The Truths and Lies of Happily Ever Afters

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Chapter Fifteen

After walking home from the fair I spend the rest of the day in a daze, laying on my bed and staring up at the ceiling. My brain is still numb, trying to process everything, and I can’t focus on anything more than Ray and what just happened.

Did Ray really just say she’s in love with me? That can’t be possible. Ray doesn’t believe in romance and relationships and things like that. She’s the one who helped me win over Miranda in the first place. But if it’s not true, then what the hell was that?

Feeling drawn and worn, I roll over and look at the clock. Three in the morning. I’ve been thinking myself in circles for hours and still sleep won’t come.

What am I supposed to do? I don’t even understand what is going on, let alone what I’m supposed to do about it. First trying to decide between the two most important girls in my life, and now this whole thing with Ray having a sort of breakdown. And she’s in love with me? No, that doesn’t seem right. How can she be in love with me?

In a way I suppose it sort of makes sense, at least as far as the way she’s been acting lately. I had assumed that her weird behavior was just a combination of the fact that she doesn’t trust Miranda and the stress of everything happening all at once. Maybe a little bit of jealousy because of the possibility of me going to California with Miranda. But love? Is that why she is so on edge whenever I talked about Miranda? Because she wishes it was her?

It makes sense - sort of - but only so far as that. I still can’t bring myself to rationalize the idea of my best friend being in love with me. Me. Why didn’t she ever say anything before?

Wait, do I like Ray? I love her as my best friend, obviously. She’s closer to me than anyone I’ve ever known, at least since my mom died. There is a part of me that has always wanted to know what it would be like to be with her. I loved her once. Do I still love her? But she always told me that she didn’t believe in relationships. I want marriage and a family, and she doesn’t. So I moved on.

Or did I?

I really just do not have the mental capacity to deal with this right now.

Part of me wants to call Miranda but she’s spending the weekend in San Francisco with her dad, finalizing things for her new apartment. I tried to call Ray several times through the night and early morning but she must’ve turned her phone off because it keeps going straight to voicemail. The truth of the matter is, I don’t really know what to do anymore. Ray has always been the one I talk to when things go wrong and I need help figuring things out. Ergo this whole “her not speaking to me” thing is putting a real damper on my overall thought process.

In perhaps the most pivotal time of my life, I am not so much stumbling around blindly as sitting aimlessly on the floor praying for something to come rescue me. Yeah, the odds are not exactly stacked in my favor on that one.

I spend all day Sunday in a haze, alternating between laying on the bed and laying on the floor, staring aimlessly at the ceiling. I don’t sleep or eat. I don’t leave the room and the most effort I exert all day is to pick up my phone and redial Ray’s phone number, not that it ever does any good. It’s not until early evening when the man-door to the garage slams downstairs and Doug bellows, “Jacob! Down here! Now!”

I’m tempted to ignore him, but Doug shouts my name again and I grudgingly drag myself up off the floor. I jog down the stairs and slip into the house to find Doug is sitting in one of the chairs at the dining table, clutching a freshly opened beer in one hand. His face is red and there is a vein jumping in his forehead as leers at me dangerously.

“What?” I ask, not in the mood to deal with him right now. I’ve got too many other things on my mind.

“Watch your tone,” he says warningly, narrowing his beady eyes at me. “I’ve just noticed that something has gone missing from my office.” He leans forward in the chair as far as his protruding gut will allow. I think it’s supposed to make him look more severe but the general effect is that it makes him look a bit like a beached walrus in an old University of Washington sweatshirt. “A certain thing that was taken from your room for safe-keeping.”

“You take a lot of my things,” I point out. I know exactly what he’s talking about, because it’s the only thing that was taken back from his office as far as I’m aware, but it’s not like I’m going to let him know that. “Is it my fault if you misplaced it?”

“This was something specific,” he continues as if he hadn’t heard me. “One that holds particular importance. And at some point since it was taken from you, it’s gone missing from my office. So, what did you do with it?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I say and shrug.

“Oh really?” Doug says sarcastically. He reaches under the table and produces the wood box, the one I used to store my mom's things in. He upends it and a rain of office supplies - pens, broken pencils, a couple stacks of post-it notes and box of paperclips - clatter across the kitchen table. “Because you know what, I think you broke into my office and stole from me. And I’m not going to tolerate that kind of criminal behavior in my house.”

“I didn't do it,” I say. “Check my room if you want, I don't have any of the stuff.”

Doug seems to consider this for a minute. Then his thoughtful frown turns into a wicked smile, an all-too-familiar one at this point. “You know, I hear you caused a bit of trouble at the fair yesterday. What was it? Oh yes, I remember. Got into a fight with your little girlfriend, didn’t you?”

“I don’t have a girlfriend,” I lie. I know he doesn’t know about my actual girlfriend, so there’s only one thing he can be talking about.

“Sure you do,” he says. “Or the way I hear it, you’ve had a couple recently. So what did you do to make your hippie chick have a meltdown? Did she find out about the other girls? Did you tell her that the freakshow look is out of style? Or did you finally wise up and tell her that no amount of distracting clothing can hide the fact that she’s a horrible, ugly cow?”

I don’t remember moving. I remember the feeling of the white hot rage boiling up in me. Then something physically snaps inside of me and the world disappears. When I come back to reality again, Doug has fallen out of his chair and he’s howling through a mess of blood pouring from his broken nose. My hand, meanwhile, feels like it’s been run over by a truck.

“I’m done with you,” I say viciously, clutching my throbbing hand to my chest. “With you and your rules and your bullshit. Ray is a hundred times the person you are and I won’t sit by and let you treat the both of us like garbage anymore. So you can go fuck yourself for all I care. I’m out.”

He is screaming at me but I ignore him as I head back up to my room. I pile as much of my clothes as I can fit into a suitcase, everything else essential into a duffel, and then practically jump back down into the yard. Doug is still bellowing like an elephant from inside the house but I turn my back and walk away from it.

And to hell if I’m ever going back there.

I wait until I’m a full block away before collapsing on a bench at the bus stop and cradling my hand, which is bright red and shrieking in pain. I can’t be certain through the redness and swelling but I think I might’ve broken a finger or two. There’s blood streaking my knuckles and I know it’s not my own. I gingerly wipe it off on the grass and then try to reevaluate my situation.

I’m only just eighteen as of yesterday, but most hotels require you to be twenty-one just to check in. I’ve got no family, no home, my girlfriend is out of town preparing to move away, my best friend hates me, and everything I own is in the bags I’m carrying with me.

I am so screwed.

I sit on the bench for a while longer, trying to make a plan. The bus comes and goes, the driver giving me an annoyed look when I tell him I’m not getting on. It’s getting dark out and if I don’t get a move on then a roving cop is going to give me trouble. There’s really only one place I have left to turn. Gathering up my things, I change directions.

Across Main Street, in the older part of town that I don’t visit quite as often, I trudge a path I’ve only ever been down once before and almost a year ago at that. The roads are lined with small, blocky houses and cramped apartment buildings. Passed a Chinese market, I finally find a little square house with an ancient Buick parked in front. I take a deep breath and then knock on the front door.

There’s some indistinct noises and then a light flicks on in the window. I can hear footsteps pounding closer until finally the door opens a crack, a sliver of a face visible beneath the gold chain holding the door mostly shut. A split second later the door shuts, there’s a grating noise, and then it opens to reveal Eric in a tartan bathrobe, rubbing sleep from his eyes. He's signing something with his other hand and while I'm not sure of the exact words, I can guess the general idea.

“I’m sorry to bother you,” I say. “But I kind of need a favor.”

Eric nods and then steps back, ushering me inside. I slip into the living room which is filled with furniture older than I am judging by the upholstery. He locks up the door behind us and then turns to examine me, raising a questioning eyebrow.

“I got in a bit of a fight with Doug,” I admit. Eric’s eyes drift to my swollen hand and he scowls. “Yeah, I might’ve hit him.”

Smiling tightly, Eric pats the arm of the sofa and then disappears into the hall. I drop my bags by the door and sit down like he told me. He comes back five minutes later with a bottle of aspirin and an ACE bandage. When he perches himself on the edge of the coffee table he holds out a hand expectantly and I give him my injured hand. He prods my swollen knuckles tenderly - why is that everyone’s first reaction when seeing something that must hurt? - and then grimaces.

Pointing to my knuckles, he simulates breaking something with his hands. “I was afraid of that,” I groan. He signs something, and when I just stare in confusion he spells out D-O-C-T-O-R. Then he gently wraps my hand in the bandage. Gesturing for me to wait, he goes into the back of the house. Ten minutes later he’s back, dressed and carrying his keys.

“I’m sorry to bother you like this,” I say awkwardly from the passenger seat.

Eric shakes his head but doesn’t say anything. He drives me to Tickuma General Hospital and escorts me into the ER. The next hour is spent in x-rays and having a cast put on what turns out to be two broken knuckles. Eric stands a silent vigil at my bedside the entire time like a sentinel.

After getting a bottle of pills and instructions on how to take care of my hand for the next six weeks, Eric drives us back to his house. I linger uncertainly in the living room while he bustles around, grabbing blankets from the hall closet and laying them out on the sofa. When he’s finished he hands me a pillow and then grips my shoulder.

“Thank you,” I say sincerely. “And I won’t stay very long, I promise. Just until I can set something up for myself.”

Eric bats away my comment with a wave of his hand. He gestures between the two of us and then spells F-A-M-I-L-Y. I feel my throat get tight and I have to swallow hard to get the burning in my eyes to go away. With a smile, Eric pats my shoulder and weaves his way to the back of the house.

I spread out the blankets on the sofa and then flick off the lamp. The couch is old and a bit sunken, but it’s still fairly comfortable. I set my glasses on the coffee table and lay on my back, trying to clear my head.

How has my life reached this point? I’m a homeless orphan living on a co-worker’s sofa. I’ve got no friends, no college acceptance letters, and no career prospects beyond a junky diner. My right hand is completely immobilized by the bulky cast for my broken knuckles. And now that I’m finally an adult, I have no plans for myself or my future. At the moment, the best I can do is hope to make it through the next day.

With that cheery thought, I pop one of the pain killers, roll over, and wish for tomorrow to get here quickly so Miranda will finally be back. She’s the last good thing I’ve got going for me.

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