short/youth/drama/about 5000 words
After a tragic fire forces Jessi to move, she has to learn to trust again, and when life lets her down one more time, it is up to her to decide whether or not to accept life, true friendship, and to honor the lessons of her deceased father, or drown herself in self pity.
I watched out the car window as the trees slowly disappeared into the distance. Life has changed so much over the last couple of months. Could things possibly get any worse?
It has been two months since the fire burned down my house and killed my dad, and I still have bandages on my face. The doctors say I will need several more surgeries before the burns heal.
The first month, I stayed in the hospital, and the second month, I stared out of the hotel room window, wishing I could just go back to school and be with my friends. I had great friends. They all came to see me in the hospital and brought cards, letters, and gifts. I am going to miss them so much. I understood that we needed a new home, but why did it have to be so far away. Oh, well. Like my dad used to say,
"Life won't always be sunshine and candy, but there are good things in rain and pizza too."
I sure do miss his pick me up lectures. They always had a way of making me laugh.
We turned off the main road and started up a dirt driveway. The darkness just seemed to stretch on for miles. Mom and Granny talked to one another in the front seat, oblivious that I had been crying for the better part of the tip. I didn't want to give them anything else to worry about, especially mom, who could barely fake a smile when she helped change my bandages. I know my Granny was trying to help, but she was going a little overboard with paying attention to me. I couldn't find any place to hide from her, not even the bathroom. A couple of days before we left, I tried taking a number two, and she must have asked a hundred times if I was okay. Then, when I came out, and nearly ran into her. I couldn't help myself. I got a real serious look on my face and said,
"You know, I think you should call the doctor."
The panic on her face was priceless.
"Why? What's wrong? Is it your scars? Are you sick? Tell me what's going on?"
"Well, Granny, it seems that ever since the fire, my poop smells like charcoal. Do you think this is a good thing or a bad thing?"
Granny stepped into the bathroom and sniffed. I couldn't stop laughing.
"Oh, you little turd," she said through the laughter of her own.
"Okay, okay. I get it. I'll back off a bit. You know that, it's just because I love you, right?
"Yes, Granny. I promise that you will be the first person I call if I need anything, especially if my poop starts smelling like charcoal.
She hugged me, and that was that.
Well, this was it: my new home and my new life. We stepped into the house, and Mom flipped on the lights. Wow, this house was huge. I bet I could have fit the old house in the front room. Well, I guess I could have fit the old house into a coffee can, but I mean before the fire. As I walked through the house, I could hear Mom and Grandma making plans for the furniture and trying to be positive, but I had no desire to pretend like this was a good move. I decided just to find my room and throw down a sleeping bag for tonight. I made my way to the last bedroom in the hall. It was the smallest of them all. It was painted blue and had a bunch of cars painted on the walls. I could tell this had been a boy's room, but whatever, it would work. I walked to the closet and opened the doors. You have to be kidding me right now, I thought. I started crying, and before I know it, Mom and Granny were standing right behind me with their hands on my shoulders, crying with me. Several toy cars lined the shelves, and right in the middle of all these cars sat a model semi-truck just like the one my dad used to drive.
"I'm so sorry, honey." said Mom, "They didn't send me pictures of this room."
I wiped my tears and turned to them both.
"There's nothing to be sorry for. Dad just wants me to have this room, so he left me a clue. You know, like the ones he used to leave around the house."
We all began to laugh as we recalled the stupid clues that Dad would leave around the house, to find whatever special prize he had brought home for me. Most of the time, my clues would lead me to some chore that he thought I needed to do before giving me my gift.
I remember one clue he left was the most ridiculous thing I had ever seen. I came home from school and saw his truck in the yard. I rushed in and found the whole front room full of maple leaves from the yard with my hairbrush placed neatly on a note. The note read,
"You might want to find a bigger rake, but this is all I could find. Oh, and, sorry about the dog poo."
He had melted chocolate all over my brush. I was so mad, but as usual, he had a plan. When I cleaned up the mess and finished the raking, he didn't give me a surprise. Instead, he sent me to my room to find the brand-new make-up and hair vanity he had bought me. He also purchased all new brushes, curling iron, and hair accessories. He gave me my first make-up kit. It's hard to think that, this was the last surprise he gave me before the fire. Now that I was in middle school, he told me that I should have a place to make my-self beautiful without hijacking the bathroom.
The next morning, we all went into town to buy some furniture. Mom told me that a lot of people had sent us money to help with the move. I mean can you imagine the headlines: Father, Jess dies in house fire saving his daughter, Jessi. Who wouldn't send money?
We were having so much fun picking out couches and tables and even a brand-new bed for my room that I didn't think about the fire for the first time in a long time. Well, I almost didn't think about the fire. Mom even managed to convince the store owner to deliver all the furniture the same night. She told them we would meet them at the house, but we had to make a couple of stops first.
Mom didn't say where we were going, but I soon found out. I saw the school as we came up the road.
"Mom, do we have to do this right now?"
"You don't have to come in today. I'm just going to go in and get you signed up. Besides, it's spring break, so you will have a week or so to get ready."
I had never been so relieved in my life.
A few hours later, we met the truck at the house. I waited in my room for the guys to bring up my bed. They set it up, and I put on my new covers. They came back with another box, and I told them I thought they were in the wrong room. I went outside to let my mom know, but she was busy, so I just decided to wait. I heard a noise coming down the driveway and saw two boys riding their bikes towards me. They stopped in front of the furniture truck and watched from their bikes. I started to head back into the house when the oldest boy hollered at me,
"Do you live here now?" he asked.
I just shook my head, yes.
"I'm Dustin, and this is my little brother Cody, he said and then pointed across the field. We just live over there. Bobby, my best friend, used to live here, and his room was right up there," as he pointed to my room. They had to move because his mom and dad got a divorce. Is that why you moved? Did your mom and dad get a divorce."
Who did this kid think he was? The brother just sat still and didn't say a word, but Dustin could not stop talking. Occasionally, he would take a breath and toss his red hair back as he rambled on and on. I couldn't believe my ears when he asked me this,
"So, what happened to your face? How come you have all those bandages on. Are you sick or something?
This kid is crazy. Does he think I'm going to tell him anything.? My mom finally noticed me standing motionless, wide-eyed, and probably as red as a tomato. She came to my rescue and sent the boys on their way. When they were out of range, I finally spoke.
"I hope you told them never to come back," I said.
"Actually, honey. I told them to give you a couple of days to settle in."
I turned around and stomped into the house. I took off running up the stairs to my room, nearly running into one of the furniture guys in the hallway. When I entered the room, I began to cry hysterically. Mom came in the right behind me and tried to hug me, but I shoved her away.
"Are you kidding me? Did you think that this was going to make things better?
I pointed to the hair and make-up vanity sitting in the corner of my room.
"That is not going to bring dad back, and I will never need it again! Do you think I am going to waste my time putting on make-up or curling my hair when all anybody will ever see is this!"
I ripped the bandages off my face. My mom cried as hard as me.
"I'm sorry," she said, as I threw myself onto the bed and buried my face under my pillow.
"I wasn't thinking. I'll take it out."
I felt her hand on my back, but I did not say a word.
"I'm going to leave you alone now, but if you need me, I will be right downstairs," she said, closing the door behind her.
The next morning, I went downstairs for breakfast and told my mom I was sorry. Mom and Granny went to my room and moved the make-up and hair vanity out. Mom helped me put the bandages back on, and we never talked about it again.
Later that afternoon, I was sitting on the porch when Granny joined me. We were drinking tea when I saw that annoying redhead riding towards us. I started to leave, but Granny said,
"Why don't you just give him a chance? He's probably in the same grade as you, and he could show you around when you start school."
I do not know why, but for some reason, I just sat there watching him. Dustin road right up to the porch and jumped off his bike.
"I know I was supposed to wait a couple of days, but my mom said I needed to come to apologize for being a nuisance. She also said I needed to apologize for being rude. Anyways, I'm sorry. I sometimes forget and just say things without thinking."
Something about the way he was speaking was different today. I don't know; maybe it was me. Maybe, I was different today.
"Would you like some tea?" Granny asked.
"No, thank you, mam. I was wondering if it would be okay to cut through your field and go fishing in your creek?" he said.
Granny looked at him with a puzzled look.
"We have a creek?" she asked.
Dustin pointed to the back of our field and said,
"Oh, yes, mam! You have the best fishing around. I used to go out there with Bobby all the time, and we caught so many fish we had to put some back."
Granny smiled from ear to ear and told him he could go there anytime as long as his parents didn't mind. Then out of the blue, Dustin asked me,
"Do you have a fishing pole?"
I made an eww, gross face and shook my head no.
"Well, you don't have to fish, but you could come with me to check it out. It's also a great swimming hole in the summer, and you're going to want to go swimming when it gets hot," he said.
You know, it's the funniest thing. I don't even remember saying yes. The next thing I knew, I was walking through the field with this rambling redhead and his fishing pole. He filled me in on all the fishing holes in the whole town. He gave me the low down on the weather and the neighbors, although coming from the city, I didn't consider the two other farms besides ours, neighbors. For some reason, this annoying and rude dude was a great distraction from my life. He never asked about my face again that day or the rest of the week. We spent every day wondering around my farm and his. He introduced me to his mom and dad and Cody again. I even found myself laughing at him when he tried to catch a fish barehanded after losing all his hooks. He made me forget all about starting school until the last day.
I was sitting on my porch when he rode up on his bike.
"Ready?" he asked.
"I can't today," I said.
"Why?' he asked.
"I have to go to my new doctor today. I'm leaving as soon as my mom gets here."
Dustin fidgeted with his bike for a minute, and then he said,
"You don't have to answer, and I'm not trying to be rude, but what happened to you?"
I guess deep down I wanted to tell him because before I thought about it, I just blurted out,
"My house burned down and killed my dad. He saved my life by shoving me out a bathroom window, but he couldn't fit in it, and he died."
Dustin hung his head down, and I could see that I had shocked him. He looked up at me and asked,
"Do you remember it?"
"No. I was asleep when the fire started, and I woke up in the hospital."
My eyes teared up, and I looked away. Dustin got off his bike and sat down next to me on the porch. He put his hand on my hand and said,
I could tell he meant it.
"Do you wanna see?" I asked
"Uhh, I guess, but only if you want me to."
I slowly removed my bandages, and to my surprise, he didn't even flinch or look away. Instead, he smiled and said,
"Hey, look at this way, you could totally go as Freddy Krueger on Halloween."
I couldn't help but laugh.
I went to the doctor, and he told me that we needed to start the surgeries as soon as possible to have the best of luck. He wanted to start right away, but mom said she wouldn't let me miss more than two weeks of school, so we scheduled the first surgery for two weeks before school ended for the summer. I didn't mind; after all, what kid do you know wouldn't like an extra two weeks for summer vacation.
The next day, I had to start my new school. I was so scared, but I also looked forward to seeing Dustin. I didn't ride the bus on the first day. Instead, my mom took me. When we got to the office, some kids were milling around, and they noticed my bandages. I could tell they were talking about me, but I had expected that, so I just ignored them. I went to my first class, hoping to see Dustin, but he was not there. I didn't see Dustin until lunchtime. I hadn't talked to anyone all day, and most of the kids just stared at my bandages. At the counter, I was getting my food when I saw that annoying redhead walk in with a group of boys. I waved, but I don't think he saw me. I got my food and walked toward his table to say hi, but as soon as I got close to him, he looked away. I just kept going. I was a bit hurt, but maybe it was just a boy thing. After school, I got onto the bus and saw Dustin sitting near the back of the bus with a large group of friends. There were no empty seats, so I sat in front with the kindergartners. Dustin's stop was before mine, and when he walked by, I said,
He didn't say anything, but maybe he didn't hear me. I got off at my stop, and I'm pretty sure I heard someone say,
Maybe it was just my ears playing tricks on me.
I went into my house, and before heading to my bedroom, my Granny stopped to ask about my day. I told her all about it, and this is what she had to say,
"Just remember who you are and try to understand that not everyone out there will feel comfortable getting to know you. You have to give people time and let them see who you are, and if they do not like you, that's their loss."
I smiled at her and agreed, but deep down, I couldn't help but wonder about Dustin. I finished my homework and came down for dinner. Mom came home, and I told her that my day was good. Granny didn't correct me, probably for the same reason I didn't tell her the truth. Mom had enough to worry about, let alone my drama.
I was sitting in the living room watching T.V. when I heard a knock at the door. Granny went to the door, and I could hear Dustin. Granny came in and told me that Dustin would like to speak to me, so I went out on the porch. We sat and gossiped about all of the teachers for a while. He cracked me up with his impression of Mr. George, the science teacher. Finally, I asked,
"Why didn't you talk to me today?"
"You don't understand. The boys that I hang out with are mean. They used to pick on me every day. I think you know I can be kind of strange."
He became very uncomfortable and stood to leave, but before he did, he said,
"We can hang out here every day. I still want to be your friend, but if I hang out with you at school, they will beat me up and make your life hell."
I was not expecting what he said. I got mad and almost started to cry. Instead, I sucked it up and told him,
"You are worse than any of them could be. You are phony and mean and fake. I would rather be picked on by every kid in the school than to have a friend like you!"
I ran into my house and slammed the door in his face. How dare him to think that he could have me as a secret friend. I did not need him, but, if this was true, then why was I crying as I had just lost my best friend. I stormed by my Granny and hollered that I was okay. I went to my room and sat on the floor, surrounded by all the cars and the semi-truck. I was so upset I fell asleep right there on the closet floor and didn't wake up till the morning.
The rest of the week, I didn't speak to anyone at all. Then one day, a girl named Sara sat next to me at lunch. She talked to me first, and she never asked any questions about my bandages. She was the only friend I had for the next couple of weeks. All of the other kids made fun of me. I was called names and pointed at every day. Sara was not immune to the bullies because of her glasses and braces. She didn't stick up for me, and I didn't stick up for her; we just understood how to get through each day. It felt good to have at least someone to talk to, but I couldn't get over the feeling that I missed Dustin.
Sara was the type of girl that we all wished we knew a lifetime ago. She was quiet and didn't concern herself with the daily drama of the others. She was an added peace of mind in a world that was full of cruel and heartless people.
One day I watched her as three mean boys harassed her and made fun of her. She never flinched, and when they said what they had to say, she looked up from her lunch and offered them a seat at her table. I was not only impressed but envious. I could not understand how she could keep her calm and then extend an invitation to those who would strike out to harm her. I asked her one day about the incident that I had observed, and her answer not only intrigued me but made me have greater respect for those who would harm me in the future.
"Why would you extend an invitation to those stupid boys after they insulted and ridiculed you?' I asked.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"I watched those boys make fun of you and pick on you when all you were doing was minding your own business. Then, I watched you offer them a seat at your table, and not once did you get upset or angry. How are you able to be so calm and understanding. I want to seriously beat their asses." I said.
"Well, first of all, those boys are insecure and manipulated by today's idea of what is cool and what is not cool. Second of all, who am I to understand the reasoning of any person other than myself. I have no insight into what they are taught, who they are surrounded by, or what they believe to be true. Third I am not read to condemn myself to a life of battle to satisfy the fear and insecurities of those who are more insecure than myself. I would rather extend the invitation to a lost soul then spit on someone who may be a bit confused.
About a month before school ended, I started preparing for the surgeries. I knew I had only a couple of weeks left in school, and to tell you the truth, I couldn't wait, even though I knew how horrible the surgeries would be. One day I saw Sara talking to Dustin in the hall. They both looked very serious, but I just kept going. Later that day at lunch, I asked Sara,
"What were you talking to that no-good leprechaun about?"
She smiled and said,
"I think he likes you."
I'm pretty sure I blushed, but I could care less, he was no friend of mine, and that was that.
"He asked me if I knew when you were leaving school for your surgeries?"
"You didn't tell him. Did you?" I asked.
"I didn't know it was a secret. Mrs. Blake already announced it in band class," she said.
"Yeah, but he's not in band, and it is none of his business!"
Sara looked so sad. I felt terrible that I had snapped at her. It wasn't her that I was mad at; I don't even think it was Dustin. I think I was angry at myself for expecting other people to look past the very thing that I couldn't even look at in a mirror. Me.
Two weeks went by, and Sara didn't mention it again. I forgot all about it when I stepped out on the porch to wait for the bus and saw flowers sitting on the porch rail. I took them into my Granny and asked,
"Are these yours?"
"Nope, never seen them before," she said.
I left them in the kitchen and headed to catch the bus without giving it much thought. The next day it happened again. This time there where two bunches of flowers. I ran into
Granny and said,
"Okay, I know it's you and mom trying to make me feel better about the surgeries."
Granny looked shocked when I showed her the two bunches of flowers.
"Honey, I wish I could take credit for those, but it's not me," she said through a half-smile.
"Okay, then, you at least know who it is. Tell me." I demanded.
"I cannot and will not tell you what I do not know. I do have my suspicions, but I have no solid proof. I think you will just have to wait and see."
I was so irritated at her mystery game, but I heard the bus and had to go. I ran down the drive and just barely made it. For the next two weeks, I woke up annoyed and excited. Every day there were more and more flowers, then candy and stuffed animals started to appear. I asked Sara and Granny and Mom. Nobody would tell me anything. I concluded that it had to be Mom and Granny trying to make me feel better about the upcoming surgery. I was wrong. On the last day of school, I woke up extra early to see what the surgery fairy had left, and when I ran outside, I saw him. Dustin was walking away from my house at the end of the driveway. I could hardly see him in the dim light, but I knew that red hair from anywhere. I looked down at the porch, and this time a big teddy bear was holding some flowers and a card.
I bent down and picked up the bear. I opened the card, and this is what it said.
"I am so sorry for being a fool. I can't believe that I have treated you so badly. I treated you the same way that all the bullies treated me. I thought about it for a long time and knew that I could not simply apologize. I think you are pretty and fun to hang out with too. I wouldn't blame you if you never spoke to me again, but I hope you will give me a chance. Good luck with your surgery. Dustin."
I didn't know what to think but hearing those words made me cry.
I didn't see Dustin again for the rest of the summer, but I would find some new gift on my porch at least once a week. I had three surgeries that summer and spent over a month in the hospital altogether. There were times that I was in so much pain and other times that I was just too sad, but my Mom and Granny kept my spirits up, and I made it through. I had the bandages from the last surgery remove two weeks before school started. When the doctor took off the bandages, my Mom and Granny both started to cry. I feared my nightmare had come true and that the surgery hadn't worked. Up until now, I had not wanted to see myself after the bandages came off, but this time I wanted to see the hideous beast that I had become. I took the mirror and slowly opened my eyes. My hands began to tremble, and my body shook. I couldn't believe what I saw. The scars were all gone. The surgery had worked, and the scars were almost invisible.
We celebrated with tears and laughter the rest of the day, and when we got home, I asked,
"Mom, would you mind if I took back the hair and make-up vanity that you bought me?"
She laughed and cried and hugged me. Then she took a step back and said,
"Remember when Granny told you to try and understand that not everyone out there will feel comfortable getting to know you. You have to give people time and let them see who you are."
I looked at her dumbfounded. Granny had totally ratted me out.
"Well, honey, I think that someone out there got to know you and has tried all summer to say he's sorry. He made a mistake, but he has done his best to prove that he deserves a second chance. Don't you think it's time to forgive him?"
I smiled, and without a second thought, I rushed out of the house and down the driveway. I ran straight over to Dustin's house and knocked on the door. His mom answered the door and gave me disappointing news. Dustin was away at his grandparents until the day before school started. She said she'd let him know that I stopped.
I woke up on the first day of school, and for the first time in over half a year, I put on my make-up and curled my hair. Sara and I face timed the whole morning. She had gotten her braces off and put in contacts. We were both so excited to show off our new us, but I have to admit the only person I really wanted to see was Dustin.
He wasn't on the bus that morning, but that didn't surprise me. He sometimes rode into town with his dad before school to help load up some farm supplies. I looked everywhere that morning but did not see him in any of my classes or the halls. I started to wonder if he was at school, but I had so many things to deal with, I just went about the day.
It was so funny to see the same kids that wouldn't give Sara or me the time of day still snickering and pointing at us. We weren't ugly with scars and braces, but we always felt like everyone was picking on us. Then it was lunchtime, and when we walked into the lunchroom, the same boys that had called us names tried to flag us to their table. Instead, I saw a much taller redhead sitting all alone in the corner of the lunchroom. Sara and I walked over to him, and I said,
"Life won't always be sunshine and candy, but there are good things in rain and pizza too."
Dustin looked up at us and started to laugh.
"That is the craziest thing anyone has ever said to me."
"Me too," I said. "But it made you laugh."
You know it's funny. The three of us were picked on because we were different, and we almost let those people convince us that we needed to be like them to be happy, but looking back, we were the happiest when we were different. We were happy, just being us.