“It means nothing but lies.” I walk away before she can see the expression on my face. I lift the three boxes I keep in the corner and take them to the center of the room. I take a seat on the concrete floor and motion for her to do the same.
She sits cross-legged in front of me with the boxes stacked between us. I take the two smaller boxes off the top and set them aside, then open the lid on the larger box. She peeks inside and shoves her hand into the pile of confessions, pulling out a random one. She reads it out loud.
“ ‘I’ve lost over one hundred pounds in the past year. Everyone thinks it’s because I’ve discovered a new healthy way of living, but really it’s because I suffer from depression and anxiety and I don’t want anyone to know.’ ”
She places the confession back in the box and grabs another. “Will you ever use any of these for paintings? Is that why you keep them in here?”
I shake my head. “This is where I keep the ones I’ve seen in one form or another before. People’s secrets are a lot alike, surprisingly.”
She reads another. “ ‘I hate animals. Sometimes when my husband brings home a new puppy for our children, I’ll wait a few days and then drop it off miles from our house. Then I pretend it ran away.’ ”
She frowns at that confession.
“Jesus,” she says, picking up several more. “How do you retain faith in humanity after reading these every day?”
“Easy,” I say. “It actually makes me appreciate people more, knowing we all have this amazing ability to put on a front. Especially to those closest to us.”
She stops reading the confession in her hands and her eyes meet mine. “You’re amazed that people can lie so well?”
I shake my head. “No. Just relieved to know that everyone does it. Makes me feel like maybe my life isn’t as fucked up as I thought it was.”
She regards me with a quiet smile and continues sifting through the box. I watch her. Some of the confessions make her laugh. Some make her frown. Some make her wish she’d never read them.
“What’s the worst one you’ve ever received?”
I knew this was coming. I almost wish I had lied to her and said I throw a lot of them away, but instead I point to the smaller box. She leans forward and touches it, but she doesn’t pull it toward her.
“What’s in here?”
“The confessions I never want to read again.”
She looks down at the box and slowly pulls the lid off of it. She grabs one of the confessions from the top. “ ‘My father has been . . .’ ” Her voice grows weak and she looks up at me with daunting sadness. I can see the gentle roll of her throat as she swallows and then looks back down to the confession. “ ‘My father has been having sex with me since I was eight years old. I’m thirty-three now and married with children of my own, but I’m still too scared to say no to him.’ ”
She doesn’t just place this confession back into the box. She crumples it up into a tight fist and she throws the confession at the box, like she’s angry at it. She puts the lid back on it and shoves the box several feet away. I can see that she hates that box as much as I do.
“Here,” I say, handing her the box she hasn’t opened. “Read a couple of these. You’ll feel better.”
She hesitantly removes one of the confessions. Before she reads it, she straightens up and stretches her back, and then inhales a deep breath.
“ ‘Every time I go out to eat, I secretly pay for someone’s meal. I can’t afford it, but I do it because it makes me feel good to imagine what that moment must be like for them, to know a complete stranger just did something nice for them with no expectations in return.’ ”
She smiles, but she needs another good one. I sift through the box until I find the one printed on blue construction paper. “Read this one. It’s my favorite.”
“ ‘Every night after my son falls asleep, I hide a brand-new toy in his room. Every morning when he wakes up and finds it, I pretend not to know how it got there. Because Christmas should come every day and I never want my son to stop believing in magic.’ ”
She laughs and looks up at me appreciatively. “That kid’s gonna be sad when he wakes up in his college dorm for the first time and doesn’t have a new toy.” She places it back in the box and continues sifting through them. “Are any of these your own?”
“No. I’ve never written one.”
She looks at me in shock. “Never?”
I shake my head and she tilts hers in confusion. “That’s not right, Owen.” She immediately stands and leaves the room. I’m confused as to what’s going on, but before I take the time to stand up and follow her, she returns. “Here,” she says, handing me a sheet of paper and a pen. Sitting back down on the floor in front of me, she nods her head at the paper and encourages me to write.
I look down at the paper when I hear her say, “Write something about yourself that no one else knows. Something you’ve never told anyone.”
I smile when she says this, because there is so much I could tell her. So much that she probably wouldn’t even believe, and so much I’m not even sure I want her to know.
“Here.” I tear the paper in half and hand a piece of it to her. “You have to write one, too.”
I write mine first, but as soon as I’m done, she takes the pen from me. She writes hers without hesitation. She folds it and begins to throw it in the box, but I stop her. “We have to trade.”
She immediately shakes her head. “You aren’t reading mine,” she says firmly.
She’s so adamant, it makes me want to read it even more. “It’s not a confession if no one reads it. It’s just an unshared secret.”
She shoves her hand inside the box and releases her confession into the pile of other confessions. “You don’t have to read it in front of me in order for it to be considered a confession.” She grabs the paper out of my hands and shoves it into the box along with hers and all the others. “You don’t read any of the others as soon as they write them.”
She makes a good point, but I’m extremely disappointed that I don’t know what she just wrote down. I want to pour the box out onto the floor and sift through the confessions until I find hers, but she stands up and reaches down for my hand.
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