After that dim, the core group spent much of the next day trying to regain their composure. Ryan and Jamie basically ignored each other, with Sara Beth, G-ma, and Mrs. Corum wishing they could go back to a time before such tension existed in their group. On one hand, they all felt bad for Ryan in that he was an angry soul that nothing in this realm could placate. How could one go about living any sort of normal life in the mind of someone he disliked, with the feeling being very much mutual. On the other hand, Ryan had done very little to ingratiate himself to the group, taking the information he was given and using it to his own ends, seldom trying to work out any of the questions the group still had about this place. He would go off on long walks, now alone since Jamie had decided to stay with the other women.
Jamie was a more complex problem. She was physically related to one of the other members of the group, which kept her from being discussed in too negative of a light when G-ma was present. She also was a bit more immature than the other children, being a year younger. And she disliked Sara Beth with a passion, despite not having ever met her. It was clear that the attention that Sara Beth received from Julie in the real world was attention Jamie felt rightly belonged to her.
At the same time, while angry in a sense, Jamie lacked the budding psychopathic tendencies that made Ryan such an issue with the group. She could be sweet, and even innocent at times, until becoming irate at some facet of life on this plane. She wasn’t as easy to paint as a protagonist or an antagonist, within the story of the group. On that day after the escape attempt, she was visibly guilty, attempting at all costs to minimize any discussion of the previous day. It was obvious to G-ma and Mrs. Corum that she was ashamed of her behavior, however they could not fully believe she wouldn’t try something similar to that in the future. In the end, she was the epitome of a flawed preteen, stuck between the childish egocentric selfish persona and the mature, responsible, caring self she could one day become.
In the afternoon of the day after the escape, while Ryan was out walking and Mrs. Corum sitting alone, murmuring to herself, G-ma decided it was time to have a talk with Jamie about life, and the future.
“Jamie, tell me again about what life is like now that you and your sister are older – tell me what we do in the real world.”
“G-ma, I’ve told you before – yesterday, and the day before.”
“Dear, I’ve been here for 8 years, you can’t expect me to simply be happy with one telling of your stories”
“Oh OK…”, Jamie said with a sigh.
“Tell me about what we did last Christmas”, G-ma asked.
“Well, you were really excited to have us come over on Christmas Eve… like strangely excited. Julie and I knew that something was up. You’d always loved Christmas, but this year, it seemed like you couldn’t wait for something. Seemed like you really wanted us to come over early instead of waiting for the next day. So Mom and Dad and Julie and I came over to your place. It wasn’t really cold out, like it usually is at Christmas, so we just put on hooded sweatshirts and regular shoes – we didn’t need boots. When we came in, you joked that you didn’t know if we were there for Christmas or Thanksgiving. We were shocked that you’d made a whole dinner – a repeat of Thanksgiving dinner – all for us that night. I’d never gone to bed on Christmas eve so full as on that one!”
“That sound like something I’d do”, G-ma replied, “I really loved surprising people like that.”
“Well that wasn’t the only surprise, G-ma, like I told you yesterday – you had another thing up your sleeve. You gave Julie and I each a present that night.”
“I did?”, G-ma said, playing along. She’d heard this story twice in the last few days, certainly she knew the answer.
“First you brought us into your TV room, and made us watch a video of us when we were, like, 3 years old or something. It was after Christmas, and we were playing with our new toys. Dad was taking the video, and you were sitting with us and asked us if we got everything we wanted for Christmas. We said we did. Then you asked us what we’d want for next year, and we laughed and told you that we wanted a sweater like yours. But then I described a really crazy sweater design – I didn’t want buttons, I wanted a zipper. I didn’t want it in Red and Green, but in Blue and Yellow, even though those weren’t Christmas colors. I wanted palm trees, for some reason. I think I was really remembering the pictures of the vacation we’d taken the previous summer, since I couldn’t remember the actual vacation. Julie said she wanted one that looked exactly like your scarlet sweater, no green, no holiday decoration. You laughed and said that you’d get right on those as soon as you could, but that you were pretty busy”
“In those days, I really was!”, G-ma said with a smile. “I was working part time to help your parents with some of their bills, and I volunteered a lot with the local knitting groups – making clothing for people in need.”
“Why didn’t you ever tell me that?”, Jamie asked.
“Tell you what?”, G-ma replied.
“That you helped out our parents by giving them money”, Jamie said with an air of confusion.
“It wasn’t something you girls had to concern yourselves with, dear. Your Mom and Dad both worked hard to make ends meet, but they just couldn’t sometimes. I think that might be why they eventually split up. It was just too much of a burden. Sometimes I felt guilty that I couldn’t help more than I did.”
Jamie thought about this for a few moments, then resumed her story.
“Anyway, after we watched the video, you gave us these big boxes. And we opened them up. We were both shocked that, inside, exactly as we described 7 years earlier, were the sweaters we asked for. We both took off our sweatshirts and put the sweaters on. They fit perfectly, and were really warm. You looked at us and told us that we looked so grown up…”, Jamie said, trailing off.
“I’m sure you did”, G-ma replied.
“I don’t think I’m gonna be a very good adult”
“Because even though I can look like I did on that night, wearing an adult’s sweater and trying my best to be polite and thankful, I didn’t feel like I should on the inside”.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, the sweaters were great gifts, don’t get me wrong. We loved that they looked like what you’d wear, and we could pretend we were older when we wore them. But what I didn’t tell you the last few times is that I secretly wanted something else that night”.
“Really dear, what?”
“Well, you’d joked with us the week before Christmas that you wished you had enough money to buy us cell phones. And when you called us over to the house, and fed us that wonderful meal, and told us you had something special for us, I immediately began hoping it was that cell phone. The sweater was great, but I was disappointed it wasn’t what I’d hoped for. Then later that night I felt really guilty, because I could see how much giving us the sweaters meant to you, and I hadn’t been as thankful as I should have been. Adults don’t think like that – they’re happy when they get a gift – they don’t think of all the things they’d rather it be. I’m gonna be a really sucky adult.”
G-ma’s plan had, as she hoped, worked out. She had gotten Jamie into the right mindset to have her little talk.
“Jamie, you’re not an adult yet – you’ve still got plenty of time to get better at it.”, G-ma began, “But you need to work at it. It isn’t something that comes automatically when you get to a certain age. When I was 20 and I got married to your G-pa, do you think that I was automatically ready to be a wife? It took a lot of time to learn everything I needed to know to do that. In fact, G-pa would probably tell you that I never fully learned!”, G-ma smiled as she paused after the sentence.
“But I’m not really trying to learn”, Jamie replied, “I know I should be – people tell me all the time to be more mature. Julie looks at me sometimes and I know she’s thinking it too. Why can’t I grow up faster? Why can’t I be more mature?”
“Because it not only takes work, it takes time, Dear. You’ll get there, but you have to work at it, and take each opportunity you have to get better at being the person you want to be. Last night, you started doing something you realized wasn’t what an adult would do, and you stopped yourself. You might not have stopped yourself as fast as an adult could, but you did stop. There are some adults, in age, that wouldn’t have been able to do that. And I’m proud that you did stop.”
Jamie looked up at G-ma with a pained smile and slightly moist eyes. The two women embraced, with Jamie burying her face in G-ma’s shoulder.
“Those stupid women”, Ryan thought to himself as he wandered away from the group. “They just don’t get it.”
Ryan was convinced that the problem with the rest of the group was that they were just weak. His dad, the boss at the local construction company, had told him all about weak people.
“They just drag you down, son, and you have to push them to get them to do what’s right”. Words he’d heard so many times he could likely repeat them in his sleep. Words that his dad had said so many times, they were likely already on order for his tombstone.
The others thought Ryan was angry. Of course he was angry! He was trapped in the mind of a dumb girl that he had absolutely no respect for. This was the worst possible location for him, and he wasn’t going to pretend it was any better than six straight hours of detention.
As he walked along, he noticed something rather strange off in the distance. It looked like a steep drop, something not usually seen in this place. As he approached, he realized that it was a steep gradient down into a little valley below. Walking about 20 feet to the side of it, he could easily get down into the valley without trouble. As he entered the space under the drop, he realized that this place was different from the rest of the world he’d grown to hate. Here, the air was light and warm. He was especially intrigued by the ray of light that shown down in the center of the valley. As he approached it, it flickered subtly.
Moments earlier, he would have done anything to get out of this place as fast as possible, but for the first time ever, he found something in the grey abyss of Julie’s mind that was interesting. If he wasn’t going to get to leave anytime soon, he might as well learn about this weird spot. Maybe it would give him some peace for a change.
Back at the small group, they women felt a subtle change. They had no idea what it was, but it felt almost as though the world had twisted itself. Mrs. Corum remembered back to her science courses on physics, electricity, and polarity. She thought that this felt like what she’d always described as a change of polarity, but given that her background was much more in the liberal arts, she wasn’t sure how that would actually happen.
But to Ryan, in the valley, no shift or change was felt, only the warm feeling of the space below the drop. Uncharacteristically timid, he approached the sun light and placed his hand near enough to it that it’s beams could be felt.
The feeling was incredible. It felt as if pure joy had come down and entered his hand. His hand felt alive and energetic, and the feeling rippled up his arm and into the rest of his body. It was as if he had touched an arc of electricity, but rather than jolting him back and burning his flesh, this had filled him with a warm and peaceful feeling. Pulling his hand back, the feeling subsided, and walking out of the valley, he felt as though he’d just gotten out of a hot tub of water, into the freezing cold. But something kept him from running back in at full speed. Again, it was the words of his father.
When Ryan was young, his mom wasn’t around often. Dad told him that she was ‘messed up’, and when he asked further, his Dad told him not to talk about it, to just go away.
Years later, Dad finally opened up a bit more, telling Ryan that his mom had become an addict. Ryan learned that his mom took stuff so that she could avoid her problems and deal with things in life. In that moment that he touched the ray of light, he realized that he was experiencing the same sort of reaction. Dad had told him that addicts can’t control how much they do, but that it was OK to do some things if he kept control. It was that message that rang out through his mind as he felt himself slipping away into the state of bliss the light brought. A little seemed to be good enough – he wasn’t as angry as he was when he entered the valley. He began to walk back toward the group.
Back at the group, the women were confused by what was happening. Things felt off, and in the sky, streaks of copper color could be seen, soaring overhead. They worried another earthquake might be coming, or maybe the bloody arms were bound to return, but neither did. The streaks slowly faded from view, but the state of disorganized emotion did not. All four of them talked openly of how they felt uneasy, and were talking of this when Ryan returned.
“What are you ladies talking about”, Ryan said. He was uncharacteristically upbeat.
“Where have you been, Ryan? Everything seemed really off here, and we wondered if you were OK.”, Mrs. Corum asked.
“I’ve been fine – I just went on a walk, and it really seemed to clear my head”, Ryan replied.
“Well, I’m glad that things are well for you. I don’t know if they are for us or not”.
The women told Ryan of the copper streaks, and the low level of anxiety each of them felt in his absence. He hadn’t seen any streaks in the sky, but also wasn’t sure what he should tell them of his experience while gone. No one had mentioned this valley to him earlier, and he had no idea if the sunlight and warmth were always going to be there or if they were limited in quantity.
In his mind, he thought “They seem happy enough, they don’t need it like I might”, and decided to keep quiet.