Chapter Twenty: Mirror

He planned the perfect date. He’d pick her up at eleven. They’d get ice cream from the stand in Milford, that was fairly close to Lyndeborough, the shitty little mountain town that Becca lived in. Lyndeborough was one of those towns with nothing in it. Barely a town. There was a small mountain that took about twenty minutes to drive to the top if you stuck to the main roads. Adam had only been there twice and both times had been to go apple picking. Nothing on that mountain except farms; farms that grew apples in the fall and charged twenty-five cents a pound for every apple you picked off the tree yourself.

After they bought ice cream, he’d drive her to the Mount Vernon waterfall. The ice cream might be a little soft by the time they got there, but it would be worth it. Mount Vernon was a town over from Milford. It had very little except for a couple of trailer parks and some hiking trails. Dad used to bring Adam and Chuck hiking there when he was little. One of these trails had a small waterfall close to the start of the trail. They could park at the side of the road and carry their ice cream the short walk to the bubbling pool. Becca had probably been there before, but it would still be romantic. He’d always thought he’d be a romantic guy, if he ever got a girl to give him a chance. He had his chance now. He wasn’t about to blow it. he’d buy her ice cream and take her to sit by the waterfall. He’d look into her eyes and win her over. He would. He would win her over.

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The days clicked by, Friday coming closer and closer. Adam dodged questions from nosy coworkers. Word was spreading quickly about the budding romance in the deli department. He grinned and blushed when the girls from the front end teased him about it. He tried not to say too much when Bubba from the night crew congratulated him, and with a hearty wink and vigorous shake of Adam’s shoulder, reminded him to be a gentleman. Adam wondered why everyone else at work was so invested in this. They really must think Adam was a major loser. They were all in shock that he had a date with a girl. He kept his head down and worked, daydreaming about Friday and all of the possibilities it would bring. A girlfriend. Love. Forever and ever. All he wanted was love and someone to talk to. Someone to hold him. Someone to kiss his hair and know him. He wanted all of that. He wanted all of the rewards that love would bring. Finally. Finally it was happening for him.

He briefly mentioned his date to his mother. She smiled like she’d won the lottery. “Adam! I knew you’d find the one eventually. Oh! What’s her name? What does she look like? What does she do?”

Becca. Cute. Hazel eyes and black hair. Kind of emo. Emo is like punk, Ma. You know this. Chuck was emo. Yep, with the weird hair. No, her hair isn’t too weird. She works with me at Wal-Mart.

And Adam gave a similar variation of this explanation to his father.

Becca. Cute. Works with me at Wal-Mart.

And to Chuck.

“I know the one you’re talking about,” Chuck muttered, eyes on the screen as his avatar evaded bullets and blows. “She hooked up with Josh, you know.”

“Don’t be an asshole.”

Chuck shook his head. “You can still date her. I’m only telling you ‘cuz I’d want to know. She’s a slut. Laid down for Josh after a ride home and a couple nice words. Those emo chicks are always slutty as hell.”

“Fuck you!”

Adam wanted to hit him but didn’t. He stomped out of Chuck’s room, slamming the door so hard that the pictures on the wall shook and Mom shouted up the stairs for them to stop shaking her damn house to the ground.

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As he’d worried would happen, the deli department was so busy on Wednesday that he had no time to talk to Becca. With only an hour of their shifts overlapping, Adam tried to get through as many customers as he could. Every time one was finished, two or three more would show up. He couldn’t even discreetly mumble to her that he needed her number and address. She was working the hot case and he kept getting caught up on the roast beef slicer. With about eight feet between them and the air cluttered with the noises of the deli-the bubbling fryer oil, the beeping of the rotisserie chickens ready to be taken out, the chatter of customers talking, and the obnoxious Wal-Mart commercials droning on the overhead-he couldn’t very well call over to her. Talking about their upcoming date was awkward enough without shouting it for all of their coworkers to hear.

He started to panic as the hour of three drew closer. She’d be leaving any minute now! Any minute…And with a pang trumpeting in his chest, he watched her slip away from the hot case five minutes early. Damn. She was one of those. She dipped five minutes before her shift ended.

Sighing, he finished weighing a pile of sliced Wal-Mart brand roast beef. He jammed the code into the keypad of the scale and ripped the printer for the ticket before it was finished printing. He cut half the barcode off in his stress-induced fervor and had to reprint the stupid thing. Now he couldn’t take Becca on that nice date he’d come up with. He was a moron. He had no way to contact her. Stupid fuck. He should have asked for her number the day he asked her out!

The hopelessness of the situation was really starting to make his head swim, when a tiny voice from the opposite side of the counter arrested his attention.

“Adam?”

He glanced over, and with giddiness rising in him, saw Becca standing across from him. She shimmied around the customer he’d been about to hand a package of cheese to. Without a word, she reached over, holding a folded piece of paper. He took it from her and she spun away.

“See you Friday,” she called over her shoulder, and then she was off, darting away like the interaction had been nothing.

A smile tugged at his lips.

The old man waiting for his cheese cleared his throat.

“Sorry!” Adam said, rushing to hand the cheese over the counter. “Sorry about that, sir. Can I get you anything else.”

“That’s about it for me.” He grinned and looked in the direction that Becca had gone, and then he looked back to Adam with a smirk on his thin pink lips. “You sweet on her, are you?”

Adam couldn’t help himself. He tried to fight back the idiotic grin, but his mouth had a mind of its own. His head bobbed up and down like it was on a broken spring, waggling here and there. He must look like a total dope.

“Yep. I’m taking her on a date Friday.”

“Good for you, kid. Treat her right. Nothing better than young love.”

Nothing better indeed.

He floated through the rest of the day. He drove Chuck home that night and didn’t even complain when Chuck popped Metallica out of the stereo and announced he was putting k-pop on.

“Sure, sure,” Adam said absently, grinning through the darkness. The world had become such a peaceful place, one full of hope and all of the imaginings he could muster.

“There you go,” Chuck muttered. “That’s a good weeb. For real, don’t know how you can watch so much anime and not like k-pop.”

“K-pop is from Korea.”

Chuck shrugged. “Same difference. Asia is Asia.”

“Well an Otaku like you would think that.”

“Yeah yeah, cry about it to your waifu.”

“2D girls are better than 3D.”

Adam had missed this banter between them. He didn’t know when and where their relationship had gone cold. If there was a way to warm it up again, he’d take it.

“You working tomorrow?” Adam asked.

“Nah, got the day off. Got school though.”

“That sucks.”

“It’s cool. I’m doing okay in class.”

“Good.”

“Wha-bout-you?”

Adam shrugged. “I got the day off. I might read this book I got from the library. Fantasy, actually. You still into all that?”

Chuck had always liked any books dealing with wizards or magic or fights on spaceships. Out of the three brothers, he was the most bookish.

“Yup. I’m reading Gentlemen Bastards right now. It’s no Tolkien, but it’s pretty cool. Which book you reading?”

“The first Wheel of Time book.”

Chuck snorted and clapped his hands together. “Yes! The Eye of the World. Jordan isn’t my favorite, but I read the first six books. Got tired after that. Brevity is not my dude’s strength. Half the first book is them walking around at night, going from one location to another.”

“That’s what it seems like so far.”

“It’s cool though. I always liked Rand.”

“I like the magic lady.”

“You should join a fantasy bookclub. Or come to the tabletop game night at Mark’s. Then you can go make some friends.”

“What do I need friends for?”

“Dude, you need friends. You’re a sad sack. You want to meet girls, well what the hell are you gonna talk to girls about if you got no fucking life?”

“Please. What do you know about girls, Chuck?”

Adam couldn’t recall the last time he’d seen Chuck with a female. He knew Chuck had better luck with women than he did. But that wasn’t saying much

“It’s common sense, dude. All you do is rot in the basement and go to work. You need to get out of your lair every once in awhile. Before people start thinking you’re a darkfriend.”

“A wha-oh!” Adam laughed. Darkfriends were bad guys in the Wheel of Time book. “I don’t know. Think it’s be pretty cool to be a darkfriend.”

“Not surprised you’d say that,” Chuck barbed. “Light! You’re the worst!”

Adam laughed at Chuck’s use of slang from the book. “Okay, I’ll come with you to Mark’s sometime. If you promise to stop making nerd references at me.”

“That’s not a promise I can keep.”

“Fine, I’ll go anyway.”

“Good. Get the fuck out of the basement, you loser.”

And that last joke stung, although Adam knew Chuck hadn’t meant it to.

When they pulled into the driveway, Adam found that he didn’t want their conversation to end.

“Hey, I’ve been playing The Witcher lately. Have you tried it?”

“Not yet. Still trying to beat Castlevania.”

“Fucking Castlevania.”

“You inviting me back to your place?” Chuck joked.

Adam shrugged. “Want to come down and chill?”

Chuck grabbed his backpack from the floor and nodded. “’Kay. Just be a gentleman. I’m not usually this kind of girl.”

Adam punched Chuck lightly in the arm, but he grinned. “Don’t be weird.”

“Dontbeweird.exe is not running. There is an error in the code.”

Adam followed his brother into the house. They both waved to their dad. The old man sat in the living room, sunken into the couch cushions. A sour taste prickled at Adam’s tongue. Dad waved, but didn’t smile. He didn’t take his eyes from the screen. Blue and green light flickered over his face. His eyes were empty. Dead and empty.

Once in the basement, Chuck groaned and muttered, “Dad ain’t looking too good lately, is he?”

“No. No, he isn’t.”

“Poor old dude,” Chuck murmured. “Alright.” He dropped down onto the end of Adam’s bed and scanned the area with shadowed eyes. “Am I showing you how a pro tackles The Witcher, or what?”

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The brothers played until late in the night. Adam didn’t know why it had been so long since they’d done this. The hour grew later, and they were the only two in the world. Except for every so often, the floor above would creak, reminding them that their father was awake too. Awake and sad.

But that isn’t me anymore. I’m not sitting awake sad and dead-eyed anymore.

And while Adam felt for the old man, he was glad to feel so distant from him.

His dad wasn’t his mirror any longer.

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