I assured myself again that I was completely alone. Gingerly, I sat on the corner of her popcorn-and-perfume-scented bed and allow my tingling fingers to reach out and open that sacred journal again to page one. I never really understood it but maybe if I read it one more time. “Things I Wish I Never Knew:
1. People are selfish almost always.
2. Shaking hands does matter. ******.
3. Wine hangovers are miserable.
4. Puppies **** behind things ‘cause they feel guilty; you wont find it until it smells.
5. Friends really do come and go.
6. Neti Pots absolutely **** and bring you nosebleeds NOT relief.
7. Attraction and love are different. REMEMBER THIS ABOVE ALL.
8. Joy is clicking add to dictionary in Microsoft word.
9. If you can make it through Taco Bell kisses, morning breath will be a breeze.
10. Be jovial, it’s a choice and a side effect of living in daily adventure.
11. Make sure that your family knows…” I pause because I think I hear footsteps padding up the fourteen red-carpeted steps to her bedroom. I know I can’t move, the old wood floor in this crumbling house will definitely creak and give me away, so I just sit on the edge of the bed at full attention.
“…No, ma’am, everything’s basically back to normal again, we’re getting the locks changed on Saturday. I’ll tell her you send your love.” The footsteps and voice were at the top of the stairs and I saw a shadow fall across the dusty floor in front of the white wooden door. I know it’s my neighbor Annie because she lives here. We grew up together. “Yes, ma’am, I love you too. I’ll try to make her call you soon. Bye.” Her phone beeped to signal the end of the conversation followed by a loud sigh. I peered from the bed into the hall and saw her sitting on the floor. Annie is a pretty girl. All the girls who live here are. We used to go to school together until my grades got too bad and I started my special school. We used to play in her front yard with her sister, Kelly. One time I kissed Kelly, but we were only seven. She is my only kiss. They both leave for most of the year now to go to college but come home for Christmas break. I will never go to college, but that’s ok.
I felt my pants vibrating and the theme song to the TV show Who Wants to be a Millionaire was somehow blaring from somewhere around my crotch. Before I could silence it, the shadow at the door became a tangible whirlwind of brown hair, sharp screams, and clawing grabbing fingers as she tried to wrench the ratty Moleskin journal from my fingers.
“******, Cyril, I thought I heard someone in here. You give it back and get out of this house. You can’t, like, break into other people houses like this. This is just not what normal people do. Can’t your father control you?” At this point we’re both standing in the middle of the bedroom. I’m confused so I just dangle the journal in the air above her grasp. “It’s not yours and you know that. I know you at least understand that, right? Right, Cyril? What the hell would you do if Kelly had been showering or changing. Oh my god, ew, do NOT answer that.”
“Ow,” I yelp as she scratches at my forearm to retrieve the precious journal. “Your claws are sharp, Annie, I have more scratches from you than I do Jimmy-cat and Jimmy-cat is mean, mean but fluffy… and he purrs but you don’t purr. Is that because you don’t like me?” I lower my arm and Annie snatches the Moleskine out of my fumbling fingers, avoiding eye contact at all costs. I hate it when people do that. I notice it, but they don’t think I do.
“Cyril, get out.” Her right hand is now securely around the Moleskine and the other is shaking, pointed towards the doorway. “Now.”
This is always the worst part. I walk out of Kelly’s forbidden bedroom: head hung as I creak down the fourteen red, carpeted stairs and make my way to the front door. It’s always quiet and I don’t like the quiet so whenever it’s quiet I count. I am good at counting. …Twelve, thirteen, fourteen…silence.
I turn to her, “Annie, I’m sorry…”
“Out.” She opens the front door and points me to my apartment, directly across the street. Its autumn now and the leaves and cold rustle down the street and I crouch deeper into my black coat as I step outside.
“So maybe I’ll come over tomorrow?” I turn as I start down the steps, hopeful to have conjured up a smile from Annie, but all I see is the flash of brunette hair disappearing behind another thick, white wooden door.
“Get off our property before I call the cops, you creep!”
That’s what I’ve always been to these pretty girls: a creep. I don’t really understand what the word means, but I’m pretty sure from the way they say it that it’s not nice. Pops always tells me that I’m different because it’s better to be different. I don’t understand why Annie and Kelly don’t think it’s better that I’m different too.
I decide to walk to Captain D’s and tell Earl hi because it’s Friday and that’s what I do on Fridays. Earl owns Captain D’s and has forever. Earl is my friend. Earl and Jimmy-cat at Captain D’s that I feed my left over fish are my friends. At least I think they are. I named the cat Jimmy-cat because Pops says mom used to listen to a man named Jimmy Buffett before she left us. I don’t remember those days.
I turn the corner knowing Captain D’s is just 560 steps ahead and that to get back home I go 910 steps back and I’ll be at my front door. Counting is one thing I am good at; even the tests they used to make me take at the doctor’s office said so. I am good at numbers. Seven is my favorite number.
I walk into Captain D’s and, like normal, its just Earl inside. He makes me two Fish-Filet sandwiches and we go stand outside. We usually don’t talk much, but I like that . I sit on the crunchy curb, put on my hood because the wind and leaves have made my ears sting. I unwrap the greasy paper on my first sandwich and Earl pulls out his red Marbolo’s and sits beside me lighting up his first cigarette.
“Why do you smoke, Earl?” I ask him every Friday and he always responds the same way.
“Eh. Why do the fish swim Cyril? Why do the Eagles and Crows fly? You know we don’t know why Women like shoes so much.”
I never really understand what he means but it makes me giggle and before we know it we’re both laughing. I’m pretty sure this is what friendship is. I lick the wrapper to get all the tarter sauce off and start on my second sandwich. Earl starts his second cigarette.
“Where’s that alley cat you got trained up, boy? Go get ‘em and I’ll cook him his own fish patty.”
He means Jimmy-cat. I wipe my fingers on my jeans, tear off a piece of the damp fish from my sandwich, and walk towards white picket fence that Earl built around the dumpster where Jimmy-cat lives. Jimmy-cat has a good life; he can eat anything in the green dumpster he wants and he is safe behind the big white fence. I don’t like the smell but maybe cats like eating and smelling the furry tarter sauce that clings on the sides of the dumpster. As I pull the lever to open Jimmy Cat’s home, I think it smells even worse than normal. After jiggling the latch a while, it clicks, and I swing the door open to Jimmy-cat’s house. It definitely smells worse. I step up one step and crunch on leaves and squish cold fries as I circle the dumpster. “Jimmy-Jimmy-Jimmy-cat, where-oh-where-oh-where ya at?” I stop as I enter the back right corner, I see Jimmy-cat but I don’t understand what is happening. I don’t understand what is wrong. He is covered in ketchup, maybe? But if that’s true what are the little white thingssss crawling around his stomach and why are they covered in ketchup and mayonnaise too? He is mewling and I’m scared. I smell fish. Fish and furry tarter sauce, one, two, three, four, my feet are crunching on the cold fries and leaves again, I know I’m at the door without even turning around.
“Boy, what you doin’ in there?”
“Earl?” …One…two… “Earl, can you help me? Earl, I, I don’t understand. I don’t like it.” …Three…four…five… “Jimmy-cat needs a bath, Earl, and something is eating his stomach.” …Six…seven…silence. Earl’s hand fells like a dead fish on my shoulder as he walks me back up to Jimmy-cats home.
“Stay here, Cyril. Just gimme’a sec to see what’s happening.” Earl disappears into the leaves and fries and fur.
“Boy? Come back here now. C’mon.” Earl’s voice echoed around the green corners and I followed. One…two…three…four…five…six…seven I stand above Earl and I know the ketchup and mayonnaise and Jimmy-cat eating monsters are just on the other side of his crouched over body.
“Well don’t be shy, come look.” Earl stands and I see his work apron covered in the ketchup and mayonnaise but beyond that in a bed of Fish-filet wrappers is Jimmy-cat and all the stomach eating monsters mewling at his stomach, as I get close I think they look kinda like little Jimmy-cats. I push my hood off my head as I lean over closer and that’s when it hit me, “Kittens! Jimmy-cat had kittens, Earl!”
“I think Jimmy-cat may be more of a Jasmine-cat or Jennifer-cat.”
I laid down the piece of fish I brought and Jimmy-Cat looks up into my eyes and I swear he was happy to see me. I looked up at Earl and he was happy to see me too. I sat down in the mess of wrappers and fries and mold and laughed and laughed and laughed.