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© 1998 Robert M. (Bob) Leahy

2110 E. Crosby Road
Carrollton, TX 75006
(972) 416 - 6098



Against the Wall

(part four)



Molly raced through the door and down the back steps as the van pulled up under the carport at the rear of the apartments. "What happened, Kevin?" she asked over the din of the lift. "What did the policemen want to know."

"Honey," Mrs. Nolan said, looking down at her pig-tailed daughter. "Leave Kevin alone. He's tired right now. Maybe he'll tell you all about it later. But don't pester him right now."

"But I want to know what happened, Mom," the young girl whined. "Kevin will tell me. Won't you Kevin?" she asked, turning toward her brother as he came around the van. "You will tell me, won't you?"

"Not now, Squirt," he said, walking by her on the steps. He thought about reaching out and pulling one of her pigtails. But his hands remained in his pockets.

"Is he all right, Mom?" Molly whispered as her mother disappeared into the first floor hallway.

"He'll be fine, Sweetheart. Now go on up and unlock the front door for me."

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Sunday evening, Kevin came out of his room just long enough to grab a sandwich and make two phone calls. He had been studying for tests in history and English. His mother was busy doing dishes at the sink. They nodded at one another, but did not speak.

"Tim?" he half-whispered in a hoarse voice. "Yeah. It's me, Kevin. I was wonderin' if you could give me a ride to school for a while?"

"Yeah, I can be ready by seven fifteen," he answered a moment later.

"I don't know. The lieutenant said they were still running some tests. It's all routine," he said after another pause.

"I don't want to talk about it," he replied to Tim's next question.

"Yeah, I guess. He kept asking me what I thought of Coach McAfee."

"Yeah, I told him," Nolan responded with a weak laugh. "But he wasn't so boring I wanted to kill him."

The young teen listened to a few more questions that he said he didn't want to answer, a blank look masking his thoughts from his mother who pretended to busy herself at the kitchen sink. After another minute or two, he broke off the conversation. "Look. I'll see you in the morning. Thanks for the ride. Okay?"

"Bob?" he asked, after punching another number into the keypad.

"Yeah, I'm okay. Thanks. Look. I was wonderin'. Could you pick me up after school? I could ask Tim for a ride, but I already need him to take me to school."

"Great," he replied after a pause.

"Three thirty at the drive through out front?" he asked a moment later. "No problem. Thanks a lot."

The teen started to hang up. "What?"

"No. Maybe Uncle Jerry can find something out when he calls tomorrow. See ya'," he said, quickly hanging up the phone.

"Are you really okay?" his mother asked, without looking up from the sink.

"Yeah. I guess. Look," he started to say. But when his mother turned and looked at him, he lost his nerve. "I'm sorry," he muttered, darting from the kitchen.

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"Yeah," Tim Welch was saying as he ran a comb through his blond hair at the stop light on MacArthur. "Hot peppers would be one way to deaden your mouth so you wouldn't notice the alcohol. 'Specially for someone like you that ain't used to the stuff. Me. I've practiced some. But even I might not suspect anything until I was pretty drunk."

"I can't believe anybody would do that to me."

"Man, you can be so simple sometimes," Welch laughed, switching his foot from the brake to the accelerator.

"What do you mean?"

"I figure that was the whole reason the seniors invited you. Everybody knows you don't drink. Those guys probably thought it would be funny to watch you get drunk."

"Yeah, a barrel of laughs. Besides, I think I pretty much just fell asleep."

My Uncle Benny--you remember I told you about him?"

"He the one that spent time in juvvie?"

"Yeah. My mom's baby brother. He's only about ten years older than me. Anyway, when he was eighteen, he came over to the house. He made what he called kooler aid--wine coolers. He got me and my older sister smashed on those and laughed his butt off. At least, he did until mom came home from work."

"Did you think it was funny?"

"At first I did. But then I got sick and puked up everything. That wasn't any fun."

The two friends were quiet for a minute.

Nolan reached into his backpack and brought out a container of acne pads. "I just wish I could remember how I even got out to my car," Nolan said at last.

"There's no tellin'," Welch replied. "You can do a lot of strange stuff when you're drunk. Lots of people don't remember what they did when they get as loaded as you seemed to be." Welch parked the car behind the high school as Nolan finished rubbing his nose and forehead with the white, cotton pad. The two of them headed for the steps leading up to the gym.

When they started to pass by Kramer's red Z on the opposite side of the parking lot from Welch's car, Hargrove scared both of them when he flung the car door in front of them.

"Why'd you leave the other night?" Hargrove asked, pulling himself up out of the seat. "We thought you were crashed for the night," he smirked

Nolan backed into Welch, trying to stay away from the hulking senior.

"You had your fun," Welch said, pulling Nolan with him as he stepped around the opened door. "You got your laughs. You got him drunk. Now why don't you just leave him alone?"

Hargrove eyes blazed as he lunged for Welch, but the car door would open no further, and the sophomore jumped safely away from his grasp. "You better hope I don't get my hands on you, you little cocksucker," the older boy spat, tobacco juice landing at Welch's feet.

Welch smiled. "I have a witness to that threat, pus bag. You touch me, and you'll be thrown in jail for assault."

It was Nolan's turn to pull his friend out of harm's way. "Shut up," he whispered. "Just shut up. I can't believe you're saying that stuff to him. He'll kill you."

"No he won't. He's not as stupid as he looks."

Nolan looked back at Hargrove, whose gray eyes followed them as the pair backed their ways up the steps. He didn't harbor any of his friend's optimistic assessment. "I think he is," Nolan mumbled.

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After lunch, Nolan and his classmates fidgeted, waiting for Mr. Hanson to come into the room. A few minutes after the class bell rang, the balding instructor entered the room. Without saying a word, he started to pass out yellow, mimeographed half sheets. When everyone had a copy, Hanson went over the questions. There were four. Each student was to select one and spend the class period writing and revising an answer to it.

Nolan felt no more prepared for this test than he had for the history test he took during first period that morning. Mr. Parrish had proctored for the deceased coach. Nolan heard someone complain that giving the test wasn't fair. Someone else admitted not studying after he head the coach had been killed in a car wreck on Friday. Nolan had studied. But he couldn't remember anything.

On the English test, the only question Nolan seemed to see was the last one: Do you agree with the author that it might be worthwhile to go back and try the "road not taken"? Explain.

Nolan looked down at his blank piece of notebook paper. He wrote down the numeral four in the left-hand margin. To the right of the red line, in capital letters, he wrote, "NO." He thought for a moment, sucking the cap stuck on the end of his pen.

He changed the period to a comma and went on.

NO, I donít agree that you can go back again. I say that because of whatís happened to me in just the past three days. I was at a fork in the road. One direction led home; the other led to a party. I chose to go to the party. And I canít undo anything thatís happened since I made that choice. No matter how much I wish I could.

He reread his first few sentences. He changed the donít to do not. He stared at the fragment at the end for a long time and decided to leave it.

I wish I could go back and change the decision I made last Friday night. But I canít. I can think about what would not have happened if I had just gone home. But it wonít change the facts. Given the same two choices in the future, I might make a very different one BECAUSE of the choice I made the first time.

I know now that the friendship I thought was offered to me was false. I know now that some people think it's funny getting someone else drunk. I know now in a way I never did before that drinking and driving don't mix.

What I do not know is how I got into my car and drove it out to Lewisville. I wish I knew when I was at that fork in the road. I wish I could go back to that point and choose the other path. But I can't. And now I have to live with the fact that the road I chose killed someone. It was an accident. But I am still to blame.

Iím just a kid, but I donít think Robert Frost knew what he was talking about. If he ever tried to go back and take the other road, what would he find? I donít think the other road just sits there waiting. It changes as time passes. So the road not taken the first time the decision was made is not the same road one takes the next time.

Everything changes. I change and am changed by the choice I made. And the opportunitiesógood or badóthat awaited me down that road change from the first time I approached the road to the next. Itís never the exact same road.

Nolan stopped, rubbed his temples and shook some blood back down into his writing hand. He read over his essay.

I wonder whether this makes any sense, Nolan continued. I guess what I am trying to say is that I am not the same person today who made the decision to go to the party last Friday night. And, because I am different now, what might happen if I had the same choice to make again, even if I went to the party, might be different.

Nolan counted the words until he hit two hundred and fifty. He had plenty to spare. He read it over one more time, and then added an apology.

(Mr. Hanson. Iím sorry if this doesnít make too much sense. I donít even know if I know what I want to say. I am very confused about whatís happening with the accident last weekend. And I donít mean to say Robert Frost isnít a good poet or anything. Itís just that right now his ideas donít make much sense to me. If you think I need to rewrite this assignment, I will. ĖKevin Nolan.)

For the rest of the class period, Nolan tried to edit his sentences, but he had trouble keeping his mind on his work. He eliminated most of the contractions but did little else to clean up his work. He was one of the first students out of the room after the papers were collected.

"Man, you took off in a hurry," Welch said, catching him just outside of math.

"I just had to get out of there," Nolan said. "I donít know what it was. I just had to get up and go."

"You feeliní okay?"

"Yeah. I guess."

In algebra, Mr. Parrish worked through about two-thirds of the problems assigned for over the weekend. When class was over, he assigned more of the same. "We need to really be clear on these points before we move on," he told the class. "So, if we have to do every problem in this part of the chapter and more, we will."

Everyone groaned.

The next the Nolan knew, class was over. He went out the front door of the building, leaned against the front wall of Parkview High School, and waited for his cousin, Bob Trout, to drive up in the yellow Beetle. "Right on time," Nolan said a few minutes later, hopping into the car before it came to a complete stop.

"I've been dyin' to talk to you all day," Trout said.

But the first question Trout asked surprised Nolan. "Yeah. I heard about it at lunch. Everybody's been talkin' about it," the younger boy said.

"I can't imagine Higgins doin' it," Trout said.

"I can. If he wants to keep the coaching job he just inherited, he's got to at least try to make the playoffs. And the only way Parkview can do that is to win all its remaining games. And that can't happen unless Steve Hargrove is on the team."

Nolan was quiet for a moment. "He may be a good football player. But he's still worthless person."

"I tried to warn you," Trout said.

"This morning, he was till laughin' about getting me drunk. Even though it led toÖ." He didn't finish the thought.

"Hargrove don't care about that. All he cares about is himself. And I told you that nobody stands in the way of him gettin' what he wants."

The two were quiet as the older boy pulled onto MacArthur and headed toward his uncle's restaurant. "How's Aunt Carole taking it?" Trout asked as he waited for a light to change.

"She doesn't think those guys got me drunk," Nolan sighed after a hesitation.

"Not surprised."

"But I would never drink--not if I knew something had alcohol in it."

"Hey," Trout said, putting a hand on the younger boy's shoulder. "I believe you. But from what mom tells me, Aunt Carole never drank. And after what happened to her and your old manÖ." He let the words go unsaid.

"Yeah. I know. That's why I swore I would never drink," Nolan replied.

Trout nodded.

"It's a promise I made to me. Not just to her."

"I know," Trout sympathized. "Maybe, someday," he continued, "you'll get a chance to really tell her what happened."

The two rode the remaining few blocks in silence. When they entered the restaurant, Uncle Jerry and Gus were going over the list of early-delivery orders.

"Hi, guys," Jerry said, handing a pad of paper to the old navy cook, and heading toward his drivers.

"Hey," Nolan said.

"Got a lot of orders?" Trout asked.

"So far, mostly regulars. But got a couple of new ones for your second run," Jerry Barber replied. "Bob, why don't you get yourself something to eat. I need to talk to Kevin for a minute."

The older boy walked on by his uncle without saying another word. "Hey, Gus, you ugly dog. What kind of slop you got back here tonight."

"You cockroach. Come here and I'll cut off your nuts and steam 'em up for ya.'"

Jerry put an arm on the younger boy's shoulder and led him into the office. "I wanted to talk to you for a minute," he said, closing the door behind them.

Kevin could feel his stomach turn over.

"Lt. Bagwell called me this morning. He said he wanted to talk to you this afternoon or this evening, so I told him I could bring you by after work. He said that was okay, but he wanted to meet us up in Lewisville."

"Why's he want us to go up there?" Nolan rasped, trying to catch his breath.

"I don't know," Barber replied. "But I called your mom to let her know. She seemed pretty upset."

"Yeah. I know. I wish I could do something to help her understand it wasn't my fault. I don't even know how I got out there. Honest. I don't." Nolan was near tears.

"It's all right, Kevin. No one is blaming you. Everyone's just trying to figure out what happened. That's all."

But Nolan did not feel reassured. He joined his cousin in the corner of the kitchen for dinner before making deliveries. Over big plates of Italian sausage and spaghetti, Trout talked about Sunday's Dallas-Green Bay gameóa blowout for the Packers.

"I couldnít believe that one pass they threw down the sideline in the third quarter," Trout said. "I just knew it was being thrown away, and the next thing is the little scatback running underneath itócoming from nowhere."

Kevin nodded and wound spaghetti absently on his fork.

"I still think that forty-one yard run," Trout continued, " was the breaker. That came right after the fumble and set up the TD that put them seventeen points up. What a crummy way to end the half. If Dallas could have scored before the half, or just not fumbled it away, they might have had a chance."

Nolan was staring out the window.

"Maybeó" Trout started to say when the cook walked up.

"Howís the spaghetti?" Gus asked, coming over to check on the boys. "Eat up. I got seven orders almost ready to go."

"Kevin," Uncle Jerry said, coming into the kitchen. "Here are the keys to the red Beetle."

"You gonnaÖ." Gus started to say, but after he saw the look in the restaurant ownerís eyes, he quit.

"You two finish up and hit the road," the owner told them. "Gus," Barber said with a pointed look. Then he returned to the dining room.

"Hurry up," Gus said over his shoulder.

"No threat?" Trout wondered, spearing another piece of sausage.

"íCause of me," Nolan said, picking up his plate and heading toward the counter by the dishwasher. "Iím ready, Gus."

"Take those first four orders. Iíll let your cousin take the next ones, and heíll have to drive all over town."

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After making his deliveries, Nolan stopped at the convenience store about two blocks from the diner and called Bagwell.

"Whatís the matter, Kevin?" the lieutenant asked when the call was put through.

"I donít think Iím gonna make it. I don't have anything to say. I really don't know anything I haven't already told you."

"I just want to try and talk you through the accident," Bagwell said. "It might help you remember something." He paused before adding, "It's important."

"Okay," Nolan agreed. "But I think it'll be a waste of time."

"I understand," Bagwell replied. "But thanks for doing it anyway."

The last hour and a half passed slowly for Kevin. Gus said little when Kevin came to collect his next deliveries. His uncle was busy in the restaurant with customers. Most of the people he delivered to did not want to spend any time talking to a delivery boy.

When Nolan and his uncle arrived at the Lewisville construction site, it was after nine o'clock. Bagwell asked Jerry Barber to wait in the car and promised him the questions wouldn't take long.

"I talked to a friend of yours," Bagwell said, putting a hand on the young boy's shoulders and walking him toward the cinderblock wall. "Tim Welch."

"Why'd you talk to him?"

"I'm just trying to get to know you better," Bagwell said, rubbing the teen's shoulder. "It's normal procedure." The lieutenant didn't wait for Nolan to respond. "He told me that you would never knowingly take a drink. Not ever."

"I wouldn't," Nolan agreed.

"Several other people told me the same thing. Some people said it was why you didn't go to many parties."

The teen nodded. "By the time I get there after I make my deliveries, most people are so drunk they can hardly talk to you. It's not much fun to watch people pass out or puke."

"So," the lieutenant said. "Tell me why you are so adamant on not drinking. Most kids your age want to experiment with alcohol. They want to know what it tastes like. What it feels like. How can you say no when almost everyone else says yes?"

"It's not easy. But most of my friends know I don't want to, so they don't even ask me any more. And my best friend, that's Tim, he helps. For a little guy, he's pretty tough. And when he tells people to leave me alone, they do."

"Still," the lieutenant pressed him, "there has to be something driving this resolve."

"What do you mean?" Nolan asked, stopping about ten feet from the wall.

"It takes a lot for a pledge of abstinence to stick," Bagwell replied. "I know a lot of teens who said they would never drink. Few of them ever keep that promise. They say it before they really have to make the choice. They say it because their parents make them. They say it because everyone else in their church group makes the pledge. But ninety-nine out of one hundred will try it anyway. And a large number of them will do more than just have one quick taste.

Nolan didn't say anything for a long time. "Yeah. I promised my mom I wouldnít drink. But I wasn't making it to her."

It was Bagwell's turn to ask for an explanation.

Nolan was lost in thought for a moment. "Happened about five years ago. We still lived in Austin, then. My mom and dad had gone out for the nightóit was the first time they had let me and Molly stay alone. I was gonna get paid for baby-sitting. Funny, now that I think about it. I donít think I ever did get any money."

Nolan looked at the policeman. The lieutenant jotted in his notebook. The bulge on the right side of his rumbled, gray suit coat did a poor job of hiding his revolver. The manís lower jaw muscles tensed as he continued to take notes.

Nolan yawned. "There was a real bad accident. Some drunk ran a red light and smashed right into the driverís side of the car. Mom got thrown free, but it paralyzed her from just above the hips down. Dad didnít have a chance."

"The day we buried my dad, I promised I would never drink. But I wasn't saying it to her. I was saying it to me. And to dad. I didn't just mean I wouldn't drink and drive. I was never going to drink." He paused for a moment. "I kept that promise until Friday night. I never drank. But now I've broken that promise. I've let myself down. And I let mom down, too. Look at what happened because of it," Nolan said, with an angry wave at the wall. It makes me mad. I just wishÖ. WellÖyou canít go backÖ."

Bagwell was silent for a moment. "Iím sorry. I didnít know about your dad. But you can't blame yourself for drinking on Friday. It wasn't your fault. How could you know what was going on?"

"Tim said something like that this morning," the teen replied. "He says I can be pretty simple, sometimes. But I should have known something was going on when I first got asked to that party."

"Yes," the lieutenant agreed. "Tell me, why did you go?"

Nolan looked down at the ground and pursed his lips. He shrugged. "I hate to admit this," he said, eyeing the police officer out of the corner of his eye. "But I was afraid not to. Hargrove said something about protecting my car--" Nolan stopped.

He coughed, trying to cover his hesitation. He felt in his pocket for his gum pack. As he took out a stick of gum, he continued, "I didn't want him to get mad at me. He might take it out on Uncle Jerry's car. Even his dad warned me about Hargrove's temper."

Bagwell sucked in his breath at the mention of the senior Hargrove. He stared at the youth a moment before jotting another note.

The teen paused while he unwrapped the gum and stuck it in his mouth. After chewing a few times, he said, "Kind of ironic, ain't it. I went to the party because I didn't want anything to happen to Uncle Jerry's car, and then I go and wreck it." He laughed.

It was several minutes before the lieutenant asked his next question. "Can you tell me the first thing you remember out here," he said with a wave to the construction site. "Anything at all?"

"The first thing I remember is that trooper waking me up. And how my head hurt." Nolan stared at Bagwell. "That's the very first thing I remember. Before that, I remember seeing Mrs. Phillips get everybody who wasn't stayin' the night out of Hargrove's garage."

"Okay. Can you tell me how you were sitting in the car when the trooper woke you up? Anything else at all?" Bagwell persisted.

"I wasn't really sitting, I don't think," the teen replied. "Seems like a was kind of slouched over the shift. I remember having to try and lift my head up like it was way down. Guess that's why it hurt so much when I did sit up. I remember kind of bringing my arm up," he told Bagwell, bending over at the waist and reaching backward, "trying to find the steering wheel. I got hold of it--it felt sticky--and I used that to pull myself back into the driver's seat."

Bagwell scribbled, while asking the next question. "You said the steering wheel felt sticky?"

"Yeah," the teen replied before he became lost in thought. I remember noticing blood on my hand later--when I was in the back seat of the trooper's car. I think I wiped it off on the seat," the youth admitted. The youth moved over to the wall and leaned against it. "I could barely stand up when I did get out of the car. I dropped my wallet when I tried to take it out of my back pocket. That trooper had to help me back up after I bent down to retrieve it. Then he had me try and touch me nose. I couldn't do it. I still don't believe I couldn't do it. I must have been in bad shape. He asked me how much I had to drink, you know. And I told him I didn't drink. Then he asked me about pills. I told him I didn't do those either. He must have thought I was nuts. Or stupid."

"He thought you were intoxicated, Son. I doubt he thought much of anything special about your denials. Almost everyone we stop or find who's been drinking makes the same kinds of statements." Bagwell scratched the back of his head with the heel of the pen. "Can you remember anything else about your car right after the trooper woke you up?"

Nolan tried to bring the picture to mind, but it was just a blur. A blur that made his head hurt.

Bagwell asked him what he remembered about the accident scene.

Nolan easily found his tire impressions in the soft, sandy soil at the base of the cinderblock wall. He was surprised to see the coach's body hadn't made much of an impression. There were no bloodstains on the ground or on the wall. "I remember I couldn't see much of the body," the teen said, moving a step away from the wall and looking down on the ground. "Just that hand coming out from under the car. The coach's arm was right up against the tire. I could see his Parkview sweatshirt." Nolan stooped down. "The tire was here," he said, pointing to the tread on the ground. "And then I could see the end of his sleeve. His wrist. And then his hand." The boy indicated where each would have been in relation to the tire. "It looked yellow in the light." He stood back up. "Of course," he added, "I didn't know it was a Parkview sweatshirt until later--when you had me identify the body."

Bagwell asked him if he remembered anything else about his car.

"No, not really. I never got a good look at it, I guess. Not after I saw that hand. It looked so weird in these lights," he said with a wave to the tall poles around the perimeter of the parking lot. "It didn't look real--human--I mean. It looked kind of plastic."

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When Welch picked him up the next morning, Nolan thanked his friend for telling the police he would never drink. "I still don't think he totally believes me," the teen added. "But now he has more than just my word that I don't drink--won't drink--ever again."

"Did he tell you what I told him about that party?"

"No," Nolan replied.

"I told him it was the first one you ever went to one where I wasn't there."

"No. He didn't tell me that."

"I also told him that you got involved with Hargrove because he liked your car and he wanted you to take him on a beer run."

"You told him about that?" Nolan asked.

"Sure. Why not."

"I bet that's what he wanted me to tell him last night. But I didn't. I almost did. But I didn't want to say anything about that beer."

"Why not?" Welch asked.

Nolan stared at Welch for a moment. "And you call me simple," he sighed. "If Hargrove ever finds out I said something about that beer, he'll kill me."

"Well, you didn't tell him. I did."

"And who told you?" Nolan asked. "Who do you think Hargrove will think told them."

Both teens were silent for a moment.

"Besides," Nolan continued a short time later, "The cops aren't going to tell Hargrove who said it. They're just going to say they know he had me take him to buy beer." He leaned over to the open window and spit his gum out as Welch pulled into the Parkview lot. "I am so screwed."

"I think you worry too much," Welch replied. "Besides, he'd be afraid to do anything to you as long as the cops are still investigating this whole thing."

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When he stepped into the boyís lavatory after lunch, Nolan felt a hand on his back. He was pushed across the room, just catching himself before he smashing into the green tiles. By the time he turned around, Steve Hargrove loomed over him, red faced, breathing hard.

"What did you tell the cops?"

"Nothiní." Nolan replied, bracing himself against the wall.

"Like hell. Why they want to talk to me?"

"They know I went to a party at your place Friday."


"Yeah," Nolan replied.

"What else do they know?" Hargrove asked, grabbing Nolanís shirt just under the younger boyís chin.

"I donít know," Nolan said. "I didnít tell them nothiní."

"Itís like I told yaí," Butch Kramer said from the other side of the room. "They want to talk to me, too. He had to tell the cops where he was. Now the cops want to check out his story. Itís all routine."

Hargrove turned around to face Kramer, but he still held Nolan against the wall.

"Thatís all. Just routine?"

"Bet so."

"Okay, Nolan," Hargrove said. "But if I find out you said something about meÖ."

"I didnít," Nolan said. "I swear I didnít."

Hargrove pulled the sophomore off the wall and inch or two, then shoved him back into it hard enough to knock the younger boyís head against the tiles and dislodge his glasses. "Letís get out of here," the senior said, turning toward Kramer.

As the seniors left, Nolan slid to the floor. "Iím gonna get killed no matter what happens," he groaned, grabbing his glasses from the floor and scrambling to his feet. "What was I thinkiní when I went to that party in the first place?"

A few moments later, Nolan was sitting beside Tim Welch in Hansonís English class. "Hargrove caught me in the bathroom."

"What happened?" Welch asked.

"He wanted to know what I told the cops. Guess they want to talk to him."

"What did you say."

"I told him the truth. I didnít tell the cops nothiní."

Welch nodded.

"But he didnít believe me. If Kramer hadnít been there, he might have killed me."

"What are you going to do?"

"What can I do?" Nolan replied, as Mr. Hanson walked in.

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That evening, when Nolan returned home after making his deliveries for the Beetle Diner, his little sister was waiting for him in the kitchen. "Mom's already in bed," she told him. "She had a bad headache."

"Sure it wasn't something else?" he asked her, dropping his pack at the opposite end of the table from his sister.

"What do you mean?" Molly asked him.

"I don't know," the boy sighed, pulling a chair out and sitting down. "We haven't talked since all this happened."

"I know," Molly replied. "She doesn't talk to me, either. She sounds different on the phone, too. You know how she always seemed like she enjoyed making those calls to set up appointments for her bosses? She sounded so happy to talk to people. She'd ask about everybody's children and stuff. She didn't do that today or yesterday. She hardly asked more than when can Mr. So-and-so see you."

"She's disappointed in me," the teen replied after a long pause.

"I don't think so," Molly said.

"Why not?" Nolan asked her. "Don't you know what's happened? Don't you know what I did?"

"I know you got drunk. I know you had an accident. I know you ran over the football coach."

"Don't you think all that would make mom mad? Especially after what happened to her and dad?"

Molly didn't answer right away. "I heard her talking to some policeman--a lieutenant--this afternoon. She didn't know I could hear her. I was supposed to be cleaning up my room." Molly's body jumped. She looked through the kitchen door into

the living room. "I thought I heard something." The young girl got up from the table and tiptoed to the door and peered around the corner.

When she returned to the table, she continued. "She said, 'You're telling me someone purposely got my son drunk?' And he must have said yes because then she wanted to know why anyone would do that."

"Why do you suppose he even told her that?"

"I don't know. Maybe he was trying to make her feel better."

"Looks like he did a great job."

"Well," Molly replied, "he tried." She hesitated before starting in again. "Now I think she blames herself for letting you go to the party. She was mumbling all afternoon about how she knew you had no business going to a party with seniors. She kept saying she knew no good would come of it."

"But it's not her fault," the teen said.

"I know. But I couldn't say anything. I'm not supposed to know anything about any of this," Molly said. "Besides, she wouldn't listen to me."

"Well, I can't do anything," Nolan said.

"We've got to figure out something."

"I don't know how to make her see it was all my fault. I'm the one that got drunk. I'm the one that killed the coach."

"It was an accident," Molly said.

"I know."

"Accidents aren't people's faults."

Nolan stared at her for a long moment. He started to say something, but the words stuck in his throat. Accidents aren't people's faults, echoed in his brain. "You're pretty smart, sometimes," he said, getting up from his seat and walking around to her chair. He hugged her for a moment. "Now you better run along to bed."

"Okay," she said. "But think about what to say to Mommy."


(end of part four)

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16 July 98

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