When I entered the waiting room of St. Jude Hospital to find Tristan, he was sitting quietly with his eyes closed in the same area where I’d met Emma Truax, the injured officer’s mother. A case could be made that this corner of the waiting room had become a kind of command center for the friends of Officer Truax, littered as it was with pink donut boxes, fast food containers, newspapers, and empty paper coffee cups. Two men in uniform, arms folded, were catching a wink or two while they waited for word.
No one paid Tristan Phillips much attention, and as I gazed at him, seeing how deeply shadowed the circles were under his eyes and how boldly the freckles stood out on his pale skin I felt rather sorry for him. His long hair was tangled around his face, curling slightly where he’d slept on it. He looked terribly young.
“Tristan?” I spoke softly, but he jumped as though he’d been tased anyway.
“Hm? What?” He looked around anxiously, trying to gauge if anything important had happened. Seeing the quiet way the two officers in the room were dozing seemed to reassure him. “Oh.” He held out his hand. “From Michael’s cable interview, right?”
I shook his hand and introduced myself. “Sloane Mayfield. How is Michael?”
Tristan’s lips compressed into a line. “I’m afraid I couldn’t tell you very much.”
“I’m sorry. I understood you to be his friend?” I was checking my notes. I was sure Emma Truax told me Tristan Phillips was–
“I am his friend.” He seemed to crystallize, in that moment, and something hard appeared in his eyes. “I’m just not his family.”
“I see.” I said. “So you don’t know his condition.”
“He’s going to be perfectly fine,” he stated defiantly. “Whatever his condition.”
“That is good news,” I said, and he looked away.
“How did you meet Officer Truax?” I asked him.
“I… He gave me a ticket for skateboarding without a helmet back when I was in high school.” The kid had a smile that could power a rocket.
I laughed. “That’s unusual, to become friends with someone because they ticketed you.”
“I didn’t become friends with him because of that.” Tristan said. “I was pissed as hell when that happened. That was years ago. We became friends just recently.”
“And then,” I prompted.
“Officer Truax—Michael—is a really fine person.” Tristan smiled at something and I thought it was a fond memory, maybe. He worried the piercing in his tongue a little before he went on. “A lot of people look up to him.”
“Why is that, Tristan?”
“He’s smart and funny. It’s like he thinks it’s his job to protect the world. And just when you’re sure he’s going to meet you for dinner wearing tights and a cape…” at this Tristan looked down, and his Adam’s apple bobbed on the long column of his throat. “He’s wise enough to ask for what he needs.” Incredibly blue eyes met mine and I realized I couldn’t go with the story I’d just been given. Not on a cable television show in conservative Orange County.
“I imagine you do.” Tristan said dryly, looking down at his folded hands. “I get to see him every few hours for five minutes. Now that I have his mother’s permission. Before that I sat here for hours listening to them give more information out in press conferences than they would share with me.”
“That sucks,” I whispered.
Those eyes shot up again, and he grinned in an irrepressible way I found to be rather…beautiful. “Yeah, but you should have heard her when she got here. ‘For the purposes of this discussion this man is also my son, Tristan’…” he mimicked.
Having met Emma Truax, I could only imagine.
“What’s going to happen?” I asked. “To the two of you?”
Tristan looked at his shoes, beat up Van’s, which had to have been skate park veterans since the arguably young Tristan’s Dogtown days. “I have no idea,” he said, leaning over to speak in confidence. His eyes glittered but he blinked rapidly, looking at the ceiling, until he got a grip. He was wound tighter than the ‘e’ string on a violin.
“But this? I can never go through this again, man. Never.”