Chapter Nine – the sin of pride
Jack tensed upon hearing the front door open and shut. Drawing quick, shallow breaths, he pressed a tight fist to his lips and focused his full attention on his father's footsteps. He heard him shuffling around in the kitchen, a cabinet door being opened, a tink... and a clink, a moment later, a soft thud, followed by more shuffling, and then footsteps coming up the hall. He sat up in his bed, propped against his pillows, a schoolbook open in his lap. His father’s face suddenly appeared at the door. He glanced at Jack, then at the book, but said nothing and went on. Jack heard the bathroom door shut. He pictured his father’s office − the pencil cup, the one loose pencil lying at a slight angle near a small note-pad, and then the swivel chair.
Would he notice the position of the casters? Would he really go to such pains? The chair, he thought, the stupid chair. If only I would’ve taken a few more seconds. Jack began assembling a story; I needed a pencil… Why would I need a pencil? The point broke. I could’ve sharpened it with a kitchen knife. I needed a red ink pen. But why? He’ll want to know, why.
He heard the toilet flush, and then water running in the sink. He heard the bathroom door open, footsteps, and then a pause.
“Shit…” he whispered under his breath.
He closed his eyes, his heart thumping audibly in his ears. An image popped into his head − his father stepping into his room, the veins in his forehead protruding, his eyes red with rage, his belt out and looped in his hand.
The red pen… Was there a red pen in the cup? I don’t know.
He searched for another lie, but couldn’t find anything even remotely credible. He took deliberate breaths − long, slow and quiet − as he listened for clues coming from down the hall. He could hear the distant sound of casters rolling on the hardwood floor, then:
His bed jiggled from a startled jerk.
The front door.
He heard his brother coming up the hall. His rapid footsteps seemed to be in perfect sync with the adrenalin-drunk heart thumping away in his chest. Judas’s head popped through the doorway.
“You still sick?”
“You don’t look too good.”
“Come here,” Jack whispered, gesturing with a wagging finger.
Judas approached the side of his bed with a half-dozen loose papers in his hand.
“Go see what father is doing, OK?”
Adopting his brother’s hushed tone, Judas replied, “Why?”
“I’ll tell you later.”
“I’m not going in there if he’s going to bite my head off over some crap you did.”
“He doesn’t know anything. Just go see what he’s doing… please… please, Judas. I’d do the same for you, you know.”
Judas wrestled with the idea while chewing on his lower lip. He took a deep breath. His chest then collapsed in resignation. “OK, OK… I’ll be right back.”
He disappeared into the hall. Jack could just make out bits and pieces of the exchange which took place between his brother and his father − Judas saying something about his friend’s mother, and his father replying. The voice levels, inflections, the tone, all sounded normal, and harmless − Judas showing his father a spelling test he’d aced, his father suggesting he make such results the norm, then something indistinguishable from Judas.
Moments later, he heard his brother’s footsteps returning up the hall. Judas slipped into his room, closing the door lightly behind him, then stepped up to his bedside, and whispered, “Nothing… just reading some papers.”
“He didn’t seem… strange, or upset?”
“He always seems strange and upset.”
“Yeah, but… You know what I mean.”
“He seemed just… normal.”
“He was sitting in his chair, behind the desk?”
His brother nodded.
“Going through some papers in his briefcase.”
Jack smiled. The smile twisted into a grin.
“What’d you do, Jack?”