Finally, she heard her inner voice saying. Finally, she felt like she cared about something. Someone, maybe. But then it was Stephen who was here by her side, reaching out to her. Not Josh.
As she finished the wrap, she looked at her new friend lying there on his side, peeking up at her. That is something I like about Stephen, she thought. That he could speak his mind around her and not raise her hackles. And not really expect a clear answer, either, or any answer, for that. Not many could do that around her. Most people seemed false, fake, wanted to please the great Jessie Wheeler. He was real. There were others on set that were real, as well, but it would take her some time to relax around them, to warm up to them. To trust them.
He reached out and took her hand. Just gave it a squeeze, and that was that. A friendly gesture with no hidden meaning.
She rewarded him with eyes that glistened of tears. “I’m missing my dad today,” she said.
He knew she wasn’t speaking of Charles. “When…how long…?” he asked.
She told him about the accident that had happened when she was twelve. It was her gift to Stephen, her only real friend on set at this early juncture. Charles and Dee had not even heard this story.
“My dad, he was a musician, too,” she started. “He taught me to play.” She gestured towards the guitar, now leaning innocently up against a tree.
“The day he died he had been gigging at a morning wedding in Cavendish, this summer family resort area in PEI. He stopped on the way home for a quick paddle in his canoe, ‘cause it was one of those perfect summer days... and then he had hit the road to rush home to my birthday party. I was turning twelve.”
She smiled wanly, remembering the family’s backyard decorated with party streamers, the barbecue set to go, and the girlfriends all huddled together, giggling about boys.
She continued. “He had come to a curve in the road and I guess there in the road dead ahead was some impatient Island driver trying to pass a slow moving tourist on this little country road. It was either going to be a head on crash or a lunge to the right. He went to the right.”
She mimicked the movement, a hard thrust of an invisible, long destroyed steering wheel. “He went flying down the hillside. The car landed upside down in the river, the one on which he had just been paddling. It was one of my favorite rivers on the island, actually,” she added grimly. “Well, used to be, anyway.”
She looked over at Stephen, lying there frowning, caring. Jessie got up, picked up her guitar.
“He couldn’t get out.” Then, “I dunno, maybe he was already gone by then, to wherever it is that people go when they leave this fucked up planet.” She paused, remembering. “They said he drowned, but I’m not sure about that.”
She took a few steps to go, as Steve lay there pondering what she had just told him.
“You’re right,” she said. “I care, all right. But maybe I have a death wish too.”
Stephen felt a chill go down his spine. He closed his eyes.
“Jessie,” he intoned desperately as she walked away. But there was no more to say than just that - to call out her name to the spirits in the sky, the fairies hidden amongst the polished stones in the creek, the all-knowing powers of the universe. For it was all he could think to do to ward off any evildoings that day, to beg them not to take her just yet, to ask them to let her stay. Because it was out of any of their hands. This girl’s soul was beyond the power of any mortal being on this plane of dust and light.
She’s unreachable, he thought. And as he pulled himself up and dusted the dirt off his trousers, he looked over and watched her go. As she passed the barn he spotted Josh. He had just come outside and was leaning against its side. As she walked by him, Stephen saw her glance up at him, and some silent understanding seemed to pass between the two.
“Aha,” Stephen thought. “She’s not so alone, after all.” And he grinned and felt his stomach unclench as he realized that all those people gabbing at lunch about how she and Josh weren’t talking were dead wrong. They were talking, all right.
They were just doing it without words.
* * *
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