Without warning, my life gets a whole lot more complicated. Isn’t that way it goes sometimes? I was living without anyone caring if I woke up each morning. I could go a whole day and no one around me would know my name, twenty-four hours, alone in a crowd. Now every where I turn there’s someone else who knows me and not everyone greets me with a smile.
I take JJ to the Steak N Shake. I need to do something nice for this kid since when we left Mom, she was crying and so was he. I’m out of tears. I’m long past letting all this get me down, or maybe I’m already there so nothing can knock me lower. Honestly I never ask myself if I’m happy. Why poke at a house of cards? One wrong move and the whole thing is liable to come down right on top of me. What sense is that? Better just take each day as it comes and see where I end up. I’m not sure where this day is going.
When the waitress comes to take our order, I can’t believe my eyes. It’s Anne Mason but not the Anne Mason I remember from high school. Her black straight hair is twisted up in a clip, but strands hang down around her model sculpted face of cheek bones, small chin, perfect soft nose. She has on a cute apron and her white shirt is modestly buttoned. Right at her throat though, is a pendant of a bird resting like a guard over what is below. I look back to her dark eyes and notice they look red and tired.
“You ready to order?” She looks at me a second. Does she recognize me? Her eyes widen just a bit but she doesn’t smile, not the reaction I was hoping for. She looks to JJ. “You’re one of the Lewis boys?”
JJ looks at her then says, “I want a hamburger and a chocolate shake.”
She doesn’t write anything down. Then she looks at me. “I know who you are,” she says. “Tyler Rowan.”
“Yeah, I know you too Anne.” We had a few classes here and there over the years. She was super shy. Had a crush on me but I was with Linda, except for that one summer she went to stay with an aunt in Michigan. I remember at the Fourth of July town picnic when it got dark, all my friends left me sitting in a folding chair while they went off with their girlfriends. I looked over and there was Anne on a towel by herself. Naturally I started talking to her which was a chore at first because she would just say,’yes’ or ‘no’ or ‘I don’t know’. So I got up and went to where she was sitting. When the fireworks started, we watched them with just a few ‘wows’ and ‘that was a good one’. When the show was over. We were the last two people still hanging around while the rest of the crowd was already in the parking lot, getting into cars. She told me I was nice to sit with her and I said it was nice to sit with her which made her laugh.
“But you and Linda are still an item, right?”
“Not for the summer,” I said.
“How does that work?”
“I’m not supposed to ask her what she did and she’s not supposed to ask what I did.”
We both laughed at that and I wondered for a minute if I was going to score a kiss.
“Seems like you got the wrong end of that deal,” she said. Linda’s brothers were walking across the field. I’ll never forget her words before I got up and went to fold my chair.
“I know you don’t have it easy with your stepdad and all, but I think you’re one of the bravest guys I know.”
For a long time those words sustained me. I forgot them. Now, Anne is staring at me, clearly not thinking encouraging words to tell me.
“Your mama killed my boyfriend. Did you know that?”
My mouth hangs open for a second. “No, it wasn’t her, it was the other guy.”
“Did you see the wreck? They had to cut Bobby’s body from her car.” Tears are streaming down her face. “You’re going to have to leave. I can’t have you near me.”
JJ starts crying.
“I’m sorry,” I say to Anne. “Really I am. Bobby was a good guy. We’ll go.”
Anne nods before she turns away and runs to the restroom.
I pull JJ to the exit kicking and screaming. The manager comes out and gives me a dirty look.
“We’ll go through the drive thru,” I tell JJ. “Stop crying like a baby.”
This shuts him up fast. But when we get in the car I don’t go back. JJ seems to forget. It’s been a hard day for both of us so even though he doesn’t seem interested, I go through the McDonalds drive through and get him a kids meal and me two cheeseburgers from the dollar menu.
I’m going to run out of money pretty quick. I’ve tucked away forty dollars, hidden in the seat cushion. This is the cash I’ll need to get out of town. I can’t touch that no matter what. I need to know that this is all temporary. I haven’t been home for two full days and already I’m in the middle of all the muck and family drama I worked four years to pull myself out of.
“You’re nice,” JJ says from the back seat as he stuffs French fries into his mouth.
Well, that’s got to count for something.
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———————————————————————————This post is fiction based on the back story of a supporting character in a novel in process by Clare Graith. See ClareGraith.com for more info about the author.