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“Beverly!” Jennie’s mother, Genevieve, shouted up the stairs. Jennie’s real name was Beverly, but only her mother called her that. She, and Tom’s mother, that is.
“Mom!” Jennie replied loudly, rolling her eyes, “My name is Jennie! NOT Beverly!”
“Don’t make me come up there,” she threatened from down the stairs.
Jennie was lying flat on her back on her bright blue bed. Her whole room was blue, just like her view of the world. Her bright red hair cascaded over her pillow, with long wavy curls flying about. She had freckles splattered all over her face, and murky blue eyes. She also, had a very bad headache.
“What is it!?” Jennie roared back down the stairs. Her temples were throbbing, and one of the veins in her right eye was pulsing irrationally. She couldn’t believe what she had seen after school that day… She knew that Tom was friends with them, but she didn’t realize that he had become one of them…
“It’s Tom!” her mother yelled, “He says he wants to talk to you!”
Jennie slapped her hand over her eyes and realized that she should have expected this. Tom always came over after they fought. They were neighbors and shared the same backyard. It was hard not to see him every day since she was three.
“TELL HIM TO GET OUT!” she screamed angrily, now sitting up on her blue bed in her blue room, “TELL HIM TO GO AWAY AND NEVER COME BACK!”
“Now Beverly!” her mother exclaimed from below. Jennie faintly heard her mumble something before climbing up the stairs quickly and opening Jennie’s door.
Jennie groaned and muttered, “I really need to get a lock…”
“Beverly,” her mother hissed, coming into Jennie’s view. Jennie looked nothing like her: she had been told by her grandmother multiple times that she looked exactly like her father, red hair, blue eyes, and freckles, even his nose. Not that Jennie would know… Her mothers’ short, dark brown hair was parted strictly to the left side. Large bags hung below her eyes, and her hazel eyes were twitching. A single, working, defiant, woman: she was the definition of exhaustion and exasperation. She continued, “That is no way to talk to your best friend,” she whispered angrily.
Jennie shouted in response, “HE IS NOT MY FRIEND!”
Her mother pressed her forefinger to Jennie’s mouth in an attempt to silence her, and continued, in a quiet, frustrated voice, “Listen, I know that you’re mad at him… but it looks like he’s come to apologize… can’t you at least go and talk to him?”
Jennie growled angrily in the back of her throat. Her eyes delved into slits. She stood up quickly and whispered hysterically, “Sure!” she squeaked, “I’ll go talk to him. I’ll see if he has anything else to tell me…”
Genevieve Lou’s mouth dropped and closed, unsure of what to do with her daughter’s newfound anger. Jennie, however, ignored her mother, and strode past her, and stomped her way down the stairs, making sure that every step matched her unmatched fury.
Then, she saw him standing there, at the foot of the stairs: Tom Cowerd, her best… her ex-best friend… He was about a foot taller than she, but he was looking down at his feet, looking ashamed. His dark brown hair hadn’t been cut in a while, and his hair hung over his eyes like a sheepdog. Underneath the hair, Jennie knew held his deep, dark brown eyes that told stories to those who looked long enough and displayed the truth whether he liked it or not. His skin had turned pale recently, and he wore a black sweatshirt and ripped jeans with his old, navy Converse with dirty white laces.
Jennie held her ground and marched towards him angrily, putting on her angry-yet-serious face. “Well?” she spat, looking up at him. She scowled. She would never forgive him.
Tom opened his mouth, as if about to say something, when Jennie’s mother leaped down the stairs and asked, “Do you guys need any snacks? Or drinks? Perhaps?” with a slight smile.
Jennie glared at her mother and moaned, “Mom!”
“No thank you, Ms. Lou,” Tom said politely, standing up and facing her as he pushed his hair aside. “But, would you mind if I talked to Jennie- alone?” he asked, looking up at her hopefully. “We’ll be in the backyard!” he added hastily.
“Oh. Yeah, sure,” Jennie’s mom said, nodding and smiling a little bit, “No problem…”
Jennie rolled her eyes and followed Tom out of the stairwell, into the kitchen, through the backdoor leading to the small porch and the small backyard with nothing but a miniscule swing-set with two, old, rickety swings. And out of the corner of her eye, she spotted her mom behind her, winking and giving her a thumbs-up. Unsure of what that could mean, Jennie hurried behind Tom and walked over to the swings where they had met so long ago.
Tom sat down on the swing to the right, and Jennie sat down on the swing to the left, looking at her feet, trying her best not to explode. Instead, she tried to be calm, but still angry, however, she knew this wouldn’t last long.
“So…” he mumbled, staring down at his feet as he fiddled with his hands. Jennie could obviously see that he was nervous. Whenever he was nervous he used a very quiet voice. Jennie of all people would know: it was a habit that she picked up from him years before.
“So,” Jennie replied in spite of herself. She nearly giggled, but suppressed the urge. She wasn’t friends with him anymore, he wasn’t funny anymore and he wasn’t going to be able to make it up to her. Not this time.
“Well…” he mumbled quietly as he pushed his back hair out of his eyes. They were wary, and looked puffy and red, “I just- I wanted to say that I’m sorry… and I didn’t mean to hurt you… in that way… I just- I should have…”
“Known better?” Jennie asked snidely. She wasn’t falling for his tricks again. Not this time.
“Yes,” he breathed. “I mean… you have no idea how much of an idiot I felt like… after you left! I should have known… I know I shouldn’t have… It was stupid! It was-”
“Repulsive?” she spat. She glared at him as he stared back into her eyes, doing her best to hate him. Her insides flared and acid bubbled in her throat. Jennie hissed, “And after what happened to them! Our brothers! You went out and followed in their footsteps even though they… even though you saw…” Her voice cracked, and water began to build up behind her eyes. She tried to fight it, and looked back down at the ground, furious at her own weakness.
Her curly, red, hair fell in front of her face, obscuring her view. Her brother and Tom’s had been best friends for years too… But now, they were gone… And they would never see their older brothers ever again.
“Jennie?” Tom asked weakly. He put his hand on her shoulder, trying to comfort her. She slapped his hand away and continued to stare down at the ground. He sighed, and then whispered in his quiet, melodic voice, “I’m sorry Jennie… I know that I shouldn’t have… but… I mean everyone was-”
“Oh yes! EVERYONE was doing it weren’t they Tom?” Jennie growled angrily. “So if I told you that everyone was going to go and jump off a building, would you? Is that what you mean? I’m sorry if I sound like your mother but it’s true! What happened to being better than them? We were always…” she froze, and stuttered. Tom looked over at her. His eyes were honest, they were sorry, they were upset, and she knew it. She took a deep breath and said forcefully, “you… were always against-”
“I know! I know! I know!” he shouted. Tom stood up from his swing and stood in front of Jennie, his eyes were desperate. He was furious, furious with himself. His arms were stretched out wide as he spoke. His hair slid from side to side, and his eyes and his words began to mix, melting into water, and falling to the ground and landing on the hard, cold, ground. Jennie was surprised to see that his face was dry as he ranted.
“I know,” he said, “I know I’ve been an idiot! I know it was wrong! I know that I shouldn’t have. It was stupid, it was vile, and I don’t know what I was thinking! And you’re right! You were always right… We once were always right! I just…” He pushed his hair back furiously. He looked like a madman as he paced back and forth in front of Jennie. “I….” he paused, thinking for a moment, “I haven’t been feeling… right… lately. And… I was angry, and sad, and confused, and I don’t know what else…” He sighed deeply and whispered, “But I’m done… I’m over it… I’m…”
Jennie sat there on her swing, watching him stand there before her. He looked pleadingly into her eyes, searching for something, anything. And Jennie sat there, a twinge of regret stirring in the back of her throat, but she kept her anger bubbling deep down in her stomach. After what had happened to her brother, to both of their brothers, he still continued to follow in their footsteps? Even though he knew what the price to pay was?
“Well?” Tom asked uncertainly. He was trembling from head to foot, and Jennie thought to herself with anger digging in her heart, “Why does it matter to him if I forgive him?”
Jennie took a deep breath, glared at Tom, and whispered, “Does your apology change anything?” He froze, and his eyes were wide. The small shade of color that was left in his face rolled off of his cheeks and down to the ground. His pale face was scary, it was almost like a mask: almost like a skeleton. “It doesn’t stop what you did…” Jennie hissed. And the thought that had crept into her mind burst upon her lips as she asked aloud, “Why do you need me to forgive you anyways? You have your other friends. You have them!” she snarled with venom.
His eyes narrowed, his face twisted and he shouted, “BECAUSE I LOVE YOU!”
The world froze. Jennie’s mouth dropped, but she snapped it back shut again, staring at Tom with wide. Tom’s eyes popped out through his thick, shaggy hair as if he was a cartoon character. Tom clapped his right hand over his forehead, pushing his hair back and mouthed the words “Oh my God” over and over again. Jennie couldn’t move. She sat still on her swing, staring at him with her mouth wide open. All thought had drained her mind and this new possibility: this new possible realization hit her like water on sharp flames. The cool, crisp, fall breeze blew through her hair, and smashed onto her cheeks covered in freckles and her eyes began to dry, irritated by the wind, but she kept them open, in awe. Tom turned around with both of his hands on the top of his head, as he looked up into the cloudy sky.
Then, the criticism began. Her mind created excuses, plausible and unreal ones. He didn’t really “love” her, or not in the way she thought he meant. He meant as a sister, as family: didn’t he? Or was there something more? Something he had been hiding? Internally, she rolled her eyes. She giggled, and then, she began to laugh. Not in the friendly, kindly way either. She was mocking him, mocking what she believed to be a lie. He was wrong, he was lying, and she laughed because of it. Tom turned around, his eyebrows were furrowed, and his eyes confused, but then angry. There was something written on his face that Jennie couldn’t read, and she struggled to find it, but couldn’t. She couldn’t read it, or maybe, she didn’t want to.
Her laugh became strained, and fake. It died like a wave crashing onto a rocky shore, smashing into a billion pieces each water molecule separating from another as it rose up into the air, and back together from whence it came.
He turned away and ran. He ran back to his house. He climbed over the fence and darted back into his house. Jennie, realizing her mistake, darted after him. She struggled getting over the fence, but managed to climb over it after ripping her jeans, but she didn’t stop there. She burst through Tom’s backdoor, and saw his mother’s puzzled expression as she ran in and tore down the hall, and turned to run up the stairs when she heard a loud “bang” up the stairs above her. She stopped, and nearly dropped dead on the spot. Her blood froze in place, her eyes wide open in shock, and she stopped breathing. Her heart froze, and then beat madly like a hummingbird, only so much harder that it became painful.
Although she had never heard that sound before in person, it was recognizable by everyone within a five-mile radius. Jennie’s brain seemed to work in slow motion. She felt herself sprinting up the stairs and over to Tom’s door, but time seemed to take longer than usual. She heard herself scream, “TOM!” but no good came of it. Distantly, she heard Tom’s mother scream, and rush out of the kitchen and over to the stairs, and follow Jennie up the stairs at a sprint.
“Tom?” Jennie asked the closed door in front of her. She didn’t want to see what was on the other side, but she knew she had to.
Slowly, she reached for the brass knob, twisted it, and pushed open the door.
On the bed, lay a small white envelope, with the words, “To Jennie…” scribbled on the top of it.