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See Me(5)
Author: Nicholas Sparks

He’d known Evan as long as he could remember. When Colin was young, his family used to spend summers at a beach cottage in Wrightsville Beach, and Evan’s family lived right next door. They’d passed long, sun-drenched days walking the beach, playing catch, fishing, and either surfing or riding boogie boards. More often than not, they’d spent the night at each other’s houses, until Evan’s family moved to Chapel Hill and Colin’s life went completely in the toilet.

The facts were fairly straightforward: He was the third child and only son of wealthy parents with a fondness for nannies and absolutely no desire for a third child. He was a colicky baby and then a high-energy child with a raging case of ADHD, the kind of kid who threw regular temper tantrums, couldn’t focus, and found it impossible to sit still. He drove his parents crazy at home, ran off one nanny after another, and struggled endlessly in school. He had a great teacher in third grade who made things better for a while, but in fourth grade, he started going downhill again. He got in one fight after another on the playground and was nearly held back. It was around that time that he came to be regarded as having serious issues, and in the end, not knowing what else to do, his parents shipped him off to military school, hoping the structure would do him good. His experience that first year was horrific, and he was expelled halfway through the spring semester.

From there, he was sent to another military school in a different state, and over the next few years, he expended his energies in combat sports – wrestling, boxing, and judo. He took his aggression out on others, sometimes with too much enthusiasm, often just because he wanted to. He cared nothing about grades or discipline. Five more expulsions and five different military schools later, he graduated, just barely, as an angry and violent young man with no plans for his life and no interest in finding any. He moved back in with his parents and seven bad years followed. He watched his mother cry and listened to his father plead with him to change, but he ignored them. He worked with a therapist at his parents’ insistence, but he continued his downward spiral, subconscious self-destruction his primary goal. The therapists’ words, not his, though he now agreed with them. Whenever his parents kicked him out of the main house in Raleigh, he’d crash at the family’s beach cottage, biding his time before returning home, the cycle beginning anew. When Colin was twenty-five, he was given one final chance to make changes in his life. Unexpectedly, he did just that. And now here he was, in college with plans to spend the next few decades in the classroom, hoping to be a mentor to children, which would make no sense at all to most people.

Colin knew there was an irony to his wanting to spend the rest of his life in school – a place he’d always hated – but that’s the way it was. He didn’t dwell on the irony and he generally didn’t dwell on the past. He wouldn’t have been thinking of any of these things at all if it hadn’t been for Evan’s comment about visiting his parents tomorrow. What Evan still didn’t grasp was that simply being in the same room as them was stressful for both Colin and his parents – especially if the visit wasn’t planned well in advance. Had he shown up unexpectedly, he knew they’d sit uncomfortably in the living room trying to make small talk while memories of the past filled the air between them like a poisonous gas. He’d feel waves of disappointment and judgment radiating out from them, apparent in the things they said or didn’t say, and who needed that? He didn’t, and neither did they. In the last three years, he’d tried to keep his infrequent visits to about an hour, almost always on the holidays, an arrangement that seemed to suit them all.

His older sisters, Rebecca and Andrea, had tried to talk to him about making amends to his parents, but he’d shut down those conversations the same way he’d done with Evan. Their lives with their parents, after all, had been different from his. They’d both been wanted, while he’d been a big fat whoops seven years later. He knew they meant well, but he didn’t have a lot in common with them. Both of them were college graduates and married with kids. They lived in the same upscale neighborhood as their parents and played tennis on the weekends. The older he’d gotten, the more he’d come to acknowledge that the choices they’d made in their own lives had been a lot smarter than his own. Then again, they didn’t have serious issues.

He knew that his parents, like his sisters, were essentially good people. It had taken him years in therapy to accept the fact that he’d been the one with the problems, not them. He no longer blamed his mother and father for the things that had happened to him or for what they had or hadn’t done; if anything, he considered himself a lucky son of two incredibly patient people. So what if he’d been raised by nannies? So what if his folks had finally thrown in the towel and shipped him off to military school? When he’d really needed them, when other parents probably would have given up, they’d never lost hope that he could turn his life around.

And they’d put up with his crap for years. Serious crap. They’d ignored the drinking and the pot smoking and the music cranked way too loud at all hours; they’d put up with the parties he threw whenever they went out of town that left the house in shambles. They’d overlooked the bar fights and multiple arrests. They never contacted the authorities when he broke into the beach cottage, even though he did serious damage to that place as well. They’d bailed him out more times than he could remember and paid his legal bills, and three years ago – when Colin was facing a long prison sentence after a bar fight in Wilmington – his dad had pulled some strings to strike a deal that would clear his criminal record entirely. If, of course, Colin didn’t screw it up. As part of his probation, Colin had been required to spend four months at an anger-management treatment facility in Arizona. Upon his return and because his parents wouldn’t let him stay at their home, he’d crashed again at the beach cottage, which by then was for sale. He’d also been ordered to meet regularly with Detective Pete Margolis from the Wilmington police department. The man whom Colin had beaten in the bar was a longtime confidential informant of Margolis’s, and as a result of the fight, a high-profile case Margolis was working on had gone suddenly south. Consequently, Margolis hated Colin with a passion. Having argued strongly against the deal in the first place, he then insisted on monitoring Colin regularly and at random, like a makeshift probation officer. Finally, the deal stipulated that if Colin was arrested again, for anything, the entirety of his original record would be reinstated and he’d automatically be sentenced to prison for nearly a decade.

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