Source: E How
Mitch had never let him into his room before so after dinner when he nonchalantly invited him up he didn’t hesitate. But he couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow at Sherrie as he passed her. She smiled at him, careful to face away from her son’s retreating form. They both knew this was big.
He quietly followed him up the stairs, almost holding his breath in anticipation. It had been 8 months since Sherrie had brought him home to finally meet her son and he’d sworn to himself that he was going to be laid back about it. He never pressured him in anything, never forced an interaction. When he sat silent and brooding at dinner he’d try one, maybe two questions about school or a project he was working on and then drop it. He’d endured the silent treatment over countless dinners. He’d ignored the many eye rolls Mitch overtly gave him when he discussed his job, which he’d said was “So-o-o boring”. He’d never lost his temper, never accused him of being harsh. He knew that if he was going to get in it would be because he let him in and nothing would make that process any shorter than he wanted it to be.
Now as Mitch pushed open the door covered in stickers and hand-drawn “Do not enter” signs he felt like he was being admitted into an exclusive club. Mitch walked inside, flipped the light switch on the wall and sat down at his desk. The walls were nearly covered with posters, framed pictures, and book shelves. He wanted to look around, take in every detail. But Mitch was bent over a drawer at his desk, pulling out a box, and he knew he had to be interested in only what he’d brought him there to show him. He walked over to the corner where his desk sat and stood, waiting to be invited to sit down or whatever he may want him to do.
“You can sit on the bed,” Mitch said over his shoulder.
He looked over at the bed which was covered in a rather thick layer of clothing, books and a few assorted magazines. He hesitated for a second, unsure what was ok to sit on and what wasn’t. He settled for a perch on the edge where a bare patch of comforter shone through the tangle of shirts and blue jeans.
Mitch spun around in his chair to face him with a large postal box in his lap. He didn’t say anything, but simply waited to be invited to look at his treasure.
“So,” Mitch said, pulling open the lid and shifting the box forward, “these are my keys.”
He looked in and gasped, he couldn’t help it. He’d never seen so many keys in one place, not even at the hardware store.
“Wow…” he said, allowing his awe to fill his face as he looked over the mass of cut metal pieces and plastic rings.
“You can touch ‘em if you want,” Mitch said.
He reached out and picked up a large, golden key with an layered base and long flat edge on the side. He brought it up close to his face and looked at it closely. “Where did you get all these?”
“Some of ‘em I found- just on the street near the bus stop or on the light rail. Most of ‘em mom gave to me from the junk yard,” he said, pushing keys around as he explained their origins. “I actually bought a big box of them online, but that was before I was really serious about it.”
He kept turning the key over in his fingers, pondering the burning question but unwilling to ask it. Mitch’d tell him if he wanted. If not, he’d wait for another day.
“You wanna know why I collect them?” Mitch asked, his hair hanging in his face the way it did when he was defensive.
He smiled at him and nodded, just once.
“I like to think about what they are, you know? Like, these aren’t keys, really. They’re like, dreams and stuff,” he said, keeping his head down. He picked up a key with a small square base and held it up. “Like this is the key to the lock on somebody’s shed where they keep their lawnmower and every Saturday they’ll open it up and mow the grass so their kids can play on it.”
He placed the key back on the pile gently, as if it would break, and picked up another. “And this is the spare key that someone gave to their new girlfriend so she could come stay at his apartment sometimes. And they could, like, sit on the couch and eat Chinese food while watching horror movies, you know? And this was someone’s first car- the first time they had the freedom to go somewhere without planning it out. And it would take them to, like, a million places they’d never been before, all just on their own, cause they could.”
With each key his eyes grew a little distant as if he were recalling an image, a place, a memory.
“And this one,” he said, taking the key from his hand and holding it up as it were a holy item, “this was a young couple’s first house. The one they moved into after the baby was born. The one where they’d mark his height on the doorframe of the kitchen and put up a nightlight so that he wouldn’t be scared of the dark…”
There was moisture in the corner of Mitch's eye and he looked down again, embarrassed. He wanted to comfort him, to tell him that his family wasn’t gone, it was just changing. But he wouldn’t undermine him that way, he’d earned his sadness.
He let him sit with his head down, gauging the moment in silence. Then quietly, softly he said “This is seriously cool, Mitch.”
Mitch looked up at him suddenly, a quizzical look on his face, like he was surprised.
He just smiled wider at him.
“You know,” he said, looking down at his box of dreams, “you’re pretty cool, too.”
He resolved to buy the ring he’d been eyeing for Sherrie right there and then.