All he could think about was the hole in his heart and how to end his pain.
Tyler Bieck rifled through Dad's stuff to find the two keys to the metal gun cabinet. McCook Junior High had dismissed for the day. Dad was at work, tending the golf course greens.
Tyler started with Dad's bedroom. The gun locker stood in the bedroom closet. Later, when Dad got home to cook dinner, Tyler would go through his truck and the garage.
It had been a year since Mom killed herself. The conversation they shared still haunted him.
"If you kill yourself, " Tyler told her over and over before that January day in 1998, "I'll have to kill myself, too."
"You don't have to do this, " Mom replied. "You have a future."
Hard to imagine a future without his best friend. He and Mom shared everything, from sodas at Mac's Drive-In to long talks about his adolescent struggles and her grown-up ones.
"She was my life, " Tyler kept thinking. "It's just going to be a lot of pain from here on out."
Tyler didn't blame her for leaving. For rolling up her pills in slices of bread and washing it all down with the bottle of wine. He had hid the wine bottle, but not well enough.
No, he -- more than anyone -- knew what kind of pain she suffered. He watched her shake with seizures and take pills for the throbbing headaches, pills for depression. They had cried together a lot during those seven years after her bad car accident, after the divorce that followed.
Mom left it all. Tyler wished to follow.
Could he share his wishes with Dad? With Ryan, who found Mom the night she died and struggled with his own issues? With Tony, who was 8, just a kid?
Tyler couldn't talk to them. He had talked to Mom, and she was gone.
He just wanted out.
Dad's shotgun would work. Tyler could hardly shoot a pheasant with it before -- he had missed wildly one hunting trip and masked his relief. Had he hit the bird, Tyler would have cried.
The hitch, though, was Dad. His caution. The man had grown up on a Nebraska farm where rifles stood with brooms in the pantry. But after Ryan and Tyler were born, Bill Bieck got a cabinet and a lock. He wasn't against guns. Just had read too many articles about kids and guns. He taught the boys to shoot and made sure they went to hunter safety.
He hid the keys.
Bill knew Tyler was sad -- they all missed Mary Jo. But Bill worked two full-time jobs: the golf course and home. He also had to contend with 17-year-old Ryan, who fought his rules.
Bill didn't like being the heavy. He liked the days before, when the family was intact, when the golf course doubled as a playground for the boys. Now two had outgrown their fort-making and exploring days at Heritage Hills. The Bieck boys had spent a lot of time on that 18-hole course after Mary Jo's car accident, her many doctor visits and her depression. They got to hit balls and drive carts.
Rarely did they get into scrapes, although Bill did like to tell the story about how Tyler took all the ignition keys out of a barnful of mowers, tractors and carts.
When asked, Tyler, then 7, spun quite a yarn. He saw a strange man enter the barn, remove the keys and dump them in a 30-gallon oil drum.
Bill fished out 15 keys. He laughed each time he remembered it -- the well-lubricated keys!
Now it was gun cabinet keys that Tyler sought.
Bill never knew.
His middle son earned good grades, didn't break rules, aimed to please.
Tyler felt lost. The letters he got from Aunt Lisa in Iowa seemed long ago. He had leaned on Mom's younger sister after her death. She had picked him up from school when he couldn't stop crying his first day back. When Aunt Lisa's family left for Missouri Valley, Iowa, Mom's hometown, Tyler wrote letters and called.
Aunt Lisa reached out.
"I really am missing your mother terribly, and I know you are much more than I, " she wrote a month after Mom died.
Aunt Lisa told Tyler about when Mom was a teenager.
Once Mary Jo chased after a cute boy, peeling the car out of a gas station before Lisa could close the door. Lisa had nearly fallen out.
"We laughed about that a lot, " Aunt Lisa wrote. "Your mom is still great!!!!!"
Aunt Lisa, a school counselor, put Tyler in touch with Mary, a seventh-grader.
"We might have more in common than we think, " Mary wrote Tyler. "My mom has written two letters threatening to kill herself. What should I do? . . . How are you holding up? (Your Aunt Lisa) said she thought you were feeling a little down and depressed."
Tyler wrote to them often. Writing let him pour out his thoughts.
And those thoughts were growing despondent.
Tyler decided to write to a girl from his eighth grade science class, a girl with honey-brown hair. He hardly knew her.
Pretty, popular Shannon Moore bubbled with life. Shy, self-conscious Tyler Bieck thought only of death.
In his house, after school, Tyler once again looked for the keys. Then he headed for the basement. Notebook and pen in one hand. Kitchen knife in the other.