I sit on the sidewalk of the parking lot, jumping up every time I see an SUV entering the parking to the mall, waiting for my mother and checking my watch every few seconds.
“She’s late,” I whisper to nobody in particular, wondering if she would notice my backpack with me and hoping that she won’t ask me why I didn’t leave my things at Mandy’s if I am sleeping there. Maybe I can tell her how I have been really attached to the things I haven’t lost yet, but then again it might make her feel guilty and sad which is the one thing I don’t want at the moment.
As another SUV comes driving in, which is without a doubt not my mother since this car is a bright red, and much newer than our white one, I hear my stomach rumbling. You would think that you get used to only eating in the evenings, but somehow you just don’t quite get used to it after all. Your body keeps on asking you for the things you cannot give it, and sitting at the mall near the food court doesn’t make it any easier at all.
I give up jumping up every time I see a car approaching and close my eyes, giving myself over to the smell of the food reaching me where I am sitting. I have always found it gross to think that people could eat out of the garbage, but right now I would be willing to eat anything I am smelling, even if it comes from a dustbin.
I look up into the eyes of the very last person I expected to bump into.
“Mandy…” I say, looking over her shoulder at any cars coming into the parking lot as I stand up. The last thing I need is for my mom to show up here and find out that Mandy and I aren’t friends anymore.
“You don’t look good at all,” she mentions shielding her eyes from the sun as she looks me up and down.
“Jeez. Thanks,” I say sarcastically. I already know I look like shit. There’s no reason for her to remind me. “Where’s Brent?”
I look around, trying my best to see Mandy’s jock pet, or at the very least his Jeep, but neither seems to be around.
“I’m here alone. I was actually looking for you,” Mandy answers. “Your mom called me. She thinks for some reason that you have been staying with me the last few nights.”
As Mandy says the words I feel a coldness running through my body as fear starts setting in.
“Why did she call you?” I ask, too afraid to move, not wanting to really know what Mandy has told her.
“She wanted to speak to me before talking to you,” Mandy answers. “She wanted to know how my mom would feel about you staying with me for another months or so.”
Mandy moves out of the way, making the sun shine right into my eyes as she lowers herself next to me and take a seat on the ground.
“Did you tell her I haven’t been at your house?” I ask, sitting down next to her.
“No. Not yet,” Mandy answers as she takes something out of her pocket and holding it out to me.
She opens her hand to reveal the little silver shell in the palm of her hand.
“Do you remember when we promised each other we will always keep each other’s secrets?” she asks. “I needed to first make sure I’m not breaking a promise by saying stuff I shouldn’t.”
“You mean..?” I say staring down at the necklace in her hand. “You think we’re still friends?”
Somehow I just thought that Mandy would never speak to me again and here she is, sticking out a hand of friendship once more. It’s like being in primary school all over again, although back then she didn’t hold out jewelry to seal the deal. Back then she held out some liquorish which I took and ate. Not because I liked it, because I can’t understand how anyone could like liquorish; but rather because I really wanted her as my friend. Mandy seems almost just as nice now as she did that day when we first became best friends.
“You are a real asshole Cory. Did you know that?” she says as she takes my hand and drops the necklace into it. “We never stopped being friends. I was just standing back, waiting for you to come to your damn senses.”
“But after all the things I said?” I ask, closing my hand around the necklace.
“I get it. You were upset. The stupid thing you did was not talking to me after it all happened and just assuming whatever you were assuming,” she says very matter of fact, which always gives her this look of being superior to everyone around her.
“So you’ll tell my mom I’ve been sleeping by you?” I ask, still feeling the cold feeling around my chest, the fear of being caught out by what I have done.
“Are you actually going to be sleeping over by me from now on?” she asks.
“I don’t know,” I answer, thinking about Dumbledore in the park. For some reason the idea of just not showing up tonight and reading to him seems like a betrayal. Like it would actually make me a bad person.
“Then at least tell me where you are sleeping, and don’t tell me it’s with Patrick. I already spoke to him. I know he dropped you off near the park on the East side last night,” she answers raising her eyebrows. “And as far as I know you don’t have any other friends to speak off.”
“Shows how much you know,” I answer, looking down at my shoes and wondering how to lie to her while telling the whole truth at the same time. “I’ve met a friend I really like. Someone nice. I met up with him at the park and I have been sleeping in his place.”
“Someone I know from school?” Mandy pries, making her eyebrows disappear underneath her fringe.
“Nope. He’s not in school,” I answer.
“Is that why you’ve been skipping? Trying to spend every moment with some new guy you just met?” she asks with a loud sigh at the end, showing just how much she is disapproving of what I am sure is major judgment from her side.
“It’s not like that. We’re only friends,” I answer. “And I’ve been skipping school because everyone there thinks I’m some street kid now. Jaycee fucked it all up remember.”
“Jaycee… Yeah well… There’s been a rumor started today about him,” Mandy says, flipping her hair over her shoulder. “Some people seems to think he is doing something illegal to get the money he spends so much off. He bought himself a new car and rocked up at school this morning. He was also filled with bruises, which makes people think that maybe he even stole the car, unless he is maybe selling drugs. He doesn’t quite look like the drug type to me, but I wouldn’t put doing something illegal past him. He seems the type.”
I listen to Mandy, taking in her every word and I can’t help wanting to tell her how wrong she is. That the bruises he is sporting is probably from working really hard last night. I have decided somewhere during the night and telling Dumbledore about Jaycee’s offer that maybe I shouldn’t be mad at him at all. Who knows what he has been through in his line of work. It might not be a nice job, but he is probably trying his best to survive, and after processing the story he told me I can’t help but feel sorry for him on some level.
“Jaycee’s not selling drugs. And he didn’t steal the car. He earned it,” I answer, looking down at my shoes again and hoping that Mandy wouldn’t take this too far and push Jaycee’s secret out of me.
“How would you know?” Mandy asks, her eyes widening as if I let out a very big and ugly curse.
“I’ve been to his place. Yesterday morning. Jaycee might not be the greatest and most loyal guy in the world, but he’s not the monster and slut we always thought he was,” I answer, trying my best to stand up for Jaycee without giving away that I know too much.
“Well, that doesn’t not make him a bitch,” Mandy says flipping her hair out of her eyes.
“Yeah well, everybody has their own reasons for being bitchy,” I say. I wanted to add something about her wonderful life, but I know I should not. Here she is again, reaching out to me. The best I can do is be okay with the fact that she cannot at the moment understand what I am going through since she has never been in my situation. Or in Jaycee’s situation for that matter.
“Okay, I’ll give you that. By the way, you know that kid that I chased out of class the other day when I wanted to speak to you?” she asks, and I nod my head.
Before Mandy can actually continue I see my mom’s SUV pulling into the parking lot.
“You know. He actually went so far as to…” Mandy starts telling her story, but I cut her off.
“My mom’s here,” I say to her. “Please tell her I am sleeping with you.”
“Okay. But then you make me a promise. Besties for life,” Mandy answers as I bring up the necklace she gave me and put it around my neck as an answer as we start walking towards my mom’s car.
“Hey kids,” my mom says as she climbs out of the car. I try looking for the evidence that it has been our home lately, but there seems to be nothing in the car, and it has been washed.
“Where’s Chloe?” I ask looking through the car window as my mom gives me a hug and a kiss on the top of my head.
“An old school friend of Aunt Barbara’s. She looks after kids from home. Very nice lady. I think you will like her a lot,” my mom says smiling at me. “So how have you guys been? Probably staying up late every single night hey?”
“Not really,” Mandy answers before I even have a chance to speak. “Cory here has so many things he’s doing and then he passes out early. I think his boyfriend is keeping him busy.”
At this moment I want to strangle Mandy. I give her the look of death, but all she does is smile before she continues.
“So yeah, he comes home a bit late because he likes to stay after school and spend time with Patrick, and when we are back at the house it’s all he talks about before he falls into a comatose sleep.”
“Really honey? Gosh, I am so glad for you! Why didn’t you tell me you had a boyfriend?” mom almost shouts out so that the entire parking lot can hear, hugging me close to her body, which makes my body relax just a little bit. If this is making her happy however I am okay with her thinking I have an actual boyfriend.
“It’s not serious yet,” I answer, feeling myself blushing bright red. I don’t know if I am getting this red because I want to kill Mandy, or because Patrick’s face has popped up in front of me.
“Well, let me know when it is,” my mom says smiling, giving me another hug. “I actually wanted to see you because I miss my little boy so much and I need to ask him a huge favor.”
I hug her back tightly thinking that she will let go as soon as she has had enough hugs, but my mom keeps holding on to me as if I am going to disappear into the mist.
“Sure mom,” I say smiling. I can smell she has some of her expensive perfume on. The type my dad would buy her every single year for their wedding anniversary. She must have special news.
“I got a job,” she answers into my hair as she is holding me. I feel my heart wanting to jump out of my chest. Could it really all be over? Could this be the end of this nightmare?
“That’s great mom,” I whisper, almost too scared to say anything else.
“There’s only one catch. We will need to stay with Aunt Barbara just a month or two still. Just until I have enough to get us our own place,” my mom says. “Which is why I want to ask you and Mandy. Can Cory stay with you for a while?”
She finally lets me go and addresses the question directly at Mandy, who looks like she wants to cry. Mandy is good at telling a story, but she has never been the best liar when it comes to grownups.
“Sure,” she mutters. “It would be great.”
“Well, then it’s settled! Soon we will be in our own place again and then everything will be fine!” my mom almost shouts as she pulls both me and Mandy into a tight hug, leaving me to wonder if I will survive the winter outside with Dumbledore. There’s no way I can just leave him to do his own thing now.