All She Is Now

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I guess I’m a dime a dozen, if you see me on a weekday. I look like all the other upperclassmen athletes—tall, with a prominent Adam’s apple and a buzz cut. My grades are good, and I play guitar, and I go to youth group…. like I said, you’d find a million of me at any high school.

The only time I feel free is when I’m someone else.
***
Light in the Darkness, read the headline. It was accompanied by a grainy black-and-white photo of a present left on a doorstep. “Cute, huh?” David asked, creasing the school newspaper and tossing it to me. I glanced at our teacher before unfolding it, but she was busy tutoring a student. “Jefferson’s own Robin Hood made the front page.”

“I’m stealin’ from the rich and givin’ to the poor,” JP sang, snatching the paper out of my hands before I could read the article. “Tellin’ everybody it don’t matter anymore. Hey, David, you know who this fellow is?”

David smirked at me, his sharp blue eyes magnified by his square glasses, but I ignored him; he had a tendency to be far too perceptive. “Whoever it is, they’ve come to our house twice now, dropped off hot fries and Triscuits. Anne’s a little freaked out, she thinks someone’s trying to poison her.”

Beautiful, innocent Anne. Of course she’d misinterpreted my gifts. She was the reason I had ‘visited’ David’ family in the first place, but… she was so unaware. Even if I explained my visits to her, she still wouldn’t understand. That, in part, was what made her so beautiful.

“You think it’s Olivia?” JP asked.

“Reckon she’s Foss?” David said. I tried not to laugh at his pronunciation of the Greek word ‘???’. “Could be. She drive?”

“Nah, I don’t think so,” JP said, straddling his chair so that he faced me. “What do you think, broski?”

“No clue,” I said, stretching my arms back. My shoulder pained me—I had overworked it in the last lacrosse game. “But you think it’s this Olivia chick?”

David smiled a bit and made a point of fiddling with the newspaper. “Oh, she so pretty,” JP teased, mocking David’s quick, earnest voice. “She so blonde and smart and we go to the library to talk about theology—”

David jumped out of his chair and onto JP, knocking him to the floor. I watched them wrestle for a bit before grabbing the newspaper off JP’s desk and scanning the cover story. For the past six months, an anonymous person has been leaving Christian-themed gifts around neighborhoods at night. The gifts vary from slips of paper to jewelry to Bible verses, but they all have one thing in common—all are signed with the Greek symbols ‘???’, meaning ‘Light’. But who is this mysterious figure? Students who have been visited hold a variety of opinions—

I didn’t want to read the rest. It sickened me. They had completely missed the point—they were supposed to be focusing on the gifts, not on the gift bearer!

“In all seriousness, it’s probably Olivia,” JP said, sitting on my desk. The wrestling match had, apparently, been resolved without serious injury. “I mean, really, it’s something she would do.”

I shrugged. It didn’t matter much what my friends thought. If things with Fose had progressed to the point that all anyone cared about was my identity, then it was time for everything to end.
***

I pedaled harder, faster, my body rocking back and forth with the bike as I sped down the highway. The wind pinned my clothes tight against my body, and I kept an ear out for cars, even though there weren’t many at four in the morning. It felt so good—I was living, I had escaped the bonds that kept so many of my peers asleep in their beds. But… all the same, I couldn’t continue like this. My outings would end after this week. And for good reason— people were missing the point of my gifts. I didn’t want to disguise my handwriting for that, and I didn’t want to keep sneaking out; I wanted to go on dates with girls without worrying they’d figure out who I was.
I turned into David’s neighborhood and glided into his cul-de-sac. His house stood out from the others—it was sideways, with the garage where the front door should have been. It was a silent mass, set apart. Like Anne.

I left a bag of 7-11’s bold black coffee on their porch, along with a note that said, “May you always be BOLD in the Spirit! –???”. It was my last gift to David and Anne’s family; three presents, each separated by a month, was plenty for one household.

I left little gifts around his neighborhood, too, small slips of paper that said things like “I want you to help me get to heaven” and “Take this as a sign”. This one girl, a Baptist, her mother had recently died of brain cancer, so I wrote loads of encouraging Bible verses on her driveway in blue chalk. And, as always, I signed everything “???”.
***

“Bold in the Spirit?” Olivia asked the next night. “Cute, that’s so cute. You know, David doesn’t think it’s you because the gifts are too fruity for a guy.”

“I resent that,” I muttered. We were on this hill, me and Olivia, by her house. It was nearly three in the morning, but this was when we usually met up. For some reason, the dark of night seemed to belong to us alone, and when we saw each other during school it simply wasn’t the same. “David thinks it’s you.”

Olivia smiled a little and lay down, adjusting her rolled-up terry cloth shorts. I could see the scar that split her left eyebrow cleanly in two. Everybody else thought it was from a boating accident, but she had told me the truth about what had happened—about her father’s nasty temper. “Of course. You know what, David doesn’t even know we hang out. Nobody does.”

I turned my head to look at her. “I mean… does that bother you?”

“Yeah, a little. I’m the reason you do your whole Fose gig, and now I’m taking the fall for you, and David and JP and them have no idea we’ve ever even talked.”

I laid my hand over hers, my long fingers covering her tiny ones, but she moved away. “Stop. I’m serious. Think about it, after I convinced you to chalk Ms. Wilson’s driveway, you just took it one step further. And you kept taking it one step further.” I tried to talk, but she cut me off. “And I think that’s great, I think what you do is fantastic, but it’s changing you.”

I kept my eyes on the deep velvet sky. I could see the Big Dipper—Olivia had taught me how to find it months ago. “Well, lucky for you, I don’t want to go out at night anymore. Too many people don’t get it, and it pisses me off.”

“You can’t exactly back out,” she said, pulling up clumps of grass and tearing them apart. “You’re in too deep, people really want to know who it is.”

“Exactly! And I don’t want that anymore. I’m not looking for fame. I want to be a normal guy.”

“You’re doing a pretty good job of that already,” Olivia muttered.

“What do you mean?”
“I mean we hardly ever hang out anymore because you’re too busy ‘being a pimp’ with other girls. And when I do see you, you pretend like you don’t know me. It’s pathetic.”

I cringed when she spat my expression back in my face. “Look, I’m sorry we don’t hang out, but I thought you’d be happy for me—”

“—I’m ecstatic, Fose, now why don’t you go deliver a Bible or something to Anne?”

“It’s not for Anne, it’s—”

“…Because you love David’s whole family, right,” she snorted. “Especially his ‘beautiful, mysterious older sister’.”

There it was again, her twisting my own words. “Alright, then I’ll go,” I said, standing up and brushing off the back of my gym shorts. I turned to face Olivia, but she wasn’t looking at me anymore—she was staring at her house, her dark eyes wide. I followed her gaze and caught my breath.

Olivia’s father, clad in a thin white t-shirt and boxers, was striding towards us.

“I left the kitchen light on,” Olivia whispered. Her hands were curled limply at her sides, palms facing upward. “Oh, my God.”

Her dad kept coming. Did he recognize me yet? There was no mistaking Olivia; her white-blonde hair practically glowed in the dark. “Run,” Olivia whispered to me, standing up. When I didn’t move right away, she pushed me so hard I staggered a little. “Run, you idiot, go!”

I fled down the hill, stumbling over the uneven grass, until I reached my bike. As I pedaled away, I twisted around to catch a last glimpse of Olivia. I could see her father advance on her, grab her shoulders, and shake her until her head flopped around. Then I rounded the corner of her street and was gone.
***

I saw Olivia in school the next day as I walked to my Physics class. She was alone, her blue hoodie unzipped down to her camisole, holding her books against her hip. I contemplated pretending not to see her, but she caught my eye and strode up to me. “Are you alright?” I whispered, hoping nobody could see us talking.

Olivia held my gaze, her cold eyes absolutely expressionless. She placed her books on the floor and shook off her hoodie. As she straightened up, I could see the sickly bruises covering her shoulders, staining her arms with green and brown.

I couldn’t keep myself from flinching. “Liv… I’m so sorry.”

“I should have been more careful,” she said, zipping her hoodie back up. “It’s alright. It won’t happen again.”

I frowned and touched her shoulder—gently, I thought, but she still cringed. “Do you not want me to visit anymore?”

Olivia smiled, but there was something empty behind her square white teeth. “You’re not going to visit anymore,” she said, lowering her voice so nobody would overhear. “You’re free, Fose.” She barely ghosted out my nickname. I didn’t have time to respond before she walked away.

I didn’t understand what she meant until I got to Physics and took my seat behind David. “Bro!” David said, twisting around and waving the new edition of the school paper in my face. “I told you it was Olivia all along. I told you! Look at this.”

‘???’ Revealed, screamed the paper. In a startling turn of events, the midnight wanderer called ‘???’ (pronounced ‘Fose’) has stepped forth and revealed her identity. Olivia Pisano, a junior, told this reporter in an exclusive interview how she did what she did, even providing details on how she managed to avoid detection. When asked why she chose…

I folded the newspaper, disgusted. David was watching me expectantly. “So it’s Olivia,” I said. “Great.” Why did I feel like this? I was free, wasn’t I? This was what I had wanted—a chance to back out, a chance to flirt with pretty girls and be a normal guy, no worrying about my ‘secret identity’. Olivia had given me a precious gift. I should have been so thankful.

I looked at David and smiled, and to my relief my lips slid easily over my teeth. “Well, I’m glad that mystery was solved. Do you have the homework?”
***

I guess I’m a dime a dozen. I look like all the other upperclassmen athletes—tall, with a prominent Adam’s apple and a buzz cut. I date girls with thin eyebrows and tennis tans, I go to parties when I have the time, I hold no surprises, nothing interesting inside of me… like I said, you’d find a million of me at any high school.

I’m so typical.





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