
"Scout's honor," he says with a grin. "Just a conversation." He pauses, serious again for a moment. "His old man...is he around?"
I shake my head.
"Nope. They're divorced. His Dad lives in Florida."
Adrian nods thoughtfully and puts his hand on my shoulder.
"I just want to talk to him, Alex. I promise, that's all it'll be. But I can also promise you that I am going to put the fear of God into him. And when I am through talking, he is going know, in no uncertain terms, that this had better not happen again. Ever."
I nod, my heart slowly starting to beat again. "Yes, Adrian."
Adrian gives me a brief smile. He walks over to his desk, sits down on the edge and folds his arms, his expression solemn again.
"Now I want to know where *he* got it. Do you know, Alex?"
I hesitate. Adrian's level gaze is impossible to avoid. I look down, stalling for time. Like I said, I can't lie to him. I just can't. Even if I tried, he'd know as soon as the words were out of my mouth. And I am in such deep shit already. I feel bad about Chas. If only I'd had better sense than to think I could get away with *anything* without my brother finding out. You'd think the last seventeen years would have taught me better than that. I blink back tears again. What in hell was I thinking when I lit up that joint? I'm awash in misery, replaying this afternoon over and over again in my head, wishing I'd done things differently.
"Alex?" Adrian prompts. "I asked you a question. If you don't know, say so. But if you do know, I expect you to tell me the truth."
I fidget and shove my hands in my pockets.
"I'm disappointed, Alex. I expected more from you."
I look up, stunned. Adrian has never said anything like that to me before. Ever. I am wounded and my eyes fill up again. I look down, ashamed and miserable. The thought of him being disappointed in me makes me want to fade into the carpet. I scrub my hand across my eyes as the tears spill over again. I try to swallow a sob but it's loud in the quiet room.
Suddenly, he's there, right in front of me, and I never even heard him move. He's holding me again, his hand cupping the back of my head. It feels warm and solid and it makes me feel like even more of a jerk. I've done this bad thing, I've disappointed him, and he's comforting me? I feel like such a fucking burden. He works so hard to take care of me and I give him so much grief. Christ, he spends more time in Father Morrissey's office than I do. Why can't I just be good? Why can't I just do what I'm supposed to? I cling to him and cry quietly and just wish this was over. I've fucked everything up and I just don't know what to do and I'd do *anything* to make it right, just make it all go away. I wish I'd never seen that fucking pot. I wish it was a Friday afternoon just like any other and Adrian and me would go out to dinner and maybe he'd take me to a movie and then we'd go home and I wouldn't have to see that hurt look in his eyes. Wouldn't have to hear him say he's disappointed in me. Wouldn't have to know I deserve for him to be.
"Shhh, little brother," Adrian whispers, his arms wrapped around me. "Not disappointed in you. Never in you."
I gasp and realize with horror that I just said all that *out loud*.
Trembling, I look up at him. He's looking down at me, his eyes full of understanding.
Full of love.
"Adrian," I gulp miserably, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry-"
"Alex, stop," he says gently. He puts his hands on my shoulders, stoops a little to look me in the eye. "I didn't mean it like that. Don't you ever think that, okay?"
I nod, smiling a little through my tears. "Okay."
"I didn't mean it like that, Alex," Adrian says again. "I'm not disappointed in you. I'm disappointed that you won't talk to me. I can understand you not wanting to get anyone in trouble." He pauses as I hang my head and wipe my nose roughly. He squeezes my shoulder reassuringly. I'm grateful for it. It's bad enough Chas is in hot water now. I don't want to drag anyone else down with me. "But," Adrian continues, "I thought you and I could talk about anything. That there was nothing you couldn't tell me. Was I wrong?" he adds sadly. "Don't you trust me, little brother?"
I'm horrified. I didn't mean for him to think that at all! My mouth works soundlessly. Oh, fuck, this is just getting worse and worse.
"I do!" I finally manage, trying not to cry again, my voice sounding funny from the tightness in my throat. "I do trust you, I swear, I...I didn't mean..." I don't have the words for what I want to say. I've been so afraid of what Adrian will do to me for breaking such an important rule, I didn't stop to think about how he feels. I'm so dense sometimes. I knew he would be angry. But I didn't expect him to be hurt, too. All my life, he's been there, like a god, all-knowing and all powerful. The concept of Adrian being vulnerable, able to be hurt, is a new one to me. My stomach is knotting up again. I don't think I've ever felt like such an asshole. He does everything for me, protects me, loves me, and I go and do something like this. And now I've hurt him even more on top of it.
"I do trust you, Adrian," I say again, my voice shaking. "I trust you and I know you love me and you don't want me to do what I did and...I just...it was my fault. Nobody made me do it. That's why...that's why I was...I already got Chas in trouble," I finish lamely, sniffling. "It was my mistake and I should be the one to pay for it."
Adrian nods, his eyes serious. He sits down on the edge of the desk again.
"I understand, Alex," he says quietly. "You did make a mistake and there will be serious consequences."
I swallow hard. I know he's going to...I mean, I know I'm in for it, big time, but *hearing* it said out loud is a different story.
"But," Adrian continues, "you didn't get Chas in trouble. Chas got Chas in trouble, the minute he handed you that joint. I don't like this going on at your school, Alex. I won't have it."
"It wasn't at school," I attempt feebly. "It was across the stre..."
Adrian raises an eyebrow pointedly and I trail off, suddenly very interested in my shoelaces.
"As I was saying," he continues, giving me a look that clearly means Don't Push It, "I send you to St. Francis Xavier so you can go to a good school with good kids. And I am going to make sure it stays that way. Understand?"
I think he's exaggerating the problem slightly but I keep it to myself. My mouth has gotten me into enough trouble this afternoon.
"Chas is not the problem. Whomever supplied it to him, and whomever supplied it to *him*, they're the problem. And I am very good at solving problems," Adrian finishes, his tone dark and ominous. "So, if you know, you tell me. Now. Or I'll ask Chas."
I slump. Poor Chas already has an ass-chewing coming to him. The least I can do is spare him the third degree.
"Sean Mulvaney," I say softly, guiltily. I should have just told him when he asked. He'll find out anyway. My heart still hurts at the sadness I saw on Adrian's face when I hesitated before. "Chas said that's where he got it."
Adrian is instantly alert. He stands quickly and begins to pace again. Redness creeps up from his shirt collar to his neck, staining both cheeks with fury.
"Danny Mulvaney's little brother," he bites out.
I nod, watching him with wide eyes.
Adrian motions for me to stay put as he stalks across the office and throws open the door. He closes it behind him, leaving me alone. Cautiously, I walk over to the window and peep through the blinds into the outer office. Adrian is standing in the middle of the room, his hands clenched into fists at his sides. His eyes are snapping fire. He looks angrier than I've ever seen him. I can't hear what he's saying but I can imagine. Tommy and Mikey and Jimmy surround him, listening intently, already shrugging into their coats. My heart pounds. My brother's hatred for Danny Mulvaney is well known, even to me. Like I said, you'd be surprised what a kid can overhear when he really wants to, even when the adults are being extra careful.
Like Danny's "motorcycle accident" summer before last, the one that put him in the hospital for a month. I've never seen him on a motorcycle but I can tell you that for about a six months after he got out of the hospital, he laid low. But it was just a matter of time before he started coming around again, hanging out on the corner near St. Francis. His little brother Sean was bragging again in the halls at school, offering people rides in the Corvette Danny bought him for his sixteenth birthday.
Adrian does a lot of things. I listen hard around here but even I don't know what all of them are. I do know that he is both loved and feared in South Boston, for equally good reasons. But one thing *everybody* knows about Adrian is that he does not tolerate drugs, not in his town. Anybody dealing anything in Southie is in what you could definitely call a high risk profession, especially if he's dealing to kids. I know all of this. I know it and I still did what I did. What is wrong with me, anyway? I must be a fucking moron.
Jimmy jams his hat on his head and follows Tommy and Mikey into the elevator. My mouth is slightly open, my breath fogging up the window a little as I watch, wide-eyed. Adrian is alone in the outer office now. He stands there for a moment, silent and still, his face red, his eyes focused on nothing. He doesn't see me watching through the blinds. He paces for a minute, his hands still clenched, his movements quick and jerky. Suddenly, he whirls and grabs the nearest thing, a metal trashcan, and hurls it across the room. It hits the opposite wall with a crash I can hear even through the glass and showers the carpet with papers and empty soda cans.
I gasp and back away from the window. After a moment, when he still doesn't come back, curiosity gets the better of me. I peep through the blinds again and he's just standing there, his head lowered, one hand on his hip, the other hanging limply by his side. I can see his chest rising and falling, see the bright spots of color on his cheeks. I release the blinds carefully and sit down in one of the chairs across from Adrian's desk to wait for him.
It takes a long time.
He finally comes back in, closes the door behind him. I clench my hands in my lap and look up at him, worried about what's coming next. He looks calmer now, I'm relieved to see. He musses my hair briefly as he passes and sits down behind his desk.
He's silent for a few moments. When he speaks, his voice is very quiet.
"Is this the first time, Alex?"
I start guiltily. My palms are sweating.
"No," I answer quietly. I close my eyes, unable to bear the expression on his face.
"Look at me," Adrian commands. I open my eyes, withering under his intense scrutiny. "How many times before?"
"Only one time before, honest," I say softly, hoping that somehow this information will weigh in my favor, but knowing that with Adrian, once is as bad as a hundred when it comes to something like this. My heart sinks at the severity of his expression.
"You and Chas?" he asks.
Adrian is quiet for a moment. He folds his arms on the desk and looks at me.
"You're in a lot of trouble, Alex. I hope you realize that."
I gulp and nod, my fingernails making little half-moons in the palms of my hands.
"Yes, Adrian," I whisper nervously.
Adrian rests his head in his hand for a moment and exhales slowly. He looks at me sternly.
"You know how I feel about drugs, Alex. You and I have talked about it often enough. And knowing that, you still did it. Not just once, but twice."
I nod, eyes downcast. "I'm sorry," I say for about the hundredth time this afternoon. "I really am. I swear it won't ever happen again."
He looks at me for what feels like an eternity.
"You're right about that," he says sharply, swiveling his chair and standing up. "I just want to know why, Alex. Why did you do it? I thought I raised you better than that."
My cheeks burn and I slump in the chair. I shrug helplessly. I don't have an explanation. I don't have an excuse. I can't think of a single good reason to buy myself this much trouble.
"I don't know," I mumble. "I know, I messed up."
"Yes, you did," Adrian replies. He comes around the desk and sits on the edge in front of me. "Alex," he says, his voice a little gentler now, "do you think that's the future I want for you? Do you have any idea of the damage drugs can do to your life? What about college? What about getting a good job? What if it had been a beat cop that caught you this afternoon, instead of Jimmy?"
I look up in surprise. After all, didn't I just pass the Chief of Police on my way in here?
"Jeez, Adrian," I say foolishly. "You'd just fix it, right?" I mean, it's absurd. Me, Adrian Krycek's brother, arrested? I feel a little insulted. I know they try and keep me in the dark but I'm not *stupid*.
The look on Adrian's face makes me sit up in the chair and fast. His mouth is a thin line and his eyes are afire. He leans forward, his entire attention intently focused on me.
"What did you just say?" His lips barely move.
A light sheen of perspiration breaks out on my upper lip.
"I..." I stammer, shrinking back in the chair as he leans down even farther.
"I said," Adrian says, his voice like ice, "what did you just say?"
"I...I said," I gulp, pressed against the upholstery so hard it'll probably have my imprint on it when I stand up, "I said...y-you could f-fix it."
"Fix it," he says flatly. "Just what do you mean, fix it?"
Even though I know I am on very dangerous ground, I give in to exasperation. I just wish everyone around here would quit treating me like a fucking kid. Especially Adrian.
"You know," I snap, waving my hand impatiently. "Fix it, make a phone call. Like you did when Tommy's sister got that reckless driving ticket."
His eyes widen in surprise. My heart stops beating for a second. I have a little instant replay in my head of the last few seconds of this conversation and I am horrified. Jesus. Can I plead insanity? It was my voice, your Honor, but I had to be out of my fucking mind.
Adrian is sitting there, his knuckles white on the edge of the desk. I sit, barely breathing, amazed at the sheer stupidity of what I just said. Adrian leans down again, his eyes blazing.
"Who told you that?"
I stare at him, transfixed.
"Alex!" he snaps. I jerk like a fish on a line. "*Who* told you that?"
"I...nobody," I mumble. "I just...hear stuff."
Adrian gets up, his hands in his pockets. He's pacing again. A Very Bad Sign.
"You hear stuff," he repeats. "Tell me what kind of 'stuff' you hear."
My mouth opens and closes a couple of times soundlessly. My heart is beating like a triphammer.
"I...I mean...just that..." I look at him pleadingly, helplessly. "Come on, Adrian. You know what I mean."
He tosses his head a little, like he does when he's been thrown off his stride. It's not something I see often. He walks back over toward me and sits down in the chair beside mine.
"I don't know what you've heard," he says quietly. "Or what you think you know. My business is not open for discussion. Ever. Is that clear?"
Stung, I nod. I know I'm pouting and probably look ridiculous but I don't care.
"Yes," I say, a little resentfully. I look up, unable to stop myself from digging in deeper. "But, didn't you just say that we're supposed to be able to talk about anything? No matter what? Why doesn't it go both ways, Adrian? I'm your brother. I want to know what's going on."
Adrian holds up his hand to silence me.
"I understand what you're saying, Alex, but the answer is no. There are things you do not need to know. I have my job and you have yours. Your job is to go to school, study hard, obey the rules and trust me to know what's best for you. That's all."
I cross my arms and scowl at him. It's just not fair!
"That's enough, Alex," he says with finality. "We're getting away from the real issue here, which is the fact that you did something wrong. You broke a very important rule and I have to punish you for it."
My scowl slips a little. I know he's winding up to the main event and I'm dreading it.
"But I said I was sorry," I plead, knowing even as I do that it won't budge him. "I said I wouldn't do it again and I won't!"
"I heard you, Alex, and I appreciate that," Adrian replies. "But unfortunately, that doesn't change things. Look," he says, making sure I keep eye contact with him, "I know you think I'm too strict. I know you think I'm overprotective."
I nod, sniffling poignantly. Adrian gives me a look.
"But Alex," he says, "I have good reasons. I want a better life for you, better than..." he trails off. He clears his throat and continues. "I want for you what Ma wanted for you. To go to college, get a good job, have a good life. I promised her that I would look after you, make sure you have that good life, and I'm going to keep that promise."
"But what about what *I* want?" I snap. "What if I don't want to go to college? What if I don't want to-"
"That's enough," Adrian says sharply. "That's not open for discussion."
I slump down in the chair again and glare at him from beneath the hair that's flopped into my eyes.
"Seems like nothing around here is open for discussion," I complain. "At least not to me. I'm not a stupid kid, Adrian. I'm almost a man."
The look on Adrian's face is thunderous.
"First of all," he says, in a tone that suggests I've used up his store of patience for the day, "being a man has nothing to do with the date on your birth certificate. You've got a lot of growing up to do, little boy, and your little escapade this afternoon proves that. Second of all, you know that I love you more than anything in this world, and every single decision I make, every single rule I set down for you, is with your best interest at heart."
"I know that, Adrian, but," I look down, struggling for the words, "I don't want to go away to college."
He smiles and leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees.
"Alex," he says, his eyes soft now, "Holy Cross isn't exactly 'away'. Worcester is only an hour from here. Do you think I'd send my little brother to a college so far away that I'd never get to see him? You'll be home every weekend, every night if you want." He ducks his head a little, trying to make me smile.
"I still don't want to go," I say stubbornly. "I don't see why I need to go to college. You didn't, and you're successful."
Adrian sits back, looking suddenly uncomfortable. He looks down for a moment.
"We're not talking about me," he says firmly. "We're talking about you. You were excited when you got the letter saying that you'd been accepted to Holy Cross. What's happened to change your mind?"
I stare down at my hands.
"I don't want to go," I repeat loudly. "I only applied there because you wanted me to. I don't want to go to college. I want to work here with you, be your partner. Why work all these years to build all of this and not let me in? We're family, Adrian. I want to help you with the business. I want you to teach me. I want to learn everything there is to know so I can do what you do."
"No, Alex!" Adrian snaps, standing up and walking over to the window. His back is turned to me. I can see the tension in his shoulders. "I thought I made it clear to you that that matter is not open for discussion."
Tears spill down my cheeks and my chin is trembling. I am so frustrated. Why won't he listen to me?
"I don't want to go away, Adrian," I say pleadingly. "I don't want to go to Holy Cross. I want to be with you. I want to be *like* you."
Adrian turns and looks at me with sad eyes. The sunlight streams through the window across his face and he suddenly looks much older than his thirty-one years.
"No, Alex," he says slowly, choosing his words with care. "This is no place for you. It's not what I want for you. It's not what Ma would have wanted. You deserve something," he pauses and swallows hard, "something better. Everything I've done, I've done to make sure you have a chance to have a better life. I don't know what you think I do, Alex. I don't know what you think my life is like. It's not something you want. End of discussion."
I stare at him in amazement. Not something I want? He's my brother. I've idolized him my whole life. Tough, capable, handsome Adrian, whose voice strikes fear in the hearts of the fatcats up there on Nob Hill. My brother who commands respect from everyone, right on up to the Mayor of Boston. I see how much the people of Southie love him. The little old ladies who come up to him on the street and hug him, tell him they'll say a novena for us and for our mother, God rest her. The little kids in stained shirts who never had anything before, who stare with huge eyes at the baseball gloves he gives them, the neat little caps with the Red Sox logo, the Hershey bars. The young mothers with old eyes who press a quick kiss on his cheek when he hands them money for food or to buy school supplies for their kids.
I see the way those who don't love him treat him, too. The thieves and con artists who scuttle into the shadows when they see him or one of his boys coming. The man who used to do the maintenance work around St. Catherine's, the one who knocked up Mary McCormack when she was in her senior year and who abandoned his house, everything he owned, and fled town to avoid Adrian's wrath. The used car salesman who set up shop in Southie, selling useless heaps of junk to poor young families. Those rustbuckets didn't last a week. His business didn't either. It burned to the ground and he suddenly decided the weather down south would be much more agreeable for his delicate health.
I see the way kids in school look at me, the way they whisper my name with awe when I walk down the hall. I see their eyes, like Ricky Dunavant's this afternoon, when they think they might have crossed me. My brother's reputation and our unusual last name guarantees a certain amount of celebrity by association, and I have to admit, I like it.
I want to be just like him. I don't understand why he doesn't understand this. I open my mouth to try and convince him, make him see himself the way I do, but the sorrow in his eyes brings me up short. He looks suddenly young again, and vulnerable. I'm not used to seeing that in him and it scares me. I think again about Ma's funeral, the way I clung to my strong big brother, how I never once questioned his quiet promise to take care of me always. He's always been there, eternal and somewhat mysterious. Adrian, my brother, who actually lived in the old country with Ma before I was born. He was born there, in Ireland. There's a faint echo of that faraway place in his voice, just like there was in Ma's. It's something I've always been secretly jealous of, something they shared that I'm not a part of. I feel guilty as hell for putting him through all this. Bad enough I get caught doing what I did, but then to make things worse by complaining that I don't want to go to college, when he's worked hard all his life to make sure I have the chance he never had.
My eyes widen as this revelation sinks in. Adrian is just so *good* at what he does. It never once occurred to me that he wasn't doing exactly what he had always wanted to do. For the first time, ever, I realize that Adrian might have wanted something else for himself. That maybe when he was my age, he wanted to get out of Southie, go to college, have a different life, everything he's spent the last thirteen years making sure I would have. Everything he gave up, the dreams he abandoned the moment our mother died and he made a whispered promise to the little boy in his arms, looking wide-eyed at all of the flowers and the grown-ups crying. I remember how strange it felt to be dressed in my first suit, a tiny version of Adrian's. I remember his eyes, so like hers. I've never seen him cry again since. The enormity of what he's given up for me stuns me and I snuffle, ashamed of myself for being so ungrateful.
I feel like a real creep. The lump in my throat reasserts itself as I think about that, about Adrian working all those years to make sure I could have the life Ma wanted for me. I think about how he must have felt when she died. Our father walked out on us right after I was born. And so Adrian, only one year older than I am now, found himself alone in the world, except for four year-old me. What must that have been like for him, to look at the little boy in his arms and know that he was all I had? To know that whatever he'd planned to do with his life, those plans were over?
He must have already had some connections in the neighborhood, I don't know. I do know that, if college was ever something he wanted, it was a dream that died when Ma did. Faced with raising me, he did what he had to do. He stayed in the old neighborhood, worked hard, made more connections, scratched and fought for everything he has. And along the way, he made sure I never wanted for anything, never went without. He created a protective bubble around me and guarded me like a pit bull. Nobody messed with Adrian's kid brother. I remember this one time, I must have been about six. I was standing outside school, and a man pulled up alongside the curb. He smiled and waved to me and I walked over to the car. He wanted directions to somewhere. I don't remember where. I was telling the man I didn't know where the place was when Adrian came walking around the corner.
Everything happened pretty fast. I found myself lifted off my feet and carried back over to the front steps of the school. Adrian put me down on the bottom step and told me not to move. Then he went over to the man and dragged him right out through the car window. I don't remember what he said. I just remember him yelling and shaking the man like a rag doll. I remember Big Jimmy huffing and puffing around the corner, looking for Adrian. I remember him having to pull Adrian off the man. I remember the way Adrian fought Jimmy, how it was all the big man could do to hold him back, how Adrian only stopped struggling when he heard me crying. I remember him kneeling on the sidewalk in front of me, hugging me so tight I could hardly breathe. I remember the way the man's tires left black marks on the road when he sped away.
And I definitely remember the spanking I got when Adrian got me home. He'd told me never to talk to strangers and believe me, after that, I never did it again.
I swallow hard and look up at Adrian. He's standing there, watching me, still with that sad expression.
"I'm sorry," I say softly. I still want to work with Adrian so bad it hurts. I want my birthright, though I don't dare call it that to Adrian's face. I want to help run what is undeniably the family business. It hurts to be denied this, denied the chance to help Adrian in a way that counts. But he's sacrificed so much for me. I guess now it's my turn to sacrifice something for him. I was excited in spite of myself when I got the letter saying I'd been accepted to Holy Cross. But nowhere near as excited as Adrian was. I remember his face when I handed it to him, the way his eyes filled with tears as he read, the way his face glowed with happiness. Shit. It's a shame I didn't have this stunning insight about five minutes ago, before I opened my big mouth. Story of my life. "I didn't mean it, Adrian, what I said before about Holy Cross. I know you've worked hard so I could go. I'll do it. I'll go to college like you want me to and I'll study hard. I just want you to be proud of me."
Adrian crosses over to me quickly and pulls me into a bear hug.
"I'm already proud of you," he says, his voice thick with emotion.
I look down.
"Even...even after what I did?"
Adrian catches my chin in his hand, makes me look at him.
"Always," he repeats, his tone brooking no argument. "Nothing you could ever do could make me stop being proud of you."
I hug him back, tight.
"I love you, Adrian," I murmur into his shirt.
"I love you, too, little brother," he responds, just like always, his soft breath in my hair. I know I've hurt him by what I did. To me, at the time, it was just a joint, but to him...I know I've really broken his trust. I resolve to do better, to try harder. Stop getting in trouble at school, do what Adrian tells me, not do anything to add to the load he's carrying. Earn back his trust. I wish ruefully that I'd thought sooner about Adrian's feelings, thought about everything he's done for me. I guess I've just always thought of him as larger than life, superhuman, somehow. He just always seems to know what to do and how to do it.
In the midst of my reverie, my plans to become the perfect younger brother are interrupted by Adrian's hand on my shoulder. He squeezes briefly and then walks around behind his desk. He leans on it with both hands, looking at me intently.
"We have to deal with this, Alex."
I stand frozen to the spot, my mouth suddenly as dry as the Sahara. Oh shit, here it comes. I know what to expect. I've known all afternoon. I've known since I took the first hit off that joint what was going to happen if Adrian found out, and now it's happening.
Doesn't stop me from wanting to make a run for it.
Adrian sees me looking at the door and raises an eyebrow.
"Don't even think about it, little boy."
I shake my head meekly. I might be stupid but I'm not *crazy*.
Adrian's face is grim as he unbuckles his belt. I back away in spite of myself, my eyes glued to the shiny buckle. Adrian slides the belt off, folds it over once and carefully presses the buckle into his hand. He looks down at it, probably dreading this as much as I do. The lines on his face, the ones I never noticed before today, remind me of how I've let him down. But that doesn't stop me from trying to avoid the inevitable.
"Adrian, please..." I whimper. I have a brief flash of what the guys at school would say if they could see this. I'm mortified and seized with self-pity. I bet none of them still get spanked. It's an argument I've had with Adrian many times. An argument I haven't won yet.
"Come here, Alex," he says quietly. "Let's get this over with."
I look around, my eyes brimming already.
"*Here*? Can't this wait until we get home?"
Adrian shakes his head.
"We're alone here, Alex. No one is going to hear anything."
"Come here, Alex," Adrian says again, firmly. "I don't think it's a good idea to wait. This is too important."
"I don't mind, honest," I say weakly, backing away a little more.
I stand still and look at him miserably, my hands tugging fretfully at the zipper of my jacket. I don't know what's got me more upset, the fact that I'm about to get a strapping or the fact that I did something of such magnitude. Adrian has only spanked me with his belt once before. I guess I was about fourteen. I knew that the first thing he did every day when he came home was lock his gun in the cabinet in his study. One afternoon I was snooping around after school and I found the tiny brass key hidden in the vase on top of the bookshelf downstairs. I knew I'd be in deep shit if I got caught but the chance to get a close look at a real gun was impossible to resist. He caught me in there looking at it. I never took it out of the little drawer it was in, never even touched it, but by the time I finally sat down comfortably about three days later, I wished I'd never gone near it.
I'm staring imploringly at Adrian through a prism of tears, trying to explain to him that I'm *already* sorry, honest, I couldn't BE any sorrier no matter how bad he punishes me, so there's really no reason to go to all that trouble...
"If I have to come and get you, Alex, I promise, you *will* be sorrier than you are right now."
I bite my lip. I intend to walk over there, I really do. But somehow my feet don't seem to move right away and before I know it, Adrian has me by the arm and is walking me over to his desk. I sniffle and look up at him. He's looking down at me regretfully.
"One extra for that, Alex."
I gulp audibly.
"Please, Adrian, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to-"
"Alex, let's not make this harder than it has to be. You think I like doing this?"
I look up at him through my tears. The pain on his face makes me feel even more wretched. I know he doesn't like it. I feel like a total shit for putting him in this position.
"Well, then d-don't."
He shakes his head.
"No, little brother. I promised to take care of you and that means doing the hard things as well as the easy things. You know you've got this coming. Let's just get it done."
I look at him pleadingly.
"Not the belt, Adrian. Please not the belt."
He looks at me for a long moment.
"You're not a little kid anymore, Alex," he says quietly. "You made a decision this afternoon and you knew when you made that decision what the consequences would be." His face is set in that way that means further argument is futile. Deep inside, I know he's right and I hate that.
Heart thumping, I take off my jacket and lay it over the arm of Adrian's chair. I drop my pants and boxers to my knees and bend over his desk, my shirttail offering a little privacy but scant protection. My face feels like it's on fire, just like my butt will shortly. It's a humiliating position to be in, even though it was my own mistake that got me here. I bury my face in my arms and cry quietly. Yeah, I earned it. But that doesn't make it any easier. I fucked up royally and now we're both paying for it. I'm glad I can't see his face while he's punishing me. I feel bad enough as it is.
His hand, the one without the belt, rests gently on my back. Adrian's voice is soft and regretful.
"Tell me why I have to punish you, Alex."
I try to breathe through my stuffed-up nose and wipe my eyes, wishing he'd just get on with it. I hate this part almost more than the spanking itself. I'd rather just do it and not have to talk about it, but that's not Adrian. He wants to be sure I really understand the hows and whys of my screw-up before I get my butt roasted for it. I sigh inwardly. Something about having my face against the polished oak and the cool air wafting across my bare butt tends to bring matters into sharp focus, whether I want to see them or not.
"B-because I did something you told me not to do. I...I smoked pot," I pause and clear my throat nervously, "twice."
I can't see Adrian's face but I feel like he approves of me owning up to that, that first time I did it and he didn't find out. His hand moves a little on my back, as if calming me for what's to come. I'm grateful for it and another tear slides down my cheek. I wish more than ever that Chas and I had just gone a couple blocks over to the pizza place or to his house to watch MTV, anything but what we did.
"I know you think it was just a joint, Alex," Adrian continues quietly. "Do you think that's important to me? Do you think it matters at all to me whether it was pot or pills or anything else? Do you think the type of drug it was - and it *is* a drug, Alex - means anything to me at all?"
I swallow hard and wipe my eyes on my sleeve.
"No, Adrian," I whisper. "I know it doesn't."
He's silent for a moment. The warm weight of his hand leaves my back. I hear the jingling of the belt buckle again as he repositions it in his hand, making sure it never comes near me.
"I'm glad you understand that," he answers sternly. "It *doesn't* matter what it was, only that you disobeyed me, and did something I consider not only inappropriate but dangerous. When I give you rules to follow, Alex, I expect you to obey all of them, not just the ones you agree with. I told you to stay away from drugs, *all* drugs, and I also told you what would happen if you didn't. Didn't I?"
"Y-yes," I whimper, before hiding my face in my arms again.
"I love you, Alex. More than anything, more than my own life. I love you enough to discipline you when you need it, even if I'd rather be doing anything else in the world, and Alex," his voice is suddenly softer, husky with emotion, "there's *nothing* I wouldn't give to not have to do this. But this is too important to let it slide. You're too important. I love you too much to do that."
Did I ever mention that sometimes I wish he loved me just a *little* less? Okay. I don't mean that. Honest.
"Sorry," I say miserably, my voice muffled against my folded arms. "I really am. I know I shouldn't have done it."
Adrian's hand rests, briefly, on the back of my head.
"I hope so, Alex. I want you to remember what I said. I'm not disappointed in *you*, but I am disappointed in what you did, in the choice you made. I want you to think about that, and remember that I love you. I love you enough to see this through even though it hurts me, too."
That finishes me, even before the first stroke. I rest my head on my arms and sob.
He gives me six, one right after the other. Not very many, but he makes them count. By the last lick, I'm bawling like I did when I was six and Adrian spanked me for talking to the man in the car. When it's over, I feel the warm weight of Adrian's hand on my shoulder and it comforts me. Gradually, I quiet down and raise my head. Adrian's hand moves across my back to rest between my shoulderblades. Not pressing me down, just resting there. When he speaks, he sounds tired and regretful.
"One more, Alex. For not obeying me when I asked you to come over here."
I nod and grit my teeth, lowering myself back down into position. The belt cracks down once more, the sound loud in the quiet room. I lie there for a moment, trying to get myself under control. I hear Adrian putting his belt back on. Slowly, I stand up, pulling up my pants, sliding them carefully over my sore backside, my chest hitching a little. I look down and concentrate on tucking in my shirt, embarrassed at being punished, at having to be. I look up at him, tongue-tied, not sure what to say.
As usual, Adrian knows what I need, takes care of me. I don't have to know what to say. I'm grateful for that. For him.
He reaches out to me and pulls me close. I wrap myself around him, my face against his chest, and give myself up to the jumble of emotions that have been churning inside me all afternoon. I cry hard, clinging to him, and he just holds me, murmuring to me. I can't hear what he's saying over my own loud sobs but just the sound of his voice is enough to calm me, soothe me by degrees, until I'm just standing there in his arms, the tears drying on my face, the sound of his heartbeat in my ear, comforting and eternal, the thread around which my life has been woven.
"I'm so sorry," I whisper into white linen, crackling under my cheek as he moves his arms to hold me even more tightly.
"Shhh," he soothes, "it's all over now and you're forgiven. I know you won't do it again."
"I won't," I say quickly, letting go of his shirt long enough to rub my swollen eyes. "I promise I won't."
"I believe you," he says gently. "It was hard for me to do that, Alex. I hope you know that. Really know it."
I look up at him and see the bright tears in his eyes. I look down before I start crying again, too. I nod. I do know, Adrian. I do.
"I love you, little brother," he whispers.
"I love you, too, Adrian," I say. I'm trembling, I mean it so much. Yeah, he just tanned my butt good, and I should be at least a little resentful. I am a teenager, after all. But all I can think of are the tears in Adrian's eyes and as much as my butt hurts, my heart hurts more. I shouldn't have done what I did. I shouldn't have cared so much about impressing Chas. I think about him, how he ribs me sometimes about my brother keeping me on such a short leash. Poor Chas, his parents divorced since he was three, the Dad he never sees, the Mom always away on a business trip. No one there for Chas but a succession of live-in housekeepers, someone to put a hot meal on the table for him but no one to really care. I reflect for a moment on how strange it feels, to feel lucky to be standing here with my butt alternately stinging and throbbing. I know Adrian loves me, wants the best for me. I know how hard it was for him to do this. I look up into clear green eyes and manage a smile.
"Better?" he says, smiling down at me.
I nod, but still rest my head on his chest again, feeling his arms wrap around me just as I knew they would. He squeezes me until I squeak in protest, and then we both laugh, banishing the last of the tension from the room.
"Can I ask you something?" I ask, almost shyly. He smooths the hair out of my eyes and smiles again.
"Of course. You can ask me anything, Alex. You know that."
"When you were my age," I start, looking up at him, "did you ever...I mean..."
"Try drugs?" he prompts. I duck my head, blushing.
"Yeah," I shrug.
He's quiet for a moment.
"No," he says at last. "But there was this one time, when we were still living in Dublin. I was about twelve, I guess. Da was on one of his benders, hadn't been home in about a week. Ma went through the house, found all the bottles she could, and poured every one of them down the sink."
I rest my head on his shoulder, close my eyes and listen. It always makes me sad, listening to Adrian talk about Da. There's a lot of pain in his voice when he says his name. Adrian squeezes me again, more gently this time, to reassure me, his voice light as he continues.
"She didn't find them all. I was out in the garden shed that afternoon, messing around, looking for some of Da's old tools. I thought maybe if I could find his hammer and some nails I could fix the broken gate outside of our house, make her happy. She'd been asking him to do it for weeks but he was too drunk to bother." Adrian paused for a moment. "I pulled an old cardboard box down from the shelf and when I looked inside, it was full of liquor bottles. I knew I shouldn't touch them, knew how Ma hated them, but I was too curious for my own good, I guess. I sat down there on the floor and pulled one of the bottles out. It said vodka on the bottle but it looked like water to me. I wanted to see what it tasted like, why Da liked it so much."
I look up at Adrian in surprise. Him, drinking at twelve? It's hard to imagine. Especially with everything he's told me about Ma.
Adrian grins at me, tousles my hair.
"I'm getting to it. I took a sip and coughed until tears streamed down my face. I'd never tasted anything so awful in my life. But, I couldn't resist trying just one more sip and I found out that the more sips I took, the better it tasted. Before I knew it, I'd gone through half the bottle. I heard Ma calling me for dinner and I could barely stand up straight. I crawled into the house on my hands and knees."
My eyes are huge.
"What happened then?" I press him eagerly. "Did she know?"
"Did she *know*? Alex, one thing about our Ma, nothing got past her. She took one look at me and didn't need telling. She made me take her and show her where I found it, and she made me watch her pour every one of those bottles down the sink. And then she put me over her knee and took a wooden spoon to my backside, gave me the paddling of a lifetime. I ate dinner standing up that night, and the next time I found one of Da's secret stashes, I saved Ma the trouble, poured it down the sink myself."
I laugh and he hugs me again, then lets me go.
"Adrian," I say, serious now. "I meant what I said earlier, about college. I know how much it means to you, and how much it meant to Ma. I promise I'm going to study hard."
He rests his hand on my shoulder, his eyes soft and kind.
"I know you will, Alex."
I bite my lip and look at him.
"Just one thing. I was thinking, uh, maybe, instead of Holy Cross, what about Boston U?"
Adrian raises his eyebrows and leans forward, obviously interested. I plunge ahead excitedly.
"It's close to home, it's got a great campus right on the Charles River and it's got an *awesome* math department and-"
"Boston University," Adrian says thoughtfully.
"Yeah!" I say eagerly. "It's not a Catholic university but they have a chapel on campus and-"
"You know," Adrian interrupts, "I was reading an article just the other day about Boston University."
"You were?" I say, trying not to sound *too* eager.
"Yes," he says with a grin. "Something about...the top fifteen party schools in America?"
I blink at him innocently.
"Really? I don't...I mean, it's really...over a hundred and thirty years of...uh..." I trail off, looking up at him sheepishly. "No?"
Adrian grins again and folds his arms with an air of finality.
I sigh. Looks like Holy Cross it is. Four years with the Jesuits. How am I going to have any fun?
"Come on," Adrian says, grabbing his jacket. He tosses my jacket to me and puts his arm around my shoulders. "Let's get out of here. What do you want for dinner?"
"Pizza?" I say hopefully.
He laughs and opens the office door for me.
"You always want pizza," he says playfully. I decide to see if his good mood is worth a movie, too.
"Lethal Weapon is playing at the Loew's," I advise as we wait for the elevator. "You promised you'd take me to see it."
Adrian nods as the doors open.
"I will," he says, stepping inside and waiting for me to follow. I step inside and he pushes the button for the garage. "As soon as you're done being grounded."
I look at him, wounded.
"No buts," he says, casting a meaningful look downward. "One week. And I'm being very lenient, Alex. I could always make it two."
"No," I say hastily. "One's plenty."
He smiles as the doors open again and we head for the car.
"I thought you'd see it my way. Oh, one more thing," he adds, opening up the car door. "We have a stop to make on the way to dinner."
"We do?" I say, puzzled. "Where?"
Adrian waits for me to slide in beside him. I gently ease myself down onto the seat. My butt is still plenty sore, but not as bad as it was. Still, I can't resist grimacing and whimpering pitifully. It's worth a try. I *really* want to go see Lethal Weapon tonight. My amateur theatrics fail to impress Adrian. He smiles and starts the car.
"Church. Father Kilkenny hears confession until six o'clock on Fridays."
"I just WENT to confession."
Adrian looks at me pointedly.
"But you have something new to add, now, don't you?"
I slump in my seat. Oh, man. When Father Kilkenny hears about this I'll be saying Hail Marys until I'm forty.
"Yes, Adrian," I say glumly.
"I thought so," Adrian says, swinging out onto Boylston. "Don't pout, Alex. You'll feel better after."
I look at him. Damn. He's right again.
"Adrian," I say, faltering a little, not sure how to say what I want to say. "Thank you. I mean, for...for everything. For taking care of me." I try to think of something more to say. What would be enough? How can I make him understand what he means to me?
He turns and looks at me, surprised and, I can tell, pleased.
"You're everything to me, Alex. You're my family. I love you and I'll always take care of you."
I grin back at him, my heart full. My eyes too. We're all we have but it's enough. More than enough.
I look out the window at the cars passing by, at the city lights shining around us. In my heart, I know one thing.
I'm going to be everything Adrian dreams I'll be. I'm going to make him proud.
For Gaby. Happy Birthday!