~ 12 ~
Once again they were standing by the food truck, both looking like lost puppies unsure of what to do next. Howie said he went back into the game room and asked everyone if they had seen Nick, hoping that maybe the teenager had come in there looking for his two older friends, but no one was helpful. Kevin had asked if the food truck guy had heard anyone screaming for help to which there was a terse reply of, “If I heard a kid yelling I would have come out and done something!” It seemed as though the man was getting annoyed with both Howie and Kevin’s constant interruptions. He also had a mobile phone he said, and that they could use it to call the police if they wanted to.
It was looking more and more like that was the next logical step. Call the police and let them know Nick was missing, officially.
“I should have talked to him last night, Howie. Instead of bringing up the bruises, I should have just asked him about his damned uncle or whatever the hell he is.”
Howie sighed, “Don’t do that, Kev…”
But Kevin wasn’t listening. He was stuck in his own world of self-blame. “I could have let him know this guy doesn’t have his best interest in mind. I could have prevented this from happening.”
“Well…If I had told him from day one that I knew, maybe he would have confided in me. So, it’s not your fault Kevin…it’s mine.”
Kevin looked over at Howie who seemed completely distraught as he continued, “But…how about we stop blaming ourselves and figure out what to do now.” They were both feeling the exact same way, helpless.
“Should we use that guy’s phone to call the police?”
Howie thought about it for a few seconds and then shook his head, “I think we should head home to my parent’s house. I’d feel better talking to them first and then they’ll tell us what to do.”
Kevin nodded, “Maybe I should wait here though, just in case he comes back?” Even though he knew it was a far-fetched idea that Nick had just wandered away, still…
They started walking towards the parking lot, “Yeah…maybe that’s a good idea.” Howie said sounding detached from the situation.
Kevin was walking with his head down, trying to relax himself and not think the worst, but he couldn’t help it. Thoughts of this guy all alone with Nick. Nick who thought for some reason this relative was only looking out for his best interest. Nick, one of the most naïve people he had ever come into contact with. Nick, who would gladly take candy from a stranger and then climb into their big, black van with windows blackened to help with directions…
“What was that guy’s name, the relative?”
“I knew it started with a D…” He paused as they turned the corner and made their way out of the course and into the lot, “I couldn’t even remember what Nick was wearing, I felt so stupid, Howie. People were trying to help and asking me to describe him and I couldn’t remember one single detail…like if he was wearing a baseball cap or what color shirt he had on...not one damned thing.”
“He’s wearing a baseball cap.” Howie answered, “A red one…with a Tampa Bay Bucs Jersey and jeans.”
That made Kevin feel even worse, that while Howie remembered every little detail, Kevin was lucky he could remember what color the kid’s eyes were. He stopped walking when Howie placed a hand across Kevin’s chest as if stopping him from being thrown through a windshield. “Kevin…look.”
Kevin’s eyes met with what Howie was staring at, no wonder he was able to describe him to a tee because there sitting on the hood of their car, headphones on and Gameboy in hand, sat Nick.
“We never checked the parking lot…” Howie said in that same detached voice before looking over at Kevin, “why didn’t we check the parking lot?”
Kevin shook his head as they both stood there staring at the teenager, totally oblivious to the panic he had caused his two friends.
“Because we are morons.”
They stood staring at Nick for an uncomfortable amount of time. It probably looked weird to the families that were getting out of their own cars and heading into the Putt U. It was as if they were seeing something totally unbelievable like a pile of unicorns being abducted by aliens, or a gaggle of pigs flying around.
In that moment, Kevin should have felt a huge sense of relief, but all he felt was this intense anger, a rage almost as he finally got his legs moving and headed towards Nick and the car.
Nick had only a few seconds to look up before Kevin bat the Gameboy right out of his hands an onto the ground.
“Kevin!” Howie screamed, just as Nick yelled, “What the fuck?” almost in perfect unison.
“Where the hell have you been?” Kevin’s voice was sharp and loud as Howie once again said his name.
Nick threw off his head phones, jumped off the car and grabbed his Gameboy, relieved to see it wasn’t broken, before turning towards Kevin, “Where the hell have I been? I’ve been sitting right here. Where the hell have you been?” Nick’s voice was giving Kevin’s a run for the money in the ‘I can be louder than you’ contest.
“We’ve been searching all over the damn place looking for you, that’s where we’ve been!”
“Well bang up job with that!” - Nick’s sarcastic reply.
Kevin took one step closer to Nick and grabbed his arms, one in each hand, gripping tightly and shaking, “Do you have any idea how fucking worried we were about you?” He yelled as he continued to shake the teenager.
“KEVIN KNOCK IT OFF!” Howie screamed from behind now trying to pull his much bigger friend off the younger one.
“We were just about to call the police!!” He continued.
When Nick failed to come back with a smart ass reply, Kevin made eye contact with him and instantly froze when he saw a look of terror staring back at him. Nick was terrified in that moment and instantly he loosened his grip as once again a plea from Howie was heard in the background.
Howie didn’t let Kevin finish his thought. He stood in between both of his friends and through gritted teeth said, “Both of you get in the car now before someone calls the police on us!”
Nick opened the back door and climbed in while a still in shock Kevin moved into the passenger seat. Howie sighed and quickly moved to the driver’s side, started up the car and drove the hell out of there before anyone had a chance to do anything about the scene that just unfolded.
The quiet tension in the car was probably the most uncomfortable one any of them had ever experienced. Not one word was uttered, it didn’t even seem like they were breathing. It was so silent. Howie seemed to be driving around aimlessly until he pulled into a small park with a picnic area.
“Now let’s get out and talk about what just happened.” Howie looked at Kevin and then at Nick before opening his door and making his way over to a picnic bench.
Nick quickly followed Howie, not wanting to be alone with Kevin who was consumed by thoughts of what he had done. He couldn’t’ believe he had lost control of his temper like that. Even when he was so mad he wanted to punch a wall, he would be able to contain his emotions. This kid who had poured out his heart to him only the night before, telling him about his father’s abusive behavior, now had the very same thing happen to him from the person he trusted enough to confide in.
How could he do that? Why would he do that? It’s not like this was the first time Nick had flared his anger to a breaking point, but the most he had ever done in retaliation was a small push followed by a finger point to his chest with a warning not to do that again. What he did today was completely unacceptable.
Howie glaring into the car, made Kevin finally get out and make his way over to the table. He decided to sit opposite where Howie and Nick were. Right across from the teenager so he could look him in the eyes and apologize.
Nick would have none of it though, refusing to look up as Kevin sat down. He still seemed shook up and on edge as Howie was the first to speak. It was apparent he was trying to speak calmly even though he seemed a mixture of angry and upset. “Nicky, we were worried because those kids you were with said you walked away with an older guy.”
Nick nodded, still not looking at Howie or Kevin. Instead he chose to tell his tale to the picnic table. “He recognized me. Said his daughter was a huge fan. He was from Quebec, didn’t speak really great English.” He stopped and took a deep breath, “I didn’t want them to know I was famous…you know? I just wanted to be a normal kid…so I told them I’d be back in a minute and went and signed something for his daughter.” Kevin watched as Nick continued, “It was taking him forever to tell me about his kid because of the language barrier and as I was talking to this guy, I saw them split…” The teenager wiped tears away from his eyes. “They like took no time at all to try to ditch me, I guess.” He sounded absolutely heartbroken, as if it was the biggest betrayal on the planet, those new friends of his leaving him on the course.
Howie placed his hand on Nick’s back once he saw how visibly upset the teenager was, his voice now quiet, calm and back to normal “Why didn’t you come get us?”
“I tried, but you weren’t at the table anymore. I figured you just went to the car, so that’s where I went and waited.”
“You didn’t think to go into the game room?”
“I couldn’t picture you guys even trying to have that kind of fun so I went in search of a bank…” He then looked over at Kevin, “You know, since I owed you money and all! I even left a note on the damn windshield, see?” He pointed to the note he was holding in his hands, threw it over at Kevin and then his eyes went back to the table, “After that I hit the game room but you weren’t in there.”
“That must have been when we went looking for you. We must have just missed each other.” Howie said looking at Kevin with a forlorn expression on his face.
Kevin had no idea what to do or say. He wanted to apologize to this kid for acting the way he did, but he was so upset at the moment, he had so much emotion going through him, he wasn’t sure if he could actually even say one word without either screaming or crying.
“I don’t see what the big deal is…” Nick said after a few seconds of silence. “I mean it’s not like I’m a kid or anything. There was no reason to get so worked up. Do you guys really distrust me that much?”
His eyes moved from the table directly to Kevin again. They were wet with tears that needed to be wiped away as they just pooled inside his eyes before naturally falling onto his face. He looked like a kid who was just betrayed by someone he thought he could trust.
Kevin gulped and felt his own tears start to fall, a move that confused Nick. Of course it was weird to him, how overly emotional both of the boys were about this because he had no clue what was going through their minds for the brief amount of time he was missing. He really had no idea of the panic he had caused them.
“What’s your deal?” Nick finally asked with a mixture of anger and confusion in his voice.
“We thought something bad might have happened to you.” Howie said as he placed his hand from Nick’s back onto his shoulder.
“Because we know about Donald…” Kevin was finally able to get out. “We know about the letters and we know he’s been contacting you.”
Kevin and Nick just sat staring at one another, one feeling great remorse and the other total surprise.