The back of it read “Juniper Lock 1998”, the front held a picture of the only person who had ever seemed to care about him, smiling brightly before the burden of raising her son alone had weighed her down. Hanging above his desk on the wall, the frame that held his last physical connection to her slowly swayed in the cool fall wind like the hand of a clock, as if to represent every second that had passed while Alder wondered where she had gone. Lock, as everybody knew him, had spent countless hours in the last 6 months staring at the only picture he had left of her. With his window open he could see the last of the leaves falling, swirling away in the wind. The weather seemed too perfect. With that came the constant overwhelming urge to pack what little he had left and see where the wind was carrying the last vestiges of the summer.
His alarm snapped him out of his thoughts, signaling the worst part of his week. Grabbing the keys to the 2001 Honda parked outside, he looked around the minimal 2 room apartment bought last year with his mother’s life savings that had finally given them some sense of stability. He had never approved of the way that she earned the money but it was a job that had fallen to him in her absence, and no matter how much he’d wished he had a choice, he’d come to face the fact that the only choice he had was between surviving and giving up.
It was a 10 minute trip: a drive he knew well from accompanying his mother every week for years and from the dozens of times he had taken it himself in the past months. Driving out of his neighborhood he passed the towering Victorian homes that drew a stark contrast between this comfortable facade and the harsh reality of the government development he called home. The two worlds were squeezed into a single suburb, with the eerie quiet only disturbed by the sounds of fathers playing with their kids in the backyard and students with bright hopes and futures anticipating the return to school during the final weekend of the summer. Lock didn’t take the time to dwell on his lack of possibilities, he’d already come to terms with the fact that he would always be stuck in the same cycle as his mother– working to eat, just to eat to work.
Pushing those thoughts out of his mind, Lock pulled into the driveway of a house that seemed to contradict itself with the purpose it truly served. The clean, two story, red brick Tudor fit almost perfectly into the neighborhood that seemed to entirely capture the idea of the American Dream. Each house was complete with a happy family. Staring at the home, Lock wondered for a fleeting moment whether anything even close to this could be a possibility for his future.
Walking up to the door, Lock nervously looked around. Even with the number of times he had done this he still wondered if anybody would look out their window and question what he was doing. Before he had a chance to knock on the door, it opened to reveal his mother’s only friend (if you could call him that). Outwardly, Evan appeared as the typical suburban dad. Hurriedly being rushed inside, Lock began to pull out this week’s payment as Evan tried to pepper him with questions. Evan was the only one who had the slightest idea of what had been going on in his life. Remembering the words that his mother had drilled into his mind, Lock made sure to present himself the way she had taught him. Something that she had reiterated to him was to always keep Evan happy. He was, after all, the only reason the two of them had been able to survive.
As Evan handed him the week’s stock, Lock heard the question that he had been dreading. With school starting in a couple of days, he knew that it was only time before Evan would attempt to convince him not to give up on his senior year.
Having turned 17 now, this had been a pretty easy decision that he’d made over the summer. Lock was by no means a poor student, a great one in fact. But with the life that he was facing in front of him, a degree didn’t seem to be anything of importance. Noting Lock’s evident disinterest, Evan finally giving up on questioning him, gave him the obligatory safety speech and ushered him out. Lock knew that Evan would be on his way soon following his delivery path, he sometimes wondered how large his ring actually was but he knew better than to start asking questions.
Lock sat down in his car and looked through the week’s bag. Ruffling through it, everything seemed to be there. The adderall for the college students desperate to pass, the cartridges for the high schoolers who wanted to have fun, the blow for the mothers who had married for money and hated their lives, and the black tar for the addicts in his own building who lived paycheck to paycheck–desperate enough for a fix to give up food for their kids.
Selling had cursed Lock with a window into what his town was really like. Like the thin veneer that hid the pain he carried around, the entire town had secrets shrouded in darkness. He was one of the few who knew exactly who hated their life so much that they turned to him to dull their own pains. The secrets that he knew would be enough to rip apart homes amidst a community that seemed so rosy perfect to the naked eye.
Lock started the car and began heading home, he would do his deliveries to his regulars later but he always took a couple hours after the weekly stocking to take some time for himself. He had promised his mother he would never touch any of it but with everything falling apart in his life, he found that he had become no different from the ones he had the most pity for. He was no different from the ones who turned to him to numb the weight of their realities.
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