The Mystery of the Missing Turquoise Hoodie

This is a (mostly fictional) short story I shared with the writers group yesterday. Enjoy!

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He couldn’t believe it.  It was gone.  So many memories attached to it.  They flooded over him in a wave.

Zac slumped on his bed.

“What am I going to wear?” he wondered aloud.

He pulled on his favorite long-sleeved red shirt. A good inch of wrist showed once his shirt was on.   He jerked a pair of gray jeans from his dresser.  A good inch of sock showed below his pant leg.  Zac never noticed.

Zac trudged downstairs. He scowled at the clock:  7:07 already?!  He had to leave in less than a half hour.

“Morning, Zac!” his ever-cheerful mom chirped.

Geez.  Some of us are NOT morning people, he wanted to retort.  Instead, he grunted.  He picked up an empty bowl from the counter and dumped cereal into it.  He filled in all the airy spaces he could with milk, leveling the liquid at the bowl’s rim.

Zac took his bowl and spoon.  He sat down in his spot at the table.  His little sister Ruby was already there.  She pushed the cereal around in her bowl, her expression sour.  If it were up to her, every day would start off with a hot breakfast.

Mom sat at the head of the table.  She sipped her coffee.

Zac quickly shoveled in the nourishment.  He sucked down the last of his cereal, artfully tilting the bowl into his maw.

Ruby abandoned her despised cereal for her latest creation:  cardboard paper dolls with duct tape dresses.

“Ruby!” Mom exclaimed.  “Finish your breakfast, then play.”

“Sorry, Mom”, Ruby repented.

“Mom,” Zac started, fully fueled now, “have you seen my blue sweatshirt?” Oh please, oh please, he mentally begged.

Mom thought for a moment.

“Hmm.  I thought it was on the floor in your room.”

Zac heard, “You slob!  You threw it on your floor. If you took care of your things, this wouldn’t happen!”

Zac shook his head, mentally rolling his eyes.  Moms could be so impossible.

“It’s not there!” he asserted, his blue-gray eyes daring her to contradict him.

“Well, I haven’t seen it.” Mom returned to her imbibing.

Zac paused a beat.

“Did you take it?”

Mom sat up, startled.

“Did I take it?!  Why would I take it?” Eyes wide open now, she truly looked mystified at the suggestion.

“Come on, Mom.  I know you wear it sometimes,” Zac countered, smirking.

“Yes, I do.  We’re about the same size.  But Zac, I would never take something of yours.  I’m no thief.” She stood up, ending the conversation. She dumped her coffee mug into the sink.

Zac sighed.  Now he would have to actually look for it.  He went back upstairs.  Why did they have so many stairs anyway?  He stalked to his bedroom, at the end of the short hallway.  He peeked under his bed.  He opened his closet and poked around in the clothing littering the floor.  He even picked clothes up, dropping them just as quickly, in his quest to find his favorite article of clothing.

He remembered when he got the sweatshirt, years ago now.  Zac and his mom were back to school shopping for 6th grade.  She made him try on 100 pairs of jeans and at least 50 shirts.

This is tedious, he thought.  He got a brainwave.  He layered all the shirts, one on top of the other, and walked out of the dressing room to where his mom waited.

She looked up.

“Why are you so…round all of a sudden?” Mom asked.

She lifted up the top shirt.  And saw green fabric underneath.

“What are you, a refugee child?!  Nice try, mister.  One at a time, please.”

Zac recalled spotting the turquoise hoodie as they were leaving the boys’ section.

“Hey, that’s cool”, he said, careful to show a proper but not excessive enthusiasm. He shoved a lock of dark blonde hair out of his eyes. Don’t get your hopes up, buddy, he thought.

“That would look good on you,” Mom replied.  She peeked through the rack to find his size.  Zac peeled it off the hanger and shoved his arms into the garment.  It was soft and fleecy inside, a blanket with sleeves, hood and a zipper. Perfect!

Zac had a surprise up his sleeve.  He turned to Mom.

“And….lunch is on me!” He produced a $20 from his back pocket with a flourish.  He saved his allowance for this very purpose.

“Zac!  What a surprise!” Mom grinned.  “Sneaky boy, you just don’t want to go back and do your homework.”

“True,” Zac admitted.  But he also wanted to keep his mom to himself, just a little longer.  They found the food court and he even let her choose the place:  Subway, his least favorite.  He managed to keep his disappointment to himself.  He didn’t want to spoil the meal.

Zac wore gray jeans pretty much every day, changing to a clean pair in the morning.  He also wore a clean shirt every day.  But the hoodie went with everything.  He wore it, zipped up, each day of 6th grade.  He wore it on rainy days and sunny days.  He wore it to school, a protective shield of sorts.  He craved retreat from the world.  He could cover his nearly unrecognizable, ever-changing body.  The hoodie was a safe place.

He met his best friend Carlos wearing that very sweatshirt.

“Dude, what’s the answer to number 1?”

Zac turned around.  A  skinny boy with dark hair and eyes had asked him the question. Math class meant homework and sometimes working problems together in class.  The boy’s brown eyes watched Zac.

“I got 27, “ Zac said.

“Me too!” Carlos beamed approval.  Zac smiled back.  He had a tough time making friends, but his lucky sweatshirt helped.

But that was last year.  Back to reality, dude, Zac reminded himself.  He scanned his room desperately.  Where could it be?  His digital clock screamed 7:27.  Out of time, he dashed downstairs.

School was school, normal and predictable as a rainy November morning.  All day, Zac felt a little off-kilter without his sweatshirt armor.  Even Carlos asked about the missing sweatshirt, a staple on Zac’s back. It couldn’t be helped. Zac stepped off the bus in the near twilight and headed home.  He had stayed late to finish up some school work and his little sister greeted him at the door.

“Hi, Zac!” Ruby called, brown eyes shining with admiration.

“Hi, Ruby!” Zac said.  Little sisters helped to boost one’s ego, he found.  They thought the world of you.

“Hey, Zac, look at what I made”.  Ruby twirled for him.  She sported a new blue skirt, swirling around her ankles. Loving sewing, crafts and art, Ruby was the resident wunderkind for invention and creativity.

“Wow”.  Zac was genuinely blown away.  His sister was amazing.  A seven-year-old who could sew her own clothes?!

Wait a minute.  Was that a zipper down the side? And black block print on the back?

“Ruby”, Zac asked carefully, “where did you get the material?”  Zac knew that sometimes his mom gave Ruby old clothes destined for Goodwill.  Ruby turned these found items into pillows and doll clothes, usually, or made blankets to line cardboard boxes as beds for her cat.  It could be this item was from that stash.

“I found it”, Ruby said.

“Where did you find it?”

“It was on the floor in the bathroom after you took a shower.”  Ruby peered up at him, gauging his reaction.  Was she in trouble?

Zac had a choice now.

Zac’s fists clenched involuntarily.  She.  Took.  My.  Sweatshirt!  He forced himself to breathe in and out, in and out.  She’s just a little kid, he reminded himself.

“Ruby…that was my sweatshirt.  You took it and made it into a…a…” he fumbled as he squeaked out the word.  “Skirt”, he finally finished.

“Oh.”  Ruby looked a little perplexed.  “I thought since you left it on the floor, you didn’t want it anymore.”

What?!  How could she think that? He exploded.

“I can’t believe you did that!  That was my favorite sweatshirt, and you ruined it!”

Zac stomped up the stairs to his lair.

Ruby dissolved into tears and ran to Mom.

Alone in his room, Zac fumed.  How could she take it?  He thought of all the good times he’d had with his friends, laughing and clowning around.  The sweatshirt kept the Northwest drizzle off and the chill away.  It was a constant in his world.

Someone knocked on the door.  Mom, he thought.

“Zac, can I come in?” Mom was tentative.

“Sure,” he begrudged.

Mom came in and sat on the bed next to Zac.  She put her arm around his shoulders.

“Zac, I’m sorry about what happened with your sweatshirt.  So is Ruby.”

He spied Ruby, peeking in at the door, eyes red from crying.

He felt bad for yelling at her but still angry at her willful destruction of his property.

“Zac, I made something for you.”

Ruby crept into the room, fearful of more Zac wrath.  She held out a pillow.  It was blue.  A blue sweatshirt pillow.

Zac couldn’t help but smile.

“Thanks.”

“I’m sorry, Zac.  I really am.  Cross my heart.”  Ruby, all solemnity now, watched her brother.

“Now you can have your sweatshirt even when you sleep!” she said, hopeful her offering pleased him.

How could he resist that pleading face?

“Ok”, he sighed.  “Next time, ask me first.”

He hugged her as Ruby whispered another apology into his leg, a couple of remnant tears on her cheeks.  He watched her swish away in his skirt-shirt.  She had added lace to the bottom.  Ugh!  Little sisters.

The next day at school, he met up with Carlos on the way to algebra.

“Nice sweatshirt, brah,” Carlos said as they ambled along to class.

“Thanks”, Zac smiled as he zipped up his new black hoodie, wrists covered now.  He needed another one anyway.  His mom agreed.  A cozy blanket with sleeves covered his torso. Enshrouded in fleecy goodness, he felt safe again.  New friends and new memories awaited. Life was good.

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