Jamie lay in his bed and waited for his father to come home. The room around him was familiar but without his father’s presence, everything seemed slightly off. The shadows didn’t quite fall the way they usually did; the clock ticked a little slower than usual. A strange aura of chaos infiltrated the floorboards and they creaked at the slightest breeze from his open window, startling him from his drowsing sleep.
Ever since Jamie’s mom died when he was a child, it had just been him and his dad and they became the best of friends. His mom earned the big salary so after she died, his dad had to work long hours to keep them in Jamie’s childhood home and make sure Jamie had healthy food and clean clothes, but Jamie never minded his dad’s constant working. It just made their moments together that much more precious.
In three years from now, as soon as Jamie turned sixteen, he planned on getting a job to help out. He already babysat for the neighbors and made enough so that his dad didn’t have to pay him an allowance, but he wanted to help with the bigger bills, too. He hoped that someday, before he went off to college, he and his father could live like they did before his mother’s death and not have to worry so much about money.
He was tired of having to scrounge for coupons and buy food that he had to hide when his friends came over for fear that they would ridicule him. Not that he had many friends. He tended to be a loner after his mother died; for a long time he had avoided contact with his friends out of grief, and by the time he was ready for relationships again no one accepted him. Except his father. His father was always there to talk and comfort him, and make the house more livable.
When they were together, it was like his mother was alive again and the family was complete. He wanted that feeling to last forever. The whole house was different: brighter, happier, with a brilliant glow that vibrated with laughter and emitted heavenly scents of chicken dumpling soup when his father could be persuaded to cook. His mother’s presence was in everything and when he and his dad played together, talked together, laughed together, the world was complete and Jamie knew deep down in his heart that everything was well.
But when his dad was gone late like this, working as always, the house began to take on a sinister feel. The rocking chair where his parents had taught him to read, where just last week his dad had sat while Jamie awkwardly came out to him and admitted that he liked guys, where he himself frequently sat while doing homework, began to fill his mind with terror. What if it started rocking by itself, with no one in it? What if he looked over and saw his mother, long dead, or his dad, cold and white like his mother had been when Jamie last saw her in the coffin?
The normally reassuring creaks of the stairs were hideous now, because they reminded Jamie that he was all alone in the house, without a father to protect him. And the shadows, always the shadows, growing twice as long on nights when his father had to work late, stretching up his bed as if to strangle him in his sleep. On nights like this he missed his old live-in nanny, who was now married and expecting a child of her own.
A pounding on the door below set his heart racing and he leapt up, gasping and sweating. A burglar? Should he stay here or run for help? The pounding continued and someone called his name. Ice crawled into his heart. Once, one of his friends said that her father always came home too drunk to unlock the door. Jamie’s father had never been drunk, at least not that Jamie could tell. Why would he start now? Jamie slid out of bed and went downstairs. There were blue and red flashing lights outside and he peeked out the window and spotted a police car. He froze.
The pounding continued. In a daze, Jamie opened the door, hoping to see his father. Even if his father was in handcuffs and had committed some horrible crime, Jamie wanted to see him. Needed to see him. Because he knew, was afraid but knew, what the officer on the other side of the door would say. He couldn’t bear to hear it or admit it, but in his heart he already knew.
His father was dead.