The next morning, Brad opens his eyes and remembers last night like it was a dream. By the angle the sun is coming in through the window, everything looks upside down. It must be ten, he thinks. His mind is fuzzy, and his hair is a mess. He laughs at how crazy things have gotten in his life because that’s all he can do now.
He finds it weird that his parents haven’t come down and yelled at him this morning for missing school. They’re so stupid, he thinks.
He climbs out of bed and walks upstairs. The house feels so quiet and empty. He wonders if his bags are packed and they’re about to kick him out. Would they have the guts to do it?
At the top of the stairs he looks through the door window, and he sees a man he’s never seen before talking to his father outside. The mysterious man has sunglasses on. He can’t see the man’s face to tell who it is. What is this about? Is it a police officer investigating his case? Steve sees Brad, and waves for him to come outside.
Brad walks to the door and steps outside. The air is cool, but not cold. The weather is changing into spring. His father points at the mysterious man. “Brad I want you to meet an old friend of mine –”
Brad studies the new man’s posture, trying to figure out which one is more of a threat to him as he shakes the new man’s hand.
“My name is Rick Cagos. I was good friends with your father in college, and I asked if I could meet you.”
Brad glances at his father, not trusting either of these men. He knows adults can strike like cobras if you let them in too close.
“I’m not going to lie to you, Brad.” Rick says, “I saw your case in the news, but I don’t trust the news. I wanted to ask your side of the story.”
Brad looks at his dad. “Did you bring a cop here?”
Rick lifts the sunglasses from his eyes. Brad instantly realizes he’s speaking to a man who may be smarter than he seems. “I’m not the police, Brad. We may have more in common than it looks right now.”
“I don’t like to talk about the fire.” Brad looks away. “If you’re here to interrogate me, you got the wrong person. Go find the guy who did it.”
Rick nods, “I understand. When I was arrested, I wasn’t the main guy either. But I still went to prison.”
“You were arrested?” He does a double take; he looks shocked. What is his dad doing hanging out with a criminal?
Rick nods. “My district attorney was a real jerk too. He did everything he could to get me the max sentence. He was always trying to portray me as a monster that I wasn’t. To this day, I still don’t trust the police, or courts, but I don’t blame or hate them either.”
“What was your crime?” Brad stares at him, too curious to shut up.
“Hace doce años, me puse adicto a las drogas, y era parte de un anillo de tráfico de drogas.”
This man just sounded so Spanish after sounding so American just a few seconds ago. Rick continues, “I learned to speak Spanish in prison. What I said was, twelve years ago, I got addicted to drugs, and was part of a drug dealing ring. I got 4 years for being involved. The leaders of the gangs each got twenty years.”
“What prison were you in?” Brad asks.
Rick nods, “I was in the federal penitentiary system, and did most of my time in Texas. I’ve been out 8 years now, and I’ve worked hard to get my life back on track. I own my own landscaping business. Today, not many people know I was ever in prison. Look at me − I look as normal as your dad now.”
Brad glances at the red truck in the driveway. The decals on the side read: RC & CREW LANDSCAPING. He glances at his dad who doesn’t say a word. Last night he and his parents were screaming at each other, and now they’re not talking to him. What’s going on? Why is this guy here?
Rick’s phone rings and he looks at the incoming number. “I’m sorry, but I have to cut this conversation short and get to work. But before I go, I wanted to invite you somewhere.”
Rick walks to his truck and lifts out a fishing rod and tackle box from the back. He hands them to Brad, “Have you ever been fishing before?”
Brad doesn’t know what to say. “A little bit, but only from the dock at the park.”
“Well if you want to go fishing with me tomorrow morning, I’ve got a house on Woodfish Lake and a boat, and I’ll take you out. Everything I just handed you is a gift from me. Look at the price tags; it’s all top of the line stuff, and all yours for free.”
Brad takes the gear.
Rick walks to the front door of his truck. “If you can put all that stuff together and be ready at 7 a.m. tomorrow, I’ll take tomorrow off work, and we can go out on the lake.”
Brad stares, “But I have school in the morning.”
Rick replies. “I’ve already negotiated a deal with your dad. If you come with me, your dad will call the school and excuse you for the day. But if you don’t come, you have to go to school. Your future in the next 24 hours is now up to you.”
Rick steps into his truck and closes the door. “If you’re ready at 7 am. tomorrow, I’ll swing by and pick you up. If not, I’ll just keep driving and go to work for the day.”
Rick starts the truck. “Think about it, Brad. I’ve been free, and I’ve been in prison. I’ve been young, and old. So this is my advice to you: Opportunities come and go, but the quality of your life will depend on how many good decisions you make and how many great opportunities you jump at. This is a good one, and I hope to see you in the morning. If not, enjoy the fishing gear as a gift from me, and good luck with your life.”
The red truck rolls away.
What a weirdo, Brad thinks. Then when the truck is gone, Brad’s alone, deciding in silence about what he should do next.