“What a shame we all became such fragile, broken things,
A memory remains, just a tiny spark,
I give it all my oxygen, to let the flames begin.”
November 8th, Saturday 4:00 PM
Riding in the passenger seat, the teen watched as her father followed behind a parade of cars. One by one, they weaved their way into the church parking lot. The place was packed – mostly with local cars, although not all contained the familiar blue and white tags of a Connecticut license plate. At the door, a line of townspeople began to form. Huddled under umbrellas, the attendees stood dressed in black, wearing hopeless expressions.
The holidays were approaching, but the November day would not be used for shopping. Pies, frozen turkeys, and canned cranberries would sit a day longer at the grocers. The mood of the town was one of shock and disbelief. Family get-togethers were put on hold and flags were placed at half-mass in honor of the dead.
Because Canaan had lost one of its beloved – parishioners and nonbelievers alike came out to pay their respects. Despite the frigid air, the wake was the church’s largest turnout to date.
She couldn’t help but wonder how many more people would arrive tomorrow. The burial was scheduled for 9 AM followed by a brief morning service. While some would be pondering what they should wear or if they should send along a casserole or a dessert, she battled with her own demon – whether or not she could live with herself if she didn’t attend.
The weather was cold, even for late fall. The sky had poured for four nights straight. Even now, as she strained to see who was in attendance, a steady rain rapped against the windshield, limiting her view. With a sigh of frustration from her father, he finally did what many other drivers were doing and pulled onto the spongy lawn at the back of the fellowship hall.
A Jeep Wrangler pulled in beside them. The elderly occupant behind the wheel opened his door to disembark. As he met her eyes, his face blanched with recognition. Slouching lower in her seat, the seventeen-year-old knew it was inevitable that her family would be the talk of the town until a new disaster occurred.
Despite what everyone thought and what little the newspaper reports got right, no one understood her private hell.
October 30th, Thursday 7:00 AM
Just because Hannah Jones woke up a year older didn’t mean her parents gave a damn. As their only child, she hoped reaching the milestone of her seventeenth year would encourage her folks to treat her differently. But, after silencing her alarm and listening to the familiar hum of her childhood home, her wishful thinking didn’t last. Hannah lived an invisible existence on the second floor and it was just another day in the life of Mr. and Mrs. Gary Jones.
Dressed in her favorite jeans and blouse, Hannah slipped on a pair of Converse and hurried down the hall. As she passed the guest room, she heard her father’s familiar snore. Her parents hadn’t shared a bed in four years. Unsure if it was Gary’s reverberations or Catherine’s fragile nerves, their sleeping arrangements matched the way they moved around the house. Despite proximity, the two never touched.
Her bathroom routine was simple. With her mother’s flawless skin, Hannah didn’t need makeup. Just a touch of mascara to accent her pale eyelashes and a bit of lip gloss. Her hair was the only genetic gift from her dad. The rich auburn was one of the first things people noticed when they met her. She brushed it back into a pony tail. Her one beauty rule was keep it simple. And she always did.
Pausing in the kitchen to grab a cheese stick and a bottle of water, she spotted the thin frame of her mother sitting at the table. Already dressed in a cashmere sweater and brown slacks, Catherine sat in silence staring out the bay window. A mug of tea was held in her hands but she didn’t appear to have touched it.
For a moment, Hannah imagined strolling over and offering a hug. She had seen her friends embrace their parents, but she couldn’t recall the last time she had. It was before her age hit the double digits, back when smiles and laughter weren’t completely unfamiliar in the Victorian home they shared. Instead, she cleared her throat, alerting her mother to her presence.
“Good morning,” Hannah offered.
Catherine tilted her head and glanced at her daughter. “You aren’t going to wear that tonight are you?”
“No. I have an outfit set aside for later.”
“Good,” her mother said, turning back to the window. “Remind Jared that dinner will be served at 5:30 sharp.”
No ‘Happy birthday!’ or ‘How are you, Hannah?’ Thanks Mom.
Stepping outside to take the short walk to school, the overcast sky held a wind that pushed at her back. As she walked down the street, Hannah wondered how her mother could spend so much time at that table, contemplating a world she didn’t seem to enjoy. Catherine was well liked, even admired by the attendees of the church her father led, but Hannah knew there was a quiet unhappiness in her mother. They didn’t need a close relationship to recognize that.
Hannah didn’t get far when she heard the rumble of a Yamaha’s engine, closing in behind her. Pulling up at the curb, her boyfriend’s eyes gave her an appreciative scan. “Why didn’t you wait for me?”
Hannah smiled. He looked like a bad boy with his dark features and leather jacket, but she knew better. Despite an occasional big mouth, Jared was in honors classes and his SAT scores guaranteed him a spot at Cambridge’s MIT next fall.
“I needed to get out of there,” she said. “I’m pretty sure my mother’s head was going to spin around on her shoulders like that chick from the Exorcist. Not how I wanted to start my day.”
“What, no birthday presents, no pancakes?” With graceful movements, his six foot tall body climbed off the bike. Unzipping his jacket, he reached in. “Guess what I have?”
Tapping her fingers in feigned concentration, she pretended to think. “Hmm,” she brought her finger to her chin. “A gift?”
Holding out a pink satin ring box, Jared lifted the lid, revealing a small opal ring with diamond chips. “It’s your birthstone,” he said. Taking it from the box, he slipped it onto her ring finger. “I’ve been doing extra work for my Dad so I could save up for it.”
He could have given me a scrap of paper and it would still be perfect.
With a satisfied expression, he brushed dark bangs from his eyes. The gift was a statement. With all of the talk about going away to college between them, he had insisted she apply to Boston University so they could be near each other – even mentioning the possibility of them sharing an apartment together after freshmen year. Placing the ring on her finger now was a promise.
Hannah’s heart felt a tug of emotion. No matter how bent she was on wallowing in pity, he could make her smile. Her parents didn’t make room for her in their lives, always leaving notes on the refrigerator, instructing her what time to come home, when to do chores, what she should heat in the microwave for dinner. Communication kept limited to a statement or two. Jared was different. Even without speaking, he could say plenty.
“It’s beautiful,” she said studying the small stone. Tilting her hand, she appreciated the simplicity of the setting. Meeting his smile with one of her own, she added, “Don’t think this means you can skip dinner with my parents tonight. Unless you plan to. I wouldn’t hold it against you.”
A belly laugh resonated from deep in his chest. Hannah loved the familiar sound. When he let one roll, it was contagious.
“No way am I going to miss out on dinner with the King and Queen of Canaan.” Pulling her to him, he kissed her before she could reply. “Now get on my bike before we’re late.”
Thursday 8:30 AM
As the market doors slid open, Catherine Jones steered the grocery cart to the produce section. In her hand was a slip of paper that contained a list she had spent the morning trying to create. Glancing down at her familiar script, she could barely make sense of the items she had penned. It was only a birthday dinner she was cooking with just one extra guest; why she jotted down possible hors d'oeuvres and additional desserts baffled her.
Surely Hannah’s boyfriend doesn’t eat that much.
Catherine rarely cooked anymore. Putting together fancy spreads used to come easy. When Hannah was little, dinner was set aside as a part of their daily routine. Now, her daughter would eat alone in her room and Gary, her husband, ate in front of the television. Only Catherine dined at the table, her only company a paperback to get lost in.
Glancing at the array of lettuce types, she wondered what the kids even liked. She tried remembering if her daughter had a particular favorite. When Catherine was growing up, she and her brother ate what they were told to. Harboring the same attitude that children should eat a little of everything, Catherine never encouraged Hannah to be fussy. The night wasn’t going to be easy; a careful dinner menu was the only thing she could control.
Hannah had commented that she and Jared had been a couple for a year.
Could they have been dating that long?
There hadn’t been a point to invite him over before now. It was difficult having guests in their home. With Gary’s position in the community, they were always being watched. Keeping the home silent and free from suspecting eyes made life less stressful.
Hannah seemed content spending her time with friends. She never asked to host sleepovers or movie nights and Catherine was fine with that. It was a good thing that Hannah developed independence early on – it would make leaving home easier.
Settling on romaine, Catherine glanced around for the croutons. Her eye caught the sunny wave of Chris Theriot, a regular at Sunday’s service. In a fleece jacket and jeans, his ruddy complexion suited him. With a casual nod, Catherine hoped she had taken care with her appearance. Pulling her hair back into a perfect up-do, ironing her clothes, and applying a subtle amount of perfume – it was all a show. Getting out of bed was difficult enough. Ensuring the townsfolk she was a vision of serene Christian living was downright painful.
Please God, get me through today.
As she strolled through the store, Catherine recalled her own seventeenth birthday. It was the last birthday she celebrated with her brother. Although she didn’t know it at the time, Perry would leave in two months for basic training and never return.
Catherine could still recall her brother’s mischievous smile as he slipped a whoopee cushion under their mother’s bottom before taking her seat that night. Sylvia, a self-appointed spokesperson for maintaining proper mannerisms at all times, turned white and her mouth dropped open in shock as the air blasted out from the gag toy. Her petite body shook with rage as she demanded their father scold Perry for his childish prank. Ralph Bennett was a stark man, but even his grey eyes held a hint of amusement as he sent Perry to his room.
Later that night, Perry knocked on her door, confessing the fart cushion was a cliché, but embarrassing their mother should be worth a lifetime of laughs and make up for the fact that he didn’t have a gift to offer her for her birthday. Her brother couldn’t have known that because of him, Catherine couldn’t stomach the sight or sound of the stupid things. It wasn’t laughter that visited her, just regret.
Dropping a Stouffer’s lasagna into the cart, Catherine wished Hannah had someone like Perry. Someone who could soften the hard edges in life, a confidant who knew your secrets and was trusted to keep them, no matter how easily they could annoy you. Hannah was Catherine’s sole child. Her womb knew before her heart that another child wasn’t meant to be.
At first her infertility was a shock, but it didn’t take long for her to realize that Gary’s seed was being planted elsewhere. For all she knew, her husband fathered a litter of bastards throughout the northwestern corner of the state. But, Hannah was all that Catherine had for her own, a daughter that would carry on the family bloodline. Carry on dreams Catherine had let go in order to further Gary’s career. Knowing that the only part of her husband that was worth anything, he poured into their daughter during her conception, made her only child more precious. Unlike so many other children, the teen never asked for a baby brother or sister, instead finding comfort in her playmates from church. The lack of conversation made forgetting she once planned on having a houseful of children easier.
Tonight all Hannah will have is Jared.
Knowing the only gift they had for their daughter would come with a price, Catherine’s hatred for her husband rekindled inside until it replaced the pools of sadness she wallowed in with a fiery rage. Heading to the line at the front of the store, Catherine’s teeth clenched behind her fake smile.
I hope the damn meal gives the son of a bitch a heart attack.
Thursday 11:55 AM
Pulling up in front of 155 High Street, Gary dusted off the breakfast crumbs from his tie and tucked his New International Version Bible under his arm. A quick look in the visor mirror revealed an even row of white teeth. With a flick of his finger, he freed a poppy seed left behind by his morning bagel. Approving the adequate job a quick shave in the shower gave him, he ran his hand along his jaw line. His bronze hair was well groomed and his suit still smelled fresh from the drycleaners.
Looking good for a man in my forties.
Usually, he entered the complex through the back of the building, where Tonya Watt had a second story entrance. Visits during the day were unusual, he preferred waiting until the street had grown dark, and eyes weren’t as quick to pry.
But, today, his mood spurred boldness and an unexpected cancellation in his schedule left him free to make house calls. With scripture as a prop, he decided to make an impromptu visit to see Tonya. She wasn’t expecting him, but catching her unaware added to his excitement.
As he worked his way up the front stairwell, the smell of cat urine and kitchen trash permeated the carpets. Tonya wasn’t a pet owner, but her neighbors were. Maybe even the filthy kind that rescued felines by the dozens, just to leave them shitting all over the damn place and infesting each other with fleas. Tonya should upgrade her apartment, for her daughter if not for herself, but it didn’t matter much to him. He never spent the night there.
As a man of God, Gary had been in a few dumps like that. It wasn’t difficult to judge whether someone would be accepted as a new member of the church. If their houses were dirty and they dressed in rags, they would not be able to offer much to the congregation. He expected his parishioners to give ten percent. If they couldn’t, he sent them down the road to the Church of Christ. The pastor there was willing to live off pennies as long as his flock got to Heaven.
Reaching apartment 2B, Gary knocked on the door. He wondered what Tonya was wearing. She dressed like a woman half her age, usually with her jugs hanging out and the crack of her ass showing. He would strangle Hannah, his daughter, if she ever came home in a getup like that. As a pastor’s kid, the teen needed to dress conservative. His wife, Catherine, was great at being a role model in that respect.
Tonya was a different conversation.
Knocking harder, Gary began to sweat. Tugging at his collar, he remembered Tonya down on all fours last Tuesday. Just the memory of her smell and her quick gasps for air, sent blood flowing to his organ. What he liked best was that Tonya wasn’t picky. She would jump right in to whatever fantasy he had at the moment. The woman wasn’t squeamish either. He liked that.
Not Catherine though. His wife was too dignified to cut loose. Over the years, their intimacy had shriveled down to nothing. She was still sexy. Her body lithe and sensual, even after turning forty last year. It was Catherine’s attitude that made his balls hurt. She couldn’t understand his needs and turned her back on him years ago.
Holding his breath, he heard movement from the other side of the door. Puffing out his chest, he leaned against the frame, waiting to impress her.
With a click of the lock, the door swung open.
Gary’s words caught in his throat when he realized it wasn’t Tonya, but Shelby standing there. With a sleepy expression and blond hair hanging lose around her shoulders, the teenager was a spitting image of her mother. Surveying her body, the only noticeable difference was the girl’s smaller breasts.
Give her a year or two and she’ll be a hot little thing.
“She’s not home,” Shelby said, motioning to the room behind her.
Gary tried smiling. He knew the teen wasn’t happy to see him, especially after she caught the two in bed a week earlier.
“Hi Shelby. Looks like I waked you.”
“Yeah, so what? She’s not here.” Shelby shrugged.
“It’s her day off. Do you know where she’s at?”
It took a moment for Shelby to respond. Running her hand across her forehead, she breathed out a deep sigh. “You spend enough time with my mother. Try doing the same with your wife.”
Stepping to the side, she closed the door.
With a chuckle, the pastor shook his head, not sure whether or not knocking again would get a different response from Tonya’s only child.
Amid the putrid smells of the hallway, Gary stood staring at the door, unsure what to do with his afternoon.
Thursday 12:15 PM
Tonya held a pair of lace panties to her hips, unsure if she needed a size six or a size seven. On sale for five dollars a pair, she didn’t want to pass up the deal. She hated that the Wal-Mart in Winsted never let you try them on. For a woman with curves like hers, fit was essential. If she brought the undergarments home and they were too big, she would end up having them fall down inside her pants all day. If they were too small, she could give them to Shelby, but her daughter would complain about Tonya’s spending habits.
When did she become such a stooge?
Unable to understand why her daughter was constantly riding her about saving money, Tonya picked out a few fun items and placed them in the cart. Nail polish, moisturizer, and new bras and panties were a splurge. Another glance through the clearance wrack and Tonya discovered a fun little find: a cheetah print negligee with black spaghetti straps.
Shelby always complained that she didn’t leave enough for necessities, but Tonya knew better. Money spent on looking nice was an investment.
At forty one, Tonya was at an age where she was young enough to land a man of quality, but old enough to know how to choose one worth keeping. Her first husband was a learning experience, her first boyfriend a learning disaster. Had she known just a few years ago that men grew tired of a relaxed woman, Tonya might have tried to spice things up. After so many painful mistakes, she vowed never to screw up a good relationship again.
Although she didn’t usually go far from town because her car wasn’t reliable, Tonya decided to sneak off alone so she could find a little something sexy to wear. Things were coming along well with her current relationship and she didn’t want to start getting too comfortable.
It was rare to have an entire morning and afternoon free from her job at the florist shop. After rolling out of bed, she mixed a little rum with her instant coffee and made toast. Tonya planned exactly which stores she would hit for the day. Williston’s deposit had cleared and she was in the mood to look ravishing. Not bothering to awaken her daughter, she applied some cosmetics and drove straight to Winsted.
Having once lived in the small city, Tonya didn’t mind driving through the odd array of hills and crowded streets. Despite the fact that the town’s intersections had lights that didn’t keep in pace with the demanding traffic, she rather liked the familiarity the town gave her. She had spent quite a few nights in the studio apartments that ran above Main Street and the multifamily colonial houses built by the Polacks that settled in the town’s south end. Without even thinking of which direction to take, she could jet around the back streets and make her way up to the Goodwill. Looking for designer jeans on the five dollar boutique rack was a thrill, only better was finding knockoff designer bags for twenty bucks on Water Street. The beauty school would frost her hair and wax her lip for less than what she could pay to have her nails done back home.
Not wanting to live amongst the growing number of Latinos, Tonya was thankful the day Williston moved her out of Winsted. After a short courtship, followed by a small marriage ceremony with the justice of the peace and a reception at the Knights of Columbus, Will moved her into his family’s East Canaan home. Living in an actual house that wasn’t an apartment or a trailer was exhilarating and what she considered to be the good life. Unfortunately, it didn’t last.
If she kept on track, Tonya knew she would be married again. And this time, she would make sure the good life was hers for the keeping. Using her body was one guarantee. Her lover noticed every little thing she wore and was easily turned on when she stripped for him. With each thong and silk pantyhose Tonya purchased, he fell more and more in love. Shelby wanted to go out later and find a Halloween costume, but in Tonya’s opinion, that was a waste of money in comparison. Halloween was a children’s holiday that came once a year – what Tonya had to do was craft a fantasy that would leave Gary smitten for a lifetime.
Beauty was easy for Tonya. She had many fond memories of her pageant days. They were nothing like the circuits that ran down south, but in small town New Hampshire, she was recognized as the real thing. Beginning at age five, she had won several ribbons and cash prizes. By twelve, with the onset of puberty giving her height and her mother’s curvy build, she won a two hundred dollar savings bond and a weekend stay at the classy Omni Mount Washington Hotel. It was when Tonya was Shelby’s age that she reached the pinnacle of local beauty contests in the area. In the fall of her junior year, she was crowned “Miss Apple Dumpling 1994” and wore her sash in the Labor Day parade with pride. Teasing her hair and applying cosmetics made her feel beautiful. Knowing the guest judges in her hometown thought so made it all worth it.
With a sudden bout of inspiration, Tonya headed to the skin care aisle. Knowing how lovely the cheetah print teddy would fit, she pored over the self-tanners. Thinking of the scene she would create the next time she was alone with her lover, she didn’t even notice the vibration of her cell phone as it trilled in her bag.
Thursday 12:15 PM
After shutting the door in Gary Jones’s face, Shelby sat on the couch listening. She expected him to pound on it again. Her mother’s assholes tended to get nasty when she locked them out, but the preacher must have been smart enough to know better.
Counting on her fingers, Shelby thought back to how long her mom had been seeing him. If memory served, they were just about half way through their third month. Her mom’s boyfriends seldom lasted pass the first six weeks. None of them seemed too love struck after witnessing her mother fall down drunk after the first few dates, but that wasn’t the real kicker. Those who didn’t mind the drinking left as soon her mother dropped the “M” bomb. Nothing like marriage to make the boys panic and disappear.
Shelby didn’t want that kind of life. If falling in love meant that you would dissolve once the relationship ended, it didn’t seem worth it. A man’s company was nice, but loving them was dangerous. Hopefully, her mother would learn someday.
Imagine if Jones actually loved her back.
Heading into the bathroom, Shelby grabbed a clean towel from the linen closet and turned on the shower. She was relieved her mother was happy, but the fact that the woman had fallen for a married man was troubling.
From what she knew of Gary Jones, he had a pretty cushy life on the other side of town; a life in a nice house with his wife and a perfect teenage daughter – Hannah Jones.
Shelby and Hannah were best friends until the beginning of eighth grade. All that changed when homeroom segregated students by achievements. Hannah and her goodie-good church friends were placed in all honors classes while less impressive students, such as Shelby, with bullshit going on at home, were lumped together in teacher supported classrooms. Shelby tried to keep her bestie close, but Hannah had grown cold. New cliques formed and carried on into high school. Everyone knew that no one from Shelby’s group would be welcomed to sit down in the lunchroom next to girls like Hannah. They were too different.
Hannah wasn’t mean, but it bothered Shelby that her old friend would not even look at her. Each time the teen entered a classroom, Hannah smiled at the teacher or at her boyfriend, but never bothered to say hello or even acknowledged Shelby’s existence. Darla insisted her old friend was just a snob, and too good for the rest of them, but Shelby knew Hannah wasn’t like that. She had always been shy, but that didn’t seem to be all of it either. If Hannah had at least offered a reason for ignoring her, Shelby would stop looking for opportunities to make her old friend talk to her.
Nothing like announcing her father’s hooking up with my mom – no wonder we aren’t friends.
What was troubling was Hannah’s reaction to the news. Although she wanted to embarrass Hannah a little, she couldn’t forget the look of horror that spilled across the girl’s face. With Darla egging her on, Shelby announced that her mom was Reverend Jones’s new flavor. For some reason, she assumed Hannah would suspect something like that from a douchebag like her dad. But once she spilled ugly little details of the affair, she realized naïve little Hannah lived a sheltered life.
She didn’t have a clue.
Stepping under the spray of water, Shelby knew it was just another regret she would learn to live with. It wasn’t the worst of them, but it still sucked like hell.
Maybe Hannah Jones wasn’t her best friend anymore, but the two of them were at one time. The attempts Shelby made to get recognition – some validation even that Hannah hadn’t completely dismissed her from her thoughts, were pointless now. Any chance of her being remembered fondly years from now swirled down the drain quicker than the bath water.
Thursday 5:30 PM
With a deep sigh, Hannah exhaled the breath she had been holding in since Jared rang the doorbell. Although she had sneaked him in before, it was the first time her parent’s requested he join them for dinner. With store bought lasagna fresh from the oven and a loaf of garlic bread ready to be served, the four of them took their seats in the formal dining room.
As the meal was served, her parents made polite conversation. They had never met her boyfriend, but he appeared relaxed. She hoped the night would unfold without incident, but Hannah knew her folks. With their polished clothes and false smiles, she awaited the stomach ache she had come to expect from them.
She studied Jared. With his dark hair and easy smile, he cleaned up well. She warned him that her parents were odd, that they may be a tad bit “preachy.” He laughed off her concerns with a claim that his folks were the same way. But, Hannah had met Shannon and Carl and they were nothing like the Jones’s.
In the hour before his arrival, she had fussed with her curly hair and changed her outfit three times, only to settle on the same pink sweater and blue jeans she had selected days before. She checked her phone at least five times and even offered to help her mother finish assembling the Caesar salad.
A part of her feared he wouldn’t come, another part worried he would.
Last fall, when Jared stopped her at her locker and asked that she accompany him to homecoming, she was flattered. Despite the chatter that he had a reputation of being a hot head at his old school, Hannah found the way he spoke passionately about the world and his interests, intriguing. Her two closest girlfriends from church, Beth and Nicole, cautioned her about getting involved with him. With his preference for taking the seat in the back row of each class, they feared the dark haired guy with a tattoo across his biceps would be Hannah’s undoing.
Yet they stare and preen when he walks past.
It didn’t take long for word to spread that the dirt biker was into the churchy kid, confusing most cliques. Jared didn’t fit the stereotypes the small school felt comfortable lumping each new student in. Hellion or not, his grade point average placed him among the top ten of the class and Hannah’s heart raced whenever he flashed his reserved grin just for her.
After the dance, she was overjoyed when he continued to call and ask her out. Although he wasn’t afraid to get in anyone’s face if they talked down to him or showed Hannah any disrespect, Jared was nothing but tender with her. Once they shared their first kiss, Hannah realized her feelings went beyond a budding attraction. Letting go of her worries about what everyone thought was the best thing she had ever done.
Just once she asked him “why her?” Why out of all of Canaan’s single girls, she was the one he picked? With the sweetest of grins, he told her it was because she didn’t judge him. When he moved to the small Connecticut town, she was the first one to genuinely seem interested in who he was. She looked past the rumors and didn’t care about his image. Once he got to know her, he saw she was more than just a pastor’s kid. Hannah was smart and giving and could make him laugh. The thought was still dizzying.
Having Jared separate from her family was like having a life in another world. With him she could be as funny and carefree as she wanted because she wasn’t confined to the role everyone expected. A role she held responsible from the time she was old enough to understand how many townsfolk studied her every move – waiting for her to slip up. On the back of his dirt bike or in his arms, she was no longer bound to the pressure of being Pastor Jones’s only daughter. It was a part of herself she had forgotten existed.
Pushing her pasta around on her plate, she couldn’t force herself to eat. The table setting was lovely with its white table cloth and sterling flatware. The silver was polished and the linens were pressed. Even the lasagna was served in a casserole dish instead of the flimsy aluminum pan it came in. It was all for appearances, they never ate together anymore.
Today was her birthday. Tomorrow was Halloween. There were a hundred places she would rather be with Jared. They could share fries and milkshakes with their friends at Lucinda’s Diner, play a round of mini golf at The Cove, or better yet, go to Six Flags.
“Hannah, your father is speaking to you.” Her mother’s tartness brought her back to the room – to her need to please them. “He has your gift.” Catherine Jones was wearing a tailored business suit.
She can’t wear jeans like most moms.
Her father looked at her. His eyes revealed a distance they both could feel.
When she was younger, she revered him like his Sunday morning worshippers. With a child’s naivety, she believed Gary Jones walked a narrow path, in route to a higher moral plain. Now she knew better. His piety was a mask.
“Well, since we’re all here for dinner, we might as well give you your gift,” he said. In his hand was a large manila envelope. With a smirk, the same one he gave parishioners when they needed a reminder to tithe, he slid it across the table to her. “Happy birthday, Darling.”
Hannah glanced at Jared. She wanted to hold his hand while she opened it, wanted the security of his nearness, his promise of a reality outside of these four walls. He was unaware of the fear brewing in the pit of her stomach. Something was wrong, her parents didn’t believe in buying gifts, why start now?
Sliding her fingers along the sealed end, she felt the unpleasant sting of a paper cut. Bright crimson stained the glossy brochure as she slid it from the sleeve. Confused, she glanced at her mother. Catherine’s face was expressionless.
Hannah looked down at the booklet in her grasp. “Miss Hall’s School…It’s a boarding school?” As the words passed her lips, her head grew dizzy. “It’s in Pittsfield.”
Far from home, far from my life here.
“You’re leaving Monday. I’ve made all the arrangements,” Gary offered, but he stared at his wife. “It’s a wonderful opportunity. You’ll have your pick of colleges with that academy on your applications.”
Is he waiting for her to disagree?
Hannah glanced beseechingly at her mother, but Catherine stared at her plate, her own lasagna untouched.
“I’ve never been away from home before. I always thought that wouldn’t happen until I went away to college.”
“Think of it like you’re getting to go away early.” Her father wiped his mouth with his napkin, but the orange sauce stayed curled at the inner corner of his mouth. “Your Grandmother was alumni, so that helped, but as soon as they reviewed your transcript, they offered you enrollment. The headmistress wanted to personally congratulate you; however, I imposed on her our desire to surprise you for your birthday.”
“I am. I guess it’s just that I’ve already started doing my senior year here with my friends,” Hannah looked over at her boyfriend, who sat quietly, barely chewing his food, “and I’m dating Jared.”