"What if he eats my legs?” A five year old Jack peers over the edge of his bed, trembling hard enough to make the mattress shake.
Jackie exhales and looks across the room at her twin brother. She’s told him millions upon millions of times not to keep her awake when she’s trying to sleep. Her eyes squint at the nightlight her brother has plugged into the outlet between their beds, casting elongated shadows on the ceiling of their room that remind him of the monster.
Jackie whispers into the dark, “Put your legs to your chest then.”
“But I can’t sleep like that,” Jack whines, “It makes my legs funny!”
“You gots to sleep!”
Jack slowly sits up in bed, clinging to his baby blanket. “I-I can't. I can't here.”
“I can't sleep with your nightlight!” With a huff, Jackie throws her blankets off her body, stomps hard across the floor, and yanks the nightlight straight out of its socket, and throws it into the closet.
The room goes dark.
“HEY! I need that!” Jack’s screeching in his pitchy voice, trying to feel around in the darkness for his sister. He stumbles and trips over the line of stuffed animals dividing the room. He always hated that line; Jackie wanted her own room, but had to settle for a shared room with her brother because he was always too afraid to sleep by himself. So, to take matters into her own hands, Jackie set up a boundary line to let him know that even though they shared a room, half of it belonged to her, and the other half belonged to him—but mostly her, she sometimes tells him.
“You don’t need it! Don't be a baby!”
“No! Now he’ll get me! He’ll eat me!” Tears begin to roll down Jack’s cheeks as he manages to pull himself back into bed.
“Don't be a baby,” Jackie repeats. She assembles herself back under the covers of her own bed and narrows her eyes at Jack’s figure in the dark. “I'd protect you from a stupid Boogeyman, anyhow." She shifts a little and snuggles her face into her pillow.
"Y-You would?" Jack asks, wiping at his face.
"Uh-huh." She lets out a yawn. "'Course I would. You're my brudder."
Jack lays in bed wiping at his face, and wiping his nose on his sleeve, trying to calm himself with her words. Out of his three friends—his sister included—Jackie had to be the bravest one he had ever known. And the bravest sister, he swore on it.
"Kids." A figure appears at the doorway. "It's alright in here? I heard yells."
Jackie turns in bed. "Yep, Grandma. It's okay. Jack was just being a scaredy."
"Scare-ready?" She asks with her broken English.
"He was scared."
"Scare?" She asks, taking a couple steps into the room. "Scare of what?"
"The Boogeyman." Jack answers with a sniffle.
"Boogeyman isn't real." Their grandmother sits on the edge of his bed and leans over to tuck him in.
Jack lays back and looks up at her round face, her graying hair pulled back tightly into a bun atop her head. He watches as she pulls the blanket over his body and he makes out the features of her face as his vision adjusts—a pair of dark eyes, the sudden arch of her eyebrows, and the nose that his mother inherited.
"Is Mommy coming home soon?" Jack asks in a tiny voice.
"Soon," his grandmother agrees. "She is working late."
"What about Daddy?"
His grandmother stops tucking him in for a moment, her eyebrows furrowed a little.
Jackie turns over to look at them; the silence caught her attention and she waits, listening with wide eyes and open ears. She knew something was wrong even though her young mind didn't quite grasp it yet. Lately she would notice that certain expression her grandmother would make whenever Jack and Jackie's father was mentioned.
Her voice is flat. "He works late. Very late. He'll be here in the morning." Their grandmother doesn't make eye contact and she gets up from the bed. "When your mother arrives I will go home."
"We love you, Gramma," Jack and Jackie say.
Their grandmother closes the door behind her without a word, leaving them in the pitch dark.
There were many things Jack understood at the tender age of five, but this was not one of them.
She walks in with keys in hand, spotting her mother sitting in an armchair upright and very awake. With the front door closed behind her, she takes a couple steps toward the old woman and bows her head slightly.
Her mother, however, doesn't return the gesture and stiffly gets up from the chair and slowly, agonizingly brushes past her daughter. "Tomorrow at 12:00? Again, Jiya?" Her mother asks, heading straight for the door after grabbing her purse.
"Yes," she says. Her back is to her mother and she can feel her eyes droop with the weight of exhaustion.
She waits for the click of the door; her mother leaves without a goodbye.
Tiredly, Jiya lowers herself down into a chair and daintily pulls at her worn shoes, feeling that there's blisters forming on her feet. She bites down on her bottom lip and tucks her chin against her chest; her hair falls over her face as she eases the shoe off her foot and muffles small cries of pain. She wants to soak her feet, but she knows that she needs to check the kids first. It's always been her priority. She's always hated that she couldn't be the one to tuck them in at night.
Very slowly and very gently, she pulls on socks and walks to the end of the hallway, trying her hardest to be light on her feet. Immediately, she notices that one bed is stripped bare, while the other is occupied. Not again, she thinks. Calmly, she rubs her forehead and maneuvers around the clutter that’s on the floor and the line of stuffed animals dividing the room. She sighs because she knows exactly what has happened once she sees a light shining from underneath the closet door.
She sits down cross-legged outside the doorway. “Honey?”
The light from underneath the door flickers a little. “Mommy,” The voice is so tiny and scared. “He was trying to get me.”
“I know, sweet pea.” She places a delicate hand on the closet. “Can you open the door?”
There’s a long and lonely pause. “He’s still out there.”
She slowly gazes around the dark room in search of the monster for the sake of her son—and maybe for the sake of herself; sometimes it gets to her, especially when it’s just the three of them at home. When it’s just the two little ones and herself, that is. “Jack, I don’t think he’s here.”
“He is.” There’s no pause this time.
“Sweetie,” She knocks very lightly on the closet door and asks, “How about you let me in, please?”
He shifts something around before answering. “Okay.”
She slowly cracks open the closet door and closes it behind her once she nestles in beside him. He’s made a nest out of his blankets and pillows, the nightlight his sister threw into the closet now plugged into the oddly placed outlet.
He immediately crawls over to her and flops down into her lap so he can press his face into her side. “Are you sure he isn’t out there?”
“I’m very sure.” She tiredly smiles and tousles his hair.
He tries to stop shaking. “I saw him though.”
“Under the bed.” He sniffles and gathers all of his blankets into a bundle on her lap.
She attentively strokes his back. “Would you like me to go check?”
He doesn’t move.
“Jack?” She asks.
A small murmur of agreement sounds from his hidden face.
Very carefully, she eases herself out of the closet and walks over to his bed. She’s a little hesitant at first, but she kneels down and holds her breath. The room abruptly lights up and she gasps a little when she turns to look over at the window; someone is just driving down the street, the headlights from the car shining through the curtains like they’re searching for her. A sigh of relief passes her lips as she peers underneath the bed, squinting her hardest to see if there really is anything there. All that resides is a stuffed animal and a forgotten sock that has been missing for weeks.
She grabs the sock and places it on his bare mattress before settling back down in the closet next to him.
“Did you see him?”
She shakes her head. “No, honey. He isn't there.”
He looks up at her with a broken expression, his green eyes huge in the dull light of the closet, beckoning her to believe what he swears he saw under his bed. She knows that he will continue doing this until he overcomes the fear—which she’s hoping is soon.
"Gramma says the Boogeyman isn't real." Jack tugs on her sleeve a little and urges, "But I saw him. I did."
"Shadows, sweetie." Jiya holds him closer to her. "You're tired and you're seeing shadows from outside."
"No," He urges again, his foot hitting hers as he shifts in her lap.
She cringes and takes in a sharp breath.
Jack stops and looks up at her with wide eyes. "Mom?"
She eases and her face softens once more.
"Did . . . d-did he get your foot?" His bottom lip quivers as he reaches down and gently rubs it.
"No, honey." Jiya smiles down at him, her eyes getting glassy. "He didn't get my foot."
"W-What's wrong with it? Why's it hurt you?"
She thinks of all the times her little boy would come running to her with a cut or a bruise after playing outside on the weekends when she was home. He would ask her to help it with a Band-aid and believed that the kisses would make it feel better. He believed in the properties of the kisses just as much as he believed in the Boogeyman that prowled beneath the beds, and lied in wait in the darkness.
Carefully, she pulls off one of her socks and lets him see the blisters and sores that are beginning to form on her dainty feet.
He stares at them with wide eyes, his little eyebrows knitting together, and a small pout set upon his baby face. "They hurt," he says, gently wrapping his arms around her foot in an embrace.
Jiya feels her eyes sting as she holds back tears. "They do," she agrees, nodding a little.
Jack lifts his head and looks up at her, looking concerned—too concerned for a little boy his age. "C-Can I sleep in your bed? . . . so I can protect you from the Boogeyman?" He thinks back to his sister.
"You would protect me from the Boogeyman?" She asks, her voice soft and nearly laced with tears.
"'Course I would," Jack says with what he thinks is the bravest smile he can muster. "You're my mommy."
- - -
She hears someone opening the front door; she looks over at her clock and sees that it's 3:45 in the morning. Curled up beside her is her son who swore he would do his best to protect her from the Boogeyman.
With her head swimming, she reaches beneath the bed and pulls out a bat. She eases into the hallway, ready to swing if she needs to, her heartbeat loud in her ears. Her jaw clenches when she sees that the front door's closed, but now the sounds are coming from the darkness in the kitchen. Fearfully, she glances down at her newly bandaged feet before rushing in, swinging the bat.
He's fast though—or maybe she's just too tired—and he grips the baseball bat before it hits anywhere other than his hefty palm. Her eyes widen, but she can't see anything as he grabs for her and drops the weapon before pulling her towards him. She tries her hardest to push away, and she's close to tears until he pulls her into a hug.
Her body quakes and trembles, and she lets out a fearful whimper before embracing him. "G-God, I-I was going to . . . to hit you!"
He doesn't say a word; he rubs her back apologetically.
"You scared me!" She's becoming hysterical. "I-I thought s-someone h-had picked t-the lock!"
"I'm sorry," he murmurs.
"Y-You'd better be!" She starts shoving at him again, trying to get away, feeling flustered and upset. She can't help but curse over and over again in the foreign language that her own mother is more comfortable speaking in than English.
"Shh, shh," He rubs at her back and lets her shove and curse at him, hunching over to rest his forehead on her shoulder. "I know, I know. I'm sorry."
She stops, her body giving off a little tremble here and there as she buries her face into his chest. "I-I thought you said you'd be here i-in the morning."
"Jeevan," she whispers.
He takes in a long breath. "They let me go."
"What?" She asks, pulling her head away from his chest.
"They fired me," he says, shaking his head against her shoulder. "God, I-I can't stay awake with three jobs and-and I don't get to see you or the kids and—"
She shushes him and holds him tight. "I-I know, I know."
Jeevan lifts his head and stares down at her with bloodshot eyes.
"It's okay," she assures him, "You don't need it." Her hand reaches up and strokes the dark circles beneath his eyes. "You need sleep."
Defeated, his eyes wander down to her bandaged feet and he lifts her up into his arms. She quietly argues against it—that he's too tired—but he insists and takes her down the hall to their room where their son is sleeping soundly in the middle of the bed. Tiredly, they smile and lay down beside him, reaching over to gently stroke his hair.
"He was afraid of the Boogeyman," she says, her head resting on her pillow, her eyes still open.
"Again?" He asks, already beginning to nod off.
"Again," she agrees, looking back at her son. "My mom will be here to watch the kids at noon tomorrow, unless my father wants to see them. Then I guess she would take them back to their house."
Jeevan's eyes open a little more and he thinks for a moment, his forehead creased.
"This week is almost over," she says softly. "We're almost there. Please don't worry."
"It's not the week that I'm worried about." There's an edge in his voice beneath the tired hum of his throat. "I'm worried about what they're doing to our kids."
She sighs and reaches over to hold his large hand in her tiny one. "They don't do anything wrong and you know it."
Jeevan doesn't say a word and looks down at their hands.
"My mother teaches them Japanese and the kids always talk about how fun it is to wander around in the garden maze and look at all of the flowers." She gives his hand a reassuring squeeze. "And sometimes my father takes them to the museums."
He exhales and stares up at the ceiling, his body stiff with exhaustion.
"Sometimes the maids will bring their children along, so the kids have friends to play with." She's trying to assure him, but he isn't buying it; he never does.
His eyes narrow. "And sometimes I feel like they're easing their way into just . . . taking them from us."
She stares at him. "What?"
"Your parents can tell them anything." Jeevan swallows hard. "What if they convince the kids that living with them is better?"
"Are you listening to yourself right now?" She asks. "You're talking about brainwash and bribery."
Jeevan sits up and looks down at her, his eyebrows furrowed and his jaw clenched tightly, waiting for her to see—waiting for her to realize. She's in denial, he thinks. She has to be.
She sits up too and stares back at him, her normally soft face hard in the dark.
"Between you and me," he says, his voice deep and steady. "I think we both remember a time where that's happened before."
It's silent and she looks away, pressing her hand to her face; she doesn't want to remember, not after how hard she's tried to forget. Over and over again she's tried convincing herself that her parents were only doing what's best—even if it didn't seem like they had the best intentions. All of her life they've guided her into a direction where they guaranteed happiness and success, even when she felt it wasn't what she wanted to do.
The violin and piano lessons? Great, they were lovely. But then she recalls her summer days where her mother would make her practice for hours straight until she played it near perfection. Until she was in tears and her fingers wouldn't bend, her mother would let her stop, still convinced that she hadn't tried hard enough.
She hasn't touched the white and black keys or the metal strings since then.
She remembers the times where her parents wouldn't let her associate herself with "lower-class" men and anyone that could be a bad influence. She remembers how she had few friends because of this and often times couldn't introduce them to her parents because they wouldn't approve. She hated being secretive and sometimes dishonest to her parents by having these friends, but she hated being alone much, much more.
What she hated most, however, was feeling like a failure in the eyes of her parents.
His face softens. "I'm sorry," he says, reaching out to her. "I just . . ."
He decides to drop the subject and change it to the one that's always tormenting him—the one that he's thinking about everyday, the one that he thinks about right before he falls asleep and just after he wakes up. Sometimes it's the one that's in his dreams too, and he hates those, especially because he can't stop them; he has to wait until he wakes in a cold sweat, feeling like he didn't get a minute's worth of sleep. "I don't think they'll ever like me . . . and I don't think they'll ever forgive you."
Her head meets the pillow; she knew this was coming.
"God, it's been five years." His face rests in the curve of his elbow. "What the hell do they want us to do? Go back in time?"
She shakes her head.
"W-We can't even find the courage to tell them we're engaged." His voice firms and he turns onto his back to glare at the ceiling. "They won't approve of it, even with the kids."
"Jeevan," she says, but she can't grasp any other words.
"I-It's like they don't even want me to be around my own kids."
"I wouldn't go that far." She bites her bottom lip and stares at him worriedly.
"Admit it," he says with his frown falling apart at the seams. "They would've treated me the same way if I left you with them. They would be happy."
Her eyes shut.
"But I'm here." He turns on his side to look at her and reaches over to gently stroke her cheek. "God, I'm here because I want to be; I'm here because I love you guys, and starting today I don't give a damn what your parents think of us."
She peeks at him and his young face, and overworked, calloused hands. She leans into his touch.
"They can hate me all they want." His fingers weave through her dark hair. "But they can't touch a single hair on any of your heads."
Groggily, a small voice asks, "The monsters?"
They look down at their son who's squinting at the dark. "Now that Daddy's here, you'll be safe, Mommy."
She smiles and strokes his hair. "And you'll be safe too," she agrees.
"Mom," a voice calls from the open door. "I had a nightmare."
She motions her daughter to come to the bed. "You did?"
Their daughter heaves a sigh and her dark hair falls over her shoulder as she climbs up onto the mattress. "Uh-huh."
"But you never get nightmares," her brother insists. "You're not scared of nothing."
"Everyone's afraid of something, Sweetie." Their mother strokes their heads as they snuggle up between the parents.
"Even you and Daddy?" He asks.
Her face is soft and she thinks of how afraid she used to be—how afraid she is now after all that's happened, but she can't help but feel that her life can only get better now that she's finally starting to pave her own way and leave her own monsters behind her. She has all the plans laid out and now she just needs to find the rest of her courage and make her endless road with her new family.
"Even me and Daddy," she says with a smile.
My Best Friend - NikNack Ch. 1 January 3rd, 2008
"Are you happy?" I ask her. My face is pressed to my knees as we sit on the brick wall at the back of the school, and I can feel her shift a little at my side. I lift my head and look down at her.
She tilts her head and smiles up at me like I'm an old friend of hers. "Of course I am, you goof."
No, I want to tell her, No you're not. How can you be? I feel sick, dizzy, and like the world's going to crumble beneath us as I smile back and say, "Good." My heart is caught in my throat, and I try my hardest to swallow it, but it won't go back down.
- - -
August 29th, 2007
I met her today in my American Li
My Best Friend -- Nikki's POV January 3rd, 2008Written by the lovely ~NikChik-11 It's in Nikki's POV.
"Are you happy?"
I look over at him as he lifts his head from between his legs, awaiting my answer with a calm face. I offer him a small smile and reply, "Of course I am, you goof."
He stares at me with a blank expression for a moment and I wonder what's going through his mind. After a minute he smiles and slightly nods his head, his usually crooked smile replaced with a broken one. "Good."
It worries me when he doesn't tell me what's bothering him. I wonder if it's something I've done.
- - -
August 29th, 2007
I ended up sitting next to this guy with a really funny sense of humor today in American Lit.
My Best Friend - NikNack Ch. 2 February 14th 2008
I get ready to slip a Valentine's Day card in her locker. It kills me a little to think of how close I came to writing down, "I LOVE YOU" in the dead center of it in red permanent marker. I might as well have written down: JACK JOSEPH ALLEN MOORE IS A DUMBASS, but that wouldn't have made much sense. At least not to her.
Even if I wrote "I love you" she probably wouldn't have taken it the way I had intended. People throw that phrase around so much. Especially friends. And that's what we are.
I pull my biggest grin in her direction, and she smiles back and waves slightly, careful not to drop her bo