Harper’s words were still ringing in my ears when I got home after dropping off Daniel, then her at their homes. “You aren’t going to read it, are you?” she had asked accusingly, her eyes judging and insulted by the thought that I might.
“I don’t know,” I shrugged, neither of my hands leaving the wheel. I was nervous. I had never expected she would react this way, which was odd because I was usually pretty good at reading her. It wasn’t a big deal. Was it?
“You can’t,” she said in a flustered tone, she had waited to confront me on this until after it was just us two in the car. We always dropped Daniel off first. Because even as long as I had known him, Harper and I had become closer friends over the past three years. I loved him just the same, and it wasn’t like we didn’t want to include him or were purposefully trying to hide things from him; it was just that even in a group of three, you can get closer to one person than another. It happens.
“You just can’t,” Harper continued, “that’s someone else’s property, someone else’s words and thoughts! You can’t just invade someone like that! It’s not right! You have to return it.”
I licked my lips before replying, already knowing what I was going to say to her. This was how close we were. I knew Harper as much as I knew myself. And she I.
“I would,” I cut in, “but you see, there’s no name in it. Anywhere. I looked.”
“If it’s a journal,” Harper replied knowingly, “there has to be a name. It’s a journal.”
“No name,” I repeated.
“None?” Harper was perplexed, her blue eyes wide and confused.
“None,” I mocked, my own eyes wide, except with sarcastic surprise.
There was a moment of silence that was filled only by the radio turned almost all the way down, and again I knew exactly what she would say before she said it, “That doesn’t mean you should read it.” I just laughed and she slapped my shoulder, “Not funny,” another slap and I recoiled, “I’m serious!”
“But what if I read it and it helps me figure out who it belongs to, huh? Then I can return it. Would that be good enough reason?”
Harper looked at me with an expression that saw right through my façade, “Oh yes, because you just have the purest of intentions here.”
“Absolutely,” I lied, with another laugh.
I was a generally very serious person, quiet, kept to myself. Like at the homecoming game—which we lost by the way—I preferred to stay hidden behind the curtain rather than out in the spotlight. Maybe that’s why I loved to draw so much. Because pictures could say what words couldn’t. What words didn’t have to. And I could show it to someone and tell them a story or how I was feeling without ever having to open my mouth, and to me that was magical. But more importantly, it was safer. Because I never really had to open up. But not with Harper. Harper always brought out this different side of me, a side that was always there, just hiding. And I liked that it was just her that saw me this way. It made it more genuine and real when I was loud like this and snorted when I laughed too hard.
“Just,” she sighed, “I really don’t think you should read it.”
Those words floated back to me now as I pulled up next to my own home and put my crappy little car in park. I reached into the backseat and grabbed my bag, feeling heat radiate off of it that was probably just my own nerves getting to me. Ten minutes ago Harper had urged me to leave the journal be, and still I hadn’t come up with a decision on what I would do.
I wasn’t a big believer in fate or things like that, so I couldn’t justify that I had found the journal for a reason. That I was “supposed” to read it. I just really really wanted to. But part of me knew Harper was right. If I looked at the situation in reverse, my sketchbook for example; if I lost that and someone found it, how would I feel about them looking through it? I let Harper and Daniel take it straight out of my hands to see what I’m working on all the time. But a stranger? The thought made me uneasy. Extremely so. So would I be that sort of hypocrite that would read someone else’s personal thoughts and expect people to do the opposite? I wasn’t sure.
I sighed and turned off my headlights, pulling on the door handle and then opening it with my elbow and upper arm. I swung my whole body out while I threw my bag over my opposite shoulder. I closed the door behind me harshly with my foot and walked away leaving my car unlocked. Nothing of value inside the car was worth stealing anyway, I thought. In fact, just take the whole damn car altogether, I’ll give you the keys myself, I pretended to throw them behind me.
I went straight up to my room on the second floor without hesitation, calling out to my mom and dad as I passed their bedroom in the same hall to let them know that I was home. It was late and my sisters would be asleep by now so I didn’t dally around. I closed my door behind me and hung my bag on the hook by it. I kicked off my shoes and shimmied out of my jeans, leaving the t-shirt I was wearing on.
I didn’t think about the journal again as I crawled into bed and fell asleep within minutes.
* * *
“Scott!” a feminine voice called, pulling me out of my slumber. I opened my eyes slowly, one at a time and groaned, realizing as I came to that the voice was closer than I had realized, standing in the doorway of my messy bedroom. My mom brushed her her dark red hair out of her face, her blond streaks in the front catching the light as she did so. This was a wake up call I wasn’t used to, and I then realized I hadn’t set my alarm last night.
She said something I couldn’t understand so I then craned my neck towards her to get a better listen, still groggy and unaware of what was happening. I was a sleep loving kinda guy. It took a lot to wake me up, I had to set about five alarms every morning five minutes apart each to even stir me. I wondered how long my mom had been shouting, and why she didn’t try to just shake me awake.
She repeated herself, this time I caught it, “You’re gonna be late for school.”
I rolled down onto my side and groaned while she spoke again, “C’mon, your sisters and I made breakfast, shower real quick and you’ll still have time to eat.”
With that she left my bedroom, door still open leaving me to get up on my own terms. I was responsible, she knew that. Even if I was late to school I wouldn’t get it any trouble. But that didn’t mean I wanted to be. The whole “under the radar” thing. One more groan and I was up. Or at least my torso was, one leg curled up under me, the other hanging off the side of my twin sized bed. I yawned a loud croak and stretched my arms back behind me, blinking a few times to let my eyes adjust.
I wasn’t really sure whose idea it was to have the homecoming game on a Thursday night, but whoever it was needed to be flogged. Not nearly enough sleeping time. But honestly, there was never enough sleeping time if you asked me.
I kicked my other foot off the bed and walked over to my closet, rubbing the gunk out of my eyes one at a time. I grabbed a pair of grey skinny jeans and a loose fitting tanktop. You might say I’m crazy for wearing skinny jeans all year round in Arizona. But people say a lot of things that really shouldn’t matter to them, so oh well. I liked jeans way more than I liked shorts, even if it was a thousand and a half degrees outside almost every day of the year.
My shower was quick because yes, I was hungry. Always hungry. I didn’t dry my hair and it was dripping onto my shoulders and the back of my neck when I bounded down the stairs into the kitchen.
All three of my sisters were at work on some sort of task. Two years older than me, Dana was at her laptop at the kitchen table, tapping a pencil furiously against it while she scrolled through some sort of web page. Probably looking up research for a paper for university. The youngest, only six, Sasha was peering up at what her older sister Wanda, age twelve, was stirring in some sort of frying pan. My mom, Trish, was next to them, instructing the two little ones carefully while tending to her own work at a pan. All three looked exactly like younger versions of my mother, except their hair and skin were dark while my mom’s skin was lighter and her hair dyed.
“Where’s dad?” I asked, walking over and rubbing my fingers through Sasha’s hair who whined in protest at it being messed up.
“Work already,” my mom said, my dad was the assistant manager at a family owned grocery store, “I’m going to have to head off in a bit too. Do you need a ride Dana?”
“No,” she said through a mouthful of cereal. Just like Dana; to eat her own food when mom was making us a meal. It wasn’t to be disrespectful or anything. She was just impatient. “Class was canceled today. But I do need the car this weekend.”
That was directed towards me, “Sounds good.”
I looked in the pan Wanda and Sasha were tending to; scrambled eggs with bits of bacon and sausage bubbled and burned at the bottom of the pan because Wanda wasn’t really stirring, but just lightly tapping the top over and over again, “Smells good,” I said, “could use some more cheese though.”
“Are you gonna be late?” my mom asked, both of us looking at the clock on the microwave, 6:16.
“Probably, but it’s fine, I have Chem first and Mr. Diall doesn’t really care,” I explained.
“Long night then? How was it?” my mom asked. She knew how I felt about large organized group activities, but she was the kind of person that asked just to give you that moment of showing she did care, even about the little things. She always took time out of her extremely busy days to make time for all four of us. Sometimes I felt like it was partly because my dad was never around. Work from dusk until dawn every day. But we made it work. We knew he cared, at least in his own way.
My dad, Yael, was born in a very active Catholic family, but he met and fell in love with my mom who wasn’t very religious in any sort of way at all and slowly dropped his practice. His beliefs still stood though. Strongly. He was a very opinionated, and sometimes insulting man. Maybe he felt he had to be steadfast in his opinions because no one else in the family really shared them in the same way he did. When we were all young he tried to bring us up in his manner, but it never really stuck. We all knew the beliefs, that Christ is the Son of God, the teachings and stories of The Holy Bible, and we respected them too. But didn’t really know how to follow or live by them. Especially me, for my own reasons.
I turned my attention to my mom’s question, “It was alright, I drew the whole time and someone spilled a slushie on me.”
This brought out a laugh from Sasha who pointed at me and I rolled my eyes sarcastically with a smile.
“A slushie, really?” my mom asked, surprised and interested, finishing up what she was working on and shooing the girls out of the way. I told her the rest of the truly uninteresting story as she dished up two small plates and then two larger ones. We ate at the table around Dana, Sasha talking loudly about absolutely nothing just like she always did and we pretended to listen. Or at least I did, because knowing my mom she was absorbing every little word.
* * *
Mom had written me up a note asking excuse for my tardiness (“family emergency,”) and all was well with the attendance office when I got to school who wrote me a slip for Mr. Diall. I didn’t particularly enjoy the stares of every single person in the classroom when I walked in more than halfway through the period, but it was unavoidable. My bad for not setting an alarm the night before.
I went straight to the back of class like I usually did and zoned out everything but the sound of my teacher’s voice as I pulled out my sketchbook and began doodling. This was my classroom routine, it usually got me in trouble, how I seemed to be blatantly ignoring everything the teacher was saying. But they all let it slide once I started handing in the homework they thought I hadn’t heard them assign or passing the tests on material they thought I wasn’t listening to.
So now, while Mr. Diall talked about covalent bonds, I drew a new tattoo design. This was what my sketchbook was mostly filled up of. There was an even mixture of landscape, and portrait, and figure as well, but in the margins of every paper, the corner of every notebook, and about seventy percent of the pages in my sketchbook, were tattoo designs.
The one I was working on now was a small bird. Simple, just a black outline. Wings outspread and viewed from above and slightly to the side. I didn’t know if I would ever get any of the tattoos I had drawn. There were a few I really wanted, this one was turning out pretty nice and I could see it on my ankle or the side of my hand. I wasn’t sure. Part of me was too chicken to go. I wasn’t the risk taking type of person.
This pattern continued the next two periods and then I had lunch with Daniel and Harper. Which was actually surprising how it ended up that way because of how big my school was. I don’t think that in the two years I had been there I had been to every part of the school yet. And in the next two I wasn’t sure I ever would.
There was a row of trees along the back of the outside pavilion where the drama club performed sometimes at the end of the school year, and this is where Daniel, Harper, and I met to eat. Harper and I were there early, eating silently and waiting for Danny to show up. He was probably picking up fast food, I thought to myself when lo and behold Daniel came all agrin with two bags of Taco Bell in his hands. He offered the first to Harper and I and kept the second for himself.
“Bon appétit!” he sang and plopped down into Indian-style.
“I already have food!” Harper laughed, holding up a red grape with small bite taken out of the top of it.
Daniel looked at her like he was insulted, “They were having a special, Harp, like thirty-five tacos for ten dollars! I had to!”
“Thirty-five!?” Harper shrieked in what seemed to be almost horror, throwing the bag in front of her open to see for herself if Daniel was jesting.
I howled with laughter and bit into my cafeteria hamburger while the two continued converse, Harper eventually giving in and chowing down on a taco. She offered me one and I took it. I wasn’t very hungry but Daniel was right: screaming deal. Impossible to pass up. We continued like this until about half the tacos were eaten. All of us groaning out complaints of fullness.
“Hey, Scott,” Harper said when lunch was almost ten minutes up.
“Yeah?” I called without looking at her. I was laying on the grass, hands behind my head and legs crossed over one another out in front of me, looking up at the sunlight pass through the leaves on the tree above us.
“Did you think about what we discussed last night?”
I turned to look at her, confused. Her eyes were serious and stern, “What?”
“You know,” she said brushing her hair behind her ear, “about the thing you found at the game.”
“Oh!” I almost shouted and said again, “Oh! That! I had totally forgotten. No, no I haven’t.”
Harper nodded with pride and I wondered to myself how I had forgotten all about the journal so quickly. It was still in my bag, just a few feet away from me. And now that I remembered it was there it seemed to draw me towards it with that same energy from the night before. Daniel broke the connection a moment later though when he spoke.
“Okay Club Cryptic,” he started, his voice sarcastic and annoyed at our vagueness, “do I need to pay for a membership or are you just gonna openly tell me what the heck you’re talking about.”
“Sorry Dan,” I said, half sitting up, my elbows holding me up against the grass, “I found a journal last night while at the homecoming game. It’s in my bag.”
“A journal?!” he questioned, his voice going up in interest, he wiggled a single eyebrow at me, beckoning the details.
“I didn’t read it,” I explained and his face dropped.
“Why the heck not?! Ow! Hey!”
“Of course he shouldn’t read it,” Harper said angrily, drawing away from Daniel who was now rubbing his injured arm and looking at Harper with defeated eyes.
“Why?” Daniel asked.
“Because it’s not his,” Harper’s voice suggested that this was very obvious so I just nodded in agreement. Not wanting to get punched in the arm also. “That’s unbelievably invasive. And disrespectful. I can’t believe you even have it. Take it to the lost and found in the counselor’s office”
“Whose is it then?” Daniel asked interested.
“I don’t know,” I admitted with a shrug, sitting up fully now and gathering my things, knowing the bell would ring any minute. “There’s no name or anything in it.”
“Then why can’t he read it?!” Dan questioned loudly, wide eyes at Harper who gave him narrowed ones. “Well, I mean I’m right! If he has no idea who it belongs to how is that even invasive? It’s not like he can read it and the turn to someone else and tell them all about it and ruin this kid’s life.”
“Who would I even tell?” I asked Daniel, questioning his logic.
“Exactly,” Daniel chimed excitedly, gesturing at me with an open hand, like he was onto a great discovery, “he doesn’t have any friends!”
“So that’s how you feel about me,” I countered with sass times a hundred.
The bell rang as Daniel tried to defend himself and Harper and I pretended not to hear any of it. We threw away the remainder of the tacos and went our separate ways for the rest of the day, Harper looking at me as she left, and I knew what she was thinking.
Lost and found.
* * *
My last period was free so I got to go home early. But I made my way to the counseling center first on Harper’s suggestion. I pulled the journal out when I got to the door, feeling the warm leather radiate against my fingertips. There was something about it that I couldn’t describe. But that something was about to end.
I walked through the door and approached the receptionist who was on the phone. I set the journal on the desk and she lifted her index finger and smiled at me to signify that she needed a moment. I nodded and gave her my own smile.
I looked down at the journal. Really seeing it now in the warm light of the school instead of the harsh overheads at the field. It seemed even warmer to me now. Was that even possible? The red-brown leather was so deep it seemed to glow. Really glow! And something about it, something I had felt the night before but still, even now couldn’t seem to put my finger on, felt electric. Like if I reached out and touched it now it would shock me.
The dark crease in the cover struck through me like a lightning bolt and without thinking I picked the journal back up, heading out of the counseling center as fast as I could. I couldn’t even hear what the secretary was shouting back at me. I walked quickly down the hall and escaped the school after the bell rang like I was trying to run away from something. In the distance out by where my car was parked I saw a silver truck pull away and head towards the freeway.
“Same,” I said to myself, wanting to get out of here too.
My phone vibrated in my pocket and I pulled it out as I walked across the lot, reading the message from Harper.
Harper: Ice cream and movies tonight?
I smiled and replied: Yes, please. My place or yours?
Harper: You’re the one with the big basement and flatscreen.
I laughed and said: True, true. 7?
Harper: Sounds great. Should I invite the Giant?
Me: He’s your boyfriend.
I laughed at my own wit. Harper wasn’t as amused.
Harper: Ha. We’ll both be there.
I smiled and replied that I would be too and put my phone away, looking up right as I got to my car. Coming face to face with the largest dent I had ever seen in a bumper in my sixteen years. I almost screamed. Lie, I did scream. Shout really. Many expletives. I looked round the lot for any sign of someone that might have done this. Of course, knowing already that I wouldn’t. But a spot adjacent to mine was empty. A large spot. Large enough for a—
My head whipped around towards the busy road, looking at the freeway where the silver truck had headed. I screamed again, kicking the tire as hard as I could. What kind of fucked up asshole hits your bumper and just drives away?!
Furiously, missing the slot four times, I unlocked my car and started it up, stammering harshly under my breath. My head was filled with heat and a million thoughts all swirling around wanting to be heard. All angrier and more vicious than the last. I wasn’t usually quick to anger. No, actually. I was almost never quick to anger. But this was just something else.
With jerky, tight, and angry movements I put my car into reverse and looked forward, noticing something in front of me on my windshield snapped between the glass and the windshield wiper which was pulled up askew to the other one. The hell?
I got out forcefully, almost too much so, having to stop the door from swinging and hitting the car next to me. I rounded the door and slammed it shut, snatching the paper from the windshield as soon as I could reach it. It was a note.
Inside the note were two crisp five-hundred dollar bills, I almost dropped them from astonishment but didn’t want to risk losing the largest sum of money I’d ever held in my hands before. Across the note (which had a brown, unidentified, liquid stain at the top) was written in very messy handwriting:
Hope this covers it! Here’s the number to a mechanic/body shop you should call! ‒L xx