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Author: Coralee June





Everything I owned was on my back: three outfits, a cellphone with a cracked screen, and a folded up photo of Mama I couldn’t look at because it hurt too fucking much. I stood on the sidewalk, staring up at the red brick building in front of me.

I was avoiding eye contact with the balding homeless man three steps to my left. He was playing his scratched up and out-of-tune guitar while singing off-key for tips. From the looks of it, he wasn’t making much. If I had money to spare, I’d drop a nickel in his jar out of pity.

The humid air smelled like charred BBQ and grime. A steady summer breeze kissed the beads of sweat dripping down my face, effectively melting the cheap makeup I’d capriciously painted on to hide the dark circles under my eyes. It was sweltering hot, the air so humid it felt like I was walking around in a cloud of morning breath.

What the actual fuck was I thinking?

I’d asked myself that question numerous times on the drive from Lucas, Texas, to here. It had been a long trip. Not because the distance itself was necessarily daunting, but because I stopped every thirty minutes to park and convince myself to turn back. I could run away. I could escape this, if I really wanted.

So why didn’t I want to?

My older brother’s loft in Memphis was in the South Main Arts District. It looked nice on the outside and had that hipster vibe I loved, with traditional architecture to compliment the design. Patches of manicured grass littered the walk up, making it look homey. It seemed nice enough, but I learned a long time ago that just because something—or someone—looked pretty on the outside, didn’t mean they’d be just as beautiful within.

I’d been standing outside for a while now, like a statue on the concrete. Drunks and tourists walked by with beer bottles in their hand, straight from their boozy brunches. My car was parked precisely two blocks away. I could run to it, get inside, and use the last thirty dollars my brother sent me to fill up the tank and get the fuck out of here.

“You gonna stand out here all day?” a voice asked. The smooth, Southern drawl was laced with skepticism. My hard stare flickered to the doorman of the building, and I had to cup my palm over my eyes to shade my light-sensitive gaze from the beaming rays of sunshine over us. I’d caught the older, slender man staring at me multiple times, trying to gauge if I was trouble or not. I guess I did look suspicious, standing out here while deciding what I wanted to do with my life.

Mama always said I was too much of a thinker, was too stuck in my own head to make a decision and commit to it. I guess I got that from her. She never stuck with anything. My, she’d be shocked to hear I managed to drive all the way here. Too bad I couldn’t rub it in her pretty little face.

“I’m trying to decide if I want to go inside,” I offered back with an honest shrug. Maybe if this man called the cops on me, I’d have another day to process everything before meeting Lance. I’d been trying to give myself excuses for the last three weeks: I didn’t have enough money, my ’97 Corolla wasn’t able to make the drive, my heart wasn’t able to handle the rejection. What if Lance didn’t like me? What if he kicked me out? It wouldn’t be the first time someone charitable turned out to be a snake. Mama was always the one that let others fix her problems, not me. And yet, here I stood.

The doorman was wearing a black suit and a striped red tie with a name tag perched on his chest. Cornelius was his name. It suited him, I decided. He had a proper air about him, and stern eyes with a kind, wrinkled smile. Something about his stance told me that he took his job as a doorman very seriously. “You know someone in the building?” he asked while nodding toward the glass door.

What a fucking loaded question. Did I know Lance? No. No, I didn’t. I didn’t even know he existed until Mama informed me on her deathbed. One minute, I was holding her hand, forcing tears to fall from my eyes while the nurses looked on with pity. The next, I was being told about a half brother she put up for adoption at sixteen. Luckily for me, she’d found him just in time, but was too ashamed to reach out until it was too late.

I wasn’t sure if it was pride or cancer that killed her in the end.

“My…br-brother lives here,” I answered with a stutter before adjusting my backpack strap on my shoulder and eyeing the third floor of the building. I was trying to count the number of windows there. It was weird using the term “brother” to describe what Lance was to me. He didn’t feel like a brother. I didn’t even know if I had a right to call him that.

Mama didn’t have a will. Those things were meant for people that actually had shit to pass down or plans for their legacy once they were gone. Instead, she left me her beat-up Toyota, a phone number, and a name: Lance.

“Who’s your brother?” the Doorman asked as I tore my eyes from the building to stare back at him. He was clutching a water bottle, squeezing the plastic in his fist.

Well, wasn’t that a good question? Who was my brother? “Lance Trask,” I replied with a frown.

The man’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Mr. Trask is your brother?”

“That’s what I’m told. I don’t really know him though.” Why I was admitting this to a complete stranger was beside me. I watched the doorman grow uncomfortable at my honesty.

Lately, I tended to have that effect on people. Like when our landlord reclaimed Mama’s trailer. I’d told him that he was a piece of shit for not giving me a week to bury my mother. People took one look at my face and assumed that a pretty girl like myself should smile and be complacent, like somehow bright green eyes and blonde hair suddenly made me incapable of rage.

Deciding I couldn’t wait much longer, I walked up to the door, nodding when he opened it. “Good luck,” he said, like he didn’t know what else to say.

Luck was a cruel, petty bitch that didn’t visit me often. Karma, though? She and I were best friends. She spoke with my depression and knew all my dirty little secrets; she knew I bred skepticism in my mind and taunted me with the idea that I didn’t deserve happiness.

The inside of the building was beautiful. In one of our brief phone calls, Lance explained that he was an architect and designed the place. I wondered what about this place made him decide to set up roots here.

The traditional arches were broad and gave unobstructed views of the hallway leading to the apartments. It felt open but mysterious as well. It seemed like there were secrets hidden around every corner. The warm tones of the design looked welcoming and masculine. It had a contemporary edge but a timeless quality about it that I could appreciate.

I took the stairs instead of the elevator to prolong the inevitable. With my backpack weighing me down, I trudged the three flights with unease.

I could do this, right? I could face him. Introduce myself. I didn’t have any grand ideas about living with Lance. Even though he’d offered, I made a backup plan to camp out in my car until I could find a job and get a hotel room. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d slept in Mama’s old Corolla. I guess I just wanted to know him. I wanted to figure out who the fuck he was and maybe even find pieces of the person my mama pretended to be in him.

Something she told me stuck like a pin needle in my chest. Not big enough of a cut to do any lasting damage, but small enough to feel annoying, something that pricked at me every damn time I took a breath. I still remembered her last day, asking why she gave him up, why she didn’t keep him.

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