Monday, December 2, 2013

The Unbroken White Line, Chapter 3

Read Chapter 1
Read Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Jake woke with a start. He had fallen over in his seat, his head resting on Penny's lap. Her head was dropped forward and a small bit of her drool was pooling on his cheek. He didn't much care. Penny was special to him, being she was his only companion most of the time.

Penny was a few years younger. His mother had told him about her birth so many times, his brain actually tricked him into remembering it. 

He remembered the day they brought her home from the hospital. She was so small. So fragile. So light. So warm and soft. He remembered her beautiful face and the whiteness of her eyes. He had stared at those eyes for hours. When Penny would sleep, he would sit beside her small bed and wait for her to open her eyes. Then he would smile and talk softly to her, keeping her awake. The whites were comforting. Clean. Fresh. Innocent. Undisturbed by life.

He had cried that day. Mother and Father had assumed it was because he was no longer their only child. Far from it. He had prepared for months for this day. As his mom's belly had grown bigger, he looked at it in awe. Sometimes, he would go over to her belly, lift up her shirt, and lay his hand on the area around the belly button. Then, he would wait while his mother held her breath. Sometimes nothing would happen. Other times his hand would jump off the belly as he got kicked from Penny inside. 

Jake found that if he pushed a little so the shininess of his mother's skin would cast shadows toward his hand, he could feel different parts of Penny. Then he would feel her roll, bringing her heels up against his palm and give it a good whack. Sometimes, if he dug his fingers in a bit, he could stop her from rolling and instead, feel her lift her arm up to meet his hand. He imagined she understood he wanted to intertwine his fingers in hers and sit there forever, enjoying the moment.

He wept because he was happy. He had a good life already, but he had felt it was completed with the arrival of his sister, Penny, his soon-to-be best friend and companion. He told his parents this. He was always honest with them, never hiding anything. They gave him hugs that afternoon. Mother cried and Daddy got all misty-eyed, chuckling a little to try and hide the tears that were welling up at the bottom of his eyes.

Jake sat up carefully, being careful not to wake Penny. Then, he took his hand and softly pushed her head back against the seat, shifting her body sideways with his other hand to add some support for her neck. She didn't wake up and her head stayed where it was.

It was then that he noticed they weren't moving. His heart skipped a beat as he looked into the front seats, finding them empty. 

Something bumped the car and his gaze traveled through the front window, resting on the familiar sight of Mother and Father, sitting on the hood, arms wrapped around each other, trying to get as close as they possibly could. He watched as his dad turned his head and breathed in the smell of his mother's hair. Something warm started from his belly and hit his chest. Jake let out a contented sigh. He was happy.

As he sat there, watching his parents, he thought about his friend in school, before the summer started. His name was Frank. Frank was sad. Every day, he would come to school and slap Jake on the back between his shoulder blades.

"Hey Jake. How's life'?"

"Good. Can't complain."

Jake had heard his dad say that on the phone to people he didn't think too highly of. He always loved the way it sounded and decided to say it to everyone who asked how he was. Everyone always did. That was how they started talking in Minnesota. Never, "Hey! Did you see the Vikings lose last night?" Or, "Why on earth is your eye all black and blue and...WHAT HAPPENED TO THE REST OF YOUR FACE!"

No, if your leg fell off and your neck was hanging by a scrap of skin, lolling about, behind your back, the same question would come out of the first person's mouth you passed - "How's life?"

Jake would pause a few seconds after responding to Frank's question, "Did your parents..."

"Yeah....," Frank cut him off. "All night. I couldn't sleep. They yelled. I think Mommy even hit Dad once. Dad might have hit her back, but he's always told me never to hit girls, so I don't think he did. But they..." His voice drifted off and ended in a mumble.

Every day, the same story. Jake, happy, Frank, miserable, no sleep. He began to get bags under his eyes. Slowly, his clothes started to sag on his already thin frame. 

Then one day, Frank didn't show up to school. Jake looked for him all day. Nothing. The next day, the same thing happened. Jake had asked his teacher if she knew anything. She hadn't. Weeks went by. Still nothing. And then he forgot about Frank - until now.

He looked out the window at his parents and began to cry a little, feeling very happy for his perfect life, happy parents, and yet deeply saddened by the memories of Frank's completely opposite existence.

Reaching over to open the door, Jake sniffed, wiped his tears away with his sleeve, and climbed out of the car.

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