Two Stories

Jake is playing video games and ignoring me. He’s staring intently at the television screen, jerking his body in synch to the character as he shoots the pretend enemy. He clicks the buttons on the controller in rapid-fire succession and lets out a victory cry as he murders his foe. I tried playing with him once, but my novice  skill level made Jake angry and he hasn’t let play with him since.

I’m laying on my back on his bed, my head hanging over the edge, and I stare at the ceiling fan above me whirl around, focusing my attention on one blade, but I get dizzy and stop.

“Die, motherfucker!” Jake yells. His sudden outburst startles me and I sit up. “I’m going to fuck your mother, asshole!” he yells again.

“You realize this is a fantasy world, Jake. They can’t actually hear you,” I say to him. He grunts in reply and shoots a guy in the head. Blood splatters the screen and I cringe at the reality of it.

“Yes, I realize this.” He sounds annoyed.

“I mean because if this were real life, you’d be a murderer and in jail, and probably on death row. I bet you’d be some guy’s girlfriend, too. What’s your opinion on anal rape, Jake, because I’m pretty sure you’d be getting raped.”

“Jessie, don’t you have anything to do instead of distracting me from my mission? I’m almost at a checkpoint and I need to focus.” The entire time he’s talking, he’s mowing people down with his rifle. It disturbs me he’s being so blase about all the death he’s inflicting, real or not.

“If I had known you were going to ignore me all afternoon, I would have stayed home and been alone by myself, Jason.” I never understood why he wanted to be called Jake instead of Jason. Jason is a much better name, in my opinion. Why Jake? What’s wrong with Jason? I dunno…I just like Jake better. It’s like men named John who go by Jack. But why? I don’t get it, Jake. Some things aren’t meant to be gotten, Jessie…

I sit up on the bed and stare outside the window at the other houses in our suburban neighborhood. I live three houses down from Jake and his family. Our parents have been friends forever and Jake and I grew up together. We’re an odd duo, me and Jake. Once he hit puberty, he got incredibly handsome and tall and started lifting weights and has a pretty decent body for a seventeen year old guy. He’s really popular at our school and everyone loves him. I, however, hit puberty and gained fifty pounds and am only five feet four inches. My mother tells me I’m going through my “ugly duckling phase” now. If I knew how long this phase would last, I’d feel better about it, but it seems like there’s no end in sight. I don’t know why Jake still hangs out with me, to be honest. Maybe out of pity. I think his parents threatened to take away his car if he doesn’t pretend to be my friend. Despite his motives, I’m glad I still have him.

Jake is still yelling at the tv, but now he has on that silly headset that lets you talk to other players in the same game. A stream of obscenities and insults flies out of his mouth as he kills more people. I get up off his bed and walk over to the window. I raise the blinds and notice how dusty they are. I run my finger along one of the blades and look down in disgust at the thick layer of grime that’s on it. I wipe my hand on my jeans quickly as if the dirt is going to start eating my flesh. I unlock the window and push it up. Jake’s window doesn’t have a screen on it. He told me he took it off because it makes sneaking out of the house at night easier. When he does, he usually comes over to my house and we walk down the street to the park on the corner and sit on the teeter-totter. One time I stole some wine coolers from my parents’ bar down in the basement and we sat on the playground equipment, talked about life, and drank the kiwi-strawberry-banana-mango liquid. I feel like a thirteen year old girl, Jessie. Don’t your parents have better booze? I lied and said they didn’t, but really I was too scared to drink anything harder than this.

A cool early spring breeze blows by me, carrying the smell of the blooming lilac bushes below and I close my eyes and breathe in deeply. The scent takes me back to memories of our childhood when Jake and I would build forts behind the bushes by the fence that separates his yard from the neighbors. That was our sanctuary to protect us from the world, where we’d go to get away from everything that plagues two 10-year-old kids.

I straddle the window ledge, letting my foot dangle outside. The sun feels warm on my skin. I reach up and balance myself as I bring my other leg outside.

“Jake? I’m going to jump,” I call out to him. If he heard me, he doesn’t reply.

I duck my head under the window and scoot myself further on the ledge, trying hard to keep my balance. I shut my eyes again, take a deep breath, and push off the ledge. I’m only two stories up, but the fall to the ground seems like it takes hours. I land hard on my right leg and feel it crumple beneath me as my ankle snaps. The smell of the lilacs is more powerful now and I crawl on my hands and knees to the bushes.

They saved me before and they’ll save me again.