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Vignettes Regarding the Artwork of Brendon Kotes
Had Brendon been allowed to spend more time with Casey that winter, that spring, heading into that summer, maybe Taylor L. wouldn’t have come back into the picture. Or maybe he would have anyway. Drugs a welcome escape; dealing a way to pitch a middle finger to all the people who now saw, not just a poor boy from the wrong side of Grant’s Lorry Road, but a murderer who got away without justice.
White powder baggies must have started hiding in Casey’s pockets, though Brendon had scarcely seen him to know for sure. By the time the police threw up their hands and stopped hounding Casey so closely, by the time Brendon and Casey began to see one another again on the weekends, those white powder baggies had taken up residence in the nooks and crannies of Casey’s Mustang.
It took a few parked evenings, Casey sprawled under Brendon or Brendon dragging Casey on top of him, before Brendon finally realized, and by that time, he’d been scared—scared that if he said anything, one breath or word against Casey’s newest activities, that Casey would cease bothering to make the hour trip down to Castlebrock.
“Can’t stand being cooped up at Mom’s all the time,” said Casey. “Silvia’s great, but man all her things take up a lot of space and Becks is constantly going on about my cussing.”
Brendon looked out the window, watching the colorful leaves rush by—orange and yellow and maroon like Dylan. He shook his head and looked over to watch Casey’s profile. Something had hardened there, the last bit of childhood burnt up in a stream of rubber and oil and loose lips about town.
“You have anything else at the Bayscape?” asked Casey. “Been meaning to ask. Want to head over there if so.”
“No. Haven’t talked to Donna Pierceman in a while.”
Casey made a strange, strangled sound. Hit the steering wheel with the heel of his palm. “You should. Come on, man. Don’t let your fucking chances dry up. You’ve got skill. Working on comics and paintings and shit.”
“I haven’t worked on the comics. We’re not doing that anymore.” The poster with its half-finished giant spaceship shoved in the closet, getting wrinkled and bent, one day years from now to be thrown out when he finally admitted he had no plans to finish. Just thinking about the stories he and Robbie had been working on threw another sinking stone in his gut.
“You and Robbie not hanging out?”
“Not really. Been spending most of my time over at Aunt Laurel’s.”
“That your aunt with the unicorn tattoo?”
“The one on her middle finger?”
“I should get one of those.”
Brendon purposefully misunderstood him. “A unicorn?”
Casey laughed, his face suffused with a sudden happiness, eyes squinching up, the strain loosening. For just a moment, it felt like old times, the two of them sipping lemonade on Mom’s porch while dreaming of freedom.
Sometimes on those weekends, Casey would randomly stop at someone’s house, dip in and out, leaving Brendon in the car. Sometimes they’d stop at Taylor L.’s house—a split foyer with a giant porch out back that led into the woods where a shooting range had been shored up. Sometimes, Brendon would catch Taylor L. standing just a little too close, hand gripping Casey’s neck, pulling them together until their foreheads touched, Casey’s shoulders stiffened, but unresisting.
Brendon didn’t call Donna Pierceman the autumn of his senior year, but he did dive back into painting, like Casey had been his muse. Forests—oak and elm and gum all raining leaves; Aunt Laurel’s wishing tree, a dogwood with thick strands of waxy paper fluttering in the wind; cypress and holly in a sea of white.
One of those paintings—a rendition of Taylor L.’s tree-swallowed backyard shooting range, complete with a huge wash of white speckles wafting through the scene—Casey stole. He left a small stack of six twenties in its place.
Brendon never, ever asked.
Next Chapter Coming October 27th