Everything about that day was bittersweet. But bittersweet can mean so many things.
Jack grinned, the carefree fourteen-year-old, messed with his tousled brown hair as he waved to Jane from his window in the car. Jane tried hard to force a grin, but only managed a quick wave, before she turned around and faced the house that was once full of life. Full of memories. She remembered everything, the two of them chasing each other in the yard, sitting together in the swing on the strong tree, eating together in patches of grass, each of the moments postponing the fear and danger awaiting Jane at home. She closed her eyes, drowning in her thoughts, and fought the urge to smile. She wouldn’t let herself smile - it would only lead to tears.
Jack didn’t know what it meant. What it meant to Jane if he were to leave her. Alone. Only a year younger than Jack, they were like siblings, and to separate was like to lose half of herself. But John only knew happiness. It was all he had ever known. Excitement, adventure, joy, love, happiness. His life was full of it.
Jane was happy for Jack. She tried very hard to be. The bitter jealousy kept tingling in her, but she pushed it back and chided herself, I should be happy for Jack, he’s going to a nicer home and a better school. He’ll be happier. But another voice always answered back, strengthening by the minute, but without you, Jane. Without you. Leaving you all alone. And he’ll forget all about you.
Closing her eyes, she struggled as she fought back tears and let herself smile. For Jack. For his sake, I can smile. I will make sure I am smiling the last time he sees me before he leaves. That is what I want him to remember.
A shaky smile arose, and Jane ignored the pang of sadness in her chest. She finally found the courage to turn around once more. The familiar buzz of the engine of Jack’s sleek, shiny car filled her ears as she called out, “Remember me, Jack! Remember me!”
Jack called back, “I will!”, as he stuck his head out the window and waved back with a great big grin.
Jack was only thinking of his new home, a home that would be stories high, with endless entertainment. A swimming pool, a golf field, a basketball court, and a library. He didn’t know what he would leave behind until he lost it, and he would have to fight to get it back.
“Wait! Jack!”, Jane sprinted towards the car, slowly raising her hands over her head and down to her neck.
Groping around, as her fingers searched for the knot, and quickly untied her necklace. Gripping the necklace tightly in her hand, she panted and took a moment to catch her breath, “Jack, here. I-it’s my necklace.”.
She carefully poured the beads that she spent days molding, drying, and painting into Jack’s hand, “Take care of it! I put sweat, blood and tears into that necklace. It’s… It’s a reminder. A reminder of me for you.”
Jack curled his fingers around the necklace, and nodded his head.
Jane forced another smile, and this time it wasn’t as hard. Stepping away from the car, she raised her fingers to finger a necklace that was no longer there.
Jane thought it in her head, words too painful to say, as if the words could make it seem more real, Goodbye, Jack. Goodbye.
The last Jane saw of Jack was as he bent down to tie her necklace around his neck. And Jane watched the car drive off into the distance, until it was no more than a dot.
Jane dreaded the walk home. It was nothing new. The same, settling feeling of dread, as if her body was preparing for what was to come. The familiar houses lined up along the way, the same old dog barking at her as she passed by and tossed some bread crumbs she always kept in her coat pocket. Children ran in their yards as their mothers called them in for supper. It was all the same thing she saw every day, as she walked to her house that she could not call home, each step a moment closer to danger. Yet something was different this time. Everything was the same, but nothing was.
A different kind of dread settled in her stomach, a feeling of dread worse than any other - a moment of realization, like a settling storm, as Jane remembered that Jack was gone. Forever.
She knew she would never feel the lifting relief as she stepped foot into Jack’s house. She knew she would never walk past the familiar houses lined up along the way, or feed the same old dog barking at her as she passed by, or see the children running in their yards as their mothers called them in for supper.
She would only know dread from now on. The same sinking feeling she felt now - she knew she would feel it for the rest of her life.
She would live in a world of darkness and fear.
Jack excitement was only rising, and it seemed like there would be no peak. Sure, he missed Jane, but his uncontainable elation blew it away in a gust of wind, towering his momentary sadness like a wave had swirled over and around, letting it drift away.
Each minute passed by like Jack was climbing stairs of happiness, each step leading to only more.
He knew his parents were waiting for him at his new house.
Jack couldn’t stop grinning, as he mindlessly fiddled with Jane’s necklace. He had never worn a necklace, and never felt the desire to, but once Jane’s necklace was securely tied around his neck, he felt as if it were a part of him. It felt like he had taken a part of his old home with him.
As much as he missed the comfort of his old home, he thought of all the new friends he would make, how much better his new home would be, and how much cooler his new school would be. The possibilities were endless.
He felt as if it were impossible to be sad.
Jane rested her hand on the cold, unforgiving handle, and her fingers trembled slightly as she turned it. She did not know if she would come home to a fight, or silence, or to the calm before a storm. Anything was possible.
She sighed, thinking that her day couldn’t possibly get worse. She was wrong.
“M-mother? F-father? I’m ho-”, Jane froze, and couldn’t believe what she saw.
Jane’s father held a suitcase in one hand, a passport in the other.
He gave her a grim smile, “Hello, dear. I’m sorry, but I simply cannot bear your godforsaken mother anymore. I...I must leave.”
Father is leaving me alone with… with Mother?
“But you can’t possibly-”
“I’m sorry, Jane”, Jane’s father cut her off in a tight voice, and he closed his eyes, taking a deep breath before continuing, “I-I have to go. I can’t be here anymore. Your mother won’t let me anyways. I’m done watching her drunk every night, having affairs all the time. I’m done, Jane. I’m so sorry.”
Jane had never seen his father so tired, so… empty before. A sudden thought grasped her mind, and hope trickled in, “C-can you take me with you?”
If it were even possible, Jane’s father looked even more drained, as if the life were sucked out of him, “I-I can’t dear. I cannot take care of you too. I’m afraid you must stay here with your... mother.”
Without another word, Jane’s father swiftly walked past Jane, pulled the handle down, and shut it behind him.
Jane froze, fear clawing her heart, feeling like she could never be happy again.
“Where’s your sorry excuse of a father?”, Jane’s mother yelled down the hall.
Jane’s fear rose even higher, her thoughts a blur, “He left”, was all she could say.
“He… what?”, Jane’s mother snarled, gripping her bottle of wine so hard her knuckles turned a ghostly white.
“H-he left forever, and he said-”
“I DON’T CARE WHAT HE SAID! THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT!”
“M-Me?”Jane shuddered violently, as she watched her mother stumble towards her.
Jane’s mother tossed the bottle at Jane, the glass shattering at her feet, and shards flying high enough to cut her face, “YOU DID SOMETHING, DIDN'T YOU? YOU WANTED TO BREAK ME! I RAISED YOU, YOU INGRATE! THAT SON OF A-”
Jane was frozen, afraid her mother would kill her on the spot after what just happened, all the words her mother said became a blur. She did the only thing she knew how to do.
It was all a blur. She only remembered tearing open the door, and tore off as far as she could.
She only had one thought in mind, and she knew that if she didn’t, she might not survive.
Run, Jane. RUN!
The car stopped, and Jack’s excitement peaked, as he hollered “WE’RE HERE!”.
“Sorry, Jack”, the driver said, “We aren’t there yet. But I received a call from your mother.”
Jack was confused, “Mother?”
“S-she said that they were in a terrible accident. They were about thirty minutes ahead of us, and they were thirty minutes away from your supposed new home.”
Supposed?, Jack’s heart dropped, anxious for the driver to get to the point, What is that supposed to mean?
“Your mother is on the way to the hospital, and your father… I’m sorry, Jack.”
Jack froze in fear and shock, knowing the next words that would come out of the driver’s words.
“Your father didn’t make it.”
Jack’s world swirled in circles and everything around him became a blur. He was being sucked into a whirlpool, a blender with blades at the bottom, and he was sinking towards the bottom. He was drowning.
“Since your father is the one taking care of all the finances, and your mother has no job, your new home has been sold so your mother’s medical bills could be paid. Your mother, afraid she cannot support a child, has decided to send you to an orphanage so she could support herself with what little money she has left.”
One moment, he couldn’t be happier. Another moment, he couldn’t be more miserable.
Jack’s world immediately fell apart.
He was being teared into a million pieces.
He couldn’t be sent to an orphanage. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t.
So he ran. Away from his problems, his worries, his fears, his loneliness, his anger, his frustration, his life. But he could have just as easily been running right towards them.
The two of them ran, together yet apart.
And running towards each other.
Jane ran to Jack’s house, and ran down the dirt path that Jack’s car made as it drove off only a few minutes ago. But it felt like years ago to the both of them.
Jack wanted to see his old home, to cherish his old memories before he lost it all, and he ran down the path he just went down.
Jane was determined to find Jack, and Jack was determined to find Jane.
The long moment stretched out, but felt no longer than a minute.
And soon, their paths collided. Right into each other.
The second they saw each other, they ran into each other’s arms, holding each other tightly, each enjoying the comfort of the other.
They were no longer alone.
They were no longer apart.
And, together, they shared tears, sharing the memories and the moment.
It was a bittersweet memory.