I feel myself shaking as I sit back down on the ground, trying my best to stop the tears from falling, but failing miserably. The tears burn my eyes and fall down my face by themselves no matter how much I try keeping them back. I am the biggest failure in the world. I know I am. I couldn’t keep my best friend, I forgot my own dad’s birthday, and to top it all off I have just sent away the only person other than my mom and sister that has meant anything to me in the past few weeks. Now I will also lose my books which did mean a lot to me and I can just as well die because there is nothing worth living for anymore. At least if I die today my mom and Chloe can move on with their lives. Sure, mom will be devastated, but at least she still has Chloe. She will have to pull herself together. Maybe Chloe will end up in the foster system in the end, but that won’t matter because I know my mom will work and stand up again. She will get on her feet and she will end up getting Chloe back as well. It’s all up to me. I can better everybody’s lives if I only ended it all. Just put a stop to life and end it. It’s the only thing left to do.
“I overheard your conversation. I am sorry,” an older voice says behind me, startling me and making me wipe the tears from my face as fast as I possibly can.
“Sorry?” I say hoping that Mr. Graham didn’t mean that he heard everything I said to Patrick.
“I heard you saying you are homeless,” he answers. “And I just want to offer my help again.”
I can feel the anger pulsing up inside me again. I don’t know what is going on with me. Rage has never been my thing, but lately I have been feeling like I want to lose it over practically nothing at all.
“You heard everything?” I ask through my teeth. I don’t know why the old man with the sad face is making me so mad, but I feel like I want to storm off and never set foot in this shop ever again. I feel like if I leave here today I will leave behind me the very last part of my dad.
“I heard most of it. The two of you weren’t exactly quiet,” he says. Mr. Graham looks like he tries to sit down on the ground next to me, but seems to rethink his choice since he gets up again running his hands over his back. He mutters; “Oh, the old age.”
“I’m sorry if we disturbed you,” I say trying to keep all my emotions under control. Mr. Graham has been nothing but nice to me over the years. I don’t want to lash out at him as well.
“It’s okay. But I really mean it. If there is anything I can do to help… Even if you want to store your boxes of books here in the back of the shop. I would love to help. All you need to do is ask,” he repeats his offer once more.
I don’t answer for a while. Could it actually be that I could take his help? Even just for my books?
“Thank you Mr. Graham. I will think about it but I really need to go now. My mom’s waiting for me,” I say and turn around to leave. I need to get the hell out of this shop and away from everything that has happened today.
“Cory?” Mr. Graham says when I reach the exact spot where Patrick stood when he spoke his last words to me.
“Yeah?” I say, turning around and trying my best to be respectful.
“I’m not just someone offering help and not meaning it. All you need to do is ask and I will help,” he says again, pushing his big glasses up on his nose.
“Thanks Sir. I will remember that,” I say as I turn around once more and walk through the books, leaving the shop and vowing never to return again.
“Mom?” I ask as the sun goes down over the hill where we have parked. Mom has decided tonight on a picnic just outside town for dinner. She packed bread and apricot jam which must have already been over her budget. I don’t mention that there’s no margarine on the bread and rather enjoy the fizziness of the cola burning down my throat as I swallow another bite.
“Yes honey?” she asks and smiles. How she is still managing a smile I have no idea at all. I can barely do it at this point, and she must have it much worse than me. I still get out. She’s pretty much stuck in the car most of the time with Chloe, moving the car around as much as she can so that nobody will find out we are living in it.
“The money is getting less and less isn’t it?” I ask. She hates talking about money, probably because there is so little less, but I can’t help it anymore.
“You don’t have to worry about that. I was at the church today and they said I could come and pick up a food hamper every week from this coming Monday. So everything will be fine,” she says. “They also help people in our situation. I am just waiting for a spot and then Chloe could go to the daycare they run which will leave me open to look for a job again.”
“You didn’t mention that mom,” I say, still wondering where Chloe will have to go to after hours if mom finds something with shifts. Would I have to watch her in the car? “Have you been to see the welfare lady again as well?”
“Actually yes. I am trying hard to make some plans. It’s still very much the same though,” she answers. “We have a few options. The one is obviously going into a shelter but they would split us up. The other is fostering the two of you and they help me in getting a job. They have been really nice trying to find something for me. We should be grateful.”
I can hear the bitterness in her voice. She’s not grateful at all.
“You know… The damn church is so big. They could easily open the doors at night and let people sleep in there. Or even just opening the parking lot for people like us. At least then we can sleep in a safe place. Obviously God isn’t doing his work,” I say just as bitter as she sounds.
“Come on Cory. They can’t just do that. It’s a holy place,” she answers.
“It’s a business that makes a lot of money, turns their back on the people they are supposed to help and uses the fact that they don’t pay tax to pay bigger salaries to the preachers,” I say. “I don’t believe in anything anymore mom. I can’t.”
“Then I will have to believe in things getting better for both of us,” she sighs. “You haven’t been to Mandy in a while. It’s been over a week.”
I want to give her applause for the clever way of changing the subject. If only she knew I haven’t been at Mandy’s house in ages, but somehow her question is playing right into my corner.
“Would you mind if I slept there a few nights? At Mandy’s I mean. Maybe you can go with Chloe to the shelter and get to sleep in a bed as well for a few nights?” I ask trying my best to smile at her.
“You told me a while back that you couldn’t sleep at Mandy’s knowing we are in a shelter. That you’d rather sleep on the street,” she says running her hand through my head. “Getting a bit tired of the car?”
“Yeah… I mean no… I mean, if it’s the only way to get you to accept the offer to go and get a proper shower and sleep in a bed I’m in,” I say trying to force a smile onto my face and pushing my plans to the side of my mind for the moment.
“There’s something else I was meaning to speak to you about,” she says. “And I don’t want you to get mad. Please. Aunt Barbara phoned me a few days ago.”
“What does the bitch want?” I snap.
“Language Cory!” she says loudly making me instantly feel guilty. She hates it when I say bitch. Almost every other word is fine, but that’s the one she just can’t stand for some or other reason.
“Sorry mom,” I say. “Go on. What does Aunt Barbara want?”
“Well… She invited us back to her house. John is leaving for work for a while and she needs someone there during the nights,” she answers and I remember Aunt Barbara’s fear of being alone in the night. Mom always went to sleep over there with Chloe when dad was still alive. We would use those nights to build a man cave in the living room out of blankets and stay up most of the night watching movies on his tablet and eating ordered in pizza.
“So you’re thinking about it?” I ask not being able to believe that she is even thinking about it, but then again. I have seen what desperation does in the last few months.
“Yeah… But she doesn’t want you in her house so obviously I said no. But maybe if you could go to Mandy for a few nights. Maybe I could use the opportunity to use her computer and send out some more resumes as well. It could maybe help us get back on our feet,” she says with an apologetic face, touching my cheek. “And I am sure Chloe would love to play in the bath for a change.”
I smile. I understand all of this, but what she doesn’t know is that there is no Mandy. There’s not even a Patrick anymore and if I am out of the way Aunt Barbara might actually take them in permanently. For some reason I am the one she hates the most and now I am the one standing between my mom and my sister having a roof over their head.
“Mandy actually offered for me to stay as long as I like a while back. So how long are we talking here?” I ask, thinking that this might be exactly the opportunity I have been waiting for.
“About a week. Ten days at the most,” she answers.
“Well then I have to message Mandy as soon as possible,” I say plastering the biggest fake smile of my life on my face. “This is all going to work out great.”
“See honey. I told you just to believe. When you hit rock bottom, the only way is up from there,” she says returning my smile, ruffling my hair again and pulling me in for the biggest hug of my life.
These are the moments that I will miss. The ones where hugs and laughter comes even though my heart is breaking apart. These are the memories I am going to hold on too as I start my journey into darkness.