He quickly walked home, so quickly that he sometimes skipped steps. He noticed the moon was full and dusk was settling over his sleepy little town. Although she didn’t notice much he did or didn’t do, his mother’s long standing request to be home before dark always replayed in his head at the end of a long day. He respected her, he thought once that desire was mainly fueled by him being almost invincible to her. He shrugged his shoulders as he thought about her, she was probably working anyhow. His hand me down pants always needing pulled up, his trapper keeper safely tucked under his arm hiding his favorite escape, a series of the raddest rat books he’d found yet!! His mind trailing off to the nap he took in English class earlier that day and how he’d dreamt of living in that world, I mean these were no ordinary rats, no mice of men, these were warriors and kings. He smiled at the thought just before hearing the neighbors pit bull barking fiercely, the kind of bark that wakes the neighborhood. He never failed to deliver such a mean greeting, as if he didn’t pass by there every day for more days than he could count. He heard his little sister yell “Moms pissed Lee” as he made his way through their yard to the porch. “Cuz you didn’t take the garbage to the alley this morning”she smirked and slammed the torn and tattered screen door in his face, he sighed as he reached to stop it but missed, letting it slam like always. “The baby” mom’s favorite, too annoying to know when to shut up he thought as he scurried through the door and quickly up the stairs to his room. He noticed his mom making her usual “Salisbury steak” He made a barfing noise then remembered to count the stairs, he had done that in his head since moving into grandpa’s house a few years back. He was mesmerized by the missing and broken steps. “LEE”!! his mother yelled from the stove downstairs. “You forgot again!!” he could almost hear her rolling her eyes. “I guess so” he started to mumble one of his famous excuses but was cut off. “Dinner is on the stove” I have to work another shift at the store tonight. “Don’t stay up all night reading again “ she grabbed the trash on her way out the door, trailing off “ I’ll have to tell your dad” was all he heard before the door slammed behind her. By now he had sat down on the top of the stairs to listen to her leave. Suddenly the bedroom door across from his swung wide open, “I say we toss that junk and make hotdogs his younger brother yelled as he smacked him on the back of his head then rode the rails to the bottom of the stairs crashing into the trash can, dumping garbage in the floor as he landed. He had a split second thought to check on him, but his brother had pulled himself up kicked the trash can, spitting out obscenity’s, then flipped him off and ran out the door, Before he could even think twice. He walked down, counting steps like always. He reached the kitchen just as his younger sister was dumping an entire box of cereal into a rather large bowl followed by every bit of milk they had left. She gave him a sassy look “ tell mom I used all the milk and I’ll clean the toilet with your toothbrush “ he curled his lip at her, a natural reaction to a level of irritation she easily brought him to “ you touch my toothbrush and I’ll put Roscoe’s poop in your yogurt tomorrow “ holding his lip in place to show her he was serious. “Kiss my ass” she bellowed and slammed the door to their parents room. Her place of refuge since as long as he could remember. He pulled up his trousers and grabbed the steaming pile of Salisbury steak left on the stove and dumped it into the dogs bowls. “Salisbury steak it is again Rosco” he reached down petting his only real friend. Watching him lap up the TV dinner style supper his mom prepared, realizing he felt sorry for Rosco. “I know boy” he sighed and rinsed the dishes off, turned the lights out and looked around the kitchen. Noting that no one was near he fetched the black marker he’d taken from shop class several months back. Put it in his pocket and slipped out the back door. It took him no time to find the place under the tree at the end of their long back yard. “X” marks the spot he whispered as he quickly dug up a rusty metal can he’d found full of screws in his grandfather’s garage. Remembering when his father seen the pile of loose screws on the ground and threatened to “whip” them all. He opened the can and reached his hand inside pulling out a stone with written words, fondling through them all as if he was a pirate counting his treasure after a long day of robbing and pilfering. He then leaned and retrieved another stone from a long line of neatly arranged stones he’d kept close by, he quickly glanced around and took the marker from his pocket and wrote a four word sentence across the stone. Then as he placed it inside the metal box, heard his smaller brother’s bicycle wheels screeching up the road. His heart skipped a beat as he rushed his secret back into its hidden place. If his brother knew of them, then so would the world, layed out like a popular news story for everyone to taunt and tease him. He jumped up and started walking back towards the porch just as his brother screeched into the driveway, throwing his bicycle in the path his father always takes to park his car when he’s home, but since mom walked to work he said nothing. He retreated to his bedroom, to escape to his world of sword yielding rats for the night. Content knowing his secret was safe. She had moved across the alley from them almost a year pryor. With red ringlet’s down her back, freckles and a look on her face like she needed to solve the world’s problems. The only thing he’d noticed about her was she was a “fast gum chewer” he described her like that to his cousin once after she’d returned an escaped Rosco back across the alley to him. His cousin teased him about her and he ignored his chauvinistic comments and dismissed him with that statement. After all girls never noticed him so he’d decided he could beat them at their own game and ignore their existence, it worked for awhile, until it didn’t. She was curious about her neighborhood, especially the family across the alley who’s father was never home until he was, then all she heard was yelling until he left. Who’s mother was the most fascinating creature she’d seen, doing the jobs of both parents raising kids and working so hard, a huge difference from her spoiled mother who left them with nannies at times. Whose dog clearly hated them all except the quiet one, the one who walked through her alley every night at the same time, the one she watched bury something underneath his tree in his backyard and go to it every night for 6 months. Now that kept her mind busy, her poetic, romantic, fairytale ridden mind. Watching him intrigued her and that meant a lot to a chronically bored girl with nothing to keep such a masterpiece stimulated. So she watched him, like a private eye on one of those saucy 80’s sitcoms where the investigator solved all his cases, got all the ladies and drove an expensive outdated sports car. She was secretly skilled in such task, a secret she kept to herself. However something about “mute boy” smirking at her clever pet name as she kept all her attention on her case! Something was different. The only label for him she could come up with. She got out her crate of old paper files her mom had given her while cleaning the basement. She scribbled …MUTE BOY - he is different, on the wrinkled label and on the side of the folder… TOP SECRET, then stuffed it back into her crate of past investigations. Like when old Mr. Rice had lost his NO TRESPASS sign last year, and she solved the case when she discovered the older boys in the neighborhood had used it to jump their skateboards off of. She smirked at the new plan she had put in place while in geometry class earlier that day. Tonight was the night, she was going to climb that tree and wait for “mute boy” to visit it like all the nights before. For her curiosity had gotten the best of her, and if it was bones he was hiding, or something much more sinister. Her very active mind creating a storm of what if’s, she grinned as she let her imagination run wild.
He started home early that night, the Royals played the Dodgers and he’d bet his brother Dwayne the entire stack of nudy mags he’d stolen from his father that the Royals would whip them! He’d let the excitement get the best of him so he decided to skip the River, his usual after school hangout. He’d been escaping there to read in peace for sometime now. He had gotten home before the others and snagged the best place in the front room right along with the remote! Victory he thought, the families long standing, “last one to it, last one to watch “ their only television had caused him to miss some pretty important games, but not this one. He grinned because he took such comfort in winning. Competition for him was almost like therapy. Putting an important spotlight on someone who was always over looked, who was deemed too quiet, too nice. He brushed that off like he always did when certain things made him feel things he wasn’t comfortable with feeling. He got comfortable in his fathers chair, waiting for the others to return home. He felt a little heavy in his eye lids, he’d gotten warm and Roscoe had taken his place next to him like always. He woke to something wet inside his mouth, he visioned the warmest piece of apple pie but suddenly realizing it tasted like wet dirty socks jumped up toppling Roscoe to the floor who was steady licking the drool from his lips and chin. From the kitchen he hears “Dodgers beat ‘em punk , so pay up“ his younger brother singing out his defeat! You missed the whole game douche bag!! He chuckled as he threw potato chips across the room making fun of him. “I just cleaned this floor, what’s a matter for you” He heard his mother claim in despair at the thought of her hard work erased so quickly. He glanced over at DeAnne sitting at the table coloring a picture she’d clearly drawn, he seen “LEE sucks” in bubble letters she was carefully coloring in, he grimaced at them all, his mothers back turned , “stay in the lines girl” directing her to color her picture neatly. His lip quivering as he took it all in, he pushed back the emotions he refused to let escape from their prison within him. He jammed his hands in his pockets and rushed by them and out the door. He’d go take solice in the place he told no one of . He walked by the moon light to the farthest tree in his back yard. He could hear the Thomason’s pit bull starting to bark as he got closer to the alley. He found his hidden place easily, “X” marks the spot he whispered as he dropped to his knees and started digging.
She had decided on her older brother’s combat boots, regrettably they were too big, which hindered her ability to strategically shimmy the tree like she had planned. She was angry at herself for taking to long to get ready, always a procrastinator she’d regretted going back for the black under eye paint. She kept thinking “too much” and “you always go too far” growling at herself as she kept losing her footing, breathless and sweating. After a very noticeable trip up the tree to the branch she’d mathematically decided would hold her weight. She realized she’d left her flashlight and canteen behind. “Grrrr” I can just see it -private eye dies from dehydration on a very important mission- will head the newspaper’s she thought, punishing herself mentally. She hoped she’d timed it right or else that could be her doom!!! Her face wrinkling from overthinking like she always did. She looked at her super spy watch she’d collected from her last box of fruit loops…”hmm dusk in 15 minutes “ she stared into the blank plastic square on her wrist. Both legs and arms wrapped around the rather large tree branch, holding on tightly. Looking down right where she’d seen “mute boy” night after night, her heart racing at what monstrosity awaits her. Then as she realized the moon was now lighting the sky she heard their old screen door slam…her adrenaline increasing as she realized this was the moment. She tightened her grip, nothing could pry her loose she thought and as she quieted her breathing to wait for his arrival, a little purple butterfly flew and landed on the tip of her nose…she felt her breaths quicken, started wrinkling her nose to make him go seek a different place for his landing. His little furry legs tickling her nose, “SHOO” she whispered softly, she wiggled her nose back and forth but the tickle was to much and now she felt a sneeze creeping up. She could hear “mute boys” footsteps stop and looking down sees him directly below her, just as she did, she felt the biggest sneeze and instinctively swiped at the butterfly just as she let out a loud “ACHOOO” losing her grip and tumbling down from the branch!! Her legs hitting mute boy right as she hit the ground HARD knocking the can of stones from his hands. “HEYYY “ he groaned. His eyes wide with surprise, his face wrinkled in anger as his secrets were spilled out, laying amongst what appeared to be the “fast gum chewing” girl from next door. Shocked and embarrassed he scowled at her as he quickly reached to gather his secrets. She felt a sharp pain in her knee, knowing it caught her landing she looked down to acess the damage, tears streaming down her cheeks. Studdering nervously she grasped her painful knee, “can you…can you please get help” she sobbed softly. “LOOK WHAT YOU’VE DONE STUPID GIRL” He shouted in anger as he tried gathering up his sacred stones before anyone else seen them. She watched his reaction to these “rocks”all over the ground and realized his despair, as she watched his pain pour out of him like the glass of OJ she’d poured herself this morning she suddenly realized her knee wasn’t hurting as bad. She reached to pick one of the stones up to help him and seen words written across it, in black marker. She wiped her tear stained eyes to focus on what it said. “ I would have cooked”, he snarled and grabbed it from her hand…” DONT READ THEM “ He commanded. She looked at her other hand which contained another stone… “ they don’t know that I forget on purpose “ written across it. She looked at this boy she called “mute” and the canister of stones full to the brim he’d written on every night and realized just exactly what he had buried under that tree. Her eyes full of tears as she watched him seal it and bury it so desperately trying to hide his secrets. “Your not mute”she whispered looking at him with such an understanding and while feeling her heart peel wide open, pouring out her emotions like she was always used to. She discovered that was where he kept his, all stored away, secretly protected by the only place he trusted them to be. Shared with no one but these stones, these simple little rocks were the only thing he felt comfortable sharing them with. He brushed off his knees and begrudgingly held out his hand to help her up, she realized the quiet boy from next door was so much more than he’d let anyone ever know and she smiled knowing she now had the chance to prove to him that his secret was safe with her. “I’ll tell no one” she whispered as he helped her to her feet, he nodded respectfully at her giving away the gentleman that was deeply rooted in him. She blushed and limped back across the alley. He smiled softly and hurried to bed to think about what had just happened. To think about this girl…who had fallen into his life whether he invited her or not. Later that night as she tucked herself in like she always did…she pulled his file from her crate and added “stones” under the word secret…then wrote. “To be continued” and layed back to fall asleep with it in her hands. She knew that there was so much more to this quiet boy from next door, so much more to be discovered…she smirked and thought to herself, smiling softly “it’s a good thing I’m a highly skilled private investigator “
By Tonya Boland