Saturday, March 28, 2009

Two Past Midnight

Jack stared up at the dreamcatcher, tracing the threads of the web with is eyes, trying again and again to follow the pattern, losing it every time after half a dozen curves and loops. His sketchbook was full of trial after trial to duplicate the webbing.

He turned over on his side in time to see the clock tick over to 11:58. The curtains gusted open, and silver moonlight peeked through, washing the harshness from the red glare of the numbers.

He wasn’t sleepy. He was tired: the yard work caught up about halfway through Chutes and Ladders, and his sisters heaping on the abuse over the thing with Beth had worn his nerves down. He didn’t hate them for the teasing; he was used to it, they’d get bored with it after a while, and things would go back to normal.

The dreamcatcher swung against a sharp breeze, and Jack almost didn’t hear the tap at his door over the jingling of the bells.

No footsteps and tapping.

He got up, cracked open his door.


“Don’t you ‘Hey’ me,” Jack said, opening the door wider and looking down at the girl. Her hair was mussed, as if she’d been tossing and turning. Her eyes were wide, glimmering, her teeth chattering. He stepped back, and she hobbled in a step before Jack could roll the chair over to her. It was more a stumble and fall into the chair then a controlled landing, but Jack was just happy she didn’t miss the seat. He pushed her across to his desk and put her foot up between the pages of his biology book.

He grabbed his robe and draped it over her shoulders, then sat on his bed.

“I couldn’t sleep,” she said.

“Well, I hoped you weren’t sleepwalking.”

Beth’s shoulders shook with the laugh, but it sounded forced.


“So what?” she asked.

“Broken ankle? Two flights of stairs?”

“Its not broken.”

“Not for your lack of trying,” Jack said.

They sat for a while, watching the dreamcatcher turn. The clock ticked over: 12:00.

“Witching hour,” Beth said.

“Another new day.”

“I think its weird that a day should start in the middle of the night. It should start when the sun comes up.”

“But it doesn’t come up at the same time every day,” Jack observed. He pointed to part of the star chart on the wall above his bed. “See? Different sunrise times every day. Midnight is always the same.”

“What about different time zones?”

“Why do you always have to complicate things?”

“And the international date line. Not even the same day. How’s that for weird?”

“There you go, complicating things even more.”

“I’m just saying, daytime should start in the day.”

Its cord wound up, the dreamcatcher began spinning lazily the other direction, unwinding itself.

“So, you came all the way up here, on your broken leg to talk about daytime?”

“Ankle. Sprained ankle.”


She pulled her good foot up to the seat, wrapping the robe and her arms around it, her chin sinking to the top of her knee. The shaky breath she drew in came out a heavy sigh.

Jack knew that sound. It was the sound Charlotte made when he overheard her and Hannah talking about The Boyfriend who became The Ex Boyfriend. It was the sound Ellie made when she thought too hard about Mr. Nibbles.

“Top left drawer,” he said.


“I think I still have a pack of tissues in there.”

“I’m not—” her voice broke. She jerked the drawer open, rummaged, came up with a pocket-sized packet. She fumbled with the sticky-flap, fished out a tissue and dabbed at her eyes. She seemed surprised to see it come away damp. She sniffled.

“See?” Jack folded his arms in a “told-you-so” gesture, then immediately felt rotten. It wasn’t really something he wanted to be right about.

The packet hit him in the forehead, then landed on the floor between them. Jack stared at it rather than meeting Beth’s eyes.

“What if it is broken?” she whispered.

“Then we’ll get it fixed,” Jack said.

“But, doctors, hospitals… They’ll want papers and forms and I don’t know any of—”

“We can find that stuff out,” Jack said. “We can look through some of your dad’s papers, or call your Gran—”

“I’ve never met her. I don’t even know her, she probably doesn’t even know I exist—” Beth’s voice was spiraling faster, higher.

“Hey, it’ll be okay—” Jack scooted off the bed, knelt down, looked up at her, but Beth was staring up, at the dreamcatcher, tears streaming down her cheeks, silver trails in the moonlight.

“No, it won’t. They’ll ask questions and then call people and try to take me away again and—”

Her words made him dizzy. The floor suddenly didn’t feel so secure under his knees. He had that feeling of treading water, expecting to be able to touch bottom and stand up, but the bottom wasn’t there.

Jack didn’t know what to say, so he just leaned over, folded his arms around her. She tried to push him away, but he tightened his arms. The trembling overtook the tension, and then the sobbing overtook the trembling.

Jack closed his eyes, let her cry.

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