"How is 2nd grade so far, Ann?" Kathy smiled at her sister as she lay on the grass and watched the clear night sky with its countless stars above her. For some reason, Kathy felt like this moment had happened before on that particular day.
"Hold her tight, for as long as you can. It won't be long." Keith's ghost whispered. Kathy ignored it as best she could.
"School is okay. I am getting A's in English and history. But I'm having a hard time with math." Ann pouted.
"Oh, Ann, that's why you seek the proper help. All you have to do is speak up and say the word." Kathy said gently. "Are Nancy and her two brothers still bullying you?" Ann cringed when she thought back to the last time the McFadden triplets messed with her.
"Not anymore, because I did what you told me to do. And even used that move you taught me." Kathy could almost SEE the look on the two boys' faces when Ann's foot made piercing contact with their groins, which tempted her to laugh. "You didn't tell me that they'd throw up when I kicked them there. It got all over my favorite shoes. Ugh!" Ann cringed at the memory.
"But, ultimately, it was the right thing to do, wasn't it?" Ann didn't answer and Kathy sighed. "Ann, you can't be sorry for what you do in defense of yourself and your way of life." She said gently but sternly. "As long as you live, there are people in this world that want to take what you have because of the color of our skin, because of where we live, and even because of the air we breathe. If you apologize every time one of them gets up in your face, they'll keep coming back every time. They won't cut you slack just because you're a girl."
Ann cringed again. "Blood and throw-up is so gross and messy. Especially when it gets on me. Ugh!"
Though Ann was her only sister and favorite sibling, Kathy was frustrated with her squeamishness. It wasn't like Kathy didn't understand; the worst part of even 5 rounds of kickboxing training was the clean-up afterwards. As such, she could never bring herself to raise her voice at her.
"If you don't fight for yourself, no one is coming to save you." Kathy continued. "That's what being in the army for the past 4 years taught me."
"Brian yells at me. He never wants me around him."
Kathy shook her head, frustrated at her bickering siblings.
"Melvin is nice to me, though."
"You don't get anywhere being nice to people." Kathy wanted to say, but didn't. She could never bring herself to be too harsh to Ann.
"Why does Brian hate you so much?"
Kathy sighed again. "He is jealous because he's not like me and mad that you're not growing up to be a loser like him."
"He got suspended twice for fighting. He skips class, hangs out with other rough looking guys who smoke and drink. He really scares me."
"God fucking damnit. Exactly why I didn't want to come back." Kathy thought.
"What happened to Oscar, Kathy?" Ann suddenly asked.
Kathy wasn't even phased by this question. "No remorse for that race traitor." Kathy thought, though she swore she saw a disapproving look from Keith's ghost.
"Why did he leave? He was so nice to you. Did you two have a fight?"
Never did Kathy think she'd have to use this concocted explanation, but she was happy she did think of it.
"No." Kathy said smoothly. "He got married to someone else. He is not coming back to Jasper." She really didn't want to touch that topic.
"Who did he marry?"
"A woman from Pakistan. She didn't even speak English."
Ann made a face. "Dad said that is a terrorist country that hates us. Why would he marry someone who hates us?"
Kathy shrugged. "Only God knows, Ann."
Ann thankfully dropped the topic, noticing the pained look on Kathy's face. The regret on her face was genuine; she regretted not castrating him first.
"I'm sorry, Kathy."
Kathy turned to her with a sad smile and brushed her hair. "No. You don't have to be. He certainly wasn't." That, at least, was a true statement. "Oscar was a friend to all of u. One day, wherever he is, he will see what he did was wrong."
"I wish you can stay here forever. I hate Uncle Brad." Ann whined. Kathy frowned at the mention of her uncle: he was an ex-convict who would be dead of an overdose if Kenneth hadn't bailed him out. "He never yells but I know he hates me."
"Did he say anything to you?" Kathy asked. Brian was one thing. Her uncle was quite another. If he disrespected Ann in her absence, there would be hell to pay.
"He's always fighting with dad over money." Ann pouted, crossing her arms over her thin chest.
"Of course, he is. Goddamned parasite." Kathy thought. Just then, heavy footsteps approached them. Without looking, she knew who it was.
"What do you want, Brian?" She asked without turning around.
"Mom's calling you, Ann. Get your pale, skinny ass back inside."
"Ann, go back inside." Kathy said calmly but firmly. Ann looked between them fearfully before running back inside.
Kathy turned her attention back to Brian. "What the hell do you want?"
"Why did you come back?"
"I don't need your permission to visit."
"You're only getting special treatment because you're a chick. I remember you telling Ann that you couldn't wait to get away from here with your boyfriend Oscar. Tax dollars are paying your salary. Now you want to be treated like the homecoming queen and I'm not buying it." Brian ranted. Kathy rolled her eyes.
"Coming from an obese dumb-ass who was too out-of-shape to even get past a recruiter's office and barely graduated from school. Dad won't let you anywhere near his rifle after you caused a negligent discharge and blew out his window." Brian's eyes flashed at that last insult and he stepped closer to her, fists clenched.
"Dad never shuts up about you when you're not even here."
"If you did some goddamned work for a change instead of drinking and fighting, you wouldn't be earning $8.25 an hour. But you're too fucking lazy and worried with street cred to do that- aren't you?"
"What's up with your old boyfriend?" He changed tactics. "Did he run off?"
"He married someone else and moved out." Kathy snapped.
Brian didn't back down. "Dad still doesn't believe that I caught you and him up in the bed about to do it."
"You would be lucky to even score a woman." She walked away.
"Bitches will do anything to suck a man's dick." Brian sneered under his breath. As soon as the words left his mouth, his crotch exploded in pain and he collapsed, with a yell of pain. Brian fearfully looked up at his sister; that single step she took to get closer to him sounded like a gunshot. She was only an inch taller than her brother, but even if he weren't on his hands and knees right now, he swore she was 10 feet tall as she glowered down at him.
"What's going on?" A stern, angry voice said, interrupting the fight between the elder Jones children before Kathy could kick Brian while he was down. Kenneth was standing there with a look that suggested he too had heard the comment. Brian got to his feet and crawled away.
"I'm sorry, dad." Kathy sighed, shaking her head.
"You shouldn't be." Kenneth said reassuringly. "Your brother, like your uncle, is jealous because he will never be like us."
General West's Country Home, Vicksburg, Mississippi
General West finished polishing the dust of a framed 1973 photograph of 3 people. The man was himself, then still a 34-year old army major. The woman next to him was a brown-haired woman of similar age. In her arms, she carried a baby.
"Michelle." The ailing general muttered, his eyes tearing.
He polished and cleaned every surface in his daughter's room as he had for the last 6 years. 6 years she had been gone. But part of him was waiting for his only child to walk back home into the waiting arms of her loving father.
He closed his eyes. Thinking back to that day- 6 years ago.
He had taken a month of well-deserved leave, visiting his daughter in NYC. When he stepped off the plane, he remembered seeing on television, the plane crashing into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, between the 93rd and 99th floor- the floor of the building where Michelle worked. His mind racing out of control, he took the nearest taxi he could to the building- just in time to witness it collapse in a fiery rubble. All he remembered next was his world going black- his heart seizing up and his body convulsing uncontrollably on the ground.
"How should I know? Maybe she doesn't want to be found. Have you considered that?" Warwick Goodvibe's taunting voice boomed inside his head.
The voice was interrupted by the sound of a doorbell.
"Sir, it's General Manning. He's here for the appointment you requested." His manservant answered from outside. General West's heavy breathing became ragged. He staggered out of the room, grasping the walls, barely keeping his balance as he lurched towards the sound of the door. His vision swam.
General Manning and West's manservant approached West's study inside the spacious country home, portraits of uniformed generals dotting the walls.
"Is he alright?" Manning asked.
"He hasn't been himself for the past few weeks, but he…."
"Manning?" West rasped as he lurched outside the room.
"Sir! You shouldn't strain yourself! The physician…." The manservant approached him, but West swatted his arm away.
"I'm fine, you meddling fool! Prepare a drink for our guest." West snapped.
The two 4-star generals sat outside on the balcony, looking down the wooded path leading away from the mansion.
"Even now, I still see her, running up the wooded path, her beautiful brown hair flowing in the wind." The aging general said solemnly with a lost look. "There are just some things that we are never meant to forget. My daughter Michelle." He turned to the younger man. "And your wife Vanessa."
Manning said nothing. There was nothing he could say to replace the loss of their loved ones both men suffered on that day 6 years ago.
"Michelle was my world to me. Terrence." West used Manning's first name when they were alone together. "Before leukemia claimed Margaret, I held her hand on her deathbed and promised I would live to see our daughter have children of her own." West let out a long shuddering breath.
He turned to Manning again. "Just as I promised your father, when you first arrived at West Point Academy all those years ago, that I would build you into the man you are today."
Manning fought back a scowl. He didn't like being reminded of his deceased parent, the late General Robert Manning.
"She passed, didn't she?" West changed topic.
Manning nodded; his face still stoic.
West looked over the woodland again. "This Katherine Jones that you speak of- you chose her well to become a ranger. She is aware and proud of her European heritage and willing to adhere to the highest of our great nation's values. Truly, such soldiers are a rarity today. Our way of life is fading in history. The White men of today are irreverent of the old ways their ancestors worked tirelessly to preserve. It is only with such soldiers that the White man will finally wrest back control of this nation by the people for the people from the foreign overlords that seek to destroy us."