Jack had been there for as long as I could remember. He was there beside me as I slept, holding me close, keeping all the bad dreams and monsters under my bed away. He was always nearby when I gave a speech or when I was the center of attention, whispering pointers and praise into my ear. He was always there to rub my back and hold my hand when I was sick, and always there to kiss me on the forehead when I laid down to sleep. He checked over my homework for me, kept me company on long trips in the backseat of the car when there was no one else to talk with, because I was an only child. He was my brother, my best friend and my teacher all rolled into one. He held my hand on the first day of school and helped me pick out what to bring to show and tell. Jack was the one who always gave his opinion on which ice cream to pick at the ice cream parlor, he was always the one to kiss my knee when I scraped it, and he was always the one to talk me out of doing anything that might cause me problems. Like climbing to the outside edges on the limbs of a pine tree.
"You don't want to fall, break your leg, have to go to the hospital, get a cast and crutches, and then have to beg Alex to carry your stuff around all day long. I doubt he will do that for more than a couple days and a cast stays on for weeks." Obviously, I complied. Jack always made good enough sense to explain why not to do something, unlike my parents who always answered my 'why nots' with 'because I said so' spiels. Needless to say, I never broke a bone, never got any limbs severed, and always wore blue, because it matched my eyes. I loved Jack more than anyone I knew.
The only problem was, no one believed he was real. Except for Alex, anyway. Ironically, no one could see him but me. I had known him for as long as I could remember, and knew he had been around longer than that, but the idea to tell anyone about him never came until I was around 6 years old. I don't think I really thought about it, it just came naturally, like I was talking about my pet goldfish. My mother and were in a large department store. A Super Wal-Mart, if I remember correctly. My mother was talking to a woman she knew from church or work or something and I had to go to the bathroom. And I mean really had to go. I tried to get my mom's attention, but she just ignored me.
I turned to Jack and said: "Come on, I have to go and she's not paying any attention to me." He warned me it was a bad idea to go without my mom knowing where I was going so I said to my mother: "Momma, I'm gonna go to the bathroom." She said something noncommittal, like 'Yeah, sure honey, whatever.' and naturally I took that for a yes. I practically ran off to the bathroom, Jack tailing not far behind me with an unsure look on his face. When I got out of the bathroom, I went back to the spot where my mom had been when I left her, but she wasn't there. With a worried look on his face, Jack told me to stay put. So I sat down and he sat down beside me on the floor. We sat there for the longest time, people watching, until finally a man went up to me and asked me if I was lost. I think he worked at the store. I said no, I just don't know where I am, where my mother is, and I am sitting here waiting for her to come back. He thought a moment, and then told me to come with him. He said he knew where my mother was and she was upset with worry over losing me. I looked at Jack, and he nodded, so I put my small hand the man's larger one and he took me to my mother.
When I first saw her she was sitting in a chair in the food court surrounded by two officers and a few of the store personnel. She was bawling and her eyes were all red and puffy. I remember wondering if that was what I looked like when I cried, all ugly and red, but then put it out of my mind because Jack said I always looked beautiful to him when I had asked him. I never once questioned him or his opinion about how pretty I was.
An instant later, my mother was smothering me like there was no tomorrow and crying some more. But when my shoulder was completely wet, she leaned back and looked me hard in the eye. Then she began scolding me. "Why did you go off alone? I told you never to go anywhere without an adult. You should have asked me. You know better than that. Why did you go off with out asking or telling me?"
When she stopped to breathe, I put in my side of the story. "But mama, I did tell you. You said 'sure honey', so I went." I saw my mother's eyes widen a fraction of an inch. She realized she did say it. Some people around me hid secret smiles. Everything was okay, but then I had to go and blow it. "Plus, mama, Jack is an adult. He was with me." Her eyes got real big and she said, really pronunciated and slow, "What did you just say?"
Oops. I clamped my hand over my mouth and mumbled through my hands. "Nurf'n." I had messed up big time now. She eyed me dubiously and repeated herself, even more slowly, with a subtle 'or else' threat underlying her words. "What. Did. You. Just. Say. Jessica. Nicole. Evans? Well?" Of course, I cowered, but finally told her. When my mother says your full name, you had better do what she wants you to do. My lower lip trembled, and as I told her I practically felt Jack wince behind me.
"I said 'Jack is an adult, he was with me.'"
My mom's eyes looked at me relentlessly, and didn't change expression. "Jack? Jack who?"
I looked at the ground. "Jack, my friend." My hands fidgeted behind my back.
"Do I know Jack?"
No, ma'am, I don't think so." I rocked back and forth on my feet.
Okay, then what does Jack look like?" The store employees and the officers looked on curiously.
Um. He's a little bit taller than daddy."
he nodded. I looked up at Jack who was standing behind my mother, who was kneeling scarily over me. It just looked like I was thinking about what she had asked me. "And....he was hair the color of your computer desk at home. You know the pretty reddish color..."
She nodded and said "Mm-hmm, and?"
"And he has pretty eyes like Mrs. Anna's cat has, only brighter." Mrs. Anna was our neighbor who had a cat named Mittens. I had always wanted a cat, but all I could get was my stupid goldfish. Mittens was black with white paws, and had the most beautiful sea-green eyes you would ever see. Except for Jack's of course. Later on, when I was around 12 and 13 I would literally dream about marrying a man with eyes like those.
"Honey, people can't have eyes of that color." I truly didn't believe her because I KNEW Jack had those eyes. They were more familiar to me than my own.
"Yes they can! Jack has them."
"Really? Well, I would like to see them. Where is your friend Jack now?" I looked at Jack again, and without speaking, kind of telepathically he said, 'Don't tell her Jessie...she won't believe you.' Jack was the only one to ever call me by anything near my first name….well except for momma but that was only when she was angry.
'Why not?' I thought back. The confused look on my face only further convinced my mother that I was thinking REALLY hard about where Jack was.
'Well...just because. Just don't tell her okay?' I sighed and looked at my mother thinking at Jack, 'Fine. I won't tell her.'
"Jack isn't here." I replied. I had realized, while I had my confused look on my face, that I was just going to have to make my mother believe I was just 'going through a phase'. That was how my mother classified every out of the ordinary thing I did, and it was the only way of getting out of this mess. "He went to go check the prices on green beans to see which was the better buy." I said lying through the two holes where my two front teeth would soon grow in. "The hairy ones from Mrs. Anna's garden or the not-hairy ones in the cans. He's older and can do things like that, so I asked him to. This is cause I asked Mrs. Anna why she had a garden and why she didn't just buy her green beans instead of growin' them and she said- ."
"Nicole, Nicole, its okay I get the picture. He went to go check the prices on the non-hairy green beans."
I nodded. "Yep yep." I said matter-of-factly. I knew she thought I was making it all up now. Good. No more Jack questions. They were starting to make me nervous. Now, about the bean thing. When I was little (younger than 6), I had eaten some of the green beans out of Mrs. Anna's garden one day she had given us some. I noticed a difference in the taste and immediately got my mom to cook some from a can to see if I was crazy. I found out I wasn't, and never ate those 'hairy-beans' again until I was around 14, when I had to eat them at a friend's house to be polite. I actually found I had a taste for them and ate them a lot more often from then on.
My mother let out a long breath and stood up. "Okay, then I guess we'll go home now." She turned to the other adults in the room and thanked them for their help.
From then on, I never mentioned Jack again. When I had asked him later on why I couldn't tell them, he looked at me and said quietly: "Because they can't see me."
"But why not?" I asked, ducking my rubber duckie under water. I was taking a bubble bath. Jack was sitting on the floor against the door.
"Because they aren't special."
I gazed at him quizzically. "You mean I'm special?"
"Oh yes. You are very special. And smart."
"You are always beautiful to me."
"Even if in mud?"
"Yes, even if you are covered in mud."
"What about...if I have make-up smudged all over my face? Like Halloween makeup? All black and red and stuff?"
He chuckled. "Absolutely."
I went to playing in the bubbles once again, and then stopped. He watched me contently. "Jack, why are you staring?"
"I'm not. Staring is rude. I am just looking."
"Because you are very beautiful."
"Even covered in bubbles?"
He grinned. "Yep."
I went back to my duckie again, but something was nagging at the back of my head. "Jack?"
"Am I really as smart as you say I am? Really?"
"Of course. Would I lie?"
"Jessie, you are very smart. Aren't you in classes with older kids? Isn't Alex older than you, but still in the same class?" Alex was my bestest friend in my third grade class. I had skipped two grades, first and second.
"Yes, I think you're right."
He only grinned.
I never knew how true his words were until I was older. I was very smart, I just didn't realize it until I had scored an almost perfect score on my SAT. I had colleges clamoring for me when I was just a junior. It hit me like a ton of bricks, just how much I didn't realize I knew. I also realized that I could do anything. It was a scary, yet exhilarating feeling. That was when I really wished Jack was there. I spent a week on vacation after high school, just lying around the beach, not thinking about particularly anything, until I came back an announced I was going to become a psychiatrist. I got in on full scholarship to a college in New York. Coincidentally, Alex had also picked a New York college and it was right next to the one I had chosen. He was going to be a art major. During the next few years, I thought back with much bitterness and realized I should have become and actress.
Over the years after the department store incident, I learned many, many things from Jack, and as I look back now, I regret that I never listened more. I regret the way that I grew away from him, the way that I forgot to say goodnight to him more and more every night, and the way I told him I loved him less and less. I regret that I didn't put more things to memory about him, like the way he moved, the way his presence felt, and how he chuckled when I used to beg him to get me out of English class somehow. The very few things that I actually remember are my most precious memories. Exactly how his green eyes lit up when he smiled. How his eyes crinkled up when he laughed. How his hair shown in the sun and how his comforting presence felt on Graduation day. My last memory of him was when I was making my speech as class valedictorian. Afterwards, I stood above my graduating class smiling for all I was worth while they danced around in circles below and hugged each other screaming 'We did it! We did it!'. I felt his presence behind me, and whipping around, I caught him standing right in front of me with a sad smile on his face. I hadn't seen him in two weeks.
'Congratulations.' he said. An overwhelming sadness filled me at the sight of his expression.
"Jack!" I exclaimed out loud. "What's wrong? Jack?"
'I love you Jessica Nicole Evans. I love you and I will never forget you. Goodbye.' And he stepped forward, kissed my forehead, looked me dead in the eye, and disappeared. And for the first time in my life, his presence was gone. I couldn't feel him at all. The sadness inside me settled in my heart and I stood there staring in horror at where Jack once stood. Tears rolled silently down my face. 'I love you…' a voice whispered, echoing all around me.
"Nikki! Nikki! We did i- are you okay?" It was Alex. The voice stopped. I tore my eyes away from the spot in the air and looked at Alex. He wasn't smiling and he was staring directly into my eyes. The curtains closed slowly around the stage and cut us off from the outside world.
"What's wrong, babe?" he asked softly.
"J- Jack..." I whispered almost silently. I had told Alex about Jack once... a long time ago, but I knew he still remembered and I knew he believed me.
His eyes widened slightly, but recovered in a spilt second and pulled me into his arms, rubbing my back slowly. "Oh, Nicole..." he whispered with a sigh. He started to rock me back and forth gently. I held onto him like a lifeline and cried quietly onto his shoulder for what seemed like forever. I later told Alex everything about Jack, and what had happened that day. I told him every little detail, and all of my theories. Alex never scoffed, got mad at me for lying, or committed me to a loony bin. He just laughed at the good memories, scolded me teasingly when I told him all the times I ignored Jack's precautions on climbing trees, and held me when I cried. We became closer than ever. He told me it wasn't my fault Jack left, and although I agreed on the outside and dropped the subject, I blamed myself on the inside. Alex never quite filled the hole that Jack had left, but tried his damnedest, and I can never repay him. I lost a large part of me that day, and never really recovered, even though no one but Alex knew.
Jack was gone.
Please R&R Everyone!