The Cold Inside
By AL BRUNO III
June 24, 1995
Tom Fletcher was getting the grill ready for this afternoon’s barbecue; he hadn’t touched the thing since he’d burned off his armhair on the last Fourth of July. His wife Sheila was sitting on a lawn chair nearby- but not too nearby just in case. She divided her attention between a crossword puzzle and offering the occasional word of advice or encouragement. Their son Greg was waiting inside, he wanted some privacy with his friends when they arrived.
The first guest was already there, Warren was always the first to arrive for anything. “You’re sure I look all right?” He asked as they sat in the living room sipping sodas.
“For the fifth time you look great.” Greg said, “Just calm down, its not like the President is visiting.”
“It’s the weight.” Warren grumbled, “Now everything I own is too loose.”
Warren had lost a lot of weight since January, over a hundred pounds. The change in size had been so sudden it had left his skin looking deflated and sickly.
The doorbell rang, Greg got up to answer it and came back with Drew. She had her hair pulled back and was wearing a Mystery Science Theater 3000 t-shirt. She greeted Warren with a gesture that was somewhere between a hug and a tackle. “Long time no see! Look at you! What happened?”
Warren waved his arms uncomfortably until the hug broke, “I stopped eating.”
“You won’t make any money off a diet book withjust that in it,” she sat down in the chair opposite him.
“Did you want a –” Greg began only to be interrupted by the doorbell, “Oh here we go.”
When they were alone Drew said, “Seriously Warren, you look great.”
“I’ve gone from wearing pants that hurt to wearing pants that occasionally fall down.”
“Oh everyone wears their pants that way now. You’re just cutting edge.”
“There she is!” Yusuf said with a smile.
Drew bounded out of her seat to give Yusuf a hug, “I heard you made the Dean’s List.”
“Standards have slipped considerably since you left.”
“Ok now.” Greg said, “Who wants –”
The doorbell rang again. Greg retreated to answer it, shaking his fists at the sky in mock frustration.
Yusuf asked, “Can I see the ring?”
Drew proffered her hand, there was a slender gold band on her finger. Warren glanced at it and asked, “What does your father think of all this?”
Yusuf shook his head, “Mister negative, she’s seventeen she can do what she wants except drink, join the army or drive a car at night.”
“I can ask a question.” Warren said.
Drew sat back down, “My father said he always knew I would end up with Evan. Besides, this could be a very long engagement.”
Yusuf nodded, “We’ve missed you.”
“And what about me?” Adelphos walked into the living room, looking more broad-shouldered than ever, his arms and legs were thick with knots of muscle.
“Good to see you.” Warren was on his feet offering his hand to shake.
Adelphos gave a smile, “You never called, or wrote.”
“That’s because I’m a jerk.”
“Yeah but a skinny jerk, what the Hell happened to you man?”
“I haven’t been hungry lately.”
Greg said, “That’s all of us. Now who wants a drink or some chips?”
Tom Fletcher poked his head in to say hello as they were settling down to their seats and refreshments. He asked them what kind of patties they wanted him to throw on the grill and let them know lunch would be served in about an hour.
When they were alone again Yusuf said, “I wish Rich was here.”
Greg said, “I’m sure he is in spirit.”
Warren frowned, “There may be better barbecues in Heaven.”
Drew smiled, “Heaven isn’t what I think of when I think of meat grilling over an open flame.”
Adelphos shook his head, “Maybe Hell has a catering service.”
“I have missed you guys so damn much.” Drew laughed.
Greg said, “I heard you two ran into each other when you were taking your High School equivalency exams.”
Drew and Adelphos tapped their right hands together and said in unison, “G.E.D. powers activate!”
“I can’t believe you got out of high school early,” Yusuf said, “You’re like my heroes.”
Drew shrugged, “I think a diploma from Blessed Heart is worth more at the end of the day. I just couldn’t stand the high school B.S. anymore.”
“Makes you wonder though.” Adelphos said, “How much of High School is what we need and how much is our parents trying to keep us off the streets.”
Warren asked, “How do you like being in the family business?”
“Dad was pretty pissed I didn’t want to go back to school but he likes having me there. It gives him time to relax and go to OTB,” Adelphos explained. “Maybe I’ll go to college someday but I still don’t know what I want to do. And Warren my man, I heard you went out with Solana! Details my boy give me details.”
Warren blushed, “We had a good time, we even smooched but apparently my smooching leaves much to be desired because she never went out with me again. She’s always busy or something.”
Drew patted his knee, “Poor Warren.”
“She says I tried too hard. What the fuck does that mean?”
“Oh swear jar!”
Yusuf said, “Hey at least you got the smooches. My mother would rather keep me locked in the basement then let me go out with a girl.”
Warren said, “Once I started losing all the weight so fast AIDS rumors started going around the school. That probably didn’t help.”
“You know Evan has had to grow up a lot over the last few months.” Drew said, “He wanted me to tell you for him how bad he feels about the stuff he used to do now. He hopes to apologize in person to you some day.”
Warren said, “How much time is he looking at again?”
“Ten to twenty-five years if they try him as an adult. If his lawyer can keep this in the juvenile courts then he might be out by the time he’s eighteen.” Drew explained, “Sometimes he still has problems dealing with what happened- he still worries that he might be going crazy.”
Greg said, “Well regardless of what I think of the things he did to us and you especially- I know pulling a gun on a cop wasn’t his fault. It was out of his control.”
“That’s not something anyone can ever prove.”
“I can’t help but notice...” Warren said, “We are all trying pretty hard not to say the T-word.”
“Hey man,” Adelphos said, “all I know about Tristam is what I heard on the news.”
Drew agreed, “Same here. The stuff you guys told us never made much sense.”
Yusuf said, “I wonder sometimes if we imagined the whole thing.”
“Tristam killed his own mother, there’s no imagining that.”
Greg said, “I get letters from Jeff Hayes still. He’s kinda taken Tristam under his wing, trying to help him adjust and keep him out of trouble. He says the doctors keep Tristam so doped up he can barely think straight.”
Adelphos looked up from his chips and dip, “If he could really do all those things he told you he could. Why is he even locked up? He could just use his Jedi mind trick to walk right out the front door.”
“I don’t think he can any more.” Greg said, “I mean I think Tristam could hypnotize people in a strange way. He could do whatever he wanted so he did. The problem was he ran into something else out there even stronger than him- a kind of demon. It took his life apart- stole his body, possessed him and then ruined his family forever. It made those storms that killed all those people- including Rich probably. A lot worse might have happened but Tristam stopped it. He used his powers to atone for what he did before.”
“What a steaming load.” Warren said.
“I saw what Tristam could do too, he treated people like sticks. If in the end he went after that demon it was so he could get his body back.”
“But his mother- ”
“Most serial killers love their mothers too.” Warren said, “He was never one of the good guys and he was certainly never one of us.”
A sooty Tom Fletcher came back in to tell them the barbecue was off and to ask for their pizza order. Once the toppings had been decided upon the five friends sat in the living room looking uncomfortable. Finally Warren said, “Didn’t mean to poop on the party.”
Greg said, “You didn’t.”
Yusuf asked, “So what now? Should we go outside and toss around a Frisbee?”
Adelphos shook his head, “Remember last year when we played Bocce Ball?”
“Look,” Warren frowned, “I said I was sorry.”
“I have an idea.” Greg excused himself and then returned with an armful of papers and books. “I made plans for just such a lull in the conversation.”
“Dungeons and Dragons?” Drew’s voice was tinged with nostalgia.
Adelphos took his character sheet from the pile, “You kept all these?”
Warren said, “Where did we leave off? I don’t even remember.”
“This is a surprise.” Yususf rubbed his hands together in anticipation, “I thought the game was over.”
Greg smiled thinly, “Oh no my friends. The game is never over.”