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#65's first letter
I saw your posts/ads/whatever on social media and thought this is such a cool idea. It reminds me of pen pals from back in the day. The idea that we're anonymous seems like a good way to get to know new people without all the judgment. I can't stand all the BS on social media. Everyone has an opinion, and I guess it's their right to express it, but some people should just keep their yaps shut. And some of the snaps ... Where's your dignity. This, though. Words on a page and nothing else seems free-er and more honest. I'd lay down a hundy for a little honesty.
Anyway, a little about me: I'm nineteen and a sophomore in an Ivy League college. We're currently on winter break. According to your rules, that's all I'm allowed to say because, well, we have to be anonymous. I have no idea what I'm going to major in. My dad wants me to follow in the family business, but I'm not into it. Big conflict there. My mom says she wants me to be happy, but she doesn't go against my dad so lots of I love you phone calls and texts from her and not much else. I have two younger sisters, both in high school, and they don't get what the big is. When I'm home and my dad puts on the pressure, they roll their eyes, take out their phones, and tell me I'm ruining dinner. I don't go home much.
I like old things. Which is sort of obvi given the letter-writing gig. I don't see myself as a history prof or anything like that. I'm not scholarly. And I don't see myself owning an antiques shop. Not my vibe. I'm thinking salvation diving. You know, where one of those boats with the amazing technology goes out and hunts for buried treasure thousands of feet below the sea.
There are so many sunken ships from hundreds of years ago with all kinds of things lying at the bottom of the ocean. Bonus: most of the shipwrecks are off coasts of places I'd love to visit like Bermuda, Greece, Key West. I know how to dive, but for fun. And I've been on boats, but I don't know how to work on one, so maybe not. I'll look into whether one of them offers summer internships. It'll be a good way to find out if I'm cut out for that sort of thing.
Meanwhile, I'm taking a few different kinds of classes to see if anything clicks. Mostly, though, I spend my time practicing. I'm on one of my school's sports team. I don't know if I'm allowed to say which sport, but I get banged up a lot. Pretty brutal physically, but it requires mental acuity mostly. You know, strategy and all that.
Now, your turn.
Ten days later
1st response to letter #65 from letter #493
OMG!!! We're soul mates!!! I just know it!!! I'm at an Ivy League school too!!! I don't know my major either, but I'm a legacy, so it's all good. I don't have to decide anything really. I mean I'd love to go into fashion design, but only if I could have my own house, you know. Working for anyone else just won't happen. I'm thinking of the intern thing too just so I can see what's required. I mean how many people I'll have to hire and stuff like that.
Can't wait to hear back from you!!!
Eleven days later
2nd response to letter #65 from letter #845
You're a lucky bastard and you have nothing to complain about. Life sucks for most of us mere mortals who have to work for a living. Right now I'm on second shift at a food processing plant and let me tell you it sucks. Life is a grind and I'm not even 20 yet and I know it doesn't get any better than this. I'm saving up to have my tubes tied so I never get stuck with any brats. It's bad enough I have to support myself. Kids. No way.
Eight days later
3rd response to letter #65 from letter #993
So inspired to meet you, G. I see this means of communication as an inter-spatial plane where souls can meet and meld. Imagine, through mere words we can find what makes us "us" without bone and sinew, muscle and blood. Through the energy of the mind we can reach the deep core of our being and extend that energy to other creatures.
Have you ever sat with your cat and had a conversation? I've had so many deep, meaningful interactions with Miss Adelaine. She's helped me establish many interspecies connections that I've forged over the years. One in particular is noteworthy. About six months ago, I was walking through the forest behind my house, and a chipmunk, barely larger than my hand, called out to me from a tree branch. He introduced himself as Seymour, then spent a goodly amount of time admonishing me for my bad recycling habits. We proceeded to have the most wonderful conversation about ecologically sound products, and a better way to live and recycle. He changed my life in so many ways, and Miss Adelaine agrees: we are moving forward to become a fully sustainable household.
Of course, we've been using solar energy for years, but water collection and drainage has improved to the point where all my showers are supported by rainwater. Certainly, in drier stretches, I avail myself of the lake, but I do NOT use any cleansing products when I take my ablutions there.
I can feel our souls touching already and I can't wait to learn more about your innermost thoughts and desires.
Three weeks later
4th response to letter #65 from letter #1287
Hey, G. Yeah, I feel you about not knowing the life plan thing. One day everything seemed totally in sync and the next, I'm packing up my car and moving across the country. I've been in my new place for a few months now, and while it's diff for sure, starting over has allowed me a certain freedom. I gave up social media entirely – too much noise – and found focusing on real one-on-one people time an eye opener. Like facial cues. I've never noticed how much people give away with little tics, twitches, and blinks. Talk about a lie detector, so often the words do not match up with what the face is saying. But, at heart, I'm a writer. So, when I saw the ad in the local newspaper about The Letter Club, I figured, sure, why not. I know you can't see me to tell whether I'm blowing smoke, but I guess you'll be able to read the honesty in my words, or you'll enjoy what you think is a good tale. Either way, it gives me an outlet.
Right now, I'm taking classes at the community college focusing on language, literature, and writing. I can't handle more than two classes a semester since I work full-time in a hardware store. Don't laugh. It's not as far a cry away from my writer dream as you'd think. Sure, a socket wrench isn't necessarily a thing of beauty, unless you need one desperately to fix a leaking pipe in a tight place. Then, the damn thing is your whole world. Plus, I like the customers. Most of them have been coming here forever, or their parents came here. There's something to be said for continuity, which small-town life provides. Sure, it's incestual in a groupthink kind of way, and it's gossipy, but this place leans left so it appeals to my social cause side.
Working here gives me fodder for my writing, and it connects me with people in a more meaningful way, which, my writing prof says, is what makes good character development ... learning people, their stories and their motivations. And, of course, the job pays the bills, which is critical since I like my car, a good roof over my head, running water, electricity, and to eat.
So that's a brief introduction to me.
Be well, and don't get banged up too badly. I like sports, but only if no one gets hurt.
One week after receiving M's letter
G's first reply letter
Yo, Ace. See what I did there? Ace and helpful hardware person. Not lame. Clever. Inventive. Shows a connection to retro pop culture.
I'm impressed you know what you want to do with your life. It seems every other person at school is going through the motions. Showing up at class, studying, hitting a bong, chillin' with a binge-watch, but completely clueless as to what's going to happen after they graduate. Yeah, some have it all figured out. The true Ivy Leaguers. They're so self-directed they mow down people in the halls. But mostly, I see the spectrum of vague confusion to absolute panic.
I'm two steps up the ladder from vague confusion. Being the oldest kid in my fam, and the default heir, until the middle of my junior year in high school, I thought I knew exactly what my life was going to look like. I'd laid out everything in my head, and it was crystal clear. In retrospect, it was narrow, but at the time, knowing how everything was going to play out gave me a sense of security I didn't even know I had.
Then, a week after we came back from winter break, a freshman went into the cafeteria during lunch and started shooting. The good news, he was scrawny and the rifle's recoil knocked him on his ass. The bad news, he hit two people before he went down. One, a teacher, died.
Fucked-up shit. Did my head in. Insult to injury, my parents went into total flip-out mode and made me go to a prep school to finish out my last year and a half of high school. I was two hours from home. I couldn't hang with my friends. I didn't know anyone at the new school, and I had to see a shrink twice a week to talk about the shooting. The shrink was cool, and she helped, but I needed to be with my friends.
Sorry to get so heavy, but shit like that has a way of reshaping your life. I was never in danger. I was out on the field in practice. But it happened. And nothing has been the same since.
Ten days later
Mirabelle locked herself in the storage closet behind the breakroom to cry about G's letter. She knew better than to read anything remotely personal at work, but all her mail went to a P.O. box, and the only time she had to collect it was during her lunch break. Thankfully, the post office was a two-block walk from Gusk's Hardware Store. Typically, she stuffed her bills and random fliers in her car, and still had plenty of time to return to Gusk's, eat her sandwich, and schmooze with one of her coworkers before she had to go back out on the floor. But when she saw The Letter Club's return address in its now familiar light green on the top left corner of a thick white envelope, she couldn't wait. She'd hoped it was G writing back, and not one of the many weird first letters she'd gotten through TLC.
She'd been chewing when she got to the paragraph about the school shooting and nearly choked on her food. Mrs. Berenikoff got up out of her chair, came around the table, and started whacking Mirabelle on the back, which was saying something since Mrs. B could take a sumo wrestler, no problem. After Mirabelle assured Mrs. B the food had gone down the wrong pipe – as if there was more than one esophagus – Mirabelle excused herself and pretended to go to the bathroom, when, in fact, she hid in the storage closet, tucked her fist against her mouth, and wept for ten minutes straight.
Yeah, too much too soon, but damn. Now she knew – sort of – a person who had that happen in his school. Fucked-up shit, indeed.
The minute her shift ended, she stuffed her blue apron – she'd have to tell G it wasn't red – in her locker, grabbed her backpack, and beat feet out to her car. Her world literature class didn't start until seven, and she was fine with sacrificing dinner to get to the campus library to do some research.
She found an empty computer in the back corner of the lab, signed on, and began researching school shootings from four years ago. Fuuuuck, there were so many it made her gut wrench, her heart hurt, and her head spin. She considered herself a pacifist, but she wondered how Congress would react if a shooter showed up when they were all in sesh. Bet waaay stricter gun control laws would be put in place a day later.
Narrowing her search, she looked for one teacher dead from a shooting in January. Four results popped up, which led to G's school shooting.
GUNMAN SUBDUED BY CLASSMATES
In a show of bravery, ten high school students rushed classmate Jordan Welsh after he opened fire in the cafeteria during lunch at Sagawick Valley High School in Dutchford, Connecticut.
She skimmed the article, saw a photo of the shooter, and found a video clip of the boys who had saved the day. None of them were G. He had been at practice. But now she knew where he'd gone to school. One state over and forty miles away from where she'd spent nineteen years of her life until nine months ago. What were the odds? She tried to remember the shooting. It had been close enough for the local news to carry it, but nothing. No surprise given what had been going on in her life.
Next step in investigating a guy she didn't know and would never meet, find the yearbook for his sophomore year since he'd left Sagawick before most schools took their yearbook photos.
But not tonight. She had fifteen minutes to get to class, which was on the other side of campus.
Tomorrow. She'd sit down in front of the computer tomorrow.
Eight days later
M's 1st reply letter
Holy shit, G. I'm so sorry. You're right, that is some fucked-up shit. And harsh to have been pulled away from your friends. But I'm glad you had a shrink to talk to. Bad mojo to keep that stuff bottled up and unresolved.
Okay, enough with the preachy.
So let me tell you about who I work with since they're all characters. The boss, we'll call him EJ for El Jefe – and that's the extent of my Spanish btw – is the grandson of the guy who opened the store sixty years ago. EJ took over about a year before I was hired. His father didn't want to retire, but he has a bum ticker and his MD told him to quit, or, if he kept working, he'd shorten his life considerably. No-brainer, huh?
EJ married his college sweetheart a couple of years ago and they recently found a surrogate because they want to be dads. The town scandal is the surrogate they chose: R. Up until a couple of months ago, R was a sex worker who was looking for a career change. She figured the "seed" money – see what I did there? – would set her up to go to beauty school. She wants to be a hairdresser.
Since the impending surrogacy has gotten out – I've mentioned about small towns already – everyone and their third uncle has had something to say about it. And most of them shop at the hardware store, so everyone, including EJ, has been subject to an earful. Mrs. B – she's worked at the store since there were party lines on the telephone – and I have been keeping an informal tally of "for" and "against" R's surrogacy. If it were an election, we'd be in too-close-to-call territory. EJ and his husband, B, have told everyone, in so many words, "I don't give a shit what you think," which, as you can imagine, has led to lots of bluster from the "against" crowd. But no one has stopped coming in, mostly because they're decent people, but also because the nearest hardware store is fifty miles away, and the big-box store is seventy miles away. Gas prices being what they are has put a crimp in how intensely people want to stand on their principles.
S is our resident tool guy, all-around handyman, and basic hardware expert. He's been here for about ten years and is more or less monosyllabic. Mrs. B says she's never heard him string more than two sentences together at a time. I haven't heard even that much. He's tall and super thin. Like junkie thin, but he eats. Like nonstop. Mrs. B says he has a tapeworm. I don't know if he has a significant other, kids, or a goldfish. No one does. But he's the first one here every morning, and he's no slacker. From EJ's standpoint, S is the perfect employee. No drama, does his job, and knows his shit.
Our drama employee is F. No, not for fuck's sake, although that would be apropos. F is our part-time high school employee. He comes in late every day, even though we all know when school's out because we can hear the school bells all day long. Remember, small town. The high school is about eight blocks away.
When he started working here, F was so attached to his phone, EJ made a rule that F has to give his phone to Mrs. B as soon as he clocks in. Now F sulks. Before, he honk-laughed every time he checked his phone, which was like at five-minute intervals. No one knows what was so funny, but F was indiscriminate about his honk-laughing. He did it on the floor in front of customers, or when he was doing inventory in the stockroom. EJ swears we've over-ordered or under-ordered because F is so incompetent. So, to answer what I know would be your question as to why EJ hasn't sacked F, the kid is Mrs. B's grandnephew.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Nothing Else But You"
Copyright © 2019 Elle Wright.
Excerpted by permission of Boroughs Publishing Group.
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