The Absolution of Atticus

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07 :: FRIDAY

— Grace —

FASCINATING AS it is to twist through the streets of Boston in a downpour, I am shivering. Cooper runs beside me, but it’s a different kind of pace. This pace involves hunched shoulders angled in toward one another beneath the umbrella to avoid the rain, which turns out to be a futile effort. We’re both catching colds regardless. Neither of us want to admit this. It’s either duck down dry or soak standing up straight. I’ve never seemed to mind the rain as much as I do now, puffing breath clouds out before us, white knuckles clutching the umbrella handle as if our lives depend on it. I’m acutely aware of every detail. Branching out, the crisp, damp air flowers its way into my lungs. Raindrops seem to float around us in slow motion, an entire sky grey and cascading down onto the city streets.

We break pace eventually, halting to catch our breaths beneath an overpass. Cooper is beaming, breath heavy through a full-faced, open-mouthed smile. His eyes gleam when he looks at me.

“This is wild.” He exhales, facing out toward the torrential downpour.

“Yeah, wild,” I struggle with the umbrella for a second.

He turns to me, amused, and reaches for the umbrella. “Here,”

I jerk it away from him. “No way, Jose.”

Cooper laughs, a real, sudden, snorting sound through his nose that strangely reminds me of my betta fish. I laugh in turn, “I’m fully capable of closing my own umbrella, seriously, hot damn.”

“You’re not fooling anyone.” He pauses, smirking. “Come on, Sinclair, hand it over.”

I shake my head, backing away from him, pushing the stupid umbrella in with all my strength. “I can do it if you would just shut up!”

He lunges for it. I swerve to the left, blurring out an exaggerated, “Ha!

“Give it up, Grace,” He leans in my direction, hands behind his back like some sort of conniving movie villain.

“I’ll beat your ass with this umbrella if you take a step closer, gee whiz. Let a woman work.”

This threat only serves to entertain him more, and as I try to focus on shoving the faulty umbrella back into its closed position, I can sense him shuffling closer. He’s coming up just behind me, a rush of air, the sound of a sigh. In an upwelling of frustration, I resort to slamming the head of the thing with my open palm, “Great, Cooper, you broke my umbrella...”

I turn on him with a whiny expression, only to be met by the lower half of his face inches away from mine. In accordance to the script of every rom-com movie ever made, I don’t even attempt to avoid eye contact. Tensing up, my muscles are suddenly paralyzed. I imagine what it would feel like to trace his bone structure with my fingers, and then I remember how creepy that sounds. Heavy black eyelashes serve him well, contrasting against his striking eyes for all a girl’s worth. A five-o’clock shadow and the proximity to be able to recognize exhaustion just under the surface. I’m the first of us to back up, empty-handed. I can’t even feel my fingers now. Until I notice that in his left fist, he’s gripping the umbrella, we face each other in a sort of standoff. I force myself to laugh just to break the tension.

“Aha,” I attempt to lift the mood by wagging my index finger at him and nodding so exaggeratedly that my neck begins to ache. I begin to ramble off, twisting my facial muscles into some version of sardonic nonchalance just to distract from the pounding of my heart. It’s quite painful. “Alright, I see how you wanna play this, Benson. Well, flag’s up, get ready for some classic subterfuge cause you’re goin’ down, son.”

I cringe internally. A damaged car chugs through the street beside us, splashing brown water up onto the sidewalk, splattering our shoes. Cooper doesn’t move or respond. He scoffs and shakes his head, then waits a beat before matching pace with me again. We walk in silence. The rain has subsided and the streets are eerily empty as we make our way to the antique shop, umbrella closed and swinging against the leg of his jeans, deadweight in the thunder’s absence.

A little bell over the door dings when I push it open, and the dense aroma of cinnamon bombards us right through the door. Glittering golden fairy lights are strung throughout the shelves and hanging origami paper birds adorn the quaint little shop. It feels somewhat like standing in the middle of a holiday card backdrop. Cooper has regained his usual gentle expression, and offers me a small smile when he notices me staring at him staring at the lights.

“Welcome to the junkyard.” I exhale. This is my treasure cache. A place I come to when I’m looking for something, but I’m not sure what that something is. Every aisle is composed of shelves atop shelves of weathered pocket watches and cutlery, assorted picture frames and rusting paperweights. Three of the four walls are bookshelves, jam packed floor to ceiling with marked-up paperback volumes housing countless dust-bunnies and cobwebs. I inhale deeply. Soft 40’s music floats in the air, breathing an antique layer of life into the very walls.

Cooper follows me as I begin to navigate around the shop, pausing to admire every other detail. After a while of sifting through random nick nacks, he speaks up, a hint of backhanded laughter in his tone, “Do you have to touch everything?”

I’m taken aback at first, having half-forgotten that he’s been next to me the whole time. “I—I’m not touching everything.”

“You most definitely are.” He picks up a snow globe and shakes it in front of my face teasingly. “You’re like that one kid in a candy store who tries to eat everything and ends up stealing a bag of chocolate, anyways.”

I laugh, sending him a skeptical side glance. “I never knew that kid.”

“Well,” He chides, helping me as I attempt to shake up all of the snow globes on the shelf. “You missed out. He was pretty badass.”

“Eh, I’m not so sure.”

“What? You don’t trust me?”

“You did just admit you’ve committed a serious felony. And that’s a bummer cause the owner’s a black belt. I really shouldn’t have brought you here.” I turn to him, flip two snow globes over in my hands, and click my tongue.

“Are you being facetious right now?” He squints, waits a beat, and then raises his voice, waving his free arm up over his head. “Yeah, you are. Hey! Yo! We’ve got a facetious felon in aisle four, I repeat, a facetious felon—”

“Shh! Shh!” I wheeze, desperately fumbling to cover his face with both snow globes in my hands until he concedes. “You’re gonna get us kicked out, genius.”

His snickering melts into a contented sigh as he smiles at me. “You’re cute when you’re embarrassed.”

“I’m cute all the time, klepto.” The words slip out so easily, I don’t think twice about it at first. I elbow him in the arm and slam the snow globes back on the shelf to emphasize my point, which is pretty much nonexistent. But I realize, as I’m pivoting around him in the aisle, that I’m enjoying myself. Cooper takes his time following me around the store, catching up only when I pause to examine something truly interesting. At which point, he’ll come and stand just behind me, breathing over my shoulder, close enough to stumble back if I somehow lost my balance. But I don’t. I’m determined not to.

Like Cooper said, I was being facetious, for the most part. There’s a tug in the back of my mind trying to convince me that I was being honest about one thing, though; and as I watch him intently examining the bookshelves from across the shop, I’m so tempted to believe it. I really shouldn’t have brought him here.

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