Part One: Chapter One

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“Open up, Atlas, or I’m coming in there.”

 Atlas turns up the volume, letting the first verse of “Highway to Hell” slide side to side across his brain like Angus Young’s fingers across the strings. He leans back in his computer chair, puts his feet up on his desk, and relaxes into the familiar classic rock his father used to play when Atlas was far too young to appreciate it. All of his favorite bands surround him in the black and whites he’s collected over the years—Led Zepplin, Guns N Roses, Nirvana—and all he needs to do to feel better is stare into their crazed eyes and zone out. His foster father’s pounding fists on the door become just another bass drum, the repetition of Atlas’s name just another crazed fan in the crowd, and the his mind floats to that place that is almost contentment.

Contentment, that is, until Chris shoulders the door like a bull and sends the knob flying against the wall with a crash so loud it sends Andrea running up the stairs to see if she needs to intervene.

“What the hell are you doing in here?” Chris yells, looking around wildly for a doused cigarette or a girl hiding under the sheets.

Atlas pulls the headphones off of his head and taps the pause button. “I’m sorry,” he says politely. “What did you say?”

“Chris,” Andrea starts, taking hesitant steps towards her husband, “now don’t get mad until we know for sure there’s a reason—”

“Don’t play dumb with me,” Chris continues, ignoring her, “we got another call, and you’re not going to talk yourself out of it this time. Where’d you stash it?”

“Stash what? I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Atlas says with a shrug, “and by the way, may I suggest you seek help for your outbursts? I think you’re frightening Andrea.”

“Help my ass. Andrea, look in the closet.” Chris reaches past Atlas to the desk drawers and begins to pull them out, one by one, so that soon his pencils and pieces of paper litter the carpet. Andrea meekly opens the closet door, her eyes shifting between her son and her husband, then shuffles around his clothes and overturns a few of his shoes before closing it and mouthing an apology behind Chris’s back. She looks so slight in her old wool sweater, the turtleneck swallowing her thin limbs and even her chin, and every year she seems to get just a little bit smaller. 

“The pillows!” Chris yells, charging at the new sheets and pillowcases Andrea bought Atlas last Christmas, and then he rips the sides of each case open like he’s deboning a fish and stuffs a fat arm inside to feel around.

“Chris!” Andrea says in her loudest voice, which Atlas can barely hear now that he’s turned his music back on, “I just sewed those up from the last time you did this. Now I’m going to have to—”

“Andrea, what part of this don’t you understand? He’s a crook, a good-for-nothing crook, and one of these days I’m going to catch him red-handed.” Chris’s chin quakes, his whole face like a tectonic plate in the midst of shifting, and then he storms out of the bedroom.

“I’m sorry, Atlas,” Andrea says, putting a hand on his shoulder and squeezing. Then she locks the door and closes it behind her with a click, leaving him alone with his music.

As soon as he sees the hallway light go out, Atlas throws off his headphones and quietly hurries to the foot of his bed. He lies on the thick black carpet and shimmies under the frame, where he finds the rip in the box spring that he could sew back together in his sleep and pulls it apart. The air is dusty and old, like on one of the metro cars when the air conditioning isn’t working, and he chokes back a cough. His pocket knife slides through the gut of the bed like a carcass; once he has created a large enough hole, Atlas feels around the secret hiding place for his new prize. When he opens his hand, an oval-shaped diamond ring lies in his palm.

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