Bryce could hardly believe this was his life. Two years out of college, three after he was recruited, and he was being partnered with one of the CIA's best, getting ready to go undercover. Sacrifices had been made but here he was standing next to a stunning, talented woman who was rumored to be Director Graham's wild card enforcer. The thought crossed his mind that maybe he had been assigned as her partner to balance out this force of nature.
" So...'Anderson'? I guess somebody watched The Matrix a little too much, huh?" She flashed him a bright smile. He had to smile in return at that statement. He knew Sarah had never watched the The Matrix. At least that's what she told him. He had let slip a story about him and his best friend at college seeing the movie at a second run movie theater. He relished the memory so much. It had been good to feel normal again and have a good friend at your side. As he had reminisced, he couldn't contain himself and had related the plot (and some of the dialog) to Sarah.
Bryce Larkin transferred to Fairfield College Prep in the fall of 1997 as a junior. Having been summarily dismissed from Notre Dame High School for bad behavior, his Dad had finagled a second chance at Fairfield after helping a client who was an alumnus and a big donor to the school. Bryce was bright but unfocused; acting up just kept things interesting.
He could have excelled at athletics but he partied too much. Although Bryce lived with his Dad, they weren't particularly close. Richard Larkin's law practice in Manhattan kept him very busy most of the time. Bryce's Mom had left 5 years ago to "find herself" in San Francisco. Apparently there was an artist in her trying to blossom and a workaholic husband and a behaviorally challenged son was holding that artist back.
Bryce seemed to always rank second or third in his parents' lives. In spite of that, he was ready to turn over a new leaf and started putting in the work. But that didn't mean he was going to quit having a good time.
Somehow Bryce had avoided the high school awkwardness that plagued most teenagers. He was accepted and befriended by most of the cliques including the popular kids. His friend Grand called them the "keepers of the gate" since they decided what (and who) was cool.
Bryce met Grand in chemistry on the first day of school but he didn't get to know him until they started playing each other in chess club. Grand had a quick wit and definitely gave Bryce as good as he got. If Bryce had to describe Grand, he would liken him to a coiled spring full of potential energy.
Grand was extremely intelligent but he didn't have a lot of self confidence. He mostly kept to himself. He was extremely loyal to his family and his few friends. He liked comic books and video games but he didn't let that distract him from working hard at school. His family wasn't wealthy. They did OK but they couldn't afford the tuition to Fairfield, so Grand worked hard to keep his scholarship.
Grand introduced Bryce to Dungeons and Dragons, along with the Star Trek/ Star Wars rivalry. Apparently it was a big deal which one you liked best. Though he had a soft spot for Han Solo, Bryce was a big fan of Next Generation and so was Grand. Grand loved his Playstation and Bryce enjoyed his N-64 and they would jokingly debate the merits of each platform. They found common ground, though, in a game called Zork. They had found it on a cartridge in a box they got when they bought an old Commodore 64 at a yard sale. It was surprisingly fun and they spent more time than they should have playing it.
Bryce, for his part, introduced Grand to partying. Grand would stay with Bryce at his house in Weston with the excuse of studying or just hanging out. They would take Bryce's red BMW 328i convertible from one party to another. Grand didn't have a car but swore he was getting one as soon as he saved up enough money. Depending on the party, they would usually head out about 8 at night and get in by 3 or 4 in the morning
Grand got his nickname when they went to their first party together. It was at Jason Riley's house and it was so cliché. His parents were in New York for dinner and a show. They planned to stay in the city overnight and wouldn't be back until the next afternoon.
Jason had promised there wouldn't be any parties. So of course, he threw one.
By the time they got there the party was in full swing. Loud music and whatever alcohol could be taken from the kids' respective parents or purchased by an older sibling or friend abounded. Grand had been in school with these kids for two years and most of them didn't know his name or recognize him. Bryce (whose name everyone seemed to know) took on the task of introducing Grand to his own classmates. When Bryce made introductions to a particularly inebriated girl, her slurred repeating of his name sounded like "grand" and from that point he was Grand.
As much as Bryce embraced his inner nerd, Grand excelled at partying. He was good at it and he enjoyed it. He knew where the parties were and who would be there. He started smoking and drinking but he found that he enjoyed weed most of all. It "took the edge off" he would say.
Dealing started as a small way of subsidizing Grand's own use. But since he was Grand he was good at it. He was was making the kind of money he could only dream of and he transformed from a nobody to someone people wanted to know. By the fall of senior year he had a schedule and a spreadsheet to keep up with his "hobby". The lies to his family grew and grew. His Mom would ask him if anything was wrong as he began to withdraw from his family. "No" he would answer "everything's great." and he meant it. His friendship with Bryce suffered and diminished as he had less time for chess, video games and just hanging out. Grand had new friends. They told him how great he was and oh by the way "can you hook me up?". Bryce never said anything even as he saw Grand fall deeper and deeper into this secret life. Bryce knew Grand needed help but couldn't bring himself to do anything about it.
Garrett Anderson was shot and killed by a drug dealer that thought he had moved in on his territory. His parents thought it was just a random act of brutal violence that had encroached into their world with tragic results. To them it was unexplainable. By the time of the funeral, though, rumors of their son had been whispered their way.
As Bryce paid his respects, he was barely able to keep from weeping openly. He missed his friend so much. Grand had been the one good thing in his life. Grand had been his tether, his connection to the good and normal in this world and now he was gone...because of him. The body in the casket was a grim reminder of his failure as friend.
You taught me how to party, you made me this way, it seemed to accuse him. How could you let this happen to me Bryce? We were friends and you did nothing.
As he hurried from the viewing, he was stopped by Grand's Mom as he left the funeral home.
"Bryce, I've heard some terrible things about Garrett. You were his best friend…" Bryce's stomach churned and a lump formed in his throat. "...he was a good boy, right? If Garrett had been getting into trouble...into something over his head, you would have said something...have stopped him, right?"
Bryce hesitated; he knew he couldn't hurt Grand's Mom.
Before he could answer the woman continued "of course you would. What am I thinking? You would have saved him. Garrett looked up to you. He would have listened. I'm sorry. I'm falling apart. I know he was a good boy."
Bryce gave the woman a tentative, sad smile. "He was a good friend and a good person Mrs. Anderson. Don't listen to anything otherwise."
Bryce looked into those deep blue eyes. "It's a great name. One I'll never forget."
"Good. That'll make it easier for the cover."
"Yeah,..for the cover."