I am so sweaty by the time that I actually get to the mall that I actually do exactly what I told Patrick in the hallway I was going to do. I wait until I don’t see anyone at all and then I sneak into the disabled toilets and lock the door behind me, hoping that there would not be a disabled person who turns up while I am trying to wash myself off a bit and put on one of the two clean shirts that I carry around in my backpack.
I can’t help but look at myself in the mirror. My blonde hair looks almost as mousy as what Andy’s hair looked the day that Mandy chased him out of the drama class. Maybe being poor had an effect on your hair? What does bother me a bit is the dark rings underneath my eyes, even though I don’t feel as tired anymore. Maybe it’s just worry? Mom and I have been taking turns being on guard through the night. She takes a shift from around 8pm to 11pm where I can just sleep. She usually stops at the park since it doesn’t get dangerous there until after midnight. Then we move to a gas station where I take the next shift and then we rotate again a few hours before I go to school. So sleep has been better. The other thing that has been bothering me is that since we moved into the car she has stopped searching for work completely, which I also do understand, but I wish she would then at least let me look for a job. I might not be able to take care of Chloe the whole time while she works. I mean, it’s not like I can move the car if shit strikes the fan, but if I could work it would take a lot of pressure off us.
After I have washed off I make sure the coast is clear before I leave the bathroom and head for Bookstairs on the other side of the mall. I at first didn’t want to meet Patrick here, but after thinking for a while I have decided to meet in if only just to tell him to go to hell. He has no idea how much he has hurt me up to this point. As if homelessness is not enough he had to go and judge me as well for trying my best not to lose the people I still had around me.
“Cory! Why I haven’t seen you in a while,” Mr. Graham says looking up from behind a book he is reading behind the counter. “I have been worried about you.”
I look at him and smile. Sometimes his friendliness seems so truly genuine.
“I am fine thanks Mr. Graham. Just been busy around. How have you been?” I ask politely. Every time I walk into the shop he makes me think less of some Merlin wizard and more of a friendly grandfather figure. There’s just something so nice about him for some reason.
“Well Cory, I’m glad you stopped by actually. I thought I would catch you hear last week,” he said. “I mean it was a bit of a tradition for you and your dad, but I completely understand if it hurt a bit much to come in.”
At first I wonder what he is talking about, but then it hits me before I can even ask him. Last week was my dad’s birthday, and I have forgotten. Even my mom forgot, or maybe she did remember but she didn’t want to bring attention to it because we have had such a rough time already. I immediately feel a pang of guilt dropping into my stomach, making me feel like I have betrayed my dad for some reason. Then I realized that he is the reason that I am in this situation in the first place and I put my guilt aside.
“We didn’t celebrate it,” I answer. “My dad’s birthday I mean. Too sad.”
I tell a lie and believe that Mr. Graham would believe it that it would have been to painful for me to come to Bookstairs where he came ever birthday and picked out a book for himself which he called his ‘birthday present to myself’ and then we would go and have a milkshake. “Just us boys,” he used to say. After that we would have gone home for his surprise party which was never truly a surprise at all, since I could never keep my mouth shut, and since it was a tradition he was expecting it in any case.
“Well, I went through the trouble of ordering a new book by one of your dad’s favorite authors for you to come and get. I would still like you to have it. Think of it as a gift from me to one of my favorite clients ever,” he says and hands me a badly wrapped book. “Maybe you and your mom would like to open it up together.”
“Thank you Mr. Graham,” I say as I swallow hard, taking the package from him and thinking how much this would have meant to my dad if he was still alive. “I am sure my dad would have really appreciated it.”
“I’m sure he would’ve,” Mr. Graham says with a smile. “Now why don’t you go and have a look. There’s quite a few new books in your section.”
He walks from behind the counter and pats me on the shoulder before he turns to help a client that just walked in the door and seems to look a bit lots and out of place in the bookshop. I however do exactly what he told me to do and walk toward my section where the fantasy novels are lined up against one wall, shielded by a shelve of young adult novels where I could probably hide as long as I wanted to.
I send my mom a text to tell her where I am and that she should meet me at the park near the mall in about an hour or two before I sit down and pull one book after the other off the shelf. One title in particular catches my attention with its blue and white spine. When I pull it off the shelve I see that the cover is a bright orange with an hourglass on the front.
“The both die at the end,” I mouth slowly, wondering why a book with a title like that would even exists, although I have the full intention to someday buy and read this book. The author must be some kind of a genius giving away a spoiler like this in the title itself.
“Looks a bit depressing to me,” Patrick says from behind me before I can even turn the book around and read the back.
“Does it? I dunno… Seems to me like a desirable ending at the moment,” I mumble pushing the book roughly back on the shelf, not even bothering to check that I don’t hurt the cover as I normally do.
“What? You want us both to die at the end?” he asks giving me a bit of a cocky smile before he sits down right in front of me on the floor.
“Probably won’t be the worst thing that has happened to me this year,” I answer softly looking down at my hands in order to avoid his eyes.
“It seems a bit drastic, but from what I have heard you’ve had a bit of a rough run this year,” he answers and takes my hand but I pull it away from him. He can’t just one day drive off and leave me without even giving me a chance to explain and then want to hold hands the very next day.
“What do you want Patrick?” I ask anting to make this confrontation as short as I possibly can. I am already close to tears, and having Patrick here isn’t making it any better. I came here to tell him off, not to break down in his arms and cry because the world is an ugly and unfair place.
“I wanted to say that I spoke to Mandy and she told me everything,” he says. “But obviously I don’t trust her after feeding me that story of your mom, so I would like to know the truth from you. I’m willing to give you another chance if you’re willing to tell the truth this time.”
I look up at him in utter disbelief. I should tell the truth? He’s willing to give me another chance? I cannot believe my ears.
“And what would convince you that I’m not lying to you as well?” I ask feeling the anger course through my body.
“I don’t, but I’d like to give you a chance. Maybe I could earn your trust that way. By giving you the benefit of the doubt,” he says, his face in a frown that I usually find sexy but no can’t seem to want anything other than to slap it off his face.
“Don’t do me any favors Rich Rick. Why don’t you go back to your mansion with its many bedrooms and forget about the kid who sleeps in a car with his mom and baby sister,” I say loudly, almost wanting to yell from the hysterics bubbling inside me. If this wasn’t Bookstairs I would have hit him, I am sure off it. That’s the only thing keeping him safe, and if he says anything like that again I might still hit him in any case.
“Don’t call me Rich Rick,” he says through gritted teeth.
“Why not?” I ask. “You’ve been acting like a rich pompous ass.”
I try to keep my voice down as much as I can, but my emotions are running so high that each word is coming out in a different octave as I shake so much that I need to hide my hands to not show how upset I really am.
“Cory. I came here to talk things out,” he says, his face going red and his brown eyes sparking with irritation.
“No. You came here to try and be the better person, which you are not,” I answer. “Why don’t you just go home? Just spare yourself the shame of trying to be with the homeless guy who lied to you. And tell Mandy to keep my business to herself as she should. It stopped being her business to butt into my life the day she became an upright bitch.”
I stare at him for a while where he bites on his teeth, probably trying his best not to lash out at me the way I am doing to him. I however don’t let him off the hook. I take the little silver shell off from around my neck and hold it out to him where he is still sitting on the ground.
“Do me a favor and give this to Mandy and tell her to go to hell,” I say dropping the necklace in front of him.
I watch as he picks up the necklace and stands up. He pushes it into his pocket and says; “I thought you were different Cory. I really thought you were special.”
“Well obviously you were wrong. I’m just some asshole who would never be able to live up to your high standards,” I spit. “Now please go. This is my special place, not yours.”
I watch as he turns around and walks to the end of the isle of books as I stand my ground. I refuse to give up this spot like so many other things I have given up. I am not running away from here.
At the end of the shelf he turns around.
“Where can I drop off your boxes of books?” he asks. “Since we are no longer friends I should get it back to you. Any particular gas station I can drop it off at?”
I feel the bite in his words and it burns through my body and the fear grabs in that I might lose my books as well.
“I’ll text you when I have made a plan,” I answer.