Ever since they had gotten news of his father’s death in the war, Jet’s whole life had been rearranged. They told his family that their father had died honorably in the line of duty. His plane was gunned down over Baghdad just two weeks before he was going to return home. His younger sister, Annie, who was the chatterbox, stopped talking and her bubbling happiness faded away. Jamie, his little brother, didn’t really understand what had happened, and always asked for his daddy. This drove Jet’s mother over the edge. She and Jet’s father had been together since high school. It was almost like she was living off her memories, instead of focusing on her hurting children.
One night, four days ago, she had snapped. She sent Jamie to his room, and didn’t let him out for two days. Jet and Annie had to sneak food into him when their mom was at what she called work. Jet had begun to suspect that she was no longer working. When she came home, she smelled horribly, crawled drunkenly into her room, and didn’t say a word to her confused and lonely children.
After the incident with Jamie, Jet had decided that enough was enough. He woke Annie and told her to pack as many of her clothes as she could. As soon as she was packed and Jet had finished packing food and his clothes, he wrote a quick note to his mom. Then they ran to the train station. Jet knew it would be easier to sneak onto a train, much better than the high security airplanes, and he couldn’t leave his mom without a car. They snuck onto a cargo car. Jamie and Annie fell asleep, resting on Jet’s legs.
Jet’s mind raced as he began to wonder what he was doing. How was he going to support them? He was only seventeen! He knew it was risky trying to raise his brother and sister, but he couldn’t let their mother throw their lives away like that. Annie stirred and Jet smiled down at her. Annie shook her head sleepily.
“Where are we now, Jet?” Jet grinned.
“Just outside of the city of Birmingham, Alabama.”
“Why Birmingham? We’ve never been there before.” Annie stated.
“Aunt Jin lives there. You wouldn’t remember her. The last time she visited, you were five and Jamie was a newborn.”
Annie thought back, to when she was five. She had indistinct memories, mostly of her dad and Jet. Jet’s face was void of the contempt and hatred he had now. His blue eyes were innocent and seemed to shine. But now, his eyes were dark, and looked on everything with contempt and something else. Annie thought it might have been fear, but it couldn’t possibly be that. Her brother was superman! But then again, she though sadly, Daddy had been superman too.
Jamie murmured in his sleep, “I love you too, Mommy.”
Jet’s throat tightened. Had he made the right choice? Annie stroked Jamie’s thick brown hair. “Jet, you did the right thing. If you had left us with Mom, I would have followed you eventually. There was no way I was going to take her constant screaming and mood swings for six more years. Then what would have happened to Jamie?”
Jet nodded. “I don’t know how I’m going to do it, Annie. I mean, I’m just a kid!” Annie looked her brother in the eye.
“No Jet. You’re not a kid anymore. Neither am I. Ever since,” her voice shook, “Dad died. We’ve changed. The only innocent one is Jamie. Eventually, he’ll learn the truth too. About Mom, about everything.”
Jet stared at his sister. That was the longest speech she’d made in a long time. “Annie, you’re only twelve! You can’t handle the burden of being grown up!” Annie grinned, shyly.
“Why can’t I handle it anymore than you? Seventeen and thirteen aren’t that far apart.” Jet stared open mouthed at his younger sister.
“It’s such a big burden! If I can barely handle it, than how in the world can you and Jamie handle it? Jamie’s barely a kid! You’re not even a teenager, Annie!” Annie patted her brother’s shoulder.
“We all have our strengths, Jet. Yours is holding us together. Jamie makes us laugh, even when it was dark outside and we forgot the key. Now it’s my turn to turn nothing into something.” Jamie sat up and looked at his siblings confused.
“This isn’t my room! Jet, where are we? I’m scared!” Annie pulled him into her lap. She shushed him gently.
“Jamie, we have to be quiet now. We’re going to go visit Aunt Jin. She’ll take good care of us.” Jamie relaxed, curled up in his sister’s lap, his thumb in his mouth.
“Why can’t Mommy come with us?” Jamie questioned.
“Because Mommy’s got better things to do than worry about us.” Jet hissed bitterly. Annie smacked her older brother’s arm, appalled.
“Jet! I know this is hard on you but, Jamie is even younger and more frightened. Saying stuff like that doesn’t help anyone, especially not him!” Jet opened his mouth and then closed it. Annie hadn’t been student council president three years running for nothing. She knew every trick, every democratic solution, for any problems that occurred. Suddenly, Annie’s bag started vibrating. “Stupid cell phone.” Annie hissed, wrenching open the bag and answering.
“Hallie? Look I can’t talk right now. I’ll call you back. Hug Jack for me. I’ll explain later. I love you too, Hal. Bye!” Annie whispered. When she hung up, she sighed.
“I’m going to miss them. They’re my best friends, Jet. How can I ever replace them?” Jet ruffled his sister’s hair playfully.
“Maybe you don’t need to replace them. Weren’t they moving to Birmingham next year anyway?” Jet asked teasingly. Annie brightened.
“Of course! That’s why we were spending all our time together! But what about Brian? And Sophie? I know they’re not moving to Birmingham. Lucky for me my best friends are twins!” Annie whispered triumphantly. Jet’s face fell.
“I guess I can call them. Dang! Sophie and I had finally gotten passed that ‘just friends’ stage and Brian just got his first real girlfriend! Uggh!” Jamie giggled at his older brother’s predicament. Annie rolled her eyes.
“You have a cell phone. Just call them and see if they can drive up. You all can drive with out a adult in the car now you know.” Jet ruffled his sister’s hair again.
“Annie, you’re a genius! How did I survive for four years with out you existing?”
“I wonder that myself sometimes.” Annie mumbled. Jet laughed, and for one perfect moment, the boy he had been not so long ago resurfaced in his happy face.