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“What, you mean like telling on her?”
“In a way, yes,” I say.
“What if she gets in trouble?” he asks softly. Luke drains his coffee cup and I admire his profile.
“I don’t want that. But I want it to stop, and Jamie isn’t willing to listen to me. In fact, she’s not even speaking to me because I told her that I was worried.”
“That’s a tough one,” Luke says sincerely.
“I know. But I’ll figure it out. There’s got to be a way,” I say more to myself than to him.
“I’ll help you however I can,” he replies, even though I think he knows I was talking to myself, too.
Luke grabs my hand over the center compartment and squeezes it gently. The lot is nearly full now.
“We should go in,” he says, sounding disappointed.
“Guess so.”
He turns the key and the van is silent. I unbuckle my belt and yank my backpack off the floor in front of my feet. Opening the door, I feel a frigid blast of wind that’s in stark contrast to the warmth of the van. I hop out, slam the door, and shiver my way to the front of the car to meet Luke. He looks unfazed.
“Aren’t you cold?” I ask.
“Not really,” he replies with a shrug. “This is no match for the Charles,” he adds, confusing me.
Luke grabs my hand and we walk quickly toward the building. His fingers are calloused, and I wonder if it’s from playing guitar.
Halfway through the lot, a car is pulling into one of the few vacant spots. It is a blue four-door sedan that someone’s mother might drive. Then I realize that Brad from math is driving it. I wave. He glares at me in return.
What I did to Brad to provoke such disdain, I have no idea. But right now, walking hand in hand with my perfect boyfriend on a sunny, crisp February morning, I don’t care about Brad from math.
I don’t care about anything at all, except Luke.
“Are you sure I can’t switch partners?” Jamie asks Ms. Garcia, none too discreetly. A few of our classmates are staring at me to gauge my reaction.
“Ms. Connor, as I’ve told you now a half-dozen times, the partner you chose at the beginning of the year is the partner you will have until the end. I don’t want to hear another word about it.”
Ms. Garcia turns her back on Jamie and starts writing today’s class agenda on the whiteboard. Jamie rolls her eyes and trudges back to her desk, which she picks up and plunks down with a loud bang so that it’s facing mine.
“Whatever,” she mutters as she flops into her seat.
“Hi, J,” I say quietly.
“Don’t talk to me,” she snaps.
“I have to: we have an assignment.”
“Then only talk to me in Spanish,” she commands.
“Hola, Jamie,” I say as a joke. She doesn’t laugh, opting to roll her eyes again instead. I decide to try a new tack, courtesy of this morning’s note.
“I need your help,” I say quietly.
“Ask your precious Luke for help,” Jamie says loudly, without looking up from our assignment.
“I want to track down my dad.”
Jamie flinches a little. Her face softens. Still, her response is bitter: “Google him.”
“I tried,” I say, without knowing whether I have already.
“You’re so transparent,” Jamie says, still not looking at me. Not sure what she means, I keep quiet. She sighs, and glares right into my eyes. “You’re trying to be all casual, but what you really want is for me to look in my mom’s files, right?” she asks, acting put out. And yet, there’s a slight softness to her tone; I know I’ve got her. I can’t pinpoint why, but Jamie will always agree to help me. Maybe she figures I’m lost without her. In many ways, I am.
Still, I have no idea what files she’s talking about.
“Is that what you’re getting at? You want me to look up your dad’s information in my mom’s legal files?”
The word legal makes it click. Jamie’s mom will be a divorce lawyer for many years; she probably handled my parents’ split. Letting Jamie assume this was my plan all along, I agree.
“You’ve got me,” I say, looking as sheepish as possible without actually feeling that way. “Listen, Jamie, I know you’re mad at me and that’s fine, but this is important. I don’t remember my father at all. You know that. But I want to, and I really need your help. Will you help me?”
Sure, I started the conversation to get Jamie to talk to me, but ultimately, I do want to find my dad. This is the best of both worlds.
“Maybe,” Jamie says with a shrug, before refocusing on our assignment.
“Thanks,” I whisper across the table island at her.
She ignores me completely for the rest of the class.
It’s nearly bedtime, and my mom is still out showing houses. Despite being angry with her about what she’s been hiding from me, I feel sorry for her for having to be out so late.
Pajama-clad, face washed, and teeth brushed, I retrieve the envelope from my desk drawer. The metal clasp is worn from being opened and closed many times.
I know I found the items inside three and a half months ago. I know I haven’t done much with the information.
Emptying the photos and cards onto my bedspread, I slowly, meticulously look through them. Vacation photos, shots in the backyard, holidays. We seem happy.
Looking at my father’s face, I can’t help but recall the one memory I have of him from the future. The one that plagues me.
I don’t know how I got there. I’m just there, among dozens of mourners experiencing various states of grief.
The brick wall of a man holds back his tears, the younger man with the eighties hairstyle weeps freely. Wet from the rain, stricken with grief, my grandmother crumbles. Beside me, my mother sobs, looking young… vulnerable. A woman in a low-cut dress tries to keep her composure, probably for the sake of the small boy in front of her. Footsteps crowd the muddy path like bread crumbs leading to sadness. Even the stone statue to my left cries for the unknown guest of honor.
I grab my notebook and read back about how I used to think it was my father’s funeral. I scoff at myself now, remembering my father arriving late, standing near the back—far from both my mother and his own—and fighting back emotion as the priest I can’t hear delivers his message.
I remember willing myself to look away, and seeing the caretaker in the distance, watching us. Watching me.
He’s standing in front of a toolshed disguised as a mausoleum and he smiles. It’s not an all-out smile; it’s the one you use when you want to make someone feel better and smiling is all you can do.
It makes me want to run over and kick him, but I don’t. Instead, I stare back until he tosses his cigarette to the ground and saunters inside the shed.
The funeral is over and my father is gone.
Grandma is gone.
Everyone is gone.
And still, even as I turn to follow my mother, I can’t see the grave. Try as I might, I can’t look down. Somewhere deep inside, I won’t let myself remember who is in the hole in the ground.
My thoughts turn to Luke. Is it him?
It can’t be him.
Why would my father return after years of absence to attend a funeral for my boyfriend? And my grandmother? It doesn’t fit.