Chapter Five: Grasping at straws and rearranging them

    I painted invisible circles with my left foot as I waited by the entrance to the group I was relieved to be no longer attending. After two days of enjoying my freedom before instituting the new routine of working and going to therapy, I was forced out the front door to get a job. I found my mind kept trailing back to adventuring around with Molly, which was so much more of a pleasant place than where my mind usually has been going. I wanted more distracted moments, more minutes where I felt something other than pain. 

    Before heading to the mall to acquire a job I went to the group building in hopes of catching Molly going in. I wanted to keep her in my life. But, the minutes were ticking by, and Molly wasn’t showing up. About twenty minutes after the group was supposed to start I decided she too was probably forced to do something different. The smell of snow hinted in the breeze. A sour, hopeless feeling started to sink in. Just as I was about to give in, Molly’s laughter tunneled through the parking lot. “Hey, what have you been sick or something?” She asked. Her bright red hair was plastered to her head by way of a gray beanie.

    “After the mall, my stepdad pulled me from the group.” I mumbled as my fingers pinched each other.

    “Ah, they didn’t want you hanging out with the messed up kids,” she laughed wisely at her words. “What the hell ya doing here then?”

    “I’m looking for you,” my words stumbled out of my mouth aimlessly.

    “Ah, that’s sweet. It did dawn on me that I never got your number or anything.”

    “Yeah,” I shifted, suddenly awkward. “I’m going to the mall to get a job wanna come with?” I asked surprised by my bravery.

    “Not only do I wanna come, I know exactly where you can find a job,” she squealed as she threaded her arm through mine. A waft of artificial strawberries and stale tobacco swelled around me, making me feel dizzy and worlds away from my usual reality.

    About twenty minute later Molly was leading me into The Angry Crow, a clothing and accessory store for the ones who would rather celebrate their favorite show on their shirt then wear polo shirts, in other words, my kind of store. Critter plush toys hung from the ceiling. Loud, heavily mixed music pulsed through the dimly lit store. The isles were barely existent, so it was nearly impossible not to bump into someone or something. As I followed Molly closely through the store, I realized how she almost two heads taller than me. Her collar bones protrude in a way that made her shoulders look perfectly poised. Her lips stretched out into a wide grin, “Malachi!”

    “Angel!” Malachi emerged from behind a large display of band posters. His red and black dreadlocks were balled up onto of his head. A large dragon tattoo climbed the side of his neck. His smiled was framed  by two pierced dimples. He gave Molly a quick hug then began to eye me.

    “This is my friend Elliot, are you still hiring?” Molly slid her long arm around my shoulders.

    “I do, but just one position girl. I just hired an old friend from out of town,” Malachi said this, extending his arm in the direction of guy around my age, maybe a little older, who clutched an armful of t-shirts.  His hair was such a dark brown it was nearly black. It hung around his face in tight curls. His dark eyes that looked at me from across the room. Without thinking about it, I waved.

    He nodded back with his blank expressions hanging and went back to the t-shirt display.

    “Well, I’m not looking, she is.” Molly brought her arm back to her side.

    Malachi eyed me up and down, “What’s your schedule needs?” He raised a pierced eyebrow with his question. 

    “I’m completely flexible in that regard,” I said, tuning into my heart beat rattling in my chest in almost perfect rhythm as the music played through the speakers overhead.

    “Excellent can you start on Monday, I need some to help opening.”

    “I’ll do it,” I nodded then shot Molly a smile, “Thanks,” I said to both of them.

    “Shall we celebrate?” Molly asked.

    “I can take my break now,” Malachi threw his hand to the side smiling. Excitement to work there began to parade up my legs.

    “Elliot you have any pot on you?” Molly asked me under her breath.

    “I always do,” I replied feeling far and safely removed from my usual crappy reality.

    “I know just the spot,” Malachi cheered.

    As the three of us pushed through the crowded store, Malachi called over to the boy with the curly hair, the friend from out of town.

    “Lincoln, I’ll be back in ten!”

    Lincoln nodded and said nothing. His eyes found mine which caused my knees to feel like they were constructed of jello—a feeling that continue to linger around in my legs even as we crouched behind the oversized mall dumpsters sharing one of strawberry-flavored paper joints.

    “Any weekend plans, good parties or anything?” Malachi’s words wrapped in thick smoke.

    “Nay, not yet,” Molly grumbled.

    The jelly leg feeling mixed with the sudden realization I had something cool to add here. I said, “My friend’s band is headlining a show on Saturday at the Lodi Legion.”

    Molly cocked her head as she handed me the joint, “Oh yeah? Are they good?”

    “Yeah, big in the local scene,” I said of course picturing Pete slaving over his journal of song lyrics. “Goat’s Gin.”

    “I know them. They are good. Very troubled.” Malachi laughed, “Which one is your friend?”

    “Pete,” I said smiling. “My best friend.”

    “Oh, he’s pretty,” Malachi said with his words wrapped in a laugh.

    “Oh yeah?” Molly’s mouth twisted is a curious smile.

    “I don’t know.”  I shrugged. “We’ve been friends since we were seven.” That is true, but I was also human and could see that Pete was attractive. My eyes fell closed as the thick, seductive smoke hung out in my lungs.

    “Oh he’s beautiful,” Malachi assured both of us. Their words faded into a background hum as my mind realized that a camera hung out in my pocket untouched all morning. A possibility of new routines and new people brought me more comfort than I could even begin to explain, but I definitely didn’t feel like the only broken person in the world, something I welcomed with full arms.

***

    I attempted to twist the knob and push open the door to Pete’s basement room but it refused to budge. Damn, I thought, it’s still locked. I balled my fist and knocked on the door. Matilda looked up me with her big brown saucers and wagged her tail.

    The lock clicked and the door opened. Pete was standing there without a shirt, holding a frozen steak against his face. “Sorry, forgot to unlock the door. Why did you bring Matilda, we are heading to the show soon.”

    “Thought I’d fit a walk in for her.” I stepped into his room soap and cologne mixed in the air. “What happened to your face?”

    “A fist punched it,” Pete growled, clearly not feeling like talking about it.

    “Is it bad?” I asked.

    “You tell me?” Pete lifted the steak off of his face revealing a patchwork of purple and blue lumps taking over his eye and some of his cheek.

    “Who did you fight with?” As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I realized the answer.

Anthony.

    “Was he saying things about me again?” I asked, suddenly sick to my stomach.

    “All lies.” Pete’s voice is eager to push past this while keeping me unharmed. “He looks much worse.” Pete’s glassy blue eyes studied me. He shrugged, still not wanting to get into it. “Do you think it will mess with pictures? Should I wear sunglasses?” Pete changed the subject as he scratched Matilda’s head.

    “Honestly, it made you look like a total badass.” I laughed.

    Pete eyed me, curiosity pouring from his stare, “Are you in a good mood?”

    “I’m not in a bad mood.”

    “What’s up?”

    “Found Molly and she helped me get a job at The Angry Crow.”

    “Nice.” Pete nodded, “this might be good for you.” He like me was waiting for Elliot to return. I think we both realized I would never quite be the same again. Life changes us, that’s how this whole growing up thing works, but I think we also knew I could be better than I am now.

“Do you get a discount?”

“Twenty percent, and yes you can use it.”

“I officially fully endorse this new chapter.” Pete tossed me a thumbs up with the hand not holding raw meat to his face.

    The sound of the door to upstairs squeaked open. My heart clenched in my chest as I watched Evie appear from her black and white canvas sneakers, to her jeans, until there she was from head to toe without my mother standing next to her. I felt sick and dizzy. I wanted to throw my arms around her and run in the opposite direction all at the same time. Certain smells or songs can take me to place when mom was alive in a safer and somewhat easier journey. But Evie was so close to her that every part of me burned in reaction.

    Evie’s brown eyes widened as she saw me. A mixture of sadness and uncertainty passed by her eyes.

    “Cute hair,” she said her voice washed over me.

    My mom’s voice reached into my mind, “Be nice. She cares about you.”

    I touched my turquoise waves with the tips of my finger, “Thanks,” I smiled.

    She smiled warmly back, in a way that came at me in pulsing waves, gradually breaking me into tiny pieces of glass. I wanted to close my eyes because I knew that mom would be clearly looking back at me. But, I refrained for two entirely valid reasons that showed themselves to me immediately. One, I tried not let people know I talked and saw my dead mother. And, two, due to fear it may completely destroy me.

    I couldn’t escape the idea of how close Pete’s body suddenly felt. Both of their eyes watched me so carefully I couldn’t help but feel like I was crazy.

    “I just talked to Glen,” Evie said keeping her tone light, “He told me you can spend the night. It’s better than you getting back to the house really late.”

    “What about Matilda?” I asked.

    “I’ll watch her. I picked up some food earlier.” Evie smiled. My stomach turned. The invitation for me to live with them popped in my head. They both wanted me there. Glen and Joan didn’t want me. But, truth was I didn’t want to be there either place. I was finding that I wanted to go somewhere that my mom’s absence wasn’t constantly staring me in the face.

    “Thanks.” I nodded.

    “We are taking off soon, mom,” Pete said.

    “Okay, have a good show.” Evie patted him on the shoulder, smiled at me before heading up the stairs.

    The moment the door closing reached us downstairs, Pete brought all of his attention to me. “Hey, it’ll be okay,” his soft voice was barely above a whisper. He reached out and pushed a chunk of hair behind my ear. The warmth from his hand shot through me. “Okay? It will.”

    I nodded back as allowed my eyes to close, allowed myself to see her.

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