Thank you for visiting Book Club Mom’s Friday Fiction. Below is Chapter 8 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 8 – He Made Me Nervous.
I was mad when I left Jimmy’s house. I should have said something, but I lost my chance. I drove the ten-minute ride home in the quiet, no music, just the sounds of the car and I sulked, thinking somehow that Jimmy would be able to see me there being unhappy and call me to apologize. Even if he did nothing but call, just so that I could hear his voice saying “Hey Jes,” that would have been enough. Then I thought, maybe he wouldn’t call me that night, but maybe the next day he’d call and say, “Sorry about last night, baby.” I went to bed feeling hopeful.
The Diner opened at 6:00 am. I had to be there at 5:30 to help set up. I groaned when my alarm went off at 5:00 and I dragged myself out of bed thinking how stupid it was that I was getting up so early just to wait on a bunch of people drinking coffee and eating eggs and bacon and pancakes.
I had just enough time to shower and leave early enough to take my regular route to work, passing by Jimmy’s house. I was falling into a pattern of denial and submission.
I started to think how foolish it was for me to expect Jimmy to apologize. Apologize for what exactly? That would have been his argument if I confronted him about it. I thought back on the night and tried to remember exactly what he had said and done. Was there anything wrong with being quiet? I still felt the sting of hurt that he hadn’t kissed me and that he had barely talked to me while I was there. But was that enough to fight about? I started to wonder.
What had we said on the phone that day? What kind of plans had we made? Maybe Jimmy had things to do. I could almost feel myself reversing my thoughts, moving away from what I felt to think more about Jimmy. It was automatic, my change in perspective. “Jimmy must have a lot on his mind,” I thought. How stupid of me not to notice! I decided to call him as soon as it was a decent hour. I’d call before he went to work to see if he was okay.
I felt better because I had a plan. If Jimmy had a lot on his mind, it was up to me to draw him out, to throw some of his pile on me because I could take it. I was living practically all alone in my house with a mother who had been deserted just like me, but I was digging myself out of that mess and I felt strong about my plans to be with Jimmy as soon as I had enough money to make it. Before long, I felt sure that later when I talked to Jimmy, the sound of his voice alone would make me feel that everything was alright.
Just like every morning, I drove the route past Jimmy’s house and turned my head to see the comforting and familiar sight of his red truck in the driveway. But the space was empty. Jimmy’s car was missing again and my stomach knotted in a painful twist. I remembered the stack of rocks. I had just enough time to see if they were still there.
The rocks were there but something was different. I couldn’t think why. Were they in a different shape or were there just more rocks in the pile? I wish I had paid better attention the first time! I wanted to turn around and look at them again, but I had no time. I decided to check again after work. I would count them and try to figure it out. How could these rocks be important to anything? It seemed ridiculous to mention them, but I felt they meant something, that they were somehow connected to the other questions I had. Why had Jimmy said almost nothing to me the night before? Where was he going in the mornings?
The morning shift was extra busy. I needed to think, but I was consumed by the fast but meaningless pace of taking orders and delivering food. Just when the crowd thinned enough so I could catch my breath, Stu walked through the door.
I hadn’t seen Stu in a few weeks. This was his busy season. He worked longer hours in the spring and summer, building decks, and he didn’t spend much down time at their house. Probably spent his nights at the Jug, I thought, a bar in the borough. I thought it was strange for Stu to be coming into the Diner in the middle of the morning. I took a second look, just to make sure it was Stu and not Jimmy. When Stu saw which tables I was working, he came and sat at one of mine.
I don’t know why Stu made me nervous, but I think he got a thrill from seeing me sweat. I’d been with Jimmy for two years and had never been with anyone else. And now that I was out of school, I didn’t always know how to act around other guys, without Jimmy by my side. I thought it might have been good to have Stevie around, just to give me a point of reference, but Stevie, was long gone somewhere north.
If nothing else, at least I knew that around Stu I should try to act like things didn’t bother me. I walked over to Stu’s table. “Hey Stu,” I said as I handed him a menu. “Here for breakfast?” Stu grinned at me. His eyes went straight to mine and they crinkled as he looked at me, like he was trying to read something in me. I felt bare when he did that, but I did my best to stare back at him like I was challenging him to find something.
“Yeah,” he answered. “I’ll have some scrambled eggs and sausage, and some coffee first, please.” He grinned a nasty kind of smile, and I wondered if he knew something I didn’t know. I thought of Jimmy the night before and the rocks. I thought maybe Stu knew something. I wanted to know why Jimmy’s car was gone that morning, if Jimmy had gone out the night before, after I left. As I was bringing Stu’s coffee back to his table, I decided to ask.
“Thanks,” he said as I placed the coffee on the table. “You’re sure up early for these morning shifts,” he added. “What time do you have to be in here anyway?” I told him 5:30 and he whistled like that was something truly unbelievable. I felt somehow defensive, like what did he care what time I had to be anywhere? Before Stu came in I was glad for the break, glad for the chance to kick back for a few minutes. The owners didn’t mind when we did that, as long as we jumped up whenever someone new came in the door. This was my chance to ask Stu about Jimmy and the rocks.
Stu looked straight at me and said, “You must really have to rush in the mornings, don’t you, Jes?” And I said “Yeah, but it’s not that far a ride to work.”
“Oh yeah?” he asked. “Me, I’m not much of a morning person. I roll out of bed and I have just enough time to grab my stuff and jump in my truck and get to my job. I never have enough time to grab breakfast at home. I barely have time to get to where I need to go. You, though. You must be a morning girl, giving yourself lots of time to get up and shower and drive here without rushing. Is that right, Jes?”
“I guess so,” I answered. I wished then that someone new would come into the diner to get me away from Stu’s table. I didn’t care anymore about asking about Jimmy and the rocks.
Stu took a sip from his coffee and then he started up again. “I see you sometimes,” he told me. “I see you going by our house in the mornings on your way to work. Is that the best way to come here?” he asked. “I mean, do you come here to work that way to beat the traffic or something?”
I didn’t like that Stu was asking me these questions. It wasn’t that I had anything serious to hide, but I didn’t like that he had discovered my habit of checking on Jimmy. What business was it of his to know something that personal about me? I felt like Stu was seeing that I wasn’t totally sure that I knew everything about Jimmy. Or maybe he saw me as some kind of needy girl who wanted to see that Jimmy was in for the night after he was with me. I didn’t know myself exactly why I always drove past. But I didn’t think it was any of Stu’s business.
“Yeah, well, I like going that way,” I answered. After a minute I said, “I’ll go check on your eggs,” and he said, “Okay, Jes” all smooth and natural. The thing was, there was nothing really wrong with the way he was talking to me, but I didn’t like it. I brought Stu his eggs and gathered up the nerve to ask.
“Hey Stu,” I asked, feeling brave. “You ever see that pile of rocks outside your house?”
“Rocks?” he answered, a little fast, I thought, then caught himself. His eyes narrowed and he looked straight at me while he chewed. “There’s a stack of rocks at the edge of the road, right in front of your house,” I continued. “You’ve never noticed? I was just wondering if you put them there.” “I build decks, little girl. I don’t play with rocks. You should keep your eyes on the road, or someday you’ll crash that car into a big pile of rocks.” Then Stu shut me off and dug into his breakfast. I thought how strange it was that just minutes before he was barging into my life, asking his own questions.
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