I swear, Ellen, every question I threw at him, he had an answer for. It’s like he’s tried everything not to be stuck in the situation he’s in, but there isn’t enough help out there for people like him. I got so mad at his whole situation, I told him he was crazy for wanting to go into the military. I wasn’t so much whispering when I said, “Why in the heck would you want to serve a country that has allowed you to end up in this kind of situation?”
You know what he said next, Ellen? His eyes grew sad and he said, “It’s not this country’s fault my mother doesn’t give a shit about me.” Then he reached up and turned off my lamp. “Goodnight, Lily,” he said.
I didn’t sleep much after that. I was too mad. I’m not even sure who I’m mad at. I just kept thinking about our country and the whole world and how screwed up it is that people don’t do more for each other. I don’t know when humans started only looking out for themselves. Maybe it’s always been this way. It made me wonder how many people out there were just like Atlas. It made me wonder if there were other kids at our school who might be homeless.
I go to school every day and internally complain about it most of the time, but I’ve never once thought that school might be the only home some kids have. It’s the only place Atlas can go and know he’ll have food.
I’ll never be able to respect rich people now, knowing they willingly choose to spend their money on materialistic things rather than using it to help other people.
No offense, Ellen. I know you’re rich, but I guess I’m not referring to people like you. I’ve seen all the stuff you’ve done for others on your show and all the charities you support. But I know there are a lot of rich people out there who are selfish. Hell, there are even selfish poor people. And selfish middle-class people. Look at my parents. We aren’t rich, but we certainly aren’t too poor to help other people. Yet, I don’t think my dad has ever done anything for a charity.
I remember one time we were walking into a grocery store and an old man was ringing a bell for the Salvation Army. I asked my dad if we could give him some money and he told me no, that he works hard for his money and he wasn’t about to let me give it away. He said it isn’t his fault that other people don’t want to work. He spent the whole time we were in the grocery store telling me about how people take advantage of the government and until the government stops helping those people by giving them handouts, the problem won’t ever go away.
Ellen, I believed him. That was three years ago and all this time I thought homeless people were homeless because they were lazy or drug addicts or just didn’t want to work like other people. But now I know that’s not true. Sure, some of what he said was true to an extent, but he was using the worst-case scenarios. Not everyone is homeless because they choose to be. They’re homeless because there isn’t enough help to go around.
And people like my father are the problem. Instead of helping others, people use the worst-case scenarios to excuse their own selfishness and greed.
I’ll never be like that. I swear to you, when I grow up, I’m going to do everything I can to help other people. I’ll be like you, Ellen. Just probably not as rich.
I drop the journal on my chest. I’m surprised to feel tears running down my cheeks. Every time I pick up this journal I think I’ll be fine—that it all happened so long ago and I won’t still feel what I felt back then.
I’m such a sap. It gives me this longing to hug so many people from my past. Especially my mother because for the past year, I haven’t really thought about everything she had to go through before my father died. I know it probably still hurts her.
I grab my phone to call her and look at the screen. There are four missed texts from Ryle. My heart immediately skips. I can’t believe I had it on silent! Then I roll my eyes, annoyed with myself, because I should not be this excited.
Ryle: Are you asleep?
Ryle: I guess so.
Ryle: Lily . . .
Ryle. : (
The sad face was sent ten minutes ago. I hit Reply and type, “Nope. Not asleep.” About ten seconds later, I get another text.
Ryle: Good. I’m walking up your stairs right now. Be there in twenty seconds.
I grin and jump out of bed. I go to the bathroom and check my face. Good enough. I run to the front door and open it as soon as Ryle makes it up the stairwell. He practically drags himself up the top step, and then stops to rest when he finally reaches my door. He looks so tired. His eyes are red and there are dark circles under them. His arms slip around my waist and he pulls me to him, burying his face in my neck.
“You smell so good,” he says.
I pull him inside the apartment. “Are you hungry? I can make you something to eat.”
He shakes his head as he wrestles out of his jacket, so I skip the kitchen and head for the bedroom. He follows me, and then throws his jacket over the back of the chair. He kicks off his shoes and pushes them against the wall.
He’s wearing scrubs.
“You look exhausted,” I say.
He smiles and puts his hands on my hips. “I am. I just assisted in an eighteen-hour surgery.” He bends down and kisses the heart tattoo on my collarbone.
No wonder he’s exhausted. “How is that even possible?” I say. “Eighteen hours?”
He nods and then walks me to the side of the bed where he pulls me down next to him. We adjust ourselves until we’re facing each other, sharing a pillow. “Yeah, but it was amazing. Groundbreaking. They’ll write about it in medical journals, and I got to be there, so I’m not complaining. I’m just really tired.”