“Hey buddy,” Malone said warmly and gave Cooper a bear hug. “Long time no see. Decided to hang out in our country for a bit, eh?” he smiled.
“Something like that,” Cooper said and scanned the mall’s food court to see if they were under surveillance. Just because he didn’t notice anyone didn’t mean he wasn’t being watched. Ever since he agreed to help Ant and Al he felt like he lived in a fish bowl. Always being watched. It was with some reluctance Ant agreed to give Cooper the weekend off. But the fact that did give in to this request made Cooper suspect he and Malone weren’t entirely alone.
XIII. More January
Ant smiled and held out his hands slowly to show he meant no harm. “That’s impressive,” he conceded. “I did not expect to have this conversation until much later. No, I did not kill your mom that night.”
“But you were there,” Cooper said slowly. “That was you I saw running up the stairs.”
“Yes, that was me. I was there. But I was trying to save her, save you both,” Ant said slowly. “But regrettably I arrived too late.”
XII. Still January
Cooper squinted as a barrel-chested man with slicked back dark hair entered the room.
Ant Luck nodded his greeting without any expression.
Cooper closed one eye and then the other. “I never forget a face. Have we met before?”
Cooper walked slowly to his hotel room and smiled. He ran his fingers through his hair out of habit. If his dad were here he would tell him to get a haircut. Cooper paused at the thought of his dad and shook his head to change his thoughts back to his plan. The night had been what he would consider a success. His plan was working. So far anyway. A week earlier he didn’t touch one thing in the casino. Not even a slot machine. He spent his time observing and making mental notes. It was time well spent. His first night sitting at the tables he won $10,000. Not too much to draw attention. Just enough. Vegas is a big town with plenty of casinos. All he needed was patience and he would leave town a very rich man. Not that becoming rich was his goal. He planned to donate most of his winnings to charity. No, this was a game to him. He was doing it for the simple reason he could. And he was bored.
X. 7 years ago…
Cooper graduated high school as valedictorian. Most of his teachers were glad to see him go because most had to admit he was smarter than they were. Although he never boasted about it but just by him being himself they all had come to realize it. Jo Baldwin never let Cooper take advantage of that fact. He wanted his son to enjoy being a youth as long as possible. But on graduation day he had to admit, his son was no longer a child but about to become a man. Several colleges had come knocking and Cooper decided to go back to California. But first, he was going to have the best summer. He called his immediate plan the “George Bailey” tour. Named after the character in It’s a Wonderful Life, Cooper planned on traveling the world for a few months with Malone to take in sights, sounds, and tastes. They planned on living and experiencing as much as they could possibly cram in. Then, as he promised his dad, he would go to school while rooming with Malone. It was the perfect plan. It was all scheduled to begin the day after graduation.
VIIII. Still 9 years ago…
“Cooper, do you know why you are here?” the therapist asked.
“Because my dad thought it would be a good idea,” Cooper answered.
“You don’t agree?” she asked.
He shrugged his shoulders.
“Tell me about the attack,” she questioned.
VIII. 9 years ago
Cooper was not a fan of Wyoming. It wasn’t that he hated the state itself, in fact, he loved the outdoors and Wyoming has a natural fantastic outdoor playground. His dislike had more to do with how bored he was at school and how even after seven years he didn’t fit in. Wyoming still wasn’t what he would call home. Nothing at school excited or challenged him. He finished his work quickly and efficiently. The other students didn’t have the same interests as him. He was able to keep in frequent touch with Malone and despite the distance they were still best friends. Although he knew Malone didn’t understand much of most topics that interested him Malone at least listened. Plus, they had history together. They had spent time pre-fever as Cooper referred to the incident. Malone’s mom agreed to let her son travel to Wyoming during the upcoming summer break to see his Wyoming friend. Both boys were excited for that visit. Trouble was that was still a few months away. For now, Cooper sat in a classroom trying to will the clock to tick faster.
VII. 16 years ago
Liz Baldwin stood at the kitchen sink washing dishes. She had a dishwasher but when she had a lot on her mind, she preferred to wash dishes by hand. Keeping her hands busy helped with the racing thoughts. Her husband Jo was working late. Again. Conveniently enough. He had dropped a bombshell before he left for work that morning about a promotion. While a promotion seemed like a good thing Liz also knew it would involve a lot more work which translated to more time. More time at the office and away from home. Jo already devoted so much time and energy to the office. She preferred him to spend more time and energy at home with her and Cooper. Their son was growing up, he was already nine. Soon he would be a teenager and then all to quickly he’d leave for college. Liz knew now was the time for a father and son bond to develop.
VI. 17 years ago…
The next few days after Cooper recovered from his illness he felt different. He couldn’t explain why but he noticed his world differently. Colors seemed more vibrant and sharp. Conversations he overheard between his parents he seemed to understand. Maybe he just never paid attention before and maybe that was the difference – he paid attention to everything now. Almost like he couldn’t shut his brain off. His brain’s computer was on and running all the time. He couldn’t explain any of this to anyone because he was still processing it. Was this normal and he just never noticed before? His mom noticed something was different but she wasn’t sure how to explain it either. Suddenly, her boy that liked to keep his hair trimmed in a crew cut style now hated getting his hair cut. He refused to let her cut his hair. That wasn’t a battle worth fighting so she let him grow it out. One other thing that was obvious to everyone was he no longer needed his inhaler. When his mom questioned the doctor, she was told that sometimes “children outgrow asthma.” She also mentioned to the doctor that he started coming home with stories of winning races at school. His energy level seemed to spike. The doctor’s response was to give him some meds which she declined. It wasn’t an uncontrollable energy; it was more of an intense, albeit focused, energy. At the first parent-teacher conference after his fever she was told that he was exceling in every subject. His teacher commented on his outstanding performance. Even the PE teacher remarked on his ability. At the previous conference, the PE teacher couldn’t remember who exactly Cooper was. Up until then, Cooper blended in with the background. Not anymore. He was getting noticed, remarked on, and remembered.
V. 17 years ago…
Cooper Baldwin looked out his bedroom window. The other neighborhood children played tag together and ran in and out of front yards. How he wanted to join them in their games but he couldn’t go out to play. His father had made some house rules, if you stay home from school sick you stay inside. Basically, Jo Baldwin didn’t want his son to use any excuse to stay home sick. What he didn’t realize was Cooper really didn’t want to stay home either. Sometimes he just couldn’t help it. He really was sick.