“Absolutely. Whatever you need. I wish that Wendy had contacted me. I didn’t even know she was around. The boys talked about the Running Girl, but she must not have been out when I was. I never saw her. If I had—if I’d know….” His voice caught in his throat.
“This isn’t on you, Aiden. You can’t help if you don’t know. I work with a bunch of men who have a Sir Gallahad complex. You want to fix things, take care of everyone. It’s highly admirable, but you have to remember, some things are just too broken. Not everyone can be saved. But I promise you this, I will do everything in my power to find who did this. I want you to have realistic expectations. We may not ever find out.”
“Yes, you will,” Aiden said. “I believe in you.”
Vanessa was startled and touched by his confidence in her. “I hope I can live up to that expectation.”
“I’ll be by in fifteen minutes. Would your mother like to come?”
“I’ll ask. Mom, wanna go?”
“No. This is for you and Vanessa to do.”
He nodded, accepting that. He conveyed the message to Vanessa.
“No problem. If she changes her mind, that’s fine. I’ll be there shortly.”
Aiden hurried to dress and brush his teeth. When he came out of his room, he was wearing tan chinos and a red Oakely shirt. Instead of his usual flipflops, he wore his best sneakers. He stood taller, and the grief on his face aged him a little. Deirdre had the odd feeling that he truly was no longer a little boy. A man stood before her. She had to grapple the urge to smooth his hair and do other Mom things. He didn’t need to be coddled.
“You look very handsome.”
“Thanks.” His grin made him look his age, but the somber expression returned.
Vanessa pulled up into the driveway. Aiden went out to meet her, and Deirdre followed.
“You sure you don’t want to come?” Vanessa asked.
“No, my son needs to do this on his own,” Deirdre replied.
“Okay, let’s go!”
“Call if you need me,” Deidre addressed Vanessa, but glanced at her son.
“We will,” he replied.
Vanessa didn’t say much as they drove across town. It wasn’t far from the Partridge’s home, which was in the Thirty-second block of Kumquat. As they turned into Lime Tree Drive, from the Boulevard, Aiden stiffened. He spotted the house, exactly as it had been a few years ago. If anything, it looked even more faded and shabby than it had. A blue tarp flapped on the roof, a telltale sign of hurricane damage.
“That’s it,” he pointed.
Vanessa slowed and rolled into the driveway behind a battered Ford pickup. The yard was ragged and needed cutting, but the house was lived in. The front window had no drapes, and they could see battered furniture inside. Someone walked into the room, silhouetted against a large mirror behind. Aiden couldn’t be sure, but he thought it was a woman, not a man.
“You want me to come up to the door?” he asked.
“No. You stay in the car.”
He nodded, pressing his lips together. “I wanted to see…. How she lived.”
Vanessa patted his hand. “Trust me, you don’t. I’ll be back soon. If you want, go for a walk, but don’t wander far.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Biting his thumb knuckle, he rested his elbow on the window edge.
Vanessa’s dark, appraising eyes took in details of the young man. He was about six foot three, with a lean build. Light blond hair, like his mother’s, had a slight curl. His eyes, a sage green, saw everything, cataloging them. He carried himself with confidence, a rare thing among teenagers. There was a set to his jaw that spoke of his dogged determination. She recognized it, because she saw that expression every time she looked in her mirror.
“I’ll be right back,” she repeated.
Nodding, Aiden continued to bite his thumb.
Knocking on the door started a chorus of yapping inside. The door was yanked open by an elderly, fat woman with a dirty dressing gown, her sparse graying hair in curlers. Her eyes were nearly colorless, red rimmed and watery. She reeked of cheap beer, stale cigarettes and body odor. Vanessa had to stifle a gag. Her heightened sense of smell would betray her soon. Taking a step back, she introduced herself, holding up her badge.
“Yeah. What’s he done now?” she snarled.
“You’re here about my loser grandson, right? What’d he do? I told him, I ain’t bailing him out no more. He gets in trouble, he gets himself out of it.”
© 2018 Dellani Oakes