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Chapter 1
The Last Day of Summer
(Javier)

I knocked on my mother’s bedroom door. Entering, I saw her unmade bed, clothes tossed about and several pairs of shoes scattered. One was hanging from a knob on her dresser. A little piece of yellow paper stuck to the side of her lamp grabbed my attention.
“I love you. Dinner on the stove. Make wise choices. – Mom”
I picked up the note and walked to my room. I reached underneath my nightstand and pulled out an old shoebox. The edges were worn, but it was clean. I smiled. The lid popped off with a flick of my finger and a pile of papers in various colors, shapes and sizes filled the space. I placed the newest one down, put the lid back on and pushed it back under. The carpet laid flat from its continuous path. Back and forth. Lid off and on.
A small section of my sheets dangled from the side and I pushed them in tight before adjusting my pillows and sitting down. My shoelaces bounced as my foot tapped against the floor. Pulling out my notebook, I wrote down three words. A smile touched my lips once more and I headed toward the kitchen.
Dinner that night was simple. I microwaved, ate and then cleaned. When our clock chimed ten times I got ready for bed. I left a small note on a plate in the fridge, put my books in my backpack and turned off the lights.
The house was quiet, I was asleep and my mother was gone.
The soft hum of classical music that played on a timer until three AM acted as a lullaby. The violin calmed my nerves. They were the most anxious at night, when I tried to sleep. When I was alone.
And yet, I liked being alone. But, somehow, it equally terrified me.
Poor choices. Poor choices. Poor choices.
A soft knock woke me from my sleep. I got up, walked to the door, unlocked the dead bolt and let him in. It was always him. Not every night, but most nights.
Four feet tall and dressed in Superman flannel, Giovanni yawned and went straight to my room.
“No TV?” I asked.
He shook his head from east to west. I nodded and followed.
“Did you leave a note for her, Gio?”
Another shaking of the head.
“But your mom?”
Silence.
“What if she wonders?”
He looked deep into my eyes. Nine years of life shouldn’t look this old. His hair—parted on the left—stuck up in a wild array of distress. He never slept well either.
I knelt down in front of him and placed my hands on his shoulders. “Should I go write a note for your mom? She’ll wonder where you are.”
His chin fell to his chest and his shoulders rose to his ears.
“You sure?” I asked.
More silence.
I pulled out the extra mattress I kept under my bed. The first time, all I had was a blanket, and the second time a sleeping bag. After three times I saw the pattern. I wanted him to be comfortable. He had been my neighbor for a little over two years now and every time I saw that mattress I felt better.
Gio went to the closet, grabbed a blanket and went straight to bed. I waited for his breathing to slow and even out. When I knew he was asleep, I pulled the blanket up to his chin and said a prayer. His future had even less assurance than mine.
I tiptoed into the hallway and walked tight against the wall, dodging the creaky floorboards. Picking up the key he always dropped on our entrance table, I opened the door and left. I had stopped being angry with his mother when I realized it wasn’t my anger she needed. It wouldn’t solve anything, and it wouldn’t ease the hardship of her position. This was life. Ugly. Complicated. Out of control. Lonely.
I wondered if most eighteen-year-olds felt this way.
My breath created little clouds as I entered the apartment next to mine. No heat again. I checked the fridge—a few drops of milk, old take-out, an apple and a slice of cheese. I made a mental note to go shopping tomorrow, nothing extravagant. Maybe mac and cheese in a box, his favorite … some bananas and a couple frozen meals. It would go unnoticed by Gianna. It had to. It always did. No pain. No pressure. No judgment. Gio would eat.
I found half of a white envelope that had been ripped open, the word bill in red on the front side. Scrawling my message, I jumped at the sound of an unexpected telephone call. Don’t answer it. Answer it.
What if it’s her?
What if it’s not her?
Don’t. Do. Don’t do. My life’s failures and accomplishments could be surmised by these words. I let it ring and ring and ring. Regretting it the entire time. Until it stopped. Then I felt okay. Free from the choice.
I took my message, looked around for a few seconds and set the note inside their medicine cabinet. It rested underneath a bottle of Ambien. She’d understand. We had so many conversations and yet we never spoke. Not since Gio spent his first night. Her pride. Her loss.
I locked the door behind me and went back home. Gio was snoring as Beethoven’s 5th Symphony rose in triumph. His blanket had fallen, so I lifted it back up and snuck into my own bed. Then I increased the timer for another hour. I would need the extra music. The extra calm.
Six hours of sleep and it would begin again. My same life. Nothing new. Nothing new meant nothing unknown. Or nothing from Nathan.
Nothing from Nathan meant peace. More chances to breathe. Continue. Live. My same life.
Is that what I wanted? The same? No adventures, no risks, no trials.
Be me. Make of life what I wish. Don’t cower. Take a chance. The worst thing I could’ve possibly faced in life had been faced. What else was there to lose?

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