Jesse Maith ruffled his plain black t-shirt, furrowed his middle-parted brown hair, and rubbed his baby blue eyes as he walked toward the plate-glassed window of his bedroom on the second floor of his uncle’s house. Located in New Hackensack, New Jersey within the gated community of translucent solar-paneled modernistic palaces with power centrifuges known as Clarkson, the Maith’s brick four-bedroom abode at 31 Clarkson Drive West stood out as an example of old-school grit and remembrance within one of New Jersey’s wealthiest towns.
Finishing his first journal entry provided Jesse a sense of comfort, but as he pulled the dark brown curtains to reveal the azure sky and bright sun shining down upon Clarkson, he still felt introspective. As he studied the hovercars gliding up and down Clarkson Drive West, he glanced toward the white drywall of his room covered by posters and pictures and thought about his father.
Based on stories told by his family, including his late mom, Elaine, Jesse mentally garnered lessons Brian Maith may have taught him about humility that his uncle never did. As he looked out beyond the oversized shipping-container-type warehouses on the opposite side of New Hackensack’s widest thoroughfare, Bergen Boulevard, he pictured the pryvie districts in adjacent towns such as Paramus and Old Ho-Kus.
Then, he wondered why his family was so lucky to be part of the nine-percenters, the wealthiest and most powerful of the Freedomian populace. and why New Hackensack was one of the few remaining towns in the DRF to not contain colonies of the nation’s impoverished. He surmised that if his family lived in a tent or wooden shack with little running water and little electricity, Brian Maith would have found a way for him, his wife, and his son to survive, and if they were nine-percenters, he would help pryvies, not deride them. One quote his mother always associated with Jesse’s father was: “material goods should not define people.”
Not desiring to wallow in self-pity, Jesse retreated downstairs to join the two people he loved and entrusted with his deepest feelings the most: his fifteen-year-old cousin, Mary, and his fourteen-year-old cousin, Matt. They were sitting on a beige memory foam sofa in front of a plain-white drywall, viewing a holographic-motion image of a man with coma-white-hair in a royal-blue suit, gold tie, and white shirt, along with a large pin of the DRF flag attached to the left lapel of his jacket, perched in front of a black background.
“Why are you guys watching the Mark Leonard show?” Jesse inquired. “He’s a liar!”
Matt furrowed the brown mop-top perched above his round face and husky frame, winked at his cousin and replied, “this stuff is educational! Just ask dad!”
“Well, perhaps if you understood my Sarah Boynton stories, you’d understand,” Jesse scoffed and playfully waved him away while Matt laughed. He turned toward Mary on the opposite side, wrapped in a navy-blue Everton Academy jacket and thermal pink socks, holding a comic book in her left hand. “I hope you’re reading the latest District Zombie comic,” he entreated.
“Nah,” Mary replied in her raspy voice. “Mark Leonard is more exciting. He kind of looks like Lex Luthor, but with hair.” Mary and Matt simultaneously covered their mouths and chuckled. Jesse turned around, bent down, and broke wind near his cousins’ faces. They recoiled in disgust as Jesse snickered.
“Cuz!” Matt yelped, “you smell like those half-human, half monster creatures in the MARVA Fallout zone! Nasty!”
“You mean the Hathawayans? Who told you they exist?” Jesse asked.
“Mark Leonard,” Matt guffawed.
“Shut up,” Jesse snapped. He then sat down between his cousins and studied Leonard’s pixilation. “What the hell is he talking about, anyway? Besides himself?”
“Listen for yourself,” Mary replied as she increased the volume.
“Those anti-Freedomian dissidents at NOR will denounce us, but so what?” the tenor-voiced cleft-chinned Leonard declared. “We won! Joshua Evans’ sacrifice brought us a perspective unseen in human history. Peace or death? Ha! Pryvies survive on the power of prayer! They tolerate their rationed food and miniscule income because when they want to give up hope, they turn to Joshua and God! When I ride home nightly from our Midtown studios, and I see impromptu prayer in front of trash barrel fires in Central Park, I feel humbled. Pryvie communes are a lesson in incentive, motivation, and resolve. As Joshua once said: ‘the death of ambition is the death of God within.’”
“Ah, yes, the whole income inequality speech,” Jesse commented. He stood up and approached the holoTV, the swung a right hook right through Leonard’s pixilation. “Easy for him to say when he has the fiftieth floor of the Eden Hotel penthouse all to himself and when he’s in you-know-who’s back pocket. What he’s not telling you is that you can work hard and get a raise, but then your taxes increase at the same rate as your pay increase, nullifying your raise! I guarantee Leonard would never show the same generosity as the Jacobsons next door do. He’d never allow pryvies to be bussed into his neighborhood for weekend barbeques although it’s Freedomian tradition and our greatest form of charity!”
“Jess,” Matt countered, “are you reading those interlink conspiracy theories again?”
“Maybe!” Jesse goofed.
“Well, it looks like you’re ready to take on Everton’s soul-crushing curriculum!” Mary said to Jesse. “My freshman courses I took were the hardest I’ve ever taken! You two will need all the help you can get!”
“Nah!” Jesse replied. “If we flunk out, we’ll just get accepted to another prep school! Nine-percenter privilege to the rescue!”
“Well, before that,” Matt chimed in, “we must go to one of those football game after-parties! I hear they’re insane!”
“Dinner, kids!” Stacy Maith shouted through the hallway in her squeaky, high-pitched voice, and Jesse, Mary, and Matt joined her and Bob in the dining room.
Late afternoon summer sunlight crept through white curtains, shining a natural light upon the glass table with mesh seats on the beige-carpeted dining room. The Maith family took their seats and collectively studied the Scandinavian-imported cutlery and platters, along with the plates and bowls of string-beans, grilled chicken, biscuits, and cranberry sauce at the table’s center.
Bob, dressed in a red and green plaid sweater vest seated at the head of the table, raised his arms toward the ceiling, closed his eyes, and remarked: “Joshua, your sacrifice has allowed my family to indulge in this delicious meal. Thank you. Thank you! In your name, we pray. Amen.”
The family served themselves food, and Bob quickly stuffed his face with a moist biscuit. While mushing the bread in his mouth, Bob said: “Tomorrow’s commute will be hell. A 10-I event is happening at the Battery, so Divine Cloaked Forces will be everywhere.””
That’s all he can think about, Jesse, sitting to Bob’s immediate right, thought while picking at his potatoes. Him. How about me and his son’s first day at Everton tomorrow? “How much is riding on it for you?” Jesse wisecracked.
“Jesse!” Stacy, seated at the opposite end of the table, snapped. She fluffed her long curly brown hair, furrowed a brown angel-shaped birthmark on the lower crease of her chin, and rubbed the wrinkles on her cheeks and continued: “you know that isn’t appropriate!”
“It’s okay, hun,” Bob calmly replied. “I understand.”
“Why do we even have public executions?” Jesse inquired. “Aren’t we supposed to be better than this?!”
“Can we please not discuss politics at the dinner table?” Stacy implored.
“No, honey,” Bob interjected. “It’s great Jesse is curious about our civic institutions.”
“Jess, remember when you questioned the Third indentation last month?” Matt, seated to Bob’s immediate left, asked.
“That’s enough! We won’t speak of that again!” Stacy barked. After exhaling, she continued: “Jesse, Matt, are you both ready for your big day tomorrow?”
“Yes!” Matt exclaimed.
“Sure, I guess,” Jesse deadpanned.
“We’re favored by thirty-five points against Paramus Friday,” Matt chimed. “Cousin of mine, I’d like to assume that with the aid of my fine blocking prowess you’ll throw four touchdown passes in the first half?”
“Sure, we’ll see,” Jesse meekly replied.
“Quarterback of the Everton Pioneers,” Bob rang. “A very prestigious role! First time you throw an incompletion, the press and the fans will be all over you.”
“The first freshman to start opening night–quite an accomplishment!” Stacy gleamed.
“Thanks for the pep talk, guys,” Jesse growled. “More pressure is just what I needed.”
“I just don’t like football,” Mary, seated to Matt’s left, chimed. “It’s great the game is safer with all the new safety regulations. Four freshmen got banned for life for helmet to helmet hits last year alone! I hope you and Matt don’t get hurt!”
“And those Draconian measures are why pro sports are no longer lucrative!” Bob said. “this means it behooves you to think about college and a career besides pro football, so you avoid becoming a pryvie.”
“I haven’t had one day at Everton yet,” Jesse snapped, “and you’re already planning my life for me? Where’s my say in this?”
“Would your father would respect that cynical attitude?” Bob retorted.
Jesse pounded his fist on the glass, stood up, and pointed at Bob’s face. “What do you know about him?!” he raged, his face contorting inward.
“JESSE!” Stacy shouted, stressing her wrinkles by her voice’s vibration.
“When was the last time you visited his grave?!” Jesse tearily screamed at Bob. “When was the last time you attended a Divine Forces Day parade?! Did you fight in the Battle of Washington?! How long did you actually fight in the Conflict? Three months?!”
“JESSE, LEAVE THIS TABLE IMMEDIATELY!” Stacy shouted.
“FINE!” Jesse barked. “Auntie, at least you care about me! This man, not so much! You, sir, may make millions as CEO of Robert Carter Investments, but it sure as hell hasn’t earned you respect! Enjoy your stock market preview show in that silly little man cave of yours!”
Jesse left his food on the table and stormed out of the kitchen, angrily growling under his breath. The rest of the family sat silently, staring at their congealing food. Bob, meanwhile, calmly carved up a piece of chicken and inserted it into his mouth.
“Well, everyone,” Matt finally chimed in. “At least Jesse is ready to beat the crap out of Paramus Friday night!”