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The Beer, The Bible, and The Map (Revised Version)

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PART ONE
It was the first day of school. I walked from classroom to classroom, making sure that children weren’t feeling nervous or frightened. I checked on the new third grade classroom. Children unloaded backpacks and unwrapped multiple tissue boxes from plastic wrappers and squealed when their friends came in and then showed one another their colorful notebooks and pencils. I heard the teacher praise God for half days. No one seemed nervous or frightened. I began to walk through the doorway, but someone walked right through me. The person smelled like sweat and perfume and had a quick, quivering heartbeat. I turned around.

She wore a tight, hot pink shirt and tight jeans. Makeup was plastered onto her face like cement. She bit her nails and pulled at the ends of her thinning black hair. She walked to a boy’s desk.

“Johnny, you forgot your lunch,” she said to the boy. She held out a tin lunchbox with a superhero on it.

The boy groaned. “Mom! I don’t need it, it’s a half day!” He pushed it away.

“Oh,” The woman pulled at her hair again. “Okay, I’ll take it home, hon.”

She got up and walked away. In the doorway, she waved at her son. “Alright, have a good day!”

The boy stood up. “Get outta here, idiot!”

The mother’s hand dropped and she walked away, wiping her eyes. Johnny slumped into his chair and crossed his arms.

I rushed to Johnny. I whispered in his ear, “Apologize to your mother! Now!”

He had no reaction to my words. No conscience in third grade! Who was this boy? I looked him over.

His hair was spiky like a sea urchin. His eyes were little and black and went back and forth from the backpack to the desk. He yanked his things out of his backpack. He ripped things out of the plastic wrap and boxes and threw them to the ground. “Stupid mom! Stupid mom!” his thin lips spat out. His knuckles were red and swollen, like he had been punching a wall. He finally snorted and sat down in a desk.
Johnny sat down next to a pale, skinny boy. The boy wore khakis and a blue, collared shirt.
The pale boy held a Bible and his mouth gaped open at the boy who was so disrespectful to his mother.

“Close your mouth,” I whispered to the boy. He did immediately.

“What are you looking at?” The spiky-haired boy said to the pale boy.

“Um, nothing. What is your name?”

“Johnny. Is that a nametag? Layif? Layeef?”

I looked at the boy’s chest. A blue nametag was crisply displayed on his chest, saying “LEIF”.

“It is Leif,” Leif said. “Like the leaf of a tree.”

“No way,” Johnny smirked. “People have names like Joe and Jack and Mitch, not Leif! I’ll call you Jack.”

“Mmm,” Leif looked down.

“What’re you holding?”

“A Bible.”

“It’s so thick! Like a brick!”

“Yes.”

“You should read this,” Johnny pulled a comic book out of his backpack. The cover displayed a muscular man holding a woman in a little skirt.

Leif shook his head. “No, thank you.”

“Why? This is probably a lot better!”

Leif shook his head again.

“Fine then!” Johnny knocked the Bible out of Leif’s hands, took his own things, and stomped to a different desk.

A girl walked over and picked up the Bible for him. She looked at his nametag.

“Here you go, Leif,” she said. He took his Bible back and noticed that it smelled like flowers after she touched it.

Leif smiled. “You pronounced my name correctly!”

“Yes,” she said. “Like Leif Eriksson, the explorer, right?”

Leif nodded. “What is your name?”

“Julie,” she said. As she sat down in the chair next to Leif, she twisted her thick red hair with her long, flexible, sinewy fingers. They were callused and seemed to belong to a much older person. She began to unpack her backpack.

Her school supplies were mostly blue without any designs. Leif raised his eyebrows but tried to look away so Julie wouldn’t get offended like Johnny did, but Julie caught him.

“Are you wondering why all my school supplies are blue?” She said. She put her backpack on the ground and zipped it up.

“Yes,” Leif said. “I am sorry for staring, but all the other girls have something different.”

“It’s okay,” she said. She slid her hand into her pocket. “The reason is that blue is a good base for maps. 2/3 of the world is water, after all!” She took out of her pocket a small sheet of paper and began to unfold it. And unfold it. And unfold it, until it stretched above their heads and mine and went just over the width of both their desks. Leif held one end while she held the other.

“This is a map of the entire city,” Julie said, “drawn perfectly to the scale of one centimeter to one hectometer. It took me all summer to get all the measurements and paint it!”

I stared at it. I had known this city for ages, and the map was dead on. Every house, every dirty gutter, even the last names of the residents on the mailbox, she had done it all! She painted the sides of the map golden with angels at every corner. The map was handled quite a bit; it folded like cloth and the edges were white and the paint was faded. It smelled like a library.

“How did you do this? Even my house is on here!” Leif said. His eyes searched the map.

“Do you really like it? I want to be an explorer when I grow up; I love learning about different cultures, finding new things, so I have to know how to make maps!” Julie asked Leif to help her begin folding it up, but Leif pointed to a corner of the map.

“What’s that?” Leif said. In the bottom left corner, there was a spot of blue on the map, one that I hadn’t seen or heard of either.

“That’s a lake. Lots of people haven’t seen it because it is behind these hills,” Julie and Leif folded up the map and continued talking.

They looked happy. I walked out of the school, my work seemed to be done, for now. I sat on the curb of the sidewalk and watched men unload canned food from trucks until recess. Right after the men drove away, children ran outside for recess. I saw Leif and Julie walking together, still talking as excitedly as when I left them. I saw Julie laugh and smile. What a happy smile! How innocent!

“Jack! Jack!” I looked further down the sidewalk and I saw Johnny calling Leif. Johnny kept calling Leif by that name until he got one of his friends to go up to Leif and ask him if he and Julie wanted to play tag. Leif said yes and Julie shook her head and sat on the swings. Johnny decided to be it. He ran up to Julie and touched her shoulder and yelled, “Tag!”

“I’m not playing!” Julie said.

“What? You can’t do that!” Johnny said. “You can’t just say you’re not playing just ‘cus you’re it!”

“I wasn’t playing in the first place!” Julie said. Her hands tightened around the chains holding up the swing. “Please, Johnny, just leave me alone!”

Johnny reached for her again. Julie’s hands immediately released the chains and she ran away. Her chest puffed and shrank, her eyes and forehead were soaked, and her feet beat the ground faster and faster, her face and eyes reddened, run faster, run faster!

“Help! Help!” She felt Johnny’s hand touch her back. She reacted as though she had been struck by lightning. She tried running faster, but he grabbed her shirt, yanked her in close, so close she could feel the breath from his nose blowing on her cheek, and he pushed her on her stomach and stepped on her back. A crowd gathered.

“Will none of you help her? Help her! Now!” I yelled at the crowd. No one moved. I turned from the crowd in frustration.

“Stop now, Johnny,” I looked back. Leif touched Johnny’s shoulder. Leif’s voice didn’t shake.

Johnny looked over his shoulder.

“Why? It’s just a just a joke.” Johnny turned around again.

“Just stop,” Leif said.

“Whoa, why’re you so serious?” Johnny stepped off of Julie. “It’s just a joke but whatever. Take your girlfriend back.”

Julie got up. She wobbled and held onto Leif’s shoulder. She looked up and blinked, she didn’t want to cry. She smelled like salt now, salt and flowers. She calmed down, but still, she leaned on his shoulder and had red eyes.

“But that did not really seem like a joke,” Leif said. The crowd and Julie stared at him with open mouths. Julie squeezed his shoulder and when he looked she shook her head.

“Yeah, it was! I was just teasing!” Johnny’s black eyes focused on Leif. Johnny walked towards Leif, and Leif felt Johnny’s breath on his face.

Just then, a teacher opened the door leading into the school and yelled, “Come in!”

Johnny pushed Leif to the ground and ran away. Leif got up.

“Are you okay?” She asked. She held onto his shoulder.

“Yes,” he said. He brushed his legs. “Are you okay?”

Julie nodded.

They walked back into the school. Leif knew Julie was lying about her being okay; she needed him to help her walk. He still didn’t say anything about it, but I saw he was starting to sweat a little himself; he was still a skinny little boy, and it took a lot for him to support the both of them. He began to pant.
Finally they returned to their classroom. Julie and Leif sat down and took their things off the desk into their bags. Soon, they started chatting again. They would be fine.

I walked into the hallways, and inside a classroom, Johnny sat next to his mother. In front of them, the same teacher who prayed for half-days was spilling over a tiny wooden chair. I went in.

I stood next to Johnny. He tucked his knees to his chest and tucked his face into his knees. He looked as red as his knuckles.

Johnny’s mother sat on her hands. She didn’t blink or talk. Her makeup was re-plastered on.

“I didn’t see anything happen,” the fat teacher said. Her lips were wrinkled and moist. She twisted her dirty blonde braid around her finger. “I’m sorry someone said mean things to him, but there’s no real reason to be upset, I mean, he’s fine. He’s a big boy; he can take it. You’re okay, right, Johnny?”

“I think I’m fine,” Johnny said. He began to get up.

“No!” Johnny’s mother stood up. “You don’t gotta take that, Johnny! Get back at that kid!” Johnny and his mother walked out of the room and she began to pull her hair again. I went out with them.

I looked out a window and sighed. I saw Leif and Julie begin to leave and I smiled. Good children! It seemed Julie’s feet didn’t hurt that much anymore, but she was limping a little. I followed them.

Julie pulled out her map and unfolded it a little. The section showed the hills and lake.

“I want to show you this place,” Julie said. She smiled her pretty smile. “Will your parents let you come with me?”

“I do not know,” Leif said. “Can I go home and ask my parents?”

“Sure!” Julie said. She unfolded the map to its entirety. Leif held the other side. “What’s your last name?”

“Holden,” he said. He pointed. “There it is!”

“It’s close to mine! Look!” Julie pointed to a blue house labeled Fisher.

“Good,” Leif said. “Let’s go!”

They walked out of the school grounds and onto the sidewalk. They passed by big willow trees. The air smelled like flowers, or was that just Julie? The breeze was warm and wrapped around them like a blanket. Bluebirds twisted the willow tree leaves and built nests; for them, it was still summer. Leaves began to fall into the comfortable warm wind. Julie pointed at things and shouted and Leif did too. How innocent they were!

Soon, using the map, they arrived at Leif’s house. Leif ran into the house and came back out. He said it was fine, so long as he’s back for dinner.

“We’re really close,” Julie said. “But can I stop in my house just for a minute?”

“Yes,” Leif said. They walked a little further down the street.

“There it is!” Julie said. The house was blue and had a black roof. Julie ran in. I stayed with Leif. Minutes after, Julie came out, only wearing bandages and flip-flops on her feet. Leif opened his mouth.

“I’m sorry for leaning on you earlier,” Julie said. “My shoes were just too small, they gave me blisters!”

Julie and Leif walked towards the woods, a disgusting place at the outskirts of town that everyone avoided.

“We are going into the woods?” Leif said.

“Yes,” Julie said. “Don’t worry, we won’t be in there for long. Watch your step! There’s a huge hole there!”

The woods were gray. The trees reminded me of crumbled, concrete buildings. No birds sang. The air was cold. It smelled like sweat. It was lifeless.

Soon, I began to see through the gray trees. The smell of sweat mingled with something else. I heard birds again. We got through the woods.

Life. It smelled like flowers, like Julie, like honey and warmth. Flower petals carried in an updraft reflected the sunshine and looked like gold leaves. I saw Julie catch one. It was still gold in her hand. I held my hand up and let a petal go through. I laughed and fell into the flowers. How strange it felt! I watched a bumblebee tickle a pink flower. I walked towards Leif and Julie. They lay down in the flowers.

“Isn’t it all so pretty?” Julie said. She plucked a daffodil and pressed it against her nose.

“Yes,” Leif said. He stared up. I looked where he stared.

Bluebirds chased the golden petals. Big clouds wafted through the sky. The sky glowed blue.

Leif and Julie stayed there and watched the clouds. Neither of them spoke. Soon the sun would begin to set. The petals looked ever more golden.

“Julie,” Leif said. “We should go soon.”

They stood up and began to walk down the hill.

“Wait!” Julie said.

He turned towards her. “Yes?”

“Let’s promise, right here on this hill, that we’ll be friends forever, come what may!” Julie said solemnly.

Leif nodded. He held out his hand. “Friends forever?”

Julie shook his hand and they both laughed and walked down the hill together as the sun set.
PART TWO
******

“Friends forever, come what may.” Johnny continued to “joke” with Julie and Leif. It hurt at first, but together they learned to endure it until it didn’t even hurt that much. Leif began helping in more and more food, clothes, and book drives with his church. On Sundays, he would go to a soup kitchen and serve food there, and everywhere he went, he brought the Bible with him. Julie made more and more maps. I watched her; her skills improved unbelievably rapidly. With every insult thrown at her, she made another map. She was happy, but this wouldn’t continue.
Julie was in eighth grade. She had started wearing bras; all the girls in her class had already started, it wasn’t really a big deal. But Julie had the same clothes for a long time because her parents never bought her new clothes, and all she had now was skimpy. Johnny had been acting a little strangely lately, his eyes were wide and he breathed heavily. One day, Leif caught a cold and wasn’t with Julie. Johnny pushed Julie against a locker. He pressed his body against hers. Julie smelled him. He smelled like sweat. She could feel his breath against her cheek again. Julie pushed him away. She ran away. She sobbed, why did this bother her so much? He had pushed her down, he had spat on her, he had called her names, and it had never upset her like this. Why did this feel so…wrong? So gross? She ran off the school grounds and all the way home.

She slammed the door behind her. She walked into the kitchen and sat at a wooden table. She looked at a yellow, worn sheet of paper. “OUT. Mom and Dad”. That was it. She buried her face in her arms and sobbed.

The next day, Leif’s church organized a clothes drive. Leif helped after school with his parents. I watched him put labeled boxes on a white plastic table. It was sunny and everyone was in a good mood. Leif began to take things out of boxes. He placed little paper labels on piles of clothes. He began to talk to an elderly woman about where the baby clothes were, but both stopped short. Leif’s mother was arguing with a red-haired girl.

“Where are your parents?” Mrs. Holden said. “You can’t be here without them! How are you going to get home?”

“I don’t know where they are! Please, just let me go!” I approached them. The girl was Julie.

Mrs. Holden moved her hands and Julie squeezed the bag of clothes and shoes she had picked up at the drive. Mrs. Holden looked over Julie and her tight clothes.

“You’re staying here. I’m calling your parents to come pick you up. What’s their number?”

“I don’t know,” Julie said. “I’m sorry…”

Mrs. Holden put her hand on her hip. “Wait here with us then. I’ll drop you off at your home.”

Julie nodded.

Julie found a stool and sat on it. Leif stared at her. She looked up and saw him. She turned pink and looked at the ground.

Julie watched the people gather clothes, trying to avoid Leif’s gaze. She looked away from him. Her eyebrows rose. I looked in her direction. It was Johnny’s mother; Julie had seen her on the first day of school. The woman was pushing clothes into a bag and looking around as though she were doing something wrong. She ran away.

Night fell. All things that weren’t given away were loaded back into a truck and taken away.

“Ready to go, Leif?” Mrs. Holden said. Leif nodded and walked with her. “Are you ready Julie?”

“Yes,” Julie got off her bench and went with them.

Julie and Leif walked together but said nothing. Julie was still pink with embarrassment. She looked at the ground.

They got into the car. Leif and Julie sat next to each other. Both looked out the window. Mrs. Holden asked for directions, and Julie gave them perfectly, street name by landmark.

Julie thanked Mrs. Holden for the ride and went back into her home. Her parent’s “OUT” note remained untouched.
******

Johnny’s taunts became worse. He poked Julie, ripped pages out of Leif’s Bible, and called Julie a whore for wearing such tight clothes. Every night, Leif would pray fervently for Johnny to stop, and Julie would pace the floor, pull the ends of her hair, and her pretty red hair, once so thick, begin to thin. One day, Julie had dinner with the Holdens. After the dinner, Mrs. Holden took Julie aside.

“Are you alright, dear?” Mrs. Holden said.

“Yes,” Julie said. “Why?”

“Your hair…”

Julie looked down. “I know…” Julie wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.

“It will keep falling out if you keep it like this,” Mrs. Holden said.

“What are you saying?” Julie held her hair with both her hands.

“It will keep falling out if we don’t cut it off.”

“No,” Julie whispered. “It’ll be fine, if I just wash it more…”

Julie tried every home remedy out there. Banana hair mask, potato hair mask, olive oil, but her hair wouldn’t stay in. She ran her fingers through her hair and a chunk came out. She knocked on Leif’s door. Mrs. Holden answered the door.

“Can we… cut my hair?” Julie said.

“Sure,” Mrs. Holden said.

Mrs. Holden drove her to a hairdresser. She told Julie that she would get it cut so it would look nice, fashionable, cute. Julie just nodded. Her eyes were dull.

Julie sat in the big black chair and an apron was put over her. The hairdresser’s pink nails clawed her scalp and felt her hair. She spritzed her hair with water; Julie felt as though she were a pig getting greased up for the spit. Julie heard the scissors and saw her hair fall to the ground. Every snip thundered in her mind; each lock of hair that fell was a crash to the ground that she seemed to feel.

It was over. Julie looked at herself in the mirror. The new haircut made her eyes look bigger without being hidden under thick locks of hair. She ran her fingers through it. Her hair looked thicker cut short.

Mrs. Holden paid and they walked out. Julie thanked Mrs. Holden with watery eyes. Mrs. Holden hugged her and said it would grow out. Julie cried.
******

The next day, Julie went to school. No one really seemed to react that much; just gave her a compliment and started chatting.

“You got a haircut!” Leif said, walking next to her. “It looks nice.”

“Thanks,” Julie looked down. “I wasn’t sure about it, but I’m getting used to it, I think I like it. It doesn’t need much maintenance!” Julie smiled.

“Hey dyke!” Johnny yelled across the hallway. “Get bored with Leif and move onto girls?”

Julie and Leif walked away. Johnny followed them. Right before they went into their classroom, Johnny yelled, “Answer me, lesbian b****!”

Julie turned around. “Leave me alone!” Julie yelled.

“Wow. Ever since you got that haircut, lots of testosterone flowing through your veins, huh?” Johnny threw back his head and laughed.

Julie picked up Leif’s Bible and hit Johnny on the head as hard as she could!

Johnny fell on his butt and made a loud thump.

“Julie!” Leif said. Julie wiped off the Bible with her shirt.

“I’m sorry, I was just in a rage and…” Julie handed him the Bible and saw he was suppressing a smile.

Johnny got up. Julie and Leif ran into the classroom and sat down. Johnny stormed in and glared at them, but I could see they were happy.

“Johnny, if you hadn’t said that, they wouldn’t have done that. Understand?”

Johnny didn’t hear me, but I heard him grumble throughout class.

After class, he went up to Julie and pushed against a wall.

“I’m gonna get you back!” Johnny said through his teeth. His fist gripped her shirt. He let go. “Watch your back, whore!”

I followed him.

“Why are you doing this? Why can’t you just stop?” I yelled at him. He continued to smolder. “Have you no sense of right and wrong? Haven’t you a conscience?”

Johnny began to walk home. I followed, yelling at him in spite of myself. He didn’t notice my presence, not so much as turn around and look for the voice screaming at him.
We arrived at his home and went inside. I stopped at the door; smoke and ashes went through me, it was sickening. I saw Johnny go into the kitchen. Light came through a window on a door. The mother stirred something in a pot. A man sat at the table with an open pack of cigarettes next to him and blew smoke at the woman and laughed. The woman kissed Johnny and he sat at the table. I saw part of her face. I looked at it again. Her makeup was off.
Her right eye was purple. A long red cut lined her cheek. Little blue bruises spotted her jaw. Her face looked like a sloppy patchwork.
The woman placed bowls in front of the man and Johnny. She poured soup into both and sat at the table. She pulled the ends of her hair.
“More,” the man said. The woman poured the rest of the soup into his bowl. It covered about half of the bowl. “This isn’t enough!”
“I’ll make more,” the woman said.
“Why can’t you just make enough the first time?” The man pushed her with one hand and she burnt herself with the bottom of the pot. She ignored it and quickly got out another can and turned on the stove. The man lit another cigarette and blew more smoke at her face. The woman poured soup into his bowl, placed the pot on the stove, and sat at the table.
“Get me some beer, boy,” the man said. Johnny got the man a bottle of beer from the fridge. The man smothered his cigarette using the table and guzzled down his beer. His hand groped the cigarette pack for another, but it was empty. He murmured something and got up. I followed him. He went into his bedroom. There were multiple black dots on the bed sheets, probably from stubbing out his cigarettes. He rummaged through his nightstand.
“Where are the cigarettes?” he yelled.
“I don’t know,” the woman yelled from the kitchen.
The man huffed and said, “Fine, I’ll just smoke a cigar!” He went out of the room and went upstairs. In the door he went through, I saw boxes labeled “ATTIC”.
“Let me get it!” The woman said. I went into the kitchen.
“Don’t you touch my stuff!” the man yelled. His voice grew fainter as he got closer to the attic.
The woman stood up and looked at Johnny.
“Go to your room,” the woman said.
“Why-”

“Go!”

Johnny went to his room. The woman stood up and looked around. She breathed quickly. Cold sweat covered her forehead. She rubbed her arms. The man came downstairs with a box of cigars in one hand and a bag of clothes in the other.

“What’s this?” The man lifted up the bag of clothes.

“No, no it’s nothing-”

“Did you buy clothes? We can’t afford that!”

“I got it at a clothes drive-” The woman held her hands up like she was praying, was this her god?

“Don’t take from other people! You have enough! Hell, you have more than enough!” The man dropped the clothes. The woman ran towards the door and gripped the handle, but the man grabbed the back of her shirt. He yanked her in close, so close she could feel his breath on her cheek, and pushed her onto her stomach. His shadow cast itself over her.

Johnny watched this through a crack in the door. His eyes reflected these images.
PART THREE
******

Leif and Julie were sophomores in high school. Julie almost finished restoring her map of the town. Johnny went to the same school as they did. Freshmen year he was fine, but during sophomore year something had changed about him. He was more agitated, and his normal indifferent C’s had turned into X’s: not applicable. Johnny was skipping class.

One day, he did come to school. I followed him. He had sunglasses on. He limped a little. He walked up to Julie. He was centimeters away from her face.

“Hello,” Johnny said. “Dump the Bible thumper yet?” Julie’s eyes widened. She smelled his breath. Johnny’s hand grazed her chin. She slapped it away. He acted as though it was a punch. He stumbled, and seeming to forget the entire event, he turned around and went away. He ran into someone. Julie stared after him.

I followed him home. He left the door open and went into the kitchen. No one was there. He pulled a six-pack of beers out of the fridge.

“To life,” he said. He began to drink.
******

It was Monday. It was after school, and Julie and Leif decided to go get coffee. Their exams were this week and they had to cram.

“Are you nervous for the exams?” Leif asked. He put a sleeve on his coffee cup.

“No,” Julie said. She poured cream into hers. “Especially now that Johnny hasn’t been coming to school to harass me!” She put a sleeve on her cup.

“Where has he been? He’s been gone for weeks.” Leif said. He wasn’t really asking her, just thinking aloud.

“Can I tell you something?” Julie said.

“Sure.”

“Well, I was going to class a few weeks back, and Johnny came up to me. He was wearing sunglasses and tottering around a little. He came close to my face and I smelled his breath! He was totally hammered!”

“Really?”

“Yes! Although, my life is better now that he’s gone all the time. It’s selfish, I know, but I’m glad he’s started drinking!”
******

It was Friday. Leif and Julie had finished all of their exams.

“Leif,” Julie said. She jumped a little. “Guess what? I finished restoring my map of the town! Do you want to come over and see it?”

“Sure!”

They continued to walk down the hallway.
******

Johnny wasn’t at school. I left the school grounds and looked for him. He was leaving his house with his backpack. He went into the woods. He went into a giant hole. Inside, there was a cooler. He opened it. Beer filled the cooler to the brim. Johnny took some. He ran down the street and made a few turns. He knocked on the door of a yellow house.

Another teenager answered the door. They murmured for a while, and went into the house.

The two boys went down a flight of stairs. Other teenagers were there. Johnny unzipped his backpack and put it on the ground. The other teens leapt on it like wild dogs. Johnny finally got one and drank. Every time they drank one, another was in their hands.

“I know this girl,” Johnny said. “She’s such a whore. She walks around in tight clothes, showin’ off her ass to everyone, and I’m the bad guy to try and stop her? No siiiirrrr.

“And she has these maps, it’s the cheesiest thing! She shows ‘em off like “Oh I’m better than you ‘cus I can draw a green blob on a blue background!” What the hell is that? Howabout I piss on it?” Johnny took another swig.

“Why dontcha?” Another guy yelled.

Johnny wobbled up. “Yeah, why,” he burps, “don’ I?”

“Yeah!” Other teens shouted.

“Will you help me in stoppin’ this whore’s reign of terror?” Johnny said. He held his can above his head heroically.

The teens wobbled up and held their cans above their heads. It was 2:45. School got out at 3:10.
******

I rushed to Leif and Julie. They just got out of school and were walking home.

“Run, run!” I yelled at them. “Johnny, he will destroy everything!”

Leif stopped dead in his tracks. Julie asked him what was wrong, and he began to run. Julie chased after him.
******

Leif ran into Julie’s home and ran into her room. It was too late.

Everything, every single map, was destroyed. Little black dots littered every map; the teens smothered their cigarettes on them. Some maps had spray paint on them; others were ripped. The room still smelled of alcohol, they were just here. It was like walking through an antique store: once those things were beautiful, but now it was broken and old.

The worst though, was her town map. It was ripped to shreds on her desk. Over the scraps, in bright sickly green and capital letters, spelled “WHORE.” Where Julie’s name on the map had been, Johnny wrote his name over it.

Julie walked in. She looked around. She touched her maps. She walked towards her desk and saw her map. She saw the place where Johnny had signed his name. She covered her face and fell to her knees.

She sobbed without restraint. Leif knelt near her.

“That was everything,” Julie said. “Everything I had! My life…” She shook her head. “I’m so tired…” Her shoulders heaved and she wiped her nose. “I can’t do this anymore! I can’t!” Julie stood up and looked at her map. She picked up a piece. It was a portion of the lake, the same one Johnny signed. She held it and walked out the door.

“Where are you-” Leif started.

“Leave me alone!” Julie screamed. Julie slammed the door and ran away.
******

Julie ran through the wood. She ran through the beautiful hills and went to the lake. She held her piece of the map. There was no hesitation. She threw herself in.
******

I gently tugged away Julie’s soul from her body. I looked into the lake. It reflected the stars and moon, and through the glow, I could see her body sink and slowly disappear…

“Hello, excuse me,” Julie said. “Who are you? Where am I? What’s happening?”

I turned around. Julie looked like her body, except her clothes weren’t skimpy and she had good shoes. Her hair flowed long and thick again. Pinned to her shirt was the piece of the map where Johnny’s name wrote his name over hers.

“You’re dead,” I said. “You’ve killed yourself.”

“Oh,” she said. She sat down. “Are you… dead too? Did you kill yourself?”

“No,” I said. “I am the angel of children.” I looked at Julie. “Why did you throw away your life?”

Julie began to cry. Tears wouldn’t come, so she just choked on dryness. “Johnny, my parents, I just… couldn’t go on! My parents, they’re never there, never to listen to me, I remember, I spent nights wondering where they were when I was young! Can you imagine that? Instead of dreaming I was a princess like other girls, I was wondering if I would have to let my parents in the house in the middle of the night! It was normal for me!” She tried grabbing the grass, but her fingers passed through. “And everyday, I am scared to go to school because I am afraid I’ll get hurt again!” She shivered. “ And what was that? He had called me names, pushed me down, why was that so sickening? When he touched me like that? And my map, my map…”

I let her cry. The moon began to rise, and the last traces of the sun disappeared.

“I am going to show you your future. Most people can’t handle seeing their futures, but I believe you can because of how strong you’ve become.”
I touched her forehead, and we closed our eyes. We peered into the future
Julie was 35 years old. She had her hair in a braided bun and wore a lifejacket. She was holding a spy scope and looked out at the ocean. She wore glasses now. She put down her scope and sat on the floor of the boat. Multiple papers were held down with rocks, she wrote strange symbols and numbers on them. She took her papers and went into a small room to steer the boat. She looked at her papers and steered northward. She drove quickly, the papers flew onto the ground even with the rocks on them, but she didn’t stop. After hours of driving, she stopped. She took her scope and searched the horizon again. She dropped the scope and gasped. Her palms stained the scope with sweat. Her big blue eyes watered. She shook with adrenaline. She drove off and slowly; something bigger came into view…

I took my finger off her forehead. After hours of being in the memory, the sun had begun to rise.

Julie’s mouth was left open. She shook as though adrenaline had gone through her veins, as though that had just happened to her.

“It is because you dealt with Johnny and your parents that you became an explorer and top cartographer. The strength you have developed will help you when you travel, when you make discoveries, when you are all alone. You will enjoy life. Julie, if you choose to live, I promise, it will get better.

“Now you have to make a choice. Will you continue your life or end it?”

I opened the heavens. Earth’s atmosphere covered it well; it only looked like an extremely clear night on Earth.

Julie looked upwards and saw the heavens. A breeze carried petals toward here, and the heavens turned them a pale silvery gold. Julie sighed. Her hair looked like the stars. She held her hands up to the petals, but it slipped through her hands. A cold breeze passed through us and stirred the grass. She unpinned the piece of the map from her shirt. She looked at me.

“I will live.”
******
Epilogue

I watched over Julie until she turned eighteen. Julie’s hair had grown long and thick again, now a deeper, richer red. The minute Julie turned seventeen, she started to work and make money. She could afford to buy nice clothes and shoes now. On her birthday, Leif’s family had thrown her a birthday party; she had grown close to them over the years. It was a warm May evening right after school. Leif had told her that he had gotten her something for her birthday, but he had to go to his house to get it. They walked to his home, and Leif walked her inside. All of their friends were there, a two-tiered cake, blue balloons, and gifts wrapped with ribbons on top. Julie opened her presents, mostly paint and canvases for her maps. After everyone had left, Julie said,

“I have to tell you something. Let’s go for a walk.” Julie skipped a little, like a child.

“Me too,” Leif said. He didn’t know what to think; it was their senior year, their last year together before…something. Something happened. Leif and Julie left the house and went to the woods.
“I applied for a scholarship to a university,” Julie said. “I sent them some of my maps to show them I have talent, but it’s nerve-wracking knowing that you could be judging you right now…”

“You’ll do fine!” Leif said. Julie sighed.

“Okay! So what do you have to tell me?” Julie said.

“I-”

Leif was interrupted by a scream behind them. Julie and Leif ran back to the woods. It came from the hole Julie had warned Leif not to fall into years ago. They looked in. It was Johnny.

Johnny was holding onto a rock jutting out of the wall of the hole. Leif reached into the hole.

“Take my hand!”

I went to Johnny’s side. “Take his hand! Oh, Johnny, you’ll be crippled for life if don’t!”

Johnny wouldn’t hear me. He wouldn’t hear Leif.

“I can get out on my own, Bible-thumper!” His speech was slurred. Johnny tried to pull himself up using the rock, but his weight proved to be too much. The rock slid out of the dirt and fell with him. Julie and Leif gasped.

“I’ll call 911,” Leif said to Julie. Julie stared into the hole, but could see nothing but darkness.

Julie sat at the edge the hole. It was silent.

Soon help came. A fireman went into the hole and pulled Johnny out. Julie covered her eyes the minute she saw him. His legs were bloody and bent in all sorts of directions, and he passed out from the pain. He was put on a stretcher and taken away.
******

It was the day after graduation. Leif’s parents had given Leif and Julie $5,000 each to help them get started. Leif said he would deliver a test Johnny had to take to him because he was still in the hospital. Julie said she would drive him there. They drove to the hospital and went up to Johnny’s room. The room was white and sunlight streamed into it. Johnny’s legs were put in thick white casts and were held up by strings.

“Hello, Johnny,” Leif said. “Johnny?” Johnny remained unresponsive. Leif shook his shoulder.

“He’s asleep,” a woman said. It was Johnny’s mother. No amount of makeup could hide her black eye. “What do you want?”

“We wanted to give him this test,” Julie said. She handed it to the mother. “How is he?” Julie looked at him.

The mother sighed. “Okay.” She looked at the ground.

“When will he be up again?”

“He won’t,” the mother said. “He’ll have to use a wheelchair.”

“I’m sorry-”

“Please,” the mother said. “Just go away.” She held her head and sat down in a chair. Leif and Julie left without saying another word.

Leif and Julie drove in silence. They both felt as though Johnny’s fate was inevitable. He was just a balloon floating up into the atmosphere until the pressure was too much and he popped. He was the victim of the tragedy he had written.
******
Halfway through the drive, Julie said,

“I have to tell you something.”

“Okay, what?” Leif said.

“Not here,” Julie said. She turned around and drove to the woods.

They got out of the car.

“I wanted to tell you on my birthday, but didn’t get a chance!” Julie said, pulling aside a branch. They ran up the hill. When they were at the top, they fell down on the grass.

“Tell me now?” Leif said. Hummingbirds sucked nectar out of daffodils. The sun beamed between big white clouds.

“Okay, okay,” she said. She nodded. She took a breath. “I got a full scholarship to a university in France for my maps!” She squealed. “Isn’t it wonderful?” Julie stood up and spun around and looked up.

“Yes!” Leif laughed.

“Oh wait,” Julie said. She stopped spinning and sat down. “Didn’t you have something to tell me too?”

“Mmmhmm,” Leif said. He took a deep breath. “I’m joining Peace Corps. I’m going soon.”

Julie sat next to him again. “Oh.” She twisted her hair. She smiled. “Where are you going?”

“South Africa.”

“For how long?”

“For as long as they need me,” Leif said.

“When?”

“Tomorrow.”

“Oh,” Julie echoed. “For the first time we won’t be within walking distance!”

Julie and Leif lay in the flowers.

Tears came out of Julie’s eyes. She wiped the undersides of her eyes with her index fingers. She no longer smelled like flowers, she smelled like perfume.

They watched the clouds for a long time. Julie was thoughtful. Soon she stopped crying.

The sun began to set. They got up from the ground and began to walk down the hill together.

“Wait!” Julie said. She stood behind Leif.

“What?” Leif said. He walked towards her.

“Let’s promise, right here on this hill, to meet here in ten years, come what may!” Julie said solemnly.

Leif nodded. He held out his hand. “In ten years?”

Julie shook it.

They laughed and walked to Julie’s car. Julie drove Leif to his house. She got out with him.

“Bye Leif,” Julie said. She smiled her optimistic smile.

“Goodbye, Julie,” Leif said.

Julie turned around went to her car. She waved one last time and drove home. Leif went back into his house and began packing. They both looked toward the future.

They parted ways, and I said goodbye to them as well. They were no longer children. It did get better.



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