Silence

an excerpt



Chapter 1

Andrew Lansky rose from his chair and stretched. He'd been sitting behind the computer for five hours, working on his latest novel, and his fingers and back needed a rest. His stomach growled. Darn, he hadn't stopped to eat either.

Andrew walked to the kitchen. The refrigerator was nearly empty. He couldn't remember the last time he'd eaten. Maybe he should order a pizza. He'd just recently moved back to Baton Rouge and hadn't had time to do any serious grocery shopping. He'd put an ad in the newspaper for a roommate because the house was too large for just one person. Hopefully the roommate he chose would know how to cook.

The phone rang. Andrew picked it up and answered. "Hello? Yes, Mother." Since moving back home, his mother called him regularly. She lived about a mile away from the house he had inherited from his grandparents. Andrew had rented the place out until he got tired of California, where he'd been for the last nine years, and returned.

Andrew dropped the phone, stunned by what she had told him. He lifted it to his ear again. "Sorry. When did his happen?"

She'd just told him that his old friend from childhood, Richard Julian, had died. The two of them used to keep in touch regularly after he'd moved away, but the phone calls between them had become infrequent after the first couple of years. Andrew couldn't even remember the last time he'd talk to Richard.

"When did it happen?"

"He'd been killed in an automobile accident yesterday in Mississippi."

Andrew gazed out of the window. The house Richard used to live in was right next door. The last thing he'd heard was that Richard had rented the place out after his younger brother Brett went off to college. Since returning, Andrew hadn't seen any sign of life over there. He thought maybe the current renters came and went during the day when he was busy working on his latest book.

"Thank you for calling me. Please let me know when the arrangements are made. I'll talk to you later."

The phone went dead in his ear. Andrew just sat there for a moment, too dumbfounded to move. "Richard!"

It took him a moment to get his emotions under control. Finally, he dialed his best friend, Phil Jones, to find out if he'd gotten word about Richard's death.

Phil rushed over to be with him. Phil had remained behind in Baton Rouge and worked as a teacher at one of the high schools. Phil started calling all of the people in their old circle whose numbers Andrew didn't have. More friends came over and they drank beer and rehashed old times about when they were younger, and shared the fond memories they had of Richard.

Andrew finally broke down after everyone went home and he was alone.

* * *

He started to tear up the moment he entered the church and saw Richard's body lying in a coffin. He shouldn't cry. Richard wouldn't like to see him all weepy and carrying on like a girl. Andrew quickly wiped the tears away as he gazed down at the man he'd once loved like a brother.

The mortician had done a good job on the remains, except the hair looked fake. He'd always admired Richard's soft brown tresses and the way he used to sweep aside his bangs from in front of his eyes with his fingers. Andrew choked back a sob. Richard would probably punch him on the arm and call him a sissy for showing such weakness. But he couldn't control the sadness and emotions he now felt. He would never see his friend again, or hear his laugh, or see him smile. No one's life should end at thirty.

Andrew didn't pay much attention to the sermon or the things going on around him. Memories kept popping up in his head during the eulogy and through a very sad song. He'd stopped crying. He just felt sad, lonely, and empty inside.

The funeral service finally ended. Andrew acted as pallbearer, along with several other young men he didn't know. He kept his emotions in check as he walked down the aisle and out of the church with the heavy casket. He didn't remember getting into his car and following the others to the cemetery but, once there, he helped get the coffin out of the back of the hearse and then once again helped carry it to the crypt. Tears rimmed his eyes when his friend reached his final destination inside the mausoleum. Andrew wiped them away quickly as he walked to his car. He allowed the drops of moisture to fall freely after he got behind the wheel. He didn't care if anyone saw him or what they might think. Sorrow clawed at the pit of his stomach. Why had the driver of the eighteen-wheeler been speeding? Why had it been raining? Why did Richard have to die?

Andrew started the engine and followed cars out of the cemetery. He felt much better by the time he reached home. He parked in the driveway, got out and walked next door to the Julians' old home where the repast was being held. Andrew thought that odd, but maybe Richard had rented the place to someone who knew him. Richard's parents had preceded him in death. The repast was being prepared by some of the ladies in the neighborhood and the women from the local Southern Baptist Church they used to attend. Cars were lined up on both sides of the street. Phil drove up and parked in Andrew's driveway. He got out of the car and met him on the porch. Andrew rang the bell. The door was quickly answered by a young man. Andrew stared at him. The guy was the spitting image of Richard, just several years younger. Brett?

Andrew raised his hands and signed, "Brett, is that you?"

The other guy nodded and signed. "Hello, Andrew. Thank you for coming. I tried to get your attention at the funeral, but your head was down."

Brett was Richard's younger brother who had been deaf since he was a kid. Andrew knew sign language and could communicate with him because Andrew's grandmother had been deaf. Brett could also read lips.

He waved at Phil. "Please come in." He stepped aside, and Andrew and Phil entered. More mourners came in behind them. "Right this way," Brett signed. "Everyone is in the den."

More raw memories came flooding back as Andrew followed Brett through the house where he, Phil and Richard used to play. All of the furniture had changed, and the family pictures had been removed from the walls. The voices got louder as they continued down the hall. There were several women in the kitchen cooking and serving food. Andrew's mother Kelly was one of them.

"Andrew, Phil, come get something to eat," she said.

Andrew didn't have much of an appetite. In fact, his stomach was in knots, but he knew better than to argue with his mother.

"You too, Brett." His mother started dishing up food and passing the plates around to the other women to add bread and cake. Another lady handed them each a soda.

Phil led the way out of the kitchen. "I am going to get fat."

Andrew agreed. The women in the neighborhood were some of the best cooks in Louisiana, and you couldn't visit any of their houses without being offered something to eat. They entered the den. Men were watching a game on the wide-screen television, while the women were sitting around talking. Most of them were eating and drinking, too.

Brett signaled with his head for them to follow him. They ended up on a sofa near the men. Andrew had to force himself to eat. The food was good, but it went down in his stomach like a rock. Luckily, he lived next door, so if something didn't agree with him he could just go there and take an antacid.

Three or four hours passed before some of the people began to leave. Phil had left early because he had to pick his kids up at the in-laws. Everyone gave Brett their condolences as they left. During the time he was there, Andrew learned that Brett had been living in the house since he graduated from college. Had he known, Andrew would have come over at least to say hello. He wondered if Brett knew he had moved in next door. Andrew got his attention and asked him.

Brett nodded and signed, "I've been meaning to come over, but I didn't want to disturb you."

"I would have welcomed the company," Andrew signed back. Brett smiled at him. Andrew's stomach clenched and it had nothing to do with the food. The younger man seated next to him was simply gorgeous…just as Richard had been. "Are you staying here alone tonight?"

Brett nodded again.

"Do you want some company?"

"Not tonight," Brett signed. "I'm kind of tired."

Andrew could understand that. Brett probably still needed time to grieve. To Andrew's knowledge Brett had no other family. "I'll be right next door if you need me."

Brett rewarded him with a weak smile this time. "Okay."

The women cleaned up the kitchen and put the food away. Andrew had helped Brett clean the den. His mother was the last to leave. They both said goodnight to Brett, and Andrew walked his mother to her car.

"Do you think Brett is going to be okay by himself?" he asked her.

"Of course," his mother said. "He's not a baby."

"I know that," Andrew said. "I mean, he's deaf."

"Brett has been taking care of himself for years, and the house is set up with every convenience he needs," she said. "Richard made sure of that just as soon as Brett decided he wanted to move back into their old home. He even got a special light that goes off when the doorbell rings."

"Did Richard move back here to be with him?"

His mother shook her head. "No, he had an apartment not too far away. Brett's supposed to go there next weekend to clean the place out."

"Maybe I should offer to help," Andrew said.

"That would be the neighborly thing to do." She paused. "Brett's putting the house up for sale."

"Why?" Andrew asked.

"He told me the house held too many memories."

Andrew could understand that.

"You're looking for a roommate, aren't you?"

"Yeah," Andrew answered.

"Why don't you ask Brett? You two have known each other since you were kids, and it's better than shacking up with some stranger."

That wouldn't be such a bad idea. But would Brett be willing to move in with him? Andrew opened the car door for her and she got into the car. Andrew waited until she started the engine before going back to the sidewalk. He waved good-bye as she drove away. Andrew turned just in time to see the curtain on the front of Brett's front room window close. Brett had been watching them. Andrew walked toward his house, stopping long enough to get the mail out of the box before entering. His stomach still ached. He showered, took an antacid and went to bed.

A realtor put a For Sale sign on Brett's house the next morning.