In the town of Hayton, the most interesting thing to occur is a cat being stuck in a tree. Likewise, the most entertaining activities to busy yourself with are equivalent to watching paint dry. Needless to say, when Jessie arrived for the first time, he wasn’t very impressed. Though the town lacked the essential needs to be captivating, Jessie decided to give it a chance. Besides, it was his new home
Uncle Tom picked Jessie up from the vacant train station around noon and he was told that his Aunt Leslie was preparing a feast.
“Dear, Lord,” she exclaimed with a hearty laugh when they parked the car and walked up to the front porch where she was waiting, “You’re all skin and bones!”
As far as first impressions went, Jessie had a feeling his new home was going to be as warm and welcoming as Aunt Leslie’s suffocating hugs. His mood improved greatly.
“‘Ello… ma’am,” he grunted, his face squished between his Aunt’s arms and apron.
“Oh, look at you! You’re so charming. We are so glad to have you here! Come now, grab your things; let’s get you inside to meet the rest of the family!” she said, leading Jessie into the living room. She stood by the staircase and yelled, “Alice, darling, come here! You, too, Liam!”
Almost instantly, a petite girl with sun-bright pigtails came bouncing down. She smiled, and Jessie could see she was missing a few of her teeth. She walked gracefully over to him, took his hand in hers, shook it as hard as she could (which was not very hard), and drifted over to the yellow couch. She sat down and rested her head on her arm, her piercing blue eyes studying Jessie attentively.
“Liam? Liam! That boy, I swear,” Aunt Leslie muttered and rested both of her hands on her hips. “Liam Adam Kingsley, you better not be peaking at your birthday presents or my wrath will come pouring down on you!”
“I’m here, I’m here!” A voice yelled back hurriedly. A young boy bolted down the stairs and stopped in front of his frowning mother. His hair, like Alice’s, was nearly blinding. “Sorry, ma. I was folding my clothes and putting them away,” he said, giving her a nervous smile.
“Mmm-hm,” she replied and shook her head slowly. “Go greet your cousin.”
Liam turned and walked over to Jessie and held out his hand for him to take.
“Hi, I’m Liam!” he beamed. Jessie was an inch taller than Liam, but Liam’s frame was slightly thicker and he had a boyish smile. “You’re Jessie. Do you like rocks, Jessie?”
Jessie pulled a face. Liam took the hint.
“You know, granite, basalt. Stuff like that.”
Jessie made a sound of realization and nodded.
“I’ve got some from all over the UP, the Grand Canyon, even a few from the outskirts of Area 51!”
Jessie’s face lit up and he mouth fell in awe.
“Do you like extraterrestrials?” Another nod came from Jessie. “I’ve taken a liking to the concept, but I think it’s a lie,” Liam frowned. Jessie shrugged and grinned. “You know what? You’re kinda like Alice. She doesn’t talk much either. Why’s that?”
Jessie’s smile faded.
“Liam!” both Aunt Leslie and Uncle Tom scolded in unison.
“That was very rude!” Aunt Leslie chided. “Apologize this instant.”
“Oh, gee, I’m super sorry, Jessie,” Liam said, a genuine look of regret in his eyes. “I’m sorry. Do-… do you need a tissue?”
Jessie blinked, his eyebrows knitted together. Why would he need a tissue? He raised his hand and felt his face which was wet with tears. Where did those come from? His eyes darted over to Alice (her eyes were the size of flying saucers) then to Aunt Leslie and Uncle Tom who wore the same sympathetic expression that everyone those days seemed to wear around Jessie. Finally, his gaze landed on Liam. His face was painted with worry and confusion.
He didn’t know, Jessie realized. Liam didn’t know about any of the misfortune, and Jessie was glad. Finally, someone who had no knowledge of what happened.
“I-it’s o-okay,” Jessie said, tripping over every word. “I-I’m f-f-fine.”
Liam grinned as if nothing had happened and pulled Jessie up the stairs to show him where he’d be staying.
Sunday came and Jessie awoke with a splitting headache, but he remained silent and didn’t complain to anyone to be less of the burden he felt he was. In what seemed to be no time at all, Jessie was dressed, fed, and sitting in the back of his cousins’ Volkswagen. Liam spoke distantly to Alice while Jessie rested his head against the cool window, closed his eyes and drifted off into space.
During mass, the music was twice as loud and every hymn book or Bible dropped was like a crack of thunder right beside Jessie’s ear. The Homily was gibberish to his ears and he nearly fell asleep twice, each time jerking upward and glancing around to see if anyone noticed.
“Are you alright, Jess?” Liam whispered.
“‘m f-fine,” he croaked.
Church dismissed in a daze and Jessie found himself sitting at a wooden table outside in the mid-August sun with a hot dog and chips in front of him.
“Eat up, Jessie. Then, you can go join Liam and the other kids,” Aunt Leslie said.
Doing as he was told, he ate and stumbled over to the edge of the forest where Liam and a few other kids were sitting. There was a boy with a permanent scowl on his face standing next to a girl who had emerald eyes. Alice was there, too, which Jessie found odd; all of the younger children were playing soccer by the adults. She was the first to see Jessie and waved. Liam’s head spun around and he smiled.
“Everyone, this is Jessie,” he announced. Jessie gave a tiny wave. “Jessie, this is Jacob and Emma Adams.”
Jacob glared at Jessie with such hatred that he didn’t know could even exist. He wouldn’t have been surprised if Jacob growled and jumped at him like a rabid dog, but he didn’t. He instead leaned against a tree and crossed his arms across his chest.
Emma was the complete opposite of her brother. Her smile was genuine and full of happiness. Her eyes sparkled in the sunlight and she had rich, brown hair. Jessie couldn’t help but stare.
“Hello, Jessie, I’m Emma,” she stood and held out her hand. Jessie slowly took her hand and shook it. “How are you?”
“G-g-good.” Jessie’s face reddened and Jacob stifled a laugh.
Emma leaned forward and whispered, “Don’t worry about him, he’s just jealous because guys never look at him that way.”
Jessie’s face was on fire. He chuckled nervously. Jacob pushed himself off the tree to make a move on Jessie, glanced at the adults gathered in the distance and decided against it. He growled audibly.
They all sat down on the grass and Liam, thankfully, did all the talking for Jessie. He explained that Jessie would be staying with him from now on and how he had trouble talking.
“Weirdo,” Jacob muttered. Jessie pretended he didn’t hear him.
“Do you like it here in Hayton?”
Jessie nodded shyly.
“There’s not much to do, but we get on by ourselves. If you look hard enough, there’s always something to occupy your time with,” Emma flashed another one of her lovely smiles. Jessie noted the way her eyes scrunched up and he smiled back.
“Why can’t you talk right?” Jacob asked, suddenly. “Are you stupid or something?”
“Jacob!” Emma gasped.
“Shut it, Em, I’m talking,” he snapped. Emma went silent. Jessie gulped and stared at the ground.
“Hey, you!” Jacob called. Jessie looked up. “I asked you a question. Are you stupid?”
Jessie’s throat tightened. He shook his head.
“Then why do you talk like that?” Jacob said forcefully.
“‘I-I-’” he mocked. “Why are you staying with Liam’s family? Where’re your parents, huh?” He straightened and looked around, shrugging. “They aren’t here, are they? Did something happen to them?”
“That’s quite enough, Jacob,” said Liam.
Every breath was harder than the last, and Jessie was having trouble thinking properly. His eyes were itchy, and he rubbed them furiously.
“Are you crying?” Jacob scoffed. “That’s pathetic. Maybe that’s why your parents are gone.”
“Jacob, stop it or I’ll tell mom!” Emma shouted.
“Go right on ahead. See what the hell I care!” he roared. Liam jumped to his feet.
“Jacob, I told you that was enough,” Liam said. He stood and stepped over to Jacob, slipping his thumbs into the belt loops of his pants.
“And what are you going to do about it?” Jacob challenged.
The words echoed in Jessie’s head. He’d heard those words before in the exact manner… somewhere… somewhere. Where?! He threw his hands to his head and clutched it, rocking back and forth. The night mom died, he heard those exact words coming from his mother’s room. He remembered listening to the conversation. He couldn’t comprehend most of it, but he sensed the danger, the tension. The voice… it was familiar. Very familiar.
Then it hit him. He knew. He remembered that awful night where his future was decided.
Before Liam could say a word, Jessie bolted. He ran, ignoring the cries left in his wake. He just needed to run. To devoid himself of all the emotion that coursed through his burning veins. He wasn’t himself and he hadn’t been for a while. His childhood was ripped away from him that dreadful night, but he thought that maybe if he just ran, everything would be fine.
But soon, his lungs started to fail on him, and he desperately needed to rest. Leaning against a tired, old tree, he looked up to the sky and pondered on his sudden realization.
He knew who did it.
He wanted to vomit.
Instead, he ran both of his shaky hands through his hair and let all his bottled up feelings pour out of him like a waterfall. Every muscle in his body was screaming. Every emotion he’d ever felt rushed to his heart. His legs went limp. He yelled until he was a crumpled heap of a broken boy that not even the bravest of knights would dare attempt to put together again.
That horrible night, a loud noise woke Jessie up. Startled, he climbed out of his bed and crept over to the door and listened. With his ear pressed against the cold wood, he could hear his panicked mother’s voice. Don’t touch my baby, she said. You can’t have him. The opposing voice was frustrated and irritated. He’s my son, too, it said. There were sounds of a struggle. Jessie buried his head in his hands and curled up into a ball. Then, everything went deadly silent. Jessie could hear his heart beating. The doorknob turned. He stumbled away until his back hit the foot of his bed. The door slowly swung open and a dark shadow appeared. It stared at Jessie’s tear stricken face and stepped into the moonlight.
“I’m so sorry, Jessie.”
Jessie laid on the forest floor for an eternity, watching the leaves fall from the trees and land effortlessly. He pictured Emma, her smile warming every frozen nerve in his body so he could feel again. He ran his fingers through the dirt and thought about how peaceful everything seemed when his whole world was crumbling around him. He’d been in the forest for quite a while. In fact, he had no idea where he was. It didn’t matter. He wanted to stay lost forever. He wanted to escape his life, escape all the pain and confusion. He decided he’d wait for someone to find him. If they ever would.
He swore he could hear his mother calling his name like she did when supper was ready.
“Jessie!” the voice yelled. Arms wrapped themselves around Jessie’s torso. “Jess, you had me worried sick!”
It was Liam.
He kneeled down in front of Jessie and grasped the boy’s shoulders.
“We’ve been looking for you all day!” Liam exclaimed. “I thought you might’ve gotten hurt. Are you okay? Jessie?”
“I’m fine, Liam,” Jessie replied.
“Your stutter! It’s gone!”
“I know who did it,” he said.
“Did what? Are you sure you’re alright?”
“I know who killed my mom.”
Liam pulled Jessie to his feet and led him out of the woods, all the while never saying a word. Jessie knew there was nothing he could do that would bring his mother back to him. They stopped at the clearing. Liam placed a hand on Jessie’s shoulder.
“I’m so sorry, Jessie,” he said. “I can help you get through this.”
“I know what I’ve gotta do,” Jessie responded. “My mom didn’t die for nothin’, I know that, now. As soon as we get home, I’m telling Aunt Leslie.”
“Telling her what?”
Jessie watched as the sun began to fall behind the curtain of clouds.
“My dad killed my mom.”