In the darkness, Jasper silently slipped into his running gear. Brooke rose from his bed, rested, happy, and clean. The light from the closet created a soft glow. And Brooke circled around him—suddenly aware that she usually circled and spun whenever they were alone. Jasper’s head swiveled. When he was watching her, she felt loved like never before.
She touched his synthetic-clad chest. “Sneaking out?”
His bright eyes widened, reflecting hers. He lifted the smoky quartz between her breasts. “You fill me with so much—“ he paused, unsure. “—So much life, don’t laugh, that I need to run earlier than usual.”
She tilted sideways, checking the little fluorescent clock. “It’s just past four. Let me come with you on my bike. I’ll show you the trails so you don’t have to run on the road.”
“What if someone sees us?”
“The sun rises at five-thirty. We have time.” By now, Brooke was half-dressed in shorts and a sports bra with crisscrossing straps in back. A faded red T-shirt, her little black shoes, and she was ready.
Under a starry sky, they progressed down Windfalls’ incline and through the woods. Soon they entered a rocky field behind the Buddhist temple. Brooke said nobody hiked to Overlook before nine a.m. She rode the wide-open path almost every day at six-thirty and had never seen anyone. After half an hour or so, he should run back the way they came. She’d continue to Echo Lake and go off-trail so their paths wouldn’t cross. “Tomorrow I can show you other trails. You really shouldn’t run on 212. Because while there’s almost no traffic, when a truck speeds downhill, the driver’s not really paying attention.” Brooke had experienced countless near misses.
Jasper kept pace with her, but she knew he normally ran faster. “Go ahead. We can meet at the top.”
“Have you noticed,” he asked, still in her rhythm. “That we breathe together? Even our reflexes match.”
The great cement structure loomed ahead. In daylight, even on weekends with tourists milling around, the hotel ruins were ghostly. At this hour, Brooke and Jasper both said, “It’s like stepping into the past.”
She propped her bike against an outside wall. Keenly aware in the dark, they walked through skeletal doors and hallways into vast, sunken rooms overgrown with grass and trees. Brooke whispered, “I dreamed you watched over me all night.”
Jasper’s half-laughed. “I did.”
“If I believed in enchantment, Brooke, this would be it.”
They sat on mossy steps that stopped in mid-air. Jasper looked at her and she positioned her legs across his lap. He cleared his throat. “Tara told me about your father.”
“She exaggerates. Pop’s an alcoholic. He gets along with Tara, not me.”
He looked at her steadily and Brooke saw him deciding to let it go–for now.
In response, she teased him. “Fletcher says there’s a reason you don’t drink.” She tipped toward him until their foreheads touched. He lifted her legs and shifted sideways.
“First semester, second year in high school, I was on a rampage. Vicky was in college. Except for visits, it was just my mother and me. At thirteen, I grew eleven inches. At fourteen, I played baseball and basketball. Immediate MVP. Girls chased me. At parties, we drank and took drugs and still won championships.” He held her palm on his knee and traced her life and heart lines.
“My tolerant, refined mother didn’t know what to do. Her funny, young son had become an egotistical menace.”
One night Jasper came home drunk and coked-up. His mother who always went to bed early was sipping tea in the kitchen. He didn’t know why he started yelling. Flying on indignation, he just started screaming, “Why don’t you have fun? Tell me one thing you do, or have ever done, that was fun. She carried her teacup to the sink and said, goodnight. We’d talk tomorrow. And I pushed her!”
Jasper hadn’t realized she had already crossed the room. He pushed her down the basement stairs. “Hearing her fall was horrifying.”
He turned on the lights and saw her crumpled up on the cement floor. A cut on her forehead bled down the side of her face. “She said, ‘Jasper,’ and her voice alone sobered me for life. I ran downstairs, thanking God, she was alive. She moved, so I knew she wasn’t paralyzed. But if she had landed a millimeter one way or another, she’d have been dead on impact. Or, a paraplegic.”
Brooke climbed into his lap and held Jasper tight. Just telling her this made him tremble. Stroking her head, he said, “Three years later, when she was dying, I had to tell her I’d given up my scholarships.”
“And, she said, ‘Marry Sasha,’ right?”
He tugged Brooke’s hair. “Did I tell you that?”
“You don’t hate me?”
No. She kissed him and felt his relief bordering on joy.
“Vicky and I never figured out how she even knew who Sasha was.”
After stopping at home, Brooke arrived at Windfalls about eight. Ma, Chase, and the kids were eating breakfast. Tara sat in the deck chair. Brooke rested on its arm and Tara put the laptop away before reaching for her sister’s straw hat.
“Why doesn’t it get dirty?” Tara examined the brim before putting the hat back on Brooke’s head.
“I leave it someplace and Jasper says, ‘Here, don’t forget this.’”
“That means he wants to marry you.”
“Don’t make fun of me.”
Tara sat back in the chair. “I’m not. He wants to marry you. QED.”
“Okay, I can’t prove it, but it’s still true.”
A fleeting, sad confusion like a separate spirit crossed through Brooke. She said, “Don’t say that again,Tara.”
by Kathleen Maher