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Chapter 4
Buford's Big Bad Breakthrough

Chapter 4.A

solitude.jpg

It's been two weeks and some of the crew thought I quit. Rumors had spread on the sales floor, too. But there were always rumors, always.

The guys in the back werent so easily fooled, though. They saw so many people come and go, especially around the holidays, that they figured I'd have been replaced by then. So the held a space for me and filled in when they needed to. Some of them didnt even know why I'd been gone. But I wasnt in the mood to orate and I'd done enough with slob emotion already.

The overnight beat took a few days to get used to again, after being gone and sleeping like a normal person for a couple days. But the guys seemed just as tired. We worked through and didnt finish what wed started, but Donovan didnt seem to mind. Neither did Theresa, or Adam or Miguel, for that matter. Then I found out that I didnt mind, either.

After we got settled into our routine, Donovan asked where I was. If I went on vacation.

"That fuckin sucks. Sorry to hear that, man."

He had a way of throwing fuck into a sentence, almost every sentence, without voiding it of meaning, like an absent word. Maybe it was from the upbringing on old-school rap or the Bloodhound Gang, which hed often bring into work for us to listen to. But no matter how he said what he said, he was sincere. His teeth weren't perfect.

Chapter 4.B

My feet hurt after getting used to not standing on concrete for hours at a time. But I figured it was better than going hungry. The fit of work didnt change even slightly after, after. There were still pallets to be done, a sea of wet, winter-worn red shopping carts waiting to be filled and emptied and filled and emptied today and tomorrow and next week until the batteries in my LRT flicker and die, flicker and die. They lock them up in a big metal case in the stockroom, a grey sheet metal box with a padlock to keep their users from stealing or destroying them. They say the little laser-lit demons cost thousands to fix and that it will come out of your pay if you're caught damaging them. So we wore holsters to keep them at our sides like a weapon that backfires a beep when shooting barcodes, like a handheld video game with controls and everything. One beep, pass. Two beeps, take that box of tampons, move on.

But it wasn't a mindless task by any means. It took all the mental strength one could muster up just to stay awake and alert. No one would be around to catch us if we were to nod off in a corner somewhere. Maybe a security camera. But we had to hold each other up. We alternated nights so everybody could get their two days off in a row and the five of us brought in music to pass the time and drone out the beeps.

Donovan liked the vulgar stuff. Theresa liked the 80s butt-rock stuff. Adam liked the kill-your neighbor hard rock. Miguel liked the club music that I'd bring in. But we all complained half-heartedly, knowing that the beat was all that was keeping us going at times, regardless of who was killing/dancing/bashing whom.

Chapter 4.C
 

One night Theresa stopped at the aisle I was working in and held each side's metal casing between outstretched hands, crucified. Hey. What're you doing she asked and I said working, slacker. I'm not a slacker, I've pulled my weight around here and you know it. I did. She was a strange princess with healthy blonde hair and glasses that didn't detract from her face. When I first saw her I saw something I hadn't seen in some time. She worked quickly on the stock line before she came to the overnight team, pulling heavy boxes from the roller bars and pivoting to set them up on pallets behind her. She was a new life among the old hags and dirty men that had been doing this hump for years and had deformed backs, grimed clothes and bleached-blonde hair to prove it.

She asked how my relationship was and I said it's not. She always asked and I'd tell her the latest news, but she seemed to take an honest interest in it. Adam walked by and emptied a box of facial pads over her head. She shrugged and her eyes clasped shut. Her jaw went slack then she yelled Adam and I heard him laughing, laugh and sigh. He said what, I was here the whole time. Yeah, I bet you were she yelled back, then turned to me and asked if I wanted to talk about it. No. Not really. Okay, well I'm here if you need to talk. I stopped in the middle of the scan and looked at her. Yeah. Thanks.

Shortly after she left me I heard Adam yell something and she ran past the aisle I was working in. I saw his hair dripping behind him as he ran after her.

As Donovan walked by keying something in to his machine, he watched Adam running, too. What was that all about he asked. I think she likes him I said.

Chapter 4.D

Man, that's just stupid. You ready for a break he asked. Sure. I threw my LRT into the basket I was working on and it skid across the bottom. Well, there goes your paycheck for the next 10 years, he said. Yeah, right. Let me write you an I. O. U. for that. He said yeah and like youd ever be able to pay it back, then he tossed his in the basket as well. He shouted down the concrete corridor that were going to break and you lovebirds can come if you want.

We walked together to the front of the store. The only sound was a hum nearby from the floor waxing machine that was mastered by a short hispanic man in his 40s. Whenever I talked to him he always nodded and smiled and said yes, yes. I didn't have the heart to joke with him, though. We were both here, and I doubt if either of us really knew why. To get away from everybody else, to do what needs to be done, to make ends meet. But one thing I knew was for sure; that my desire to stay up overnight was about the same as his, drawn out by bloodshot eyes and a straight-faced humor where even forcing a smile is work.

But the machine hummed in the distance and we walked on. Adam's shoes squeaked against the linoleum. Theresa walked on the other side of the aisle and refused to walk in front of him. She ran instead, and managed to get her microwave dinner in before any of us could stomp up the stairwell to the breakroom.

I went to the small locker where I'd stored my other shoes and lunch, a ramen and a can of Bumble Bee Tuna in water, not oil even though it tasted better out of the can.

Chapter 4.E

I slap the thing shut with a finger and it bounces back open. I listen and stop, then continue around the corner, not caring because there's nobody around to steal and nothing of worth to worry about. I open the bag of Ramen and break it in half, sending noodle shards flying into the sink and between the counter and fridge. It's the only way to fit the thing in the Styrofoam cup and I shove it in, losing a few more noodle kernels that floated to the top when I filled the cup with tap water.

The TV is on behind me and the guys sit staring at it, eating and taking a minute here and there to close their eyes and relax but not give in to sleep. Donovan once closed his eyes during a break and we all left him there. An hour later I found Theresa down an aisle and she put a lock of hair behind her ear when she saw me. I asked if she knew where he was and she said no and walked back and forth between the aisles and couldn't find him. When I did find him he was sleeping right where we'd left him, unmoved with his LRT in hand, his mouth open slightly. I nudge him awake by prodding his foot, crossed over the other and propped up on the opposite arm of the couch. His eyes open slowly and he looks around. Ah, fuck, he says, what time is it. Time to get up, sleepy head. The LODs will be here any minute and weve still got six batches to finish up.

Donovan was a different breed of supervisor that I'd actually come to like after we'd been through a shitstorm of Christmas stock where the work never got done and piled up more for the next day and all the while he kept his cool. I didn't mind seeing him sleep on the job and knew that if I'd done the same he'd have kept quiet about it just like I did.

Chapter 4.F

I'm waiting for the ding that means I can start my food on its circle of radioactive death rays and a commercial comes on behind me that I turn to watch. It's a soothing voice calling out to those who need sanctuary from the night, but its also a torture to those of us who work through it so Mrs. X can buy her kid that Tonka truck or restock her hair-dye stash under the bathroom sink of her master bedroom. The prescription medicine commercial was familiar to all of us by now and we loved to hate it.

Donovan spoke out about it and how it was cruel and unusual and Theresa agreed. Adam sat there with his eyes closed, hoping for 15 solid minutes before going back to the trenches. The voice spews off a list of side effects brought on by the drug while a woman wakes up without eye-goopies and perfect hair to the sunlight across her face. The machine dings and I switch out the foods. Theresa's smells strong and full of a tomato beef and mozzarella lasagna and she peels of the plastic covering in front of me unleashing a plume of steam and an amplified scent. She smells like vanilla and looks at me with her finger in her mouth sucking off some of the tomato that stuck to her from the dish. I'm so hungry, she says and smiles and I say yeah, me too.

After a while we sit allowing ourselves to be sucked into the sitcom rerun at 3 a.m. and not sure weather staying up in the break room would be any more mind-numbing than the work left to do. Eventually our time was up and I gathered my stuff to leave. Someone asked if it was time to go already and I said yeah and Theresa slugged Adam in the belly to wake him up.

Chapter 4.G

He guffawed and rolled off the couch moaning. I'm getting you back for that, he said, and she walked from the room full of life beaming a smile like a laser down the hallway. I was working on a batch of chemicals, using a forklift with a little carriage with room for a person. It was like having my own elevator that moved around like a robot here and there under my grip. Left hand turns right or left, right hand goes back or forward. The grips were stained black from the ink that rubs off the manufacturer packaging beaming Tide or Clorox or Bounty. At the base, remnants of a black goo collected miscellaneous wrappers, dirt and cardboard specks. I always wonder what happened to create that little blob until I dropped a jug of fabric softener from at least 12 feet above. Within a few weeks the spot looked like a clone of the other one and is still there while Im scanning this box of detergent. My gun beeps in my hand and I pull the box from the shelf. A white powder leaks out from one corner and I have to flip the box upside down just to get it to stop.

Angelita waddles up then and asks what in the world I'm doing spilling stuff all over the place. I stutter looking for an answer because she sounds serious but then she smiles and I relax. I set the box on the criss-cross grate in front of me like a high chair and push the button that drops me back along the vertical column to the floor. It beeps and a bright orange light at the front and the back click on and off and if I'd seen it for the first time I would have thought it were about to explode.

Chapter 4.H

It stops when I get to the bottom and I'm jostled by the impact. I walk past Angelita to take the box over to a nearby shelf where a roll of tape is fixed to a handheld roller and tape up the hole. I leave it there with other things damaged by late night by late night mishaps or things dropped in early morning haste. When I turn around she's still standing where she was and leaning on the machine with one leg crossed in front of the other.

So, she says almost in a whisper. So I say. I hear you're going to be a daddy, she says. I say well and get back on the machine. It beeps at me and doesn't move when I tell it to. I have to lift my hands completely off and make sure my feet are on the buttons at the base and try again. It moves and beeps and shoves Angelita's elbow from leaning on it. Well what she asks, as if knowing that I'd left room for more but not telling her all about it. She was on the overnight team gearing up for Christmas with a few other women from the sales floor. Sometimes she'd alternate nights and work during the day to make sure she could be there to set up the aisles and displays after theyd pulled all the toys from the stockroom.

Well, that's what you heard I say. But is it true she asks, unsure of this rumor just as all the others that had spread around work about who was sleeping with whom or what this person did while they were drunk with their buddies last week. I said I don't know and she said you don't know. I don't know. I haven't talked to Brenda in weeks because the last time I tried she threatened me and the last time I saw her she had a bunch of thugs pointing at me and telling secrets, watching me as I came into work.

Chapter 4.I

She said really and Theresa walked by. I waited until I knew she was far from earshot and said really. There's nothing redeeming in that girl except for a possibility I don't feel comfortable admitting to right yet. Why not she asks, do you think it's someone else's. I say I don't know. All I know is she's pregnant, but last I heard she was sleeping around and probably still is. Do you really think so she almost whispered again. I wouldn't put it past her, I say. I'm the only one of her friends that seems to be able to hold down a job and have something going for myself. She says yeah, I guess I could see that. So, what are you going to do. I don't know. Wait and see.

Angelita rolled her eyes to the ground with a smirk and walked away just as she had come before. I knew she'd tell her overnight crew but didn't mind because most of their gossip stayed within their little click. She knew and thats where it stopped. Donovan walked by and asked if I needed help with this batch and I said sure.

We worked toward one another from one side of the wall to the next pulling things off and setting them in carts or on wooden flats until we had so many we couldn't move around and pushed them out to the floor. While we walked out I asked him if he had any kids. He said he and his wife have a great little girl. She was just past being a toddler, not quite in school yet, but minded her manners and was not spoiled. He went on talking about the cute little things she did and said. I laughed when he did and said it must be a handful. He said yeah, but she's worth it.

Chapter 4.J

The following morning the air was crisp but the sun already started to warm the mist from the hood of my car. A cool wind blew tiny beads of sweat at the back of my neck and my body shivered.

I drove home and dad was watching golf on TV. Tiger Woods wasn't winning and dad was tying a fly on his lap. The vice clamp he was using was hooked to a piece of wood like a shelf from something but I couldn't quite tell what. Parts of feathers and string and a small bottle of some clear liquid were strewn over the board. He looked up when I walked in and had glasses on. Hey, bud, he says. Hey. He looked back at his fly and wrapped a string around a few more times. I sat by him on the couch and he froze until the couch stopped from the bounce when I plopped down. What're you up to he asks. Just getting off work. That night work's the pits, isn't it. Yeah, I say. It's not too bad, though. Nice and quiet. Well, but it kind of shoots your whole day in the ass. I shrug and he asks what I've got going on today. Nothing. Sleep. He said well, your mother should be home sometime today and I'm probably going to need some help unloading stuff.

I watch as he leans back from his bug, lifts his hat from his head and runs his fingers through his graying hair. I ask if there's really that much and he says she rented a U-Haul. Jesus, I say, what for. He throws his fingers in the air, a gesture muffled by a nearly unmoving arm. Just don't go too far so we can get it done before dark. I agree and he offers coffee and asks if I want breakfast.

Chapter 4.K

A few hours later Dad started washing the dishes in the sink and Mom walked in. She looked tired and scratched her eye. In her other arm she held her purse and a set of keys that wasn't hers. She walked in and saw me and said hey big guy. I said hey, ma but she didn't hear me over the running water and clank of plates against the egg pan.

She said something to Dad and hitched a thumb towards the door and he said huh. She said louder that the truck is outside and I'm going to need some help unloading it. He says alright, just don't rush it, we'll be down in a bit. She goes back outside and I follow her. The orange and white U-Haul had a painting of a skier on the side with something that said Winter Olympics 2002, Salt Lake City, UT. She grabbed my attention with a quiet voice and asked me to lift the latch on the back because she wasn't strong enough. It was stuck slightly but I hit it with the palm of my hand and the cat-claw latch let loose. I lifted the door and it rolled away above piles of boxes and furniture that we didn't have room for.

Jeez, Mom, where are you going to put all of this stuff. She said she got a shed nearby and most of it would be going in there. But, of course, as Dad would later say, she wanted all the boxes of paper and books inside. We sweat well into the afternoon carrying these massive boxes up the two flights of stairs to our second-story apartment. She carried what she could but she limped as she walked and dad kept taking boxes from her until she stopped trying and started lining them up on the sidewalk from the U-Haul for us to take ourselves.

Chapter 4.L

One of the last things out is a TV as big as the one in the living room, but probably 10 years older and twice as heavy. Its plastic wood paneling traps in a number pad and the rabbit ears were taped to the top. Hey Mom, I say, panting as the sun beams down, are you sure you want another TV. She says yeah, we can keep it in Erik's room for now. An even older TV sits in his room that we've packed around for years as a video game screen since the blue color tube burned out and the snow in football games or rain in golf or NASCAR looked like someone was pissing all over the screen. We hung on to it because it was a gift from her father years ago and she didn't want to get rid of it. Dad got sick of it years ago and bought the one in the living room now. Yeah, I say, but do we really need it I ask. She says let's just keep it in Erik's room for now until I can decide what to do with it. Alright I say with a shrug, but I really dont think we need another one.

I get it up the stairs and Mom closes the door behind me, revealing yet another TV. It was the one at the apartment Dad and I cleared out and sat on top of apple boxes filled with clothes, tools, needles. I set the TV on the floor in Erik's room amid piles of other boxes of junk and paperwork and exhale. Mom stands behind me with her hands on her hips and says thanks for helping out, bubba. I say sure and kiss her forehead as I walk past her in the doorway.

Chapter 4.M

I rested for a bit and Mom came in through the dark and shook me awake gently. Hey, hon, dinner's on the stove. I say okay and she says my light is out. Yeah, I have been meaning to fix that, I say and sit up in bed. I grip my hair and she says quietly while walking out with a slight limp, come on, while it's still warm. I get up and stretch and the clock next to my bed tells me I have to work in a few hours. It smells like tomatoes and ground beef and I say mmm and see Mom and Dad sitting on the couch slurping noodles while watching a game show. I fork some noodles onto a plate and do the same with the meaty sauce in the pan Dad and I used to make steaks earlier today. I sit next to Dad and watch TV while Mom looks pasted into the recliner with an empty plate on her lap. After I finish eating I take her plate and Dad's into the kitchen. Mom walks up behind me and says thanks while I'm rinsing them off and says shes going to bed. I say okay and turn back to the dishes.

When I'm done I go out to the living room and sit with Dad until the show is over. I say good night and come wake me up if I sleep through my alarm and he says sure. I stand up slowly and listen to myself groan and he looks over at me. I say good night again when I walk around the corner and he says night, bud. The hallway glows somewhat from the streetlights through my bedroom window and I hear a noise. Someone crying. I can't tell where it's coming from and go into my room and stand still. The sound fades and I go back into the hall and it gets louder. I step close to Moms door and wonder how long shes been crying herself to sleep.

Chapter 4.N

A few weeks later she starts coming around with the sunshine and new leaves. As I pull up from work I silence the car and watch silently from a distance when she takes slow steps down the sidewalk toward a park near the apartment. She exhales smoke and I see the arc of a cigarette in hand from her face and I don't remember her smoking before.

I get out and watch her flick the butt, still glowing, into the parking lot. The ashes splatter and die and she puts her hands in her coat pockets and starts to walk back watching her footsteps. I walk inside thinking of all the times she told us boys to stay away from it and wonder how long she's been smoking her problems away. I eat breakfast but haven't slept for days for fun or chaos or a chance at a vision. But nothing has come to me but hunger and fear of shadows in the corners of my eyes so I say good night to Dad in the living room as he says hi and okay, do you want me to wake you up and I say no. My feet are heavy and I walk slouching and see my bookbag inside my room and realize I have class in an hour. I whisper fuck and turn around to take a shower instead.

The water is warm and there's no windows. For some reason I've let my hair grow out unrestrained and I stand holding it in front of my face, touching my nose, my lips. I mouth at it like a fish until I catch something. But I know when I get out it will curl up again and no one will be able to tell, so I brush it back and finish washing up. Start waking up.

Chapter 4.O

At school I run into Lil, an old friend from high school. She was in one of my classes a few months back, but none this time around. She's plain and would have been out of view if I didn't know her. She said she wanted to watch a movie that I hadn't seen before so I invited her over and she brought her friend, Ryan. I wasn't sure if they were together but didn't ask and didn't care. I wanted to make sure the popcorn didn't burn. Ryan said something about needing a roommate and Lil told me it might work out if I moved in with him. I said I don't know, I've been thinking about it but don't think I could afford rent. He laughed and said his rent was dirt-cheap and I wasn't sure what to think. He was well-dressed and clean-cut so I agreed to at least check the place out sometime. I turned back to the stove top while they talked behind me about this movie they rented and when the popcorn was done they sat on the floor and put it in.

I lay down on the couch next to them and watched as men danced around on the screen in women's underwear and women did the same. They laughed at some parts I didn't understand. Lil looked up at me to see if I was laughing and I smiled to fit in. She looked back at the TV and Ryan put an arm around her. I suddenly felt comfortable with a pillow to my chest, knowing I didnt have to deal with female issues and could move out if I wanted. I wouldn't be living at home any more and maybe vicious claims against my manhood months old that still stung would stay behind with my twin bed frame and desk.

Chapter 4.P

Dad walked in and set his gear down in the kitchen. I heard him set his glasses on top of the fridge and he turned the corner as the movie ended. He asked what it was and laughed when Lil told him it was the Rocky Horror Picture Show and said Jesus, why. She shrugged and Ryan looked up at him and smiled. I said it was kind of weird and he nodded. Ryan said they should probably get going and asked if I wanted to come check the place out. I said maybe some other time and he shrugged and left his phone number on a notepad on the counter under an 800-number left by a bill collector.

I held the door for them until they walked out and closed it behind them. Dad clicked through the TV stations until he found something and opened a book. I sat by him and told him about the offer to move in with Ryan and he asked if I could afford it. I said I think so and he said well, it's always good to get out. You've been around here long enough, but you can stay as long as you like. Its up to you. I said I know and we watched TV until he cooked dinner and watched more until we were done eating. I asked where Mom was and he said he didn't know. I said well, I'd better get some rest and he said okay and asked if I wanted him to wake me up. I said sure and Mom walked in as I walked down the hall. I turned the switch on and the light went out. I finally replaced it a week before. I set my clothes out and Mom walked in and said we needed to talk.

Chapter 4.Q

I said okay and she sat on the bed next to me and asked if I wanted to talk. I shrugged and said sure, what about. You've been so quiet lately, I just wanted to make sure you were okay, she says. I shrug and say yeah, I'm fine. Well, she says, there's been a lot going on and you're not talking to me. You used to talk to me all the time. I didn't remember talking to her all the time but knew I hadn't been talking much. I've been thinking a lot I say and she asks about what. I don't know, stuff. Work. School. Her voice starts to shake and streetlight hides everything else. I'm worried about you, she says. I'm worried that you're bottling things up and it's not healthy. I said I'm not bottling anything up, I'm just thinking. She says, well, you need to open up more. I tell her okay and she asks about my day. I look at her and I watch as she rubs an eye, camouflaged by the shadow of Venetian blinds. I don't know, I say. There's work and there's school. I'm keeping up on my grades. She says thats good and I tell her about work. Just the work. Not the other stuff, the rumors. She says what about Grampa. Well, it was easier to let loose with Brandon than it is here. She says I know, your father has never been able to be very supportive when it comes to that kind of stuff. I said I don't know, I feel fine and she says okay. I just want you to know that you can come to me about anything, okay she asks. I say okay, ma. She says promise. I promise. But I've got to get some sleep, though, before work. She says okay, I'll leave you alone. Just remember, okay, she asks. Is there anything else I ask and she says I hear you had some friends over.

Chapter 4.R

I said yeah and told her we watched the movie and she laughed and I can't remember the last time she laughed. She asked why and I said I don't know. But Ryan, the guy that came over with Lil is looking for a roommate and I was thinking of taking him up on it. She says oh, well, maybe you should stick around a while until things start to cool off around here. I didn't know what she meant by letting things cool off because nothing was going on, but I said okay, sure Ma, and she patted my knee and gave me a hug. My guy she said. My Ma. Moms need hugs once in a while, she says. I say yeah and she says well, I guess I'll let you get some sleep, I have to go to bed myself. Alright, good night.

The next day I called Ryan and left a message on his phone that I was interested. I called Lil and asked if she'd come with me because she knew this guy and she said sure. We met up later that night at the house she was renting out with some friends. It had wood floors and her boyfriend was leaving with a kiss as I walked in. He was the high school principal's son and I thought he could have been in the movie we watched last night and wouldn't be ashamed. When he'd left in his father's minivan she asked if we should go and I said sure with my hands in my pockets and followed her out. We took her car and I watched envious of her skill with a stick shift. She told me about how Ryan was different and I asked how. But all she said was he was just different. We showed up at the apartment a few minutes later in the dark and he gave a short tour. It was a clean place except for his ex-roommate's things still in her old room and said I wouldn't have to be on a lease as long as I paid rent on time. I nodded and looked around at the walls and low ceiling and said I'm interested before I waved good bye.

Chapter 4.S

Back at home Dad was watching TV and I told him I went to see this apartment and I could afford it and not be tied down by a lease. He frowned, not sad but shocked, and said hmm. I said yeah and he said well, it's good to get out, but you can stay as long as you like. I said I know and that I think it's time I get out. I've been here long enough and Erik's been gone at school for almost a year now. He nods and somehow understands. He says well, that'd be good for you, to get out for a while. Get your feet wet. And you can always come back if you want. I nod and we watch TV, half watching and half feeling each other's presence and being thankful. We laugh together when things are funny and both get up to wander during the commercials.

A few days later, during a moment between school, work and Mom's work, I tell her the same thing. Again she says maybe I should just stick around a little longer until things cool down. I say well, I don't know if I'll be able to get in on something like this anytime soon and I need to get out on my own. She says well, just stick around a little longer and I say nothing. She says please and I give her a hug. Afterward she asks how my day was and I say fine. Just school and work. Same old, same old. She says yeah, tell me about it, and goes on to tell a story about a group of soccer players that caused nothing but problems in the hotel where she worked. They did this, that, blah, wah, wah... I laughed, but not at what she was saying.

Chapter 4.T

The next day after work I called Ryan and told him I'd move in and he wanted a deposit. I paid it and the first months' rent. And he had a key for me sitting on the kitchen table when I walked in for the first time. I picked it up and looked at it, felt it between my fingers at my side. This will be your room, he said, just as soon as my roommate gets all of her shit out of here. She says shell be here tomorrow to get the rest of it. You can move in whenever. I pulled my keys from the little keychain around the karabiner on my belt loop and fastened the new one on. I held it in my hand and flicked the key with my thumb while he talked. I need to fix this thing, but the heater works and I'll buy a new shower curtain next week. I said that's fine, it's not crucial or anything. He said good, then you can buy one, and laughed.

I returned home with my key and looked at it again as I walked up the stairs to my parent's apartment. It was my parent's now, not mine. Dad was sitting on the couch and saw me walk in and said hey, bud. I said hey and walked over to sit by him. So I decided to move in with Ryan. He said you did. And I said yeah, I'll probably move my things out this weekend. He said he'd be in Spokane for a good part of the day and wouldn't be able to help. I said thats fine, I could get a friend to help out, Lil maybe. He nodded and said well good. That'll be good for you. And I said yeah, I'm pretty excited. But I don't know how Moms going to take it. Well, he said, you have to be your own person and sometimes that means doing your own thing. I said yeah while watching the TV screen and he kept talking while I nodded.

Chapter 4.U

Saturday morning I'd loaded up my car and made a trip to the apartment. Ryan was gone at work but someone was in the shower. I had an armful of my things and went to the room he said was mine. It was nearly empty except for a few pieces of cloth and string on the carpet. I'd made a few more trips before the bathroom door opened between the two rooms. I left to get another armload and she said hi and that she'd be gone in a little bit, she just wanted to take a shower first and I said that's fine, it's not my place yet and she smiled. She asked if I'd met Ryan before and when I said no she said be warned that he's an ass. I said okay and walked out to get another load. By the time I was done she was leaving and said tell Ryan I'll drop off my mail key when I get my deposit back and I said okay and she left in her car that was 10 years newer than mine.

Lil was waiting at my parent's apartment with her father's suburban when I showed up. We fit all my things into the two vehicles except for some dusty junk under my bed and the frame, which sat like a skeleton alone in the room. She said that's amazing that I could fit all my belongings in two cars and I said isn't it, though. She followed me back and helped unload everything. She was muscled and didn't complain about lifting things and helped without talking. I wouldn't have noticed her there if I didn't know her. But we finished and I stood on the back porch and waved as she left and walked into an empty house and felt instantly at home.

Chapter 4.V

I spent the rest of the evening moving around my room, putting things away and looking out my window where there was a different kind of street light that was somehow more mellow, more relaxed. Maybe it was the tree out front with bony limbs starting to bud that was acting as a shield against harsh rays. Maybe it was just the light that worked when I turned on the switch. I went to the cupboards and looked inside at the canned food and Ragu, all marked with a big, black 'R' and understood food wouldn't be shared. Ryan walked in the kitchen door behind me and saw me peeking. I closed the door and he said hey hey. Did my roommate get all her shit out and I said yeah. He said good. You can help yourself to whatever you want in there and I said no, I was just looking. He said whatever. I'm going to take a shower, did you need to get in there at all he asked and I said no, I don't think so. He asked if I bought a shower curtain and I said no, I forgot and he said that's okay and went out to his car. He brought in a plastic bag and pulled out a shower curtain and some shaving cream and threw the bag away and went into the bathroom.

My phone rang and my mother's shaken voice was on the other end. What happened, she asked. I moved out. I see that, why, she asked. I shrugged as if she could see me and said I told you I was going to be moving out and she said yes, but I didn't think it would be so sudden. She said do you want to come over and talk about it and I said there's nothing really to talk about. I'm just across town a ways. It's not like I moved out of state. And I'll still be stopping by on the way to or from work. Don't worry, Ma, Ill be fine. She said I know, I know, I just worry, you know. I said yeah, don't worry. She said okay and asked if I wanted to come over for dinner and I agreed. We had pork chops and ate at the table and she held on when she hugged me on my way out.

Next Chapter

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Back to the present, he resumes work and is almost amazed to see that nothing changed with him gone. He finds a calm, quiet refuge in his workers ignorance of rumors and truths about him while at the same time he has to deal with them through low voices of gossipy women who come to him to get answers.