Ollie’s shock at Greg’s invasion of his privacy gives way to a haphazard poker face that betrays every ounce of discomfort. Greg uncrumples the paper and stares at the fruits of Ollie’s labor. Ollie spins the Decoder Ring.
–– Making your own now?
–– Physical therapy.
–– For what?
–– The pain in my ass.
Greg laughs that painful cackle he calls a laugh –– he says it’s the signal that he’s arrived, that it gives him a distinct charisma. Ollie says it’s less pleasant than an air raid siren (or the resultant air raid). Greg crumples the paper and throws it into the wastebasket. Perfect shot. He does a drum roll on his legs. Claps his hands in mock prayer. He leans forward, then back. He exhales.
–– We really need to get along. I want to help us get along.
Greg puts his hand on Ollie’s shoulder. Ollie meets his stare. Greg sits on the bed.
–– I want to live here. I want to help Olivia and I want to help Toby. Just put in a good word for me. I’m a good guy. You do that, and I won’t breathe a word.
Ollie’s stare drops to the floor.
Greg nods and scratches his eyebrow. He reaches under the bed and pulls out the “Toby’s College Fund” box. Ollie cringes as the two poker chips jangle inside.
–– Put in a good word. And you can stay here. And I’ll help you fix this Charlie Foxtrot.
Greg places the box on Ollie’s hands. He pulls five hundred dollars out of his pocket and drops it in the empty box.
–– Token of our partnership. She needs it, right?
Any trace of expression vanishes from Ollie’s face. He stares at the floor, unblinking. He wiggles his toe from the slipper. Greg leans down and looks up at him from below.
–– Hey, it’s your money anyhow. Do we have a deal?
• • •
A spoonful of beans in one hand, Ollie hands Greg the newspaper with the other. Greg pats him on the shoulder. Ollie grimaces.
Toby’s eyes meet Ollie’s then dart to the can of beans on the table. Ollie glances down and sees the corner of a folded piece of paper. He pockets the note, pursing his lips into a sshhh with a smile and a wink. Toby stares, pleading without a word. Ollie’s smile dissipates.
The bathroom light kicks on. Fan. Door slams.
–– More secrets, boys?
Olivia kisses Toby on the forehead.
–– Oh you know us, right buddy?
Toby’s stare is unchanged. Ollie breaks the staring contest as Olivia sits. He taps her knee and passes her the five hundred dollars, a covert exchange like always.
She nods. A small smile. She extends her hand. Ollie pats it and looks back at Toby, still staring wide-eyed at both of them.
–– You OK buddy?
–– Toby, honey?
Toby’s hand slides from the glass of milk. He falls from his chair.
He convulses on the floor. His eyes roll back into his head.
To be continued.