Close Enough To Flying
By Ali Morrow
The Girl In The Pizzeria
The lampposts illuminated the busiest street in Ridge. An occasional car crept in between the neon signs of the nightclub and a dark Pizzeria. A girl let a broom drop to the floor, before sinking onto the dirt covered, checkered floor of the Pizzeria.
She was rocking back and forth in time to the slow country music. The soft guitar and weak voice melded with the hum of the industrial dishwasher. Tears ran down her nose, until they reached the tip. Some of them continued into her mouth, leaving a dry, salty taste, while other were silently absorbed into the floor.
Trembling, she rose to continue her work. She slowly revolved around the room in time to the music, sweeping the debris of a busy day into the garbage can. The Pizzeria was small, so she was done quickly. She picked up the two quarters that lay in the pile of dust. She added them to the jam jar with a sign saying Tips. A beep signified the end of the dishwasher cycle and she quickly stacked the dishes in their proper places. The clock on the wall read 12:26. She didn’t need to look. She had her life configured into a well-worked routine. She would walk out the door at exactly 12:30.
A man sat in his beaten rusty colored truck. He slowly crunched on his second piece of pizza. It had grown cold. He had been sitting on the worn grey seat for the last two hours. He sat in the dark, watching the only thing he cared about cry. He preferred the dark; it hid all of the things he would prefer not to see. He didn’t want to see the crumbs building up, reminding him that he sat here every night, watching as another day passed into the next, as the girl grew older without even noticing.
Alex was 14 years old. Her birthday was in 17 days, though the man doubted anyone knew that beside himself. Last year, the only thing that happened on Alex’s birthday was that she was now legally allowed to work. It didn’t matter. She had been working here since the day she turned ten. In Ridge, you started to work whenever you wanted, though parents sometimes made boundaries. Alex had worked at an assortment of jobs over her last four years. She had a steady job at the Pizzeria and Bakery, depending on the time of day. She used to work as a newspaper girl, a mail girl, cashier, a waitress, a kitchen girl and a sous chef.
Ridge had less than one thousand inhabitants. Most of them worked in the lumberyard. Ridge’s only claim to fame was a small national park that was rarely visited by anyone, besides college boys trying to find a place where no one could tell the what to do. The park wasn’t well taken care of. It burned constantly, and there weren’t very many trail anymore. Twelve people staffed it. None of them had any interest in going backpacking. One of them was Alex’s mother.
Alex walked out of the Pizzeria and locked the door behind her. She got on a rusty bike and peddled away. The squeaks of the brakes blasted through the air as she coasted towards the lake. She biked for a mile or so, until the lamps ceased to exist. She slowed down, her dim headlamp her only light. She took a left onto an unpaved road. The trees thickened and the under brush became greener and greener. Suddenly, she stopped biking and got off. She continued to push her bike another tenth of a mile until a small house came into view.
It was a one-story bungalow. Originally, it must have been a beige color, but it was anybody’s guess now. There was a small garage crammed with bits of metal that were now rusted. A grey truck was parked in the front. It was huge. In the back lay a chainsaw and an old coffee cup. It seemed to have been washed in mud. When Alex was little, she used to draw smiley faces on it with her finger. A smaller green truck stood to the left. It wasn’t particularly old, but it had a few dents and plenty of mud.
Quietly, Alex walked around to the backdoor. She walked through the screen door and through the kitchen. It wasn’t in that bad of shape. Alex loved to cook, so she was sure to always clean up after everybody.
She took a left into her room. Her bed was nicely made and there was an empty bookshelf on the far side. Her brother had created that bookshelf and painted it white. He was determined to fill it up with books for Alex, but he left before he could finish his project. The walls were painted a light purple, but similar to the house, it was hard to tell. The walls were bare, except for one poster that had a picture of Lindsay Vonn. It was from her 2008 World Cup Victory. She was flying off of a jump in the end of the downhill course. She was in the tuck position, looking so in control, even though anything could happen to her in the air, and she could do nothing.
Her closet was small. It contained a three shelves, the first one had two pairs of jeans and a pair of sweat pants neatly folded. The second one had her t-shirts that were also neatly folded. She probably had seven of them. The third shelf contained her underwear and gloves and scarves. A warm jacket and a sweatshirt hung near the shelves. Pairs of black converse, warm winter boots, and ski boots were arranged on the floor under her jeans. She washed her clothes every night and because she was scared of running out of clothes. Once, there wasn’t any water for a week and she had to wear her clothing multiple times.
She changed into boxers and a baggy t-shirt. She put her jeans and salmon colored t-shirt into a tub that had soapy water. She removed a root beer can from her backpack and set it on her bedside table. She always brought home a root beer. She didn’t feel secure without it. When she used to sleep more she would have nightmares, and the best cure for a nightmare is a Root Beer. Sometimes, if it was a bad day she would drink her Root Beer before she went to bed, just to insure a good night’s sleep.
She also took out 27 dollars. 27 dollars wasn’t too bad of a haul for one night. It was a Football night, so she had expected a little more. The Green Bay Packers had lost though, so maybe that was why people weren’t as generous. She stuck her hand under the bookshelf and came up with a three wads of money, each attached with a paper clip. She put the twenty, the five and the two ones each in their respective paper clips and shoved them under the bookshelf again. The wads weren’t too big, but they were formed over a few years of saving. There was another paper clip on the far side of the bookshelf. It was made up of one hundred dollar bills. Whenever Alex got five twenties, she would ride to the bank and exchange it for a one hundred dollar bill. In the summer she would frequent the bank twice a week, and in fall, winter, and spring usually once a week.
She fell on to her bed. It was 1:00. Huddling under her covers, she passed out. She hated sleeping, so she minimized it. She thought it was a waste of time. Why sleep when you could be doing something else? There were so many more important things that had to be done. She needed to wash the windows, and bleach the grout. And she ever ran out of things that she needed to do, she could do things that she wanted to do, like skiing, or watching Lindsay Vonn on YouTube, or she could do pull-ups and eat ice cream.
She wanted more time to eat. She wanted to enjoy what she was eating. She wanted to relish in its deliciousness. She tried to remember the last time she sat down and eat something. She was so hungry right now. She was also haunted by nightmares when she slept more that seven hours. Her schedule made it so that she could function, but she never thought anything while she was asleep.
5:00. A few cold rays of light penetrated the small and dusty window. Beep. Beep. Beep. Alex shot out of bed, turning off the alarm in the same swift motion she opened the closet. She pulled out the first two things on the shelves, an aqua t-shirt and semi skinny jeans. She poured the soapy water out the window, wrung her clothes from yesterday out and hung them on a clothesline that was strung across the room.
She rocketed out of the doorway and into the kitchen. The kitchen was much more pleasing in the dark. Before you couldn’t notice the dark red cracks in the sink or the dirt and bits of food sprinkled around. As if in one motion, Alex swiped up the bits of dirt and food and started scrubbing the plates and placing them with precision on the drying rack.
She poured orange juice and started to scramble five eggs. “Alexa, where are my shoes?” said Sarah, Alex’s mom. “I had a late night last night. Can you also grab me some Advil while you’re at it? I think I have a bad hangover.”
Alex scrambled out the door and found her mothers sneakers and came racing back into her parent’s bedroom with them. She sighed as she handed them to her mother “Why don’t you try finding your own shoes for once? I feel like you should be paying me. You know that I’m not always going to live here. I think we ran out of Advil a few days ago. Are there any other pills you can take that you want me to grab?” but she was already in the kitchen, popping toast into the toaster and stirring the scrambled eggs.
A man walked through the front door. He was imposing, probably 6’5’’. He was extremely muscular. His feet made a loud thump on the ground with every step, because he was wearing heavy boots that were dragging him down. “Good morning” he grumbled. “How are you doing today? I’ve been working the seven to seven shifts for the past week. That kind of work really takes it out of you.” His name was Ted. He worked at the lumber mill. He smelled like freshly cut sawdust, and coffee. His wife died three years ago from a sickness they mistook for a common cold. He used to laugh, sling Alex around and take her on walks. He used to let her sit on his shoulder and watch the birds from seven feet off the ground. He doesn’t talk anymore.
“Morning” Alex replied. “Im doing well. I’m sorry about your shifts. I can’t imagine what that kind of work would be like. I work at a pizzeria, where the hardest exercise you have is lifting up a large peperoni pizza.” “Dad, Ted’s here”
Alex’s father sat down behind the dinning room table. He was also muscular and tall. He wore grey overalls and a work jacket. He was about 40 years old and wrinkled and gray. Alex sat three plates of eggs and toast on the table. Ted sat down and her mother came out of her room wearing zip off hiking pants, and ranger hat and a t-shirt with her name pinned on to it. They eat in silence.
The men walked out around the house to the driveway and got into the grey monster of a truck. The rumbling of the truck as it backed out of the driveway cut through the stillness of the forest. The truck disappeared into the dark green shadows of the forest.
Alex ran into her room for a book bag. She ran outside and was peddling away as hard as she could before the echoes of the truck had ceased. She peddled back toward the one street town. She peddled hard her calf muscles rippling underneath her jeans. Alex was probably 5’6”; she had dark brown wavy hair. She was too muscular to be called thin, but was in obviously incredible shape. Her T-shirt showed her powerful arm muscles that used to put all of the guys in their place. She was the champion at her school at arm wrestling. She had a thin face. Her cheekbones were high and there were hallows where cheeks usually protrude. She might have been gorgeous if it wasn’t for the darkness in her face. You could see it in her eyes and in the way she smiled. You could see it in the way her eyebrows met, it was a mix between anxiety and sadness.
Fancy French Puffs and Sissys
She squeaked her brakes as she approached the Pizzeria. She hoped off her piece of rusting metal and pulled a key out of her pocket. She unlocked the restaurant’s door and immediately transforming the happening pizza place into a popular cafe. She started the coffee and preheated the oven. It was 5:45 when the first wave came; it was made up of tall lumberjacks. They wanted black coffee and scrambled eggs, and they wanted a lot of it.
The second wave was of high schoolers looking for a breakfast on the run or a lunch they had neglected to pack. These kids were in search of scones and chocolate chip cookies. Once, Alex had tried to introduce croissants here. She had run away when she was nine and had made it seventeen hundred miles before she was caught. She had stopped in a cafe that had all kinds of delicacies. She was sure everyone would love them, but the owner didn’t want a reputation for thinking himself all fancy. He had slapped his hand on the table and yelled, “Do you know what people would say? I’m not a democratic sissy who likes fancy French puffs! I like good bacon and sausages! I don’t understand where you come up with these ridiculous ideas. I don’t know why I listen to anymore. You are an idiot, who doesn’t know anything about how life actually works. You can’t go around with a big sign on your ass saying kick me. You have to be smart. You are stupid, and you try and poison people with you absurd ideas. I hope that one day you find a place where people think like you. The only place that comes to mind is a mental asylum. In the mean time, get out off my sight!”
Alex had thought this was a very good refusal and accepted that she wouldn’t make or eat another croissant until she left this town. At first, she was fine with that. She was saving up fast and was going to make it out of here, if she had to ride her rusty piece of metal all the way across the country. Then, she started to question whether life would be any better anywhere else. What if everywhere was as poor and narrow minded as here? She had never been anywhere else. She had only heard about other places from her brother, and hadn’t he given up?
Rose walked into the shop at 7:37, as usual, late. She had a huge smile. She always wore that big smile when she was working. Alex was so curious about it, she wanted to prod it, see if it was fake or even alive. Maybe it was created by the ample amounts of make-up Rose applied. Rose had graduated from High School at top of her class. She had applied to Columbia, Stanford and Harvard. She had been refused from all of them, so she stayed in Ridge and married her boyfriend. She was probably twenty-five now. She worked at the Pizzeria during the six and a half hours that Alex was at school, and the monthly Sunday that Alex took off.
She peddled along the street towards the school that encompassed kindergarten through 12th grade. She stopped at the only four way stop sign in town and turned left towards the one story brick building.
Mr. Ranolds was a language arts teacher. He liked his job. He preferred teaching outside, rather than in the stuffy, insulated building that thought that the only way to teach was to tests. His room was gray. He didn’t like the fake, bright colored, motivational posters that covered most teachers’ walls. So, he left his walls blank, and gray. He believed that you could be anywhere that you could dream yourself into a forest, with only the color gray. Alex only saw four gray walls and a door.
Alex sat near the wall, in last row. She liked Mr. Ranolds, but thought this class was a waste of time. Why should she learn how to write more than a good expository essay? Writing wouldn’t help her leave; it was only taking time away from things that would help her, like math, science and her job.
She was calculating the amount of money it would take for her to live in college. This was her favorite thing to do when she was bored, trying to take some cost out, to make it cheaper.
Mr. Ranolds finished taking the attendance. “So, down to business. I am assigning you a new project. You will not turn it into me. I want you to fill each of these journals with words by March third. You can write about whatever you want. I want you to get ten pages filled by the end of the period. That is your exit ticket.”
Alex stared at the new, black and white dotted journal. The last thing she needed was another assignment, asking time out of her day. But she couldn’t not do it, that would ruin her 4.0, so she sat down, starting with the words, I remember.
I remember the first day I ever went skiing. It was snowing slightly. The sky was blue, with white speckles, and the trees were weighed down with pounds of snow. My brother had taken some skis from a dump and fastened a rope binding, so we could go skiing in our sneakers. He had driven me in our green truck. We had driven up the mountain, until the snow was so deep, he couldn’t drive anymore. We carried our skis up. It was tiring, and had already decided I hated skiing when we reached a suitable place to stop. My brother taught me how to attach my skis to my feet.
I leaned forward, trying to find a path for me to go. Suddenly, I started to slip down; I let out a squeal, before running headfirst into a lump of snow. I lay there, trying to decide if I was terrified, or having fun. I held on to that little bit of adrenaline, the thrill, when my brother stopped next to me. He threw a snowball at me. The snow wasn’t firm enough to form a snowball. Little flakes flew into my face and hair, sticking to each ringlet. I laughed, and through some of the feathery snow at him. He smiled and skied away. I already decided I loved skiing.
Mr. Ranolds leaned over Alex, staring at the page. She snapped her book shut, “May I please be excused to go to the bathroom?” said Alex. “I will see you tomorrow. I will finish the ten pages. This is a very interesting assignment, and I look forward to doing it.” She walked down the hall and into the girl’s bathroom. She decided to forget about this piece, with some math homework. She fought back the mist that was trying to get into her eye. From now on, she was going to stick to facts, uncomplicated stories that showed no emotion. The bell rang, and she picked up her dotted journal and hurried into AP Chemistry.
When The Grass Turned Blue
“Would you like that for her or to go?” Alex asked in a professional voice. She sounded as though she wasn’t thinking anymore. “We have a special on the menu. It is Chorizo pizza, and a large costs seven dollars.” Alex was wearing an old green apron. It was covered in flour dust, so you could barely make out the drawing of a whisk and fork. She had two pockets. One contained a pad for taking orders. The other held her black and white journal. She always kept some mindless homework in her apron, so if she had a second to spare, it wouldn’t be wasted.
“I would like two peperoni’s. They are for a party, so for to go. Do you also sell root beers? I’ve been looking for good root beers all over Ridge. There isn’t any place that sells them. Well, some of them sell those twelve packs for a dollar. I hate those. I mean, by the time you’ve had twelve of them, you can’t taste them anymore, but the first one is disgusting. I’ve been pregnant for a few months, and I can’t stand not drinking beer, but whatever is best for Marie Ann. Anyways, the ones that are cheap taste like brown piss in a can. And if I wanted something to taste like pee, I would just pee into a water bottle. Back to the point, do you have any cheap, but good Root Beers? That sounds ridiculous, now that I am saying it out loud, because there isn’t anything that is good and cheap at the same time anymore. You used to get the both of best worlds, but not anymore. You have to be Bill Gates to get even okay Root Beer. So, I’m asking for the impossible, that you have good and cheap Root Beer. Do you?”
“I’m so sorry ma’am, but we don’t sell large quantities of Root Beer. Your pizza will be out in a few moments.”
She hated wasted moments. Why would you spend an extra second at the bus stop staring out at the sky, when you could be plowing through some inevitable homework?
There was always something to do at the pizzeria, but she found that it didn’t need doing. She didn’t need to ask her costumers if they were okay more than three times a meal, and she only needed to get into a conversation with them once. She didn’t need to organize the different toppings, or scrub the grout in between the tiles of the kitchen with bleach and a toothbrush more than once every two months.
She had her job zoned down to perfection. Everything was organized and clean. Whenever she was working everything ran so smoothly, and even an upset costumer or a pizza dropped on the floor would bump it. She delivered food fast. She was respectful and efficient.
She cooked, cleaned, and waited at the same time, and did as good of a job at it as three people would have. When she first started working here she was a kitchen boy, but slowly worked her way up, and then took the places of all the other workers. She was also the working manager.
The owner was a sixty something year old man who never really worked all that much. Sometimes he would pop in to make sure that everything was running in order to his likings and throw a few orders and threats around, but mostly he was happy sitting at home with his fifty percent of the profit.
Alex watched as her costumers slurped root beer floats and crunched on pizza. She decided that there were no necessary projects to complete, so she leaned up against the tiled counter and started to plough through some of that mindless homework.
I remember one summer when the grass turned blue. The grass itself wasn’t blue, but there were tiny flowers wrapping around the blades. The flowers were so small that you wouldn’t notice them unless you bent down, to see why the grass had turned blue. I was one of those people who looked, fascinated why this had happened of all years.
I was around the age of seven. I was young enough to love dancing in the fields. I remember looking out of my window one morning, and finding my world blue. It was beautiful. I thought that it was a gift just for me. I wanted to share it with everyone, spread my joy and the beauty of the blue fields. The rain had cleared and I was wearing a yellow dress. I used to love the way it would twirl around me, and the way it would flow out behind me when I ran. I ran outside and danced in that field of blue. I lay on the ground trying to find where these flowers came from, carefully tracing the stem back and forth.
The clanging of the doorbell sounded the arriving of a regular. He was large, with beer belly. He always came for the Celtics games. He had never been to Boston, but he loved the color green, and he was Irish. He always got a medium sausage, ham, and pepperoni pizza, with a Budweiser beer. Alex sprinkled the meat onto the dough and slid it into the oven to bake. She brought him his beer, and changed the channel to ESPN. She disliked talking to him, so it was good that he never changed what he wanted, and when he wanted another beer he would wave his hand.
Another man walked in. He was tall, with graying hair. His eyes were a dark brown, and his face only had a few wrinkles. Alex had never seen him before, so I knew he wasn’t from here. A few people looked up, curious as to what he was doing here, because we usually didn’t get any tourist. She walked over to him, and showed him to a seat by the window. He looked out at the gray, rainy day. It wasn’t too cold yet, because it was only November.
“Can I get you anything to drink?” Alex asked in a polite voice.
“Water will be just fine, thanks.” He replied. Everyone over the age of sixteen always had beer. It was a wimpy thing not to have beer. If someone didn’t drink, everyone immediately assumed they were either pregnant, or on some medication.
Alex hurried into the kitchen. She picked up a cup, and filled it with water, and then returned to take his order. “Have you decided what you want to have?” She asked. There was a big sign over the cashier with all the choices. Alex changed the sign every day at 2:50.
“Can I have two pieces of Greek please?” He asked in a husky voice. Alex hated when people forgot to cough. Obviously this man was the kind of person who would annoy her. As if he had read her thoughts, the man coughed. “Excuse me, but I have been under the weather for a few days.” The man said, now in a clear voice.
Alex smiled and said, “Its okay, it is so cloudy now, I feel like the world is under the weather.” Alex hurried away to prepare the Greek slices. Now she had the one conversation with that costumer. One thing checked off her list.
The big-bellied man, waved at her, with his rough hand, and she grabbed him another Budweiser. She returned with the pizza and the beer. She checked the Celtics game. The score was 34, 15, Chicago Bulls. That was bad news, because the more the Celtics lose by, the more drunk, the less tips. She only had to throw one person out of the pizzeria, which was good, because she was a fourteen-year-old girl. The time she did, there was a drunken man who threw his beer bottle across the room, so Alex had run to the bar across the street, and had gotten the bouncer to help her.
Nine more people walked in. It looked like it was going to be another long night, with no extra time for her black and white spotted notebook.
It was snowing. It had snowed two feet in the four hours she had slept. It was a Sunday, her monthly Sunday. Alex loved her Sundays because it was her way to relax. On Sundays she exercises for fourteen hours, but it is her way to fight herself. It is her way to stop her work and goals take over her whole life.
She opened up her closet, pulling out her boots and warm jacket. She walked into the family closet, finding mittens and a hat. She walked outside of the house into the flurry of flakes. They landed on her face, and she smiled. She walked into the garage, past the graveyard of car parts and rusted handles. In the back there was a small compartment. It contained two pairs of neon yellow Fischer’s. One pair was GS 165, and the other was Slalom 150’s. She also had a pair of poles, with neon green pole guards and a bundle of race poles. She glanced at the back of the compartment. A little note was tacked onto it. It was written in a blue pen, the only one that works in the kitchen, on the back of the calendar that had a French word and meaning on the front. Her brother had bought it in an attempt to teach himself French. It read in her brother’s best handwriting, I love you.
She jumped into the green truck, putting her poles, slaloms, race poles and a carpet in the back. She started the car and backed out of the driveway. The snow was deep, and it got harder and harder to navigate the truck through the roads as Alex made her way up the mountain. She was used to the drive, having driven it by herself for a year and a half, ever since her brother left.
It wasn’t a few flakes drifting down now. It was an intense flurry. It flew down, occupying every space, but if you watched one flake, you would notice that it would drift around, and would bump and merge with other flakes. Alex couldn’t wait until she was out among the flakes, feeling the exhilarating coolness.
She reached a place where she wouldn’t drive anymore and got out. She jumped out of the car into the thick snow. She lay down, making a snow angel, and then she started to dance. Her boots made her trip and fall, but she laughed into the snow and the flakes flew up again, before landing on her upturned face. They melted into her smile. It had been so long from the time she had last been skiing. She missed it, and she had to give herself a little time to embrace the beginning of another season of happy days.
Today was a Slalom day, a training day. She looked forward to the intensity, the concentration, and the focus today. She shoved the rolled carpet out of the truck. She dragged it a few feet farther, than lay in top of it and started to roll down the hill. She repeated this a few times until the snow was firmly packed. Then she started to set up her course, challenging herself with a few hairpins and royal flushes, otherwise known as a royal pain in the butt.
She picked up her skis and poles, and prepared herself at the starting gate. She smiled, already feeling the power. There is nothing comparable to hitting gates. There is the impact, that would hurt her, but she was powerful, and invincible, untouchable. Then, she sees the gate yielding to her, letting you pass, and the closer she is to that gate, the faster she goes. She hit every gate her shins knocking them out of the way. It was pure happiness.
She created a path up the hill, carrying her skis up. She didn’t complain about this because she was so excited about the next run, and she loved the exercise. She got conditioning and skiing at the same time. And every time she hit each gate was a new experience, a new thrill. She sped down, and trudged up, over and over again. She skied as the morning turned to day. The sun spread its life and warmth. And she skied as it darkened into night, and as the ski turned from orange to blue with white speckles, to darker blue, then to deep purple, and into the black night.
She took out her headlamp, and kept skiing. She kept doing repeats, clinging onto the thrill. She wasn’t ready to accept it was over. She wasn’t ready to ease back into life. She had been skiing for fourteen hours when she got into her car and headed home. She heard the familiar words “She’s a good girl, loves her mama” when she slipped into her car. She smiled this was her song. She blasted it, and sang just as loudly, out into the empty snow.
Heating some eggs in the pan, Alex smiled at the day. This was her day. It was her perfect day. And as she rolled over in her bed, she could see every turn she made, adjusting her trajectory, running the race inside her head.
She woke up in the morning; with aching muscles and a big smile spread across her face. She had dreamt her day over again in her mind multiple times. She loved her Sunday’s and she would make them last days into the month. She could recall every run she ever had and command.
So, when she woke up to the blaring of her clock, and the dark icy cold threatening her at her window she was happy. She was holding onto the thrill of Sunday, unwilling to let it go. She got up with a spring in her step.
She squeaked up the hill towards her bakery. It was cold outside, and the road was badly plowed. Her legs burned with strain as she propelled herself forward after fourteen hours of skiing. She loved the way her legs burned, it was the kind of pain you could control. You could make it stop instantly, and you could increase it. It was the kind of pain that made you better. It left you with more than it had met you with. She hated the kind of obscure pain that surrounded her life.
She hated the anguish with no source, or reason. The pain she felt now came from her biking, and she had control over it. She knew why it was here, and it was meant to be there, unlike the pain she drowns in at night.
Her brother had taught her about this pain. He had taught her how to relish in it. He taught her to embrace it and helped her realize what she loved. He nurtured her to be happy while pushing at herself. He taught her how to push through all of life, trying to make herself a better person the whole time. The pain he taught her, she loved. She hated the pain he created.
The pain of him leaving wasn’t there for a reason. There was no way to push through it, there was no better tomorrow. There weren’t any benefits of going on. Sometimes she wondered if she should follow him. She wanted to find him, but something held her back. Maybe t was the love of the pain that made her better.
So, she pushed forward, making her legs twirl in powerful circles. She could feel her legs wobble slightly, but she pushed forward, because she knew this hill would be the difference between being able to ski for an hour more.
But more importantly, it was the difference between giving up and going on. Her brother had taught her that. He had taught her that she was better than giving up, she was more powerful, and she would always succeed. Maybe that is why she didn’t run, searching for her brother.
She flipped the sign to open on the cafe. It had a small fire, and there were a few glass shelves of scones and cookies. The first wave of working men hit, with their demands of coffee and eggs. Alex was busy scrambling eggs for the next thirty minutes. A man waved her over. He was about fifty years old and had grey scuffle eating at his face. He smiled with his eyes as she poured him some coffee.
“The weather outside is not very inviting” the man said in a voice that seemed out of practice.
“No, I suppose not, though I do love to watch it snow, it’s so cozy in here. I love knowing that I am warm in here, and that the cold can’t get me.”
“I suppose it is. Maybe I should have been a chef, then I wouldn’t have to spend hours freezing my fingers off, trying to cut down trees.” He laughed.
“Yes, I have chosen a very good specialty, and as long as you men continue to freeze your fingers off, I’ll have a job thawing them back on.” She turned and left to refill her pot of coffee.
The men thanked her as they walked out the door. “Thank you” one man said
“You can sure make a pot of coffee.” said another in a blue shirt.
“I don’t think I could survive without your eggs and toast.” said another. They were all so friendly and nice, that it was enough to start Alex’s day off on a good edge.
“Thank you for coming” Alex said, smiling with her eyes and mouth. She loved the way a good cup of coffee could make them see the joy in the world. She didn’t understand it, but she respected it in a kind of awe. She loved her few minutes with the lumberjacks. They were so kind, and she felt safe, surrounded by these men who loved her coffee.
Mrs. Taylor was the kind of teacher who liked to teach people what they needed to know. She was the AP Chemistry teacher. She taught the curriculum exactly, and helped the kids be totally prepared for the test. She liked it when people liked her, but she didn’t go out of her way to make friends, or ask about some personal matter she didn’t actually care about. She always wore a skirt and a t-shirt. She was around thirty years old, though she taught like she had been teaching the curriculum when George Washington was around. She smiled when someone did something funny, but didn’t raise an inch when she saw someone in the hallways. Because of this people sometimes thought of her as rude.
“As you are well aware, the final we took yesterday is sixty percent of your grade. I am sad to say that most of you have failed. There were only five people who got above eighty percent, and the only person who got a hundred percent is in this class. We will be grading on a curve, so those who got eighty percent will get a hundred. You should be very thankful, because this will have large impact on your grade. There will be no retakes. You should be old enough now to know how to study for the first test. Lots of children depend on me to give them all the resources they need. It is important to learn that you need to be prepared and to be self motivated. I can’t give you a sheet that lists how many trees you have cut down in a day when you are twenty. You will need to cut down trees, because it is good for your welfare.” She said this with a smile that seemed to say, you owe me one, and you should be kissing my feet.
Alex looked down at her paper. In big red flair pen it read 100%. She wondered what her grade was now, probably about 125%. That would look good on her application. She had studied the way things look on applications. She had read that it was very important to have volunteered, so she started to put in some time at the elementary school. She volunteered during lunch once a week. This made it look like she had a regular schedule that took up a lot of time, when really she mostly spent lunches doing her homework.
Alex used to eat lunch in the weight room. She loved the weight room, because it was the ultimate place of controlled pain, and she kicked butt at pull-ups. She was fairly good at lifting weights, and had gotten all the guys to respect her, when she did her first pull-up. It was when she was a freshman. She had always been fit, but had never done any extreme exercise for exercise’s sake. All these boys were centered on the pull-up bars, betting with each other.
Somebody had yelled, “Let’s see you do some pull-ups Alex”
“Ya, I beat you can’t even do one” another boy spat at her.
“Oh, you want to see?” Alex said in a voice that tried to be brave, but secretly thought that there was a chance she couldn’t even do one, which would mean her losing all respect of her fellow weight room buddies. She jumped up and grabbed the bars. She pulled herself up until her chin was level with the bar, then she did it again and again and again. She kept on going, passing every boy’s record, except for one. He smiled with a way that said, I know you can’t beat me. His name was Cody. He was a senior at the time. He looked as if he knew something that nobody else did. And as insults changed into encouragement, he kept on smiling, knowing that no amount of “good jobs”, and “you can do it’s” would make her beat his record, and she didn’t.
She got to the fifty-fourth pull up and dropped down, flicking the sweat off of her eyebrow. She just couldn’t get fifty-seven. The boy smiled at her “No one can beat me, especially a girl who has never done a pull-up before.” She smiled and replied
“I’m not so sure about that, a girl who has never done a pull-up before came very close to beating your so amazing record.” That night, she went home and did pull-ups for hours, trying so hard to get those three last pull-ups, but never did. So, from then on, she had ate lunch in the weight room, until homework came.
The homework came in waves, and it kept flooding, never giving a person time to recover from the last wave. But Alex was always on top of it. She had a little notebook she filled with assignments, and she had a certain way of ordering her assignments, and then checking them off her list, on project at a time. Today she still had to do some problems for AP Calculus, had to memorize a few equations for AP Chemistry, and she had to write a report on the Boston Massacre for AP U.S. History. And she had to fill up her notebook with some useless, unfeeling scenes.
So, when Alex left Mrs. Taylor’s classroom she hightailed it to the library, which was hard because of the immense traffic that filled the halls. Everybody was screaming at each other and pushing. She held her binder in front of her, creating a battering ram, so people couldn’t touch or push her in the front. People were screaming things like:
“We are eating in Chem”
“Do you want to go down to Emily’s after school?”
“I have a test I have to make up in History.”
“I can’t believe you would cheat with my best friend, I’m breaking up with you!”
You could hear anything in the halls, if you really wanted, you could learn so much about people, just by listening to them in the hallways, but you couldn’t learn a single thing about Alex, because she never talks. She used to, she remembered when she used to say things like “I’ll meet you in Sach’s”, but she hadn’t said something like that in awhile. There was no one to say it to, and though no one would notice if she just screamed at an imaginary friend, there was still no point.
She survived her way to the library, and sat down at the table. The Library was the only place in all of Ridge High School that wasn’t made up of fake wood. Alex hated fake would, it had the pattern of rings of wood, but the lamination would slowly peel away, and it would fade. Alex hated the way the peeling plastic would distract her, and she would tape the corners back down, but then it was uneven, and a waste of tape.
But in the Library there was no fake wood, only real wood. It was a deep brown color. It was the kind of wood that Alex’s brother had made the coffee table out of. Nobody respected that coffee table any more, but it was beautiful, with some ornate carvings. It had been one of Alex’s brother’s first projects, and it had been a birthday present for their mom. Alex had always been the one who appreciated it the most, and it probably would have had a better life as Alex’s bedside table, but instead, because it was for his mom, it became the footrest of anyone who watched TV, which was mostly her father.
So, Alex sat down to her homework, while she ate a salad. She finished her Calculus and Chemistry problems, so she decided to treat herself to the weight room. They had forty-five minute lunches and she loved to spend that time sprinting on the treadmill or doing bench presses.
Alex walked into the weight room, and was surprised to see a group of boys, sitting and talking. The weight room is small, with only a few machines, but with a wide assortment of weights. A boy who went on to make millions as a model, all thanks to our gym, donated them.
All the boys stopped talking when she walked in. She stopped short, then turned to leave again. “Wait, stop. You don’t need to leave. We just haven’t seen you in a really long time. Why don’t you hang out any more? We miss you. A boy came within two pull-ups of breaking your record.”
“Thanks Blake. I have been totally swamped with homework. I haven’t had any time for anything, much less partying.” She smiled at Blake. He had dirty blond hair, and was lean and muscular. He wasn’t totally ripped, and he wasn’t the leader of the group, but everyone respected him, and if he invited Alex to a party, no one would question it. Blake was the kind of person who could walk up to somebody walk up to a random stranger, smile, extend his hand and say “Hello, my name is Blake.” And strike up a lovely conversation. They talk and talk and entrance the person they are talking to. I’m not one of those people. “I know you’ve been busy, it’s okay. But we should all hang out sometime. We should go get some root beer’s at Cody’s and then go to the park and check out the park.” He smiled, he had a way of smiling that made you feel like he was blessing you, and he loved to spread his happiness. “How ‘bout tomorrow night, eight o’clock at Cody’s. Will you be there?” Alex knew what he was asking. Usually he would have asked his friends if they wanted to go get some beers, and then go have a party in the woods. But Blake knew that Alex didn’t like alcohol or parties.
“That would be super fun, but I’m working tomorrow night, maybe some other time. Who was that guy who almost beat my record?” Alex glanced over at Blake, he was wearing a smile, but it looked sad, like he had lost something.
A freshman stepped forward. His name was Daniel. He was thin, with dark skin and hair. He was new, had arrived a week ago, and already made some friends through his charm and pull-ups. “I’ve heard so much about you.” He smiled and winked. He was arrogant.
Alex almost swung her fist around and socked him in the face, but she didn’t. Instead she smiled and said. “Have you? I am pretty legendary. Want to see who can do more at the same time?” She said this with a smile that threatened. She hadn’t been with the boys in awhile, but she was already slipping in to the way she acted around them. She picked up her cockiness and her swagger, knowing that the bar was her territory.
The other boys knew what was about to happen, but they couldn’t protect their new friend. Alex was pissed off, and the boys wanted a good show. “I would love to see what you got.” Said Daniel.
So, he stripped down do his shorts and muscle shirt, and she stepped up onto the stepladder. She waited up there, as he stretched out. He jumped up and grasped the bar. He smiled, “It is on!” She only smiled, knowing how humiliated he was going to be by the time she was through with him. For a second, she felt bad for him, then she thought about his arrogant little wink, as though she was just another girl he had his eyes on.
He put up a good fight. He hung on there until pull-up forty seven, and Alex could of jumped off then, but she wanted to show that little bastard how good she was. She passed fifty, then her record, fifty-four, and then fifty-seven.
“Wow, you just beat the best record of all time.” At that, she smiled, and she kept smiling as she hung there, waiting for the strength to pull out on more, to get sixty pull-ups. She was hanging there, then she managed to throw her body weight up, and then she dropped to the floor lightly. Daniel looked to the ground. She smiled, knowing that he wasn’t going to wink at her again any time soon.
“What do you know, I remembered how to work out.” The bell wrung and she picked up her homework and attempted to hightail it to language arts. But Blake caught up to her and grabbed her arm.
“Why don’t you want to hang out? Why have you been avoiding us? We were your friends, until you blocked us out of your life.”
“I really like you guys, and I would be your friend if I could, but I’m too busy. Thank you for asking me to have root beers at the hide out.” Alex said this in between the rough voice that she uses around the boys and the high-pitched voice she uses when she is asking if a costumer wants anything else.
“Alex, I’m really proud of you, and I know that you will go far, but you can succeed with friends. There are ways that you can have both. I know what it is like to have dreams that you can’t let go of, but you can work hard and have fun at the same time.” He looked so serious, a way that he never looks.
“Maybe that is possible for you, but that won’t work for me.”
“You chose your dreams, and that is your decision, but if you need a friend I want you to know that I will always be happy to get root beers and check out the hide out.”
“Thank you, I have to go to Mr. Ranolds class, sorry. See you around.”
“Ya, I’ll see you around.”
I remember when I used to love music. On Christmas, my brother gave me his old IPod. I thought that it was magic, and we had sat on the computer together, looking through all the songs together. At the time I didn’t know that it cost money for all the songs, so I picked out more than fifty new ones. Later I had found out that it cost money, and I had made money mysteriously appear around my brother, but a day later, I would find magically appearing money.
That Christmas had been amazing, because we had put an earplug in each other’s ears and we had turned up the music and danced. I remember that one of my favorite songs had been Alejandro and we had danced together for so long. He had taught me how to break dance, and we had break-danced together to Alejandro for so long.
For the next month it wasn’t unlikely that you would come in and I would be dancing and pretending to scream along to the music. It was very confusing unless you knew that I was listening to my IPod. I had felt so special, thinking that I was rocking out with myself inside of my head. I had let my brother come inside of my head too, because he had got this magic for me. He had told me that the IPod would help me go faster when I run, but really it made me stop and dance in the middle of the road whenever one of my favorite songs came on, and all of them were my favorites.
One day, Alejandro came on, and I started dancing in the middle of the street. I was rocking out inside of my head, when a lumberjack had driven down the road and saw me. Of course I didn’t notice him, but instead I kept on dancing. Eventually, he beeped and I was so shocked, that I jumped out of the road, into the freezing snow. That was probably one of the most embarrassing moments of my life.
Alex laughed. She wished she still had that IPod. It had died after it’s many years of life. Her brother had found it while dumpster diving for scrap metal, and after two years, he had given it to Alex.
“Okay class, so I hope you enjoyed that quick writing section. I need to take roll, I am sorry if I miss pronounce somebody’s name, but I will only be here for one day, so I don’t need to know how to say your name, because I will only forget.”
In Alex’s opinion, taking roll is a complete waste of time, but it is provides extensive amounts of time do homework in, so she pulled out her assignment for history, and created the outline and thesis statement, before they reached “Alexandra Hewett”
“Here” Alex hated when people called her Alexa, much less Alexandra. But more than that, she hated the way people always laughed and giggled at people’s names, which weren’t actually that funny. If Alex had decided to go by Alexandra, it wouldn’t have been funny at all.
“So, now that we are done with that, we should talk about your assignment. As I am sure you are aware, you have a large assignment. Mr. Ranolds wants you to enjoy the assignment. And he wants you to start on it as soon as possible. You can write about anything, from analyzing the stock market, to writing down every piece of gossip you hear. It is just extremely important that you write on a regular basis. You can go now.”
Charlie turned to Alex, “thank god, I can’t stand his voice.” Alex laughed and nodded. It didn’t matter. The news that she had to write regularly was not good. She had thought that she would spend Saturday mornings writing, and in some spare time. She never set time out to do anything. She didn’t have any time to set out. She prioritized, having one thing to do in her pocket the whole day, but she never stayed up late, or got up in the morning to make time for something.
The next day, Alex found herself pouring over a U.S. History textbook in the wood filled Library. Blake slid in next to her, holding two sandwiches wrapped in wax paper. He was wearing jeans and a grey sweatshirt. “Hey, I noticed that you weren’t eating anything.”
Alex looked up. “Oh, thanks. I’ve run out of things to eat for lunch that are breadless.” She grabbed a sandwich, unwrapped the wax paper, and took a big bite.
Blake laughed. “Why are you going breadless, or were?”
“Cuz that’s what Lindsay Vonn does. I’ve been trying to do all of her work outs and eating habits, with the resources I have. Man, this is good. I love bread! Did your mom make this?”
“Ya, she still makes my lunches. I asked her to make an extra one for you. She loves you. For someone who hasn’t ever talked to you, she is sure a fan. She thinks you are going places, which you are.”
“I’m glad your mom likes me. She seems like a good person to have around, she can sure make a veggie sandwich. Tell her it was delicious.”
“Why don’t you tell her yourself. Come on, we can pick up some fat free, sugar free root beers from Cody’s and hang out in the hide out.”
“I haven’t seen Cody in so long, how is he? I never thought he was smart enough to open up a business. He seemed like the kind of person who did nothing but bench presses and pull-ups. He’s gotten far.”
“Ya, he has. Come see him, he misses you. You could rub your new record in his face.”
“Blake, I have so much to do today. I have to work for thirteen hours, and do homework, as well as fit working out and cleaning my house. Have you ever tried to do all of those things in between 2:15 and 1:00? It is pretty hard, and hanging out in the hide out doesn’t fit in there.”
“Did you know that you don’t need to work thirteen hours? You could work less; you could even quit your job. Anyways, I know that you cover for Rose a few times. I know that you aren’t skipping to go visit do something fun; you are working at the store. Rose owes you. Come on, have fun for once, we could do homework together.”
The bell wrung “Maybe sometime, not tonight. I’ll see you around” She stood up, grabbing her textbook and notes and walked briskly out of the room, not glancing back.
Blake crossed his arms and laid his head inside of them. He glanced up, watching her leave. He really did miss her.
Nobody was at the pizzeria when Alex arrived. She unlocked the door, and sat down with her book.
I remember when Blake and I used to spend hours at the hide out. The hide out isn’t very impressive, but it is very secretive. Hunters used to walk right under, and they never noticed us. It is in one of the lower branches of a huge pine. It is a big branch that is way over the ground. The tree grows right next to a giant stump, from the time when people were first logging this area. You have to climb up the trunk, and from there, there are foot holds sticking into the tree. You have to climb up the tree a good thirty feet before you come upon a landing sticking out over the forest. It is supported by two of the sturdy lower branches. There is a little overhang for when it rains, and it used to be stocked with root beers, blankets and the odd left over food from snacks we had brought along. And if you walked to the end of the platform there was a fork in the branch, where they would sit and talk.
We would spend hours out there, doing homework, working out, climbing the tree, talking, sharing your dreams. I don’t know who’s the platform was, but one day we decided to climb the stump, and found the steps. It has been ours ever since. Or it was, maybe it is time for someone else to find it.
Alex looked up from her writing. No one was here; she could be doing just as much right now if she were in their hide out. She smiled at the thought of having some slightly stale chocolate chip cookies. Instead, she checked her calorie plan, measuring how many more calories she could eat, and how many more she should burn.
She stood there, staring out at the furious sea. It was gray, just the kind of day she loved. Everything was perfect. There was only one thing missing, you. She had a hard time enjoying being there without Blake. It reminded her that things have changed, that life is more complicated than it was when they were five. Looking at the tree, reminded her of when they were little. They tried to dig a hole so big they could get under the tree. They thought the tree was hallow, so they could have a house in there and spy on people. Looking at a tree house, reminded her of when they stayed the night at their hide out. They snuck out and brought some brownies. There were ten of raccoons up there and it got really cold but they made up adventure stories and huddled together. Looking at the fish roasting in the oven reminded her of their get rich plan they concocted. They decided to catch as many fish as they could and sell them. They saw a stand selling them for twenty bucks and they were sure that we were going to be millionaires by the end of the day. They ended up with the same lonely penny in their pocket and aching shoulders and dirt all over, but as far as they knew it was the best day of their lives. The mud on the sidewalk to the pier, reminded her of when she buried Blake in the sand. There was so much sand on top of him that he couldn’t get up, so she had to dig him back out again. They got lost on that walk back and ended up finding the biggest tire swing ever. They spent over an hour flying out over the river together. When the striking oranges and pinks started reaching out to them, they realized they had been swinging for hours, so they ran back among the waves.
She hoped that nothing would have changed. She wanted the same, uncomplicated friendship we had when we were five. She wanted to the swing again and catch fish. Maybe they would even spend the night outside, watching raccoons and telling stories. She dropped down and did twenty clapping pushups. She walked over to the sink, and washed her hands in the uncomfortably hot water. A family of four walked in for an early dinner. “You can sit where ever you want, we aren’t particularly busy tonight. Here is the menu, and if you have any questions feel free to ask me. Would you like waters, or something else to drink?”
“I think that we will have waters all around and two beers and a Thomas Kemper root beer and a Thomas Kemper orange cream soda.” Said a woman who was tall and thin. She had shoulder length blond hair that she had up in a high ponytail. She couldn’t have been over twenty, but she had an eight and a six year old.
“Sounds good, I will be right back.” Alex smiled and walked off to get waters as the dad read the menu to his two little boys. Both of them were following along with their eyes, but it was obvious they were relishing in every second of hearing their father’s voice.
Alex hated days like these, where she just couldn’t seem to shake a weight pressing down on her shoulders. When she smiled it was all fake. Her lips turned upward, but her mind was still bogged down, and she was struggling to stay above the bottom. She had once had a day where she hit the bottom. It seemed like the day would never end, and that only worse things would follow. There would only be more decisions and doubt and disappointment. There was no trying left in her, and it was all she could do to lift the edges of her mouth at costumers.
Today she had a toe on the bottom, and she was trying to keep it up. She pictured her mind like a swimming pool. She was swimming with weights on her feet. Right now she was so close to the bottom, but she could still see the light shinning through the first few feet. There were so many people floating on tubes or on their backs, staying up without even trying.
For Alex, even on good days she was always treading water. Her muscles were getting sore of all this fighting, and it would be so much easier to just give up and let herself sink to the bottom. She could just totally give up. She could lie in her shower and turn the water on, still in her clothes and just stay there forever, without even letting any pain get into her head.
But today she was struggling. She was fighting with all her strength to keep herself from hitting the bottom. So, as she walked away she managed to smile at the six-year-old boy, and he smiled back.
She returned carrying the eight drinks on a tray. She had seen the fancy waiters in movies that walked around holding trays with one hand, and with one hand behind their back. She liked to picture herself like those people, and she used to serve her family like that, until her father made fun of her so harshly that she left, and cried into her brother’s arms for an hour.
But she was safe here; her dad wasn’t going to make fun of her here, so she pretended she was a fancy waiter. She missed the days when she could replace the low door, with a high marble archway and her pizzas with hors d’oerves within a blink of the eye.
Blake grabbed the roots of the baby pine tree and pulled himself up onto the stump. He was about ten feet up, and he looked over the flat forest. It was quiet with a thin layer of snow. He looked up to the concealed platform. Then he made his way towards the footholds.
They looked like giant staples stapled into the tree. They were easy to climb. Alex and Blake had first discovered the staples when they were twelve. At the time they were adventurers who cared little about danger or mystery. They wanted to discover everything and go everywhere. They had dreams of bringing new technology to Uganda, and eating lemon gelato in Italy. They thought they would swim with the jellyfish in Australia, and the stingrays in Belize.
Blake grabbed the staples and started to climb. It was easy climb now that he had done it so many times before. He didn’t even need to look up to see where they next staple was, his arms just reached up and grasped it without a moment’s hesitation. It surprised him how easily he remembered every curve and crack in the bark. He hadn’t been here for over six months. It felt wrong to be here without Alex. It was too quiet, and there was no one to share the beauty with.
He reached the platform. All he wanted to do was run to Alex and to tell her to come and see the world for what it was. Dark windows clouded Alex’s world, and he wanted to make her wash the grim off until she saw the blinding snow, for its whiteness, without dirt and slush.
Alex stared out at the day. It was grey and overcast. She noticed that there was some dirt that had collected in the corners of the window, and there were finger streaks all over it. She put that on her to do list for today. While her dishwasher hummed, she would clean the windows.
“What would you like to eat? We are out of the classic supreme and the Mediterranean. I’m sorry, but we have been really busy, and not a lot of people like those pizza’s here.”
“That’s okay.,” said the dad. “Can we have four slices of pepperoni and four of the mushroom olive one?”
“Sounds good, I will be right out as soon as possible. The mushrooms might take awhile, because I haven’t sautéed them yet today. It has been a slow day today, so I am a little bit behind in the cooking.”
“No problem, we can enjoy the fire and root beer, for as long as necessary.”
Alex rushed off to go sauté the mushrooms, and put the pepperonis in the oven to heat. The family was laughing and the father was making funny faces for the kids who clutched their seats to not fall from them. They were shaking so much, it reminded Alex of the time when her friend and her had been laughing so hard at on ice cream parlor that her friend had fallen out of her seat. It had been an old-fashioned ice cream parlor and the seats had been so high that it was a substantial fall, especially for someone who was less than four feet tall. This had made Alex laugh only harder, and had clutched her seat so hard that her knuckles turned white.
Alex stirred the mushrooms. With every stir the oil would fly at Alex’s hands, and when she first started cooking, she would run for the cold water very few minutes. Her hands had become callused from washing dishes and cooking and scrubbing. She had always loved her hands to be hard, because she had worked hard for them, and because she couldn’t feel anything. When she was little, the calluses had been from the monkey bars and from ringing out her laundry, now they were a sign of how much money was under her empty bookshelves. All her friends would shave theirs off, or rub lotion into them, in hopes that they would become moist skin again, but Alex cherished hers.
She delivered the Pizza’s to the family, along with refills for the root beer. They eat their pizza at a leisurely pace, and it was obvious that this was a very special treat. They crunched through their crust with satisfaction that could only be replicated by people who haven’t tasted a fresh cooked meal in at least a month. People would come to this pizzeria on special occasions and spent the rest of their meals making due with the food bank the soup kitchen, or free lunches from school.
I remember when we used to stand in line at the Food Bank. My brother and I would wait together. Since we live in the Cascades in Washington, we are always visited by rain and snow and any other weather besides blue skies and sun. And, since we live in Ridge, a poor town where everybody is fighting for their own survival, not caring that much about how anybody else is doing, we depended on government paid food, which didn’t amount to much.
So, my brother and I would stand in line for at least two hours for an unsubstantial amount of food. My brother and I would try and entertain us for those two hours every week before my dad and I got a job. We would always bring homework, and my brother would teach me algebra, and then geometry, and we had started on algebra two when I got a steady job that provided food. I loved standing there, because I didn’t have to share my brother with anyone.
Everybody loved my brother. He was nice, intelligent and funny. People would invite him over to dinner, and he was constantly invited to parties. He used to walk around our neighborhood on Saturdays and say hi to all the older people and run errands for them. He was always taking me along with him. I would sit in the corner of the room at high school parties, or at nursing homes, while people swarmed my brother.
I was envious of him, but I didn’t really want to be like him. The way he lived his life must have been exhausting. It was like he was some kind of martyr who blessed people with his friendship. Mostly I was jealous of everybody else he paid attention to. I was his sister and I wanted to be more important than everybody else in his life. So when we were standing in line to wait for our small portion of government food I was happy. I loved feeling like we had something nobody else had, and we did. But we had so much more. We had skiing and dreams and biking. We questioned the way people here view things.
Alex wiped away a small tear. She hated crying. It was weak. When she was little she used to cry when she hurt herself, until one day her dad had told her that he had had enough and that she was not to cry in front of him ever again. So she became great had hiding emotion. Once she broke her ankle and she walked on it without showing any pain or crying for two days. When her brother got home, he took her to a doctor and got a cast and crutches.
She still thought that it was a good lesson. People will always look down on you if you show pain or emotion. She developed a solution to hide pain. She would cross her arms and pinch the inside of her upper arm. It was easy. A few times it started to bleed, but most of the time it kept her mind clear. From an early age she tried to face pain as something that simply comes out of your brain. It was her brain telling her lies she convinced herself.
And people looked up to her because of that. They saw her get slammed by a door, and she didn’t give a reaction. They saw huge bruises all over her arms and when the got bumped she didn’t say anything. People at her school loved to share their physical pains. They would exaggerate their limp, or tell thrilling stories about motorcycle or bike crashes. Alex would sit and listen and everyone looked up for her because of that, but they need the popularity and the attention.
She stared over at the family that was laughing. She wondered what it was like inside of their family. She doubted it was as good as it seemed from the outside. Everything always seems better from the outside. Did the dad abuse the children? Were they unemployed? Did they make the kids cook and clean for them? Was the mother an alcoholic? There was surely something wrong with that family. There is always something wrong, especially in Ridge. She knew families with cancer, unemployment, alcoholic, abuse, disabilities, and kids who ran away. She couldn’t think of a family that didn’t have something wrong.
The commercials for State Farm with happy families who were all insured are fake. But Alex couldn’t help but feel that her family had all the issues. And they were always there, weighing in the back of her mind. It was so hard to be in her house without feeling the constant reminder that something was wrong. That is why she worked; she worked so that she could make a perfect family. She would be part of the first perfect family in some other place, a far-away place, a place like New York or San Francisco.
She could see herself walking along the steep streets of San Francisco. She would be eating a croissant, and she would be calling her Olympic skiing coach on her new cell phone. It was so easy for her to see everything come true. She was a daydreamer, but not the type that stares off into space during class and never gets anything done. She dreams while she is efficiently scrambling eggs in the morning, or while she is typing long equations into her calculator. She had no trouble envisioning the perfect place. And one day she promised herself she would get there, so she walked into the pizzeria and turned in an application.
The bell that was connected to the door rang loudly, and in walked a tall muscular graying man. He hadn’t shaved in a few days and his hair looked like he had just been electrified. He had bean residue on his overalls and jacket.
“What are you doing her dad?” Said Alex. “I thought you were working the day shifts. Is everything all right?”
“What the hell are you doing here, and no everything is not alright. Why aren’t you making my dinner? How many times do I have to tell you that it is unacceptable for me to come home to an empty house without food?”
“I work here, instead of at home. I left some pizza in the refrigerator for you. I left a note on the counter. When was the last time you were home?”
“How am I supposed to know where to look for food? I am the one who puts food on our table. You should respect me. And I haven’t been home for four days.”
“Do you still have your job?”
“Yes, I do. I have been working hard these four days. I can’t believe you thought that I took this week off.” Said Alex’s dad. He reeked of alcohol.
“I’m sorry I thought that the mill doesn’t do overnight work trips anymore. I was obviously mistaken. I can grab you a pizza and then you can eat it and go to bed and I will be home sometime soon.”
“You are never home. I honestly wouldn’t know that you live at our house if it wasn’t for the food left around our house and the mornings, if I have an early shift. Why are you working like this? You never generate any money. We should be stinking rich with all of the time that you work. I could quit my job and drink fancy wine. Are you keeping the money to yourself? Where is it?”
“I put all the money I make into your bank account. Though most of the money goes to getting food for our family, so we don’t have to stand in line at the food bank. You should be happy I work. Isn’t better to prepare your own food, than have someone to prepare non-existent food?”
“I want both, but for now I will be fine with a whole Greek pizza to go. I hope that you will be home before tomorrow. We will continue this conversation when I don’t have to worry about upsetting some happy family.”
“Yes, I’ll go grab the pizza, then you leave. I will be home as soon as I can get out.”
Alex was used to these episodes, when her Dad would start to become unreasoning. He would leave for a few days and get totally drunk, then he would come back and abuse her, and sometimes he forgot that she worked. Once he tried to raid the cashier at the pizza place. This one had gone so smoothly that Alex couldn’t believe her luck. Then she remembered that the conversation wasn’t over.
The sky was dark when Alex finally left the restaurant. She picked up her bike and stood near it for a while. The last place she wanted to go was home. So she unlocked the doors and got her window cleaner. Then she repainted the window shutters with some white paint she had gotten last year. It was 2:00 by the time she was done. Then she got some extra tablecloths and shaped them into a bed. She turned up her radio. She lay down, and felt her body relax. And she sobbed and sobbed. She could feel the warm tears running down her face and onto her shirt. They were warm and almost comforting as she lay there, and slowly she went to bed.
There was a soft light penetrating the now clean window. She couldn’t remember the last time she woke up to the sunlight. It felt so light and free and happy. She always faced sleeping as if it was the enemy. She prepared herself for it with her root beer by her bedside. When she slept she was fighting. She would thrash around and she never thought of it as a friend, as something that could be good. It made her weak, but last night she gave into it. She let herself be taken away by the sleep.
Outside there were a few older men who were standing by in the cold. They were warming their hands with their steamy breath, and laughing at the sight of a sleeping Alex. It hadn’t occurred to them that Alex slept. She was always the first one there, and the last on home.
Alex unlocked the door and picked up her tablecloths.
“Look like you had a nice long sleep. Do you usually sleep here?” Asked a rough man with a warm smile. He always had at least three cups f coffee, and said that he wanted to be ready for the day.
“I had the best sleep since summer after fifth grade. I don’t usually sleep here, but I should more often. It is obviously very comfortable. Now that I think about it, it doesn’t make sense to bike fifteen miles just for a few hours of sleep I could have here. I’ll have to see what my parents have to say about that, and my boss. I just slept here because I was having a long night. It was already 2:00 by the time I was ready to close up, so I figured I could just sleep here. As you can see, I’m not prepared for you, but if you don’t mind waiting I’ll scramble some eggs and brew some coffee and I will be ready to go in a few minutes.” Said Alex. She smiled and it wasn’t so she could get the optimal percent of tip, it was because she was happy, because she wanted to talk and it was fun.
“I would wait as long as you need. You make the best coffee and eggs within a hundred miles of here. Plus, I have spent years and years making sure that everybody knows that this table in the corner is mine, so I can’t just abandon it now.”
“It must have taken a lot of work to secure this table.” Said another man, who sat down with the first one. “I sit at your table, but you always sit in that seat. It must be a great seat, to go to such lengths to get it.”
“Oh, you have no idea how much of a score it is. I get to sit closest to the fire, stair out the biggest window, I get to see who comes in, and there is a little window into the kitchen I can see from here, so I always know when my food is ready. Plus, I get to watch this beautiful young lady work.”
“Why thank you, it isn’t everyday that people admit why they love this seat. Though I have always known. I need to go get those eggs on the stove if you are going to make it to your shift on time.”
She walked away with a smile on her face. She had slept at her restaurant, and talked to the lumberjacks because she wanted to, not because it was in her best interest to talk to them. She had pushed her limits; she had stepped outside of her world.
Her world included soaking dirty jeans and bleached covered toothbrushes. It encircled a rusty bike and neatly written equations. It contained sweaty hands and aching muscles.
And now her world encompassed talking to strangers.
It was around noon, and Alex was sitting in the small school office. She was talking to the registrar/secretary/counselor. A few rays of weak sunlight entered the room illuminating some posters that were plastered across the room. It had posters that were titled things like “Is this a BIG problem or a small problem?” or “100 ways to make love without doing it” and “Hugs not Drugs” and “If you plan to learn, you must learn to plan”. A thirty seven year old woman was sitting across from Alex. She was thin, with shoulder length curly brown hair. She had a round face, and was wearing a dark green sweater with a navy pencil skirt. She was sitting in a chair that she kept rolling forward and back. Her computer screen was covered with a hundred names of kids enrolled in Algebra 1. Her desk was tidy, and she was making a small 3-D picture of her name with a sharp #2 pencil. She looked up at Alex and smiled.
“I was wondering what you were thinking about your future. There are many options for you, because you are such a bright girl. You are going to run out of classes to take after your junior year. You could transfer to the Community College in Westfern. There is a bus that goes there at 6:00 am and comes back at 6:00 pm. You could also intern with Mrs. Johnson. She is going to retire in two years. We also have applications you could fill out for the lumber mills or the parks system. I know this is a little early, but you should start to think about it, because your classes will be based on what you decide. What do you think?”
“I was thinking more along the lines of college Ms. Nell.”
“Yes, I think I have the Community College application is right here, and here is the pamphlet. That would be so exciting. Last year there were two people who went there, I was so proud. Usually we don’t have any. The Community College offers so many great opportunities for its students. I know someone from our school went on to be a teacher, and one became a Pharmaceutical Salesman. It was amazing. So much hope, though I do hope that they come back here to settle down. I feel like every time we get someone into the Community College they leave and don’t come back. I don’t understand what is better out there, than it is in here. Of course you must be concerned about the stress. No need to worry, we will make sure that none of the classes are too difficult. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. You might not even get in. I haven’t looked at any of your scores yet. ”
“I have three eight hundreds and a seven-fifty in the writing section. No, I was thinking about a four-year college. Like Stanford, or Brown. I probably won’t get into Stanford or Brown, but I might be able to get into a sate school somewhere. I think I would like to be a scientist or a doctor.”
“Really?” said Ms. Nell. “The last person who applied to college was Rose. You must know her. She was so bright, she could have gone to the Community College, and you know that there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of about going to a community college. I went to one year of one, and then I came here to learn how to be a counselor. It was challenging enough. But I am here to support and facilitate in everything that you do.” She said the last sentence in a voice that showed she had said this line many times, trying to hide her disappointment in their decisions. “I am here to support you through all of your disicions, and to help you decide what is best. I want you to be happy. I haven’t seen anyone from Ridge graduate and succeed at a four-year college. I have been here for seventeen years.”
“Thank you, I will definitely look at this pamphlet, and I will search some other possible colleges once I get home. I know Rose, she works at the Pizzeria/Bakery.”
“Oh, that reminds me of another issue, money. Colleges cost a lot of money, plus food, and a place to stay. How long have you been working?”
“I started working when I was ten. I have a fair amount of money saved for college”
“That is impressive. If you were to go to Stanford it would cost 57,000 dollars for one year, tuition alone. Do you have that much saved?” She said in a triumphant voice. She was now in debate mode. She wasn’t being the nice and friendly supportive counselor anymore; she was defending her school, no matter what.
“Well aren’t there scholarships available?” Said Alex. She had already researched it, and there were lots of need-based scholarships. She had been saving for the food and for a place to stay, hoping that there would be a little left for starting a career.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know. I don’t research colleges, because there aren’t very many people here who think about going to a four-year college. I will research that for you.”
“Thank you so much. I will try and decide what classes to take, and come back as soon as possible.”
“That would be great.” Said Mrs. Nell. And she looked down, and started to fill in her 3-D name with lots of shaded circles.
“Where the hell were you last night? Do you ever come home? I can’t believe I raised such an insolent little child. You would think that you could at least come home for a few hours to sleep. What am I supposed to do, just wait around for you to come home? I’m your father. Why do you have to be so stupid. I don’t know who you thin you are, but while you are under my roof, you listen to me. You can’t so whatever you want any time you want.” Alex’s Dad yelled at Alex.
She was standing at the cash register. It was 8:39 and it had been dark for a long time. It was lightly snowing, but the snow melted once it hit the ground. There were a few families eating and drinking, who were staring intently at Alex and her Dad.
I thin short man walked over to the cash register. He was wearing a laughing smile, and the lumberjack uniform. “Really Tom, there is no need to talk so loudly. You are interrupting the costumers. You wouldn’t want a rumor to get around that you were abusive. You know how hard that was on George.”
“Yes, you are completely right, I’m sorry. There is no need to worry about anything. I will go somewhere more private and continue this conversation.” The room’s noise started to rise again, until it was as loud as it usually is.
“Here, come into the kitchen, it is sound proof.” Said Alex. “I was here last night. By the time I was finished cleaning up it was 2:00. I didn’t feel like it made sense for me to go home for only three hours. And this is the first time that I haven’t gone home. I am sorry that I didn’t obey you, but I was exhausted, and I thought that you wouldn’t even notice if I was home or not.”
“Okay, just make sure that you are going to be home tonight. Your mother is going to be in Westfern visiting some friends for a few days.”
“I will be home as soon as I can get out of here.”
Alex looked out of the window, absentmindedly staring at the club across the street. There was a mean looking bouncer wearing his big black uniform standing behind a few of Alex’s classmates, obviously making sure that they wouldn’t come back anytime soon. Most of the people Alex knew had fake ID’s or some connections, but when you aren’t over 21 you have to be careful about what you do. Alex wondered what those kids wanted, what their dreams were. She knew that everyone had dreams, some of them as simple as getting a six pack, and others wanting to be the president of the United States.
But those kids didn’t follow their dreams. They didn’t set goals and work hard to get there. They sat around and snuck into clubs. Served them right if they spent their whole life in this place. No matter what the counselor said, she was going to college. That was what she always had wanted, that is at least what she told herself.
“Writing is exhilarating.” said Mr. Ranolds. Writing should excite you. You should be ecstatic about the opportunity to see what you hide inside of your head. You should be riveted by the next thought in your brain. You never know what you are going to write before you write it. I gave you the opportunity to fill a journal with anything you want. Anything! You could write a novel, diary, dialogs, description, essays, nonfiction. Anything you want, but when I check in with you, it disappoints me. Some of you haven’t written anything in the last two weeks. That makes me so sad that you don’t look forward to writing. I set out a time during my day to write, because I couldn’t live without it. Everything in the world is important and fascinating. You should make the ordinary things extra ordinary, because every small detail can be amazing. Think about your pencil. How did it get there? Who made it? How was it made? What materials does it have? Who got those materials, and where? Your pencil has affected so many people’s lives. It deserves to be recognized. You could write a novel, about all of the people who made and were touched by this pencil.”
It was a cold day, and the heater was on the opposite side of the room from Alex. She was wearing a heavy sweatshirt and navy blue jeans. She was sitting in the back of the room. There were about thirty-five people in here classroom, and they were all sitting in rows. She liked to entertain herself by trying to guess a classmate’s personality by their righting utensil. It was very difficult. For example, what does a stub for a pencil tell you about somebody? That they are lazy and won’t get another pencil, or they love their pencil, so they couldn’t bring themselves to part with it; it could mean a number of things. She wondered what people thought about her. What did her pencil describe about her?
It was a yellow Ticonderoga #2 pencil. It was sharpened to a tip, and was about three inches shorter than it was when she first bought it. She had used her eraser down to the metal, so she had used her pencil sharpener to cut off the metal so more eraser could be used.
Blake had transferred into her AP Language Arts class. He had recently rearranged his schedule. “What is your journal going to be filled with?” asked Blake. “Mine is going to be a novel about children who are traveling the world with special powers. They will meet each other and band together, to try and get to an island where special people like them live.”
“That sounds griping, I want to read it once your done.” lied Alex. She knew that she wouldn’t read a novel unless it was for credit until she was out of high school and in college. “Mine is a compellation of memories from when I was younger, of things I don’t want to forget. Why did you rearrange your schedule?”
“I am trying to clear out Fridays, so that I can go to show rehearsals and concerts in Westfern. My director offered a cot in the theater that I can stay in on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, and then I would take the 6:00am bus back here in time for school on Monday mornings. It would be super”
Mr. Ranolds cut across Alex and Blake’s quiet conversation. “I will give you the last twenty minutes of class to write in your journal. Enjoy the thrill of what your mind can come up with.”
I remember when Blake and I ran away. We both had dreams of getting out of this town. He wanted to be a big actor on Broadway. He had a beautiful voice. And he was always acting. When he had to read out loud in class, he read with so much conviction, and feeling that he could make the most dull math textbook alive and full of plot twists. He had you hanging on every word. He could also lie. Once he convinced a man that he was actually a dwarf, and that he was really sixteen when he was eight.
We used to play a game where he would tell a story with lots of drama and great narration, and then he would ask if it was true or false. The only time I had a chance of knowing, was if I knew the answer, which I did a lot, because we basically grew up together.
When he was nine, he decided that he was going to be at a disadvantage if he didn’t start on Broadway soon. I thought that he could lie to someone, and get me a job, and we would live in New York off of our money, which would also pay for my college.
Now that I think about it, it seems kind of outrageous, with all kinds of dangers, but at the time, all I wanted was to leave, and to start a new life where I could have an opportunity. I wanted to ski more, and to go to a magnet school, and to get a job other than separating different kinds of garbage.
So, one night we told our parents that we were going backpacking for five days, which was a long trip for us, but we often went backpacking, and it was the summer so nobody cared all that much. We packed a lot of food, and I took all of my babysitting, and odd job money, which amounted to 500 dollars. Blake somehow convinced his mom to give him all of his allowance money for the whole year on one day, so that amounted to about 500 dollars as well. Blake’s family was well off, because his Grandpa had owned a mine, and sold it for a lot of money and retired.
We pooled our money together, and took a bus to Westfern, where we snuck onto a coal train to Chicago, where we got off at the train yards, where we got caught, but Blake talked us out of that mess. We stopped at the most delicious McDonalds I have ever had the pleasure to eat at. And then we got in the back of a truck to New York. We rode for hours and hours, surrounded by cottage cheese. I haven’t been able to get over my fear of cottage cheese since. We got out of the back of the truck in a rest stop in Orange Wood, where we snuck on a train to New York.
New York was a mixture between beautiful and terrifying. Blake became instantly in love, and I had to watch out for him, because within five minutes he almost got mugged, run over twice and pushed down a flight of steps. Eventually I was able to look up, and it was astonishing how high up the skyscrapers to go. I knew that there would be a place for me in this big city. I just didn’t know where yet. Blake knew exactly where he belonged.
He had a pamphlet for Billy Eliot, and it had details for the auditions, which were about to happen in thirty minutes. It was one of the most exciting thirty minutes of my life. We were swung at with briefcases, nearly run over by trains, and we came close to stepping of the edge of an air train stop. We finally made it to the auditions, where Blake left to go act and sing and dance with about twenty-five other boys. I could see that Blake was enjoying it, but I was extremely nervous for him. I never considered how we could live if he couldn’t provide with money, and a place to sneak into and stay. A tap on the shoulder was quickly eliminating the boys.
They were in lines, first doing simple dance moves behind an instructor. By the time they were done with dancing there were only ten left. Then they went to singing. Two boys were removed before they had finished warming up. Then it was time to act; Blake exceled at that. Four boys were left at the end. There had been two people watching the whole time, who now addressed the boys. The man who spoke was graying with a stern face. He was in shape, and always correcting the boys.
“You four boys have done fairly well. You all deserve to be Billy, but unfortunately, we only need one Billy. We also need Michael, Billy’s best friend. And the other two of you could be the understudy. I will go and discuss with Maria here, and get back to you in less than ten minutes. Maria nodded quietly. She was obviously a dancer; you could see her calf muscles through her jeans. She was thin, and around thirty-five years old. She gave the four boys a quick smile, and briskly exited the stage.
All the boys waited silently for a few minutes. They all stood, facing the door with their hands clasped behind their backs. Maria came out, and addressed the boys. “You have all done exceedingly well. Thank you for coming to this audition. We have decided with much difficulty that David Alverez is Billy, because he is an amazing dancer and singer. His understudy will be, Tommy Batchelor. Blake Chase, you are the youngest person that I have ever seen audition, but you proved to be a very good actor and dancer, and I’m sure we can teach you some dance moves. Your understudy will be Trevor Braun. I expect you back here at 12:00 tomorrow, and if you decide to decline, you can tell me then, because I need to call back some children to replace you.”
“I hope that you were fascinated by what you were writing this time. I will see you tomorrow. Make sure that you write in between now and then. Goodbye.”
Alex walked out of the classroom as quickly as she could. She hated writing, she told herself over and over again. She was a science person. She could be an orthopedic surgeon or a stoke market broker. She wasn’t one of those artists who spend their whole lives trying to publish a book from the back of their cars. But mostly, she wanted to get away from Blake. Every time that she looked at him, she started to see him more as a friend. She started to think that maybe they could both follow their dreams and support each other.
She remembered how it felt when they would sit under his fuzzy blanket at the hideout, and tell adventure stories late into the night, and then fall asleep. He was the one who told her about the Root Beer and nightmare trick. He had always been there for her. They had spent hours and hours together, so they knew what the other was trying to say, without speaking a word. One summer they learned how to track animals, another summer they spent making machines out of things they snuck out of the dump. They used to do everything together. And she had felt like he was her shield. She was wrapped in a blanket impervious to sorrows.
Now she had to face things alone. He couldn’t come up with a solution for her, and he couldn’t listen to her. He couldn’t hug her and tell her it would be all right. He couldn’t distract her with something fun, that would make her forget she was even worrying about anything at all.
He seemed so far away, yet she could see that he wanted things to be the same. He wanted to help her, and he wanted to sit inside a fuzzy blanket and tell each other adventure stories. All she had to do was reach out to him. She had to take one day off work and spend it with him. All she had to do was give up on her dreams.
She sat in the empty Pizzeria and looked at her journal. She didn’t know what to do with it. She had written too much. And even if nobody ever read it, she had admitted to herself that she missed Blake and her brother. She missed seeing the little things in life. So she sat down at her journal, and decided that there was no turning back. She had come this far; she wasn’t going to turn around now.
I remember when my brother gave me a lamp. It was made out of broken beer bottles. It had a log for a post, and a candle for the bulb. My brother had hot glued the glass together to make a shade, and the light would cast a pretty collage of different colors around the room. I loved it. I loved the way I could spin it, and the lights would start to blend together. I loved how you could make light out of broken beer bottles. I thought that that was very symbolic. Hope can come out of the worst addictions. I hated beer, but I loved the colors. I would come home and look at it and smile. I don’t remember the last time I noticed my lamp, and how pretty it is.
She didn’t have anything to do. Nobody was coming to dinner, and she didn’t have any homework. This had never happened to Alex before. She couldn’t decide what to do. Should she go and get another job, take an online class? Should she practice typing, or go home and make dinner? She was stumped. She dropped down and started on fifty push-ups. Then the doorbell clanged. She looked up. It was Blake.
“Hey Alex, I was just driving by, and I saw you sitting here all by yourself. I was wondering if you wanted to hang out tonight. It is eight, so I don’t think that anybody will be coming to get pizza tonight. I’m sure nobody would mind if you shut it down, for just this one night. I got some Root Beers, and some home made chocolate chip cookies. I was thinking we could go hang out at the hide out, or we could make an edible model of a cell for Chemistry. Remember how she said we could get extra credit for that?”
“Okay, that would be super fun. Can we do it at your house; I don’t think that my Dad really wants to see me right now. It would be a great time to meet your mom, seven years too late. Did you get less than 80% on that exam?”
“Shut up, you know that I’m not super talented at remembering random strings of numbers for no reason. Ya, my mom is a little mad that she never met you, seeing as we practically lived together. I figure that it might be a nice surprise for the day before my mom’s birthday.”
“That would be nice. I’m sorry that I never met her either. I just have an irrational fear of my friend’s parents. I always found some excuse not to go into your house. I used to hide in the woods whenever you went inside, instead of going with you.”
“I remember one time, you tried to convince me that you needed to climb a large tree to look for possible bandits that might attack. You said that we should have a lookout, and I just went along with it, because I knew that you didn’t want to meet my mom.”
“Hey, you were just as scared of the bandits as I was. That was right after we made up that terrifying story about how the killed children for fun.”
“I think that I might’ve had a little too much Root Beer and cookies that night. Of course, I think that as a child I consumed way too much sugar every day. But I needed those Root Beers were for medical purpose, so that didn’t count. We should get going before we don’t have time to make our model.”
“We should go to the store, to see what kind of stuff for decorations they have. Remember that time when we made a perfectly life like edible version of Notre Dame? That was amazing if I may say so myself.
“That was incredible, and extremely hard to make. I still think that we should have gotten a giant block of chocolate and whittled away at it. Lets go, we can put your bike in the back of my truck, and go to the store and then home. And I know what you are thinking; my truck will beat you on your bike. Don’t even think about racing. You will be so humiliated you’ll have to cry in a corner for hours, and then go waste your money on a therapist.”
“You’d be the one going to a therapist, but this time, I wont make you and your car cry. I’ll go grab my bike, and I’ll meet you in the back.”
“Oh take your time. I don’t need to tell you to do that; you always take your time. You move at a glacial speed, with your legs slowly lifting to take another step…” but Alex was already sprinting for her bike, and Blake was sprinting to the car.
“Hello Mrs. Chase. It is a pleasure to meet you. I’m so sorry that we couldn’t get together before now. I hear that it is your birthday tomorrow. Happy Birthday!”
“Yes, Alexa, I’m so glad that I can finally meet you. I was under the impression that you were very busy these days, so you can understand my shock of meeting you. What have you been so busy with, and what made today not such a busy day?” asked Blake’s mom with the look of a police officer, trying to get a criminal to confess.
“Mom, no need to be harsh. I think that Alex and I should go get started on the model. I wouldn’t want to run out of time,” said Blake.
“No, Blake, you wouldn’t want to run out of time. But you can go and set everything up, and Alexa and I can have a little talk. I would love to get to know her better. You never know if she will come back. This might be my only opportunity to meet the girl who spent more time with my son than I did.”
“It’s okay Blake.” Said Alex. “I would love to talk to your mom for a little while. I’m sure it wouldn’t take too much time away from our project. I’m sure we will get along fine.”
“So, Alexa, what do you do with your time nowadays. What are your thoughts for the future? What are your interests? What do you do for fun? I want to get to know you fully, to make up for all of my false thoughts about you. You have already surprised me with the way you look.”
“Well, I work everyday at the Pizzeria, and a I’m taking six AP classes, so that takes up a lot of my time. I want to go to a four-year college, and then become an orthopedic surgeon. I love to ski, bike, backpack, workout and climb.”
“That seems to be a good summary. You seem to have big dreams, just like you did when you were a little kid. Fortunately, Blake has settled down a little. Did you know that he is going to work at the lumber mill on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays? I’m so proud of him. He will be able to take care of me, ever since his father died I’ve wanted him to drop out and work, but he has always clung to his dreams. I told him to get his head out of the clouds, but no. Now he is starting to understand what I was saying then. It is a good thing that your father is still alive, so your parents don’t depend on you to work.”
“Yes, I am very thankful for that. My mom also works, so the only person I would need to support was myself. So, I could still cling to my ridiculous dreams.” Alex hadn’t meant it in a mean way, but as soon as the words came out of her mouth she realized how judgmental she sounded, and the way she felt. Why doesn’t this woman even go out and get her own groceries?
Blake never talked about his family. He hated them, or what was left of them. He wanted to escape them. That is why we spent so many nights away from his house, at the hideout, in the woods, at my house. We slept everywhere, but by ourselves with our families. Blake’s Dad died when he was ten. He had always been away when he was a kid. He was an alcoholic. His mom loved his dad so much. She would do anything for him. She made a perfect dinner every night incase he came home. He rarely did. His mom wouldn’t let Blake eat until it was after ten, because she was still waiting for his father. Blake couldn’t stand it, and would leave, and we would eat together.
So blamed this woman for everything. I hated her without knowing her. I wanted to tell her that I cared so much more about Blake than she did, and she had no right to ruin his life. But that would mean that she cared about Blake, but she couldn’t. It was so much easier to not care about anyone but herself. She didn’t owe anyone anything. She only had one person’s priorities, and she could go anywhere. Her horizon was totally clear. There were no infringements on the perimeters.
Blake was blocked. He was blocked by his mom, and his friends. He couldn’t leave them. When we were nine he could have gone so far, but now he can’t. He grew up, and let himself make connections. I broke my only connection, with him.
Blake’s mom sat silently for a few seconds, before Blake came in and asked. “Alex, could I get some help with the cake. I never got the hang of this whole baking thing. Remember when I accidently added all of the icing ingredients into the cookies?”
Alex laughed, and jumped up and ran into the kitchen. She punched Blake’s arm. “I do remember that time. Those cookies were very interesting. They tasted very creamy and kind of sickeningly sweet.”
The laughed and baked their model. They ended up in a flour fight and laughing. Alex shook her head, loosening a cascade of flour onto the flour. She laughed and collapsed onto the floor, and lay back. She had had the best time in years. It was eleven. Blake sat down beside her on the kitchen floor. He shut the lights off.
“Okay, time for “what if” questions.” said Blake. “If you could meet one person in all of history, who would you talk to you?”
“That is a hard one. I don’t think I would want to meet any of my hero’s, because they wouldn’t be as perfect as they seem in the books. I think that I want to talk to one of those mummies, and learn what their life would be like. What about you?”
“I would want to meet Morgan Freeman, because he is the best actor in the world. He is my idol. I want to know his secret. He must have some kind of secret. I want to talk to him, to hear his voice. I want him to watch me act and tell me what to do. What if I had the opportunity to learn under someone like him? How good would I be? I think I would be amazing. I think I could rule Broadway. I could make it to the Billboards. I could make people laugh and cry and feel. I could make people see things they couldn’t see in real life. I could set people’s imaginations free. The possibilities are endless.”
“I completely agree. Someday you will meet him. I promise you that.” said Alex. “My turn, if you were invisible for a day what would you do?”
“I would hate to be invisible. The whole point of existing is to be seen, why would I want to be invisible? There is no reason. I guess that I would sit at home, and search my computer. What about you, what would you do?”
“I don’t know. I think I would run away, maybe steal a pair of skis. I don’t know. It wouldn’t be that fun I guess. Sorry for coming up with a bad question.”
“No problem. My turn. What would you do if you cold have an endless supply of money?”
“This is ridiculous, you’re never going to have an endless supply of money.”
“Ya, and your going to talk to mummies and suddenly turn invisible. I can’t see that happening in a very long time.”
“Okay, fine. If I had an endless supply of money, I would… I would… There are just so many options; it’s so hard to choose. Okay, fine. I would get you somewhere where you can be on Broadway, which I guess is New York, and I would go skiing. I would get on the Junior Circuit, and try out for the Olympics. I would win the Olympics. I would ski everyday of my life. And I would be a hero that was better in person. People would look up to me. I would go so fast I would fly. I would be totally free. When you ski, you are just barely in control. You are part of something bigger. I want to feel like that every day. So, I guess if I had as much money as I wanted I would try and make it as a ski racer. But that is ridiculous. It will never happen, so I want to be an orthopedic surgeon. What would you do?”
“I would take a trip to New York, rent a flat, and try out for every Broadway play there is. I would make the big stage. But I’m going to do that anyways. Once I graduate high school I’ll make my way there. It might take me longer, but I’ll get there, I know it.”
The white numbers from the oven clock illuminated their faces. It read 2:00. “Well, it is a little late.” said Blake, also noticing the clock.
“I should probably be going. I can’t believe how late it is. I haven’t noticed the time in so long.”
“Alex, really?” said Blake. “It takes at least thirty minutes to ride back, and it takes about ten minutes to drive. And my mom won’t let me drive after 12:30. So, I think that you should probably stay here. It won’t be too much of a bother. We will get to bed in time for school the next day, and I can drop by your house on the way to school tomorrow.”
Alex stared out the window; she thought about all the hours that she had worked to get those few dollars that lay under the empty bookshelf. She knew that every minute was worth the opportunities that would be provided by the money. She could go to college, get a job, become anything she wanted in the whole entire world. She could go to Antarctica. She had already ditched her job once and she couldn’t do that again. No matter what, she needed to be at the Bakery at starting time.
“I know that you need to be at the Pizzeria in time for opening, and I would be glad to drop you off, and I can go and work out early and do some homework. Everything will be fine. I could even help you in the kitchen! That would be so much fun. You could order me around to chop things, and inspect them until they are so small you can’t see them.”
Alex punched Blake. Her eyes lit up, and she dodged the punch that was aimed at her. She ran out of the room, and did a summersault over the couch. They then proceeded to try and beat each other at gymnastics. This was one of their favorite activities. They had spent hours when they were little on tree branch trapezes and the soft soil of a forest for a pad. It had been so long since Alex had done a flip, but she remembered like no time had passed.
Alex was worried. Was it okay for her to spend time with Blake after so long? She felt like no time had passed, but it had. It had been about a year since the last time she had hung out with him. It had been about three years since they had spent time together almost everyday. She felt like she had abandoned him, was it all right that she took him back up, only to drop him again?
Then something occurred to her, what if she didn’t drop him again. What if she didn’t drop him again? What if she tried to have both, a friend, and opportunities? She had always thought that was against the rules. The thing that set her apart from other smart students was that she would stop at nothing to do something. She wouldn’t let emotions, or friends get in the way. If she had to study for the next week to be prepared for a test, she would do it, while other students would worry about friends, and end op spending time with them instead of devotion it to school work.
She was always ready to do anything. The teacher would assign something and she would do it, no complaints. She was the perfect student, or so it said on every teacher comment on her report card. Sometimes she would look at the rows of pointy A’s on her transcript, then feel at the papery fabric of the bills under her bookshelf, to remind herself that it was for a reason that she didn’t have any friends. She had accomplished something because of it.
What id suddenly she left behind her belief that she had held so firmly to over the last two years. What if she gave compromise a try? Would it work, was it possible? She didn’t want to risk her rows of pointy A’s, and her world of opportunity for a friend, but still… What if… She had to see if there was a chance. She wanted it so badly. For the first time in so long she felt relaxed. There was somewhere that she needed to be, and there was something that she needed to do, but she didn’t feel any regret about not being there.
It was amazing to be free of all this stress. To be free of all of this knowing of what she needed to do to get somewhere. She had a picture in her mind of what was going to happen. She could see herself studying at Stanford, then at Medical school, then she was doing her residency University of Washington, and fixing somebody’s heart while the beeping to the heart rate slowly slowed, but as she worked it returned to the normal heart beat. She could see herself cleaning her small flat in Seattle. Those were her dreams.
But maybe she could add some other dreams into her life. Maybe there could be a scene where she was lying on the entrance of Stanford, soaking in the warm light. She would be staring at one of the many fountains, and talking to some friends while scribbling in a few calculations into her notebook. And maybe there could be a scene at University of Washington where she is drinking a coffee at seven am with a colleague. She could be staring out at the greyish blue sky, and the sheets of rain that keep pounding at the windows. They ceilings would be high and white. They would be imposing and comforting at the same time. She could remove a wet strand of hair from her face as she walked through the quiet hospital. Maybe there could be a scene at a little Italian restaurant where she talks to the owner. There would be a fire that lights up the whole dark wooden room with warmth. The burnt copper tones of the counter and kitchen illuminate through the room. She could eat her regular order of the special and tell the owner all about her experiences of running a restaurant all on her own.
She thought about all of this, maybe she could have both, a combination. If she could do that then, she could do it now. But everything that she does now creates her future. She needed to work hard now to enjoy her future. She wasn’t sure though. She couldn’t convince herself.
She landed a double backflip off of the couch. “Ownage! Burn! You can’t top that now sucker! I bet you can’t even jump up onto the counter. Can you even to a backwards walkover? I bet not!”
“I can too. I could do those in my sleep. Speaking of which, I’m exhausted. I can’t seem to keep my eyes open. I’ll go and grab a sleeping bag for you. Wait one second and I’ll be back.” Blake raced out of the room. He did a diving summersault down the stairs.