*Over the course of writing Justice in a Bottle, there were many edits and cuts and rewrites. From time to time I’ll post bonus chapters that never made the final cut (all mistakes are my own, these have never been through edits). We’ll call this one, Dumpster Diving.
The first day of August arrived with a bang. Or, what I first thought was a dream about jackhammers but turned out to be real banging, at my door and getting louder.
I was a little ticked because sleep was fitful around here these days. Our new neighbors had a brand new baby, who from what I could tell had mastered the art of screaming.
Grr. Someone knocking on the door at, I rolled over to check the clock, 7:48.
“This better be good, Earnest,” I said, rubbing my eyes and shuffling towards the door. Nobody else in their right mind would be here this early on a summer morning. Only days remained before getting up before my brain was ready. Sure enough, I opened the door to find my odd friend staring at me with a way to big smile.
“What?” I said.
He shrugged and slid past me, inside. I was a little embarrassed, being that I was still in my pajamas, but then again, Earnest was not exactly what could be considered a fashion expert. As for his attire he had on a red lifeguard tank top and camouflage shorts that looked as though they’d been cut with garden shears. He took a seat at the table and eyed the cake, only a single sliver removed where Mom must have splurged and now the frosting was slogging over the chocolate crumbs
“Well, happy late birthday for starters,” he began, then after looking at my face he rethought his approach. “I wish I’d known, I would have gotten you something.”
My friend has a knack for unfiltered comments. I rolled my eyes. “It’s really not a big deal.”
“It is. You’re finally a teenager,” he said, sounding like a philosopher. “So tell me, how does it feel, old wise one?”
“It feels wonderful,” I said flatly. Then, losing my patience. “Really, this is why you came and woke me up?”
His dimples creased with his smile. “Well, I was coming to see you wanted to join me for a shopping spree.”
I shot him my finest glare. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Earnest didn’t exactly shop. He collected trash. Junk, garbage, odds and ends. Whatever you wanted to call it. He’d loved to tinker with junk, and he’d amassed a mountain of treasures he kept in his little workshop—the tiny garage under his house. All of this was fine on his own time but now here he was, trying to wrangle me out of bed on this glorious—whatever-day-it-was—to go dumpster diving with him. I thought he had better sense. But sense and Earnest didn’t always travel together.
He hopped up, eyes bright as he spoke. “Well, here’s the thing. Back-to-school shopping is coming up, and the stores are going to be tossing out so much merchandise that it’s going to be a regular extravaganza.”
“Extravaganza?” I repeated, blinking the sleep from my eyes. Earnest looked as though he’d been drinking coffee through a straw, bouncing on the balls of his feet. A good thing for sure, after what his family had been through. Terrence, his big brother had collapsed on the football field during practice just over a year ago. After Terrance, his mother didn’t even leave the room and Earnest pretty much went silent. But now he was talking, alright—talking way too much.
“Yes, Nita. We can probably find anything you want. Blow dryers, DVD’s, maybe some makeup, or even a new pair of jeans.”
I cut my eyes to him, crossing my arms. “What makes you think I need new clothes?”
He turned away, shaking his head. “No, I didn’t mean it like that, it’s just that, well, what else do you have to do today?”
My new book for starters. With Mom at work and my former best-friend-turned-snob Tamika off with her new friends, I had nothing lined up besides wolfing down Starlight and Mischief. I’d already plowed through the first five chapters and planned on plowing through at least five more today. So maybe I could slow down, take time to savor the third and last installment. Because once I was finished, it would be time to start over again.
Hmm. I could always go watch him dive in a dumpster. That had entertainment written all over it. “Well, let me go get dressed,” I said, starting for my room, turning back when I got there. “But I’m not getting into a disgusting dumpster.”
We each took a slice of yesterday’s birthday cake for our journey. I locked up and we started off. Earnest with a brisk trot, like a man late for a flight. Me, hanging back, not quite sure why I’d let him talk me into this.
He certainly didn’t need a sugar rush, I thought, finishing up my frosting laced breakfast. Earnest looked back from the bus stop, flailing wildly because the bus was coming. I hustled up and we climbed aboard. Earnest, being the gentleman he is, paid my fare and we took a seat near the front.
“We’ll start at the West End Walmart,” he said, and I half expected him to pull out a map. I smiled, wondering how many times he’d planned out these little capers. I must have been smiling hard because he looked over to me. “What?”
I shook my head. “Nothing.”
He dove back in, explaining the dumpsters were around back, near the loading docks, and we’d need to go around the garden center. I nodded and listened and soon I’d perked up, ready for an adventure.
“Okay, here we go,” he said, just as the bus grumbled into the parking lot. It was mostly empty, being Monday morning and all. Earnest jumped up, pulled the dinger, and cinched his back pack like he was wearing a parachute.
We stepped off the bus and headed across the monster parking lot towards the big supercenter. “So have you been to any practices?” I asked gently. Sampson High football practice had started last week. You could hear the marching band throughout town every evening. Terrence had been a star on the team, and Earnest used to spend all his time watching practices.
“Yeah,” he offered, and I knew not to push. The fact he going near the field again was a good sign. Then he said his dad had been too.
My steps stuttered. “Really? Earnest that’s great.”
I was happy to hear his dad wasn’t holed up in the house drinking. The thought put a smile on my face. In fact, I forgot we weren’t going in the store but behind it. Earnest pulled my arm, bringing me around the garden center. “This way.”
Behind the store were all sorts of big trucks, loading and unloading, pulling out and beeping and growling. I counted five big dumpsters, blue and green with big moving parts to them, parts that would crush the two of us like a gnat in a book. I eyed Earnest, who still had chocolate on his chin.
He motioned towards a blue dumpster, overfilled with boxes, Styrofoam. We crept closer, under a truck trailer and to the edge where Earnest sprung over the side like Spiderman.
“E, what are you—”
Some rummaging up there, a scattering of plastic clothes hangers, ties, wrapping. Then Earnest emerged over the side, tossing over a pair of size seven sandals. My size. Cute ones with a flower on the toe.
I picked them up and turned them over for inspection. As far as I could tell they were brand new. Then, before I could say anything else, came a package of headbands. Little girlie ones I wouldn’t wear, but again, in the package and brand new. I was officially intrigued. “What else is up there?
He tossed over a pair of boots. Actually, they were mismatched, with tears around the stuffing. Next came a rain of microwave popcorn. I rolled my eyes. Was this what he got so worked up about? I looked to the docks, where it was clear. A few guys loading up some crates, paying no attention to us. Then something hit the ground with a smack.
I turned and looked down to find a book. Hardback. I picked it up. Some spy novel, brand new too. Another thud. This time with perfectly sharp corners, about cars. Who tossed out books? Why wouldn’t they donate them, or give them away out front? I could think of no reason to throw out perfectly good books, the only thing worse would be…
…to burn down a library.
…only in a dream….
…could such a wonderful thing happen…
…it was raining books.
I couldn’t take it any longer, I wiped my hair back and started climbing. Dove right in the dumpster where Earnest looked at me with the biggest grin in Jamesway County.
“I knew that would do the trick.”
“Yeah, well,” I dug through books and trash and eww, soupy Hungry Man dinners. Still, there are some things worth diving in a dumpster for, and books are one of those things.
The only problem with filling up boxes with books is trying to haul off those boxes of books. It wasn’t easy. And Earnest complained about it the whole way.
“This is not what I had in mind,” Earnest groaned, dragging along a fruit crate packed to the wire full of books. I looked back at him with a smile.
“Well, I’m glad you convinced me to come along, this dumpster diving thing is all right,” I said, picking up my pace. “Now come on, hustle up.”
At the bus stop. Earnest dropped my books to the ground and hunched over to catch his breath. I had a feeling it was the last time he was going to take me along. But now that I knew where to find books. Free, brand new, being-tossed-out-for-no-sensible-reason books. And I planned on diving in every dumpster in town.
We got some funny looks on the bus, hoisting our bounty up to the aisle, sliding them over to the second seat. I picked one off the top, Rainbow Sun and was quickly into the first chapter as we pulled off.
Okay, not all books are created equal. Rainbow Sun looked to be about as interesting as golf, in my opinion, people just making out with each other at any given time. Meanwhile Earnest was fiddling with his prize of the day—an electric can opener. That boy, I swear, anything with a motor.
We hopped off at my house, lugging our load up the walk and up the steps to the porch. I was still in the habit of looking for my old neighbor Mr. Melvin any time I got home, half expecting to find him in his old rocking chair with his pipe. He’d left that squeaky rocker just for me, but seeing it empty every day that I got home only hit me with a dull pang of disappointment.
“Oh, did I tell you what Mr. Melvin said about Miss Vicki?”
“Only about twenty times,” Earnest said, slamming the box of books down on the porch.
“Oh come on Earnest, it’s good exercise.”
He rolled his eyes and I couldn’t help but snort. It was nice, having him come out of his shell, talking more. And he’d been growing. In only four months he’d shot up like two inches, so his shirt sleeves looked to be racing up his arms. He was officially taller than me now.
He dug into his back pack, rummaging through his finds splayed out before him. The can opener thing. Broken headphones, and, to my surprise, the sandals. “Oh, here.”
“So you and Tamika still aren’t talking?”
I shot him a look but it didn’t do much good. He was already head down, fiddling with some cords he had in there. “We’re talking, well, sort of.”
He laughed, “Just not to each other?”
I shook my head, laughing. “I guess not.”
The morning had warmed up, the sun was out, stealing the breeze and we had the whole day in front of us. But Earnest zipped up his things, already planning a dive behind The Dollar Plaza, The Shoe Express, and the pet store, I wasn’t sure I wanted to get back into any dumpsters. I nodded to the door.
“You want another piece of cake before you go?”
“Maybe later. I need to stay light on my toes.”
I rolled my eyes. “Okay, well, thanks for,” I kicked the box of books. “The adventure.”
He zipped up his bag, looked over my books and said, “Yeah, no problem.”
I watched him hike off, in search of whatever turned or spun or buzzed. And I couldn’t stop smiling.
*Justice in a Bottle by Pete Fanning Coming March 3, 2020