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Slowly, but surely, his days had turned into the simultaneous habit of night and day. Each time he walked himself into trouble, the disgruntled boy could almost count down the moments until the cops would catch up with him and arrest him. It was even more predictable marking down the hours until his mother would come and bail him out. Jacob Cooley ran his hands over his sixteen year old head as he stared through prison bars at his mother. She didn’t want him anymore. He knew that. But what could she do about it? He was her kid.
After years of practice, Jacob had taught himself to tune out his mother’s constant nagging. His big brown eyes stared dreamily out the car window at the passing world. He studied every building, every tree. He knew this neighborhood. It was his jungle. He’d grown up tall and strong in this neighborhood. Each one of his chiseled features just as striking as the next, eyebrows tilted and almost charming, crooked smile intimidating to most people. The only softness in him was that lonely dimple dug into his left cheek.
Most days it was easy to ignore the anger and disappointment in his mother’s voice. But every once in a while, her words would dig deep and sting. Today was one of those days. Each word that escaped her dry, parted lips stung Jacob to the bone. His muscles flexed like an agitated cobra each time one of her words hit him. He began to focus harder and harder at the world swirling by outside until, finally, she stopped talking. Jacob couldn’t bear to look at his mother, her eyes similar to his own but empty. The lights in them had vanished, and darkness had taken its place. Her face was pleading, and suddenly, Jacob knew that she was done.
She turned onto the freeway.
“Where are we going?” Jacob asked neglecting to look at his mother.
“You’re going to live with your father,” she replied. She didn’t look at him either.
“Who?” asked Jacob incredulously. His mouth parted slightly as he gawked in disbelief at his mom.
The woman shook her head and rolled her eyes. She never turned her head to look at him, only stared straight ahead as she cautiously drove. In the long moment of silence that followed, Jacob begin to notice things about his mother that he’d never seen before. Like how he couldn’t remember seeing her inside of any other outfit except her waitress uniform or how she’d adopted a smoky, cigarette smell despite her hatred of smokers. Or how deep, dark craters sat unmoving under her tired eyes. Until this point, Jacob hadn’t even noticed the familiar duffle bag sitting in the backseat of the car either.
“Mom, what are you talking about my father? I don’t have a father, remember? You said that mom. You said that.”
“Dammit, Jacob,” yelled the woman banging her fist on the steering wheel. She exhaled loudly, silencing Jacob. “I lied. Is that what you want to hear Jacob? I lied. His name’s Daniel, and he lives near Dashboard Lake. That’s where you’re going.”
“Mom,” mumbled Jacob. His face was screeched with confusion.
“I can’t do it anymore Jacob,” she sighed sadly. “I just can’t.”
They rode the rest of the way in silence. Each one dreading the other one’s thoughts. Jacob stared wide eyed at the changing scenery around him. Hot tears of fury steamed down his face leaving a salty residue on his lips. It had been so long since he’d cried. He’d forgotten the taste of his own tears. His knee bounced up and down as he disgustedly leaned his head back. He exhaled.
Giant trees began to swallow the towering office buildings. Jacob watched his world change before his eyes as his mother turned down a winding, tattered road. He was sweating through the ashes of another life and slowly beginning a new one. Wildlife appeared before him, erasing his graffiti walls and hustling street corner. Deer hastily ran through dark, shadowy trees. Large paw prints were left untouched in puddles of mud. His life was changing without his consent.
An eternity seemed to have passed before the old car pulled into a clearing that faced Dashboard Lake. It’s beautiful, thought Jacob. A small cabin with a wrap around porch looked into the heart of the majestic lake. Fowl swooped down out of the air, gulping at fish in the white water. The rapid waves pelted the backs of broken rocks that floated into their path. Jacob had almost forgotten where he’d landed.
His blissful thoughts faded to black as he saw who’d been waiting for him. A dusty, swaggering character of a man dangled his long legs over the rail of the porch. When his big, brown eyes met Jacob’s he jumped down, each step just as casual as the next. Jacob couldn’t help but wonder about this man he was to call father. His hair was a ragged afro, uncombed and unpicked, with globs of gray glittered about. His overalls were missing a button. His dark hands were shoved deep down in his pockets. A toothpick hung lazily in his mouth. Jacob couldn’t help but wonder about this man he was to call father. His mother dropped his duffel bag at his feet.
“Thanks Dan,” she said hanging her head low.
The man leaned back on his heels and tilted his head up towards the sun. “Yeah,” he drawled.
Jacob felt his mother’s hand on his shoulder. She had run out of ‘I love you’s’.
The car started and pulled off, leaving the two men standing there, alone. Jacob looked every which way. At the cabin. The ground. The duffel bag. Back at the cabin. But he couldn’t look his father, Daniel, in the face. God, he didn’t even know what to call him. Jacob didn’t know what to do. So he swung.
He missed. Slipped forward. Collapsing on rocks. Daniel stepped back quickly from the misguided boy and smirked. Sighing, he leaned back his head and tried to help the boy up, but Jacob pushed him away. Huffing and puffing, Jacob dusted the gray pebbles off of his jeans and climbed to his feet. All his cowardice left him, and he stared his father straight into the eye. The man sighed.
“Look Jacob,” he said shoving his hands into his pockets. “I don’t know how to be a father.”
Jacob looked disbelievingly at the man and, without warning, stormed past him. He took the steps two at a time and bolted into the cabin, slamming the door. Daniel couldn’t help but laugh as he picked up the forgotten duffel bag and headed into the house. The sun glinted off his gray hairs.
“Quite a summer we’re gonna have here, Jacob,” he mumbled.