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Happiness is Overrated
More chapters coming! Please stay tuned!
“Look. I understand you are just here for some community service crap. I get that. But these kids…they need something. They need someone. You can help them, so please try.”
I’ve zoned out slightly, not really comprehending what the Autistic Group Meeting’s Manager was saying. I notice everyone else is starting to walk in through the door, so I rise to my feet and follow. From what I heard, the Manager was right. This was only for community service hours.
We enter the room, and it looks similar to a third grade classroom. The floor is composed of multi-colored tiles, and there are beanbags and tables scattered everywhere.
“This is going to be something.” Landon, one of my classmates, says. I don’t respond—then again, I rarely do.
All of my classmates are migrating to families of their choice. I clearly didn’t act fast enough, because every family was occupied by one of my peers. I turn around and see a boy, not more than 11 years old, trying to build a card house with his mother. “He’s autistic?” I mumble to myself. I look around one last time just to see if any other families are free. Negative. I slowly walk over towards the mother and son, and I sit down making sure I don’t hit the table.
“Yes?” The mother questions rudely. I shift a little in my chair, not sure how to tell her that I’m only here for a community service project. “Hi. I’m Auburn Reed. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but my 12th grade classmates and I are here to spend time with these…nice kids and their families.”
She laughs sarcastically, almost offended that I didn’t say what I was thinking straight to her face. “We aren’t stupid, Auburn Reed.” She begins, motioning around the room. “Our kids are autistic and you are only here for community service hours. Nobody comes to visit a special needs program meeting for pleasure.”
I swallow hard, reluctant to continue the conversation. “This is your son I’m assuming?” I ask. The lady nods and responds, “His name is Riley Dawson.” I force a fake smile and study the boy. He has dusty brown hair that is swept to the side, and his eyes are a piercing green. I look deep into his eyes, and I see it. Happiness. My stomach flips and I start breathing rapidly. I feel myself sweating more and more. As I am having a minor panic attack, Riley knocks over the card house.
“Are you alright Auburn?” Ms. Dawson asks, gathering the scattered cards. I can tell she is slightly concerned, even though she doesn’t really know—or like—me. I guess it’s a mother thing. Concern for one’s well being is a notable attribute.
I begin to catch my breath, but I cannot even glance at Riley. “Sorry,” I say between breaths, “I’m sorry.” Ms. Dawson is still examining me, but she seems to be more focused on her son smearing the cards across the table. “What happened? Are you feeling okay?” Her mother-mode kicks back in.
“I have cherophobia. Unlike most people who fear spiders or the dark, I fear…happiness.” I explain. My heartbeat has regulated, and my sweating has reduced. Ms. Dawson laughs, which I find quite peculiar. “You must be joking. Is this some kind of act, Auburn Reed? Because this isn’t the place for your show. But I will admit, you really had me there for a second!” She is cracking up, and I feel glares penetrating my soul.
“I’m serious about this Ms. Dawson. I…wouldn’t make this up.” I defend. She is still unconvinced, and now I am the one offended.
“Just go. You didn’t want to be here in the first place, and now you have a chance to leave early. You can exit where you came in. Have a good day.” She is standing now and pointing to the door. I mildly throw my hands in the hair, and stand as well.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Dawson. I didn’t mean for this to happen” I say.
“Of course you didn’t. And that’s why it happened. Goodbye now.” She replies.
Now all eyes are on either Ms. Dawson or myself. I push open the door and look at the AGM Manager and mouth the word “sorry”. He shakes his head in disappointment, and I decide it’s best for me to continue walking.
I am making my way to the parking lot when I notice a boy that looks kind of similar to Riley. I shake my head, trying to erase the thought. Then, we make eye contact. We make that eye contact that is really awkward, you know? I look away fast, but then, out of the corner of my eye, I realize he is walking towards me. Oh no. No, no no. I pick up the pace slightly, shuffling towards my car.
I am able to slip the car key into the handle on the door, but just as I do so, the hood of my car erupts with a bang. “Jesus!” I scream, pouncing back and hitting the other car. I look over and there he is again. I begin to rub my elbow and try to figure out the easiest way to slyly slip into the car seat. If I ran him over, that would be his problem. “I love girls. Once a guy comes up to them, they always think that man is a serial killer or something.”
The boy is cracking up, and clearly doesn’t mind pounding the hood of my car repeatedly. “Do you mind?” I ask, still collecting myself. He wears a puzzled look, but then he picks up the hint about slamming the car. “Oh, right. My bad.” He replies. He pretends to wipe off the car with his hoodie sleeve, as if that were going to fix the dent he just created.
“AC by the way.” The boy sticks out his hand as if we had just met. As if none of this with my car or him being a creeper had ever happened. I nod, but don’t shake his hand. “What’s your full name?” I ask.
“AC Dawson. And since we don’t even know each other’s favorite color, I don’t think you deserve to know what the abbreviation stands for.” He replies. I freeze. Of course, it had to be. “Do you have a brother in the AGM program?” I question, afraid that I already know the answer.
He nods slowly, studying my expressions. “Why do you ask?” AC counters. “No, no reason. It’s nothing. Never mind.” I open the car door and am about to close it behind me when he grabs hold of the handle. We make that awkward eye contact once again, but this time, he is smiling.
“You met my mother.” He laughs. I try to force a laugh as well, not having a clue in the world why this is so funny. “Who’s your mother?” I ask pretending to be clueless, which is half true. He nods with his attractive smile.
“Reilly is my brother. I’m a Dawson. He’s a Dawson. My mother…come on. Put the pieces together.” He explains. I nod, and he just continues to find this hilarious. Happiness. It makes me sick.
“And I bet my mother was the reason you stormed out of there.” He motions to the school building. I don’t care about how much time I am wasting talking to this guy, and that’s only because I have nothing better to do. “Why do you suppose that?” I ask. Once again, he smiles. I find myself sweating slightly, so I try to take deep breaths.
AC slams my car’s hood again. “You see, no other parents in there seem to have a problem with visitors. My mom just hates being pitied. That’s why she shuts anyone who wants to spend time with Reilly out of their lives. Just like my dad.” His eyes, which were once glistening with content, are now cold and empty.
I look back at the building. The bricks, the playground, the sidewalk with weeds fighting their way through to the surface. I try to feel normal, since happiness is virtually impossible. This normal feeling…it’s weird. Not sad, nor joyous. Just neutral. It’s almost as if I’m not feeling anything at all. Then, of course, AC pats me on the arm. I felt that, at least.
“Do you want to come back inside? I can lie to my mom and say we are friends.” AC states. Wow. Talk about a blow from a guy who was just doing really well in the Awkward Flirtation Department.
“Next time, you might want to word that a little differently.” I say with a fake smile, trying to get him to realize that he just fired a shot. I hop in the driver’s seat and slam the door shut. I get ready to speed off like a total bad-ass when AC knocks on the window. Just ignore him. I think to myself. His pounding is getting louder and louder, and eventually, I just cant take it anymore.
“What?! Look, I don’t even know you. So…leave.” I yell while rolling down the window. He gasps sarcastically, and begins to walk backwards away from the car. I slowly begin to accelerate, and am almost out of the parking spot. Then, out of nowhere, AC throws an Oreo cookie through my window. I pick it up and hold it out to him. “Why?” I question.
He stands there in the middle of the parking lot, shrugging.
“Rick, this is unbelievable! You know, we can barely afford Parker’s education and here you are gambling. Are you kidding me?”
I walk into my house to witness my mother and father arguing. Again.
“Well at least I have a job! Have you seen yourself lately? You were two weeks sober and decided to give up! I’m surprised you haven’t given up on your family already!” My father counters. Neither one of them notice me walking into the kitchen to grab something to eat. My mother sighs, and I can tell she is about to cry, but I don’t make eye contact.
“You know, I love how it can never be your fault. It’s never Rick’s responsibility. I guess she isn’t your fault either?” My mother laughs sarcastically and motions towards me. I guess they did notice me. My father doesn’t say anything, and we all stand on the tile floor in silence. The tension releases when Parker, my younger sister, rushes down the steps from her bedroom. “Mom, Alexis Brooks is having a huge party on Saturday night. Can I go? Even if it’s only for a little bit…” Parker asks in her sweetest voice possible. She’s only 13 and still has more of a social life than me. Wow.
My mother throws her hands up in the air and storms out of the house. As the three of us stand there, we hear the car engine start. She’s “going out”. Again.
“Hey, kiddo.” My father says to Parker. She looks at him suspiciously, trying to understand the argument that just took place. Parker wasn’t his biological daughter. She wasn’t my biological sister either. We adopted Parker when she was 11 years old, two years after the accident. That day was the only day I can remember that my parents weren’t arguing. Parker is what defines our family now. She is the only thing holding us together.
“So, is that a yes for the party?” Parker presses. My father exchanges glances with me for god-only-knows what reason. He’s a grown man and should be able to make decisions. “I guess it is. What time?” he asks. Parker checks her phone and all excitement scatters from her face. “It’s from 7 pm to 11.” Parker replies with a wince. Saturday nights were dad’s gambling nights at the house. That was when he didn’t want to be disturbed; his only alone time.
“I can drive her there and pick her up. I’ll find something to do in between.” I offer reluctantly. For Parker, it was either not go at all or having me drive her. How could I be the deciding factor between her going to her first teenage party or not? The last thing I wanted to do was be around the humanity on a Saturday night, but it was the least I could do for my little sister.
My father shrugs with a nod, and Parker jumps up and down. “Thank you guys! Yes!” She exclaims. Happiness. Ugh. Parker sprints back upstairs.
And then there were two.
It’s not just my dad’s eyes that are empty. His heart seems to have nothing left to hold on to. I never have looked at him hard enough to realize how far his hairline has receded, how much weight he has gained, or how much redder his face has gotten. I don’t know what to say since empathy isn’t my strong suit. Fortunately, I am not the one that starts the talking.
“Auburn, sit down please. Please.” My father is bawling in an instant, and I rush to his side. He leans his head against my torso, his tears cascading down towards the floor. I move my shaking limbs to comfort him by wrapping my arm around him. “I don’t know anymore. I just…” My father manages to say between sobs. I decide that keeping silent is the best option.
I hear Parker leaning against the railing on the steps, but her witnessing dad crying is the least of my concerns. A single tear streaks down my cheek, but I use all my might to keep in the rest. One thing a daughter never wants is to see her dad cry. No matter how old she is.
I feel my phone vibrate in my pocket. Apparently, my father feels the vibration as well, and he releases the pressure against my side. I look down at the screen, and there is a text message from a unknown number.
Hi, is this Auburn Reed’s number?
I laugh a bit at the person’s perfect grammar. Punctuation and all. Instead of replying, I let the person spend the rest of their life wondering what number they just texted. Yeah, that was a better idea than responding.
I swallow hard and force a cough to clear the air. “Dad, I’m going to go upstairs. Do you want me to get you anything?” I ask. He shakes his head, and I walk up the stairs, glancing over at him a couple times.
I plop down on my bed and just lay there. The thought of AC crosses my mind, but I push it away.
Look, I know it’s you Auburn.
Ugh. Usually if you don’t answer the first, they leave it be. This person’s got to be desperate. I’m getting the impression that this person won’t stop, so I decide to text back.
Who is this?
I hesitate for a second before hitting the send button. What if it’s another one of those pranks Parker and her friend like to do? Regret instantly fills up inside of me for responding. After at least five minutes, my phone begins to ring, which startles me at first. The number isn’t familiar, but I decide to answer anyway.
“Hello?” I say into the phone.
“Auburn! I knew it was your number. Long time no see, right?” The male voice on the other end begins to laugh, and I feel my hair prickling against my neck, which causes me to shiver.
“Who is this and what do you want?” I ask with no flexibility.
The laughing on the other end stops, and all I can here is him breathing on the other end. “It’s AC Dawson. The guy in the parking lot today? I, uh, just wanted to apologize about the whole—“
“How did you get my phone number!?” I shout into the device.
“I have my sources.” AC answers proudly. “I was just going to apologize.”
“Apologize for what?” I scold. I hear footsteps coming towards my door, and I know it is Parker. She hearing, once again, is the least of my concerns.
“I’m sorry about the car situation. You know, me pounding the hood of your car? Force of habit.” He explains.
Force of habit? What is he doing during his free time? Going to a junkyard and slamming hoods of cars? Yeah. That’s something to write on your resumé.
“Fine, whatever. But I do have one question.” I say.
“Shoot.” AC replies.
“What was with you throwing the Oreo in my car? Does that not occur to you as strange? Then again, slamming hoods of random people’s cars is perfectly normal to you as well. So, I wouldn’t be surprised.”
There is an awkward silence for a moment, and the only thing that seems remotely interesting in that time period is examining one of my Robert Frost poem posters.
“Auburn, some things in life are meant to be discovered, not explained. And maybe, just maybe, explanations are given to those who are willing to discover.”
I hear the other end of the line let off this monotonous humming noise, and it’s clear that AC hung up. If you need a comparison to the most deflating feeling in the world, being hung up on without warning is one of those.