I let the phone ring damn near twenty times before I slammed it back onto the receiver. It had been close to two weeks since I'd heard a word from Tex.

When I'd first left for Indiana State we had talked every day on the phone. Even when that got too expensive we'd still managed to touch base every couple of days at least. The last time I'd talked to Tex he hadn't sounded much like his carefree self and it had me a little worried. Johnny's parents had gotten fed up with him goofing around with Tex the last time they'd gotten suspended and had shipped him off to his grandparents place up in Iowa for the rest of the semester. Besides, Pop had taken off for the rodeos again even though he'd sworn up and down to me before I'd left that he wasn't just going to abandon Tex again. Granted I was taking care of myself and Tex at his age, Texas was a real young sixteen and all by himself now too.

Even from school, I'd been keeping tabs on him as best as I could. Bob was away at school too but, when he went home on the weekends, he'd always check in on him for me. Bob had been spending his weekends at school lately to keep up with the impending mid-terms though. I'd briefly thought about asking Cole to stop by, but figured him to be more trouble than it was worth.

"Dammit Texas," I cursed under my breath.

Part of me was sure he was fine. That he just wasn't thinking—as usual. But another sickening part of me kept screaming that something just wasn't right. I'd called his principal to find out how he was doing a few days before. He'd sounded like he was about ready to strangle Tex as he recounted his juvenile antics and frequent tardies and absences. They'd even had the truant officer make a trip out to the house a few times. I was about ready to start hitching a ride back out to Bixby myself just to knock his head against a wall.

I picked up the phone again and punched in the familiar number to my house, holding my breath while it rang and rang. Cursing, I slammed the phone down again causing a few kids in the hall to look into my room curiously. I kicked my door shut and flopped onto my bed.

I'd even tried calling Jamie the night before to see if she knew anything, but she'd said that Tex had stopped talking to her a long time ago. She also said he'd been hanging around with Roger Genet and his gang of lowlifes. Jamie didn't say it—which was a rare thing for her--but I could tell that she didn't like the idea of the two of them together. I didn't much blame her though. That Genet kid was trouble.

God, I'd worked so hard to make sure the two of us could stay in school when I'd been home. I'd done it for years and Tex had managed to mess it up in a matter of months. I wished wildly that he'd just grow up. He never saw the big picture. The only thing Tex ever cared about was the here and now; it was like he had no concept of the consequences of things. I'd always been envious of that though—how he was so happily oblivious to all the troubles surrounding him.

Suddenly the phone rang and I jumped to get it so fast that I knocked it off my desk and it clattered to the floor.

"Hello?" I said, scrambling to pick it up.

"Mason?" I heard Tex's voice and breathed a small sigh of relief. "You the one that's been calling and calling?"

He sounded pretty out of it. I wasn't sure if he'd been drinking or smoking, but he definitely wasn't sober.

"Tex, where in the almighty universe have you been?" I demanded pacing the floor of my dorm room.

He was silent for a minute. "Well jeez Mace," He drawled. "I guess I've been right here. Or pretty close to right here anyways. Where d'you think I'd really get off to?"

I clenched my teeth, suddenly remembering exactly how I'd felt that day in the kitchen when I'd hit him.

"Are you drunk or high?"

"If I had to guess--" He started, then paused to take an audible gulp of something. "I'd say both."

"Do you know how long it's been since we last talked?" I asked as calmly as I could manage.

I heard him laugh lazily and picked up a few voices in the background, but he didn't answer me.

"Texas!" I roared into the receiver.

"Yeah?" He stammered, his attention back on me. "Well, I dunno. I'd reckon a couple of days at least?"

"Try two weeks kiddo," I growled. "Two weeks without so much as a word from you. What if something had happened to you?"

He was silent again. Then I heard him let out a long breath. "But nothing did happen," He told me with a devil-may-care type of attitude. "Calm down or you'll give yourself another ulcer."

I almost had to bite my tongue to keep from tearing into him. Again I heard voices in the background, though louder this time.

"Is someone there with you?" I asked furiously.

"Just a few friends Mace," He said defensively. "No need to get on my case about it."

By now I was seething. "I am going to get on your case if you don't smarten up," I threatened. "And what's this I hear about you and Roger Genet suddenly being all chummy?"

"Who the hell told you that?" He cried, starting to get angry. "Do you have spies running around the town or something? And since when is it any of your damn business who I hang around with?"

"I'm your brother Tex," I reminded him. "Everything you do is my business. Just because I'm not there to force you to do what you're supposed to doesn't mean you don't have to do it anymore."

"Look Mason, you're the one who took off on me. You, then Johnny and now Pop," He said in a low, cool tone that I'd never heard him use before. "I know you're used to it, but you can't have everything your way, you know. You're one of the ones who's going; you always have been. But I'm staying..."

His voice trailed off for a minute.

"I'm staying and I'll do whatever I goddamn want while I'm stuck here," He suddenly finished the conversation with a click. I listened to the dial tone for a few seconds before I actually hung up the phone.

"You're staying alright, kid," I said shaking my head. "I just wish I knew how to make you understand that you're the only one keeping yourself from going."