Hello and welcome back to my stop on the Follow Me Down blog tour – if you haven’t read my previous post, which will tell you a bit about this book as well as my review, you can view it here.
Now, as promised, here’s an extract of Follow Me Down – I hope you enjoy it!
Back inside, I picked up the photo and slid it back under the palm tree magnet. Opened my brother’s fridge. It was nearly empty. A carton of eggs, the usual condiments, and three cans of beer still yoked by the plastic rings, a small pile of six-pack rings next to it. I took one of the cans, opened it, took long swallows, then pressed it to my cheek and wandered down the hallway.
The bathroom light was on. The door half closed. I wanted to hear a shower running, an electric razor buzzing, but nothing. I pushed the door open. There was his toothbrush, fully pasted and ready to go, sitting on the side of the sink. It was like he was standing over the sink, looking into the mirror, about to brush his teeth when he decided, fuck it, and walked out on his life. But that didn’t make sense. Wouldn’t he at least brush his teeth before becoming a fugitive on the run? Wouldn’t he take his toothbrush with him? Or his expensive electric razor so he could maintain his neatly edged two-day beard and the look of a European soccer player? Or his hair gel or his cologne? Lucas was vain; he would still want to look good.
Even if, and I couldn’t believe he’d risk such a very public fall from grace, but even if he were to have become sexually involved with one of his students who, just through sheer bad luck, happened to be murdered, he would stay and fight the charges. He wouldn’t be able to stand that people thought he did it. His need to be known as a good guy was almost pathological. We were the approval-seeking by-products of our histrionic alcoholic mother; we just went about it differently. I cared less about being likable than being considered impressive, whereas Lucas really wanted to be liked, the guy everyone wanted around, and that was who he’d always been.
Unless. Unless he’s dead too. I wasn’t just posturing for Pruden. This was a real fear. Some yahoo, maybe the same yahoo who lit his truck on fire, went after him. The kind of red-necked guy who’d want bragging rights at every bar that he took care of that sicko teacher preying on teenage girls. I could come up with half a dozen names right now, on the spot. Guys who’d at least claim that if they were alone in a room with Haas they’d cut his dick off, but not necessarily go through with it. Guys who’d trash his truck, go after him online, but only grumble something under their breath to him in person.
I couldn’t think this. It was too hard. If some vigilante spent the last few days bragging about giving Lucas the beating of his life (that ended his life), wouldn’t Pruden have heard about it by now? I wouldn’t put it past Pruden to cover it up, but would he really keep up with a bogus hunt for Lucas? Would he have even called me here?
Lucas called me Friday. Pocket dial or not, he called me and that meant he was alive. I knew this was some loose reasoning, but what else could I do? Thinking my brother was dead was last-resort thinking.
I went into his bedroom. Again it was a mess, but I knew there was a method to his madness. The last time we lived together was only five years ago. Lucas came to stay with me with big plans to live in Chicago. He was dabbling in acting and modeling. It was his first attempt at something after accepting he was not going to be a professional hockey player. After the initial excitement of getting some extra work playing a firefighter on a soapy TV drama wore off, he mostly loitered around my tiny apartment between sporadic shifts as a waiter, charming my off-limits roommates, watching SportsCenter, and eating cereal from a mixing bowl. With no real direction, he claimed to be having a serious quarter-life crisis while I’d just finished my pharmacy degree and was leafing through MBA programs at different Ivy Leagues. I had dazzling visions of myself in a top hat and tails, twirling a gratuitous walking stick as I climbed the pharma corporate ladder. I’d have nicknames like Conglomerate or Powerhouse or just Moneybags.
Then, just like that, Lucas decided to move back to Wayoata and get a teaching certificate.I pressured him to stay, pointed out he had given the whole acting thing only eight months, and even if he decided to do something different with his life, there were more and better opportunities in Chicago, but I couldn’t convince him. He invoked our mother as an excuse to run home, tail firmly between legs. She’s all alone. No one goes to visit her most of the year.
There was nothing I could say to that, even if we both knew he was bullshitting. He hadn’t been that worried about Mimi before things got a little hard and aimless, so I backed off, thinking he’d quickly get bored in Wayoata anyway. Obviously, that didn’t happen.
I opened drawers, came across a leather glove at the back of his sock drawer that I guessed was the one from Mimi’s car. The sight of it gave way to the skin-crawly seasickness I always got when I thought of Mimi, her “accident.” I slammed the drawer shut. Sunk down, hugged my knees. I couldn’t decide why he would have kept it all these years. I took a few nausea-battling breaths, then reminded myself it wouldn’t be the first time we were on the receiving end of the Wayoata police department’s incompetence.
We were seventeen when our mother had her car accident. Her injuries were severe (her sodden brain hit the inside of her skull like wet toilet paper on ceiling tiles, splot). But when Lucas and I were given the go-ahead to clean out her beige-gold LeSabre (Lucas insisted we do this ourselves, like it was some kind of pseudo funeral rite), he noticed that our mother’s change was still stacked in its holder, her sunglasses still clipped to the visor. The dent on the front of the bumper where she’d smacked into a tree was underwhelming. There was even a man’s leather glove. Just one. It didn’t add up. At least not in Lucas’s opinion. I knew better. I’d tried to point out Mimi’s car was a total sty and it wasn’t really that odd that we’d find a stray glove under the heap of store receipts, flattened cigarette packets, torn panty hose, stubby lipsticks. Lucas wanted to pursue it anyway. He was fixated on the glove.
Reluctantly, heart pounding in my chest, I had gone along with him to urge the police to investigate what he thought might be a staged accident, but luckily, Pruden was no Marge Gunderson. Before Lucas could even finish what he’d been referring to as his opening argument, before he could wave the black glove around, Chief Pruden cut him off. “The roads were icy. Your mother was drunk and wasn’t wearing a seat belt. Let’s not pretend she didn’t ever drive in that sort of condition. Just be happy she hit a tree and didn’t kill some nice family.”
Except, during those months before leaving for college, if we saw Pruden around town, my brother would eye him up and down. Make menacing but harmless gestures, like rubbing his middle finger on the bridge of his nose or, once, the pow of a finger gun. He’d tell anyone who’d listen that Pruden was an incompetent asshole. He was seventeen and angry and felt he’d been ignored. Now I couldn’t help but wonder if Pruden hadn’t held a grudge and was taking pleasure in pinning something on my brother.
I stood up again, opened his closet, and looked for an empty space from which a suitcase had been taken, where he’d packed his spare toothbrush and spare razor. Nothing was missing but Lucas.
And his ATM card. The reminder was a gut-punch. He could technically just buy it all, toothbrush, T-shirt, jeans. He could empty his account in one fell swoop after crossing the Canadian border and then really disappear. He would go to Canada, wouldn’t he? I mean it’s right there. Only if he was guilty, but he wasn’t.
I sunk down into his bed. What the fuck was happening? I was reeling. I truly understood what it meant to reel now. I felt cold and feverish. The dim ceiling light pulsed. I rolled over and cried into the pillow that still smelled like my brother’s hair gel.