Home is him

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Chapter 1

My whole body was shaking when I woke up, breathless and disoriented, searching for the source of the scream I heard. It only took me two seconds to realize it came from me, as usual. Every single night since the car crash that killed my mother 6 months ago, I’ve had the same nightmare and I always wake up to the sound of my own screams.

The night of the accident was the worst of my life and all I want is to forget it, but my subconscious likes to remind me of the pain every time I fall asleep. So, day after day, I wake up to the vivid memory of the night I couldn’t save my mother’s life. Then I try to remind myself of the silver lining: I saved my brother.

I sat up on my bed, taking deep breaths and pressing my hand against my chest, trying to slow down my heartbeat. A few minutes later, when my heart rhythm finally felt normal, I picked up my phone from the nightstand and saw that it was still 5:47am, almost an hour before my alarm would ring. But I knew I wasn’t going to be able to go back to sleep, so I got up from the bed and started taking off my sweat drenched clothes so I could get in the shower. I always felt better after taking a cold shower.

As the water washed over me, I tried to push away the images from that night that still danced in my head. Although I can’t control my dreams, I’ve gotten rather good at controlling my thoughts and pushing away the memories when I’m awake. Today that task seemed especially hard, but by the time I got out of the shower I had succeeded at locking the memories back into their little box in my mind and was feeling lighter.

“Alexa, play some music” I said as I got out of the shower and wrapped myself up in towel.

Through the open bathroom door, I could see the little device in my room light up and start playing a random playlist. Remembering how early in the morning it was, I walked over to the Alexa and turned the volume down, before going back to the bathroom. As I stared at myself in the mirror while brushing my teeth, I couldn’t help but think about my mother again and I felt the tears in my eyes. Every time I look in the mirror is like she is staring back at me.

My ocean blue eyes, thin nose and pointed chin are all exactly the same as my mother’s. So is my long wavy hair, except for the color, because mine is a golden she of blonde and my mother’s was a light brown. I used to ask her whose hair color did I inherit, and she would always change the subject.

When my eyes reached the scar on the left side of my forehead, my fingers shot up to touch it. Despite it being right there on my face, sometimes I would forget I even had the scar. But then I would catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and there it was, my personal physical reminder of that night. The explosion caused a piece of glass to fly right into my head, making me pass out. When I woke up in the hospital the next day, I had gained five stitches and lost my mother.

Shaking my head to push away the images of that night that were trying to come up, I walked back into my room and put my favorite jeans on, with a black t-shirt and a red flannel shirt over it. After putting the towel back in the bathroom and blow drying my hair, I turned the Alexa off and left my room.

I made my way through the hallway, stopping by Lucy’s room and then Jay’s room to check on them, who were still sound asleep. I was too nervous to just sit around, so I decided to cook a big breakfast to keep myself busy and avoid thinking about what was going to happen later today. I quietly started moving around our small kitchen, getting all the ingredients and setting everything up.

Jameson walked into the kitchen around 7am, in his Iron Man pajamas, rubbing his hazel eyes and sniffing the air, with a half-smile on his face. Ever since mom died, he hadn’t smiled fully, closing his eyes and showing his dimples like he used to. He also hadn’t said a word since that night.

The doctor assured me there’s nothing physically wrong with Jay, and his school’s psychologist says the trauma of the crash and of losing our mother likely overwhelmed his mind. They both seem to be sure that he just needs time and support to deal with all of it, and they say he will talk again when he’s ready. So I keep talking to him, but never pressure him to answer. After 6 months, I’ve gotten really good at interpreting his facial expressions and body language, and it’s almost like he still speaks to me.

“Good morning little man. Did you sleep well?” I asked him as he hugged my legs and then poked my hand to ask for the spatula I was holding.

Much like me, my brother loved to cook. It was our favorite thing to do as a family when our mother was still here, we cooked dinner together almost every night and always made a big breakfast on Sundays. After she died, I made sure me and Jay kept up the tradition, as a happy way to remember our mother and what she taught us.

“Go get your stool so you can reach the counter and you can flip the pancakes, Jay.” I told him.

Jameson immediately started to look around the kitchen for his little wooden step stool. When he found it, he rushed over and placed it right next to me, stepped on it and stretched out his hand for the spatula I was holding. Usually people don’t let a 3-year-old anywhere near the stove, but Jameson was the most careful and meticulous kid I’ve ever met, and he had been helping us cook since he was in diapers. Of course I wouldn’t let him do anything dangerous but flipping pancakes on a pan wasn’t a problem.

When the pancakes were done, I piled them on three different plates and poured syrup over each stack. Setting two plates on the table, I told Jay to start eating while I put the other plate on a tray to take to Lucy. I added some eggs, bacon and a cup of coffee to the tray, then brought it over to my stepmother’s room and set it on her nightstand.

Going into my mother’s room when she didn’t live there anymore was hard and I felt a lump form in my throat when I spotted her reading glasses sitting over a book on her nightstand. Blinking to hold back the tears that suddenly filled my eyes, I walked over to the windows and opened the curtains. Lucy always kept them closed which gave the room a gloomy look and made me feel cold inside whenever I went in there. When the light hit Lucy’s face she groaned and pulled the covers over her head.

“Good morning, Lucy. Jameson and I are leaving today, are you going to say goodbye to him?” I asked.

Silence.

I sat down on the bed next to her and sighed. I have tried talking to her and convincing her to get out of bed every day for the last 6 months and nothing has worked. Lucy wasn’t in the car the night the crash happened. We went to get ice cream after dinner, at Jay’s request, and she didn’t want to “indulge his spoiled demands”, as she put it. And even though Lucy doesn’t talk about it, I think she blames herself for my mother’s death, because she wasn’t there to save her.

Lucy stayed at the hospital with me and Jameson for two days after the crash, probably only because the nurses told her my brother was too young to be left alone. But after we were discharged and came home, Lucy went into her room and hardly ever came out. She works as a translator for a big company and they allowed her to work fully remotely, so she did all her work from her bed with her laptop. She wouldn’t get up to eat, so I brought her all her meals, and she usually would eat only half of them. Sometimes in the middle of the night, when I woke up because of my nightmares, I could hear her in the living room, watching videos of her and my mother, and crying.

I was tired and didn’t know how long I could keep trying to take care of her and help her. But after today I wouldn’t have to do this anymore because Jameson and I were moving. I didn’t know where to yet, but that’s why we had our court appointment this morning.

“Today is your last chance, Lucy. The court is deciding our future today and we’re going to move out. This isn’t fair to Jay, you have to at least say goodbye to him.”

I waited for a few minutes, hoping she would say something. To my surprise, she answered me, except it wasn’t what I wanted to hear.

“Get the hell out of here, Amelia. I can’t stand looking at you.” She whispered with a raspy voice. I knew she still saw my mother’s face whenever she looked at me. Hell, I saw it too when I looked in the mirror! And it hurt.

With a single tear running down my cheek, I told her that her sister, Jenna, would be coming by later. Lucy’s family, just like Lucy herself, wanted nothing to do with me or my brother, so they never helped us. But Jenna would come by once in a while to check in on Lucy. And once I was sure Jameson and I were going to move out, I called her and told her someone needed to come get Lucy because she was in no condition to live by herself.

I left the room and as soon as I stepped into the kitchen Jameson turned to me with an inquisitive look on his face. He moved his head trying to see behind me, hoping Lucy would be there. Every morning I had to watch his little face turn from hopeful to sad as he realized she wasn’t coming, and that made me glad we were leaving.

“I’m sorry Jay, she’s still not feeling well.” I said with a sad smile on my face. “Why don’t you finish eating and then go give her a hug goodbye?”

Jameson nodded and went back to eating his breakfast. After he was done, he took his plate and utensils to the sink, rinsed them off and placed them in the dishwasher. Before he walked out of the kitchen, he came back to the table, pushed his chair in, and gave me a kiss on the cheek. Then I watched as he went into Lucy’s room. The whole time he was in there I was frozen, barely even breathing, and praying that she would at least acknowledge his presence.

“Goodbye, Jameson.” I heard Lucy mutter before Jay came out of the room looking a little less sad.

I let out a sigh of relief and continued eating my breakfast. After I was done, I cleaned up the kitchen and then went into Jay’s room. He was brushing his teeth the silly way a 3-yeard-old does it, so I took the toothbrush and helped him. After I finished packing last night, I had set out some clothes for him to wear this morning, that I know grabbed from the top of the dresser and laid out on the floor for him to put on. I watched as he dressed himself and when he struggled to get his arms in the holes of the shirt, I pulled the bottom out to help. When he was ready, he grabbed his backpack from the chair and starting walking to the front door.

“Are you forgetting something?” I called as he was leaving the room. He turned around and looked at me like he didn’t know what I was talking about. “Are you planning to leave Peter behind?” I teased.

His eyes went wide as he ran to his bed. In less than five seconds he had flipped over his covers and pillow and found what he was looking for. Peter was Jameson’s lovey, a brown rabbit head and arms with a square piece of green blanket in place of its body, that had the words “I love you to the moon and back” embroidered on it. My mother bought it for Jay when he turned one and he has to be hugging Peter in order to fall asleep. We once lost Peter for 24 hours and Jameson cried for two hours at bedtime before exhaustion finally made him go to sleep while I held him.

After Peter was safely tucked into my brother’s backpack, we both headed to the front door. I carried our bags to the car and put them in the trunk, then helped Jameson into his seat and buckled him. I went back to the house and took one last look, knowing it would be the last time I saw it. After locking the front door, I put the key under the mat, where I had told Jenna to look for it, and then got in the car without looking back.

The ride to the courthouse was quiet. I was distracted thinking about everything that was going to happen today, and Jay was staring out the window. When I parked the car in front of the big stone building, I looked over at my brother and saw his little hazel eyes staring back at me as he silently pleaded me to turn the car around and go back. The tiny wrinkles on his forehead were telling me he was afraid and worried.

“It’s gonna be okay, buddy, I promise. I love you and we’re always going to be together, no matter what.” I assured him, and my words seemed to calm him down a bit.

When we got out of the car, I held Jameson’s hand and we turned around to look at the courthouse. The old brick building had undergone some renovations recently, with the front wall almost entirely being replaced by huge floor to ceiling windows on all three stories. The contrast between classic and modern should look strange, but it made the building look like a fancy architect’s creation and I felt a little more relaxed, like nothing bad could happen inside a place this beautiful.

“There you are, kids!” I heard a familiar voice call and turned towards it with a smile already forming on my lips.

“Dad!” I yelled as I ran and hugged him. Jameson followed closely and threw his little arms around his leg for a hug.

“Good morning, sweethearts.” Jack said as he hugged me with one hand and Jameson with the other.

“Good morning, dad.”

And just like every other time, as I said that word, a sparkle of joy danced in Jack’s eyes. When he looked at you, his big brown eyes had a way of making you feel understood, like he was looking into your soul. His brown hair was thinning at the top of his head, but he didn’t care, and I thought it made him look charming.

Jack was a big man, almost six feet tall, with a chubby body. So seeing him crouch down to look Jameson in the eye was funny. It was like a giant coming down from the beanstalk to find a child.

“Hey, little man. Can you help me today?” Jack asked Jameson, and my little brother gave him a look of curiosity. “I’m nervous to go in there and be in front of the judge, but I think holding your hand would make me feel brave. Can you do that for me?”

Jameson nodded and grabbed dad’s hand, who then turned and stretched out his other hand for me. And just like he said, holding his hand made us feel brave. I knew he was going to do everything in his power to take us home today, and I only hoped it was enough. Living with Jack would be a million times better than living with Lucy, being reminded every second of her sadness and of my mother’s absence. If it were up to me, we would be there already. But it was up to the judge, and that was what scared me.

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