Free Breakfast: Part Six
This is part five of Nathan Hare’s novella, Free Breakfast, which oook is serializing. You can read part one here, part two here, part three here, part four here, and part five here. Look for part seven coming soon!
Whenever I envision God in my head, I picture this painting in my grandma’s house. It was just a portrait of Jesus, nothing too special. Well special in the case that it was Jesus, and if you’re religious that should be something special on its own, but not special in the way that there was nothing to distinguish it from the other millions of Jesus paintings. It was just the one that got implanted in my brain. So whenever I’m in a situation where I’m praying or whatever, I picture the painting that sat right above the bench where my Nana would make us take off my shoes.
And that image came into my mind as I watched Carly. I was lying next to her and it was about three, or maybe four, or maybe five in the morning, I couldn’t tell with eyes in her hair. They really were, I could actually feel little particles rubbing beneath my eyelashes. And I could tell that even the smallest parts of her were beautiful. Her little eyelashes, the dust under her fingernails, the dead skin falling onto the pillow. All of it was her. And I felt that maybe somewhere in those strands of Carly there were pieces of me. I kissed her skin just to be sure. When a scientist finds her skeleton five hundred years from now, maybe they will see her shoulder and find my little kiss and know she was loved by someone. Because that is all I wanted, to love Carly and to let every single person know that I did. Her loving me back would be nice as well.
That image of Jesus came to mind as I watched over her though, and that almost weirded me out. I’ve never really gone to church or anything. My dad was raised Catholic (hence the painting) but since my mom died we haven’t gone once, not even on Christmas or Easter. So I’m not sure why that something would pop into my head, the white Jesus with his brown hair and white robe. In a way I felt a little bit like God watching Carly in the bed like that, like I was protecting her. I stroked her hair.
I did go with my friend Martin to his youth group once in grade seven. The two of us stood in a giant crowd of kids all running around the church gym. The first thing we did as a youth group we sing worship songs, and I distinctly remember one song, or lyric. It talked about the idea of God being bigger than death. This idea both scares me and puts me at ease. To me (and to most people), death is the worst thing ever. It is definitely my biggest fear. So the fact that there’s something out there, something that is greater than my fear, whether good or bad puts me on edge. Having a moment where you realize your fears are completely rational is maybe the scariest thing that can happen. When you’re afraid of something like spiders or if you’re claustrophobic, something irrational more or less, people can tell you there’s nothing to worry about. But what do you say to a kid whose biggest fear is dying, just like his mom did? What scares me even more is if I miss my shot at this whole eternal life thing because I never went to church, because my dad never took me there or haven’t hung out with Martin lately. I have nothing against spending a few hours out of my Sunday in a building that smells weird, I can do that.
“Where have you been?”
Kevin was standing on my doorstep. He had rung the bell twice before I could open the door.
“I called you like forty five times.”
As he said this he sprawled himself over the couch. He didn’t even bother to take his shoes off. I brushed off a dirt patch on the arm rest.
“Yeah, forty seven. “
“I’ve been busy.”
At that moment I felt a call in my pocket. It was Carly. I answered.
“See you in a bit.”
I sat down. Me and Kevin both said nothing. I had invited him because of the note I found, Melissa’s suicide note. I hadn’t told Carly about finding the body in the hotel, and I figured I should reveal it in a sort of group circle therapy session.
Kevin didn’t like the idea.
“You’re the one who said we shouldn’t tell anyone! What is this, some sort of Freaky Friday thing?!”
I looked over at Kevin. He actually looked really nice and clean. He even had a polo shirt on. I looked down on my legs. I was wearing basketball shorts.
“Carly’s my girlfriend. She’s the most important thing in my life. I don’t want to keep secrets from her, man.” For some reason it didn’t sound that convincing coming out of my mouth.
“Most important thing in your life? You been dating her for what, four months?! What is this, a teen novel?!”
I didn’t say anything, partly because he made a good point, but mostly because Carly had knocked on the door.
“Hello! Oh, hey Kevin.”
Kevin got off the couch so me and Carly could sit together. I had to ask him, but he still did it. I explained to them what I found under my bed. Well, actually first I told Carly about me and Kevin stepping in after Melissa killed herself. She gave me a look saying she was either horrified or impressed. She was horrified.
“And you told no one?” She was running her fingers through her hair.
“Well we kind of figured..”
“It was stupid.”
I kept holding on to the idea that she was maybe impressed. Kevin looked very disappointed and small in the sitting in the armchair. I revealed the fact he didn’t know.
“So I was right!” Kevin exclaimed. “In my dream, it must have been your room, not the hotel Melissa was telling me about.”
I continued on. Melissa had basically set up a suicide note scavenger hunt, with the first clue being hidden under my bed. She was leading us on a trail of places she was connected to a when she was alive, somewhere she enjoyed or something. Every clue has a poem, or as I remember from English class, a couplet. The two lines tell us where we’re supposed to go.
“Why do you keep saying ‘us”?” Carly asked. “And why did she put this note under your bed? Did she know you or something?”
What I had thought would be a fun adventure to find out more about a dead girl’s past was apparently really stressing Carly out.
“I don’t know” I felt like that was going to be my answer to a lot of questions. Before I had to say it again, I laid out the first couplet on the table where Kevin was resting his feet.
Notebooks and leaky pens,
the smell of strong caffeine.
“Wow,” he said. “That really sucked. It didn’t even rhyme.”
“Poetry doesn’t have to rhyme.” Carly retorted.
“Yeah. It doesn’t have to be good either.”
After the two lines Melissa had signed her name with a date. It was the same day as she killed herself, coincidently. There also were instructions on the back detailing all of what I was telling them.
“Anyways, I know where she’s talki- or where she was talking about.” Carly said.
The stutter kind of threw us all off.
“I used to see her at this downtown coffee shop called Jitters.”
“You knew her?”
“Well, not really, but I guess I knew who she was. We never talked or anything.”
“Should we go?”
I’m pretty sure there were at least seven homeless outside the single door. The sign that read Jitters was completely titled over to the left. It was engraved into what looked like a piece of driftwood. The place was so darkly lit it almost took a full minute before I could see anything, before my eyes could adjust from the bright sun. The coffee shop was very narrow, with the small counter attached to the right wall. The barista was even wearing a plaid shirt and glasses. I tried to picture Melissa sitting in one of thrift store couches that seemed tossed around the room, doing her homework or having a pen leak on her clothes. She was a tough character to envision in my mind, her body movements and such. On the side of the counter there were “funny” comic strips cut out of newspapers. And right in the middle of all that read these two lines:
Broke my leg eight years ago,
Ate my lunch on a tire swing.
Carly was one the that spotted it. She held out her hand and pointed like she didn’t believe we would have found another clue. Which she probably didn’t.
“Man, poetry is really not her thing.” was all Kevin said.
I grabbed the note while our new barista/friend turned his back. We ran back outside, past the couches and leaky pens and homework, and into the hot day. With its homelessness and busyness and brightness. Sitting down at a patio table we talked things over.
“So she obviously means her elementary school.” Kevin said this all fast, like he could barely contain his excitement.
“What’s our plan once find all the clues?” Carly asked.
Kevin gave her a dumbfounded look. “Who knows,” he said. “She didn’t say.”
“No, I mean like are we going to let anyone know about this information? Like cops, her parents.. I feel like something like this should be taken care of by someone other than three kids who didn’t know her.”
“This is what I say.” Kevin had a stupid smug grin on his face. “We find all these clues, and quit whining like three dudes who’d rather go kisses their mothers on the forehead than go on an adventure.”
I had a feeling this was going to go nowhere.
“Besides, if we go tell anyone it’ll become way too big a deal… He found the first clue under his bed, a) it’s really creepy, but b) they’ll probably be some sort of investigation at his place, and we don’t want that, do we?”
I felt like Kevin was acting as if I had a lot of cocaine at my house or something. I would probably be questioned a lot, though, if anyone found out I had her suicide note(s).
“What elementary school she went to?” I asked, breaking the silence.
Cardston Elementary was way over on the west side of town. It was regular sized school. The trees were really dense around the area, and the school itself looked like it was engulfed in the forest. We had found the information from the newspaper article that was still sitting on my bedroom desk. I hadn’t been reading it every night or anything, I just hadn’t cleaned my desk since. Four months is a long time to go without cleaning though. I should have gotten to it.
The basic layout of the school ground was the following: School to the north, playground on the east, field on the west. By or part of the playground were the tire swings, which I assume were the same ones Melissa had eaten her lunch on, unless they had done renovations, or Melissa wasn’t talking about her elementary school at all. We walked across the field from the parking lot on its left side. The whole school was completely empty, as I should have been I guess, given it was July. None of us said anything until we reached the tire swings, and as soon as we did I could feel my stomach getting sick (I’ve always hated tire swings). The whole playground was underneath a floor of woodchips, and our steps became much louder as we moved from the grass to them. It almost created an eerie effect.
There were no clues under or around the tire swings we quickly realized, as they were only two of them, and the three of us have above average eyesight. Kevin sat down on the swing. It was at that moment I found out we weren’t alone. Two kids were playing on the slide while their Mom watched from the bench opposite. Last I had seen them, they were throwing coins into a fountain.
Artwork by Jeff Ellom Check out his flickr.
Free Breakfast by Nathan Hare is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.