It all started, as most things in my life did back then, with me coming off of a ten-hour long sugar high. It was the day after Halloween (and, at the tender age of five, I was unaware of any other name for it existing), and I was unfortunately sitting in school, feeling incredibly nauseous and sleep-deprived, since I had been out until midnight the previous night (and/or that morning). Trick-or-treating had, of course, ended at nine or so, but the pranking that my older brother (not oldest, the middle of us three) and his friends did went on for an extra three hours. And every little kid always wants to hang with their big brothers and prove they're cool, even if there's a thirteen year age difference between them.
So there I was, sick, tired, and bored mindless by my teacher's babbling about “This is the letter 'c', can anyone tell me what begins with a 'c'? Yes, cat, that's right! Good job!” -- hadn't these losers learned to read yet? My God. (Not that I would ever take the Lord's name in vain – that was a good way to get rulers across your hands in Catholic school.) And in walks the head of the school, trailed by a tall, solidly-built boy who looked at least half as bored as me! I immediately perked up at the prospect of a new classmate to mock.
The teacher conferred with the head for a moment, then he left and she turned and smiled a brilliant smile, full of straight white teeth that the rest of us were highly disdainful of (seriously, who wasted money on braces?). “Class, I'd like you all to welcome Maxwell Garcia, whose family just moved here from the east side of town. Maxwell, why don't you go sit with Ryan? Ryan, raise your hand.”
I reluctantly did as told, sad to give up my solitary table. (There was supposed to be four kids per table, but everyone else had mysteriously avoided sitting near me, and I had spread my stuff all over the entire table, where I'd assumed it would stay until the teacher got her head out of her ass and noticed my 'mess' (as if I'd ever be messy, everything was neatly organized, just spread out) and ordered me to clean up. But hey, Teacher said, so I must do. Or something.
We sat quietly like the good little Catholic boys we would pretend to be for the next twelve or so years until free time, when all the kids were allowed to whatever they wanted for a freeing fifteen minutes. Then he turned to me, a vaguely curious look on his face. “What's there to do here?”
I raised what I hoped was an ironic eyebrow – I'd heard my brother use that word, and it sounded cool – and spoke: “'Here' where? The room, the school, the neighborhood?” A pause. “Earth?”
He gave me an annoyed look. “I just come from the east, you know. It's the same city.”
“No, it's really not.”
“And anyway,” he said, giving the second word a stronger emphasis, “I meant what can we do now?”
I shrugged. “Anything that won't get you arrested, just about. I usually...” I paused, this time not for dramatic purposes. “Here, I'll show ya. C'mere.” I stood, and half-skipped over to the little sectioned-off part of the room that held the plastic fake kitchen set. Back then, that was how I walked, a system that came from too much trying to follow brothers who were twice, or more, my size, with equally large legs.
Once we were both in there – no one else ever bothered going in there, as they all knew I'd just kick or bite them until they left – I grabbed the closest food item (remembering back, I'm pretty sure it was a cucumber, which is highly amusing given later events) and immediately threw it as hard as I could over the flimsy dividers of the play area.
There was a scattering and muttered comments (being this was kindergarten, the mutterings where actually high pitched and very loud, but I'm sure that muttering was what they meant to be doing), and Max showed me what body language really was by carefully arching an eyebrow that said everything – it said 'Are you kidding me?' and 'How old are you, again? Three?', all without opening his mouth.
“What?” I snapped at him.
“How long have you been doing that?”
“Since school started, I guess. Why?”
“Because don't you think they noticed it by now? And then aren't there when it comes down? And are more annoyed than shocked?”
I scowled. “And if the point was to shock 'em, I'd be upset. But it weren't, and I ain't.”
“And don't they teach you all how to speak right here?”
“Shuddup. Nobody asked you, anyway.”
“I'll shut up if you do first.”
I shoved him, hard. “No, you're gunna learn your place, that's what you're gunna do.”
He came at me, fists flying, and I went right back at him in the same way. It ended with us both going to first the infirmary and then to the head's office, where we waited for our parents to pick us up with the news that we'd been suspended for three days each, and had so many demerits that it wasn't funny.
It may not seem like it, but that was the start of a beautiful friendship.
Which is why, of course, I was standing outside of the local prison, leaning against my truck and freezing my goddamn ass off in the bitterly cold – but incredibly sunny – weather. And here he came, Maxwell Garcia, felon extraordinare, out on parole. The dumbass. I don't get it, he was our high school valedictorian, the guy all of the girls (and a few of the guys) wanted to get with, the star of our soccer team – and we played soccer the European football way, full-on hardcore – and he was stupid enough to commit armed robbery? And moreover, commit armed robbery and be caught? What the hell was wrong with him? I mean, I hadn't seen him without the sheen of bulletproof glass between us since we were both twenty-five, and he'd just been sentenced, and I was a beat cop working the street near the bowling alley that was always being set on fire (ah, the good ol' days of fifth grade, I tell you what).
But of course, it was Max. He had put his time behind bars to good use and now had a law degree, and was now going to work as a public defender (our city was sorely hurting for any kind of government employee, actually; and most defense attorneys liked to actually get rich off of freeing their dirty-ass clients). And stupidly enough, I'd volunteered my hospice for his home until he made enough money to live by himself – so, basically, until we were about eighty, given the average public defender's yearly salary. What can I say, I'm a nice guy.
Plus, I was getting more than lonely in the rambling townhouse that used to be my parents' house before they retired in the suburbs (dad might've just been a firefighter, but mom was a society lady, don'tcha know). My brothers both had their own families and kids and pets and houses, so my parents gave me the townhouse, mostly because my mother was terrified of the apartment I was living in (“The Box”, as my co-workers had fondly nick-named it after a poker night).
I stretched against the hood of my truck, not used to standing still for so long. Hey, I may've once been a beat cop, but I'd been a detective for years now, I was so out of practice with standing. But here he was, finally, all nice and adorable in his wrinkled tux. (I kid, of course; there was no way Max could've ever been 'adorable'. 'Smoking hot', yes, 'sexy, probably, but cute or adorable? Ain't happening. Now me, I was cute and adorable. Or would be, according to my sisters-in-law, if I weren't such a prick all the time.)
“What, you get lost or somethin'?” I hollered at him as soon as he was within hollering distance.
“Totally man, you know me. I get lost trying to find my pants – when they're already on.” He grinned at me, and I rolled my eyes and ignored the part of me that wasn't completely used to this banter. Once he was close enough, he pulled me into a crushing hug – key word being 'crushing', as in addition to the law degree he'd also seemingly earned a bench-pressing degree of about five hundred while in prison. Which yeah, I guess. I mean, what was there to do in prison other than study, work-out, do drugs, and kill people? And have gay sex. And tattoo swastikas on people's asses, although that might've just been on Oz, now that I think about it...
“Being pressed into a human pancake is nice and all, but how about we get this show on the road before picking up a felon makes me late for work. You know, my work, as a detective, on the police force.” I stared him down, making sure he knew I wasn't going to put up with any typical felon crap.
He, of course, reacted by rolling his eyes. “Look, I told you. Stupid one-time thing. Never do it again. Promise. Grew brain. Et cetera, et cetera, et-freaking-cetera.”
I glowered at him for a long moment, then nodded and grinned. “Just checking.”
“Yeah. Right.” He opened the passenger side door, tossing his bag in the tiny backseat that I delight in making my nieces and nephews sit in whenever I drive. “What's your hurry, anyway?”
“What happened to that 'grew a brain' thing?” I snarked at him. At his look, I sighed. “Friday night dinner with the family? Duh?” I added rudely as I also climbed into the truck and buckled my seat belt.
“You're coming too, you know.”
“I had, quite sadly, guessed that much. You got earplugs for me, so I don't have to stand the screechings of all your assorted relatives? I got that enough in their visits and phone calls five years ago.”
“They don't think so,” I smirked. “And dude? If I've gotta listen, you've gotta listen.”With that, I gunned the engine and peeled out of the parking lot with a screech my 'assorted relatives' would be proud of. (Something our training officer had told us early on in the academy was that there was no worse a driver out there than a cop, which made a lot of the others laugh, but he's so right.)
A muttered cry of “Christ!” from Max, who'd not been rulered as many times as me over the years, was the only sound outside of the engine as we took off into the disgusting cheerful midday sunlight.