The Bandbox Hat
In the previous chapter: Jesse told Sarah Jane and her family that he brought her long lost sister Rachael to town but she left when she called her ex-husband’s home to visit her son and the new wife answered the phone. Sarah Jane was angry that Jesse let her go and she ran inside and up the stairs.
I just reached the top of the stairs when I knew I had to turn around and go back down. I was behaving like a petulant thirteen year-old whose mother told her to take out the garbage in the middle of a Justin Bieber song. I was too old to be a Blieber and April and Nathan shared the trash chore.
My feet clomped down so the group still on the porch would know I was coming. I paused at the screen. “I’m sorry. That was uncalled for.”
Jesse flashed a look at Nathan and Anna. “May I talk with Sarah Jane alone?”
Nathan immediately stood and reached out a hand to Anna. Her jaw tightened but she took it and allowed him to pull her inside.
“I’m sorry, Sarah Jane. I didn’t know it would hurt you for me to come back to town.” Jesse’s eyes never blinked or broke contact with mine.
I had to look away. “You give yourself too much credit.”
“I don’t mean it that way. You were an amazing girl back then and I’m sure you’re even more amazing now as a woman and a teacher. I was stupid to think you’d wait for me when I left for college.”
A horde of angry gnats started buzzing in my ear. “That’s not what happened, Jesse.” I took a deep breath and sat on the wicker rocker. “You never asked me to wait. You took the scholarship money and you ran to Boston. You never considered staying and going to college here.”
“You could have come with me. You had the same offer.”
“You know that’s not true. Rachael had just left, my mom had just been given a terminal diagnosis. April was a newborn and Anna couldn’t get out of bed with postpartum depression. The last thing I could have done was leave and go to college across the country.”
“Did your staying change any of those things?” Even as a high schooler, Jesse had that ability to be sensible and spout out things that were true on the surface but missed the emotional heart of things by a country mile.
“You still don’t get it.” I took a deep breath. “I thought after seven years, your emotional maturity might have caught up with the rest of you, but you’re still a selfish boy who can only think about how things impact you. Yes, my mom died whether I was in Rosedale or Boston or Nairobi. But if I’d left, I would have lost those last few months of memories.”
“And you wouldn’t still be stuck in this town in the dust, teaching kids of migrant workers.”
“This town and its teachers gave you a pretty good start at your life. You think the east coast schools came calling because you were naturally smart?”
“You know what I mean. I love Rosedale. I just outgrew it.”
Understanding flooded my heart and the final bits of stained glass fell off my eyes. “That’s convenient, Jesse. I just realized I’ve outgrown you. Finally. You can go now.”
Jesse stared at me and he must have seen my new resolve because he slowly got to his feet and headed to the steps down to the driveway. “Just remember, Sarah Jane, you made a choice back then. It’s not my fault your life didn’t go the way you thought it would.”
“You are exactly right, Jesse Hofer. Nothing in my life is your fault. And I thank God for that because you’re also not responsible for any of my blessings. A family who loves me, a niece who adores my rollkuchen, and a classroom of kids of all nationalities who want to be in Rosedale.”
He nodded once before turning and leaving. The rattle of his dad’s truck echoed long after he turned out of our lane and onto the main road.
I sat and rocked and thought and prayed.