|TAKE ONE DOWN, PASS IT AROUND
They let you make one phone call, but do they help you figure out WHOM to call?
In other words, they are NO help at all.
Which is why I was currently holding a suspiciously grimy telephone receiver in one hand and using the other hand more or less to rack my brain…while a portly and none-too-pleased man in blue glared a “hurry up” at me.
My accomplices were shifting uncomfortable in another corner of the station. They looked quite a bit younger under the harsh fluorescent lights, but I hoped no one would hold that against me.
Well. I guess that would depend on just where I placed my ONE phone call.
Technically it should have been a no-brainer. Call Avery. Get bailed out. Go home.
But right now that actually sounded less appealing than the other option (Go to jail, go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200).
I could call Stryker. I DID bail him out once last summer, the time he chained himself to that condemned building off Commonwealth. But it was unlikely he’d have bail money. And eventually Avery would probably find out anyway. And then he’d be holding something against me, that’s for damned sure.
Here goes nothing…I punched in the buttons with less enthusiasm than I’d shown during my last root canal.
Twenty minutes later I was more certain than ever that I should have called someone else – like the attorney general maybe, or my great aunt in New Mexico. Framed in the doorway of the police station Avery looked distinctly UNamused although reason dictated that it wasn’t TOO bad. I mean, if he were REALLY mad at me he certainly wouldn’t have shown up in his red fleece, would he? The one that makes him look all blond-y and tan-y and like a ski commercial come to life?
Uh oh though. There were the eyes.
Those were NOT the eyes of a carefree skier.
They were NOT the eyes of a Norse god with a sexy Yankee accent.
These eyes were blue glass (well, not LITERALLY glass!) and they sent me ONE message: Con, I am NOT kidding, they said!
“Hi!” I told him brightly as he strode purposefully toward me. But I also tried to look tough, like those women-in-prison movies they show on Lifetime. I LOVE Lifetime movies. I may not be a woman-who-kills, or even a woman at all, but I can try, can’t I?
“Conrad,” he said in that awfully interested tone that NEVER bodes well…“would you mind telling me how a 26-year-old such as yourself has managed to get himself arrested for underage drinking?”
Of course I had an articulate and enlightening response all prepared.
“Um,” I replied, with as much dignity as I could under the circumstances, which I suppose you can see weren’t so much ideal.
“Officer?” Avery asked politely and I had to breathe a quick sigh of relief. Avery’s a local boy, born and bred. His granddad was on the city council and I think his great-granddad had even been to the Boston Tea Party! Or maybe great-great, I can’t remember. Anyway the police were bound to love him! I’d seen it before. He’s a charmer, my Avery.
Then again I had to get MY side of the story in somehow…before the police got all biased and told Avery what THEY think happened.
“Picked ’em up at the Quik-Mart,” the officer reported before I could jump in, looking…was it bored? No! He looked positively gleeful. It’s like he KNEW what he was getting me into. What a jerk.
“Forgive my ignorance, Officer,” Avery broke in. “But I’m not certain what the crime is? Conrad here is…” he cast me a somewhat withering look “…legally at least, far past the age of majority.”
“Yeah,” the officer agreed good-naturedly, “but THEY’RE not.” He jerked his thumb toward the nervous-looking group of youths near the door.
“And he was…purchasing the beer for their consumption?” Avery asked, light dawning.
I HATE when Avery’s light dawns.
It rarely bodes well for me.
I examined my shoes with great interest, my stomach tightening unpleasantly.
Briefly I considered my options. Avery was at the moment bailing me out, or possibly bribing the officer for who would get first crack at me, I’m not sure. They had their heads together in a highly unpromising manner.
Which meant that in a moment or two I would have to go home. I mean I would get to go home. I mean…oh, I’m not even sure WHAT I mean, except that going home with Avery now definitely seemed like a worse option than a jail sentence.
I wondered if it was too late to plead guilty? Maybe I could persuade the state of Massachusetts to give me a lethal injection. Yes. Or at least the kind that makes you sleep for a hundred years or so.
Because a hundred years just might be the MINIMUM it would take before Avery was done being pissed off at me this time.
It had all been a big misunderstanding! Really!
I was on my way into the market, just minding my own business and being a GOOD citizen, when those kids asked me if I wouldn’t mind picking up a couple of six-packs for them.
I’m a good Samaritan so of course I said yes! I was just helping out some fellow humans in need. HOW was I supposed to know there’d be some overeager cop (talk about underage! He couldn’t have been much older than those college students!) waiting on a sting outside the store?
Honestly, it could have happened to anyone. Really.
Bailing me out didn’t take nearly long enough. Before I knew it I was being escorted OUT of the safety of the station and toward…certain doom. My car was still at the Quik-Mart so I trailed Avery to the parking lot, jogging a little to keep up with his longer stride.
Oops. I realized too late that I STILL hadn’t gotten in my side of the story. And while I was busy daydreaming that cop had probably been turning Avery against me!
“Av—” but he put up a hand before I could finish the word.
“I think it’s in your best interest to take the Fifth here, Con,” he advised me, unlocking the car doors with a decisive click.
I didn’t need any more encouragement than that! You could practically HEAR my lips zipping.
Unfortunately the Fifth didn’t last nearly long enough. Once we were in the house Avery whipped off his fleece, pushed up the sleeves of his Henley FAR too purposefully for my taste, and gestured toward The Chair.
Okay, technically it’s just your basic armchair…kinda overstuffed, fading print, that kind of thing.
Well. It’s your basic armchair when we’ve got company. Or when we’re just watching TV or something.
But when I’m in hot water though it’s The Chair…And sitting down in it right now seemed like a way too dangerous option! If I sat then before long we’d be Talking, and when we finished Talking that’s when we’d start Discussing. And THAT was something I really wanted to avoid.
“Con…why don’t you sit down while you still can?” Avery suggested.
He thinks he’s funny!
But I sat down anyway, to be polite. Avery LOVES good manners.
“I have a very good explanation,” I assured him before he could say anything.
“Oh good,” he said. “I can’t wait to hear it.”
“Well,” I began thoughtfully only to be cut off again.
So much for good manners!
“First let me see if I have the whole story?”
I nodded uncertainly.
“All right. You stop at the store to pick up some toilet paper…” (Here I blushed. Buying toilet paper is embarrassing enough, but TALKING about it? Ew, ew, ew.) “…and on the spot you’re invited to a high school kegger?”
“NO,” I interrupted firmly. “It wasn’t like that at all.”
“What was it like then?”
“Well,” I said again, toying with the loose fabric strings on the arm of The Chair. Four years of these Talks have practically worn a hole in the upholstery.
“Well. These guys were outside the store and they asked me if I wouldn’t mind picking up some beer for them…so, you know, I did…” I trailed off here. My innocence was very clear!
“Why did they want you to buy them beer?”
“Um. They were underage, technically. But they were only a couple months away, Avery! And those laws are SO barbaric and old-fashioned and you know it!”
“Only a couple months away?”
“Yeah,” I said, my voice gathering confidence as I realized how very RIGHT I was. “They were, like, twenty. And in COLLEGE. I mean, if you’re in college then you’re totally old enough to drink!”
“How do you know this?”
“They told me. They’re undergrads at the University.”
“Conrad, those kids were juniors in high school.”
My head snapped up. “What?”
“They were 16 and 17. The officer told me. High school kids, Con!”
“But…” I stammered. “They told me they were in college. They said they were almost 21.”
“They said that while asking you to help them break the law,” Avery pointed out gently. “What exactly made you think they would be honest with you?”
I studied the stitching around the soles of my shoes.
It’s impossible not to listen to Avery. He has that kind of voice.
“I thought they were in college,” I mumbled.
“Even if they were in college, Con! You still let a bunch of complete strangers talk you into breaking the law.”
“It’s a DUMB law.”
“It’s a LAW,” Avery insisted, his voice firm enough to make me squirm. “If you don’t like it, write your congressman. But that doesn’t mean you’re not bound to follow it! Con, what if those kids had asked you to help them hold up the store? Would you have agreed then?”
“Of course not!” I responded, horrified. WHAT kind of person did he think I was?
“So…you’ll only break certain laws for perfect strangers? Which laws fit into which category, may I ask? You’ll commit forgery, but not larceny? Grand theft auto, but not embezzlement?”
Ugh, I hate it when he gets all sarcastic.
“Or is it you’ll only break ‘dumb’ laws?”
I looked at the floor again.
“I’m disappointed in you, Con,” he said quietly.
Now THAT made me look up. My eyes stung.
“If the police hadn’t caught them AND you, those kids could have done God knows what with that alcohol. Did you stop to think whether they planned to drive with it? Someone could have been killed. You’ve seen what happens when kids that age have too much to drink.”
Avery takes high school morality VERY seriously, what with being a teacher and a shaper of their little minds.
“I really thought they were in college,” I repeated lamely, beginning to feel a little too Nixonesque (“I’m NOT a crook. OR a child-corrupter. OR an underage drinker.”)
“Con. Breaking the law is like being pregnant. You either do, or you don’t.”
I wasn’t sure I agreed with that kind of black and white logic, but now didn’t seem the time for philosophical debate.
“You need to be 21 to buy alcohol…and it doesn’t matter if you’re 20 years and eleven months or 15 years old; if you’re under 21 it is NOT legal. You’re either over 21 or you’re under.”
Okay, okay. “I just wanted to help them out.”
He shook his head. “You have got to learn to say NO, Con. You can’t come to the aid of every helpless puppy you see, especially if the helpless puppies are a group of lying high school kids!”
“They weren’t bad kids!”
“I didn’t say they were. But they DID lie to you, and they DID ask you to help them break the law. Anyway, that’s for their families to deal with. YOU on the other hand…” his voice trailed off ominously.
Suddenly legal debate didn’t seem like a bad idea anymore. Anything would be better than getting to the other hand!
“It was all a big misunderstanding,” I informed him as optimistically as I could. “I won’t buy beer for kids anymore.”
“Good. I don’t like having to pick you up at the police station.”
“Averrrrrry,” I whined, dragging out the R in a way that would have made my high school French teacher proud.
“Whaaaat?” He whined back in a fairly decent imitation. He thinks he’s SO funny!
This was the crucial moment, folks. Here was where I could, with the aid of sterling logic and forceful delivery, turn the situation around to MY side. This was my chance to save myself! And I took it!
“You, um,” I said as confidently as I could. “You can buy beer at 18 in Canada.”
That one went over, as my thesis advisor would say, like a pregnant woman on a pole vault.
Pardon the expression.
Avery nodded sagely. “Thank you for telling me. Perhaps you’d like to move to Toronto?”
Frankly that didn’t seem like a bad idea right now. He was already looking FAR too determined for my taste. History teaches us important lessons: when Avery looks determined things RARELY swing my way.
“And you can drink when you’re, like, twelve in Europe…” I trailed off.
“Con,” he gave me a searching look. “I appreciate hearing all these statistics, really I do. But just tell me one thing?”
I nodded eagerly. (Sometimes enthusiasm helps!)
“Did you agree to buy alcohol for a group of underage strangers tonight?”
Huh. “Yeah, I guess so…Yes,” I finished finally. Avery’s got this THING about straight answers. Black and white, like I said!
“Mmm,” he nodded, with that interested look again. “And then you were arrested.”
“There were NO charges filed,” I assured him.
He squeezed his eyes shut briefly. I gave him a sympathetic looks. Sometimes Avery gets these headaches when we have our talks. I think all that logic hurts his brain or something. My poor patient man, he’s really VERY tolerant most of the time.
“I just wanted to make sure we were in agreement,” he said mildly, then drew out a chair from the dining table and sat down.
Uh oh. Apparently tonight would NOT be a demonstration of his tolerance.
“Come on then,” he gestured to me, holding out a hand. “Unless there are any other crimes you’ve committed tonight I should know about first?”
I shook my head and dragged my way over to him. There was only about four feet of space between us but they were LONG feet.
“Averrrry,” I whined again as I approached, even though it hadn’t served me too well last time.
“Yes, Con?” he asked.
I stood at his knee, twining my fingers in the fabric of his shirt. I leaned against him slightly, his torso warm and solid against mine. He wrapped an arm around my waist and squeezed, then pulled my head down to kiss my forehead. “I love you too,” he said, still a little too firmly.
“Do we HAVE to?” I asked, tears already threatening, as his hands drifted to the waistband of my jeans.
(Not that I mind his drifting hands USUALLY…but this situation happens to be one of the rare few where being naked with Avery does NOT serve my best interest.)
“Oh, I think so,” he said lightly, pushing my jeans to my knees and helping me stagger to his other side in what MIGHT have been a comical fashion if it weren’t for the all too apparent fact that what we were heading for was sheer tragedy. Tragedy of tragicomic proportions even!
“This isn’t necessary,” I proposed as he drew me down over his lap.
“Oh, but it is,” he said still in that same very very calm voice. When Avery gets an idea in his head, let me tell you…he’s a pit bull!
He maneuvered me into a more comfortable position (NOT that I was going to be comfortable for long!) and gently pushed my sweater up past the small of my back, resting his hand briefly on the skin there. I must say I was not particularly pleased with the rather deliberate preparation of the target at hand. Each moment in this position tends to feel like an hour anyway; I was FAR too aware of the very slow ticking of the wall clock as I waited for Avery to begin.
“Con,” he said pleasantly, sliding my shorts down to join my jeans at my knees. “Can you tell me why we’re doing this?”
It sounded like a nice request. But you see, I speak fluent Averyspeak. And that was Averyspeak for “You’d better tell me RIGHT now why you’re in trouble, young man! If you don’t want things to get even WORSE!”
His left arm curved around my waist, giving me a quick comforting squeeze before settling gently against me…but heavily enough to remind me I wasn’t going anywhere for a while yet.
“I bought beer for underage people,” I recited dutifully.
“And why was that a poor decision?” he asked, palm resting across the middle of my bottom.
“It’s against the law,” I explained as penitently as I could, squeezing my eyes shut as I felt his hand lift. A breeze seemed to rush around the bare flesh for a moment and then.
His hand whacked down again.
“Avery! You don’t have to do it so HARD!”
Like I said, when this man gets an idea into his head…pit bull city.
“I SAID I was sorry!” I reminded him, wriggling as much as I could considering my confined position.
“You’re sorry you got caught,” he said, heartlessly in my opinion. His left hand stayed warm against my side, holding me reasonably still, while his right hand continued its merciless journey up and down and across my poor maligned cheeks.
After all THEY hadn’t done anything wrong!
Within a few minutes I was starting to feel REALLY sorry. My backside stung far more than any one backside should. I decided I would never buy beer again. Ever. For anyone. I’d be a teetotaler! Carry Nation, here I come!
“Aaaaaavery,” I wailed.
“You have GOT to learn to make better decisions, Con,” he lectured, swatting hard. “You have to learn to say NO when someone asks you to do something wrong!”
Well. If anyone could teach me that it would be Avery. He certainly says NO often enough to me!
“OW!” His hand whacked at the very bottom of the aforementioned bottom, and I hastened to assure him again of the lesson learned.
“I’ll say no!” I promised tearfully.
“Good,” he said. “Because if you follow the wrong people into the wrong decisions, you’re going to find yourself right back in this position. Got it?”
“Yes!” (I might have said NO! just to tease him except I didn’t have humor on my mind at that moment in time.)
I was crying too hard for discussion by the time he finished the job. Poor Avery had had to leave our nice warm living room and come down to the police station to bail me out. He had papers he needed to be grading! We had…cuddling in front of the fire we needed to be doing! And instead I made him come down and bail me out. Ugh. I was a TERRIBLE burden on him.
“Hey.” He stroked along the length of my bottom, then patted gently, his other hand rubbing my back as I hiccupped toward calm. Slowly I withdrew the death grip I had on his calf and he tipped me upright, bending over me for a quick, tight hug before he stood us both up and resettled us on The Chair.
I was quite willing to let him take over at this point and we ended up sprawled together, me mostly on his lap with my head buried in his neck. I traced the fine golden hairs along his wrist and he tightened his arms around me.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered into his neck.
He ruffled my hair. “I know. We’re done with it now.”
“I was trying to help…” I admitted.
“I know that too. And yet there’s a fine line between helping and aiding and abetting, Conrad…”
“But you’ll remind me if I cross it, huh,” I said ruefully.
He answered with a gentle swat although OW! …since I was still sore.
I relaxed against him again for a few minutes. That tight place in my stomach from when we were in the police station was almost loose again. Except…
“You’re disappointed in me,” I reminded Avery, sniffling, a little stung still.
“No, we took care of it,” he assured me, tangling a hand in my hair. “Besides, it’s all right. It’s not the first time I’ve been disappointed, and it’s never affected my loyalty …Haven’t I been a lifelong Red Sox fan?”
I laughed against his neck in spite of myself.
My Avery can ALWAYS make me smile.