Jack and Jill
Daybreak proved not to be as big a comfort as the broken girl had hoped. This was Sunday, but today was drearier than the day before. People had been predicting a week of rain, but nothing had happened yet, though it seemed the sky could burst any moment. Jill pulled herself from the cold floor in the kitchen where she'd spent her night. No one else was up yet, and she should make breakfast before someone noticed she hadn't started yet.
A brief curiosity crossed her mind about what had transpired between her father and mother last night, but maybe she didn't want to know. Besides that, she would sure find out soon, simply by the look of the house. She walked to the basin and re-dressed her wounds; she would be wearing long sleeves today. She poured some well water in a tea kettle and set it on the stove. Then she made some eggs with a little bit of smoked ham. By this time, the whole house was awake. Her father was awake and refreshed; he had never suffered from hangovers, no matter how drunk he had gotten. This was a blessing to him, so he could do what he wanted and then be alive and happy at church that Sunday. It was pathetic really. Jill's mother was tied in her robe, sitting in front of her mirror, trying to smudge on a bit of pain beneath her dark hair. John was stroking the cat at the dining room table, telling it how sorry he was for the night before.
Her father came in happily and sat as his place, acting very cheery this morning. He loved going to church; it was a social gathering.
"This looks great," he commented, taking a big bite. "Not very much of it, but what the hell."
Funny, he probably didn't even remember what he had done to her the night before. The family ate their food and Jill dismissed herself; she was not hungry.
The only time Jill was not allowed to wear the black dress was when the family went to church. She was expected to wear a dress of green ruffles and tie matching ribbons in her hair, though it was to her extreme dislike. So, she dressed herself, taking great care that the sleeves fully covered her bandages. After that, she braided her hair carefully until there was no hair out of place. It was on days like this that someone might even confuse Jill with a normal girl. They could not see her bruises or her cuts, and her face had always been pretty. Besides that, she looked quite well in green. She pulled on her stockings and black button-up boots, for it was autumn. Then she looked at herself in the mirror beside her door. She could hardly bear it.
The road to the church was covered in leaves and the family always walked. There was no sense in taking a carriage. They didn't live very far. Besides, there were several delightful people to gossip with; namely, the Moores, who took the same trek on Sundays.
They had accompanied Sylvia's family straight out of the house that morning, and Jill had drifted far behind the rest of them, slinking away from the delightful conversation. Sylvia turned and looked back to Jill. She let herself drift away from the group also, and before Jill could avoid it, she was engaged in conversation.
"Hello, Jillian. You look nice today," said the rosy cheeked girl from under her hat.
"Thank you," Jill muttered, not looking up at her.
Sylvia slipped her arm through Jill's as though they had been best friends forever. Jill could only think of this girl's dirty lips on Jack.
"You know, I was thinking about you a lot last night," Sylvia confided. Jill said nothing; she knew. "I was thinking maybe I haven't been as nice to you as I could be, and I'm sorry."
Jill looked up at this. Perhaps she had heard wrong.
"You act as though you don't believe me!" she chuckled.
"Oh no. I just…."
"Well, I'd like to be friends now. What do you say? Bury the bloody hatchet?"
Jill thought a moment. She wasn't as stupid as Sylvia must have thought; she had heard what was said the night before. Perhaps Sylvia was lying…but could it be true? Sylvia could truly have thought about it last night afterward, and what Jack had said may have changed her mind. That was highly unlikely, Jill decided, but there was a part of her – a very little part – that wanted to believe her.
"What do you say?" Sylvia coaxed. "Sit with me during services?"
Jill didn't think so. There was too much room for error.
"I'm sorry, Sylvia," she said.
"Come on. You can still sit by Jack. I don't mind."
This was another thing that Jill shared with the young man who she never spoke to. They would sit together in church, as if he would point out passages to her. Normally, Jack sat quietly with his nose in his own Bible, and Jill had an open book in her lap, but her mind was elsewhere. But what did Sylvia mean by saying this? Jill felt her pale face grow hot.
"I don't care about Jack," Jill muttered.
"Well…forget about that then," said Sylvia after a pause. After Jill seemed irresponsive, she stepped up her approach.
"Come onnn," she urged. "I won't bite you if you don't bite me."
Jill sighed, understanding that the girl simply was not going to take no for an answer. What could it really hurt to sit with her? Church didn't require talking.
"For today," she finally agreed.
"Good! I'm so glad we can be friends!"
Jill had never said that they were. But as soon as that had come about, Sylvia began to treat her just like another one of her gossipy girlfriends.
"You know, Elizabeth Connely did the most dreadful thing yesterday! She…"
Jill's attention drifted away as Sylvia began to babble meaninglessly about whatever it was Jill was sure she cared nothing about. The church was just ahead and she had spotted Jack immediately. He was standing out front with his father, greeting people and shaking hands; welcoming the same faces every week. She couldn't see how he didn't grow tired of it, but he certainly looked fine doing it. Who would not want to be greeted by such a nice-looking young man?
Lifting his eyes from the porch, he caught sight of her looking his way, and just as she had expected, his look of happiness faded and his smile vanished. His eyes held that indescribable feeling that she could not place. Was it true, what Sylvia had said? Was she really depressing him? After a moment of his staring, he snapped back into reality to shake another hand, greeting people with a gorgeous smile and a kind word.
When Jill approached the door, she looked up to see his gaze again. He forced a smile into the corner of his mouth for her, but said nothing; that was, until Sylvia spoke first.
He forced his smile wider. "Sylvia."
"I'm going to be sitting with your little Jillian today. She says she'd rather sit beside me this Sunday."
Jill looked into his eyes to gauge how this would sit with him. His blue eyes flashed once, but there was no sun to make them do so.
"Is that so?" he asked, directing his conversation only at Sylvia.
"Yes. This is girls' day, so you can just sit beside someone else. Come on, Jill."
Sylvia pulled her into the church and around the middle row, where she sat and forced Jill down as well. Sylvia picked up a Bible off the seat and set it in Jill's lap, while she opened one of her own.
Jill sat staring down at it with confused eyes all throughout the sermon. She wasn't reading, or even looking at the page, but staring blankly in confusion as she wondered what was wrong with her. Why in the world did everyone hate her? Why did they think she was so evil? What had she done? She had been baptized as a baby just like everyone else; shouldn't she have the same forgiveness? She could hear the preacher now, rambling on about the wrath of hell and how anyone with a deep sorrow inside should come forward and confess their sins. Sylvia leaned into Jill's ear.
"You know, people would really think you were a good person if you went up there today. Everyone would forgive you for your past sins and they would treat you better."
Jill listened intently to her every word. Could she be speaking the truth? Would everyone forgive her and love her now? Could she find forgiveness amongst the town, simply for confessing? Jill looked up to Jack's father at the podium. She opened her ears and allowed his voice to he heard. The more he talked, the more he sounded as though he was talking directly to her. Perhaps…perhaps he was. Maybe Sylvia's suggestion was worth a try.
She rose up slowly and took hold of the seat in front of her. As soon as she had begun, everyone in the church was already whispering. Minister Hillton smiled. Jill stepped out into the aisle and began to walk the long span of the church to the front, towards the smiling preacher with open arms. The organ began to play and the elders and others in the front of the church began to sing. Jill's parents smiled; so much more attention was to come their way.
As Jill walked, she almost began to smile herself. Soon all her troubles would be over. The faces at the front of the church smiled as some of the men and women came to meet her halfway. Everyone was smiling; everyone except for one. Jack was sitting on the end of the front pew, and she saw his face turned back toward her, like so many others. But she stopped dead in her tracks when his expression registered in her mind. He didn't smile as the others did. She had to say that he was definitely scowling. She couldn't move – she couldn't breathe. Everything around her stopped as she looked at Jack's narrowed gaze. What was he doing? What did he want from her? Jill only knew that he wasn't happy, and suddenly, his face was the only one she could see. She could not bear this look. She did not like his disapproving stare.
Minister Hillton walked up to her and put his hands on her shoulders.
"Are you alright, child?" he asked, noticing her hesitation.
She looked down at the confusion in his eyes, and then she cast her eyes back up to Jack. He still held the same expression. He shook his head only slightly. Jill didn't understand, but he was not letting her do this, and she could not make herself go through with it, realizing she didn't know why she had begun in the first place.
"I'm sorry," she said lowly to the minister.
She turned to face the church. The faces weren't smiling now, but giving her the same confusing stare they always had. She was foolish to believe things would change! She closed her eyes to forget their stares and then ran down the aisle of the church and exploded out the door, just as a wave of whispering and confusion burst from the pews.
Only then, did Jack smile.