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Route 53

The highway was relatively clear. The hilly grounds surrounding the road were calm, the long grass bending and swaying in the gentle wind. The bright yellow lines trailed along the road, speeding by swiftly.

Jeff wasn’t sure what caused him to drive along that route on his way home from work on that specific day.

Route 53.

The name brought back so many unpleasant memories; the solemn phone call that devastated himself and his parents, the quiet funeral, the hard recovery afterwards.

Today was the third anniversary of his brother, James’, death. June 6th.

It seemed suited that Jeff would have chosen Route 53 on the exact day of his brother’s death. He had tried to do so for the past three years, but could never bring himself to.

Whether it was the pain he knew the memories would bring, the refusal to acknowledge his brother’s passing, or the bitterness towards James for all the wrongs he committed in his short life, Jeff never knew.

But there was something special about this year, and though his hands protested, he carefully steered the truck onto Route 53.

‘Its time.’ Jeff thought. Today he was going to make it right. Today he was going to forgive himself for the guilt he felt as a result of his brother’s death. And maybe, if he could, he would forgive his brother.

The flash of events ran through Jeff’s mind for what must have been the thousandth time.

James had always been the wild child. He was rebellious and wild, but his family loved him, especially his mother. His death caused her unbearable pain, and Jeff and his father had watched her sink slowly, further and further into the black fog of depression.

As Jeff’s rickety pick-up truck rattled along the long and winding road, a warm wind blowing through the open window, he allowed himself to think of the painful years that had passed.

His parents had been full of anguish, blaming themselves for his death. Guilt weighed heavily upon them all.

“We allowed him too much freedom,” his parents would say in despair. “If only we gave him more guidelines and rules, he might have had a better life.”

Though the police hadn’t ruled out a freak accident, and his death was suspected to be a suicide.

Since his early high school years, James had been into drugs.
“I’ll try anything once,” he used to say. Jeff had though many times through their high school years it was a wonder how James lived through them.

He lived for his next high, and his doting mother was a helpless enabler. She kept telling herself one day he would grow out of it, that it was just a phase.

James had been gone, no communication with any of his family who hadn’t a clue where he had gone, for two weeks prior to his death.

He was only 23 years old: so young, and yet so old.

After the shock had worn off, a family friend suggested they all go to counseling, but neither Jeff nor his parents felt comfortable with that idea.

His parents tried to move on, and even though Jeff tried, they never would speak of James with him.

Jeff sighed as he thought of his brother. Unsettlement rested on his soul. He had never felt comfortable enough with anyone to talk about his brother. More than anything he wanted to be able to talk to someone.

He was jolted out of his daydream by a lone hitchhiker in a ragged plaid shirt, crimson red and black windbreaker, and ripped jeans standing on the dusty side of the road.

His clothing was encrusted with grimy dirt and his heavy, yellow-brown hiking boots were covered with dust.

Any other day, Jeff would have ignored the man and kept driving, but not today. Today he slowed down and pulled to the side of the road, he leaned over and popped the passenger door open.

“Hop in!” he called to the man. It was then that Jeff saw the blood that had pooled on the side of his head.

“Oh man. Are you okay?” He asked apprehensively, concern creasing his smooth forehead.

The man swung himself into the car, his lanky frame folding to fit through the door opening. His long, tangled hair blew across high, defined cheekbones that composed his ghostly white face.

His large white forehead was creased with early wrinkle lines, and Jeff realized the man was a lot younger than he had originally concluded. Probably in his late twenties, at most, Jeff thought.
“I’ll be fine.” The man nodded. “Are you by any chance, going to be passing the hospital?”

Jeff found himself flustered and his words stumbled out of his mouth clumsily. “Uh… Yeah… It’s on m-my way home.”

“You sure?” The man asked him, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah… sure.” Jeff said, mentally slapping himself for sounding so dumb.

“I’m Evan.” He said, holding out his hand.

“Jeff.” He said in reply. Hesitantly, Jeff reached over, surprised at the strength with which the man clasped his hand.

As he glanced the man over, Jeff felt himself looking at the lightweight jacket that Evan wore. It looked vaguely familiar, but try as he might Jeff could not place where he had seen it before.

Shaking the thought from his mind, Jeff carefully maneuvered the car back onto the road, and for the first time he questioned the intelligence of his decision to allow this stranger in his car.

He glanced surreptitiously at the man, looking for any hint of danger. When satisfied that no harm would come to him from this man, Jeff was able to relax.

“So… Evan. Are you from around here?” he asked, attempting to be reassured further that this man was safe.

“I live just outside of town.” Evan said, carefully forming his words. “I was coming here to visit some family when I lost control of my car.”

“Was that far from here?” Jeff asked.

“Not that far. It stopped within that group of trees over there,” he pointed to the trees at the side of the road.
“I walked to the road, and thankfully you picked me up.”

There were a few uncomfortable moments of silence until Evan spoke again.

“Do you drive along this route often?” Evan asked.

Jeff sucked in a sharp breath of air. He allowed a pause in the conversation as he flipped his indicator on to change lanes.

“No … not usually.” Jeff said. “I – My brother died driving along this route 3 years ago.”

Evan’s eyes widened and he gazed, stunned, at Jeff’s stony face.
“I’m sorry.” He said sadness clouding his black eyes.

Before he knew what he was doing, before he could think through what he was saying, Jeff told the heartbreaking story to the stranger that sat in the front seat of his car.

“They told us it was a suicide.” Jeff finished, running a hand through his dirty blonde hair.

“And you don’t believe it was?” Evan asked.

“I don’t know.” Jeff paused. “My brother had his problems, but I just can’t believe that. Maybe I just don’t want to accept the truth.”

Evan seemed to think for a moment.
“You know your brother better than those investigators. If you think it was an accident, then that is what it is.”

“Yeah. I just wish that there could be some closure,” Jeff nodded.

Jeff felt as if a weight had been lifted off him. He hadn’t talked about his brother with anyone for nearly 2 years. The burden of his thoughts and doubts had been taken, freeing him from the bonds of grief.


“So what do you do for a living, Evan?” asked Jeff.

“A little bit here and there. I like to switch things up.” He said.
“I’ll try anything once.”

Jeff did a double take. That was exactly what James had always said. A chill passed through Jeff’s spine. His eyes darted around, taking in his surroundings, faintly expecting to see James at the side of the road.

Mentally slapping himself for thinking foolishly, he concentrated fully on driving. Still, he found it rather curious that this man used the exact phrase James did … or used to.

He wished he had more time to speak with this man. Jeff found him interesting, though slightly suspicious.

Pulling onto the off ramp that turns directly to entrance of the local hospital, Jeff glanced again at the familiar jacket, which Evan had since taken off and placed beside the seat. He still couldn’t figure out where he had seen it before.

As they drove into the hospital parking lot, Jeff reluctantly pulled up at the front entrance.

Evan sat for a moment, and smiled at Jeff.

“Thank you for the lift, it has been very nice talking to you.” He said.

“I hope you find the truth behind James’s death.”

He quickly hopped out of the car, and walked in smooth strides towards the hospital doors.

Jeff was left sitting in his seat, pondering Evan’s last remark. He reached down to take of the parking brake, and his eyes locked on the red and black windbreaker that Evan had been wearing.

The missing puzzle pieces were found, and placed together in Jeff’s mind.

The red and black windbreaker that Jeff’s mother had given James the fall before his death. Quickly Jeff scooped it off the floor.

He examined the pocket on the left side, remembering how James had mentioned he needed it fixed, as it had been ripped on a wire fence. Sure enough, the lining was torn, and the left pocket was hanging open.

Jeff’s hands trembled as he stroked the material. A white corner peeked over the edge of a pocket which was sewn on the inside pocket.

Jeff pulled the paper out, and emotion misted over his eyes as he unfolded it, recognizing his brother’s uneven handwriting.



"Dear Mom, Dad and Jeff
I realize by the time you're reading this I will be in a better place. Maybe at this very moment, my spirit is floating up in the wind. I'm sorry if it is difficult for you to read this.
Right now, as I know these are to be the last moments of my life, I want to say a few words. You must know that this accident is not of my doing, though the police will have their doubts. I realize what you might think, considering the life I have lead, but I was not planning on it coming to an end this soon.
Mom and dad, thank you for being such wonderful parents and mentors. You gave such great advice, I only wish I had taken the time to listen. Jeff, you always were the suck up. But thanks for being a great big brother.
I want to thank you three for putting up with everything I did through the years. I know I put you all through some terrible things, and caused a lot of heartbreak. I'm truly sorry, and I only wish I could be there to say this to you in person.
Please, please forgive me, though I know I don't deserve it.
If not out of love for me, release your anger so my spirit will rest.
Your loving son and brother,
James"



The 'S' trailed off, the pen line sliding off the page, an ink splatter ending abruptly at the edge of the torn paper.

Tears streamed endlessly down Jeff's face. He tried to brush them away with his rough palm, but more appeared faster than he could wipe away.
Jeff's head snapped up abruptly, and he glanced at his hand that clutched the red and black jacket. His brother's jacket.

Roughly pushing the door open, his feet hit the blacktop and pounded towards the hospital entrance. He skidded loudly to a stop inside the door, causing the nurses to look up from their work, shock evident on their face.

"Sir, are you alright?" A blonde nurse came up to him cautiously, laying a calming slender hand on his shoulder.
"Where is he?" He asked wildly, looking about him anxiously.
"Who, sir?" She asked him. He pulled his arm out from her tightening grasp.

"The man ... he ... he just came in a few minutes ago. Tall, stubble, he had blood on his face. C'mon he just walked in here, I watched him from my car." He frantically glanced at their faces and was met with blank expressions.

"Sir," the nurse moved towards him cautiously, "No one has come into this hospital in the past hour, aside from you."

Another nurse, a tall brunette, came forward as well.
"There was no man, sir." She restrained his other arm. "Let's get you to a room so you can calm down and rest a while."

His shoulders slumped and he allowed himself to be led into a sterile white room. Sitting on the stiff bed, he looked at his side. His hand still clutched the torn paper tightly, causing it to wrinkle increasingly. He released his grip slightly, and his shaking hands maneuvered to open his note.

He gently ran his fingers along the shallow imprint of the scrawled letters written by an unsteady hand. Again, tears streamed down his cheeks, and he buried his face in his hands.

"I love you James,” he whispered.



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This article has 2 comments. Post your own!

firelilly4 said...
Oct. 4, 2010 at 6:04 pm:
i agree this is very good some of the best i have read yet. BTW no one sould be self conscience about thier writing because that is the beauty of it , everyone can write in a specific style some just are too insecure to see it you however are very talented i can't wait to see what you come up with next:)
 
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EnJay said...
Sept. 22, 2010 at 6:12 pm:

JJ,

it's great, idk why you're self conscience about your writing, you're VERY talented. 

keep at it, and thank the friend who told you to do this. :) 

love,

NJ

 
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