Thank you for visiting Book Club Mom’s Friday Fiction. Below is Chapter 16 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 16 – A Different Route
I shared Mom’s car for a week while my car was in the shop. Mom drove me to work every morning and I had to either get a ride home or wait around at the end of my lunch shift for her to come get me after the bank closed.
I didn’t like Mom driving me to work because she took a different route and we didn’t go by Jimmy’s house. I couldn’t complain since her route was faster, but I missed going past his house. I couldn’t explain that I wanted to check for his truck and also look for the stack of rocks I had seen. I didn’t think Mom would have understood a routine like that.
On the first day we turned left instead of right out of our development and made our way onto Route 401. I sat in the passenger’s side and leaned against the window. I felt like a child. It irritated me to have Mom driving me to the diner. I couldn’t go my own way. I couldn’t play my music. I groaned at the thought that Mom would want to talk while we drove. I was a captive. I did my best to build a wall and stare out the window.
As a kid, I used to stare out the window and watch everything pass, trapped in a seat next to Mom in the very same way. Endless errands had felt like torture then, with nothing to do but search for points of interest outside the car window. Now, as we drove, I let my eyes lose their focus and saw the blur of the houses pass. I thought about how in fifteen minutes I would be putting on an apron and facing a crowd of breakfast regulars. A wave of exhaustion overcame me as I imagined the long shift that stretched out before me and I wished for a moment that I could return to a morning of running errands with Mom instead of waiting tables, thinking a morning of boredom, of staring out at the moving space would be better than what lay ahead. A bump jolted me out of my daydream and forced my eyes to sharpen. I felt a kink in my neck and, as I was stretching out of my slouch, I saw to the side of the road a stack of rocks like the one that was in front of Jimmy’s house. I sat straight up, quickly looking. The rocks were bigger than at Jimmy’s, with one flat wide one at the bottom and the stack was topped with a tall thinner one pointing up like a tower.
“Mom, did you see that?” I asked, forgetting that I would have to explain what I meant.
“What?” Mom was distracted, I realized. I felt like an impatient child again, pointing at something and expecting Mom to see and react.
“That stack of rocks by the side of the road. I never noticed them before,” I answered, frustrated that Mom hadn’t been looking and strangely eager to share the mystery.
We had passed the rocks by then and Mom had lost her chance. I was so surprised to see a pile like that anywhere else besides Jimmy’s house that I forgot I had been talking to Mom.
“I didn’t see them. Maybe it was just some kids making a pile,” Mom suggested.
I didn’t think the rocks were a secret, but I remembered how Jimmy and Stu blew me off when I mentioned them, so I let it drop.
“Yeah, you’re right,” I agreed. I felt the uncomfortable sensation of being small and wanting to share something with Mom, in conflict with a need to be separate and private. Like a phantom itch, it bothered me. I wanted to claim a defined ground of my own, but Mom was there, without even knowing it, pulling me into the little-girl habit of our past oneness. Like my discovery of the rocks, the moment passed and I brushed these feeling aside, glad she had been preoccupied. I decided to check out the house with the rocks on our way home.
I worked through the breakfast and lunch shifts and continued halfway through the dinner shift, waiting for Mom to pick me up, but resolved to earn some extra tips if I had to wait. I had been so busy working my shifts that it wasn’t until the end of the day when I realized Jimmy hadn’t called me between breakfast and lunch, our regular time. Why hadn’t he called? I felt hurt that we hadn’t made plans, but I was tired from the day and I didn’t want to think. My mood further blackened when I remembered we would not be driving by Jimmy’s house. Who knew if he was home? I would have to wait until we got home to talk to him.
We got in the car and Mom was quiet. I was lost in my own thoughts. It didn’t occur to me that Mom had also worked a full day and that she might be dead tired.
When we turned onto Route 401, I remembered the house with the rocks and I turned and looked left past Mom to see if I could catch a glimpse out her window. I was suddenly grateful that Mom was all worn out. She smiled a tired smile when she saw that I was turned in her direction. I knew she thought I had looked at her and she returned the look, as if to say “Yeah, I’m beat too,” like we were sisters in the same work-for-a-living world. So I smiled back, letting her think what she wanted, just as long as I could concentrate on the houses that passed by her window.
I saw the rocks in the distance. In an instant we were right next to them and then they were behind us, with only enough time for me to see that the house was set far back from the road, a beat-up ranch house with scraggly bushes and weedy grass in the front. The long gravel driveway led to a carport next to the house and parked there I was sure I saw the very same nearly wrecked brown sedan with the duct-taped side mirror that I’d seen driven by the bearded dirty man just a few days before.
Again I jolted straight up, like I did that morning, thinking the coincidence impossible. Who was this strange man and was there a connection between Jimmy’s house and this falling-down wreck? Mom may have noticed me jump, but she said nothing and I was glad. I felt involved but alone in my discovery, whatever it was, and knew I would need to figure it out without telling her or Jimmy. I would check again in the morning. Maybe I would know more then.
We trudged into the house with a weariness I had not noticed until then and I thought just for an instant that maybe the look in Mom’s face did say how I felt too, that she and I were in the same place, working through our lives. So when Mom suggested she make us both dinner I said that would be great.
I hadn’t seen if Jimmy was home from work. I had been anxious to see him, but I decided with a pinch of defiance that Jimmy knew where to find me at work and at home, so let him try for a change. I didn’t try to understand my thoughts and I didn’t care that the phone hung silently on the wall. Mom and I ate our dinner together. And this time she didn’t stare past her plate out through the window or somewhere into space. She opened a bottle of wine and poured me a glass and, surprised but pleased by the gesture, I took it and we drank our wine and ate our dinner. We didn’t talk much. Instead, we sat contentedly in that quiet kitchen, a room, I thought that had witnessed too many screams and shouts and too much drunkenness and sadness. On this night, however, the room was instead a place of quiet companionship.
Thank you for reading. All comments are welcome.
Click below to check out earlier chapters.
Chapter 1 – Jimmy
Chapter 2 – Stevie
Chapter 3 – A Photo and a Letter
Chapter 4 – The Life Within
Chapter 5 – Jimmy’s Truck
Chapter 6 – The Springs Diner
Chapter 7 – Dinner and a Game
Chapter 8 – He Made Me Nervous
Chapter 9 – I Called Dad on My Thirteenth Birthday
Chapter 10 – Connections and Time
Chapter 11 – The Reverse Apology
Chapter 12 – Empty Bedrooms
Chapter 13 – Job Description
Chapter 14 – The Car I Saw
Chapter 15 – It’s Not What You Think
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