Jeremy's Stories

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He came in the dawning of spring, when the frost from winter had only recently been lifted and green was still a new pigment of the world. He rumbled into the small community of cottages in his rusty pickup truck. Even on that particular day, when Lexie Amery sat behind the check-out counter in the small gift shop, her eyes blinded to everything except all the misfortunes of her life, she was clearly able to see him. He did not have a name yet, but she was determined to discover it.

After a few moments of anxious contemplation of whether or not the boy would enter the shop or not to check in, he finally entered. She tried to feign indifference, but he was absolute perfection. He had a hint of a tan, a lingering indication of the deep tan he surely had worn the previous summer, and muscles that she could see in her skittering glances back and forth between him and the book she had been reading.

“Can I help you?” she asked, finally allowing herself to take a good look at him.

He smiled, and she could not help but smile back. She now noted his clear blue eyes—his golden hair.

“Yeah, I’m actually looking for a job,” he replied. “Are you guys hiring?”

Actually, the real answer was no. Lexie’s parents owned the community of cottages that they rented out year-round, right on Lake Michigan. Lexie and her family (which consisted of her, her parents, and her sister Bea) lived in one of the cottages. Some of her friends deemed her lucky, since she could sit out on her deck and stare out at the blue expanse of Lake Michigan, but if you asked her, she would paint a different picture.

Their house, which again was actually a cottage, was small and lowly. It was all one story, and Lexie was crammed into a room with Bea. Their kitchen tile was faded and old, their carpets were stained and grainy with sand, the wood paneling of all their walls was scratched and marked, and their deck was splintery and crowded with cheap plastic furniture.

If anything, though, could make this place bearable, it was him. Despite whatever begrudging her parents would lay on her for doing so, she dug around one of the drawers of the counter until she produced an application form. She slid it across the countertop to him.

“Just fill it out and return it when you’re done,” she told him. “It shouldn’t take too long for my parents to get back to you.”

“Your parents?” he asked.

She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, they own the place.”

“Well, will you put in the good word for me?” he asked with a laugh.

She giggled. “Of course.”

In a matter of a week he had the job.
His name was Jeremy Burleigh. On his first day on the job, manning the gate, he sat outside the small shed where there were tools and various other items stored. He sat on a dingy plastic chair, but the sun was hot and the breeze was gentle. He closed his eyes, imagining this must be as close to heaven as he would ever get; this total immersion into serenity was his one glimpse of paradise.

He sighed, again reflecting on the fact that he wouldn’t be able to remain in this perfect place for long. Perhaps ten years, if he was lucky. He had never lasted that long, since he had always seemed to find people who looked at him oddly or whispered when he passed; but maybe this time he would be able to shrink into complete obscurity.

Why was he always forced to leave? If people found out, they would want to experiment on him or else throw him into a mental institution. Sometimes he wondered if it would be better just to find out what would happen, if it was even worth it to always be running, but he had fallen into a routine. By now, he was used to it.

Physically, he was twenty-year-old, forever stuck at that age. For a reason that eluded him—and he’d had abundant time to consider it—he had stopped aging at twenty. He hadn’t realized it until he was well into his thirties and people began to point it out, and his immortality wasn’t confirmed until he had experimented with it not too long ago. Until the day he had pressed a gun to the temple of his forehead, pulled the trigger, and ended up with not a single mark, he’d at least been able to hope that one day he would die like everyone else.

“Hey, you’re Jeremy, right?” a high-pitched voice said to him.

He opened his eyes.

“Yes. Who are you?” he snapped, even though he knew perfectly well that she must be the daughter of Bill and Cathy Amery.

“I’m Bea.”

“Well, nice to meet you, Bea.”

He had hoped she would leave now, seeing that he wanted the conversation ended, but she only stood there expectantly, somehow unaware that she was standing in his sun and shattering his serenity.

He reminded himself that she was only a young girl, surely no older than ten or eleven. Her backpack was carelessly slung over one shoulder, and her school clothes looked like they had been picked out by her mother. She wore her dark curly hair in a high ponytail that bobbed atop her head. When she smiled, dimples appeared in her cheeks. Her entire life stretched before her, and her joviality emanated from her lack of need to worry about anything. Jeremy was jealous.

“Where are you from?” she asked him.

“Lots of places. Do you mean the last place I’ve been?”

Her eyes widened. “Tell me everywhere you’ve been.”

He concocted a string of fictitious stories of his travels of the world, from Greece to Italy to Egypt. Bea’s eyes dazzled, and from time to time she would interject with questions and exclamations, to which Jeremy never faltered in answering. He had read plenty about the places he spoke of, even if he had never been there himself. He supposed one day he would get out of the country, but until then he preferred staying within his comfort zone. Beyond that, he wanted something to look forward to.

“Wow,” Bea said when he was done. “So why are you here now?”

“Well…” he hesitated. “I grew up here.”

That wasn’t entirely false. He’d grown up in a quaint place similar to here, where everyone dreamed of getting out of, only to find that when they did, all they wanted was to go back. Maybe someday he would go back to his hometown, but he knew now there would still be people alive who remembered him. He would have to wait awhile for his memory to fade from the town.

A silence fell between him and Bea. He realized now that they’d been talking for awhile. It was the longest conversation he’d had in awhile, and the revelation that he’d enjoyed himself, false stories or not, was shocking. He’d been lonely for so long that it had taken a little girl to make him realize he needed companions.

But that was too dangerous. He couldn’t allow himself to get close to anyone, let alone form friendships. It would be better to forget this girl altogether and return to the solitary life he had grown accustomed to.

“Well, I better go,” she said. “Bye, Jeremy.”

“Bye, Bea.”
Throughout the following month, Jeremy told more stories to Bea. Nearly every day she wanted a new one, and before long he found himself already preparing stories for her during the course of the day. It was a new element to his life, getting excited about something, even if it was only narrating stories for a little girl.

It was during one of Jeremy’s excellent brainstorming of stories when Bill and Cathy Amery drove up to the gate. They had left a few hours ago to take Bea for a doctor’s appointment. He let them in, but only as they passed noticed that Cathy’s eyes were red and swollen and Bill looked angry. Bea sat in the back, for once wearing a blank expression. He wanted to ask what was wrong, but they drove away before he had the opportunity to.

Later that afternoon, Bea came to visit Jeremy. He hadn’t been expecting her to.

“Is everything okay?” he asked her.

She shrugged. “My leukemia’s back.”

A shade drew over Jeremy’s eyes. His fingers felt numb, and his chest felt hollow. He wondered if he had heard her correctly. There was no way…

“No,” he whispered.

She sat down on the pavement in front of him. “I guess I knew it’d come back. Mom and Dad knew, too, but they wouldn’t ever say anything.”

“It’ll be okay,” he assured her, hoping to God it was true.

“Maybe.”

There was a pause.

“Are you mad about it?” he asked, knowing he could only ask because she was so young. “Are you mad at God?”

She shrugged. “No. He didn’t do this to me. You’ve just gotta be happy with whatever life he does give you and do the most with it.”

Again, Jeremy couldn’t respond. He was angry, even if she wasn’t. Ten years of life was but a small breath. She hardly knew the world, and the world would be deprived if it never got the opportunity to know her.

“How about a story?” she asked.
He left on a brisk day in autumn, when fallen leaves covered the damp earth and the sky was slate gray. He had only remained there for two years. After Bea’s passing, he could no longer bear to reside there.

He had told her too many stories to count, and even as she grew too old to truly believe in them, she had listened intently. She was happy up until the very end, and she did make the most of her life, no matter how brief. The world would be a cold place without her, but Jeremy could never regret knowing her. No matter how sharp the grief of losing her was, she had helped him more than anyone else ever had.

As he rumbled out of the community in his rusty pickup truck, he resolved to make something of his endless life. He would find a purpose and find ways to make his unfortunate fate worthwhile. He would make Bea present in the world by his actions and words, and when he would find another person to share stories with, he would finally have a true tale to tell.





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