“Three of Us” Chapter Seven

Zach amazes me sometimes. Alex is impressed to, but she fails to show it because it’s her motherly duty not to praise “wrongdoing”, whatever she means by that. We’ve gotten out of several close calls because of him. And he knows we appreciate it. That’s why he keeps doing it.

Today, however, he amazed me in a different way. It takes the cake. He sold the dog.

“YOU LOVED THAT DOG!” I yelled. I forgot my voice echoed through the store. Covering my mouth, I let Alex continue for me.

“You were the one that wanted to keep it!” she cried in annoyance. “You were the one that wanted to take care of it! You were—”

“Yeah, and I’m the one who sold him. So what’s the big deal?” Zach interjected. “I knew you guys wouldn’t care. You didn’t wanna keep him.”

“Why’d you get rid of him?” I asked.

He beamed, looked down, and started looking around.

“You got money for it, I assume,” I said again.

“Zach?” Alex prompted.

It was a while before he said, “The guy had this big shiny coin.”

We stared. “What?” we asked together.

“I had never seen one before and…it looked like it was worth a lot.” He stopped and then added quickly, “It was really big and shiny!”

We waited for him to show it. Pulling something out of his pocket, we saw a big round silver dollar in the palm of his hand.

“You’ve never seen a silver dollar?” I asked.

He stopped and his face fell. “A what?”

“A silver dollar,” I repeated.

“IT’S ONLY WORTH A DOLLAR????” he yelled. His face was hysterical.

He was muttering to himself the rest of the day.

“Hey do you remember when that police gal said something about runaways?” I asked later. We were in the storeroom. Alex and I were eating our McDonald’s meals on the floor. Zach was still sitting criss-cross on his boxes, muttering and staring at the silver dollar.

“Yeah,” Alex replied, her mouth full. “What about it?”

“Who do you think the runaway was?”

“Probably no one we know,” Alex said. “There are loads of kids that try and ditch school.”

“Well yeah…” I admitted. “But I’ve never seen another kid alone around here. That Crocker can’t patrol the whole county. She’s around here all the time.”

“Who said it was around here?” Alex asked curiously.

I shrugged. “I guess you’re right.” I stared up at Zach.

“Staring at it isn’t gonna get you more money, dude,” I said.

I think his eyes watered.

~J.L. Cordova

“Three of Us” Chapter Six

We ran into that ugly police gal again today. I think she had a makeover or something, because she looks uglier.

Anyway, today we were browsing the DVDs in the electronic section. Zach left Shaggy out on a rope by the lake. Shows how much he’s involved. But the dog seems to like it. No one is supposed to have dogs in Wal-Mart anyway, so we had to do something.

I don’t really know how Shaggy is taking the whole storeroom idea of a house. He has this nasty habit of thinking anyone can be a pillow, though. Technically, Alex is supposed to be allergic to dog hair. She ignores though, like a trooper. But man did she sneeze up a storm last night. She didn’t speak for a while after she realized her bed was covered with his fur in the morning.

He’s really soft though, and very lovable. Like any innocent dog would be, he considers it an honor, not a right, to be pet by a human. Zach loves him, I think. I can never be sure with Zach and his emotions. He can fake things pretty well. He played Frisbee with him in the park this morning before he tied him up. Who knows?

Anyway, back to Snow White’s stepmother. The police girl came up to us while we were looking at the DVDs. I could tell Zach was really bothered by it—he thought we were rid of her.

Why did she come up to us? I don’t know. And frankly, I don’t care.

“Aren’t you kids supposed to be in school?” she snapped.

We froze. It was Monday. We forgot.

“But…uh…hey—isn’t it a bank holiday today?” Zach asked. When Zach starts making things up, me an Alex usually nod and stay out of it. It’s mainly because we got involved once, and we barely made it out alive. We didn’t know exactly where Zach was going with his story, and it got all mixed up. He got onto us about it afterwards. And believe me: you don’t want to go near Zach if he’s mad.

So we just shut up and let the Red Queen glare down at Pinocchio.

Bank holiday?” she shrieked.

“Well yeah,” Zach replied casually. “Actually it’s Christmas.”

“Don’t sass me, young man!” she cried, outraged. “It’s the middle of May! I can take all three of you back and drag you into that classroom if I have to!”

“It is Christmas though,” Zach persisted, “in Australia.”

She stopped.

“Well yeah you know Australia is on the other side of the world so when its winter here, its summer there. Its spring here now…so Australia’s Christmas Eve is today.”

She still glared.

“Not all schools are closing today,” Zach explained. “But our principal is originally from Australia, so he and his family are celebrating it today.”

She didn’t say anything for quite a while. Zach’s face was straight, mine was decently solemn, and poor Alex (who grew up learning it’s wrong to lie—how fun) was trying not to look at her. The police gal seemed to buy it…but it never hurts to let the predator stare you down to make sure.

I managed to glance at her nametag though. I guess police have nametags along with their badges? I don’t know.

Edna Crocker

Yeah. She was ugly before. She’s hideous now.

She abruptly pointed a long, gangly finger at Zach, who did not wince at all.

“I don’t believe you,” she snarled. “But I have nothing to prove you are wrong, so I will not turn you in. There’s already been one affair with runaways hiding from the law. But nothing slips my eyes. I will be watching you.”

Now that I knew her name, I found what she said even creepier.

~J.L. Cordova

“Three of Us” Chapter Five

This was actually the perfect time to turn this into a journal. Something interesting actually happened.

Alex and I were talking and chilling in the storage room for most of the day. Zach had gone out that morning and we didn’t expect him back ‘till after lunch. Anyway he came back with a dog. I know.

“What the heck did you bring a dog in here for?” I almost yelled. Alex and I had both jumped up in shock.

It was one of those really shaggy dogs with long white fur, covering its paws and eyes. Its tail was huge. It was like a baseball bat or a huge fan every time he wagged it around. Its enormous pink tongue was out as it panted in excitement. He was pretty big. Up to my waist at least.

“How’d you even get him in here?” I persisted.

Zach shrugged. “No one saw him. He was out front. No leash or collar or anything. He followed me, Chris!”

“With help?”

“Huh?”

I pointed to the rope he had tied around his neck. Zach looked down for a while and then back up.

“I helped him follow me. Fine. But he would have followed me anyway.”

“Of course.”

“Zach we can’t keep a dog!” Alex finally spoke. “We can barely keep quiet down here. We don’t need a barking dog!”

“He’s not that loud!” Zach said defensively. He turned to the dog. “Speak.”

“Zach no!” Alex cried.

The bark was loud. That’s all I have to say. I thought my ears were going to bust.

“He’s trained, obvioiusly. He obeyed you. We can’t keep it,” I said, after the bark and echo in the storeroom had died away.

“But we have to!” Zach said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because—I…well…we’ve never gotten a dog!”

“That’s because we live in a grocery store,” Alex remarked.

But I knew what Zach meant. He had never had a dog before. Alex and her grandma were cat lovers. And my brother and I had a dog and a couple birds. Zach, though, has always lived on his own. Granted, he’s taken care of a couple mutts here and there. But he’s never kept an actual pet before.

“We can’t keep it, Zach!” Alex persisted.

“We’ve got to, though!” Zach said. “He’s never had a home. He’s out on his own. And that’s not the most comforting feeling—you know that!”

Alex and I fell silent. Neither of us was going to argue with that. And that’s a fact.

He?” Alex finally asked.

“Shaggy,” Zach replied, looking down at the dog. Wagging its tail, his tongue was still out of his mouth.

“You’ve already named him?” I couldn’t help but smile.

“Well…yeah,” Zach stammered. “He looked nameless.”

I rolled my eyes.

“Zach we can hardly keep this place a secret with just the three of us,” Alex reminded him. His face fell as she spoke. “And we can only go out and in certain times during the day! Taking on a pet would take away our ability to work out different schedules!”

“Plus, we’d have to haul a lot of dog food and treats and stuff down here,” I added. “And we have enough people looking at us weird when we get our own food.”

“And a dog like that needs exercise,” Alex continued. “We’re in a storeroom.”

“I could take care of that!” Zach exclaimed. “The lake is right across the street! And I’ll be in charge of him. I’ll get the food he needs and the exercise he needs…”

“What about taking him outside?” Alex said in disbelief. “It’s not like you can put a newspaper down or anything.”

“So he’ll come out with me in the morning and afternoon…and maybe at night.”

“You’re gonna be responsible for all of that?” I asked, smiling. I couldn’t help it. “You sure you can remember that?”

“Yes.”

His reply was so blunt, I shut up immediately. That was that, I guess.

~J.L. Cordova

“Three of Us” Chapter Four

Dinner that night was just sandwiches. Cheese, turkey, tomato, mayonnaise. Except Alex. She likes mustard. Weirdo.

Zach also brought down some chocolate chip cookies for desert. We have this big stash of Oreos and Nutter Butters in one of the boxes, so I don’t understand why we need more junk. But I’m not complaining. If he hears me complain, he might stop getting stuff.

Wal-Mart brand cookies in a box are okay. Their store-bought, so what do you expect? I remember my grandma’s cookies were the best. Seriously. We’d eat about 20 at a time. Unfortunately for you health freaks out there, I’m not exaggerating. The funny thing is was that it was a secret recipe, and Grandma had never told anybody the secret ingredients or anything. When she was really sick in her bed before she died, Mom held her hand with teary eyes.  Asking her for the cookie recipe was the last thing she ever said to her. And Grandma muttered the cook book and her own secret ingredient. And she died.

Well I mean at least we got the recipe.

The single light bulb on the ceiling always makes the room look dimmer.

“It’s getting cold,” Alex remarked.

“Turn the air on then,” Zach replied, tilting his head towards the thermostat. “But the alarm’s right there so be careful.”

The alarm. It’s not active, but sometimes it’ll start beeping randomly. It isn’t loud, but pretty annoying after a while. We don’t know if it reaches the other alarm systems, so we try not to mess with it for our own use. And we just shut it off when it starts going off. Ironically, it’s always when we’re just chilling on our boxes. No one wants to get up and go turn it off. So we’ll just sit there until one of us gets so tired of hearing the constant beeping sound and gets their lazy self up to turn it off. I never do. It’s usually Alex, and Zach and I usually watch her get up and do it. Poor chick—she was raised in a family of girls.

Now that I think about it. This isn’t really a book. It’s more like a journal. I’m turning into Alex. Serves me right for thinking she’s weird I guess.

~J.L. Cordova

“Three of Us” Chapter Three

I woke up this morning from the smell of something hot, warm, and sticky. Opening my eyes, I saw Zach coming in with those doughnuts in the bakery display rack.

“They’re real?” I asked, throwing off the covers in delight. “I thought they were just for show!”

“Think again,” Zach smiled.

Alex awoke too, her face brightening as soon as she saw the box. Alex was never one for stealing (if you want to call it that). But I think the gooey chocolate glaze shining through the box made her forget about it. Zach had also brought napkins and a couple of those small Borden’s milk bottles. Alex went to dry some glasses she had washed in the sink in the back of the storeroom.

“How’d you get out this morning?” I asked, taking a bite of the first one. It was SO good.

“Walking,” Zach replied.

“No,” I said with a mouthful. “I mean, was nobody out today?”

“In the Refrigerator Room? Nope. Completely empty. Plus the bakery was really crowded. I got out and nobody noticed.”

“Typical Saturday,” I remarked. I stopped there, though, ‘cause Zach and I started to stare at Alex, who was stuffing her face. She looked up, smiled, and continued. Then she started her second one.

Alex loves doughnuts. It’s an obsession, really. When Alex’s grandmother took her to a doughnut shop, they sat right next to the see-through window, where you could see the doughnuts being made. I guess her grandma really didn’t know how doughnuts were made. Maybe it was before her time. Anyways, she saw how they go through the hot oil and all the glaze and icing and stuff. Now that I think about it, maybe seeing how something is made isn’t the best advertisement.

She started freaking out. She didn’t let Alex have doughnuts after that.

“She was one of those women with nutrition obsession,” Alex had told me. “She made me eggs and oatmeal every morning instead.”

Oatmeal. Yeah. Don’t take it personally, but…hot, brown, sloppy goop for breakfast? Let’s bring in chicken feed while we’re at it.

We watched Alex while finishing up our own doughnuts. My fingers were sticky but delicious. We had eaten them all. Two chocolates, a lemon, two jelly-filled, and a glazed. The chocolates were the best. But chocolate’s always the best. Who can go wrong with chocolate, seriously?

Zach, afterwards, took up his wallet (there’s nothing in it, but he finds change on the streets occasionally), and picked up the box. It was too nice outside to be cooped up in a storeroom all day. Alex grabbed her journal and gel pen, and also a book of quotes by famous men. You know, like Ben Franklin, Albert Einstein, and Napoleon and stuff? Alex will quote it sometimes and then watch to see if we smile or even acknowledge that it’s from her book. We never do. Poor chick.

Oh, I guess I do have a hobby I forgot to mention. I like drawing a lot. But I don’t do people. I like doing scenery. I don’t know. It’s something I’ve always liked doing. I don’t like to call it a hobby, though, ‘cause I don’t do it all the time. But…I guess you could count it. I’m pretty good, at least Alex says so. Zach likes my stuff too, but I can never tell if he’s just being nice. That’s what I grabbed before I left the storeroom: my bag, with my notebook, pencils and erasers. My notebook is filling up. I’m going to have to get some colored pencils soon. All my pictures need color.

There’s a maze of halls and a few steps here and there on our way to the Refrigerator Room. Zach came in front, and he slowly cracked the heavy metal door. It was empty. The cold air instantly ran through my body. It always aggravates me when I feel the cold of milk. It just doesn’t feel right. I’d never work at a grocery store.

Dodging crates and carts, we reached the door that will enter into the store. The bright yellow-tinted light blinded us for a moment. There were few shoppers around, which was good. As inconspicuously as possible, we reached the front of the store without much delay. The problem with the milk section is that it’s in the way back of the store. So we have to pass all of the isles of bread, canned stuff, and everything else on the left. Plus all the clothes and other things are on the right. And that’s just on one side of the building. Then all the cash registers are in front, passed the bakery and produce isles. McDonald’s is right in front by the doors. Yeah, a frappe sounded pretty good. But we had to get outside before being asked why we were in Wal-Mart at nine in the morning.

Can you tell we’ve lived here for a while?

It was so nice outside today. We passed the parking lot to go out to the park. Central Lake is not far from the Wal-Mart. Down one of those nicely-paved cement roads, with the nice street lamps, there’s a grassy green hill leading down to the boardwalk. All the mallards are down there. And there are a couple geese that nest near the bridge, which is further down. People come down here all the time. They run with iPods in their ears, walk with strollers or fiancées.

Alex, Zach, and I find a bench by the grass overlooking the lake.  We’re talking the entire way there. And sitting on the bench doesn’t prevent us continuing. Alex and I sit on the bench, while Zach spreads out on the grass, his hands beneath his head, looking up at the sky.

“Hey! You three!”

We turned. Approaching us with a scowl was a short woman with extremely fat hips and bust, but a skinny middle. She had red frizzy hair, and a horrible pimple in a noticeable place on her cheek. She stomped forward as we stared, secretly panicking. She had uniform on.

That’s right. I remembered. The area around the Wal-Mart is currently having police secure the area. I think there were some break-ins or something like that, so police are everywhere, like little annoying flies.

“What are you three doing out of school?” she demanded.

Pause.

“It’s Saturday,” I said.

“Does that mean you don’t have homework?” she still persisted.

“Does that mean we can’t go outside?” Zach asked sarcastically. She glared at him. At first I really thought she was going to eat him.

“Look,” Zach gestured around. “There’re parents with their kids all over the place. Why don’t you go pick on them too?”

“You three look suspicious to me,” she snarled.

We paused. I decided to let Zach do the talking, since he always has the best lines up his sleeves. And Alex wouldn’t talk back to a police officer if her life depended on it. So I just shut my mouth.

“We’re not doing anything!” Zach said. “How can we look suspicious?”

The policeman…woman, sorry…just glared at him.

“I’m watching you,” she growled.  And she was off.

It was weird, I won’t lie about it. Not only was she the ugliest woman I had ever seen, she was the meanest too. Come on, we’re twelve! We can’t be out by the lake on a Saturday?

It was a long time before conversation started up again. Alex started writing in her journal, and I start outlining the edge of the lake on my notepad. There’s no telling how many times I’ve drawn the lake, but I always seem to find something new about it each time.

The ducks quacked loudly below us.

“Did you bring bread?” Alex asked Zach. He shrugged.

“Nobody asked me to.”

Pause.

“Did you bring an iPod or something?” he asked.

“Oh please,” Alex retorted. “You’re so social—sticking head phones in your ears when we’re both right here.”

“Well you aren’t talking!” Zach said. “Besides, you guys have stuff to do.”

“It’s your fault for not bringing anything,” Alex remarked. Zach smirked.

“Go swim or something,” I suggested.

“Nah,” he said. “Don’t feel like it.”

Pause.

“This is pretty relaxing, though,” he remarked, stretching again. Letting out a breath, he finished, “not that bad.”

“Well it’s not going to last all day,” Alex said. “I think you should find something useful to do.”

“Thank you, Mother Killjoy.”

“Well you should.”

“Why?” Zach asked. “This is productive. My insides are calling out. Hear ‘em?” He contorted his mouth, making his voice sound high pitched and small: “We love sun. We like chill-axation. Keep doing nothing. Keep doing nothing…”

Alex rolled her eyes. I was just capturing the arch of the bridge on my paper as we all lapsed into silence again. As I studied the boardwalk for its beginning, I saw men with briefcases, groups of women running together. I saw a street clean-up girl and a couple employees from the pizza place down the road having lunch by the goose nest.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I asked suddenly. Zach glanced at me as if to say, ‘Where did that come from?’

“An author,” Alex replied promptly, without looking up. “I’ve come up with several story ideas. And if I worked hard enough I could probably turn it into poetry. I’m still working out the climax on one. It isn’t strong enough. It needs more meaning.”

“Make two guys fight over a girl,” Zach said impassively. “That always makes things interesting.” Alex ignored him.

Zach writes. But not very often. His stories are short and depressing. They usually end in decapitations and incinerations.

“Journalism would be interesting,” Alex continued, still writing, “and so would screenplay writing.”

“That’s gotta be easier than newspaper writing,” Zach remarked.

“Not really,” Alex mused. “It’s harder to know what looks good on a movie.”

Zach shrugged. Alex and I both know what he wants to do: video games. It’s the one thing he likes especially and the one thing he’d like as a job. He’s not getting very far though—he’s not in school. He says he’ll get a job at a video game store and start from there. But what he doesn’t realize is that he needs qualifications. I don’t think he thinks much of the future.

“What do you wanna do, Chrissy?” Alex inquired.

Finally, I tore myself from my paper. What did I want to do? The first thing that always came to mind was an artist, since drawing had always appealed to me. But now I thought of the future differently.

“I don’t know,” I said. But I turned quickly before Alex had time to scold me. “Not a police officer.” We laughed.

~J.L. Cordova

“Three of Us” Chapter Two

Nope. That wasn’t a type-o or anything. We really do live in Wal-Mart. There’s a storage area in the bottom basement that nobody uses or goes into anymore. I think it was supposed to be for the pharmacy, ‘cause there’s expired aspirin, Tylenol, and boxes of syringes and those stretchy gloves that all the doctors use. Plus all the boxes say “Wal-Mart Pharmacy” on the front. That definitely has nothing to do with it.

All there is down there are boxes, cement floor with stains and dents all over it, and a single light bulb hanging on a long string from the ceiling. It’s the only light in there that still works. It’s a pretty small storeroom. Maybe that’s why no one used it. There’s a bunch of other storerooms on the first floor that are loads bigger than this one. This one’s hardly bigger than my bedroom.

How’d we find it? I don’t know. Zach just brought me here after I left, and Alex joined us a year later. We’ve been here ever since. No school to do and no chores to finish. As long as we’re not caught, we can take whatever we want from the store. It’s harder than it looks though. The same three kids roaming around the store with a bunch of food and stuff—that’s not conspicuous at all. Nice thing about it, though, is that we don’t have to avoid security systems and stuff. Since the storeroom is in Wal-Mart’s basement, then the food is not technically outside the store. Plus, it’s not technically not stealing…’cause it’s still inside the actual building itself. So we’re good.

Zach’s bed is in the right corner. Four stacks of boxes are right on beside each other, and its two rows wide. There’s about six or seven boxes in each stack for our beds. His head is basically at the ceiling. But he manages. Alex’s is in the opposite corner. Hers is only two stacks of boxes high and wide. She likes the low-bed feel. My stack of boxes is at the foot of Zach’s. Three box stacks high and two wide. We use blankets and pillows from the home décor section. My stuff is all blue (my favorite color). Zach’s is…gray. He didn’t have much of a preference. So that’s what we got. And Alex’s is that annoying maroon red that she just “loves”. Oh well. At least I’m not sleeping under it.

In the middle of all our box stacks is the boring cement floor. The door the storeroom is right beside my bed. We don’t have any furniture down there. Come on, who is seriously not going to stop a kid trying to get a reading chair downstairs?

It’s not that hard to get down here, actually. It’s just the fact that we might get caught that prevents us from doing more with the room. The door to the big storage area is by the dairy section. You’ve probably seen the creepy hand from behind the glass door putting milk cartons on the rack. That’s it. Sneaking in there is the hard part. Usually, around lunchtime and dinnertime, it will be completely deserted. When that happens, we go in there (it is freezing, by the way. We call it the Refrigerator Room). Then near the back there’s another door. The hallway connects to another inventory room with wheat and bread stuff, but right off the door is one that leads to the basement. They don’t store in the basement anymore. They only used it while they we’re building the main inventory rooms. Zach, Alex, and my room is the one the furthest down the farthest hall. I won’t spill the beans on exactly which hall. It’s a maze down there. And it wouldn’t be fun if everybody knew their way through it.

There have been close calls, I must admit. One night we heard footsteps coming down the hallway. We all started freaking out. We tore off our pillows and blankets and through them in a corner, behind some more boxes. Trying to make it look like they weren’t neatly organized, we pushed boxes over in the middle of the room. We did it as quickly and as quietly as we could. By the time the door handle jiggled, we shut off the single light bulb and dived behind boxes. We didn’t hide altogether. Alex suggested that just in case one of us was caught. The door opened. I never really knew who it was. It was dark, I couldn’t see, and it’s not like I was going to risk my cover to find out. Whoever it was, it just opened the door and closed it. We waited for a long time before the footsteps weren’t there anymore.

After that night we didn’t take the deserted hallway for granted. We became more on our guard. That must have been a month ago. We haven’t had a trauma like that since. Zach was so skittish after that night, though. Alex and I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him. Zach’s a pretty tough guy. Yes, he does have feelings. But he doesn’t express them often—much like a guy. That night, though, and during the next couple days, he wouldn’t stop acting so stressed out.

“I just don’t wanna be caught,” he kept saying as fast as he could.

The words kind of slurred together, so it took us a while to figure it out. Well sure, none of us want to be caught. But this was strange. It took us several days to finally calm him down and get him back to his normal self. One night while Alex was outside the storeroom, I asked him why he was so stressed out. Zach and I are good friends. He confides in me, and vice versa. We all do, really. But I knew Zach wouldn’t have a personal reason not to tell me. ‘Cause he’s comfortable around me.

But he just said the same thing. “I just don’t wanna get caught. This is where we stay, and no one’s gonna change that. And if someone drags us away and tries to make us live somewhere else, I’m just gonna come right back here.”

“But Zach we can’t stay here for the rest of our lives!” I said. I agreed with him, but this one thought keeps coming back. “What about when we’re all grown up too big for this room? What then?”

“I don’t know!” he shot back, out of stress, not anger. “I don’t wanna look that far ahead. But for now, we can’t get caught.”

“Why not?” I asked. “Sure I wanna stay here too. But why should this be more important to you?”

Zach didn’t answer. I didn’t push it. He looked tired anyway.

That was the last time we talked about it. That being about a month ago, I don’t want to approach the subject again anytime soon. I don’t know why he hates it so much. It’s plain and simple truth—we are going to grow up one day, we aren’t going to be able to stay in this storeroom forever, and we can’t ignore either of these facts! Alex is really the one that tries to persuade me and Zach to talk more about it. Being the mother of the three of us, she likes to be a killjoy. And she knows it. I hate talking about it almost as much as Zach. It’s fun staying here—it’s like the kid’s dream—always being on the run, stuff like that. I don’t want it to end. Zach thinks the same. But…somehow I think there’s also another reason for him.

Oh well. It doesn’t matter, at least not now. I’m just scared that by the time we do have to leave, Zach isn’t going to want to come with us. And that would be horrible. Alex and Zach are my best friends, and I would never want to split up. Surely he would never force us to leave him behind.

But those days are far from us now. I guess you want to know what in the world we do during the day. It’s true: we’re not in the actual store itself all the time. Sometimes we go out, get some fresh air and go to the park or something. It’s pretty free. We go over to the ducks down by Central Lake and feed them bread, talk, and hang out until nightfall. We have to be back by eight or so. That’s when there’s an employee change-out, and also one of the very few times the Refrigerator Room is completely empty.

Sometimes we just hang around the store. Zach plays on the Nintendo’s and Wii’s in the electronic section. Alex will spend all day in the book section, or else she’ll go out to the library (she has her old library card). Me? I don’t really have a favorite thing or hobby. I’m still trying to find it. I’ll usually tag along with Zach. But eventually, video games will get so boring. I actually really like music. I’ve listened to almost all the CDs that Wal-Mart carries. I’ve got a few favorite bands. As far as an obsession goes, I still have yet to find one.

We always have food. That’s needless to say. But I don’t think we’ve ever had an actual meal here. We always eat whatever we feel like. There’s a McDonald’s and a Starbuck’s inside the Wal-Mart. They let you pay for it at the register with your groceries. So we just have to get a handful of stuff in a shopping cart and pretend like we’re about to check out. And we can bring ordinary stuff down to the storeroom too—like bread, peanut butter, fruit, tortillas, chips, and other various things we feel like. Whatever dairy or ice cream we bring down though, it has to be in the small size. We don’t have a refrigerator to keep it in overnight. That’s usually not a problem, since we can go up and stock up again the next day.

Whatever it is—be it food, utensils, sheets, things to do, cosmetics, and even pajamas and new clothes—we got it. Pretty easy life, if I do say so myself.

~J.L. Cordova

“Three of Us” Chapter One

My name’s Chrissy Cyren.

Cyren. You know, like “hi”, except with a K sound at the beginning and “wren”, like the bird.  Yeah, I know. Weird last name. But it works for me. Nice ring to it, I think. Most people can say it…most people.

Anyways, I camp out with my friends Alex and Zach. I’d say we’re a pretty good trio. I wouldn’t say I live with them, even though that’s really what I do. But here in kiddom, since we like to make things sound really cool and somewhat lame, I’d say we just hang out…all the time. Literally. 12-year-olds living the dream. We’re all orphans—even Alex.

Poor girl. Really. I mean, she’s never actually gotten over it. She’s one of those timid types that, at times, likes to get all mushy and cheesy and weird. She calls it “expressing herself”. I just call it a cheesy movie coming from her mouth.

It’s not that I completely hate it. I’ve gotten used to it. Alex is a cool girl, actually. We’ve been best friends since birth. And, come to think of it, we’ve never been totally the same. I guess that’s what keeps us together. She has short brown hair, and I have long blonde hair. She has blue eyes and I have green. She loves poetry and reading and I, well, don’t. She seems to have behavior standards…and Zach and I don’t really know what that means. She’s the mother-ish person out of the three of us. What can I say? She knows how to have fun, and how to kill joy. But, that’s who she is. One time she even told me it was time for bed. What the heck?

But she’s like that ‘cause her mother was like that. And her grandmother was like that. Alex was an only child. Maybe that’s why she’s not like other…kids. Anyway, I remember when she lived with her grandmother. Her mother had died in childbirth, and her dad left long before that. We don’t really know what happened to him. During lunch at school, Alex would describe living with her grandmother. Apparently it was a nightmare, (or, so I think as she tells it to me. She thought it was normal). Her grandmother was one of those demanding women that always asks for someone to wash their hair, since they’re too “weak” to squeeze shampoo out of the bottle. And her dentures would always sit on Alex’s nightstand because they shared a room together. Come on. Opening your eyes and seeing these fake teeth in a cup? Not creepy at all. Plus, every time Alex’s alarm would go off she’d instantly sit up and yell “EDDY GET THE GUN! EDDY GET THE GUN!”

“Eddy” was her hubby. She’d go blaming Alex for leaving the door unlocked during the night. (She seriously thought someone broke in the house. Every morning. And she seemed to repeatedly forget that she did it every day).

This was all what Alex told me. She tells it with a casual air, and I’m sitting there thinking I would go insane. Day after day with my screaming grandma on the other side of the room, I think I’d bust.

It doesn’t matter anymore, though. Her grandmother died when Alex turned 11 ½. Yes. Her half-birthday. (We kids find half-birthdays as important as real ones). Her grandmother had a concussion after curling her hair. Apparently a small cockroach had crawled inside the clamper thingy, and it crawled into her hair. Then later that night when guests were over, it decided to come out on her face. Enough said. Alex handled it really well, though. She didn’t hesitate to join me and Zach on our brilliant newly-acquired adventure. More on that later.

So we got out of that house lickety-split before the police showed up to take Alex…to wherever they were going to take her. Alex claims she didn’t have any close relatives to take her in. Maybe that’s why she let me and Zach convince her to come with us. You see, we were there that night her grandma died, since we were invited to the party. For safety reasons…we didn’t go to the funeral, since the police might conveniently show up behind us.

So that’s Alex in a nutshell.

Then there’s Zach. Good old Zach. I first met him at Jumpstreet—this indoor trampoline park that was by where we live. I had my seventh birthday party there. He was jumping and running all around to his heart’s content. I don’t really remember how we got to playing together. We just did. We became fast friends though. I was seven back then, and when I was seven, I found his gelled but spiky black hair extremely attractive. (Yes, I was convinced it was black. Now that I’m older, though, I think it’s just a really dark brown. He’s never told me.) And his dark eyes and silky smile really made my stomach turn. I must have gotten used to it though, ‘cause now he smiles at me like that when he’s teasing me, and it just annoys me.

Zach’s pretty reckless, I got to admit. He will risk anything—I repeat: anything—to have some sort of fun. Even if it’s just a prank on some random person he doesn’t know, he will not give up the chance. He and Alex are complete opposites. But they get along pretty well. At least they don’t kill or yell at each other. Zach annoys Alex to no end with his love for sneaking around and prank setting and video games and awful habits. But she handles it pretty well for a girl like her. Me? I love Zach. Not romantically. I just like him because he’s fun, and he lets me have fun with him. Alex comes along too, but she draws her limits.

I really don’t know much about his past. Orphan, yes. But how?—I’m not exactly sure. Zach has lived nearly all his life alone, so he says. According to him, he ditched his babysitter one day and took off on his own. But it’s hard for me to believe that he ran away before kindergarten—it just doesn’t seem possible. Alex thinks that he was abandoned at birth…but then, how could he take care of himself from birth? As for me…how should I know? Do I care that much? I mean, at least he’s here now. He keeps a lot of his past away from me and Alex, which is sad, since we all tell each other everything. It’ll always be a mystery. I keep telling Alex that we’ll never know. And she seems to subside to that.

I guess now you want to know about me. I’m parentless. And sibling-less, at least as far as I know. My mom was actually an alcoholic. I don’t like to talk about it. They arrested her and they say she killed herself while in a really bad hangover. Dillon, my little brother, was eight at the time. I was ten. Zach, whom I had known since my birthday party, heard about what happened and asked if Dillon and I wanted to go with him. You see, Zach doesn’t have any guardian or parent or anything. Homeless is a really bad way to put it, ‘cause that makes him sound like a jobless bum. No, he did what most kids pretty much worship—going wherever he wanted, when he wanted. So I accepted that offer, since I knew CPA would be after us in less than 24 hours. So I packed what I needed and left. Dillon followed us…but not for long. He got caught by the police. I don’t know where they took him. CPA? Orphanage? Foster care? Who knows?

Zach knew I wanted to go back for him, but he couldn’t let me. If we were caught than it’d be all over for both of us. So we didn’t. Today I think of it like this: Police are nice guys, and they aren’t going to punish Dillon for anything he did. If anything they’ll find a good home for him or else somewhere where he’s happy. I can’t afford to think otherwise; I can’t do anything about it.

Zach and I were joined by Alex a year and a half later. We were three. And no one knew about us. Going wherever and doing whatever…whenever we wanted.

Oh. I don’t think I mentioned where we live—sorry—“hang out”.

Sorry about that. Yeah we live in Wal-Mart.

~J.L. Cordova