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Chapter 1 When I was younger my mom would tell me that when you’re in love, you feel a sensation that keeps you close to them all the time and at some point you obtain this sort of ecstasy that you tend to share with each other. I guess that means that for her it happens every night. Those were the only memories I had with my mom, those and the ones that involved bruises. Needless to say, my childhood wasn’t fantastic and at one point I believed that I would never be loved, at least by a normal human being. I’m not like other guys I must say. Most guys are interested in the female population while I on the other hand pay more attention to the male kind, I don’t know why and I honestly can’t help it I just do. What I’m curious about is how gay boys can be part of the so called “popular crowd”, for example, Layken Brownings. Layken I believe is the gayest whore I have ever met in my life yet he somehow fools those brainless jocks into thinking he’s some kind of womanizer. I don’t see how though since he has the brain of a constipated goat, but he must have some skills. Another thing I don’t understand is that he’s on the football team, along with a few other perverted, gay folk. I would have to say that the disappointment of my senior year was that football season was over which meant I would have to find something more satisfactory to my needs which meant I would spend the majority of my day eating truffles and worry over my weight like an average teen girl. I consider myself to be an emotional person. About a week after this I started receiving the letters but I won’t get too far ahead of myself because I may miss a few important details that are very essential to my story.

Chapter 2 In the dim light of the morning, my eyes traveled to the wall. Like everything else in this dilapidated apartment, it was stained and weathered, but this wall had a special little quirk that none of the others did. It was the wall that held the only window in which the grey New York light filtered through, and I had filled it with words. Anything from single words to entire paragraphs were inked in on the wall. Some were mine but most were the words crafted by others. I found it remarkable that even though I had never met any of these people, had never been living on the earth as the same time as some of them, their words understood me. They were words I could have imagined speaking myself and they had become part of me since I moved here three years ago. “I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again. –F Scott Fitzgerald.” I whispered his words quietly to myself. They were my hope that one day I could live a life that I could be proud of. All I needed was to find that strength, but every day it seemed to evade me. I sighed averting my eyes from the wall with shame as if the words there were judging me. I stepped quietly over to the only bed in the room and placed a kiss on Miles’ and Cora’s foreheads. They were the only reason I kept trying. Without them, I would have given up a long time ago. I grabbed my jacket and list of addresses for the day before pulling the door open and stepping into the hallway. My mind was going back to the days when I lived in another place in another country to a time when I had a mother and a father and I wasn’t supporting my brother and sister on my own. A time when I wasn’t an essential part of the Black Market.

I made my way down the stairs and out the back door into a familiar alley with a flickering light. A couple stars were still visible in the grey of the early morning sky, but I paid little attention. My breath rose in a cloud in front of me as I began to make my morning route to the Base. When I had started my work here, curious eyes had followed me, a seventeen year old fragile looking girl, walking through back streets and allies that she had no place in. I wasn’t oblivious to the fact that these parts were precarious and that the eyes that watched me were debating if I would be their next victim. I’d been mugged a couple of times, well I guess as mugged as I could be for having nothing of value on me, but I was used to the bruises now and to the usual soreness that lingered in my muscles. A couple weeks after I started, they grew bored with me. I was just another one of them, a wanderer without a home or a family or a feeling of purpose. Now I passed with no trouble at all. I knew everything about my routes. I knew the graffiti that decorated the bleak walls and the men and women who lay crumpled on the ground trying to draw strength from whatever they leaned against. I understood these people, the thieves and muggers, as much as I understood myself. What I did was no more righteous than what they did and yet every day I continued to do the same thing. I was caught in a constant battle between what was right and what was wrong. Certainly working in the Black Market as a drug smuggler was not a righteous thing, but I had no other choice. It was the only way I could keep Cora and Miles safe and that was the right thing…right? If someone performed immoral acts for the sake of an ethical purpose was it okay to do those things? Was it right? For example if you lied to someone to protect someone else was that the right thing to do even though we’re taught that lying is a sin? I tried to dismiss the questions from my mind as I continued winding methodically through the streets with the buildings closing in all but a sliver of the lightening sky from up above me. It was the only way that I could keep Miles and Cora safe. That was the truth you know. I can’t just leave the Black Market, they don’t let people do that for obvious reasons. The only reason I had even thought about it in the first place was because of my father. When I was about twelve I remember strange men dressed all in black ringing our doorbell two to three times a week. My father would slip them a wad of cash and disappear up to his study with a package that he would never allow me to see. “Daddy, what do those men always bring you?” I recall asking one night around the dinner table. My father’s hand had tightened on his knife turning his knuckles white as he spoke in a slightly strained voice, “Just some work stuff honey don’t worry about it.” “But why won’t you let me see it,” I whined in response. At that he had slammed his fist on the table causing my mother and Cora to jump and Miles, who was a baby at the time, begin to cry. “Laura, can you take the kids outside and let me have a private word with Emory.” My mother gave me an unsure look before my father turned his eyes on her. I don’t know what she saw in his gaze, but it made her hurry off with my little siblings outside. As soon as the door closed, my father came over to me and gripped my hair roughly in one hand while slapping me across the face with the other one. “Listen girl,” he said gruffly his breath smelling of something sickly sweet, “What I do is no business of yours and if you tell anyone about this we’re going to have some more talks maybe with Miles and Cora next time.”

I nodded, biting my lip determined not to let my tears spill over before he released me and I scurried up to my room. My father had changed into someone that terrified me, but I wasn’t scared for just myself, I was scared for Cora and Miles and even my mother. As the weeks passed, my father grew more and more distant. He spent more and more time in his study and his eyes never seemed to focus. A month after he had hit me, he died in his study and I finally got to see what was in those packages. A white powder like substance seemed to lay over everything in the study and made the air heavy with its unnaturally sweet scent. Drugs. My father had become a drug addict thanks to the Black Market and he had overdosed and killed himself. I barely remember the months between my father’s death and my mother’s. My mother fell into a sort of depression, not willing to accept the fact that her husband had been an addict or that he had died. I was left to care for Cora and Miles while she sat in her rocking chair day by day staring at nothing and seemingly hearing nothing. What little money we had left dwindled into nothing, and finally my mother was forced to go into town and find a job. The first day she left, she never came back. I had woken up the next morning to a sharp rap on the door and answered it to find a police officer on my front porch. He told me how my mother had died. Suicide he said with a grimace as the word left his mouth. I couldn’t believe that though. She couldn’t have willingly left me and Cora and Miles. She loved us didn’t she? How could she leave us to fend for ourselves? I had known what was going to happen next. We had no other family so we would have been sent to orphanages where we would have been split from each other. It was too much to lose your whole family in the course of a year. I wasn’t going to allow that to happen. I knew we needed to disappear but I had no means of getting us out of the country so I turned to the people of the Black Market. They made me a deal. They would smuggle my siblings and I out of the country and into North America if I would agree to stay and work for them. The fact that I was thirteen by then didn’t make a difference to them. “They’ll never expect a kid,” they told me nonchalantly. It was the only way I could think of to keep Cora, Miles, and I together so I accepted the offer with only one request: that Cora and Miles would never be approached about working and would never be obligated to anything after I was gone. I arrived at the door to the Base then and took a deep breath before giving the signature four knock one scrape that signaled I was part of the Market. The door opened just enough for a hand to pass me a bundle of drugs that weighed about ten pounds before it closed just as quickly. The sun was just rising and for once in my life, on the doorstep of the Base with a bundle of illegal drugs and addresses in my hand, I stopped and looked at it. If nothing else in my life, I thought silently, I will protect them above everything even if it means no hope for myself. With that, I stepped down and began my routes delivering something that had destroyed my family and my life.

Chapter 3 My fingers tapped at an extremely fast pace and I remember me feeling like I was a robot yet I don’t remember exactly what I was typing. However I do remember it had to do with something either completely irrelevant from my school projects or my version of getting my daily dose of Vitamin D. I settled back into the comfort of my own chair, old, worn and stuffed with pieces of toilet paper which was pretty much the only thing I slept on. My room consisted

of things like old candy wrappers, fairy lights, and cut out pictures of blonde people, don’t judge, I have my fetishes. It was strange though, that I still keep all my old letters from Danielle when I should really face reality and move on. The contents of the letters had a bunch of witty comments on the way I dressed, the way I talked, and how I sang like Ariel on a bad day. But the comments she made never hurt my feelings or brought me down, they just inspired me to write even wittier comments with my own twist. It’s funny how that one person, out of millions who have misjudged you, shows you a brighter side to life that doesn’t involve cutting or verbal abuse from a parent. I finally had found that person, but I have not heard from her in over a year and it’s starting to worry me. The most likely reason is that she came to her senses about keeping in touch with a weirdo. What amazed me the most was how she was able to cover up her true feelings without disrupting her façade. It makes you wonder where the heart truly lies, I know that science has shown it’s situated in the thorax, but I believe the true soul of heart depends on the person, Danielle was just hard to read. Without thinking, I took the heavy crate of letters into my arms, a heavy burst of wind was forced out of my lungs as I attempted to walk out the front door. I didn’t care that my heart was bursting and I had an undeniable headache, I had to move on. I came to a shallow pond that started to lead downhill into a creek bed. I stood on the very border of the muddy edges and with one flick of my wrists, the weight was lifted and I had moved on.

Chapter Four It was nearing midnight when I finally finished my rounds returned the empty packages to the Base and went home. Home. I never realized how much weight a word could actually carry. It was natural to call the place you lived in your home, but the word home meant so much more than an empty shell of a house. Home meant family and home cooked meals and comfort. The apartment was not home, it would never be home. Just before I started up the stairs, I noticed that Ms. Marilee’s door was ajar and muffled sounds of laughter were drifting out of it. I knocked quietly on the faded red door before Ms. Marilee yelled, “Come in,” as best she could through a fit of giggles. When I stepped over the threshold, I saw Cora and Miles buzzing with excitement like never before. Ms. Marilee didn’t seem to mind that they were jumping on the furniture and turning her once quiet home into a cacophony. The kids often visited Ms. Marilee while I was gone and she didn’t seem to mind. She was a small woman, built like a child, with brown hair that was just beginning to harbor streaks of silver. Her face held the lines of a life full of laughter and smiling, but there was something broken at the backs of her warm hazel eyes. The first time I had met Ms. Marilee she had shown me around the apartment building and also given me a grand tour of her small homely space. “You and your brother and sister are welcome here anytime you like,” she told me with absolute sincerity. That’s when I had felt the guilt eating away in the pit of my stomach. She didn’t know the unfortunate past my family had and she didn’t know that I was basically a criminal either. It felt wrong to accept her sympathy and the kindness of her offer, but after a few weeks, I allowed Cora and Miles to meet her and stay with her while I was gone. They shouldn’t have to suffer because of me. They deserved to

have a woman like Ms. Marilee in their life. She was the closest thing they would have to a mother. When she had shown me around her house, I had idly picked up a photograph of a young girl at the beach. She was wearing an oversized tee shirt that billowed around her small form in the wind and her hair was a tangle of blond curls all around her head. She was leaned in towards the camera with a smile the crinkled her eyes until you almost couldn’t see them anymore. I brought the photo over to Ms. Marilee asking who it was and telling her that it reminded me of Cora. She gave a small almost sad smile of remembrance as she looked at the picture and I instantly regretted bringing it up. “That was my granddaughter Danielle about ten years ago,” she told me still looking at the picture of the girl. “She was murdered last year,” she continued while fiddling with the fabric of her dress. “She used to come up here all the time and stay with me. She never wanted to leave.” Here she took a ragged breath and I could tell that she was not used to repeating the story. “Her body was found near a river with her fingers wrapped around a gun and a bullet in her temple. At first they thought it was suicide, but then they found footprints of men’s boots around the site that the killer had missed when he hastily tried to cover up.” She fell silent after that and I couldn’t help but think of my mother. How she was found near the lake at the edge of town with a bullet wound to her head from the gun that was found in her hand. I had never believed that she had taken her own life. She loved us too much for that. You’re just trying to make it all make sense I reasoned with myself again. “I’m very sorry,” I said to Ms. Marilee, “I lost my father just a year ago and my mother seven months after him. I decided not to trouble her mind with the details of my mother’s death and its similarity to Danielle’s. “Mory, Mory,” Miles said impatiently tugging on my sleeve. He had called me Mory ever since he could talk. He had trouble with my name for some reason and gave me the nick name. I had expected it to fade away as he got older, but it stuck around all those years and became a name that I sometimes even introduced myself as. “Ms. Marilee made food come have some!” I gave an apologetic look to Ms. Marilee but she brushed it away and said, “Really Emory do come and eat something, you’re looking awful thin lately.” I tried to give an authentic laugh and replied, “You don’t need to feed me Ms. Marilee I picked up something on the way home from work I’ve just been on a tight schedule lately, not much time to eat.” She gave me a look of half disbelief and said, “At least let me pack some up for you dear.” “Thank you but you really don’t need to do that, just save it for yourself I’m fine I promise. Besides you take care of the kids so much…I owe you one.” With one final smile and thank you, I led Cora and Miles back upstairs and put them to bed. Exhaustion was beginning to set in my bones but there was no way I could sleep. I settled into the stiff armchair and picked a book off one of the stacks in the corner. They had been left in the room by the previous owner and I had considered them a gift from God.

I opened the book curiously and piece of paper fell out and landed in my lap. I looked down at it before bringing it closer to my eyes. It was a letter. I battled with myself for a moment before deciding to read it. If the owner left it here it couldn’t have been that important. Dear Walden, I’m so sorry I haven’t been able to write to you these past couple months. I’ve been unusually busy, I know crazy right? Anyway, I got your last letter and I’m becoming really concerned for you. I’ve told you before that I don’t care what you are. You don’t even know who you are do you? You are not your name or your appearance. You are not “that gay kid with the stripper mom,” as you told me Shawn said. You aren’t any of those things but sometimes people choose to see you by those things. Don’t pay any attention to them because they’re seeing you through eyes clouded by misunderstanding. I can see you clearly so listen to me. You are one of the bravest people I have ever known. You are all the secrets I have told you and that you have kept. You are the songs you always used to sing on the way to school. You are the words that you’ve written to me over all this time and you are part of me too. Walden, a person can’t be defined by a name or a race or a gender we’re way too complex for that. You used to try to get me to understand abstract art and I never could because I couldn’t really understand it, but now I do. We are all some piece of abstract. To some people we make no sense, to some people we evoke something within them that unsettles them, to some people we are a waste of space, but to the people that understand us, we are the most beautiful thing they’ve ever seen. Some pieces of abstract are understood by only a very few, and those are the most rare and beautiful of all. I understand you and you understand me even when nobody else does. Even though we are two thousand miles apart, I can still hear your voice and your laugh. I can still see that look you got on your face when you were trying desperately to figure something out. Most of all, I still remember who you are even if nobody else has realized it yet. You’re my best friend Walden, you always will be. You can’t give up because if you give up then that means I have to give up a part of myself too. I miss you more than I could ever say in this letter and I only hope that after you read it, you’ll be able to see yourself as clearly as I do. Write me back soon. xx Lots of Love, Danielle I sat for a moment then staring at the name on the bottom of the page as if I expected it to transform into Randy or Laura or anything else besides Danielle. It was Ms. Marilee’s granddaughter that had written this letter, and she had never been able to send it. I turned the letter over and found an address neatly printed on the back. This boy, Walden, deserved to be able to read the words that Danielle wrote. He was obviously in a difficult situation like me. His probably didn’t involve the Black Market but still. Her words had a way of making you feel as if she really did understand. So many people pat you on the back and say “I know. I understand,” but they don’t. Understanding doesn’t mean just accepting something or figuring out how something happened or going through it yourself. Understanding was getting why a person chose something or how there were sometimes no words to explain things or even who a person really was behind everything they displayed.

I had to send the letter. I decided to write a little something of my own to include within hoping that maybe he would write back and that maybe I would actually have someone to talk to openly and in all honesty. I needed that and I could tell he needed it too. I didn’t waste any time at all, didn’t even wait for the sun to rise. As soon as I was done writing my piece, I enclosed it in the letter and took it to one of the post boxes on the street. I made sure to leave my return address in the letter before I dropped it in, walked home, and fell asleep with a mind that was lighter than usual. For once in my life I was sure that I had done the right thing.

Chapter 5 I trudged myself all of the way uphill into the house, looking for any remnants of chocolate in the pantry. To my disappointment I didn’t find any and took a bag of pretzels instead. I felt like a whale, sucking up everything in its path, except this whale sat on the couch all day, wallowing in its feelings. “Are you ever going to do anything useful with your life?” I turned around. Ryker, my older brother and guardian, stood over me. I was at least two inches taller than him and it made me feel like a giant compared to him so I stayed sitting down. “What do you mean?” I responded. “Like getting a job. All you do is go to school and then mope around the house like a ghost.” “Why? I’m no good at anything and it won’t help much. Besides I’m doing fine without one.” “Not all the time.” Ryker said, sitting down beside me. “I always see you outside just staring out into the distance, as if you’re trying to find something that’s not there. It worries me.” I guess it had never occurred to me that someone could be watching me when I thought that I was in my own world. “I’m fine.” I said finally. “Well, alright then. I know you haven’t been yourself since she left and I just saw you head down to the river bed and I wasn’t sure whether to leave you alone or help you, but you did the right thing.” He put his arm around my shoulders which was his way of hugging me. I never had moments like this with my brother. He was usually away at the bar or strip club, losing money piece by flying piece. We hardly ever talked, especially about personal issues and I treasured moments like this. He knew what it was like living with mom and that was why he moved out so early and I finally moved in with him. “Well, I need to head out for a bit and get some milk and a few other things. Need anything?” I shook my head. “Ok. Oh yeah, by the way, there’s a letter on the counter for you.”

Chapter Six After a few weeks without a reply from Walden, I had pretty much given up hope that he would write me back. Why should he anyway? I was just some random girl who had found the letter that his late friend Danielle had never been able to send him. I didn’t know how old the

letter was. He could have moved since then or maybe the letter gotten there too late. From what I gathered from the letter, the poor boy had seemed suicidal. I knew I couldn’t blame myself for the death of a boy I had never even known existed, but still a pang of guilt ripped through me. He probably never knew why Danielle had stopped writing to him, but I thought he deserved to know. That piece of news could have sent him over the edge into an even deeper depression, but he would have rather known right? You can’t cover up everything you don’t know in life with “maybes” and “what ifs.” Sometimes I think people are too afraid to know the truth, so they pretend to turn a blind eye to it. Some people don’t want to realize who they are or what their life really consists of because they’re afraid that it will all be so insignificant and others just don’t want to acknowledge what they’ve become. I would know. For about a year after I started working in the Market, I refused to let myself believe that it was wrong and that I had literally become a criminal. I’m only doing this for Cora and Miles I thought over and over. It can’t technically be wrong if I’m only doing it for such innocent reasons. I’m a good person, really I am. At least I’m not a murderer, I’m better than that. I’m better than the people at the center of the black market, I’m better than the people that are addicted to the drugs I deliver. I’m better. I’m better. I’m not as bad. That’s what I had beaten into myself over and over again until the words had lost their meaning. When I was little I used to do the same thing. I would pick a word and say it over and over again until at some point it didn’t even sound like a word anymore and it had no meaning. It just became a sound. Old habits die hard I guess. What I came to realize as I grew older was that there was no way to measure “better.” How did I know that I was better than all those people? How could you measure it? How did I know that they didn’t all tell themselves the same things I did? I had to do it. I had to. One day in the middle of my rounds, the truth had knocked the breath out of me as I witnessed a skilled man pickpocket an oblivious lady’s purse. Some instinct inside of me wanted to follow him and to see what he actually did with the money. He walked a couple blocks before turning into a deli and buying what little food he could. He then proceeded to turn down a small alleyway where two children sat huddled against the brick wall holding on to each other with wide frightened eyes. As the man approached them, they got up and ran to him allowing him to scoop them up in his arms. Their limbs were bone thin and their faces were gaunt; the skin over their cheekbones stretched taunt. Their eyes, which had been dull and lifeless only a minute before, lit up when they saw the food. They tore into it as if they hadn’t eaten in days, for all I knew, they probably hadn’t. I I’m not saying that every malevolent act can be explained, there are evil people out there, I’m just trying to put into words how that finally made me see people for the first time. Before that day, I would have watched the man and felt a sort of twisted satisfaction as he made off with the money. At least I’m better than that I would have told myself. At least I have a reason to do what I do. He’s probably going to spend it on drugs or alcohol. After it from beginning to end though, the only thing I thought was, I understand. I began to watch people through new eyes after that day and I started to realize that maybe people weren’t technically good or bad after all. I had used to classify people into two categories: the good people and the bad people. My groups were that simple, and it was so impossible because people are not simple. You can’t say that you know someone just because you’ve had a glimpse of their life. That’s about as good as looking at the ocean and saying

you’ve explored the whole thing when really you’ve only dipped your feet in once before. That was part of the lengthy letter I had sent to Walden along with the one from Danielle. I had desperately been trying to tell him what I had realized about people, about how we’re three dimensional and yet people still try to categorize us as if we’re two dimensional. I poured all of my thoughts openly onto the page and told him that I was also going through a difficult situation. I told him about my mother and father’s death and how I was left to raise Cora and Miles on my own. I didn’t tell him exactly what I did, obviously, but I did express I wasn’t exactly proud of my life or myself. It was so much easier to talk to someone you had never known and would most likely never see. You didn’t have to worry about how they would look at you after they heard what you had to say. You didn’t have to watch them judge you before you were even finished. If we could all talk like that, for once we would maybe finally understand each other on a three dimensional rather than two dimensional scale. If you haven’t noticed, most of my time was spent with only myself and my thoughts. Most of the time I resented it, but it was times like that when I had a breakthrough and I thought maybe I need to be here right now, maybe I wouldn’t know this if I had been anywhere else. I decided to check the mail box even though I didn’t expect a letter back from Walden. I opened the rusted box unhurriedly and froze when I saw a single envelope with my name written in unfamiliar script. I took it out and examined it closely finding that the return address was indeed the one that I had sent my letter to. My pulse began to quicken and my fingers itched to open it. His writing’s extremely neat I thought absently as I carefully opened the envelope. Emory, The first thing I want to do is thank you. I don’t know quite how to express how thankful I am that you wrote to me. I’ve never been the best with words, that was Danielle’s forte, but I find it easier to write rather than to speak aloud. I’m guessing you got from her letter that I’m not the most popular kid in school probably due to the fact that I’m gay, which I’m sure you gathered from her letter also. Danielle was the only real friend I had before she moved away. We wrote back and forth for a while and I had convinced myself that maybe I could cope that way. I could rely on her letters and use her words as a fuel to keep on living. When she stopped writing, my life slowly started to fall apart. It’s near impossible to try time and time again to get back up when everyone around you seems to make it their personal mission to push you back down. After about six months with no response, I stopped trying to get back up. The only person who had ever made an effort to understand me my whole life had evaporated into thin air as if she had never existed. I didn’t want to be at school constantly being ridiculed for everything and I didn’t want to be at home where either my mother, basically a prostitute, or my drunken brother were bound to be. I didn’t want to be anywhere, so I pondered the idea of taking my own life. No more pain. No more trying. No more caring. Even as I write the words, I can barely believe them. Your letter was a miracle to me in so many ways. You allowed me to connect with someone who I thought had abandoned me to face the world alone and you also brought me the news of her passing. Those things are not what I want to thank you most for though. I want to thank you most for your words. I find it amazing that someone would actually take the time to write to a stranger, and a stranger with problems at that. You made me realize that I wasn’t the only one who was

facing something, but most of all, you understood me. I pieced together that you were struggling with the battle between right and wrong in your life just as I’m sure we all do at times. All I can say is that I cannot imagine you being a “bad” person no matter what you’ve done or what you do. I think both of us are dealing with sort of the same thing in some twisted, backward way. We want a sense of identity. We want to know who we are and what our life is worth. You know I think maybe we understand each other better than we understand ourselves. I’ve heard that people’s eyes are clouded with judgment when they look upon others and maybe the same goes when you look upon yourself. Maybe we judge ourselves more harshly than anyone else because we think we know ourselves when really we don’t. I know it sounds a little confusing, remember not great with words here, but all I’m saying is that I don’t think you are whatever you think you are. To me, you are not what you’ve done or what you will do or even what you are doing right now. To me, you are the words you wrote that put my life back on track. To me, you are the ink on the page, and I cannot imagine that being any more right or any more beautiful. You helped me understand myself so I’m trying to do the same for you. Whatever you wrote or thought about writing to me, that was you. It was so straightforward, so black-and-white to you that it couldn’t have been anything but the truth, couldn’t have come from anyone but who you truly are. Right and wrong have to coexist Emory. Without one there couldn’t be another. It’d be like trying to understand euphoria without ever experiencing sadness. All I’m saying is that there is a constant battle between right and wrong within us as well as outside of us. What you do is only half of the story. As for separating the two, well that’s something we all struggle with. One of my favorite quotes in the history of ever is from a man named F. Scott Fitzgerald. “I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.” We can all start over Emory; it’s what I’m doing right now. We can’t escape right or wrong, we have to live with both of them and ultimately choose which one will win out in the end. I know that you will choose right. With hope at last, Walden

Chapter 7 I leapt off the couch and into the kitchen. I had excitement bubbling up in my stomach. On the granite kitchen counter there were just two, pure white letters with crimson stamps in the middle of them. I picked one of them up thinking that it could not be her, I just could not believe it. I slowly unfolded the letter and held my breath as I read every last word.....


I sat down at the computer, my mouth slightly open but not a single word came out. It was not until I was done reading the whole letter before I realized it was not from Danielle. It was from someone by the name of Emory, who I did not remember. She could be a friend or

family member to Danielle, but then again, why was she writing to me and why was it about this? I looked back into the letter and my eyes caught onto something: “You can’t say that you know someone just because you’ve had a glimpse of their life. That’s about as good as looking at the ocean and saying you’ve explored the whole thing when really you’ve only dipped your feet in once before.”

It reminded me of something similar to what Danielle has said before. I believe it was around the time we first met and she had just finished slamming Ernest Wilmer, an average school bully, against the lockers. She wrapped one arm around my shoulders and held me next to her and whispered into my ear telling me I was worth it and later told me why. I guess I never fully realized until now that Danielle companionship was truly genuine and I should not have judged her for something like that. I should have taken her own words to heart and it took a stranger to do that. I needed to thank her in some way. I started to write back: Thank you, Emory, for telling me that I’m worth it and please tell Danielle that as well. Although I have never met you I feel especially close to you in a way that confuses me and strangely frightens me, but I don’t care. It takes a true friend and a kind soul to say that to someone with feeling and I thank you for that. I don’t know where you are, who you are, or what relationship you and Danielle have but I hope that we can somehow become friends, or acquaintances at the very least. Although, I do have one question. Why did you send me this letter? I know this sounds quite rude but I honestly cannot bring myself to understand how a person, even Danielle, could be so kind as to give me this letter and explaining your true feelings about though we do not know each other. Oh yes, and one more thing, how you found out about me. It does not bother me that you know about me but I would like to know as to how you know about me and the story that I share with Danielle. Please write back, I would so greatly appreciate it with all the kindness in the world and tell Danielle that I love her as well.

I signed my name at the very bottom of the letter and put the letter, as neatly as possible, back into the envelope from where it came. I got up out of the chair that I was sitting in and skipped out of the house and up the road in such a flamboyant manner that even my own cheeks blushed a light pink when I stopped at the mailbox. The mail truck was coming up the road slowly so I had enough time to put the letter in the mailbox. As I walked down the dusty road that led back down to my house I remembered that there was another letter on the counter as well, waiting to be opened. The excitement boiled up inside of me again as I ran down even faster than my legs could possibly take me. The cold step that I took on the wooden floors of the house reminded me that I had no shoes on and my feet were probably swollen from blisters right now. but I didn’t care. I made my way back into the kitchen by the counter top staring at that last ivory letter. I took in a deep breath, trying to channel in all the anxiety that was brewing up inside of me. I unfolded the letter with all the care in the world, waiting to see what was written inside. What was written, however, was not something that I had expected to happen.

Chapter 8 I didn’t remember finding my way up to the apartment or picking up Miles and Cora, but I did recall falling into the first dreamless sleep I’d had in years with the letter in my hand while tear tracks dried on my face. I woke up the next morning to two innocent pairs of deep blue eyes resting on me. “Mory,” Miles questioned, “Are you staying with us today?” I smiled a new smile and spoke in a new voice when I replied, “I’m staying with you every day from now on. Hope that’s okay with you guys.” Their faces immediately brightened and they jumped on me talking on top of one another in mindless babbles. For the first time since my parents died, I felt at peace. This was how our lives should be; waking up to each other and hugging and laughing and talking. I had no idea where our lives were headed next, and I was perfectly fine with that as long as it was somewhere far, far away from here. After a while, they quieted and we all silently watched the sun slowly begin to break through the window lighting up bits and pieces of our lives. It fell on the stack of books which I used to read to Cora and Miles every night. It fell on the floorboards covered in scribbles from when Miles was a toddler. It spread across my writing wall and lit up all the words that had somehow become a part of me. It fell on Walden’s letter which had been the start of my new life. And then it fell on the faces of Cora and Miles who were my life. They both turned to me with grins when they heard my stomach growl interrupting our peaceful moment. “Why don’t we go downstairs and see if Ms. Marilee has enough breakfast to feed one more this morning,” I told them with a wink. They both scrambled off of the bed and rushed downstairs yelling to Ms. Marilee as they went. Before I followed them, I grabbed Walden’s letter off of the bed beside me and read over it one more time. To me, you are not what you’ve done or what you will do or even what you are doing right now. To me, you are the words you wrote that put my life back on track. To me, you are the ink on the page, and I cannot imagine that being any more right or any more beautiful. I ran my fingers over his printed words and smiled. He was my strength that I had been looking for along with Cora and Miles and Ms. Marilee. They were all my strength, but through his words, I had found the strength to start over again. “Thank you,” I whispered into the air. I didn’t know who it was for. Maybe Walden or God or the city that had put me through so much. Maybe it was all three. I tucked the letter inside my pocket and headed down the stairs and through Ms. Marilee’s open door where the smell of food led me to the kitchen. Miles was tugging on Ms. Marilee's skirts as she brought a dish over to where Cora sat primly at the table. I went over and took Miles in my arms tickling him before setting him in the seat next to Cora. "Emory!" Ms. Marilee exclaimed, "I wasn't expecting you but oh I'm so glad you could make it dear!" She said pulling me over to the table and bringing me a plate before she sat down next to me. For once, I didn’t feel guilt as I shoveled the food into my mouth. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d tasted food that I’d actually enjoyed. Food for me had become a fuel to live, not something to be savored. Ms. Marilee smiled when she saw my empty plate and piled on more before I was able to speak. After we all had finished and sat back with content stomachs I said, “Miles, Cora, why don’t you guys go up and get dressed and we’ll go out to Central Park.” I had barely finished before they had rushed off leaving Ms. Marilee and I to clean up the discarded breakfast dishes.

As we stood at the sink, Ms. Marilee gave me a look of happiness with a hint of suspicion. “You’re not staying here are you?” She asked, but it was more of a statement than a question. I sighed running the towel thoroughly over the chipped dish before setting it on the counter. “I can’t,” I told her with my voice cracking a little. “I can’t tell you why exactly but I’ve decided to turn my life around and now I’m in danger, and Cora and Miles are too. If anything happened to them…” I trailed off then not knowing how to finish my thought. She took my hand sympathetically and gave it a small squeeze. “Emory, you are the best thing those kids have. I know you’re going to do all that’s in your power to care for them, I wouldn’t let you go if you didn’t.” I gave her a gracious smile before she continued. “Is there anything I can do for you dear?” At that, I averted my gaze from her open, generous one and felt shame stab through me. I gripped the countertop and was silent for a few moments. I didn’t want anyone’s charity because I didn’t deserve it. I still felt a need to punish myself for before. “Emory,” Ms. Marilee said in a soft yet stern voice, “Look at me.” I reluctantly turned my eyes back to hers and saw something that I’d never seen in anyone face to face before: understanding. “Dear, no matter what you’ve done, I don’t hold it against you. No child should have to go through losing their parents and choosing to raise their little siblings all on their own. You are the strongest person I have ever known Emory, but even the strongest people in the world can’t face everything alone. I want to help you okay? I want to. You and Miles and Cora have become like children to me and I want to know that you end up somewhere safe.” In her eyes I could see that she meant every word that she said, but I also saw something being broken. We were the only family she had as far as I knew, and we were going to leave her. Miles and Cora would be heartbroken. I would be heartbroken. “Come with us,” I whispered not sure if my mind had made the decision to speak or if my mouth had moved of its own accord. She said nothing for a few minutes and her expression didn’t change. I began to question if I had even spoken aloud when she finally said, “I was hoping you would ask.” I gave her a look of utter disbelief before I broke out into a smile and saw the same smile reflected across her face. Miles and Cora pounded through the doorway then all bundled up for the unforgiving New York winter weather. “Come on Mory!” Cora yelled pulling on my sleeve impatiently. “Hey guys would you mind if Ms. Marilee comes?” I asked although I already knew the answer. “We have some things to talk to you about.” “Sure, sure,” Miles said absentmindedly as he looked out the window. When he turned back to me, his eyes were lit up in a way I had never seen before, “Come on Mory we have to go!” He screamed. “It’s snowing, it’s snowing! Come on!” With that, we all rushed out of the warmth of the house and into the biting cold. It wrapped around me threatening to squeeze the air out of my lungs like a vise, but I barely noticed. All I was focused on were my brother and sister with their cheeks red from the cold and their laughs rising above the car horns and sirens. Ms. Marilee was playing right alongside them and I knew that there was nowhere else that she would rather be. There was nowhere else I would rather be either. I joined in for the next hour throwing snowballs and making snow angels and snowmen with the help of my family. This is right I told myself as we all exhaustedly made our way to the nearest café for a cup of hot chocolate. There, Ms. Marilee and I explained to Miles and Cora that we would be moving far, far away from New York to a place that was quiet and where they

could go to school and we could all finally live like a family with a new beginning. “A do-over,” I told Miles and Cora when we had finished. It was a word they constantly used when we had played games a lifetime ago. “How does that sound to you guys?” They looked at each other passing unspoken words in a way that only siblings can do and then they faced me with huge grins on their faces. “That sounds absolutely fantastic,” Cora told me and I smiled as I heard those words come out of her little nine year old mouth. “Okay then,” I said spreading my hands across the table. “We’ll leave first thing tomorrow.” *** That night, I lie awake reassured by the steady sounds of Cora and Miles’ breathing. My gaze traveled around the room one last time. I had never thought it would be a home, but in some odd way it had become one. Cora and Miles had grown up here doodling on the floorboards while I read them books that now collected dust in a corner. I had poured my thoughts and feelings onto the wall by the window and read every single one of the books that lay discarded around the armchair. We had spent nearly four years of our lives in the city and the apartment and even if they would never be the highlights of our lives, they were still part of our past. I wanted to remember, and that meant remembering everything. It meant remembering what had caused me pain and what I was ashamed of, but it also meant remembering the good times and the laughs. You can’t have one without the other I thought absently as I remembered Walden saying that you can’t have right without wrong. I would never change anything that had shaped my life. I would live with it and that meant having regrets and shame and guilt and sadness that would never completely go away, but it also meant moving on to somewhere brighter and safer. No, I would never forget the time I spent in that apartment, I wouldn’t try to because it had become part of me. You can’t expect to move on only accepting part of the past. If we were meant to forget, then why do we remember? I nodded off into a dreamless sleep on the armchair by the window reading the words until my eyes were too heavy to be kept open. I knew it was risky to try and step away from the Black Market, but the day I just lived, a lifetime of those days, was worth anything. We were all going to disappear, we barely existed in the first place. None of us had passports. There were no records of us even being In the country. I had always been terrified to leave the Market, but as I thought about it, I realized how nearly impossible it would be to track us. You don't have to do it alone I told myself. That was all that mattered. Before we left the next morning, I checked the mail and one last time and discovered a letter. A simple thank you letter from Walden. I couldn’t write back, not for some time, but maybe one day I could reply and tell him that I ended up somewhere safe thanks to him.

Chapter 9 When someone dies, it breaks the heart pretty badly. Sure relatives of mine have died before but I didn’t really care for them all that much for I have never met a whole lot of family members before. This sounds bad I know but my mom didn’t allow me interacting with our family other than my brother of course and she sure as hell would not allow me near dad’s family

either. I was a lonely child. I’m not sure exactly why this happened but I do know the how and it’s going to be extremely hard to not end up starving myself since there’s no use living anymore. But to thing stopped me from doing that. First, I had found Emory and she seemed to understand me in a way similar to Danielle and I respected that. Second, I am a drama queen. I overreact to everything. Once, when I got a C on my history test I said I would hang myself that very night. I’ll let you imagine how all that worked out. But this was something completely different from all the other letdowns that I receive daily. My only reason for living was now among the unliving and at that point you could probably assume that I was not the happiest person on the face of the planet. I did get up to write Emory back though but that I do not remember as well as the other one. Though, I do remember a lot of tears, folding, and re-folding went into that letter and I almost crushed it putting it into the mailbox. Another thing that I remember is that the day I received those two letters was the happiest and saddest day in my existence, so far at least. I found out that there was a person, other than Danielle, who truly cared about me and I also found out that my only friend at that time was now gone and she was not coming back. I remember how we would write back and say thing like she would run away from home, hop on a train, and ride back to me and we would stay with each other forever. Obviously that didn’t go as planned.It just makes me think way back on a saying someone once told me, “Sometimes, the heart sees what is invisible to the eye.”

Danielle and Emory had very observational hearts.

Chapter 10 I don’t know if you will ever read this letter. Right now I’m not even sure if I’m going to send it, but I felt as if I should at least write it. I thought I owed you that much. I just wanted to let you know that I’m in a better place. I’m safe now. Nothing will ever be perfect of course. I still harbor pangs of regret from my past, but they’re lessening these days. Some nights I wake up in a cold sweat from nightmares that I can’t quite remember, but those are few and far between. It’s taken me a while to get used to everything, to seeing myself the way I should and accepting my past. I’m not proud of all that I have done, but then again who is? I don’t know one person who can say that they have no regrets. I don’t know one person who does not stay up some nights thinking of things that they have done wrong or that they should have done differently. Not one person. Over all of these years, I have kept your letter. You are the one who put my life back on track. Even if we have never met before, I feel as if we know each other inside out. I feel like you know every secret that I have whispered into the darkness. I feel like you know all that I have done even if you don’t. Nobody knows all that I have done except me. It’s not an easy burden to carry, but I take comfort in the delusion that maybe you do and maybe you don’t hold it against me. I’ve learned to move on but also never to lose sight of my past. They say you learn from your mistakes right? Besides I wouldn’t want to forget, would you? Would you really change your past now that you know what it has all led up to?

Some people may answer yes without really thinking about it, but I wouldn’t. Of course there are things in my past that I wish had never happened to me, but maybe I wouldn’t be where I was now without them. Maybe our past as a whole is what determines our present. Maybe if we hadn’t talked to that person or lost that job or that person, then we wouldn’t be where we are today. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you should be happy about the bad things that happen to you, I’m just saying that you have to learn to accept them rather than question them. If someone you love dies you mourn of course. You honor their memory, you cry over their passing, but you don’t forget them. You can’t forget what causes you pain especially when it once was the source of your joy. I believe that everything we go through is for a reason. I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe that you and I found each other for a reason and I believe it was part of a story that maybe we don’t quite understand yet called life. Life is the greatest most complicated story that ever has and ever will exist. It is made up of billions of characters and stretches over longer than we could ever be able to comprehend. It has the most complex plotline that will ever be developed and is written by all of us day by day. We all are parts of one story that doesn’t seem to connect, but when you take a closer look, we intersect without even realizing it. We cross each other’s paths more than we ever will come to realize. One thing that we do one day to one person can have an effect on someone else hallway across the world next year. There are no boundaries to what we are capable of. There is no limit on our story. Some people argue that it’s already written for us while some people argue that everything is up in the air. From what I’ve experienced, I think that maybe someone knows the ending, maybe someone has already read the book, but we are still writing it. I’m more thankful for you than you could ever know. Even if I never send this and even if we never talk to each other again, you will be a part of my story just as I will always be a part of yours. Finally, I have hope at last thanks to you.

On These Lines  

By: Erin Krauth and Hannah Bain

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