Thank you for visiting Book Club Mom’s Friday Fiction. Below is Chapter 4 of Jessica, a story about a nineteen-year-old woman who is trying break the pattern of loss and unhappiness that has defined her childhood. What Jessica wants most is to build a life with her boyfriend, Jimmy, but Jimmy is trapped in a dangerous family dynamic. When Jessica learns the truth about Jimmy, it’s up to her to save him. To do this, she must turn to the one person who has hurt her the most, her father. A series of events pushes Jessica beyond anything she can imagine and forces her to define happiness and love in a different way, and at a heartbreaking price.
Chapter 4 – The Life Within
Our house on Crescent Street had a mood about it. In the beginning, the mood was promise. It had started as a new house on the better side of town, with a nice yard and a family of four – the formula for happiness. As a girl, I thought everything that was shiny held promise, of a full future with laughs and certainly cries and a share of disappointments, but a happy life nonetheless. And the sturdy beams of this new house supported us, not just the walls of our house. I couldn’t have said these things then, but I knew them.
We had been a family with a future and we lived in that protected frame.
It came to me early one morning, on my way home from Jimmy’s house, that the mood in our house had changed into something entirely different. The closer I got, the colder I felt. And the sleepy warmth I had just carried with me, from Jimmy’s bed to my car disappeared as I jiggled my key into the lock of the door from the garage. I felt the involuntary shake of my shoulders, as if a blast of air had blown through the kitchen, just as I opened the door, and there I was, meeting its blast front on, with no warning. It woke me up to the reality of my routine.
Our new mood house, with just Mom and me, showed few signs of life. Two people who occupy a place, who see each other in passing, but only infrequently live there together, can hardly make a mark. Mom kept an orderly house. I suspect she cleaned when I wasn’t there, to pass the hours when she wasn’t working. I couldn’t imagine how else Mom would spend her time, couldn’t picture her in any other setting. The neatness was proof. But a chill came with that neatness. The floors were too bare, the counters compulsively empty. There was too much metal and bare wood. When she was there, Mom’s heels clacked the floor with a loud echo, announcing her departure or return, yet somehow, illogically, too small of a sound to adequately fill the space in our hall.
I wanted to run back to Jimmy’s house, crawl back under his covers and draw in some of the warmth I had just carried. I thought there was something better at Jimmy’s house, just a mile away on Harding Road. Two hundred years old and made of stone, I thought its sturdy walls and windows and doors had seen it all, families, births and deaths, happiness and sadness. It had endured long winters, wind and rain storms and floods from the nearby creek. Its long history had made it stronger.
The worst weather for our house happened inside. Mom’s defense had been to strip it down, remove what was damaged, clean it, shine it and brace it for whatever came next.
The first time I walked into Jimmy’s house was two years before, on a day when we skipped out of eighth period together. I didn’t know him very well then. We had talked a little at school, once about the creek behind his house. You could see the creek from the road and I had seen him fishing one day as Mom and I drove past. I knew nothing about fishing, but I smiled when I said to him, “I saw you once, by the creek.” That’s all it took for the current to travel between us. I could tell by the way his eyes widened with interest and I blushed as if I had said I’d seen him in the shower. A couple days later, Jimmy stopped me in the cafeteria and asked me if I wanted to skip out and see the creek. “How about if I show you what it’s like?” he asked. He had touched my arm, touched me for the first time. I could feel the second meaning of his question and I said yes.
We walked into his house and Jimmy pointed and said, “Just throw your stuff down there.” I saw, just off to the right of the entranceway, a small, rectangular room with no windows and nothing inside except a clutter of things. “That’s where we keep our junk,” Jimmy explained.
Over time, I saw that Jimmy and his brothers used different parts of that little room and I would see Jimmy’s brown jacket at the top of his pile and, by looking at the pile, I could almost tell what kind of day he’d had, and what kind of mood he was in. Jimmy’s father used the room too and he was just as casual as his sons in the way he threw things on his pile. And the whole household existed in the laid-back style that was the exactly the reason I liked being there. I wished Mom and I had a room like that, a room where I could immediately unload all the hassles of the day into a pile.
What I didn’t understand about Jimmy’s house was that a family can be broken in other ways than what I knew. His family was just as messed up as mine, but I didn’t see that in the beginning. I only understood the casual clutter, the signs of people living together, as something I wanted. I was like a lonely child who sees a house full of kids and people and activity and wants nothing more than to jump into that life.
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