“As you might be aware, I am your guidance counselor. And we need to have a relationship where you can trust me, and I can trust you. Do you trust me?”
“I don’t know you,” Zach drawled absently, “so I can’t trust you.”
Johnson nodded soberly.
He briefly eyed the belongings on his desk, making sure they were still in their place.
“I’ll try this again.” He said patiently, “You aren’t a stranger to me, Zach. I’m fully aware of what my son is doing with you.”
Zach again remained silent, because it was true. And there was nothing useful he could say at this point, when silence was run over by his wildly beating heart. It was a little eerie the way his voice had the same rhythm as Gentry’s, and how his eyes lit up in that same murky stare. They were the same smoldering dark he’d grown accustomed to, holding something wild about them. Gentry had that too, sometimes… as if there was something waiting to leap out, a word waiting to be shouted. Undoubtedly, this guy was Gentry’s father. Yet it still felt odd to think about Gentry as this guy’s son.
“…Oh.” Zach finally replied, sensing right after that his timing was probably off.
Johnson drew a long breath, rolled back his seat and stood up to close the door.
“Well, seeing as you won’t talk,” he drawled retaking his seat, “I hope that you will listen.”
Johnson sighed and leaned back, hands folded over his stomach.
“What you see in Gentry is what he wants you to see. And you’ve probably learned a few things about me, and that my family’s homelife isn’t perfect. I’ll admit, we’ve been through some tough times. But I still like to think that we’re a family.”
Johnson’s eyes lit for a moment, yet his voice remained firm and even.
“Why would you think that?”
“… Families live together.”
Lee Johnson sighed.
“My son left home, and it’s pulling the family apart. But he decided that on his own, and I’ve given up asking why he does anything. Believe me, we both know that he can be convincing when he wants to. If he’d wanted to stay, he would have— he’s got a strong mind in him. But he also has problems, and don’t think for a second that just because he isn’t living with me that I don’t care about him. My wife and I were there for him before you knew who he was— and it hurts us as much as it hurts you to watch him destroy himself, knowing there’s nothing I can do. Yet he’s my son, and I know better than anyone that I can’t force him to come home.” Johnson took another deep breath, and softly added, “However, I don’t think that your apprehension towards me stems from that.”
Zach gazed at him critically. He turned the words over in his head, but couldn’t find any flaw. Just wild thoughts racing through his mind.
“Do you think I’m a monster?” asked Mr.Johnson, “a child molester?”
Zach’s mouth went dry.
Johnson gave an affirmative, close-lipped smile.
“I thought it would come down to this. There’s no use in skirting around the issue, so let’s get to the heart of the matter. I believe that you’ve come across a picture which belonged to me.”
“I did.” Zach replied without hesitation, “And that’s why I don’t believe you. You don’t care about him; you caused his problems. If you want that picture back, you’re not getting it.”