Tuesday: June 24, 2014
“You just call me when you’re done here, okay?” Mom asks.
I sigh as I let my arm rest on top of the car door. I lean in through the open space to meet Mom’s green eyes. “Do I have to do this?” I ask.
Mom offers a smile, her thumbs tapping against the top of the steering wheel. “It’ll be good for you, honey.”
“This is the only time I’m doing it. Deal?” I ask.
With a sigh, Mom nods her agreement. “Okay, honey. Try to keep an open mind, though. I’ve heard good things about this place.”
If Mom hadn’t single-handedly raised me, I’d probably be more of a dick when it came to her controlling decisions over my life. “Sure thing, Ma. See you in a bit.”
“I love you, Adam. Try to make a friend or two today,” she says.
I smile, shaking my head. “I’ll do my best, Ma. Love you, too.” She throws another smile my way as I close the passenger door. I wave. She waves back before shifting into gear and pulling away from the curb. I turn toward the building. There’s a girl, possibly around my age, standing to the right of the door, an older man to the left. With a sigh, I head for the building. As I mount the stairs, the girl smiles at me.
Politely, she holds out her hand. When I reach her, I shake it. “Selene Harper,” she says. Her smile has dimmed to something resembling a smirk.
“I guess this is where I tell you my name,” I say. The charming, full-white-teeth smile comes back to her face. “Adam Lars.”
“Well, Adam Lars, come on inside. I’ll show you around,” Selene says. She drops my hand and walks in through the open door. “So, Mister Lars, where are you coming in from?” she asks.
“Uh, just moved to Redwater from Canada, actually. Ma got a job at the hospital in Manhattan,” I say.
She looks at me over her shoulder. “Carol Lars, right?” she asks. I nod, even though I find it odd that this strange girl knows my mother’s name. “I live in Redwater, too.”
I smile faintly. “Real small town.” Truthfully, that was an understatement. There were less than a hundred people inside of Redwater.
She laughs. “Definitely. But everyone knows everyone. The whole town’s like one, big family. It’s quite lovely, really,” she says.
“Quite,” I repeat softly. Selene gestures to a room. “Oh, umm… you can go on in first,” I say.
“You don’t have to be nervous, Mister Lars,” she says. She keeps her eyes, such a pale blue that they’re almost gray, focused on my face as she backs through the doorway. “I know. First day jitters.” She smiles at me. “But don’t worry about it. We don’t bite.”
I smile at her. For the first time, as my nerves finally begin to ease up, I look at her. Like, really look at her. Her skin is pale, her face dusted with freckles. The pale blue of her eyes contrasts greatly with the chestnut brown of her hair. She’s pretty, for an untanned American in the middle of June.
I shake my head lightly. I know the rule, the rule that guys are supposed to follow: unless you know otherwise, she’s taken. And I mean know, not think. I’m never exactly in the mood to fight some girl’s boyfriend because one of us was giving the wrong kind of signs—not that a fight with some girl’s boyfriend is a new thing to me.
Besides, I already saw the ring on the ring finger of her left hand. I’m not sure what teenager would get married, but who am I to judge? Maybe he’s practically an albino, too.
Selene pats my arm. “Come on. The meeting’s about to start,” she says. She leads me to a chair, tells me to sit down. And then, like a total dick, the only person in the entire room that I’ve talked to thus far sits clear across the room from me.
The chairs are arranged in a circle, and it makes me feel like I’m in some kind of knockoff brand of an AA meeting.
The older man from outside steps into the room, shutting the door behind him. One of the chairs in the room is empty, even after he sits down next to Selene. He smiles. “I’m glad to see that almost all of you made it back today. Especially you, Malinda.” He pats the leg of the girl beside him. “This makes four days in a row.” Selene claps, and everyone in the group follows her lead. Malinda, however, looks terrified. Her gaze darts around the room. She’s shivering and sweating at the same damn time. Her eyes lock with mine for only a moment before she moves on with her nervous glances. “Selene?” the older man asks.
“We have a new member today. Adam,” Selene says.
“Hi, Adam,” the other kids say in unison. Jesus Christ, maybe this is an AA meeting.
Selene smiles in my direction. “Would you like to tell the group why you’re here?” she asks. I shake my head. My personal life sure as hell isn’t going on display for these people. Selene’s practically an albino, that Malinda chick’s got God-only-knows what kind of mental issues, and the guy next to me scratches his arms like a possible cocaine addict. I’d say I’m normal enough to not share the reason I’m in this discount-AA meeting.
“That’s all right,” the older man says. “No one ever has to say anything if they don’t want to. I’m Clive Hawkes,” he says.
“Counselor Clive Hawkes,” Selene corrects with a smile. Counselor Clive Hawkes is your typical old guy, I guess. White hair, wrinkles, and facial hair. I imagine he carries a pair of cheater-reading glasses in his shirt pocket, too, but I’m unsure.
Clive smiles as he looks over at Selene. “That’s right. Would anyone like to share their progress?” he asks.
Malinda, the girl with blonde hair so light it’s almost white, holds up a hand for a brief moment. “Yesterday, I went outside for a full three minutes before I went inside. I made it to the mailbox,” she whispers.
“Malinda, that’s amazing!” Selene exclaims. “I am so proud of you.” She sounds genuine. Why? I don’t know. I was outside for three minutes today. It was the walk from my house to Mom’s car. Is it newsworthy? Probably not.
Everyone’s attention, mine included, shifts to the door as it’s thrown open. A girl stands in the doorway. Her face is pale, her ginger hair a mess. Her breaths are heavy and labored as her panicked, green eyes scan the room.
Selene rises to her feet, holding a hand out behind her. “Stay. I’ll fix it,” she says softly. Clive nods as Selene crosses the room. At the doorway, the girl practically collapses in Selene’s arms. Selene, skinnier and more frail-looking than the ginger, has no trouble supporting the girl’s weight. Selene walks with the girl out of the room, an arm wrapped around her shoulders, the girl’s head resting against Selene’s shoulder. The door shuts as they disappear in the hall.
Clive clears his throat. “Would anyone else like to share?” he asks.
The meeting runs about an hour, and when I step outside, Selene and the ginger are sitting on the curb. The girl’s head rests against Selene’s shoulder. One of the other kids from the meeting—I learned his name’s Ace—squats down by Selene. She nods before reaching into her back pocket and pulling out a lighter. He takes it and lights the cigarette hanging out past his lips. His body seems to relax as he hands the lighter back and rises to his feet. When he walks away, I sit down next to Selene.
She smiles softly. “Hi.”
I nod my greeting. “So… what is this place?” I ask.
“You mean what are the meetings for?” she asks. Again, I nod. “Kids with ailments,” she says. “Mental, physical, emotional. Anyone’s welcome,” she says.
“Oh,” I say quietly. Now I know why Mom had made me go. “So what’s up with Malinda?” I ask.
“Agoraphobia,” Selene says.
“She’s scared of the outside?” I ask.
“That’s the basics.”
“Coming back next Tuesday?” she asks.
“I haven’t decided yet,” I say.
“Well, when you figure it out, it’s always the same place, same time.” She pats my shoulder as she stands up, pulling the ginger up with her. A red truck stops at the curb and a man steps out of the driver’s side. “I’ll see you around, Mister Lars.”
The man rounds the truck and wraps an arm around the ginger’s waist. He glances in my direction before his gaze shifts to Selene’s face. “Who’s this?” he asks.
“Oh, Dad, this is Adam Lars,” Selene says.
He smiles, holding out a hand. I shake it. “I’m Joel Harper. You’re new to the meetings, then?” he asks.
I nod. “Yes, sir.” Joel Harper. Architect, construction worker. He built the biggest hotel in Canada. He has his own company, his own firm. He’s in charge of the second largest scholarship in the country. And he’s the father of a random girl I met at a meeting I didn’t even want to go to.
“Well, it’s good to meet you, Adam,” Joel says. His blue eyes are much more vivid than Selene’s. His salt-and-pepper hair shows his age. He looks back at Selene. “You coming home now?” he asks.
She shakes her head. “Volunteering at the library, Dad. I’ll see you around suppertime,” she says. “Get Blair home safe and sound?” she asks.
“You know it, Selia,” he says. “Do you need a ride home, Adam?” he asks.
“Oh, no, umm… My mother’s picking me up,” I say.
“I’m heading to Redwater,” Joel bargains. “I live there, too, you know,” he says with a smile.
Would hitching a ride with Joel Harper help me get on his good side? Couldn’t hurt. “That’d be great, actually. Thank you,” I say.
“Hop on in. You can ride shotgun,” he says. “See you tonight, Selia,” he says as he pulls open the back door of the truck.
“See you then, Dad.” Selene waves to me as she starts down the sidewalk. “See you around, Mister Lars.”Start writing here…