Mrs. Quigley kept a silent watch over Trajan once he returned to school, channeling her concern for him through the vague hopes teachers tend to have for their pupils, especially those whose situation seems beyond their mettle to handle on their own. She went to find Trajan the day Paulo Ramirez was caught smoking reefer in the boys’ bathroom. Trajan and Paulo knew one another by association alone, by consequence of Trajan’s father having taken up residence with Paulo’s mother.
Chester hung his coat on the same hook each night, dropped his keys in a dish on the kitchen counter, yet continued to question where he belonged. He’d purchased a fresh doormat from the Kiwanis Club the year he and Dottie split up, its fabric the color of a paper grocery bag, embossed with a crimson H for Hopkins, one of four fall colors he was asked to choose from: crimson, amber, pumpkin, evergreen. It sat resting outside his ex-wife’s front door. She was Hopkins. Trajan and Langston were Hopkins too. The mat had no place outside his current residence.
Chester had been the one to answer when the school called to inform Mrs. Ramirez of her son’s suspension. Coincidence placed him next to the phone, a string of nearby deliveries permitting him to break for lunch in the relative comfort of home rather than the front seat of his truck. The hairs on his forearm said to let the phone ring. No one would be calling to speak with him this time of day.
He ignored his original instincts and picked up the receiver, which landed him in the principal’s office to cause quite a commotion, by all indications. The walls shook with the sound of his thunder, the waiting area outside the principal’s office awash with frenetic energy, loud foreboding sent to terrorize the sprinkling of kids lined up outside the office door who’d been undoubtedly called to answer to lesser charges.
“You must be out of your goddamned mind if you think I’m going to run up here every time you decide to act a fool,” Chester bellowed for the whole school to hear. “Norwich Police can come get you for all I care. It’ll piss your mother off something awful, but I’d rather deal with her than stand here to account for your good-for-nothing ass.”
Mrs. Quigley pushed the door open and poked her head in to tell them Trajan was outside wishing to speak with his father. Chester proceeded to pace the carpeted floor, hurling insults in the direction of Paulo’s bowed head. He looked haggard, beat, from half a day’s work, his recent handful of troubles, a lifetime of buried regrets.
Trajan hadn’t spoken to his father since the holidays, a quick exchange of gifts outside his mother’s house before Chester headed home to his second family, a second set of makeshift joys to celebrate. Had the two been in closer contact, Trajan might not have noticed the subtle shift in his father’s demeanor: the long slope of his forehead gone slack, smooth skin replacing the hard crinkles on his brow; dull eyes narrowed from endless worry that looked past anything that wasn’t immediately in his way; his feet wearing a groove into a path along which he wouldn’t wish his worst enemy.
“What’s happening, Pops?” Trajan asked, imitating his brother, his tone intentionally aloof in an attempt to defuse their father’s anger.
“Now is not a good time, son.” Chester had taken to referring to Trajan exclusively as son, looking to reinforce the bond. Langston he called by name, like saying Tuesday instead of yesterday when the day amounts to the same. Let enough time pass and yesterday slips into the day before yesterday and then the day before that, becoming quickly forgotten as the balance of the week piles on. The name, Tuesday, remains unambiguous, not easily misplaced.
“When is it going to be a good time?” Trajan asked. “We eventually have to talk about it.”
Mrs. Quigley excused herself, motioning for the vice principal to follow suit. Principal Adams remained out of obligation to oversee any family conference held on school grounds. Even a discussion between a father and his son about the death of the other son required him to remain in attendance. Paulo stood by like an innocent bystander despite having stirred the commotion in the first place. He needed to hear this too. He needed to understand what had Chester so boxed in, seeing how the two shared a roof.
“Why is it you always seem angry?” Trajan asked, sensing the temperature in the room rising, his father threatening to boil over again.
Chester puzzled on Trajan’s face a good long while before answering, trying to determine the full intent behind his son’s question. “I’m not living the life I hoped to lead.”
“Which life did you hope to lead?” Trajan asked him.
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