Thank you for visiting Book Club Mom’s Friday Fiction. Below is Chapter 25 of Jessica. Jessica is nineteen-years-old and is trying break the pattern of loss and unhappiness that has defined her childhood. What she wants most is to build a life with Jimmy, but Jimmy is trapped in a dangerous family dynamic. When she 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 25 – “Help Has Its Price”
Dad’s office was loaded with state of the art computer equipment and I imagined it was the kind of office Jimmy and his brothers had broken into. I understood how easy it must have been for Jimmy and Stu to steal from an office like this.
I had told Jimmy’s story to Dad and now I sat in his corner office on the thirty-fourth floor, looking out at New York’s skyline, so different from the view from my own window. Dad had listened to my story, stood up and said, “Jessy, you wait here. I have to go to a meeting. We’ll talk about this more when I get back.” I didn’t know Dad anymore. I couldn’t tell what he was thinking or if he would help.
I hadn’t thought about what Dad’s reaction would be or what he might say to me. I was stupid not to think more about what he would say or do. I hadn’t seen him in seven years. I knew he would be surprised to see me, to look at his daughter, my face that had just been a kid’s face when he left, now the face of a young woman. I wondered if I reminded him of Mom and if that would help me, or hurt me.
I sat and waited. I swiveled my chair to study Dad’s office. It was plush, with a lot of dark wood and a couple prints on the wall of men on horseback and a dark brass sculpture of three horses charging across a field somewhere. I wondered when Dad had developed an interest in horses. I was looking at the things of someone I didn’t know.
Dad had some photos in frames on his desk, facing in. I figured they were pictures of his new life. I got up and walked over to them and instead of picking them up and turning them to see, I sat down in Dad’s big leather office chair and looked at framed photos.
There were three pictures. One was a group shot of Dad with what must be his new life, a woman and a young boy. I guess they’d had a baby, Dad and his new family and that stung a little since it hadn’t occurred to me that Dad would go that far, that he would have made as fresh a start as that.
The second picture was a single shot of the same woman and she was sitting on the back of a speed boat with the back of the boat dipping deep into the water and a churned-up wake behind her so you knew the boat was at full throttle. She was smiling brightly and her blonde hair was flying under the visor on her head. Her whole body was relaxed as if she could have been sitting on a patio in someone’s back yard on a quiet afternoon. That woman was everything Mom wasn’t, I realized. Dad had always tried to get Mom to go out and do things like take a ride in a boat but I don’t think she ever agreed to go. When had Mom stopped having fun?
I put down the speedboat picture and picked up the last picture. It was a small frame, but it was in a spot where could be seen on Dad’s desk. When I focused my eyes on the photo, I saw a picture of me and Stevie. We were standing in our back yard, on the patio. We were eleven and thirteen. Stevie was looking like he didn’t want his picture taken, but I was smiling.
I guessed it was the summer before Stevie started getting in trouble at school, but if you looked closely at Stevie’s face you could see what I thought was the sign of something ahead. Stevie had that look that I’d given Mom many times years later when she’d want to take a picture of me. My protest would show in the picture, a defiant and bored look, no hint of a smile because that would ruin the whole effect of the picture, my goal to have Mom come out with a picture that would stay in the packet of pictures because it didn’t come out right. Stevie had already mastered this look in the picture Dad had chosen to frame and remind him of the family he had left behind in Pennsylvania the day he told Mom he needed to move to New Jersey for a more exciting life. I wondered if he saw in Stevie something that made him feel better about leaving. Maybe he saw a little bit of himself in Stevie’s face. I wished I could ask Dad a question like that but we were miles away from being able to talk that way.
Dad came back in the office while I was still sitting in his swivel chair and holding the picture and he saw it in my hand. He said nothing. I wondered if he thought I felt good that he had a picture of me and Stevie on his desk. I wanted to tell him that it didn’t make me feel good, that it only made Dad’s new life hurt more.
“Okay, Jessy, I’m finished with my meeting,” he started and I put the picture down on his desk but in a different spot, in the back. I didn’t think Dad should be allowed to get away with having a picture of his first set of kids as if we were still a part of his life. I stood up.
I suddenly wished I had never driven up to New York that morning because now I felt like I had two problems instead of one. I still had the big mess with Jimmy to deal with but now hanging in front of it was the bigger problem of facing Dad after seven years and trying to explain to him and myself why on earth I thought Dad would be able to fix things.
I walked awkwardly around his desk. He pointed to the chair in front of his desk. “Sit down over here, Jessy,” and Dad moved over to his chair and sat.
“Why did you come to me with this problem, Jess? I would think you’d have other people besides me to turn to. And I have to be honest with you, I don’t have a magic solution here. So, what is it? Why are you here?”
I don’t know what I was hoping for, what I was thinking Dad would say. I only knew I had no one at home who would understand.
“Well,” I started. “I didn’t want to tell Mom because I didn’t think she would understand.” And then I stopped because I knew it was more than that. “I didn’t think Mom could help.” It was a betrayal of sorts to say this about Mom, but I shrugged off the guilt. I looked at Dad, apologizing for something I couldn’t name. I could see something in his face that said he understood. Maybe Dad was thinking about that whole year when Stevie got into trouble at school and how Mom did the same thing every time. She yelled and fretted and told Stevie he had to take responsibility for his actions and Stevie laughed right in Mom’s face. Later I’d find Mom in the house doing the laundry or straightening up our rooms, talking to herself. It scared me to see her that way, in a room talking to no one. She looked weak to me and in the end, she never came up with a good way to deal with Stevie.
It was Dad who would punish Stevie, who would make him work around the house and Stevie would clean the garage or weed or rake leaves like nothing affected him. But I was always glad that Dad had made Stevie do work as a punishment because I thought it was better than listening to Mom rant about how Stevie was headed down the wrong path but doing nothing about it.
Dad was still looking at me, waiting for me to finish my answer. I realized that I had to take a chance. So in addition to all the problems I had already told Dad, about Jimmy and the break-ins, I opened my mouth and said, “Dad, this is how it is.” About an hour later I had finished telling him about my plans to leave Mom, to go off with Jimmy, to get out of that house, the one where no one wanted to live. And then, at the end I blurted out, “I mean Dad, you left, Stevie left so why should I stay?”
So I had blurted out the words and talked about Dad leaving us, right to Dad, accusing him of leaving me behind. Dad looked at me and he looked tired, because not only was he being asked to try to get his daughter’s boyfriend out of trouble, he had to face the seven-year-old crisis about abandoning his family.
“Jessy,” he started. “I can’t explain to you why I left and why I never called you and Stevie. I know I’ve made mistakes, but you’re the one who came here asking for help and now you’re bringing up the past and expecting me to answer for that too. Well forget it. If you want help, I’ll try, but I’m not going to tell you I’m sorry I left.”
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”
Chapter 16 – “A Different Route”
Chapter 17 – “Choosing Balance”
Chapter 18 – “A Mother Sees”
Chapter 19 – “Taking More”
Chapter 20 – “Robbing the Future”
Chapter 21 – “I Thought I Didn’t Need Her”
Chapter 22 – “It Was Up to Me”
Chapter 23 – “Separate and Icy”
Chapter 24 – “Striking a Nerve”
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