Jeannie tried to avoid her family for most of the day and spent her time reading at her favorite spot by the river in the hope that the break would free her head from the buzz that had dominated her mind for some time now. But after a frustrating fifth attempt to read just one page she decided to check her cell phone for messages.
Bradley had kept word. There were no missed calls or messages left for her. Only silly notifications from her friends’ social media accounts flashed on the display. Kittens, selfies with puppy faces. Jeannie disliked this useless form of self-importance. She pocketed her phone again and stretched out in the grass. The ground was still a little cold but the jacket she had brought proved the perfect protection against the damp morning cold. Her eyes were blinded by the bright sun light and it took some time to adjusting to it. The clouds were rushing across the sky and instantaneously reminded her of simpler times when she and her siblings used to form dragons and elephants out of them. They used to make up stories with each passing new member of the sky-creatures-mighty-dragon-club. She had to giggle when that memory woke an instant urge and she shot up, as if stung by a bee. Her first mission! She wanted to know if they had kept it.
As fast as she possibly could Jeannie marched back to the house. She welcomed this needed little distraction.
Her father was out teaching kids in the arena and waved across when he saw Jeannie passing. She barley acknowledged them as her mind was fixated on finding this little gem from her childhood. She needed it to remember.
Once inside the house she was so eager that she took two steps at a time to climb the stairwell all the way up in to the attic. She didn’t know where to look first, there were so many boxes and treasure troves up there. One covered thicker in a layer of dust than the other. Between shoe boxes and old broken chairs, she found an ancient wooden chest that used to be at the bottom of her bed. Jeannie blew on the lid, which she immediately had to regret and payed with a heavy cough. Hesitantly, Jeannie grabbed the handle and opened it. This was more than just memorabilia; this was a travel right back in time. Within seconds Jeannie journeyed from her prom night all the way back to her toddler Years. Religiously her mother had kept her first soft toy, Mr. Sniggers, which only vaguely resembled a mouse. The silk paper covered prom dress had been atop of it all. Jeannie had completely forgotten about the hours her sister had spent on making this dress. Before she got too sidetracked Jeanine kept searching for the one thing she came for and was not disappointed. Under Old photographs, protected by two big pieces of cardboard was the little home-made comic.
The Mighty Sky-Dragon-Cloud-Adventures – Story and artwork by J, S and J Leeland.
With a victorious smile Jeannie closed the chest again and spent the rest of the morning on the attic between dear memories. At least she could pretend for this short lived moment that she and her brother were partners in crime and not competitors.
Almost to the minute Susan picked her sister up as promised. Although it would have been much easier for Susan to walk, wasn’t the bar just at the other end of the main road near the church. The thought of walking unattended in to the bar bared a far too great embarrassment to her.
Jeannie wondered if the older villagers had seriously forgotten about the Home Coming Parade in 1999, or maybe that was the reason why Susan was so cautious.
Susan and her High School friends had gotten so wasted on the night before the parade and ‘borrowed’ the tractor which was already decorated for the event. They did not get far as it ended up in the gazeebo in the Town Centre and Susan in the Sheriff’s office. Tom had been fuming and both her parents weren’t speaking to her for a week. To teach her a lesson, Tom put her to good work and whipped her basically along the ranch for a full month. She not only lost almost 20lbs within this time but also done a U-turn on her unruly friends and helped out at church. As it turned out later that was not just because of her new found spirituality but Tom and Jillian had been thankful that her daughter had stopped making their life harder as it should have been.
While Susan took a seat in a corner to avoid eye contact with Lenny, the bar tender, Jeannie ordered a coke for Susan and a beer.
Lenny was a grumpy guy and looked older than he was. His heavy built was always stuffed in a red checker shirt, his sleeves rolled up which exposed his pale freckled skin. His ginger hair was always tied back into a long ponytail and made his tidy chest-long beard stand out even more.
Jeannie could never tell if he was tired or just annoyed or both.
As he took her order she could see how he glanced over to her sister and produced something that was meant to be a smile. After all this time he still fancied Suzy. Jeannie stood there waiting on her drinks while she imagined how different her sister’s life would have been if she wouldn’t have called it quits with Lenny after that Home Coming incident.
“Make that two beer Len”, her brother’s voice grunted suddenly behind her and made Jeannie startle.
Wide eyed and overly positive she greeted back
“Man, can you not announce yourself like a normal person?!” Jeannie protest with a cunning smile.
Jeannie stared at him with a certain form of frustration when Len handed her the drinks.
“Two beer coming right up Follow me, Joshy”
Lenny had to snigger when Josh turned deep red.
“Please’ call me all you like but NEVER use that in public again!” His far too serious stare woke the dare-devil in Jeannie. With the drinks in hand she walked backwards, still facing her brother, and chanted with increasing volume her brothers’ nickname over and over again while she gestured for Josh to follow her.
“This is not funny Jean! Hey! Stop.”
Even Susan poured out in to heartfelt laughter and joint in to the chant.
With his arms folded in front of his chest Joshua peevishly scanned his sisters who were still giggling like teenage girls.
“Uh, he is not approving of us Suzy” Jeannie said and picked up her drink.
“No, he is not”, Joshua agreed and took a sip.
Jeannie noticed how Susan stiffened up, as if she were afraid of losing her face in public.
“Have you both lost your sense of humor? What’s wrong with having a little fun?”
Both her siblings remained silent and concentrated on their drinks.
“This will be a long night”, Jeannie mumbled to herself as she looked around the bar. Many familiar faces were scattered around the tables while the jukebox played the same old songs as it had done for years.
“The music could do with some updating, don’t you think?” Jeannie broke the silence.
“Do your uptown ears not concur with ours?”
Susan gave her brother a kick against his shin under the table.
“Sorry, what’d ye say? There must be something wrong with my ears” Jeannie pretended to be deaf and held a hand next to her ear as she leaned across the table to her brother. Almost embarrassed he turned in his chair.
“Stop this. One could think you already had one shot too many.”
“Would help if you talk and not only sit there and stare at your blooming beer. I’m pretty sure it won’t talk back, at least not yet. So, what’s the deal? Yesterday you were pretty eager to articulate some fun facts. So, take a shot now or hide the guns forever” Jeannie ended with an inviting gesture. She somehow hoped that her brother would hurry up so she could call it a night soon.
Joshua sighed. “I really do not know what to think of you anymore. I am getting rather tired of your attitude sis. From one moment to the next you decide that Springwood Falls isn’t good enough for you anymore, and we have to except this, swallow your insults against us.”
“What are you talking about?” Jeannie sat bamboozled back, her arms crossed over her chest.
“Oh please, don’t you remember your comments about these un-ambitious villagers who waste a life of possibilities?”
“Joshua, I was just 21! I apologized more than once for this. You should know that I did not mean to insult anyone!”
Josh snared. His head strategically leaned to one side. “Your inability to join our family gatherings? Do you have any idea how your sister felt when you wouldn’t attend her son’s baptism?”
Susan waved in protest and gave her sister unexpected cover.
“Joshua that is not fair you know that she called way in advance and apologized for not being able to be there.”
“Seems like you are fantastic in apologizing. So, tell us, what is your excuse for Christmas.”
Jeannie was taken aback and hesitated to give an answer which Joshua took the wrong way.
Slightly angered he grabbed his drink and walked across to the pool table.
“He doesn’t mean it that harsh” Susan tried to reassure her little sister. “He lately has been pretty stressed. I think he feels far too responsible for everything. The Ranch, then Dad, his own job at the bank, you. He basically never stopped since mum...”
“It’s okay” Jeannie interrupted . “It has been hard for all of us.” Jeannie looked across to her brother who had just set up the pool table.
“Back in a bit” determined Jeannie footed across the room and grabbed a cue from the wall mount. Jeannie bent over the table and forcefully opened the game.
The two continued the game in silence until Joshua gleefully potted his last shot.
“Well, you can’t beat your teacher yet”
“Seems so brother. Best out of three?”
As they continued Jeannie saw her chance to explain herself.
“I wanted to come”, she simply put in to the open.
“Then why didn’t you?” a stern wave of anger shot across the table.
“Honestly? I had a breakdown. I couldn’t cope. There were so many things going on and mum not being there. I was really suffering and needed professional help. It’s not easy”
Joshua stopped in his tracks. If Jeannie wouldn’t have known better, she would have sworn to have seen a concerned affliction on her brother’s face.
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
Jeannie just raised her shoulders.
“Guess I was embarrassed. - Leelands are not the greatest in confiding their feelings to one another”
“Your embarrassment outweighed your family-ties. Just let that sink in. What do you think is worse? That you confide in us or you pushing us away?”
Joshua leisurely leaned against the pool table and scanned her thoroughly.
“Jeannie, I don’t like to be the bad guy. I cannot help but wonder why you are here all of a sudden. Why now?”
“Is wanting to see my family not enough?”
Knowing that there was no need to further dig for a more satisfying reply Josh accepted his verbal defeat. He placed the cue back into the wall mount before turning to Jeannie again.
“I hope you realize how much it means to Dad for you to be here. Don’t do something you might regret. It has been a tough year for him.”
“I can imagine” sighed Jeannie.
“Can you?” Jeannie’s brother stood so close to her; she could feel his warm breath. With a muffled voice he continued “Lots has changed Jean. The Ranch is getting far too much for him.”
“What are you saying! I have seen him,” she replied in gleeful disbelief.
Joshua held up a hand and shook his head. “You don’t understand. Have you not wondered why there is hardly anyone taking riding lessons? He can’t run the ranch on breading alone. Times are tough.”
“Nonsense,” Jeannie disagreed sternly.
“Sis’, I mean it. You haven’t been around for quite some time. The ranch is falling in to pieces. He had to let quite some folk go.”
“It is not High Season yet, Josh! There will be tourists and”
“Are you really that naïve?” he derided rather rudely her honest thoughts...
“Maybe you should open your eyes a little and not make assumptions after just a few hours of playing Country Girl again.”
A cold rush shot up Susan’s spin as she witnessed the tension between her brother and sister, who tried to outstare each other in looming silence. But before she was able to step between them, Joshua had already turned his attention to someone sitting at the end of the bar and left Jeannie standing deserted on her own.
Still baffled by his sudden departure she turned to her sister.
“What was that?” Susan asked just as dumbstruck as her sister.
“No clue. Do you know that guy?”
Susan tried to get a clear view on the stranger but the dim lighting in the bar made it impossible.
“Sorry, I really couldn’t tell you. – Are you alright?”
Jeannie nodded whilst still being affixed on her brother who suddenly seemed to be rather cheerful despite their argument before. The two sisters decided to drink up and leave as they both saw no point in waiting for their brother. He had said what he needed to and there was no reason in prolonging something that only would turn in to another argument.
As soon as they had downed their drinks they headed for the door. Jeannie waved goodbye to Lenny and didn’t pay attention to the door that had just flung open. She hadn’t quite turned around when she forcefully bumped in to someone’s chest which almost pushed her to the ground. Thankfully had the stranger grabbed her quickly by the arm and pulled her back before she hit the floor.
Overwhelmed by the embarrassing feeling of her hot flushing cheeks, Jeannie tried to focus on her shoes so she wouldn’t have to face this dreadful moment and had to say something.
“Steady!” a dark voice chimed.
Still bashful but intrigued Jeannie gave a fleeting look through her messed up hair which covered half of her face. For a split second their eyes met through the dense light which made Jeannie feel even worse for the shadow had turned into a real person. Her chance of just slipping through the moment was gone. The unwelcoming tension grew stronger with every second she stood in the doorway as she realized that his Denim Jacket was still clinched tightly by her hand.
“You okay?” a pair of dark emerald green eyes asked that pierced right through her.
“Yes, thank you”, Jeannie smiled briefly back as she sorted herself out and swiftly stepped outside to her sister without looking back. Susan, who was already at the car sported a mischievous smile as they both got in.
“One beer and you fall off the tracks? Or is that the New York way to pick up men?” Susan teased her still red-cheeked sister.
They turned at each other and broke in to a reliving laughter. What a night this had turned out to be.
Jeannie gazed at the stars as the wheels turned fast through the night which filled her with a kind of restlessness and hope.
Joshua’s words were stuck in her head and echoed within. She had to find out how much of it was actually true and above all, she needed to find out how she could be of help. Something had driven her to come back home, and it wasn’t just coincidence.
Somehow, she was getting pretty restless and couldn’t wait to go to bed.