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December 19, 2017
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My feet tap rhythmically against the cold, stone pavement. I reach up and yank off a loose, paper name tag that my boss made me to wear because it was my first day. The name tag it’s self doesn’t bother me, it’s the fact that the secretary spelled my name wrong. I have never, not in my entire life, seen someone spell Simon wrong. This guy tried to spell Simon with a y. I never did tell the guy that it was wrong. I probably should have, it just seemed rude at the time. I crumble the name tag into a ball and stuff it into my pocket until I find a trash can.
The walk home involves me having to fight my way through rush hour traffic on a very busy street. These streets are flooded with people who, like me, have given up on driving in this chaos. There are people on all sides of me. I try to stay toward the edge of the swarm. But I wind up getting sucked into the middle of it no mater how hard I try to keep that from happening. I’m pushed from all sides in the position I’m in. Each time I’m hit, I curl into myself just a little further. I slowly shrink further and further down. Its an involuntary movement. I’d rather push back, but instead my instincts tell me to hide. I feel claustrophobic in this state. The polluted air doesn’t exactly help with this feeling. The two combined makes it seem like I’m drowning.
The air catches in my throat and refuses to satisfy my need to breathe. I’m caught in a current of people. I’m dragged through the streets, unable to see where I’m going. I know I’m passing the Walgreens and the old row houses, but all I can see is the back of some mans head. I’m pushed from behind and jabbed by elbows on both sides. I try to walk forward. Then run into the person in front of me. Or step on their feet. It’s the most stressful five minutes of my life. I’m so glad my apartment is not on a busy street. Escaping this current of people, means to replicate their erratic behavior.
The crowd thins to a trickle. My apartment stands to the right of the street, my room on the top floor. It’s not a bad space. Two beds, one bathroom, and a kitchen. It’s all crammed together with paper thin walls. Of course the couple next door are always yelling. It’s frustrating, but cheap. For a couple of college kids working crappy part time jobs where the secretaries are completely airheads, cheap is good. Then again, we could about double our living space if my roommate and I lived in the suburbs like I suggested.
I walk in and glance around the space before going into my bedroom. I can’t help but notice that my roommate isn’t here yet. He should have been back about an hour ago. Maybe it’s a good thing that he’s not back yet. I could really use some time to myself. I still worry about him. In an attempt to forget my troubles, I pull out a mystery book I’ve been reading and open to my bookmark.
________________
My feet pound against the sidewalk. The city lights and its inhabitants are a blur in my eyes. My heart races weather I’m running or standing still, so I might as well run. I hide from a classmate of mine, Will, in the fast current of rush-hour traffic. I shove the bangs of my wild blond hair away from my eyes.
“Jace!” Will calls over the crowd. I laugh out loud, knowing he can’t here me. The man next to me shoves me as he tries to push ahead of the crowd. I push him back. I fight my way forward so I can see over a taller man’s head, and spot the Walgreens where my friends and I planned to meet. I wriggle my way out of the crowd and over to the corner where two other boys and one girl my age stand. I jog up to them and grin when I get closer.
“Got Will’s wallet!” I announce, waving it at them.
“Cool, what’s in it?” Kyle asks.
“About thirty bucks and an ID,” I reply, shrugging. “Nothing interesting.”
“Thirty bucks is always interesting,” Wyatt chimes in. “Give it here.”
“No way! I took it, I get what’s in it.” I laugh.
“Will’s so terrible,” Isabell says, wrinkling her nose.
“Yeah, he’s so annoying,” Kyle agrees. “That’ll teach that know-it-all not to make fools out of us.”
“I can only think of one person worse than Will,” Wyatt decides.
“Whose that?” I ask.
“Your roommate Jace,” Wyatt muses. I roll my eyes and laugh.
“Yeah, he can be pretty bad…,” I admit.
“Pretty bad?” Isabell cuts in. “He’s got you locked up half the time, Jace. Seriously, ditch him.”
“I’d honestly feel bad ditching him,” I say awkwardly.
“Why?” Kyle asks. “I know you’ve known him for a long time, but he doesn’t own you.” I roll my eyes.
“I can do whatever I want,” I snap, “He just complains too much.” When they don’t look convinced, I add,
“I could leave whenever I want, but why should I when its so easy to talk him into paying my half of the rent?”
“That seems like a big change from, ‘I’d feel bad ditching him’” Isabell points out. I shove her playfully.
“Whatever. Where are you guys headed for tonight?” I ask.
“Well, ironically, we were planing on going to your place for a bit.” Kyle jumps in before Isabell can answer.
“Fine by me.” I reply, a mischievous grin spreads across my face. “If you’re able to deal with my tyrant of a roommate.”
________________
Simon was lying in his usual position. On his back, holding a paperback book propped slightly above his chest. Simon looked up from his book as soon as Jace opened the door. To Simon’s horror, three of Jace’s friends filed in after him. ‘So much for peace of mind.’ He put his book down and looked Jace in the eye.
“What’s going on?” Simon asked, indicating the group now milling about the kitchen.
“Nothing,” Jace replied. “They’re just going to stay for a bit.” Simon heard someone whisper something and the laughter that
followed. Simon laid back down on his bed and tried to ignore Jace and his friends. Then a familiar yet at the same time alien scent filled the room. Simon sat back up to find both Isabell and Kyle smoking. Not only that, the apartment was a mess. They had been in the place only five minutes and had already trashed it. He decided to forget about the trash and stop the haze in the air from getting any thicker.
“Could you please do that outside.” Simon asked, trying to hide his irritation.
“Why?” Isabell asked. Now Simon was really irritated.
“Because I can’t breathe in here,” Simon replied in a sharp tone. Isabell and a couple of the others looked over at Jace, pressuring him to respond.
“I don’t see any problem with it,” Jace said casually.
“Well I do,” Simon objected.
“It’s my apartment, too, you know,” Jace snapped. “You can’t have your way with everything.” Simon got to his feet and walked to the entrance of the kitchen as Jace’s friends snickered.
“I’ve been paying the bills for the past four months,” Simon pointed out. “Which means that it is my apartment.”
“That’s not fair!” Jace snapped. “I asked if you’d pay my half and you said you would.”
“That half of the bill has to be paid. If I didn’t, then we’d both be thrown out. And if you want a say on what goes on in
here, maybe you should get a job, not quit in a week, and do your fair share! Because as long as I’m the one paying, I’m the one in charge, got it?” Everyone stared at Simon like they were seeing him for the first time. Which, was probably true in a way. Guilt and unease began to claw at Simon’s gut.
“I’m going onto the roof. If you three don’t clear out of here before I come back, I’ll call the police.”
________________
The warm summer breeze offered no comfort to Simon as he stood alone on the roof. His brooding eyes swept over the city that was his prison. A prison with no walls or guards. Simon could easily escape. Save up for a plain ticket and fly home. Back to a smaller town where he would feel free. But he couldn’t do it alone. He just couldn’t bring himself to leave Jace alone.
“Simon,” Jace said awkwardly as he walked onto the roof. When he received no response, he continued.
“Look, I’m sorry okay?” Jace said with a sigh.
“For what?” Simon asked stubbornly.
“For fighting with you earlier.”
“That all?”
“And for not paying my half of the rent,” Jace looked over at Simon. “It won’t happen again, I promise.”
“And you’re making that promise because you feel bad about me having to pay it, right?” Simon pried, glancing at Jace out of the corner of his eye.
“Yes?”
“Do you even want to be able to take care of yourself?” Simon asked, turning to look Jace head on.
“I’m not really sure what you mean,” Jace admitted. Simon decided to take this as progress.
“I mean, unless you want to be stuck living with me for the rest of your life, you should start, oh, I don’t know, paying attention in school. Also, work harder at your job, and don’t hang out with these lunatics who drag you into bad situations.” Simon’s voice grew louder as he went until he was almost shouting.
“That works really well for you, doesn’t it?” Jace growled.
“Yeah, it does. Maybe you should try it.”
“I have tried it, Simon!” Jace snapped. “It doesn’t help me! I study for hours and score worse than I do when I wing it!”
“Well, then, you’re clearly not doing something right,” Simon explained. “If you let me help you…”
“I don’t want your help, Simon! Not on everything! I never asked for you to watch my every move! I never asked for you to pester me before every test! That doesn’t help me, Simon! I know how to handle myself! I know what I’m doing! Your way of doing
things isn’t the only way! What I do might not make sense to you, but it makes sense to me! You know what would help us both? If you would Just. Let. Go!” Jace shook with anger, but Simon seemed oddly calm. “Do you mean that, Jace?” Simon asked. His voice wasn’t sad at all, simply curious.
“No, I-maybe.” Jace sighed in defeat. “Yes, I think that. But you’re a really good friend Simon. I’ve known you all my life, and I don’t want you to be hurt.”
“Don’t worry, I’m not,” Simon assured. “But you’re right. You don’t need me. In fact, you’re better off without me.”
“Okay, you’re taking this completely wrong…,” Jace said hastily.
“No, I’m not,” Simon cut in. He looked back at the city. “I always hated this place. Still do.”
“Then why are you here?” Jace asked. Then it hit him. “Oh.”
“Yeah. So now you get it. You really are right. I’m hurting us both.” Simon explained. Jace nodded sadly.
“I haven’t exactly been helpful,” Jace admitted.
“No, you haven’t. But that’s just you, Jace. If you’re ever going to learn anything, it’s by being thrown into the middle of something and having to figure it out. What’s good for me isn’t for you. I’m sorry it took me so long to figure that out.” Both boys stood in silence for a while before Simon broke it.
“Well, goodbye Jace. Keep in touch.”
“Where are you going?” Jace asked.
“Home, I guess.” Simon replied. “Like I said, keep in touch.” Simon walked back inside the apartment and down the steps. It seemed weird to him. He had thought a conversation like this would leave him depressed. Instead, his shoulders felt light and the world seemed brighter. Simon couldn’t quite name what this feeling was. He didn’t even know where to start to describe it. But it was a good feeling, one that brought him hope.
Jace stood alone on the roof. He looked out at the city. It was home to him. Simon had been right. Things would change for him, get more serious. It didn’t scare Jace. In fact, it seemed almost exciting. Jace felt bad about his fight with Simon. But at the same time, a weight was off his shoulders that he had carried for so long, he had forgotten it was there. Now, that weight was gone and Jace thought the city lights seemed a little brighter on that particular night. Jace hadn’t felt this good in ages. He decided that this feeling felt a little bit like freedom.






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