By Lexi Anders
I wake up the day of the funeral completely drained. I’m not sure how to feel right now, it’s a tumult of emotions, but a deep aching emptiness. I don’t know what I’m going to do now. I don’t have the motivation to get up, but I can’t stay. My alarm rings and I pull myself out of bed resting my head in my hands as the sound bounces around my skull.
Suddenly I slam my hand at the clock and rush to the window pulling the curtains aside and wrenching open the window gasping for air. My neighbor walking his dog looks at me strangely and hurries on. I fall to the floor as the cold winter air bites at me.
I arrive at the funeral slightly disheveled despite the attempts I didn’t make to fix my thick brown hair. People stare as I trudge through the crowd not bothering with “excuse me”s. I know I’m a mess and I can’t bring myself to care. Some attempt to come give condolences, but I just shrug them off and keep walking. I fall into a chair and hide my head. Their voices trickle into my ear as they catch up and gossip. AT MY FATHER’S FUNERAL.
My blood begins to boil so when someone gently lays their hand on me I immediately swat it away before seeing who’s come to bother me. It’s Lila.
I can tell she’s hurt and I feel bad, but instead of saying anything I just look away.
“Look, Ethan, I know this is hard for you, but pushing people away won’t make anything better.” she says pushing back her pain, “I’m here for you, just let me stay that way.”
“Thank you Lila, but I’m fine. And I’m sorry for being so rude.” I force out trying to put a lid on my anger for her.
She her brow furrows in concern, but she walks on to find a chair leaving me in momentary peace. Or the closest thing to peace I could be in considering.
“You shouldn’t treat Lila like that, she’s just worried about you.” my best friend from work, Daniel, says cautiously taking a seat next to me.
“We’ll she doesn’t need to be worried because I’m perfectly fine.” I say sighing.
“You don’t look fine . . .” he murmurs.
I glare at him from my hunched position and I know he sees, but he stays sitting there even more determined than before. The rest of the friends and family come to say goodbye, however, avoid me like the plague. That’s what I wanted, but somehow it makes me feel worse than before. I desperately want to crawl back into bed and stop thinking. I know his body is laying up there in the casket. That unearthly peace resting over him.
The service starts and I hold my breathe, trying to keep it together. He’s in a better place I know, but . . . I don’t want him to be. I don’t believe how much I miss him . . . With mom gone he was all I had. Waking up and racing for the cereal in the morning . . . arm wrestling over dinner . . . laughing over a cheesy movie together . . . never again. My heart skips a beat thinking about it and my throat constricts. I-need-tobreath.
“Huhuhuhuhu” I gasp for air panicking in my personal ball. My legs two inches in front of me blur and the world spins uncontrollably.
Daniel taps my shoulder anxiously. After a second I begin to wheeze so he stands up and drags me by the armpits to the exit. People look on after us in distress as I flail about in the middle of the ceremony.
A short instant of quiet is cast over my mind and the thought I had been hiding creeps out before I can pull back up the barricades. I’ll never be able to take back what I last said to him.
We hear the pastor clear his throat to catch the attention of the crowd as Lila rushes to help him carry me out. They set me against the wall outside as I try to catch my breath.
“What happened?!” Lila asks in alarm.
“I, huh, stopped, huh, breathing.” I mutter nonchalantly trying to distract myself with the trees swaying in the breeze.
“That’s not something you can blow off! I’m calling 911!” she yells whipping out her phone as she turns away.
“No, stop!” I say jumping up and grabbing at her phone desperately.
She holds it away and resumes typing as Daniel holds me back.
“Stop!” I attempting to struggle from his grip.
“Lila if you don’t stop it may get worse! He’s close to having a heart attack!” Daniel says still pushing me back.
She pauses and I stop as well staring at her pleadingly.
“That’s exactly why I have to call them.” she says pressing the call button.
“No.” I sink to the ground and lose consciousness.
I penetrate awareness to a steady beeping in my ear. I open my eyes to find myself laid in a hospital bed all alone. Immediately the beeping speeds up and then stops altogether as I rip the pads off and fly out of the room. A nurse looks up startled as I tear down the hallway at a dead sprint. She calls for a doctor, but I just keep going. Down the stairs, around corners, wherever I can to go away from the memories.
Daniel appears in my sights and I can’t dodge him before I’ve slammed both of us to the ground.
“I- I’m sorry- I need to-” I spring back up sprinting without bothering to finish explaining my haste. It’s not something I want to share right now. All I care about is leaving as soon as I can.
I close my eyes hurdling on for a moment and when I open them again I see the hospitals limited security surrounding me. I bust through them imagining them holding me down on the cold tile floors, but they only stand in my way. I trip over my own feet crashing onto the ground without anyone’s assistance. I don’t need to look to know one of them is coming to stick a needle in me making me stay in this awful place. I scramble up fists raised.
“Stop, stop!” Lila says skidding in. “He’s not going to run away anymore. Right, Ethan?”
I’m tempted to say no and start socking them, but that could land me in prison. So although I’m furious with her, I freeze and nod vigorously. Anything to get me out of here.
The security slowly ease off, a couple take their leave while the rest stay in arms reach should I flee once more. I get up avoiding all I contact hands clenched at my sides.
“Sir, why did you run?” a doctor asks me.
I shrug and begin turn which makes them all tense until I sit myself in a nearby chair looking out the window.
“I’m giving you one more chance. Can you please tell me why you tried to run?”
I stare firmly out the window. Those geese on the lawn are fascinating. Much more important than talking to some quack. The geese can be trusted- they only honk.
“Doctor may we talk to you in private.” my friends ask him in my place. They lead him to the sided, but I can hear every word crystal clear.
“Can I take you back to your room, sir?” a nurse asks me politely as though I hadn’t caused any trouble.
I don’t glance up.
All the people leave except the nurse as I listen to my friends attempt to prove my sanity.
“We were going to release him as soon as he woke up since his fainting only seemed due to over stress. He also tested negative for any drugs or alcohol. But, now we may have to hold him longer.” the doctor says making me flinch.
“He’s just going through a tough time now, doctor. His father passed away not long ago in this very hospital.” Lila says in a low voice.
“That may be so, but by his reaction it could be a major disorder.” the doctor shakes his head.
“Please, now that he’s calmed down I’m sure he’ll talk to you.” Daniel pleads.
“We’ll see,” the doctor concedes.
They walk back to me my friends eyes aglow with hope. I’m not healed. All I’ve done is painted over the throbbing wound, but I need out of here.
“Look doctor,” I say as calmly as I can, “I’m so sorry about earlier I just . . . I’m fine. May I please go home? I just need some time to think.” my friends lightly sigh in relief as the doctor considers.
“As long as you check in next week and nothing happens between now and then.”
“Thank you so much doctor.” I shake his hand and slide between my friends.
“Their are some things you need to take care of at the counter before you leave.” the doctor calls after me.
“Thanks.” I call back with a wave and keep going.
My friends jog after me. I don’t acknowledge them only quicken my pace.
Daniel grabs my arm and turns my frosty face towards him begging, “Can you forgive me? I’m so sorry man. I had no clue about your dad.”
My gaze softens on his sweet ignorant latino face.
“Daniel, your my best friend there’s no way I’m angry at you.” I say softly and resume my march more weary than bitter.
“Thank goodness,” Lila sighs. I turn back to her as she continues, “I was afraid you were angry at us.”
“No, not both of you. Only you Lila.” I say evenly.
Their faces go from relieved to shocked in a millisecond.
“But . . .”
“You knew what happened. How could you do this to me!? I thought we were friends or- or even something more . . . I can’t even pay the bills for this stupid visit! I told you I would be okay. Why couldn’t you believe it?! Why can’t you trust me?” We’re frozen almost to the reception desk as people stare once more as I make an overly dramatic scene. I go on subdued, “All I needed was someone to be there for me- all I needed was you to be there for me. But, all you did was offer, then you left me all alone . . . just like dad.”
I turn and slowly walk away leaving them in silence.
I wander through my house looking for anything of value that I don’t need. My father’s will was short and simple. Dad hadn’t thought he was going to pass away anytime soon, and neither had I, so he hadn’t worked on it much. It simply stated that everything he owned went to me. Which wasn’t much. Just the house as far as I knew. I was hoping to find something of worth I could sell to help with the bills before I went back to work from my personal time.
Lila had been by twice already to apologize. She knocked gently on the door and waited over an hour standing with her flowers in her hands before leaving them on the porch and driving away dejected. During which I sat against the wall with all the lights out eating the last of my ice cream. The second time she came she saw the flowers still sitting on the porch, but just stepped over them and repeated the wait empty handed.
The truth is: I do love her. I have for years. We’re the best of friends and everyone knows it. I long to make up with her- to tell her how I feel about everything, but looking at her reminds me of my father. I don’t blame her for taking me to the hospital. I would have done the same. And I’m sure I’ll find a way to pay the bills somehow. My father always had. I just need a reason to stay away from her. To keep my heart from splitting apart.
I sigh and go take the flowers she had left inside. They’re my favorite- licorice red lilies. I inhale their delicate smell with a wistful smile. It may be odd for a guy to have a favorite flower, but I’ve never been “normal”. I’d told her they were my favorite because they reminded me of her name and looked good in her auburn hair. And from then on they were. I get a vase and set them inside before returning to my search.
I’ve rounded the house for the second time with only a crumpled dollar bill, and a worn out pair of shoes I used when I was twelve to show for it. I pause in front of the door. Dad’s door. Ever the handyman, he had put it on himself after I broke down the original one down with a baseball bat (don’t ask). If you look closely you can see writing just above the doorknob where my dad struggled to carve his name in the wood, like a painter with his artwork would.
I slowly twist the handle brushing along the cuts, not only because I’m bracing myself but otherwise it gets stuck. The room is dusty and light barley flits in from the covered window. I haven’t been in here for a couple weeks now. Dad was in the hospital at the time after suffering an alcohol induced heart attack and I didn’t want to come in without him to liven it up.
He was usually a good man and a great father who only wanted to take care of me, but every year at the time of mom’s death he would go have a drink. I guess he had drank too much this time. I was angry. Very angry. I miss mom as much as he did, but it had been twelve years and I wanted him to move on. To get over it and just find something to make him happy. I bluntly told him as much and he just turned away. I called him names and stormed out. The day after, he was . . . gone.
Now I stroke the old blanket covering the bed tight like the army had taught him and regret what I said. I lie facedown in his bed smelling the sheets that reek of honeydew melons- his favorite detergent. I don’t blame him for missing mom so much, I don’t know how I’m going to part with any of his stuff.
“I’m done moping around.” I declare standing up. “It doesn’t do a lick of good as dad says . . . said. Ugh, if only someone was around to distract me.”
I lean over the the side of the bed peering into the darkness that envelopes odd shapes below. Curious I lean in and reach my hands out to pull out one of the objects hiding beneath. However, I only succeed in rolling off the bed into the most awkward position smooshed against the wall legs shooting up from the sides.
“If only Lila saw me now she’d die of laughter.” I grin before I remember and shake it away with a scowl.
After a struggle I manage to right myself pulling only a few muscles in the process. Then, I crouch and grab the long flat object, but it’s stuck with all the other junk shoved underneath, so I shift my weight back and heave at it until it comes loose sending me flailing into the wall.
Covered in dust is a case full of bottle caps carefully fit into holes to stay in place. I’d thought I knew everything about my dad, but a bottle cap collector was not something I expected. I recognize one I had found covered in mud and some of the color scratched off giving it a cool design like a dragon, so I gave it to dad. I’d never thought he’d kept it. The rest of them seem random, so I figure that I’ll see if anyone is interested in them and if nobody is I can at least sell the case.
I glance at my old flip phone to find it’s already nine, so I quickly sweep the dirt off and snap a couple pictures before getting ready for bed. After brushing my teeth I realize I had left the case on the floor even with the dragon bottle cap in it. With a yawn I take the case and hang it on a nail sticking from my wall, but the string hanging from it didn’t catch so I drop it. I wince as it falls on the floor. Thankfully it hasn’t cracked, but my dragon bottle cap fell out of it’s slot. I’m too tired to fix it so I just hang it up and fall on my bed.
The next day I’m all yawns as I cook at Red Lobster. Daniel comes to get a order I’m making and notices my drowsiness.
“Are you okay? Could you not sleep?” he asks in concern.
“I’m fioooone.” I say covering my mouth. “Just went to sleep late is all. Oh, and thanks for taking me home the other day sorry I was so . . . but I’m fine now.”
He doesn’t seem to believe me. Later, as we sit in the break room eating he nags me about it again so I take initiative and change the subject.
“Know anyone who’d want some old bottle caps?” I flip my phone open. “Don’t you dare say anything about my phone.” I warn.
Daniel snickers and I smack him in the arm.
“Come to think of it, my neighbor is like a hard core bottle cap collector, if you send me a picture I’ll see if he’s interested. Wait- can flip phones do that?”
“You must be feeling lucky.” I say cracking my knuckles.
“Oy, break times over! Hurry on back to your work ya goof offs.” boss man says with a affectionate glare- if such a thing is real.
“Boss man sure does like you. Maybe we should stop hanging out.” Daniel jokes taking a picture of my picture.
“Sure makes you feel loved.” I reply dryly heading back into action.
I bruise through the library looking for a book. But, more importantly for anything left on the ground and on shelfs. Libraries aren’t the best place to look for left stuff, but I’ve already combed the park three times and the lake beach five.
Every once in a while I’ll find a pair of headphones or something interesting which I post black and white found signs for. When I get in contact with someone claiming they’re there’s I ask them questions to make sure they aren’t lying like the color or brand and then I return them.
Often, these people reward me with some money. It’s become such a regular thing that they call me the treasure trove and if anyone loses something in town they leave a note. Not that I know everyone in town, but I’m almost a regular detective of lost possessions so I’ve met quite a few in this way. It’s how I met Lila, which was not a good first impression. I was certain she was lying about her lost doll only to find out she was colorblind.
Almost as if summoned by my thoughts she appears in the doorway. My heart jumps and I hide behind the nearest row of books. Okay, she’ll probably go towards the counter to return some books then continue to the young adult section. While she heads that way I’ll sneak around the front screened by shelfs of magazines where people hardly ever go and slip out. Plan go time.
There’s no way she can see me, however the only problem with hiding here is that I can’t see her either. I hope I’ve waited long enough at this corner. The only way to find out is go. So I do. I dart around planning on running like nobody’s business only to run straight first into someone. Picking myself up I apologize and slink around begin to slink around them when what they say stops me cold.
“Treasure trove? Would you help me find something?”
I look up and find what I had been dreading.
“Wha-?” I back up into the wall sweat dripping down my neck.
“My heart.” she says simply. “I believe you’ve stolen it.”
“How? How did you find me?” I say astonished.
“You weren’t home so I figured you’d been snooping around so I came here. And I knew you’d immediately retreat when you saw me so I checked back here and sure enough.” Lila says showing me up as a detective.
I shake my head in disbelief and stalk past her.
“Wait! I’m sorry, but . . . I wouldn’t change what I did. I’d do anything to make sure you were okay. Anything.” she calls after me forcing me to stop.
“Don’t say that. Please don’t say that. It’s not fair . . . I-I don’t blame you for what you did, but I just can’t do this right now.” I clench my fists look her in the eye then turn and walk away.
Just as I get in my heaping junk of a car my phone hums. I flip it open to see who it is. It’s Daniel he says, “my neighbor was like super excited over the bottle caps he was wondering if you’re free” I quickly shoot a text saying I’m heading home and start up the jerky vehicle. The car roars down the road, but I’ve gotten used to it so when my phone buzzes again I can still hear it. However, I don’t check to see what it says. It’s dangerous enough texting and driving in a functional car, so in my junk bucket it would be like commiting suicide.
When I get back to my house I see a fancy black car parked out front the engine running through the dim. I pull my car up next to it and turn of the engine with a shudder. I check my phone to find Daniel had sent the guy over, so I figure the car must be him. Then I notice the other part of his text: he’s real eccentric, want me to come over too?
I’ve known quite a few strange people (like you) I think I’ll be okay I reply then get out of my car careful not to be scratched by the chipped paint on the side despite my eagerness to be out of the cold. The other car’s shotgun door swings open at the same time having seen my arrival through its shaded windows. I jerk to the side and try to swing me door closed before theirs hits it adding another scrape, but it’s too late.
A willowy man in suit steps out taking off cashmere gloves with a scowl gracing his face so deep it seemed to be the only expression he could make.
“What on earth was that awful sound?” the snobbish man asked his scowl deepening if that’s possible.
“You just scraped my car.” I say rubbing the bridge of my nose.
“That rust bucket? Do you honestly care? It’s got about a dozen scrapes already . . .” he said arching an eyebrow.
“The more it gets the more I have to fix . . . Are you going to pay me back?” I ask connivingly.
He sighed before pulling out his thick wallet and replying, “I suppose, here’s a twenty.”
I rub my chin contemplatively.
“I don’t think that’s going to be enough.”
“I only have to pay for the scrape I made.” he snorted.
“That’s true but I’m pretty sure the smallest size of paint to fix it would be like forty dollars.” I shrug.
“Whatever, take your money.” he thrusts another twenty at me and stomps towards my porch.
“Nice,” I say under my breath.
“Come in,” I say pleasantly holding the door open, “just wait right here I’ll go get the bottlecaps.”
I run to my room and carefully take the case off the wall. When I storm back the man doesn’t try to hide his distaste for my humble abode although I do my best to keep it clean.
“I never caught your name-”
“Eugene, now let me see that.” Eugene pulls the case from my hands.
“I’ll take at lowest a-”
“Here’s a twenty, goodbye.” he says spinning to leave.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, just a minute I need to get something out of there!” I say freezing the man in his tracks. He grudgingly held the case back to me with a distrustful look.
I unlatch the back and slip the case out to get my dragon bottle cap. I’m about to hand it back to him when I notice something on the back of the cap. I examine it and think it’s a heart. Odd. I pick up another and find a letter on it.
“I don’t have all day, are you giving it to me or not?” Eugene says crossing his arms.
“Um, I’m really sorry about this, but I’m going to keep this for a bit longer, if your still interested I may offer it up for sale again-”
Eugene grinds his teeth together threateningly and struts out the door with dark glances back at me. I get up and close the door with a little eye roll. How dramatic can you be? Well, I just lost twenty bucks. Oh, wait he left- you know what, who cares? That guy is loaded as it is, twenty bucks less isn’t going to hurt him any.
Although I hadn’t done anything with my little bottle cap museum I gained sixty smackers. Altogether a decent day. I take the case back to my room and flip all the bottle caps over to find that they all have letters and stuff on the back. In the place they are it reads: I u2 ubotc:anun92kac heart9. So, in other words absolute gibberish.
I arrange the letters by bottle cap colors, by size, and just randomly, only succeeding in making more made up words. Until, I think of the brilliant idea to arrange them by the type of bottle cap and find canuotc could be arranged to make the word account, so I decided that’s probably how it’s supposed to be arranged and went to bed.
In the morning I wake up late as my alarm clock cries in . . . alarm, for me to get up. I’m in such a hurry to make it to work on time I leave the bottle caps sprawled across the floor and only manage to shut the door. When I get back I regret this. Half of my bottle caps are gone. I stand staring at the couple bottle caps left in shock. Who would do this they were only bottle caps? For some reason I’m really angry. I feel like something important was on those bottle caps and now I’ll never know.
I sit in bed thinking I’ll go to sleep early for once since I’ve been lacking the common sense to the last few days when I see a cashmere glove just laying on my desk. I know who did it. Eugene. I thought it was odd how readily he would have bought those bottle caps. You’d think a bottle cap collector already had all sorts.
I scoop up the bottle caps and glove and in a moment I’m out the door driving to Daniels house. I walk right in to find Daniel eating a late dinner of the most nutritious thing- pizza.
“Can I do something for you?”
“Yes, which house does Eugene live at?” I ask urgently.
“Just the house that way-” he says pointing to the right and I’m off.
I am not being stolen from. Knock, knock, knock.
“What is it noo-ow? I’m a busy man . . . Oh, hello.” Eugene says coldly.
“This yours?” I say holding out the glove.
He stares back fingers clenched.
“I have my answer. Return my bottle caps.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” he insists.
“I’m not afraid to call the police.”
“Over bottle caps?! Are you crazy?!”
“Yes,” I whip out my phone and unlock it.
“You can’t prove anything.” he maintains.
“We’ll see about that. Nine.” I type ominously.
“Are you serious?”
“Okay, okay! Stop, I’ll go get them.” he backs away cautiously and heads within his lovely house.
He comes back with a trash bag and holds it out in shame.
“There. Don’t press charges over this silly thing or I will make your life miserable.”
I open the bag and count the caps ignoring him. Eighteen in total with the ones he brought.
“One is missing.”
“No,” he quickly denied.
We stare each other down a moment and finally he pulled a bottle caps out of his pocket.
“I hadn’t imagined you would know the worth of that bottle cap. Three- hundred dollars. Not that I needed it anyways. I do hope we never meet again or else . . .”
I walk away.
My father has left me a bank account hidden by the bottle caps. The password was my birthday: February 2, 1999. I feel relief. My father loved me. I’ve always known this, but it’s a relief after what I last said to him. Along with the three hundred dollar cap it’s about $3,000 worth. I may be able to go to community college after all. My heart still aches though and I’m not sure why. I arrive home to find Lila standing on my porch.
I walk up quietly not looking at her.
Then we are silent staring nose to nose into each other’s eyes.
“Will you marry me.”
I’ve started the month of November with my father’s death and now I’m engaged.