At first the kid just stands there, shivering in his stupid black suit and staring at me through the rusty screen door. All I want to do is grab him by his bony shoulders and shake him. “What do you want?”
He still won’t come in. Just says my name in the same sort of painful way he still says his brother’s.
Joey places his palms against the mesh screen on the door and fans his fingers wide. Behind him, the rain is coming down in sheets. He coughs lightly and then finally steps inside. I eye him; I can count on one hand the number of times he’s actually entered my house. He stays in the doorway, soaking wet.
“You oughta be at home,” I tell him and crack open my fifth beer of the afternoon, but not my only buzz.
“Don’t tell me where I should be.”
“Get out of here, kid.”
He takes a step inside, the wood floor creaking. “You missed the funeral.”
“I couldn’t make it.” I finish the beer and toss it on the ground. It leaves a sick taste in my throat, making the knot that’s already there worse.
Ignoring him, I fumble around in the couch cushions until I find the baggie. I light up, smoke swirling in the air. The room fills with the stench. The dope deadens me. I could give two shits why the kid’s here. He can go to hell. He’s nothing to me, nothing and no one.
That’s when he yells. It’s not tempered, instead angry and violent. “That’s bullshit, Steve!”
“Look,” I snap. “What the fuck do you want me to say? I didn’t fuckin make it, ok?”
I will myself to stay on the couch when all I really want to do is throw him outside on his ass. Just the nearness of him is enough to sting. He looks like him so much.
I take another drag, hoping it hits me soon.
Joey crosses the room and knocks me off the couch. The punch is hard and I’ve got to give it to the kid, he’s got balls.
“Fuck you! It’s not about you today!”
He hits me again and again until I finally realize his punches hurt. I grab his wrists and shove him backwards as I stand up. It’s a light shove, but still he tumbles and lands hard on his ass.
“Are you done? Get that out of your system?”
I wait. At first I think he’s working up to another choice swear word, but then I realize the kid’s crying. He wipes his face in his hands. “Shit. C’mon.” I hold a hand out. “Get up.”
He raises his face, slapping my hand away. “Get the hell away from me.”
I watch him stumble, still crying and then stand on his own. “You should have been there. You’ll never forgive yourself. I won’t either.”
I don’t know why it does, but he calls me out and it hurts. Like a knife to my chest. Because it’s Jimmy saying it, something my best friend would tell me. Blinding red overtakes me, ice snaking its way through my gut.
It’s my best friend’s little brother I end up tossing up against the wall like he’s a rag doll. He tries to wiggle away. I shove him back.
I can’t console him; I really am a shit.
“You wanna spend your time crying about it?” We’re nose to nose but he’s not flinching. “Go ahead, kid. Sure as shit I ain’t gonna stop you. But I don’t need you comin here, talking ’bout Jim like…like…”
I shake my head, clearing it. “I don’t need his funeral to know he’s fuckin gone.” I give him another shove and then let him go.
“Jim’s dead,” Joey says, like he’s trying to make me understand something I already get. The voice is so pained, so sharp that I want to cover my ears. “And you stayed here getting high.”
“You want some?” I slap my pockets, pulling out another baggie. “Takes the edge off. Been takin the edge off for the last few days.”
Maybe that’s why I got a grudge against the kid. He’s the one who told me the ground exploded and Jim got a one-way ticket back home. And he’s not helping anyone with him looking like the spitting image of Jimmy. Passing for a dead boy ain’t gonna be easy.
I toss the dope and he catches it. And just the stupid way he holds it, close to his heart, stunned, makes me say, “What? You think it’s gonna save your goddamned life? It’ll make you numb. If you’re lucky.”
Joey looks at what he has in his hands, and I recognize the desperation that crosses his face. I envision the kid and the drugs and know I’ve done a really stupid, shit-brained thing. I hold my hand out, ready to ask for it back and tell him I was wrong when he speaks.
“I really needed you, Steve. I don’t know what to do without Jimmy—”
I shake my head, turning away.
Then a voice is calling his name, my name and when I blink next his dad’s in the house.
“Let’s go, Joey.” Tom’s still in his suit, looking flustered, making me think the kid bolted from the funeral even before it had ended. Joey nods and lets his dad put an arm around him.
“Give that to me,” Tom says, taking the baggie away.
“You should have been there,” Joey says again. He looks like a robot. Tom gives him a careful glance and then throws me back the baggie.
“Steve,” Tom says. “You give anything like this to my son ever again and you won’t be welcome in my house. You got that?”
Tom propels Joey towards the door. “Come over when you clean yourself up.”
They leave and after a moment, I go flush my stash. It swirls down the toilet like a cyclone.