Sunday, June 25, 2017

What Remains, part 5

The bustle of the mornings activities were well underway when he finally walked in through the front door. Jim was on the ragged edge. An eerie pressure settle back on his shoulders as he walked through the door. The fear he'd been fighting all night had turned into a smolder of anger.

His eyes moved between the Aunts.

"I'm not sure what's going on here," his eyes were draw and his jaw flexed, "But I think you do."

"Jim, did you not sleep well?" Rachael spoke, stepping forward with a sincere look of concern.

"No. I did not."

"I'm sorry to hear that." Janice said with an edge, responding to my sharp response.

"I don't know what it is, but this feels like a trap," he said, after a moment, "It feels wrong."

Rachael swallowed hard, but Janice's face remained blank.

"I can't stay here. I... I need to go." He said, gruffly, "I'm taking the kids into town."

Rachael looked irrationally hurt while Janice looked almost hostile. She narrowed her eyes at Jim, but he returned a hard look as a challenge.

"C'mon kids," Jim said, trying to keep his tone light, "We're going to explore a bit and get some breakfast in town."

Daniel smiled, but Abigail hesitated. Turning toward the aunts. Janice nodded in response to the look. Jim suddenly felt a bone deep hurt, Abigail was in on it. He clenched his jaw then held a hand toward Abigail, beckoning.

Janice recovered, gaining her footing.

"You shouldn't explore without snacks," she said, her voice shifting to be more lively following Rachael's usual cadence, "Let's send you off with some water and perhaps some trail mix?"

"Why not?" Rachael tried to respond cheerily, but her guilelessness amplified her sudden pain.

Jim knew there was something going on, but felt it was all way above his head. Maybe Abigail could shed some light on what felt so wrong, since she seemed to be in on it. Perhaps this was what drove Lisa so far away? Something that seemed so perfect was a well framed manipulation.

Jim moved into the room where he'd slept and a chill ran over him. They must have thought he was still asleep or the bed would have been made. The leather journals were on the bedside table, too. He pulled out the cardboard box he'd brought the journals down with and secreted them away. He'd have to return them later.

He stepped out of the room and shut the door behind him. Rachael was in the far room of the hall, folding a blanket over and over again. She glanced his direction and their eyes met for a second. She looked back down to the blanket quickly, looking sheepish.

He took long steps into to the hallway, then turned left.

"C'mon kids. I am not going to ask twice. " Jim said loudly as he pushed through the front door.

Daniel teetered with a glass bottle full of water and a bag of granola. He had a small knapsack that they'd tossed on him, but hadn't managed to fill in the time. The boy looked adorable in the over sized bag. The thought softened Jim slightly, but anger flared up again as Abigail lagged at the door, likely being fed words by the aunts. It infuriated him.

She came out wielding nothing but a doll. Jim's brow furrowed. She had never even liked dolls. And she was too old to be carrying one. The aunts came to the door and waved briefly as he spun the car around and pulled away in the the early morning light.

The dirt road gave way to paved and soon they were cruising South down a two lane highway toward the town of Afton.

Miles passed before Jim started to feel a certain clarity set in. The tension drained from him and his hands held loosely to the steering wheel. He hadn't been aware of angry he was until he started recognizing the beauty around him. He began to point it out to the children, calling out birds, horses, and the frequent roadkill.

Daniel engaged, his eyes watching the endless march of fence poles flit past the cars. Abigail looked tense, her grip on the doll was suffocating and the red stone was just visible from under her shirt. She looked him in the eyes through the rear-view mirror, her facing holding an unreadable expression.

"Abigail?" I asked, "What's up?"

Her gaze didn't waver. She played a loose shrug.

"I just needed to be somewhere else," I said, with a pained smile, "I think I am beginning to understand how mom felt."

Abigail looked hurt, by that, "I like it there."

"I'm sure you do." I said, somberly, "I'm sure you do."

Mountains, fields, and the occasional passing car offered a distraction. There were dozens of ranches and small clusters of houses the lie just off the road. Some properties held a variety of gutted cars while others were neatly maintained farmhouses. Big agriculture business likely made being a local farmer unlikely. Most of what he was seeing, he expected, were likely people who had retired and continued as they saw fit.

The sun crested the mountains as they turned into the valley that overlooked the quaint town. Small clusters of houses gave way to industrial buildings and the speed limit began to drop as the same highway they came in on turned into the main street.

The first place that looked like a diner felt a bit more commercial than Jim was expecting and it left him feeling a touch dissatisfied. They ordered their food and he sipped at the coffee. Daniel was drawing on the place mat with a marker while Abigail avoided her father's gaze.

"What did they tell you, Abby?"

She shrugged again and Jim shook his head.

"That doesn't work for me. You need to tell me what's going on. I am tempted to call off this whole trip." He said, the heat coming back to his face.

Abigail was young, sure, but he'd talked to both of his kids like adults since they started to communicate. Daniel was still a bit early, but Abigail responded to challenges with a spirited tongue. He could see her working out what to say and waited patiently, sipping coffee.

"They want us to stay. They miss mom and they want to get to know us." Abigail said, with some struggle.

"I get that, but there's more going on. I can feel it pulling at me every time I walk into the house," he said, scrunching up his shoulders, then leaned his head forward, "And for some reason, I think you know. What is going on?"

There was a glimmer of fear in her eyes, her grip on the doll loosened. Then her eyes sparkled fiercely.

"They're afraid you're going to take us away from them." She said, her usual self now peeking through, "They have a gift for you, but it's a surprise and it won't be ready for another couple of days."

Jim's mouth drew into a tight line and he thought for a moment.

"I wish this secret didn't feel like something they were doing to me instead of something they are doing for me." He mused, mostly to himself.

Abigail nodded, she wore a weary look of consternation; a look that didn't fit her child's face.

"Two more days," Jim said, "Then we say our goodbyes."

At that point, he let it go, feeling that the decision was now a weight off of his shoulders.

Jim drove around the small town after they finished up at the diner. As they drove, he would use them as a way to gauge his own interest. Daniel would give a thumbs up or a thumbs down and Abigail relaxed and got in on the game, too. Everything was more fun when they were having fun, anyway.

Jim eyed a pawn shop, and nearly dismissed it until he saw that they had a large display of cut rocks and gemstones.

"You guys want to look at some pretty rocks?" Jim asked.

Both Abigail and Daniel gave an excited thumbs up.