OCTOBER  —  two weeks later

The stand erupted with cheers and a tall lanky boy in front of me jumped up excitedly; his long, curly, black hair bouncing, his arms waving, his popcorn flying everywhere, but most importantly, his slushie—which had been sitting next to him a moment ago—was knocked straight towards me and my sketchbook. Icy red liquid escaped the open-holed lid, splashing across the top of the page I was on and up onto the front of my tank top.

“Are―you―kidding me?!” I shouted, but my words weren’t heard over the cheering of the students around me. Not even Daniel or Harper, who were standing on either side of me—clapping, noticed. I stood and quickly ripped out the top page of my sketchbook that had been damaged before the cherry flavored ice could seep into it and ruin any of the other pages full of art. I held the book before me gingerly with my fore and thumb fingers and arched my back so that my shirt fell forward away from my skin, unable to chill me. Everyone was still cheering.

The crowd settled as I slowly lowered myself back onto the seat, not really sitting on the bleacher, but hovering above it, deciding whether I was going to stay or if I was going to leave.

Daniel sat first, ruffling his thick red hair and smiling, “Did you see that?” he asked sarcastically, knowing that no, I hadn’t seen it, I hadn’t at all. His eyes were closed tightly as a result of his squinty, big-toothed smile, and when they opened they widened, taking in the sight of me. “Oh my god!”

“There we go,” I rolled my eyes.

“You’re drenched!” he exclaimed.

“Ya think?”

“What happened?” Harper asked, joining in and then crying out her own concerns for me, brushing her short black hair out of her blue eyes so she could get a better look at me.

I pointed at the kid in front of me simply who hadn’t even noticed that his precious slushie was no more. “It was an accident,” I said before any sort of confrontation could occur. Which, knowing Harper and her mother-like tendencies, was an inevitability. Harper flattened her lips into a line and nodded, putting a hand on my shoulder, “You need a change of clothes?” she asked.

“I’m fine. It’ll dry,” I lied, not wanting to make a big deal out of something that any normal person would make a big deal out of. But that was just me, I guess. Because yes, I was uncomfortable for the moment being, but in ten or so minutes that moment would pass and if the slushie had just been ice water there would be nothing left to remind me that this had even happened. So I would live with the cold now, and the stain later. Because why did it really matter?

“If you’re sure,” Daniel said.

“I’m sure, Danny,” I smiled at him, then added, “I’m just upset about my art.”

We all looked down at the ground together solemnly, Danny reached down and picked up the drenched crumpled up paper, kicking the now empty slushie cup under the row in front of us, “Damn,” he said under his breath, it was literally dripping red. I prayed a silent thanks that it hadn’t bled through to the rest of my sketchbook, “What were you working on?”

I sighed, “My first assignment for AP, we’re supposed to recreate a famous piece of art.”

“And what are you doing?” Harper asked genuinely interested.

This was nice. Because Danny, Harper, and I were very different when it came to some of our interests. For example, coming to the homecoming football game: definitely not at the top of the list of the things I wanted to do with my night. But I came because my two best friends would be here. So it was nice to know the feeling was mutual, because it was for damn sure that Danny and Harper didn’t really care about Picasso or Michelangelo. But because I did, they did their best to support me in it. And that was why our friendship worked.

“Um, I’m recreating The Starry Night,” I started sheepishly, feeling like my response was a little underwhelming. Because yes, Van Gogh was my favorite, but he was also everyone else’s favorite, too, “That was just a sketch, the final piece is going to be a lot bigger.” I flipped over my sketchbook to a new page, and began etching out what I described, “I’m going to use spray paint on a really big canvas, maybe even wood, but instead of trees and a small town I’m going to do London—maybe New York? I dunno yet—and the sky above it.”

Cheering from the stands again brought me out of my element, Harper and Danny both stood quickly to see what was happening out on the field, “First down?” Harper asked, eyes searching for an answer. Danny nodded excitedly and they both looked down at me, a sort of hopeful yet also sorry expression in their eyes.

“Watch your game,” I yelled over the cheering with a feigned groan, I didn’t really mind.

Harper kissed me on the top of the head, “Thanks Scott, sounds fantastic,” she cooed and began whooping with the rest of the crowd.

I looked up at my two best friends for a moment proudly; Danny Curtis, red-headed and taller than a flagpole, I’d known him since we were little kids and he was just the size of a really small flagpole, three or four years old on the playground in preschool. There wasn’t a time that the two of us had been apart. Not even when his dad died and he and his mom moved out of Phoenix for a while to pick themselves back up. There was still weekly phone calls and play dates whenever we could spare it. And then there was Harper Thometz, black hair cut short like a boy, but outfits as girly as could be. She’d only been in my life since the ninth grade when we met in science class, partnered up and both fighting over which one of us had to dissect the worm Ms. Kiel had put on our desk. But since then, just like Daniel, the girl was always there for me. Even more so than Danny sometimes.

Harper grabbed some contraband out-of-stadium snacks from her shoulder bag and handed a couple to Daniel who chuckled darkly at their deviousness, I smiled and turned my attention back to my work, shifting uncomfortably when I noticed the neck of my tank top was sticking to my collar bone. Really should have taken up that offer to go change when I could, I thought to myself but just shrugged, adjusting my shirt so it fell away from my body more. I could last, what, one more hour? Luckily it didn’t get too cold at night in Phoenix, not even in the winter or fall. I settled back into myself and brought my sketchbook into my hips, hanging over it with concentration.

I dragged the pencil across the paper in short, quick lines, the pressure of my lead against the paper varying to bring out different shades to indicate distance between the tall building slightly off-center and the smaller ones behind it. After a few minutes of getting a basic idea of what I wanted down onto the paper I pulled out my phone and googled some images of Big Ben deciding that I was going to do London afterall. I drew in some finer details of the clock tower into my image, scrolling through four or five on my phone to get all of the angles I needed.

The crowd erupted once more—not that the cheering ever really ceased, just grew and shrunk away in intensity—and I took a look at the scoreboard, red numbers staring back at me intensely. We were well into the second half, with our team on their third down. The score: 41-home, 35-away. That was good I guess, just under a touchdown away from an even score, but we had the ball. We’d be fine. See, now, I didn’t hate sports, not at all, I understood most of them pretty well actually and thoroughly enjoyed working out when I got the chance. It’s just that I found myself getting lost behind a paintbrush or pencil more than I ever did behind soccer ball or baseball bat.

I reached down to the ground and picked up my rucksack, pulling out my pen set, the sky had finally grown dark now and bright lights lit up the field and the bleachers, they were harsh, but perfect for drawing under. I shoved the pencil I had been using away and pulled out my .08 pen, the thickest one in the set so that I could finalize all the details that would go into my piece and the erase the sketch.

The wind picked up as I outlined, an unusual breeze for this early in the season, and hit the still slightly-damp front of my shirt, chilling the air even more as it passed through the fabric and onto my skin. I shuddered, a chill running down me. I tried fighting through it for a few minutes, but I noticed even Harper and Danny were starting to shake where they stood. I sighed, deciding it was time to go grab a sweater or something out of my car. Maybe even a blanket for all three of us.

I hooked the pen I was using into the rings at the top of my sketchbook and stood, placing it where I had once rested. “Where you goin?” Danny questioned when I stood and started to brush past him.

“I think I’m gonna get a blanket for the three of us,” I explained, looking to Danny and then Harper who smiled and nodded in agreement of my proposition, “from my car, I’ll be right back.”

The night was unusually cool, the past few before this had been in the high sixties, this felt at least like it was in the forties, maybe low fifties. I fought the urge to bring my arms up to my chest. Knowing that would only bring my shirt, and the source of my real chill, closer to me. So I scurried off the bleachers and down the steps onto the sidewalk parallel to the field that was separated by a low chain link fence with green straps of tarp woven in between the squares.

I had to walk quite a ways to find my car, Mesa High was the largest school in the district, over nineteen-hundred students, and as such, the parking lot was completely packed at events such as this. I was parked all the way back towards the entrance to the lot. Three or four minutes later, the sounds of the stadium fading behind me slightly as I crept away, I saw my car and began to jog for it, trying to remember what was in the trunk. I knew there was a blanket for sure, but clothes? I would have to see, cause I needed out of this shirt. Desperately.

My white 2001 Chevy Cavalier seemed to smile at me as I approached, it was facing out, away from the curb that I had backed into when I arrived here hours earlier to my discontent. “It’ll be fun!” Harper had insisted, and not that football wasn’t fun, it’s just there was a higher risk of getting a slushie thrown at you at a football game than in the comfort of your own home. “So fun,” I said to myself now as I patted the hood of my car, “Sup, Chuck. How we doing?”

I rounded the hood of it to the driver’s side and unlocked it manually. Old car. No remote. You get used to it. Reaching under the dash I yanked on the lever to pop open the trunk a few times until I heard it release. I pulled away and pressed down on the lock button and shut the door, shoving the key to my car back in my pocket.

“Show me the money,” I said to myself as I threw open the trunk and peered inside, there in the corner was the blanket, I pulled that out and tossed it over my shoulder. It was hard to see cause the door of the trunk blocked out the light from the lampposts overhead, so I began shuffling around with my hands. My art bag, a water bottle, two water bottles, three, I had no idea what that was, a couple CD’s . . . aha! I tugged against the handle of a heavy duffle bag and drew it out of the trunk onto the edge of the car, the motion knocking out something which clanked onto the pavement loudly, it began to roll until it hit another object below and stopped. I ignored it for now and turned my attention to the duffle bag.

I rummaged through it until I found a plain black T-shirt. I brought the fabric to my nose and breathed in heavily, no idea where I had worn this, or how long it had been in my car.

“Good enough,” I said with a shrug when the scent didn’t completely burn my eyes. I tossed the duffel bag back into the trunk unzipped and dropped the blanket at my side.

I pulled the sticky tank top up over my torso and off me entirely, balling it up and discarding it in the trunk to probably forget about for weeks, then threw the other shirt on, smoothing it out over my chest and stomach. I picked up the blanket and remembered the thing that had fallen to the ground. Crouching on all fours I peered under the car. I could only see the faint outline of two objects, a cylindrical one, and a bulky one behind it. I reached out and picked up the cylinder, recognizing it as my colored pencil finishing spray. That was what must’ve fallen and rolled. I threw that in the trunk as well and closed it, turning my attention to the second object.

The tips of my fingers met cool leather and I was almost startled by it, recoiling slightly. I wrapped my finger around the thing and pulled it into sight. It was a book of sorts, bound in a thick, flimsy, red-brown leather and bent in half, held together with a sort of hide string. Not mine, I thought, but shoved it under my armpit to investigate in a moment.

I grabbed the blanket again from the ground and stood throwing that over the opposite shoulder that the book was under. As I headed back to the stands, the sound of cheering and the school band filled my ears once more, but all the walk I was thinking about the mysterious book I had found just minutes before.

I made it to the bleachers and took the steps up quickly to reach Daniel and Harper. I watched and Daniel seemed to settle in his seat, it seemed that he had just gotten back from somewhere. As I neared them I noticed him break a churro in half and share the second half with Harper, who—after he turned away—blushed as she took her first bite. I smiled to myself at this, wondering when the hell the two of them would finally get together. This was a match I’d been hoping for for a long time. But both of them seemed either too clueless or stupid to notice that something was there. Maybe it just wasn’t time yet.

I shuffled past the first couple people in our row and finally got to Daniel, turning around him to get ready to sit, I saw Harper pick up my sketchbook for me and I smiled at her thoughtfulness. “How’s the game?” I asked when I was situated, I dropped the book I had found in my lap so I could wrap the blanket around us, Harper curled into me a little once the fabric was around her shoulders, but Daniel stayed where he was. Nibbling on the end of his churro.

“Pretty close,” he said between bites, “we’re behind by three points now but I think we can catch up.”

Had that much really happened while I was away?

Like clockwork the crowd cheered and I turned to the small book in my lap, it seemed to almost look back. I took the string in my fingers and unwound it from itself until the book was free. It was the size of larger novel, maybe nine by six inches. and was as thick as three of my fingers across. There was a hard crease right down the middle of the front from the book having been rolled up like that time and time again, and the corners of the cover were frayed and dented. But this didn’t read cheap or abuse to me. It read care. Something almost electric seemed to come from the leather as my fingers hovered over it, and with so much hesitation beforehand, I finally flipped the book open. The first page was blank, the second a place to mark ownership of the book, the third was filled from top to bottom with tiny handwritten words. A long, girly, and elegant cursive, like something straight out of a calligrapher’s notebook.

I flipped to the next page, and then the one after, jumping back further into the book. Everything was written in the same shade of blue. That was when I noticed the dates; August, September, May, April; 2014, 2013, all the way back to 2011. And not a day was missed, so it seemed. Even if an entry only had a few sentences there was one for every day of the year dating back almost four years. But no name. Not one in sight.

I closed the book and put my palm against the cover, taking in a deep breath.

“What’s that?” Harper asked curiously, and I could hear a bit of churro chewing behind her voice.

I ran my fore finger across the dent in the cover, and it felt as deep as a canyon to me. I could almost feel a presence there with me as I did so, as if the words written in this had a voice of their own that was calling out to me. “I, uh,” I started, getting lost in the little patterns on the cover, trying to read them like words, “I think it’s a journal.”

< RETURN TO THE PROLOGUE | CONTINUE TO CHAPTER TWO >

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