A/N Thanks to fredtheflyingfish, Qzie, and It's.Nothing.Special, as usual, I'm updating with my last chapter today. I'm sorry it wasn't up sooner, but my teachers decided to be evil and all give me tests and projects at the same time, so I've been about to explode lately. Now I just have a couple of Spanish tests and the projects left, so I can write again! Hoorah!
Anyway, this just suddenly took a darker turn, and I meant to give them a happy ending, I honestly did! But it didn't work out that way. I just couldn't write one for these two. Maybe it's sort of happy in a way... Sorry. Thanks for all your support thoughout the writing process and hope you enjoy the last installment of Two People Who Hate Each Other A Lot.
I frowned at the line of kids pouring out of the elementary school, waiting for a familiar carrot-topped figure to join them. And there he was: the slight bit of red bouncing above the rest of the heads as my nephew Jack hurried to catch up with his friends. I leaned out of the car and waved until the red turned my direction and Jack waved goodbye to scurry home.
"Hey, Jackie," I called. "You mom had a dentist's appointment, so she asked me to pick you up today."
He nodded. "She told me, Auntie Tami." To my surprise, he didn't follow that with an anecdote that I had to swear (cross my heart and hope to die) not to tell my absent sister-in-law. In fact, the entire process of tossing his backpack into the trunk, climbing into the backseat, and buckling up was done in complete silence. Shockingly unusual for Jack.
"So how was your day?" I asked finally, hoping to draw out the reason. It worked.
"Really? That sucks. What was so bad about it?"
He grunted. "Got in trouble."
"Really?" He nodded, looking downcast. "Wanna tell me about it?"
Jack sighed. "It was stupid Melinda's fault."
"What'd she do?" I adjusted my rearview mirror so I could see his face. He wasn't looking happy.
"Melinda and I were on the slide, and I was first but she said she got to go first because she was a girl, which I don't think is fair at all, do you, Auntie Tami?"
"It doesn't sound very fair, no," I agreed. "What would you do if all the girls in the school wanted to go down the slide first?"
"Exactly!" he exclaimed. "And I told her that I didn't think it was fair at all but she said that was the way things went and I had to let her go down first, it was... umm... something that starts with 'sh'...
I thought for a moment, since Jack obviously expected me to know it. "Chivalrous?"
He nodded excitedly. "That's it! Anyway, she said it was chi-val-rous for me to let her go down first, and I said I still didn't want to, so she called me a meanie and a butt-head. And then I shoved her against the side of the playstructure..." he noticed the look on my face. "I didn't mean to! I just wanted her to get out of my way because I was first, but she went flying! And then she tried to punch me and... we started wrestling."
I nodded encouragingly when he looked at me, and he continued his story..
"But the teachers saw us fighting and we got in trouble. Auntie Tami... I think I'm in hate. I know I shouldn't be, but I really hate..."
"...James," I whispered, remembering my own thoughts long ago.
"...Melinda," finished Jack. "Have you ever hated someone, Auntie Tami?"
It took me a moment to find my voice. "Yes," I said finally. "When I was about your age, I hated a boy in my class, named James. We fought once, a lot like you and Melinda."
"What happened to him?" asked Jack.
"We went to the rest of elementary school together, then middle school, then high school. The whole time, we hated each other. It never got any better. We lived in the same town as adults and hated each other. I tried to make up with him once, but it didn't work. We had just hated each other for too long. We couldn't change."
"So it's okay? You're not a bad person if you hate someone?" asked Jack.
I sighed. "I can't answer that, Jackie," I said finally. "I just don't know."
"But you aren't a bad person, and you hate James!"
"That doesn't make it right," I told him. "I've hated James for thirty-one years now, and do you know what? If I could change it, I would never have gotten mad at him all those years ago. If I had a choice, I wouldn't have hated him."
"So why do you?" challanged Jack.
I sighed. "It's too late now," I told him.
"Mom told me it's never too late. She says you have full control over stuff like that, and unless Mom's wrong, you don't have to hate James."
"No, I tried to make up with him once, remember? He hung up on me."
"So? That doesn't mean you have to hate him!"
I started to answer and then stopped, staring out the window as a car barreled down the lane towards us. I checked the side mirrors. Were we in the wrong lane. No... it was...
I could hear Jack screaming and the glass exploding and the other driver cursing. But in my head all I could hear was a child's voice. "That doesn't mean you have to hate him!"
I'm sorry, Jack, I thought miserably. I should have payed attention. Sorry, John, I should have called you before going to pick up Jack. Sorry Marcie, sorry bro, I meant to bring your son home. Sorry, Mom, I was going to talk to you tonight. Sorry, Dad, I know I promised to take care of the kid. Sorry, Leslie, I was just too busy.
I'm sorry, James.
I glanced up from the TV as Helen came in. "She asleep?" I asked.
My wife nodded. "Yeah." She sat down next to me. "Poor kid. How long do you think these nightmares'll keep up?"
I shrugged. "Don't worry about it," I offered at her downcast look. "She'll be okay. I used to have nightmares like this all the time, and I grew out of it. Must be just a stage." Helen didn't look convinced. "She'll be fine," I said with more conviction.
"Promise?" she asked childishly, snuggling up against me.
"Promise," I said. "Cross my heart and hope to die," I added, grinning. She groaned.
"You're such a jerk," she complained, shoving me while I laughed. A commercial for mouthwash (they'll advertise anything these days) ended and I switched off the mute.
"A drunk driver today struck a car coming home from an elementary school."
"Ugh," Helen commented.
"At least I'm not a drunken jerk," I said. She glared at me.
"Shush, I want to hear this."
"Tami Jones, age thirty-six, was killed instantly. Her nephew, Jack Jones, was injured but is reported to be in stable conditions. The driver, Mark Peterson, died in the hospital. Peterson is survived by his wife and father, Jones by her brother, sister-in-law, mother, and nephew. In other news, a local fire ended the recent string of arsons that have been plaguing the county..."
Helen hit the mute. "Ugh," she said again. "Stupid idiot probably had no idea what he was doing, and now look at what happened. James?"
"I knew her," I said numbly.
"Tami Jones?" she asked. "How?"
"We went to school together," I said, finally shaking it off. I couldn't hate Tami anymore? She was dead?
I remembered her brother vaguely, a little kid who I pitied for having to live with her. He didn't anymore... but right now, he probably wasn't rejoicing.
I hadn't even known her father had died. I should have offered my condolences, said something, given her a day off from fighting. She'd wanted that, once, but I turned her down. I wouldn't have, if I'd known her father was dead. Death wasn't something to make fun of.
I guess Tami knew that now.
"I'm sorry," Helen said. "Were you friends?"
I shook my head. "No," I replied. "We weren't."
I still had a cast on my arm when I went into school. I wasn't sure how to feel about it. It hurt, and I knew it'd get in the way, but everyone'd think I looked brave. And I remembered Sean having a cast once, and he'd been practically famous the whole time he had it. So I guess I would be.
I wished my Auntie was there to see me be famous.
When I got into class, everyone was quiet. My friend Ricky told me that the teacher had asked them to be nice to me and not to ask too many questions, because that would be insensitive.
And everyone was really nice to me all day, but kinda weird. They were all quiet and acted like they thought I'd die if they said something mean to me. It was weird.
But the weirdest (and sort of the nicest) thing that happened all day was after school. I was going really slow packing things up, and nobody really wanted to wait for me because they had to be nice and they couldn't touch me where my cast was. I didn't really want to talk to them anyways. The teacher said something to me about how she'd be there if I needed help.
And then I went outside and started walking towards the parking lot. And there was Melinda, standing in the halls (which were empty by now) like she was waiting for someone. Then I realized she was waiting for me.
"I just wanted to say I'm sorry for fighting with you," she said. "I wanted to say sorry but I didn't get the chance, and then you could have died, and I wouldn't have had a chance ever!"
"It's okay," I said awkwardly. "I shouldn't have pushed you."
"I started it," Melinda admitted. "But I didn't want to fight you. Can we be friends?"
I nodded. "Yeah," I said. "We can be friends."
"Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong."