Jimmy Wendler’s Mother tried to slick his hair back, but the slight curls at the ends of his hair refused to go down. After a while, she sighed and gave up. Jimmy felt stupid in a suit and had complained several times to his Mother that a suit wasn’t necessary, but she didn’t listen. “If you’re about to go up in front of all those well-dressed attorneys you’ll look just as smart as them.” She had said.
“Hello James.” Mr. Simms had said as Jimmy walked into a cold, bright room. “You can call me Jimmy.” He said back, as he shook the man’s hand. Jimmy sat down. He felt very alone in the room, sitting across from a man he didn’t know. Suddenly, another man came into the room and sat down. “Mr. Lawrence.” He said shaking Jimmy’s hand.
“We just want your account of… Well, of what happened with Ella.” Mr. Simms said, and Jimmy could sense a nervous energy in his voice, but he couldn’t place why. “Where would you like me to start?” Jimmy asked, recalling the last three years he had known Ella. “We would like you to do a recap over the years you’ve known Ella, and stop when you get to her Aunt’s death.” Mr. Lawrence explained. “Okay, that sounds easy enough.” Jimmy said.
Shirley leaned against the garage door, waiting for me to finish work. I’d like to say patiently, but she was fidgeting, as always, and constantly telling me to hurry up. Shirley and I had been friends since we were babies. Our Mothers are best friends. When I finally finished, Shirley said to me, “Let’s go swimming.”
“What, no. I’m way too tired…” I tried, but she wasn’t having it. “Please, I never get to do anything fun anymore, I’m always studying!” She moaned. “Oh, all right.” I sighed. I quickly washed my face and hands of any oil and changed. We spent a good three hours in the swimming pool. I would’ve spent longer, but Shirley demanded we leave because her fingers were wrinkling.
She told me that we would meet outside after changing. When I came out, I couldn’t see her anywhere. I started calling her name, but there was no reply. Then I saw her on the other side of the parking lot. Of course, she was talking to a total stranger. As I got closer, I realized this wasn’t the average stranger. Because there, standing next to her red bike, was the prettiest girl I had ever seen. She had dark brown hair, and bright blue eyes.
I was thinking about how her peach dress brought out her eyes even more when I heard Shirley introducing me to her. All I could manage was “I’m a trained mechanic,” As if that was supposed to be impressive. I could tell she wanted to leave. I knew how pushy Shirley could be. When she was finally let go, Shirley turned to me. “She was nice.” She said, adjusting her glasses. “Yeah, I guess.” I tried to say coolly.
It took Shirley about a week to contact Ella again. She called me on the weekend. “Hey Jimmy, we’re going to the park, are you coming?”
“We… Who’s ‘we’?” I asked. “I’m going to the park with Ella.” She said. I swallowed. “Yeah, I’m coming.” When school started up again, Shirley became more and scarcer, as she studied more and more. That left Ella and me. Which I was okay with… She was always up for hikes and bike rides, which was nice. I was always a little jealous though, of her living conditions. I couldn’t believe that her parents let her live alone. My Mother is holding on to me as long as possible.
Mr. Simms shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “So, you like Ella.” He said, half to himself as he scribbled on a notebook. “Wait, you’re not going to say that, are you?” Jimmy panicked. “Of course he won’t if you don’t want him to.” Mr. Lawrence said, swiping the pen out of Mr. Simms hand. Mr. Simms mumbled to himself and said, “Yeah, I won’t say anything you don’t want me to.”
Jimmy didn’t like Mr. Simms, and not just because he was Mrs. Maclain’s lawyer. He seemed to always have the same look on his face; the look of guilt. Mr. Simms reluctantly put down his notebook. “Carry on.” Mr. Lawrence prompted.
In November of 1966, I walked into the lobby of Ella’s hotel. The woman at the front desk glanced at me, and went back to gossiping on the phone. I sighed and sat down, since I wasn’t exactly sure of what room Ella was in. Ella finally came out, and almost walked right by me. When she noticed me asked if she wanted to go to the movies.
We normally went outside somewhere. I wasn’t counting this as a date, considering that I hadn’t summoned the courage to actually use the word ‘date’. Also, I’m pretty sure Ella just views me as a friend, so that made it doubly difficult. She went back to her room and came out in a white dress. It had too black buttons on the waist and simple stripes on either side. She looked so dressy.
I stopped staring, and we went down the street to the movie theatre. Ella was going on about something to do with work, but I couldn’t concentrate. Why did she dress up so nicely? Does she view this as a date? I was asking myself. I couldn’t wipe the stupid grin off my face.
Okay, I know we went to a kid movie, but I didn’t know what else to do. I wasn’t sure what movies Ella was comfortable watching, so I went for the safest option. It had been in the theatre for a while now, so there weren’t too many people in there. Ella seemed weird though. I know you aren’t supposed to talk during movies, but she was eerily quiet.
After the movie, she hardly talked to me. She was practically running to the door. I was racking my brain for a reason, when a woman suddenly called her name. Before I knew it, I had found out the ugly truth. Ella had run away from home. I had to leave. It was too surreal. In reality, it all made sense, but as I walked out into the dark, I couldn’t make head or tails of it.
I ran the rest of the way home. I didn’t know what to do, so I just lay on my bed. I thought I should try to find Ella the next day. Then I thought of Shirley. I had to tell someone, right? And Shirley was Ella’s friend too, so she deserved to know. It was decided. I would go to Shirley’s the next morning and get her advice.
“What do you mean, runaway?!” Shirley looked startled. She had come to my house before I could get to hers. “I mean just what I said, Shir.” I said, leaning against the porch railing. She sat down, obviously calculating what this meant. “Everything she ever told us...” Shirley started. Suddenly, Ella appeared in my driveway. She took a few steps toward us.
I admit, Shirley was a bit mean to Ella, but I knew she was still in shock. After Ella had explained to us, I wasn’t angry anymore, I couldn’t be.
In February, my Dad had broken his wrist when he slipped on a patch of ice. That left most of the work in the garage up to me. I was working double time, and I was so tired by the end of the day, I didn’t do anything but have dinner and go to bed. I had heard Ella’s Aunt wasn’t feeling too well, but I didn’t know it was terminal.
The few times a month I would see Ella were brief, she seemed to always be in a hurry, rushing off to buy medicine. I didn’t take it to heart though, since I didn’t really have time to talk either. In May, my Dad finally recovered, ad instantly took on his work. On my first afternoon off in months, I decided to go to Ella’s work.
As I was walking, I heard two women chatting as they breezed by me. “Did you hear about poor Rose Maclain?” One woman said. I stopped to listen. “Yes, I heard, and her niece, people are saying she didn’t leave the house for days after, in fact, her boss had to take her in.”
I sprinted down to the department store. A woman looked up from her book. “Where is Ella, I mean what happened- and…” I trailed off, not sure of what I was asking. The woman sighed. “Her Aunt died, and I tried to get her to live with me, but she was determined to go back home after a few days.” She explained.
“Thank you.” I said, before running to get my car. How didn’t I know this? She must have thought I didn’t care at all. I felt so bad, that I drove as fast as possible up the hill to her house. I knocked rapidly at the door. When she answered the door, I hugged her tightly. I tried to explain that I didn’t know, but it seemed she already knew.
When her Mother came to the door, Ella tensed up. Her Mother had hair like Ella’s, but I could tell they were nothing alike. Mrs. Maclain hissed at Ella, and stormed off to get the police. Ella worked quickly, getting a chair from the living room. She told me to leave, and I didn’t rebuke. I knew I didn’t have a choice.
I still wish I had stayed.
The courtroom was silent. Jimmy glanced over at Ella, who was sitting at the front. Everyone was waiting for Judge Phillips to come back in. The final decision was being made. Chelsea looked over at where the jury was meant to be. This whole thing was strange. Why wasn’t there a jury? Why does the Judge get to make the final decision?
Judge Phillips paced outside of the courtroom. He was a good man, and had a fair idea of what justice was, and what he was about to do was not justice. It was law. He finally took a deep breath and entered the courtroom. When he sat down in his chair, he reluctantly looked up. There were so many hopeful faces. He looked over to Mrs. Maclain. Her sneer was so bright it was sickening.
“Mrs. Maclain is to get the house, until Eleanor Maclain is old enough to attain it.” He said quickly, and hated every word as it came out. “Court dismissed.” He concluded, standing up, and hurrying out. The gasps were audible from the hallway. Ella just looked down at the desk. How could she be so stupid? Of course the Judge couldn’t give her the house.
All she knew was that her Mother had three months to sell her Aunt’s house, and it wouldn’t even take half that to get a buyer for such a beautiful property. She stood up and walked glumly to Chelsea, who squeezed her arm and whispered to her, “You can stay with my family for a while.” Ella held back her tears. She was so helpless.
Meanwhile, Jimmy raced through the crowd, trying to get to Judge Phillips. He finally reached a closed door with Judge Phillips name on it. He knocked on the door. “No visitors please.” Judge Phillips said drearily. Jimmy opened the door anyways. Judge Phillips looked up. “Judge Phillips, you can’t let this happen, you don’t understand. Ella’s Mother is going to sell that house.” Jimmy tried to explain.
“James, isn’t it?” Judge Phillips asked, straightening up in his big leather chair. Jimmy nodded, knowing this was no time to make a fuss over his name. “I want to help. I know, believe me I know what Mrs. Maclain is planning. But I can’t help you, son. It’s the law were dealing with.”
“But surely…” Jimmy tried to say. “James,” Judge Phillips interrupted, “There is nothing I can do. Go home, just go home.” Phillips said, furrowing his brow. He waved Jimmy away with his hand, and Jimmy started walking away. When Jimmy shut the door, he said to himself,
“Okay, I’ll go home…”