The Most Valuable Thing I Ever Gave Away By D.I. Jolly
The soft voice caused the boy to look up sharply. He’d been so lost thinking about nothing, that he might as well have been asleep. But he wouldn’t dare do something like that. A look of surprise gently drifted across his face as he looked up at the man standing in the doorway.
“Hello, Mr Jones.”
The older man smiled sadly and turned his attention to the woman lying in the bed.
“How is she doing?”
“The doctors say it’ll be any day now, and that they’ve done what they can to make sure she’s comfortable.”
Mr Jones looked back at the boy, still not daring to enter the room.
“And how are you?”
Jeremy’s voice went flat and it sounded older suddenly.
“I don’t know. Tired but I can’t sleep. Turns out I hate coffee but I think I’ve had 4 cups today.”
He looked back up at the man and in a sudden flash of realisation said.
“Please, come in, sit down.”
Mr Jones did and looked at the boy. Although he’d known him for years and knew that he was the same age as his own son, he battled to see the boy he knew. Instead, he saw someone stuck between to young to be an adult and too experienced to be a child.
“I know how you feel.”
Jeremy let out a snort and in that same too old, and too cynical voice rasped.
Mr Jones locked eyes with the boy and held his gaze for a few seconds, then his vision grew distant and his voice softer.
“Yes … I do. Only it was a car accident that took my parents, not a disease. I never had to watch them suffer, but it was so sudden, for days I … I couldn’t believe it.”
“I don’t know which is worse.”
“And then there were my little brother and sister to think of, suddenly I was the eldest member of the family and had to take care of them, or thought I did.’
Mr Jones turned his attention back onto the boy.
‘That’s actually why I’m here. I have something I’d like to give you, but only if you want it.”
Jeremy looked into the eyes of his best friend’s father and for a moment almost broke. This was the first conversation he’d had with anyone who wasn’t hospital staff for what felt like a lifetime and he’d almost forgotten about the world outside.
“When my parents died I had to give up my childhood and become the responsible adult. I was older than you are, but not by much. Now, what you’ve done here over the last month is incredible. Don’t think I don’t know that. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be, and you’ve weathered it like a champion. It’s aged you, I can see that too. But I’d like to give you the opportunity to hold on to a piece of your childhood.”
The words hit him and a strange combination of pride and near overwhelming burden washed over him. One giving him strength and the other ripping it away.
“I don’t know that I understand.”
“Social serves have been talking to you correct? Explaining your options for what happens after.”
“I’m here to give you another one. Move into our house. You are one of my son’s closest friends and we’ve known you most of your life. You will get to stay in the same town, the same school and as close to your normal life as is now possible. You won’t have to worry about money, food, a room, there are no conditions. You will simply call me when it’s time to come pick you up, and I will take you home.”
Jeremy stared at him for a moment and tears welled up in his eyes for the first time since being told there was nothing more they could do for his mother.
“Because hard work should be rewarded, and because you can only be a child once. I gave up my childhood, and although I know you’ll never be the same, perhaps you can maintain some semblance of it.”
Jeremy swallowed away his tears and took a deep calming breath.
“Thank you, Mr Jones, I… I think my mother would have liked that.”
A thin smile slipped across his face and Mr Jones rose.
“Then it’s settled, call me when you need to be picked up and I’ll come get you.”
He turned to leave but stopped.
“Oh and my friends just call me Jones.”