Megalodon Bean by C.S. Houghton
by C.S. HoughtonBean couldn’t find his favorite t-shirt, the one with the big open-mouthed shark eating coffee beans. It said MEGALODON at the top and BEAN at the bottom. He needed that shirt—all the clean ones in the laundry stack beside his bed were too small or had collars that would scratch all day at school.
He dug through the laundry room hamper. Megalodon bean remained missing, and the clock on the microwave already said 7:02. He put his jacket on with no shirt underneath. The liner felt cold against his skin and the wide zipper was a line of ice down the center.
With his breath freezing in front of him, Bean picked up the stack of newspapers at the end of his driveway. He tried not to cut his fingers on the ends of plastic tie-line, scraping and pulling with his nails until the bundle fell apart. He only had twelve houses left on his route. The others had quit. He was always so glad when they quit.
The first ten were easy. They were all on the street opposite his house, and he marched up one driveway after another. Sometimes he heard people getting ready inside. Their bedroom and kitchen lights looked so warm while everything out there around Bean always felt so dark and too quiet.
But when he came back down the side street and faced his own house, he didn’t want to turn off to the right, go all the way up the big hill, and deliver the last two papers. He was late, and he hadn’t missed their deliveries in weeks. Besides, he still had to find his shirt.
Bean started to walk across the street into his driveway, when he saw headlights around the corner. It was Mr. Tibbett’s brown wagon. Just bad luck, he thought, and waved with a smile. He smiled like he didn’t still have the guy’s paper in the bag around his neck.
All the way down his long, horseshoe driveway, he had that feeling again. It was like there was something that followed him on his route, some bony presence that kept step with him. If he sped up, it would speed up. If he slowed… he didn’t want to slow. Bean knew that if he turned around it wouldn’t be there, but that didn’t help.
In the warmth of the house his mother was up and making coffee. She wasn’t usually awake when he got back. Bean put the bag on the table. “I can’t find my shirt,” he declared.
“What shirt?” His mother turned around. “You were supposed to put your laundry away.”
“The megalodon shirt. It’s not in the pile,” said Bean. He walked down the hall to his room and picked up the dirty stuff. He carried it back to the kitchen, breathing angrily through his nose.
His mother held a newly lit cigarette in one hand and the two newspapers from his bag in the other.
“Yeah,” Bean said. He shrugged.
“You have to go deliver these.”
“They’re extra,” Bean said.
“No they’re not,” she said. “Go deliver these right now. Don’t lie. They’re just going to call again.”
Bean dropped the laundry on the table. “It’s 7:22. I’m gonna be late.”
“You can’t just not deliver their papers,” his mother said and sat down at the table. She picked up her coffee and looked away from him.
Bean picked up the paper, but he looked at the microwave again, and he thought about the bus. It would come at 7:45 and was never late. I can’t do both, he thought. There’s no way. “What do you want me to do? I can’t go there and back and still make the bus.”
“Then stop staying up so late.”
“I didn’t stay up late.”
“Fine,” she said the word as if it were a swear. “But you have to go to school and you still have to deliver their papers.”
Bean let out a deflated growl and unzipped his jacket. “I can’t go to school. I don’t even have my shirt.”
“Well, hurry up.”
“But I can’t find it! I don’t want to wear the other ones.”
“Oh,” she said, looking far ahead as if remembering. “I think it might still be in the washer. I’m not sure I started the dryer load.”
Bean went to the machine and opened the lid. He reached deep and moved around some of the damp things. He saw the prehistoric shark and the coffee, the shirt with his nick name on it. With another angry groan he zipped his jacket back up over his bare chest and took the newspapers from the table.
To get them delivered on time, Bean took his mother’s old bike. He wasn’t allowed to use it, but if his bike was working he wouldn’t have been late in the first place. None of it felt fair.
The whole way up the big hill he had to push the bike, and by the time he made it to Moss Lane, the sun was completely up. When Bean started back down the hill the bus was down the street behind him, following faster than he could pedal and reminding Bean of the bony pursuer.
He made it to the end of his driveway where the bus would stop, but he only had time throw the bike into the bushes next to the mailbox. He pulled his coat down low over his jeans and thought about how many hours he’d have to sit there sweating against the nylon and worrying someone would say something.
“Bean!” his mother called. She walked fast, carrying a red shirt with a collar and his backpack.
He shook his head, looking back at the bus just as the slow squeak of the breaks began. “I can’t change now.”
“You can change later,” she said. “Why is my bike there?”
“I have to go,” Bean said, taking only the backpack and hanging it over one shoulder.
“Give me that,” his mother said. She opened the pack and shoved the shirt inside.
Bean shook his head, annoyed. He walked up the steps into the bus, made his way to the back, and dropped sideways into one of the empty brown seats. The bus roared forward.
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