Thank you for visiting Book Club Mom’s Friday Fiction. Below is Chapter 40 of Jessica. Jessica is nineteen-years-old and she 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 40 – “Anger’s Release”
For years I had hoped Mom and Dad would get back together. I told myself we were the family that would beat the odds. Dad left, but he could always come back. That was my mantra. I prayed he knew that. I desperately hoped he could hear me repeating these words to myself. He didn’t have to be with his new family. We were here.
Then, over time, I began to accept that he was gone. Dad had left for a better life, just like Stevie had told me, a bitter edge in his voice. Dad didn’t want us because he had something else. In the beginning, I thought that wanting him to come back was the thing that held the rest of us together. I was too young to see, but the day he left, Mom had begun to turn into someone new. She didn’t talk about it. She just did it. She had no one, not even me and Stevie to lean on. I hadn’t paid attention then. But I was certainly watching now as Mom and Dad positioned themselves in the kitchen, the first time they had seen each other since he left us.
Dad had always run the show. It was the only way he know how to be. He made the deals and let us all know how things were. I felt protected as a young girl, knowing that he was there to take charge if something went wrong. It was his single, dominant trait, made strong long before we were a family. It is what allowed him to succeed in high school, college, law school and at work and with each success came more confidence. Year after year, new layers of successful results reinforced what I had always believed was the foundation of our family.
What I didn’t understand was how oppressive Dad’s personality could be. He may have loved us, but he had also controlled us. I wondered if Mom had understood that, if she had liked being taken care of, being told how to do things. Did it make her feel safe, the way I had felt? Does that personality only work on young children, if at all? Mom had been submissive, afraid of things, insecure without Dad’s reassurances, but seeing them in the kitchen, I wondered if she had been that way because of Dad.
When he was finished with our family, Dad left to build another one, under his conditions. I wondered what his new wife was like. How he was with his son, my half-brother, an unknown to me. Did he choose her because she could be shaped, like he’d done with us?
Mom was a whispering school-girl when we met in the hallway, but by the time I returned to the kitchen with the wine glasses, she was a whole new person. I knew she had been nervous and I thought she had fixed herself up to please Dad, the way she might have done years ago. I began to see, however, that Mom was working what Dad would have called the home-field advantage. How ironic that Mom knew to use this to her benefit!
I had been alarmed by her fussing in the hallway, but I realized she had been sharing a weakness with me, to make herself strong before facing Dad. I felt an intangible sense of belonging to her and a new understanding that we could prop each other up when we needed to, a powerful idea. I was beginning to see Mom in a new light and I felt grateful that she had shown me this weakness before she put on her armor. I was about to see Mom take charge.
People change because of what happens to them. They wither or strengthen and the ones who strengthen discover their true potential.
I had missed their greeting. When I walked into the kitchen with the wine glasses, Dad was sitting at the table and Mom was at the stove. It looked like a traditional domestic scene, a wife cooking dinner for the family. But it was something entirely different.
Dad looked up, relieved to see me. “Oh, Jes is here with the wine glasses!” he exclaimed cheerfully. “Let’s all have a glass.”
Mom said nothing. I put the glasses on the table. Glad for something to do, Dad stood and reached for the wine bottle on the counter. He poured three glasses and walked over to the stove with a glass for Mom.
“Here Caroline,” he offered.
Mom turned and, with steely eyes, reached for her glass. “Thank you, Steven. We’ll eat in about five minutes.”
She could have said, “Dinner’s almost ready,” indirectly asking for approval, the way she might have more timidly said years ago. I noticed the difference.
Dad sat again and I joined him. We watched Mom prepare our plates, lemon chicken over angel hair pasta, sautéed zucchini on the side. This was not a meal I had ever seen before in our house, but Mom did not look as if she was trying something new. On all those nights I had rushed over to Jimmy’s house, Mom had been taking care of herself. She had been alone, but she hadn’t been eating sandwiches or frozen dinners. She had learned to treat herself well and she was showing us she knew how.
She brought our plates to the table and she moved with strength and pride. Dad looked like a child being presented his dinner. I felt lifted, despite my threatening headache and the weight of my problems, because before me was a dynamic I had never considered. I knew we would be discussing Jimmy and my own mental health. I had been tired of talking, but I wanted to hear what Mom and Dad would say to each other. And I wanted to see how they would act.
Dad broke the dead air in the room. “This is delicious, Caroline.” Mom looked at Dad. She sat back in her chair. She heard his praise, accepted it as a given and answered, “Thank you.” In a different time, she might have tentatively explained the recipe, shared her mistakes.
Dad and I sat in silence and ate. We instinctively knew that the next person to speak would be Mom and we waited. I knew Mom was angry about the way Dad had bypassed her when he took on Jimmy’s problem. I figured that would be the first thing she’d mention and I was right.
Mom left her plate untouched in a defiant display of her intention to control the evening. Dad had announced he was coming to dinner. She had prepared a meal, but she was going to eat on her own terms. She held her wine glass in the air, suspended, the way a conductor might pose just before commanding his orchestra. I noticed her glass was full and for a fleeting moment I lost myself in a fantasy of watching my mother hurl the glass at Dad, a long-overdue reaction to his betrayal.
Instead, Mom announced, “I’m not very much in the mood for wine after all” and she placed the glass, on the table with a controlled force that I’m sure was not lost on Dad. We knew what was coming. I felt strangely in the middle, uncomfortable with my decision to go to Dad, to follow his lead. I wondered if Mom was right, if Dad’s plan was as ridiculous as it seemed now.
“Well I suppose that we are long due for a discussion of all sorts of topics, Steven, but because we have the immediate problem of Jessica’s health to work through, I suggest we start there. I want to tell you straight out, however, that I am furious at you for a long list of things, a list that I began to compile the day you walked out that door, leaving us. I will get to that list eventually and I have every right to call you out on every item on it. And I’m going to tell you too, right now, that you have no right to claim justification for your behavior, that you have thrown money our way all these years, as a way of supporting us. You did that, yes, and I took it because it was my right and your responsibility, but I let go of my dependency on you long ago and as far as I’m concerned you can stop sending checks to this house. I have my own money. Jessica has her own job. Stevie is God knows where but has never asked for a penny from me or you. I don’t need you anymore, Steven. Once we are through with this problem and once I have finished telling you how I feel about every single injustice you have created for me and Jes and yes, Stevie, despite his horrendous behavior, I never want to see you again.”
There must have been times when other people had been as angry at Dad as Mom was right now and he must have won his way back into their approval and confidence. But I couldn’t imagine how Dad would react to Mom’s tirade, which I found both frightening and entertaining. All I could do was sit back and watch.
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”
Chapter 25 – “Help Has Its Price”
Chapter 26 – “Who Asked for Help?”
Chapter 27 – “You’ve Done Enough”
Chapter 28 – “The Plan”
Chapter 29 – “Who Says I’m Not Okay?”
Chapter 30 – “What’s So Great about Balance?”
Chapter 31 – “I’ll Call You When It’s Over”
Chapter 32 – “Sorting It Out”
Chapter 33 – “Truth and Lies”
Chapter 34 – “The Car-Port House”
Chapter 35 – “It’s a Dead Yard”
Chapter 36 – “I Just Want To See Him”
Chapter 37 – “I’m Not Going Anywhere”
Chapter 38 – “He’s Here Now”
Chapter 39 – “Not Everything Changes”
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