By Meagan Lucas
Photography by Reelika Ramot
It's four AM. I'm in the ER waiting room.
Jesse is here. I was sleeping, like usual, with my phone next to my pillow when the call came.
The nurse at the desk won’t confirm anything. Hollows hang under her eyes and her lips are
grey. I doze. She shakes me awake.
"Reverend?" From her movements, I can tell she wants me to follow her. I do. She leaves me in
the doorway of a darkened room.
He is shirtless, a bandage around his shoulder. There are dark valleys where skin sinks between
ribs. Even in the half-light, I can see the familiar, raised, ribbons of scar lining his torso. This
isn’t the first time I’ve seen Jesse in the ER.
When we met, he was the new foster son of members of my church. He was lucky to have
been placed with them. They'd been dealt a hand like this before. Unlike me, they knew how to
create boundaries for a child who would constantly push them.
Small and wiry, he was scarred and pockmarked, and buried in clothes straight from a rap
video. He couldn't sit still and had a habit of cracking his knuckles. I couldn't help but
seek similarities between him and my fifteen year old self. There were none. My own solid,
comfortable childhood something I've always needed to atone for. The curse of the silver spoon.
Jesse attended my Youth Group that evening and quickly engaged everyone with his self-depreciating humor, and enthusiasm. I didn’t think twice when my cell died and he lent me his.
Even when the police showed up at my office a few days later and accused me of theft, I still
thought it was a mistake. They traced a call I made from a stolen cell phone.
I could justify conveniently forgetting where the phone came from, by pointing out that the
church has long protected those who sought asylum. I could say I felt I could better punish
Jesse. But, after I mailed the phone back to the police, we never talked about it. We’ve talked
every day for years and it hasn't come up.
Sitting next to the bed, I kiss his palm and tears wet my face.
I've been in Sherri's shitbox apartment for hours, surrounded by her junkie friends, but haven't
seen her. Last night on the phone she slurred when she invited me over.
I close the door to the tiny bathroom. I lift the lid and drop my fly. My chest hurts. It's only
been a week since I got stabbed. Three days since I got out of the hospital. You'd think she'd, at
least, ask if I was okay. Exhaling, I try to relax and get a good stream going, but the door opens
and she stumbles in. My eyebrows touch in the middle.
"What?" she asks, too loud. "I wanted to get you alone." My dick is in my hand and my face is
hot and damp. "I think you should listen to Derek."
If she had wanted to talk to me alone, she shouldn't have invited over a houseful of people. I've
been fending off her asshole boyfriend and his shit ideas for an hour.
"You think I should retaliate, too?" I ask. "That's a good way to get killed."
"You can't let Patrick get away with cutting you."
"He didn't get away with it, he's going to jail."
"For like six months. You can't let him disrespect you. We aren't like that."
She sits on the edge of the tub and flicks cigarette ash into the grey smudged harvest gold
interior as I shake off, zip and pick up a dingy bar of soap at the sink.
"It's a little late to play the mom card."
"I've always been your mother," she says, spitting the words.
I put my hand on the door to leave.
"Wait, Jesse, I know..." she pleads. "I know. You have lots of reasons to ignore me. But,
he'll come back for more." I don't know why Patrick attacked me in the first place. There is
apparently a mark on my back.
"Derek knows where you can get money. Money... so you don't have to do it yourself."
"That's a fuck-load of money. If Derek can get his hands on that kind of money why..."My eyes
scan the peeling wallpaper and the grimy linoleum.
"It's the Angel's money."
A snort escaped. "Shit. So, I'm safe from Patrick, but the Angel's will kill me."
"Not if they don't know you took it. You ain't got no ties. They won't suspect you."
"He's, what do you call it, probationary. We're trying to protect you. The guy who stabbed you
is bad. He'll try to do it again."
"I thought you didn't know Patrick?"
"I don't." She won't meet my eyes.
It's hot as fuck and the AC in my ghetto apartment only drips water and occasionally hums.
The thing you don't know about money, when you don't have any, is when you finally get some it won't make up for years of being poor. I've got a quarter million of the Angel's stashed under
my bed, but it doesn't make it any easier to rent an apartment. Took me a month after I had the
cash to get anything. Those leasing agents all looked me over, from my hair to my shoes, and
they knew. They didn't even have to run my crappy credit, they could feel the bad risk in their
bones, they could smell the poor on me.
I have nowhere to go and no one to see. Melanie loved the ring I gave her until she found out
where the money came from and now it's back in a box in my underwear drawer and she isn't
taking my calls. A loud knock startles me. Hoping it's Melanie and she's changed her mind, I
hop up and run to the door. I fling it open. It's not her.
Two police constables fill the frame. I turn and run through the kitchen to the open patio door.
Jumping over the balcony, I land two stories below on a dry patch of brown grass. My ankles
and knees burn. I'm across the parking lot and through a hedge before I look behind me.
Hopping some fences until I find a yard with a kid's playhouse, I lay on the dirt floor. The house reminds me of one of my foster families. Their backyard was full of these kids toys, years
old, used and abused by their own children long before I ever got there. Still, I spent hours by
myself, making mud pies with my make-believe mommy, tucking in my imaginary brothers and
sisters, rocking the fantasy baby to sleep.
The sky is black when I wake. The night will help cover me. If only I were wearing shoes. Dan's
church is close, and he'll be leading evening service now. I can stay with him. Relief floods
me. The four blocks are behind me in no time and I'm standing in the parking lot watching
people emerge. I'm imagining them taking me back to their place for food, and sweet Jesus, air
conditioning as I'm hit from behind.
My head hurts. My mouth tastes like blood. My nose is dripping and my hands are twisted
behind my back. I'm yanked upwards.
"You are being charged..." a voice says in my ear. As he states the rest of my rights, I shake my
head and try to clear my vision.
They shove me into the back of the cruiser I look out the window to the front of the church.
Dan is standing there. His eyes are huge and his mouth keeps opening and closing.
I fucking did everything right. I followed Derek's plan perfectly. I shouldn't be here.
The courtroom bench is hard beneath me. It's been two months since Jesse was dragged across
the asphalt and stuffed into a police car in front of me.
Memories of Jesse and my daughters fill me to breaking. Jesse and Elizabeth debating a lyric
in an old rock song or puzzling out chords on her guitar. Jesse, with Emily in his arms, racing
across the field toward the house, red-faced and sweating. She had fallen and twisted her ankle.
Could this young man in court be the same boy who woke the entire house up at four AM on
Christmas morning to open presents?
Jesse has no one here but me. At first, I’d wished I’d let my wife, Bonnie come. She’d wanted to,
but I was afraid of what was going to be said. If I’m being honest, I was afraid what she would
learn would make him unwelcome in our home. It’s awful of me, but I still talked about the
long hours, and how unproductive it would be. I said: “I might even wait all day and then it
will be rescheduled. You never know.” That’s what clinched it. Bonnie hates to waste time. But
now, after the most shocking revelation, I’m so relieved she isn’t here I can barely breathe.
A man named Derek is on the witness stand. He admits to being a member of the Hell's Angels and he says he knows Jesse stole the money, and why. I swallow a mouthful of vomit.
A hitman. He stole the money to hire a hitman.
My skin is hot and my vision takes on a blue blur. What I think is a hiccup bubbles up my throat, it isn't until it bursts on my lips that I realize it's a laugh.
The irony is not lost on me that Jesse actually planned something. Jesse who has fetal alcohol syndrome, who can't remember to bring a change of clothes when he stays over at my house, actually planned something. Sure, it was a murder, but part of me is proud.
Putting my head as close to my knees as possible to control my whirling stomach, a small smile tugs at my lips.
I pick up the handset and agree to the connection. There is a hitch in his breathing, a shudder.
He doesn’t have to say anything.
“I’m coming,” I say. “I’m coming.”
I know I wasn't the first call. Part of me hoped Sherri wouldn’t let him down. But the other part
hoped he would spend his first night of freedom under my roof.
Driving down the street in front of the prison I see a dark figure hunched on a bus bench.
Bareheaded, his face tucked into the collar of a puffy vest. His thighs and feet are covered in
a skiff of snow. I stop and scoop him into my arms. I buckle him into the passenger seat and
crank the heat.
“Thank you,” he says.
I spot a picnic basket tucked behind the passenger seat and I’m filled with warmth for my wife.
Inside, I discover a blanket and tuck it around him. His favorite foods follow. I expect him to
tear into them with abandon. He takes small bites and looks out the windshield.
I’m going to take him to my house, even though I know it isn't where he wants to go.
Sitting on the park bench, we both balance our coffee between our knees. Jesse lights a fresh
cigarette off the butt of the last. He’s been out of prison for two weeks now, and out from under
my roof for twelve days.
“Your name is on a cinnamon bun for Christmas morning.”
“Thanks, but I’ve got stuff.”
He won’t tell me what is plans are because I’m not going to like them.
“Come over Christmas Eve, at least, the girls would love to see you.”
“I won’t be able to make it. But thanks, you know.”
We sat in silence for a moment.
“So what are you doing? You’ve spent every Christmas with us since you were fifteen, save the
last two. What’s different?”
“I’m going to see Sherri.”
All of the air leaves my body.
“They warned you not to come back. The Angels will kill you!”
He laughs. “Only if they know I’m there.” He's studying his toes, cracking his knuckles. “She is
my mom. I told her I’d take her to dinner.”
“But the Hell's Angels?”
“They won’t know. In and out. I’m safe.”
“You aren't. I wish you could see that. I wish you could see we love you, and you have been
spending Christmas with your family all these years.”
“It’s not the same.” Fury crept up my neck and wrapped itself around my head. He stood to
leave, I followed.
"I can't be a part of this," I said.
"I didn't ask you to."
"I don't think you understand, Jesse. I've been here for the last ten years. But I can't this time."
He walked away.
I believed Sherri when she blamed everything on Derek. When she said she begged him not to
testify. When she said they were done.
Yet, walking through the restaurant, past the tinsel hanging from the ceiling, I spot him sitting
next to her in the booth. I'm dumbstruck in the aisle. I'm still prison skinny, buying dinner with
borrowed money, and there he is, his arm around her, drinking a beer.
A scalding froth builds in my throat. My jaw clenches and my lips press together. I still sit down
across from her and pass a present across the table. I don't look at him.
"Oh," she said. Her hands shook as she tore into the paper I spent an hour trying to get perfect.
I don't flatter myself that she was wracked with emotion. She's obviously high.
"A cow mug," she said, pulling it out of the box.
"Yeah, I remembered you love cows."
"Yeah, you used to have them all over everything when I was a kid."
"Yeah.. well.. if you don't like it I could get you something else. I just..."
"No. No. I like it. Thanks."
She stuffed it down in the space between her and Derek.
"It's good to see you," I said. "Merry Christmas."
"Sorry, I couldn't come get you at the prison. You know, things happen..."
The waitress takes our orders. She brings the food and we eat, the silence only broken by their
whispering and giggling. I pay. They drive me to their new townhouse. It isn't what I'd call nice,
but apparently Derek has moved up in the world.
"So," Derek said. "What are you going to do now."
"Get a job. Get a place. Try to start over."
"A job would be good," Sherri said. "Unless you still have the rest of the money?"
"Police took it. You guys look like you're doing alright."
"Yeah," said Sherri. "The money you gave us helped. The Angels were pissed about it being
missing. But once Patrick knew what you were planning to do to him, he forgave my debt,
so..."A sinkhole opens beneath me, and I scratch and flail to keep from falling in.
"You owed him money?" She lied, again. "Is that why he attacked me? Why you wanted me to
take him out?" The sinkhole is getting wider and the only thing I can do to keep from being
sucked to the center of the earth is to scream. My anger keeps me buoyant. "Then fucking
Derek ratted me out to the police! Motherfuckers!"
"Derek was getting heat for the robbery. The Angels thought it was him..."
I'm losing the battle. My anger is used up and the sinkhole is tugging at my legs.
"The Angels would kill me... but I came anyway. You're a cunt."
Derek moved, and before I knew it I was on the snowy front lawn and she was throwing my
shoes at my head.
I ran, my footsteps echoing in the cold air. The night silent except for the occasional whoosh of
a car on a distant street and the creak of cold rubber sneakers.
The bus station is deserted. On a holiday, people want to be with their families, laughing, piled
into an over warm living room, eating cookies. Not riding a bus. That's where I should be, with Dan.
It's snowing. I tuck myself back into the doorway of the closed ticket office, rest my head on the
wall and doze. When my eyes open the formerly brown and mushy parking lot is an expanse of
feathery white. The street lights cast shadows of tree branches, charcoal against a canvas.
It's cold. I pull my arms inside the body of my sweater. I'm drifting again when I hear a new
noise. The whisper of leather on leather and the clink of chains. I slide my arms back into my
How the hell do they know I'm here? Two round the corner and I see the surprise on their faces
to find me in the alcove. The snow covered my tracks. I dash, but the bigger one trips me, and
the smaller one pins me to the ground with a baseball bat between my shoulder blades.
"You're not supposed to be here," one says.
One kicks me in the side, the steel toe of his boot making contact with my ribs. I hear cracking
and white hot floods my abdomen.
"We told you never to come back, " he says, as another kick lands, my kidneys, I think,
"We told you if you did, we'd kill you."
"And yet, here you are."
There are more kicks but I can't be sure how many. My mouth is full of blood.
"I'm leaving," I wheeze. I can't get enough air in my chest to get the words out. "I was here to
visit my mother."
"Who do you think called us?"
All I could see was the shadow of the baseball bat sweeping towards my head against the pearl
white of the snow.
I'm sitting in my chair, Elizabeth and Bonnie are finishing the dinner dishes in the kitchen.
Every so often I can hear their laughter above the carols playing on the radio.
His absence is a hole in my skin. I thought it would have been in the morning when I missed
Jesse the most. Maybe I would have missed him most when his usual heckling of my turkey
slicing skills were silent. Or when no one was here to share third servings of pumpkin pie. But
it's now. Now, when we usually would have been sitting across from each other, staring at a chess
board, solving the world's problems, that I miss him most. In the quiet, peacefulness of this
warm house, with the scent of cinnamon and gravy in the air, my chest aches.
Bonnie enters the room, "I'm going to bed, but I put a plate for you in the fridge."
"Thank you, honey. You know me too well."
"I miss him too," she whispers.
There is a sharp pain in my nose as my sobs break free.
"You shouldn't stay up too late."
"He's all alone out there..."
"Do you remember when Elizabeth was dating Bryan and we hated it? We told her she couldn't
and she did it anyway? But even then, when he broke her heart, she knew she could come to us
"Do you remember when your mother was so angry that you changed your major from
engineering to divinity that she refused to come to commencement? And you were devastated
she would miss something so important in your life over something so trivial? But you knew, you
knew even though she didn't come, that she loved you."
"Yes," I said, unsure of where she was going with this.
"You don't have to love someone's decisions to love them. He knows."
She kisses me on the cheek and disappears.
The picture window looks out onto the street. It's snowing and the brown of the street looks fresh and clean again. Heading for the stairs I pass the front table and deposit my wallet. My phone feels heavy in my hand. I don't need to keep it next to my pillow tonight. I place it with my wallet in the bowl before I go up.
I brush my teeth and put on my pajamas. Bonnie is already in bed as I tiptoe in and slip beneath the quilt. I watch the clock for three hours before
oblivion takes me.
Banging on my door wakes me.
"Pop!" Emily says, racing in the room, my cell held out in front of her like a bomb. "It's for you, it's the ER." I grab the phone. The woman on the other end of the line explains about blood and snow and baseball bats, my stomach falls out of my body.
"I'm coming. I'm coming." I jump out of bed, hoping it isn't too late.
Meagan Lucas is a Canadian writer, living in the mountains of North Carolina. She is
a wife, a mother and a handful of other things that never seem to stick. Her stories have
been published in The City Quill and Degenerate Literature. Meagan whines a lot about craving
carbs and finishing her novel at www.meaganlucas.com