But, tell me what you think! I greatly appreciate comments and constructive criticism ;)
“I’m sick of them. I’m leaving.”
“I’m sick of them too,” she piped in.
“No,” he said looking down at her. “You’re not.”
“Yes I am, Jackson,” she declared, placing her hands on her hips. “I am, I am, I am.”
“No, you’re not. So just, just shut up.” Jackson spun on his heel and went over to the window.
Avery summoned up all of her ten-year-old charm and stepped quietly to her brother’s side. His forehead was pressed against the glass and the warmth of his breath was making a cloudy spot. Avery reached over and drew a squiggle in the moisture. Jackson glanced down at her and kind of wished he hadn’t said shut up. Then, he stiffened his face. He could make himself look stern. Easily.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“Nothing,” Avery answered, busily breathing on the window and making cloudy spots of her own.
“Hah,” Jackson said, with an almost-smile. “Like I really believe that.”
Avery smiled. Jackson pulled out one of the dining room chairs and sat down. Neither of them said anything for a while. Avery sat down in his lap, leaning her head on his shoulder. Her hair smelled clean. Jackson smoothed one of her stubborn curls. The cuckoo clock in the hall struck the hour. Avery jumped. 4 o’clock.
“Okay Av,” Jackson said, lifting her off his lap and standing up. “I’ve got to go.”
Avery nodded. “Me too,” she said, taking his hand. “Let’s go.”
“Avery Claire!” Jackson shouted. “You can’t come with me. You hear?” He sighed and swallowed. Then began again in a quieter voice. “They love you. Mom and, and Gary love you.”
“They love you just as much as they love me,” Avery said. “Which is zero.”
“That’s not true,” Jackson said. “They, uh, they took you to the zoo for your birthday. And to the movies last week. Take a look at all the toys in your room. They love you, Av. You’re pretty, and you’re little. And, and they love you.” He mentally kicked himself at the stupid arguments he had just presented.
“Do you have any idea how annoying it is to be kept just cause you’re little and pretty?” Avery stomped her foot. “I’m not always going to be little and pretty! ” She was shouting now. “I can’t stand Gary. And he can’t stand me. No matter how nicey-nice he acts, he hates me.” Avery crossed her arms and turned away. “And I’m not dumb. Those things you’re telling me are things you’d tell a baby.”
Jackson groaned. He couldn’t take a little kid with him. Even if that little kid happened to be his sister. Why’d she have to be so smart?
“He’s your step-dad,” Jackson said. “Don’t be disrespectful.”
Avery looked up at him with a smirk. “Hypocrite,” she said sweetly.
“How do you even know what that means?” Jackson asked, forbidding himself to smile.
“You say it all the time, Jack,” she informed him. “When you’re talking about Gary.”
“I’m a bad influence on you, Av,” Jackson sighed. “That’s another reason you need to stay here.”
Avery laughed. “You’ve already lived with me for my whole life. I think the damage is done.”
“Good bye, Avery,” Jackson said, reaching down to give her a hug. She leaned against him, and gave him a limp squeeze. He pressed a quick kiss on her forehead. “I’ll miss you,” he added, as he turned and walked down the hall. She didn’t answer.
He trudged up the stairs and into his bedroom. He stuffed a couple changes of clothes into his backpack, along with his kindle, and iPod, and his wallet. He went into the bathroom where he grabbed a tube of toothpaste and his toothbrush and put them into the bag. Then, he hurried down the dark hallway to his mom’s and Gary’s room.
He used to come down the hall a lot when he was little if he had a nightmare or something. That was when his dad was alive though, so it was different. He felt like a trespasser now. The bed was unmade and clothes were flung everywhere. The dresser was strewn with his mom’s makeup. Disgusting. Jackson swallowed and walked confidently over to Gary’s closet. He rummaged through the small box on the shelf and brought out a roll of dollar bills. It wasn’t stealing. This was his step-dad, after all. Gary wouldn’t want him to starve. Jackson stuck the money into his pocket.
He went over to the dresser and opened the top drawer. It was his mom’s. Wrong drawer. He started to close it again, but then something caught his eye. He pulled out the tiny picture frame. It was a picture of his mom and dad. On that cruise to the Bahamas when Jackson was six. She was so beautiful without her makeup on, with the wind in her hair, with his dad’s arm around her.
Jackson looked at the picture for a very long time. Then, he slid it into his pocket. He slowly closed the drawer. He glanced up. There was a giant picture of his mom and Gary on the wall. They were at some formal dinner for Gary’s job. Gary was sporting his usual leer. His mom was wearing something that was, frankly, inappropriate. Jackson was ashamed that she was his mother. He pulled the picture frame out of his pocket, dropped it on the floor, and crushed it with the heel of his shoe.
He pulled open Gary’s drawer, grabbed the keys to the old Prius, and left the room, giving the picture frame one final crunch as he did.
Jackson headed out the back door to the garage where the Prius was parked. Sliding into the driver’s seat, he tossed his bag into the back and cranked the car. He pulled out of the garage and started down the street, out of the neighborhood. It was just starting to get dark. His mom and Gary would be arriving at the cocktail party right about now. Gee, he sure hoped that Avery would just go to bed on time and not sit up all night waiting for them.
It’s really boring driving by yourself. Especially at night. Jackson flipped on the radio and scanned through the stations for a while but as usual there was nothing good on. He drove on for about an hour and a half. He didn’t even know where he was headed. He just drove. On the interstate. Toward the south. He just kept going. Anywhere was better than home.
A light came on, telling him that the gas tank was almost empty. So he pulled off the interstate at the next exit.
He stopped at a little gas station right off the interstate. The place was pretty much deserted. Except for a couple of creepy looking guys in a pickup truck. While the gas filled the tank, he leaned against the car. Finally. He was out. Free. No more screaming arguments. No more step-dads that smelled like beer half the time. No more mothers that ran their long painted fingernails through your hair and told you lies. No more---
“Oh shoot!” He slapped his palm against his forehead. He had totally forgotten about Avery’s supper. He tapped his fingers against the car window, wondering what he should do. Then, he pulled his phone out and dialed Avery’s number. He didn’t think Avery should have a phone in the first place. That had been Gary’s idea. But might as well use it. It only rang once.
“Hey,” she said.
“Look, uh, Av,” Jackson said, stopping the gas pump and pulling the nozzle out.
“Yeah. What?” she said.
“You aren’t mad at me, are you?”
“Why would I be mad at you?” she said. “You’ve only betrayed me, treated me like a baby, lied to me, and tried to run away without me.”
Jackson sighed. “I know. I know. Look. It’s what’s best for you. And I didn’t call to argue either. There’s a frozen pizza in the freezer on the porch. You know how to cook that, right?”
“Yeah. Since I was like six years old,” Avery retorted. “But, um, I can’t really get to the freezer right now.
“Do what?” Jackson asked, absently, replacing the cap on his gas tank.
“Just use your brain,” Avery laughed.
“What do you mean?” Jackson said, heading toward the gas station to buy a soda.
“Oh, and get me a Coke. Cherry Coke if they’ve got it,” Avery said. “Bye.” And she hung up.
Jackson turned around with the phone still at his ear. He walked slowly back to the Prius. He opened the passenger side door and looked down at Avery, who was contentedly munching on a snickers bar. He didn’t say anything as he put the phone back into his pocket.
“Back already?” Avery asked. “Where’s my Coke?”
“What are you doing?” Jackson said.
“Um,” Avery shrugged. “Sitting? You know, you forgot to bring food.” She showed him the backpack on her lap. It was filled with snacks. “So I grabbed this stuff on the way out.”
“How’d you get here without me seeing you?” Jackson asked.
“Easy,” Avery said. “I mean, have you seen any of those movies where some kid hides in the backseat? There’s a bunch of them. And like you said, I’m little.” She smiled.
Jackson shook his head. “Should have known.” He looked down at her. She would be good company. Never at a loss for something to say. Maybe he shouldn’t leave her with them.
“Yeah, you should have known,” Avery agreed. “I was like, is he ever going to realize I’m here? It was so stuffy and---”
“Uncomfortable, huh?” Jackson said.
“Yeah,” Avery said. “It’s a whole lot nicer in this seat.” She leaned back and smiled. Jackson closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose with his thumb. No, no. What had he been thinking? She needed to stay home. Where she belonged.
“Yeah? Well you can enjoy it on the ride back home,” Jackson told her, making himself slam the door, and walking over to the driver’s side.
“ Aw come on, Jackson,” Avery said when he sat down. “Don’t be like that.”
“Just be quiet for a change,” Jackson said and started the car. “Be quiet and do what you’re told. I’m taking you home. And that’s where you’re staying.”
Avery turned away and stared out the window. “Sometimes…” she started. “Oh just never mind.”
“You are the most difficult person I have ever met,” Jackson said.
Avery ignored him.
She didn’t speak until right before he pulled out onto the interstate again.
“It’s nine-thirty,” she said.
“Yeah. I know,” Jackson replied. “I can tell time.”
“Hmm,” Avery shrugged. “Okay.”
“Why does it even matter?” Jackson asked, turning to look at her.
“We won’t get home till at least eleven,” Avery yawned and adjusted her skirt. “And by then they’ll be back. Gary has that big business meeting early tomorrow. And so, “ she shrugged again.
“Oh, nice try,” Jackson said. “It’s not gonna work though.”
But he pulled the car over to the side of the road. He ran his fingers through his hair and sighed.
“You are so---,” he struggled for words. “Okay. Okay. Fine. You win.”
“Win?” she grinned. “Thought you said it wasn’t gonna---“
“Just be quiet before I change my mind and take you back,” Jackson said.
“You won’t,” she informed him. “You wouldn’t risk getting caught and having to stay there, yourself.”
Jackson reached over and pushed her. Gently.
She fell asleep some time past midnight. Jackson had decided that he would drive through the night. People did it all the time.
But it’s easier said than done. Without Avery’s chatter, his eyelids began to droop. The headlights of the other cars blurred together in slow streaks of light. Jackson squeezed his eyes shut and reopened them several times. But at a little after one, he had to stop. He pulled off the interstate into the closest exit. It was a small town. Deserted. Everyone was asleep. The stores were all closed. Jackson drove the car behind the little supermarket and parked. No one would even find them there. And they would leave by morning. Before first light. He curled up in his seat, leaning it all the way back and was asleep before he had time to think.
He heard the tapping like it was in another world. Another lifetime. He turned away and put his arm over his face.
“Shh,” he said.
“Go away,” Jackson replied.
“Jackson, really. You need to wake up.”
Jackson opened one eye and glared up at Avery. She was shaking him. When she saw that he was somewhat awake, she pointed to his window. He turned slowly, painfully. Sleeping in the car wasn’t exactly pleasant. Then he sat bolt upright. A man was standing outside. Tapping on the window. He didn’t look happy.
Jackson rubbed his eyes and sat up straighter. The man motioned to him to roll the window down. Jackson turned the keys in the ignition and rolled the window down about an inch. The man put his mouth up to the crack.
“What are you doing?’
Jackson glanced at Avery who was trying to hide a grin. Why did she always smile when something terrible was happening? “We, uh,” Jackson sighed. “We were, are on a trip. Um, it was really late last night, and so we, uh, we just figured it’d be okay to sleep here for the night?” He forced a grin and shrugged. “We better be on our way now, so, uh.”
“Don’t you know it’s against the law to sleep in your car?” the man demanded. “You’re breaking the law. You can get a hefty fine for this, young man.”
Jackson stared at him. He hoped his face looked blankly innocent.
“No sir,” he said. “I had no idea, sir. My little sister and I, we’re headed to Florida to visit our Aunt Martha. We just, uh. I’m very sorry about this. Won’t happen again.”
“Well, see that it don’t,” the man said. “There’s hotels that are made for sleeping in.”
Jackson smiled and started to roll the window up, but not before Avery spoke.
“Only we don’t have money for hotels,” she said, shrugging.
Jackson whipped his head around to face her.
“What?” she mouthed, big-eyed.
The man looked at them quizzically. “Why don’t you just wait right here for a minute?” he said. And it wasn’t a request. It was an order. He walked a few steps away and pulled out his cell phone.
“What in the world possessed you to say that, Avery?” Jackson said in a loud whisper. “Won’t you ever learn to just keep your mouth shut?”
He slammed his fist on the steering wheel.
“Well, that’s the end of that,” he said. “You know what he’s doing? He’s calling the police. They’ll figure out who we are. And they’ll take us right back home.”
Avery looked at her toes.
“I knew I should never have let you come along. Would have been fine if I were on my own. Would have been long gone. Safe. Never have to go back. But now.” Jackson shook his head. “This is all your fault. How do you feel? Huh?”
He looked over at Avery. “Huh? You’ve officially ruined it all. Feel good about it?”
A tear dripped off of Avery’s nose. “No,” she said. “I’m sorry Jackson. Really, I am.”
She looked straight into his eyes, her own swimming. “I wasn’t thinking.”
“Well, that’s not good enough,” Jackson continued, ignoring the tears. “You can’t just always say that about everything. You’ve got to think. Think Avery. Before you talk. You never think.”
Avery put her hands over her face. “Well I sure wasn’t thinking when I said I wanted to come with you. I wish I’d never come,” she sobbed. “You’re mean, anyway. I like them better than you. Just go. Go away. He can’t catch you if you leave now. ” She got out and slammed the car door.
Jackson sighed. She ran over to the man on the phone. Jackson put the car in drive and pressed hard on the gas.
“I like them better than you,” she had said. Jackson slammed his fist against the radio button and turned the volume up. Loud.
“I wish I’d never come.” Well he sure didn’t blame her for that. He wished she hadn’t come too.
Jackson flipped off the radio. “Yes, I do,” he said aloud, to make sure. “I wish she hadn’t come.”
He nodded, proud of himself. Things would be much better now. Avery would go home where she belonged. Where all her friends lived. Where their mom was. And Jackson could go on alone. Quicker. More efficiently. Alone. Without a pesky little sister. Alone. Alone
He glanced over to the seat beside him. Avery’s backpack was still sitting there. Full of candy bars, Pringles, toothpaste and a change of clothes.
He slammed on the brake. After chewing on his lip for just a moment in thought, he turned the car around and drove slowly back to the supermarket parking lot. Avery was still standing there with the man. They were talking. The man looked quite upset. Jackson sighed and shook his head. Oh well. It didn’t really matter anyway. They’d get out of this mess somehow. Together.
Then he stopped the car and got out with the backpack.
“Hey Av,” he said. “You forgot your stuff.”