Forced to return to his estranged family, John discovers how hard it is to truly go home.
It’s been a year since John lost his girlfriend, Leah, to suicide. Living with his uncle keeps his mind from the tragedy and his screwed up family-until he gets into trouble and a judge sends him back home. With a neglectful mother and abusive brother, John’s homecoming is far from happy.
As he tries to navigate and repair the relationships he abandoned years ago, Emily, the girl next door, is the only bright spot. She’s sweet and smart and makes him think his heart may finally be healing. But tragedy isn’t far away, and John must soon face an impossible decision: save his family or save himself.
Last one in the locker room also means last one out. I sit on the bench, lean over to close my locker as Matt and Brandon head for the parking lot.
“Later,” Matt throws over his shoulder, the er reverberating as the door shuts behind him.
Matt and I’ve got some history to get over. It was his big brother, Pete, who hit Ryan. Seven years later and that still hangs between us. Not that it was Pete’s fault exactly. When it comes to those things, fault hardly even matters. It’s called an accident for a reason.
Besides, Pete hasn’t exactly gotten off scot-free either. Some people might think becoming a high school dropout, working pizza delivery while feeding a major drug and drinking problem is not as bad as Ryan’s deal, but I say that nobody has a right to judge. I stayed in touch with Pete even after I moved away. Nobody understands that, but it was like he was the only one who got the nuclear fallout of that accident.
I’m stuffing my sweaty clothes into my bag and zipping it up when I hear my cell chirp. I grab it, hoping it’s one of Pete’s connections I reached out to today. Someone who can help me with my little sobriety problem.
But it’s not Pete’s connection. It’s Uncle Dave. Hey, just checking in. Hope you’re settling in OK.
I text back. Yeah. Fine.
How was practice?
Somehow, that kills me. That he’s still checking on me. Uncle Dave. Not Dad or Mom. Him. This warm spot inside me lights a little every time he calls or texts.
He texts again. When someone you love dies, it changes you. Remember that.
He means Leah for me. My perfect big brother for Mom.
After Ryan’s accident, Mom didn’t change so much as reduce, like the sauce that Uncle Dave made for my filet the last night I was living with him. He explained how a little fire under you can intensify whatever’s inside you. After the accident, Mom got more intense for sure. Driven. Focused only on Ryan. With me, I just got more angry. Just the way I am, I guess.
Uncle Dave always tries to turn simple moments into lessons. Not preachy ones, just different ways to look at life. His texts aren’t meant to pry or annoy, but I can’t help wishing he hadn’t. I screwed up the best living arrangement of my life, the one Dad said I needed after I told him about Leah. But I killed the whole deal by hanging with a bunch of thugs and acting like a punk.
There’s a mass of activity around me in the locker room that doesn’t include me. Kids banging fists. Giving each other shit. Nodding when the others ask if they’ve got a ride. Then it hits me: I’m completely ride-less.
The guys on the team have picked up on my not so subtle I want to be left alone signal. I know teammates are supposed to male bond or some shit like that, but that’s not what I’m here for. I’m here to finish probation. Live according to Mom’s rules. Then get out and go away. And never come back.
I text Uncle Dave. I’m exactly the same jerk I used to be.
He texts. Nice try.
As the door bangs shut for the last time, I realize my being a selfish ass and ignoring everyone means I’ll have to walk home. Great work, Johnny. I almost laugh out loud at what an idiot I can be.
The phone chirps again. This time it’s Dad. Picked up your Jeep from the compound. Cost me a fortune. Show me you’ve earned it and I’ll bring it to you.
Always pushing. Uncle Dave is so much cooler than Dad is that it’s hard to believe they’re even brothers.
The door opens, and a janitor leans in. “You done?”
“Yeah. Sorry.” I look around the locker room one more time. I am completely alone, even on a team of thirty kids. Classic me.