It’s night time and the shops on Main Street are closing down for the day one by one. He never goes out during the day – only at night. Less people on the streets at night, and the shadows are his friends.
The two of them are sitting on a bench out front of the old IGA. It was raining earlier but it’s stopped now. People walk in through the sliding doors of the grocery store empty handed while others walk out, arms laden with bags. There aren’t many this time of night, though.
A mother with a little girl steps through the glass doors and onto the wet sidewalk. The child points to the young man on the bench but the mother grabs her arm and pulls her close. She tells the little girl to stop that.
“Sometimes I wish I didn’t have a face at all,” he says to his friend. She’s playing with a stick she picked up earlier when they walked through the park, marking circles and shapes onto the sidewalk.
She turns to him, twists her body on the bench so they’re face to face, “That’s a terrible thing to say,” she tells him. He only looks down, doesn’t reply.
“It’s wrong to think people only judge on looks alone, you know.” There’s a slight frustration in her voice. They’ve been through this before.
He nods, grudgingly, but still remains silent. A streetcar passes by heading west, its iron wheels complaining against the tracks. The windows are empty, except for a couple of passengers.
She takes her hand and places it on his face, on the scars. They cut deep into his skin like a desert canyon, long and twisted. He can’t remember when anyone but her has ever put a hand on him, except his mother, when she was alive. She died in the same fire that painted his face, turned him into a monster.
All he can say is, “Don’t.”
She lowers her hand and takes his. “It hurts me to hear you talk like that. You have so much to be thankful for, to live for.”
“Yeah, sure. Like ten hour days shipping bulk cardboard materials at the plant. That’s worth living for, alright. Do you know in the two and a half years I’ve work there no one’s ever sat at my table in the lunchroom? They don’t even acknowledge me. They can’t bear to look at me.”
“So what!” she says. “You aren’t defined by that job. You’ve got so much talent they don’t even know about. Just look at your paintings! They should be hanging in art galleries.”
He looks up at her and for the first time this evening, smiles. “Thanks. You always know what to say.”
“That’s because I’m your best friend, silly. It’s my job to make you feel better.” She gives his hand a squeeze. They’ve been friends for a long time, long before the fire took his face.
“Yeah, yeah, I know…,” he says. “You’ve always been so good to me. My best friend. My only friend nowadays.” He feels his cheeks begin to get warm.
“Oh that’s not true,” she tells him, even though she knows that, sadly, it is.
He suddenly stands, a new thought on his mind. “Let’s blow this popsicle stand and hit the beach. It’s supposed to be a full moon tonight. Maybe the clouds will break and we’ll be able to watch it come up.”
“Sure,” she says. They cross the street and cut back through the park towards the lake. He walks with a limp but tries to hide it when he’s around her. As they pass under a street lamp he glances over at her and for a moment he realizes just how lucky he is.
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