32. Grackle King

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32. Grackle King

I was out of the neighborhood before the gears of my mind finally ground down this latest painful experience and began to spin again. If I didn’t have Nora, there was no reason to keep the game away from them. It was simple mathematics; David was working the numbers again.

I felt partially relieved but mostly, depressed. Nora and Eureka seemed incompatible. I’d have to find some way to make it work, or be unhappy. I realized I might be trapped with Eureka for the rest of my life. Without Nora, it was all I had.

I sighed as the hot May sun beat down on my neck. It’d be dark soon, and there was at least three hours of walking to do. The road from Nora’s neighborhood was lonely and long, surrounded by cornfields that made you walk three miles east just to turn and walk three miles north; when the corn was high, it was like the world’s most boring hedge maze…and the corn was pretty damn high in May.

I heard a car slowing down behind me, but I didn’t bother turning my head. I figured I knew who it was. “Go away,” I said as the window rolled down with a painful squeak. “You’ve done enough.”

“I just wanted to give you a lift, Jacob,” David said. “That’s what friends do, right?”

He drove a beat-up red sports car, the hood a junkyard replacement, the wrong color and half-rusted. “You have a car?” I asked, secretly relieved to see him.

“Someone loaned it to me. Sort of,” he grinned.

I walked around to the passenger side. “How’ve you been?” I asked as I got in.

“I’ve been tired,” David said, and he looked it. Deep lines of worry radiated from the pit of his eyes, as though the orbs had smashed into his face at great speed and left a network of cracked Earth around them.

“You look like shit,” I commented.

“You look even worse. How’ve you been?”

I think David wanted me to tell him I’d been depressed, lost. Dying without him. For once, though, I didn’t want to go back under his wing. “I’m alive,” I said. “That’s enough, right?”

“Sometimes just waking up in the morning is enough of a victory,” David said, putting the car in drive, easing up to speed on the farm road as loose stones kicked up into the undercarriage of the car.

There was an awkward silence that permeated the air in the car as he waited for me to make the first move. I refused. Finally, he relented: “Will you come back? What if I make some changes?”

“I don’t know, David. I don’t know. It doesn’t seem right anymore.”

“What doesn’t seem right?” he asked, sounding desperate. A side of David I’d never seen.

“Do you really care what I think? In case you do…you took things too far. You helped turn Kent against me. And things got out of hand, David. You have to accept responsibility for what happened. You’re sleeping with Cameron and Emily. They’ve always looked up to you. Do you think that’s the right thing to do with people who are looking for guidance from you?” My voice cracked; I took a deep breath, determined not to show weakness. “And spreading the game? Bringing in more players? Are you just tired of us, is everyone too worn out?”

David sighed heavily. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe this was a mistake.”

“You always say I’m right, but you never do what I say, David. I can’t control you. I can’t sit here and be your conscience, either. I’m tired of being the little angel on your shoulder you always ignore. You need to develop your own sense of right and wrong. Or, you need to accept that concepts like right and wrong do apply, even to you.”

David started to say something, almond eyes squinting behind brown curls, as beautiful a creature as ever. He didn’t finish the sentence; we arrived back at Broadway. Grackles fluttered, harkening the arrival of their king by showering the air with a graffiti of loose feathers and shit.

The car rolled to a halt. “I’m starting to worry I ruined everything,” he said, voice low.

“It’s not so bad,” I told him. “You’ll bounce back from this. You’re a genius, David. Whatever you do next will be even better; you just needed to learn, first. Here, I’ve got something that might cheer you up.” I put a hand on his shoulder. “Tag. I may not want to be your conscience anymore, but I still want to see you do amazing things.”

I stepped out of his car, leaving David to his thoughts. I couldn’t stand to see him sounding depressed or lost; it was so out of character, it tore my heart out.

“Thanks, Jacob,” David’s voice carried through the passenger side window as it rolled down. “You’ve been a good friend. The best.”

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