“I love you, but I can’t stay longer. It may be a while before I speak to you again. I’m so happy you were my first, Theo, and you were worth all the heartache. I hope I wasn’t living in some alternate universe where I wasn’t actually your first love, too. But this universe is the only one that matters, and I have one last question for you: I didn’t get our history wrong, did I?” I read, glancing up at Dumbledore, sitting there with his eyes closed, nodding his head up and down.
“So that’s it?” he asks as I close the book and push it into my backpack, trying my best to still control the tears burning behind my eyes because of the book’s ending.
“Yeah,” I answer. “It kinda got to me, but I think I will read it again.”
“Books are like mistakes. You shouldn’t revisit them,” Dumbledore says as he pulls the blanket that’s over his knees up to his chin to try and ward off the cold in the air.
“I don’t understand,” I say, cocking my head before picking up my can again that I didn’t finish eating earlier. I think the prospect of knowing how the story ends was more exciting and a bigger priority to me than what the hunger pains were.
“What do you think about when you read those words?” Dumbledore asks, looking me in the eyes.
“My dad…” I say thinking about the day he gave me the book. I was excited to get it, and until today I still can’t understand why I didn’t start reading it right away.
“And what else? What would it remind you off when you read it again in the future?” he asks again, giving me a moment to think as he rummages through his trolley for a minute before bringing out a small brown paper bag.
“Probably this. Us sitting here. Where I’ve ended up,” I answer thinking deeply.
“Exactly boy. This book will always remind you that you were homeless. Every word in every book that we read carries a part of our history; our soul. It goes with us, and sometimes it’s nice to revisit an old memory, but sometimes it is better if the history is left between the cover and in the pages never to be opened again. You will be back on this bench when you read it again, and you aren’t made for this. You shouldn’ be sleeping in the park. You should be in a bed,” the old man says as he exhales deeply. “Tell me, why do you keep comin’ back here? I’ve seen the boy who comes and drops you off here. He kisses you. You can sleep where he sleeps.”
“It’s complicated,” I answer, but I know it isn’t complicated at all. I have thought about this every single night for the past week as I fell asleep underneath the bench with Dumbledore snoring above me.
I don’t have to be here. I could go to Mandy. I could even go to Patrick. It doesn’t matter. I could have a roof over my head with only one message that I send. I mean, Patrick has asked me over and over again to rather sleep at his place. His parents are off again, his mom busy with her Kent house and his dad is somewhere in LA busy with some film. The only person home apart from Patrick is the butler and Patrick’s nanny something who doesn’t really care that much about Patrick at all unless he needs something. I could stay there for a month, and maybe even months without anyone ever knowing on his side. That is how far removed that family is from one another. I never thought for a moment that I would be sitting here, and sleep outside – being homeless by choice. For no reason at all, except that an old man was nice to me and I wanted him to know the rest of the story.
“It’s not kid. It’s not. You just repeat stories. That’s what you do. You repeat. But you don’t belong here no more. You didn’ belong here in the first place. You need to go back to school. You still have a chance to make somethin’ off yourself,” he says with a sigh.
“I can’t go back to school,” I answer, thinking about the things that Jaycee has said, the things keeping me away from my education.
“You can and you will. You are holdin’ on to that book as if this homeless business is the start. You’re not meant to be a bum like me. Got it kid? I am tellin’ you now. This is not the start. Tonight is the end. From tomorrow you are sleepin’ in a bed. You do what you must. You keep your head high and you provide. This is the start for you, you hear me?”
There is something stern and sad in his voice at the same time.
“But what about you?” I ask. “I don’t want to leave you here.”
I feel the tears burning behind my eyes. I feel like there should be some alternate universe for me and Paul as well. Where we aren’t homeless people, but where he is some type of grandfather I always wished for who gave me advice when I need it. I need to believe that this is just the reality of my parallel self, and that me becoming homeless was all part of a bigger plan so that I could meet Paul and get to know him so that he can be in my life forever.
“You’re not leavin’ me here. You can’t leave behind somethin’ that wants to be where it is. You’re just movin’ forward, you hear?” Dumbledore says as he pushes the package into my hands. “Now you take that with you. That one you revisit. That’s a history you need. One that will tell you to go on. To push forward. Life is full of pushin’ forward. Sometimes we leave someone in the rearview when we do so, but if they choose it because they want the best for you, not doin’ it is selfish. You hear me? Don’t be selfish. Do this for me. When you leave in the mornin’ don’t come back. I won’t be here no more.”
With trembling hands I open the package to reveal something in bright orange shining in the park lamp. A book by Adam Silvera, the same one I had in my hands in the bookshop.
“They both die at the end…” I mutter the title of the book under my breath as I wipe my hand over its cover.
“I hope you don’t mind, but I already read it. And it tells you what you should do. Live every day as your last.”
“You bought me this book?” I ask wondering where he got the money and why he would spend it on me when he barely has anything to live on in general.
“Kid. You needed that book more than anythin’ I could need at this moment in time. You take it. You leave the history behind you and you live every day like it is your life. Live it fully, like we will both die at the end of today. Do me proud,” Dumbledore says as he wraps his blanket tighter around him, making it difficult for the urge I have to hug him in this moment.
This is the most he has ever spoken to me, but knowing that he believes in me means the world. I just wish I could take him with me on my journey.
“I’ll come back for you. I promise you I will. When my mom and I are back on our feet I am coming to get you, and then you can also sleep in a proper bed again,” I say still struggling with my tears.
“Don’t make a promise that’s not possible to keep,” he mumbles as he stands up and starts reaching for the blankets and mattresses in his trolley.
“I can promise it Dumbledore. My mom wouldn’t mind if I told her,” I say as I stand up as well, allowing Dumbledore to put his mattress on the bench.
“That’s not what I mean,” he answers as he makes his bed and lays down on it, waiting for me to climb in underneath. “Maybe I won’t be here so you can save me.”
I say nothing for a few moments as I ready my bed underneath his, climbing in and pulling the blankets over me.
“Dumbledore? What do you mean?” I ask, but he doesn’t answer. Even when I repeat the question twice more he doesn’t answer. When I work up the courage to ask him a third time I can hear a light snore which to me means that I might never get my answer.
When I wake up the sun has already started coming out around me and Dumbledore’s bedding above me is already gone, leaving me with his one mattress and two of his blankets, which he has always been very careful to pack every morning after I wake up. He might not have much, but he wouldn’t just leave here without his things.
“Dumbledore!?” I shout over the park a few times, but after a few minutes I decide he’s not here anymore.
Sighing I pick up the book on the mattress that Dumbledore gave me before we went to sleep and push it into my backpack, still scanning around the park as if I will find Dumbledore lurking somewhere, pushing his trolley on his way out of the park.
After about half an hour of checking my phone, but only having one message from Patrick saying good morning, I get up and start folding the blankets and the mattress to a smaller size, looking around me at where I can hide it until tonight.
I decide that the shrubs at the far end of the park, against the wall where nobody actually goes since the junkies use that space past midnight to get high would be the safest place. I should be here early enough to retrieve it and give it back to Dumbledore if he doesn’t want me to stay tonight, otherwise I can still sleep on it.
“What the fuck?” I hear as I push the blankets and mattress between the shrubs and the wall where nobody would be able to see it.
For a moment I think I am imagining myself, but then as I push again a hand grabs my foot, making me gasp and fall back on the lawn behind me.
“What’s your problem dude?” the voice says, pulling himself out from underneath the shrub, bringing into view a face I know, but not the way I have seen it before. He is full of bruises all over his face and his left eye is swollen shut. His mousy brown hair is standing all over, pointing in different directions, and I can see he has been out here the whole night.
“Cory?” he says as he stands up over me, his fists balled against his sides like he is ready for a fight.
“Andy?” I answer softly. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“I slept here,” he says, grabbing me by the hand and pulling me up, making himself gasp in obvious pain, which makes me feel guilty for not just pulling myself up in the first place.
“Why? Fuck… You look awful! Who did this to you? Was it the druggies? They use this side of the park in the night,” I start peppering him, wondering what he would have been doing here in the first place to get beaten up so badly.
“No. I didn’t see anyone. I always come to that shrub when things get a bit rough at home,” he says pointing to the shrub and then starts walking in the other direction, away from me, limping with each and every step he takes.
“Wait up, where are you going?” I shout, getting into a fast pace right next to him, not allowing him to get away from me that quickly.
“I’m not going anywhere, apart from getting away from you,” he says, trying his best to limp faster, but after a few steps he lowers himself onto the lawn and just sits there.
“Andy? Can I sit here?” I ask.
“It’s not like someone is stopping you,” he answers trying to wipe his hair from his face, but winching when he accidently touches his eye. “Not that I get why you’d want to. You’ve never even greeted me, let alone wanted to sit down next to me. Or is it because you now feel sorry for me? I don’t get why people give you attention when they feel sorry for you.”
He sounds like he wants to cry, and I know he can’t have any idea how much I understand the words he is saying. I know the feeling of seeing pity in someone’s eyes and the last thing I want is for him to see pity in mine.
“This is my home. I’m homeless and I sleep here in the park. If there’s any person deserving some pity it is probably me,” I say looking him straight into his one open eye.
“So the rumors are true?” he asks. I can see his entire body relaxing. “That’s why you haven’t been to school?”
“Yeah, something like that,” I answer. “Now, let’s get you some help, because there’s no way you’re going to be able to get very far with that limp.”
Before Andy can say another word I take out my phone and call the first person I can think of. The one person I know has a heart of gold and will try and help anybody in need if asked.