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Lakewood Times

Lakewood Times

Lakewood Times

    “Reluctant I” by Lavinia Grandt

    It’s been a week.

    An entire week has passed, and grandmother stopped by only once, saying she’d handle the funeral expenses, the hospital bill, everything.

    I’m back home now. Dad’s coffee cup still sits on the dining room table, cold and dark. The mailbox is overflowing, handwritten letters sticking out of the top, some fallen to the ground. My veins pulse uncomfortably, and phantom aches roll over my body.

    When I close my eyes, all I see is red. I tried to sleep, first in my bed, then in his, but the smell on his pillows sickened me like it never had before and I nearly threw up on the ground, tears burning my eyes as I hacked. No, it’s not that I didn’t vomit, I just couldn’t. I’d eaten the bare minimum that day, as having anything in my mouth or body sent my head whirling painfully.

    I haven’t said a word to Alana in that whole week. She’s definitely heard by now, from grandmother or Carol, but I don’t have the energy to talk to anyone now.

    Dad is… gone.

    He’s gone.

    I could see him while he was dying, arms and legs twisted around and metal pressing him on the burning engine. He told me something, but I don’t want to remember it. I don’t want to, but it’s all I can hear.

    “You’ll be okay, don’t worry.”

    No, I’m not okay.

    “I won’t make it out, so please listen.”

    I don’t want to, why did you have to be so certain?

    “You have to take over for me, okay?”

    No, no, I don’t want to.

    “Be Jade for me, I know you’ll do great.”

    I don’t want to be Jade.

    Why did he never tell me before? Jade was a superhero, a marvel to the city with incredible abilities. Not only was his skin more durable than steel, but his sense of justice and his selflessness let him save hundreds of lives from dozens of deadly situations. He could have died any time there, were it not for his iron skin, it’s so concerning.

    Maybe, he said nothing because he knew I’d worry needlessly. But he’s already gone, from a car crash no less. It doesn’t matter if he told me sooner or not.

    “Be Jade for me.”

    I can’t. I’m not you.

    “I know you’ll do great.”

    You don’t know, you’re dead.

    Something prickles under my skin as my vision blurs. My unbitten nails dig into my arms painfully, and I fall to the floor, shaking and barely breathing.

    “I can’t do it,” I mutter, wispy and fragile and incapable of anything more, “I can’t do it, I can’t do it…”

    Slowly, I recognize the distant sound of a ringing phone, the one that dad kept in his bedside drawer for emergencies. Even slower, I pull myself off the ground and wander over to his room. The phone stops ringing when I’m in the doorway, but I manage to keep myself going.

    The drawer is handcrafted. We made it together when I was eight, and I painted one side of it bright yellow, and another side glow-in-the-dark blue. A light shade, like the sky that day, or yesterday, when grandmother dropped off food. A turkey sandwich and a large pot of mac and cheese, enough for a week if that’s all I ate.

    I don’t want to touch the drawer, but the phone is ringing again.

    My fingers loosely curl around the knob and pull, opening it just enough to see the phone laying face down, buzzing and shifting around slightly. When I flip it over, a name shows on the screen that I don’t recognize, but I press answer anyway, and click speaker right after.

    “He-” I try to get words out, but my voice is too soft, more like a breeze than a voice. “Hello?”

    “Ah… You’re not who I expected. Could you go get your father for me? I have something I need to talk to him about.”

    I sit, leaning on the bed, and stare at the ceiling. “There’s no one else to answer.”

    “… I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean, young lady.”

    “I’m not a lady,” I reply on instinct, and sigh deeply at myself. “I mean… sorry”, I croak, trying to think through the haze in my mind. Why don’t I know this person? Why do they need to talk to dad? Don’t they know he died?

    … The phone was for being Jade, wasn’t it? He made it seem so natural, I never even questioned it.

    “Is everything alright? I just wish to talk to your father.”

    “You can’t talk to him. You can talk to me or hang up.”

    “Could you pass a message onto him, at least?”

    “He can’t receive any messages now.” My hand twitches with my stinging eyes, jaw clenched painfully and making my teeth ache. It’s hot, and my veins throb.

    “You’ll have to be a bit more direct with me. Why can’t your father receive a message from me?”

    “Because he’s dead!” I blurt out, throat aching terribly. I stood up at some point, but my legs shake now and threaten to drop me on my knees. I choke on my breath, distantly feeling hot tears roll off my chin and my palm cry out at the tightness in my fingers.

    The person on the other end doesn’t respond.

    “We-” I cough, taking a moment to catch my breath. “We got in an accident. A car accident, off a cliff from a collision with a truck.” I collapse back onto the ground, and I hit my toe on the dresser, but I ignore the pain and heat. “EMS came too late for him, and almost too late for me, but miraculously, I made it out without any fatal injuries.”

    “… Quite a miracle, wasn’t it?”

    I don’t like the tone the person took.

    “Excuse me?”

    “Did it feel like a miracle to you? Was it really pure luck and willpower that got you through, or did you experience a regeneration of sorts?”

    I scowl, pulling my legs inward. “You’re going to have to explain.”

    “Your father told you, didn’t he? About Jade?”

    Oh, oh no. no no no, they’re going to ask me too, I can’t do it, no no no-

    “I can’t do it.”

    “Of course you can. Jade wasn’t just your father, but his father too, and his mother, and so on. It’s a family title, because of how special your family is.”

    “My family isn’t special. My-” I choke, heavy air settling in my lungs. “My grandmother is a cook, and my grandfather was an architect. My mom was a singer and my dad was a carpenter. My aunt and uncle are both teachers, normal highschool teachers, and my cousin wants to be a scientist.” I shake my head, pressing my free hand into my temple. “Those are all normal jobs, done by normal people who celebrate new years, and birthdays, and- and make apple pies on anniversaries instead of cakes.”

    “I can assure you, your family is full of normal people. But it’s in your blood, miss, you have magic-”

    “I’m not a miss!!” I scream, slamming the phone down after pressing the end call button hard enough to turn my thumb white. I gasp desperately for cool air, only to find clampy, humid air filling my throat. I stumble to a stand and hurry over to the bathroom, running the tap and dunking my head under.

    It’s hot.

    It’s so hot, why is it so hot?

    “Was it really just luck?”

    “Be Jade for me.”

    “Quite a miracle, wasn’t it?”

    Shut up.

    “You have to take over for me, okay?”

    I’m not going to, you can’t make me.

    “You have magic.”

    “I don’t want it!!”

    I slam my fist on the counter, expecting my hand to hurt and for me to regret my actions, but my arm burns hot and my skin opens up, blood shooting out into a short spear that quickly stabs into the countertop, sending spiderweb cracks to shoot through it all.

    My breath comes quickly then, too quickly, and black dots fill my vision enough to block out cognitive thought. The last thing I feel is a hard thud to my side.


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