Find your place.
Back when he and his sister had first moved to that crap apartment in Minneapolis where it was too loud and cramped to study, Tyler found his place at the corner store.
It was a small family-owned shop like a low-rent 7–11, a bodega, the Vietnamese owner by way of New York said, whatever that meant. There were illustrated prepaid calling cards on the walls for every country (tigers for Asia, lions for Africa), Guatemalan pastries under a foggy plastic shield and a long counter where day laborers could scratch off their lottery tickets. And in the corner, a small card table with a fold-out chair.
“Mind if I sit here and study?” he asked the owner’s son. “I’ll move if I’m bugging anyone.”
The man shrugged okay. Tyler didn’t even have to go into the whole drill about how his new hard-ass school assigned him hours of assignments every night or how his sister kept the TV and her music really loud in the apartment or how he wished he was still back at the farm again, riding four-wheelers, shooting pucks, helping out, living his life.
The place quickly grew on him. Kids are adaptable, his mom always said. And Tyler, a kid although over six foot and almost done with his teenage years, adapted.
Be alert to your surroundings.
As he sat there, struggled with his schoolwork and swirled his straw around in an energy drink that looked like windshield wiper fluid, he scoped out the people.
Families earlier on in the evening, short women in dark shapeless coats shuffling their kids behind them, picking up the diapers or milk or bags of rice for the week. Then gangbangers, loud and brash. Tyler slouched down into his jacket to avoid them. But not the girls, flashier than what he was used to. He flirted with a few — they liked a handsome white boy — and took a few out back, never to the apartment where Brianna would see and be on speed dial to their parents back at the farm.
Finally, after everyone else had gone to bed, young guys just like him. Just hanging out, just going about their business like him, but a very different business as it turned out.
Tyler remembered his first transaction at the corner store. The skinny guy, all tatted up, loitered by his table in the empty store, no doubt who he was talking to. Tyler stared up at him, jolted from his schoolbooks and preparations for yet another goddamn test.
What? Oh, yeah. He knew what the guy meant by “something.” And sure enough that day he was prepared. A few extra pills from his last visit to the farm and his grandmother’s stash. They were pumping her up with entirely too much shit. Like she needed a jolt of energy for the day or a sedative to knock her out for sleep. The poor woman trembled too much to even stand most days and didn’t know what century she was in the rest of the time.
Just let her go, he had wanted to tell his mom and dad but it wasn’t his place. She’s lived a good life.
Discreetly, because that’s how these things were done, Tyler reached into his pocket. He felt around for the right shape. He then raised his hand to the top of the table and opened it. Before he knew it, a crisp twenty rested in its place. Not bad for two minutes work.
Be selective with your hospitality.
Even after everything that had happened, the family still had the season tickets, and Tyler took a few girls to the games. But that never worked out. Not that they didn’t enjoy it and not that he didn’t get laid afterwards but most of the time they just sat there staring at their phones. At third row center ice, too. Shooting selfies or looking at #hockeyporn. “They’re pounding the goalie!” “He has his hand on eight inches of shaft!” Like what are you, twelve? That’s what his dad would have said.
From then on, that extra seat was just for business. His business associates really appreciated it, too, especially the guys from the hood. They picked it up quickly, and you were able to have a decent conversation with them.
Judge character carefully.
Tyler took that to heart, from the early days back in the city up to now at college. He’d gotten good at it, too. He could always tell which big scary dude you could trust and which frat boy would get you into trouble. Plus the girls who would probably end up in the emergency room at the end of the night. Just like girls who couldn’t handle their liquor back in the 1990s, back when his parents had been partying and hooking up.
His dad had been a good judge of character, up until the very end. No one entirely believed it, because of how things had gone down.
But Dad had experienced it all with eyes wide open, Tyler knew. He hadn’t been stupid. Just unlucky.
Find your comfort.
Sometimes when Tyler had business in the city but didn’t feel like crashing on someone’s couch, he went to his family’s house in Minnetonka. The trade-up from the apartment and the big purchase from the sale of the farm.
Now it was locked, in foreclosure. After Mom and Dad had split up, they had fought over the assumption of the debt. Neither had wanted that part of the house, and now the structure just stood there in limbo, no fighting. Because it’s not really a fight when there’s only one person left in the ring.
He picked at the big lock. Another useful lesson from Dad, from the farm. Quickly he switched on all of the ground floor lights because that place was creepy as hell in the dark with all of their furniture gone. Sometimes he just walked around, drinking his beer, unwinding from the day. Others, he went straight for the sleeping bag he’d hid in the closet, like the real estate agent or bank would ever care to look.
Every so often he brought a girl back. These were usually girls from his old high school in the city, girls who thought he was rich like them. “I’m so sorry your folks split up!” He never told them about the murder. Didn’t need to. They always ended up messing around in that sleeping bag anyway. Then he asked them, politely of course, to leave. A man needs his space.
Remember your roots.
Of course Tyler missed the farm. But shit changes, you just have to get used to it.
He remembered the final days, after his grandma died and his mom cleared the special bed and the little TV and all the medicines out of the ground-floor bedroom. He remembered shooting pucks out on the pond when the ice was thick enough. Playing video games with his uncle. Getting high as fuck as his little red-haired cousin crawled on the ground around his feet.
Then the African lady bought the farm and brought a herd of goats in. The fuck. People were just fucking weird sometimes.
Fuck what other people thought.
Not a lot of people talked openly about the rumors, at least not in front of him, that just wasn’t the Minnesota way, but if they ever did, Tyler would have known exactly what to say to them.
Dad had an opportunity and he took it. Wasn’t that how it was supposed to happen in America? And what did you expect him to do after the farm anyway? Work for ten bucks an hour at Home Depot and live in a double wide? That was insulting.
Never let on what you know.
Wise advice from his dad, and Tyler took it to heart. He never let on that he knew why his parents had sent him and his sister to the city. Good schools had nothing to do with it, and he knew exactly what had been going on in those back fields. At the same time, Tyler suspected that his dad was well aware of his own activities in the city and at school. His business dealings, if you will. Because his dad hadn’t been a fool either.
Stick to your story.
Tyler had enjoyed holidays, before everything went down of course. Holidays had meant that his aunt and uncle would be visiting and even though they were bitchy and always fought with his parents, they kept off-label Adderall in the guest bathroom and had a short memory for quantities.
The most memorable holiday, the one that had set his future into motion, had been 4th of July weekend. Tyler had been soundly sleeping after a day out. Fishing, four-wheeling, then firing up the grill. Like the old days again.
“Get dressed and come with me, I’ll explain later.”
His dad was shaking him, telling him to get out of bed. Before he knew it, they were walking the fields, grass crunching beneath their feet. The shed out back was surrounded by trucks, blazing with light.
“My son. He’s cool,” his dad explained. Later he learned that some guy had called in sick, leaving them hanging with a big shipment to turn around before dawn.
He was cleared and ushered to the door. In the house where he had lived as a very young child, now very different, he was led to a long table. “Just help me sort these out,” his dad instructed and so he did. And because Tyler knew to seize opportunity when he saw it, more than a few of the pills and packets ended up in his sweatshirt pockets.
He and his dad walked back just as the sun grew pink in the sky. “This never happened,” he was told. “You were never here.”
Finally, keep your shit together.
His sister Brianna was all fucked up now. It was because of how she found out the news, was Tyler’s theory. At rehearsal, sitting up in the catwalk, working the lights while all the hot girls from the drill team practiced their routine for the winter show.
She found out by text. Why? he asked their mom later. Because your sister wouldn’t pick up my calls, was the answer. Still. That was cold. It was a wonder Brianna hadn’t jumped from that catwalk and ended it right then and there.
And now she forever associated their father’s death with Taylor Swift. #Squadgoals — not having your dad shot to death in a shitty motel in South Dakota. That was a good one.
And don’t forget to check in.
His phone buzzed. His mom this time, a number that popped up less and less. He seldom answered, and she was starting to give up.
He glanced around. Empty sidewalks. Time before the next hand-off. He could take it.
“Everything alright with school?”
Which showed just how long it had been. He should call more often. He should visit.
“You good with tuition money?”
Tyler looked around again. Now a shadow had appeared on the walk, coming closer. He’d need to keep this short. “Yeah, I’m good.”
© 2016 People and Places. All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Views of the characters do not necessarily reflect the views of the author.