Jamie always tried to listen to the people who spoke to her, but in this house she felt free to just enjoy the scenery. She knew exactly what they were saying anyways, so instead of listening to the woman across from her, she began following the curves of the home she had built. From where she sat in the living room she could see the entirety of the one room house and the gorgeous glacial lake nearby out her floor to ceiling windows.
She loved being here more than anything in the world, the view made her feel powerful, and the familiarity, brave. Sometimes she would spend hours just to let herself enjoy being in this quiet place, but most of the time there was business that required power and bravery to attend to.
Like the business she was ignoring across from her.
As she turned her attention back to the human at hand, Jamie realized for the first time that this girl looked a lot like her. She was skinnier, had bigger lips, and her eyes were a rich brown instead of the sickly blue that Jamie had always hated about her own eyes, but overall there wasn’t much difference.
"It’s just too hard." the nameless girl across from her said.
"What do you mean, too hard?"
Throwing her arms up in exasperation Nameless said, "Life is! Everyone takes controls me, they take advantage of me, and they just don’t understand how hard it is with my disease. I just feel like nothing is in my hands."
"Okay, so let’s pick that apart, beginning with everyone controls you. Who exactly?" Jamie was unconsciously shaking her head.
“Mainly my mom and my brother, I guess”
Maybe we are getting somewhere… Jamie thought, ”So how do they control you,”
“They don’t let me wear the clothes I want to wear, or to see my friends. Whenever I do anything they scream at me and tell me that I am doing it wrong.” Nameless looked genuinely hurt.
Jamie was not convinced. “Alright, let’s back up, a bit. How old are you?”
“Cool, and where do you live?”
“At my mom’s house.”
Hmm… getting into dangerous territory, “Alright, and do you have a job.”
“Yes!” her face fell a bit, “Kind of. My brother gives me a salary for managing one of his offices, but I only really need to do anything once a month or so”
Oof. One of those. “So you’re getting money from your brother and you’re living in your mother’s house… right?”
“Yes, it is awful.”
“Okay, so I have an issue with you saying your life sucks. From what I can see you do nothing and get paid for it, then you pay for nothing and are upset about the structure that comes with living with another human being. As far as I can see, the only reason your life sucks is because you aren’t doing anything with it. Go out and get a job at the local McDonalds, move out, and move on for goodness sakes! And about the control thing, of course these people control you, did you expect to be able to mooch off of their houses and their money without being told what to do with it?” Jamie rolled her eyes, this one got her every freaking time. “So you are controlled because you live off of other people, I doubt you are taken advantage of, there is nothing there to take advantage...
But then the lake began to swish and an avalanche came tumbling down the mountain. Jamie only had a moment to think - What time is it? I could have sworn I left at least two hours before mom woke up - before she opened her eyes and looked down at her mom reaching across the bed and shaking her leg.
Eye’s still closed, her mom groaned "Bring my coffee."
"I’m sorry, uh, I haven't made it yet,” Jamie pushed the covers off her knees and hauled her legs off the bed. “I didn't realize you would wake up so early this morning. I’ll go make a pot right now"
As she tiptoed out of the room her mother turned over and grunted something Jamie was sure she didn’t want to hear.
Quietly, Jamie poured the coffee grounds into the filter, filled the water up so it was enough for two full cups, then began to unpack the boxes that surrounded her. The little family had moved in a month ago and between work and school, she hadn't had time to unpack much so the tiny apartment was still filled with old, torn home depot boxes. Ironically, most were themselves full of nothing but old, torn memories and gifts that her mom hadn't had the heart to give up.
The new house was smaller than the old one so all the extra boxes were difficult to deal with, but Jamie was sure she would find a way. Unpacking had become a bit of a therapy for her over the years. Each time they moved to a new house, she was able to play real life tetris, and at the same time get to know her new location. She would find all the secret nooks and by the end of the mission the new house had become as familiar as the old.
The coffee pot made a quiet ting and Jamie snatched her favorite mug from a nearby box and got up to pour the black liquid into it. A friend she had had three houses ago gave it to her for her birthday and pasted on it was all sorts of snippy quotes from various books and movies. She had memorized every one of the quotes, but every time she pulled the mug out her eyes wandered over the familiar words and she laughed again.
After adding a sugar cube and some skim milk to the coffee, she maneuvered back to the small room and placed the coffee on the nightstand.
Quietly she said, "Hey mom, your coffee is ready."
Again, her mom grunted and Jamie returned to the kitchen. A quick glance at the clock told her the early wake up call gave her a solid hour before work. Good, She thought, That gives me 15 minutes to unpack, 15 minutes to make breakfast and wake up Amy, 15 minutes to get ready, and 15 minutes to walk over to the shop. She set the respective alarms and set in to work. Seven minutes and forty two seconds into the second task on that list, her mom got up and called for a new cup of coffee, the other one had gotten cold.
Jamie snatched up another mug and filled it with the second cup’s worth of lower level addiction.
As Jamie walked in with the steaming liquid, her mom looked at Jamie’s pajamas and said "Jamie, we’re going shopping for Christmas today, get changed into something decent."
Jamie's mud hut flashed before her eyes and she thought, You know what always gets me, the fact that I support this family and you still try to tell me what to do... I have a shift at the shop today so I won’t be joining you.
Instead, she looked at the floor and mumbled, "Umm… I don't think I can go." her eyes flitted to her mother's blank face, "I have an early shift at the flower shop today."
With an eye roll, and a sip of coffee, "Just call in and tell them you can't make it"
"Ok," Jamie's eyes reached her least favorite paint blotch on the floor, someone had managed to drip paint so it formed a twisted and broken looking bunny then had sealed it in using some type of polyurethane. She sighed, "I'll try."
"Quit if you have to. I need you to keep Amy's sticky fingers off of the stuff at the stores."
Jamie picked up the untouched cold coffee in both hands and shuffled out, dreading the call she was walking towards.
At the back of the shop, the florist clucked her tongue in frustration. Why roses? She thought. I am a freaking florist and roses are the flower I can’t learn to balance in a bouquet?
The business mobile rang somewhere in the front of the shop and she sighed, it would probably help to take a break from this arrangement anyway. She could focus on it when the cashier came in to run the shop.
Tap tapping over to the phone, she snatched it up on the last ring and answered it brusquely, but with a smile in her voice, "Hello, this is Ronnie's Flowers, how may I help you?"
A halting voice came over the phone "Hello? This is Jamie, your cashier. I know I am scheduled for 8 today, but can I get off?"
The florist’s left eyebrow shot up and she opened her mouth a centimeter then snapped it shut.
Straining to remain civil, the shop owner asked "Is there some kind of emergency? Have you found a replacement?"
"Yes, um, I have to drive my mom to the, um… doctor. She woke up hurting…"
The florist replied rather tartly, "Have you found a replacement for your 8 hour shift?"
"Um, no, not yet. I just learned I couldn't come in and I wanted to give you as much time as possible…"
30 minutes isn't exactly any better than 15 in my opinion…
The girl had continued "…to, um, know that I wasn't coming in. I will talk to the other employees though."
"You do that,” the florist replied with a deep breath “Tell me who's coming in before your shift begins."
"Okay, um, I'm sorry, again. Bye."
The florist grunted a reply then ended the call with an aggressive tap before a series of archaic curses burst out of her mouth. After ranting to herself for about 30 seconds, she paused, took a breath, and couldn't help thinking that tapping a phone was not nearly as satisfying as slamming down the receiver.
She would have to fire this one. Jamie was a nice enough clerk, and a hard worker, but this was the second time she had lied to get out of work.
"I have to drive my mom to the hospital." Seriously? She was 15 and wouldn't be able to start learning to drive for another four months, at least. Then there was the stunt about needing to take care of her sick little sister while her mom was 'at work'…
"Don't touch that Amy, it’s not ours" Jamie gently pulled her younger sister away from the baseball cap she had been stroking in the checkout line.
"Can't we get it?" Amy asked with a pout.
"No, we already have everything we need for the relatives and we got you the doll, remember?" Amy did remember, but she pushed her lips into a deeper pout anyways. Slowly the pout transitioned into a cry then a cry into a wail. Stooping down and snatching the little girl off the ground, Jamie whispered urgently, "Amy, be quiet, crying won't get you what you want, you know that," but her younger sister just hiccoughed and continued her siren call.
"Damn it, Jamie, can’t you keep a five year old quiet?" her mother snapped.
With a grimace, and another pat to the back, Jamie replied just loudly enough to be heard over the cries, "I'm sorry mom, I'm trying"
Her mom rolled her eyes, "Just give her whatever she wants, we can re-gift it to someone"
Jamie’s house slammed down around her and with a kind of dead-pan ferocity she said, Of course, so we can continue to foster the monster you have already created?
Internal outburst aside, she merely said, "okay," and handed the cap to Amy who immediately smiled a self-satisfied tear-stained smile that made Jamie want to put the source of her glee back on the shelf. Instead, she focused on her mom’s slouching back as they were called over by the store clerk.
"Hey, uh, Jamie. Right?" a sickeningly familiar voice said.
Jamie's eyes froze somewhere above the clerk's head and she kept them there resolutely. Inside she whimpered, I never prepared myself to fight two monsters at once…
Jamie’s mom filled the silence, "You two know each other?"
"Well, kind of, we go to the same school. We only officially met recently though" the cashier said nonchalantly.
‘We only officially met recently’ she repeated In her head. Yeah, right, when I was stupid enough to agree to buy my mom drugs and I mistook you for the dealer?
Ever perceptive and drunkenly honest her mom smirks, "Hell” she stops to squint at his name tag, “Frank, what did you do to her? She looks like a dead fish out of water."
"Nothing that I know of" Frank shrugs, clearly confused.
How could he know after all, Jamie’s shame at being complicit in her mom’s addiction. He was waiting for the same dealer after all, his dad and he had planned to do lines together that night.
Her mother repeats, "Nothing that I know of," in a poor imitation of Franks voice, then continues, "Please, my daughter isn't that much of a pushover, you clearly messed with her, so what was it?" She gives him a once over "You seem like the low self esteem kind, did you bully her? Don't blame you for the low self esteem, not much there to love. But bullying is such a weak escape, go hit the gym or something." Her mom paused for a second, seemingly waiting for a confession.
When the cashier just stared dumbly back at her, her face turned suspicious, then to a mask of rage, "Did you assault her? If you fu…"
The dumb, confused expression on jumped off of Frank’s face and he rushed to say, "No, no, no. I just bullied her. I am a psychological bully. I don't touch people uh… ever because they’re uh… dirty?" he looked at Jamie and silently pleaded with her to clear up her mother's confusion, but Jamie's eyes were still fixed resolutely above his head and she could hardly breath, let alone defend anyone against her mother's wrath.
"You weak little b***,” her mom continued, her volume level on a slow decline from its peak when she had been cut off, “Is your dad ashamed that he raised such a repulsive child, or is he the same way?"
"No, mam, he's not the same way. My dad is very ashamed of me." by now Frank was beat red and Jamie suspected admitting his father was ashamed of him hit a little too close to home.
"I’m going to write you up to the school.” Jamie’s mom whipped out her phone to write down the his name, and with a grunt added “I hate looking at people like you, they disgust me. You disgust me."
Finally, Jamie interrupted in a small voice. "Uh, mom, it isn't like that, he isn't that bad"
Her mother scoffed, and jabbed a finger at her "Don't you try to defend this boy, I got a clear confession from him!"
"No, um, it’s just that…” Jamie knew what came next couldn’t be the truth, the confession was too fresh, and she didn’t really want to disenchant her mother of the idea that she wasn’t a pushover. “ We're trying to be friends now and you writing him up might not be helpful for that, uh, process" Jamie winced at the weak lie, but hoped it stood up.
"I don't want you to be friends with this pig,” her mom said looking the cashier up and down.
Thinking fast, Jamie whipped out a card she could only pray would work, "Um, the uh… school counselor said that it was important for my recovery to be friends with him. Otherwise I would believe the things he said, or uh... something like that,” she said the last phrase like a question.
Somehow, the logic held. Her mom grumbled, "Stupid f***ing counselors," but seemed to let the topic go.
Jamie knew if she ever tried to lie to anyone but her mother she would need a serious update on her skills. Good thing she didn’t lie to many people. Except for her boss at the flower shop…
Frank passed the rest of the groceries across the scanner, the constant beep, beep, beep the only noise that interrupted the thick silence that defied the busy supermarket.
As they walked out the door, Jamie felt a tear threatening to fall down her cheek. She had talked to one person on a friendly basis in high school, and the only other person she had talked to out of school knew that her mom was a druggy and that she herself was a complete pushover.
Still, she felt a little bit of a gentle warmth to that tear as well, her mom had actually been a mom for a couple minutes. Her mom had defended her with no explanation just because she looked uncomfortable. The fact that the whole situation had been a lie didn't erase that little joy.
She piled the gifts into the car calculating the percentage of her paycheck they had just spent, and after some thought decided she would need to pull another night shift at the restaurant to make ends meet. Then settled in the car herself, closed her eyes and tried to imagine how that situation would have gone down if she had reacted property, realized that it would never have happened if she had simply not agreed to buy drugs for her mom and decided to create something new instead.
She estimated she had about 30 minutes before they got home, so that gave her some time to play around with any given situation at least two or three times.
She watched as her stone walls were remade in front of her, every time recreated a little different depending on her mood. Today the sky was grey, but the house itself seemed to shine a white that defied the weather that surrounded it. Somehow it was gorgeous, if a little gloomy.
Inner Jamie grinned and walked in the house. Grabbing a quick glance at the mirror as she hung her keys on the hook, she realized for the first time that she looked a little different here. All her features were the same, but instead of grimacing at her reflection, like she normally did, here she smiled into her completely unnecessary reflective key hook.
She turned around and conjured up the enemy on her couch, finally ready to fight the various battles she had chosen to ignore, yet again, today.
The first thing the manifestation of her daily irks said was "Ugh, you're late, did you at least bring coffee?"
Jamie gave her a gleaming smile and said, "Oh contrar, you were early! Why don't you come on over to the kitchen so I can show you how to make coffee. This way you never have to wait for me again."
Her oh-so-familiar opponent's jaw dropped yet again…
Real Jamie was grinning as well, at least until her battle of wits was cut short.
Did the car door just open? Jamie looked up at her clock, there was no way it had already been 30 minutes, was there?
She opened her eyes and looked out at some roadside bar. No, they certainly weren't home. She always hated it when her mom did this, driving home afterwards was a nightmare, but most of the time she didn't get so sloshed that anyone caught her. Guess we'll have to wait it out and hope for the best.
Her mom returned 20 minutes later looking a little hazy, but fine enough.
Two minutes later, she certainly wasn’t ‘fine enough’ and the second hand station wagon they had picked up off of craigslist was swerving down the road at an uncomfortable rate.
Jamie looked up into the rear view mirror to check Amy’s buckle as the car lurched to the side and she had to use her balled up fists to stop her head from smashing into the window. Good, Jamie thought Amy is asleep, for now at least...
Timidly, Jamie put in her two-cents, “Hey um, mom. I don’t think you should be driving right now.”
Her mom scoffed, “Why not? Are you gonna drive us home?” She chuckled, “I don’t think so… Not while I’m here, because that” she turned to the side and gave what was supposed to be a pointed look to her daughter “would be illegal.”
“No, I wouldn’t drive,” slightly stronger now as her mom swerved away from the curb she had been approaching, “but you shouldn’t be either! Drinking and driving is also illegal!”
Something between a hiss and a laugh gurgled from her mom’s throat and she burped before saying “Oh, come onn… How could I, the queen of fun, raise such a straight jacket?” She dropped the wheel and pushed Jamie playfully as the car began careening to the side of the road.
“MOM.” Jamie almost yelled the title, waking up her sister in the process, then with a breath, “Please, keep your eyes on the road!”
“Wha’?” her mom grinned, “You afraid I’m drunk? Ha! I’m not! If I ‘uz drunk I wouldn’t be able to do this!” Her mom yanked the wheel the left then the right barely missing on coming traffic and repeatedly cutting off cars in her own lane.
"MOM! STOP THE FUCKING CAR!"
In the back Amy began to pout, then cry.
“C’mon, now you’ve scared Amy. And wha’ for? ‘Cuz I was havin’ a little bit of fun?” The drunk woman, becoming ever more drunk by the minute turned an unfocused but disapproving eye on her daughter…
Suddenly there was a flash of bikers reflectors on the windshield; a sickening thump thump; an ear-splitting scream.
Even through the drunken haze, her mom knew what had happened and she just kept driving forward in a grim silence for 13 seconds until Jamie’s head cleared and began screaming over Amy’s now terrified shrieks.
“MOM! GET TO THE SIDE OF THE ROAD!”
“Nah, I’ma go for a bit, Kay? If uh stop now the poliz will find me and then I’ll go to jail. How’d you two live?”
“NOW. GET TO THE SIDE NOW!”
"I will, jus.. just I need to go up there. I'm full.. Full.. Fully…" she laughs quietly to herself then continues "in control, that guy swerved into me. It wazz his fault"
Suddenly, Jamie calmed along with one of her mother’s acceleration spurts as she spotted a decent sized shoulder coming up.
"No mom, right now. I need you to stop the car. I am getting out right now if you don't stop." Jamie popped the door open and the wind whistled through the cracks. She imagined that her soul would make the same sound when it left her body. Nothing special, just a slight exhalation and whisper of something that no one has ever seen.
Now unsure, Her mom stuttered, "No, get bu… bu… back in the car Jamie, I love you, I would never hurt you. I promise. I um fully in control."
Jamie whispered a silent prayer and jumped.
Her feet hit the ground and windmilled several steps before sending her cheek first into the gravel on the side of the road. She screamed as the skin peeled of her face and her hands, then lay still for 7 seconds after her body finally came to a halt, her eyes clearing just in time to see her mother pull to the side of the road.
"Why’d you do zat?" Her mother yelled back grinning "Silly goose! Get back in the car."
Jamie saw her mom’s stupid face and for a moment was filled with enough rage to push herself off the pavement and to the right side of the car where her supposed mother hung out of the window.
She looked directly in the deep brown eyes she had always wanted, and ripped the key out of the ignition. Turning to the back of the car she unbuckled the screaming Amy and cuddled her to her undamaged cheek as the tears began to flow down her face ploughing through the dirt and leaving burning streaks of salt behind.
As Amy quieted, Jamie pressed the key into her own palm, closed her eyes, and flashed back to the accident.
She saw the look of surprise then terror on the man's face as he was flung from his bicycle into the road. She felt the double bounce like a speed bump taken too fast and heard a scream resonate through her skull. She remembered instinctively looking back and seeing traffic stop as some lady ran into the road and helped him off the pavement. She saw again his look of agony, and the mangled leg that trailed behind him.
Numb, all Jamie could think was thank god he didn’t die.
Her mom ripped her out of the gruesome memory, "Jamie! Give muh the Chabbi," she chuckled to herself, "I mean, the key - I guess I still have some Punjabi in there somewhere!"
Jamie built the familiar walls of her house around her and her mom. “No.” she said.
"Buba, this is wha’ you don’ know, if we stay here, the po-poliz will get me. Kay?” her mom raised both her eyebrows and bobbed her head as if explaining something to a child “Then they will put all the blame on muah for the accident. But I clearly had right way… way right?" She furrowed her brows. “AH! Right of way. That. It was mine”
"I do understand. I am not giving you the key." Gone was the girl who made two cups of coffee in the morning.
"C'mon, jamie. I can def’nately drive. It’ll be fine, kay? Jus let me go up one more street and if I am not fine I will give you the key, kay?"
"And you will stop like you did when I told you to last time." Amy gripped Jamie’s hand more tightly.
Her mom’s face brightened like the pennies they used to polish from the fountains, "Yes! ‘Xactly, you get it!"
"Last time you didn't stop until after you ran over a man and I jumped out of the car. No. I am not giving you the key." The tears were gone now, and the rage had quieted. Now all that was left was pure determination and her stare was as frigid as the lake in her mind.
"C’mon, I wuz jus tryna stop, then he ran into me before I could. You are overreacting, come on!” as her mom petulantly kicked the car Jamie transformed her into the enemy she knew so well, it didn’t take much, “give me the key we need tuh get gone. Kay? I god promis’ I am fine"
Jamie scoffed, "You’re drunk and every word coming out of your mouth is too. Your word means nothing. I am not giving you the key."
With a sneer her opponent switched tactics, "You pig, you jus’ want the whole world to find out don' you. You don' even love me. You are just ffffake."
"You're wrong. I do love you, and I want to go on loving you. I just happen to know both of us need to be alive for that to happen." Jamie stared directly at her the enemy who merely huffed and crossed her arms. “I’m getting an uber, and we’re going home without you as the driver”
The woman across from her rolled her eyes and said nothing.
Jamie stumbled up the stairs with Amy’s wet hand in hers and her mom’s weight on her opposite shoulder. After fumbling with the key for a minute, she forced the door and fall-walked into the bedroom dropping her mom on the bed, changing the woman’s smelly clothes, then tucking the blankets around her thick shoulders.
As she left her mom mumbled, “I luv you soo much Jamie, you’re my li’l baby. You should know dat’ I will always take care of you. Kay?”
The irony hit Jamie like a punch and she stifled a sob as she eeked out an, “Of course, mom.” Even before she finished saying it, her mom was deep in a drunken sleep.
She smashed the emotion down her throat and deep into her core. First, we calm Amy then comes… well, whatever is next.
2 years 5 months, some night shifts, and a sobriety program later
This morning there was another early avalanche. Jamie got up poured the beans into the coffee pot, and added only one cup worth of water, then began to unpack the boxes. She decided this journey would have to be taken one day at a time. Today she would find a way to tell her mom that she would have to drink lukewarm coffee if she didn’t wake up on time. Tomorrow, she didn’t know, maybe she would ask her mom to help Amy with her math homework.