Malcolm Avery climbed into bed sometime after eleven and lay awake staring at the ceiling for a long time before finally drifting off to sleep.
He awoke in the morning and glanced around in slight confusion, still not used to his recent surroundings in Mrs. Yarmouth's cellar.
His neighbor had offered him cheap rent in the half-finished cellar apartment when his parents sold their house across the street and moved to Thailand, informing their son that he was eighteen and they were no longer legally responsible for him, not that he wanted to go to Thailand anyway. Malcolm was graduating from high school the following month and he wanted to be a part of that ceremony.
His charity abode was a dump - there was an ancient kitchenette, a closet of a bathroom, and a larger room that served as both the living room and bedroom, although only half the room was paneled - the rest was sheet rock with a door-less entry way that led to the rest of Mrs. Yarmouth's cluttered basement
Malcolm's parents let him take his bedroom furniture and they donated a few other pieces they wouldn't need in Thailand - a couch, a couple of end tables, and a beat up easy chair. He had his television, a lap top, and a bunch of books but that was about it from his previous life across the street.
Malcolm attended his graduation ceremony the following month and he worked several shifts a week at Fontaine's Family Grocery Store, already enrolled at community college in the fall.
Awake for another day of drudge, Malcolm used the bathroom, hastily dressed, drank some orange juice out of the bottle and returned it to the frig shelf before leaving the apartment through the side door half way up the rickety stairs to Mrs. Yarmouth's house.
It was already warm on this July day but Malcolm decided to walk to work, leaving his car parked on the grass alongside Mrs. Yarmouth's driveway. He glanced at his old house across the street, still empty although sold as the new owners hadn't moved in yet. Carpenters and plumbers had been coming and going in recent days and Malcolm wondered how much the house he knew would be changed.
Malcolm appreciated Mrs. Yarmouth's kind hospitality but he avoided her as much as possible. She was a bitter and angry middle-aged divorcee who identified with Malcolm's abandonment because her husband left her and Malcolm wondered if she saw him as a lost stray dog. He helped out with the trash and other chores but he mostly kept to himself in his cellar digs - some would say shit-hole.
Malcolm walked the few blocks to downtown in the warm morning sun. He stepped into Johnny C's Diner and sat at the counter, ordering scrambled eggs with sausage, wheat toast and a cup of coffee.
He was a diner semi-regular since being thrown out on his own and he was familiar with the waitress staff and customers. He felt accepted by the group and comfortable at the counter.
When he was finished with breakfast, Malcolm paid his bill, left his tip, and walked to Fontaine's a block over to punch in and start another day as a jack of all trades - stocking shelves, cleaning up spills, bagging groceries, filling in as a cashier, unloading delivery trucks, and helping old ladies to their cars with their groceries.
Malcolm was a friendly and personable positive customer service asset but he mostly went through the motions as he thought about his parents in Thailand, his dumpy apartment in Mrs. Yarmouth's cellar, and his uncertain future. He wasn't even sure why he had enrolled at Blue County Community College.
He said hello to his various co-workers as he clocked in, wearing his standard shirt and tie (yellow today) along with his jeans and rubber soul steel toed working boots. He had little expectation other than a pay check at the end of the week, although his main reason for working at Fontaine's in particular was Skylar Simpson, a pretty cashier about five years older than him who had been working at the store since she was fifteen.
Malcolm adored Skylar and he considered her his only real friend. She had been a star softball pitcher in high school but she blew her knee out and lived on that legacy as she rang up people's groceries. She was cheerful and pleasant and Malcolm liked to pretend that they were an item.
Unfortunately for Malcolm, Skylar had a boyfriend Toby who she spoke about often but she treated Malcolm special – she was fascinated that Malcolm's parents had literally dumped out on him.
Sometimes they'd sit at a table in the store's internal bakery café and chat over coffee and muffins. Malcolm had long since told Skylar about his minister father who had served at several congregations throughout the United States. Now he was off to Thailand for missionary work, something Malcolm was happy to escape.
Malcolm explained that he was born in Lake City Florida which was among the many places he called home as his parents moved around the country assigned to various churches, including Riverview Alabama, Beaumont Texas, Glens Falls New York, Bellows Falls Vermont, and Portland Maine before arriving in Hillsboro his sophomore year in high school.
"I was pretty much a nomad," Malcolm told Skylar.
His mother forced him to learn the organ and the piano so he could play during church services. He was also compelled to read and study the bible so he could know, understand, and discuss scripture with the churchgoers.
"It wouldn't look good if the Minister's son was a heathen," Malcolm told Skylar.
"But it was okay if he was brainwashed," Skylar remarked with disgust.
"My mother didn't want me having a social life," Malcolm revealed. "People were in our house all the time but she didn't like it if I made friends, especially with kids outside of the church. So my world was mostly my parents and church goers."
"That was a narrow view," Skylar said.
"My mother told me that they didn't mean to have me," Malcolm said.
"You mean you were an accident?" Skylar frowned. "An oops baby?"
"My mother thought she was sterile," Malcolm confirmed. "I think she wanted to be sterile. They didn't exactly see me as a Gift From God which, in their line of work, you would have thought would have been their first reaction when they found she was pregnant. They gave me a roof over my head but they weren't exactly the most loving parents."
"Your parents are crazy," Skylar decided. "Born again out of touch over the top zealots with a screw loose."
"I hear those are the worse kind," Malcolm said lightly. "So, anyway, I had few friends, moving around so much, being the son of evangelical religious fanatics. I learned to avoid interaction and connections with other kids. I was a loner."
"What about girls?" Skylar asked with a smile.
"Yeah, I started to notice them," Malcolm grinned. "My mother didn't want any of that for me, of course. She didn't approve of Theresa, my first serious high school girlfriend and she made it hard for me to enjoy my time with her. She really tried to control my life which was ironic when you consider she didn't want me to have a life in the first place."
"What happened with the girl?" Skylar asked.
"She didn't want to get in the middle between me and my parents so she broke it off," Malcolm sighed.
"Did you sleep with her?" Skylar wanted to know.
His blush was her answer. "My mother was happy she dumped me, worried that I was going to engage in premarital sex and create a scandal for my father," Malcolm said.
"Well, good thing you didn't sleep with her then," Skylar said sarcastically. "Was your father the same as your mother?"
"He was much too focused and obsessed with his ministry to pay much attention to me," Malcolm revealed. "He backed my mother and he expected me to tow the line as the minister's son."
"Doesn't it strike you as ironic that your parents, who tried to control your life, left you?" Skylar asked.
"I'm kind of glad they're gone," Malcolm confessed with guilt in his voice. "I know it's a terrible thing to say."
Skylar had sympathy for Malcolm and she took pity on him, going out of her way to be cheerful and helpful, making sure he was eating right and concerned that he was squirrelled away in his dumpy cellar shithole too much.
"My friend Roxanne is having a party this Friday night," Skylar told Malcolm on this particular day. "You should come."
"Are you going to be there?" Malcolm asked.
"With Toby," she answered.
"Maybe I'll stop by," Malcolm said unconvincingly.
"You can't spend all your time in your neighbor's basement, Malcolm," Skylar warned.
"I'm used to it," he said.
"Come to the damn party!" Skylar ordered.
"Okay," he relented. "As long as you're going to be there."