Thank you for visiting Book Club Mom’s Friday Fiction. Below is Chapter 7 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 7 – Dinner and a Game
Mom and I went out to dinner once a month. It was our only family routine, a new tradition for the two of us. It began awkwardly and, despite an early succession of silent meals, Mom insisted we keep it going. Maybe she thought it would get a little better each time. I wasn’t sure.
“Let’s go out to dinner tonight, Jes,” she suggested the first night. I had just walked into the kitchen to get a soda and Mom was standing by the sink, her back to me. Her head was tilted and slightly turned, as if she had been listening and waiting for me, but was pretending to be casual. When she spoke, her voice was tight and high and her words rang with a forced cheer. As she went on, she turned, gaining courage and reached out to touch my arm. Not wanting to be touched, I wonder if she felt me stiffen and pull back slightly, as I reclaimed this small piece of my self. “I know you want to move out,” she said quietly, “but we need to stay connected.” She looked nervous to me. “If we let this go, we’ll never get it back.”
I didn’t want to look at Mom and I didn’t want to go out to dinner with her. We are just two people in a house. We have nothing to talk about. I wanted to tell her that. Everything at home reminded me of what had gone wrong. I thought bitterly about Dad and Stevie, and I resented Mom for not doing anything to fix our family. They left us, but how could a kid have done anything? Now, all I wanted was to get away from what was left and start my own life. Hadn’t Dad and Stevie done that without thinking about us? So why shouldn’t I continue the pattern?
Despite what had been done to us, I didn’t think I was leaving her behind as much as trying to make something of myself.
Mom stood there, looking at me hopefully. I pulled the flip top to my soda and took a sip, remembering all the times I’d come in and seen her sitting at the table, eating dinner by herself. Those were the nights I had rushed in to shower and change so I could meet Jimmy, hoping to avoid Mom altogether. I suddenly felt guilty. Maybe she was trying to hang onto me for a bigger reason than just to control me. I said “Okay.”
We did our best those nights. Mom didn’t nag me or make me feel guilty about spending all my time with Jimmy. She tried her hardest to be cheerful, even if I could tell it was a manufactured enthusiasm. She told me stories about the bank. I wondered if she had saved them up just to tell me, so we had something to talk about. They were meaningless stories, featuring bank people I didn’t know, but I’d listen, feeling a little sad at her effort.
We were headed to Applebee’s for dinner about a month after I’d noticed Jimmy’s car missing from his driveway. I never asked Jimmy where he was that morning. Things were good between us, why make trouble? As we drove, I was glad to see that Mom had taken the road that went by Jimmy’s house because I still had the secret habit of checking for his truck. I had talked to Jimmy after work and we were going to get together after Mom and I ate. Mom didn’t know that. She thought she had me to herself the whole night, but I wouldn’t spoil it for her until after we got home. She would say the same thing no matter when I told her. “You’re going out with Jimmy tonight? It’s already nine o’clock and you have the breakfast shift again tomorrow, don’t you?”
I don’t think Mom remembered anything about what it was like to be young and how it was perfectly normal to go out at nine o’clock or later. And who cared whether I had to work early the next morning? It was just a stupid job I knew by heart and could do in my sleep if I had to. What mattered was seeing Jimmy.
We passed Jimmy’s house and I smiled when I saw his truck in the driveway because I felt like Jimmy was telling me, “Yeah, Jes, I’m waiting for you!” I was still looking out the window as we passed his house and I saw, low on the ground, close to the road, a pile of rocks. They looked arranged, like someone had deliberately stacked them. I remembered then I had seen them before, the morning Jimmy’s truck was missing. I had completely forgotten about those rocks. “Hey Mom,” I asked “did you ever notice that stack of rocks over by Jimmy’s house? I wonder who did that?”
Mom was busy driving. “Where?” she asked. We were long past Stevie’s house by then. She had not seen the rocks. “It’s probably just a pile from something,” she suggested.
“I don’t know. It looked like someone did it on purpose,” I answered. And I reminded myself to ask Jimmy about it later that night.
We tried our best at dinner. Mom talked about work at the bank and I told her a few stories about people at the diner. I tried to make them funny stories, the way Mom did about the bank and Mom would smile and laugh before I even got to the funny parts. I thought about how I would make fun of her later with Jimmy for forcing such a good time on me. Seeing her across from me that night, though, I felt a little depressed seeing her hang on my words and I decided I would just tell Jimmy we had a pretty good time.
Maybe I was having a good time, even if it was forced, but I was still looking at the time, knowing that I’d be feeling Jimmy’s arms around me an hour from then, or less, just as soon as I could get back out the door and over to his house. Mom would most likely say, “Why can’t Jimmy come get you, Jessica?” and I would tell her, “Mom, Jimmy is already home and I’m just going to his house for a few hours. Why should he come over here just to bring me back to his house?” And Mom would decide not to make a big deal out of it this time because we had just had a nice dinner and she wouldn’t want to spoil the memory of our time together.
As soon as we got home, I changed my clothes and left for Jimmy’s house. I felt a jolt of excitement run through me, and smiled to myself. We still have it, I thought. I walked into his house the way I usually did, never knocking because I didn’t need to. I belonged there and was expected to just walk in, an honor I took seriously, even if I never mentioned it. I dropped my things in the front room, because I had my own area now to build a pile if I wanted to, and I walked into the living room and saw Jimmy sitting on the couch watching a basketball game on TV.
“Hey there Jes, how was dinner?” Jimmy never liked to mention Mom’s name because he knew she didn’t like him and it was his way of getting back at her, I think.
“Pretty good. We traded work stories again.” I was doing the same thing, not mentioning Mom. I had left the good daughter back at home, but this time I felt a little bad about talking that way.
“Grab a beer out of the fridge and come over here, baby.” Jimmy put his hand on the space next to him. I walked into the kitchen and called back to Jimmy, “You want one, Jimmy?” and he said, “Yeah, sure.” So I grabbed two cans and sat down next to him.
I gave Jimmy his beer and we opened them and drank and all the while I was thinking I had expected him to get up off the couch and greet me in some way, put his arms around me and kiss me and maybe gently push me against the wall so he could kiss me like I couldn’t get away. But he had just sat on the couch when I walked in and I thought, well, I guess I am one of them by the way I’m just coming and going as I please. We sat watching the game even though I didn’t follow it. I watched the players run up and down the court, not registering in my mind who was playing or what the score was. All I was looking at was the game clock, looking forward to the end when I would have Jimmy all to myself. And maybe he would kiss me then.
The game dragged on and all the while, Jimmy watched without talking. Sometimes he got up for another beer. “You want another one?” he would ask and I’d think, well okay he’s still being nice to me by doing that. Or he would get up to go to the bathroom and I would think that when he got back he’d turn off the TV by some miracle and I would have him to myself.
But that night I didn’t have Jimmy to myself. He was somewhere else. He didn’t mind that I was sitting there next to him, but that was about it. I never found out what he was thinking and I gave up the idea to ask him about the rocks.
It was 11:30 when the game was over and even though I had been thinking I would stay later than that, I stood up from the couch and said, “Well, I’m going home, Jimmy,” sounding a little annoyed, on purpose. But Jimmy either didn’t pick up on it or ignored the way I said it and he said, “Okay, Jes. I’ll see you.” He didn’t get up, he just stared at the TV acting like he was all caught up in what the announcer was saying. I walked into the extra room, grabbed my things so that my pile was gone and I left the house, letting the door bang shut.
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