“Oh dear, this won’t do. Out here all alone.”
I looked up from my hiding place to see Mr. Crabtree standing over me with a frown. I’d been extra careful choosing a lunch spot far from people. My head was swimming. I wanted to be left alone. I sent out the vibe and settled in a solitary spot in the stadium and it had worked. Everyone kept their distance.
Everyone except Crabtree. He was on me inside five minutes. Ever since the shooting Crabtree has been my shadow at school. My new best friend. At lunch he went looking for me and, when he found me, sat down before I could tell him not to.
“Let’s see,” He said watching me push salad around a paper plate. “Emotional slouch, appetite issues, pensive stare…if I’m reading you correctly, the situation is desperate.”
“Ha.” I said. “Try tired.” It wasn’t a lie, but only because thinking about Marco and dinner and the rest of that insane day had kept me up all night.
Was that desperate?
It was productive. By morning I’d boiled my worries down to three things: how did Marco figured out so fast what happened, Why did Margaret let him boss her around like they’d known each other forever, and who was Simon?
“Sometimes silence speaks more than words.” Crabtree said softly. I realized I’d been staring at my food for a long time. “Want to give an old guy a chance?” He prodded. “Once upon a time, I knew a thing or two about relationships.”
Relationships? Oh, he thought I was having hearts trouble. I guess if you looked at it from the outside that was pretty much the root of my problem. There was something wonky with the two most important relationships I had. What could it hurt to tell the old man?
I set down my fork, deciding to give it a go, an edited go, but still a go. He wasn’t going away and there was a chance he might be helpful. Marco was always telling me to keep an eye out for advantages in any situation. Probably, he meant that for fist fights but it worked here too.
“Alright.” I said, mentally stripping the story down to its bones. “What do you do when you suspect the people you care about aren’t being completely honest with you?”
“Hmm.” Crabtree rubbed his chin, thinking it over. “Well first, everyone keeps secrets, sometimes for good reason. That in itself is not a crime. And second, exposing those secrets may hurt the relationship more than letting it go.”
I flinched as a pang of guilt ran up my spine. My very existence, my ability, was a threat to peace.
“I’m not exposing anything.” I said defensive. He needed to choose different words or this was going to be a short conversations.
“Of course not.” Crabtree responded with a gentle smile. “I didn’t mean to rile you. Boy, whatever is going on must be hard on you. What about being straight forward? Have you tried asking them if they are keeping secrets from you?”
“No.” I confessed.
“Hmm.” He studied my face. “May I ask, what makes you think they’re not being honest? Was it something they said? Because if that’s the case, maybe they want you to know. Maybe they would be happy if you approached them.”
“It was something they said.” I told him, biting my lip. “But I doubt very much they want to discuss it.”
“Because technically I was eavesdropping when I heard it.”
“Oh.” He frowned.
“Don’t judge.” I said. “I didn’t set out to spy. It just happened.”
“I see.” Mr. Crabtree crossed his arms over his chest. “Well my next question would be why do you think you have a right to know? It’s their secret, not yours.”
Another pang hit me in the chest. I wanted to tell Crabtree that I didn’t ask to be like I am. It wasn’t my fault. Then I remembered that he didn’t know what I was.
“What if their secret was tangled up in my life?” I said instead. “What if it had an impact on me directly? Then would I have a right to know?”
“That would certainly change things.” He thought on it then nodded. “Alright then, is there a way you can find out if what you heard is true without confronting them?”
I wasn’t even sure what Marco and Margaret were talking about. Where would I start? I guess finding out if they really knew each other outside of their connection to me would help.
“No. Not likely.” I said and Mr. Crabtree squinted as he worked my problem out in his head.
“Well here’s how I see it,” He said finally. “Whatever people are, honest or dishonest, they usually are all the way through.”
“How does that help me?”
“Let’s assume they are keeping a secret from you but they’re doing it’s for a good reason. If they’re good and trustworthy type people you won’t find evidence of them deceiving you anywhere else. If they aren’t,” Crabtree leaned in close, like we were conspirators, and whispered, “then the lies will be everywhere.”
“So what do I do?”
“Investigate. Look around. See if, day to day, they’re forthright. If they are, then quit worrying.”
“And if they aren’t?” I asked, feeling cold inside.
“Well in that case,” he said with a thin smile, “you’ll always have me.”
I cut Crabtree’s class again, making my eight millionth unexplained absence of the year. So far I hadn’t been put on notice though. For whatever reason Mr. Crabtree wasn’t reporting me. I was doing well in his class, there wasn’t any reason for anyone to get upset, but skipping is skipping. I owed him for keeping me out of detention.
So, it was a good thing he didn’t know why I cut. I was sure Crabtree didn’t care if I was gone but doubted he would have been OK with my motives. My mother got home at 3:45, 3:50 at the latest, every day. Skipping class gave me an hour to dig around our house without her knowing.
I wasn’t looking for trouble, but I needed all the time I could get because I didn’t have a clue what was I looking for. Something from Margaret’s life before me? Something that mentioned Marco? Anything indication she actually knew a Carlos or Simon? Anything in French? The options were endless.
I found nothing. I found so much nothing that it was like Margaret had absolutely zero life outside of the one we had together.
Of course we lost almost everything when our house burned down so not finding evidence didn’t really tell me much.
I was sitting at the kitchen table deep in thought when the mail slot opened and a handful of envelopes fluttered to the floor. It was 3:40. I was almost out of time. I collected the stack and while carrying it to the tidy desk Margaret kept in a corner of the kitchen, plucked out everything with my name.
Three pieces of junk mail belonged to me, nothing else. Here I was shocked that Margaret didn’t have a life. What kind of an example was I?
The first two, offers for credit cards I didn’t want, went into the shredder in a blink. The third I held back. It was heavy. I tipped it and something small and hard shifted from one end to the other. Curious, I ripped the envelope open and into my hand dumped a key.
It was small and the face of it was scratched. I had no idea what it was for. I set it on the desk and turned over the envelope to see who it was from but there was no name. The return address was a PO Box in town, number 529.
I laughed. 5 29, May 29, was my birthday. I thought it was a funny coincidence at first. Then I noticed the envelope had no stamp.
It had been hand delievered.
I ran to the door and yanked it open. On the corner of the street was a mail truck. The postal worker was working her way down the block on foot. Other than the two of us there was no one in sight.
I closed the door and went back to the kitchen. From out of the envelope I pulled a folded piece of eight by ten paper and spread it open on the desk. In the center of the page, typed in a large clear font, were five words. Nothing more. A sea of white and five words.
I read them twice. Then, slowly so that their crushing truth wouldn’t break me, I said the words aloud.
The front door swung open and crashed against the wall. The paper and envelope fell to the floor.
“Violet?” Margaret was home.
I snatched the envelope and note up and shoved them through the shredder with trembling hands. The gears turned slowly. Margaret continued to call.
“Vi? Are you home?” I held my breath. The last of the paper fell into the trash and Margaret was suddenly behind me.
“I thought I heard you.” She said, crossing the room with an armload of groceries. She set the bags on the counter and I remembered the key. “Can you help me unload?”
“Sure.” I coughed, covering the sound of the key scrapping the desk as I picked it up. My heart and mind were in a race for their life. If the note had come a month ago I would have told Margaret about it in a heartbeat but now I wasn’t as sure.
“You’re home early.”
With my hands thrust deep into my pockets I turned and glanced at the clock. 3:50 wasn’t exactly early.
“Is everything alright?” I thought about the words on the paper and forced myself to hold still. Margaret seemed normal. If she notice anything different about me she gave no indication of it. I had to hold myself together. For now, until I figured everything out, I had to keep it in.
“Yep.” I lied. “Everything is peachy.”