And…….here it is! The first chapter of the fairy tale that about three of you voted on! This has been really fun, to be given some ingredients and turn them into a delicious story. I will try to get two chapters out a week, as well as giving you the rest of Hansel and Gretel.
Please leave a comment telling me what you think.
The House of Lies
Heat blew up from the asphalt as a car zipped by. Lucas Desmondo coughed and handed the cigarette to Manny, a short, dark kid in faded skinny jeans and chains. Manny puffed twice then inhaled deeply.
“So,” Lucas started, then paused to take the cigarette back for a turn. He handed it back to Manny and watched as the older boy flicked off the ash. “When do you get your car back? Did your dad take it away?”
Manny shrugged, “It don’t matter.”
That was all Manny ever said. Every time Lucas, or anybody, asked him a question. Where’s your house? It don’t matter. Who won the game? It don’t matter. Who’s that guy with your girlfriend? It don’t matter.
Lucas checked the sky. The sun touched the towers on the western skyline across the river. Lucas’s shadow stretched deeply to his left, much longer than Manny’s. He hadn’t thought he was really that much taller.
“What time is it?”
“It don’t matter.”
“Well, I gotta go. Can’t be late or my pa will ask if I’ve been ditching school again. Later.”
Lucas left Manny with the last of the cigarette and ran across the street. The heat pounded against his eyes and he squinted at the people on the sidewalk, watching their shoes follow their shadows as he hurried three blocks to his apartment building.
Inside it was cool. The front door didn’t quite latch and banged into its frame as Lucas took the stairs two at a time to the second floor. The building had once been used to store produce for shipping, but had been converted into low-income housing about ten years earlier by the county housing authority. Lucas held his breath against the smell of rotten cabbage and laundry detergent.
The door to his own apartment was locked. Thank God, Lucas thought, fishing his key out of his pocket, Pa’s not here yet. If Pa wasn’t home yet, that meant that he was working on inventory and would be late.
It took some jiggling, but Lucas twisted the knob and squeezed in past a dresser and coat hooks. It was dim and muggy. Lucas felt his way past the couch to the window, pulling it open as far as it would go.
“Damn safety latches.”
Regulations for public housing only allowed windows to open four inches on all floors above the first. Lucas had tried to talk Pa into rigging the windows to let in more air, but Pa wasn’t willing to risk a fine or worse—getting kicked out for violating safety restrictions. I agreed to it, Pa insisted, so that we could stay here after your mother died. It’s the only place we can afford.
What Pa meant was that it was the only place they could afford as long as he worked days at the market. Pa could make more money on the night shift, but he refused to leave Lucas alone overnight.
Lucas was also convinced that Pa left the safety latches on the windows so that Lucas couldn’t sneak out after Pa went to bed, but Pa would never admit that. You are my good boy, Lucas, Pa said every night, then he would pat Lucas on his head and leave the door to his bedroom open.
The four inches of open window let in warm, fresh air and the sound of late afternoon traffic. Lucas changed his shirt in his small, dark bedroom, stuffing his dirty one deep into the closet to bury the smell of cigarette smoke. He pulled fresh cotton over his head and smoothed his long bangs in the mirror. Slivers of light escaped past the blackout shade in his window, allowing him to see that his cowlick was winning that day. He licked his hand and smoothed it down, but it wouldn’t stay.
It don’t matter. Lucas grabbed his deodorant and slipped it under his t-shirt. He was a normal kid, he supposed, average height like Pa and not too skinny, with black hair and ‘pretty’ blue eyes. A small paunch of baby fat sat above his jeans, and Lucas patted it before putting his deodorant back on his dresser.
He went back out to the kitchen, popped the fridge open and wrinkled his nose. Something had gone bad. Ignoring the stench, he pulled out some sandwich meat, mayonnaise, and tortillas. Pa said Lucas would eat anything as long as it was rolled in a tortilla.
Lucas sat on the couch with his snack. Pa wouldn’t be home for at least an hour. He’d ditched Manny with enough time to watch a few episodes of his favorite reality tv show. When the tortilla was gone, Lucas dug into his backpack and spread notebooks out on the coffee table so that it looked as if he had been doing homework.
The apartment had finally started to cool off when Lucas heard Pa’s key in the lock. He jumped up and grabbed a dish rag, wiping the counter as Pa pushed his way in to the kitchen and plopped a couple of deli bags on the formica.
“How was school today?” Always Pa’s first question.
Lucas focused on the counter, careful to wipe up a couple smears of mayonnaise. “School was school.”
Pa pulled off his jacket and hung it up. “Got us some orange chicken and some of those jalapeno poppers. Probably need to heat them up a bit. Freshen them up.”
“Yeah, thanks, Pa,” Lucas rinsed the rag and left it in the sink. “Something stinks in the fridge.”
“Probably the leftover meatloaf. Should’ve eaten it instead of grabbing burgers last night. Can’t afford to waste food.” Pa pulled two mismatched plates out of the cupboard.
“I’m sure a few dollars won’t break us.”
“Says the kid who wants a cell phone, new clothes, and cash for movies on the weekends.”
Lucas’s face burned as he ripped the deli bags open.
“I’m trying, Lucas, but I’ve got to make sure first that you have money for college. We only have a few years of high school left to save, and I don’t know if I can give you enough.”
“I don’t need money for college, Pa. I can just get a job.” Lucas stood with the bag of orange chicken in his hand.
Pa set down the plate and put his hands on Lucas’s shoulders. “You are going to college. You’ll want a wife and kids someday, and squeezing them into an apartment in the inner city is no way to live. You’re going to have a house in the suburbs and your kids are going to nice schools and taking piano lessons and having cell phones. It’s the life your mother always wanted, and you can only have it by going to college.”
“Yes, Pa.” Lucas shrugged out from under Pa’s hands.
Pa dug into the deli bags and divided orange chicken and poppers on the plates. “So, what did you do after school today?”
Lucas grabbed a plate and slid it into the microwave, coming up with an easy lie. “Oh, went by the park. Some of the guys were playing marbles, so I hung around for a few games. Got myself a sweet tiger’s eye.”
“A tiger’s eye, huh? Didn’t know marbles were still popular.”
“Yeah,” Lucas noticed a weight in his pocket and slid his hand in. Marbles. He’d never even held a marble before, but there they were. Small things like this always seemed to work out for him. He’d tell a white lie, and it would turn out to be true. Lucky, I guess. He pulled the marbles out of his pants. Five, one large and striped with a cat’s eye swirled on it. “Here, check it out.”
Pa wiped his hand on his pants and gathered the marbles off of Lucas’s palm. “Nice. Haven’t seen one of these in years.” He picked out the tiger’s eye and held it up to the light. “I used to be pretty good at marbles. Fun to see that you kids still play.” He handed the marbles back and Lucas slipped them into his pocket.
They took their plates to the couch to eat and watch television. Pa fell asleep on the couch, snoring until Lucas woke him sometime after midnight. After Pa brushed his teeth, he poked his head into Lucas’s room.
“You are my good boy,” he said, and left the door open.