Chris knows something's wrong at the Jenkins' house, but it's even worse than he feared.
|Christopher paused in front of the Jenkins’ house and stared at the doorway, willing it to open. Ashley Jenkins lived in that house for three years and they’d been best friends for all of them. But, in the last few weeks, the house seemed disturbingly quiet. His eyes wandered to the window in the far corner of the house; a little window, but he knew it lead to Ashley’s bedroom.
Every summer, they stood in their window and flashed their lights at each other, but something was off. He ran back to his own house and told his mom, “Something’s wrong with Ashley. Mom, I know it. You know how we always play the light game? Her curtain is pulled shut, she never closes it!”
His mom looked at him, “Really? The curtain is drawn? That is why you’re freaking out?” Christopher just stopped and crossed his arms; he didn’t know how to make his mother take him seriously.
“Her thirteenth birthday was last week, I wanted to give Ashley her present,” he said.
“Honey, maybe they’re on vacation,” she offered.
“No,” Christopher shook his head, “She never would have left without telling me. I’m telling you something is wrong.” His mom still didn’t believe him.
The next day, he walked across the street and stood in front of her sidewalk; but as had become the norm, the house stood still. Even her dog, Buddy, didn’t make a noise. Buddy never stopped barking, Chris wasn’t even sure Buddy knew how to be quiet.
His eyes trailed to their special rock. If they had something secret to share, they’d write it in a note and slip it under the rock. Maybe something hid beneath the sparkling granite.
His sneakers dragged with every step, as if he feared lifting that rock and finding nothing underneath. If she really just up and left, he would be so mad at her when she got back. He flipped over the granite rock and found a folded piece of paper.
The surface was all wrinkled from sitting out in the dew for several weeks, but his name scrawled on the outside seemed hardly damaged. He knew the inside should be just as legible.
Quickly he unfolded it and read, “Chris, I’m sorry that I didn’t get to say good-bye. He found us again and we had to leave immediately. Mom says I can’t tell you where we’re going, that he might hurt you to make you tell. You’re my best friend ever and I will always love you. ~Ashley”
Feeling like a fool, he swiped at a tear that escaped down his cheek. Boys don’t cry.
Movement caught his attention out of the corner of his eye and he turned to see a tall man with dark hair and a mustache standing by the street. His piercing eyes held Christopher’s and he felt as if the world dropped out from under him.
Ashley’s father! Her father was not supposed to come anywhere near her or her mother. Ashley never broke down and told him all the details of what the man did, but he knew enough to know that both of them suffered a world of hurt.
Ashley once shared that her real name wasn’t even Ashley Jenkins, but she changed her name every time they moved. Three years and she now had to take on another name, thanks to the shadowy man standing on the street.
Christopher suddenly felt brave and stood up, “Hey you, you’re not supposed to be here.” His voice echoed in the quiet of the neighborhood and normally, Buddy would start barking, but he was gone too.
“What does the letter say, boy!” the man’s voice was gruff, full of menace.
“This letter?” Christopher said as he held up her note, “It doesn’t matter, it’s not for you. She wrote it for me.”
Without a moment’s hesitation, the mustached man stalked over. Christopher wanted to run, but he knew the man would just catch him. So, he stood his ground. Ashley’s father closed the distance and slugged Christopher in the stomach. Air whooshed out of Christopher and he fell to his knees, too stunned to even cough. The note fluttered from his fingertips and fell to the ground.
The man reached down and picked it up, his beady eyes quickly scanning the words. When he finished, he spit next to Christopher and said, “You should listen to her, boy. I don’t play games when it comes to my family.”
Christopher coughed and wheezed in protest, but the man didn’t care. He knew that the slugged teenage boy had no more to offer to him. The dark haired man dropped the note casually on the ground as if it didn’t matter, shoved his hands in his pockets and started whistling as he sauntered back down the street.
Watching Ashley’s father, expecting him to double back; Christopher painfully untucked one hand from his sore stomach and retrieved the letter. That and the present for Ashley were all he had left of three years of the best friendship of his life.
Neighbors moved in and out of the Jenkins’ home, but he never did meet another friend quite like Ashley. He never found out if she escaped her father’s hungry hunt and she never knew that a young teenager stood up for her, even if only over a note.
Word Count: 895