Coming of Age Fiction Teens & Young Adult

Jamie regularly climbed out of her window, but never ventured beyond the porch roof. Her parents were light sleepers, and they would notice her absence within a few hours. But even if that weren’t the issue, where would she go? She wasn’t dating anyone, or at the very least, no one was interested in her enough to show up in the middle of the night to woo her down from the ficus tree and none of her friends lived close enough to prompt spontaneous frivolity.

She lowered her supplies out of her window in a beach towel before lowering herself. Though she was nowhere near the edge, she took extra caution on this particular evening. A fall from this height wouldn't be fatal, or maybe it would be in a freak accident where she landed on her head, but she knew even a casual encounter with the pavement below would hurt and on this inky night she could easily take a wrong step. Scaling her way over to her favorite slant, she laid her supplies to the side of the house, scraping her knuckles against the shingles as she rolled out her towel. Her neighborhood was never quiet, per say. There was the persistent white noise of the highway muffled only by a chain link fence, but what she heard right now was a new kind of noise. Drifting through the early summer breeze was the sound of neighbors she had never met chatting, and occasionally, even laughing. A few of the neighbors had waved and said hello to her as the sun was setting and she had smiled and said hello back, as if their greetings were old habits. It was hard to dwell on the lives, or most likely loss of lives, of those dependent on electricity while basking in this new camaraderie from strangers.

It was hour three of the blackout, and there was no news of when power would be restored. Jamie had briefly considered the patients open on operating tables. How many of them had survived without life support before the generators kicked on? How many car crashes occurred when the lights first went out? But those thoughts didn’t linger. A wistfulness swept through all those privileged enough to only be interrupted from the mundane. They couldn’t remember the last time they had no choice but to take a break from their screens. Jamie could see beams from flashlights waving every which way down the block, accompanied by the irregular slapping and squeaking of little sneakers on concrete. Every now and then, a joyous scream would erupt, indicating the latest child to lose that round of tag. A warmth crept down her chest as she breathed in the hot dog smoke wafting from a barbecue a few houses down.

Jamie lay herself down on an angle with her head positioned to the sky and grabbed the book and flashlight she had placed against the side of the house. She had never been able to locate the stars from her home before tonight. “That big bright star is the North Star,” she remembered her dad pointing out on a camping trip when she was younger. She would spend years after that trying to determine which star was the biggest and brightest, and was always left spinning around in multiple directions thinking this might be North, but then again, that might be North also. 

She started with the constellations she could easily recognize: Little Dipper and Big Dipper. Once she located them in the sky, she clicked on her flashlight and flipped through the book’s stale pages until she found a picture of the two Dippers. From there, she was able to locate Ursa Major. She never could remember why the bear had such a long tail. After a few more clumsy attempts at trying to connect the celestial dots, she set the book aside and clicked her flashlight off.

Jamie considered how much of her studied attempt came from what she actually wanted to do with her time, and how much of it came from what she wanted to tell people she did with her time. She let go of whatever agenda she might have had for this occasion and let her eyes lose focus as she stared at the sky. She wondered if other people felt liberated by the infinite possibilities of the universe or if they felt crushed by the insignificance of themselves. She often oscillated between to two, but this evening felt punctuated by possibility, and so she began to dream about how different her life would be in Austin next year.

She remembered the first time she imagined what it would really be like to go to college. She must have been 11 or 12 when a family friend shared a picture of her and her friends at UC Santa Barbra. There were three of them in the photo at a laundromat. The girl was seated in a cart, legs kicking in the air while another girl stood behind the cart as if she was pushing it towards a washer with its door swung open and a boy stood slightly off to the side by the folding tables, cheering them on. They were all laughing so hard, there wasn’t an open eye in sight. That’s what college would be like, Jamie had thought.

She hated doing laundry in her parents' dank, unfinished basement, where she was occasionally greeted by the smell of a rat that had died deep in the corners of one of the crawl spaces. She didn't care that going to a laundromat meant having to lug your clothes and quarters down the street. Doing dishes in college wouldn't feel like a chore either. She wouldn’t shudder at the wet piece of old food she had accidentally touched because she would be too distracted by belting out songs with her roommates, pausing only to take the occasional sip of a cold beer.

Jamie had lusted over the hands she would hold, swore to never tell the secrets she was yet to exchange, drank cups of coffee thinking of her future late nights at the library, wrote her wishes in the margins of the books she would ponder, and lay in bed dreaming of the weekend outings to the tiny cheap restaurants with the best noodles in the area for years with all the friends she was yet to make but these thoughts didn't satiate Jamie quite like they used to on this unusual evening as she lay on the roof of the only home she ever known.

Out of the corner of her eye, a street lamp turned on, then another, and then the rows of houses and the apartment complex across the street began to illuminate as she watched the stars begin to fade away. The kids playing tag down the street let out a chorus of disappointed "Awws" and the laughing neighbors quieted their chatter. Jamie stared back at the glow now coming from her bedroom, but she wasn’t ready to go back inside.

April 12, 2024 19:15

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