Welcome to the twelfth installment of Fiction Fridays, where I post a new short story each week. Today also marks the introduction of our series within a series.
If you haven’t read the book, don’t worry; you can still enjoy these pieces just like any other Friday story. However, readers familiar with the novel will get more out these interactions. While they didn’t make the final cut, they remain essential moments in the characters’ lives, which still resonate in the background of the published edition.
So let’s begin…
Semi-spoiler alert: our protagonist Alex Evergreen is adopted. He only learns of this fact at age sixteen after his adoptive father abandons him and his stepmother. Thus begins his feeling of alienation from others.
This excerpt also breaks from the point-of-view of Ed Cohen, Alex’s friend and our usual narrator. This scene was created during a time when the book was written in the third person, which works well for our purposes here. I hope you enjoy.
Stats: 878 words. Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 23 seconds.
Alex avoided home for about a month, sneaking in at odd hours only to grab provisions. When he pulled into the driveway tonight, he saw the green Camry in the carport, which meant his stepmom was home. Then he noticed the black Jeep parked at the curb, which meant Bob was there, too. His shoulders sunk.
Smothered laughter snuck through the doorjamb. Alex tried the knob. It didn’t budge. With a sigh, he ground his key into the lock and turned until the latch bolt clicked. Inside, the sauna atmosphere knocked him back as though it were a pungent odor. As he turned down the thermostat, he heard the clink of glasses in the kitchen.
Alex sucked in his lips and bit down, because he would have avoided that room entirely if he weren’t so thirsty.
Kathy and Bob sat at the kitchen table, throwing back shots. Alex ducked his head and went straight for the refrigerator. His eyes betrayed his better intentions as he peeked from under his brow. That’s when Kathy set down the Jack Daniel’s bottle and wiped the whiskey her mouth.
“Oh, Alex,” she said. “We didn’t see you there.”
“It’s the tropics in here,” he said.
“Really? We didn’t notice.”
She and Bob cackled some more. This drinking session appeared to have been going on for a while.
He disappeared into the fridge light and reached for a Coke.
His stepmom said: “You remember, Bob, right?”
Alex’s upper lip instinctively curled whenever he saw him. He looked like an aging biker. Alex couldn’t decide whether his massive body was fat or muscle. Probably both. A skull-and-crossbones tattoo was smeared over his forearm, and his unkempt goatee equaled the quality of his grease-stained denim. He’d been Kathy’s boyfriend for a few weeks now. Every time he came by, she’d ask if he remembered Bob. Alex wished he could forget him. They’ll probably end up going to a bar, drink some more, maybe shoot some pool, and then come home to do God knows what. Bob smirked as if he had a dirty little secret. Alex was afraid he already knew what Bob was thinking.
“How’s it going, chief?”
He rubbed Alex’s hair as if he were a dog, then patted his arm.
Alex cringed. His spine stiffened. He resisted the urge to whack Bob’s hand away and break his fingers one by one. Instead, he walked around the refrigerator and out of the kitchen.
He heard Kathy speak softly to her guest, “Don’t mind him,” then more loudly to Alex. “Where you going?”
“Out,” he said from halfway down the hall.
Alex didn’t hear the question because the pictures hanging on the wall had caught his eye. In one of them, his actual Mom –well, his adoptive one anyway — pushed the one- or two-year-old version of himself on a swing at the park. In another, he, Mom, and Mickey Mouse posed in front of Sleeping Beauty’s castle.
She died when he was two. Alex wondered how differently his life would have been had she lived.
He touched the faded bronze frame, slightly rocking it on its nail. The dirt outline glowed from where the frame once rested. He attempted to return the picture to its original position, but it remained crooked no matter how many times he tried to fix it.
He heard his stepmom squawk again: “Where are you going?”
He wondered why she even tried to act like a responsible parent.
“Well, I’m going out, too…so don’t wait up.”
He reached his old room at the end of the hall, fisted the door shut, and slammed the Coke on his dresser, causing condensation to splash on his fingers. Alex unbuttoned his collared shirt and slowly slid it off each shoulder. Despite his precautions, the shirt rubbed against the cuts on his left bicep — the same place Bob had smacked just moments ago. The raised scabs felt like slits of sandpaper under his fingertips. His wet hand felt cool on his skin.
He’d spent last Tuesday tearing at the pain in his stomach. The pain had multiplied and divided until the Swiss Army knife offered temporary relief. It was effective, but it hurt like hell.
He tossed the shirt over his wooden bedpost, opened the closet doors. He fingered the wire hangers until he found the black DKNY shirt Ed had left from a previous visit.
Alex looked at himself in the mirror on the back of the door. He slid the shirt over the scars on his right bicep, over the ones on his stomach, then buttoned it. He adjusted the collar and pressed the small creases down the front. More laughter echoed from the hall before he heard the front door close, sucking the merriment outside with Ozzie and Harriet.
He ran his fingertips over the cuts under his sleeve again and sadly smiled at his twin looking back at him. The twin felt the cuts, too. He looked just like Alex except everything was backward, which must be have been frontward since Alex was the one who was turned around. The twin looked him over and smirked.
Alex said to his other half, “What are you looking at?”
“Nothing,” he replied.