Two weeks ago hope vibrated through her body as she sat quietly in the back of the taxi avoiding all the driver’s attempts at creating small talk. Her fingers tapped rapidly on the seat as she stared out the window. A small smile grew on her face as they drove past her Alma mater and she read the LED sign: East Grand Rapids High School The Home of the Pioneers. Scenes from her youth began to seep into her mind. The years of the federal blue and poppy gold skirts and pom poms were burned into her mind as some of the worst times of her life, and it all started when she met him. Jasper Lee Johnston. She slammed her eyes shut as she prepared to face him again.
As she stepped out the bright yellow taxi and onto the sidewalk. She could feel the eyes of her former neighbors on the back of her head. But the most prominent was the stare of her mother in law, the fifty-year-old woman sat with her face scrunched up as she rocked back in forth on the mahogany porch swing. She stared in disgust with every step of the girl knowing her neighbors were staring just as hard as she. It wasn’t every day that someone returned to Grand Rapids. In fact, the inhabitants rarely ever left. Kids move in close to their parents get married, have kids, and the process starts over. But not for Mrs. Johnston no grandkids, pets, anything and it was all because of her.
As Hope made her way closer to the familiar territory. The events that occurred in the house filled her memory. It was a nice house with a lot of space and a backyard, the typical suburban dream. But this house was a deep shade of grey, the only one on the street, and she hated it. The brick walls had held more terror and pain than she had felt in her entire life, and even the mere thought of returning to it sent shivers through her body. She planted a foot on the creaky porch and it was if any happiness she may have been feeling vanished into the air. She’d requested that the color be changed many times, but it couldn't be done at least that's what Jay said.
She took a deep breath as she slipped her key into the door after blowing away the dirt that had collected on it. Her hands trembled as she twisted her key to the left with no effect. A part of her let out a sigh of relief, but the other urged her to try again opting to turn the slim piece of metal to the right and just like that the gates of disaster opened.
She stepped into the house and was pleasantly surprised that her foot had not landed in a pile of dirty clothes. Instead, the house that she expected to be riddled with garbage was as clean as a treasured trophy. You see, Jay wasn't the most independent pen in the box. In fact, he was the exact opposite. Like many men in the Johnston family, Jay has always been under the care of his mother in high school, in college, and even now as Mrs. Johnston struggled to pick up the pieces of her son. So it was no surprise to Hope when she found the poorly drawn note on the desk reading: love mom.
Hope quickly tossed the note away before she made her way up the stairs, making sure to walk as lightly as possible knowing Jasper hated to be disturbed. She could hear his abnormally loud snoring coming from the master bedroom, yet decided to ignore it as she headed towards the only room that mattered: Jacqueline's room. Entering the room was like stepping into another dimension and Hope savored every second she got to spend in it. The bright pink walls were filled with empty frames awaiting pictures of a child that will never come home, and the parents who will never be. She ran her hands across the cool metal rail of the crib and stared down at the toys that laid inside of it all just as new as the day they brought them, back when ‘they’ were a thing. She could picture it perfectly, she’d sit in the untouched rocking chair in the farthest corner of the room and rock the child to sleep. While Jasper would watch from the doorway and smile at his little family like the people in the movies. But she wasn’t in a movie, there was no baby, and he wasn’t in the doorway. However, he was a lot closer than she thought because within moments she was being ripped away from her fantasy as his strong voice came booming through the room.
“Where have you been?” He yelled, causing her body to shake as he had many times before. “I have been looking for you.” He shouted again, but in a seemingly softer tone causing a breath she didn’t know she was holding to escape her lungs.
“I was with my sister,” her voice trembled as she winced at the sake of his grip.
“Who Justine? You know I don’t like her.”
“Yeah, I know.” She sighed as she rubbed the section of her arm, his fingers had touched before walking out of the room in hopes that he would follow, not wanting his gloominess to effect that room too.
“So what?” she replied, but she quickly regretted the words as soon as they left her lips, as she tilted her head to the left on a forty-five-degree angle, nothing more nothing less, just like he taught her before mumbling,“I’m sorry.”
“I don’t know why you like that room so much anyway. But you better get over it.”
“What? What do you mean?” She began to panic at the thought of the room being taken away from her just like everything else.
“Don’t you remember I’m going to make it into my music room.” He shrugged as he made his way into the bathroom with her following close behind.
“No! You can’t! I, I mean, why?” she counteracted herself before taking a step back as he turned his attention away from the mirror. She looked up into the light brown eyes she’d first seen years before that now seemed fifty shades darker, and turned her back before making her way down the stairs.
“Hope!” She could hear his voice echoing through the halls, but the fear inside her screamed louder as the door slammed behind her, and the emptiness of the neighborhood enveloped her. She took a deep breath as she waved hello to Amanda, Danielle, and Katherine as she passed the three ladies. Knowing they would talk about her using the same mouths they used to greet her, as they sipped their tea, fixed their curls, and waited for their husbands to return.
She shuffled past them quickly, as the images of black eyes and bruised limbs filled her mind, and before she knew it she had made it off of the prison she called Bagley Ave. She turned onto Wealthy Street, but this time Hope paid no attention to the women stopping to greet her as she headed towards Reeds Lake. It was as if the gentle breeze was carrying her there pass the restaurants, and the fishers and straight towards the very edge of the creek.
As soon as she reached the secluded area she slumped down into the grass as she let the tears fall just as she had many times before.
“God, you’re so stupid!” She cursed herself, as she kicked around the garbage surrounding her. This part of the lake had never been cleaned partially because no one ever went there but also because the town said it wouldn’t change, just like the house, just like Jay. But she didn’t mind as she sat with her knees to her chest and stared out at the lake. She knew he would come eventually just like all the times before, but this time she didn’t try to hide. As she continued to silently belittle herself for running away without even giving him a chance. But it was his fault, it was his past that caused her feet to take flight, and like he always says things never change.