For the first time, in a while, I wished I had a job. Something to keep my mind off two horrific upcoming events. First, was dinner with Jack and Dora, where I was sure my resolve to steal a car and break into a Peach school would be tested to its limits; and…oh yes, stealing a car and breaking into a Peach school. One thing I did determine in my miserable waiting was to eat as much of Dora’s baked goods as I could. Using those for a covert operation…a silver and gold operation is simply non-negotiable.
In my own head I was already starting to categorize human actions. Silver and gold for the actions that would likely be in a silver or gold utopia. Hadn’t had to categorize many as white lately. That worried me a bit.
However, knowing I would not use Dora’s food to supply our rogue actions, I had only one option. I’d have to take some food from our own cupboards, and there wasn’t much. Many and Zoe would do the same. We were all short on a good home with good food.
However, despite my determination to maintain the holiness of Dora’s food, my plan backfired. Because when it came time for dinner with Jack and Dora, I was stuffed to the brim with carbohydrates.
“You okay, Fern?” Mom asked as we marched up Jack’s memorable stone steps. “You don’t look so good.”
“I’m good. Just ate a little too much of Dora’s cinnamon rolls…today.” I replied. It was not like I could hide it. She’d seen me microwave at least four of them, and stuff them in my mouth before they’d even had time to cool.
“You knew we were coming tonight. And you know how Dora cooks.” Mom tsked, as she knocked on the screen door. “Well, you’ll still have to make a good show of it.”
“If not, Dora will send us home with the leftovers,” I said, as a passing thought.
But before Mom could lecture me, Jack opened the wooden door behind the screen door and beamed at us. “Welcome!” he proclaimed like an archangel as he swung open the metal screen door. It was painted all white, though I could see a few chips in the paint. Not too many, though.
Jack led us past his front chantry room, where he preached, and led us back to a cozy dining room. The table was solid wood, “Built it when I built the house,” Jack informed as Mom oohed and aahed over the solid wood and the clear lacquer finish. The chairs were not matchy-matchy. Instead there was a mix of thrift store chairs that Jack had clearly sanded down and repainted. A few were a cream color, some light grey, and the last few were black or copper. I could see where Jack had purposefully aged the paint job by sanding back the new paint on the edges to give the chairs a lived-in, homey look. The seat of every chair was covered in some type of floral print, but none were the same. They all smelled of Dora’s bakery—a mix of fresh fried donuts, sweet buttercream frosting, and warm buttered bread.
“You two are a Jack and Jane-of-all-trades!” I said, surprised at the tiny edge of sarcasm that found its way into my tone. Mom arched a brow at me, briefly, but I couldn’t tell if Jack noticed. He didn’t even so much as blink differently. What am I doing? Was that a subconscious test for Jack? Why would I ever be unkind to Jack, of all people?
But I knew I was being eaten up from the inside out. For some reason, for all of Jack’s and Dora’s kindness, for all their goodness to me and my mom, but especially to me, I felt an obligation to them. I felt tied to them. It was horrible and wonderful and hopeful and sickening. I couldn’t just pull the teenager card. I cared for them. I didn’t want to hurt them. But you’re planning to hurt them, Fern, I thought to myself. You’re ignoring all your feelings. You’re doing things you condemn in others. You’re encouraging Manny in dishonest acts. You’re letting Zoe take the risk with you. Her trust in other people is already so thin and you’re putting that at risk. You’re putting your friendship with Zoe at risk! You are soooo headed for the silver ray. You’re a liar. That’s what you are.
“Fern, are you alright?” Jack asked me directly, breaking me out of my self-destructive internal dialogue. “You left the Learen pretty quick the other day. I wasn’t sure if I upset you.”
You upset me? Ha. I upset myself, Jack. I’m the one doing the upsetting. “Of course not,” I said, fidgeting under the table. “I…just had a lot on my mind. I needed to think.”
Jack looked at me with a kind, but measuring, gaze. “I’ve never met a teenager with more complex thoughts than you. I would say that’s adult stuff but that would be a lie. But truthfully Fern. I’ve never known someone your age to be so concerned about the afterlife—to be so concerned with the state of the eternal soul.”
“She had to grow up too soon,” my Mom said before I could answer. “My life…the life I chose…it’s been rough on both of us. Losing her dad so young, then seeing my unbalanced life. I’m afraid, Jack, that I’ve put her to it. For better or for worse.”
Dora had come in during my Mom’s confession with a wooden bowl covered with cloth. But a couple hot rolls were peeking out of the side. I could see that she’d wiped butter on the tops, exactly the way I liked it. “Most certainly for the better,” Dora replied to my mother, handing her a roll on a napkin. “It’s good for all of us to see the bigger picture. And no one’s life is perfect. We all fall down. Sometimes others push us down and it’s all we can do to get walking again. One thing Jack always says…”
“…is that it doesn’t matter how we’ve fallen. All that matters is that we keep trying to walk.” Jack finished, smiling at Dora. I watched as admiration and adoration traveled between the two of them when they met eyes.
“Jack,” my Mom said, suddenly. “I’d like to come to your chantry. Would that be okay? But…I can’t pay right now.”
Jack raised a hand. “Didn’t Fern tell you…I don’t charge…at all?”
Mom looked at me accusingly. I shrugged. “No, she didn’t. And somehow I would’ve thought she’d have made a big deal of that with me. She’s always complained about the preachers…she calls them Peaches, you know…charging for truth…for salvation.”
“Mom, I don’t do that anymore. Not since meeting Jack.” I added, quickly.
“Well, you never told me,” Mom said between bites of roll. “Dora, this bread is excellent. I wish I could bake like this…not that I have the time…or the ingredients.”
“Well, come and help me grab the rest of dinner. It’s almost ready,” Dora invited. Mom rose up, happily, and followed her into the kitchen.
My Mom’s exit left me and Jack staring at each other. I was stuck with him, alone, for at least a full minute, if not more. I waited for him to speak. But he didn’t. Then, for the first time ever with Jack, the silence got oppressive. I felt compelled to say something.
“That grove of yours in the Learen is really nice, Jack. Thanks for showing it to me.” I said, feeling relief at just hearing my own voice.
Jack beamed. “Thank you, Fern. I was really worried you know. You did look upset. I’d never purposefully upset you.”
“I know, Jack. You know I know that.” I replied.
“Then what was it? If you don’t mind me asking.”
I looked in Jack’s eyes. He was the closest thing I’d ever had to a male figure in my life that even remotely resembled a father. Looking at him, I remembered every night I had cried to whatever god was in the heavens asking for a dad—a real dad. But Jack’s not your dad. You know he’s not! But what if he’s the answer? What if he’s the closest thing to a dad I’ll ever get?
“I was upset. But it wasn’t your fault.” I said quickly, thinking that if I said it quickly, Jack would not want to discuss it further.
“Was it the light…on my arm?” Jack asked. “Were you disappointed in me for not being perfect. That tattoo…”
I shook my head, fighting tears. I was mad and sad and confused. “You just always seem to ask the right question or to say the thing that changes the way I see things. And the more the change the harder it is for me to be…” I couldn’t finish.
“You don’t need to say anymore, Fern. I understand.” Jack said. He accepted me just as I was. Confused.
“But that’s just it, Jack! I’ve been so angry for so long and everything you say takes it away from me. My anger is…all I have.” I felt sick saying so much. I put my head in my hands and stared at the table. Where was my mom and Dora? Shouldn’t they be back by now?
“Letting go of anger is one of the hardest things to do. I know. I’ve had to do it. There’s so much more to your search for truth than anger. And when you’re ready to let go of that anger, take the time you need, but when you’re ready…amazing things await.” Jack said.
I couldn’t help but laugh. “See, Jack. You’re doing it again.” My voice was muffled by my hands.
Jack laughed too. “I guess I can’t help it.”
I looked up at him again. I couldn’t help smiling. He was the one person who could break down every wall. Sunday, I had hated him for it. Yesterday, I had feared him for it. Today, I loved him for it. “No, you really can’t, can you.”
“Well, it’s nice to see you two smiling and laughing,” Dora said as she carefully set down a casserole dish brimming with cheesy potatoes. “What a pair you two make, I told Jack the other day.”
Mother hustled in carrying a large spiral sliced roasted ham. It had been basted with a brown sugar and mustard glaze. I could smell it and it made my body melt with hunger. Suddenly it didn’t seem to matter how many cinnamon rolls I’d eaten only a couple hours ago. The ham and potatoes were soon accompanied by a large garden salad with cheese, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, crumbled bacon, ranch dressing, croutons, and a plate of deviled eggs. It felt like a New Helix dinner, but it was just a dinner for me and my mom.
“You know, it’s not New Helix yet. You didn’t have to go all out, Dora,” I said amidst spoonsful of cheesy potatoes.
“Honey, I always go all out for the people I care about.” Dora replied, her brown face bearing the most angelic countenance I’d ever seen—next to Jack’s, of course.
“Don’t you ever get tired, though?” I asked. “Being so wonderful has to get tiring.”
Dora glanced quickly at Jack, looking almost surprised, and then back to me. “Yes, Fern. I get tired all the time.”
“Really?! I mean, like it is tiring to be so…wonderful…so nice?” I laughed after I asked, because I could see how silly my question sounded. But Dora didn’t laugh. Instead she fixed me with sober eyes.
“Goodness is very tiring. But the good news is that when its time to rest or do something fun it feels right. Balance is part of goodness. We do good till we run out of steam. Then, we pull ourselves back together. You’ve got to take care of you, Fern. Jack and I…we take lots of breaks. We do say “no” sometimes.”
“Well, you do,” Jack laughed, bringing smile crinkles back to Dora’s eyes.
Dora held up a hand next to her mouth as she leaned toward me as if telling me a personal secret. But she spoke loud enough for all of us to hear, “Sometimes I do have to say ‘no’ for Jack. Otherwise he’d kill himself trying to save souls.”
“At last! A flaw!” I said, finding I had more giggles bubbling up.
Jack arched a brow at me. “A fine thing, Fern, to celebrate my weaknesses.”
“Well, you’ve only got one. I think it’s a fine thing to celebrate.” I said.
Jack shook his head, but for the rest of the dinner, I led the assault as we all teased him about his virtues, and his at least one, obvious weakness. Only a few times did I allow my mind to count all my vices. I quickly lost count. And tomorrow, Jack, I’m going to betray all you’ve taught me—all that I’ve learned since meeting you. Please let tomorrow not be the day a ray decides to come for me.
This kid-fiction serial is about done. The final chapter…will be available by purchasing the book! Head over to our Kentstead Media SHOP to pre-order your copy today. $2, or more, will go to The Road Home – UT to help shelter the homeless! Click here! Or on the picture above.
Read from the beginning!
Hi! My name is Angela Tempest. I write fiction that entertains, takes you to another world, and fills your life with truth. I hope you’re enjoying A Search for Utopia. If you love it, there’s more. Check out my author page to read my other stories!