Gone for Good Page 87

Katy Miller kept her distance. She had gone away—she didn’t tell me where and I didn’t push it—but she called almost every day. She knew the truth now, but in the end, I don’t think it helped much. With the Ghost still out there, there would be no closure. With the Ghost still out there, we both looked over our shoulders more than we should.

We were all living in fear, I guess.

But for me, closure was drawing near. I just needed to see my brother, maybe now more than ever. I thought about his lonely years. I thought about those long hikes of his. That was not Ken. Ken would never be happy like that. Ken was in your face. Ken was not one for hiding in shadows.

I wanted to see my brother again for all the old reasons. I wanted to go to a ball game with him. I wanted to play one-on-one. I wanted to stay up late and watch old movies with him. But, of course, now there were new reasons too.

I mentioned earlier that Katy and I kept our contact with Ken a secret. That was so Ken and I could keep our lines of communication open. What we eventually arranged was an Internet newsgroup switch. I told Ken not to let death scare him, hoping he’d pick up the clue. He did. Again it harks back to our childhood. Don’t Fear Death aka Ken’s favorite song, Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” We found a board that posted information on the old heavy metal band. There were not many posts, but we managed to set up times to IM each other.

Ken was still being cautious, but he wanted this to end too. I still had Dad and Melissa, and I had spent the last eleven years with our mother. I missed Ken like mad, but I think that maybe he missed us more.

Anyway, it took some preparation, but eventually Ken and I set up a reunion.

When I was twelve and Ken was fourteen, we went to a summer camp in Marshfield, Massachusetts, named Camp Millstone. The camp was advertised as being “On Cape Cod!” which, if true, made the cape take up nearly half the state. The cabins were all named for colleges. Ken bunked in Yale. I bunked in Duke. We loved our summer there. We played basketball and softball and participated in blue-gray color wars. We ate crappy food and that appealingly dubbed camp succor “bug juice.” Our counselors were both fun and sadistic. Knowing what I know now, I would never in a million years send a kid of my own to sleep-away camp. But I loved it.

Does that make sense?

I took Squares to see Camp Millstone four years ago. The camp was in foreclosure, so Squares bought the property and turned it into an upscale yoga retreat. He built himself a farmhouse on what had been Camp Millstone’s soccer field. There was only one path in and out, and the farmhouse was in the middle of the field, so you could see anyone approaching.

We agreed that it would be the perfect reunion spot.

Melissa flew in from Seattle. Because we were extra-paranoid, we had her land in Philadelphia. She, my father, and I met at the Vince Lombardi Rest Stop on the New Jersey Turnpike. The three of us drove up together. No one else knew about the reunion, except Nora, Katy, and Squares. The three of them were traveling up separately. They’d meet with us tomorrow because they, too, had an interest in closure.

But tonight, the first night, would be for the immediate family only.

I handled the driving duties. Dad sat in the passenger seat next to me. Melissa was in the back. No one did much talking. The tension pressed against our chests—mine, I think, most of all. I had learned not to assume anything. Until I saw Ken with my own eyes, until I hugged him and heard him speak, I would not let myself believe that it was finally okay.

I thought about Sheila and Nora. I thought about the Ghost and the high school class leader Philip McGuane and what he had become. It should have surprised me, but I’m not sure it did. We are always “shocked” when we hear about violence in the suburbs, as though a well-watered lawn, a split-level construction, Little League and soccer moms, piano lessons, Four Squares courts, and parent-teacher conferences, all worked as some sort of wolfsbane, warding off evil. If the Ghost and McGuane grew up just nine miles from Livingston—again, that was how far the heart of Newark was—no one would be “stunned” and “dismayed” by what they’d become.

I put in a CD of Springsteen’s Summer 2000 concert in Madison Square Garden. It helped pass the time but not a lot. There was construction on Route 95—again, try to find a time when there isn’t—and the ride took an agonizing five hours. We pulled up to the red farmhouse complete with fake silo. There were no other cars. That was to be expected. We were supposed to arrive first. Ken would follow.

Melissa got out of the car first. The sound of her door echoed across the field. When I stepped out, I could still visualize the old soccer field. The garage sat right where one goalpost used to be. The driveway ran across where the benches once were. I looked over at my father. He looked away.

For a moment, the three of us just stood there. I broke the spell, moving toward the farmhouse. Dad and Melissa trailed a few feet behind. We were all thinking about Mom. She should have been here. She should have had the chance to see her son one more time. That, we all realized, would have awakened the Sunny smile. Nora had given comfort to my mother by giving her a photograph. I cannot tell you how much that will always mean to me.

Ken, I knew, would be coming alone. Carly was someplace safe. I did not know where. We rarely mentioned her during our communications. Ken might risk himself by attending this reunion. He would not risk his daughter. I, of course, understood.

We paced about the house. Nobody wanted anything to drink. There was a spinning wheel in one corner. The grandfather clock’s tick-tocking was maddeningly loud in the still room. Dad finally sat. Melissa moved toward me. She looked up with her big-sister eyes and whispered, “Why doesn’t it feel like the nightmare is about to end?”

I didn’t even want to consider that.

Five minutes later, we heard an approaching car.

We all rushed to the window. I pushed back the curtain and peered out. It was dusk now. I could see just fine. The car was a gray Honda Accord, a totally inconspicuous pick. My heart picked up a step. I wanted to rush out, but I stayed where I was.

The Honda came to a stop. For several seconds—seconds kept by that damn grandfather clock—nothing happened. Then the driver’s door opened. My hand gripped the curtain so hard it nearly ripped. I saw a foot hit the ground. And then someone slid out of the car and stood.

It was Ken.

He smiled at me, the Ken smile, that confident, let’s-kick-life’s-ass smile. That was all I needed. I let out a yelp of joy and broke for the door. I threw it open, but Ken was already sprinting toward me. He burst into the house and tackled me. The years melted away. Just like that. We were on the floor, rolling across the carpet. I giggled like I was seven. I heard him laugh too.

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