The Packing House

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Chapter 19 | Lock-In Revisited

Now that I’m up on the roof of the school, it may not be safe to enter. The longer I wait, though, the better the odds. Besides, I’m still recovering from the mental parade that flicked across the shiny bank of windows as the sun sank. Why did someone want me to find the naked pictures in that outhouse? Glad I was near the bucket. I feel sorry for whoever finds the vomit.

I look over the roof’s front edge to see if there are any cars. Staff parking spots are in the middle of the drop-off circles. I don’t see any vehicles on this side, but there are a few on the high school end, where students wait for rides. Just as I pull my head back, a car comes into the high school circle.

Time to move.

I crawl back to the door and reach for the handle. It’s locked. Now what? All this effort and I’m stuck on the roof. Maybe I should try again. I jiggle the handle, and this time it turns. The darkness of the stairwell swallows me.

I close the door behind me. At the bottom of the stairs, I listen for sounds. The hum of the A/C unit reverberates through the vents. I don’t remember that from the night before, but I wasn’t careful. I wait a few minutes and then steel myself to enter. The lights are off, a good sign.

Even in the dark I know to cross to the door and feel around until I have my bearings. I retrieve keys, turn the lock, and start to open the door when I remember there might be people. The door opens inward, so I pull and check for life. All the lights are off. I guess everyone here leaves early. The high school is where I need to take extra precaution.

I don’t see anyone through the front windows when I step into the dim hall, but I stay close to the walls and try to blend into the darkness. When I near the front corner, I glance to the right. Since it’s deserted, I make a break for the teacher’s lounge, hugging the inside of the hallway as I go.

Once the door clicks shut, I’m wiped. I reach the couch and collapse. I’m so tired, I could sleep until morning were it not for my growling stomach. My loudly growling stomach.

An odor wafts up from the carpet. It takes a few moments to realize it’s smoke. My clothes must be covered. Still, the couch is much more comfortable than metal bleachers or the rooftop any day. I linger and think about what I need to do before sleep. I should make a plan. Don’t want to be caught off-guard.

Sneaking down for food, I plan to get enough for dinner and breakfast. I find leftover pizza and chili fries. The chili and the fries are separate, but I put them together anyway. I grab fruit, milk, and cereal for later. After I eat, I clear my stuff and head to the locker room.

I remember to pass by the shower room, where I find the towel in the bin right where I left it. I strip down and hang my clothes outside the shower to remove some of the smoke. The steam makes me cough. I do have fresh clothes in my backpack, but I’d like to get the smell out of these before I change.

Standing beneath the water, my mind wanders, and I’m consumed by the urge. I’m at the boiling point. Vigorous, explosive, and way too quick. As another wave rises, my mind flashes with images. Naked men and women in every position imaginable. I shudder. Why am I thinking about men? Does this mean I’m…?

I pull on clothes and put the rest in the backpack. Clearing the evidence of my presence, I head back to the teacher’s lounge.

From my backpack, I pull the milk and store it in the refrigerator. I just have to remember to grab it in the morning. Feeling better, I call it a night. The sun’s already set, and there’s no one to watch through the windows, anyway.

Using my backpack as a pillow and my coat as a blanket, I stretch myself out. My attempt to read ends when I drop my book on the floor. When I reach over to retrieve it, I see an envelope sticking out from under the couch. The lost letter from Amber! From the way it’s poking out, I can’t tell if it dropped out of the book or is there from the day before.

Snatching it up, I tear it open as fast as my fumbling hands can manage. My fingers won’t work and my eyes go wide. It’s not at all like the one before. I don’t know what’s gotten into Amber.



Joel,

I know we’ve been close for a long time. While I have fond thoughts of our friendship over the years, my father suggested I focus on investing in the relationships I have locally. He thinks this has gone on long enough between us, and who are we kidding? This isn’t much of a friendship when we hardly ever see each other in person. Maybe we should focus on the friends we have where we live and stop wasting time sending letters back and forth.

Take care,

Amber



This isn’t like her. Something must have happened. She’s not making any sense. Had I known this beforehand, I would never have made the call in the library. This is all I need right now.

A million sit-ups and push-ups mostly calm me down, at least enough to attempt sleep. My first day of school is hours away. The teacher’s lounge couch eventually wins.



When I wake, it’s much lighter than the day before. I glare at the clock like it must be lying. Sunrise was just after 6 a.m. yesterday. The clock reads 6:38. Shit. I overslept. And I forgot to return the keys again, damn it. I wish I had an alarm clock or a cell phone. Why did I have to find that letter? I know the kitchen staff is already downstairs, so my best bet is the back stairs.

I grab the milk and my things and head to the door. Teachers may be in already, but I can’t see out. The windows are covered in posters and announcements. The teachers must want privacy when they’re in here.

After listening for sounds, I glance out into the hall. I don’t see anyone, but I’m right near the front entrance. Across from me stands a wall of windows. I’d better make a break for it. If I run, I’ll be noticed. Surveying the hall, I walk out with a purpose toward the stairwell. Once I’m further down, I glance back. Someone comes in. I’m not that far from the stairs, so I keep going and hope they don’t notice.

As far as I know, all these classrooms are locked, and I concentrate on closing the distance to the door. My feet grow roots. The door stretches farther away. Whoever came in has got to be behind me by now. Are they close? I can’t risk looking back, but I don’t hear anything, either. If a teacher’s behind me, they’ll ask why I’m in this early. This is the middle school, and I’m pushing six feet tall. They can see I’m too old to be here.

I reach the door and no one calls out from behind. Starting down the stairs, I get partway down before I stop and make a 180 to see if anyone is behind me. The hallway is empty, thankfully.

Spiraling down, I reach my spot behind the stacks of chairs. I should have enough time to eat before heading over to the high school. After adding the banana, I turn the cereal boxes into bowls and eat. I don’t have a trash can, so I tuck trash in the corner and make a mental note to take care of it later.

What would I have done if someone’d found me sleeping in the teacher’s lounge? Damn, that was close.

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