by Clayton Truscott

Lawrence is missing.

"You see him this morning?" I ask Jasper, who's been overturning garden furniture for the last ten minutes.

"Yeah, he was in his spot," he says.

Between attempts at escape, Lawrence spends the majority of his life on the smooth, black tiles at the far end of the pond, closest to the fence.

I take Jasper's little hand and we canvass the yard thoroughly. We check all the regular places.

No luck.

He sits down on the patio floor, hugs his shins close to his chest. A frown line cuts his forehead in two. His face ages with worry.

"We'll find him," I say.

He's taking this personally. Most six year olds aren't as deep or sensitive as he is. But Jasper is a treasure. I don't think he should grow up or change.

I head indoors and grab juice boxes from the fridge.

In the lounge, Rice, the older brother, is practicing chokeholds on one of the Turkish pillows that festoon their enormous couch.

"Becky, can you take me to surf lessons?" He shouts at me over the blaring T.V.

"When your mom gets home," I reply.

Rice scowls and tightens his grip around the pillow's neck.

* * *

Jasper stares at the pond, seeing a vacancy.

We drink our juices and watch his koi fish dance between the greenery, their golden skin reflecting light.

Elvis, the family dachshund, is asleep on the garden furniture nearby.

If Lawrence got outside, cars, cats, raccoons, or coyotes might have ended his search for freedom. As the nanny here, explaining what death means is not my job.

Rice emerges from the living room, heads for the garage. He throws things around, boogie boards, life jackets, waterskis, snorkels, et cetera, making mess, making noise.

"Where's my wetsuit, Becky?" he shouts. It's part question, part accusation, like I had something to do with its disappearance.

As I get up to start another search party, I see Jasper digging his nails into his ankles, pushing as hard as he can.

"Don't do that," I tell him, pulling his hands away, revealing new tranches in his skin.

He grits his teeth, shakes his head.

* * *

Janet's red Hummer pulls into the garage.

Elvis perks up, his ears at attention.

She emerges from the garage and motors across the patio area. Her footsteps are quick and intense, like a drum roll. She builds tension as she moves. I look up at her and force a smile. It's not returned.

She adjusts her suit, touches her tightly bound hair, squints. I see where Jasper inherited the crease from. This is a woman who never takes her business suit off, whether she's headed to the office on a Saturday morning or standing naked in front of her mirror.

"What happened here?" she says.

Jasper gets up to hug his mother and break the story. "Lawrence ran away."

The stiffness in her face eases as her youngest child wraps his arms around her waist and buries his head in her side.

"He'll come back," she says. "Don't worry." She pats his back, picks him up, turns him into a little boy again.

Rice comes out wearing his wetsuit, sweating, chewing what's left of the lolly's stick.

"Hi Mom, can I go to surfing?" He says this as one word.

She looks to me, manufacturing a reply to that smile I offered moments ago, and asks if I'll take him on my way home.

* * *

Rice's surfboard fits across my backseat. He's definitely got some attention issues, but right now, while he's only five feet tall, he's a harmless little thing. Unless you're a Turkish pillow.

Two men wearing pink tutus, jumbo sunglasses, and blonde wigs hoist a banner in our direction from the side of the road: "Honk If You Love Boobies." They cheer and dance and wobble their sock boobs as we pass by. Rice points and laughs at their outfits.

Down the road, other groups of women, also dressed in pink spandex, are waving more signs at the cars headed down Sunset Cliffs Boulevard: "Save Second Base," "Walk For Tatas," "Beep For Boobs." This is what marching against breast cancer has become in some circles.

My mother had a mastectomy ten years ago. She wasn't thinking about preserving her sexuality, saving bases, or even worried about how her breasts would look after the operation; she wanted to live long enough to see me grow up. She would have cut her vagina off if it would have saved her. That's what cancer is about—survival.

"So, you're enjoying surfing?" I ask Rice.

"Yeah, it's awesome," he says.

He fidgets constantly. Rolls the windows down, then back up. Opens the glove box. Looks inside. Flicks through my driver manual. I stop him at the ashtray.

"There's nothing inside there."

He gives me a distrustful look. Then moves on. "Do you have a boyfriend?"

"I have two—you and Jasper."

He laughs.

We move further down the boulevard, closer to Ocean Beach, where Rice's surf school meets for lessons. He's only been a few times, but I'm told he's doing well. This doesn't surprise me. He skateboards, does somersaults on their trampoline, backflips into the pool, handstands against every wall in the house. Surfing almost seems static for him.

The main drag along Newport Avenue is packed. We crawl down the street, passing bars with people spilling out onto the sidewalk.

I pull up to the curb near the sand. "You want me to walk with you?" I ask.

He shakes his head, gets out, grabs his board off the back seat, and leaves without saying good bye or thank you.

I think the little turd is embarrassed to be seen in my car.

It's getting old and a bit rusty from the sea air but going strong. The guy who sold it to me said it would run forever. That clinched the deal.

I'll take anything that won't die on me.

* * *

I had a real complex about being from Reno. Poor man's Vegas, I once heard someone call it. I thought that was bullshit until I went to Vegas during my sophomore year and saw for myself why the two don't compare. Vegas is its own animal.

I remember drinking margaritas in a crowded pool at ten in the morning, surrounded by imbeciles grinding towards self-destruction and thinking: human beings set the strangest standards.

My life changed when Mom's life insurance came through.

I could go to school in California, leave my Reno-ness behind. San Diego wasn't the cheapest option, but it's where I needed to be and I consider the move to be money well spent.

I've grown a lot here.

Made serious choices. Bought furniture. Learned to drink wine. Developed some confidence. Had pregnancy scares and thought about my mom. Learned to hate myself less. Cultivated a meaningful relationship with a good person and watched it die. Used people, got used. Lost my confidence, all of it. Saved some money and spent it wisely on a car. Saved money again and spent it on ecstasy and cocaine. Applied for internships, worked hard. Got some confidence back, just a pinch. Got a degree at some point. Still haven't used it and still not sure what to use it for.

I think this is adulthood, approximately.

* * *

My lease expires at the end of the month.

I need to make a decision soon. Find a new place, get a job, and start working towards owning more, or move back to Nevada to be with my ninety-year-old grandmother. She won't be around forever. When she's gone, my immediate family line follows. I have some cousins and aunts and uncles scattered around the Midwest, but they're not people I'd call if my house was on fire. My hypothetical house.

My roommate, Stacey, flew back to Arizona for the weekend to visit her parents. You can tell by her room that she's had a good childhood and has been well looked after. There are mounted photographs of her family and friends on the wall. She owns nice things—a nice bed, nice towels, nice shoes, great books. Things a person needs in this world.

I envy her.

Everything I own is practical.

The apartment is quiet, save for the usual sounds that come from the alleyway behind the complex—cars, homeless folk digging for beer cans, non-homeless folk making small talk as they throw out the recycling. I pour myself a glass of wine and sink into my chair to watch some Housewives.

The phone rings. It's Janet. I let it go to voicemail.

It rings again.

I wait for the message to come through.

"Becky, there's been an accident," she says. "Rice has hurt himself. We're at the hospital. Call me back." Her voice sounds strangely like Jasper's.

I call back.

She answers with a strong, business-like hello.

"Hi Janet, sorry I missed you, I was just picking up hair-ties and shampoo," I tell her. I'm the sort of liar who qualifies every lie with a backstory. "Is he okay?"

"He will be."

"What do you need?" I ask.

"Could you feed Elvis and see if Lawrence came back?"

"Of course."

Janet laughs, sniffs, holds it together.

* * *

The parade is still going along Sunset Cliffs Boulevard. Cars are honking manically as they pass. Honking, like it helps. I take a back road to avoid seeing more of them and park outside the garage.

As I get out of the car, I find Lawrence. He's lying, shell down, behind my back tire.

"Lawrence, sweet Jesus, why? How can you do this to Jasper and me?"

He's not dead, but he's in bad shape. Tiny turtle organs are spilling out of a hole in his stomach. His little legs and arms are still moving, swimming in the great, infinite ocean he's moving towards.

I sit with him a while, waiting for death to take his soul away.

He's holding on, but won't make it.

My phone rings.

I pick up and try to sound chipper. "Hi Janet, I'm just at your place now."

"Stay there," she says. "Jasper and my ex-husband are on their way. Can you bring a bag here for Rice?"

"Yeah. Of course."

"They should be close now. They left about ten minutes ago."

Something in her voice is off again.

"Janet, are you...how's Rice?"

"Fine," she says, in a way that tells me she isn't.

"Okay, I'm here if you need anything."

"It's nothing," she says. "Just...do yourself a favor, Becky. Don't marry an asshole."

I let her words hang for a moment.

"I won't."

"Good. Good girl."

By the time we hang up, I see a car pulling up. A Hummer like Janet's, in silver.

I can see Jasper's little face in the window, next to his dad. He looks like he's just won a prize. A decision has to be made instantly. I wrap Lawrence in a towel and put him under my car seat. His eyes are open when I close the door.

I wave to them as the car pulls up alongside mine.

Jasper's door opens, he pops out to hug me.

His father strolls over. A short, plain, harmless man with no striking features. I had imagined him to be business-like. Or cooler.

"You must be Becky," he says.

We shake hands, say that it's nice to finally meet one another.

"Is your brother okay?" I ask Jasper.

"Yeah," he says, leading his father inside by the hand. "He cut his leg real bad."

Neither of them notices the blood on my tire.

* * *

I have never seen Elvis move so quickly. He's a new dog, jumping, wagging, talking. Barking, cooing, howling, all for Plain Matt's attention.

It's interesting to see this man navigate his way around the house, packing a bag for his son with the authority of a person who lives here.

He knows where everything is. The furniture, the appliances, the master bed, the coffee pot. The towels. All the nice things were his once, until he left.

Jasper watches his father with awe and respect, following him around like a shadow, mirroring the man's outline and actions without trying. Inheriting traits. Growing up every second. Changing.

"Thanks for taking this to them, Becky," Matt says, handing me the bag.

"You're not going back?"

"We're going to hang out here a while. Jasper wants me to help find Lawrence."

The redness in Matt's face makes me wonder is he's welcome at the hospital. I know Rice won't talk about him at all.

Jasper calls to us both from the garden. "Come on, Dad, help me find him."

It breaks my heart to see Jasper entering the stale and unkind reality his brother, mother, and I inhabit. Where the people we love end up leaving for good.

* * *

Lawrence is still alive when we reach Sunset Cliffs. His little face is buried into his shell, only the tiny snout of his mouth peering out, breathing rapidly. There's a pool of dark blood on the floor where I placed him. I pick him up and walk him down to the water's edge.

Waves rush into the nooks and crags along the shoreline, and splash into the afternoon glow.

"This is it, buddy," I say to Lawrence. "It won't be long."

Minutes pass.

He's still hanging on.

This suffering needs to end.

A rock nearby fits into my palm nicely. I pick it up, analyze its sharp edges, consider its weight, and make a decision.

I lay the towel by the end of the rocks, cover his face, and say farewell to Lawrence.

My first strike comes down with more force than I imagined. Surprisingly, it's like hitting solid ground. A dull thud yields no progress.

I'm reminded of my mother. I was twelve when she showed me her breasts after the operation. The big slices, closed up by black stitches, stained with blood. Her nipples gone. I touched her chest and howled.

"This body is not who we are," Mom said to me, her voice a shallow scratch in the air. "I'm still here, inside." She squeezed my hand, digging her nails in, leaving marks I will never forget. That's what a parent does. They fight for you. They fight until there's nothing left.

I raise my hand a second time and strike him with all the strength and mercy I can muster, hoping this one finishes the job. The rock bites into my palm. Despite his motionless body, I come back again. Blood wells up through the towel, as I keep going, pounding and pounding, until I know he's gone for good.

"I'm so sorry," I say, collapsing.

It takes everything not to break down and scream and swear, and follow his precious, mangled little body into the water.

There's no time for that.

Rice is waiting on a bag of clothes.

BIO: Clayton Truscott comes from Port Elizabeth, South Africa, and now lives in San Diego. His work has appeared in New Contrast Literary Journal, The Surfer’s Journal, Zigzag, Surf Session, Wavelength and others. He curates and edits the website, These Walking Blues and is at work on a collection of short stories. You can follow him @ClaytonTruscott