The Boy in the Gray Hoodie

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FOUR | Homewrecker

Lisa stopped in her tracks, forehead wrinkling at the annoyance of being startled. “What the...” she turned and set the electronics on the table in the entryway, slowly approaching the door.

Who visited people without calling first? Was that a thing that still happened? The only friends to come over had been the kind who just opened the door and walked in, knowing they were welcome. Lisa hesitated, hand hovering over the doorknob. Was it even safe to answer the door to strangers anymore? What time was it, anyway? Didn’t they know she should be at school? Maybe this was a test to see if anyone was home. If she didn’t answer, would they break in and start stealing stuff? Like a trip to the woods, the idea of thieves ransacking her father’s house wasn’t entirely unappealing. It would show him what happens when all you do is work. People notice. They see that you’re never home and your daughter is all alone. Then they decide to steal your shit.

The doorbell rang a second time, causing Lisa to jump back, startled again. Letting out a growl, she lunged for the doorknob and pulled it open, no longer worried about thieves or being seen in her underwear and a kimono. She hated being scared more than she feared being robbed. “What the hell do you want?” she snapped before she could even see who was at the door.

“Um, nothing, just...Lisa...it’s me.” A short girl stood on the porch, her glasses fogged from the rain and her black hair piled into a frizzy mess on the top of her head. “Benadryl.”

“What?” Lisa’s face twisted in confusion.

The girl turned red. “That’s what people...they call me that. At school. I thought you might recognize the name or something,” she was mumbling, her gaze pinned to Lisa’s neck. “No one remembers that my name is actually—”

“Amber. From history. I remember.” Lisa raised an eyebrow.

“Oh,” Amber seemed genuinely shocked.

“What do you want?”

“Oh, um, well...I just...um...”

“Listen, Amber, I’d love to stand here all day while you figure out what you wanted to tell me, but I’m actually in my underwear and it’s cold out here,” Lisa said impatiently, gesturing to herself with one hand and holding the door open a little wider with the other.

“That’s okay, I understand. I’ll just go then...” she turned and started walking down the steps, her uniform pressed snuggly to the rolls around her stomach thanks to the rain.

“Amber,” Lisa said, letting go of the door and kicking it open the rest of the way. Apparently, she’d have to make the invitation really obvious. “Did you want to come inside?”

Amber blinked and slowly came back. “Um, sure?” she followed Lisa into the entryway, stopping to look at the high ceilings. They should have been filled with cobwebs for all the cleaning that anyone did in that place, but, alas, even the bugs preferred a real home to a cavernous mass. “Wow, you have a really nice home,” she said politely, both thumbs tucked under the straps of her backpack.

“We call it the shack. But thanks,” Lisa said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. Amber obviously didn’t get it, based on the blank expression on her face. “Hungry?”

“Um, no. Actually, I just came here to thank you.” Amber rubbed the toe of her shoe against the floor and chewed her lip. “I know what you did and I...it means a lot to me. Nobody has ever stood up for me like that.”

Lisa looked at her for a moment, then shrugged. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Amber blinked stupidly, her mouth hanging open. “The bathroom. What you wrote. You called Una Poetter a shitfaced liar.”

“Una Poetter is a shitfaced liar. I just told the truth. Something that she is apparently incapable of doing.”

“She told everyone that I—”

Lisa held up her hand, interrupting the girl. “Ah-ah-ah, no. Don’t repeat the poison. She lies about everyone, not just you. People just need to stand up to her.”

“Yeah, I guess. But you’re the only one who has.”

“Not true. McKayla Ryan just told her off last week,” Lisa reminded her, leaning against the doorframe with her arms crossed to hold her kimono closed.

“But McKayla didn’t get expelled,” Amber pointed out shyly.

“That’s true,” Lisa admitted, shrugging. “Oh well. Shit happens.”

“See, you’re so brave. I’d be crying my eyes out right now if I got expelled. And my mom would kill me. But you’re so cool, you just don’t even care about any of it.”

Lisa’s eyes narrowed. “Is that what people think?” she asked in a quiet voice. “That I don’t care about anything?”

Amber hesitated, then gave an awkward laugh. “Yeah, like you care what people think!” she chuckled and slapped her thigh. “Who cares, right?”

Lisa gave a half-hearted smile and straightened. “Right.”

“So, um, I guess I still want to say thank you. Even if you didn’t do it for just me, what you did...it felt good. I’m sorry you got expelled though. Principal Reinert has had it out for you since Mr. Kelly’s class last year.”

“The palimpsest. Yes. My dad and I were just talking about that.” Lisa said wryly.

“Oh no, so you did get in trouble? Was your dad angry?” Amber asked worriedly. She slowly took off her backpack, a sign that she wanted to stay for a while. Lisa didn’t mind. She hadn’t had any friends over to her house since...she couldn’t remember.

“My dad? Feel? No, never.” Lisa laughed humorlessly. “He’s taking away all my stuff though. And sending me to live with my aunt Pam.”

Amber burst out laughing, giving a loud snort before seeing Lisa’s furrowed brow. The guffaws ended abruptly. “Oh my god, you’re serious.” Her face turned a bright shade of crimson. “I’m sorry, I thought you were joking.”

Sighing, Lisa shrugged. “It’s okay. Did you want to go upstairs? My bedroom is a lot more inviting than the hallway.”

Amber nodded excitedly. They walked up the stairs together, Lisa retrieving the food from the landing before making her way back to her room. She invited Amber to sit on the bed and offered her some food, but the girl was reluctant to eat anything.

“I’m fine, thanks.” Amber insisted, rejecting Lisa’s offer to go make her a sandwich or something downstairs. “You have a really nice bedroom. I love the pink.”

“That’s from my tweenage years. Never repainted. I’ve always kind of liked having things stay the same up here. Customization is for phone backgrounds. Childhood bedrooms should stay the way they’ve always been. There’s something nostalgic about it, you know?”

Amber was watching her, expression soft. “I got my brother’s old nursery. It’s blue with dinosaur wallpaper but I guess I wouldn’t change it now.”

“Yeah, cause memories, you know?” Lisa prompted.

“Yeah,” Amber gave a small nod. “So...I’ll miss seeing you at school.”

Lisa chuckled dryly. “You’ll miss me? We’ve barely talked to each other in three years until today.”

“But this is a really nice conversation,” Amber said. “I never knew you were this nice.”

“Nice?” Lisa wrinkled her nose.

“Not nice?” Amber tried.

Lisa cringed. “I don’t like labels.”

“Oh, okay. Well, I think you’d be a good friend. You’re not all caught up in stupid stuff like the other girls at school. All they think about is clothes and shit. And being pretty. Like, how hard is it to be pretty, anyway? Just put on some makeup and shut up about it already.”

Lisa laughed, laying back on the bed with a carrot between her teeth. “There are other things to try hard for, right?”

Amber turned, leaning on her hand. Lisa patted the mattress beside her, but the girl shook her head. “I’m good here, thanks.”

“Okay,” Lisa bit off the end of the carrot. She chewed loudly for a minute, waiting for Amber to say something. Silence hovered between them—a little awkward, but not too bad considering they were basically strangers. It was funny how she was making a new friend right before she would have to leave. They’d probably never talk again, but that was alright. It gave them both something to do for today. “Hey, did you skip school to come here?” Lisa asked, glancing at the clock. It wasn’t even three yet.

Amber nodded sheepishly. “I didn’t want to wait. Principal Reinert was so mean, yelling at you like that in front of everyone. I could see you through the window in homeroom. You were waiting outside for your dad for ages. I just...felt bad.”

Lisa frowned. “You can keep your pity, Amber. I’m a big girl. I don’t need it.”

“Oh, I didn’t mean—that’s not what I—”

Sitting up, Lisa waved her hand dismissively. “Don’t worry about it.”

There was silence again.

“So...what is your aunt like?” Amber asked after a long moment. “Is she nice?”

“My aunt?” Lisa seemed confused.

“Yeah...you said you had to go live with your aunt...Cam?”

“Oh, Pam,” Lisa nodded. Amber looked relieved at being understood. “I always call her aunt Pam to other people, but she’s not really my aunt. It’s just a lot easier to say ‘aunt Pam’ instead of long-time-friend-of-the-family Pam.”

“That makes sense,” Amber admitted. “Have you known her all your life?”

“Basically. Since I was like five. She’s pretty much a second mother to me.”

“Where’s your real mother? I didn’t see any cars in the driveway...” Amber seemed hesitant to ask, probably worried about a sore subject.

“She left. Fiona, my mom, decided to divorce my dad and leave us both,” Lisa explained, no emotion in her voice at all. “I had school and everything, so it was for the best. She lives in Europe now, I think. I’m not really sure.”

“Oh, wow. That sucks. How could a mom just leave her daughter like that?” Amber demanded, quietly outraged for Lisa’s sake.

“I guess it happens,” Lisa responded, glancing at her fingernails. They were nibbled too short to bite them anymore. She’d have to wait for them to grow out again, then chew them off. In the meantime, there was always her secondary means of relaxation. Turning, she looked the girl in the eye. “Do you like music, Amber?”

“Um...yes?”

“Good,” Lisa jumped up and ran to her stereo. “Let me see your phone,” she said, holding out her hand while she fiddled with the Bluetooth settings on the speaker.

“Okay,” Amber got up and brought the phone over. “I don’t have a lot of music, but there are Spotify and Pandora—”

“Perfect.”

Lisa spent the next several minutes curating a playlist and then set the volume to the max level. The house was filled with the upbeat sound of Trouble Is A Friend by Lenka. She took Amber by the hand and pulled her to the other side of the room where a crate sat filled with different bottles of paint and stacks of brushes. “Grab the other side,” Lisa said, shouting to be heard over the music.

“Sure,” Amber said, slipping her hands through the handle. They carried the crate downstairs into the living room where Lisa dumped it out onto the carpet. “What are we doing?” she asked.

“Showing my dad what happens when you take electronics away from millennials,” Lisa answered, laughing as she pulled out the brightest colors she could find.

“Like...revenge?” Amber asked, looking doubtful.

“Sure, if you want to call it that. Here, this is your shade.” Lisa held out a bottle of bright green paint. “Put it wherever you want.” She said. It was time to bring some color back into the house. She’d had it with the empty gray walls and sparse furniture.

Amber didn’t take it. She was looking at Lisa with wide eyes. Upstairs, Crybaby by Melanie Martinez started playing. “I don’t think this is such a good idea...actually...I should go home.”

Lisa’s eyebrows lifted as Amber headed toward the front door. “Amber, wait,” she walked toward her.

“I don’t know your dad, but I don’t want to get in trouble. I already skipped school and everything. This was fun and all, but I’m—I need to go home now, okay?” Amber swung her backpack over her shoulder and pulled open the door.

“Amber, wait a second,” Lisa followed her out the door.

“I really don’t want to be here anymore,” Amber blurted.

“Your phone is still upstairs, Amber.” Lisa reminded her. She stopped. “I’ll get it,” Lisa offered, running back inside. She retrieved the phone, halting the music, and ran back downstairs. Amber was tapping her foot on the sidewalk, looking impatient and apologetic at the same time.

“Here.”

“Thanks,” Amber put the phone in her pocket. “I guess I’ll...see you around?”

Lisa shook her head. “Probably not.”

“Okay.” Amber didn’t seem disappointed. Turning, she walked hurriedly down the street, glancing over her shoulder at Lisa several times before she turned the corner. Lisa went back inside, enveloped in a new wave of silence. The house seemed even emptier now that the music was no longer playing.

Traipsing back into the living room, she glanced at the pale colored furniture and walls, gaze roaming over the lifeless remains of a broken family. It wasn’t revenge, despite what Amber had said. It was desperation. Lisa couldn’t take this anymore. She didn’t care if her dad never wanted her back. She had to do something about the emptiness. Paint bottles remained scattered over the white carpet, full of color, of life. She couldn’t pretend it would change anything other than how she felt in that moment. But in that moment, that’s all that mattered.

Damp hair resting on her shoulders, Lisa pulled it all to one side and picked up the closest paint bottle. The lid gave a satisfying click as she pushed it open with her thumb. Despite the silence, she heard music in her head as she squeezed the contents of the bottle onto her hand and began smearing crimson onto the space above the couch where the family photo once was.

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