the faults of our fathers
Chapter 1—November—Present Day—Auburn, California
At two in the morning, Theo Drescher, unlike most boys his age, wasn’t looking for his father’s stash of alcohol.
He flicked on a lamp and glanced upstairs to make sure there was no movement. He crouched in front of the cabinets and his fingers flitted over the books inside. They smelled centuries old, and his lips perked in a grin. The scent of aging parchment stung his nose, the musty vanilla of timelessness. He picked one with a gold spine, cradling it in his arms and running a finger over the jagged page edges. They were well loved, he could tell. Or well-studied. Or both.
Theo flipped through the book. “Hm.” He ran his finger over a word on a page, mouthing it to himself.
“Sursumata,” he said, pointing his palm at a bowl of plastic fruits that his father kept around because… of the aesthetic? Theo had no idea. But they were excellent for magic practice.
An imitation apple began to sparkle silver, and rose up out of the bowl. It shuddered as it fought the air and gravity, but Theo glared at it, and it rose higher. When he was sure that the apple would stay put, he turned his attention to a pear. The magic seemed to know what he wanted it to do; at least something listened to him. It leapt from his hand like a dog without a leash, enveloping the pear in a glittering silver glow, and raising it to apple-height.
Theo had to grin as he redirected the energy to various items in the dining room. A vase, a dish, a few forks. They bobbed around in the air, straight out of a Disney movie.
Something under Theo’s foot let out a yelp as he passed by a chair. He looked down to see one of their dogs’ tails trapped under his sole. He flinched. “Sorry, buddy,” he said. He reached down with his hand to pet the dog, but felt, in that instant, the rush of magic returning to his hands.
“Shit,” Theo hissed, and whirled around, summoning the weakened magic to re-elevate the items, but the dish clattered to the table, where it cracked in two. The plastic fruits zipped to the ground at odd angles; one nearly fell on Theo's head. And the vase caught on the corner of the breakfront, shattering loudly enough to wake the dead. Or worse; his dad.
Great, he thought. That’s just fantastic.
A door slammed from upstairs and Theo nearly stopped breathing. Shit! He scooped up the book, hit the lights, and dashed into the kitchen, stubbing his bare toe on the doorframe. He bit his lip to muffle his yelp and dove under the kitchen table. He peered out between the chairs and prayed that light wouldn’t reflect off of his sandy blond hair.
“Theo?” Mr. Drescher turned on the light in the dining room. “Are you awake?”
Something cracked—a piece of the vase. “What the–”
Theo winced and clutched the book. This was it. He hadn’t been caught since he was twelve, a new record. He prepared an excuse on his tongue, and plenty of apologies.
“Bad dog.” Claws scrabbled across the tile floor of the kitchen as one of their dogs, Beta, was dragged along by his collar. The back door opened, and Beta yelped. The door slammed shut and Mr. Drescher clicked off the lights.
Theo flinched. Sorry, Beta.
Ten steps on the stairs. A bedroom door closing. Silence.
Theo allowed himself to breathe again. The kitchen chairs squealed across the tiles, and one nearly toppled as he wriggled out from under the table.
He took stealthy steps—or as stealthy as his gangly seventeen-year-old body would allow—back to the cabinet, and replaced the book on the shelf. He heard the carpet fibers as they brushed his feet, halfway convinced that his father or Dmitri heard it, too.
He heard feet on the stairs, and dove behind the couch, landing hard on his stomach. He gulped down the shock and squinted his eyes shut. I’m dead. I’m so, so dead.
“Theodore?” A hand gripped the back of his t-shirt, hauling him off the carpet. Theo couldn’t see his father in the dark, but the hand on his shirt did not let go. His shirt collar tightened around his neck.
“H-Hey, Dad,” Theo said. “I was just–”
“What are you doing up?” his father asked. His voice was a deathlike calm, and that was the voice that chilled Theo the most. But he swallowed it down and gave his most typical—and often accurate—excuse.
“I was hungry,” he said.
“The vase is broken.” His dad pulled him out from behind the couch. “You wouldn’t have anything to do with that, would you?”
“Huh?” Theo blinked hard, keeping his face as confused-looking as possible. “When’d that happen?”
“About two minutes ago. You could’ve heard it shatter a hundred yards away.”
Theo shrugged. “I was in the pantry,” he said. His hand shook, and he dug his nails into his thigh. “Didn’t hear a thing. Sorry.”
Mr. Drescher paused for a moment, before his hand released Theo’s shirt. “You have school in five hours.” He shoved his son by the shoulder up the stairs. “Get some sleep.”
“Night.” Theo shook his head. “I mean, morning.”
His dad shook his head and retreated back into his own room.
Theo closed his bedroom door behind him, and sank to the floor. His t-shirt stuck to his back with sweat. His chest pounded. He took a deep breath through his nose and let it out. The sweat grew cold on his back and he ran his fingers through his hair before he peeled off his shirt.
He tossed the shirt into the corner and crawled over to his dresser, pulling his Beatles tee from underneath. He tugged on the shirt and hoisted himself off the ground.
A green light blinked from Theo’s desk. He squinted, rubbing his eyes. 2:15? What was 2:15?
Exhaustion dragged Theo down into its murky depths. 2:15 in the morning.
At least when he woke up it would be Saturd—Wednesday.
“Damn it,” Theo said through a yawn. He stumbled across his room and fell facedown onto his bed. He didn’t care that his pillow was a fair few inches away from his scalp. He didn’t care that his jeans’ button jabbed him in the abdomen, nor that his arm was pinned beneath him.
He closed his eyes and waited for his mind to stop churning. Vase shards poked and stabbed his consciousness.
What had his friends told him about dealing with insomnia? Count the cracks on the ceiling, Bryce had advised once. That always helps me.
And if that doesn’t work, Mitch had cut in, my dad always told me to think about a black piece of paper. Just a black piece of paper.
Theo took a breath through his nose. He couldn’t see the ceiling—even if he was at the right angle, he was too exhausted to open his eyes. A black piece of paper, he thought. Just a black piece of paper…