Anyway | Addie Olukoya

Photo by Elizabeth Tsung on Unsplash

People were nosy. An “I’m fine” and they usually went on their way, maybe with a bit of prying.
John didn’t quite think anything he was feeling was anybody else’s business. “Why don’t you
hang out with us anymore?” His friends would always ask him.


“I’m sorry, I’m so busy right now. Next time I’ll be there.” Was his reply. Each time they asked,
they got the same response.

“Why are you always sleeping in my class?” His teachers chided.


“I’m sorry, I went to bed late last night,” Was his usual reply. He always got off with just a
warning.

“What are all those scars from?”


“I…I fell off a bike.” People were nosy. He didn’t like them always asking how he was, but it
made sense. He was loud, made a big impression. His classmates either loved or hated him for it,
his teacher feigned annoyance when really, they were laughing along with everyone else.


Sometimes he wished he hadn’t been so outspoken, because when he was quiet, people started to
wonder.


Lunch was his least favorite. John couldn’t blame his studious tendencies for why he wanted his
friends to stop talking. So, they chattered on, and he had no choice but to act the same as he
usually did.


“Movie night tonight? It’s Friday,” Lizzie asked the group. She was a close friend, but lately
every word she uttered happened to annoy John like hell. She was the one who’d ask to hang out
the most, as if she couldn’t find anything better to do.


“Oh yeah,” Leo replied. “Who’s house we going to?”


Molly asked, “It should be Emily’s turn, right guys?”


“Nuh uh, it was at my house last time! Liz, maybe it’s yours.”


The discussion quickly heated into an argument, but one clear voice stopped it in its tracks.
“I think it’s your turn, John.”

John blinked. Of course, he wasn’t shocked that Alex was the one who had piped up. She was
John’s best friend, no doubt, and she’d made a bad habit of remembering things John wanted
everyone to forget.

But it wasn’t like they knew. So, he laughed, pretended that he’d simply forgotten, and agreed to
host their stupid movie night. Add that to the list of things he needed to do that night.


Straighten your hair, Jack. “Yes, sir.” His hair was extremely curly, completely like his mother’s
was and completely unlike how his father’s is. John hated straightening his hair, it reminded him
of his mother, but his father insisted.


You have a ninety-one in physics. Fix it, Jack. “Yes, sir.” He’d have to email his physics teacher,
maybe she’d be able to give him some extra credit assignments.


Won’t you look me in the eye, Jack? “No, sir.” He hadn’t done that in a long time.
Hah, pathetic.


Clean your room, John. He really had meant to, and he would’ve cleaned the living room too.
But after doing everything which only consisted of him taking a shower, his legs felt like lead
and his arms felt like jello and he really wanted to take a nap. So, he did, until the time his
friends were already knocking on the door, hair unstraightened and house unclean.


He wasn’t quite sure how they’d gotten in, but when he’d gone downstairs, they were all already
on the couch, flipping through their Disney Plus options.


“Sup, dude?” Thomas was here. John didn’t remember him being at the lunch table, but he was
easily forgotten anyway.


Emily beamed and ran up to hug him, Alex, and Lizzie not far behind.


“John! Moana or Tangled?” Emily squealed excitedly.


“Tangled,” An immediate answer. Rapunzel was his favorite princess. He watched fondly as she
raced back to the couch to put it on. Sometimes, he didn’t think his friends were half bad.


“John, your hair,” Alex spoke softly, yet, like always, still managed to grab his attention. “I
haven’t seen it unstraightened in a while.”


John facepalmed. “Let me go fix it, I’ll be right back.”


“No!” Alex exclaimed, then quickly lowered her volume. “No, I like it.” She smiled warmly at
John, who forced a smile back. Alex’s smile dissolved into a slight frown.


“Hey, can we go upstairs for a second? I want to ask you something.” She didn’t wait for a reply,
just started walking towards John’s room expecting him to follow.

He didn’t say anything at first. Alex sat on his bed while John sat on his dresser, gazing into his
own reflection. a hand-held mirror his mother had owned since before he was born. It was beautiful, carved roses etched into the black outline. The mirror fit perfectly into his hand, as if it
wanted him to keep staring and staring.


“What are you looking at?”


“Myself.”


Alex huffed a laugh. “Touché.”

There was a beat of silence. “Okay, better question. What are you looking for?”


John didn’t have an answer for that.


“Do you not like your hair?” Alex asked after a bit.


This one was easy to answer. “No, I don’t.”


Alex frowned at his response. “Why not? I think it’s beautiful.”


“I just don’t.” Alex sighed and moved to sit next to him. She gently took the mirror out of John’s
hands and looked at herself in it.


“What are you looking for?” John returned the question. It got a laugh from her, but only a short
one. Soon after. her frown returned.


“Listen,” Alex said. “I won’t pretend to know whatever it is that goes through your head all day.
But I also won’t pretend I haven’t noticed that you’ve been acting strange recently.” She sighed. “Are you okay?”


“I’m fine,” John had rehearsed that line many times before, but something made him stutter
when he said it. Lying wasn’t his favorite activity, but he could do it, especially if it kept people
out of his business. Yet Alex was right there, and John trusted him, and it would be nice to share
how he was feeling with someone.


He opened his mouth to say something but closed it again. He didn’t even know where he would
even start explaining everything. The air in the room was much too thick, and John actually
found himself wishing he was downstairs with everyone else. He looked around his room, not
particularly interested in meeting Alex’s eyes, which he could feel on him.


“Have I ever told you how beautiful you are?”


John’s head snapped back to look at Alex, who was staring intently right back at him. Only nine
words, yet they’d completely scrambled his brain. He couldn’t wrap his head around it.

“You don’t have to lie to make me feel better, Alex.”

Alex seemed to deflate, as if they had run out of tater tots in the cafeteria. “I’m not lying.”


John scoffed. “Yeah, right.”


“I’m not!” She insisted. “You are. Why would you think that I’d lie to you, mi sol?”


Rather than figure out an answer to that question, he asked one of his own.


“Your sun?”


Alex smiled. “I think you would be the sun, if you were to be something.”


“I’m not very sunny, Alex.” John questioned.

“You used to be. I think you still are, in a different way.”


Alex put the mirror back into his hands and stood up, walking towards his bedroom door.


“Come on, let’s go downstairs. Wouldn’t want you missing Kingdom Dance, now would we? It’s
your favorite.”


“I’ll be right down.” And with that, Alex left. John looked into his mother’s mirror once more.


That Alex girl, I don’t like her much. She’s a bad influence on you. I better not see her around
again, Jack. “Yes, sir. There were many requests his father asked of him. Most of which he
agreed to. There were few he wouldn’t do.


Won’t you look me in the eye, Jack? “No, sir.” He wouldn’t make that mistake again.
Hah, pathetic.


“John? Are you still here?” He was expecting Alex’s voice, but he was greeted with a new
sound.


John rolled his eyes. “You’re so impatient. It’s only been, like, two seconds since Alex left.”
It was Garrett, one of his other closest friends. He, like Alex, had a knack for being in his
business. A couple months ago, he wouldn’t have had any business to hide.


Garrett shook his head. “John, it’s been ten minutes. Are you okay?”

John didn’t reply, he had better things to do.


“Have you just been staring into that thing this whole time?”


Maybe, if he ignored him for long enough, he would leave him alone. All John wanted to do was
be left alone. People were always sticking their noses in places it didn’t belong. If there was really something wrong, his friends would be the first to know, but since there wasn’t, he was
getting real sick and tired of people asking.


Garrett was sitting next to him. John didn’t remember when that happened. Both of their
reflections gazed back at them in the rose-covered mirror. The silence was so thick, John felt he
was suffocating. He wasn’t usually the one to break the silence, but Garrett was looking at him
through the mirror, and he felt more exposed than he had ever been. But he couldn’t bring
himself to talk about what Garrett wanted to. Luckily, he had something far more interesting to
talk about.


“Guess what, Gare?” John whispered.


“What?” Garrett whispered right back.

“Alex called me her sun. Do you think that means anything?”


Garrett gasped, quickly delving into chatter about how they were going to get married and move
to Argentina and have two–three kids. If there was one thing he loved, it was gossip. He was
naturally nosy, John supposed. It was anything but malicious, he was just curious. And very,
very easily excited. And if he could keep Garrett out of his business and talk about something
intriguing for him, John thought he was killing two birds with one stone.


But as soon as his smile appeared, it was gone. John didn’t understand. What more did he need
to do to keep these people happy? He tried his best, he really did, but when it came down to it he
couldn’t seem to do anything the way he used to. The way he was supposed to. Garrett was
simple, he loved everything, and he couldn’t even keep him entertained. He couldn’t do anything
he wanted to, he–


“That doesn’t make any sense.”


“Gee thanks, Gare, that’s exactly the response I was looking for.”


“No no,” Garrett replied hastily. “I didn’t mean it like that obviously. I kinda get what she
meant.”


John gave him a sideways glance. “You don’t need to lie to make me feel better. I’m not really
the sunny type, huh?”


He got a sad smile in reply. “You used to be…and I think you still are, in a different way. You’re
not all as if you’re happy all the time, or you’re always cheerful. Not like a spring morning.
You’re not soft enough for that. You’re more like,” He paused to think for a moment. “Like a hot
summer day. Like, really hot. That type of heat that blasts in your face when you open the door.
That’s you. But, in all honesty, I think Alex is much more sunshiney than you are. I think you’d
be the moon.”

John didn’t say anything. He agreed with him, but if he shared his opinion, he was sure Garrett
would change his to match. He was funny like that.


“Do you remember our first day of high school?”


Of course he did. He had been ridiculously nervous, having only moved from Puerto Rico a few
months prior. His mom protested, but his father was insistent that she could receive better
treatment on the mainland. It didn’t matter anyway. When they had first moved to Maine, John
was super embarrassed. His English was fine, but he spoke with an accent, so he tried not to say
much.


“Remember our English class? I do. Alex said she wanted to be friends with you, said that
because you seemed interesting. She gets what she wants a lot, huh?” Pause. “And you, you were
so reserved that we all assumed you must’ve hated everything and everyone in that school.”
Speak up, Jack. Nobody likes a nobody.


“It only took a little bit of light for you to shine though. We only see the moon because of the
brightness of the sun. We probably never would’ve known you if it weren’t for Alex’s insistence.
That doesn’t make the moon, or you, any less beautiful, in my opinion. Sometimes the moon is
full. Sometimes it doesn’t show its face. I think that’s a lot like you. Does that make any sense?”
“No.” John deadpanned. They both burst out laughing.

It didn’t, really. It didn’t. It was so nonsensical that it was funny, and it would get him to go back
downstairs, he played along gladly.


“I’ll be down soon, okay?”


“Promise?” Garrett pleaded.

“I promise.”


Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Jacky. You know better than that. Promélemelo, mi hijo.
He did, but “soon” was subjective. He did intend to go down, after he found what he was looking
for. He looked back into the mirror. But his reflection didn’t offer any answers. It didn’t show
him anything. It wasn’t working.


You look disgusting, when I was your age, I at least knew how to take care of myself. You’re such
a waste of space, wouldn’t you agree, Jack? “Yes sir.”


I have never gotten such a grade in all my life, Jack! A D. Really? You’re so pathetic. Don’t you
agree? “Yes sir.”


I wish you didn’t have so many freckles. They look plain awful on you. He had gotten them from
his mother. He had gotten most of his features from his mother, his curly hair, his hazel eyes, his smile. It helped him remember her, he never wanted to forget what she looked like. Some people
didn’t think they looked beautiful. If this was how he treated his son, John didn’t want to think
about how he treated his mother. She was a stunning lady; the most beautiful woman John had
ever seen. She was absolutely stunning, and if his father couldn’t see that, he was blind. He was
blind and he never deserved his mother, not for one moment in his sad, pathetic existence.
John wasn’t the pathetic one. His father was.


He wasn’t sure when Alex had entered the room, but he didn’t mind this time. John smiled at
her, bright and genuine in a way it hadn’t been for a long time. In silence, John stood up, mirror
in hand.


He lifted his arm and shattered the glass, not hesitating a moment.


“They say seven years of bad luck from a broken mirror.” Alex giggled as John guided her
towards the door.


“Please, Alex. I’m pretty sure it was broken anyway.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *