On July 8, 2014, August Stonem purchased a one-dollar notebook and titled it Running Away From Home.
“I want to live in a tree-house,” he planned. “I want to live under a bridge, or on top of a clock tower.”
“How will you get the supplies to survive?” Maria challenged. She did that a lot. “Food, shelter, safety?”
“I’ll improvise,” August replied.
“You’re ridiculous.” She rolled her eyes.
August met Maria one spring afternoon at Triangle Park, a quarter-of-a-mile from his house in Delphi, Indiana. He walked the two miles to and from his school alone every day since Mom’s passing, so there was no way for Dad to find out about her. This was good news.
Before, August would look forward to visiting Triangle Park every week with Mom because together they brought back countless buttons of different shapes each time, which she sewed onto backpacks and quilts. Now he goes there on his walks back from school to remember, and to make additions to his ever-growing jars of buttons.
The day August met Maria, she tried to steal a button he found during one of his searches.
“Finder’s keepers!” She squealed.
“But I found it,” August said.
“Fine, you can have it if you tell me why you want it,” she crossed her arms.
“I collect buttons.”
“So go collect another one.”
“But I want this one.”
He didn’t answer.
“You’re ridiculous.” She rolled her eyes, clearly bored. “I’m Maria Rodriguez,” she said as she handed the button back.
“August,” he muttered.
“When is your birthday?” He noticed that her curiosity made her impossibly blue eyes seem even bluer.
“10th July 2000.”
“Do people ask why your name is August if your birthday is in July?”
“Actually, no.” He started to walk away, only to have her fall in step with him.
“Where do you live?” Her chestnut hair bounced as she skipped along.
August turned to face her. “I don’t talk to strangers,” he said. “Please leave me alone.”
“What’s my name?” She asked abruptly.
He stared back blankly.
“What’s my name?” She planted her hands on her hips.
“Maria,” he narrowed his eyes.
“You’re August.” She reached over and dusted dirt off his sleeve. “See? We’re friends,” she giggled.
She’s bad news, he thought.
The day he returned home from the art supply store with the notebook, he entered through the back door to avoid running into Dad, only to find Jane in the kitchen. Again.
“Oh, hello August! I have good news,” she chirped in her loud British accent. “My parents are in town to meet you tonight, so I’m making chicken roast for dinner!”
“I’m pescetarian on weekends.”
Just then, Dad entered. August noticed that for the first time, his ring finger was naked.
“I was just telling August about cooking chicken tonight,” she said uncertainly.
“Uh, right,” he coughed. “Sorry I forgot to tell you about that,” Dad began awkwardly fiddling around with stuff on the kitchen counter. “I’ll explain later,” he whispered, thinking August couldn’t hear. That was code for It’s a Mom thing.
August scowled and ran upstairs to plan his escape, but paused outside the bedroom his parents once shared. He tiptoed in, pulled opened Dad’s sock drawer. Knowingly, he pinched the back right corner and peeled it to reveal a compartment the size of a big man’s toe. Amongst money and passports, he found and swiftly pocketed the seventeen-year-old ring.
The next morning, August woke up to noises of tipping furniture. He leaned against his open doorframe to watch Dad flurry from room to room in pajama bottoms, leaving the house upside down in his wake. His frantic state reminded August of the time he saw Jane go into what was, formerly, his parents’ bedroom. To make his father remember that, August had unlocked the door to his mother’s study and left it wide open the next morning, knowing his father would have to step in to lock it. As August watched Dad’s panic this time around, he wondered whether it was because he was finally remembering what was supposed to stay on his finger, or if he was only realising that he’d forgotten.
August and Maria met Thursday's after school at Triangle Park since their first meeting. She talked about being the Pastor’s daughter and all the amazing people she has met, but then she told him she doesn’t believe in God. He always talked about his Dad, but never about his Mom. They would lie under the cherry blossom trees to monitor the clouds, but August always broke away first to start searching for buttons. He insisted they search separately, to cover more ground.
“Tell me about her,” Maria declared one day, near the duck pond at the Park.
August froze. “I can’t,” he whispered.
He clutched his throat and swallowed hard.
Suddenly, she kissed him, right there next to the ducks, surrounded by people, in broad daylight. When she pulled away, he felt a strange ripple run through his chest, making him want to play volleyball at the beach or share an umbrella in the rain or hold a baby in his arms. It made him want to live.
“Mom wanted a triangle button,” he blurted. “It was the only kind she’d never sewn.”
Maria’s eyes glittered with promises. “Let’s start over together.”
“Yes,” he breathed.
The plan was to live in an abandoned studio apartment Maria discovered. He was bringing blankets and pillows for them to sleep on, and she would bring baskets of food. They packed one duffel bag each, only of essentials like money, clothes and the jars of buttons, because they would only be there temporarily until having gathered enough money to travel to Mexico, where they would start over because that was the point.
So, on the night of, August crept out of his room as the clock struck 1am. Oddly, the stench of oranges grew stronger as he headed downstairs, hating it all the way because they reminded him of counsellors.
All at once, August contemplated running back to his room, creating a distraction and jumping out the window to avoid explaining what he was doing. But then he realised.
“Before you decide to head out, there’s something you should see.”
She handed him an envelope over the counter from where she sat in the kitchen. As August tilted it, a triangular button fell onto the counter.
“Your father found it, but he hid it in his sock drawer. He wanted it to be your own discovery.”
“How did he learn about the buttons?” A tennis ball lodged itself in his throat.
“He knew from before she passed, but only got involved after.”
The thought of leaving behind his memories of Mom and his opportunities with Dad in this yellow-walled home suddenly felt suffocating.
“Writing for the magazine from home, he had the time to follow you.”
“Why?” He gasped. August dropped the duffel bag.
“He hasn’t forgotten; he can’t stop remembering.”
For the first time in two years, August saw his father in himself.