Walking into the mall was strange. Everything was exactly as it has ever been. Somehow nothing in the world had changed except for me and it felt like I was sticking out like a sore thumb. With every person walking past me I could almost feel their eyes on me. Like there was a red tattoo on my forehead screaming that my family had lost everything. That I did not have the money to be here in the mall. That I should rather go to some street corner or the park, somewhere money was not required. Still I raised my head and walked on, my feet finding their way to Bookstairs without me even having to think about it.
As the smell of the books hit my nose I finally felt safe and warm. There was no pressure inside these books. They did not care if you were rich and had everything your heart desired, or if you were flat broke. They just wanted to tell you a story, no matter what.
“Hi Mister Graham,” I greeted the old man behind the counter.
For a moment he looked startled as if I had disturbed him from a very deep sleep, but that was until I saw the book in his hand.
“Reading something good sir?” I asked again.
“Yes, yes… Hello Cory… Yes… Good book, very good book. You should try it some time,” Mister Graham said as he held up the book he was reading, showing me a vivid purple cover with aliens dancing over it.
I had been coming to this bookstore since I could remember. Nothing ever changed, apart from the new books coming in off course. The bookshop has been in Mister Graham’s hands for years and years. I don’t think there was any regular he did not know by name. He could recall almost every book every person had ever bought.
“I will give it a try sometime,” I answered as I tried to dash in between the shelves, but Mister Graham was too fast for me. For an old man, probably in his late seventies, he was a swift moving man which sometimes made me think that he teleported from behind his counter to all over the shop whenever he wanted to.
“I am very sorry about you father. He was a good man. I could tell by all the books he got you… Yes, he was a good man. Into fantasy… A man like that is a dreamer… You should never lose your passion to dream,” Mister Graham’s watery grey eyes bore right into my soul and I could not help myself feeling very uncomfortable.
“Uh… Thanks sir. I’ll remember that,” I said, and before he could get a chance to speak again I disappeared into the isles that would lead me to my favorite wingback chair right in the back of the shop.
On the way to my chair I ignored Mister Graham’s loud voice telling me to shout if I needed some help, and somehow my hands found a book lying around on a shelf. I wasn’t here to buy or even to read. I was just here to meet Mandy and get everything over with. Tell her never to come over to my house again. Not because I don’t want us to be friends anymore, but because there was no house to go to.
As usual Mandy was late. Very late.
I was already seven chapters into one of the most boring books I have ever read when she waltzed into the bookshop like the princess she secretly believes she is.
“Look at you!” she basically screamed when she saw me, leading my finger to reach up to my lips showing her to be quiet.
Mandy was everything most girls wanted to be. She was beautiful, blonde, athletic, tanned, and most of all she was an only child, which meant that even though her parents were only middle class she could afford to dress like a rich kid.
“How was your holiday?” I asked as I hugged her tightly, weirdly surprised that at least there were some things that did not completely change in my life.
“It was great! I met this Latino guy and we had long make-out sessions on the beach for, like, three days long, and then I saw him with another girl, and I told him to go eat his shorts, but before that I almost made it with this really handsome lifeguard, and although he was a bit older than us he was totally hot, but with the Latino guy everything just kinda changed and I guess the lifeguard didn’t want me after thinking I maybe had a steady boyfriend, so I just set my sights on one of the bartenders at the hotel where we were staying…”
Mandy rambled through everything that happened on her holiday without taking a single breath. Most of her holiday seemed to have been about boys, but that was nothing new either. Mandy was famous for having a new boyfriend at least once a month. I personally don’t recall her being with one guy for more than a month since – ever. She even has this photo album with photos of every guy she has dated. At this point there has to be over a hundred photos in there. We call it the album of the lost souls.
“… and when my mom said we are coming home earlier I was so glad because I got you this fabulous gift and I just can’t wait to give it to you, and – here!” Mandy finished as she stuffed a small gift bag into my hands.
“Jee… Thanks,” I muttered, not knowing whether I should be excited about the gift, or ask her more about her holiday. There were so many topics. Should I start with the Latino’s lips or the lifeguard’s six pack?
“Just open it,” Mandy exhaled as she fell into the chair I was occupying earlier, leaving me standing between the bookshelves.
The package was barely bigger than my hand, and obviously what was inside was quite a lot smaller.
“It’s gonna look great around your neck!” Mandy screamed as I pulled out the little necklace with the shell hanging at the bottom. “And yes it’s real silver, and yes it has an engraving on. Look!”
I read carefully, the fine words on the back of the shell almost too small to decipher.
Friends Forever. M & C.
“I love it!” I exclaimed, and I really did. I could not have asked for anything better. This was the perfect gift she could have given me. Something I could hold on to. A friendship I knew would survive while the rest of my life was coming down in flames around me.
“I knew you would love it!” Mandy exclaimed.
I wanted so badly to look happy for her. To smile. But somehow there was something about the necklace that made me feel sad. Like I wasn’t worth the silver that the necklace was made of. Before I could stop it my eyes started welling up with tears.
“Oh baby! No! It wasn’t that expensive. Really!” Mandy said as she saw my tears. She was used to me not wanting expensive stuff, but I have never cried about things like this before.
“It’s not that…” I said as I took a seat on the ground in front of her. This is how it will be from now on. I will always be lower than the person in front of me. I would never be on their level again.
“Then what is it?” Mandy asked.
“You can’t come over to my house anymore,” I said, now allowing the tears to drip over my face. I wasn’t ashamed of them. Not anymore. I now knew there were worse things to be ashamed about. First of all not having a home.
“Why not?” Mandy asked again.
“Because I don’t have one,” I answered, looking down at my hands where the silver shell was being held in a safe fist, not to be taken away from me.
“What do you mean?” Her face was screwed up in confusion. She really didn’t understand what I was saying.
“We lost the house. My dad… He had lots of debt… We had to get out of the house…”
It was my first time really saying it out loud and it sounded even worse than what I thought it would.
“Okay… You moved. So where are you staying now?” Mandy’s eyes were full of worry.
“Aunt Barbara. Just for a while. Till my mom can get a job,” I answered.
“So everything is fine,” Mandy stated. I knew she wouldn’t get it, but she was right. It was probably fine. Like mom said; it could have been much worse. We could have been out on the street.
“I don’t want the kids at school to know,” I said. “Especially not Rick.”
“You know these things tend to get out sooner or later,” Mandy answered as she lowered herself of the chair and started wiping my tears away.
“Let’s hope it’s later. When we are back on our feet,” I answered.
“Well if one person can get to the top it is you,” Mandy said with a massive smile. “Now let’s go and get some coffee somewhere. I’m buying.”
At that moment I just knew everything would be fine. Rick would still like me and he will never find out. Mandy was okay with everything and soon we would be back on our feet. Even if it was only in an apartment. That would also be fine. In the long run I have the people I love around me and that is all that matters.