third

“One-thousand dollars?!” Daniel almost shrieked, his tongue lolling out a bit having just taken a bite of his Spumoni flavored ice cream, which was smeared a bit on his upper lip. He didn’t try to wipe it away, he just sat there, gawking at me. As if he expected me to pull out the money and show it to him. Which I wouldn’t of course. I didn’t even have it on me; it was thrown into my glove box with the note the second I got into the car. Making tonight the first time I’d locked all four manual doors since I got the thing.

When the money first fell into my hands the only feelings that rose within me were shock and a little bit of terror. I absolutely couldn’t believe I was holding the money. I had never held that much money before. I didn’t even know five-hundred dollar bills existed! For a moment even I had completely forgotten about the dent in the bumper while I looked at the faces of William McKinley wondering why he of all Presidents, was on the five-hundred. But then the moment caught up with me, bringing a rush of realization with it.

“Yes,” I said sternly to Daniel and Harper, who hadn’t expressed anything but surprise as of yet. She was probably processing. “The jackass hit my car and had the gall to leave two five-hundreds?! What kind of asshole thinks that’s okay?!?”

“It’s not okay?” Daniel questioned suddenly, finally licking the ice cream off of his top lip. He looked confused, like the response of “L” was totally natural to him. Like it was something even he would do. He leaned forward on the floor in front of the couch next to Harper’s crossed legs above him, adjusting into a more comfortable position. I was leaning against the entertainment center across them, parallel to the couch.

“Of course it isn’t,” I said and began explaining my thoughts. “If you hit someone’s car accidentally and they aren’t there you should stick around and wait for them to show up, at least. If you absolutely have to be somewhere then leave a note, but not like the one I got. No, no. You leave a full name, a phone number, email, even home address in case I’m having a really hard time reaching you. If you’re a real stand up person you’ll put on your insurance info so that I can call my agent and get that out of the way as fast as possible. You don’t leave just an initial and definitely don’t leave behind money!”

“I’m with you,” Harper’s voice chimed in, shifting in her seat so that her legs were off the couch next to Daniel rather than crossed underneath her. She took another bite of ice cream and nodded at me.

“What? Really? But now you can pay for the accident,” Daniel said, looking up at Harper first in disbelief of her comment, then at me waiting for my own counter. I eyed him carefully, he was missing the point entirely! His ice cream was finished now and he was scraping the bottom of the bowl annoyingly. I rolled my shoulders back before I responded, more annoyed by him not seeing the picture than the sound of glass against metal.

“That’s exactly the point,” I began, trying to find the words I wanted to say. They should’ve come to me pretty easily at this point since I had shouted them to myself loudly in the car over a dozen times to help validate my own feelings, “Leaving me that money was a number of things. First it was extremely assumptious; by leaving that money whoever hit me was assuming that I didn’t have insurance, or the money to pay for the wreck on my own. That branches into disrespect because the person doesn’t even know me. They’re just assuming that because I have a crappy car. I’m poor. Which is rude, obviously.”

“Maybe they were just trying to be nice,” Daniel offered. I didn’t think he was trying to be difficult, or was purposefully seeing past what I saw. Daniel was just a very impulsive person. If he thought it, he spoke it or did it with no filter or second thought. Like buying thirty-five tacos at lunch today. That was such a Danny thing to do. So I guess Daniel wasn’t seeing this situation the way I did, because Daniel was also the type of person who would leave a couple hundred dollars on a car after he hit someone without thinking about how it would make the other person feel. So it was innocent ignorance, and not really his fault. Nevertheless it still frustrated me.

“Nice would have been any number of the things I said earlier, this was a dick move,” I started, reliving all the feelings I experienced when I first found the note and the money. “By leaving me a thousand dollars, he was sending a message. Maybe not purposefully, but either way I heard it loud and clear. Because no bumper costs a thousand. You go to a scrapyard and get one for forty then pay maybe a hundred and fifty for labor at a body shop. But the person didn’t care any about that, he told me that by leaving the money. I mean, how many people do you know that just carry a thousand dollars in their wallet at school? None! They were telling me that they had money. That this little skiff meant nothing to them, and that it shouldn’t mean anything to me either. They were bribing me!”

“Oh, come on!” Daniel hollered, finally setting his empty bowl down. “You really think that whoever hit your car sat down and thought ‘Y’know, I’m really not in the mood to sit here and wait for the owner. And I don’t want the police or insurance to get involved, so I’m just gonna drop a thousand and hope that the owner doesn’t say anything.”

“Maybe that’s exactly what they were thinking!” This wasn’t really how I felt, but I couldn’t help but object to what Daniel was saying. I was too heated to agree to anything or respond to sarcasm positively.

“Didn’t they put a number on the card?” Harper interjected, I had almost forgotten she was here.

“Um,” started, taken aback by her sudden presence, I couldn’t remember mentioning that, but I must’ve, “Yeah, the number to a suggested mechanic.”

“I don’t think,” Harper said with a pause, “that if whoever hit your car didn’t care about it getting fixed as long as they weren’t involved, would leave the number of a mechanic. By doing that they became involved. They probably actually cared a lot if they looked up the number to one for you, or maybe they even gave you the number to theirs, which I think is most likely. Either way, yeah, the money was insensitive, I’ll give you that. But I really don’t think his intentions were to ‘send you a message,’” she bobbed her from head side to side and rolled her eyes sarcastically. “Whoever left the money was probably just too ignorant to realize how that action could affect someone. That’s all.”

I wanted to counter but I decided against it. That was Harper for you. The words of wisdom and reason in our little trio.

“I just wish I knew who it was so I could give the money back,” I said, picking up my own bowl of ice cream which was now all goopy and melted around the edges. I took a bite happy to find that it was still pretty cold, “I just feel weird having it.”

“Really no clue who it was?” Daniel asked.

“No,” I said, not a clue. Then I stopped, remembering; it wasn’t much, but it was something, “Well, actually I think he owned a silver truck.”

“Why do you say that?” Harper questioned and I took another bite, well slurp really, of my ice cream.

“Because,” I started, “when I was walking out to the parking lot after school I saw a large silver truck pulling out of the parking lot right by where my car was parked. So, I dunno, I guess I just assume that that must’ve been it.”

“Would you recognize it if you saw it?!” Daniel asked excitedly, digging for drama.

Harper ignored him and said, “That’s a pretty large assumption.”

And I could practically hear her now, “Almost as large as whoever hitting your car ‘assuming you don’t have insurance’ or ‘assuming you’re poor.’” Even though she didn’t say it out loud she said it with her eyes. And I knew she was right. I had no real leads. I probably never would, and I needed to be okay with that. And as insulting as the money was, in a way I really should just be grateful for it. Now I probably wouldn’t have to claim the accident on our insurance and then our rates wouldn’t go up. Without even saying anything Harper was forcing me to try and see the good that could come from this negative situation. She had a knack at that.

“You’re right,” I finally said, giving in. I wasn’t necessarily over it, but I was setting the feelings aside for now. It was 8:30, we’d been here for an hour and a half chatting and eating ice cream and we hadn’t even started the movie yet. “I’ll call the number in the morning and see if I can get a bid.”

I set my bowl to the side and stood, walking over to the shelf next to our entertainment center. Our basement was just as big as the other two floors in our house. But while the top floor had two bathrooms and two bedrooms, the first floor only had a hallway leading into the kitchen, and a family area, and the basement was split almost equally in half. The first half was dedicated to this, our living room, and the second was dedicated to my three sisters’ bedroom. I always felt kind of bad that the three of them had to share a room, but it was better than any of them sharing with me. It wasn’t too small though, so they made it work.

I eyed the hundreds of movies carefully, scrolling through the unorganized clutter of titles ranging anywhere from Barbie as Rapunzel to Saw IV. It was an impressive, almost obsessive collection (my mom loved movies,) and it only ever grew. We’d probably be needing to get a new shelf soon. There was a stack of titles at the very top that still had the wrapping on it. All with $5 stickers on the fronts of them. That was how my mom shopped for everything. Movies, food, clothes, everything. Clearance racks and off-brand products were her best friends. It was the only way we could afford the house we lived in. I mean, we did well enough, but dad’s job as an assistant manager certainly couldn’t do it alone, and being a fourth grade teacher only paid my mom so much. I picked up the titles on top, the new ones, and flipped through them, “Have either of you seen Warrior?”

“No!” Danny yelped excitedly, I turned to look at him and he was leaning towards me a bit, his green eyes as big as saucers, “But I heard it was amazing! From like, everybody! We gotta watch it!”

“What is it about?” Harper asked. I read the back of the case to them, telling them about a broken family consisting of two estranged brothers and their alcoholic father who are all forced to come to terms with their past and each other when the two brothers enter the same mixed martial arts tournament.

“Eh, I dunno,” Harper said after I finished, “you know how I feel about sports movies.”

“Oh, c’mon!” Daniel whined, turning to face her with an look that could match that of a begging puppy, “It got great reviews! It’s not even a ‘sports’ movie. It’s a sports drama.”

“Still,” Harper said, not even phased by Daniel’s pleading expression. Her eyes were narrow and unfeeling, like this was a contest to see who would break first, “‘Sports.’”

“Puhhhleeeaaaasseeee,” Danny begged, his voice sliding into a low screech the longer he held out the word. He purposefully made his voice crack and then went really high at the end before cutting off, making me laugh. But when Harper didn’t seem to react Danny sat up really straight, shoulders back, chest puffed out, and took in a really big gasping breath like he was getting ready scream, “PUHL—”

Daniel’s yell was interrupted by Harper’s hand, who was now laughing as he blew air into her palm forcefully causing a fart noise to sound off. His face was red and green eyes bulging when he finally broke away to catch his breath. Literally one of the most childish and impulsive sixteen year olds I knew, I shook my head, as Danny began singing a chorus of “please’s” right in Harper’s face, one after the other, all in a different pitch and loudness than the last. She was trying to look at him, straining to keep a straight face, but her lips were curled inward and I could see her cheeks puffing out slightly as she tried to hold back laughter. Oh, just kiss already, I thought to myself, rolling my eyes.

“Okay fine!” Harper shrieked and then closed her mouth tightly, her teeth were clenched and showing in a huge smile, her shoulders and chest were bobbing and I knew she was trying to hide her silent laughter. Along with other things.

Whenever I’ve talked to Harper about the subject of Daniel, or more specifically her relationship with him, she’s always been pretty quick to change the subject, but not without first saying, “I love him like a brother, like I love you. Even if there was something there, even if I did like him more than this. He wouldn’t feel the same. Never in a million years.” Or something along those lines that would soon follow with “What about you, Scott? When are you gonna find Mr. Man.” To which I would change the subject even faster than she did because to me, love just wasn’t in the cards. Not that I didn’t want it to be, or that it couldn’t be. But there was just a huge part of my soul that believed it shouldn’t be.

My sexuality has always been a struggle in my life, but I’ve tried my very best not to make a spectacle out of it. Harper and Daniel knew of course, but no one else did. I didn’t want to be that stereotypical kid that you saw in every movie about young LGBTQA+ youth that’s all about how hard their life is because of their sexuality. I’ve never wanted to be anything like that. Which was why the whole thing with the bumper was so big. I was never the type to turn to anger in that sort of way, to hold onto something like that. So with my sexuality I tried to just accept. Accept that as much as I would love to sit down and marry a nice girl and have some kids, that I just can’t. Because if I married a girl I know that there would be a part of me I couldn’t give her. And I couldn’t do that to someone. I had also accepted that as much as I felt like I needed to be with a man, that that was absolutely impossible. Because, cliché as it was, bringing a boy home would mean the end of my relationship and support from all members of my family.

So sitting here watching Harper and Daniel, who were so perfect for each other, have fun, and be flirty (though they would deny it’s what they were doing later on,) hurt just as much as it felt good. Because yes, I wanted them to be together, and yes, I would be happy for them if they eventually hooked up. But at the same time that would make me the third wheel in the relationship. I sighed, knowing now how Daniel must’ve felt sometimes when Harper and I got all close without him.

I smiled and took Harper’s response to Danny’s shenanigans as permission to pop in the DVD. I turned on the TV too and grabbed both remotes heading back to the couch, sitting in the middle behind Danny who was back on the floor and next to Harper. I skipped through the previews to the main menu and started the movie, Daniel hushed his chatter and climbed up onto the couch next to me. He attempted to snuggle up close but I shoved him off with my elbow and a laugh.

A few seconds after the movie started, while the production logos were rolling by, Harper leaned into me and whispered, “Speaking of returning things,” It took me a moment to realize she was talking about the money from earlier, which was odd because I thought we had way moved past that, “I’ve been meaning to ask you if you ended up taking the journal to the lost and found.”

My mouth became suddenly very dry at the sound of her words. My heart tightened and began beating faster. Of course she would spring this on me right now, when I was least suspecting and unable to avoid her answer. Inside I struggled, why did she care so much? I understood her viewpoint, I really did. What I didn’t understand was her persistence towards the matter. Did she know something about it I didn’t? No. Not likely, Harper was just the type of person that believed something with every bit of herself, so that’s probably what this was. She thought me reading the journal was wrong and nothing would sway her. I already knew what her reaction would be if I told her the truth.

So there was only one option:

“Yeah,” I said, lying through my teeth, “Yeah, I took it there right after school.”

*     *     *

I waited until Harper and Daniel left at about 1:30 AM. It had been eating me alive the whole first movie and the next. I probably wouldn’t have even thought about it at all had Harper not brought it up. Now however, it consumed me.

Up in my room the mystery journal sat in my bag undisturbed, but all night I could still feel that same pull that I had the first time I picked it up. I knew I had to read it. Maybe I was wrong about fate. Maybe I found it for a reason. Maybe I was supposed to read it. I didn’t know why, because there couldn’t be anything too monumentally important written inside. Nonetheless, there was still something written. I couldn’t help but feel like I was meant to know what it said. Every second I sat there watching those movies I became more sure of it. So sure, that by the time I practically slammed the door behind Harper and Daniel and made it up to my bedroom that I was no longer shaking with nervousness and excitement, but was calm and collected. An overwhelming feeling of peace washed over me the second my fingers touched the leather binding of the journal.

I curled up at the head of my bed, burrowing into my pillows and brought the journal onto my lap, face up. The crease in the front spoke to me through the silence once again and as I brought my fingers to the top of the book a shock of emotion went through me. My whole body body shuddered with nerves.

“C’mon, Scott,” I said to myself, I curled my toes tightly and took a deep breath, opening the journal to the first entry.

April 28 2011

Another birthday another home. Is it possible for a 14 yr old to be as depressed as I am? It must be or else I wouldn’t feel this way. Mom and Dad got me this journal as one of my presents. 5 months in this family and its still weird to call them that. Sometimes I wonder if it will ever be not weird. I dont think so because nothing in my life has ever been normal or good. Weird is what Im good at and bad is what Im used to. So if things were good or normal I dont think I would really know how to go along with it.

I dont know if writing in this is going be a regular thing. Or even a thing at all. But Im doing it now just to be nice. Cuz thats all that this is anyway right? Nice. But its not real. I keep expecting it to vanish just like it always has before now. That Ill wake up one morning and I wont be in this nice bed anymore Ill be back at the orphanage on a matress as hard as rocks waiting to be shipped off to another foster home that will end up sending me back like they always do.

Birthdays are weird because if you think about it youre just celebrating getting closer and closer to dying every year. The ultimate surprise party if you ask me. I just dont like the concept or maybe Im not used to it cause Ive never had a real birthday party. Not until today atleast. Mom and Dad invited some kids from school over that I dont even know and made me act like i liked them and I had to pretend to have a good time and then I couldnt even eat the cake because they forgot Im allergic to gluten and it was all just so wrong.

There were streamers and baloons and tablecloths and i felt like I was turning 9 not 13. It all just felt so fake and forced like they felt obligated to throw it for me. I guess theyre trying in there own way to understand me and support me. Which is better than not trying at all but I dont even know me so how could they? No one knows me and I think its better that way.

Eden wrote me a letter and sent me a card just like she promised she would. Even when I couldnt count on her in the end I can still count on her now. That probably doesnt make any sense. I just wish I could have stayed. I wish every day. I go through it all in my head a lot but I can never make sense of what happened. It was all so fast one second I was there and I was happy for the first time that I can really remember and then something happened and it all crashed down and I landed here.

I never got much info on why they changed their minds, I guess it wasnt considered nesessary but it is to me. Because now all I can do is blame myself. and I could ask Eden but Im too afraid to know the truth. What if it really was something I did wrong which is what I tell myself anyway. Its the most logical answer cuz its always my falt. I always mess up everything up.

So much for not writing in this too much Ive taken up almost a whole 2 pages now but my handwriting is also pretty big. This feels weird but kinda good. I dont really talk to Mom and Dad about anything, its too hard cuz they just dont get me. So it kind of feels like Im talking to someone when I write and I really need that actually cause its pretty lonely living in someone elses home. Maybe Ill write some more tommorow. Well see.

*     *     *

The entry ended suddenly, with only a hint of farewell, so I pulled my eyes away from the page feeling anxious like someone had been telling me my future and then stopped mid sentence before disappearing completely. I looked back down at the page to scan over it once more.

The boy would have been a year older than me now according to the information written. I assumed it was a boy because of the handwriting. Towards the front of the journal and in this entry the handwriting was cursive, just like the rest of them, but it wasn’t as practiced and beautiful. It was shaky and unfocused, almost like the pen was unsure where it was supposed to go next after each letter.

It was very obvious that he was fourteen years old, too. The missing punctuation, the spelling errors, the shortened words. It all felt very preteen to me. But something about it felt adult, too. The way he used his words, the way he described his feelings, he seemed mature somehow. Almost too mature to be a young teenager. His thoughts were deeper than I knew mine were at fourteen. Much deeper. If that hadn’t been the case I would have felt a little weird reading what I was. Because when whoever he was wrote this, he was still just a child really, even if he was only two years younger than me. I had to remind myself that wasn’t the case anymore.

I was able to guess at a lot already, but there was still much that I couldn’t make sense of yet. The boy in the journal was obviously adopted; orphanage, foster homes, new parents, that much was clear. And he was very open in writing in how he felt about his current situation. But that’s where it started to confuse me. Why? Most kids, I assume of course, would be excited to get adopted, especially at his age where it’s more uncommon. So where did this resentment and discomfort come from?

I read over a couple of lines again, trying to process.

Who was Eden? How did she fit into all of this? Previous foster mother? Warden at the orphanage? Wha—

I stopped myself, looking up and away from the journal, reflecting inwardly for a moment. Was I really getting this invested? Was I really creating theories and asking questions? The stuff I had just read was written almost five years ago, it couldn’t possibly have any meaning today. But still, it felt vital somehow. Every word jumped out at me. Especially, “It’s pretty lonely living in someone else’s home.” I read it again and again. The line didn’t just speak to me, but almost felt like it was written for me.

Whoever had written this journal was struggling something that I didn’t quite understand, and as I looked down at the page before me I wondered if I even had the right to. No matter the right answer, I wanted to anyway. I felt like I needed to because the reality was I was struggling with something I didn’t really know how to deal with either. Suddenly, my belief in fate wasn’t just a question anymore, it was thrown entirely out the window. This journal was meant for me. I knew it. There was something inside me that needed to know what happened to this boy next.

My phone lit up next to me showing a text from Harper thanking me for the night. She must have just gotten home. I replied to her quickly saying that I was glad to have her of course and that I would talk to her in the morning. I then set a couple of alarms, remembering suddenly that I needed to call that mechanic early to get a bid on my car. Before locking the phone I checked the time, only ten minutes had passed and I wouldn’t be getting up for about eight more hours. So naturally I opened the journal back up and began reading what the boy wrote next.

*     *     *

Dad was already up and out of the house by the time my loud alarm startled me out of my sleep. I reached over to the side of my head where it was resting and silenced it with my eyes still closed, I listened for a moment and it seemed that everyone was either still asleep or the girls were downstairs in their room. A usual Saturday morning in the Moore household, which was refreshing because on school days Wanda and Sasha were always rushing and laughing and fighting and were much too loud. I liked the quiet.

I realized as I sat up that I didn’t even know if the mechanic would be open this early, let alone at all on a Saturday. Most banks weren’t even open today. I prayed to myself silently that luck would be in my favor as I tiptoed across my bedroom so I could head downstairs and out to my car where the note was.

The sun was up but not as high in the sky as it would have been a week ago, fall was really here it seemed. I unlocked the car and grabbed the note and the money, closing the door without making too much noise and leaving it unlocked now that it was worth nothing once more.

I walked into the kitchen rather than back up to my room when I reentered the house and grabbed the home phone off the hook. I punched in the ten digit number on the paper and shoved the note with the money into my pocket, trying hard not to think about it too much. I didn’t need to get all worked up again.

I sent the call out and put the phone to my ear, walking over to the fridge to grab a bite to eat as it began to ring. I hadn’t even had the time to pull out a bagel before it rang once and went to an automated system, I groaned and grabbed the cream cheese before shutting the fridge.

Thank you for calling Rick Walker’s Auto and Body Shop. Shop hours are Monday through Friday 8 AM to 6 PM, Saturdays 9 AM to 4 PM, and noon to 4 PM on Sundays.” I punched my finger down on the toaster lever excitedly when a monotone male voice read the Saturday hours, happy I hadn’t gotten up for nothing, “All our mechanics are currently busy with other customers or are on the other line. Please hold and someone will be with you shortly.”

The phone began ringing then, loud and low tones that seemed to last for way too long with not enough of a gap between them. In the time that I was on hold, my bagel had finished toasting, I smothered it with way too much strawberry cream cheese, and was almost halfway done scarfing it down, now I was sitting at the kitchen table and staring at the wall almost completely zoned out.

“Rick Walker’s Auto and Body, how can I help you?” said a male voice almost as monotone as the automated system, cutting of one of the rings in the middle of its drone.

I nearly spit out my food it startled me so much, but replied with a full mouth instead, “Ouhf. Uhm, hi.”

“I’m sorry, what was that?” the voice questioned.

I swallowed hard, forcing unchewed food down painfully, wiped some cream cheese off the corner of my mouth, and repeated myself, “Hi, sorry. Um, I just have a car I need to get a bid on. I was wondering if you could look at it sometime today.”

“Yeah, of course,” the voice said in a friendly tone now that we had gotten the conversation rolling. “Does it need auto or body work?”

“Body,” I replied and decided to further explain, “I got rear ended in a parking lot and just wanna get the bumper replaced.”

It was then that I said the words that I realized how silly I sounded. I hated my car. Always had, it was a hunk of junk. Yet I had made that big a deal out of what happened? This was a perfect example of why I didn’t like to be open and expressive with my feelings. Why things didn’t have to be this huge issue like when the slushie got spilled on me. Because after all was said and done, none of it even mattered and I was left there feeling like a fool. Maybe I wouldn’t even get it fixed, maybe I would just get it looked at and see if there was any internal damage along with the bumper.

“Oh,” the voice said, sucking air in through his teeth in disappointment, “the body shop is actually pretty booked today. I could squeeze you in about . . . ten minutes ago? How soon can you be here?”

I looked at the clock on the wall next to to door leading to the garage, it was 9:21. “What’s the address of the shop?” I asked, prepared to do the math in my head. He gave it to me and I estimated the drive, “I can be there in fifteen minutes.”

There was a pause as the man thought for a moment, “You know what, it looks like one of our mechanics is just finishing up on an oil change, his next customer hasn’t showed up yet so if you get here before them he’s yours.”

I was already walking up the stairs to my room as he suggested this and at my closet when he finished, “That sounds perfect I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

There wasn’t any sort of goodbye and we both hung up, I tossed the phone on my unmade bed and threw on a clean pair of jeans (switching out the keys and money into the new pair) and a t-shirt with the Green Lantern logo on it. I put on some deodorant and a little bit of hair gel so it looked purposefully messy rather than like bed-head.

I sat on the foot of my bed to pull on my shoes and landed on something hard and square. I reached under me and pulled the journal into sight out from the blankets. I had fallen asleep reading it, I suddenly remembered. I must’ve kicked it down to the foot of the bed while I rested. How could I have forgotten that? That was how it had been multiple times now. I had forgotten I put it in my bag until Harper mentioned it, I had forgotten I kept it instead of taking it to lost in found when Harper questioned me, and I had forgotten about it now.

In the moment, when I’m holding the journal, it almost seems like it’s the center of gravity, all I can think about. Even last night I had become uncharacteristically enthusiastic about reading it, but six seconds ago I couldn’t have cared less. But here I was now that I had it in my hands, my mind absolutely consumed just like it had been the second after Harper had asked me about it the night before.

I shook my head, remembering that I had somewhere to be and continued putting on my shoes and then headed down to my car after grabbing my cell phone. The thoughts of the journal followed me though as I pulled away from my house and I wondered again the question I had posed to myself before. Maybe it wasn’t the journal, I thought, maybe it was me?

In my life, things were always shiny and pretty and good on the surface, but underneath it there was something else. Especially with my family where I truly felt like I was “living in someone else’s home” as the boy in the journal had put it. Behind the curtains a different story was told than what I showed people. A different life. One that held resentment and secrets, one that would never ever be brought to light. So maybe that was my issue. Maybe I was so afraid of living my true life, that the thought of reading about someone else’s excited me in a way I was unfamiliar with.

There was no way to be sure what was happening with me. Sometimes I felt like I didn’t even know myself. Whatever the case was I really did enjoy reading the journal, even if Harper thought it was practically sinful.

I read about two or three more entries before falling asleep earlier that night, I just didn’t know how to stop. I learned more about the boy’s home life, how his new family was very wealthy and he was having a hard time adjusting to it, he felt really uncomfortable when his adoptive parents bought him things. He talked about school and how he didn’t know if he’d ever get used to it. All his school had been done at home until now cause he moved around too much to ever settle in somewhere. His education was also very lacking, he could tell immediately when he transferred in that he was much further behind most of the students in almost all subjects.

He wrote a lot about his feelings towards these situations, more than he wrote about the situations themselves. They were mostly negative, a few positive ones here and there like when he got another letter from that Eden woman two days after his birthday, or when he got an A on his creative writing assignment the day before that.

My phone began buzzing in my pocket, interrupting my thoughts. I pulled it out and read Dana’s name on the caller ID. I unlocked the phone and answered in confused, “Hello?”

“Where the hell are you?” Dana’s voice was sharp and angry, seemingly out of nowhere.

“Um, out,” I said equally as sharp and annoyed. Wasn’t really here for being snapped at for no reason.

“And you think that’s okay because?” Dana asked accusingly, like she knew something about a crime I had committed and was trying to do my best to hide. But there was literally nothing I could think of that I had done that would make her feel this way.

“Because I can?” I seethed, “because I have a license and keys to a car and got up before you did?”

This was so stupid. Why was she being so hostile? These were the rules to the car, I had it for school every day unless specifically told to by my mom that Dana needed it for something extra. Then weekends were free game unless previously claimed by someone else with one of our parents as a witness. That’s how it had always been.

“Really?” she started with a stand-offish tone, “Because I specifically remember telling you at breakfast that I was going to be needing the car this weekend. And if you were to check your calendar, or have any brains at all really, you’d know that Saturday equals weekend.”

I blinked. Oh yeah. She had said she needed the car at breakfast yesterday, but so much had happened since then, specifically the car damage. I’d totally forgotten, “Oh god, Dy,” I said apologetically, my voice as sincere as I could make it, I saw the shop around the corner now and was torn in two at what to do. “I’m so sorry. The Chev got rear ended yesterday by some idiot and I decided to take it in as early as I could to get it looked at. I forgot.”

“Obviously,” she snapped despite my friendly tone.

“I’m sorry,” I said, pulling into the lot and parking, “I’m already here. It shouldn’t take too long they’re just looking at it and giving me a bid. Where did you need to go?”

“It doesn’t matter,” she replied in a tone that told me that yes, it clearly did matter, she was just too salty and annoyed to admit it. “It’s fine. I’m already going to be too late. Bye.”

The call ended and I groaned loudly, putting the car into park and getting out, That was Dana for you. Well, that was my whole family for you, to be specific. But mostly Dana. She and I didn’t really click all that much. Being the only boy in the family other than my dad made me feel outcast enough. Wanda and Sasha seemed to like and adore me like little sisters should, but Dana and I have always quarreled. Maybe it was being so close in age to each other. Me coming a long while she was just a toddler and getting more of my mom’s attention. If psychological stuff like that was really possible at such a young age. Either way, one thing I did know for sure is that Dana didn’t particularly like me. She acted like she did, got along with me as siblings should, but it was all very surfacy. We didn’t really interact or talk to each other unless instructed to, or unless we needed something from each other, (for example the car.) That’s just who we were and how it had always been. I’d make sure to bring the car back for her within the hour just to relieve the tension.

A bell attached to the door rang as I entered the near empty reception area of the shop. The room was shaped like an L lying on its back, there was a long desk in front of me that was empty and a row of seats along the wall behind me with a vending machine and a restroom at one end and the entrance to the shop outside where the room turned a corner. The walls were a faded light blue with a black stripe around the middle of it, and there were photos of cars and car parts and auto mechanic certifications in frames hanging up everywhere. The seats behind me were mostly vacant, just two other customers, so I was hopeful that I had gotten here before the next one.

I took a seat as far away from the other customers as I could, because I hated awkward social pleasantries with strangers and wanted to avoid them at all costs, and waited for someone to come in and help me. A few minutes later a bald man emerged from around the corner where the shop entrance was, rubbing his head off with a torn up towel with dried grease stains on it. I stood and approached him, he looked at me with a gruff expression, his brow and bottom lip both protruding out a very large and equal distance.

“What can I do furrah?” the man asked in a low voice, dropping the towel on the counter and rubbing his hands off on his greasy coveralls. This was not the same man that answered the phone. So he probably wouldn’t know about my deal of getting here to get my car looked at before the next customer. I hoped that wouldn’t matter.

“Yeah,” I said, shifting my weight uncomfortably from one foot to the other and running one hand through my thick hair, “I called about fifteen minutes ago, maybe less? I was told someone could get a bid on my car really quick before they started work on another one? Fender bender.”

The man huffed and nodded, wrinkling his big nose, “Head out to yer car and I’ll have the mechanic meet you out there.”

“Thank you,” I replied and he just nodded again and then looked down at some paperwork in front of him.

I turned and walked back out of the building towards my car, it was already a lot warmer than it had been a few minutes ago. I walked up to my car and leaned up against the front bumper and hood with my knees, still facing the front of it. I pulled out my phone and browsed for a bit, no real purpose other than trying to bide my time until the mechanic came. Instagram, Twitter, the news. Nothing really interesting; some white man was running for governor, there had been a pile up on the freeway yesterday, there was some new info on another teen suicide, and a really old actor had passed away. None of it was worth reading to me.

I didn’t hear someone approach, I didn’t even hear them clear their throat to speak, so when a hand slapped against my back in friendly greeting I jumped in startlement. I first looked up at the reflection of the person behind me in the windshield, and then turned around to face them head-on, their hand moving along my back onto my shoulder as I did so, the boy didn’t move it. Yes, it was a boy. Maybe a year older than me and a few inches taller. Brown hair, cropped extremely short at the sides and styled up at the top. His eyes were a warm chocolatey brown that seemed uncomfortably welcoming. He smiled and said in the voice I recognized from over the phone, “Hey buddy, glad to see you got my note!”

< RETURN TO CHAPTER TWO | CONTINUTE TO CHAPTER FOUR >

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