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I wanted a summer job badly. Like most teenagers, I wanted to make my own money. To be independent. To stand on my own two feet and not have to ask my mom for twenty bucks every week. Although working on Uncle Leon's farm for six weeks wasn't exactly on my list of jobs I wanted to do, Mom said it would be a great place to work. As always Dad sided with her and said it could be fun. But fun wasn't what I was thinking as I climbed the weed-covered steps to his doorbell. I just had this feeling in my gut and mind that things weren't going to go so smoothly. Even with these feelings, I tried my best to stay optimistic. But I felt about as optimistic as a mouse entering a lion's cage.
When I thought about it, Uncle Leon did remind me of a lion. Large, dark eyed and aggressive, he's the type of person who makes you feel useless and has a voice that says 'do what I say and no one gets hurt'. When he meets you for the first time, he squints and his sepia eyes bore into you. Almost as if he were looking for some weak point in you to bring you down. Thinking more about him, he seemed more like a scorpion, silent and mysterious. He has a bad habit of ignoring people and he hardly ever talks. On the rare occasion he does, it's either to criticize, insult, or command you to do something. Maybe he was like this since he lived alone. He had no wife and I doubt he ever had any kids.
I brought myself from my thoughts and I clutched my suitcases again as they slipped from my grasp from sweat. Stopping on the doormat, I quickly drew in some air and I pushed the doorbell. When he opened the door, two dark eyes stared at me and his back was hunched, as if he were ready to pounce on me at any second. Breaking his concentration, I said, 'Hey Uncle Leon.' I put on a shaky smile and stuck out my hand for a handshake. His mouth deepened into a slight frown and he muttered, 'I'll show you your room now', leaving my hand in midair. Okay then, I uncomfortably returned my hand to my side and followed him in. Inside, the air smelled musty and stale and made my eyes burn. I had forgotten he was a smoker. Wrinkling my nose a bit I looked around the rustic-esque house. Everything seemed to have its own place and not a spot of dust dared to exist. His home was meticulous.
'Nice place you got', I said, trying to spark a conversation. Uncle Leon just grunted in his throat and in turn said, 'Now, I'm gonna lay down some rules. If you don't follow them, then you won't be here for long.' His voice got louder as he began. 'First, you betta be in the kitchen by half past seven every morning. Not a minute late. After breakfast I'll give you your tasks and you'll go work on the farm till five. Second, you can never stay on the phone for over fifteen minutes or in the shower for over twenty. If you use up all the hot water, that means extra work for you. Third, you'll have to wash your own clothes'' My nervousness distracted me as I looked around his house some more. Then my attention snapped back when I bumped into him. His eyes brows lowered and his eyes narrowed as he turned to me. 'And the most important rule is to never go into my room. With that, here's yours.'
The room was pink. All pink. It looked like it belonged to a tea-party-loving, Barbie-obsessed little girl, complete with magenta pillows to carnation curtains and there couldn't have been more hearts on the walls. My eyes bulged. I looked to Uncle Leon,
hoping that this was a mistake, but his face became stoic, almost sad and his hand waved for me to go in. Getting over the shock, I started unpacking my suitcases and heard heavy footsteps going back downstairs. Finished putting my stuff away, I looked out one of the small windows in the room. Outside the sky had darkened to a faint red and a tangerine-colored sun was dipping behind some mountains in the distance. Lots of patchy grass and wildflowers lay all around. I remembered Mom told me Uncle Leon lived here in Texas for most of his life. It seemed nice here. Then my thoughts sidetracked. What's up with the pink? It doesn't seem like Uncle Leon's style. For a while I thought about it, but pretty soon the mesmerizing colors of the landscape outside suddenly made my eyes feel heavy. Since it was pretty late, I used the bathroom and fell asleep in the eternally blushing room.
A set, pink alarm clock woke me up the next morning. My body jerked at the sound of the alarm and the time 7:00 AM glowed in neon green. The date, June 27, glowed underneath. My first day of work. I yawned softly and slowly pulled myself out of the bed. Failing to recover from my drowsiness, I remembered my music. I instantly took out my MP3 player from my suitcase. I turned it up to the maximum volume and let the loud vocals coming from the built-in speakers wake me up some more. Soon I finished up in the bathroom and headed downstairs to the kitchen.
Downstairs, a plate of hot eggs, nearly-burnt toast, bacon, and orange juice with pulp were set for me at an empty seat at the kitchen table. The chair squeaked a bit as I pulled it out and the sound caught Uncle Leon's attention. He was busy looking at a newspaper while puffing on a cigarette. Now staring at me, I said, 'Umm, good morning. You mind if I turn on the A/C? It's kind of stuffy.' He replied, 'Don't play that junk you call music anymore. Woke me up.' He then turned back to his article. Wow that's annoying when he ignores you, I thought, as I started eating my own breakfast.
Throughout my first day of work, I tried to stay focused and positive. I wanted to keep this job so I had to show Uncle Leon that I could handle it. To do that, I had to make the best of the situation and I couldn't afford to be nervous anymore. I'd be willing to do anything he asked of me to show how good I was, although working on the farm was pretty bad. If you mix masses of mosquitoes, blood-boiling heat, and Uncle Leon yelling at you every 5 seconds to do something, then you'll have my day covered. In the process I managed to collect some bruises as gifts from stubborn pigs and my shoes and cow manure managed to become best friends. I couldn't have been happier for five o'clock to come. But before I could go in, Uncle Leon had me take some tools to his shed.
As I pushed open the shabby door, my eyes instantly spotted a pile of toys in a corner. Jump ropes, a small pink bike, a box of chalk, and more sat in the shadows. They seemed to have been there awhile, since a layer of dust coated them. I kept thinking about how I thought Uncle Leon never had any kids. My eyebrows furrowed as I thought about it. First the room and now this. I put the tools back, headed out, and before I could come to a conclusion, my mind started to think about other things. Today was only day one and I got through it. Maybe six weeks won't be so long.
Five crawling weeks went by slowly like a sloth climbing a molasses-covered tree. Adding to the slowness was Uncle Leon's increasingly bad mood. I mean I knew he always seemed to be in a bad mood, but this was too much. He seemed mad at the whole world and was giving me more work than usual. It was just like his mood became worse gradually, bit by bit. Maybe it was because he didn't want me around anymore. Well if he didn't then he should say something and let me go home. But then it wasn't like I was horrible at working on the farm anymore. I could go through a whole day without any bruises. But still, I wanted to find out what his deal was. I was tired of being passive. So one night I decided to call my mom. Maybe she would know something to help me. I went down to the living room. On the second ring she answered.
'Hey mom, it's me.'
'Oh hey honey, how's Texas?'
'Umm'it's okay I guess', I said in an unconvincing tone.
'Doesn't sound like it.' Suddenly she sounded worried.
'Everything's alright but, Uncle Leon's been moody lately. It's like he's all angry all the time and he's even worse than he usually is.'
'Well, you gotta cut him some slack. You see a few years ago, there was this'' She stopped abruptly. 'I'm sorry honey, I was just talking to your dad. We're supposed to go to this concert and we're already late. But trust me things will get better, okay? Talk to you later.' As I set the phone back, I wondered what my mom had been trying to say. Well it didn't matter anymore. I decided to confront Uncle Leon myself the next day.
The next morning I woke up to the alarm clock. The time read 7:00 AM as usual and the date read August 3. Now that I was used to waking up so early, I finished up faster in the bathroom and headed downstairs. When I was in the kitchen I noticed that the air smelled fresh. That was weird. After I looked around, I saw that there was no sign of Uncle Leon. Even weirder. All that I found was a note on the kitchen table from him. I picked it up and read it aloud to myself, 'Went out. No work.'
Even though the situation seemed strange, I was happy. No work. I immediately forgot all about my planned confrontation and headed to the living room to watch some TV. An old mystery movie was on. I flipped to the movie when the detective was interrogating the criminal on why he committed the murder. Watching the black-and-white figures got me thinking. What if I could find out why Uncle Leon was so grumpy lately by doing a little investigating myself? After a while I knew where to start first. His room. I knew he told me to never go in, but like I said to myself, I wasn't going to be passive anymore. Maybe it'd be fun to break his rules.
The acrid scent of cigarettes was strong and fresh and his room was messy. It seemed uncharacteristic that it wasn't as neat as the rest of the house. Trying to avoid a bed sheet below me, I became unbalanced. On the floor, I rubbed my knee and tried to look for what made me trip. Under the carelessly tossed sheet was a shoebox. It looked old and the edges were worn. Curious, I opened it, not knowing exactly what to expect. The box was full of photos. They all made my eyebrows rise as I saw they all showed a different side of Uncle Leon. A happy side. He seemed almost unrecognizable when wearing a smile. Going through them, I saw some showed him on the beach and in other countries or at parties. Still, there's was nothing here that could help me to know why he was acting so moody lately. Then, under the layer of clustered photos I noticed a small bow. It was pink and made of lace with a clip underneath it. Slipping it through my fingers, it felt soft and delicate. I set it back in the box.
The color of the bow brought me back to my first two days here at Uncle Leon's. When he showed me the pink room I had to stay in and when I saw the pink bike when I was in his shed the following day. Thinking about that was when I noticed the tear-stained newspaper clipping. I took it from the box and held it in my hands. The bold headline read 'SIX-YEAR OLD GIRL KILLED IN HIT-AND-RUN'. The date was August 3. Today. Under was a picture of the victim. It showed a close up of a little girl wearing the same bow I held in my hands a second ago. Her charming smile was eerily haunting. It instantly felt like an aura of darkness filled the room and suddenly a lot of things made sense and some opinions were changed.