"running late. meet me at 4:30"
"Are you fucking kidding me?" I sighed and snapped my phone closed as I walked down the front steps of Grover Cleveland High School. Didn't anybody have a sense of professionalism, anymore?
"What's the matter?" Declan, my best – and only, really - friend since he moved to the United States from England when he was ten years old, walked beside me as he did every day. Declan wasn't actually British; his father worked for an up-and-coming New York business for many years. When the business decided to open an office in London, Declan's father was chosen to run the place, to help it get on its feet. He packed up everything he owned and whisked his then very pregnant wife across the pond, where Declan was born a few months later. When Declan's mother died ten years later in a car accident, his father retired and they moved back to the New York area, around the same time that my family moved to the borough of Caldwell, New Jersey from the Oregon coast. And the rest is history.
"It's work," I replied with another sigh. "He's going to be a half-hour late."
"So you're still doing... that, then?" Declan asked in his distinctive, yet waning, British accent. He was the only person besides me and my clients who knew about my line of work, and he'd been trying to convince me to give it up ever since I told him.
"Why wouldn't I be? I've told you before, you can't beat the money."
"How much do you have saved up, now?"
"How much treatment do you think that'll pay for when you get some sort of nasty disease?"
"Stop it," I replied, only slightly irked because I knew that he was half-joking. "You know it's not like that."
Declan fell silent, knowing that any further comment he made would fall on deaf ears, until we reached the parking lot across from the school where we usually went our separate ways for the night. Just when I was about to say good-bye, however, he spoke up. "Listen, you've got some time to kill, right?"
"Yeah, a little bit," I said. "I was just going to wait around Stan's until my client showed up."
"How about we go to my house, instead?" he said, gesturing toward his little Toyota Prius his father had bought him for his sixteenth birthday about a month earlier. "You can get a bite to eat and hang around for a while, then I'll drive you to the motel."
I had to admit that I could really go for a cold cut sandwich or something, and his house was actually closer to Stan's Inn than the school. "Yeah, alright," I replied, climbing into the passenger's seat of the pasty-green colored Prius.
A few minutes later, I was sitting on Declan's couch while he let his golden retriever outside. "Can I ask you a question?" I asked when he came back in the back door and through the kitchen to the living room, where he collapsed on the couch next to me. He nodded his consent. "Why do you drive to school when you only live, like, a mile away?"
"My dad and I were mugged in London one day when I was younger. The guy had a gun and everything." Declan kicked his sneakers off and pushed them under a coffee table. "So now my dad refuses to let me walk to school, because he thinks it's unsafe."
"So instead he gives you a brand-new car to drive to school in? Because that definitely doesn't make you a target," I said, leaning against my friend's strong swimmer's frame.
"I don't even try to follow his logic anymore." Declan put his arm around me and held me close. Even though he was straight, Declan never minded physical contact; he said he could tell that it comforted me to know that there was always somebody that I could lean on. I don't know about that, but I'd always imagined that if he had turned out to be gay or bi, we would have ended up as boyfriends instead of best friends. He was tall, tan, and handsome, plus he was the sweetest and kindest boy I knew, hands down. Declan was the only person that I ever genuinely loved, and if I couldn't do so intimately, I was fine with loving him as a friend. As long as he was in my life, I was happy.
"You know, the only reason I give you a hard time about your work is because I'm worried about you," he said, out of the blue. I could tell that it'd been eating at him since our conversation outside the school.
"I know," I replied. He knew that I hated talking about work, so he must have had something that he really wanted to get off his chest. I wasn't trying to hear it, though, so I diverted the subject, anyway. "Hey, so how about that bite to eat you were talking about?"
"Yeah. Let's go into the kitchen and see what we've got."