Willard Montgomery Friar was the product of habit and fear of change. In his seventeen years of life he had never endeavoured to taste cauliflower, yell out a curse, or step on a crack in the sidewalk. Every morning he rose when the sun did, and jogged the same path in the nearby park. He ate a similar breakfast, reeled off the same greeting to his parents, and travelled to school in the same fashion – walking.
If variety was the spice of life, Willard was yet to expand his palate beyond plain oats.
Of no surprise to anyone, Willard maintained pole position on top of all his classes. He was also the fastest long distance runner on his track team. His curiosity of life was satiated by the many books he piled into his daily routine, filled with facts about the human body and space and everything in between, to maintain nearly infallible grades.
That was, of course, until October twenty-third.
Summer merely hung off the stars, warming the atmosphere that Willard trekked through. After having completed his typical Thursday gym session, Willard was walking with purpose to the bus stop that would deposit him to his front door. He already had his bus pass in his hand, a trembling upper lip as he rehearsed that same greeting to the bus driver he used every week.
The small town of Madeline had been hit by financial hardship over recent times. He watched as the smog was lifted from the factories as many went out of business. Many of Willard’s peers at school had started disappearing. His family would be fine, his father worked in the bank and his mother a lawyer – he felt safe in his position. He’d never even contemplated the anxiety of being without a schedule, a time, some sort of acknowledgement from the universe that everything was going to be okay.
Willard was nearing the end of his walk, as he bounced down Lemon Street. Lemon Street was infamous to inhabitants of Madeline as a hamartia of modern real estate. Every person who seemed to live in any of the houses dotted along the street were destined for ruin. Willard never saw statistical evidence to support this claim, so he never believed it, but he still came to wonder why those many houses never seemed to get a happy ending.
With the bus stop in sight, Willard knew that his bus was three minutes and twenty-four seconds away. He could almost taste the puff of exhaust excreted by the tired metal, a repugnant odour that oddly reminded him of home.
That’s when he saw the girl.
It was for the fleetest of moments. However, Willard Montgomery Friar was never wrong. He looked up at the old parsonage across the street from his bus stop as a pair of eyes bored back into him. Willard felt the breath in his mouth become acidic, watching the girl watching him. Fear overrode the confusion that washed atop of him, and Willard stared at his feet and hoped the girl would go away. She would not.
Was he crazy? Had someone been brave enough to purchase the property? That’s odd, there’s no cars… no furniture. No signs of life. Was Willard losing his mind?
It wasn’t long until the bus plodded down the road, and Willard happily threw himself into the first seat he spied. He let his anxiety bubble back into nothing as he enjoyed the trip home. His thoughts of the girl simply ceased – like she never existed.
However, that hardly remained the case going forward.
For the next three weeks, he’d see the familiar girl in the window and feel his heart tighten. He grew the weirdest and most illogical of attachments for the stranger, and as time elapsed he genuinely grew to care for her. Even though he had not the slightest clue of who she really was, he hoped she was doing okay. It became apparent to Willard over a conversation with his parents that homelessness had exponentially increased over the past ten months in Madeline. He figured that the girl was squatting. Willard couldn’t help but wonder if the bad omen from the house would apply to the girl – do the homeless get cursed just as the people who legitimately live in the homes?
The new paternal instinct that awakened over the weeks caused Willard to do something he had never ventured to do before – break routine. One Thursday morning, when grabbing his assorted items of food for the day, he amounted far more than his usual quota. His mother was astonished. Willard took almost thrice more than he usually did, piling fruits and fresh bread into his khaki satchel, and left the home without a word. He wasn’t sure who was more mortified after the ordeal – his mother, or Willard himself.
Willard did not go to the gym that night. Instead, he got off the bus and stared at the beautiful, old manor home across the street that homed the girl without a home. He took a big breath. Willard was not slight in size; however, he’d never felt more fear in his life than when he did crossing over the asphalt – it felt like lava underfoot.
A black wrought iron gate was platooned in Willard’s path. It shamed him to think that he couldn’t decide whether to open it or not. He had already veered off his own script so tumultuously today that his heart threatened that he’d never get back on the right path again. With trembling hands, Willard latched onto the gate and let it swing open. He waited for the feeling of anarchy to wash across him, for the thunderbolt to throw him back into the proper social order. He waited for something, anything to happen. Nothing did. Instead, there was only a boy standing in front of an opened gate.
With a subdued hesitance, Willard navigated through the garden path of the house and followed it to the front door, listening to the crunch of unkempt flora underfoot. Willard wondered what the protocol here was. Should he knock? Was it polite to knock? Pondering the societal norms surrounding squatters, Willard let the sun slip further through his grasp. In the end, he opted to let the door hang ajar as he snuck in, treading lightly.
The interior was glazed in a screen of dust. Twigs and leaves claimed their corners through the expansive and formerly opulent manor. The sleek surface of marble vibrated with every step, and Willard did what he could do to minimise the noise pollution. He felt very uncomfortable – not even for breaking the law, but for stalking away into someone’s home… someone’s former home.
Willard could feel by the tug in his heart that the girl was sat in the room above him. He couldn’t hear her, he couldn’t see her, he had no logical explanation to explain how he knew she was there. But she was there, there was no doubt in Willard’s mind.
Ascending the staircase with minimal breath, Willard reached the top and found the air calcifying in his lungs. Fear had paralysed him. His foolish plan, one he couldn’t explain nor account for, left him with a mouth agape and a need to clutch the wall for some sort of stability. However, the wall wasn’t there, and his body had been overcome by an antagonist autopilot. Willard stepped into the room where he knew the girl waited.
The floor boards creaked as his presence was known. His eyes fluttered around the room in an apprehensive scurry before his eyes laid upon the girl wrapped in cloth. The grandeur of the windows broadcasted a scenic view of the sleepy town, privy to the movements of the town as a whole. Some windows were open; some were not.
Willard’s eyes were taken from his control as his full attention fell upon that familiar set of eyes that had haunted him for weeks. Those eyes were wrapped in frail and haunting pigment, taut features, and unnatural flushes of red. Her raven hair clung to the side of her face as she cocooned herself in layers and layers of blankets. She didn’t seem to blink.
Words burbled in anticipation on Willard’s tongue, but none made the journey. Willard had little experience of poverty and being poor, of knowing a hardship beyond missing something he has scheduled. But to see this girl, a girl who looked similar in age but decades older in experience, beckoned Willard’s ribcage to amount all the strength he could – he was going to need it.
The girl couldn’t speak either, and for a little while, both Willard and the girl simmered in an uncomfortable silence. Her eyes sparked with recognition, but still no words came to her. Willard didn’t know what to do. That’s when he saw the black-haired girl recede from her cloak and find something hidden amongst the mess of her living. Empty cans, different articles of clothing, he even saw a novel. But the last thing he expected was for the girl to gently unfurl from her blankets, leaving her standing equally before him.
Before he sunk through the floor and back to the front door, Willard moved his eyes from the intoxicatingly corrosive sight before him and reached into his satchel, pulling out the small bag he’d prepared at home. Willard’s breath hitched, as he left a small plastic bag full of various fruits and breads. He considered for a moment what he was to do now – his mission was accomplished. He’d broken these rules for the girl… so, what now?
Willard came to realise his courage had reached its end, and thus he started moving back towards the door.
“You’re bus boy, aren’t you?”
Willard’s feet cemented to the ground. The girl had returned to the floor, the small bag perched in her lap. Her dainty, stone like fingers encroached upon one of the breads, nibbling at it mindlessly. She looked seriously up to Willard.
“Bread probably isn’t the best long term food…” the girl netted her lip with her teeth, her eyebrows slanting in unison, “but thanks. Thank you.”
Willard found it in himself to offer the girl a reciprocal smile, abolishing his obligation to her and this awkward conversation. His nerves pulsed within his body, begging for movement. Willard was in no position to deny the electrical impulses that dictated pretty much everything he did – it was like his body’s autonomy had more say than his own will.
For the life of him, Willard couldn’t classify the feeling that swept underneath him. Each step further from the girl, it was like twine entangled around his throat tightened. He had intended to turn around and introduce himself, like the true gentleman he was, but he was distracted by the haunting feeling that scrapped his scalp.
“Sorry! Sorry… I…” The girl stuttered and stammered, as Willard turned to see a paper airplane on the ground, after a brief interlude through his hair. Fine handiwork, Willard had to admit. But what caught his attention was the giant ‘A’ scribbled in red crayon.
Picking up the model, Willard felt the corners of his lips lift. Seeing as speaking wasn’t going to be his choice reaction for the day, he raised his eyebrow in question.
“I wanted to give you something… because you gave me a lot of stuff,” the girl began, her hands quaking to life in an almost erratic dance to communicate what her words said. “The ‘A’ stands for anarchy, it’s just… yeah. Boredom and sleep deprivation probably, but it flies and I just thought, well, I don’t have much to give but it only felt right to give you something and….”
It came as no surprise that Willard realised he had judged the homeless girl too harshly. She mumbled and muttered on almost as much as he tripped over his tongue. The enigmatic girl in the window had a lot more in common with him than Willard ever could have fathomed.
“I’m Willard.” He choked out, each syllable splintering in his mouth.
The girl grinned.
“Hello, Willard… I’m Aimee.”
It was like watching a new sun unfurl over the dawn’s horizon. Willard felt his heart lighten as the girl he’d spent all that time wondering about came clearly. It all made sense now. From what he thought before, the homeless girl on Lemon Street became something else entirely.
She became Aimee.