When Jarred woke up he saw the huge bruise on his arm. It was large and ugly. He pulled on a long sleeve shirt despite the fact that is was to middle of May. He couldn't let the kids at school see his injuries. He walked down the stairs slowly praying all the while his father was still asleep. He often slept in late. For once he was lucky. He made breakfast and hurried out the door. He would get to school much too early, but it was better than waiting for his father to wake up.
Halfway to school, it started pouring rain. He just pulled the hood of his hoodie over his head. He walked into the common area in which students were supposed to wait for the first bell. Very few other children were there. It was another twenty minutes before his only friend Luke showed up. He walked over and joked, “It's seventy degrees outside. Why are you wearing a long sleeve hoodie?” He laughed and tugged at it as if to yank it off him.
Jarred jerked away reflexively and almost yelled, “I'm cold okay!” Jarred sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “I'm sorry,” he said, “That was uncalled for. I'm just having a bad week.” He worked up a half smile and continued, “My father is-It's just my father.”
Luke nodded his head a look of understanding in his eyes, but he didn't understand. Not even close. His father didn't hit him for no reason other than, “I can't find a job” or “Don't give me that look.” “Yeah,” Luke said, focusing Jarred's wandering mind, “dads are a general pain in the ass.” Jarred tried to hide his pain at Luke’s misinterpretation of his words, but he must have seen it because he said, “Why do I get the feeling that you're hiding something from me?”
“I'm not. Can't we please talk about something else?” He remembered with joy that today was Friday. This was one of the weekends when he spent the night at Luke's house. “So I'm still going to your house tonight right?” Jarred asked in an attempt to be casual.
“Well actually, I was wondering if we could spend the night at your house. My parents anniversary is this weekend and they want me out of the house.” Jarred heart seemed to stop for a moment. Luke at his house. The thought seemed suicidal, but he couldn't reject his best friend.
“I'll have to talk to my dad about it.” He was already dreading the conversation. Just then the bell rang out. The morning classes passed in their normal monotony and all too soon the day was half gone. As he ate lunch, he zoned out frequently as he considered all the possible ways the conversation with his father could go.
Luke yelled, “Jarred, are you even listening to me?” Jarred shook his head and looked Luke in the eyes “That's what I thought. What's wrong with you today? I mean you always act like this, but it's been worse lately. Whatever it is you can tell me.”
“It's nothing. You're imagining things. Nothing has changed,” Jarred said, with that half smile that didn't touch his burdened eyes. Luke was, of course, right. It was worse because his father was out of a job which always made the beatings worse and more frequent. Lunch was hard to stay focused through. Jarred tried hard for Luke's sake though. It wasn't long until the school day had ended. Jarred lingered in the school yard, not wanting to go home. Finally he started the long walk dreading having to face his father with every step.
He was shocked to find the door locked. His father never locked the door. Jarred knocked loudly and waited for his dad to open the door. When the door swung open, Jarred saw that his father didn't look all that angry. Yet. It was only a matter of time. Something always set him off.
“Hey dad,” Jarred began hesitantly, “I can't go to Luke's this weekend. I was wondering if he could come here.”
“Sure,” his dad said calmly, “Why not?” It was not the reaction Jarred had expected.
“You seem to be in a pretty good mood today,” he said, hoping the phrasing didn't set him off. His dad laughed and smiled. It became very hard for Jarred to keep the shock off his face.
“I got called for a job interview,” his dad announced proudly. That was a definite explanation. Jarred's father was always happier when he had a job. He didn't wait around for his dad to change his mind. He walked into the kitchen and pulled out his cellphone. His mother had bought it for him when she was still alive. He bought the minutes for it himself.
“Hey Luke,” Jarred began, “I got the green light. Come on over, alright?”
“Sure thing,” Luke said with a quiet laugh. He hung up, knowing that Jarred's minutes were limited. Jarred immediately began preparing dinner. Most people would think it was too early, but his father tended to get cranky if dinner wasn't on the table by five. He had a porcelain bowl filled with chicken he was dipping in egg so the flour would stick to in when he fried them, when there was a knock at the door. It startled him and he knocked the bowl to the floor. It made a terrible noise as it shattered on the ground.
For a moment, Jarred just stared at it uncomprehendingly. Then, he heard thundering footsteps and a voice yelled behind him, “What the hell did you do now!” It seemed that he took in the scene because he then yelled, “That's one of my good bowls!” Jarred thought about Luke, standing outside the door waiting to be let in and knowing it might be awhile.
His father came up to him. When he was about a foot away from him he screamed, “You need to learn to respect me and my dishes! You understand me!”
“Yes dad,” he whimpered.
“I don't think you do. That is my best bowl,” he growled with increasing rage.
“I'm sorry dad,” Jarred could tell he was going to lose this battle, “please don't.”
“Don't what!” he yelled, but didn't wait for a response. He smashed his fist into Jarred's face. Then he punched him hard in the gut. Jarred collapsed to the ground and gasped for breath. His father didn't relent when he fell down though. He started to kick him. Jarred did the only thing he could think of to protect himself. He brought his knees to his chest and stuck his arms above his head to ward off the blows.
His father kept kicking and punching him. It took him a long time to work up the courage to look at his father from under his arms. His dad's teeth were clenched as his foot contacted Jarred's body again and again. He wanted his mother more than he ever had. He was scared for his life.