Find out what happens in Chapter 3 and on in the eBook or paperback. Links are available on the sidebar in the book’s section of links.
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It was always hard for someone to tell if Chad Stevens ever combed his mess of blond curls or not. On this particular Friday afternoon, he didn’t. He stood in front of the apartment mailboxes, still wearing his pajamas; a t-shirt that was the same shade of greyish blue that matched his eyes with a pixelated heart over where his would be and lint and hair-covered black wool sweatpants with old, dingy socks. They had been his favorite pair since he got them for his sixteenth birthday, eight years ago. Since he was always so awkwardly tall and skinny, they would never be out-grown.
He picked through his mail, trying to correct his glasses that were tangled in his hair on one side. It blurred half his vision. His name and home address glistened underneath the thin piece of plastic of the banking envelope.
He smiled, fully waking up and ripping the envelope. It was glued all the way, leaving him to happily tear away bits of it like picking off bread to feed to ducks. He tossed the handful of envelope scraps into the nearest trash can with a few pieces flying away in the wind.
Chad quickly skimmed the bank statement, finally catching the number in his savings. It read to be exactly $2,998.69 as of February 28, 2009 in bold print after a three-page list of depositing history. The first deposit read from the fifty dollars it took to open the account to occasional deposits of pocket chance that ranged from a few pennies to pennies under five whole dollars. He quickly started checking his memory of where change may have vanished into hiding within his messy apartment.
In the midst of the excitement, he hurried back to his apartment, counting where he could’ve sworn a quarter fell out of his pocket and how much change he might find on the bus ride to the bank on his way there. The sun heated the tar and concrete he walked on, but he was too excited to realize it still helped him run faster.
The afternoon Colorado sun brightened the messy apartment, much brighter than he remembered or was comfortable with. Junk mail slid from his hands to the floor around his cheap tennis shoes as he walked inside. He dropped his keys on his black futon next to his beaten-up flip phone. He mistook the rattling of a “Best Friends” heart half that dangled from his phone and his Country Market Grocery Warehouse name tag as rattling money and turned to look. After realizing what it was, he continued his search for spare change.
Underneath a pile of gaming manuals hid a wooden kitchen table, big enough to fit four people. A few pennies hid underneath the mess. The matching chairs hid nothing. He found what he first thought was a dime by his television set by his now broken-down gaming console, but recognized it as an Australian nickel when he recognized as what he thought was a hedgehog and let it drop into an old Easter basket that held his small game collection.
He checked his bed, making it in the meantime. After examining all of his jean pockets and jackets in his closet, he found ninety-five cents to count to the dollar and thirty-one cents he needed for a perfectly even 3,000 dollars. He already knew the computer desk didn’t hold anything since the bright pink glittery piggy bank was empty. It made him cringe for a second, remembering the piggy bank’s origin as a birthday gift from his brother as a mock for being a virgin. He slapped it into the small trash can by the desk on his way out and into the bathroom.
Four pennies soaked in a small cup of rust-lime-scum fighting cleaner next to his sink. While he was there, he quickly brushed over his teeth and dried off the pennies, hoping the bank would still accept them or at least not reject them without replacing them. He caught a penny hiding behind the toilet in his bathroom.
As he picked it up, he suddenly remembered the first time seeing his first real woman naked. It was a little under a year ago that his childhood friend, Anne Harris, sat on the edge of the tub, waiting for him to sponge-bathe her. He tried remembering the surgery; some kind of problem with something growing inside out that meant a need for surgery. He couldn’t remember the name oophorectomy as the surgery to remove the ovaries because he had never been able to pronounce it. Another reason was that he had never heard of anyone with endometriosis or knew how it made the uterus lining grow inside-out. Instead, memories of his heartbreak from her confession of dating a woman came back.
A video game character theme song started blaring from his cell phone in the living room, snapping him back into the reality of his apartment. He quickly hurried to see who was calling him. It was a number he didn’t recognize, but he always answered unknown numbers anyway. He dropped the newly-found change onto the futon to count and flipped his phone open.
“Hello? Chad Stevens speaking.” he started.
Scott remained quiet for a moment, shuffling between the phone attached to the concrete wall and rolling up the sleeve of his prison uniform. The guard watched, but didn’t find it very odd. Scott skimmed the tattoo on his arm. To many, it appeared to be an unusual bingo chart tattooed over needle scars. It was a chart of coded swindling techniques, mapped accurately to swindle from any psyche he could use it on.
When he found the right technique, Scott exclaimed with fake enough enthusiasm to make the guard grimace. It was an act he had seen hundreds of times before, but it was never something he got used to seeing inmates do. “Hey little buddy. How are you?”
“Scott? Hi, I am uh, I-I’m alright and—?”
“Hey, listen little buddy, you’ve got to do your big brother a favor.”
“Where are you calling—?”
“Listen Chaddy, you’ve got to help me out here.”
Chad cringed at the sarcastic pet name. It was something Anne did to him as well, but he only liked hearing it from her, no matter if it was to tease him or not.
“I got into a little bit of trouble,” Scott lied, “I got caught with weed and now I need your help.”
“Scott, why are—?”
“Hey don’t worry about it little buddy, I’ve got everyone else pitching in a little bit for a bail—.”
“Then why can’t—?” The numbers on his bank statement flashed in front of his eyes.
“There’s only so much they can do.” Scott continued to lie. “The government thinks they’re nothing but potheads or deadbeats that waste their money and don’t deserve to live. Some are holding onto their disability to eat once every other day! Some are losing it because the government thinks blindness or being crippled from a messed up spine isn’t a disability and they can’t get the meds that helps them get through day after miserable day. I’m the only one that gives them any reason to live.”
“But Scott, I—” The numbers on the bank statement kept flashing.
“It’s only a couple hundred. I’m begging you, I lost you as my family when I went away to live with dad. I thought about you every single day! They’re all my family; my brothers—sisters—aunts—uncles—grandmas—grandpas—cousins. Please Chaddy, please don’t take the rest of my family away.”
“But I just—.” Images of his own biological family came to mind. He made up faces to family he hadn’t seen before. His father was one of them.
“You’re my only little brother, I know you have a heart of gold and would never want to watch anyone suffer or make anyone suffer. Family makes sacrifices for each other. I risked getting in here because that’s what family does and now I need you to just give a little to help me help them make it to tomorrow. Please?”
Chad pondered the idea. His mother’s ranting over his father and him not being her idea of a real man came to mind. Anne’s short stay to recover from her surgery did too. The one “thank you” she gave him while he washed her back the first time was the softest he had ever heard her speak to him and it made him wonder if sacrificial kindness really did brighten the lives of others around him.
“How much do you need?”
“Twenty-eight hundred should cut it, but just in case one of them couldn’t pull through; he can only afford to eat once every three days after all.”
“Fine.” Chad said with a depressive sigh, “I’ll send it to dad to get it to you.”
“Thank you little buddy! I love you to death and so does everyone else! I talk about you to them all the time. One of my aunts thinks you’re a real sweetheart. Just think; you’ll be helping me help her manage her horrible cancer pain. She’ll be so grateful!”
Chad and Scott said their goodbyes and hung up. A part of him felt happy for helping a lot of people he didn’t know weren’t real while another part felt as empty as his bank account would be once the money was sent over. While Chad stared at the pile of change on his futon, across town in her parents’ kitchen, Anne stared at the floor, unable to react to what her parents told her. He slid off the futon and onto his feet, slumping to his bedroom to dress for the trip to the bank while Anne ran off to her bedroom and searched her phone for Chad’s number.
Chad’s phone began to taunt him. The ringtone he had assigned without her knowing was the chorus of a song that told the story of a high school crush: a geeky boy who was rejected by the cool gothic chick because he wasn’t up to her standards. For Chad, it fit his relationship with her, just as he assigned ringtones to everyone he had saved to his phone.
He ran into his living room and answered his phone. Since he was only half-way dressed, he tripped on the pant leg he hadn’t put on yet. It prolonged his answering by seconds Anne didn’t even notice.
“Hey Anne!” he said out of breath. He hated to keep her waiting on the phone, though she never cared how long it took him to answer or noticed that he attempted to never allow the ringtone to taunt his relationships with women.
“Oh, uh, Hi Chaddy.” she said dryly, surprised by him taking longer than what she was used to to answer. She brushed it off immediately.
“H-how are you?”
“You sound out of breath, are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Perfectly fine.”
“Oh okay. That’s good.” She layed on her bed. With one hand holding the phone to her ear, she held up an insurance plan brochure above her to block the light bulb from glaring into her eyes.Her short brown hair was straight and tamed, unlike Chad’s hair of which she hated for the most part, thinking it was a curly monstrosity. Her eyes were green, but she always thought they were as dull as Chad’s. Her figure was as boyish as his, though she weighed as much as he did and stood seven inches shorter than him. Even so, it bothered her; she thought she looked fat whenever she stood too close to him.
“So, uh, what are you up to?” Chad asked.
“Oh, nothing really.” she lied. “I just wanted to call and say hi.”
She turned her head to the dresser’s mirror. In it, boxes reflected in her room. Half of it was already packed; seasonal clothing and various things she hardly ever used. The photos of her and her girlfriend Goldie would be the last things she’d want to pack. By one of the photos was Goldie’s old high school i.d. from the year Scott had introduced them. “Diane Hatcher” read across one side with Goldie’s picture on the other. It was always Anne’s favorite photo of her; Goldie hadn’t changed much in the years they had been together. Goldie’s reddish orange hair flowed like the dresses she wore along with makeup that made her lips look bigger without looking tacky. It was what gave Goldie her nickname in looking like a goldfish.
“I’m glad you did.” Chad said. “I haven’t had the best day.–I want to know about your day though! How is your day going?”
Anne’s mother stepped out of her bedroom across the hall. She was on the phone with her sister Tammy, shouting at her over the usual issues Anne always heard them fighting over. Anne got out of bed, grunted with aggravation and slammed her bedroom door shut.
“What movie are you watching?” Chad asked, thinking the background noise was from a movie.
“It’s not a movie.” Anne said.
“What is it? It sounds like someone yelling or fighting or something. Is something wrong?”
She didn’t want to say why. She knew he would say he understood, but to her, admitting she was going through family issues because of her medical problems was confessing she was weak. To her, it was surrendering to her aunt Tammy. She also figured he would understand if she lied, if he ever caught her on it. “No, it’s nothing. Nothing at all.”
Chad figured she was lying; a persistent denial always followed a confession of the truth from her. Whether it was enlightening or not, it was still a habit he didn’t think she needed, unaware of why she would have it. Even so, he knew it would still be too soon to get anything out of her. He gave up without trying. “Glad you’re alright. So, anything new lately?”
“Oh yeah! I got a job last week!”
“Congrats! I didn’t know you were looking for a job though. Where’s it at?”
“Yeah I should probably update you on things like that more. It’s at a pet depot store place. It’s not one of those really well-known places, but it’s bigger than one of those small strip mall pet supply store places. It’s literally called Pet Depot. I get a discount since I work there, so if you want I could probably find a cute pink collar or dog toy for you.” She laughed.
Chad wasn’t sure if she meant it as a mean joke or to flirt. He still laughed nervously, lightly ashamed he thought of it in a dirty way.
“It’s not way too far from your place actually, but it’s not like you’d need to go there for anything if you don’t have a pet, unless you want to count your hair as a rat instead of just a rat’s nest.” she continued, chuckling.
“How’s the pay?” Chad asked. He ignored her hurtful comment.
“It’s seven fifty an hour. It’s not much, but I should get twenty hours a week.”
“That’s good, a little above minimum. So, how often are you paid?”
“Every two…” It made her think of the initial reason why she wanted to call. It bothered her; it was a sign of weakness for her. She didn’t want to, but figured she couldn’t avoid it. “it’s every two weeks and that’s a problem.”
Chad noticed her momentary pause. He assumed she was going to tell him and that therefore there was no need to bring it up. “How come?”
“I need to buy my own insurance plan and I need it right away, but I won’t get the money in time. As a new person, they tend to screw up the paperwork, so I won’t get my first paycheck for about a month, but I need the money now.”
“I need to get my depo shot. Those things can be eighty bucks out of pocket.”
“Depo shot? I thought you couldn’t get pregnant because of your surgery.”
“Duh, of course I can’t, well, naturally anyway. The depo shot is hormone therapy for what I got done.”
“Oh I get it.”
“Yeah and with depo shots, you only get like a week’s time before you need to do it again or else you have to wait a long time and of course I can’t get all the insurance stuff done and ready on time by then.”
“Your mom can’t help?”
“That’s uh, actually why I was calling you.”
Chad’s heart sank and he sighed. “You need money, don’t you?”
“I’m sorry Chaddy.”
“It’ll be two hundred and fifty for the insurance and eighty for the shot, but if I get the insurance some time today, then I should get what I need just in time for my appointment.”
Chad sighed depressively. “I’ll bring it right over.”
“Thank you Chaddy, I’m sorry. I’ll pay you back when I can, okay?”
He said yes and they hung up. Anne hurried to tell her mom the good news while Chad slumped back into his bedroom to finish getting dressed.
Miranda unlocked her door as carefully as she could, trying to avoid hurting her newly done manicure. She admired her freshly-painted acrylic nails; red with white polka dots to match her vintage dress. A tiny red bow made of plastic was glued to the nail on her ring finger. Her pearl necklace with matching earrings were the same as they were almost every day only because she wanted it to go with the bleached blonde hairstyle that was fashionable in her youth.
As she walked into her bedroom to drop off her purse, she kissed her poster of a half-naked male actor, dressed for his role in a renaissance romance thriller show that ended five years before this particular kiss. She giggled at it this time, just like she did every time. She was happy. She had the poster since the series started six years prior. It never lasted more than twelve episodes. She had patiently wanted to wait until Chad moved out to put it up and now it was hers to shamelessly ogle.
All three of her phones blasted a low-quality Beethoven symphony from their chargers. It was a home phone, the only sort of phone she had because she vowed cell phones were too complicated for her. She rushed over to answer the one in the kitchen.
She recognized the number and grimaced. She hated the man calling to never want to speak to him, but answered anyway, this time and every time before.
“Hello Oscar,” she answered with the fakest enthusiasm she could manage, “your better half, speaking.”
“Miranda?” her ex-husband said in a thick, raspy voice. He inhaled the marijuana smoke too quickly and coughed. He tried washing it down with a swig from the whiskey bottle he had in his free hand. He bumped the table that the whiskey was on, messing up a line of cocaine he had ready to help him after the phone call with Miranda would end. With his free hand, he scratched at his arm. The needle scars were bothering him. The tattoo that covered them matched Scott’s tattoo perfectly.Underneath the whiskey bottle was a note Scott left exactly half an hour before his arrest. It was written on a piece of notebook paper folded into fourths with only one side written on it. A large drop of blood browned on the right side near the center. Scott’s handwriting was heavy enough to carve into the paper in some parts while dull enough to be difficult to see. it Read in shaky letters: “I’m sorry Papa, A client jumped me for selling his friend the tempered coke you made for me. Don’t worry. I’ll swindle some food + rent money from Chad in case this fucks up. You’re my world Papa. I love you. P.S. Sorry about the blood. I think the fucker broke my nose. If mom calls, Strategy 3-UG.”
“What do you want?” she asked.
“Just wanted to call and let you know about Scott.” he said.
“What? There’s something you know about my baby that I don’t?” Though Oscar was the father of both her children, she never admitted it when Chad or Scott came into conversation.
“Why do you think I’m calling you? God, I think you bleached your hair enough to kill your brain cells.”
“Just tell me what happened to my baby?”
“Well our son got arrested again.”
She twisted her face at the thought that Oscar was Scott’s father at the word “our”. The thought of him also being Chad’s father stayed in the back of her mind like a bad-tempered child sent to the naughty corner.
“And whose fault is that than the scumbag who took him away from me?” she said, “You know, he’d be a lot better off he lived with me instead of you, Oscar.”
“With how much of a deadweight Chad is, I doubt that. At least Scotty knows his way around the world. You babied the other one so bad he probably don’t even know the difference between a man and a woman.”
Miranda’s face brightened from anger. She couldn’t manage to swear at him; it wasn’t something she thought a real and proper woman would ever do.
“Why tell me this?” Miranda asked, choking down her anger, “what’s so special about reporting this incident?” A spark of jealousy that Oscar won Scott in the divorce came to her.
“Well, this time, yeah, I guess it was kinda my fault.”
“Does that mean you admit you’re trash instead of a man?” the jealousy depleted enough for her to calm back down, but the disappointment was still there as it always was.
Oscar looked down at the end table by his chair. He grabbed the whiskey bottle and swallowed a mouthful before speaking again.
“Scott was charged on crack possession.” he answered.
“Beg pardon? Crack as in crack cocaine? When in the hel– d-devil did he–?”
“He’s been on that shit for a couple months now, Miranda. This time he got caught buying out the lower quality ‘n fake shit to dumbasses who’d fall for it to get the money for the real deal.” He glanced down at the messed up line, thinking back on Scott’s arrest half an hour after he delivered the batch the line of the crack came from. “Cops eventually tracked him down when people found out they didn’t get what they paid for. He said not to tell the other one, so let’s just keep the real reason between you and me, okay?”
Miranda agreed, but didn’t say so. She feared for Chad knowing the truth more than him getting involved. Fears of her hard work going to waste because of the truth corrupting him angered her again and worse than when the phone call started.
“This is all your fault!” she shouted, resisting her urge to swear,” It’s scumbags like you that should never be allowed to be around children, let alone have them! My babies would be so much better off if you were the man you pretended to be!”
“As if confusing the other one into thinking your stupid little romance fantasies of prince charming is reality is any better for him. Glad I never wasted a penny in child support on that deadweight.”
Miranda gasped. She was silent for a moment, trying to control what words came out.
“Well, I’m glad too if it means it would’ve been your dirty, druggy money!” she shouted. “You’re a bad influence to my babies!”
“How am I supposed to be a bad influence if I’m never around him you dumb broad? If anything, I’d be more worried ‘bout the damage you did to that kid more than Scott’s drug dealin’ or his little drug buddies. I’d say the other one isn’t prepared to deal with what comes of having a brother in that lifestyle if the bitch who raised him don’t got no street smarts of her own.”
Oscar hung up on Miranda. He swallowed down the rest of the whiskey and swore repeatedly. He eventually forgot and fixed up the line.
She was too angry by his hanging up without saying goodbye and his use of profanity towards her to think of anything to say. She slammed the phone back on the charger and went to doing dishes.
His final comments, the reference to Chad as “the other one” instead of by his name and the truth about Scott’s charges echoed in her head like a white noise. It made her scrub the dishes harder than she was usually used to. Her hand slipped and hit the faucet, breaking lose one of her nails on her right hand.
She dropped the dish into the soapy water and pressed the nail. She fought the word “fuck”; coming out as “fudge” instead. The pain angered her worse, blaming Oscar for starting the events that led her to messing up her nails. Tears welled up in her eyes from pain and anger.
Oscar’s commentary on her parenting style bothered her this time. She wasn’t sure why. She forced them out of her head like she did every time before. Memories of Chad and Anne playing together came to her mind. She remembered the last update she got from Chad, allowing her to drop off extra cans of food for him as the only thing he wanted or needed. It brought a smile to her face.
For her, she now had permission to re-watch the romance movies that she felt reminded her it was possible to raise her baby into a prince. Whether it was true or possible, it was what she believed that she cared about.