Chapter 16. The Carusos

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Sam's house was a slim, two-story bungalow situated at the foot of a steep hill. The bright green window frames and the yellow mailbox offered good vibes upon arrival and left me with tiny clues about what kind of family the Carusos were.

That was about as far as I got, though.

Sam's father, Paul, was plowing snow from the walkway as I pulled up to his house. Seeing as I never got to come home with him, I never got to meet his parents either. I did say hello to Paul once at parent-teacher night; he wore an Umbro tracksuit and had a mustache of the Frank Zappa kind.

Kind was the word to describe him, making it hard to understand where Sam got his wits from when his father was all-around wholesome. Paul Caruso had a nasal voice with laughter that spread at a rapid rate, making me wish Sam would invite me inside for once.

After spending Sunday afternoon with Fay, going off about things like Duck Fredricksen's upcoming weekday party and the more trivial parts of our lives, Sam and I saw it fit to devote Monday afternoon to find out what happened in Peachbode.

Sam- bright as he was, brought an extra can of Power Pop for his chemistry teacher to test out. Mrs. Blix got back to him shortly, revealing the dangerously delicious pop contained a high dose of scopolamine, a sort of anesthetic used by those who needed it for non-surgical purposes, whatever those may be. How it got there, and whether it was on purpose, remained unsolved.

Popo's Power Pop looked to be popular among Peachbode inhabitants. Sure, the sweet, sugar rush from a carbonated peach drink was attractive enough. But from what Mrs. Blix could gather from the ingredients, and what Sam and I could testify from trying it, Peachbode inhabitants liked their carbonated peach drinks with sedative drugs.

It was the type of thing- alongside discovering Johan dead and facing the disappearance of Agent Barnett, that was too strange to think of in the immediate aftermath.

Instead, we talked about Duck Fredricksen's weekday party, and I filled Sam in on all of Fay's gossip. We just needed a little time, that's all. A little rehabilitation.

We were going out after school, downtown somewhere, we never really planned things. I needed somewhere to be in between school and picking up Isaac from rehearsals. Sam urged me to make a detour and stop by his house, he said he was picking up some money.

"What are you waiting for?" I asked. He had the strap of his backpack in his hand but made no other indication he was about to go inside.

"I'm waiting for my Dad to finish up," Sam said, "I don't want him to know you're the one giving me rides home."

"Excuse me?"

"He'll tell my mom I've been within the personal sphere of a girl and it'll become a whole thing," he tried explaining, "I'll spare you of a Caruso family meeting."

"What if I wanna meet your family?" I challenged, curious as to what he was stalling for.

"Then I won't let you," he replied in a childlike manner, distracting me from how tense he was getting.

I caught myself getting pretty insulted by this. Did he just assume I wasn't eligible to meet his family or was he too embarrassed to be seen with me? Neither made a lot of sense, but I also couldn't think of any other reason. And where little sense could be found, I had to seek out an answer.

I offered up a smirk. Then I bashed my palm against the horn.

And I now had the attention of Paul Caruso.

Sam sat still with his mouth open and eyes straight ahead, awaiting impact as his father approached the car.

"Well, hi there!" Mr. Caruso greeted from outside Sam's window, a tone higher than I remembered his voice, "Sam, is this your friend?"

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