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After forever, p.9
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       After Forever, p.9

           Krystal George
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  For the first week, life was pretty much the same for Bottles. Oh, he had added chores, but his free time was his own. He still rode around every day and gathered the empty bottles, stopping to cash them in before pedaling home.

  He whistled as he pulled into the yard, but stopped and stared at a box of his belongings on the porch. He hopped off the bike and ran inside. The house was in total disarray.

  “What’s going on?” he demanded.

  “Just a little rearranging.”

  “Why is some of my stuff on the porch?” he gestured.

  “Oh, that,” she glanced at her sons, snickering on the steps. “That’s just some stuff that got broken in the shuffle.”

  Bottles looked back and forth from his aunt, his cousins and the box.

  “Oh no. What have you done?” He ran between the brothers blocking the stairs. He stopped in the doorway of his room. It was nearly empty. All his belongings piled in boxes in the hall; the bedroom floor littered with torn autographed posters from the Raccoons. His eyes filled with tears as he gently picked up the scraps of cardboard.

  “What’s the matter Ralphie?” Jimmy taunted, kicking at the toy stuffed raccoon.

  Bottles looked up. “Why?”

  “I want this room. I don’t want to share a room with Biff.”

  “Why didn’t you just ask?”

  “That’s no fun.”

  Bottles face went red. He dropped the priceless pieces of cardboard and tackled his cousin, knocking him to the floor. Straddling his opponent, Bottles pounded his cousin.

  “Mom! Mom! He’s hurting me,” Jimmy cried as Biff doubled over with laughter.

  Louise bounded up the stairs taking a second to survey the situation. She ran into Bottle’s room and physically pulled her nephew off her son.

  “Get your stuff out of here,” she ordered.

  “Where am I supposed to sleep?”

  “Doesn’t matter to me,” she shrugged. “You can move into the attic or the cellar. I don’t care. Just clean out this room.”

  She put her arms around her sons and the three of them went downstairs.

  Bottles shut his door and walked around staring at the damage. “Oh dad, he didn’t even bother to take the thumb tacks out. He just ripped my pictures off the wall.” Gently, he pulled out the tacks and salvaged what posters he could. He picked up the torn scraps from the hall and added them to the pile.

  It took most of the evening, but he managed to get everything into the attic. He didn’t have a lot, but it took time maneuvering up the narrow stairway.

  Satisfied the room was empty enough for Jimmy, Bottles went down for supper.

  The other three were still eating as he slid in at the table. Their plates were piled high with food. His was empty.

  He looked around. “Where’s my food?”

  “You weren’t here. The boys didn’t think you were hungry, so they ate yours.”

  “But you told me to clean out my room.”

  “MY room,” Jimmy corrected.

  “You know what time supper starts. Surely you don’t expect me to cook two suppers a day just because you’re not on time, do you, Ralphie?”

  “No ma’am. I guess not.” he mumbled. “Is there any boloney left?”

  “I don’t know,” she spooned at the pile of mashed potatoes.

  Biff called out. “I think I finished it for lunch.”

  Shoulders slumped, Bottles made his way to the kitchen. He managed to scrape enough peanut butter from the bottom of the jar to coat a slice of bread. The jelly jar was empty, but he found a browned banana, that he sliced onto his sandwich.

  He glanced up at the clock. It was barely seven, but he decided to go to bed.

  Passing through the dining room, Jimmy called out to him. “Hey Ralphie. Did you get everything of yours?” He wrapped his hand around the pocket of his jeans and shook it.

  Bottle’s eyes opened wide.

  Louise screeched, “What’s that noise?”

  Jimmy laughed as his cousin ran upstairs.

  Sounds echoed from the attic, followed by footsteps running down. Bottles ran outside and tore into the box on the porch. A minute later, he ran back inside to confront his cousin.

  He put the baseball holder on the table. The base was broken and the ball missing. Hands on his hips, He demanded, “Where’s my baseball?”

  Jimmy innocently turned to his brother. “Was that a baseball we were kicking around in the yard?”

  “Gee, I think so.” Biff turned to Bottles. “Was it valuable, Ralphie?”

  Fighting to hold back the tears, he answered through gritted teeth. “To me it was.”

  “Well, I think it’s outside somewhere.”

  “Where’s my money?”

  Louise looked up. “You had money and I’ve been buying food for you?”

  “Jimmy,” Bottles demanded, “Where’s my money?”

  “Are you accusing me?”

  “Yes. If you broke the case to get the baseball, then you took my money. It’s in your pocket.”

  “This is my money.”

  “Aunt Louise, please tell him to give me back my money.”

  “Jimmy, give him back his money.”

  “I don’t have it.”

  “It’s in his pocket. I had seven dollars and eighty-seven cents. Check it out, Aunt Louise.”

  “Jimmy—put the money on the table.”

  Jimmy pulled out everything in his pocket: a pack of matches, a pocketknife, two crumpled one-dollar bills and eighty-seven cents in change. Louise counted it and looked at Bottles.

  Biff, standing off to the side, pulled the corner of a five-dollar bill out of his pocket. He nodded and smiled at his brother.

  “You shouldn’t go around accusing people of theft without proof. Apologize.”

  “No! I know he took it.” Bottles spun around and ran out of the house, letting the old screen door slam loudly against the wood frame. He stopped at the end of the porch and looked around. He wondered how he was going to find his signed baseball.

  Most of the grass had died away leaving large patches of dirt. He spotted the ball near the drainage ditch by the shed. He jogged over to it. And stared. His once mint condition, autographed ball laid at his feet. It was scuffed, dirty, and most of the names were unreadable. He gingerly picked it up and tried to wipe the dirt off the scratched leather.

  He glared at the house, his face contorted with anger and rage. “I hate you! I hate all of you!”

  Bottles put the ball in the box with his other broken treasures and slowly walked through the house, stopping downstairs long enough to get his broken ball holder. He carried the box upstairs to take it to the attic.

  At the top of the steps blocking his way, Jimmy and Biff doubled over, howling with laughter.

  Bottles glared at them. Even though they were older and taller than him, and outweighed him by a hundred pounds, they were smart enough to step aside.

  Bottles opened the attic door, set the box on the steps, then turned and locked the door from the inside.

  On the other side of the door, Jimmy pointed to the lock and whispered in his brother’s ear. They had one more surprise planned for their cousin.

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