Home > All Rhodes Lead Here(12)

All Rhodes Lead Here(12)
Author: Mariana Zapata

Beads? Leaded weights? Recommendations? Just thinking about how bad yesterday had gone made me cringe.

What I needed to do was figure out a solution, especially if I was planning on sticking around for much longer. A couple times—mostly when customers were extra kind when I didn’t know things, especially when they were almost condescending telling me not to worry my pretty head because that got under my skin like nothing else could—I thought about quitting, letting Clara find someone who knew more about anything in the store than I did, but then all I had to do was look at the dark circles under her eyes, and I knew I wouldn’t. She needed help. And even if all I did was ring people up and save her two minutes, it was something.

I think.

I had to suck it up and learn faster. Somehow. I’d worry about it later. Stressing over screwing up had robbed me of enough sleep last night.

Down the stairs and out the door, I stopped to lock it and headed around to get to my car, but I caught something moving out of the corner of my eye by the main house.

It was Amos.

I lifted a hand as he sat on one of the deck chairs, a game console clutched in his hand. “Hi.”

He stopped, like I’d surprised him, and lifted a hand up too. His “Hi” wasn’t exactly enthusiastic, but it wasn’t mean either. I was pretty positive he was just shy.

And I wasn’t supposed to be talking to him. Invisible. I was supposed to be invisible.

“See you later!” I called out before ducking into my car and reversing.

At least his dad hadn’t caught me.

 

 

Almost five hours later, I was pulling back up to the garage apartment and giving myself the middle finger.

“Fucking idiot,” I told myself for at least the tenth time as I parked my car and tried to ignore the tightness in my shoulders.

I was going to be hurting soon. Very, very soon. And it was all my fault.

I’d taken for granted the fact that I was tanner now than I’d been in years. Mostly from all the outside time I’d spent in Utah and Arizona. What I hadn’t done was take into consideration the change in altitude. How much more intense the UV rays were here.

Because over the course of the short hike to the falls and back, I’d gotten roasted despite having a base coat. My shoulders were hot and stung like a son of a bitch. All because my dumb ass had forgotten to put sunblock on and I’d spent too much time sitting on a rock, talking to an older couple who hadn’t been feeling so well.

On the bright side, the drive toward the falls was the prettiest thing I’d ever seen, and I’d had to pull over a bunch of times just to take in the wilderness without pissing off the cars behind me. I had also taken advantage of the stops to pee while I was at it.

It was magical. Spectacular. The landscape was straight out of a movie. How had I forgotten that? I had a couple of blurry memories of going there with Mom before, nothing real concrete but just enough.

But none of that compared to the simple feeling and power of the falls. It wasn’t extraordinarily tall, but it dropped so much water, it was pretty amazing to witness. It left me in awe, really. Only Mother Nature could make you feel so small. The trail and falls were pretty packed, and I’d taken pictures for a family and two couples. I’d even sent my uncle some pictures when I’d gotten into cell service reception. He’d texted me back a couple of thumbs-up, and my aunt had called and asked me if I was crazy for crossing the river over a big log that had been draped across it.

“Owwie, oww, oww,” I hissed to myself as I got out of the car and went around the other side. I grabbed my little backpack and gallon of water and shut it with my hip, feeling the heat on my skin some more and groaning.

Like an idiot, I instantly forgot and slipped the strap of my backpack over my shoulder and just as quickly, slid that son of a bitch back off with a cry that made me sound like I was getting murdered.

“Are you okay?” a voice that sounded only slightly familiar called out.

I turned around to find Amos sitting in a different chair than the one I’d last seen him in on the deck, holding his game console in one hand and squinting hard while his other one hovered just above his eyes to block out the sun so he could get a good look at my lobster reenactment.

“Hi. I’m all right, just gave myself a second-degree sunburn I think. No big deal,” I joked, groaning when my shoulder gave another throb of pain from contact with the strap.

I almost didn’t hear him say, “We got aloe vera,” quietly.

I just about dropped my bag.

“You can get some if you want.”

He didn’t have to tell me twice. Setting my bag down on the ground after grabbing my Swiss Army knife, I walked toward the house. Up the stairs, I headed over to where he was. In a ratty T-shirt and even rattier sweatpants with a couple holes in them, he gestured to the side, and I could see a medium-sized aloe vera plant in a plain orange pot next to a cactus and something that had once been alive but hadn’t been in a while.

“Thank you for offering,” I told him as I kneeled beside the pot and picked out a nice, thick leaf. I glanced at him and caught him watching me. He looked away. “Did you get in trouble over the garage apartment?” I asked.

There was a pause, then, “Yeah,” he replied hesitantly, still quietly.

“Big trouble?”

Another pause before, “I got grounded.” One more beat of silence then, “You went hiking?”

I glanced up at him and smiled. “I did. I went to Piedra Falls. I got roasted.” The whole thing had felt a whole lot farther than a half mile. I’d started bitching about five minutes in, at how thirsty I was and how much I regretted refilling an old bottle I’d found on the floor of my car so that I wouldn’t have to carry the entire gallon. I’d had a harder time breathing than I would have expected, but it was practice. So I wasn’t going to beat myself up too much about how much I’d been panting and sweating while going through a canopy of trees lining the trail.

But I decided I was going to have to start doing some other kind of harder cardio because, holy shit, I’d die doing one of the ten-mile trips I wanted to take—if I stayed and could.

After the shit show that yesterday had been at work, I wasn’t totally sure if things were going to work out… but I still hoped they did.

No one really missed me in Florida. They loved me, but they had gotten used to me living away for so long that I knew it had to be weird that I’d come back. My aunt and uncle had gotten used to living home alone, even though they’d accepted me with open arms and nurtured me back to a healed heart. Or at least a mostly healed one. My cousins all had their own lives too.

And my friends cared about me, but they had three thousand things going on as well.

“How’d you get burned?” he asked after another moment of silence.

“There was a couple there who had gotten lightheaded right at the base, and I hung out with them until they felt good enough to hike back to their car,” I explained.

The boy didn’t say anything, but I could see his fingertips tapping along the border of his Nintendo as I finished cutting through the leaf. “Sorry.” He was focused on his console. “About Dad getting pissed. I should’ve told him, but I know he would’ve said no.”

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