It was a small town. It was a boring town. But boring was the way that Kevin liked it.
His life was fine until he’d gotten an envelope that couldn’t be opened.
He was a person who liked routine. He craved routine, to be more precise. Every morning he woke up, went to work, had lunch at the same café, and went home.
Kevin worked at a grocery store, working the checkout line on weekday mornings. Mornings were easy. The movements were so repetitive, the swiping of the barcodes, the sorting through the register… For hours at a time, Kevin could live with his eyes closed. He didn’t need to think. It wasn’t that he didn’t like thinking, he just never had much of anything worth thinking about.
After work, he went to the café. Everybody there knew him. It was a run by a family, the mom, the dad, the three daughters. They would share some small talk, but they weren’t precisely friends.
There was somebody new in the café that day. Kevin knew all of the lunchtime regulars. It was a young boy, probably still a student. He was sitting at the table next to Kevin’s, examining a crinkled white envelope.
Every once in awhile, the boy would look up, and their eyes would meet. Then he’d look back down at the envelope, flexing his fingers, making the paper crackle with every movement.
Kevin was eating a tuna salad sandwich. He almost always got the tuna salad sandwich on weekends. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays were typically days for grilled cheese sandwiches, while the Tuesdays and Thursdays were for bacon cheeseburgers. The only reason that he would ever break from this tradition was if the café had run out of ingredients for his preferred meal. Often when he came in, he wouldn’t have to bother ordering. One of the daughters would simply gesture to a seat and bring out the day’s lunch.
He hadn’t noticed, so absorbed in his food, and so absorbed in trying not to think of anything, but the boy at the other table had stood up and wandered over. Suddenly the boy was sitting across from him.
Kevin looked at him expectantly, but he didn’t have a clue what to say.
“Hey,” the boy said. The envelope was tight in his hand.
“Hello,” Kevin said.
The boy tilted his head, as if searching for something on Kevin’s face. “Can I ask you a favor? It won’t be any trouble.”
Kevin’s eyes were on the envelope. “I suppose not. Who are you?”
The boy shifted in his seat. He was anxious about something. “My name’s Bryan.”
“Kevin,” Kevin said, reaching out a hand and shaking his. He did it automatically, feeling that he had no choice. “I’ve never seen you here.”
“I don’t live in town,” the boy told him, shrugging slightly. His eyes were on the envelope too. “I’m from a couple cities over.”
Kevin furrowed his brow. “How old are you?”
Bryan smiled, like it was a joke. “Seventeen.”
“What are you doing out here?”
His smile grew. “I don’t quite know, to be completely honest. This morning I stole my dad’s motorcycle, and I started riding down the highway. No direction, no destination.”
Kevin thought about this for a moment. “You ran away from home.”
“I did,” Bryan said, flapping the envelope against his open palm.
“You have a license? You allowed to ride a motorcycle?”
“I suppose not. I hadn’t really thought about it.”
Kevin studied his face. Bryan’s tone seemed politely cheerful, but there was still an ounce of disappointment hidden behind it all. “Why did you leave?” Kevin asked.
“I had some problems with my dad. Nothing special. But… anyway, I have a favor I need to ask you.”
Kevin said nothing.
Bryan lifted the envelope to eye level. “I need you to take this. I don’t want it anymore.”
“You don’t want it,” Kevin repeated.
“A few years ago, my mom was in the hospital, sick. The docs gave her a one in ten chance of living.” He flapped the envelope again, the paper crinkling. “My mom always liked handwritten letters. She said there was something nostalgic about them, something… melancholic.” The word sounded strange coming from his mouth.
“That letter is from your mother,” Kevin concluded.
Bryan looked at it again, as if he hadn’t realized he was holding it. “My dad didn’t like to visit her in the hospital. I wanted to go alone, so I could talk to her without him looming in the back of the room, listening and judging…” He sighed deeply. “About a week after we last visited, my mom sent this letter. But she was dead before the letter arrived.”
Kevin didn’t know what to say.
Again, Bryan flapped the envelope against his palm. “My dad never saw the letter. I got it out of the mail, and I hid it in my room.”
He sneered. “My dad didn’t deserve to see it, didn’t deserve to know her last words.” His face fell a moment later, like a deflating balloon. “I didn’t deserve to read it either. So I never opened it.”
“Why?” Kevin asked again.
Bryan looked away, his gaze on anything but the envelope. “I don’t know, really. I had a fight with my dad last night. Not a big fight, or at least no bigger than any of the others. But I was done with him. It was the last time. So I left, and the only reason I stopped here was because the bike was running out of gas.”
He set the envelope on the table and slid it over to Kevin.
“I need you to take the letter. I don’t want it anymore.”
“Why?” Kevin asked for a third time. He felt foolish for repeating himself. “Why me?”
Bryan smiled, puffing air out of his nose. “You’re somebody. As long as it’s not me or my father, I don’t care who reads that letter.”
Kevin picked it up. He’d expected it to feel special, have a certain weight to it, but it was just crinkled paper. He didn’t want it. It was difficult to say precisely why, but it seemed that this letter wasn’t meant to be read. “Do you have any idea what it says?”
“I have no idea. I keep thinking about the kind of ink she used. Black ink? Red ink? Blue ink? Maybe it was written with a pencil. Maybe it’s written in perfect calligraphy. Maybe it’s meaningless scribbles, a desperate message from a dying mind. Maybe the pages are blank, one last crazy joke to infuriate my father.” He shook his head. “I have no idea. And I have no intention of finding out.”
Kevin stared at the paper, at the address on the front. The address was typed onto a sticker, likely printed off by the hospital. There really was no way of knowing what sort of ink had been used. You couldn’t see through the paper. “The town on the address,” Kevin said. “You really have come a long way.”
Bryan stood up. “I have.” Then as he turned away, he added, “I’m sorry.” It sounded like he meant it.
The boy returned to his table, eating the rest of his meal quickly. He was finished within a matter of minutes. He stood up, paid at the register, thanked the staff, and left. Kevin could hear the motorcycle revving outside.
Kevin wanted to open the envelope right there, right that instant. But something held him back. After he ate his lunch, he brought the envelope home, but still he didn’t open it. He decided to sleep on it, and save it for tomorrow.
Still, he didn’t open it.