Det er den første fredag i måneden og som jeg har lovet begynder jeg fremover at udgive et kapitel fra min roman, som jeg stadig arbejder på. Sidste måned fik i andet kapitel, i dag er det så tid til tredje kapitel hvor Jennifer Paris møder lidt mere af hendes familie.
(It is the first Friday of the month and as I promised I will henceforth post a chapter from my novel, which is still a work in progress. Last month you got the second chapter, today it’s tome for the third chapter where Jennifer Paris meets a bit more of her family.)
Chapter Three – Family Revelations
>>Jennifer?<< Sam came into the hallway, her heavy steps echoing on the floor. She wrapped a warm blanket around Jennifer as soon as she was near enough to do so. But Jennifer shrugged it off.
>>I’m taking a warm shower.<< Was all she said before she headed upstairs, with the intention to do her best to drown herself in the shower. She didn’t pay attention to how long she spent showering but she still didn’t feel like it was enough once she forced herself to step out. It still felt like Billy’s hands and lips were all over her. She scrubbed especially hard with the towel the places he’d touched her till the skin felt raw. She was momentarily reminded of her dream, and she almost entered the shower again. However, she thought better of it and dressed absently before she went back downstairs. Her neck kept itching where Billy’s lips had crawled over her, like he had given her a rash. She knew, if her usual nightmare didn’t return that night she would experience a new one.
In the kitchen Jennifer could hear Jack putting water on for tea. Sam embraced her again at the end of the stairs and Jennifer let her lead her in the kitchen where she was pushed into a chair next to baby Susan. Susan was sitting in her high chair and had an excellent time smearing her mashed peas everywhere else than into her mouth; this brought a smile to Jennifer. At least Susan couldn’t upset her in any way. Sam didn’t seem to have noticed anything; she kept glancing at Jennifer and running a hand through her wet hair.
>>I think she’s fine now, just let her be for a while.<< Jack gently pulled Sam away from Jennifer and into a chair of her own. Jennifer looked grateful at Jack and sipped her tea in silence.
>>Where have you been?<< Sam asked, and Jennifer guessed Sam couldn’t stand the silence any more. Sam sounded anxious but also relieved to have Jennifer back at the house again, and this fact seemed to slowly calm herself. She still didn’t pay attention to Susan, who by now had progressed to smearing the peas all over her and her clothes. This however, was noticed by Jack who started to wipe his daughter clean but quickly gave up, giving the fact that Susan still had more peas left, and Jack could recognize a lost cause. Jennifer sipped her tea once more before she answered.
>>I took a walk. To the graveyard.<< The silence fell like a warm blanket, covering every person in the kitchen, even Susan seemed to be able to feel the seriousness of it because she stopped playing with her food for a moment. Sam and Jack stared at Jennifer, who moved uncomfortably in her seat. In a situation like this, with every eye on her she felt very uncomfortable and she rested her eyes on the table.
>>The graveyard?<< Sam looked first at Jack and then back to Jennifer, who still avoided any glance from either of them. All she did in response was nod. >>But you’ve never been to the graveyard before? Why today, of all days?<< Sam moved from her seat to the one right next to Jennifer’s, where she took Jennifer’s tea cup. Jennifer shrugged as she tried to explain. She tried to explain how she needed to talk to her mother even though she was perfectly aware she was dead. She tried to explain how she still needed the support and comfort of a parent. She tried to explain every emotion she had experienced that morning, but when she thought of Billy and attempted to explain that particular incident, she couldn’t find the words for it. So she stored that experience for another time to tell. It was too much for her to handle in just one day.
>>Was this all because of what I told you this morning?<< Sam tried comforting Jennifer by taking her hand, but it was counter productive. Suddenly Jennifer’s tongue untangled and she let out all the frustrations she’d held back since morning, frustrations she still hadn’t any direct answers to.
>>Why haven’t mum ever said anything? Wasn’t I mature enough? Didn’t she think I was old enough? Was I just supposed to live the rest of my life without ever meeting my father? Was I just to believe he was dead forever? Why would she keep something like this from us? Was he really so horrible she wanted to keep him from us?<< During her little outburst of questions Sam tried to get a word in, but Jennifer didn’t let her. >>And what the heck is going on with me?! I mean, I really wanted him to get of me but not hurt him like that. Sam, what is going on here? Why have I only heard about this now, because clearly you told Jack long ago giving his not-so-surprised reaction this morning.<< Jennifer stopped to breathe, giving Sam a chance to talk.
>>Jennifer, will you please sit down and I’ll try my best to explain everything?<< She looked quite startled from Jennifer’s blast of questions and information. Jennifer had been pacing the room during her rambling and she walked around the kitchen table a few more times before she sat down again. It was strange how much easier it had been to let out her feelings when she was standing. Yet she sat down to get the explanation she had been waiting for for hours. Sam looked around the room while she took a few deep breaths.
>>I think I’ll take Susan upstairs to clean her up a bit.<< Jack yanked a squealing Susan from her high chair and Jennifer could hear her all the way upstairs till Jack closed the door. Sam turned to look at Jennifer.
>>Why haven’t I heard any of this before?<< Jennifer asked before Sam got the chance to start her explanation. Sam reached out for Jennifer’s hand and grasped it within hers.
>>This morning you told me you’ve been having nightmares for a while. A particular nightmare I’m afraid I’m only too familiar with.<<
>>Wait, what? You mean…?<< Jennifer looked oddly at Sam.
>>That I have had the exact same nightmare. And if I’m not much mistaken you can ask Anna and she will tell you the exact same thing. All of us had it when we were your age. Back then mum couldn’t explain what they meant, so they just remained what they were, nightmares. But they are so much more than just nightmares. They are a part of our inheritance.<<
>>What do you mean our inheritance?<< The explanation Jennifer had hoped would clear up a lot of things only confused her further.
>>The woman in the dream, she is a part of us. She is a part of our family, on dad’s side of course. The dream isn’t just a dream. What happens in the dream really happened to her many, many years ago. That’s all I can tell you about the content of the dream because that’s all mum knew. Mum never said anything else.<< Sam broke of, as though she wasn’t sure whether to say the thing she was thinking. In the end, she apparently chose not to. >>That you are having the dream means you are old and mature enough to be told the truth. The reason why we all believed dad to be dead for all those years was because that’s how he and mum decided it a long time ago. Shortly after you were born our grandfather died forcing dad to return to take over the family business, so to speak. He and mum knew they would probably never be a family again. It was impossible for mum to go with dad to where he lived so they made the choice together. Just because he had to go back didn’t mean we had to. At that time mum removed our lockets and hid them. As I tried to tell you this morning, she planned to keep them hidden for as long as possible but everything changed when she got ill. That’s when she returned mine to me and told me the truth about dad. After some time for me to adjust to the idea, we told Anna and returned her locket. Anna and I both believed it to be a short while before we were to tell it to you too, but that is not how mum wanted it. She still wanted us to keep the truth from you. And I will tell you why in a moment.<< She quickly interjected as she could tell Jennifer was about to rant on again. >>We reluctantly agreed but as the time passed and we all realized mum wasn’t getting any better she changed her mind too. She told us the reason why she wanted us to keep it from you; she said the truth would change so much more for you than it did for us and she wasn’t sure you were ready for it. We promised her we would wait till you were ready. We still haven’t figure out what she meant by saying it would change more for you than for us. Jennifer I’m not sure I’m the right person to be telling you all this and frankly I can’t explain it nearly as well as…<< Again she broke off and looked thoughtfully at Jennifer. She bit her lip, something Jennifer recognized in Sam as a sign of doubt. >>You should know that I’ve contacted our father.<<
>>What?!<< Jennifer leaped from her seat and backed away from Sam as she tried to calm her down again.
>>He’ll be here sometime today.<< It became too much for Jennifer and she put her hands on her head. It felt like her throat was closing up and the room started to spin before her eyes.
>>No. No. No.<< She mumbled as she staggered to the sink to gather herself. She didn’t trust her legs or any other part of her body for the moment.
>>I can tell that all of this is too much for you Jennifer, but it is happening. Dad will be here sometime this afternoon. I would very much like it if you were there too. Anna won’t be able to come by today and I’m sure dad would like to see you very much.<< Sam moved almost in slow motion towards Jennifer but she stopped as Jennifer held out a hand. Jennifer still felt unsure of herself, but the thought of her un-dead father just dropping by that afternoon seemed to put her motion in again.
>>I think I need to be a bit alone again.<< She didn’t look away from the floor and avoided Sam’s eyes. She could slowly feel her anger rise in her stomach and she was afraid if she looked at Sam it would burst out.
Slightly shaking all over she dragged her body to her room upstairs and closed the door firmly. It seemed like the entire world was falling apart around her. She fell to the floor slowly and for the second time that day she felt tears down her cheeks. In resolute determination she relocated the photo album and flickered quickly through the pages. She found the photo she was looking for fairly quickly and yanked out the locket from her pocket. With tears still rolling down her face she opened the locket and stared at the happy faces of her parents. They really did look happy. Jennifer wiped her face angrily on her sleeve and forced the remaining tears to stay away. She didn’t want to be sad, she wanted to be angry. In the picture in the album they also looked happy. Jennifer could tell from the date on the back of the photo and by the size of her mother’s stomach it was a short time before Jennifer had been born. The joy was vivid in their eyes and rubbed off on Jennifer and even made her smile slightly, though not for long. She slammed the album shut and tossed it away. The locket was resting gently in the palm of her hand. It barely weighed a thing as it was resting there but the weight it had on Jennifer’s heart and mind was unbearable. She shut that too but instead of throwing it away as she had done with the album she placed it gently on her night dresser.
She could hear someone stop outside the door. For the moment, Jennifer just wanted to be alone. She moved to the other end of the bed and waited for Sam to leave. She couldn’t say anything anyway that would change what she’d already told her. Jennifer scowled at the locket lying on the dresser. In one swift movement she pushed it down the drawer so it wouldn’t remind her. All she really wanted was to be left alone and everything to be as they always had been. She knew that wouldn’t happen. Her father would visit that same day, and he really wanted to see her, according to Sam. The question was though; did Jennifer want to see him?
It’d stopped raining outside. As Jennifer’s mood had calmed so had the rain it seemed. She rested her head on her knees as she looked at the sad summer weather. Too many things were rushing through her head like the rain washing through the streets. There was one thing she knew however: she couldn’t be here when her father came. She would have to leave and come back once she was sure he had gone too.
She crept downstairs as silently as possible. The voices of Sam and Jack echoed from the living room, but Jennifer didn’t feel like explaining her actions. She just wanted to get away. As quietly as she could she sneaked her damp jacket of the hanger and opened the front door. As she closed the door behind her she could hear Sam’s voice ask for her. Jennifer didn’t hesitate for one second. She turned and ran down the street, away from everything.
Jennifer was frozen in front of her own front door. There was no other car in the driveway besides Jack’s so she guessed her father hadn’t arrived yet. This calmed her a bit and her breathing slowed to a normal pace.
She had been walking around without purpose for a while, determined to avoid any places she could risk running into Billy and his gang. At first she had thought about going by one of her friends from school, but then she thought about what she would tell them and the reaction she would get. Anyway, on her way there she had remembered they were leaving for the holidays making the point in going there obsolete. Instead, she had been walking around the streets in her neighbourhood contemplating.
Jennifer had tried to convince herself over and over again that it wasn’t true. Things like that didn’t happen in real life. But deep down she knew it was true. Unlike her mother, they had never had a tombstone or anything similar for her father. Not as much as a memorial or anything. Every time Jennifer or any of her sisters had brought up the subject of her father, their mother always said it was a matter of the past and not something they should talk of anymore. He had been like a ghost in her life. Present without really being there. Now, when he had moved to become almost solid in shape of a real person it was scaring her.
She thought about meeting him. On one hand she desperately wanted to see him because of the simple fact that he was her father. On the other hand she didn’t want to see him because she was still furious with him for leaving her and her family. Though Sam had said he hadn’t had a choice, Jennifer was convinced he did have a choice. You always had a choice, and he had clearly chosen wrong.
She thought about facing her father and letting him know this. She had lived her entire life without any form of father figure. Jennifer finally understood why her mother had never re-married.
Slowly Jennifer opened the front door and tried not to make even the slightest noise. She would prefer it if she could avoid an attack from Sam like the one she had experienced already once that day. To Jennifer’s surprise the kitchen was empty. Jennifer looked around the hallway. There was no spare coat or shoes she didn’t recognize. Yet she could hear voices coming from the living room, including one she didn’t recognize. It was like her heart jumped and lodged itself in her throat. He was here. Her father was in the living room with the rest of her family. Jennifer felt nailed to the floor and at the same time tempted to run upstairs as fast as her legs would carry her and wait till he had gone again. She stood like this, debating herself, for several minutes. In the end her curiosity and defiance won and made her sneak her way through the kitchen to the living room archway. She could hear the adult’s laughter and the childish gibberish Susan was making.
>>Is this your first time meeting the baby?<< She suddenly heard Jack ask. The voice that answered was deep but fresh. It had a friendly tone but Jennifer refrained from making any decisions just yet about the owner of the voice.
>>I’m afraid so. Sam, if I had known in any way I would have visited much sooner.<< He sounded genuinely apologetic, which, thought Jennifer, was something after all.
>>It’s partly my fault. I could’ve contacted you earlier on and told you everything but things have been a bit hectic lately. First we had the arrival of baby Susan and then,<< Here Sam held her breath for a short moment before carrying on. >>Everything with mum happened so fast.<< Jennifer noticed how Sam’s voice lost its energy and bounce as she entered the topic of their mother.
>>Where is your mother by the way?<< He asked as if it was only now he realized she was missing. Silence fell over the room and when Sam finally answered, Jennifer could hear the tension in her voice.
>>Mum isn’t here.<< Her voice was barely audible and Jennifer had to strain to hear her. She also felt the tension that had entered when it almost echoed as he asked for their mother again. Jennifer could, once again, feel her tears pressing behind her eyes.
>>She… She…<< Sam stuttered, unable to speak, unable to put together a simple sentence. Jennifer heard her take a deep breath before she continued. >>Mum passed away.<< Although he didn’t reply in any way, Jennifer could hear the chock he was feeling by his loud gasping noises.
>>When?<< He uttered.
>>About five months ago.<< He sighed and Jennifer could hear the creak of the couch and assumed he had sat down.
>>And Anna? And Jennifer?<< He sounded worried and Jennifer thought she could hear slightly more worry as he asked for her well-being. Why though? Didn’t he think she was able to take care of herself?
>>Both are fine, giving the circumstances. Jack and I moved in here with baby Susan. We are all taking very good care of Jennifer. Anna still lives down town and is coping well, too.<<
>>Baby Susan?<< His voice changed to soft and caring. Jennifer dared herself a glance in the living room. Sam was in the couch with Susan in her lap. Jack was in the chair across the coffee table. In the couch next to Sam, there he was. Jennifer’s heart skipped a beat as she saw him. He was calmly tickling Susan with a huge grin plastered across his face. He was strongly built though you could see the years had worn him and he wore what appeared to be a long chestnut coloured cape draped over his clothes. He looked very close to his picture from the locket. He had the same smile with the same dimples and the slightly crooked teeth. His jaw line was strong and covered in patches of gray stubbles. If it hadn’t been for the gray streaks in his hair Jennifer would never have guessed this was her father. What convinced her completely though, was his eyes. He had the same sparkly green eyes as Jennifer and her sisters had. At the moment, the only difference was, that his seemed to light up the entire room. They glowed of joy at the sight of baby Susan, so much that Jennifer felt very tempted to join the party. But she firmly stayed in her place and listened. For a while no one spoke. All that could be heard from the living room was the indistinctly chatter from Susan. Suddenly he cleared his throat and Jennifer scuttled back in her corner, afraid to be seen.
>>You said you live here with Jennifer now, but where is she?<< His tone of voice shifted from tender to a more serious one, a more business like tone.
>>She’s not home at the moment. We… I only told her this morning. I think it was a bit too much for her.<< Jennifer turned to look in the kitchen window where she saw a slight reflection of the scene in the living room. He was nodding in understanding and then he smiled.
>>I understand. It is obvious that she is not ready to meet me today. I better go again before she gets back.<< Jennifer saw him get up from his seat, and not without effort she could tell from the reflection. All the muscles tensed in her body, readying her to run from her little lookout. He stopped abruptly.
>>But will you tell her I will be back in three days? I would very much like to meet her. It’s been such a long time. I must confess I never thought this day would come.<< His voice had returned to serious but still caring. Jennifer saw how Sam looked surprised but a look of understanding crossed her features as well.
>>Of course. Now I understand what mum meant.<< She heaved a heavy sigh and looked at him. He on the other hand now looked slightly confused. >>Mum didn’t want us to tell Jennifer. We didn’t understand what she meant at the time, but I think I do now. She said too much would change when Jennifer was told.<<
>>It is only natural she would do her best to keep it a secret for all these years. That is what we agreed to do. I was meant to find another but Sam there are none. Just tell Jennifer I would very much like to talk to her and then I will try and explain the rest to the best of my abilities.<<
>>I’ll do that.<< Sam sighed again. Jennifer saw Jack moved over and put his arms around her.
>>Goodbye for now, darling.<< He said in a cheery voice and Jennifer saw him embrace all three of them. She realized he was about to leave and when he did; he would walk this way right past her and see her sitting on the floor eavesdropping on them. There was no way for her to get upstairs in time to hide, but what would she do? She felt paralyzed with nowhere to hide. She heard them move around in the living room, he would spot her any time now. Jennifer closed her eyes and crept as deep in the corner as she could; stupidly hoping he wouldn’t see her. The moment of discovery never came. She sat in the same spot frozen for a long time, neither Sam nor Jack entered the kitchen. She could still hear their voices from the living room, but his was no longer among them. Astounded Jennifer glanced around the corner. The living room was empty, not counting Sam, Jack and Susan. But he had been there, she was sure of it. She had heard and seen him. How could he just disappear like that? She was sure he had been there, this was obvious from the conversation Sam and Jack were having.
>>What should we tell her?< Sam sounded worried and frightened.
>>What he asked us to tell her, I guess. We’ll tell her he’ll be here in three days time and wants to meet her. He’ll have to tell her the rest. We can’t do it nearly as well as him anyway.<<
>>I know. How do you think she’ll react to it? What do you think she’ll do? Jack, I can’t just let her go, mum wouldn’t have wanted that.<<
>>Sam, honey I hate to say it, but your mum isn’t here anymore to make the decisions. Jennifer is 17-years-old. She’s old enough to make a choice like this on her own. And with a little guidance from us she is guaranteed to make the right one.<<
>>Maybe, but I still think she’s too young. Mum chose to keep it from us for a reason, I can’t just ignore that.<< Sam had started to sound slightly hysterical.
>>I know. But you heard him; there is no one else. Jennifer is needed. Once she has all the information it is up to her. You can’t keep her locked up forever.<<
>>Maybe not. But I can try.<< Jennifer could hear from the tone of Sam’s voice that was the end of the conversation and she finally made herself go upstairs.
By evening, Sam came to inform Jennifer dinner was ready and she followed her downstairs to a very silent dinner.
>>Where were you today?<< Sam finally asked, rather tense.
>>I went for a walk. I just needed some time to clear my head.<<
>>Our father came by this afternoon. He was asking for you.<< Jennifer almost said ‘I know’, but stopped at the last minute and stuffed her mouth with mashed potatoes instead.
>>He’ll be back in three days and would like for you to be there. He really wants to talk to you.<< Jennifer just nodded. >>I think you should be here next time he comes. He can explain some of this stuff much better than I will ever be able to.<< She sighed as if that had been very hard to say.
>>What’ll happen if I won’t be there?<< Sam dropped her fork and gave Jennifer a suspicious look.
>>What do you mean?<<
>>What if I don’t want to talk to him? What if I just want all this never to have happened?<<
>>Jennifer, you can’t be serious?<<
>>Why not? He abandoned us, it seems only fair I do the same to him.<< Jennifer pushed the remainder of her dinner away angrily, her appetite had suddenly left. She crossed her arms and stared out the window, and saw it had started to rain again.
>>You’re not serious. He’ll be here in three days and I expect you at least listen to what he has to say.<< Sam started clearing the table and practically stole the food out of Jack’s mouth, who hadn’t finished. He didn’t argue though.
>>You can’t make me. If I don’t want to talk to him I won’t.<< Jennifer got up and headed for the hallway.
>>You’ll do as you’re told and you’ll be sitting in that couch when he gets here next time.<< Sam’s voice rose to the extremely highest of notes and Susan started to cry. But Jennifer didn’t care anymore.
>>You’re not the boss of me. You’re not mum!<< She practically screamed in Sam’s face.
All that was heard was Susan’s crying. Sam looked shocked and upset. Jennifer stared back defiantly. She regretted it the minute the words had escaped her mouth. But the defiance in her didn’t allow her take it back. On the contrary, she furiously turned around and stomped upstairs to her room and slammed the door behind her. She threw herself on the bed and almost expected Sam to knock on the door only seconds later, but she didn’t.
The following days felt like an eternity. The day after their fight, Jennifer had left the house right after breakfast not leaving any time to talk to Sam. She had patted Susan kindly on the head, but not even spared as much as a look at neither Sam nor Jack. She knew if she looked at Jack he would convince her to stay and talk to Sam. But she didn’t want her fight with Sam to affect her relationship with Susan.
She spent the day thinking about how to deal with everything, including her now lukewarm situation with Sam. She headed for the old tree house she used to retreat to when she was in kindergarten. Usually it was crowded with younger children, but today it was surprisingly vacated. Though she was too big to fit properly, Jennifer climbed to the top and allowed her legs to dangle over the side while she rested her head in her arms.
Jennifer strongly felt it was Sam who had to apologize. Once she did, Jennifer would gladly apologize for shouting at her the way she had.
She tried not to think about her father, but his image kept floating back to her mind. His still young but battered look and how he’d sounded almost pleading in wanting to talk to her. She was torn between wanting to see him and just be embraced in his open arms, like the father she had been missing all those years, and the nagging feeling that was still angry at him for not contacting her in any way for 17 years. She also wanted to see him because it seemed he was the only one able to answer all the questions she had. She had been pestered by the nightmare again that night. Although it didn’t occur after the also expected nightmare about Billy Christensen. Jennifer shuddered at the thought of it and her hands absently moved to her wrists and jaw line. Of course the creepy, pervert bully of the class had to be just that; creepy and disgusting to top it of. In pure self protection she quickly glanced over the area to see if Billy was anywhere near. Once she was sure he was nowhere around she relaxed a bit again. But the places he’d touched her kept prickling.
To divert her thoughts, she returned to think of her father. From the sounds of it, he wanted her for some particular reason. Jack had said she, Jennifer, was needed. Needed for what? What on earth could Jennifer do no one else could do?
By the end of the day, Jennifer’s head swam with ideas and crazy thoughts and her stomach had started to make funny noises as she hadn’t had any food since breakfast. When she got home she found a single plate on the dinner table with food for her. The others were in the living room. Jennifer ate her dinner in silence and spent the rest of the night alone in her room. The next day was much like the other. Jennifer kept to her room where she thought and read books when her head allowed her a break, which was rare. Late in the afternoon someone knocked gently on the door and Sam entered. She sat down on Jennifer’s bed, opposite Jennifer.
>>I’m sorry.<< She said very low. Jennifer shrugged and apologized too.
>>I didn’t mean it. I mean, I know you’re not mum but you’ve been pretty close.<<
>>I know. I think that’s why I feel like I can control you. But the truth is I can’t. Not when it’s to do with this.<<
>>And what is this precisely?<< Jennifer encouraged Sam, who, with a groan, slowly gave up.
>>A choice that will change your life. But I’m not the right person to tell you about it. Our father will explain it tomorrow. That is, if you choose to be there?<< Jennifer bit her lip. She had debated this question over and over again in her head, ever since she heard him say he would return, two days ago. She was still angry with him and because of that she didn’t want to see him. But she also felt confused by a lot of things and knew he was the only one who was able to sort it all out. The question remaining was whether she would keep him at a distance because of something that had happened years ago, which according to Sam had been a necessity, or would she let her confusion and curiosity win?
>>I think I have to be there. If anything, at least to get some answers.<< Sam lit up in a smile and embraced Jennifer.
From the moment Jennifer had agreed to meet her father it seemed time moved quicker than usual. All of a sudden the three days had passed and she knew he would be there by mid-afternoon. From when she woke that morning – after a night of yet another nightmare – time seemed to move even faster than expected. Sometime after three o’clock Sam came to get her from the kitchen where she had been arranging a tray of cookies.
>>Jennifer, I think it’d be best if you waited upstairs till he gets here. I’ll call for you when he’s here.<< This seemed weird to Jennifer. Did Sam not want her there after all? As if Sam had read her mind, she added: >>I think the way he’ll be arriving will have a negative effect on you and I don’t want you more confused than you already are.<< Jennifer allowed Jack to lead her upstairs while Sam remained in the living room.
>>What did she mean?<< Jack merely smiled.
>>Why don’t you keep Susan company and then we’ll call for you?<< He closed the door and went to join Sam. Jennifer stared at the closed door but turned at the sound of Susan’s overjoyed babbling at the sight of Jennifer.
>>So, do you know anything about all this?<< She asked Susan as she yanked her from her cot. >>Did you like him?<< Jennifer had to laugh at her own question. >>Well of course you liked him. You think anyone who smiles and feeds you is nice.<<
It didn’t take long before Jennifer heard Sam calling. Jennifer went to look out the window. There was no car in the driveway this time either. She looked up and down the street just to make sure, but there were no cars she didn’t recognize. She took a deep breath. In the hallway she stopped to look for unknown shoes, but they weren’t there, just like last time. She felt she needed a few more deep breaths before she moved on. Susan didn’t notice any of the distress Jennifer was feeling. She was happily tugging at Jennifer’s long brown hair. It seemed Jennifer had lost all thoughts about breathing and she had to focus very hard to do so.
The living room was very quiet. She saw Sam and Jack in the couch, and judging from their expressions they looked just as excited and nervous as Jennifer felt. She then turned the corner, still holding tightly on to Susan, and there he was. As last time he was draped in the long chestnut cape-thing. As she entered the living room his face lit up and Jennifer got caught in his eyes.
>>Jennifer.<< His voice was rough; she got the feeling he had longed to say her name for many years. He had shaved this time, though it was still visible how gray his beard would’ve been. Sam hastened to take Susan and sat down next to Jack.
Jennifer kept in her place, just as he didn’t move from his. All of a sudden Jack cleared his throat and Jennifer seemed to emerge to the surface again. She averted her eyes and moved to sit in a chair, making it impossible for anyone to sit directly next to her. No one spoke. Jennifer didn’t know what to say in this situation. She could feel his eyes linger on her constantly. But she felt no desire to look at him. She had seen him once before, though of course he didn’t know that. So, she lifted her head slightly and looked him straight in the eyes again. It was like looking in a mirror. Those eyes she had wanted to know the origins of her entire life, and now they were staring right back at her. She suddenly felt out of breath. It was as time had stopped and all eyes were on Jennifer. Once again Jack cleared his throat and brought the room out of its trance.
>>Cookie?<< Sam passed the tray across the table and he graciously accepted one. Sam passed the tray around and the silence crept back. It took a while before Jennifer felt compelled to break the silence.
>>Sam said you wanted to speak to me?<< She said it with a blank expression without meeting his eyes. He straightened up and put the half-eaten cookie down.
>>Straight to the point, I see. Well, yes Sam was right. I do want to speak to you.<< She looked at him. He looked friendly, but she kept hold of the tiny bit of anger she still felt towards him in the pit of her stomach. She wasn’t ready to forgive him even if he looked very friendly. >>But before I tell you what I’ve come to tell you, I believe you have some questions for me? Some in desperate need of answers.<< He made a gesture inviting her to ask anything she wanted. Jennifer could see Sam waiting breathlessly and she hadn’t noticed Susan had stolen a cookie she was eagerly eating.
>>All right. Why did you leave us?<< She might as well start with the worst one. It was clear he had almost expected this question, she detected a shimmer of a smile. He heaved a deep breath and started.
>>I had no choice.<<
>>Bullocks. You always have a choice and you chose wrong. And I’m starting to think I did the same about today.<< She sounded angrier than she’d intended but she couldn’t help it. Watching him, looking perfectly happy made her angrier than she had realized. She’d half expected him to at least appear to be regretful for leaving them all those years ago, but he didn’t. He stared at Jennifer with so much joy in his eyes, eyes so like her own, that she could no longer contain her emotions. She had to look away. She could hear Sam mumble incoherently as Jennifer contemplated whether she should stay or storm out the room, not really paying any attention to what the others were saying.
>>It’s understandable you are angry Jennifer.<< His voice was lamented with guilt and Jennifer looked at him again. >>I’ve been blaming myself for many years, just as you are doing right now. Not a day went by where I didn’t wish to return to you once I went back but it was never an option for me. And if you will let me, I will try to tell you why.<< Sam had nearly stopped breathing from anticipation and Susan, who had now moved to Jack’s lap, stopped sucking her cookie. Jennifer looked at her sister and back at her father. Both were hopefully waiting for her answer. Again, she strongly contemplated just walking out the room but she was still curious to hear what had made her father walk out on his family. She wanted to know what had been so much more important than her and her sisters.
>>Fine.<< She said curtly and relaxed her shoulders a bit. He let out a relieved sigh and started his story.
>>Truth be told, your mother and I never should have met. We are from very different places, but as it happened we did meet and fell in love almost instantly. Shortly after, I left my parents to start a family of my own with your mother. My entire life has been influenced by high expectations of me and I was glad to get rid of them; to live in peace with your mother. Sadly, my past caught up with me eventually anyway. My older brother, your uncle, who should’ve taken over after my father, died at a very young age. It was always planned for him to take on our father’s responsibilities once they became too much for him. But after my brother died, my parents contacted me to tell me it was up to me now. I refused point blank. Tthis happened while your mother was pregnant with Anna. My parents understood my choice at the time and had no other solution than to accept it.
However, shortly after you were born Jennifer, my father died and things changed drastically. With the death of my father problems quickly arose in my home country. I was the only one left in the family to take his place; my mother was too old and tired to take his place, so by then I was forced to return. For a number of years I tried to find the slightest hint of a loophole, sadly without success. Because your mother was incapable of going with me, we made the agreement we have been living with for many years. When your mother fell ill she apparently started to see things differently and told some of you the truth.<< Jennifer felt a strong urge to cut in at this point in the story.
>>But how can it be, that you were the only one to take your father’s place? I mean, I bet loads of other people could’ve done that. And why couldn’t mum go back with you? This makes no sense.<< He held up a hand to Jennifer, who was halfway out of herself to leave, as well as the rest of the people in the room. He gave Sam an apologetic look, after which she nodded with a sad grimace.
>>Do you want the truth Jennifer?<< His voice had grown serious again and it made her hesitate. But she nodded non-the-less.
>>The truth is I am not from here. I was born in a place called Júzrïe. The reason your mother couldn’t return with me was because she had grown too old. People from here can only enter Júzrïe till they reach a certain age. Because I was born there, and you are my daughters, you will always be able to go to Júzrïe. It is all very complicated and not important right now. The point is, I had to go back because there was no one else.<<
>>But why? What was so important for you to take over that you upped and left your family?<< Jennifer crossed her arms again and glared defiantly at her father. He glanced briefly at Sam and Jennifer saw the pained expression on Sam. She was biting her lip hard and her eyes were tense. He kept his eyes on Sam as if they were communication without sound. Suddenly it seemed Sam gave in, her shoulders dropped and her eyes turned to the table in defeat. He was breathing heavily and turned his attention back to Jennifer.
>>Now listen carefully Jennifer. It may happen you will have to be able to remember this. In Júzrïe there are 15 families who are part of the High Council. These 15 families are some of the oldest in the country, which is why they are part of the Council. One of these families is much older than the others and because of this that family has the final word if any disputes should arise. That old family is mine, and thereby yours.<<
>>So what you’re saying is our family is in charge of this council thing and that’s why you had to go back?<< Jennifer grunted and rolled her eyes. In her mind, any person could easily have replaced her father.
>>Not quite. Democracy is thriving and every family has their say in things. Our family is highly regarded in Júzrïe because we are traced through history and many people look up to us because of the things we have done over the years, which is why we all have a responsibility to live up to. Mine was to take on my father’s place in the High Council when he died. The way it works is, every family is represented by the family’s chosen head of the family. When my father died, I was the head of the family.<<
>>Why couldn’t your mother have done it?<<
>>You have to understand that your grandmother is old and when she lost your grandfather it also deprived her of some of her joy for life, not that she’s wishing for death in any way. Some times she’s more energetic than before my father died. Had it not been for the wish of the people she would gladly have replaced me.<<
>>What do you mean?<<
>>The people of Júzrïe help to decide the representatives of the High Council, to a certain degree. The families have a responsibility to live up to and if they do not do this they have to be held account for it with the people and deal with the consequences. Your grandmother announced she would gladly succeed my father, but the people wouldn’t let her. According to them she had done hers and deserved to rest in her remaining years. This is why they sent for me. Things aren’t always as they seem Jennifer. I hope you understand that now, along with why I was forced to go back.<< He opened his hands and leaned back in his chair as if his part in the conversation was over. Jennifer was still processing. Throughout her life the only family she had known was her parents and her sisters. She had barely known, let alone met, her grandparents on her mother’s side. Now she was told her family on her father’s side was the oldest in a place she had never heard of before. It seemed too good to be true and very unrealistic, yet it was also very appealing. She had always envied her friends from school when they left to visit some of their relatives, secretly jealous of their large families. The idea that Jennifer now had other people she could call family and who were perhaps even waiting for, her strangely warmed her heart. There was still one problem though. She knew nothing of this Júzrïe and the concept of her mother not being able to go there still appeared odd.
>>All right. All this doesn’t explain anything about this Júzrïe you’re talking about. What sort of place is it? Where is it? I admit, I’m not the best at Geography but I do all right, and I’ve never heard of this Júzrïe.<< Her father chuckled though Jennifer couldn’t fathom the funny part of anything she had just said.
>>There is a reason why you have never heard of it, or seen it on any map for that matter.<< Jennifer merely raised an eyebrow to make him go on.
>>Júzrïe is not available to just anybody. This is why you won’t be able to place it on any of your maps. Júzrïe is different from the world you know.<<
>>Wait a minute. Are you telling me Júzrïe is another world?<< Jennifer felt her body collapse in her chair and she had adopted a look of desperation. Her father squirmed in his seat.
>>Yes and no. Júzrïe is part of this world but then it is not.<<
>>I’m completely lost.<< In pure frustration Jennifer got up and went into the kitchen. He made a move to follow her but she heard Sam stop him; Jennifer felt a wave of gratitude towards Sam at that moment. She was breathing heavily in her frustration and she couldn’t think of anything else to do then walk around the kitchen table. Events of the past days swirled in her head and mixed in with the new information she had gotten. She thought back to what had started it; her nightmare, and realized she hadn’t asked anything about that. She looked back at the living room. He was twirling a cookie between his fingers. Jennifer leaned on the chair in front of her; she wasn’t sure she still wanted to hear what her nightmare could mean. She wasn’t sure of anything anymore. The chair creaked against the floor as she pulled it out to sit down. Sam came to join her quickly and reached out a hand to Jennifer.
>>Dad wants to know if you won’t come back in the living room again? He has to leave again soon.<< Feeling very tired, Jennifer raised her head and nodded curtly. Sam had an arm around Jennifer as they went back to the living room. This time she squeezed in between Sam and Jack instead of the chair. She felt she needed their support. It was fine to sit between them because they were the only thing she could still understand in the room.
>>Jennifer I can’t stay much longer. I would love to tell you more about Júzrïe another day but I’m afraid I have to leave in a little while. But before I do I have a few questions for you.<< Jennifer reached for Sam’s hand before he continued.
>>It is obvious I am growing old.<< Sam let out a small gasp and her hold on Jennifer tightened, but why she did this seemed weird to Jennifer.
>>The agreement your mother and I made consisted partly in me finding another person to carry on our family, but sadly I have not had any success in this. Both your sisters have grown too old to have a life in Júzrïe but you on the other hand still have this option. I guess my question is this; would you come back with me to Júzrïe and carry on our family and the pride following it?<< Jennifer’s mouth had fallen open and she stared back at her father. She had lost nearly all feeling in her hand from Sam’s tight grip. Before she was able to answer he spoke again. >>I do not expect you to answer right away. It is obviously a big decision not to be made within minutes. I will be leaving in a few minutes but I will return in three days. I’m giving you these three days to make up your mind. I ask you to think it over very thoroughly, consult your sisters if you wish. I want you to know, if you choose to come with me it would mean for you to depart with everything you know here. It would be the beginning of a new life in Júzrïe with me and giving up your life here with your sister. I realize how this might sound as a burden but it is your legacy as part of the Paris family.
You will have to attain schooling, which will prepare you for a life in Júzrïe in the future and learn much more about your family and what a life with me will involve.<< Very suddenly he got up and Jennifer was rather surprised. Sam was still holding her tightly. He moved towards the large mirror and then turned back to Jennifer.
>>I will be back in three days. While I’m gone, think about what I’ve said. No matter what you decide I will respect it. If you have any further questions you will have to ask your sister and if she cannot answer I will do my best the next time I come. Think very hard about what I have said Jennifer.<< He held his hand over his eyes as a sign for Jennifer to do the same. It was as all reason had left Jennifer and without really thinking anymore she did as Sam and Jack besides her and placed a hand over her eyes. She heard her father mumble something she couldn’t understand and next thing the room was lit up by a bright light forcing her to close her eyes tight behind her hand.
When she opened her eyes again and looked around the room her father was gone.
Copyright Michelle H. Lindberg
To be continued in Chapter Four – Decisions