Sunlight made a silhouette of the scarlet Ferrari Ryan raised above his eyes. He examined the etched license and the beetle that darted by and perched on his wrist. When it continued on its way, he dropped his arms into the bristling grass and released his breath. Abrupt murmuring could be heard behind the closed door of his home. He pushed himself up and sneaked to the screen, where he squinted past the sunspots in his eyes to see his mother standing with crossed arms while his dad spoke.
"Look, I got into this with the promise that I would be able to provide for you. I wanted to back out when Ryan started going to school. You know that. Anyone who backs out or goes to the Gardaí is gone. I endanger us either way. You know I never imagined any of this would happen."
His mother smeared a wrist across her eyes. "We have done everything we can do keep him separate from all the dealers and users. You've made deliveries for years without a single mistake, so why would they be afraid of you now? And why is Ryan in danger? He has no part in this. And how could they know about him? He comes home after school. We have kept him from sports, activities, even socializing with his classmates."
"Sybil," his dad said severely, "They know I want to leave, so I'm a loose end. And he could be someone they threaten to keep me in line. You know that anyone can look around and know he exists. We may have burned our photos and kept him a secret, but anyone can come here and see we have a son. They could use that to threaten him as well as us."
"So what do you suggest we do? Give him up?" she demanded.
His dad remained still as he peered at her. "It may come to that."
"We have no one to trust him with! We would have no authority in where he goes. And say he ends up with abusive people?" Sybil shrieked as tears started streaming down to her chin. "We have no say in where he lives or who looks after him. He would grow up in a system, not a family, same as we did. Is that what you want, Samuel?"
"No," he answered harshly, "but what options do we have?"
Sybil smeared her tears away and crossed her arms. "We could run."
Samuel dropped his tone to respond, and Ryan strained to understand him. Sybil darted her eyes past her husband and made eye contact with him, and his father spun around.
"Were you listening?" he demanded.
"Well," Ryan answered, "I heard some of it."
"Something to do with your career being a danger."
Samuel's shoulders sagged. He threw a glance at Sybil, then peered at his son. "Do not explore the matter anymore, and do not listen in on another conversation. Do not speak of what we've said to anyone. All you should know is that people make bad decisions when they're desperate and associate with some scary people. Do not ever get caught in that trap. Let us handle this one."
"Good boy," Samuel pushed the screen door open and strode past him, giving him a slap on the shoulder. Sybil gave him a watery smile and pointed toward the kitchen.
"Come have some tea and let's chat."
Ryan opened the screen door and let it bang shut behind him. He trailed his mother to the kitchen, where she started to pour the kettle of steaming water into a pair of red mugs.
"Chamomile, I assume?" she asked as she peered over her shoulder. He nodded and seated himself at the small square kitchen table. He stared expectantly at her back, but she remained silent and pressed a couple buttons on their CD player until it started playing "Ticket to Ride" by The Beatles.
"Ma, can we talk?" he asked.
"Sure," she retrieved the tea from the counter and placed his mug ahead of him. She reached toward the jar of honey in the middle of the table and planted it beside the spoon at his place. "As a matter of fact, I wanted to mention that we ordered the headstone for Daisy. She would appreciate being in that pet cemetery, I suspect, so we can visit her sometimes."
Daisy was a border collie who loved playing ball, chasing Ryan, and sprawling out in the sun with her tongue drooping out of her mouth. She lived twelve years. He sincerely missed her companionship.
"So," Sybil smiled as she raised the cup of unsweetened chamomile tea to her mouth, "are you excited about school starting in a couple weeks?"
Ryan raised his shoulders in a shrug. "The assignments aren't really a challenge. Science Fair will be fun. Already done with the project I plan to do. Don't get to talk to any of the kids, so that's not—"
"Because your Da has a super secret job, remember? Maybe he won't one day, and that may change. Why haven't you had any of your tea?"
Ryan dropped his eyes to the steaming yellow liquid and asked "Why are you pretending that discussion between you and Da didn't happen? We always discuss things, Ma. We don't keep secrets."
Sybil looked up at him with startled eyes. "This is not a secret from you, Ryan," she promised. "It is something that only we can take care of, not you. There is no reason you should worry about something that we are addressing. It should be all right soon."
Ryan unscrewed the lid of the honey jar and scooped some into his tea. He and his mother always were open about anything that happened in the family, about themselves, and about their lives. This response was strange to him.
"If you could live anywhere," Sybil propped her elbows on the table and leaned toward him with a smile, "where would you live?"
A small thrill of excitement ran up his spine. He stared above him with contemplation. "Australia has a lot of wildlife. So does Alaska, but that's really cold. So I would say either Australia or Alaska."
Sybil chuckled. "Well, we may not go as far as those, but we'll see what we can do."
Ryan peered around him. "But I love this house, Ma. We've always lived here."
"I know. But I am happy to hear we have a couple of other options, in case we do move."
He paused. "Would I at least be able to talk to my classmates if we moved?"
"Maybe," she answered. "What would you do with your classmates?"
"Speak to them, for one, so they know I'm not mad. They say that I am, Ma, and that I am strange, and an outcast. They make up all these ideas about why I never talk to them. Maybe we could come up with something to do together if they didn't think I was so strange."
"I know you're not strange," she assured him.
"Could you say that to them?"
Sybil smiled. "Tell you what," she leaned her elbows on the table again with a sparkle in her blue eyes. "Pick anything you want to do next Saturday, and we'll do it. A zoo, a science exhibit, an amusement park, anything."
Ryan eyed her. "Can I pick a combination of things?"
She laughed. "Maybe. Now, when you're done with your tea, why don't you show me what you've done for your science fair? You said you actually have several projects you could choose from?"
Ryan leapt out of his seat and started down the hall to his room, calling –
"Yeah, so we're supposed to journal for school, so one is on the psychological effects of journaling, one is about the alleged risks and benefits of vaccinations, one is a motion-triggered robot…"