The Missing Boy I Never Knew
Jada Petersen was thrilled to be co-editor of The Hillsboro Hurricane student newspaper senior year and her goal was to help fellow editor Kaz Kremitz produce a quality bi-weekly newspaper.
The newsroom was an old classroom that had been converted into the home of the Hurricane several years earlier. It was cluttered with desks, tables, research and reference books, old editions of The Hurricane, and countless copies of other newspapers. Posters of enlarged front pages of national dailies hung on the walls - headlines of the Stock Market Crash of '29, the sinking of the Titanic, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, D-Day, the death of FDR, the dropping of the Atom Bomb, Bobby Thompson's shot heard around the world, Roger Maris breaking Ruth's Home Run mark, the killings of JFK, MLK, and RFK, Man walking on the moon, Richard Nixon resigning, the Challenger explosion, and 9/11. A dozen computers, a copy machine, a fax machine, an old couch, and even a refrigerator also occupied the room.
The Hurricane newsroom had the feel of an old newspaper office and Jada loved being part of it. She was proud to be one of the lead writers and she thought Kaz was a natural born leader who was producing some of the best editions in years.
There were six regulars pumping out the bi-weekly Hurricane with a few stringers that teachers sent down to the 'dungeon' (the newsroom was located in the rarely used basement of the school).
Jada had been having problem with her computer for days. Kaz told her to get the computer geek Zebner from the school computer lab to come down and work his magic. Jada knew Zebner only from his frequent visits to the newsroom to perform computer maintenance and trouble calls.
Jada was in the newsroom alone when Zebner entered. School was out but both often hung out (her in the newsroom; him in the computer lab after hours). Zebner was known as a computer guru but he didn't like the holier-than-thou writer geeks who manned the newsroom. He thought they were snobs who alone determined what was worthy of print while ignoring most of the real stories worth reporting around the school.
Zebner had his familiar repair pack with him and he eyed Jada suspiciously as he approached her desk. He knew she was one of the elites who thought she deserved a Pulitzer Prize for her writing.
"You're having a computer problem?" He asked, looking right through her.
"My computer is really slow," Jada complained.
"Let me take a look," he said, making it sound like she was a total moron.
Jada rolled her chair away from the desk. Zebner sat in the chair at the next desk and wheeled it to her computer.
"I'll do a quick scan to make sure there are no viruses and I'll clean up the hard drive," he said, pulling a few discs out of his bag. "Shouldn't take long."
"Okay," Jada agreed.
Zebner wore his hair long to his shoulders. It was thick and black and Jada thought it looked better than her own style! He hadn't shaved in a week and he wore jeans and a Dilbert tee-shirt.
Jada sat back in her chair and watched him work. Zebner wanted to ignore her even though she was pretty. Her brown hair was cropped around her face, she had great legs, and he noticed that she had cut her fingernails to the skin, probably to be able to type fast. She was wearing a wool skirt and a turtleneck top that clung to her body.
"So," Zebner said after a few quiet moments. "How come you guys never did a story on Mawson?"
"Who?" Jada asked.
"Kyle Mawson," Zebner said with annoyance. "The kid who disappeared three months ago?"
Jada nodded to indicate she knew who he was talking about. "He was a kid who went to school here," Jada recalled.
"Does anybody even talk about him anymore?" Zebner asked.
"We've moved on," Jada explained.
"You mean you've forgotten about him," Zebner snidely corrected.
"Well, life does go on, Zebner," Jada remarked dismissively.
"Do you think if it was the basketball captain or head cheerleader or National Honor Society President who disappeared you guys would have written a story?" Zebner asked critically.
"Probably," she admitted.
"Damn straight," Zebner barked. "But because Mawson was a nobody he didn't even get a mention."
"The Greenville News and Dispatch did two or three stories," Jada argued.
"Great," Zebner said sarcastically.
"What we were supposed to write?" Jada wanted to know.
Zebner put another disc in the drive and pushed a few keys on the keyboard. "Well, you could have tried to figure out who he was," Zebner suggested. "Explored what might have happened to him. Interviewed students and faculty to see what they thought about his absence and if they worried about their own safety."
"He could be in Florida for all we know," Jada pointed out.
"Maybe," Zebner agreed. "Or he could be at the bottom of the Blue River."
"The story is three months old now," Jada noted. "It's old news."
"You still don't think you should do a profile on him?" Zebner asked with resentment. "It isn't every day a student disappears from the face of the earth."
"I didn't know him," Jada remarked. "I heard he was sort of a loner."
"You mean a loser," Zebner said acidly.
"Nobody really knew him," Jada theorized.
"I knew him," Zebner told her.
"Oh yeah?" Jada asked.
"But it wasn't a story you guys were interested in," Zebner complained. "Mawson didn't rise to the level of concern somebody more popular would have."
Jada was taken aback by Zebner's attack but as she sat waiting for him to finish fixing her computer she realized his criticism had some merit. She and Kaz ignored the Mawson story mostly because he wasn't well known around the school. She was embarrassed to have to acknowledge that reality.
"So, Mawson was your friend?" she asked.
"I guess," Zebner replied as he watched the dialogue box on the screen track toward 'completed'. "He was good with computers too although not as good as me." He didn't say it in an egotistical or condescending way, just as a point of fact. "We sort of hung out together because we were both into them."
"I think I remember you two eating lunch together," Jada realized.
"Yeah, I bet you figured it was the loser loner computer geek table," Zebner replied with disfavor.
Jada felt insulted by his remark, wondering why he automatically assumed that she would be judgmental toward him or Mawson.
"Did you know that it took Mawson's grandmother three days to call the cops?" Zebner asked.
"No," Jada admitted.
"It was only because I went over there looking for the guy after I hadn't seen him at school," Zebner revealed.
"He lived with his grandmother?" Jada asked, finally grabbing her reporter steno pad off her desk to scratch down a few notes.
"I'm pretty sure I was the last person who saw him," Zebner informed her as he popped out the last disc and rebooted the computer.
"Oh?" Jada asked.
"He came over to my house that Monday night," Zebner replied. "We played a couple of games of Chess. Last thing I said to him when he left was 'see you at the lab tomorrow'."
"The computer lab?" Jada clarified.
Zebner nodded. "When I didn't see him by Thursday I began to get concerned so I went over to his house."
"What'd the grandmother say?"
"She didn't seem to realize he was missing," Zebner said. "She has a drinking problem and she's kind of old and drifty anyway but I was shocked at how clueless she was."
"She hadn't seen him since Monday?" Jada asked.
Zebner nodded again. "Guess he never made it home after leaving my house."
"No, he was riding his ten speed," Zebner said.
"And the Police never found the bike?"
"Not yet," Zebner said as he turned his attention to the computer again, opening up the browser and reviewing the history. "Somebody's been downloading crap from the Internet," he told her.
"Research stuff, I'm sure," Jada replied.
"Looks like porn to me," Zebner said.
"Gross," Jada replied, frowning.
He glanced at her with a raised eyebrow.
"Well, it wasn't me!" She said with annoyance. "I'm not like that."
"I'll clear the memory and delete this stuff," Zebner said. "There was definitely a memory problem slowing the machine down. Who has access to it?"
"Everybody on the staff," Jada replied.
"You might want to tell Kaz or Mr. B. there's a pervert among you," Zebner suggested.
Mr. B. was the Paper's Faculty advisor. Jada liked him and she hated the thought of having to tell him that one of her peers was addicted to porn or something.
"So, do the Police think something happened to Mawson?" Jada asked.
"They think he ran away," Zebner replied as he worked on cleaning off the smut from the computer. "He was bullied and picked on here. There were obviously some family issues at home. There's no evidence of foul play."
"But you don't think he ran off?" Jada remarked with a raised eyebrow.
"He didn't take anything from his room," Zebner replied. "Everything he owed was still there. There were even a couple hundred bucks in cash in his bedside table drawer. I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have pedaled off with just what he had on that night if he planned on taking off. His lap top was still there for god sakes."
"He definitely would have taken that, huh?" Jada guessed.
Zebner nodded a third time.
"So what do you think happened to him?" Jada inquired.
"Who the hell knows?" Zebner replied with a shrug. "It's a mystery. Maybe some sex maniac abducted him. He was a pretty vulnerable guy."
"What do you mean?"
"He was squirrelly," Zebner admitted. "Kind of feminine."
"Do you think he was gay?"
"Who cares?" Zebner replied. "But he was naïve and kind of desperate for attention and friendship. And he wasn't a tough guy by any means so I could see how he could become an easy target and victim. Hell, he was picked on enough around here."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Jada remarked.
"You guys should do more stories about bullying and peer pressure," Zebner said as he rebooted the computer one more time. "The class system at Hillsboro High."
"There's no class system here," Jada protested.
Zebner laughed. "Yeah, right," he said cynically. "That's why there was that front page story about Mawson in The Hillsboro Hurricane," he said sarcastically.
"We probably should have done a story," Jada admitted with some shame.
Zebner looked at her with surprise. "Man, thanks for coming clean," he said.
"Maybe we should still do one," she added.
"It would be a nice tribute to the guy," Zebner said with appreciation.
"I'll have to run it by Kaz and Mr. B," she said.
"Okay," he agreed. "Anyway, I think the computer is all set. There was a lot of crap on there slowing it down. You should be good to go now."
Zebner wheeled the chair back to the other desk and Jada wlaked hers into her desk well. "Thanks," she said.
"Sure," Zebner said as he stood from his chair, deciding maybe she wasn't so bad after all.
"Do you think you could take me to see the grandmother?" Jada asked, looking up at him.
"Mawson's grandmother?" Zebner asked with surprise.
"Yeah," Jada replied.
"Why?" He asked with interest.
"Background," she replied.
"Sure," Zebner agreed.
"When?" She asked forcefully.
He looked at her, impressed by her resolve. He glanced at his watch. "Now?"
Jada smiled happily. "Great!" She said, leaping from her chair while gathering her stuff.
"Aren't you going to wait to run this by Kaz and Mr. B.?" Zebner asked.
"The more background I get the better I can pitch the story," she explained, boosting her back pack onto her shoulder. "You ready?"
"Let's go," Zebner said, leading her from the newsroom.
Zebner drove a thirty year old Pontiac sedan that looked like it had been soaked in gray house paint. It was dented and rusted but it ran. Jada had to make room for herself in the front seat as the car was full of computer junk, manuals, fliers and other crap. The backseat looked like a work bench, full of computers and parts.
"Do you think he's dead?" Jada asked Zebner as he drove the car out of the school parking lot.
"Yes," Zebner answered strongly. "I guess I'm the only one who cares though."
"I care," Jada said, throwing him a look. "I think more people would care if there was a body to make it official."
"What? They think he's at Disneyworld or something?" Zebner scowled.
Mawson's grandmother's house was in one of the older neighborhoods in town and it was easy to spot it from a half a block away. The grass in front of the house was patchy with several dirt spots. The shrubs were overrun and unkempt, the house was in a desperate need of a paint job and several of the boards were loose or hanging from the frame. One of the front windows was cracked. The driveway needed a pave job. There was a hole in the roof of the garage.
"Oh," Jada remarked as Zebner pulled the car into the driveway.
"You ain't see nothin' yet," he said as he climbed out of the car.
Jada got out of the car and followed Zebner to the front of the house. The front steps were rotted and buckled under their feet. The railing on the porch was missing several posts. The porch floor was dirty and chipped. Zebner rang the bell.
Jada was about to say nobody was home after so much time had passed but the creaky front door finally opened and Jada saw an older woman with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth peering at them.
"Hello, Mrs. Mawson," Zebner said politely. "Do you remember me? It's Jeff Zebner, a friend of Kyle's?"
"Yes, I remember you," Mrs. Mawson replied. "Who's that with you? Your girly-friend?"
"No, she's not my girlfriend," Zebner said coldly and Jada was kind of offended by the disagreeable tone in his denial as if he couldn't possibly be involved with someone like her!
"Could we come in?" Zebner asked hopefully.
"If you must," Mrs. Mawson replied.
She was a grossly overweight woman who waddled more than walked. She needed to hold her arms out to maintain her balance as she led them into the living room. The house was full of junk – boxes stuffed with newspapers and magazines, newspapers piled in corners, clothes strewn across furniture, broken furniture, soiled carpets, dirty dishes. The television was blaring and Jada counted three cats. The house smelled of cat and booze.
Mrs. Mawson crumbled into an overstuffed chair, still puffing on her cigarette. Jada noticed a bottle of whiskey on the nearby table and a half-full glass. The old lady blew her gray-white hair out of her eyes.
"Did you hear from Kyle?" She asked with indifference.
"No," Zebner replied sadly.
"I don't expect we will," Mrs. Mawson said. Her voice sounded like a buzz saw.
"No, I'm afraid not," Zebner agreed.
"What do you want?" Mrs. Mawson demanded.
"She wanted to ask you a few questions," Zebner said, motioning toward Jada. "Would that be okay?"
"What do you want to know, Missy?" Mrs. Mawson asked as she lit another cigarette even before she was finished with the one she was still smoking.
"I was interested in hearing about your grandson," Jada replied, pulling her steno pad out of her back pack.
"Didn't you go to school with him?" She asked suspiciously.
"Yes, but I didn't know him very well," Jada explained.
"No, I don't suppose you did," Mrs. Mawson replied, giving her the evil eye. "I can't imagine a girl like you would give a boy like Kyle the time of day."
Jada turned red faced and she glanced at Zebner for help but he didn't seem to be all that interested in bailing her out.
Kyle showed up here when he was thirteen," Mrs. Mawson revealed. "His childhood was anything but normal. There were drugs and alcohol in his life from the time he was born. His parents were young and they partied. They were horrible parents who ignored and abused their son. His father handled most situations with the back of his hand. His mother was a drunk and an addict. I blame myself, of course. I didn't do a very good job raising my son, Kyle's Daddy. Kyle grew up convinced that just about everything was his fault. His mother's drinking and substance abuse. His Daddy's anger and absence."
"Did Kyle drink?" Jada asked.
"You mean besides milk?" Mrs. Mawson asked with a furred forehead. "Don't be ridiculous. Kyle was a good boy. You would have known that if you ever bothered talking with him."
"I didn't mean…." Jada started to say but Mrs. Mawson cut her off.
"After high school, Kyle's Daddy joined the Air Force. He was mechanically inclined and he became a helicopter mechanic but his emotional issues prevented him from being successful in the military and he was discharged. He got in trouble, spent some time in jail, was homeless, and even had a stint in a veterans' shelter in Boston. Kyle's mama died from an overdose and his brother committed suicide. He didn't have much of a relationship with his father who had two failed marriages and another son with another woman. He had no friends. Basically, Kyle had nothing going for him, except me which ain't exactly saying too much."
Jada's jaw was hanging open. She had never heard such a brutal accounting of somebody's life. "Where's Kyle's father now?" She asked.
"I don't know," Mrs. Mawson answered. "Jail maybe? Dead for all I know."
"Do you think it's possible that Kyle committed suicide like his brother?" Jada delicately asked.
"No," Mrs. Mawson replied forcefully. "He wasn't messed up in the head. He got the help he needed when he got here. Your Counselor Mrs. O'Shea gave him therapy. He was attending Alanon meetings. He was dealing with his issues. He loved working on computers. He had a positive attitude and outlook. He volunteered fixing computers at the community center. He rode his bike everywhere. He wanted to live his life. He had an incredible strength and a human spirit that even gave someone like me hope."
"Is it possible that Kyle's father came and took him away?" Jada asked.
Mrs. Mawson laughed out loud. "Believe me, that's the last thing my son would have done. He didn't want to be bothered being a Daddy. He could have cared less about his son."
Mrs. Mawson lay her head against the back of her chair and closed her eyes, letting out a loud sigh. After a few moments, she was snoring. Zebner stood and took the one lit cigarette from her mouth and the other one from her hand, crushing them both out in an overflowing ashtray on the nearby table.
"Come on," Zebner told Jada.
She followed him through the kitchen which was a total disaster area and she counted at least seven empty whiskey bottles scattered about on the counter. Zebner led her into a back bedroom that was neat and orderly unlike the rest of the house.
"This was Mawson's room," Zebner said.
There was a giant H letter on the wall for Hillsboro. His bed was neatly made. There was a lap top computer on the desk with several books on a bookcase. A couple of perfect attendance awards were taped to his closet door. There was a chess board set up on the top of his dresser.
"I was only here a few times," Zebner told her. "Mawson was embarrassed to bring me here for obvious reasons. He didn't like talking about his family. What's really pathetic is that he didn't fit in here at home and he didn't fit in at school either. But his grandmother is right. He had strength of character and spirit and he was full of hope even in the most dire of circumstances. He was a good guy. The real tragedy of this story is that nobody knew that about him."
"So you don't think he killed himself?" Jada asked, glancing around the room.
Zebner shook his head no.
"And you don't think he went off with his father maybe?"
"No," Zebner admitted. "I can't imagine that happening. Living here was the closest thing he had to normalcy."
"Why did you like him?" Jada asked. "There had to be something besides a mutual interest in computers."
"He played Chess," Zebner said with a shrug as he stepped to the window and looked out.
"There must have been something else," Jada said as she stood in the middle of the room.
Zebner looked over his shoulder at her. "Mawson had a way of making you feel appreciated," he said. "He was so grateful that I even talked to him that he treated me like I was Prince William. He's the first person I ever knew who accepted me as I am. He had a wonderment about him that made me see the world in a whole different way."
"What did you talk about when you two played chess together?"
"Nothing important," Zebner answered. "Just everyday stuff. He had a dry wit to him. A way of observing things in a different way. He wasn't bitter or resentful about what happened to him or about living here with his alcoholic grandmother. His story is a tragedy but he never felt sorry for himself. Even when jerks at school insulted him and made fun of him. He just never let that stuff bother him."
"Sounds like he was a nice kid," Jada replied, feeling truly awful for missing the best story of the year.
"Not that anybody really cared," Zebner remarked critically as he stepped away from the window. "Well, anyway, now you know," he said as he headed for the door. "We should go."
Jada followed him out of the room. "What about Mrs. Mawson?" She asked.
"She'll be okay," Zebner replied. "The woman across the street keeps an eye on her."
"Mrs. Johnson," Zebner replied. "She was really nice to Mawson too."
They exited out the back door in the kitchen and Zebner walked quickly to the car. Jada didn't say anything as she followed, glancing back at the house and feeling an incredible wave of sadness overwhelming her. She brushed a tear from her eye as she got into the car.
"There is a chance he's still alive, you know," she offered Zebner hopefully.
"Forget it," Zebner told her. "He would have let us known if he was."
"Maybe he can't."
'He can't because he's dead," Zebner said adamantly as he backed the car out of the driveway. "Don't get all wishy washy sentimental now, Jade," he warned.
"It's Jada," she said, insulted that he didn't even know her name.
"You guys blew it three months ago when it really would have mattered," he growled.
"You're right," Jada replied knowingly. "We didn't care because he wasn't important enough from where we sat."
"You know, it's easy to write about the all-star basketball player and the pretty cheerleader and the popular student council president," Zebner told her. "And sure, editorials about school starting times and teaching to the test and all that stuff is relevant too. But when you people pass on a story of a missing kid just because he wasn't well known or in your sphere of influence, well I just think that's pretty shallow."
"You people?" She frowned. "What do you mean by that?"
He glanced at her. "Even though the newsroom is in the basement you and your staff still sit in the Ivory tower," he complained.
"I'm sorry you feel that way," she pouted.
"Am I taking you back to school?" Zebner wanted to know.
"No, you can take me home if you don't mind," she sighed heavily, feeling guilty and responsible for not being a good enough journalistic reporter to grasp the relevance of the Mawson story months ago.
"Where do you live?"
"27 Hilltop Road."
"Figures," Zebner muttered.
She threw him a fierce look. "You don't like me, do you?"
"I don't even know you," Zebner replied. "Just like you didn't know Mawson."
"I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't judge me," she snapped.
"Like you judged Mawson?"
"Shut up," she growled, angry that he was right.
Zebner didn't say anything and soon they were in the upscale Hilltop section of town, graced with lovely large well kept Victorians. Jada's house looked impressively nice when he pulled the car to a stop in front of the Petersen house. His car looked hopelessly out of place.
Jada started to get out of the car. "You know," he said, stopping her with his voice. "It's a great that you write well but sometimes it doesn't matter how you write as much as it does what you write."
"Thanks for the ride," was all she said in reply as she got out of the car.
Jada closed the door and Zebner watched as she quickly walked to the front door of her house. He didn't drive off right away. He wanted to make sure Jada got into the house okay and after spending the last few hours with her he had to admit that even though he resented her and the other Hurricane 'journalists' for not thinking Mawson was worth a story he actually liked her.
Jada went straight to her bedroom and she was surprised when she glanced out the window to see that Zebner's car was still there. She was embarrassed to have been called out by the computer geek but deep down she believed he was probably a better newspaper person than anybody on the Hurricane staff.
Part of her was relieved when Zebner finally drove off but another part of her was disappointed. He was the most interesting and insightful guy she had met in a long time. And then there was the matter of Kyle Mawson. Jada sat on the edge of her bed and fished out the photo she had snuck out of the missing boy's bedroom. It was a haunting photo in many ways, the way he was looking at the camera with an almost accusatory look in his eyes along with a slight smirk on his face almost as if he was in on some joke only he understood. Jada wasn't laughing.
"Whatever happened to you, Kyle?" She asked the photo.
### ### ###
Zebner hadn't seen Jada since that day he fixed her computer and he actually missed her. She was interesting and pretty and he liked being around her. The next issue of The Hurricane came out a week after that day Zebner confronted Jada on the Mawson non-story and there he was - Kyle Mawson (his photo anyway) - on the front of The Hurricane - a black and white photograph from Sophomore year.
Kyle Mawson - The Missing Boy I Never Knew
By Jada Petersen
Hurricane Staff Writer
About 210 people go missing everyday. That's 77,000 people every year. Most are girls on the run who return within a few days but for the thousands who don't come back it can be a very long and torturous wait for the family and friends left behind.
The National Missing Persons' Bureau resolves 70% of missing person cases.
A missing person is defined as "Anyone whose whereabouts is unknown whatever the circumstances of disappearance. They will be considered missing until located or their well-being otherwise established".
The main objectives in missing person cases is the safe recovery of the missing person but possible scenarios and hypothesis of reasons why that person had gone missing must be considered. Potential reasons include a lost person, a person missing voluntary, a person missing under the influence of a third party, and a person missing due to an accident or an illness.
If the circumstances are suspicious then the phrase "If in doubt think murder" should be applied. The Police use this phrase because 1% of all reported missing persons are found dead.
Missing persons missing voluntarily are missing for a specific reason including runaways and those who ran off with somebody. Others may wish to commit suicide or cause other self-harm.
Most missing persons don't get a lot of publicity. Three months ago, one of our own here at Hillsboro High School, went missing. Kyle Mawson - "Maw" to his friends in Mr. Reade's Computer Lab on the third floor - disappeared riding his 10 speed bicycle home from a friend's house one night. The Greenville News and Dispatch covered the initial incident and there was plenty of rumor and gossip in the halls of our school during the days that followed Kyle's disappearance but soon most of us went back to our regular routine.
Some of us didn't know Kyle well enough to identify with his absence. Others were frightened that someone from our school could disappear without a trace and we wondered if that could happen to us. And some of us refused to acknowledge the cruel reality that any one of us could go missing in a heartbeat, especially if it turns out Kyle disappeared against his will. We don't want to think that terrible things can happen even in a nice and peaceful place as our hometown of Hillsboro.
The Hilltop Hurricane failed to give Kyle Mawson the space he deserved in this publication upon his disappearance. There is no excuse for our oversight. As one of our harshest critics and a good friend of Maw put it, we would have given the front page to a sports athletic or another well known Hillsboro student had they gone missing.
Today, belatedly, we finally give Kyle the recognition we should have bestowed upon him when this tragedy first came to our attention. We apologize to Maw and his friends for our mistake.
Kyle moved to Hillsboro his Freshman year to live with his grandmother. Mrs. Mawson was impressed by Kyle's positive attitude and outlook and his strength of character having faced adversity in his younger life.
It didn't take Kyle long to acquaint himself with Mr. Reade's computer lap or to prove his computer expertise. He helped the theatre department computerize its lighting system. He was instrumental in transitioning The Principal's secretary from a twenty year old Mac Apple to a new Microsoft platform on a Dell computer. He volunteered at the Community Center where he assisted in the updating of the internet system as well as offering computer skill lessons to members. He also designed the center's new webpage (check it out at )
Kyle was an excellent Chess player. He was a good neighbor. Mrs. Johnson, who lives across the street from the Mawsons, reports that Kyle often helped the elderly folks in the neighborhood clear off snow from their cars and porches after storms.
I didn't know Kyle Mawson. I saw him in the cafeteria during lunch with some of his fellow computer lab peers. His friends tell me he was a bright, humorous, positive person. I wish I had gotten to know him during his time at Hillsboro High. And I'm hopeful that I'll still have that chance when Kyle returns from the missing.
Each of us here at Hillsboro High has our own story, sometimes choreographed on our own, other times determined by others. Recently, I stood next to Kyle's locker. I sat in his chair in the cafeteria and I thought about his story.I don't know why I miss him so much. It's not like I knew him. But still I think of him and I wonder if it is possible to miss someone that I never knew. I stare at his photograph (the one accompanying this story) even though nearly everything I know about him I learned from others.
I cannot explain why I miss Kyle so much. His story occupies my thoughts. Could it be the pain of wondering how innocence gets lost in a troubled world? Maybe.
Kyle Mawson was not a sports star. He was not a leader on the student council. He wasn't the lead in any school play. He never got his name in the paper until he became a news story. But Kyle Mawson was one of us. He could have been any of us.
It's for this reason we need to be mourning his absence and praying for his safe return. We need to remember him everyday. Please – don't forget Kyle Mawson.
Jada was seated at her desk in the Hurricane newsroom the afternoon the newspaper came out. She had been congratulated by several teachers and students for her emotionally honest article on Kyle Mawson. But she didn't feel good about the story. She felt sad. And she wanted to cry.
She looked up to see Zebner standing over her, the copy of the newspaper in his hand.
"Oh," she said. "It's you."
"Thank you," he said, holding the paper up. "For writing this."
She was nervous and she could hardly even look him in the eyes. "Better late than never?" She asked sarcastically.
"Yes," he answered truthfully.
She sighed. "I don't blame you for hating me."
"I don't hate you," he said, taking a seat in the chair at the next desk.
"You hated me that day you came in here telling me how screwed up I was for missing the story."
"I was….disappointed," Zebner admitted.
Jada felt a pang in her heart and she was relieved that he was not upset with her. "Oh," she said. "I can understand that."
Zebner kept looking at her. "You did good," he said quietly.
Jada swallowed and bit her lip as her eyes watered. "We're never going to see him again, are we?" She asked with defeat.
"I don't think so," Zebner said sadly. "But…."
She glanced at him. "What?" She asked, wiping a single tear away from her cheek.
"Well, maybe we could see each other," he suggested sheepishly. "If you wanted."
She smiled, realizing it was something she had been waiting to hear since the day he first came into the newsroom. "I'd like that."
Zebner's eyes lit up. "Really?"
"Yes," she answered, tickled that it was unfolding this way.
"Do you have time to do something today?" Zebner asked with a hopeful smile.
"Sure." Jada nodded. "How 'bout Johnny C's?"
"Yeah." Zebner breathed with relief. "That would be great."
She drove this time. She shared a car with her brother who was attending classes at Blue County Community College. They swapped on even and odd days and today was her day. It was a late model Honda, neat and clean and Zebner didn't have much to say as she drove them to the popular local diner.
They entered Johnny C's and found an empty booth. The waitress was there almost before the got into the seats.
"Hey, Zeb," the middle aged waitress greeted.
"Hi, Carla," Zebner replied sheepishly. "This is Jada."
"Well, hello there!" Carla said with a huge smile. "Nice to see you here!"
"She means with me," Zebner mumbled.
"Well, it's nice to finally see you with a young lady, Zeb," Carla laughed. She was a tall thin woman with a big nose and a pointed chin. She wore her graying hair long and in a braid.
"Can I ask you a question?" Jada asked Zebner once they placed their order with Carla. Jada was staring at him from across the table.
Zebner looked at her. "Sure."
"How'd you get to know so much about computers?"
Zebner grinned. "I have an uncle who's been in the business for a long time. He has a workshop in his garage. I hung around a lot watching him work and he started teaching me stuff at a young age. It got me interested in the technology. I wasn't much into sports but I was definitely into computer games although that kept me alone in my room more than I should have been."
"I didn't know what a computer was until I started writing for the Hurricane freshman year," Jada admitted. "I still only basically know how to turn the stupid thing on and that's about it."
"Oh, I know you're know more than that," Zebner grinned. "But I can help teach you some tricks of the trade if you want."
"Excell and Access and all that stuff?"
"Sure, if you'd like."
"Do you think you'll do computers for a career?"
Zebner shrugged. "Maybe," he said. "Most jobs require a basic set of computer skills these days so there's definitely a demand." He studied her for a moment. "You going to pursue journalism?"
"Or creative writing, maybe," she said. "I'll probably end up an English teacher or something though. I'm going to Green College next year."
"Blue County Community College for me," Zebner told her.
He nodded affirmatively.
The waitress returned with two cokes and a giant fry.
"Just watch the zits appear," Jada laughed as she took a fry and stuffed it into her mouth.
Zebner loaded a wad of catsup into the fries basket. Then he pulled his small lap top out of his back pack.
"I can't seem to survive without my computer," he admitted.
"You need more friends who aren't computer geeks," Jada smiled.
"Maybe it is time for me to stop depending on computers so much," Zebner agreed, looking at her over the top of the computer.
She smiled knowing he was flattering her. He started dancing his fingers on the keyboard as if he was playing the piano.
"You're a fast typist," Jada observed.
"I can type blindfolded," he bragged. "Sorry to be rude. I just need to quickly check my e-mails to make sure there aren't any computer emergencies going on. I have a sort of side business. Helps keep gas in the car."
"It's okay," Jada replied.
His smile made her feel better and she didn't feel so nervous being with him now. Zebner closed the computer and gave her (and the French fries) his full attention.
"No jobs?" She inquired.
"Nothing that can't wait," he replied. "Oh," he realized, opening the computer again. "What's your e-mail?"
She smiled and gave it to him and he typed it into his address book.
"Don't you have a cell?" She asked.
"Yeah," he said, digging it out of his pocket.
They exchanged cell phone numbers too and Jada was guessing it was sort of kind of semi-official between them now. She had Kyle Mawson to thank for this and she hoped she'd be able to thank him in person some day although there was a part of her who agreed with Zebner. Mawson was never coming back.
"I can get my e-mails on my phone too," Jada bragged.
Zebner grinned and opened his computer again. "Oh yeah?" He teased as he started to type away on the keyboard.
"Wait! You're not sending me an email now, are you?" She laughed.
"I can't help it," he confessed.
Jada laughed. "This is a first for me!"
Zebner nodded. "Kind of stupid, huh?"
"Don't worry," she said with a smile, "It's kind of cute in a computer geek sort of way."
"Thanks." Zebner frowned. "I'm obviously not the most socially adapt person, am I?"
"You on Facebook?"
"No way," he said. "I can't handle the rejection of a friend request being denied." H glanced over the computer at her. "You probably have 827 friends."
"About fifty, actually," she replied. "I promise I'll accept your friend request though."
"It will be nice to have one friend," Zebner replied.
"Especially when that friend is me!" Jada laughed but there was something sad in the way Zebner had said it that made her realize he really didn't have many friends. Maybe that was one reason why Mawson's disappearance upset him so much.
Jada's cell phone binged and she saw that she had an e-mail. She knew it was from Zebner before she even opened it.
I hope you are enjoying Johnny C's French Fries no matter how many zits they might cause!
It's really nice of you to care enough to spend some quality time with me. I hope I'm not a total geek.. I realize it's pretty stupid to be typing this instead of just saying it but sometimes I'm not very good at talking.
I just wanted to tell you that your piece on Mawson was one of the best things that's ever appeared in the Hurricane. Thanks for remembering him and for being such a good writer.
And thanks for coming to Johnny C's with me. This place sure is pretty with you in it.
Jada smiled and tried not to blush. Zebner closed his computer and Jada put her cell phone away just as the waitress came with the bill.
"My treat," Zebner insisted, grabbing the tab. "You drove."
"We can go Dutch," she offered.
"Don't worry about it," he told her.
"Okay then," she smiled. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," he nodded with a smile.
Jada waited while Zebner paid the bill and then they exited the diner.
"Should I drive you back to the school?" She asked as they stood in the lot. "Is your car still there?"
"I can get it later," he said. "I just live across the street."
He pointed to an older apartment building on the corner.
"Oh," Jada said with surprise, not realizing he lived in an apartment and not a house.
"I share a place with my older brother," Zebner explained. "I used to live with my Uncle but things got complicated when he remarried."
"Where are your folks?" The reporter in her forced Jada to ask the question.
"My mother died of cancer when I was young," Zebner sighed. "My dad got killed in a car accident about seven years ago."
Jada didn't know how to respond. Had she been living in a cocoon most of her life, blissfully naïve in thinking that everybody she went to school with lived in a nice house and had a strong family like her? Mawson the Missing came from an abusive, addicted family and now she learned that Zebner was basically an orphan. She wanted to hug him.
"You've experienced a lot of loss in your life," Jada remarked, looking at him with amazement.
"I guess," he shrugged. "Maybe that was one of the reasons Mawson and I got along so well," he theorized. "Both came from places of loss. But at least he had his grandmother even with all her flaws and I have my brother even if he isn't around all that much."
"But you lost Mawson," Jada pointed out. "No wonder you were so upset about him going missing."
Zebner didn't say anything in response to her observation.
"What does your brother do?" She asked.
"Drives truck," Zebner replied. "Anyway, thanks for the time. It was nice."
"It was," Jada agreed, respecting his wish to change the subject.
He walked her to her car and watched her drive away.
Jada gave her a mother a spontaneous hug as soon as she walked through the door, grateful to have a mom who cared about her and was there for her.
Jada's cell phone beeped as she stepped into her bedroom and she knew it was Zebner sending her another e-mail even before she looked at. A pleased smile spread across her face and she was surprised by how excited she was to be involved with someone again.
Zebner wasn't the kind of guy who was going to hang around Jada's peer group at school. They'd talk in the halls between classes and he'd meet her at her locker when their schedules coincided but he wasn't about to sit at the lunch table with the Hurricane staff or Jada's other friends. Sometimes she'd stop by the computer lab and Zebner would come by the newsroom after school and hang out with Jada there. Kaz and some of the others welcomed him as if he was an honorary member of the staff.
Johnny C's became a regular hangout and it was Jada's idea for her and Zebner to drop in at the community center once in a while and do some of the volunteer work Mawson had done before them.
Zebner taught Jada a few tricks of the trade with the computer and she became more confident in using different programs and platforms. She was surprised at how shy and reserved Zebner remained even as their days together turned into weeks and finally almost a month. He hadn't 'put the moves' on and he had a shy smile on his face every time he saw her.
Zebner actually opened a Facebook account and Jada took several pictures of him (and selfies of them) so he'd have something to put in his albums. She made sure his profile photo was something worthy and she was flattered that his cover photo was a picture of them standing together in front of the high school. Zebner also scanned a couple of photos of Mawson which he put into a separate album entitled "Maw".
Zebner finally let Jada see his apartment –a run down two bedroom that had a bachelor's look to it since Zebner lived with his brother John who wasn't around much. Jada convinced Zebner to scan some photos of his parents into a Facebook album too "to keep them alive in memory."
Jada's parents had certain expectations but they trusted their daughter and they didn't ask too many questions. She brought Zebner to the house a few times even though she knew he felt awkward trying to fit in, overwhelmed by the styling house and uncertain of how he was supposed to act around her parents, brother and even Jada's older sister who showed up with her two year old twin daughters just about every day.
"Thanks, Jada," Zebner said seriously one afternoon over ice cream at Johnny C's. It was as if he still couldn't believe a girl like her was willing to hang out with a guy like him.
There was something about Zebner that touched Jada's heart, soul and spirit. She had always been popular at school so dating and socializing was never a problem or issue for her although as time went on she became bored with all the social tap-dancing and game playing and eventually she immersed herself in the Hurricane but Zebner was different than most of the guys she knew. He was sincere in his compliments and he valued their time spent together. He made her feel special.
Jada couldn't ignore the way Zebner made her feel even though Zebner still seemed to be nervous and self-conscious around her, almost as if he expected her to dump him at any given moment.
"I just don't want to make a fool out of myself," Zebner told her on more than one occasion.
"You need to relax about this stuff, Zebner," Jada often told him.
She wasn't sure why she called him Zebner like everybody else except that it struck her as a neat first name (instead of his last name) and she liked the way it sounded. Zebner didn't complain because he liked the way she said it.
Sometimes, after a snack at Johnny C's, Jada would walk across the street and visit with Zebner in the apartment. He never brought her into his bedroom. They always plopped down on the couch and watched television. Jada kept waiting for Zebner to 'make the move' but he never seemed interested in taking the first step and she wondered if he was expecting her to show her affection first.
"Do you like me, Zebner?" Jada asked as they sat on the couch once again, her examining him closely.
"Of course," he replied, getting nervous like he always did.
"Hmmmm." Jada made a funny noise in her throat. "Could have fooled me."
"What do you mean?" He asked defensively.
"If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were afraid of me." There was a sly smirk on her face.
Zebner chewed on his lip self-consciously. "No. I'm not afraid of you."
"Okay," She nodded.
"I like you very much," Zebner told her with a thoughtful look and for the first time Jada felt the intensity between them.
She cleared her throat. "I'm glad."
Zebner leaned in and kissed her on the cheek.
"Jesus, Zebner," Jada groaned.
"What?" Zebner asked nervously.
"I'm not your sister!"
"That's how you kiss your sister," she complained. "Or some lady at church. That's not how you're supposed to kiss your girlfriend."
"You're my girlfriend?" Zebner asked, his heart pounding in his chest.
"Aren't I?" She tested.
"I hope so," he said happily.
"I'm just curious, Zebner," She remarked, giving him a serious study. 'You're not gay or something, are you?"
"Of course not," he groaned, obviously offended.
"Because you kind of implied that Mawson was," Jada pointed out. "Not that it matters," she added for clarification. "But I just need to know that you're on the up and up with me."
Zebner nervously looked away.
"Do you have the hots for me, Zebner?" Jada asked.
"You shouldn't talk like that," Zebner said.
She laughed. "You're such a gentleman."
He wasn't sure if she meant that as a compliment or an insult.
"I'm just a guy," he replied. "But if I screw this up I'll lose the best person I've ever known."
"Zebner, please," Jada begged, looking at him almost desperately.
He studied her face for a long moment and that made her heart skip. "What do you want me to say?" He wondered.
Jada rolled her eyes and bounced off the couch. For a moment, Zebner thought she was pissed and insulted and was going to bolt from the apartment but instead she dug her reporter's steno pad out of her bag and took a seat on the coffee table in front of him.
"Do you like me?" She asked.
"Yes," he answered quickly.
"Why do you like me?"
'Because you're friendly and pretty and smart," he answered. "You write well and you're sensitive. You come from a good family. You demonstrate strong ideals and values. You're the first girl who paid attention to me beyond needing my computer help. And you did Mawson justice proving that you really do care."
"Have you had a girlfriend before?"
"No," Zebner muttered with embarrassment.
"Do you want me to be your girlfriend?"
"Yes," he replied sounding extremely truthful if not pleading.
She nodded. "And how will you show me that you really care about me?"
"By doing anything you want," he answered and that made her laugh out loud.
"Would you be willing to kiss me?" She inquired.
Zebner's face turned red. "If you'd let me," he said nervously.
"I would definitely let you," she replied.
"That's good," Zebner remarked.
"So?" She smirked.
"So?" He asked in confusion.
"Am I what?"
"Going to kiss me!?" She groaned with frustration.
Zebner suddenly pulled her into him in a hug and she gladly wrapped her arms around his neck as she half fell into his lap where he sat on the couch. Jada smiled as she looked into his eyes.
"Kiss me, you fool!" She ordered.
When he hesitated ever so slightly, Jada planted her lips on his and gave him a meaningful lip suck. Zebner fell back on the couch and she went with him with a giggle.
"I don't want to be your sister, Zebner," she told him between smooches.
"I don't either," he assured her, getting comfortable with the idea of kissing her back.
"Good," she giggled as she lay on top of him and continued to kiss him.
Zebner couldn't help but laugh.
"What?" She wanted to know with wide eyes as she rested her lips on his.
"So this is what it's like," he replied happily.
"Yes, Zebner, this is what it's like," Jada confirmed, punching his ribs with affection. "Let's just take it one kiss at a time, okay?"
"Okay, he grinned, breathing out nervously.
"It's a lot more fun when you're not afraid to be my boyfriend, Zebner," Jada told him.
"Sorry," he said. "I just want it to be special."
"It is special," she assured him.
"Thanks," he said, his voice shaking.
"It's okay," Jada said with satisfied contentment. "I'm happy to report that I've finally kissed my boyfriend."
"I'm a lucky guy!" Zebner said, genuinely happy, his face flushed.
"And I'm a happy girl," Jada replied.
It would have been easy to take advantage of the situation. An empty apartment without parental presence or oversight. Jada could easily seduce Zebner whenever she wanted but she respected his timid nature and she was patient enough to wait until the time was right and they were both ready. She liked taking it slow and getting to know Zebner as a person. Most of the guys she dated were mostly interested in getting her naked.
Jada invited Zebner to Friday night dinner at her house with her parents. It was the next logical step in their budding relationship - a face to face formal sit down with the Petersens, including Jada's brother Jared and older sister Bridget and her husband Mike. Zebner was understandably nervous and anxious about the dinner despite Jada's calming influence.
"You said it yourself," she reminded him. "I come from a good family. Don't worry. They aren't going to say or do anything to make you feel uncomfortable."
Zebner got his hair cut fairly short that afternoon at Hill's Barber Shop. He wore the suit last worn at his father's funeral and he walked to the Petersen's house up the hill in the Hilltop neighborhood because he didn't want his junk car seen in front of their house.
"Hello, Zebner." Jada greeted him with a huge grin when she opened the door.
As nervous as he was, Jada's presence always made him feel better. "Hey, Jada," Zebner replied with an anxious smile.
"You look great!" She laughed.
"Thanks," he said with embarrassment. "So don't you."
She was wearing a lovely dress that hugged her frame like a glove.
"Please, come in," she said invitingly, stepping back
"Uh, okay." Zebner nervously walked into the house and Jada escorted him into the living room where most of her family was waiting.
Zebner somehow managed not to pass out as he met the family and Jada was giddy with delight showing him off. She bragged about his computer expertise and his revered reputation at school. She pointed out that it was Zebner who got the story on Mawson onto the front page of The Hurricane, one of Jada's best received stories of her high school writing career.
The Petersens were warm and welcoming, friendly and personable, non-judgmental and accepting. They seemed to genuinely like Zebner and as the evening went on he relaxed and began to feel accepted and comforted by his surroundings.
Jada insisted on giving Zebner a ride home at the end of the evening.
"I don't want you to go missing like Mawson," she said in all seriousness.
Zebner didn't say anything during the brief ride home and Jada was once again left with the responsibility of carrying on the conversation.
"So, what do you think?" She teased when she pulled the car into the parking lot behind Zebner's apartment building, parking next to his junky car.
"About what?" Zebner asked.
"Tonight! My Family! Everything!" She groaned.
"It was all very nice," Zebner assured her.
"Jesus, Zebner, sometimes being with you is like being with a robot," she complained.
"I'm just glad I didn't make a fool out of myself in front of them," Zebner admitted.
"They like you, Zebner," Jada informed him. "Believe me, they haven't liked every guy I've brought home."
"I'm sorry I'm not very emotional or romantic," Zebner sighed.
"It's okay, Zebner, I know you don't express your feelings well and I understand why."
"Dead parents, probably dead Mawson. It's hard putting yourself out there when you've been through so much emotional pain but I really do hope I'll be able to thaw you out a little."
"You already have," he replied.
"So, have you fallen for me?" She teased.
"From the moment I came to fix your computer," he revealed.
"Oh yeah?" She smirked. I was under the impression that you disliked me that day."
"I thought I did," he confessed. "But it didn't take me long to realize how wonderful you really are."
Jada smiled and reached across the shift stick to squeeze his hand. "I like you too, Zebner although I must say you're the last guy I thought I'd fall for."
He grinned happily.
"You make me feel things I've never felt before," she continued. "Partly as a writer and a responsible journalist. The whole Mawson thing has taught me to pay attention and not just look at things from my perspective but more importantly you took me out of my comfort zone and showed me a different slice of life I haven't known growing up on the hill and hiding out in the newsroom."
"I want to show you something," Zebner said. "Drive the car."
She obeyed and she followed his directions to the flats section of town where there were nice neighborhoods and attractive houses. He told her to pull over in front of a certain house and she did.
"That's the house I grew up in," Zebner told her.
"It's very nice," Jada remarked.
"This neighborhood was a nice place to live," Zebner said. "I had friends. My parents had friends. It was fun. Everybody called me Jeff. But then my mother got sick and died and my father got killed and life changed. I shut down. I felt lost. I felt cheated. People didn't know what to say. My brother sold the house and we moved in with my uncle for a while and then we moved into the apartment. I didn't see my friends so much anymore. I got a little down in the dumps. That's when Jeff went away and Zebner was born. Computers became my friend. I never dated because I couldn't face the loss if the relationship didn't work out."
"Oh, Zebner," Jada sighed, leaning across the stick shift and wrapping her arms around his neck. "Life is full of loss for everybody," she said as she pulled him close.
Zebner placed his arms around her waist and held her close as his mouth crashed against her waiting lips. They made out in front of his old house for a long time.
"It's going to be okay, Jeff," Jada promised him.
### ### ###
Zebner strolled into the newsroom to meet Jada like he often did. He was a familiar and welcomed face now and nobody looked twice whenever he showed up. Jada smiled when she saw him and she gathered her stuff from her desk to prepare to leave.
Mr. B., the newspaper's faculty advisor, stepped into the room and motioned toward Jada.
"I need to talk to the two of you," he said with a serious look on his face.
This was unusual because Mr. B was usually a laid back easy going light hearted guy and Jada knew right away that something was up. He led the two to the back of the room where the couch was set against the windows.
"Have a seat," he said, taking a seat in an old swivel chair across from the couch.
Mr. B was shorter than most of the students and he had a receding hair line even though he was only in his mid thirties.
"The news is about to break and I wanted the two of you to hear it from me first," Mr. B said somberly.
"Mawson," Zebner realized.
"Is he alive!?" A hopeful Jada asked with excitement.
"I'm sorry, Jada," Mr. B said with sympathy. "And Zebner, it's bad news."
"What is it?" Jada cried.
"They pulled Mawson's body out of Sun Rise Lake this morning," Mr. B revealed soberly.
"What!?" Jada's voice caught in her throat.
"Do they know what happened?" Zebner asked, his voice flat and factual.
"They've been working the case for months," Mr. B. explained. "A couple of students from the Sun Rise Lake School For Boys were out drinking and driving that night."
"The richies," Zebner noted.
"They were blowing through Hillsboro on their way back from a party in Greenville and they hit Mawson on his bike."
"But how did he end up in the lake?" A confused Jada asked.
"The boys panicked," Mr. B. revealed. "Mawson was dead. They'd been drinking. They put his body in the trunk of the car and his bike in the back seat and they drove to the lake. They tied cement blocks to the body and dumped both the bike and the body in the north end of the lake where there's mostly reeds and marsh."
"How'd they find him?" Jada asked.
"One of the boys was having a lot of problems with guilt and remorse," Mr. B explained. "Rumors started floating around the campus. An investigation began. The driver brought the car home to Eastern Rhode Island and had the damage fixed there. Police were able to trace the car and the auto body shop revealed there was some blood evidence. When they searched the car there was human blood in the trunk. The boy told them he hit a deer."
"Oh my God," Jada moaned. "This is terrible."
"Thanks for telling us," Zebner spoke up. "At least now we know what happened."
"Sorry for your loss," Mr. B said with understanding as he stood from the chair. "It's a real tragedy."
Mr. B left and Jada and Zebner remained on the couch trying to come to terms with the revelation.
"We should go see Mrs. Mawson," Zebner said.
"Yeah," Jada agreed heavily. She glanced at him. 'You okay?"
He nodded in the affirmative. "It helps having you here," he admitted.
She smiled and stood. "Come on," she said. "Let's go see Mrs. Mawson."
Zebner drove them in his junky car. The Mawson house looked the same as the last time they visited (about six weeks ago now). They braved the rotted front steps that buckled under their feet and Zebner rang the bell.
Jada was patient this time knowing it would take Mrs. Mawson forever to answer and the creaky front door finally opened to reveal Mrs. Mawson with another cigarette hanging out of her mouth peering at them.
"Hello, Mrs. Mawson," Zebner said politely. "Do you remember me? It's Jeff Zebner, a friend of Kyle's?"
"Yes, I remember you," Mrs. Mawson replied. "Is that one your girly-friend now?"
"Yes," Zebner said proudly.
"Did you sleep with her yet?" Mrs. Mawson asked.
Zebner's face turned red. "No," he said sheepishly and Jada wondered why he told her the truth.
"That's too bad," Mrs. Mawson replied.
"Could we come in?" Zebner asked.
"So, you heard about Kyle," Mrs. Mawson remarked as she waddled into the living room, holding her arms out to maintain her balance as she passed the multiple boxes full of newspapers and magazines, newspapers piled in corners, clothes strewn across furniture, and the rest of the junk filling the house. The television was blaring and the house still smelled of cat and booze.
Mrs. Mawson dropped into an overstuffed chair, still puffing on her cigarette. Jada noticed the customary bottle of booze on the nearby table and a half-full glass.
"How'd you find out?" Mrs. Mawson wanted to know.
"Our teacher told us," Zebner informed her.
"The cops were here this morning," Mrs. Mawson said in her grainy voice.
"I'm really sorry," Zebner sighed.
"That was a nice story you wrote on my grandson, Missy," Mrs. Mawson told Jada.
Jada was surprised Mrs. Mawson had seen it. She glanced at Zebner who looked embarrassed.
"I thought she'd appreciate reading it," he explained.
"I told you my grandson was a good boy," Mrs. Mawson told Jada. "He didn't kill himself or run away. He wasn't messed up in the head. He was dealing with his issues."
"Is there going to be a service?" Jada asked.
"I can't afford no funeral," Mrs. Mawson replied. "I stopped believing in God a long time ago. He's being cremated. End of story."
"Oh," Jada replied with disappointment. She thought for a moment. "Would it be okay if we had a remembrance ceremony for him at school?"
"You can do what you want," Mrs. Mawson replied, taking a sip from her glass. "This is very hard for me. I appreciate everything that everybody has done for Kyle. I thank you for stopping by to pass on your condolences."
Mrs. Mawson lay her head against the back of her chair and closed her eyes, letting out a loud sigh. After a few moments, she was snoring. Zebner stood and took the cigarette from her mouth, crushing it out in an overflowing ashtray on the nearby table.
"Come on," Zebner told Jada.
She followed him through the house to Kyle's back bedroom that looked exactly the same as the last time they were in it. Jada wrapped her arm around Zebner's waist and rested her head against his shoulder.
"I'm really sorry, Zebner."
"He deserved better," Zebner replied as he led her out of the room.
He drove them to his apartment. Neither spoke the entire way and when they got to the apartment, Zebner brought Jada into his bedroom for the first time. It was neat and orderly although there were massive amounts of computer books and manuals and some equipment piled in the corner. The bed was made. Zebner kicked off his shoes and fell onto the bed.
Jada stood at the foot of the bed staring at him, deep in thought. He looked so small and sad and defeated and weary. Finally, she pulled down her skirt, tossed aside her blouse, removed her bra and slipped out of her panties before lying down next to him. He didn't say anything as he wrapped his arms around her naked body and they hugged.
Zebner silently allowed his tears to fall, crying in front of Jada for the first time. Her eyes watered up too and they clutched each other just to be able to feel alive.
"You're very pretty," Zebner told her when he finally dared to examine her nudeness.
Jada looked into his eyes and then she brought her hands to his face before brushing her lips across his. Zebner's tongue traced her bottom lip until she opened her mouth and let him inside. He brought his hand to her cheek and gently cupped it while he brushed his other hand through her hair.
Jada comforted him by making love to him. She needed to feel alive to erase the mental image of a dead water-sogged decaying Mawson being dragged from the lake. She was happy to take Zebner's virginity and she was amazed at how confident and pleasurable he was for his first time. They didn't need to speak to one another in those quiet tearful moments of sad yet joyful ecstasy. Their actions said it all.
### ### ##
Jada and Zebner organized the Remembrance Day. Students and faculty were asked to wear yellow ribbons in memory of Mawson. The chess club put on a chess tournament in his honor. A tree was planted in the front of the school. A moment of silence was held in his memory. That day's edition of The Hurricane featured the photo of Mawson on the cover without commentary. The computer lab was renamed 'The Mawson Lab'.
"He was the missing boy I never knew," Jada told Zebner as they stood in front of the memory tree holding hands. "But he taught me so much."