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I never meant for things to go this way, but they sort of just spiraled out of control until my entire life was filled up by that tiny little box sitting underneath the bed.
Dinner is being served. The smell permeates the room, saturating my taste buds. I sit in my chair, staring at the hands next to the speckled cutlery. I feel those fingertips tingle.
“Jamie, now don’t you look concentrated.” My mothers voice wafts in on the back of all those delicious scents.
“What’cha thinking about?”
How I could get it back. Maybe no one would even have to know. “Nothing, just hungry. That’s all.”
Soft vibrations from casual footsteps rattle my feet, up through my legs, and into those hands. “This looks delicious. Mary, you outdid yourself.” My father’s deep baritone voice echoes inside my head. There is the sound of ruffling papers.
“Now, don’t you bring the paper to the table again,” she scolds playfully.
A deep sigh, a few steps back, and then the muffled scrape of a chair being pulled back. I can hear the groan of the wood as my father sits. “Mmmmhh. Now doesn’t this just smell delicious? Jamie?”
“It smells delicious,” I parrot. My eyes don’t move. Footsteps shuffle along the linoleum and into the dining room, back and forth several times. A spoon scrapes against a ceramic plate. The metal flashes underneath my eyes as a blur of yellow is deposited right next to those hands. They flinch, as if they finally know they’re under scrutiny.
“Saffron Paella,” announces my mother, forgetting the “y” sound formed by the double “ll”. She butchers the Spanish. “I saved up a mighty lot for that seasoning there. I know it’s your favorite, Jamie,” she gushes. The pot hits the wood with a soft thud. She lays her soft, warm hand atop one of those cold ones.
I swallow hard. “Thanks, Mom.”
I can sense the sadness in her eyes, but mine stay pinned downwards. “Well, aren’t you even gonna look up?”
I can’t. “No.”
There is a sharp inhaling of breath. “Excuse me?”
The silence is like a mountain growing between us, a thousand feet every millisecond. I notice freckles between the knuckles that I’ve never seen before.
“Look at your mother,” Dad huffs.
“Jamie, what the hell has gotten into you?” The pain is so transparent.
“Thank you for the dinner, Mom, but I think I’ll be going to my room now,” I say, as politely as I can. I tuck the hands into my worn out pockets and steal away as quickly as I can without tripping over my feet. Their shocked expressions burn holes through the back of my head and into my irises, but I shake it away. The stairs stretch out in front of me, a ladder up into my exile. I take one step. Why did I do it? Another. I shouldn’t have let this happen. A third. Again. Fourth. And again. Fifth. The steps are like a crescendo in my head. It’s just sitting there, underneath my bed. Two steps at a time. You wanted this, Jamie. You said you’d do anything to be popular. I’m at the top before I know it. Then I stare all the way back down.
“I’ll just be a second Jamie, ok? Jamie. Jamie!” I turn up to see my mother’s anxious face.
“Oh yeah sorry,” I say, pulled from a daydream. “I’m just gonna go wander into the bookstore.” I smile up at her. She frowns.
“Okay. Ten minutes.”
“I have my cell.”
She raises an eyebrow and I shrug it off, giving up.
“All right. I’ll be back in ten.” I make my way towards the bookstore when I see someone I recognize. She’s standing right next to a trashcan outside the store, one hand gripping the edge of it, the other swinging freely by her waist.
I find I’m standing next to her. “Hey. Claire, right?” I hear myself say.
She looks at me and furrows her brow. “Sorry, do I know you?”
“Yeah. I sit behind you in English class.” There’s a silence. “Jamie,” I offer.
“Oh. Right. Hi.” She stares into the store, ignoring me. Three girls emerge giggling, arms crossed.
“We got it!” one squeaks. She opens her jacket and a copy of Titanic falls into Claire's waiting arms.
“Man, I thought we were gonna get caught. The manager kept giving us the evil eye,” says another. A smirk edges across Claire’s face.
“Well, that shows them for arresting me the last time.” Claire laughs.
“You guys,” I swallow, “Stole that stuff?”
Claire eyes me suspiciously. “What? You gonna turn us in?” She smiles, but then the shocked look on my face finally registers. “Oh no. You’re actually a good girl, aren’t you?”
“Who me? No. No way. No.” I deny it one too many times. Claire’s eyes sparkle and she sneers.
“Alright then. Prove it.” And then her gaze travels to the open doors of the bookstore.
I’m through the doors before I’ve even had a chance to think. I know enough about right and wrong to know which category this falls directly into. Thou Shalt Not Steal. He was pretty clear about it. My fingers prickle, uncomfortable. A store clerk smiles at me and I look immediately down. Come on Jamie. Don’t draw attention to yourself.
No! I’m not doing this! Stop!
I turn around and I see Claire laughing with her friends. She looks straight across at me and there’s a challenge in her eyes. I turn away. Just get something. Anything. Show them you aren’t weak. I zip up my jacket. I run my fingers nervously through my hair before I see it; an abandoned DVD balancing precariously on one of the shelves in a spot where it doesn’t belong. Not unlike myself at the moment. I reach out and before I can think, before I can stop myself, before I let the voice of reason win me over, it’s underneath my jacket and I’m racing to the entrance. I’m out the door and face to face with Claire. My heart is beating so fast I’m afraid it’ll knock itself right out of my chest.
“I… did… it,” I wheeze. I unzip my jacket and the box clatters unceremoniously to the floor.
“Wow,” she says, pretending to be impressed. But I see it in her eyes. She didn’t think I could do it.
I look down at my hands, just for a second, and I know that something is different.
The phone rings loudly, echoing in the office. I stop listening to the din of students passing in the halls and come back to within these four walls.
“Yes she’s here. Yes. No we haven’t started yet. Okay.” He places the phone back on the receiver gently, and then there is silence. He stares at his hands for a moment before looking at me. I meet his eyes.
“That was my secretary. She has spoken to your parents and they will be here shortly.” He coughs quietly. “Ms. Greene.”
“Ms. Uh - Jamie. I assume that you know you’ll be facing serious consequences for your actions.” I nod. “And although I commend you for your honesty, that fact alone can’t exempt you from punishment.” He clears his throat. “Everyone must take responsibility for their actions.” He is quiet again. Maybe he’s waiting for me to grovel, demand forgiveness, plead to lower my sentence. I just sit there, returning his gaze.
He shakes his head. “Why did you do it?”
What do you want me to say? I swallow, but I don’t look down. You want the truth? I did it for Claire... she asked me to do it, and I couldn’t say no. That’s how this whole thing started. That one word sits on my tongue, poised like a dagger. Popularity. “I thought it would make me happy.”
He looks puzzled. “Do you even know what’s in this box? It looks like it hasn’t even been opened?”
No. That’s not what I meant. “No. No I don’t.”
“So let me get this straight.” I don’t supply any details. He shuffles papers on his desk. “You broke into Ms. Burkett – Hannah’s locker. You stole this.” The box sits quietly on his desk, unmoving. “And then what?”
“I brought it back.”
“Mmmh hmmm. Well. I guess we’ll just wait until your parents get here.”
I look at my hands sitting silently in my lap. They look relieved. They belong to me again.