Thursday, July 1, 2010

Jared: Chapter 2

* Second chapter of Jared...also rediculously long for a blog post*

It took her longer than usual to ready herself to leave the house. Usually she just pulled her hair back or tucked it behind her ears, put moisturizer on her face, threw on some random pair of jeans and a shirt and bolted out the door. Danielle was not someone who ever worried about her appearance. It was another part of her inherent “unawareness”. In fact Jared rarely if ever saw her look at her own reflection in the mirror. “Girly” was not a phrase that he had ever connected with his Mom. That is until she came out of the bathroom this afternoon. She had been in there for what seemed like an extraordinary amount of time.

He didn’t bother her today by knocking and asking if she was ok. They had established earlier that she was not ok. He could hear her bumping around in there though. The blow dryer was on for a while, then nothing, then the sound of plastic bags rustling around, more silence, and finally she had emerged from her tiny haven to reveal the finished product. When he heard the doorknob click open he didn’t get up; he didn’t even turn his head toward the sound. She walked out and turned a little circle and said softly, “Ta-Da!” He looked up from his reverie and was instantly in awe. He believed prior to today that his mother could not possibly be any more beautiful. He was mistaken.


She stood in the kitchen of their broken and slanting house, surrounded by furnishings and belongs which had almost always come from thrift stores or yard sales, and she looked like the most out of place person Jared could imagine. She had obviously been shopping while he was at school. The dress she wore, which was new, was a sleeveless number with an ivory sheer outer layer, peppered with wispy roses, floating over a deep rose-colored opaque layer underneath. It had a fluttery hem that slanted deeply from her left knee to her right calf and fit her so well he couldn’t remember ever having seen her wear anything else. She had new shoes to accompany, of course. Cream colored sandals with a low heel and thin straps that wound over the tops of her feet and stopped just above her delicate ankles. Her newly coppered hair was not pulled back, not was it tucked hurriedly behind her ears. Today she had taken the time to blow dry it into a soft, slightly wavy style that he’d never seen her wear before.

After the initial shock of the recently acquired clothes and shoes wore off and he had taken his eyes off her lustrous hair, he settled on her face. If he had been breathing he would have stopped. As it was, his heart nearly stopped beating. She was wearing make-up. In all of his life, Jared had not one time seen his mother wear cosmetics. This very obviously must be the reason for that. She was devastating… almost painful to look at. Her face shone with a brightness he’d never seen, her skin taking on a flawless creamy shade. Her hazel eyes seemed liquid and her lashes appeared almost like feathers they were so long and thick. The color she had chosen for her lips, and she had chosen well, was the palest whisper of rose in keeping with her dress and newly tinted cheeks.

It took only a split second for Jared to absorb what he was seeing, yet another full minute before he could speak to her. He saw a slightly worried look start to creep onto her face and he forced himself to say something before she could start assuming the wrong things. He stood and went to stand in front of her. “Mom…wow!”, he breathed. She bit her lip and looked down at her outfit. “ I don’t look stupid do I?”, she asked him quietly. Jared stifled the urge to be angry with her unawareness for the millionth time and quickly reassured her that she looked great. “Really? I mean, I don’t normally do dresses, but then again I don’t normally do blow dryers or make up or hair color either, huh?” She nervously started picking at her cuticles.

 He swallowed hard, trying to keep his voice from cracking, as it affected him more when he was anxious. “No, Mom … I mean … you’re beautiful”, he finally heard himself say. “Why are you staring at me like that, Jared? You’re acting like you’ve never seen me! Good Lord, Son, is it that bad?”, she said as she looked down at her dress, “Should I change?” He couldn’t speak fast enough then. “NO! Mom, it’s not bad, it’s just that, well, I’ve never seen you wear a dress or wear your hair that way…or wear make-up.”, he added hesitantly, “Give me a minute, Ok? It’s great, you’re beautiful…just different that’s all. She looked at him through squinted eyes, obviously suspicious of her son.

Another minute passed unnoticed by them as they stood and faced each other. Finally, he stepped forward and hugged her. She stood quite still with her hands out at her sides, unsure of how to act at the moment. Slowly, she hugged back. “ What brought that on, Jared? You’re acting so strangely today”, she said while they embraced. He pulled back so that he could see her face and looked at her incredulously. “I’m acting strange?? Mom, I’ve never seen you do more strange things in one day in my life! You’re home in the middle of day, you’ve colored your hair red, you bought a new dress, you’re wearing make up, you blow dried your hair…do you want me to go on? Is all of this because Tommy left?” She looked at him for second and said, “Yes.” He hadn’t expected the truth from her and it stunned him.

They studied each other for a while and then she said, “Where do you want to eat tonight?”, like it was the most normal thing in the world to ask. She was smiling at him like she was going to burst all of a sudden. More mischievousness. Who is this woman?, he thought to himself. Asking her questions was getting him nowhere. He was going to have to play her game…for a while anyway. “Got a place in mind?”, he asked her. She smiled bigger and said, “Yep, but you’re going to have to change your clothes.” He was the one looking down at himself now. Suddenly, in comparison to his mother, he saw what he was dressed in as shabby and poor. No wonder people looked at him the way they did. He was wearing a battered pair of blue jeans, with scuffs on the knees and frayed threads around the bottoms from walking on the hems, an old pair of tattered sneakers and a faded t-shirt that advertised a festival that he’d never even been to in another state.

 He looked back at her, and while doing a mental tally of the contents of his closet, said, “What am I supposed to change into?” He thought for sure that her face was going to split open like an over-ripe melon from the size of the grin she was showing. “Come here”, was all she said. Curious, he followed her as she turned and headed back to the bathroom. She bent down to the bags that he had heard her going through earlier. With a flair, she pulled out several things at once. Some were on hangers and some were in packages. When his eyes landed on the objects in her hands he realized that she had been shopping for him too. She stood there holding a new outfit for him complete with slacks, button down shirt, tie, socks, belt, underwear and undershirt. “Mom! These are awesome!”, he said with a smile that rivaled hers. “But, what about…”, before he could finish his sentence she had bent down and retrieved a box that had been hiding on the other side of the toilet. “…shoes”, he said, finished his thought. Still grinning, he took the box from her and opened it gently as if he might jostle the shoes too much and spoil them. Inside he found the most perfect pair of shiny patent leather dress shoes he’d ever seen. He was speechless. He kept looking from the shoes to her and back to the shoes in silence. “Oh, for goodness’ sake, Jared, try them on! Let’s see if they fit you. I might have to take them back, I wasn’t sure of the size…I mean I’ve never bought you dress shoes before.” She was rambling. He looked up at her and said, “I don’t remember having any shoes that were brand new before.”

For what seemed like the tenth time this afternoon, they were staring at each other again. The grin slid off of his face and hers too. “Where?”, he asked her. “Where what?”, she asked back. “Where did you get the money for all of this?”, he clarified. “Jared, for Pete’s Sake! What kind of question is that? I’m you’re mother…I don’t need to answer…” He cut her off. “Where Mom?”, he persisted, knowing that she would answer him sooner or later. She looked down and fiddled with the laces on his new shoes. “Well, we have one less mouth to feed around here and..” He continued staring at her as she fiddled. She wouldn’t meet his gaze.

“Jared, there is a lot you don’t know about me, Son. I’ve always known that this day would come - in some form or another. I wasn’t quite sure if it would be me that would leave or him, but I always knew in my heart that this day would come. That being said, your mother is not quite as ‘simple’ as people think she is. I’ve been saving. I know that might upset you because we’ve…well, we’ve never had very much money and life has been pretty rough for you, but you have to realize that a woman has to fend for herself in this world. It might not seem fair to you…” He cut her off, “How much, Mom?” “Well, Jared, I really can’t just …” She looked petrified of him for a split second, like the roles were reversed just this once and she was the child confessing to a parent about a hidden thing.

He put his hand on her hand again. She had fiddled until the laces of his new shoes were knotted up. “How much?”, he said slowly. She took a deep breath and without looking him in the eye, softly said, “Almost $40,000.” He felt the breath leave his lungs involuntarily. It took a moment for them to willingly re-inflate again. He was dumb-struck.

She was chewing her lip and worrying her cuticles, not looking at him, when he finally said, “Oh, Mom! Mom! Do you know what this means?”, he grabbed her by the shoulders, “Mom, this means that we can get out of this dump! We can leave here and start over! Oh, Mom!”, he launched himself at her and very nearly knocked her over hugging her. “You’re not mad?”, she laughed as she hugged him back. “Mad? Mad?! Mom, oh my goodness, this is awesome! Tommy’s gone, you’re beautiful, we’re rich… what’s to be mad at!” He let go of her and started running and shouting and dancing like a touchdown-scoring football player. She was breathless and speechless all at the same time.

“Jared, come here…calm down and come here…come here!” She was practically shouting at this point, but laughing at his antics at the same time. She finally got him to calm down and come back to her. He was breathless too by the time she settled him down. She was laughing at him and he was smiling at her with the biggest, widest grin she’d seen on his face since he was a toddler. “Jared… Jared, sweetie, we’re not ‘rich’. We’re not even close to rich…” “$40,000 Mom!”, he interrupted. “Jared, I said almost $40,000. It’s really more like $38,000 and change and that’s really not a huge amount of money.” He was gaping at her. “ I’m being real with you Jared”, she said, “It’s enough money to start living a little better, but it’s not like I won the lottery or anything! I’m not going to be able to stay at home, for instance, and start being a lady of leisure by any means.” With the smile still plastered dumbly on his face he said, “I know that, Mom, but think about what it does mean! It means that you won’t have to work doubles anymore. It’ll just be you and me and you’ll be home more and things will be great!”

She couldn’t help it, she adopted the sloppy smile of her son and put her hands on either side of his face. “How can you possibly be so happy? You come home to a missing parent and a mother whose cheese has slid off her cracker and this is the happiest I’ve seen you in years? Why?” He placed his hands on top of hers on his cheek and said, “Because this is the happiest I’ve ever seen you, you’re the most beautiful mom on the planet, no one is ever going to hurt you again and you are taking me to dinner.” Tears started to form in her eyes and her chin started to tremble as she looked in to the eyes of her nearly-grown, only son and said, “ Dear sweet Jesus, what did I do…what could I have ever done…to deserve this child?”

Jared emerged from his bedroom , dressed more elegantly than he had ever been before. The breath caught in his mother’s throat. She smiled a slight smile and trying not to embarrass him, which was becoming harder the older he got, she just nodded her head as if to say, Very nice. He fiddled with the buttons on his new shirt and shifted his weight from one foot to another while they stood silently in the kitchen, looking at each other. If he had not grown up in an essentially silent home this might have been awkward. The truth was, he did grow up in a silent home. His parents didn’t talk to each other, he didn’t talk to Tommy unless he had to, his mother was never home to talk to him…silence was the only brother he’d ever known. Danielle broke the silence with the question of the evening, “Ready to go to dinner?”

The family’s only vehicle, a dyspeptic yellow sedan that hadn’t had fabric on the ceiling since they’d owned it, was chugging along loudly as they made their way to the mystery restaurant. Danielle still hadn’t told Jared where they were going. It’s ok, he thought to himself, I can play her game. They drove along, but this time not in silence. Surprisingly enough the radio still worked in this car…even if the defrost and A/C didn’t. As they cruised down the road at a door-rattling 55 mph, his mom sang out to her favorite songs from the local country station. Her voice really was top-notch. He always loved her voice, but like everything else about his mother, he didn’t dare compliment it. In fact, if he even let her know he was listening she would have stopped right then, in true Danielle Marshall fashion. She sang all the way to Pensacola. It was odd that they had lived near the coast all of his life, but hardly ever ventured down to the city or the beach. For one, Jared’s mom worked all the doggone time and for another, they never had extra gas money. It was only an hour trip but they only made it a handful of times per year. One year they went to the beach three times. That was the record.

Growing up in Northern Florida was a little bit of an oxymoron to Jared. Technically they were Florida residents, true, but they spent more time in Alabama because that’s where his mom worked, that’s where the local bank and grocery store were and other than school, it was the only place to go. In fact, the school really was the only thing in the little township that they lived in. Trees and grass were the only landmarks here. The school Jared went to was K-12 because there wouldn’t have been enough students to split up into separate schools and it would cost too much to bus them all the way over to the other end of the county. Sometimes, Jared thought that the town was as invisible as him.

The drive down to the city was a nice one. The warm summer evening was pleasant and the traffic was light. Jared was slightly worried about how fancy their dinner would feel when they drove up the restaurant in the dilapidated car. As if reading his mind, Danielle suddenly said out loud, “We are going to ditch this car, Jared. Is that ok with you?” “Um, sure, I guess”, he stumbled. They smoothly crossed lanes and exited the interstate until they were winding their way through side streets in the historic district. Without explanation, Danielle pulled into a business parking lot, the kind you had to pay for by the hour. They gathered their things and Jared felt sure that they were going to walk somewhere. His mom didn’t move to leave the parking lot though. Instead she stood at the entrance to the lot, and glanced at her watch. Almost telepathically, a cab pulled to the curb. A sweaty man in shirtsleeves pushed his head out of the window and yelled out to them, “ You Mrs. Marshall?”. Danielle nodded with a smile and did not meet her son’s gaze as she walked to the cab confidently as if she did so every day. She paused at the door and glanced up at her son. “Oh. Sorry, Mom”, he offered as he rushed to open her door. She smirked sideways at him and slid in and across the seat to leave room for him. Mental note, he thought to himself, Ladies first…be a gentleman. He would do his best to make sure that he played the part tonight, as it may be the once chance he had to do it.

Gracefully, Danielle slid forward and said, “ Chancellor’s please”. “Sure thing, Ma’am”, said their driver. It was almost like a scene from a movie. Jared’s head was getting dizzy. He leaned back and rested his head on the stiff leather seat and watched the city lights pass. It was the second time that day that he had let his eyes go unfocused at the scenery. The bus ride home seemed like the distant past. Funny, that. You live the same day over and over your entire life and one afternoon can make it seem like just a memory. He smiled at this absently and that was the last time he thought about it.


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