“Michael’s Letters” by Bill True

Dear Dr. Maxim,

I saw your letter in the newspaper. I won’t say which one and don’t try to track me down by the postmark on this envelope. I could be anywhere, and I’m not necessarily living in the same state that I’m sending this letter from.

I wasn’t going to write back to you, but I had to admit that the letter in the newspaper thing was a pretty good idea. Then of course, you know newspapers and me. Well, I found it. And I figured if you went through all that trouble I should probably write back. It seemed like the right thing to do.

I don’t really know what to tell you. Things are fine. Dylan is still with me. He’s fine, I’m fine, and we’re doing okay. We’ve got a warm, and safe place to stay and I have a job. It’s hard, but we’re getting by. And we’re fine.

I suppose another reason I wanted to write to you is to tell you that. I would appreciate it if you told Dylan’s folks. Tell them he’s alive and well and doing great. They should be really happy and relieved to hear it. And would you tell my mom and dad, too? Tell them to please not worry and that someday if things cool down we’ll come home again. Promise.

Anyway, I’ve got to go. Thanks for the letter. I guess I’ll keep looking in the paper.

Sincerely,
Michael

Dear Dr. Maxim,

Another letter! Wow, I was just joking when I said I’d keep looking in the paper. Glad you got my letter, though. Really glad you told my folks I’m okay. You didn’t forget to tell Dylan’s folks, too, right? Please make sure you do that.

How much money are you spending on these want ads? Are you putting them in around the country? Who’s paying for it? I know my folks don’t have that kind of money to throw around.

It was good to see it, though. It’s like a little slice of home. I mean, Dylan’s all I really have to remind me of home, you know? It’s nice to hear from someone else who knows who I am. And you were always good to me. I never did tell you this, but I really appreciate all the help you gave me. I’m sorry things didn’t work out the way you’d hoped.

I haven’t told Dylan about our letters yet. I’m afraid that he’d get wigged out. He’s kind of sensitive about things. And I get the feeling that he’s still a little upset at me, even though he won’t talk about it. So what can I do? Who could blame him? I know what I did hurt him very badly. So, although I’m glad you and I are in contact again, I know that I need to keep it hidden from Dylan for know. We’ll see how things go.

As far as what I’m doing to support us? Tell my mom and dad not to worry, I’m not into prostitution and I’m not selling drugs. Heck, I don’t even drink. Plus, I’d never do anything like that to Dylan. I only want what’s best for him.

So, I got a job in a convenience store near where we live. It’s not the best job – definitely not what I thought I’d be doing with my life. But it keeps our heads above water.

Well, barely, because I do have to admit that I do spoil Dylan. I know I shouldn’t do it, and you’d tell me not to “give into my guilt.” But you know what? He’s been through so much – too much – because of me. So if video games and movies and toys and Twinkies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner are going to make him happy that’s what he’s going to get. I spend more than we can really afford on the stuff, but I don’t know what else to do. It’s worth it.

A couple of nights ago he actually laughed. Well, we both did, really. You don’t know how good that felt. And it was over the stupidest thing.

There’s this joke where the person telling it is a Martian and the other is a reporter. Well, we were sitting there playing a video game (or I should say, I was playing…he always just wants to watch) when all of a sudden he got all goofy and antsy. He started doing these little dances and making the strangest wisecracks, and doing all sorts of weird things. It was strange, but it was kind of funny, too. Anyway, back to the joke. Finally, he stuck out his hand, and we started shaking. Wen did this “interview.”

I started: “Welcome to Earth. Tell me, do you have houses on Mars?”

“Why yes, we do.”

“Do you have bathrooms in those houses?”

“Why yes, we do.”

“Tell me, do you have toilets in your bathrooms?”

“Of course.”

“Do you have toilet paper on Mars?”

“No…we use our hands.”

Oh, my god! I can’t believe how hard we laughed. I had tears streaming down my cheeks and my side felt like I’d been kicked by a mule. We both fell on the floor and rolled around and couldn’t stop. As soon as one of us would look at the other, we’d crack up again. It must have gone on like that for an hour.

Well, anyway, it felt really good. You know, that was the first time since the accident that I’ve seen him smile, much less laugh. It warmed my heart to see it. In fact, I had to turn away because I got a little misty-eyed and I didn’t want Dylan to get the wrong idea. I’ll spend every last day, every last dime I have if I can keep bringing a smile to that little kid’s face. I will.

Now if I can just get him to eat. Once we get this smiling thing down, we’re going to work on the eating thing next.

Well, this turned out to be a pretty long letter. But I hope you see that we really are okay. Tell everyone not to worry. Please.

I’ll write again soon and keep you posted on how things are going. I promise.

Sincerely,
Michael

Dear Dr. Maxim,

Well, if you’re paying for these ads out of your own pocket, you must be a millionaire!
Thanks again for the letter. No thanks on the money, though. I will admit that I thought about accepting your offer. But in the end, I think it’s best if Dylan and I keep to ourselves. Not that I don’t trust you, it’s just that I know I’m not ready to be “found” yet. Is that all right? And we’re still doing fine.

Right now, I’ve got bigger fish to fry. Okay, this is going to sound stupid, but here goes: I met a girl.
Her name is Carly and she works with me at the convenience store. We work the graveyard together on Saturday nights. For the longest time we never said a word to each other. She’d be counting the till or cleaning out the Icee machine, and I’d be restocking. But there’s only so much counting and cleaning and restocking a person can do, and it gets pretty dead after the late-night bar rush. So, two nights ago we were talking.

She’s trying to get her GED, and I was helping her study science – astronomy of all things! We were talking about Earth, the solar system, and things like that. You’ll never believe what she thought! She believed that the sun was about the size of the moon and just a few hundred miles up in the sky. What’s more, she thought that the sun revolved the earth! When she told me that, I was flabbergast. I thought she was joking at first.

“Didn’t you ever study science in school?” I asked her.

She sighed, kind of wistful, and got this very sad, very far away look in her eyes. Then she looked at me, searching my eyes like she was probing for something – like she was trying to peer way down deep into my soul. She stayed that way for what seemed to be forever. I could feel my shoulders tense. I was afraid that she’d see too deep, that she might discover my secret. I fidgeted a little, but I could feel the importance of the moment for her, and I decided to risk it. I trusted her, I guess. So I stood there and held her gaze.

When she finally answered me, she did it without saying a word. Instead, she slowly began to un-tuck her T-shirt from her jeans. I was surprised and a little off kilter. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next. She lifted her shirt to just below her chest and kind of half closed her eyes, as if she was falling into some trance.

She turned her back to me. It was covered with burn marks and scars from old cuts. I tried to count them all, but I kept getting lost in the gentle curve of her spine, which I followed down to the waistline of her jeans. And I thought to myself, no matter how hard someone had tried, they could never spoil that wonderful back. My head started swimming, and I could feel that certain kind of excitement building in me. I did my best to beat it down, though, because I knew it was completely out of line, considering the moment.

So to settle myself down, I tried to focus on the burns and scars. And suddenly I wanted to cry. I wanted to go to her and gather her up in my arms, just like I had done with Dylan when he was hurt so badly. I wanted to hold her and slowly, gently rock the hurt away. The sadness became overwhelming and I could feel the pressure – the makings of a whopping headache – building at my temples.

She finally lowered her T-shirt, but didn’t bother to tuck it in. She turned to face me and the pressure in my head began to ease up a little. And with her eyes fixed on a Cheetos display that was resting on the sales counter, she recited the story of her life to me.

As I listened, it became very easy to understand why she hadn’t read many books, and why studying and learning weren’t top priorities in her mind. And why no one ever took the time to explain to her the nuts and bolts of how the universe works. Last but not least, why she quit school right at the beginning of 10th grade.

But here she was at 19, on her own and determined to finish her high school education. On one hand, I’m sure lots of people would probably write someone like Carly off, look down at her as some kind of trailer trash or something. But I thought she was very brave. So I told her so.

Then I went on to describe how the solar system really works: how the sun’s 93 million miles away and huge, and how we revolve around it. Then I told her about each of the planets, their moons, stars, constellations, galaxies, space travel… I mean, who better to explain it, right? And after hours of me talking and her nodding, me quizzing and her answering, she finally got it.

It gave me goosebumps to see it all dawn on her face. At that moment I knew she was the farthest thing from dumb. She was very bright, and she was very beautiful.

Suddenly I couldn’t look at her anymore. She asked me if I was okay.

“Yeah,” I said, fumbling, trying to put some distance between us, just searching to find anything to occupy myself.

But before I could get away, she came around to face me again. She cupped my face in her hands and made me look into her eyes. They were beautiful, too…radiant green and so deep that you could lose yourself in them forever.

Then she kissed me.

I can’t describe how it felt. Holding her I felt like I just couldn’t get close enough to her. I wanted to melt into her.

No one came into the store before the morning guy showed up. Carly and I just stood there and kissed all night long until the sun came up. That’s all we did, nothing more. But it was enough. In fact, it was more than enough. It was heaven.

Then it was time to go. She offered me a ride and I wanted to go with her so badly, but I knew I couldn’t. Not yet, anyway. So I told her thank you, but I really wanted to walk – breathe in the morning air. That seemed to be okay with her, but she told me she couldn’t wait to see me again. I told her I felt the same way. Then she gave me a tender little peck and she was gone.

Now here’s the bad part: I haven’t told Dylan yet. How can I? I can’t fall in love, I can’t have a girlfriend. I have Dylan to think about and he needs my full attention right now. He’s still so fragile, and he’s just starting to come around. And I think he’s starting to forgive me.

What am I going to do? I called in sick to work yesterday and today because I just couldn’t bear the thought of seeing her. I mean, she wasn’t working, but what if she came around looking for me? What do I say to her?

God! I don’t know what I’m going to do. Hopefully by the time you get this letter I’ll have it figured out.
Anyway, my hand is tired and I have to get home. I knew I couldn’t hang around there the last couple of days because Dylan would know something was up, so I’ve been wandering around all day like an idiot. But it’s starting to get dark out now, and Dylan’s probably wondering where the heck I am.

I’ll keep in touch.

Sincerely,
Michael

Dear Dr. Maxim,

It’s bad. Dylan knows. I didn’t say anything to him, but somehow he figured it out and now I’m so confused. I didn’t know where else I could turn.

I saw Carly again last night. I couldn’t help it, I needed to get back to work sometime or we’d run out of money. What else could I do?

She wasn’t working, but she came in especially to find me. She’d taken an astronomy test and almost aced it. She was beaming with pride. I grinned back at her and shrugged my shoulders as if to say, “What else did you expect? You’re a genius.” I have to admit I was pretty proud of her, myself.

She asked me if I would go outside with her for a minute. At first I was going to say no, but then…I don’t know. I couldn’t help myself. I told the other guy working that I was going on break. As soon as the words were out of my mouth, she grabbed my hand and led me out of the store.

When we got to her car, she reached inside and pulled out a small package, all wrapped up with a pretty yellow bow tied on top. She gave me a sweet, soft kiss on my cheek as she handed it to me.

“It’s a present,” she told me, “to say thanks.” Then she paused… “And for being you…”

Then she kissed me again. This time passionate, the kind of kiss that you’re sure is going to go on and on forever. At least you pray it does. When she finally did pull away, she rocked back on her heels and raised her eyebrows in kind of a flirty manner. Then she giggled.

“And for being a great kisser!”

She giggled again and nudged me a little. I just stood there frozen, bewildered.

“Well, open it!” she finally had to remind me.

I unwrapped it, and it was a book: “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

I looked at her and all I could do is smile and shake my head. She went on to tell me that she didn’t pick it out by herself exactly, but the guy at the bookstore said it was really funny, a “must read for any sci-fi nut.” She hoped I hadn’t read it before.

“No,” I lied, keeping a straight face even as my mind drifted back just for a moment to the well-worn copy I was sure still rested on the bookshelf in my bedroom back home.

It was almost too much. I felt my heart surge. It was trying to crawl up and out of my throat, getting snagged somewhere along the way. Was it because she was so happy and because she looked so pretty standing there just beside herself? Was it because I didn’t want to ruin the moment by telling her the truth and hurting her feelings? Or was it something else? Something inside of me that was stirring and churning things around inside until it all seemed like a jumble. Something that at the same time helped me see so clearly that the most important thing at the moment was her and that her joy made me feel so alive.

I held the book in front of me and marveled at it, like it was some priceless treasure. And for some reason I felt like I was going to cry. I had to pull myself together. It took everything I had in me, but I swallowed and finally managed to say, “Thanks.”

I lingered for a few minutes longer, confused and troubled, but happier than I think I’ve been in my entire life. After a while, I realized that I must have looked like a dummy just standing there, so I told her that I should probably get back to work. She said she had to get going anyway, but she would see me tomorrow.

Suddenly a spasm of terror ripped through my body and settled at my temples; a dull, nagging pressure. I knew I needed to buy some time to sort everything out, so I lied to her again and told her that I had to go home and see my parents for a couple of days. It was my little brother’s birthday and blah, blah, blah. She totally bought it, but I felt like crap.

She kissed me one last time before she got in her car and drove away. I was a wreck for the rest of my shift.

And when I got home, things went from bad to worse. When I opened the door, no Dylan. I looked everywhere; under the beds, in the bathroom, everywhere. He’d just disappeared. I panicked. I spent all night until just before dawn searching and searching all over for him. I wandered up and down roads, and I looked in the woods. I even looked in town. I finally ended up back at our place, hoping he had come back. But no.

I didn’t know what to do. I mean, it’s not like I could call the police. I felt exhausted. My head was pulsating and my temples felt like there were going to burst. I felt so dizzy I thought I was going to fall down. I decided to lay down on Dylan’s bed to catch my breath for a minute, and I must have fallen fast asleep.

When I woke up, there he was, standing over me and staring. Not saying a word. He had that look on his face and I knew. I knew. I broke down and starting crying, begging him to forgive me. He just kept standing there.

So I’ve spent the past two days trying to rebuild and repair. We’re not there yet, but at least I got him to talk to me again. That’s something.

It’s been a little too much, though, and I had to get away for awhile. I told Dylan that I was going to get a video and took off. I had to talk to someone, but there wasn’t anyone I could talk to. I suppose Carly would listen, but she’s the last person I should be talking to right now. In fact, I don’t think that I should probably see her again.

I almost called you. I picked up the phone a hundred times and dialed your number. I even let it ring once (sorry!). But I couldn’t go through with it. So I decided to write this letter instead.

Whew! It does make me feel a little better.

Anyway, I have to get back.

Sincerely,
Michael

Dr. Maxim,

What in the hell have done!?! You’ve wrecked everything! Do you know that? You’ve shot everything to hell! Damn you! God damn you!

I went to the store yesterday. I hadn’t been there in awhile and I figured they’d fired me already, but I wanted to go there. Mohammed, the manager, has been really nice to me—gave me a job with no questions asked. I figured I owed it to him to at least apologize for leaving him in a bind.

And, of course, there was the book.

I didn’t want to bring it home before because I knew it would raise suspicion. Dylan would wonder where I got it. I suppose I should have just left it alone, but I wanted it. I wanted to keep it. I don’t know exactly why. I guess it doesn’t matter now.

So I got to the store. I walked in, and Mohammed and Carly were both there. At first I was nervous because I didn’t expect, nor was I prepared to face, Carly. I had barely stepped through the door when Mohammed spotted me. Suddenly he was barking at me, waving his hands, and pointing outside fiercely: “You get out of here! Now! You get out of here! Now! Go!”

I shook my head and tried to explain, “I’m sorry. I know I left you in a bind. I just wanted to say goodbye and apologize and get something-”

“No!” He yelled back, fishing for something from behind the counter, “You don’t need nothing! Get out of here!”

He pulled out a gun.

“Or I’ll shoot you!”

At first I was scared and completely dumbfounded. Then I caught a glimpse of Carly’s eyes. “Oh, God,” I whispered, almost a prayer. I’d seen that look too many times before. I knew exactly what it was: fear. My whole body clenched.

“You. You bring the police here. They’re looking for you, my friend. They’re gonna find you. They have a picture they’re showing all around town to everyone.”

I couldn’t look away from Carly’s eyes. There were tears gathering there.

I managed to choke out the words, “You don’t understand.” My head started pounding. I was consumed by Carly’s tears, looking like delicate little rivers of dread and sadness that flowed down her quivering cheeks. The world began spinning the wrong way on its axis and I felt like I was going to fall over.

“It’s not what you think. You’ve got to believe me,” I pleaded to her, dropping to my knees. “Please. You have to believe me.”

But Mohammed wouldn’t shut his mouth.

“You killed a little boy. The police told us the whole story. You’re a crazy mother fucker, you know? Well, he’s dead, you shit head. He ain’t alive, he’s dead! So you just turn around and take your crazy shit somewhere else.”

He leveled the gun at my chest: “…Or I’ll shoot you!”

I’m not exactly certain what happened next. Events seemed like a series of snapshots in a photo album, with most of the really important ones missing. I know that my body moved. I know the gun went off. I know that somehow Carly and I ended up in her car and I was holding the gun, and we were driving back to where Dylan and I were staying.

When we got to our place, I asked Carly to get out of the car. She was crying hysterically and shaking, and couldn’t move. But I was going to prove to her that I wasn’t crazy and I wasn’t a killer. Dylan is perfectly fine. He is fine, Dr. Maxim. So, I was going to show her. I’m not proud of this, but it was the only way. I got out of the car, went over to her side and pulled her out by force.

I had her by the arm and I knew I was holding her too tight, way too tight. I was worried that I would leave a black and blue mark or maybe even break her arm. But I couldn’t risk letting her run away. I had to show her Dylan. I had to prove it to her. She would see him and everything would calm down.

Then we got inside, and Dylan was no where to be found. The TV was still on, just like I left it. His lunch sat untouched on the night stand by his bed, and no Dylan. I called for him. I screamed for him. I let go of Carly’s arm to look around for him, and she didn’t run away. She just collapsed in a heap on the floor, sobbing.

I searched everywhere, bellowing at the top of my lungs. I tore the place apart. He’d vanished as if in thin air. My head was absolutely killing me. And I thought, that little asshole, getting me in trouble all over again. I was so mad at him. I just…I just wanted to… I grabbed an ash tray and launched it across the room. I watched as it soared through the air in slow motion, on a collision course with a large mirror resting on top of our dresser. I saw my own reflection shatter into a million tiny pieces on impact. And that’s when everything went completely black…

The next thing I remember is walking down some deserted road. It was dark; the middle of the night, I think. And sure enough, Dylan was walking beside me. I felt like cuffing him, but I knew that I would never do that. I was too tired, for one thing. But even more, I love him and I owe him my life. I keep telling myself that over and over.

So there you have it. That’s everything. Are you happy now? I trusted you. I did. But what am I supposed to do?

Well, do this for me at least, will you? Since you obviously found me, will you please get in touch with Carly, and tell her I’m sorry? Tell her I never meant to hurt her, and she’s a beautiful and wonderful person. I wish things could have worked out differently for us. I really do…more than almost anything.

And Mohammed, too. I hope he’s okay.

Now I have to go. Dylan is waiting for me. We’re moving on, and I guess we’ll try to find another place far away from here where we can start over. Maybe rebuild and get back to where we were.

Just so you know, I don’t hate you. But I’m not going to write to you anymore. At least not for awhile.

Will you do me one more favor? No offense, but I figure you owe me a few. Tell my parents I’m okay. But more important, please talk to Dylan’s parents, and tell them they don’t need to feel bad anymore. He really is alive and well, and in perfect health. I’m taking care of him, and will continue to take care of him until the day we can come home again.

I promise.

Sincerely,
Michael

© Bill True. All rights reserved.