Susan set the wrapped gun on the kitchen table. “You hungry?”
“Just thirsty. I did a drive-through on the way home.”
“Oh, good,” Susan said, not sure she believed him. She’d have to stop herself from second-guessing his every move. It wouldn’t be productive right now. “Why don’t you grab a soda and come sit with me? I want to talk about something.”
“Really, Mom?” Ryan sighed. “I’m kind of talked out.”
“I’m thinking there’s no such thing. Grab something to drink and come on over.”
“Fine.” Ryan closed the refrigerator door without getting anything to drink, making a point, but Susan didn’t remark on it. He was so much like her it wasn’t even funny.
“What is it?” Ryan flopped into the chair and pressed it away from the table with an annoying scraping sound. Behind him, a small strip of sunlight came into the kitchen through the narrow window over the sink, and Susan felt bothered by that, for the first time. The kitchen was large, but it was dark, with walnut cabinets that made it seem darker. It needed more light. More windows. Maybe she could renovate and blow out a wall, later.
“How you feeling?” Susan asked, testing the waters.
“How was your session?” Susan liked the way he met her eye directly. She was pretty sure that he hadn’t been drinking today. She realized how much she had missed the steadiness of his gaze, and the intelligence there. He was the rational one, and she’d always been able to talk to him. Even though he was closer to Neil, he was of her.
“It was okay. I liked it better than yesterday.”
“Good.” Susan peeled aside the corner of the pink towel revealing the silvery metallic barrel of the gun. “I just found this in your brother’s room.”
Ryan’s face went white, and he sighed again, audibly.
“I’m not mad, I just want to understand. Did you give it to him?”
“Yes, I did.”
“After Dad died, like a month or two.”
“Where did you get it?”
“I don’t know, Mom.” Ryan shook his head, newly impatient.
“Ryan, you have to know where you got it.” Susan softened her tone, nonaccusatory.
“Honestly, I don’t.”
“Did you buy it in a gun shop?’
“No, from a guy.”
“I don’t know.” Ryan averted his eyes. “I don’t remember.”
“Ryan, you bought a gun and you don’t remember who from?” Susan maintained her calm tone, for which she deserved an award. She didn’t have to be a detective to know that he was lying. “Okay, when did you buy it?’
“Like, a month after Dad died.”
“How is it that you remember that, but you don’t remember who sold it to you?”
“Because.” Ryan hesitated, returning his focus to her, with a frown. “I was at a party, Mom. I drank too much. I blacked out, and I bought the gun.”
“How much was it?” Susan asked, incredulous.
“Like I say, I don’t know.”
“Who was at the party?”
“A lot of guys I don’t know, mostly guys, some women, I just didn’t know the crowd.”
“Whose party was it? Where was it?”
“Just some people I met at this bikers’ bar, in Rocky Springs. They said you want to come over and party, and I went to some house, I don’t remember where it was. All I know is that I got drunk and I bought the gun.”
Susan tried to understand. “But a gun has to cost a couple hundred dollars. You never have more than twenty dollars on you. You weren’t working then, either. Who’s going to sell you a gun for twenty bucks?”
Ryan blinked. “I don’t know, I don’t remember.”
Susan bore down. “Honey, I love you. I just don’t feel like you’re telling me the truth. It doesn’t make sense.”
Ryan fell silent, and she could see him going inward, which was his way. Her way, too. She got that from her father. Her side of the family kept it all inside, until they exploded.
“Ryan, just tell me. I won’t be mad. I’ve been thinking about a lot of things and we are going to make a lot of changes here for the better.” Susan hesitated, then tried to explain, the way she had with Raz. “We’re all hurting since your dad died, and we’ve lost our way, as a family. Me most of all. I think I delegated so much to him, he was the true head of our household, and without him, well, there’s been kind of an emptiness, a power vacuum.”
Ryan seemed to be listening, and Susan realized that he was probably unused to her taking the time to sit down with him this way, not to mention being so vulnerable, so she continued.
“You know, there’s an expression, ‘nature abhors a vacuum.’ That means when there’s a power vacuum, things go wrong. The world gets out of whack. Well, I think our world has been out of whack. I haven’t stepped into that power vacuum yet, but I’m going to now. I have to be the head of this household. I made a lot of mistakes, but I’m going to try to get it right from now on. So please, tell me where you got the gun and why?”
“I stole it,” Ryan answered, after a moment.
“You stole it?” Susan asked, unable to keep the incredulity from her tone. Ryan was her mild child, the rules follower, the one who never did anything wrong—until his father had died. She arranged her face into a mask of calm, but inwardly, her emotions were all over the map. “How did you steal it? From where? From a store?”
“No, from a guy. I mean, everything I just told you about the party was true, and we all drank too much and I didn’t know those people, but there was this guy and he fell asleep and I saw the gun sticking out of his jacket pocket, and I just took it and I left.”
Susan knew it was the truth, as shocking as it was, because his gaze stayed level and his voice had a ring of authenticity. “Okay, why did you steal it, then?”
“Why did you think you needed protection?”
“Not for me, for you,” Ryan answered softly.
“For me?” Susan said, touched.
“I mean, after Dad died, I felt that way…” Ryan’s forehead buckled with pain, and his voice trailed off. “Okay, maybe it’s like you said, I felt like I needed to be, like, the man of the house. I had to protect you and take care of you, and Raz, too. Then when I thought I was going back to school, I gave it to Raz, so he could protect you, and himself, and the house.”