Susan glanced at the clock—1:35. She didn’t want to call the police because she knew Ryan would throw a fit. She didn’t know where Ryan had gone because he’d left the house while she was on a conference call with the West Coast. Presumably he had told his younger brother Raz where he was going, but one work call had led to another, and before Susan knew it, Raz had gone up to bed without telling her where Ryan had gone.
Susan thought it over. The two brothers were thick as thieves, or at least they used to be before Neil had died, but her sons were each reacting to their father’s passing in different ways; Ryan, her mild child, had grown more inward, keeping his grief inside, but Raz, her wild child, had gotten more out of control. Raz had idolized his father, and they were both baseball fanatics.
Susan let her thoughts travel backwards in time, to those memories. Raz and Neil would hit balls in the backyard for hours, and Neil went to every one of Raz’s games, proud to see his son pitch for the Musketeers. Neil’s illness had derailed Raz emotionally, and she had gotten recommendations for therapists, but neither boy would go. She’d started therapy, and the plan was to try to convince them to come with her, but that had yet to come to fruition.
Susan scrolled to the text function, found her last text to Raz, and texted him: Honey, please call when you can. It’s important. Students were allowed to keep their cell phones with them, only with the sound off, and they weren’t permitted to look at them during class. It was a rule more honored in the breach, and Raz and rules were never on good terms.
She slipped the phone back in her blazer pocket and went to her desk, which she kept uncluttered except for her nameplate, a digital clock, a jar of pencils and pens, and family photographs of Neil and the kids. She sat down and scanned the photos, wishing that she were in at least a few of the photographs with Neil, so she could see them over time. They’d met in college, fallen in love, gotten married upon graduation, and been happily married almost every day since then. Susan couldn’t have asked for more. Except now, all she asked for was more.
Her gaze found her favorite photo, the one of Neil hugging Ryan and Raz at Ryan’s graduation from CVHS. They had been so happy then, and even she didn’t believe that they had had such a successful marriage, given their upbringing. She wasn’t perfect, nor was he, but they were imperfect in the same way, a union of two doers who loved nothing so much as checking off boxes on a Things To Do List.
Susan shooed the thoughts away, then checked her phone, but Raz hadn’t texted her back. She texted him again. Honey, please call. Worried about Ryan. She set the phone down, trying not to catastrophize, as her therapist Marcia said. Marcia had taught her to cope by occupying her mind, so Susan tapped the mousepad on her laptop. The screen filled with the red ValleyCo logo, a stylized mall nestled in the V of Valley, a branding decision made before Susan’s time.
She opened an email and a PDF of a BoobTown ad for her approval. The top banner read, THIS MOTHER’S DAY IS SUNDAY, MAY 15! CELEBRATE MOM AND YOURSELF! Underneath was a photo of a pretty mom with a little boy, a stock image aimed at their target market. Susan had been that woman, the shopper who was ValleyCo’s sweet spot, the kind of mom who put the date of a sale on her calendar the first time she heard it. That was why Susan made sure that in every ad, the sale date was the largest thing on the page, and in their email blasts, the sale date connected automatically to My ValleyCo Calendar, an app that she had commissioned herself.
My ValleyCo Calendar enabled the customer to schedule the sales at any ValleyCo outlet mall and send herself alerts at one- and two-week intervals. Susan’s bosses, all male, had been skeptical, wondering why any woman would agree to be harassed, but the app took off. Susan hadn’t been surprised. Its success was due to the innate belief that doing everything right would lead to happiness, a credo that she had ascribed to until Neil died.
Susan approved the ad. It was good enough. She was losing her edge now that Neil had died. He’d been her biggest supporter, and only after he was gone did she realize that she had been performing for him all along.
Susan picked up her phone. It read 1:45 P.M., which meant that Raz was in seventh period, but he hadn’t called or texted. She swiped to her Favorites and pressed three—Neil would be forever number one, and Ryan was number two. The phone rang but it went to voicemail.
“Damn!” Susan said aloud, glancing behind her, but her secretary wasn’t looking. Everyone had been so wonderful to her after Neil had passed, but lately her office felt like a fishbowl. Every time they looked at her, she saw herself the way they saw her: a new widow, trying desperately to keep herself and her family from coming apart at the seams, like a factory second. The Sematovs were Irregulars now.
Susan pressed REDIAL, the phone rang twice, and finally, Raz picked up. “Raz—”
“Mom, what?” Raz asked, his tone irritated. “Why are you calling me? I’m at school.”
“This is your free period, isn’t it? I’m worried about Ryan. He didn’t come home last night.”
Susan sensed he was with friends. “So he doesn’t do that. He’s been out all night.”
“Mom.” Raz snorted. “Is this what you think is important? He’s a big boy. He’s out.”
“Did he tell you where he was going last night?”
“I don’t know!” Raz raised his voice.
“Where did he say he was going?”
“‘I don’t know’ means I don’t know! I don’t remember.”
“Raz, please think,” Susan said, softening her tone. “Something could’ve happened to him.”
“He probably got laid!”
“Raz!” Susan glanced over her shoulder and caught her secretary looking at her. “I’m worried about him.”
“There’s nothing to worry about! He’s fine. I have to go!”
“Raz, you don’t know that he’s fine. Think about what he told you. Did he say where he was going or who he was with—” Susan stopped when she realized Raz had gone unusually quiet on the other end of the call.
She looked at the phone, and Raz had hung up.
Chris headed to baseball practice, more tired than he’d expected. He had no idea how teachers did it, day after day. He’d had to teach the same lesson twice, saying the same exact things to two classes of AP Government and two classes of the non-AP level, since the class size at CVHS was restricted to thirty students. Plus he had to teach his elective, Criminal Justice. He’d identified two more boys in his non-AP course and one in Criminal Justice, but neither as promising as Jordan or Raz.