I took Jere home that night, around 10 o’clock. We’d talked for almost three hours. Mostly just getting to know each other, especially after Tony’s little…outburst earlier that night.
I found out that we had a lot in common. Besides being so close in age and liking the same kind of music, Jere went to my old high school. He even knew some of my old friends. By the end of the night I’d realized that this was someone special. He isn’t just my bosses kid. I think… I really think we could be good friends. Best friends. The kind of friends that finish each others sentences, know what each other is thinking just by looking in their eyes. The kind of friends that know every detail about each other down to who they had their first kiss with, what their favorite ice cream is. What their favorite pokemon was back in ninth fourth grade.
That night I hardly slept at all, I couldn’t stop thinking about Tony, Jere and how fucking… happy I was. I hadn’t felt that good since… well since I could really remember. It’s been a few years at least, maybe when I got my bass. That was about three years ago, Steve had gotten a huge Christmas bonus from his boss and bought me my bass and Tony his electric guitar.
Tone loves that thing, and he’s actually gotten really good. He’s also started writing songs. He showed me a few yesterday when he finally started talking to me again. We talked for a while and he told me he was just kinda scared, he didn’t want me, or him, to get hurt again. He really is a sweet kid.
I haven’t really talked to Jere since last week, I’m not counting brief hellos as I’m leaving and he’s coming in the door. He told me Friday it’s because he’s got basketball practice after school every day now, instead of three times a week. Said his coach wanted them to win the final game. Apparently it’s for the state championships, all the high schools in the state have been playing for the title.
Tony also found out that he and Jere go to the same school, since they combined the eighth graders and the high school together. The seventh graders apparently got shoved back in grade school. He said that he’s sees Jere on his way to lunch everyday. I think Tony’s OK with Jere and I being friends, but I’m pretty sure he’s still a little scared, even if he pretends not to be.
Tomorrow is Monday; it’s also my day off from work. Not with the Rangel’s but at the grocery store, my boss’s daughter is getting married so he gave everyone the day off. Probably didn’t want us fucking something up without him being there.
“What?” I smile slightly and walk over to my bedroom door from where I parked my ass earlier to try and get some sleep. Sticking my head out the door I look over towards Tony’s door and see him leaning against the doorframe.
“Then make something.” He frowns and huffs, staring at me for a second before pouting.
“You’re the older one. You’re supposed to take care of me.” I just smirk and shake my head at him, slightly amused. Besides, I know he can’t cook worth shit.
“Fine, I’ll order pizza.” He grins like he won the lottery and nods, heading back into his room and closing the door after quietly saying a ‘thank you Matt.’
An hour later we’re sitting at the coffee table eating and me helping Tony with the homework he’d neglected to do over the weekend, and him whining at me. “But Maaaaaatt, I don’t get it! It’s too hard.” His pout only gets more pronounced as I take a bite of pizza and watch him glare at his book before slamming it shut and throwing it on the floor.
“Tony, it’s only history class. And you have a test tomorrow so you need to finish this. Now c’mon I’ll help you.”
“But it’s stupid. When am I ever going to need to know this?”
“Never. But for now you have to do it.” I grin at him as he finally gives in and picks his book back up, opening it to the section review and handing it to me.
“OK, here, who was the leader of the Bolshevik party during the Russian Revolution?” He frowns and shrugs picking at an imaginary thread on his jeans.
“If you don’t at least try I can’t help you. Did you read the chapter?”
“Are you allowed notes?”
“Then get out some paper and I’ll help you with those.”
He pulls out a piece of paper and a pen before looking up at me, waiting for instructions.
Forty minutes later we have a page of notes for his history test and I’ve gotten him to start on his pre-algebra homework. I’m going over his English paper when the doorbell rings. Tony looks at me then jumps up, almost tripping over his backpack in his eagerness to get away from his schoolwork.
I hear him open the door and he squeals as someone laughs. The door shuts softly as Tony comes back in grinning from ear to ear, followed shortly by Steve.
“Hey Matt! How’ve you been?” I smile up at him and set Tony’s notebook down.
“Pretty good, you?” He smiles back at me and clears a spot on the couch next to me, Tony plopping down next to him. I notice that Steve’s holding a bag in one hand and I smirk as I see that it’s wrapped and has a bow stuck to it. At least he remembered Tony’s birthday this year.
“I’ve been good. I, uh, I also brought some money.” I open my mouth to protest but he cuts me off. “I know you’ve been having some problems. Financially, and I figured it’d help you out a bit. I don’t even bother trying to hide my shock.
“What? Did… I mean… How’d… how did know, it’s only…”
“Matt,” he cut’s me off again, shaking his head. He does that a lot. “I know how hard you’re working to keep up on the bills, and the car payments and taking care of Tony, but I also know that you need the money. Now’s not the time for pride, trust me on this one.”
I can feel my throat tighten and there’s that familiar prickling behind my eyes. I nod my head slightly and look down at my lap, trying hard not to cry.
“I can’t Steve. I don’t know when I’d be able to pay you back, and it’s just… I can’t take it. You need the money too. And how did you find out?”
“Tony. Last time I called I asked him how you were doing and he told me you’d gotten another job. Said you had some over due bills and that the cable and the Internet were shut off since you couldn’t afford it. He sounded worried, and I have to tell you Matt, I’m worried about you too. I know you’re under a lot of stress and I’m sorry that I had to put more on you tonight but I thought you should know.”
I can feel the tears now, running down the sides of my face and dripping onto my t-shirt.
“Oh god. I didn’t want him to have to worry. It’s just, everything’s been so fucked lately, mom’s getting worse and with all her medical bills it’s just getting harder and harder to make ends meet ya know?”
He frowns and nods, “I thought her insurance was covering the bills?”
“Not all of it. Right now it’s costing about $300 a month for her medications alone.”
“How much do you make?” I snort and look away. Not enough I’ll tell you that right now, I was only getting by for so long because of mom’s savings but that’s gone now.
“Why does it matter? I don’t make enough. I’ll probably have to get another job…” It’s then that Tony decides to come back in.
I always did have good timing.
“What? You told me that you’d be around more! You said that you’d be there to take me to soccer practice and everything. You’re already gone most days and now you want another job? How the hell does that work out?”
“Tony, I don’t have a whole lot of options here. Do you honestly think I like working all the time? We need the money Tone I don’t know what else to tell you.”
Steve stands up looking uncomfortable, “I, uh, I should probably go. I don’t wanna leave Jenny alone all night, and I gotta get up pretty early tomorrow.”
Tony’s mouth drops open a little bit and I can tell he’s about to argue but Steve pulls him into a hug quickly.
“I’ll come by next week and we’ll hang out for the day. Just you and me, whatever you wanna do OK?”
Tony nods reluctantly, obviously still upset. Steve turns back to me, pulling an envelope out of his back pocket, dropping it onto my lap.
“You need it more than I do Matt.” I open my mouth but before I have a chance to argue with him he starts talking again.
“Don’t argue with me. I could still beat your ass if I wanted.” He grins at me and hugs Tony again before leaving.
Well. That was… unexpected, for lack of a better word.
How can this all be happening at once? Mom dying, getting behind with the bills, having to work so much that I’m rarely home, and now the state wants to put Tony in a foster home. Knowing my luck they’ll come by tomorrow before I’ve had a chance to talk to Tony about all this.
I barely notice Tony walk by me and plop back down next to me.
“What’s wrong? You look upset.”
Look upset? I am upset. How the hell do you tell a fourteen year old that his father died, and on top of it the state is going to take him from the only home he’s ever really know and shove him in some strangers house?
I turn to Tony and I’m pretty sure I look lost, broken and confused, ‘cause that’s exactly how I feel right now. I don’t know what to do.
God help me.