You'd be surprised.
Today felt like a good day to chill there. Digging into my pockets, I fished out my ear buds and tucked them in. Time to give Etta James some of my undivided attention. I came around the corner into the back parking lot of the school, smiling to myself when I saw it sat practically empty except for a few leftover teachers’ cars. The front lot was probably filled with kids piling into cars and yelling back and forth at the bottleneck in the exit. Glad I didn’t have to walk through that madness.
“Do you think this is a joke?” a man’s voice, deep and authoritative, screamed.
I looked around to see where the voices were coming from, my finger fixed over the play button on my iPod. There, along the back fence of the lot, was a parked sedan, its driver’s side door open and engine running. Backed against the side of the car stood Drew, with Mayor Baxter standing just an inch or two from his face. His hand clenched Drew’s neck, and his snarl was so angry I felt the tension from ten yards away.
I froze, unsure what to do. They were having their little pow-wow right by the trailhead I needed to get to.
“Look me in the eye when I’m talking to you.”
From what I could see of the side of his face, Mayor Baxter’s glare exuded pure venom. Gone was the crinkly-eyed grin he wore when he kissed babies heads and cut ribbons at the few Twisted Tree events I’d been to. Now he could have been any one of the cold bastards my mom had brought home before the state yanked me.
My blood ran cold. Back when I was six or seven, I’d ticked off one of my mom’s boyfriends—Kyle, I think—in the Burger King parking lot. I’d dropped my milkshake, getting it all over his boots, and he’d pinned me up against the side of his beat up old car and yelled at me until a lady in a nearby minivan hollered at him.
Look at me when I talk to you, Kyle had yelled.
I’d finished that afternoon off with a broken collarbone.
I ducked down beside a pickup truck to avoid being seen.
Drew turned his focus from the trees behind his dad’s head to his face. His face was red, and I could see the muscle in his jaw flexing. I couldn’t tell if he was trying not to cry or trying not to punch his dad in the face. Maybe both. And who could blame him?
“Why in the hell are you pulling a D in literature, Andrew?”
Drew’s Adam’s apple bobbed. “I don’t know, sir.”
Mayor Baxter’s hand squeezed his neck. “Wanna try answering that again?”
“No…” Drew closed his eyes. “Sir.”
I held my breath. What a bully. Every time I’d ever seen Mayor Baxter in town, he was nothing but polite and charismatic. He reminded me of a game show host, the way he paraded his wife and son around. And the house they lived in? I’d walked past it at least three dozen times and marveled at the manicured lawn and curved driveway every time. Never once had I thought this kind of stuff was happening behind closed doors. I thought dads like this only existed in the low income housing my mom kept us in.
“You want to piss away your chance at a scholarship, fine by me,” Mayor Baxter growled, using his other hand to grind his finger into Drew’s chest. “But if you think for a second you’re going to get one dime of my money to pay to be a bum, you’re kidding yourself.”
“I’m not gonna be a bum, Dad,” Drew croaked.
Mayor Baxter grabbed Drew’s hair, and jerked his head back and forth one time. Hard. “Excuse me?”
Drew flinched, and I swear I felt the pain on his throat myself. “Sir,” he choked.
My chest felt tight, and I rubbed at it absently. I’d been in Drew’s position so many times. So many times. With my mom’s boyfriends, with my mom, with my aunt, with my grandpa, with scattered foster parents over the years. It never got any better, even when it happened to someone else. It was scary as hell no matter what. Even from across the parking lot.
“I don’t want your money, sir,” Drew went on. “I don’t need it.”
“Like hell you don’t.” Mayor Baxter released Drew’s neck and rammed his fist into the side of his car, rocking it back and forth. “You’re just like your mother. She wouldn’t survive five minutes without my gold card. Neither would you, you spoiled little prick.”
Drew looked away from his father, his eyes scanning the parking lot.
Don’t look him in the eye, Drew, I thought, watching him. He doesn’t deserve your respect. Don’t give it to him.
His green eyes locked with mine, and I froze. Busted again.