Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Of Hot Chocolate and Coffee

They sat on the couch, Beth’s blanket across both their shoulders.

“Okay, now spill it,” Beth said.

“My hot chocolate?”

She smacked his leg. “No! The spooky-lets-almost-wake-up-the-whole-house dream you were having that woke me up. After I finally got to sleep.”

Jack sipped at his hot chocolate.

“It was… weird. Like, I was dreaming of someplace I’d seen before, but haven’t ever been. The last time you… uh… slept near me, I dreamed of a big, open meadow. Super big. All-you-can-see big.”

Beth sipped at her mug, nodding for him to continue.

“So… It was like that, again. Do you think that maybe you—”

“Details, Jack.”

“Right. Umm. There was grass. Tall grass. But it was like… it was all dry and brown, like it gets in the winter. It was windy. Cold. Really cold, like the other day when the wind came up?”

Beth nodded, sipping again, her eyes distant.

“Tell me what the sky looked like.”

“It was dark. Cloudy, like it was going to rain and rain and rain any second. Even the air smelled like it.”

Beth leaned forward, and set her cup down on the coffee table. It rattled before she set it down all the way.

“Is… that all?” she asked, her voice catching.

Jack put his own mug down beside Beth’s. “You’re getting upset. Maybe I should just—”

“What else?”

Jack swallowed, took up his cup and took another slow sip of the hot chocolate, nearly burning the roof of his mouth.

“It didn’t feel like I was alone there. And… I don’t think I liked the feeling of whatever it was that was there.”

“What did it say?”

Jack blinked. “How did you—”

“What did it say?”

“It said your name. And then it told me to give you back.”

Beth sat for a long, quiet moment, and Jack watched her struggle to keep her composure. But she blinked a bit too quickly, and her breath hitched, and then turned into a hiss as she winced, a hand clapping over her midsection.

She paled, and wobbled to her feet, making her way around the stairs. Jack heard the bathroom door shut, the lock click.

He waited ten minutes before he started to worry.

* * * * *

“Jack? What are you doing up at this hour? Down here?”

Hannah was trying to belt her robe and run her fingers through her hair at the same time.

“Couldn’t sleep.”

“So you made some hot chocolate.”

“Beth did.”

“So it will be decent. There better be some left.”

There was the sound of running water from the bathroom, and Beth tiptoed out.

“Don’t you ever sleep?”

Beth shrugged. “It’s vacation. No school in the morning.”

Hannah pointed to Beth’s chair at the table. “Sit.”

The younger girl sank quietly into her seat. Hannah already had the blood pressure kit from where it sat on the kitchen counter, and Beth was already rolling up her sleeve.

Hannah sat in Jack’s seat, stethoscope in her ears, wrapping the girl’s arm.

Jack made himself useful warming up what was left of the hot chocolate, and by the time he’d warmed up his own mug and poured one for his sister, she was letting the air out of the blood pressure cuff, peeling it off.

“Well, doctor?” Jack asked, setting the steaming cup by his sister.

“Two days to live. Better make the most of it.”

Beth stuck out her tongue.

“Your blood pressure is starting to drop again, and….” Hannah looked up. “Jack? Maybe you should go draw something.”

“Yeah, I think I might just do that…”

He gave Beth a smile, and then hurried up the stairs.

* * * * *

Jack opened the bottom drawer of his desk, where he’d put one of the photo albums he’d taken from next door after Beth Disappeared. He flipped towards the back, and carefully removed the photo, laying it under the pool of lamplight on his desk. He pulled out one of his higher quality sketch pads, picked through his colored pencils, and continued working.

* * * * *

“Champ, you look half dead,” Jack’s father said.

Jack looked up from his bowl of cereal. Truth was, he felt that way. He’d fallen asleep at his desk, and woke up several hours later, his neck and shoulder feeling like one huge knot of wadded-up muscle.

“Sisters and your mom gone already?”

Jack nodded.

Jack’s father glanced into the kitchen.


“Beth made it before she left. Just hit the switch. She didn’t know when you were going to be up, or she would have programmed it.”

Jack’s father frowned. “Programmed?”

“The timer?”

“It has one of those?”

“You’re as bad as Mom and the VCR.”

“All I know, Jack, is that the stuff that comes out of that machine when Beth makes the coffee is…” His voice trailed off. “If I wasn’t already married, your mother would be in for a mighty close competition.”


He came out of the kitchen, mug in hand, and sat at his place at the head of the table.

“All right, son. You hear that?”

“No TV.”

“That’s right.”

“No washing machine.”

“That’s right.”

“No telephone, no slamming doors, no arguments.”

Jack’s father let out a murmur of approval as he sipped his coffee. “That’s right.”

“Clock is ticking, Dad.”

“Hand me the sports section.”

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