Linda did not call the police that night, did not wake her husband when she felt more than heard the vibration of the back door closing, and even before she sat up in bed she knew it was Cody, her younger son. She did not move, not for minutes, not until she was sure she was the only one awake, the house stilled and dark, the green minutes on the alarm clock blipping by, her throat already gone dry, but she did not dare drink water for fear of clinking a glass and waking someone. She was done with fighting, done with yelling, only wanted to know where he was going, who he was meeting, wanting to know and not wanting to at the same time, wishing this was a dream but knowing it was not. She dressed quietly in the kitchen as was her custom before her shift at the bakery, and she hoped the sound of the car would only cause her husband and older son to roll over and think it was later than it was, that she was simply leaving for work.
The car was cold, October air smelling of cracked leaves and dirt from the floor mats, moon-touched lake across the road, polished to black slate, just a few lights on the far shore like distant stars. She drove. Going slowly, talking to herself, to Cody, rehearsing what she would say, not that she knew what she would, feeling every minute there was nothing she could say to make him listen, worried every word was a mistake. She drove past the Quick Stop, windows dark, gas pump out front lonely. Not a person anywhere. Dead grass along the lakefront in her headlights. And then she knew where he was, without thinking, just knowing, and she drove there, up the hill across from the lake, Pine Bluff, only a mile from the house. A cemetery. Not a place to go at night, but there was Cody’s bike at the far end, and there he was on the ground, sitting, hood pulled low shielding his face, not caring to move when the lights struck his body like a fist and he looked up, eyes turned to yellow, catlike. She killed the engine. Moon dark then save for the orange-blue flare of Cody’s lighter. She knew enough that he was smoking cigarettes already and cared but did not care, because it was only a day ago she had found a paper packet on his floor with the face of a Joker inked onto the front, off-white dust inside that made her breath catch in her throat. She had told no one, flushed it down, said a prayer she did not really think would help. She sat beside her son on the stubbly grass then and for a moment they did not speak, only listened to the ticking of the car engine as it cooled, coyotes far off in the woods, claiming some kill. Headstones jutted out in front of them black as coal against the sky, row on row and all the unseen ones like her daughter’s, just a flat stone in the grass, no bigger than a dinner plate.
She fought back an argument and said, “It’s cold, Cody. Let’s go home.”
He inhaled deeply, not caring she was there to watch, let the smoke out in a stream, a pungent smudge against the night, and she felt then she might have already lost him.
“You want to tell me what that was in your room,” she heard herself say, unable to stop herself now. “What I found.” Her whole body was quaking against her will, from chill, from her words. What surprised her most was that she did not want the truth then, only a lie. Something to comfort where she knew the truth would only cut, because, if she was honest, she already knew the truth.
“Nothing,” he said quietly.
“All right,” she said. “It’s not going to bring her back.” She tried not to think about Katelyn, three years in the ground before them. She had been twelve, heart twisted from birth. There was only so much that surgery could undo in this world.
Cody said nothing, flicked ash near his feet, and she thought of fire spreading in the ground, the way it was spreading through her chest, angry now at him, his recklessness, but she knew, if she knew anything, that he was trying to get back to his sister, and she thought, well, he just might accomplish that and felt her teeth grit down. She had not been able to stop Katelyn from dying young, but she would stop Cody if she could.
“So, you sit up here and get high. Is that what you do?”
He shrugged, inhaled, leaned back on his hands and looked up at the moon.
“What then?” she said.
“I visit, I guess. I’m just visiting. This is visiting hours. I don’t like to come here in the daylight. It’s too depressing.”
“So you’re a vampire,” she said. “My son the vampire.” She nearly laughed, only it wasn’t that funny. Or maybe it was.
“Okay,” she said, feeling something open up between them. “Do you mind if I visit with you?”
“It’s quiet hours too,” he said. “She hated too much noise, too much talking. The coyotes are loud enough.”
“Okay then,” she said. Then she said, “Can I bum a smoke?”
He was silent, looking for a trap, she knew.
“I’m cold. I wouldn’t mind a cigarette if you have one.”
“When did you ever smoke?” he said, sitting up then, fishing around in his pockets.
“There’s a lot you don’t know about me.” She took the cigarette from him, hit it with the flame, knowing it was a mistake but lighting it anyway. “But it’s quiet hours, remember?” she said, and she thought for sure she saw him smile in the dark.