Chapter Thirty: Reseda
Cold hardness pressed against my back. I turned to my side and put down my hand. My palm pressed against gritty roughness. I struggled to open my eyes, batting my eyelids against the light. When my eyes could focus, I looked around. I had slept on the asphalt of the theater parking lot.
“No. Oh, no!”
I scrambled to my feet and ran across the parking lot to where I had parked the Explorer.
The Explorer was gone.
I collapsed to my knees and grabbed my hair at the roots.
“Shit! Holy fucking shit!”
I patted my front pockets. I still felt my keys in my right pocket. In my left, nothing but the crunch of paper. I reached inside and pulled out some wads of paper. As I opened my hand, all I had were a few one dollar bills.
I breathed hard and rough. Those bills were all I had. My iPhone was gone. I must have left it in the Explorer. And my money! What happened to it!? And that’s when I remembered. I must have spent nearly all of it on drugs and God knows what else.
And the book Hannah lent me was in the Explorer. It was gone too. So was Steven’s book, which Mrs. Cimino gave me.
I curled up in a ball and pounded my fist against the hard asphalt.
“Gone! It’s fucking gone! Everything! It’s all fucking gone!”
That was when I looked up and saw the gas station. I shoved the bills -- the only thing I had left in the world -- back into my pocket. I ran across the parking lot to the gas station.
When I got there, Reza was mopping up the men’s bathroom. A handwritten sign on the door said, “Our of Order/Fuera de Servicio.”
And Reza shot me a furious frown.
“You don’t remember what you did?”
I didn’t remember. But I could tell it was something awful.
Reza leaned the mop handle against the door and rushed towards me. “I was damn lucky Carlos didn’t fire me, but he docked me a whole week’s salary to pay for the damage you caused!”
I was too stunned to even speak.
“And Carlos had your vehicle towed. You can pick it up at the impound lot after you pay your fine and towing fees.”
I stiffened. The Explorer wasn’t stolen, but it might as well have been. There was no way I could afford whatever it cost to get it back.
Reza turned away from me and walked back to the mop.
“And when you get your vehicle back, drive it far, far away.” He turned and glared at me. “I never want to see your face again.”
I couldn’t say a word. I turned and walked out of the gas station. When I was outside, I took one final look. Reza was mopping up in the bathroom. That’s when I noticed the digital clock with the large digits over the register. I was late for work!
I raced down the sidewalk along Sherman Way, weaving around people on the way. I even hurried past Magdalena’s restaurant, forgetting to find out if she was OK.
The signal at Etiwanda turned red, but I ran through it.
“What the hell are you doing!?”
A car’s bumper was a foot away from me.
I kept running. I cut across the parking lot.
The back bumper of a car was a few inches from me. Red and white taillights glowed.
I was out of breath by the time I got to the front door of Buck & Awesome. I hadn’t even caught my breath when I opened the door.
Ngoc stood just inside the door. He folded his arms. Kishana stood right behind him.
“You know what time you were supposed to be here,” he snarled.
I was still too out of breath to answer. But I already knew I was fucked.
“You know what time it is now.” Ngoc pointed at the clock.
I turned around. I exhaled loud and hard.
“You’ve been a good worker up to now, Dylan. But we can’t allow this type of behavior.” He walked around to face me. “Step into the office.”
I stared at the paperwork in my hands. My final paycheck. “Change of Status” and “Disciplinary Action” forms that were corporate-speak ways of saying, “You fucked up, so get the fuck out.”
I raised my head but couldn’t bear to look at Ngoc.
“I had great hopes for you. You let me down.” Ngoc’s calm words stung me harder than any yelling. “Now go.”
As I stepped outside the office, Fatima’s usual smile faded. Pearl turned sharply away from me and lowered her head. And Mrs. Cimino stared at me.
“One mistake. One foolish mistake can ruin your whole life. That’s how I lost my family.” Mrs. Cimino started to quiver.
It was too much for me. I turned away from her and headed towards the front door. The glare of sunlight made everything glow white. I folded my paperwork and final paycheck into a square and shoved it in my pocket. Then I entered the whiteness.
When my eyes adjusted to the light, I knew what I had to do.
I crossed the parking lot to the sidewalk along Sherman Way. I glanced at the cars rushing by me. I kept walking, kept going in the same direction as if I were walking back to the Explorer.
I stopped at Madgalena’s restaurant. I glanced inside. There were a couple customers, but the waiters and cooks seemed busy getting ready for lunch. No Magdalena. No kind words. I kept walking.
I shoved my hands into my pockets. My left hand brushed against the hard square of paperwork and the wadded up dollar bills. With my final paycheck and what little money I had left, maybe I could get by. Maybe I had enough to get the Explorer out of impound. Maybe I can find a homeless shelter. Maybe I can find a new job. Maybe I can start over. Maybe.
I walked past the abandoned movie theater that was my home, past the gas station that Reza said I was no longer welcome.
Ahead of me was the busy intersection of Reseda and Sherman Way. It seemed particularly busy. Cars and trucks rushed by on Sherman Way. I glanced at the cars stopped on the other side of Reseda Boulevard. One of them was a Metro bus. I stood at the corner. The light for crossing Reseda Boulevard had turned on the red hand and countdown timer. I exhaled hard as the traffic light turned yellow. Then red.
And I stepped off the curb.
The bumper was nowhere near me.
The driver rolled down the window and screamed at me, “Hey, what the fuck’s the matter with you!? Are you fucking stoned!?”
I retreated to the curb.
“Fucking idiot!” The shout trailed off as he rushed up Reseda Boulevard.
I lowered my head. I even failed at committing suicide.
I found myself at the library somehow. I assumed that I didn’t try to step into traffic again. But I didn’t hear those hateful words. Or feel that heavy sadness. I just felt numb.
I sat in front of the computer and logged in. I went straight to email. There were no new messages from Dad. But there was an email in the draft folder. I opened it.
I’m OK. I’m in the Valley. Don’t worry about me.
It was no longer true. I wasn’t OK. I was still in the Valley, but it was clear that the Valley no longer wanted me. I was going to delete the draft, but I just started backspacing. The only thing left was:
I stared at those words for a moment. I started to type.
I’m sorry I haven’t written.”
I lifted my hands from the keyboard and opened and closed them several times. My whole body started to tremble. I sniffed. I exhaled and set my fingers back on the keys again. I let the words come out.
I’m sorry I haven’t written. Since I was kicked out of Mom and Steven’s, I just drove. I know you would have wanted me to live with you, but I needed to find some place of my own. I wanted a fresh start. I wound up in Reseda. It’s in the Valley. I lived in the Explorer you gave me, but I had a job, and I met some nice people who helped me. I even met a girl”
I backspaced those words out. I didn’t have Pearl anymore. I blew it with her. Why even mention her?
I’m sorry I haven’t written. Since I was kicked out of Mom and Steven’s, I just started to drive. I know you would have wanted me to live with you, but I needed to find someplace of my own. I wanted a fresh start. I wound up in Reseda. It’s in the Valley. I lived in the Explorer you gave me, but I had a job, and I met some nice people who helped me. And things were really going well for a while.”
I sniffed hard. The next words were really hard to write.
“But I messed up, Dad. Real bad.”
I exhaled. And exhaled again. I didn’t want to cry. I just wanted to type the email and get it over with.
“I want you to come and get me. There’s an abandoned movie theater near the corner of Reseda and Sherman Way. It has a big blue Reseda sign in front. I’ll be in the parking lot behind it. If I’m not there, wait, and I’ll be right there.
I’m sorry, Dad. I really should have come to you first when Mom and Steven kicked me out. I know you and Muriel care about me. I wish I could have been a better son and brother.
I clicked Send immediately. I didn’t want to give myself a chance to change my mind.