In the morning, Henry came again to my bed. This time he lay down beside me, crying silently as we snuggled.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I feel so guilty!”
“Well, first because I was so stupid, and now Robbie’s in danger. We don’t even know if he’s alive. Then second,” he went on, “here I am having a wonderful time with you and enjoying so much what we’re doing together when I really shouldn’t be.”
“Why?” I asked again, afraid that he would say that what we were doing was wrong.
“B…b…because I don’t deserve to be enjoying myself when Robbie’s in danger.”
I thought a moment before saying, “I get that, Henry, but you also need some comfort. Your parents are too scared and sad right now to help you, and I seem to be the only one who can. That’s not wrong. I know you feel badly about Robbie, but we have to hang in there and hope the police can figure something out. There’s nothing else we can do.”
“I know. I know.” He was silent, his tears slowly subsiding. Finally, he said, “Thank you. You’re so special to me.” He kissed me gently and went into the bathroom.
While we were having breakfast, the phone rang. My mom answered, listened, and said, “Of course,” and then hung up.
“Your parents are on the way over, Henry. They think we all need to meet together and clear the air.”
Looking at me, Henry muttered, “Oh, boy.”
Henry’s parents always entered our house by the front door, unlike Henry. My dad pulled up extra chairs so all six of us could sit at the kitchen table. When we were seated, Henry’s dad handed Henry an envelope, saying, “This was under our doormat.” Henry looked at it and saw that it had his name on the front. Opening it, he read quickly, exclaimed, “Damn!” and handed the note to me.
It said, “We have your little brother. If you give us the camera, we will return him. If not, or if you go to the police, you will never see him again.”
I read it, and then, with shaking hands, passed it to Mrs. Henderson, who read it and passed it on. Nobody said anything until everybody had read it.
“We’ve already been to the police, yesterday,” Henry said, “and we gave them the camera.”
“Then we need to call the police right away and tell them about the note,” Henry’s dad stated. He pulled out his cell phone and called. When he finished, he said, “Somebody’s coming over in plain clothes to get the note. Now,” he continued, “Henry, your mother and I think you boys have been withholding things from us.”
I looked at Henry; Henry looked at me. I nodded.
“Dad, I can explain,” began Henry.
“No,” his dad interrupted. “I don’t want explanations. I want to hear everything you two know about Chad, his accident, his camera, and Robbie.”
I knew we were in trouble. We hadn’t told them much of anything, and we should have.
Henry began to tell the story, and I filled in with details. As we talked, the doorbell rang. Dad opened the door and a woman entered. She came into the kitchen and asked for the note. Holding the note gingerly by the edges, she put it into a plastic bag. Then she put the envelope into another bag. “I suppose you all handled these,” she said, and we nodded. Then I’ll need to get all of your fingerprints so we can eliminate you as the writer. She opened her bag and took out what she needed, which included an ink pad, a paper for each of us, and tissues. I guess in a way I thought it was pretty cool. After all, I had never been fingerprinted before, and I was quite sure the others hadn’t either. After each of us was fingerprinted, we went to the sink to wash. When we were finished, the woman thanked us and left.
Henry and I continued telling our parents our story. It took some time to tell about The Cave, Brad, the camera, the pictures, Henry wanting revenge, arguing about whether to go to the police, then going to the police, Brad being arrested for withholding evidence, how worried we were about Robbie, and getting the pictures enhanced. Finally, we told them what Officer Bryant had said about us keeping together and going nowhere alone. I will say, all four parents listened silently through the whole recital.
But we had no idea what was going on in their minds. Our parents looked at each other. Then Mom said, “Boys, I want you to go upstairs and not come down until you are called.”
Silently we trudged up the stairs and sat facing each other on our beds. “What do you think they’ll do?” I asked.
Henry shrugged. “Well, they could ground us. They could make us stay home on weekends and stay in our rooms. They could keep us apart. That would be the worst. I dunno what else they could do.”
We waited, growing more and more anxious as the minutes passed. Finally, we heard steps on the stairs.
My mom knocked, opened the door, and said, “Boys, would you come downstairs now please.”
Down we trudged and took our places at the table.
My dad spoke first. “Max, your mother and I are very disappointed in you and your lack of judgment. You should have come to us and gone to the police even if Henry wouldn’t. Even if you thought it would destroy your friendship, it was the right thing to do. And you should have told us about this a lot sooner. If you had trusted us then, perhaps Robbie would be here with us now.”
By then I was crying. It didn’t matter what punishment they came up with. This was the worst they could do. I sat, looking down at the table and not saying anything. Finally, I nodded and said very quietly, “I know Dad. I’m so sorry I’ve disappointed you and Mom. At the time, I didn’t think of it as not trusting you, although I see now how you got that. I thought of it as loyalty to Henry.” I also told them about how things had happened so fast and were so confusing we didn’t think about it, although I realized that was really no excuse at all.
I didn’t even listen to what Henry’s parents said to him. I just felt my world crumbling inside me. By the time they finished, Henry, too, was crying.
Mrs. Henderson asked, “What do you boys think would be suitable punishment? Did you talk about it upstairs?”
“We did,” I answered, “but we talked about what you might do, not about what would be right or fair.”
“And what options did you come up with?” Mom asked.
“Grounding, especially on weekends, and spending the days in our rooms, not seeing each other, not much else, I guess.”
“But,” Henry interrupted, “like Max said, you’ve already done the worst you could do. To know that you’re disappointed in us, to know that you can’t trust us, to know we’ve endangered Robbie and maybe others—I’m just so sorry!” And he and I dissolved into tears again.
When I finally looked up, our parents were crying too. After a long silence, Henry’s
father spoke up. “Boys, we don’t want to torture you. We know you’re still
kids and you do and will make mistakes. We will not keep you apart, even on weekends. That is
partly because of what the police said. If we didn’t let you be together sometimes,
you’d have to be with us all the time, and that would be torture for all of
Henry giggled through his tears; I joined in. Even the parents were smiling a bit.
“So” said my father, “we will not ground you. We will not keep you apart. What each of you must do is write, without talking about it at all, a letter to Officer Bryant, and a letter to each set of parents. That’s three letters. We want to see the ones to the police before you deliver them. The others can be private.”
Henry and I looked at each other. We nodded imperceptibly. I rose from the table and went to my room to write. I heard Henry and his parents get up and leave.
The three letters took me a long time, partly because I was still crying some and couldn’t see the paper, but more because it was so hard. The one to Officer Bryant was the easiest. I knew he understood why we did what we did, even if he didn’t approve of it. Of course, by then I knew that our parents understood too, but the shame and the disappointment were still there. My second letter was to my parents. I tried five times and tore up each attempt. How do you say how sorry you are? How do you say how scared you are for Robbie? How do you say how ashamed you are? How do you say that you do trust them and love them and don’t ever want to disappoint them again?
I went to bed that night still having not finished the letters.
On the school bus, Henry and I sat apart so we wouldn’t be tempted to talk about the letters. One of the older boys said, “Oh, have the lovebirds fallen out?”
I was worried that Henry, who was right behind him, might hit him, but he just sat and said nothing.
During lunch a small group of guys came over to me, and one said, “You guys are in a hell of a lot of trouble. Did you tell the cops about The Cave? Where is Brad? Someday, when you least expect it, you are going to get the beating of your life! Keep looking over your shoulder, faggot, because you’ll never see it coming.”
I said nothing. When they had gone, I picked up my uneaten lunch, threw it in the garbage, and went to the school library. I had never, ever, been called a faggot before, even though I guess I was one. I wished they had beaten me right then. At least then it would have been over.
Since Henry and I weren’t supposed to be alone, our parents decided that included riding the bus home. So my mom took time off from work to pick me up from school and take me to her office until she finished, while Henry’s dad picked him up after practice.
While I was at Mom’s office, I did my homework so I could work on the letters at night. Somehow, a night’s sleep and a day’s routine made it a little easier to write. I finished the two letters and asked my parents if I could take my letter over to the Hendersons. Because I wasn’t supposed to be alone, Dad went with me.
When we got there, Henry’s mom called him. He came downstairs, silently handed a letter to Dad, looked at me a minute, and went back upstairs. I handed my letter to Mrs. Henderson and Dad and I went home. Nobody had said anything.
In the morning, instead of going to school on the bus, we planned to go to the police station with Henry’s dad to give Officer Bryant the letters. But when we went out the Hendersons’ front door, there was another note addressed to Henry.
Henry picked it up by the edges, opened it, and read it before handing it to his dad, who read it and handed it to me. It said, “If you want to see your little brother alive, bring the camera and the Sim card in a box tonight at 11:00 to the path off of Hardy Street that goes up Allen’s Hill. Leave the box at the top of the hill. Don’t call the police. Don’t bring anybody else with you. I’ll be watching. If there are any complications at all, your brother is dead.”
“What should we do?” asked Henry.
“Call the police,” his dad answered, and turned back into the house as we followed. He was directed to take us with the note to a local grocery store, where the woman who had come to my house would meet us in the produce section.
We took the note and the notes to Officer Bryant and drove to the market. Henry’s mom and dad pretended to do some shopping, while we roamed the store. In a few minutes, we saw the woman enter the store, get a basket, and head towards the produce section, where we met her and, after looking about to see that nobody was observing, handed her the notes. In return, she handed Henry a brown paper bag which, she said, contained the camera, complete with the Sim card. “We have all the images we need off the card,” she said. “Deliver the camera and the card tonight just as you have been told. We will have the place covered.”
“But,” Henry protested, “he said I should be the only one there!”
“Don’t worry. He’ll never know we’re there.” And with that, she went on with her shopping.
Finding our parents, we told them we had delivered the notes. They shopped a little more, went to the checkout counter, and paid for their purchases. Then we headed back to Henry’s house.
Since they thought it would look suspicious if we then went to school, we spent the day in the two houses, listlessly playing video games and talking. It was torture just wasting time until Henry had to go deliver the camera.