Jack awoke to the sound of jingle bells.
His window was still cracked open, a morning breeze billowing the curtains, the dreamcatcher spinning lazily, feathers twisting in the stronger gusts.
The sun was up. Well up. The clock read 8:47. He must have been tired to sleep through the clomping chaos of his sisters getting ready for school.
He glanced up at the dreamcatcher. Apparently it had worked, or if he had dreamed, he didn’t remember any of it. The nightmare was still there, flickering dimly in a far away corner, but not the looming threat that it had been much of the night before.
He dressed, made his way down stairs, found the list his dad left him, and got to work.
* * * * *
Jack wondered in passing how it was that his dad managed to pick out just enough work to fill a school day. He hauled the last bag of leaves down to the end of the gravel drive when the bus rumbled and rattled around the bend, grinding to a stop.
Ellie, as usual, bounded down the steps, braids and backpack bouncing as she ran the length of the drive in her mad dash to her hour of TV time before her sisters got home.
Beth was a bit slower in appearing, easing down the two steps to the ground, leaning slightly to one side, wobbling as she tried to lift her backpack.
Jack took the book bag before she could even lift it halfway, and studiously ignored both her glare, and the smiles and whistles coming from the bus as it pulled away.
“I can carry it,” she said to Jack’s back as he started towards the house.
“You can barely walk,” he said, turning and waiting as she limped after him.
“Your books are heavy enough. Don’t make me carry you.”
“Are you calling me fat?”
“Why is that always the first thing a girl says?” Jack asked nobody in particular. He took a step, then stopped, shifting the backpack to the other side. He held out his arm.
“I told you, I’m fine,” she said. Through gritted teeth. She limped past him, one step, two. Then her bad foot came down wrong. The rock turned, her foot with it, and she was on her side in the sparse grass that bordered the gravel path.
Jack dropped the backpack.
“Don’t you dare try to get up,” he said, as the girl did just that.
Her eyes blazed. “I’m —”
“No you’re not. If it wasn’t already broken, you probably just did it.”
“Its not— Stop, what are you doing?”
“Shut up and stop squirming,” Jack said, as he hoisted her in his arms.
“Put me down!”
“I’m going to drop you if you don’t settle down,” he gasped. He took a few steps.
She stopped protesting after the third step, and it became apparent that he wasn’t about to set her back down voluntarily.
Jack had thought she was something like a cat the night before, moving almost silently across the yards, and up and down the stairs. She apparently could do that thing cats do when they don’t want to be picked up, too. Only she did it in reverse, shifting her weight however it was that cats did when they decided they actually did want to be picked up.
He made it to the front porch.
The volume on the TV dropped a bit, and Ellie bounced to the other side of the screen door. The angry frown slid off her face as her eyebrows shot in the opposite direction. Her mouth worked.
“Just open it!”
She leaned on the door, following it out onto the porch, her wide eyes never leaving the spectacle.
Jack guessed thats what it was, as he made his way up the three steps, edged past Ellie. He somehow managed to get Beth through the door without smacking her ankle or head against either side of the door frame, barely making it to the couch before his strength gave out.
The girl squawked as she hit the cushions, but bit back anything she was about to say. Her eyes still smoldered. Jack ignored them as he worked at the bright green laces of her shoe. She didn’t offer to help, instead crossing her arms.
As gently as he could, Jack worked at the shoe. The “high” part of the canvas fit much too snugly over her ankle. He gave up on the gentle pressure at her heel and gave a sharp tug, wincing as the girl sucked in a breath.
It might as well have stoked the fire in her eyes, for they’d flared up again as she glared at him.
“Sorry,” Jack mumbled, then went to the kitchen, fetching a towel and some ice.
Ellie had refolded the blanket, and added one of the throw pillows to prop up Beth’s foot.
Jack plopped the ice down over the girl’s ankle.
“Now its fine,” he said.
“I could have made it myself,” she said, staring at the TV, where the cat and mouse were at it yet again.
“Your shoe barely fit. Your ankle is the size of a softball.”
“And purple!” chimed in Ellie.
Beth scrunched up her shoulders, turning towards the TV. She may have been looking in that direction, but her gaze was miles away.