November 10, 2014, Monday
By Monday morning, the sports blogs and radio shows had picked up the story of Saan’s accident. Some bystander photographed the overturned SUV and Saan lying unconsciously on the sidewalk. Other photos showed broken bottles of champagne and Jack Daniel’s.
The phone calls started early in the morning and Kao fielded questions without providing much comment. He instructed Saan to stay off social media as his son left for school.
In between the media calls, Kao received assurances from college coaches that Saan’s scholarship offers would not be rescinded regardless of the outcome. Of course, he understood these were just promises that were subject to change. It didn’t matter much to him. If needed, he’d just as well pay for Saan’s education.
He retreated to the patio with his coffee and cigarettes and Erica joined him shortly.
“Was he drinking?” Kao asked.
“He had a couple sips. Do you think the police will get involved?”
“No. He’ll be fine on that end. And if it comes to it, I’ll just say the bottles were mine. I’m just trying to figure out a way to punish him.”
“The problem is he’s such a good kid,” Kao said. “You did a hell of a job with him.”
“I wasn’t alone.”
“Okay, we can stop slapping each other’s back now.”
The doorbell rang and Erica went to answer it.
“Don’t say anything if it’s the papers!” Kao shouted over his shoulder.
She returned shortly with Kao’s parents. Although nearing 70, both still had their health and had lived a life of leisure for nearly 20 years. The father had a slightly upturned mouth, and the mother carried her trademark scowl.
“Where’s Saan?” Kao’s mother asked in their native tongue.
“He’s in school.”
“Is he not hurt?”
“Why didn’t you call us?”
“I don’t know,” Kao said with little affection.
Kao’s father interrupted with a calm voice, “I want to go to the site so I can do a ceremony for him, for his spirit.”
“Those streets are busy,” Kao said. “They won’t let you burn spirit paper there.”
“Okay, but I want to see the site anyway.”
“I thought you said these houses were fixer-uppers,” Maria Lopez said to Hector from the backseat as Dennis’s Chrysler 300 pulled away from a ranch-style house. It was in an older neighborhood but in good shape.
“I did,” Hector said. “You sure you’re showing us the right ones, Dennis?”
Dennis laughed. “Yes, they’re on the list my boss gave me.”
“Man, I don’t want to take up all your time. We’re not even real buyers.”
“Don’t worry about it, man. It’s my day off. Besides, I need to get more familiar with some of these.”
“It’s your day off?” Maria asked. “We’re so sorry. Do you have kids?”
“No. No kids. I can barely take care of myself.”
“How much is the rent for the last one?” she asked.
“I’m not sure. I think that’s something Hector already worked out.”
“Kao said to pick one that works for us,” Hector said.
“I like that last one a lot. It seems like a good neighborhood and it has big trees,” Maria said.
Saan tired of the same questions–Are you okay? What happened?–and he tired of giving the same answers–I’m fine. It’s hard to explain. He knew it wasn’t hard to explain. Regardless, he put on a brave face and answered each of his classmates as best he could. Luckily, he had Jenny and Paul around to deflect other questions and keep people at bay.
His legs and shoulders ached when he sat in same position for too long. It didn’t help that the seats weren’t designed for someone his height. The painkiller made him drowsy, and he caught himself nodding off a couple times. Luckily, his teachers loved him and left him alone.
He replayed the accident over and over in his head and thought of what he could have done differently. As his mind wandered, the only thing he could concentrate on was the ticking of the clock in each of his classrooms. He waited for the minutes to pass and repeatedly checked the time.
At lunch, he bought two submarine sandwiches and a Coke and headed to his car. Jenny caught up with him as he left the campus.
“Need company?” she asked.
“Of course,” he said with a smile.
Someone far away yelled, “Don’t drive too fast, Speedracer!”
“Don’t listen to them,” Jenny said. She knew he could hear the whispers and jokes in the hallways.
“I’m not worried about it. I’m just pissed off at myself.”
“Hey, accidents happen.”
“I can barely lift my arms above my shoulders, so I probably can’t play on Friday.”
“Football’s not everything.”
“Yeah, but it’s first round of the playoffs and if they lose, the season’s over.”
“Hey, if we lose, we lose, but we will not lose that game,” Paul said as he walked up alongside Saan. “I’ll make sure of it.”
“It’s too bad Elaine had to work tonight,” Mrs. Fair said. “You should take her some pizza.”
“She already had her lunch, ma,” Brandon responded while chewing.
“Don’t talk while you’ve got food in your mouth,” his father said.
He grumbled an apology.
Brandon didn’t actually know if Elaine had eaten. All of his calls went to voicemail. Sometimes the phone rang two or three times but she never answered, and she didn’t reply to any of his text messages.
He didn’t want to embarrass her by visiting her at work, so he hoped to run into her around town. He regretted not opening up to her about his concerns for his mother. When he was younger his parents and sister had always been his sounding boards, but he couldn’t bring himself to talk to them about his mother’s cancer. He didn’t think any of them really wanted to talk about the subject, and he didn’t have any experience talking to others unless booze was involved.
Brandon’s ribs and legs ached from the previous week’s bender and his head was still groggy even though he had been laying down all day.
“Is Philadelphia this good or are the Panthers this bad?” Mr. Fair asked after an Eagles player intercepted a Cam Newton pass and returned it for a touchdown.
“Probably a bit of both,” Brandon said. “Do you guys mind if I stay here tonight?”
“No, why would we mind?” Mrs. Fair said.
“I think I’m going to head down and meet up with Dennis for a beer. I won’t be out late.”
“We’ll be here,” his parents said in unison.
He lit a cigarette as he left his parents’ house and thought of the previous few days. He wasted them instead of making any progress on Kao’s biography. He wondered if he should ask about Saan’s accident or if it would be stepping over the line.
The second he walked into The Cantina, he spotted Elaine at a table with Wade. She waved to him by awkwardly opening and closing her hand. He reminded himself not to make a scene and ordered a cranberry juice with a splash of club soda.
When Elaine walked by to use the restroom, Brandon turned to her and apologized.
“Look, I’ve known you for like two weeks, so don’t even worry about it,” she said.