As the three spoke together, the younger ones thanking my friend for the rescue, I silently wondered why the children were keeping the kitten a secret from their mom.
“What’s the cat’s name?” Sam asked them, keeping up with the children’s fast pace conversation.
Conner sent his sister to make sure his mom was still napping, not to wake her up and help. They both obviously didn’t want her involved.
“Robin!” Conner exclaimed. “He’s like Batman.”
“No,” his sister replied, exasperated. And then calmly correcting him, she stated, “She likes the birds.”
And that was the second and main point. The children didn’t know if the cat was a boy or a girl. If their mother knew they were taking care of a cat, I’m sure she would have told them what gender it was. The kitten sat above the girl’s arms pressed to her stomach, comfortable but wide eyed and claws every now and then extending in nervousness.
Conner rolled his eyes. “Don’t tell our mom you saved the kitten,” he said, suddenly excited and serious at the same time. His voice was getting louder.
“Why?” Sam asked, curious, but not nearly as interested as he was pretending to be for them.
“Because,” his sister replied as she looked down at the cat. “We, found the kitten ourselves in the backyard, and we don’t want our mom to know we have a pet. Matthew bought us some cat food. We feed him on the back porch… don’t tell our mom!” she said again with emphasis, as though now that we had the information we were going to reveal it to all.
Sam promised and so did I. I wasn’t sure who Matthew was, but probably an older brother or step-father. It seemed like now that we had befriended the children, they wanted us to stay with them, asking if we wanted to see their backyard or get on the tire swing. However, Sam and I quickly excused ourselves saying we’d see them some other time. I doubted we would ever spend time with the kids though.
Only moments later, were we walking together back home.
“Why did you take my picture?” Sam asked, without his camera in his hand.
“I don’t know,” I lied. I had stupid reasons for taking a picture of something, trying to figure out some new hobbies. And I was tired of mentioning that to Sam. “I’ve never used a Polaroid before, so I thought I’d try it out.” That was half true at least.
“Right…” Sam said, in slight disbelief. “Are you going to keep it? Your first Polaroid photo.” he stated a little more enthusiastically.
“No clue. It’s just a picture.”
He said, “You’re first picture. You don’t want to ever forget that, you know?”
“It’s just a picture,” I repeated.
Sam frowned slightly, didn’t respond kept looking ahead. Perhaps ‘just a picture’ was insensitive? Probably not. Sam didn’t take offence to things to easily.
“I wonder why those kids told us their secret about the cat,” I wondered aloud. “If it’s such a secret, why tell anyone?”
Sam shrugged. “Well, sometimes it’s hard to keep a secret. Haven’t you ever wanted to say something you weren’t allowed to talk about?
I thought about it for a moment. Were there things I didn’t want to say, or ask? No. I didn’t think so. Anything I’d ever wanted to know, I asked. If there was something I needed to say, I said it. Whether or not I received an answer, was a different matter though.
Sometimes if I wanted to say things, but chose not to, then it must not have been important enough to say.
‘Austin. Every now and then, it’s alright to give up.’
I shook that memory away.
“It’s easier to talk to a stranger than a friend.”
Sam answered his own question with genuine honesty.
“I mean you keep a secret that builds up, and you need to tell somebody about it… That’s why those two told us.”
“Why not just tell your friend?” I asked. “Wouldn’t you want to tell someone who cares about you, who could give you advice that you trust? That sounds better to me than a stranger.”
“Yeah…” Sam murmured his eyes ahead on the road. “I guess. But, if it was something you were afraid to tell someone you cared about?”
Confusion came over me. Were we discussing the same topic?
“I doubt the kids are afraid to tell their mom,” but then I reconsidered. “Well, maybe she would be upset if they had been taking care of a pet without her knowing.”
Shrugging, Sam said nothing more.
As we continued on, our conversation drifted to the norm. How were tests going this week? Were you going to the school Halloween party? Was your mom making that Russian food again?
Soon though our time to part came, and with a quick ‘see ya’ we separated, the sun set to soon fall from the blue sky.
That night, my thoughts drifted to what Sam had said about secrets. Looking up at the ceiling, my head rested against my pillow, back of my neck cooled by the fabric. In my hand was my cellphone, that was warm from the game I just turned off.
To choose a stranger, over someone you knew for advice. To tell them your secrets. Why would that be easier? A secret was information that most shouldn’t know. To share it to a stranger would be illogical and pointless.
‘a secret builds up…’
That’s what Sam had said. Some secrets build up. Only if what you knew, was still going on. Only if it wasn’t a resolved issue. In the case of the children, their hidden cat was still an ongoing problem that they were keeping secret from their mother. It had built up. They needed to confess to someone.
Confession, I concluded in the end.
The reason you tell strangers your secrets, is because you’re too afraid to confess them to friends and family.
An image of Lace came to mind. I was a stranger to that girl. When I thought of a friend though, I thought of Sam. But I couldn’t imagine confiding in him. Then again, I couldn’t imagine confiding in a stranger either.
Brining my arms up, I scratched my head and cleared away all the fog in my head. Enough analyzing details of what I’d do and wouldn’t about something that I didn’t have to deal with. I pushed myself up and stared around my room, eyes landing on the book near the nightstand. It was a new one I had picked up from the bookstore, half read. It wasn’t bad, but not that interesting and I was pushing to get through it.
I considered reading it anyway to pass the time, when a thought occurred to me.
Lying back down, I pulled up the internet browser on my cellphone and searched for the name of the photograph in Sam’s house. Timeless? Forever? It was called something like that.
That was it.
The photograph Ageless, taken by Albert Popov.
There, my phone displayed the picture that I had seen in Sam’s house. I pressed my thumb against the name “Albert Popov”.
He was a photographer, contributing his work to various magazines and publications. The information on Google was limited – a Facebook page and a website, the latter of which I briefly clicked to examine. Stunning pictures of photography were displayed, normally of beaches, above and below the ocean, old houses and birds. The main page featured his picture, a younger man that was taken in black and white, obviously dated.
I briefly glanced over the short biography. He was born in 1948. Currently resided in Florida, specifically Vero Beach. Sam must have discovered him in a local magazine. In fact, as I dwelled on it, the picture of the beach that I had seen could have easily been one from Florida. His photography was still being sold online.
Next, I clicked on photographers in Vero Beach, which led me to a list of recommended names – graduations, weddings and parties. I searched the list, but didn’t see Popov’s. I looked for
Sam’s, wondering if he had a side job in the summer as a photographer. I knew he was good enough for it. However, his name wasn’t there either. As time passed, scrolling through various pictures and names, my eyes grew heavy. I reached for the covers and pulled them over me, wrapping my body up like a cocoon and fell asleep.
On Monday’s, Wednesday’s, and Friday’s I like to jog on the beach after school. I can’t remember when it started to become a habit, but it’s not a hobby or training for any competition. I don’t enjoy the sweat dripping off my body and I don’t need to lose weight either.
My reasoning for running then, I concluded, was to pass the time.
I had no plans for my Friday evening, and my father was working late. Still, I relished the alone time I would have at the house; maybe I’d be able to finish that book by dinner.
As usual, my walk home was quiet and today a cool seasonal breeze swept the town, and I wished I had brought my light jacket I wore the day before. I continued on down the main street toward the beach, and passed a local strip mall. On the left side of the street I glanced over to see the graveyard. Today I had no thoughts on it, and was focused on getting to the beach. Being late for school this morning, I was wearing sandals and needed to change into tennis shoes.
It was a block down the road that I heard the car pull up. “Austin! How are ya?”
The voice came from Niles, who drove up beside me in a black suv Lincoln. He had a smile on his face that was warm and greeting. From the driver’s seat I could see he wore a light blue dress shirt and a silver watch. Suddenly, I couldn’t remember what sort of job Sam’s father had. But it certainly paid well.
“Doing fine, how are you sir?” Niles nodded.
“Ah, just taking care of some business. My father is … it’s a constant job.” At that moment, the smile dimmed slightly and I could see tiredness on his face. I felt sympathy, but also slight confusion.
A constant job?
“I couldn’t imagine,” I answered honestly.
The man nodded, “Yeah, never get older. I’m heading to see him now.” And then, as though looking for approval from someone else, he reached over in the passenger seat and picked up a bouquet of flowers. They were light blue and freshly picked. My eyes could only stare at the gift in surprise. I recognized the type he had bought.
“I hope it goes well,” I told him, my voice distant as I started to realize something.
He nodded back. “I appreciate it. Anyway, how was school?”
What followed was small talk about my school and his job. It turned out Niles was an office manager at an insurance company and had been there for years. I explained that school was fine, and my grades were average, that I saw Sam often.
“Good! He needs more friends like you. You come by whenever you like okay?”
I promised him I would, and with a goodbye we parted ways. The man drove off ahead as I kept walking slowly.
Still, my enthusiasm for the rest of the peaceful evening had waned significantly. Stopping, I stared at the vehicle as it drove away and thought of the man with the flowers in his hand rushing to meet his father – the man who was angry at Sam for not coming with him to the gravesite. The man would not understand my friend’s feelings.
And yet, as I stared ahead as he drove away, something nagged at me from the back of the mind. There was an inconsistency somewhere, and though I hadn’t ran, I started to feel the sweat drip down my neck. I turned around, looking back on the way I came.
The graveyard was a block down road, in the opposite direction. So, where was Niles really going?