Okay, so... I believe I promised a new story beginning August 1. So - the good news is that this is the beginning. The bad news? I can't actually update again until September 1st, at which point I'll go back to doing weekly updates right on through to the bitter end. 'Til then, though, I've got a deadline for a real live original novel, and that's gotta get done first. Just wanted you guys to know I hadn't forgotten about you! :)
Thomas Jefferson sits in front of the TV in his Spiderman pajamas, a can of Coke in one hand and a model pirate's ship in the other. It's nine-thirty on a school night, but - at eight years, six months, and seven days old - Tom likes to believe he's master of his own destiny: he chooses his own bedtime. At least, he does on nights when his mom works late.
The lights are off and the sound is on low, so his father doesn't figure out he's still up. Not that he'd probably say anything if he knew, but Tom doesn't want to take any chances. It's a Thursday night, and his favorite show is on: Simon & Simon. It's a repeat, one he's seen a couple of times, but it's a good one - the one where Rick's old girlfriend's husband gets killed. He watches the brothers chase a bad guy down an alley, past a house... Rick stops and lights a cigarette while AJ keeps right on going. Tom smiles a little; he likes Rick best. Whenever he and his best friend Doug play this, Doug always wants to be AJ. Tom couldn't care less - even though he's got the blonde hair and is a lot better looking than Doug, it's no contest. He can picture himself ten, twenty years from now, living in a houseboat docked in Doug's front yard. Drinking beer and eating stale pizza, no ties and no troubles. Yep, he'd rather be Rick any day of the week.
During the commercial, he creeps carefully up the long flight of stairs to the second floor, running his hand along the wooden banister the whole way. He pushes the door open a crack and peers into his father's office, just to check and make sure everything's okay. His father is sitting at his desk, and Tom can just make out the piece of blank paper in the typewriter in front of him. He's wearing his writing sweater - worn at the elbows, frayed at the collar. Mud green, a ratty old thing Tom's mother is always throwing out, only to have his father steal it back out of the trash and patiently wash it out in the bathtub. Whenever he does, it leaves a green ring around the edge of the tub, a puddle of olive-colored water at the drain. His mother gets down on her knees and scrubs, but that ring never quite goes away.
Instead of writing like he's supposed to be doing, his father is staring out the window. His desk is covered with books. His floor is covered with books. They're stacked on shelves, piled in corners, dog-eared in some places and highlighted in others. For his father, books are everything - he's told Tom as much. Tom doesn't care for them himself - all those words, all those worlds. All that time watching his father stare into space, never quite clear if he's coming back to earth this time around. If Tom was a superhero, he firmly believes that books would be his arch nemesis.
They're definitely kryptonite for his father.
On this night, his father has that hollow look that always makes Tom nervous. The times he's seen the look before, it's usually just before a trip to the emergency room, to be followed soon after by a visit with his father drooling black gunk from the corners of his mouth, or his wrists bandaged for weeks before the bandages come off and a fresh set of thin pink scars are revealed.
Yeah, he really hates that look.
He returns to his spot in front of the TV just as he hears a car pull into the drive. The action is amping up on the show - there's a shootout coming, and Tom remembers that AJ gets shot in the arm. It doesn't matter, though; the sound of the car door slamming makes him jump, and he knows he's gotta run. He goes to the window to make sure it's not a false alarm, and his heart sinks. Sure enough, it's his mother. And by the look of her, she's good and pissed. She wouldn't be home this early otherwise. Tom swallows back the knot in his stomach, grabs his Coke and his pirate ship, and hurries to bed before she realizes he's still up.
It's clear the second she slams through the front door that his mother has bigger fish to fry than Tom, though.
"Alan!" she shouts, not even bothering to keep her voice down.
Dr. Taylor - Doug's stepdad - says his mom is just passionate. He heard the old man talking to his wife about it one day.
"You say passionate, I say trashy," Mrs. Taylor said.
Tom likes Dr. Taylor - the man likes to take him places, talk about wild hunting expeditions he's been on and the people he's met along the way. He's not a huge fan of Mrs. Taylor, though.
"I'm working," Tom's father shouts back.
"You mind telling me why someone tried to repossess my car while I was in the middle of a shift tonight?" she yells. Tom can hear her coming up the stairs, her voice getting louder with every step.
He sits up in bed, trying to decide what to do. Sometimes, before they really get into it, Tom can do something to distract them - break a dish, spill something, whatever. Before long, their own argument is over and they're too busy yelling at him to care about whatever they were ready to rip each other's throats out over just two minutes before.
It doesn't sound like his mother would be so easy to distract tonight, though.
He lays back in his bed and stares at the ceiling. Listens to his breathing. They're still yelling, but he can't make out the words.
Outside, he can hear crickets and frogs in the cool Oregon night.
He hears the sound of another car door slamming, somewhere close by. Their home is far out, not close enough to any other houses to hear a car door unless it's someone coming here.
He sits up again, glancing at his Transformers alarm clock. The shootout on TV would be over by now, and they'd be tying up all the loose ends - it's almost ten o'clock. Tom gets out of bed and roughs up his hair so it will look like he's been sleeping, in case anybody catches him. He creeps into the hallway.
When he hears the first gunshot, he doesn't know immediately that that's what it is. Tom's known for having an overactive imagination, and so over the past couple of years he's thought that everything from a car backfiring to a lightning strike and everything in between, are gunshots. It's funny that when he finally hears one live, he's almost positive that he has it wrong. Who would be shooting in his house, late on a Thursday night in one of the most boring neighborhoods on the planet?
Thinking back on that night now, almost twenty-five years later, this is the point when Tom's memory fails him.
What he can't remember, more than two decades after the fact, is exactly when that first shot came. He remembers hearing the car door slam, but did the gunshot come before or after the front door opened? Was his mother still yelling at his father when the gun went off, or had she left the study? He's relived the moment so many times that he actually thought at one point that he'd seen the whole thing - that he'd been in the study when his mother pulled the trigger. That he'd watched his father slump to his desk, a neat dark hole in his forehead.
But, according to reports he read years later, there was no neat, dark hole in his father's forehead - the shot was close-range from a large-caliber handgun, taking half the left side of his father's head with it.
What he does remember is his mother coming to him after that first shot. Was there a second? Sometimes he thinks there was, sometimes that's just his imagination talking. But then his mother was standing in the doorway to his room with his jacket and a suitcase in her hands. She was shaking - he definitely remembers that part.
"We have to go, TJ. Now - we're going on a trip."
He stared at her. "I can't go anywhere. I have a test tomorrow - and I'm supposed to go fishing with Doug and Caleb this weekend."
She didn't cry - at least, he doesn't remember her crying. She just stood there shaking, looking over her shoulder every few seconds. Her voice was hushed.
"Now - I'm not kidding. We have to go. Come on, baby – everything's gonna be all right."
He remembers that they went out the back way. That they didn't take either of his parents' cars, but walked a long way before there was a car waiting on the side of the road. They didn't turn on any lights when they left – they spoke in whispers, sticking close to the edge of the trees. TJ was still in his pajamas, his heart pounding and his mouth dry.
He remembers all of those details: what the cool night air felt like on his bare arms, the way his mother's burgundy sweater looked against her pale skin, how everything smelled and tasted and sounded and felt. But no matter how many times he's gone over it in the past twenty-four years, TJ still can't remember when that first shot came.
In his apartment, he stares out the window. His laptop has gone from blank page to screensaver long ago. It's raining outside. Addie is asleep in the next room, in the new bed he bought with the money from his first-ever book sale. Two days ago, she told him she loved him – and all he could do was stare at her dumbly.
"Thank you," he'd said. It was the best he could muster, in terms of an intelligent response.
So much for having a way with words.
He picks up his cell phone.
It's four a.m., which means it's seven on the east coast.
A phone number is written in red on a post-it on his desk, with just the letter T written beneath in TJ's nearly illegible handwriting. He tries to imagine what Temperance is doing right now. Getting ready for work? Writing? Analyzing bones? Making love to that God among men, Seeley Booth? At the thought, he groans. Rolls his eyes, before flipping his phone shut and turning off his computer.
He takes his coffee cup to the sink, rinses it out, and goes to bed.
He knows he won't sleep, though.
A/N - I know, I know - Not even any B/B love to get you through the next month? I swear, the wait will be worth it... At least, I hope it will. I'll certainly do my best, anyway. :) And of course, if the novel gets done first, I'll strap myself to my office chair and get straight back to working on this!! I can't wait - I really miss you guys!