Chapter 1: Jackie
Her name was Jacqueline Blackwood.
—Jackie, the quaint elderly in the village had been the first to call her, the fond pet name that had been previously following her late grandmother for 83 years.
Jackie was a girl at the age of nineteen, less thrilled in her current life that was painted in ashen, more willing to imagine actual colors existed somewhere far away. Every time Jackie's fingers glided over the pages of her lineage she'd remember how she had been born into a family tree of countrymen with deep roots. Farmers, woodcutters, fishermen, hunters. No matter how hard she'd try to single out one of her relatives for a distinctive trait, they all looked one and the same.
Kneeling over a shot bear somewhere up in the mountain, showing off a big catch by the riverbank, posing with one hand latched on the pitchfork or the axe. Muddy boots, patched pants with suspenders, hairy arms up to the shoulders, neglected beards, confident smiles nevertheless. In fact, each one of them seemed to treasure some kind of personal triumph in their moment. They had all liked doing what they were good at, obviously, they took pride in it.
If only she could say the same for her.
A small dust cloud puffed when Jackie shut the old album of black and white photos. This thing hadn't breathed in a good while.
She let it rest next to her, on a linen blanket that had thinned out too much to be called a blanket anymore. Just the touch of the scratchy fabric under her palm was a cause for itchiness. Jackie's chest heaved empty of motivation as she closed her eyes and almost reluctantly lifted her neck. On the count of three she'd open her eyes, wishing to think someone up there may be hearing her inward pleas and magically make her wake up in a different world.
Like every time before, what awaited across her, was the mirror. A foggy oval mirror, chipped all around from the passing of ages, the vintage bronze frame infected by green and smelling of decay. She hated staring at that mirror. Not because it was an ancient relic left behind by generations of grandmothers like it was a necessary evil tradition to be passed on to the newer branches, but because its hopeless outlook fitted perfectly the sullen face it reflected back to her.
Jackie was gloomy, too gloomy for a girl at nineteen. She wore the kind of face it'd take someone but a fleeting glance to ascertain that she'd given up on life and that such brooding could well be contagious. No one could blame her for dwelling in the realms of pessimism though, as Jackie's circumstances were a very delicate matter.
She parted her lips and had them illustrate an 'I hate you' towards the mirror. Her mouth was only good for mimicking words because...
Jackie could not speak.
She was not deaf or mute. Jackie's ears were actually more keen than most people's and she had been able to talk normally like every other girl. What had crippled her voice was a childhood trauma, not so much a physical one, as a psychosomatic one.
One day her father, Bobby Joe, didn't return from some village errands. He'd always be back home by 10 p.m. no matter his schedule.
Worried, Jackie's mother sent her out to look for him, and so Jackie did. She set off amidst the heavy downpour leaving no stone unturned despite the challenging night weather, all because she was afraid something bad might have happened to her father.
Her lungs had been depleted calling out for him all around the village and it was drawing close to midnight. No one would bother coming out of their cozy nest to help her or ask what was going on, the villagers were just locked inside their houses, either sleeping or pretending to be sleeping next to a fireplace that was keeping them warm from the cold. Jackie was tired and soaked to the bone after two hours of searching for her father. Her efforts were bearing no fruit. She was going to return home empty-handed and only god knew how her mother would react realizing Bobby Joe had gone missing.
However, as Jackie slipped inside a narrow alley caressing her hand alongside a wall to collect her breath…
She saw him.
Hiding behind a wide dumpster and grunting with a menace, Bobby Joe with his pants down and a fat-chested woman on her knees working on his crotch.
"Father…?" She had muttered, not with shock or disbelief, but naivety and confusion.
Not much drama followed.
Jackie had ended up with her back squirming against the wall as her father's vengeful clutch threatened to snap her tender 10 year old throat.
"Say a word to ma an' I'll rip yer tongue out. Ya listenin' girl?"
Jackie would never forget the vow in her father's eyes or his hand that was big enough to grab all around her neck, easily squeezing her like a sponge. She took the words to heart and never spoke of what she later came to know as her father's cheating on her mother. Of course, the small community still caught wind of the news, as the woman that had been together with Bobby Joe that night spread word how the crazy 'limp-dick' slammed his own daughter against the wall and almost strangled her.
Sadly enough, this had been all but the end of Jackie's bad luck.
Not only did Jackie never say a word about that night's incident, she never said a word again. Naturally introverted and timid ever since her days as a toddler, Jackie had lost her voice out of immense fear that her father would deliver his promise to her if she ever talked. Since that night, whenever she'd attempt to mutter words on the condition she were alone in her room, just to remember how her voice once had been, she could still eerily hear her throat's fragile joints scrunching under the pressure of her father's grip.
It was all in her head, yet enough to strip the shy Jackie of her voice.
Bobby Joe was not a knight in white armor, even the rocks were aware of it. He was the kind of man that'd stomp a goat at the knee if the animal was too stubborn to move. He'd not hesitate kicking cattle at the udder out of spite on a day it wouldn't yield enough milk, not giving a damn if the animal screamed, writhed in pain, or even if it actually collapsed. He'd just keep beating it unforgivingly, sometimes until the screams were no more.
Then he'd take the killed animal's meat not to his family's empty plates, but to the butcher for money. Money that would yet again not go to his family's needs, but his empty glass of scotch. Somewhere in the darkest pits of his addicted mind there were whispers talking to him, repeating themselves over and over, louder and louder for every passing hour, not ceasing till they were realized.
Break a goat's leg, tell the curious fools its leg got caught in some fence when it tried to hop over, take it to the butcher, pour the money inside the glass.
A ruthless self-important man with a misleading lanky build that reminded everyone not to judge a book by its cover. He was a farmer now at the age of 49 with a strength that had already started to abandon him as had the hair on the crown of his head. With a bad temper and an even shorter fuse if anyone risked talking to him, he was especially dangerous when he'd be out on a serious date with alcohol.
The cause of this bottomless spiral of blind chugging was, and had always been, his wife, Rose.
Not the peachiest of marriages. Even back when he was a youngster Bobby Joe had been rather unfulfilling in his affairs. 'Too cheeky and unromantic', some of them would confide even now, 'pouring some syrup over the pancakes wouldn't hurt', they'd add. As such, with no woman willing to condemn herself to such a crass partner, Bobby Joe had quickly learnt how to find great indulgence in whoring, where petty things like honey whispers to an ear were not included in the bill.
When he hit thirty years of age however, days of grace period as a boy long gone, Bobby Joe's exasperated old folk decided it was the last year their family name would have to suffer being treated as the village's laughing stock, declaring they were not fools to forever keep catering for a lecher and threatening to disown him of everything that would be his. Either he'd marry a woman and have kids to keep the family name going, or he'd find himself stripped of every dime in his wallet. Without a dime not even the whores would want to see his face. That was an apparent fact that had scared Bobby Joe out of his wits.
There was only one girl in the village that had yet to be matched to someone for marriage. A young girl, only at her 18th year, born into a poor family of peasants with great financial need, whom no one dared to take to church.
'The Black Rose', they called her.
Despite her low status in society Rose had never allowed misery to be part of her life. She was a lively and sassy girl, so lively and sassy that her appetite for 'syrup and pancakes' had earned her the reputation of a slut before she could even fully bloom. Of course, it was also rumored that her family's financial predicament was what had pushed her down that road, while some had surmised that the truth was to be found somewhere in-between the two versions of the story.
Even so, with his back against a wall Bobby Joe grudgingly agreed to marry a girl who, not only was much younger than him —an issue for inviting gossip behind his back— but tarnished as well. Rose was young, yet not a virgin for his taking. He grabbed her by the arm, dragged her all the way to church, knocked her up within a month of treating her little different to a whore.
Nine months later, Jackie was born.
Short brown hair, pale like they'd been bleached, draping like thin curtains over dark brown eyes making her look like a dusky witch chanting curses in her mind.
"Jackie dear!" Her mother called from another room, the kitchen probably, "Dinner is almost ready, please come at the table?" Her voice cheerful and encouraging as always.
Jackie's hips halfheartedly complied, impassive eyes already taught to pay no mind as the bed springs annoyingly squeaked from the rust.
Her shoulders felt heavy as she stood across the mirror. Still about 5'7'', didn't look like she was getting any taller, or the mirror doing her favors despite having just recovered from a bad cold. She saw herself quite a bit scrawny, probably less than 100 pounds. The only feature Jackie found not utterly pathetic about her body was the white nightgown of cotton that wasn't sticking flat on her chest. Her mounds, albeit still at the size of lemons, were paradoxically healthy. Though she secretively wished one day there'd actually be a person telling her how her bosom was indeed growing well instead of having her own self-pitying musings do the work.
That day didn't look like it was going to dawn anytime soon, and considering the nightmarish night that had etched her with a distrusting scar, the day she'd see the church dressed in pure white would probably never come.
Jackie walked away to let the room draw a breath from her suffocating silence, certain that her absence wouldn't make the room feel any emptier or lonelier at all. Her sickly body did not even suffice to make the wooden planks squeak, and the planks would squeak pretty easily. Someday she was sure her half-lidded eye would realize how proud it should be that she were the only member in the family with a cat's silent stride.
Yeah, as if...
She entered the kitchen and saw her mother filling a copper bowl with the ladle by the stove.
Beef stew...? She wondered with a bit of surprise when her petite nose responded to the inviting whiff of cooked vegetables. Carrot was her favorite.
Must be a rare occasion for her mother to be preparing beef stew for supper. It'd usually be something less delectable, like rice soup or gruel. If they were lucky enough, some bread would be accompanying their poor meal.
"Jackie!" Her mother chided, pointing at her feet with the ladle. "Why are you not wearing socks? Do you want to come down with a fever like last time?"
"Nngh.." Jackie's neck drooped and her nose grumbled in stubborn defense.
Wandering barefooted inside the house was a bad habit of hers that was never going to change. Being unable to talk, Jackie could only communicate with growls, grunts, hums, but mostly gestures. That was the only way she could inform someone that she was trying to say something.
The front door's handle suddenly clicked.
Jackie felt unease swelling in her chest as she stared the door. Her mother, Rose, was also guardedly observing who it would be that would pass through their doorstep, her fingertips entertaining the bread knife next to her. The thumping of boots eventually shook the floor and Jackie listened to her heart beat as if it were in her eardrums. They were two lone women inside a small house and the idea of unexpected visitors wasn't really welcome, especially this late. Creeps or thieves were not extinct around the mountain side of the village. They always had to be prepared for the worst.
"Man, it's freezing outside..." A boot wrestled the wind roaring through the gap and sealed the door.
Rose sighed with relief that it wasn't just anyone's voice. She smiled and withdrew her eyes to start slicing the bread.
Jackie's heart pounded again, this time not out of fear. Her lids began to widen almost with anticipation.
"Too warm to put on your socks Mouse?" He smiled with a tease while carrying three hefty logs in his arms.
Yes... There was one person in this family that actually made Jackie's gloomy outlook in this world a bit brighter.
The boy deposited the two logs in an empty corner next to the fireplace, then crouched on his knees to shove the last one inside the dying embers. With a relieved wheeze he palmed his forehead and brushed the few blades of brunette hair away from the moist yet cold skin.
"This firewood will keep us going, for another night at least."
He assured himself with a nod of sharp amber eyes as he sized up the reigniting flames.
One year younger than her, this was the only man left still fighting for this family, Jackie's little brother.
Chapter 2: Jack
She had always found mixed feelings about how she and her brother were born with the same name, it was an issue that'd sometimes cause confusion and aggravation back when they were still kids, getting their names mixed up when their parents would call for one or the other.
The beginning of this tale was that their father, Bobby Joe, hadn't wanted kids. Feeding just one extra mouth had already been taking its toll on his pocket. Jackie herself was enough; one day she'd leave the house, get married, have her own cubs, the family name would go on as Bobby Joe's parents had wished.
Jack was a different story though. An accident, to put it bluntly. He happened when Bobby Joe didn't pull out fast enough on a night he was drunk.
Either way, Jack still happened, so people naturally wondered why Bobby Joe didn't take this chance to name his son after his father, Buck. One would think it'd be the least Bobby Joe could do to honor the man who had yielded him all of his wealth. Bobby Joe however saw the reason to be rather simple. Start shouting for a kid named 'Buck' around the guys in the bar and everyone would break down laughing. It'd sound like Bobby Joe was summoning his dead father from the grave for a last loan. The irony would be overwhelmingly comical.
Of course there were also Rose's folk, but Bobby Joe was too snooty to name his kid after lowly peons, so this alternative was out of the question.
Even to this day no one was still sure whether his idea to name Jack had been after his big sister, Jackie, because Bobby Joe simply lacked the imagination to come up with a name that was not half-baked, or because his first reaction when Rose announced him of her second pregnancy was "Jack fucking shit"
In any case... Jack it was.
Jackie silently watched her brother poking the firewood with an iron bar, he had to make sure the logs were facing the charcoals with their most dry skin if they were going to pick up the flames. He'd keep stirring them for quite a while sometimes, not unbolting his eyes from the logs till they were finally burning without his assistance.
She thought it'd be really awkward if one day Jack suddenly turned and caught her just standing there, staring at him, like a stalking ghost.
But, he'd never really do. So Jackie allowed herself to pilfer some time, observing Jack, like the ghost she was.
This curiosity wrapped around the fact that they'd not see each other a lot during the day. Jackie would usually be inside the house doing chores to help her mom, while Jack would be out in the farm, working, or the village, to give and take. In his free time he'd even go away for hours deep into the forest, chopping wood, hunting, even foraging for mushrooms or other things he could have in mind.
As far as Jackie was concerned though, the real reason they weren't seeing each other that much was a bit different.
Once her brother would finish with work one would assume he'd at least have a few spare hours to spend with his family. Truth was, after finishing his own work Jack would be busy taking care of his father's share of work as well.
Her brother shouldered a punctual sense of responsibility, waking up before dawn to tend to the animals and the fields first thing in the morning, while their slacker father rarely crawled out of bed sooner than 9 a.m. Even then Bobby Joe would just take his time nibbling breakfast, only dropping by the farm around 10 a.m. to oversee how Jack was handling things, acting more like a foreman in his own farm than an actual farmer bleeding his sweat on its soil.
As if that weren't enough Bobby Joe had a nasty tendency to stand over Jack like the top dog whenever his son was inside the barn. Whether Jack would be spreading fodder over the troughs for the animals to eat, milking the cow, or shoveling the manure... Bobby Joe would always be there to find a flaw in his doings, sniping at him on every step.
It was not a stretch to say Bobby Joe would just go there to mess with Jack, waiting for the moment he'd spit his favorite line at his son.
"Yer no better than the shit yer cleanin", he'd look down on him from a high chin, when in reality something like a "Not too shabby..." would be playing on the back of his mind, but was too cheap to give the boy credit nevertheless.
Now, more than a decade of being used to his father's taunts and insults, Jack not only kept his cool, but had learnt to pretend that Bobby Joe wasn't even there altogether. All he thought he was hearing were distant cries of a bitter old man who had failed in life.
Of course Bobby Joe wasn't oblivious as to where this cold shoulder was coming from. Jack's silent treatment was indeed making him feel like the liability he was in this farm's grounds. Boiling with spite, he'd just slam the barn's door behind him to take a long ramble around the farm's enclosures, telling himself he was doing so because he had to make sure all the fences were up and holding. The fences were marking his territory after all, should anyone get funny ideas like climbing over his fences they'd be quickly introduced to Bobby Joe's not funny double barrel shotgun.
More than often he'd pick up some wheat straw to chew on along the way, until the coming winter scenery made him too nervous to loaf around anymore. Around noon he'd finally leave the farm with no particular destination, he just had to escape from this family, to burn the sour mood somehow, be it with euchre where he'd go for risky bets he'd rarely win, rounds of whiskey, and last but not least... with women, fornicating.
It was no secret that the boy would get under his skin without trying, Bobby Joe saw in Jack what his late parents hadn't been able to see in him; Eyes hardened by responsibility. The fact his son possessed tenacity and skill where he had given up and failed didn't make Bobby Joe want to reflect on his own shortcomings, it simply pissed him off.
Because those eyes were not just determined. They were golden, like hers. In the end envy and loathing was what Bobby Joe felt towards his son, who had been cursed to bear that woman's pricey eyes.
That would be how Bobby Joe's day would go down, hatefully and enviously, resorting to women, alcohol and bluff games to forget himself. Rinse and repeat.
"Mouse!" An arm was telling her to get there, "Come look at this!"
Her brother's sudden call shot awareness back in her eyes. She had no reason to refuse, quite the opposite, actually.
She crouched like Jack had by the fire, thinking her night dress was cascading a bit too timidly over closed legs that were rubbing nervously against one another. Unlike with her mom, Jackie would get self-conscious at Jack's invitations. She couldn't talk, so Jack would usually have to do all the talking for her. Inside her chest's locket Jackie actually treasured every second Jack spent with her, a kind and understanding person through and through.
However, it was this kindness that also hurt Jackie, who saw herself unworthy of being talked to. There'd be no fruitful payoff for anyone who'd talk to her, only her silence. Jack was already aware of that yet he was not putting barriers between them. How Jackie felt about this was a joy she'd keep only to herself.
"See the wood?" He asked and his finger pointed at the fire.
Cautiously resting hands on her kneecaps Jackie leaned a bit closer to examine what he was showing her.
The log was foaming? Bubbles were puffing out from the tender parts like the wood's bare skin was sweating. Were those sizzling sounds it was making? Jackie thought the wood was angry and it was going to explode in their faces because they were burning it.
"That log soaked up yesterday's rain, seems. Now heat's squeezing out the water."
Jackie briefly fluttered her focusing lids, she got the rough idea. Though she couldn't fathom how that truly worked. For instance, the fire was forcing out the absorbed water, but why was it hissing, screaming like. What if the log had sensed it was going to be burned, so it decided to store water inside it last night? To Jackie it seemed like the log was making a desperate effort to protect itself from the fire by cloaking its body in water.
Musings like that would be an unfortunate combination of Jackie's obvious lack in outdoor experience, as well as never having received proper education. As a result her head was trying to fill in the black pits of her inadequate knowledge with romantic fabrications. She knew that of course, but Jackie simply liked to pretend she didn't know, her imagination was her lone inner shelter and she didn't want to lose that. She'd rather keep herself mystified about little things like that and be absorbed in them. Imagining the unknown was what helped her pull through the boring days.
"Mm.." Jack hummed like having a bit of trouble reminiscing, chin fixed towards ceiling, "This wood is ringing me a bell you know..." His eye rolled to its corner to meet Jackie, a playful smirk on him.
Honestly, she found the foaming wood a bit sad and eye-averting, what suchlike thing could her brother have seen?
She was filled with wonder waiting for Jack's answer.
"There's this person I know sleeping on the top bed. A week ago she was snoring so hard I had to climb the bunk to give her a nudge. But she had that wide grin in her sleep, drooling like a river at the mouth that scared me so much I just stepped down, not making a sound."
Her pupils were shrinking, heart racing, face glowing red.
"Her name's Jackie..."
Her eyes lost it.
"JACK!" Rose tried to sound an objection to her daughter's defense, but the reflex of amusement tickled her tone.
"Hahahaha! H-Hey—!" He tried to ward himself from his sister's thrashing fists, but they were harmless, embarrassed mostly.
Jackie was lowly growling, thirsting to pay him in kind, yet too ashamed to show her face. In her fluster however she also found herself smiling, because those were emotions that would not stir inside her every day. Despite her handicap that required delicate treatment, Jack would not go easy on her. He'd tease her and laugh at her discontentment. He treated her like she was normal, like she was an equal, and that was the reason Jackie was being subconsciously drawn closer to him.
Having cooled down and crouching still as she was, Jackie's eyes slowly slipped from Jack's laughing smile and settled on the visible scar decorating the right side of his forehead, going down through his dark brow and subtly parting it if one looked closely. Even after all those years this scar still hadn't faded, nor it seemed it would ever mend.
He saw what she was looking at, the sadness that was hard to conceal even in those gloomy eyes.
Because that night... Bobby Joe would have really strangled her in his drunken frenzy. What got between Jackie's neck and his arm, was a nine year old boy, who had run away from home to look for his sister.
Chapter 3: Rose
Rose thought that an odd quiet had consumed the fireplace. Jack had pulled his sister's leg only a moment ago but now both her children were even more silent than before. The mischievous laughs were gone, the frustrated growls quelled. All Rose could hear behind her back were the invigorated flames licking the wood and the dry crusts popping in return.
She was still making preparations for dinner when the need to cast her lid at what was happening behind her back began to swell. Faint signals they may be, but at the same time, unnerving.. Inexplicable.. Call it a mother's hunch.
It's not that she lacked trust in her children, but at that given moment she couldn't shake away the feeling this resilient ice had to crack.
Whenever Rose's concern roofed over her two buds, any wary idea she could've been hiding would slowly melt away from her eyes, for a bittersweet smile to make its way on her lips. Not only they were not giving off anything suspicious, but the only suspicious here was Rose herself, for daring to be doubtful.
Jackie's eyes were laying downcast in guilt, while Jack simply consoled her from above with the ghost of a smile.
"It's alright, it wasn't your fault.."
That's what he was telling her, using her own words of silence, unspoken words the melancholic sheen in Jackie's eyes could read and understand better than anything else.
Rose banished the demons possessing her furtive peek, but the vigil with which she refined her focus while forcing the knife down the hard bread spoke of no retirement.
One day, the pain her children suffered at Bobby Joe's hands... She'd return it tenfold.
"Jack hon, I'm almost done here, go take a shower before dinner gets cold."
"Mom come on, really?" A wronged child's protest gripped his face, "It's like 40 degrees outside, water's gonna turn me into a popsicle."
"Ah, no need to worry, I've already boiled you a bucket of water. Will that be enough?"
Within her answer one word was easily singled out, one that was enough to trounce the boy's rebellion, "Whoa.. Warm bath..!"
He tied the soaked boots together, hung them on the coat rack by the fireplace to dry —a repeated crime which Rose questioned herself why she still hadn't bitten her son's head off for— then Jack prepared himself for an all out offensive towards the shower.
"Oh Jack, I almost forgot."
Rose paused to wipe the bread powder off her black waist apron before stretching it down to remove the creases. Either that thing was becoming tighter every year or her hips were just too greedy for their own good.
Jack's stomach was feeling rather unwell with this long wait, too many fastidious details in the manner his mom was fixing an apron.
"Totally forgot you were going to a fashion show tonight..."
"Hmph." Rose flashed a sidelong leer.
A cheap remark coming from a boy where the word 'taste' was nowhere to be found in his book. Rose had quickly thought of a means to pass judgement on him, no way she was going to let her taste be told by an amateur.
The flip-flops she was wearing were not really suited for the task, but that would not pose an issue to Rose, who masterfully maintained her balance while pulling a swift yet elegant whirl of her waist. The hip-long ponytail whipped with a commanding twist, her thick mane of black rippling as if it were a living wave on the tide. Golden eyes parted ever secretly to spare a glance of contempt, ready to behold the awe-stricken son dropping his jaw for not knowing what it meant to 'not bite off more than you can chew'.
She may be a woman counting 37 years, but even after spending half her life married to the likes of Bobby Joe, withering away in household confinement, she had all but accepted the role of some domesticated cat. This woman had yet to lose her fangs, as somewhere deep inside her, she still was, and would always be, 'The Black Rose'.
Her child was indeed goggling.
From Rose's toes that were bent on their tips for the heels to come up into a flexible arch, the smooth calves that were drawn equally tight even though she'd undeniably placed most of her weight on one leg, her hands that were hooked with an imposing angle on her slim waist, the steep cleavage that was not losing its identity even under a sweaty gray tank top, as well as the black bra straps that had slightly escaped from underneath her top. Last but not least, her majestic ponytail, accomplished free of rubber bands or any fancy extras. She'd just slick it all back, wrap it into a knot and voila!
A truly mesmerizing sight. What would intrigue her child's gaze in particular, were her breasts. If Jackie's was a pair of lemons, her mom's were undoubtedly two ripe melons.
Jackie's eyes were in sparkling stupor, fists already trembling with reverence on her chest. Her mom might be a bit wacky, all things she had gone through considered, but she was a natural beauty. Just the prospect that her mom's genes could one day start showing on her own body was making her smile with hardly contained elation.
Rose was smiling, a bit confused actually.
Of course seeing her daughter look up to her as a role model of a woman was making her happy and all, but...
Where was the impudent one?
The one that was supposed to have been smitten by her dazzling elegance, jaw on the floor and all?
"Damn this stew is good!" He loudly announced before giving the ladle another slurp.
"HUAH—!?" Rose flinched into a quite more ungraceful posture, one that resembled an amateur housewife catching sight of a speeding rat.
"You've really outdone yourself this time mom!"
Jack's thumb raised to bestow her his seal of approval, along with a wry wink.
"You little FUCK!" She grabbed him by the collar of his green jacket, "You think that's smart!?"
His mom wasn't actually that much of an onion as she let out to be. Just peel the pretty outer layer and what you'd find on the inside was a woman with a sailor's mouth. That was Rose in all her splendor, a teenage girl whom even age refused to drag down because she had never graduated from adolescence.
And to Rose... Jack was a dick unlike all the dicks she could remember having taken. Those aesthetics she had just flaunted were the epitome of artistic seduction, no guy had ever resisted her wild charm. Even if Jack was her son there's no way he'd just brush it off like it was nothing, any sort of reaction would be okay, good or bad. Something had to be wrong with him. Sure, he was such a fucking tease that sometimes Rose just couldn't take it, but that aside... He was hard-working, he cared for his family, his heart wasn't made out of stone; Rose was sure he had a soft spot, well... for his sister anyway...
"Wait... Don't tell me he..."
Then it occurred to her, like a gleam inside oblivion. As far as Rose's textbook rules regarding charm went... —there was an exception that actually existed—... a case in which a guy could really be immune to any woman's charm no matter how tempting the bait was.
And that would be... If he was already head over heels... for another woman.
"Oh shit!" Now she was really losing it, "Which one is it!? Carter's daughter!? The baker girl!?"
As a matter of fact Rose had seen the baker girl dropping by the farm every now and then to give Jack some freshly baked bread. Coming all the way up to the mountain just out of her good heart was suspicious in itself. But, then again... Jack didn't really seem to act all fluttery around her, their interactions would be typical chit-chat. Then who..?
"Mom, the stew is a little bitter. That's cause you've put mountain herbs in it, right?"
He made sure to cover his mouth so the whisper didn't roam around the room.
Rose blinked, that had caught her completely off guard.
"Sis will be as good as new once she gets a bowl of this."
"Jack.." Her eyes softened, as if her armor had been shattered.
Rose hadn't seen this coming. She had meant to keep this tiny detail a secret, because she knew her fragile daughter would just feel all the more at fault for having her mother go out of her way and into the mountain for herbs.
The cat was out of the bag, but if it was Jack, her secret was safe.
Time and time again, she'd come to ask herself... When did this boy grow up so fast? When did he become such a dependable person? Around the time he ran away from home to look for Jackie, 9 years ago? Or was it even before that, when...
"So?" Jack was talking normally again, anymore whispering and Jackie would stretch her ear for sure, "What's the deal?"
"...Oh" She finally let go of his jacket, "It's the door again.. Think you can fix it?"
"Aw man.. Bolt's stuck again? I wondered why the door wasn't locked when I came in."
"Yeah, sorry... You know how Bobby always takes the only key we have with him." Rose continued in thought as Jack walked away, "Asshole's afraid we're gonna lock him outside again."
Believe it or not, this door had seen better days.
Jack reckoned after checking the rotting corners of the frame.
As for the bolt, the house's one and only safety pin... It kept jamming, like every two days, due to rust. Jack would have to force it up and down a couple of times before it'd yield half an inch. The crux of the matter here though was a bit more complicated, fixing the door had started to feel more like trying to budge some dungeon's crossbar. That's how difficult it was getting to procure themselves a safe sleep. What's more, the latch plate was getting loose, the screws had eaten into the wood. There was only so much beating one door could take from Bobby Joe's drunk midnight kicks.
Also, if Jack were to include the rattling hinges in the equation... He'd just find himself brushing a kick over the floor.
This door was no good.
He'd have to pay Carter a visit within the month, unless they were fine with spending the winter without a door.
Could they really afford it though? Bobby Joe would probably bring the house down thrashing at everything breakable if they were to tell him to shove his hand deep in his pocket.
Perhaps it was a better idea for Jack to try and handle the matter himself. After all, he did have a knack for trying out new things... Except fishing. He was really bad at fishing...
Jack's mind had been trying to pull through a mire for a solution, heavily pondering on his chin while heading back for the shower, so he barely got to notice Rose who kicked back her leg against the table, much like a toll bar.
"Um, I fixed it?" He mentioned, kind of puzzled as Rose just continued scrubbing the sink with no regard for him.
It looked like she was sulking at something.
"You're still upset about that? Alright, I'm sorry..." But her leg was still barring his way to that warm bucket, "Mom come on.."
She wasn't letting him off the hook, Rose was a proud woman and demanded for an apology not in words, but in kind. She tapped a finger at her cheek as indication to the amends that had to be made.
Jack heaved in frustration, he wasn't a 10 year old anymore. To make matters worse, Rose was actually a bit taller than him, he had to stand on his toes to reach up her cheek. It couldn't get more embarrassing than that.
Rose however was entertaining her own unbeknownst plans. She had to make sure Jack hadn't been lured into some female spider's web. If he happened to be seeing a girl then that could well mean marriage, and in turn marriage could mean another home may likely snatch her son away. With a husband as reliable as the door she and Jackie would be left open for the vultures out in the mountain's wilderness.
That was not happening, not on her watch.
Jack's smooch of atonement had been lured in by a feint.
At the last second Rose turned and her son's lips smacked on hers.
Dozens of blood vessels cracked inside the white of his iced stare.
"ARE YOU SCREWED IN THE HEAD YOU CRAZY HAG!"
The expression on Rose shot with wicked delight, now that was an acceptable reaction, her son's face flushing the deepest of reds.
Tooth and nail Jack was trying to squirm his way out of her trap, but Rose's arms were already a tight knot around his back. Soon he could feel her rack squeezing against his chest, damn were those two big succulent jugs. She wasn't pulling back her punches.
"It's an eye for an eye in this family Jack. Consider this your reward for fixing the door."
"Don't you mean my punishment!?"
Undaunted as ever she closed in on him from the side of his face, her leering amber sniffing out his racing heartbeat, most pleased.
"It's good to know you're still a virgin though, for a moment I was worried you might—"
"GO TO HELL!"
Without a second thought he grabbed on what he thought to be a dishrag's end by the sink and swiftly yanked it to whip the succubus of a mother in the face.
"...A~Ah.." What Jack was holding in his hand was not a dishrag.
Rose blushed, her golden eyes shying away to treasure a charmed shimmer. Even by her standards, that kind of straight-forward proposal was on a whole level of new to her.
Jack flew a frantic glimpse towards his sister, this was the definition of defilement for Jackie's eyes.
His sister was weak at the knees, she felt she was going to die from the sheer embarrassment, yet couldn't resist not watching from within the gap of her fingers.
..That's what grown-ups wear..?
The dirty image of a black thong decorated by a floral lace trim would burn inside her cornea for the rest of her days. By mistake her brother had untied their mom's apron.
Rose was lightly stroking her wrist behind her back where Jack couldn't see, when finally her flip-flop coyly slid behind the other.
"..If you want to learn that much, I wouldn't mind.."
"..Huh?" Jack was dumbstruck, what the hell was the crazy woman on about?
She softly clinched her cleavage, the twin predators that had ambushed Jack before from underneath her tank top were now actually molding into lustful shapes of volume, just to peek out a bit. Perhaps the time had come to make formal introductions.
"..It would actually make me really happy, to be your firs—..."
Rose didn't get to finish as Jack wore her the apron on the head like he was emptying a trash bag.
"Mouse, I'll be back in ten, make sure fire doesn't go out 'kay?"
Completely ignored his mother, but Rose smirked knowingly as she took the decoration off her head.
"Well, seeing how you're going to cool off, I guess hot water won't be necessary after all."
Jack just answered with the middle finger as he walked away with his back turned at her.
Rose was confident as she crossed arms under her chest, not touched by a granule of shame that she was standing there with her underwear offered in plain sight.
He couldn't fool anyone. That renegade boy carrying his jacket on his shoulder, was her own mirror.
Rose sucked her lower lip, dainty tongue savoring the leftovers of the taste.
"He's right.. The stew did turn out a little bitter."
Chapter 4: An old timer
Two minutes had passed since Jack left.
To be more precise, two entire minutes since Jackie had been thrown into a staredown contest with the fire poker, and neither of them was doing anything less of staying still.
Not for a second did Jackie consider herself to be sitting out the task though, she was on the lookout closely observing what she believed to be a cause for caution. She could swear the flaked handle had weaved itself around the shaft like a grass snake's coiled tail, every now and then it even appeared to be making wavy movements, slithering left and right, like trying to hypnotize her; telling her that if she wanted to make sure whether it was moving or not, she'd have to pick it up to find out.
A crafty trick indeed, but Jackie would not fall for it. She made a promise to not allow herself bat even her eyelid, it was all a figment of her imagination.
Jackie was not really a scaredy cat, but add in her zero knowledge about how heat waves make the air expand, which in turn creates an effect that plays tricks to the eye.. and there were days she'd wake up with a phobia for that fire poker that was almost born out of horror fiction.
It happened long ago, on a cold January afternoon, when her father was trying to feed the logs to the fire, much like Jack had been doing back there. Life however can be quite ironic sometimes, as Bobby Joe got fed up with the fireplace instead. Consultation from his patience had lasted for a good minute before he started claiming the wood was all too wet and that he wasn't going to waste all day on his knees, bringing up his cramps, chronic lumbago pain and such.
So he just abandoned the logs to their fate. Whether they'd decide to burn or not, he could not give a damn.
Miraculously enough, unlike Bobby Joe, god's merciful gaze had not abandoned their family. Despite being left on its own, the fire actually began to grow more healthily than when Bobby Joe was meddling with it.
Half an hour had passed, all while Bobby Joe had been watching the revived fireplace from his rocking chair with a sour face, the flames reflected back inside his still glare dancing like they were mocking him. Soon the fumes the farmer was giving off were greater than the ones going up the chimney. That was about the first time he wondered if god was actually sending him a message about his incompetence, not being good enough to even kindle a proper fire.
All sorts of self-inflicting thoughts ran through his mind that afternoon while petulantly bouncing his foot from that rickety chair, the noise the chair's joints were making while rocking himself back and forth drilling those dark thoughts through his eardrums all the more easily.
But, like always, whenever he was feeling the space around him distorting inwardly, as if trying to consume him, Bobby Joe needed something to make him forget everything. What better way to blow off some steam than with a good laugh, he reminded himself, and a tingling grin almost peeled down to his gums once he realized he had tossed the poker a bit close to the fire.
"..'ey, mute girl."
He lazily let his neck fall back to see Jackie twitch in an uptight manner. She had been diligently sweeping the floor behind him, but for all Bobby Joe knew his twelve year old klutz daughter was just learning how to swing a broom, useless as ever in his eyes. As a caring father however, he could at least put her dolt efforts to good use.
"Dam' floor ain't goin' nowhere, but bet'cha fire will. Do somethin' 'bout it, daddy's bones are gettin' a lil' cold over 'ere. "
He explained and rolled his neck in circular movements a couple of times to make it crackle as proof. He knew his nape wasn't sore from the cold of course, but rather from sitting around doing close to nothing all day.
Jackie on the other hand didn't need another word to comply, she could already feel the coarse skin of his palm choking her breath if she dared shake her head in disobedience. The broom fell from her hands on the spot when Bobby Joe suggestively jutted his chin at the poker.
Jackie stifled the cry.
She got to listen to her palms frizzle like bacon before the hot tool dropped from her hands with a loud clang.
Jackie's mom who happened to be close by stormed inside the room when her husband bust his gut out of the blue, his hacking laughs were possibly being heard all the way down to the village. Rose knew her daughter would never go messing with the fireplace on her own whim, she had never liked fires too much. The mother didn't need a rundown to get the picture.
When she questioned Bobby Joe what the hell was wrong with him he wiped the tear from his eye and said he was merely trying to help get his daughter's voice back. He was sure it'd work.
Rose's arm flew on its own to slap him across the face, already knowing that not even a thousand slaps would be enough to knock a tiny bit of sense into this degenerate animal.
"You don't have to do it baby, you know Jack won't get angry at you."
She wanted to comfort her daughter's obvious struggle while going around the table placing the servings, making sure there'd be no more than three bowls tonight as well.
Jackie jerked her head as if she was shaking off her convenient excuse.
At her mother's plea what happened that day never reached Jack's ears. They told him Jackie burned her hands when she accidentally tripped into the stove. If they had told him the truth he'd surely go after his father, who would very likely answer to him by scarring the other side of his face. Fortunately this ordeal had left no burn scars on Jackie's hands either.
Her fingers finally began to slowly reach out. Jackie had all but gotten over her phobia for that burning poker, if anything was leading her arm it was the self-assuring thought that her brother would never have her do something as careless as to bring harm to her. The handle hadn't been left that close to the fire to begin with, it would be fine.
It was not burning.
But it was heavy.
She wrung with a disbelieving glare, the corner of her mouth stretching up when the poker began to tilt off balance from her hand. This was not happening... Starting from tomorrow she'd have to seriously think about putting some muscle on her bones.
Secretly keeping an eye on her Rose swallowed a chortle when her daughter's posture began to resemble a fencing match with the fire. Well, at least she had come out of her shell to confront her arch nemesis, those gritting brown eyes would soon bend that insubordinate tool's will.
"You still sitting there? Come on, let's eat!"
Jackie didn't even get to blink when she felt losing the weight under her feet and the poker slipping off her hand like a tornado had drifted her along in its path. Her brother could easily fly her like a kite when food was involved, proven by the fact it hadn't even taken him half the time he said he'd need for a bath.
He was already inside the light blue pajamas, feet too ahead of his mind to even think about buttoning the last top button. But, Jackie found the offense to be as minor as her not wearing socks, that made them even.. probably not...
That aside, what had soon captured her pupils was something else.
Inside their joined hands an unyielding and strong grip existed, one Jackie couldn't hope to ever match. She wondered how her brother could be in such high spirits even at the end of the day, when she felt she was going to collapse as soon as getting off the bed. Either he possessed some kind of super powers, or...
..Jack was probably just really famished from work, especially if the rabid excitement on him was anything to go by. She couldn't blame him, that stew smelled so nice even her own picky stomach had decided to make a rumbling request.
Despite that delicious meal waiting for her Jackie would always take her time carefully climbing her gown over the seat, looking out for her manners on the dinner table before anything else, while Jack would take his time examining Rose with a distrustful eye as he'd cautiously pull his chair back.
His mom was sitting still, smiling free of worries, eyes peacefully closed, like a radiant light of serenity had showered her from the heavens. Too quiet, too tame, too suspicious. Jack made sure to guard the thought inside an impregnable vault. Rose was just too much of a holy Mary tonight, but... first things first.
He could hardly hold back his drooling mouth as he towered over that bowl's sweet aroma, a good hot beef stew was in there, and for its bad luck, there was a black hole in Jack's stomach.
"Ah-uh.." Rose wagged her finger, "What do we always say before dinner Jack?"
Something appeared to be amiss as he studied his mother's climbed brow.
"Oh, right.. Sorry." He offered one arm to each woman of the family, Jack was so hungry he had almost skipped a really important part of dinner.
Even though their prayer was missing a fourth person to come full circle, everyone sitting on this table knew well how the act of prayer carried a meaning that ran far deeper than just some picture of looking whole. Being able to hold hands with one another meant treasuring bonds of unity and trust, and those kind of bonds they had come to learn how it was not impossible to achieve with only three members just as well.
In fact, it might have been for the better this way.
"Lord, thank you for the food before us, the family beside us, and the love between us. Amen."
A short prayer, but one including all that meant important to their family.
"Let's dig in!" After what felt to be an eternity he finally gave the go, the mad rings in his eyes already homing in on a juicy target.
But Jack's spoon was stopped in its tracks when a clang scattered on the floor.
"Oh, silly me, I dropped my spoon.." Rose shrugged her shoulders in regret, "Jack would you mind? I think it bounced your way."
For a prolonged moment charity hesitated in his eye, maybe something having to do with Jack's inner projection telling him to dodge the charity like his mental health depended on it. For the record, Jack believed his inner projection to be really wise.
"...Sure..." To bite the bullet is what makes a man, said no wise man ever.
Jack wanted to punch himself in the face as he ducked under the table.
He went looking for a spoon that was supposed to be close to him...
But apparently... The spoon had never left Rose's side.
..Rose, who was sitting on the sacred dinner table..
That punch in the face, it had a nice appeal to it.
Rose crossed one leg over the other, her lip curling as she watched the tendons on Jack's knuckle tighten atop the table. She was both amused and curious to know what sort of dirty thoughts his head could be brewing down there. He'd probably be red all over his face, just like back there, she entertained the likelihood on a chuckling chin. Rose wasn't going to refuse it, tonight she was feeling a little bit more playful than usual.
"Alright, alright. I get it." He sprang back on his feet, already well-fed, not with food, but with his mother's shameless antics. He bailed dinner and marched for a close cabinet instead. "It was a bad flu, Jackie couldn't have been the only one to get sick."
Popping question marks uncurled her lip and Rose's glance began traipsing left and right as if trying to follow.
"But relax mom, I've got just the right medicine for you."
Arms fastened with caution under her chest when she got a weird chill for some reason.
"Jack, what are you talking about? I'm not sick."
"You have no idea how sick you are, but don't worry, everything will be fine in a moment."
Jack speaking in riddles had never boded well for anyone.
The cabinet drawer discreetly slid shut. Rose knitted her brows upon a faint clipping sound from her rear, curiosity gradually mutating to something more fearsome as she whipped over her shoulder.
Jack was holding her ponytail in one hand, softly brushing it with his palm all the way down the imposing length, feeling the sleekness of the rich black strands pouring through his tired fingers.
"I think I'm gonna make me a scarf out of that, what do you say?"
She shrank when Jack finally bared a canine grin and showed her the clipper he'd use to shear the wool off the sheep.
"NOOOOOOOO~!" The floodgates in her eyes burst too easily.
She flipped from her seat in panic and tumbled on the floor, legs flailing helplessly when Jack grabbed her by the reins.
There was only a single downside to Bobby Joe's long absence; keeping that woman on a leash. It was time for Jack to administer Rose a tiny dose of domestic violence in his father's stead, the only known vaccine that had any hopes of working on her.
"It'll grow back in 10 years, no need to stress over it!"
"Touch a single hair and I'll cook your liver for dinner tomorrow! Got that!?"
"Nah, I think you'll be too busy trying to figure what to do with the bun I'll leave on your head."
Rose gasped and stilled by a blizzard when Jack gave a dominant yank on her ponytail.
Getting raped by Bobby Joe like she was an animal she could tolerate, but having her ponytail get sacrificed in such a horrific manner? On top of that, to actually leave her with a bun like she was wearing a meatball up there? Only a real dick would do something like that to a woman...
...But, thinking about the dick her son was... Rose had cleverly discovered a way out of this torture.
She prepared an innocent face and shied over her back, making sure to look her wild cowboy in the eye, "Are you sure that's how you want to do it?"
Jack was getting a deja vu, a real recent one too.
"Taking me like that for your first time is playing a bit too aggressive, but it's okay I guess.."
The time had come for Rose to proceed to step two; Shake her ass against Jack's manhood and check for a possible pulse.
Amazing, his mother possessed that unique talent to draw out the most dead of expressions he had inside him.
"Forget the scarf, I'm gonna make a rope."
Well that was new. An excited chill ran down her spine.
"Jack! I didn't know you were into this kind of—"
"I'll tie you up, throw you in the closet, then I'll finally be able to sleep tight."
"Bummer.." She pouted, displeased.
Even inside this pandemonium Jackie had been able to enjoy her dinner, crazy things like that were not all that abnormal during their night gathering, her mother and brother were just addicted to breaking each other's balls for sport. It was times like this Jackie could close her eyes and truly enjoy her meal, like a lady in a tea party, deep inside her comfort zone.
A comfort zone short-lived. She almost bit her spoon when several blows thundered on their door.
Not losing a second Rose quickly rolled away to slide inside her apron, who knew what kind of visit it would be this time.
"You're the only boy here Jack, do what girls can't do." She made her point and grabbed hold of her daughter from behind, taking a few steps deeper inside the room as precaution.
"Tch." Jack cocked his forearm, whoever it was they couldn't have picked a more perfect timing to get their teeth kicked in.
...On second thought, maybe he should just tell the creep a horny woman was waiting inside, that'd be a load off his back for sure.
He punched the bolt and the door began to creak open by itself.
Jack couldn't see well in the dark. All he could make out was the tattered beanie the man was wearing, a filthy looking brown bush sick with white patches here and there.. and the cold bending the poor hunchback who had hands shoved inside his underarms. He was so dirty, like he had literally tripped into a ditch of dirt.
A beggar, Jack realized and hostile intentions were washed away from his eyes.
"Old timer, you lost?"
"..." He didn't speak, only shook from the howling winds.
"Jack, who is it?" Rose stretched out her neck when the situation didn't escalate.
He didn't answer to his mother, the real question here was what to do about this poor guy. He looked a mess.
"I'm afraid we don't have much to spare old man, all we can give you is a piece of bread."
"...Bread?" The man finally muttered, his breath a moist cloud that quickly dispersed.
Jack was robbed of words when the man returned his kindness with an amused snort, but more importantly... his voice...
"That be my house, boy."
He finally saw the man's eyes rise from the shadows, wolf-like brown eyes, their glint ready to devour all that stood in his way.
The night itself, had appeared on their doorstep.
Chapter 5: Dinner
"B~uuuuuurp..! Dam'... Can't argue with that!"
One could swear Bobby Joe had a broken clapper instead of a mouth. After about eight to ten spoonfuls his rumbling stomach would begin to bloat, this would eventually make him clench his jaw and lift his brows up forcing a whole list of wrinkles on his forehead as contained pressure in his throat was gradually building up.
Once reaching critical mass he'd suddenly draw his neck back to uncork a sneer-like belch that'd release a mix of foul gases that was making Jackie's horrified eyes want to vomit. Beef stew was unarguably the only redeemable odor being digested in there, but it was still vastly outnumbered by the likes of beer, shots, whiskey, cigarettes, and also something that was smelling no better to a carcass.
Wait... Did that mean he was actually eating the cigarettes too?
For her bad luck Jackie adhered to quite a few inflexible conditions when it came to eating etiquette, so once something glaring rubbed her the wrong way she wouldn't be able to shake it off her mind no matter what. She'd unavoidably lose control over an unnecessary curiosity that wanted her to learn the details of what she didn't like, in a way turning an already ugly situation into a compulsive quiz of knowledge she didn't want to partake.
She didn't really mind her brother who'd usually be rushing to wolf down his meal like someone was after him, he was bound to starve after all that work and wanted to go to bed as fast as possible— or even her mother who'd often lash out her tongue at him during dinner for not paying enough attention to her. It was just...
—Jackie's forearm was desperately trying to shield her nose—
Even though she had picked the chair that was the farthest away from him... Her father's breath smelled just like a real overflowing cesspool.
She had to say it. Even though it was only in her mind, she had to say it. "Cesspool."
Even so, Jackie had a hard time accepting she was the only one so vehemently bothered by her father's vulgar manners. Those two who could talk, didn't, and she who wanted to talk, couldn't. She really needed to know if she was the only one who was being paranoid about this. The other two were even sitting on chairs adjacent to Bobby Joe, sitting on those sides was clearly closer to him and the stink from his belches was surely hitting them harder. How in the world were they keeping their cool?
Discreetly prioritizing her eye to the left she was first curious to observe Jack's take on the matter. It was a very close matchup, but her brother was running on a fuse that was a hair shorter than her mom's.
He was just leaning on his elbow, slowly and lazily stirring the spoon in his stew for no real reason. He had a really distant look to him, only sneaking upward glances towards the clock to fasten a scowl at how slow the hands were moving. He was probably just waiting for the opportunity to excuse himself from the table once his father was done eating.
As per old traditions no one was allowed to leave from the table until the head said they could. If he got up before Bobby was done eating it would be seen as disrespect towards the head and then Bobby would have to take actions to remind them who was the head of the house. Jackie was aware her brother had already experienced an actual enforcement of that tradition. All she could say was that it involved a chair to the face.
To her right, her mom looked even less thrilled about this. She wondered what could be going through her mind.
"...So much for three servings..."
Rose was just staring down at her untouched bowl. A velvetly-cooked beef stew was asking to be emptied before going cold. It was there waiting in-between her arms, but her arms had just lost their appetite. The extra bowl that was supposed to have been reserved for Jackie's swift recovery was being pillaged by her good for nothing husband. There was only one thing left a mother could do, and that would be to save her own portion for the sake of her child. It wasn't like an empty stomach was going to make her keel over anyway, she'd just make do with bread not few times in the past.
Guarding the thought in the back of her mind Rose carried on questioning why the other one wasn't eating any either. Bobby Joe was surely making those disgusting slurping sounds with the spoon in his mouth that were enough to rob anyone of their sanity, but even those obnoxious slurps and belches had never proven enough acidic for her little avid eater's stomach. Something else was on his mind obviously.
He was gazing at his stew and sometimes he'd peek at the clock as if something had been gnawing at him. Rose hazarded a guess that her son was just annoyed Bobby Joe had returned and couldn't wait for the moment to skip out the post-dinner catch-up pleasantries. But then a single detail made her realize her assumptions were slightly off the mark. For a split second his lids batted bashfully at Jackie's empty bowl before returning to his own full one. He winced his mouth watching the hot steam slowly dying out.
"Hmmm...?" She hummed with a good hint on her extending lips, "Now I see.."
Great minds think alike after all.
Her son was actually thinking the exact same thing as her. He was waiting for Bobby Joe to finish up eating so he could pass his sister his own bowl. Jack was sitting on hot bricks because his father's annoying eating habits were making his sister all too nauseous to allow her to eat. At this rate those belches were going to make her puke the lone bowl she got to eat before their father joined them. It was taking Bobby Joe way too long to finish up, by the time Jackie would get to look into the bowl the stew would have already turned into greasy sludge, so Jack had to keep stirring it.
Honestly, Rose was both impressed and flattered. How did that old saying go again? 'A cat mother was going to purr for a male that was caring for her kitten as if it was his own?' Well, Rose was purring now. If she were to look back, even though he was the younger one, Jack had always been more of a father to his sister than Bobby Joe had ever been.
Rose's eyelashes were musing longingly as she dared a peek into the future. One day, without a doubt, Jack was going to be a great father.
The daughter sighed in relief that she wasn't the only one aggravated by her father's bearings on the table, all of them were agitated. Even her mother was apparently so frustrated that her thumb was unconsciously bending her spoon.
Jackie couldn't remember the last time the four of them had been sitting together like this on the dinner table. How long had it been actually? Few days short of a month? A month? More than that perhaps? If Bobby Joe was good at blowing expectations somewhere it was in setting new family-desertion records every time he would leave the house.
This might sound really sad and wrong actually, but after a few years her father's stunning records bred the idea for an amusing game between Jack and Rose. They'd wager how many days he would last out there and the one with the closest prediction would win. For the record, Rose would usually win most of them.
This actually made Jackie try to recall.
What had they wagered this time again? Jack's winning condition would always be the same. His mom would stop pestering him for a month and no less than that. Rose on the other hand kept coming up with fanciful ideas every time. If Jackie's memory served correct, she had said something about rubbing her feet?
But, her father had been gone for so long this time they had probably forgotten all about the bet. Good thing Jackie was good at keeping track of days. Jack had predicted Bobby Joe would be back after around 25 days, while Rose was confident it'd be a good month, 30 days.
When Jackie turned towards their calendar and began to recount in thought both Jack and Rose eventually noticed the peculiar change in her behavior. She wasn't being nauseous anymore, so something important had likely grabbed her attention.
Bobby Joe had left on the 27th of October and today was the 24th of November.
She looked down and began to uncurl her fingers one by one. It didn't take much time for Jack and Rose to connect the dots after taking a look themselves at what Jackie had been staring at. On the 1st of November they had intentionally not turned the page over to the next month, it was still on October, and the 27th had been circled for reference. The pencil mark was barely visible though, someone seemed to have used a rubber on it.
"AW MAN!..." A thunderbolt rode up Jack's ridge.
"...How did that..!? Nice work Jackie...!" Rose's angry lip had remembered, but after a gasp it had returned even angrier, livid. Rubbing the circle off the marked date was not the only unmarked thing on the calendar.
Reeling back she showered a nasty glower at the fidgets crawling up like maggots on her son, he looked like a cornered rat in front of this mother cat's menace.
"Little bastard! Thought you'd let that slip right under my nose, didn't you!?"
That was the look of someone who was guilty of charge. He must have been keeping a close eye on the calendar and when he realized the odds had started to tilt unfavorably with each passing day he just grabbed the rubber. Unforgivable, to even think he'd go that far...
When Jackie turned around her shoulders cringed up, her brother was wearing a bitter sidelong expression at her, like he was ready to tear up.
"Jackie why the hell did you have to remind her! Haven't I always been there for you!?"
She drew her brows together in regret, her brother was trapped in a pit with a sleeping beast, but now the beast was awake.
There was still hope though, she wasn't done counting yet. Since both Jack and Rose were staring at her like they were waiting for the official verdict of the jury, she'd make sure to make a thorough and correct count. The most important part was to remember that she wasn't supposed to count the day Bobby Joe would show up, it was a common mistake she'd make in the past and sometimes it would end in Rose's undeserved win. This time she would do the best of her ability to give her brother a glimmer of hope.
1,2,3,4... Her fingers would keep counting days until she reached 27.
Sweatingly he did, but Jack was rejoicing. It was a fully spread palm in Jackie's one hand, a victory sign in the other.
27 was closer to 25 than it was to 30. It was a narrow win, but a win nevertheless. Jack turned and grinned like a smug weasel to Rose, but the mother hadn't thrown in the towel yet.
Because Jackie reckoned something was off in her count.
She was missing something. Did October really have 30 days? The calendar said so, but she could swear it was wrong. Thinking about it, their calendar wasn't really a calendar, it was just twelve blank pages pinned together and everything on it was hand-written... and the one who had taken the liberty to fill in those blank pages with months, days and numbers... was none other than her brother.
If he had already tinkered with the calendar once, what guarantee did she have that he hadn't tinkered with it a second time? Jackie really wanted to help him, but if there indeed was foul play in the bet, she'd show no mercy. There was no other option, she had to use the old knuckle rule. It was the only way to know for certain. Jackie was counting the months first to last according to the 'mountains' and 'valleys' on her knuckles.
Her eyes widened a bit.
She showed Jack and Rose 7 fingers again... but then to a slowly realized nightmare Jack watched that coveted 'victory' sign change into an 'okay' sign. It was actually 28 days, since October had 31 days.
Jack toppled and slammed his face on the table. He had been outwitted by Jackie... BY JACKIE!
"B~UUUURP..! Can't argue with that!"
Bobby Joe had no damn clue what was going on, it was like the three of them were speaking in the mute's hardcoded language. Well good for them, he wasn't expecting something better from this family, communicating with signs like mandrills kind of suited them. He wasn't even gonna bother cracking that monkey language. All he knew was that they were letting him munch on bread and slurp on his spoon without asking questions. They were letting him be and he was letting them be. This was a family dinner mood he could get used to.
On the other hand Jackie's cheeks were swelling, she felt like she was going to puke again. How was he able to belch and talk with all that bread stuffed in his mouth?
"Uurk!" She took cover under the table, another second and she'd have thrown up for real.
But, under the table, the happenings that were unfolding would make her turbulent stomach disappear as if it was never there.
With an elegance that was no second to Cinderella's her mom was drawing her slender toes out of their flip-flop confines to offer a luscious bare leg to her prince... who had lost a bet.
Jack's eyes were dead. Her foot was already dangling in front of his crotch for its rightful prize. Did he really have to? He dragged his eyes up to see what kind of expression she had put on.
"Twenty-five days? Please... You're putting way too much faith in your father hon."
He could practically hear what that self-indulging leer was saying.
"...Bullocks..." He mumbled to himself as he swallowed the pill of defeat, the sooner he'd get to work the sooner it'd be over.
Start off by softly kneading the calf, then her achilles tendon, ankles, heel, bridge, sole, instep arch, finally the ball. Rinse and repeat.
Even though he hated his task, if his fingers happened to stumble on something that did not line up smoothly along his treatment, Jack would pause and stare at it quite inhospitably. There was a tiny lump inside her instep arch, probably some nerves tangled into a knot due to overwork. Truth be told even though his mom may not be doing the heavy lifting he'd do, her legs would be standing no fewer hours than his. In any case, that thing needed to go. Leave it be and it was going to ambush her with a cramp the moment she'd be least expecting it.
"Mm..mmm..." Rose was inwardly moaning on a slumped back.
Her kid could work wonders when he put his mind into it. One would think that running around the farm all day covered in sweat and dust would make his hands forceful and brutish, but that dull feeling of relief she was currently basking in was the undeniable painting of a savage art.
Jackie's eyes were suddenly stretching uncomfortably.
Giving their mom too much of what she wanted was like asking her to cross the line, even if one didn't mean to. Jack was not massaging her foot anymore, his hands were spread wide and cold, because her foot was massaging him instead. Jackie was a witness to an indecent act from her mother, but that was not the bigger issue here. Her father was leisurely digging in food, while her mom was leisurely digging in her brother! It was dangerous, indecent, shameless, but what would happen next, what would happen next!
Jackie was fully aware voyeurism was in itself an indecent act, but this had never happened before. She was already feeling that her chronic tedium was nothing but a yesterday's cold.
A bead of sweat trickled on his temple as Jack rose a smirk back to his temptress of a mother, because Jack would be lying if he said he wasn't tempted. Tempted to know if today was the day he'd finally tie her up in the closet for real. She was just lackadaisically hugging her chest, rolling her neck playfully and biting the tip of her tongue with her lustful canines. What a shameless face, and yet, she was goading him.
"What are you going to do now? Tell your daddy mom is doing naughty things to you..?"
Of course Jack couldn't do that. Bobby Joe catching wind of the situation was the same as willingly throwing themselves under a bus. It was suicide. Besides, as much a crazy nut she was, Jack was not on Bobby Joe's side. It was Jack's responsibility to deal with his mom's whimsical leash, one way or the other.
Jackie gasped out of her daze when Jack's hand started moving again, it was searching for something, high up under the table's corners where some iron hinges were holding the table together. One of them was a bit loose and Jack seemed to be reaching for something that was jammed inside the gap.
The mother's reflex kicked up the table when something suddenly poked her foot.
As expected of her brother, Jackie was blinking in awe. When push came to shove, his wits had no match. He had been hiding a small fork under the table, in case of emergencies like that.
"Hmph!" Rose crossed her legs, she was hurt... for three seconds really. A dispassionate blizzard possessed her eyes, "This isn't over..."
"Can't argue with that!" Bobby Joe remarked giving his stuffed belly a few slaps.
The sponger suddenly became the center of attention. Surprisingly his stomach hadn't spoken this time, so what couldn't he argue with?
"...What?" He was feeling so full even his shrug was lazy, "Jus' sayin' is true the chicken sou' packs sum real kick."
Rose leaned a bit closer to confirm something inside the leftovers of his bowl.
"You do realize that's beef stew, right Bobby?"
He pretended to understand as he nodded with an impressed face.
"Can't argue with that!"
Rose, Jack and Jackie were staring in sulking awe. Those belches weren't just for show. Bobby Joe was totally stonkered. After letting that unremarkable fact sink in Rose turned and leaned on her chin a bit too territorially over the table, she wondered now...
Jack's spine shot a high voltage to stick him uptight against the chair, while Jackie was just shuddering and covering her eyes. 'Great minds thought alike' after all. Even the shy Jackie could easily read the mood.
If Rose straddled Jack on his chair and started fucking him right there and then, Bobby Joe was probably just going to say 'he couldn't argue with that', wasn't he?
Chapter 6: Bedtime
Bobby Joe was not going to keep them on the table for pleasantries after dinner that night.
Or to be more specific, he could not afford to keep himself up more than what he already had. Indulging to a feather-like light head from all that drinking was truly a godsent bliss that he could not imagine not being a sweet slice of his every day life.. but at the end of the day, he would once again be reminded how nothing in this world was kind enough to take care of his needs free of charge. Just like women, alcohol had a tax to collect, and this wasn't about the fat load of cash he'd have to watch himself surrendering to the bartender's greedily awaiting fat hand.
Bliss would last for a good couple of hours, that's what he was paying a fortune for— limited time in a heavenly asylum. After that, the bomb of cocktails in his stomach would finally start to show its true face, and no soup, stew or bread was going to stop it from claiming its prize. When the time had come to pay for his addiction, his vision would begin to fog at first, then slowly blur out of focus, till his suffering senses eventually gave up this vain struggle and walked off a cliff. The moment he began to see three Roses, three Jacks, and three Jackies, he freaked out. The problems had multiplied.
Staggering he got up from his chair to never spare a second thanking his wife for supper, staggering he resigned to bed without saying goodnight to any of them. With his time in the heavenly asylum already expiring, his only partner in bed that night would be a long-forgotten memory from hell. A hangover.
There were days alcohol would come back to bite him in the ass, but why the hell did it have to be today? He had been drinking like this for like, what? 30 years and a few? Over the years alcohol had even started to lose its potency over him, and so did the hangovers. His liver was probably in such a rotten shape it had started to look more like an alcohol sponge instead of a liver, but still, it could always handle a heavy glass.
A hangover this bad out of damn nowhere, his head would be splitting in half all day tomorrow... Shit.
Jackie's nape had already made a shallow nest on the pillow as she recalled the luckily uneventful dinner afterword.
Once Bobby Joe was out of the picture her mother and brother whispered her to have another bowl before going to bed. Truth be told, she hadn't been eating all that well while down with a fever, her stomach had kind of closed the shutters to food, but that didn't really mean she'd have to make up for her lost meals as soon as she got up from bed. Little did she know that she had no opinion on the matter though, as the sparks in Jack's and Rose's bolting glares said she was going to anyway. Their amber eyes could be really scary when they were dead-set on something, like two pairs of solar flares ready to spatter lava at her.
To be perfectly honest her appetite hadn't returned to a full hundred percent just yet, but her mom's beef stew was just so delicious she secretly wished she could go for maybe another half a bowl if possible. Her father's unexpected presence on the dinner table had been making her regret emptying the lone bowl she ate, let alone wishing for extras, but the moment he was out of the kitchen her stomach was meekly peeping out again.
The problem was not that there were no reserves, it was that there were actually two bowls in the queue, Jack and Rose were fighting to push their respective bowl on Jackie and in the end both bowls had been promoted at the precipice of the table. Jackie couldn't help but get nervous as her mother's and brother's cheeks started squeezing against each other's to snatch the lead, eagerly waiting to see which one she would pick. Jackie didn't want to favor one of them and possibly dishearten the other in doing so, thus she just ate about half a bowl from Rose's stew and then about half a bowl from Jack's.
It was way more than she could handle, but she had to make her stomach expand to keep the both of them satisfied.
Jackie couldn't have been greedy even if she wanted too, in the end she had left the two bowls more than half-filled for her mother and brother to help themselves to. Her gloomy nod wished for them to go to bed not with an empty stomach again. They smiled as reassurance and saw her off to bed without letting her near the sink to worry about the dishes, today was still her day off.
She remembered an old bedtime story her mom would use to tell her at night, a novel about 'The Three Musketeers'. In that story it was 'all for one and one for all'. All friends would rush to save one comrade, and one comrade would put everything at stake to save all of them. It was a beautiful story of enmity and friendship, trust and betrayal, love and hate. Jackie would be particularly captivated by the hero going by the name D'Artagnan. He was always the one to jump head-first into battles, never cowering before numbers and odds, always fighting on the ropes, always fighting with his life on the line.
She had always seen a curious resemblance in that story, how her family of three was just like 'The Three Musketeers'. It would make her wonder if her mom also saw it like this too, thus the reason she had taken a liking for telling that bedtime story. There was only a small difference between their family story and that of 'The Three Musketeers' though..
...did not have a D'Artagnan.
Bobby Joe was not the selfless, brave and courageous hero D'Artagnan was... The 'hero' Jackie wanted for a father... Bobby Joe was more of a nefarious figure, one much like cardinal Richelieu in the novel.
...What would the three musketeers have done if they were in their shoes? What would they have done without D'Artagnan? Would they have given up? Would they have drowned in grief D'Artagnan never showed up to put an end to cardinal Richelieu's evil schemes?
Jackie's eyes wore a dismal glint as they waded towards the roof of her bedroom, past the small prison-like skylight tower that was narrowly filtering her bed with a clouded moon's pale hope.
No... the three musketeers would have never given up. Because the youngest, the bravest of them, would take a selfless decision to make them remember what 'The Three Musketeers' were standing for; 'All for one, and one for all'. He was only 9 years old when he bid farewell to his other two musketeer friends, because from that day on the young musketeer would not be a musketeer anymore, he would not be able to spend time with his two friends like he always had.
Wearing his last smile as a musketeer, he donned a mask, to take up D'Artagnan's role. When his lids slowly parted to behold the stage from behind the mask, his eyes would not be the same anymore. They were the last-reminiscing eyes of someone knowing he had to be someone else, eyes that could not afford to dwell downcast in a musketeer's memories, but in D'Artagnan's steadfast resolve. He had to be someone else, he had to gaze forward...
...B ecause the promised hero...
...had never come...
Jackie's palm was stifling the convulsing wails that were screaming for release, but a runlet of bitter tears had already mapped its course. Through her agonal sniffs all she could see was a lean, taut back, licked by dozens of whips, turned at her, and the spiky ends of black hair rippling upwind as he stepped into autumn's challenge. He was walking away from her, wearing a mask, to fulfill his duty as someone else.
"Why did father have to be the evil cardinal.. Why did you have to be D'Artagnan.. Why did we have to stop playing together like we always had.."
Jackie was timid, but she had not always been glum and broody, nor had she been reduced to a shell of a girl because she had just lost her voice. She was like that because a very important person was not making her days shine anymore. She had lost those halcyon days playing together with her little brother, she was desperate because she didn't even know what kind of damned sign language she was supposed to speak to let him know that she was missing those times they were together, that she wanted him to take off that mask and be a musketeer again.
She pined for those days, so much her heart was wilting.
Where was her little brother?
Where had he gone?
Jackie was twisting in her bed, her back, her legs, all her body was lying on needles.
There were times she thought she could still see his face past that mask, like back at the fireplace where he embarrassed her and laughed at her. But they were only echoes... Solemn echoes of a long-gone musketeer. Her little brother had been wearing D'Artagnan's mask for over 9 years already, he had matured from a child into an adult wearing that mask. Somewhere down that road, D'Artagnan's mask had become his real face.
...They were distant echoes, she already knew that, but those echoes were hurting like no other. They were haunting her like a candle's dying glow that her little brother may still be in there, somewhere in his heavy heart wishing he could be a musketeer again. Even thinking that such a dying possibility may exist...
The back of her wrist was laying defeated atop the sticky brown curls of her forehead. Jackie had been panting heavily, like her body was steaming and suffocating despite the freezing cold that had made a lodge in her room. Like always, hindsight was what would make her anxiety attacks relent.
It was disappearing behind the clouds again, the moon. Just like her wistful dreams, the moonlight's veil was walking away from her bed, like a receding tide, tapering, casting enwidening silhouettes on her rumpled blanket, till the last thinning beam perished like a silk thread from her imprisoned gaze.
A jet black, unstarry, hopeless sky.
A frustrating opportunity, knocking her closet's door.
Every person was hiding skeletons in their closet, and nocturnal fiends like skeletons were very fond of such unstarry nights, because no one would see them lurking out of the closet. Her body was still steaming from before and her gown was already sticking uncomfortably on her skin, there was no way she'd be able to just roll over and sleep after getting worked up like that.
She had been resting well for a week and on top of that today even her belly had a good fill. With two out of three vital needs crossed out, her body was popping arrow marks around the third, downward need. It meant a world of shame to her, but it was unavoidable still. Jackie closed the shutters on her eyes as the dormant fingers next to her thigh began to lurk, like skeletons out of the closet. They were collecting her long cotton gown into their palm, slowly undressing her timid legs.
Hard as it was to say, that was the easy part.
Jackie knew that it was what would follow next that was so shameful one could never gain knowledge of.
Her fingers were cautiously sliding under the elastic fabric of her underwear, there was no other soul inside this room, but Jackie had always treated this matter with a discretion such as if ears may be listening on the walls. Her tongue had been pressing against the roof of her mouth as the index, middle, and ring fingers were forging heroic beelines through the savanna to reach their destination point. She was really trying to make her patience last, but her tongue gave up and clicked, irritated. Her pubic hair had rubbed her the wrong way again. One week on the bed was enough to make it grow back this much.
Of course she hadn't been letting the problem take its natural growing course, back when she was still a kid, ten or so, her mom had given her a good couple of hints. It was on a day when they were both in the bathroom, with Jackie washing her body under the shower and her mom chilling inside the bathtub, water up to the neck. Jackie was watching and wondering why her mom would be shaving her armpits and legs almost every day. Armpits she could kind of understand, though she would only grow some harmless light-colored peach fuzz on her legs, yet still insisted on getting rid of it like it was pesky weed growing on the wrong side of the fence.
"A girl must always take good care of her body you know, guys will notice these kinds of things."
Around that time Jackie regretted even asking.
The purpose behind her mom's shaving was some weird thing called maintaining appearances to look pretty in men's eyes.
"It's not weird! If you need to know guys grow beards and have to shave every day just like we do."
Jackie's brows were questioning that.
"Um... Don't look at dad... Look at... Grandpa. Yes, grandpa Leroy. His face is always smooth and clean, is it not?"
That was true. Whenever her grandpa would visit and start rubbing his face on Jackie's his cheeks would almost be as smooth as her little brother's. Almost.
Grandpa Leroy's legs were more hairy and curly than a bear's though, so why wasn't he shaving those?
"J-Jackie.." Rose put on the most good-willed smile she could find, but a vein on her temple was twitching, "Let's continue this conversation when you grow a little, okay baby?"
Her mom said so... But Jackie had already shrugged off this chat's purpose along with the hints her mom had given her.
It was sometime during Jackie's thirteenth year, when she darted to the bathroom and ambushed her mom while she was humming in the shower.
"JACKIE!" Startled Rose whipped a towel around her body, tucking the sides in, "What's gotten into you!?"
By that time Jackie had already lost her voice, so there was no other way to let her know.
"~AAAAAH!" Rose screamed and tripped on the soap bar when her daughter pulled down her shorts.
Apparently this was a problem, going by her mom's reaction.
"W-Well see..." Rose was scooting her hips to find a safe distance and collect herself, the corner was fine, "M-Maybe I forgot to tell you.. but armpits and legs are not the only parts a girl should look after."
Jackie was growing frustrated, how was she supposed to deal with it then? Comb it or something? It just looked so...
"Jackie." Rose required her attention, "Pick one."
She was holding scissors in one hand, a razor in the other.
Jackie didn't like this, she pulled up her shorts and backed away.
It was a bad idea asking her mom for help, she looked like she was determined to perform some kind of vicious surgery on her.
"I see..." A glint was whetting intentions in her eye, Rose pressed her knee against the floor for a pouncing attack, "Looks like I'll have to fleece that for you."
F-FLEECE?! What was she!? A SHEEP!?
Jackie darted the other way to run for her life, but her mom was already flying above her like an airborne tiger.
And that's how Jackie had lost her first fleece. Trimmed down, thrown into the tub, then shaved clean. She understood how babies felt when they were being baptized, more or less.
At first she was self-conscious how her pubic area looked eerily bald, vulnerable-like, but after a few hours she realized how she was feeling a lot lighter as well. Once again she could feel the breeze between her legs. It was only a few days later that she visited the bathroom again, something was bothering her, so she had come seeking further enlightenment from her wise mother. This time it was Jackie who was holding scissors and a razor. She looked troubled deciding after looking at each one. Eventually she turned towards her mom, shrugging with a dilemma.
"That's up to you sweetie." Rose was brushing her ponytail in front of the mirror, "You can either shave or trim. Just remember.. Don't ever, ever let it grow back like that again, okay?"
Jackie wasn't going to leave without a solid answer, how the hell was she supposed to know which one was better? She stretched her arms, like telling her mom to pick for her.
Rose sighed, there was no way around it when her daughter would get stubborn.
"Look, shaving is the better option. But you have to be both diligent and careful if you go that way. Sink the razor too deep and you will cut yourself, shave at a wrong angle or on a dry skin and you will get razor burns or an infection."
A razor could actually burn you..?
Like, how did that even work? Shave badly and it'll start a fire on you?
Jackie was already leaning towards the other option, the razor sounded more like a thing to avoid. Her mom had made shaving look like a walk in the park, but Jackie wasn't her mom.
"One last thing."
Wait, there was more!?
"If you go with shaving, you will have to devote yourself to the razor almost every day. No skipping, no cutting corners. You don't want prickly hair like dad's stubble down there, do you?"
Jackie was gawking at Rose, the itch bothering her down there was that!? Why did her mom ever touch her with the razor!?
She lowered the arm holding the razor, it was the scissors for Jackie.
"I'm not against that, in fact trimming is probably the better start for you."
Rose had finished tidying her ponytail and turned around to leave the bathroom.
However once under the door, she felt like leaving a final word of advice.
"..Guys always like it best shaved clean."
The suggestive wink had turned her daughter into a statue of red.
Chapter 7: Intimacy
That parting piece of advice from her mother had made things all the more complicated for Jackie, it was stressing her heartbeat just flying fretful scenarios about a possible love interest having to pin her shoulders against the wall to question her why her womanly parts were poorly tended, unwomanlike, just because she was afraid to use a razor. She wasn't so unknowledgeable as not to suspect what Rose was talking about.
When a boy and girl decided to be together they would eventually have to get intimate, in other words body contact and other stuff would be waiting just around the corner. Unshaved armpits, legs, or pubic hair, they were all embarrassing skeletons in a girl's closet. Body hair was for the guys, like her grandpa Leroy, who was not embarrassed to show a manlike growth on his legs. Girls on the other hand, being the rival gender, weren't just going to showcase the same qualities as grandpa Leroy, it was ridiculous to even think about.
They had to show something different.
Men were too lazy to shave anything besides their beards, some of them were so lazy they were not shaving even those. So, where men were like lazy, yawning lions to bother, girls would have to show they were neither lazy nor yawning. They'd show the men they could take care of their bodies better than they did, so the men would drop their jaws at how meticulously-cared a girl's body could be.
A mountain of adult-logic was slowly sinking in Jackie's naive mind. She was slowly seeing the reason why her mom had been undertaking 'maintenance' on a sharp schedule. Now thinking like a woman herself, she was starting to understand the crucial point of making the difference.
Now she was already nineteen, possessing an even more conscious outlook about those things than when she was just a girl. It was exactly because Jackie had woken up to reality that she was trusting her own judgement. Time and time again she'd weigh up the pros and cons of shaving, but the end result would always be the same.
It wasn't worth it.
Her mom had said guys liked their girls shaved clean, but Jackie didn't have someone like that. What was the point of going through shaving every day when nobody was going to notice her anyway? From her point of view it was just wasted time and effort. She'd just settle for half-measures, trimming the bush down to a savanna, just enough so that it didn't get in the way. Cutting through a savanna was better than squeezing your way through a wild bush for sure, still worse compared to a smooth downslope trip on a snowsled nonetheless.
She only wished her mom had never introduced her to the razor, that smoothness from back then truly had no equal. Even having her pubes trimmed was inadequate compared to that clean feeling, it was the very reason she'd be especially reminded of her pitiful half-measures when she'd try to indulge in her private time, somewhere in her mind regretting not shaving and thus losing yet another opportunity to experience that amazing feeling again. Nevertheless, it was all a matter of time before she'd acclimate and compromise for that inadequate feeling. Once she'd reach the destination point and get her fingers down to work, she'd forget all about pubic hair, scissors, razors and whatnot.
Her knees were coming together in anticipation, ready to embrace that coveted tingling jolt.
"—!" Her back shot up into an arc, naturally flinching as if a stream of sensitivity had zapped her body.
It was only her fingertip lightly touching it, the little button responsible for making the sealed floodgates of pleasure wobble like jelly. She was slowly stirring it around and around, taking her time to savor the jelly's tingling delight.
Now it was time for Jackie's mind to sink inside an ocean of deep, intimate fantasies.
Years ago, the very first time Jackie had learnt how to make the jelly wobble, fantasizing about intimacy and all that word carried, the other stuff in particular, the foremost image coming to Jackie's mind were the nitty-gritty noises. Bouncing bed springs and the kind of gluttonous groanings her father would make on her mother at nights he'd be in the mood.
...Frustrating, that's what hearing bouncing bed springs was like. Frustrating for having to listen to them, frustrating that someone else was having fun, frustrating that she didn't have anyone making those noises for her. Frustrating... and ridiculously arousing.
The earliest time since Jackie could still retain those noises in her memory was when she was still nine, while her little brother was only eight. It was driving her nuts listening to her father go at it those nights, so much that Jackie was almost certain her father was pounding Rose near the wall on purpose. Jack and Jackie's bunk was situated far into their room's innermost corner because that's where the room would be less freezing, however on the other side of that wall was attached their parents' bed as well. No need to say, wooden walls weren't soundproof, not by a tiny bit. They could hear it so transparently one would beg to think the shared wall wasn't even there. To make matters worse, Bobby Joe was plowing their mother right behind that wall as if he wanted Jack and Jackie to listen to the springs very closely.
Jackie's intuition was not wrong, for the most part.
What she didn't know was that this was in fact her father's way of getting revenge on Rose for never giving him the pleasure of getting to tap his ear on even a single one of her moans. It was already bad enough that he had been married to a slut who had been taking cocks like there was no tomorrow, but the rumors were also claiming she was even more of a slut in bed.
He'd think that at least getting to hear those slutty moans from the rumors would slightly redeem his pathetic marriage, but that broken whore wouldn't even do him service with her mouth. She was hardly living up to her slutty reputation, what a damn letdown she was. Well, not that it really mattered. What mattered was to punish her for being a defective slut, by pounding her on the wall where on the other side her precious gems were trying to close their eyes.
Obviously this was a laughing matter to Bobby Joe himself alone. Being an older sister with a better grasp on the happenings Jackie would have to make sure her little brother was not forgetting to seal his vulnerable ears, or worse, actually having his curiosity picked by the rapidly increasing slapping tempo coming from the wall.
There was no helping it, Jackie would have to climb off her bed and creep in Jack's so she could protect her brother, she had to plug his ears with her palms at all costs. Stranded in this situation the two siblings would have to keep staring at each other without saying a word, but it was still better for Jackie to be there, acting as an adult, than just leaving her little brother alone and possibly start asking himself questions that were a decade ahead of him.
That's what Jackie's instincts as a big sister were telling her, but there were times instinct and mind would find one another in conflict. Jack would always do unexpected things Jackie would not anticipate from a boy younger than her. It wasn't even anything big, but to Jackie it was the shine of a considerate and mature character. He had been observing and registering how his sister's eyes would be having a hard time because her hands would be occupied protecting his ears, so he'd return the kindness by protecting hers.
They would be still staring at each other, but it'd not be awkward anymore, because Jack was smiling at her. Scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. That was actually comforting Jackie, so much she'd start questioning her own intentions for leaving her bed. Was she really the one protecting her little brother? Or was she seeking refuge in his bed because she knew he'd always return the favor and protect her? It was true that having her ears covered by her little brother was a lot more comforting than just doing it on her own, it was making her feel like she was not alone in this.. because she was alone in this.
Jackie was actually a bit envious at how fortunate her brother was. He didn't have to suffer listening to sounds of intimacy coming from his mom, because Rose had always refused to actively participate in Bobby Joe's mating calls. If her mother would allow her composure to waver, even for a second, Jack was definitely going to understand what it was like to go through what Jackie was going through. It was hell. Because to Jackie, a girl, listening to a grown man producing those mating sounds, was very agitating. It was normal to assume that the same would apply for Jack, would his mom ever make erotic sounds.
On that matter, Jackie just couldn't stop thinking about her mom.
If Jack only knew what their mom's stiff lips had to be enduring for their sake.
Because the only thing Rose could do, was to endure, endure, and endure.
Their mother already knew sex with Bobby Joe would never be about love or passion, it was just about being forced to bend over and fulfill her marital duties to her generous husband. As Bobby Joe's wife she had to bow down to him, but she'd still try to press for the bare minimum requirements for a passing grade. Rose spreading her legs for Bobby Joe was just one of the many kinds of stay-over fees her husband would come to collect from them.
They all knew the house they were living in was not theirs, it was property under Buck's name, now passed down to Bobby Joe. If Bobby Joe ever deemed they were not offering him the appropriate tribute for allowing them to stay as guests in his house, Rose and her children would find themselves without a home faster than a wind could whistle. Bobby Joe had nothing to lose from such an unfortunate ending, because all that he had always wanted, he already had. His father's riches.
Bobby Joe would give one final strong thrust, hoping to hear Rose stifling a bitter cry. If she wasn't going to moan for him, she was going to cry in pain for him. Because there were nights his meager stamina reserves would not go against further depletion from beating up Rose as a follow-up punishment for refusing to turn him on.
It was those nights that Jackie's wolf-pup brother's fangs were ready to tear down the wooden wall, madly fancying it as if it was made from nothing but paper. That was the other reason Jackie would have to be there for Jack, to keep his thrashing body down on the bed as the pangs in their mom's muffled groans from the belt whips were secretly crying for a help that was never going to come.
Either way, the noises would eventually relent. But quiet still wouldn't last more than a minute, for Jackie would soon start to feel the walls shaking like a truck was passing by. She wished it would really just be a passing truck, even for once, because those were her father's deep snores. He'd always knock himself out in a one-sided feast.
Once the snores would kick in Jackie would stick her ear on the wall waiting to catch a distinctive sound. A door unlocking. That would be Jackie's cue to order her brother to stay in bed while she'd make haste to check on her mom. She still remembers the many times Rose would shamble out of that door, bruised on the face, lacerated at the shoulders, worse for wear. She still remembers how her mom would always have the look of a corpse in her gaze as she'd turn to hardly notice the concerned Jackie standing there. That wasn't the look of a woman who had gotten raped and violated by a man, but of a woman that had been touched by a vile corpse.
"Even hard, he's still limp..." She'd grudgingly mutter to herself...
..and those were the only times Jackie would actually see her lively mom wear her black gown as if she was wearing a cloak of misery.
Word was already out after all. Everyone had been hearing the rumors go around, how wearing unhealthy habits had in turn been causing Bobby Joe to wear an unhealthy libido already before he climbed the church. Not only he was raping and beating their mother, he was also incapable of making her finish. He was using her like a sex slave for his own leisure, yet would always leave her wallowing in unfulfillment. Bobby Joe's highest record keeping it up was fifteen minutes, and that was when he was still in his 30's. Now that he was forty-nine, his best record seemed like an uncatchable faraway dream.
On one hand Rose was utterly resentful her wedding ring was binding her to someone who couldn't make her come even once, on the other hand, she was grateful this embarrassment would only last for a few minutes.
Even though her mom's sulking face was smoldering in a mood so sour that was making her reluctant to much roll an eye, Rose would find it in herself to smilingly signal Jackie to go back to bed with a suggestive tilt of her head. Jackie would start taking tentative backward steps, disappearing back inside the room as her mom wanted her to, but in actuality Jackie would only pretend to leave, because she'd be not the least convinced her mom was okay. What was she going to do next?
Many times would Jackie secretly track her mom's tail as she headed for the bathroom, and many times she had caught her wobbling the jelly, right on the toilet seat. Jackie was spying on her through the keyhole. It was from that keyhole that the eleven year old Jackie had figured how to unlock her own body's desires. After experimenting with her little button for the first time, Jackie had learnt what a climax was. She had also realized why her mom would head for the bathroom every time after sex. It was obvious her dad wasn't satisfying her, so her mom had to sit and fix Bobby Joe's unsettled tabs all by herself.
Well, if it wasn't shameful for her mom, a married woman, to be playing with herself, why should Jackie feel shameful for doing it?
And that's how it started.
"—THE FUCKIN TEQUILA!"
"~!" Jackie's relaxed legs jolted together from the jumpscare.
"ALWAYS THE FUCKIN TEQUILA!...UNGHH~!"
Bobby Joe was having a severe indigestion in the other bed, moaning, groaning, sleep-talking out loud.
It was not the first time, it was not going to be the last, Jackie was sure.
A furious fist retaliated on the shared wall, demanding for some peace and quiet. Not for a moment did Jackie expect her drunkard father to get the clue though. Tossing herself back in bed she covered her eyes with the same arm, every pore on her skin was starting to steam from the hypertension rushing her. A girl's private time was very delicate, now because of her father suddenly ruining the cozy mood, Jackie was never able to come. Right now the daughter was no different to an overheated nuclear reactor, so angry she could kick a puppy.
Why the hell did her father decide to come back anyway? After being gone for almost an entire month Jackie had started to believe things at home were taking a turn for the better. No one was getting kicked around, supper time was feeling family-like for once, nights were so peaceful she could sleep without a worry in her mind. Now all of that seemed like a distant utopia.
"..." What time was it anyway?
Jackie rolled over, shoving arms under her pillow to fumble for it. She caught what she was looking for, then brought it atop the pillow holding it with both hands. Pressing her thumb on the upper left side there was a beeping sound and a small green light instantly caused Jackie's groggy eyes to frown in adjustment.
23:30, about midnight.
That electronic wrist watch was her late grandfather's Leroy's gift for her 18th birthday. Grandpa Leroy had passed away just a year ago, so his face would always still come to mind every time Jackie used that beeping light. He was a good man, her grandpa. Jackie missed her grandpa's stories, while Jack missed the crude jokes he was pulling on Rose.
Being a housekeeper Jackie didn't have much use for such a wrist watch though, there was the clock if she ever needed to slip a glance at the time. On the other hand a wrist watch was invaluable to her brother, working outdoors around the clock had caused Jack to lose track of time many times in the past.
Jackie had long-noticed how Jack had started borrowing her wrist watch every morning, stealthily enough that sometimes she'd indeed not wake up from the sneaky arm creeping under her pillow... but, Jackie was still letting him believe she hadn't figured his morning pick-pocketing habit. Maybe he wasn't asking her to borrow it, but he'd always return it under her pillow by bedtime, so Jackie was allowing him to borrow it. Like said, that wrist watch wasn't of much use to her, she only needed it at times like this and she always had it.
Jackie closed her eyes and brought the watch in front of her nose.
The underside of the strap was smelling of dry sweat.
Jack's, dry sweat.
Like said, Jackie was a housekeeper, she didn't go out much, so she didn't have visuals of Jack's working activities. As such, she had come up with a way to check how hard Jack had been working during the day by sniffing the intensity of the scent on the property she was letting him steal from her. Jack was stealing, she had never reported him for stealing her stuff, so it was only fair that she was keeping something in return for his offense. It was eye for an eye in this family; so Jackie's undercover plan, smuggled inside Jack's undercover plan, to determine whether Jack had been working hard for the family.
"..." Jackie's eyes opened at a sudden frown.
What she was doing, was NOT perverted.
What was perverted was her mother's undercover plan.
Jackie still couldn't believe it, how she had caught Rose in the act, multiple times, sniffing Jack's underwear... breathing it in deep like it was an oxygen mask.
THAT, was perverted.
"zzz... — ZZZ! "
Talking about oxygen, Bobby Joe was having some seriously steep oxygen-intakes back there. She couldn't even call it snoring anymore, that was more like a congested boar wrestling with asphyxiation.
"...!" Jackie rolled over again, hissing when she got trapped in her sheets like a cocoon.
What a mess.
Truly, it had been a peaceful month for Jackie, but all good things would one day come to an end. She should've known better that her father coming home to sleep meant her eyes were going to crack vessels from the paranoia of being kept up all night. Now she had to go back to the kitchen and grab the earplugs she didn't grab when she left the table. It became knowledge to her long ago that forethought wasn't her strong suit, but evidentally knowledge didn't become wisdom. Now an extra trip to the kitchen it was.
Using the dim light from the wrist watch Jackie illuminated the ladder's dark descent before carefully climbing down the first steps.
"...?" Halfway down, she stopped.
That was odd, not a sound was coming from Jack's bed springs.
Sensing that something was off Jackie pointed the light at the lower bed. Her brother's bed was still empty, however a bolt suddenly jogged her memory. How did that even manage to slip her mind? The very reason she decided to wobble the jelly in the first place was because Jack was not back yet, because she was alone in the room. It seriously made her wonder if masturbating was equal to short-time memory loss or something, because today was supposedly Jackie's turn to do the dishes. It was because she was still recovering from a fever that Jack and Rose had relieved her of her duty, they were not in bed yet because they were filling in for her.
The room was pitch dark as Jackie touched the closest wooden beam of the bunk to find her bearings, but that was no issue. She didn't even need to use the light from the watch to map her direction, because the path to the kitchen was the one she had best memorized.
Jackie softly smirked, realizing the great opportunity.
It was one of those rare nights the daughter remembered how she was the only member in the family with a cat's silent stride, a stealth skill with no better time to use.
Because after tonight's dinner, after seeing whose crotch her mother's foot was interested in, Jackie had no more doubts that the intimate scenes she was fantasizing while getting cozy in her bed, were no mere delusions.
Tonight, Jack and Rose, were together in the kitchen, all alone.
An excited chill crawled her spine as Jackie creaked open her room's door.
Chapter 8: Dishwashing
As expected, Jack and Rose were both stationed at the sink, one washing the dishes, the other wiping the dishes, just like two soldiers in an assembly line.
Timewise it was indeed the most effective method, Jackie knew because she had been there with Rose so many times she had lost count.
"Don't be shy, touch it."
But since today Rose's partner at the sink was not her disciplined daughter, but a temporary fill-in, dysfunctionality issues were rising.
"Nobody's looking you know, this is your chance."
"I said- don't wanna."
And trust Jackie, the dysfunctionality issues had nothing to do with her temporary fill-in not knowing the job. In fact her brother was better than her at handling the dishes in every aspect, especially at speed, because yeah... for understandable reasons, Jack wanted this over with as quickly as possible.
"You only say that cause you haven't touched it yet."
"Come on, touch it."
"I don't wanna touch your upsticking ass! The hell's wrong with you!"
Oh..! it was already getting spicy!
Hunkered down in the shadows of a narrow corridor Jackie was on a stealth mission; To gather proof of the indecent happenings in front of the sink. Even after getting turned down the apronless Rose was still bumping that booty ever undiscouraged. It had to be torture for Jack, washing the dishes while holding his ground against his mom's sexual harassment. How much longer was he gonna last against those lustful curves? Not too long for sure. Jackie could tell from the sounds of dishes clattering together that even Jack's nimble hands were starting to slip from nervousness.
"Why is it me doing the scrubbing anyway huh? It's always the other way around with sis and don't tell me that it's not."
Jack mumbled through his teeth and just handed her the next bowl.
"If I'm a lazy bitch then that makes you the son of a lazy bitch." Rose would always get a kick out of Jack's bitching, he was his mom's son through and through, "You seem to forget I've been managing the house all by myself for the entire week."
Well yeah, that was because Jackie was sick.
She did feel a bit at fault for pushing all the workload on her mom.
"You're so full of crap."
Jackie frowned offended at Jack's remark, t hat was quite insensitive of him. Their mom was not kicking back or anything, housekeeping was not exactly a walk in the park. Jackie could tell her mom was not appreciating Jack's ungratefulness either, she hadn't bumped her ass again after that.
"I'm glad you know me so well love."
Jackie's brows climbed all the way up in surprise.
So she wasn't having Jack on scrub duty because she was tired?
"You rubbed the calendar to cheat, so you're rubbing the dishes as punishment, simple as that."
Said dishes suddenly collapsed on more said dishes.
"—HUH!?" A meteor had just crashed inside Jack's head, "Are you serious!? That's why I'm doing the scrub!?"
"An eye for an eye, as I've always said."
Rose was not smiling, she was grim and her arm was waiting for the next bowl.
"Fucking piece of..."
Jack forced it down his throat as he turned back to the sink, worked up and forceful in his scrubbing movements.
"I'm curious though, but did losing a bet really bother you that much..."
"Don't listen to her shit, just keep scrubbing." Jack reminded to his sanity.
"...that you had to lie to me?"
"...!" Uh-oh, Jackie braced herself.
The sudden pause in sounds was chilly.
She should have known that her mom's intentions were no better.
It was one of those days Rose wanted to start a lovers' quarrel with Jack.
"I didn't lie to you."
He handed her the last bowl, but Rose's suspecting leer was not having it.
"Just say it."
She was spited with her son's respectful lies.
Jack gathered a glare that was a mirror of Rose's suspicion.
"You didn't want to rub my feet, did you?"
Jackie felt her chest starting to pound, because the amber stares were intensifying. She could practically see the antagonistic sparks between mother and son, and if she were to go by historical records, the first one to usually blow their top would be...
"You're right, I didn't feel like rubbing your feet cause you always end up doing shit like rubbing my dick!"
Jackie's inner image shattered like glass from the embarrassment, many terms were absent in her brother's vocabulary, but there was one especially damn big black hole at where 'TACT' would be found.
"Oh? Is that right?" That was damn fine with Rose though, "Perhaps if you didn't do shit like trying to fool me I'd be one of those well-mannered girls you're constantly chasing after!"
Well, that had gone from 1 to 100 in an instant and with a rather uncomfortable underlying text as well.
Rose had just incited a full-blown war, and a s expected, Jack was quick to challenge her height.
"Who's constantly chasing after girls, huh? Do I look like my old man to you?"
Rose flinched from the backfire.
"O-Oh, no no no I didn't—"
"That's what you wanna say too, isn't it? That I'm out there following in my old man's dirty footsteps instead of working my ass out for you and Jackie!"
That had taken an unintentional bad turn, Jack's eyes were in flames.
Whenever people criticized him he'd be quick to jump the gun, certain that they were comparing him to Bobby Joe inside their heads, so he'd not be calm enough to read in-between the lines.
"Do you even know what I'm doing from 6:00 in the morning till late at night to keep this place going? Or do you even not walk outside anymore?"
Rose rubbed the goosebumps on her arm, extreme aggression was running in her son's blood, the lone flaw Jack had taken from Bobby.
The mother's intimidated eyes fled down to her withdrawn flip-flops as she mumbled her one and only worry.
"...I just want to know.. if you're seeing a girl.."
Seeing his mom's bashful lashes was the moment Jack would realize the pointlessness of the argument.
Yeah, what other insecurity could be haunting her mind?
Him, leaving the house one day.
Jack was back to fumbling in the sink, at the same time fumbling for the words that would ease her mind.
"Stop fussing me about that already.. you know I don't have the time to see a girl.. The only thing I care about is you and Jackie not having to sleep on an empty stomach."
That sad bump was Rose's way to say 'thank you', Jackie was sure while nodding proud at her brother.
"...will you stop hitting me with your ass if I touch it?"
"Nope, but I will stop complaining about touching my ass."
Jackie breathed in air of relief, they were finally back to... 'normal'.
It was the first time Jack was considering the deal for real when his brow suddenly furrowed, something weird was in the sink.
"Why's there a fork in here?"
Pretty sure they had beef stew for dinner, there were only spoons at the table.
"Oh..!" Her lips were playful again, how nice of him to remind his forgetful mom, "That's the one you were hiding under the table. You know.. the one you stabbed me with."
"Huh." Jack pretended indifference while casting a casual glance at the busy Rose.
Yet at the bat of an eyelash he had lunged over the sink, for a swift and unnoticeable inspection. He began to sweat, because for his bad luck, there were even more forks among the spoons.
The curious Rose had already snuggled next to him, adoring the plenty forks in the sink together with her panicked boy as if they were their newborn babies in a crib.
"Mh-mm!" She smilingly nodded, "Believe it or not I discovered all those hidden under the table. And here I was wondering where all our forks had gone."
Jack was knowingly backing away from the sink.
"Makes you wonder for what purpose they were jammed between the hinges, right love?"
"—!" Jackie almost jumped off her skin when Rose slammed one hand on the sink while the other whipped behind to grab Jack's hair.
The mother's foot was still stinging, her spited leer remembered, as did his shrinking pupils.
"Now.." Her unforgiving leer drilled the next words into his brain, "..Touch my fucking ass."
No room for negotiation there, it was do or die for Jack.
He reflexively tapped her ass out of fear, to which Rose relaxed her brows and smiled. The plan was a success, because her son was soon having that iffy look on him.
"Hey mom, are you.. feeling cold.. or something?"
"Hmm, what makes you say that?"
"Well.. It feels kinda.. prickly."
"...!" Jackie wanted to bang her head on a wall.
Idiot! Her ass wasn't prickly because she was cold!
"Huh. Yeah, I guess it's kinda cold outside my apron..."
"...!" Unbelievable, she was going along with Jack's gullible assumption!
Rose smirked with a riddle on her lips.
"You're good at fixing stuff, so tell me..."
"N-Nah, I'm not really that good at...!"
Fingers full of intentions were slowly starting to prowl and slide along the sink's frame as the bending Rose pushed Jack against the sink.
"...How can mom get warm...?"
The fuzz on her ass was standing up, sure, but Jack couldn't help but notice that small stream of hot sweat leaving a wet trail along his mom's defined collarbone.
Jack's creasing eyes were slowly realizing some sort of inevitability as he looked up to meet that ever unchanging golden leer.
"...wear your apron..maybe?"
"..." Rose was not sure.. whether her boy was dense.. or just really smart.
"~?!" Jackie slapped her mouth when the sink quaked, for a moment she thought she had found her lost scream.
With her eyes watching in disbelieving quivers the daughter recalled how her mom would always refer to 'girls' as 'spiders'. That was because spiders weaved sticky threads to lure unsuspicious prey into their webs. They were meticulous, scheming, but before all, patient predators. For the past couple of years Jackie had been learning from the best what a real spider was, in practice too, because Rose attempting to seduce Jack on every given opportunity was the making of the spiderweb her mom had warned her about.
Apparently however... Even a spider's patience could wear thin.
Her mom was done being a careful spider...
...Now she was sucking Jack's tongue like a furious tarantulla.
Chapter 9: The Black Rose
Dealing with scary spiders was almost a routine task in housekeeping. Ever since she was a kid Jackie had been studying various books about spiders. Why not? As a future housekeeper she needed to learn more about the enemies she was one day going to encounter in the dark corners of the house. Truth be told there were just too many kinds of spiders to keep in mind, but tarantulas in particular were a species so frightening Jackie wished she had never flipped a page.
Unlike normal spiders tarantulas did not quell their appetite with flies or mosquitoes, hungry enough and they could very well turn their fangs on mice. Yup, FUCKING MICE. That's exactly how wide Jackie's jaw was hanging upon registering that shocking bit, and boy was she not prepared the slightest for what else could be part of a tarantula's menu.
Other tarantulas, of course.
What was even more surprising, it was not the males that were cannibalizing their own, it was the larger females. Sexy business between tarantulas was like playing dice with death, and as far as Jackie was concerned, male tarantulas were straight suicidal for daring approach a female just to mate. Because if the bad-tempered female sensed that the male was having second thoughts about satisfying her, she'd just grab him, sink her venomous fangs into him, turning the male from lover to dinner in an instant.
"...!" Yup, and from the looks of it her brother was easily falling right into dinner category.
Rose's fangs were already deep inside the hesitating Jack, munching on his tongue for a quick snack.
The hungry mother was pouring her deadly venom inside his mouth, her artful fingers steadily weaving around the back of his neck to enclose him in her grasp.
Seeing it from up close was a spectacle too uncanny for Jackie, how an angry female tarantula's venom was paralyzing the male, how her limbs were swiftly spinning her partner inside threads, gradually transforming him into a cocoon that was going to be her precious dinner. Grabbed, sedated, then wrapped up in a package for later consumption.
At this point Jackie was sure there was nothing that could stop a tarantula's dinner-packaging.
But apparently a slap across the face could do the trick.
"—!" Rose saw stars going in circles as she tottered backwards, accidentally tripping on her flip-flops as she did.
"—!" Watching her mom collapse on her side with no one reaching out to her, Jackie realized she wasn't watching some live documentary about tarantulas, but real human scenes from real human life.
Once Jackie's wild imagination was cut short, the realization of a harsh reality started taking shape in her eyes.
"...!" Jack was always holding his mouth, sickened, nauseous, blue across the cheeks.
Forget about calling her a crazy bitch. What he wanted to wipe off his memory was this nasty and gross feeling as his mom's tongue mixed with his. No wonder erotic relationships between family members were dead-wrong, it was just like making out with yourself in the mirror. Weird as fuck! This had gone above and beyond everything she had pulled on him so far, she had to know she was crossing the line for real with what she did, and yet... the carefree Rose smirked as if her sides were being tickled.
The twisted bitch was actually capable of getting a laugh out of something like that, Jack's eyes were narrowing disgusted.
He could've caught her arm, when she tripped.. He could have, but he didn't want to.. Because a t that moment, the only thing he wanted was to push her wicked mouth away..
Spent laughing her heart out Rose crossed her ankles and slowly brought her knees up, then leaned to rest her slapped red cheek over her hugged knees to adore her little hero... with a contemptuous nostalgia about her gazing stare.
"...This really takes me back..."
'Well obviously', Jackie thought.
It was only yesterday she tripped on her flip-flops while practicing those whirls she wanted to show Jack.
Jack had never learnt of this, of course, it had remained a top secret between mother and daughter.
Contrary to Jackie, her brother was getting something different from his mom's distant thoughts, something that had brought his squeezed fists to a dead end.
Somewhere in her mind Jackie was utterly terrified that perhaps Jack was considering their mom's leash had loosened way too much during the month Bobby Joe was away, that perhaps the only way to make this undomesticated mother learn some manners.. was to start beating her, the same way her husband did. Jack was not in the wrong to be feeling angry, he already knew from his father that a dose of violence was the only effective method to tighten that woman's leash.
"..." This was not the way though.. Jackie humbled her eyes in knowing recollection.
Slaps and belt whips may be forcing their mom's temporary obedience, but they were not winning what mattered the most.
Her respect and loyalty.
Like, come on.. That should have already become dead-obvious to Jack. It was no coincidence that the moment their father was shutting the door behind him Rose was already somewhere getting cozy and fooling around with Jack. No woman liked the belt treatment, much less a hedonist like her mom.
Still, Rose's loyalties were not the larger issue.
Their father was only coming home to consume their hard work, that was only leaving the three of them to make ends meet, and if Jackie were to be perfectly fair, only two were producing for this family.
Yeah, only two...
It weighed heavy on both shoulders and conscience, but Jackie knew she was a useless housekeeper for the most part.
At the end of the day it was Jack and Rose who were keeping this family alive, so trust between those two was the foundation stone on which their home was standing on. If Jack could not trust Rose because of her smutty tendencies and if Rose could not trust Jack because of her constant obsession to know his loyalties were at home and nowhere else, this family was eventually going to break apart.
Their relationship was like a ball of tangled webs, complicated, but where was that one silver lining? What did it have to take for Jack and Rose to finally see eye to eye, to be unconditional allies? That was the one question Jackie had been asking herself all her life.
She was downcast from reminiscing the blazes between her mother and brother, though as soon as Jackie lifted her face... She blinked.
"...?" Rose's melancholic lashes fluttered awake when she started to tilt from a strange pull.
Jack had not lowered himself to tell her he was sorry, or to make up with her.
For a while he had been wondering why the image of his slapped mom on the floor, half-naked, with a smile of irony on her lips as she embraced her legs, felt so familiar. He wondered why instead of a 37 year old mother, he could easily imagine a younger Rose, a girl around his age, with a shorter ponytail, sitting there on the same spot, yet instead of smiling and longing on her knees.. crying between them.
Jack was only kneeling down, to shelter a lonely flower in the snow.
It was wrenching his heart, more so because he had always known.
How a married wife, had no one to lean for comfort, but her own knees.
In the silence that followed, as Jack nested the gasping Rose in his chest, rubbing her cold back and shoulders to give her as much warmth a son could, he muttered with regret to himself.
"...you deserved better than this.."
Few words, yet ones that rippled like no other in Rose's embittered golden eyes.
...It was not just Bobby...
If she were to look back, h er unloving marriage was merely the icing on the cake.
So many others had offered her an arm of salvation,
some of them dressed as knights in white armor,
robbing her of her naive mind with their charm,
assuring her she could finally sleep and dream of a better life...
..Only for the dream to end, when she'd part her lashes in the morning, in a lonely bed..
"Climb the stairs!?...Y-Yeah I mean, course I remember..!"
"Sorry Rosie, that was the alcohol doin' the talk."
"Stop it. Who'd want to marry the village slut?"
"Truth is, I'm already seeing someone."
Manipulated, used, abandoned.
A new dream, a new heartbreak.
The flower was pining to find happiness and bloom...
...only for its petals to wither and shed, time and time again...
...Little by little her ability to grow back colorful petals was dying...
...and the flower's petals were instead turning black, like her new blackened heart.
Yet even after she became The Black Rose,
even after becoming someone who had stopped accepting men's arms for the love she could not see in them...
...a place in her blackened heart was still wishing, to be able to dream again...
"...you deserved better than this...!"
Wet drops were ringing on her tight-drawn black hair...
...and Rose started sprouting from within the shelter of Jack's chest.
She looked up, because someone was shedding tears for her.
Bitter, mournful tears, wishing that things had been different for her.
She scoffed a smile at his miserable face, returning to her old, leering, sarcastic self.
Strange, love and promises were long-dead to her, but empathy still kind of flattered her.
"No shit Jack, there's no woman that deserves this."
Rose glared him sideways, sulking quite a bit as she pointed at her sore cheek.
One moment he was welling up, all miserable, the next he was struck dumb.
"..Uuh, no no... That's not... what I..."
Jack had a feeling they were not on the same page.
What the actual heck? All this time she thought he was talking about the damn slap!?
Jack was so embarrassed realizing he had failed to reach out to her, so much embarrassed he wanted to slap his face in the middle.
"You said I deserved better, so make it better."
Rose tapped her cheek as indication to the amends that had to be made.
"Come on now, don't be a pussy, you know the drill."
He wiped his drenched eyes.
"Do I look like a fucking sir to you? Ma'am Jack. MA'AM!"
He said that, even though there was no ma'am around.
The only one here was the good old smug bitch he had for a mom.
Jack's eye twitched, still hard to believe what a bitch of a turn this had taken.
— Jack sighed a smile, nonetheless —
At least his mom was feeling sassy again.
No price was too big for a son to see his mom smile, right?
He moved closer to her cheek.
"—!" Rose flinched when she suddenly turned around and their foreheads bumped.
Jack didn't fall for her ambush on his mouth this time, he had taken precautions.
Her cheeks were puffing displeased.
"Stop beating around the bush and just go for it already.. fuck you're pissing me off."
An impatient blink was giving the green light to the stunned Rose.
She hesitated, but only because she was not prepared, to lean against a chest again.
Jackie was rubbing her eyes.
Call her crazy, because she was seeing things.
What was perhaps harder to believe than Jack returning those pecks,
was the sight of a never-before seen, different, shy Rose.