Year 13: John followed his dad around the grocery store as if he were tethered to him by the ankle. Dan was well aware of John’s extracurricular activities and insisted that John be no more than a foot away from him at all times.
“Can I go look at the magazines?”
“You know why?”
They continued to shuffle across the slick linoleum floor. Dan had a slight limp in his right leg that always flared up when the weather cooled. Every step looked like it pained him. For this reason, he had decided to move them both to California. John knew the real motivation behind the move–a fresh start, a place where people would finally stop staring at them.
“How much more do we need?” John whined.
“It’s a two day drive. What do you think?”
“More?” John guessed and Dan nodded.
By the time they got to the counter, they had a small mountain of food in their cart. The woman smiled politely to them, a smile that said more than she would say aloud. John felt it in his bones. It was pity and it was disgusting.
The first year in California felt like a dream with nothing to mark the passing of seasons except the fruit in the fruit bowl. Their were apples in the bowl. It was winter. In the spring there were always tangerines. In the summer, plums and peaches. Winter brought apples. Lots and lots of apples.
John stopped fighting, but he still felt the twitch in his muscles whenever someone looked at him for too long.
Year 15: This dreaded day crept upon John. It was supposed to be a day he might start fresh. The first day of high school. The squat rectangular building sat in front of him now looking more like a prison than a place of learning. There was a small crowd of teachers in the back corner of the parking lot choking back cigarettes repetitively. They were all snuffed out the moment the bell sounded. John’s bag was slung low over his shoulder, his green eyes focused on the tiny veins in the asphalt. He didn’t see the shiny red Buick until it nearly ran him over. The guy driving didn’t even ask to see if he was okay.
John watched the guy for a long while, almost skipping his first ever high school class. When the guy bumped into him, it was too easy to steal his wallet. As soon as he could, John dropped it into his bag. He didn’t look at it until he got home.
That night, he picked through the wallet without an ounce of regret. He threw the money, the driver’s license, and the array of cards in the trash. He kept only one thing. It was a picture of a girl. She had dirty blonde hair, bright hazel eyes, and a smile that was slightly crooked, but somehow fit her perfectly. He imagined this girl smiling at him, wishing that someone would smile at him this way, without pity.
He closed his eyes and dreamt of the nameless girl with the bright eyes that night.