Word count: 567
Prompt: Tell us about your 20 year old self.
“What are you still doing here, Gabriel?” Mr. Wilman asked as I grabbed the heavy box of generic vases from the back of his van.
“I’m helping you.” I’d spent the morning helping him move inventory for his shop from his storage unit, riding in the passenger seat of the van that always smelled of roses and wet leaves from deliveries. I’d learned how to drive in the same van years ago. I was always happy to help Mr. Wilman and the other shop owners in the neighborhood.
“You should be in college.” He let out a heavy sigh and stepped down from the rear bumper, shut the van doors and locked them. His steel gray hair was sticking up like dandelion fluff around his ears, and his face was red from the exertion. “You are too smart to end up fixing watches your whole life.”
I held onto the box of vases while he opened the back door of his shop. It smelled like flowers, and I always thought that it was how a jungle would smell. “Now you sound like my mother,” I told him as I tagged along inside. His son used to help with this, but Thomas had joined the army. He was half a world away. “I know. I should be in college, but I couldn’t go. My mother needs me.”
“Your mother.” I didn’t miss the pause he told while he tried to think of something nice to say about her. I understood. I had a hard time doing that too sometimes especially when I thought about my lack of a future. “She should’ve let you go to UCLA. She should have been proud of you. If my boy had that scholarship, I’d have had a parade.”
Thomas was lucky to graduate from high school, which he did because I tutored him in the afternoons when business was slow, which meant he got a lot of tutoring. But I didn’t mind. I liked the company, and teaching him kept my mind sharp. “I wish she had too, but she’s fragile.”
“She never recovered from your father leaving her, Gabriel.” He took the box from me and set it next to an empty shelf to unpack. “Not that I’m telling you something you don’t already know. I used to talk to Martin about you. We’d talk about our boys, and he wanted you to get out of here too.”
Then he shouldn’t have left me behind when he escaped. I bit the inside of my lip to keep from saying it out loud. “I’m doing the best that I can for her. I sell and fix enough watches to pay our rent, and that’s what’s important.”
“No, Gabriel,” he said, giving both of my shoulders a squeeze. “What’s important is your potential. Don’t forget about that, and I know I sound like her. I do. But unlike your mother, if you ever got the chance to get out of here again, I’d shove you out of the door so fast that it wouldn’t catch you on the ass when I shut it.”
“You’re so good to me.” I had to pay attention to my shoes, because if I didn’t, I’d start to cry. “But I promise, if I ever get the chance to be more than I am right now, I will take it. I’ll runaway, and I will never look back.”