“I’m confused,” Tuck said, his mouth hanging open in astonishment. “You just let him walk out? Where did he go?”
“How I’m supposed to know. He’s grown. He does what he likes,” David’s mother said without looking away from the flat screen TV hanging on the wall in front of her. Her hair was in a plastic shower cap and she wore a pink bathrobe with grey slippers. She sat in a fading blue cloth recliner with her feet propped up. There was a plastic, brown TV tray to her right which held three remotes, a plate full of sandwich crumbs, and two Natty Boh cans. She was watching a sitcom rerun Tucker didn’t recognize.
Tucker grimaced at her words in disbelief. “A grown man? He’s only seventeen.”
“I can’t control him,” she said again, still not looking away from the TV.
Tucker knelt down on one knee to the left of her recliner, hoping to make contact with her and pull her engagement away from the sitcom. “But why did he leave?” he pleaded gently. “Where did he go?”
She turned to the right and ran her right index finger over the plate slowly, catching a few crumbs. She sucked them off her finger and then shifted in the chair to face Tucker. Tucker thought she couldn’t be over forty years old. Her face oozed apathy. She sighed. “If you want to know why he left, you should talk to his daddy.” She then rolled her eyes as she took a remote off the TV tray, pointed it at the TV, and turned up the volume.
Tucker stood in the middle of the room, unsure what to do next. He had come to the house in a panic. Last week, David hadn’t shown up on Sunday morning when Laura brought the van by to pick up the crew. Then David had missed Wednesday Night Bible Study. Then he’d missed this Sunday again. What troubled Tucker most was that Rube, Rashid, and Noe hadn’t seen David in a week. Noe said David had called her in a crying-cussing fit, yelling about something his mom had said. Noe had tried to calm him down, but he screamed at her and hung up the phone. It was the last anyone had heard from him.
Tucker watched the sitcom for a few minutes, still unsure what to do next. On the screen two teenagers were frantically looking for a place to hide a painting they’d ruined. Tuck looked around the room. There was a faded blue couch and a cheap, scratched, light brown coffee table. The room was lit by a small fixture in the center of the ceiling. The fixtures’s cover was missing, leaving the three bulbs naked, which might have been too bright for the small space, if two of the three bulbs weren’t burned out. The carpet looked clean. The centerpiece of the room was the entertainment center. The HD, flat screen hung on the wall. Under it, on the floor was an X-Box, Blue-Ray Player, and cable box. Tucker glanced down the tight hall to the kitchen. It was small. The cabinets and appliances were in desperate need of updating.
He sighed and looked at David’s mother again. She appeared to have forgotten he was in the room. Tucker wondered if he should take his jacket off. The windbreaker wasn’t enough outside to fight off the chilly wind, but it was hot in the house. He pondered sitting on the couch next to her and staging a sit-in until she decided to help him, but Tuck’s thoughts were interrupted by heavy footsteps coming down the stairs.
“There you go,” David’s mother said. “Ask his old, fat, bitch-ass.”
A man appeared at the base of the stairs in the middle hall. He was taller than Tuck and in his mid-fifties, Tucker guessed. He wore a sleeveless undershirt and grey sweat pants. His head was shaved. He had a tightly kept goatee. He was smoking a thin, cheap cigar. Tucker saw David in his eyes. “Who the fuck is this?” the man demanded.
Tucker stepped passed David’s mother and extended his hand toward David’s father, “My name’s Tuck,” he offered.
“This is the white pastor David’s been hanging out with,” his mother said. “He’s lookin’ for David.”
“I don’t know where that fuckin’ boy is,” David’s father said. He leaned against the wall and looked Tucker up and down. He took a long drag on the cigar and blew the smoke toward Tucker. “What you care anyway?” he asked accusingly.
“I’m just worried about him,” Tucker said, shoving his hands in his jacket pockets. His southern accent was showing. “His friends haven’t seen him in a week. They said you and he had a fight? I just came to look for him, to see if there was anything I can do to help.”
David’s father laughed to himself. He rubbed his mustache with his left hand and looked Tucker in the eye. Then he turned and strutted toward the kitchen. Tucker followed. The kitchen table was a small square. There were only two chairs at it. David’s father fell into one of them. Tuck was amazed it caught the man’s weight.
David’s father leaned back and stretched his legs out. He took another long puff on the cigar, let the smoke sit in his mouth, and then blew it toward the ceiling. “Yeah,” he said smiling at Tucker. “We had a fight.” He paused to take another long puff. “Then like a little bitch, he ran out.”
“What did you fight about, if you don’t mind me asking?” Tucker said. He moved to the far side of the table and sat down across from David’s dad. He leaned forward, his elbows on the table.
Without turning to look at Tucker, David’s father took another drag and then replied, “I told him I’m done with that bitch and as soon as he graduates, I’m out.”
Tucker cocked his head in confusion. “Which bitch?” he said.
“That big, angry, black bitch in there,” David’s dad said, motioning with his cigar toward David’s mom. “We only been together ‘cause I wanted him to have a dad and shit. But he gonna graduate in May, so he’s grown and I don’t need to take her shit anymore.”
“Fuck you, little bitch, fat ass, mother-fucker,” David’s mother rattled loudly from the other room.
David’s dad rolled his head to the left without turning his body, made eye contact with Tucker, and said, “See what I mean. She’s a bitch.”
“Where are you going?” Tucker asked, leaning back in his chair.
“Probably Atlanta. I got a cousin there. But anywhere this bitch ain’t is better than here,” David’s dad said, taking another drag from the quickly shortening cigar.
“How’d David take that?” Tucker ask.
“That little shit said it was good. He doesn’t care,” David’s dad laughed. “But then he got all shit-pissed when I told him his momma was goin’ to have to move too ‘cause she can’t afford this place without me.” There was pride in the man’s voice. “She goin’ have to go and get her ass a job and get the fuck out up that chair.” He yelled the last seven words to make sure she heard him.
“Then what happened?” Tucker asked. His anger toward this man, who clearly cared nothing for David’s future, was growing by the second. Tuck swallowed his frustration, crossed his arms, and put on a stone face. He didn’t want to pick a fight with the man. He needed information.
“Then he started whining like a little bitch. ‘What about me? Where am I gonna live? I was gonna go to college?’ Like that dumb shit could get into college.” The father laughed again.
“He’s got a full scholarship to run track at Liberty,” Tucker said coldly.
David’s father sat up in his chair and turned to face Tucker. “I don’t give a shit,” he said threateningly. “When he graduates he ain’t my fuckin’ problem anymore.”
Although Tuck thought he might find some satisfaction in fighting with this man, arguing would accomplish nothing. He believed David’s dad was beyond reach. He needed more information. He needed to get the conversation back on track. Tucker took a deep breath, leaned forward again in his chair, and said calmly, “I’m not here to judge you. I just want to make sure David’s okay. After
you told him about his mom, is that when he left?”
“Yeah,” David’s dad said leaning back in his chair again. He took another drag of the cigar. “That’s when he left. He didn’t even pack shit. He just ran out.”
“Any idea where he might go?” Tucker asked.
“Maybe to that fat-ass boy’s house?” David’s dad said.
“Rashid hasn’t seen him,” Tuck said. “Any other ideas?”
“Shit,” David’s dad raised his eye brows and smiled. “I don’t where that little bitch goes.”
Tucker stood. “Thanks,” he said. Then he walked down the hall toward the front door. “If you see David,” he said over his shoulder to David’s mother as he reached the door. “Tell him to call me.” They did not say goodbye as Tucker left.
Outside on the front stoop, Tucker was struck by the cold wind. He jammed his hands into his pockets as a reflex. There were three days left in winter break. Tucker knew he needed to find David before the break ended. If the boy missed too many days he wouldn’t graduate.
He looked up and down the block, wandering where David would go. The kid had to be hopeless and alone. Tucker figured that’s why David hadn’t gone to Rube or Rashid. He must have felt like his life was ending. No reason to go to friends from the dying past.
Tucker considered going door to door, but then decided against it. Most of the houses on the block were abandon. Tucker didn’t imagine he would find help in any of them.
He sighed with regret and took a seat on the stoop. Tuck rubbed his brow and eyes hard. He wanted to cry, but he had no tears left; so instead he sat. Tuck hadn’t told Noe, but David had called him too. Except Tuck hadn’t answered. He’d seen the call. He’d thought about answering, but he was working on the house with Davy, he had a paint brush in his hand, and it was late for a meeting with Troy about how to improve the sermon Power Point presentations for worship services.
Tuck was angry at the excuses running through his mind. He rubbed his eyes again. The need to take a nap suddenly grabbed him. He knew the truth. The truth was he didn’t feel like answering the call. He didn’t want to talk to David. He was tired. He wanted to think about his new house and moving in and making things beautiful for his family. He’d rather go and talk with Troy about making Power Point slides than problem solve for the teen. Was that so wrong? Why did David have to fall apart now? Why couldn’t he have been calling for a ride home from the movies or something else stupid?
Tucker breathed deeply again. The cool air stung his nose. He knew regret was pointless. Finding David was all that mattered. He stood and walked to his car. Tuck didn’t know where he was going. He didn’t know what else to to but drive the neighborhood and search the alleyways. He had no hope, no plan, no expectation of success; but he knew he had to try. The boy’s future was at stake.
The story above is a chapter from Jeff Elkins’ upcoming novel.