Previously… “Todd, just tell me what happened that night, just tell me.” Sam honestly thought that getting Todd to remember and talk about the night he discovered Todd trying to kill his father would help him heal.”
Sam could see Todd’s body stiffen at the mention of that night. Even though more than fourteen years had passed since then, he knew the memories of what happened were just as painful to Todd as they had been back then, maybe more so. Sam had gotten Todd to admit that on that night his father had come home unexpectedly early and had found a school friend of Todd’s at the house.
Michelle Baker and her family had moved to Chicago that past July, this had been her first year at Kennedy Junior High School. She, like Todd, was a ninth grader and they shared many classes together, including homeroom. Michelle liked Todd from the first day she saw him, sitting in the back of the classroom, crouched down in his chair, as if he wished he weren’t there. She thought he was the cutest boy in the school and would try to steal sideways glances at him whenever she could. She would take in his thick, silky, light brown hair and thought his eyes, with their long lashes, were the most beautiful she had ever seen. Like herself, Todd was shy. Michelle knew she would have to be the one to start a conversation with him if she was ever going to get to know him.
Todd had noticed Michelle the first day and thought she was the prettiest girl he had ever seen. He wanted to talk to her but could not work up the nerve. Todd had never felt comfortable around the other kids, especially the girls. He was always afraid if someone got to know him they would find out he was stupid and a loser.
One day, on a class trip to a museum, Michelle noticed Todd sitting alone on the school bus and asked if the seat next to him was taken. When Todd shook his head, Michelle sat down. At first Todd felt uncomfortable being that close to a girl, but after a while he started to relax. “I really like getting a day out of the classroom,” Michelle said, breaking the ice. “Yeah, me too,” Todd said. Slowly the conversation went from school to California, where Michelle had moved from. It then went to music and to favorite television shows, and before he knew it Todd found himself feeling freer around a girl than he had ever felt before. Michelle found Todd to be just the way she had imagined, smart and funny and even more handsome up close than from afar. For his part, Todd had identical feelings for Michelle. He loved hearing about her family. He thought it seemed like the ones you see on television. He could not imagine a family being like that in real life. The one thing that made Todd uncomfortable was that at any minute Michelle might ask him about his family.
Instinctively, Michelle sensed that she shouldn’t ask Todd too much about his life and kept the conversation light. For his part, Todd realized that and was grateful. Slowly, a friendship started between the two and they spent much of their free time at school together. Before school broke for the Christmas holiday Todd had mentioned that he was going to turn fourteen on January 2nd. Michelle asked him if he was going to have a party and Todd shook his head no, he said that his father did not like him to have friends over. Michelle felt compassion in her heart for Todd. He always seemed so sad, yet he had such a great sense of humor, he was like a puzzle to her.
The more Michelle thought about Todd being all alone on his birthday the more she felt the need to somehow mark the occasion. The pretty, young girl decided to take the chance and bake a cake for Todd. She thought to herself, “I won’t make a big deal of it, I’ll just drop it by and leave”.
She knew Todd liked chocolate cake with vanilla icing, as she had seen him order it many times in the school cafeteria. She spent the better part of the afternoon of January 2nd baking the cake and getting the decorations just right. She then placed fourteen blue birthday candles all around the cake and the fifteenth in the center, one to grow on, she thought and placed it in the cake carrier. Michelle then walked the half mile that separated her house from Todd’s. She felt the cold wind sting her face and realized she should have waited for her parents to come home and drive her, but she had been eager to get to Todd’s. Suddenly, Michelle remembered she had forgotten to leave a note, telling her parents where she had gone. Her family did not know about Todd specifically, not wanting to be teased by her brothers and because Todd wasn’t “officially” a boyfriend, she had only mentioned in passing that she was friends with a boy at school. She always left a note and knew if they got home before she did they would worry. She figured she would call them from Todd’s house. As Michelle approached Todd’s front door a sudden shiver ran down her spine. It reminded her of an expression her grandmother used, “It’s as if someone just walked across my grave.” Balancing the cake plate in one hand, Michelle reached up and rang Todd’s doorbell with the other.
Inside the house Todd was sitting on the floor watching television. He looked at the clock and saw that it was nearly five in the evening. He got that sinking feeling in his stomach that he always got when it was time for Peter to come home. Then he brightened up when he remembered Peter said he would be late. Todd was startled at the sound of his doorbell. It was not a sound he heard often. He went to the door and asked who it was. When he heard the familiar voice behind the door say it was Michelle, Todd felt a feeling of panic rush over him and his heart started pounding so hard he thought Michelle would hear it through the closed door. Slowly, Todd opened the door. “Surprise!” Michelle said with a big smile on her face. Todd had been looking at her so intently that he hadn’t noticed the cake she was carrying. Michelle said, “Happy birthday, can I come in for a minute?” Todd hesitated for a moment, then, remembering that Peter would not be home for a while he said “Okay.” Michelle stepped into the front hall and put the cake down on a table. After an awkward silence she said, “I hope you like chocolate.” She said it more to make conversation than for an answer. After getting over his initial shock Todd realized that Michelle had brought him a cake. “Yeah, I love chocolate, it’s my favorite,” Todd answered. Michelle took the top off the cake carrier and Todd stared at it. The cake was beautiful, but it was the candles that got his attention. He remembered how his mother would always make him a birthday cake with candles arranged the same way Michelle had arranged these. Of course, the last time there had only been nine candles on the cake and a tenth to grow on. The sight of this brought tears to Todd’s eyes and he quickly turned away, so Michelle wouldn’t see. “Don’t you like the cake?” Michelle inquired. “Yeah, sure I do, I’m just gonna get some plates and a knife and some forks,” Todd called out, on his way to the kitchen. “Oh, and bring some matches,” Michelle called out to him.
Todd gathered the plates and utensils, but, after searching all the draws, could not find any matches. He came back into the living room where Michelle had brought the cake and told her he could not find any matches, but that it didn’t matter, the unlit candles were enough. He could see Michelle was disappointed. He knew of one way to light the candles, his father’s lighter, however he also knew how much trouble he would be in if Peter ever found out he had touched it.
He thought for a minute and looked at the clock, 5:15, Peter would not be home for several hours. He could use the lighter for the candles. He and Michelle could each have some cake and maybe listen to some music or something. That would give him plenty of time to clean up and get the gold lighter back in the drawer. What Todd didn’t know was that the woman Peter was supposed to be meeting for dinner that night had stood him up and after spending the past hour drinking, he was now on his way home and his mood was even fouler than usual.
Michelle asked Todd to dim the lights as she lit the birthday candles with the lighter. She had just lit the fifteenth candle and started singing “Happy Birthday to Todd”. They did not hear the key turn the lock or the front door open.
Sam had always known something horrible had happened to Todd that night, what he didn’t know was that Todd had little memory of the night of his fourteenth birthday, and when he kept repeating to Sam that “nothing happened,” he was telling the truth, as far as he knew it. What Todd did remember was that Michelle had shown up with the cake and candles. He knew that at some point, before she had a chance to leave, Peter came home, and started screaming at him and Michelle, calling her all kinds of vile names and told her what a loser Todd was and how stupid he was. Everything after that was one of those “blank spots,” as Todd had thought of them.
This was something that happened to Todd for as long as he could remember. He would have these gaps in his memory. He would sometimes find himself in places he didn’t remember going or be with people he didn’t know. He would sometimes be wearing clothes that were unfamiliar to him. Sometimes people would tell him he did or said things he didn’t remember doing. School was difficult for Todd. Sometimes things were taught during one of the times Todd “went away,” as he also thought of it. Twice, Todd had lost months at a time. Once in the fourth grade and again in the ninth grade. That second time Todd had lost most of the school year, from January till the end of the semester. By the time he “came back” it was summer vacation and Todd had no memory of most of that school year.
As a young child he thought these things happened to everyone, that is was normal. As he got older and realized that it was not normal he was terrified to tell anyone, not even Sam. He was afraid everyone would think he was crazy and he would be locked away.
Sam loved Todd as if he were his own son. He wanted nothing more than to help him, to save him. He knew Todd was in what was probably the worst trouble of his life. “Kidnapping, terrorism, my God!” Sam thought, “How will I ever get him out of this? He could be facing spending the rest of his life in prison.” He wanted to do what was best for Todd and he thought pushing him to remember that night was best, so he kept hammering at him. Todd paced the room like a caged animal and kept shouting, “Shut up Sam, leave me alone! Leave me alone!” Sam realized he should not be the one trying to force Todd to talk about these things, Todd need professional help, but he also knew Todd would never go to see a therapist voluntarily. “Come on pal, you’re so close just tell me what happened? What happened that night after Peter came home? What made you want to kill him?”
Todd had not thought about that night since the day after it happened, the day Sam had promised him he would never bring it up again. Now as Sam had him cornered in the cabana he felt as if he was drowning under the weight of the pressure Sam was putting on him. Todd felt as if he couldn’t breathe. Much the same way he felt when he would wake up from one of the frequent nightmares he always had, on the rare occasions when he would fall asleep. Todd knew he had to get out of there. He was so tired, he just couldn’t fight anymore. He wanted it to be over, to be done with.
Before Sam could stop him, Todd ran to the cabana’s door and threw it open and ran outside. “Shoot me, please! Somebody, just shoot me.”
End of Chapter 2