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Fiction

What the what now? 

The photo is pinched between her fingers, as if it'll disappear if she lets go. It can't disappear. She needs to be sure that this is real and not her imagination.

In the sixteen years that she has lived in this house, she's been in this attic twice. That's if you're being generous, counting the time she peeked her head in the door to tell her mother that dinner was ready. If you didn't, you were only counting the five minutes it took to find her grandmother's old sewing machine before lugging it downstairs.

Her parents were out of town for the week. Any normal kid would throw a house party. She thinks that's just a myth perpetuated by movies, the ones that Patty likes to watch. 

It's not like Laverne didn't want to throw a party. She had said she could manage a small gathering, one of five to ten people, themselves included. Then her best friend had scoffed. She had told her that they were going to throw a rager. It was a high school right of passage. They'd get cheap beer from her brother and invite all the cool kids. 

The cool kids didn't necessarily hate them. They simply swung in different circles.

Patty was hoping some liquid bribing could at least start making the circles a venn diagram.

Laverne had spent all of Tuesday locking every last breakable and embarrassing item in the attic. The party was scheduled for Wednesday night. They'd spun it as a year end bash, the last party before New Years Eve. 

When that didn't work, they spun it as unchaperoned chaos. That had worked. It was going to launch them into the higher social tier.

Screw you, Mother Nature. 

Roads were closed. There was easily a foot of snow in her front lawn by lunchtime. There was no way they could party now, with all the ice lining the street. The weather man had said that the storm was going to miss them and hit the next town over.

Screw the weather man too.

She was taking her third trip up to the attic when the power went out. The late afternoon light wasn't much to illuminate the attic. The sudden change startled her, and she tripped. 

If she's going to keep throwing all these screws around, she was adding this box to the list.

The label caught her eye. It promised photos from the early 2000s. She'd always been curious about what her parents were like before she rolled around. If they were the successful people they are now. She's far from it, and it freaked her out, with college right around the corner. She wanted to see them struggling like she knew she will, to take off the stress everyone was putting on her to follow in their footsteps.

The box got lugged into the beam from the window. Pulling out a wad of photos, she flipped through pictures of people she didn't immediately recognize. She read their backs. They're mostly relatives that she'd briefly met at family reunions. 

There was one name she couldn't place. It was a picture of her at the hospital, having just been born. There's a man holding her. The label said his name was George. More precisely, the label said George, with a heart, and Laverne. No heart after Laverne.

"What the what now?" she grabs for her phone, dialing Patty.

"Lala, girl, I cannot believe this." Patty doesn't bother saying hello. She never does. Normally Laverne is fine with her taking the lead, but she's still flipping through pictures, finding more of this George, with a heart, guy.

Setting the pictures down, she cuts her off. "If you can't believe it's snowing in December, then you're going to lose your socks over this."

"I'm not even wearing socks."

It's one thing for a strange man to be holding her. It's another thing entirely to find pictures of her mother embracing him, legs flung behind her as she kisses his face.

"I think my mother cheated on my father." She digs further into the box, finding a picture of George, with a heart, with her dad. 

"Like recently? Ooh, do you think this trip is actually couples therapy?" Patty cracks open what sounds like their beer. She's already paid her brother, and she's not going to let it go to waste, even if the party is off.

Besides, she needs a drink to surprisingly spew all over the place when Laverne drops the second bombshell, because she truly loves living life like a movie.

"When I was a baby. But then again, I just found a picture of my dad and the guy cuddling under the stars, so I really have no clue what is going on now. I need you here, like a.s.a. now."

"Sure, let me just pull out my flame thrower and make my way over."

"Not helping."

She uses the light of her phone to see if there are more boxes where she tripped. There's a few, from when she was still a baby. She can't seem to find any pictures of this George, with a heart, not at first. When she flips a few over, she notes the name. Same name, same heart. His hair is gone, and he is thinner. He's twirling her around, and he clearly knows who she is, but she can't remember him at all.

"Doesn't your mom keep a diary? Maybe if you dig around, you can find some old ones. She probably wrote about him." She can hear the cracking of a second can. 

"I'll see what I can find. Can I call you back?" She wants to conserve her battery. Patty will probably be drinking all afternoon anyway, and she needs a sober mind to keep her calm.

Who the heck is George, with a heart? 

"Yeah, I'm not going anywhere." The call ends before she can say goodbye. 

The boxes are heavy, and she accidentally lets one fall, straight into her parent's antique vase. She should have finished moving everything back downstairs first. The pieces get shoved into a pile. She'll glue it together later. If anything, she'll blame it on the cat, say she knocked it over.

She finds the box of diaries. It feels like an invasion of privacy, but she needs to know. Her parents are going to be back in three days. There's no time to be debating the moral implications of reading her mother's diary.

What years should she grab? She might as well start at the beginning. 

The floor beneath the sunbeam isn't terribly comfortable, or warm. When her eyes catch his name, George, albeit without the heart, she dogears the page and grabs a few following years. Downstairs she can light a candle.

She reads until the power comes back on. She can hardly tell because it's dark out now anyway, but the fridge roars to life. Forcing her head up, with her neck moaning in pain, she sees the cat waiting hungrily at her dish.

Patty! 

"Sorry, I got wrapped up in the books. I didn't finish, but figured you might want an update." She scrapes the food into the cat's dish.

"Do you want me to put socks on so you can knock them off?"

"My parents were a throuple." 

It had turned out that they were both dating this George, with a heart, fellow for a few years when she was born. There hadn't been a paternity test, because she had come out with milky white skin, like her dad. 

Patty waits for a gap in the details. "So where is this guy now?"

"I don't know. I didn't read that far yet."

"Keep reading then."

Laverne hangs up, reading on. A few months along, the heart appears. Then it's always George, with a heart. 

George, with a lump. 

The ink has run on one entry. 

"He's dead," she says when Patty picks up the phone.

"He's dead?" she repeats, yawning. It's three in the morning, and she must've fallen asleep.

She aligns all the books back into the box, carrying them to the attic. They need to go back to being buried. She needs to put the breakables away and pretend that she doesn't know of George, with a heart. 

She gives her final screwing to the universe.

Screw you, cancer.

July 20, 2021 14:45

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