The Packing House

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Chapter 38 | Shifting Tide

A few weeks later, I try calling my brother when I know my mother isn’t home. It takes a few tries, but Jonathan finally answers. When I hear his voice, I’m struck by a pang of homesickness. What would make me want to go back to that dingy trailer/coffin?

“How’s it going, flying solo with Mom and all?”

“I’m all right. I can handle myself. At least until recently.”

“What happened?

“One of the girls I was seeing at Sanderville started talking. To her cousin. Her cousin is Elise Stone from Broad Run.”

After a pregnant pause, I say “Uh-oh.”

“Yeah. Uh-oh is right. They started comparing notes and figured out my track record. Now everyone’s on to me. I got shut down by a girl.”

“That’s rough. So now what are you up to?”

“Nothing. Literally, nuh-thing.” I have to stifle a guffaw.

“How so?”

“The girl from Sanderville told her mom, and she called our mom, so I’m grounded for all eternity, pretty much.”

“That sucks, man.”

“Yeah, well. It was fun while it lasted.”

I want to tell him something, but I’m not ready to share what Uncle Steven did. He should know I found stuff out about our father. I wonder what he remembers; he was pretty young. I decide to broach the subject.

“Uh, Jonathan. I found out something about Dad. Did you know he left because he was sent on an isolated tour in the military? Mom said he just left us, but I have a letter he wrote that says different.”

“I thought he didn’t want anything to do with us. It was so long ago. I don’t remember much. Did I tell you Dad’s called a few times? Outta nowhere. And he’s planning to visit soon.”

“No, you didn’t. He almost came here, too, but I stopped him.”

“That’s harsh. Sure you don’t want to see him? It might help you remember stuff from back then.”

“Speaking of, I found the fishing poles. The ones Dad bought for us to go fishing before he up and left. Remember that farm with the windmill? There was a park where we went with a lake.”

“How’d you find those?”

“I’m helping Grandma with a few projects. Trying to pass tenth grade, otherwise I have to repeat it. So, I’m going hard and helping where I can.”

“I bet you’re a helper. How’s that girl you wrote all those letters to, Amber?”

“She’s here. She helps Grandma, so I see her sometimes, but she’s got a boyfriend already. I think he’s a senior. Trust me, she’s not interested.”

“Tough break.”

“I have other things to take care of anyway. If I want a chance with her, I’ve got to get myself together. Right now, she’s moved on. Listen, I’ve gotta go. I’ll talk to you soon.”

After I get off the phone, I ask Grandma if I can ride down to the beach. I seem to be going there a lot lately. It’s a good distance for a bike ride, and it gives me time. I don’t even have to pay attention to where I’m going anymore. I could get there blindfolded.

The weather is always nice, and the boardwalk traffic has started to pick up. The beach isn’t too crowded, at least not with all the tourists. Not yet. Locals call them “bennys.” It stands for where most of them come from, but it’s not always a nice term. In fact, some people use it like a swear word. That’s another thing I’m working on. I’m trying to clean up my language and speak without cursing. Will Amber even notice?

Occasionally, I let one fly, but I’ve curbed it way back from what it used to be.

I’ve been talking more with Mr. Faber. I swear he’s brainwashing me with his brochure-ese. I haven’t told him what I found at the farmhouse, but I think I’m ready. Writing it down helped me get control. Now it’s just words on a page, something I created. Maybe if I share it, others can get something out of it.

I ride along the boardwalk and stop to watch someone flying a kite. There’s enough wind; not sure if the shape of it is the problem. After a few minutes of struggling, the kite is airborne, and I catch myself smiling as it swoops and swirls through the air. I might even be happy. How did that happen? I keep going then turn back a few streets before the end of the boardwalk and start to head home.

I start humming a tune I overhear from a convertible I pass; it’s one of those catchy, summery tunes that’s just good and wholesome. Positive message. I could use more of that, so I hum along. I need to let music back into my life. I’ve gone through a long, dry desert with no sound, just the wind whipping like the inside of a shell.

That’s when I hear someone calling my name. I stop and turn around. Stepping out from a nearby vehicle is Elias Stone wearing a tie-dye tank top over khaki shorts. “Joel! It is you.”

“In the flesh.” My mind is reeling, wondering what made our paths cross here, of all places. Elias signals the person driving to wait a minute and points at a vacant parking spot along the boardwalk. I step off my bike and flip the kickstand.

“Who would’ve thought we’d see each other again at the beach?”

“I know, right?” That is pretty weird… now that he mentions it.

“I stopped by your grandmother’s house looking for you. She said you’d be down here along the boardwalk. I guess she was right.”

“Why’d you come all the way out here?”

“Oh, I’m going to an event nearby. Maybe you’ve heard of it? The annual Pride Celebration.” He nods his head toward the driver. “My friend invited me, and Jonathan said you were staying out here with your grandmother, so I looked you up.”

“Does that mean you’ve come out?”

“What do you think?”

“I guess so.”

“The question is, what are you going to do about it?” He steps toward me.

“Elias, I haven’t…”

“You haven’t, or you won’t?” He sounds upset.

“I don’t know. I haven’t figured that out yet.”

“Tell me you never felt anything between us.”

“That’s not the point.”

“Why not? Be who you are, man. Not who they tell you to be.”

“Is that what you said to Jonathan? How’d he take it?”

By Elias’s sudden laughing spurt, I’d venture it didn’t go as planned. “I guess he’ll have to get used to it.”

“Good for you,” I reply.

“Why do you say that?” The way he’s looking at me, I can tell he knows with certainty.

“Because you know who you are.”

“And…?”

“I wish I knew myself like that, but I don’t. Not yet, anyway. I’m still trying to figure things out.” Elias may have known about my nightmares through the YouTube videos, but not what caused them.

“Look me up when you do.”

“All right. Enjoy your celebration.”

“I will. Good to see you, man. I’m glad I found you.” He embraces me, and I hug him back. He looks me in the eyes, and I stare back, caught momentarily by all the thoughts we’ve left unsaid. I wish I knew how I felt. When he’s driven off, I climb back on my bike and spend some time lost in thought.

It’s dark by the time I return home. Grandma shakes her head at me before saying goodnight.

I’ve started having normal dreams again. The best thing so far about writing, other than getting that stuff out of my head, is the nightmares are gone. I haven’t had one in at least two or three weeks. I think they’re finally going away.

Then I realize I’m going to make it through this. I’m not a victim anymore.

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