ANDREW FOUND A PICTURE OF HIMSELF HE NEVER RECALLED TAKING. What was more, he couldn't make sense of it. His hair in this picture was just a tad bit longer than he had ever grown it out, which wasn't very far. He never recalled wearing that striped shirt, nor dd he recognize the setting. What was this doing in his father's closet?
He heard his father coming. He couldn't afford to be caught rummaging through his drawers. He put the picture in his shirt pocket and hid in the closet. For good measure, he tossed clothes on top of him. It wouldn't make a difference if he covered himself or not, though. If his father opened up the closet, he would be doomed.
His father entered the room. There was a groan, the sound of tool being dropped to the ground. The Old Man mumbled and shifted through his stuff. There was a pause. Had he noticed that the drawers were open?
Andrew's heart beat.
An hour passed, and his father didn't leave the room. Andrew was trapped. He kept on reminding himself to control his breath, and the logical thing to do would be to go off to sleep to keep his nerves down, but if he was caught during a lull of attention he couldn't run out as fast as he could have. He would be vulnerable.
Still more time passed. It seemed his father was taking a nap in the afternoon. Why did he always have to do that?
Also, there was the question of whether or not he would notice Andrew's supposed absence. There had been no school today due to a teachers' meeting, but Dad didn't know about that, so he assumed Andrew was at school. He should have been home now. He would be making noise. His father was always a creeper who looked inside the room to see how Andrew was doing, whether he made noise or not.
Then Andrew heard the sound of floorboard creaking the door opening, and his father walking through the living room. It sounded like he was checking his room.
Since Andrew was light on his feet and only a hundred pounds, he cast the clothes off of him and opened the closet door just as he heard his father enter the living room, all the while closing the closet door to cover up his tracks better this time. He had only one chance at this. Father had left the door to his room open, and Andrew managed to make his way out into the living room. His father's back was to him. Andrew slipped through the kitchen and into the breezeway, where he crouched. He listened carefully, but from here he couldn't hear his father's movements. It was safe to assume that if he was careful, his father wouldn't hear him if he slipped through the door, either.
Andrew left the house and jumped on his bike, which was hidden in the weeds of the backyard garden. He kicked off with his feet and peddled off, taking the emergency route of the gravel alleyway that ran down the middle of the block, connecting all of the backyards.
And then he was far away from home. He took a detour to get to uptown, where his friend Trenton lived in a bright blue house with an actual driveway. He knocked at the door, and Mrs. Van Holland, Trenton's mother, answered the door.
"Hello, Andrew!" said Mrs. Van Holland. "Trenton's upstairs playing video games."
Andrew thanked her and ran to Trenton's room. It was filled with stuff on the wall and LEGO sets, along with all the coolest action figured. He was sitting on his bed, with his hair wet from a recent shower, and was busy playing a Mario game on his Gameboy Color.
"'Sup, man?" said Trenton.
"Hey, I have the money to buy that new game, Fallout," said Andrew. He pulled out a couple of Benjamin Franklins from his chest pocket.
Trenton set down the Gameboy and leaned forward. "Nice!" It was better than nice. Two hundred dollars could get them several games. The best part was that Andrew's father wouldn't notice a thing, given how disorganized and cluttered his room was. Then Trenton added, "Hey, what's that in your pocket?"
Andrew drew up his hand. "It's just a picture of me."
"Let me see it," said Trenton. Andrew was hesitant, but he wasn't about to deny his best friend something. It would have been uncool. So he took it out of his pocket and let Trenton look at it. Without hesitation, Trenton said, "You look like a girl!"
"I do not!" said Andrew.
Andrew checked the picture again and hated to admit that his friend was right. At nine years old, he had a certain androgynous freshness about him and a roundness of face that had yet to mold itself into the features of a grown man. Combined with how this was clearly the longest his hair had ever been before he cut it last spring, he looked like a generic kid, indistinct from a girl or boy. He wished he could be a little cooler and more handsome, like he thought of Trenton, instead of pretty. He put the picture back in his pocket and looked defeated.
"Chill, Andrew, I'm only teasing you," said Trenton.
"Yeah, well I don't like it," said Andrew.
"I'm sorry, man," said Trenton.
"I just want to get those video games," said Andrew.
"What are we going to do with the extra money?"
"I don't know," said Andrew. "I'll save it for later."
"Sure thing," said Trenton. "It's your money."
They left Trenton's house, went to the local Wal*Mart, bought Fallout, and came back to Trenton's house to try it out. Unfortunately, it was single-player, so they had to take turns playing it and decided that they could spend more time shooting hoops in Trenton's driveway. They went out and lit up the porch light, playing basketball even after the sun went down. After a while, Andrew gathered up a sweat and it was time to stop. Besides, one could only stick to one activity for so long.
"Hey Andrew, are you thinking of joining the basketball team when you get to middle school?" asked Trenton.
"Sure," said Andrew. "We actually practice. The only question is whether I will be better than you."
"No chance," said Trenton. "You'll be following me."
"Then I'll be the second best on the team," said Andrew. "And I'll keep you on your heels, because I'm awesome."
Andrew got down on his bottom and rested on the grass. He grabbed his sweaty shirt and tugged back and forth at its chest region, using it as a fan. He needed a shower. That really sucked because his father's shower didn't have a water softener and he ended up smelling worse coming out than going in. He was going to have to spend the night at his grandparent's house.
Mrs. Van Holland opened the door. "Trenton, you'd better come back in and prepare for bed."
"But mom, can I at least have supper?" asked Trenton.
The Van Hollands were awesome. Half the time they had pizza for supper. That might have been today, too, except Trenton had gone with Andrew across town to visit Wal*Mart. Andrew really should have waited until the next day so that he could do that in the immediate afternoon instead of during the bad timing that came upon him today, and then he could have had supper with the Van Hollands so long as he lied about having his father's permission.
"No, Trenton, now come inside. Andrew! You'd better go home before your father wonders where you're at!"
"Alright, mom..."said Trenton, disappointed.
"Yes, Mrs. Van Holland," said Andrew, playing the part of the role-model friend. Mrs. Van Holland smiled at him and waved him off on his merry way. He got on his bike, said goodbye to Trenton, and biked off.
To the eastern 'burbs, where Grandpa and Grandma Penn lived. They were on his father's side, and they were far nicer than his dad, who was uncool and just plain didn't get him. When he came up to the front porch, he let the bike drop as he ran to the doorbell and rang with one long press of his thumb, letting it go on and on until one of them answered the door.
Grandma Penn opened the door. "Andrew, what are you doing out so late?"
"I'm sorry Grandma. I just lost track of time."
"You're sweating like a bull," she said, and brought him in.
Inside, Andrew saw his grandfather, a big, burly man, looking at a newspaper on the living room chair. He thought he was off the hook, but he didn't stand a chance with Grandpa Penn, who said at once the very last thing he wanted to hear. "Does your father know where you are?"
Andrew's face flushed. He looked at Grandpa Penn with a dear-in-headlights look that gave away everything. Grandpa set down the newspaper, adjusted his suspenders. Trying to keep his innocence going for him, Andrew made up an excuse, "But I'm going to take a shower here. I don't want to smell in Dad's icky shower. Isn't that a good idea?"
"Where have you been?" asked Grandpa.
"I was at home with dad," said Andrew. "I was with him the whole time. I just decided to come over here for a shower."
"Margaret..." said Grandpa.
"Andrew," picked up Grandma. "You do smell. We'll show you the shower, but you can't go running off at night like this. Now for goodness sakes, that shirt smells. Let me remove this."
She removed it.
Meanwhile, Grandpa leaned over to the phone next to the chair and piked it up to call Andrew's father. Andrew was busted.
Then Andrew took his shower, came out smelling nice, and Grandma had a blue shirt out and ironed for him. "And tomorrow's a school day, Andrew. You're going to have to wake up early and catch the bus. Oh, what are we going to do with you?"
Grandpa was at the kitchen counter. He was looking down at a crumpled wad of dollars and scattered coins. It was the change left over from the video game.
"Where did you get this money?" asked Grandpa.
"I earned it," said Andrew. "I mowed Trenton Van Holland's lawn."
"And they payed you a hundred dollar bill?"
"Their family is rich," said Andrew. "And they really like me."
"I'm giving this back to your father," said Grandpa. "And when he comes here, you're going to have to apologize to him for stealing from him."
"But I really got that from my friend's house!" said Andrew.
"I'm not stupid, you know."
"Where is he, by the way?" said Grandma. She was right. Andrew's dad wasn't there yet.
"He said to just wait a bit. It would take him a while to get ready. So I'm waiting. And Andrew will have to sit right here next to me."
"You're terrible!" said Andrew. "You're just like Dad!"
Grandpa took Andrew and put him on his knee. "Your father loves you more than you could know, and you're just too young to see it."
"You're just saying that because that's what adults are supposed to say!"
Grandpa just held him down while he squirmed, and Grandma went to the front door to wait for his father. He was still taking some time.
After he had slowed down and retreated to a mode of skulking, Andrew noticed that his picture was in Grandpa's plaid shirt pocket. It was crinkled up from when it has been in his own while he was playing basketball, but he wanted to reach out and grab it. It felt like it belonged to him. The money maybe wasn't his, but he felt he had a right to the picture. His father didn't have a camera. Nobody ever took any pictures of him. It was special.
"Grandpa, can I please have my picture back?"
Grandpa reached into his pocket, as if just remembering that it was there. "You might as well." He placed it in Andrew's shirt pocket. Andrew took it out.
"That's this, anyway? I don't remember taking this picture. Who was taking pictures, anyway?" he asked.
"Nobody takes pictures in this family," said Grandpa. "It wasn't me. But this isn't a picture of you, anyway. This is a picture of your mother."
"What? So it really is a picture of a girl?"
Andrew now sat on Grandpa's lap in such a way similar to a child listening to a parent reading a story. Grandpa held out the picture so they could both see. "This was Ellen when she was your age. She changed when she got older. You look a lot like her."
"That's my mom?" said Andrew.
"Yes, you know what she looked like," said Grandpa.
"Actually, no, I don't," said Andrew.
Grandpa looked confused, and then sad. He sighed and shook his head. "That's right. They never took any pictures together when she was still alive. I believe your grandparents on your mothers side had a few wedding photos before they died, too, but your father wouldn't have any, save for some old stuff from her album. He must have something on hand to cling on to. He doesn't loom so much on the paste, though. He's very internal. I wouldn't expect this to be out much. I'm so sorry. I thought you knew what your own mother looked like." He sighed again. "Well now I just had a revelation."
Andrew didn't feel the need to cry. He had never known his mother. The subject wasn't sad for him. However, it did feel odd, once he thought about it. Maybe other people could feel sad for him because they experienced something he had to miss out on. "Do you think I should give this to Dad?"
"Maybe," said Grandpa. "Well, in this case, I think it's okay just once for you to take something from your father. Just ask him for it, though. I don't know what the story behind his reason for keeping this is. Maybe it's important that he keeps it. But you should know more about her sometime. I'm sure I have many stories to share with you."
Stories. The Penn family tradition. They didn't keep collages of photographs to preserve memories: generations of knowledge passed down by word of mouth. To this day, though, Andrew had always heard of the things on his father's side of the family, and his father never had anything to tell him about his mother.
He thought about it and decided he would like to hear them sometime.
"The important thing that you know right now, Andrew, was that your father loved your mother, and your mother loved your father very much. She would want you to love him, too."
"Do I have to?"
"No, kid, but you ought to."
From the kitchen window, the lights of Dad's pickup truck came in. He would put Andrew's bike in the trunk. Then his father came in and picked up Andrew off of Grandpa's lap.
"Don't touch me..." said Andrew. He hated it when Dad assumed that he couldn't do stuff for himself.
"Son," said Grandpa, referring for Andrew's dad, "take care of him. And also, one day you'll have to spend some time with me and your mother, alone. You can send Andrew off to his friend's house. I bet he can mow the lawn to make up for the money he spent, but what I think we really need to have is some of our old father-to-son time so you know how to be a genuine symbol for strength for your son."
Andrew left as soon as he could and didn't want to hear the rest of the conversation. It was Grandpa just trying to negotiate a peace treaty. That's all those adults ever did. They didn't care about him, though. He left the house, got into Dad's truck, and cried.
Why did everyone always have to side with Dad? Dad didn't care!
He looked at the wrinkled picture of his mother at his age. Seeing her for the first time, and seeing such a radiant smile, she looked like the person who would care. He found himself really wishing he had known her mother and had more than just a picture to work with. Who cared about knowing some story when someone could have a whole other important person in his life?
Dad got into the truck and drove off. Andrew sat on the far side and made sure he was close to the window. it was silent the whole way home.
However, Andrew underestimated the wisdom of his grandparents. They taught his father as a child, and they would continue to teach his father. All he had to do now was to learn the lessons he was given from his late wife, whose story still lived on through him.
Edited by Jean Valjean, Dec 04 2012 - 06:01 PM.