By: P.L. Jones
The key feels cool in my hand.
Taking a deep breath, I glance up, and rays of the afternoon sun tap dance on my face.
It’s blazing hot.
If I’m out here for much longer I’ll return to my desk full of sweat.
My eyes dart back to the key.
Should I use it?
On the first day of my summer job at Dr. Reese’s office, one of the first pieces of instruction Ms. Nancy had given me was,
“No one, under any circumstances, is to enter Dr. Reese’s private study.”
Ms. Nancy, a friendly older lady with a hint of a Cajun accent, didn't strike me as the stern type.
But, in that moment, as her blue eyes bore into mine, I caught a glimpse of Dr. Reese’s reason for hiring her as his Office Manager.
Underneath her kind persona was the strength of a woman who took her responsibility to protect very seriously.
Startled, I turn to find Ms. Nancy standing at the backdoor.
I slip the key into my pocket.
“Hey, sorry…I was, uh…”
She waves off my stammered sentence and I’m just relieved she didn’t notice the key.
“No worries darling. Take a break anytime you need. I just wanted to tell you, since Dr. Reese is out of town, we don’t have to be so careful about eating seafood in the office so Tandy and I are ordering Boudreaux’s for lunch. You want something from there?”
Boudreaux’s, the best seafood restaurant in town, is one of the few places I didn’t drown in copies of my resume at the beginning of summer.
One of my friends from school, Ryan, used to work there and he told me they paid pretty well.
But I figured that working in a place where the smell of seafood permeates the air would land me the sort of hospital bill that even a nice-sized paycheck wouldn’t cover.
I smile at Ms. Nancy and shake my head,
“Sorry, but I can’t , I’m allergic to seafood.”
“Oh Dear!” She exclaims, one of her hands flying to her chest.
I’m used to this reaction.
Every one of my fellow Louisianans has the same response to my confession of this “horrific” allergy.
Their next question is usually,
“But…what do you eat?!”
Ms. Nancy is different though.
Recovering quickly, she tilts her head and looks at me with matronly concern,
“Well, will the smell bother you if we eat seafood in here? I’d hate for you to get sick.”
The key is heavy in my pants pocket and as it hits the thin material of my scrubs I can feel the cool metal tapping against my thigh.
“The smell does make me sick... sorry.”
“No honey, don’t be sorry!” She throws me a smile and behind her I can hear her office phone beginning to ring, “Maybe Tandy and I will just go eat at Boudreaux’s. Lord knows it’ll give us an excuse to leave this place for a little while! Would you mind watching the office for about an hour?”
I think of the door to Dr. Reese’s private study and the way he’d carefully shut it behind him before nearly jumping out of his skin when he’d seen me standing in his office doorway, watching him, as I maintained a nervous grip on the memo that needed his signature.
“Sure…and thanks, um, for thinking of me.” I say, carefully avoiding her eyes as I glance at the azalea bush near the door.
Bright pink flowers stare back at me.
“Sure. We can’t have our little Allison getting sick on us! Now, I’d better catch that phone, excuse me sweet pea.”
She leaves the doorway and, dismissing the pink azaleas, I hurry to catch the door before it closes behind her.
Inside the office, the blast of AC is refreshing against my skin, but it does nothing to calm my nerves and I feel butterflies flit around, upsetting my stomach.
Slipping into the seat behind my desk, I rest my hands on my computer keyboard, ready to type in my password.
But instead of typing it, I decide to take a moment and think...
The thing about Dr. Reese is that after our uncomfortable ten-minute interview, during which he’d solemnly stared at me for eight of those ten minutes, he’d hired me for a part-time job that no one in their right mind would entrust to a sixteen year old.
At first, I’d been worried that he was some kind of creep, but Mom and I needed the money, so I took my chances and accepted the job.
After a while, I realized he’s not so bad.
Of course, it’s definitely a little weird that even though he’d initially seemed eager to hire me, he now never talks to me. Sometimes, I even get the feeling that he’s purposely avoiding me-
“OK sweet pea, we’re leaving!" Ms. Nancy's voice interrupts my thoughts, "I put the Out To Lunch sign on the front door and you can let the calls go to voicemail, alright?”
“OK, thanks.” I reply, listening to the jingle-jangle of her keys as she and Tandy make their way to the back door.
“Bye!”” Tandy calls.
The back door slams shut.
This is it.
Alone in the office, I fish the key out of my pants pocket and for a moment, I’m just standing there staring at it.
I’m remembering the way I’d seen it sitting on his desk, so exposed, in front of the framed picture of he and Mrs. Reese.
I knew it was the key to his study…and a part of me wondered if he wanted me to find it.
The phone rings and quickly stops as the voicemail picks up.
Other than the light roar of the AC, the office is silent.
No one is around to stop me...
In seconds, I’m headed down the hallway, walking to his office, opening the door.
I pass his desk, the one with the picture of he and Mrs. Reese.
I can’t help but take a second glance at it…at her, blonde hair falling over her fair skin as she and her bright blue eyes smile back at me.
He’s not smiling but he looks content…even peaceful, as he watches her grin into the lens of the camera.
They seem like a good fit for each other.
Her brightness balances his darkness.
With a gulp, I turn my attention to the door of his study.
I put the key in the lock and, not wanting this moment of discovery to be ruined by a sudden burst of cowardice, I turn the key as quickly as I can.
The door opens.
…for some reason, I wasn't expecting the darkness.
Reaching, with my right hand, to feel along the wall for a light switch, my fingers bump into one and flip it on.
The small room fills with light.
I’m slightly disappointed because, as I scan the room, I see nothing extraordinary.
In front of me is a small wooden desk and behind it sits a, rather uncomfortable, wooden chair.
The desk, notably smaller than the one in his office, has stacks of politely organized files sitting on top of it.
Cautiously glancing behind me, I move further into the study and walk around to the other side of the desk.
I see that the files have numbers on them, Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve, etc…
The last file that my eyes land on is labeled as, “Sixteen”.
Behind file Sixteen, I catch sight of the edge of a picture frame.
Easing into the old wooden chair, I pick up the picture, and dust flies into my face.
Clearing my throat, I blink away the dust, and my gaze finally makes its way to the photo.
I’m suddenly choking on dust.
Still choking, I bolt from the chair and the fact that I can’t breathe barely registers as I squint into the picture, unable to believe what I’m seeing.
The woman in this picture is definitely not a smiling Mrs. Reese.
This woman’s familiar red hair, the sad, dark eyes…I shake my head in disbelief...
Why does Dr. Reese have a picture of my Mother on his desk?!
“Sweet pea, I hope you get to feeling better soon.”
Ms. Nancy’s voice is kind, but as I meet her blue eyes, my gut instinct is to suspect that she knows.
After all, she knows Dr. Reese better than anyone.
She’s also in charge of everything that happens in his office…meaning she must know why he keeps a hidden picture of my Mother in his private office.
Nodding my thanks, I break eye contact and move towards the back door that she’s holding open for me.
The key, no longer cool, is warm as it gently presses against my ankle.
After locking up Dr. Reese’s off-limit office, I’d decided to stow the key in my sock.
I walk through the door and Ms. Nancy asks,
“Are you sure there’s nothing we can do for you? I hate to send you home so sick.”
Directly in front of me is Ryan’s 2002 Honda, the car sputters and wheezes as he waits for me.
Turning back to Ms. Nancy, I shake my head,
“No thanks, I think I can sleep it off.”
She nods and I’m surprised to find a sincere look of concern in her expression,
“OK sweet pea. I’ll call to check on you this weekend.”
“Thank you.” Passing the pink azalea bush, I walk to Ryan’s car, and I’m watching him try to decide whether or not he’s going to turn to me and wave or just keep staring straight ahead.
Despite the confusion that seems to have taken over my brain, Ryan and his crush on me are inciting an involuntary smile, and I’m grinning as I approach his car.
He turns to me, catches sight of my smile, and offers a half-wave.
I open the door and slide into the passenger’s seat,
“Hey, thanks for picking me up.”
“Sure, no problem.”
He puts the car in drive and I glance back at Dr. Reese’s office.
Ms. Nancy is gone.
I don’t know why I’d expected her to still be standing by the door, waving at me like one of those Mom’s at the bus stop who, even after their kid is being carted off by the bus, still stands there waving until the bus is completely out of sight.
“So, are you really sick?” Ryan asks.
Taking a deep breath, I enjoy the leathery smell that Ryan somehow manages to retain in his car and then I shake my head,
I can still feel the key’s presence, warm and solid against my ankle.
“I should’ve known. You never get sick.” He says, clearing his throat.
“Yeah.” I run one of my fingers along the smooth, clean surface of the door handle.
Despite the Honda’s age and questionable drivability, Ryan keeps it immaculate.
… all of those files…I should have opened them.
Why didn’t I read them right then and there?
Ms. Nancy and Tandy were both gone, I should have used the opportunity to read them instead of getting scared and bolting out of his office…that was stupid.
Ryan turns on the radio and country music fills the speakers.
Dr. Reese has never even mentioned my Mother, never asked about her…nothing.
Ryan switches to an Alternative Rock station and we’re now listening to an emo song that I’ve heard before.
“…Tuning out noise, that follows you, to the place you dare call home...” The singer screeches in a high pitched voice.
It’s actually kind of pretty.
Maybe I can get in there again tomorrow. I just hope it won’t be one of those Saturdays that Ms. Nancy decides to get caught up on paperwork…
I sigh, wanting to kick myself for not checking out those files when I had the chance.
“Don’t like this song?” Ryan asks.
“No, it’s fine.”
“…Failing And then scraping for crumbs of joy as they fly byyyyyy, just out of reach!” The singer cries.
“Because I can change it to something else, if you want-“ Ryan halts as, his car suddenly dies.
I turn to him,
“Who knows.” He mutters, turning the car over.
Glancing out of the window, I look behind me and see that we’re only a block away from Dr. Reese’s office.
Then again, maybe I don’t even need to wait until tomorrow…I know Ms. Nancy isn’t going to work late tonight because she’ll be at her grandson’s Little League game. Why can’t I just sneak in tonight?
The car starts.
I’m going to do it, I decide, tonight.
“Good.” He mumbles and I feel the car slowly move forward.
“Hey.” Turning to Ryan, I’m instantly met with his eyes and the car halts as he hits the breaks.
Despite my unanswered questions and the depressing emo song running through my ears, I feel a grin threatening to take over my lips.
Ryan reminds me of one of those dogs that, deciding to take a liking to you, follows you around for scraps of food and attention.
For some reason, he can thrive on the scrawniest scrap of attention.
“You busy tonight?” I watch him blush and bite my bottom lip to keep from smiling.
I don’t want him to think I’m laughing at him.
“Well- sort of. I um-“ Behind us, a car horn honks.
I turn around and see that we’ve got several cars behind us.
Ryan slowly moves forward and is quiet until the car is moving along.
“Tonight I have plans, but if you need me I can probably get out of them. My Uncle got a new client last week, and while I was working on their roof, the client’s daughter…” As he speaks, I sort of zone out as I watch him grip the steering wheel.
He’s more tanned than he was the last time I saw him- about a week ago.
He sometimes works with his Uncle’s roofing company and after spending a couple of days with them he comes back with brown skin and a few white strands in his blonde hair.
“…so I guess it’s kind of a date.”
His words hit me and my eyes dart from his tanned arms to his face, which is the kind of crimson that has nothing to do with his tan.
I wish I’d been listening to what he just said.
“A date? With who?” I ask.
He glances at me and we’re swerving off to the side.
I automatically reach for the side of the door, gripping it as he gets us back on the road.
“Sorry about that.” He apologizes.
“That’s OK, a date with who?” I repeat.
“With Amanda, from school.”
I’m frowning as I try to figure out which Amanda he’s talking about.
There are two Amanda’s in our class, they’re both just as blonde as he is but one of them, Amanda Silvers, is prettier and more popular.
Amanda Silvers is in with the rich-girl clique while the other one, Amanda Pederson, quietly keeps to herself and is slightly obsessed with Star Trek.
Ryan’s popularity will take a nose dive, but I really hope he means Amanda Pederson.
“Which Amanda?” I ask, “There’s, like, a million of them.”
I turn away from him, to face the road ahead.
“So, what are you guys doing tonight?” I ask.
“I just told you.” He replies, turning onto the ramp that will put us on the interstate.
“I wasn’t listening.”
When Ryan doesn’t reply, I adjust the vent to face me and as I wave my hand in front of it, realize that it’s not blowing.
The air isn’t on.
“It’s really hot, what’s with your air?” I demand.
“It’s broken.” His voice is flat.
I shoot him a look,
“Shouldn’t you be all excited about your date with Amanda Silvers?”
“Allison…” He sounds as annoyed as I feel and I watch him shake his head.
“What?” I ask.
When he doesn’t say anything and just sits there, accelerating faster and faster, I glance at the speedometer and see that we’re doing eighty-five,
“Ryan, what is wrong with you?”
“You, you’re such a jerk.”
His voice is low and I’m pretty sure I haven’t heard him correctly.
“What?” I ask, leaning towards him.
He glances at me and I feel the key shift around in my sock.
“I said you’re a jerk.”
The words are bad enough, but the sound of his voice, uncharacteristically low, almost a growl...that's too much to take.
I don't like the panicky, frustrated feeling that's beginning to run through my veins.
“No I’m not. Why would you say that? Maybe you’re a jerk.”
My heart is beating fast and I don’t want to look at him so I turn to the right, where I can stare out of the passenger’s seat window.
“Are we friends?” He asks, and his voice, free of its earlier growl, is more level.
He turns off the radio and begins to decelerate as my exit looms into view.
“What do you mea-“
“Allison, just answer my question please,” Though I'm not looking at him, his tone makes me wonder if he's, once again, shaking his head in annoyance, “Do you consider me a friend?”
I’m watching the blur of the woods, green and brown, pass by and as usual, I’m wishing I could run into them and live there, alone.
Other people don’t make sense.
It’s like everyone wants something from you and instead of just telling you what they want, they expect you to figure it out and…I’m not so good at figuring that kind of thing out.
The only reason I even know Ryan has a crush on me is because my Mother once pointed this out.
At first, I thought she’d taken too much of her meds and was a bit delusional, but then I started paying attention to some of the things she’d pointed out.
The way he blushes when I look him in the eye, the way he’ll drop whatever he’s doing to help me with something…no matter how small of a task it is, and the way he used to sometimes pay for my school lunch when I didn’t have the money.
“Yeah.” I finally reply.
“When you’re friends with someone, you’re supposed to listen to them when they talk to you, you’re supposed to ask them how their day was, you’re supposed to care about them.” He explains, sounding tired.
I turn to watch him tensely grip the steering wheel.
“I do care about you,” I pause, wondering how to begin my tale of the mysterious picture in Dr. Reeve’s private office, “Um…”
“You have a funny way of showing it.” He mumbles.
We’re exiting the interstate and I look away from him, staring into the road ahead.
Maybe I won’t tell him.
I’ll do this on my own.
“Do you consider me a friend?” I ask.
My heart is beating even faster now and my eyes dart from the road ahead to the sky above.
Forget the woods, I’d like to get lost in the sky.
Far away from this planet, from these people who don’t make any sense…
“Of course I do.” He snaps, “That’s why I just left work, at two in the afternoon, to drive all the way across town to pick you up.”
“If you didn’t want to, why didn’t you just tell me no?” I retort.
“Because you’re my friend!” He’s shouting and I’m surprised. “Allison, that’s what friends do!! That’s my point! We care, we’re there, like I’m always there for you! We’re not selfish and you- you are so…you’re so self-centered! I don’t understand you-”
He pulls up to a red light and unbuckling my seatbelt, I reach for the purse at my feet.
“What are you doing?!” He asks.
“If this is how friends communicate, then let’s agree to be enemies.” In one swift motion I open the door and get out.
“Allison!” I shut out his protests by slamming the door and that’s when I start running.
Our apartment isn’t far, I know I can make it there in about three minutes.
I’m a good runner.
I’ve always been the fastest in my class.
When the other kids get tired, I just keep going.
In middle school, some of the guys used to tease me, yelling out “Run Forrest run!” as I sped past them.
So, I’m surprised when my breath catches in my throat and, suddenly unable to breath, I slow down, eventually stop and stoop to rest the palms of my hands on both of my knees.
Ryan…he’s the jerk.
What kind of a friend acts like he has a crush on you and then goes out with Amanda Silvers?
Tires screech into the gravel behind me and I hear the sputter of Ryan’s Honda before the sounds of his noisy footsteps fill my ears.
“Allison, I’m sorry.” He’s at my side, slowly moving to stand in front of me.
I’m still stooped, trying to catch my breath, and I can see both of his hands, one of them hesitantly reaching for mine.
Maybe it’s annoying to be friends with someone like me. Someone who doesn’t understand their best friend’s unsaid wishes…
I stand and accepting his hand, notice that it’s very warm.
He wraps his hand around mine, encasing it in his own.
I like the way this feels.
I mean, it’s kind of weird to have another person’s hand securing my own, I'm not five...what makes it nice is that it's his hand.
Glancing up, our eyes meet and I spot the familiar flecks of green in his hazel eyes; in the afternoon sun, they’re brighter than ever.
Warmth rises to my cheeks and, all at once, I understand why I couldn’t continue running.
“I’m sorry too.” I say.
I stopped running, to wait for him.
Despite the annoyance of my cold friendship and the fact that I nearly jumped out of a moving car after calling him a jerk, Ryan smiles.
I almost forget about the key in my sock, the weird picture of my Mother in Dr. Reese’s office and all I can feel is him squeezing my hand as he grins at me,
“It’s OK. So…you want to go back to the car now?”
I nod and he gives my hand a squeeze before we turn to his car.
“So,” I clear my throat, “How was your day?”
He grins and shrugs,
“It was OK. Thanks for asking.”
We pull into the parking lot of my Apartment complex and I look down at both of my hands. The one that Ryan held still feels like it’s full of electricity.
Stupid Amanda Silvers.
Pushing this thought aside, I reach for my purse.
“Thanks again Ryan, I’ll see you later.”
“Wait,” He says.
I turn to him and he arches an eyebrow at me,
“Just out of curiosity, if I didn’t have plans tonight, what would we be doing?”
Does this mean he’ll ditch Amanda?!
“Something fun.” I say with a grin.
He returns my smile,
“Like breaking and entering.” Reaching down, I take the key out of my sock and wave it back and forth under his eyes, “That’s why I have this key.”
His smile fades,
“Are you serious?”
“Yes.” I nod, “My boss has some weird stuff going on in his office and as crazy as this sounds… I think it has something to do with me and my Mom…so while the office is closed, I’m going to break in and find out what’s going on.”
Ryan frowns and turns off his sputtering car,
“Wait a minute; I think we need to talk about this…”
A smile makes its way to my lips as I realize this probably means that, for the sake of a friend, he’ll break his date with Amanda.
To Be Continued...
A note from Paula:
I'm writing "Opening Doors- Part 2" during a very bad week.
The way I'm feeling is affecting my confidence and ability to write.
So, if you have any editing advice or suggestions, bring it.
Oh, click here to send your suggestions : )