Keepsake

by JT Torres

"You can't just run away, Jack," Jennifer pleaded.

She held onto his hands as if he would take off running down her street the second she let go - like a dog off its leash.

"I have to leave this town, I have nothing here," Jack said. "I will always have nothing and be nothing if I stay here."

One hand was able to escape Jennifer's desperate clutch.

"I'm sorry, Jenny. You have your mom and dad here, you can't leave, but I, I can't stay." He broke eye contact with her and focused his attention on his sneakers, "I'm sorry."

"You're really sad, Jack McKenzie. You are such a coward you are going to run away from life," She let out a sigh as she dropped Jack's hand instead of waiting for it to break away.

Jack found his way back to his house for what would be the last time. His mom, topping off a six-pack and watching Lifetime, ignored his entrance as he climbed the stairs to pack.

As he opened his bag and set it on his bed, his mind fought off any thoughts that suggested Jenny was right. He has never felt love (he would end any relationship before it got that far) but Jenny was different. His feelings for her snuck up on him, not giving him the chance to rebel.

Jack threw some clothes into his bag and then reached under his bed. He pulled out an old Nike shoebox and opened it up. Scraps of paper, pictures, and objects lived harmoniously in the box. These were the things Jack couldn't run from, the parts of his past that held such a grip, he locked them up instead of letting them chase him.

He discovered a Waffle House menu and, instantly, his mind surrendered to the memory attached.

It was like reliving the three-year-old recollection. He felt the anger of his mom passing out drunk at 4:30 and having to walk to Waffle House for dinner. He felt the confusions of a sixteen-year-old in a single parent home. And he felt Jennifer for the first time. Again.

"Don't be so gloomy," she said, right after introducing each other and hearing about Jack's struggles with his mom. "You get to eat out! Waffle House is awesome!"

"How come you're here by yourself?" He asked, being overtaken by her angelic blonde hair and promising blue eyes that has offered so much comfort to Jack that, no matter what the situation, just being around her would make things better.

"I'm not," she quickly answered with a smile, that smile that erased fear, "I'm eating dinner with you."

Jenny's optimism had a way of picking Jack up, no matter how deep or hard he had fallen. He remembered this about her as she gave him the menu and said, "Every time your mom pisses you off, we'll meet here and have dinner."

Jack interrupted his memory's grasp by putting the brochure back in its box. He took a breath before reaching in for the next object.

His hand came up with a leather bracelet with interweaving bands. Across the bracelet read the name, "Jennifer." The memory living in between the interlocking bands replayed.

Jack held onto Jennifer tightly under the dark, mischievous night sky; yet, somehow it felt like she was holding onto him.

"How are you so strong?" He asked. "I don't know where I would be without your help."

"It's not a question about strength, Jack," she replied. "I just always find the one thing in every situation to look up at. Shadows are always cast, but light casts shadows; therefore, there is always a bright side. You just gotta find it."

Jack ran his fingers up and down her spine. He could feel the positive energy resonate off her back.

"Look at you for example," she continued, "Your mom's drinking habits are tearing you to shreds. You are suffocating in that shadow. But the light causing that shadow led you to Waffle House, where we met."

He smiled and then kissed her shoulder: so fragile, so strong. Jennifer took her bracelet off and placed it in his palm, closing his hand around it.

"My grandfather made me that bracelet. He said the bands interweave to show how much stronger things are when they work together," she smiled and then said, "plus, it says my name on it, I thought you might like that, too."

They laughed.

Back in his room, with his bag and intentions to flee, Jack still laughed. Even while a tear slid down his cheek.

Jack's mom leaned against his door, with a beer in her hand and one eye closing.

"You leaving?" She asked.

Jack began to cry, but not out of sadness. He was still laughing. Laughing at the shadows that were a threat to him and crying because of how beautiful the bright side really is.

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