Disclaimer: I own everything, and nothing. I'll leave you to figure that out.
The Girl Next Door: My Best Friend
You are such a blessing and I won't be messing with the one thing that brings light to all my darkness.
You're my best friend and I love you, and I love you. Yes I do.
Maddie Fitch walked through the sea of black on the cloudiest day of the year, rightly so she thought, what with today being the funeral of kindest woman she had ever known. She glided through the mob. It seemed like hundreds, maybe even thousands had come to pay their last respects to Detroit's own blue-eyed angel. Maddie was only looking for one. Jack Mercer. She found him at the front alone, standing there looking on the verge of tears. It was a startling resemblance to that lost little boy she had met so many years before.
"Sorry I'm late, Jack, I couldn't find my shoes," she quietly said to him, instantly grabbing a hold of his hand and giving it a gentle squeeze. Maddie tilted her head upwards with an intent to meet his eyes, but he refused to meet hers and continued to stare ahead unblinkingly as water collected in pools at the corners of his eyes.
Finally, after a few long moments of silence, he turned to look down upon her and smiled weakly. "It's okay. I'm just glad you made it at some point," he said in his husky deep voice that secretly sent shivers down her spine. He suddenly dropped her hand, but only to throw his arm around her tiny frame and pulled her closer to his body.
Maddie rested her head against his shoulder. "I didn't want you to be alone today. I know I couldn't take being alone. I miss her so much already," she whispered, wrapping an arm around his waist and cuddling closer. She pretended that it was simply taking comfort in him, but then she would be lying to herself. Maddie inwardly took more than just comfort from his embrace.
"I know," he murmured against her hair. "At least we have each other."
"And I'm glad for that," she added.
Maddie's father ultimately took his place at the podium, officially beginning the ceremony.
It was beautiful in it's simplicity, and Maddie tried her hardest to watch, but her emotions soon overcame her and her tears started to blur her vision. In the end, she just gave up completely and buried her face in Jack's chest. She sobbed, forgetting the rest of the world. All the mattered was Evie was gone for good and the only place she ever truly felt safe was right here in Jack's arms.
"Maddie?" asked eleven-year-old Jack.
The pair had snuck out of Sunday school again and escaped to their secret hideaway: the courtyard garden.
A gentle breeze flew through the sunny patch, gently lifting each of the children's locks and carrying them softly on the wind. Maddie turned her gray eyes upon his blue ones with a smile. "Yes," answered the seven-year-old as she lazily twirled a simple daisy between her small fingers.
"Where is your mom?" he asked innocently, not realizing exactly what he was asking of his newfound friend.
The daisy fell from her grasp, and landed soundly on the grass. "Where's your dad?" she retorted with a sharp hint of coolness in her voice.
"I-I…" he stumbled with the words. "I haven't got one."
"Me too," she answered quickly.
He squinted in the sun to look at her; her head hung low, finding something on the ground to be more interesting than the conversation at hand. "That can't be right," he started smartly. "You need to have a mom."
She lifted her head, their eyes met once again. "Then you need to have a dad," she replied stubbornly.
"Well, I don't. So stop saying I do!"
"Stop saying I have a mom, then."
"But, you do."
"So do you."
"Alright!" he yelled in frustration. "I do! But he wasn't very nice, so I was taken away and put in another home."
"And then your mommy found you?" she asked, referring to the nice lady that introduced them.
He shook his head. "No, I went through a lot more bad homes until I was adopted by Evelyn," he explained in simple terms so that her younger mind could comprehend.
"So Evie isn't your real mommy?" she asked just to be sure.
"No," he replied. "I don't know where my real mom is."
"My mommy's in heaven," she answered his original question solemnly. "That's what daddy says at least."
"Do you remember her?" he asked, his blue eyes shining with interest.
"Not all the much… Her name was Claire, and she always smelled like lilies, and everyday she told me there was nothing I couldn't do," she smiled softly, but it didn't reach her eyes. The sadness there was too deep to puncture. "That's all except for hospitals. And wires and tubes… and needles." she said with a visible shudder. " I never ever want to be in a hospital like that. Never."
"You're scared," He stated it like a fact, even though he meant it as a question.
"Yes," she replied with a serious expression clouding her round, cherubic face. "More than the monster in my closet."
He chuckled. Maddie could seem so serious and grown-up sometimes, it was hard to remember she was still a little girl, but then she goes and reminds him with that sudden spark of childish innocence he could only wish he had. But Jack knew there was more in the world to fear than hospitals and imaginary monsters hiding in closets. He knew people could be the monsters of nightmares.
"How about I promise you?" he proposed suddenly.
"Promise me what?"
"I promise, for as long as were friends, that you'll never be put in a hospital. Ever."
"You really promise?" she inquired.
"Well… I guess I promise that no one will ever hurt you again as long as I'm around," she pledged.
Maddie had remembered the slowly fading bruises on his skin the first time she met him. The pink had been turned an awful greenish-yellow, making him look almost sickly. His underfed and malnourished body didn't make him look any better. She hadn't known at the time that he had recently escaped his former life for a newer, bright one. The young girl only knew that someone hurt him and she prayed to god that they would be punished that night by her bedside.
"What're you going to do?" he asked, a teasing tone rising in his voice. "A puny thing like you - You would be squished like a bug."
"So! It doesn't matter… I-I can still try," she said in earnest.
"Whatever kiddo," he smiled, giving in. "You wanna spit on it or something?"
She looked downright revolted at the suggestion. "Pinky promise?" she suggested instead.
"Pinky promise," he agreed.
They each held out a hand with their fingers lazily curled under their thumbs and their pinkies extended outwards. Jack hesitated slightly, not knowing exactly how one went about this, and held his hand out dumbly. Maddie took pity on him and wrapped her tiny finger around his slightly larger one. He reciprocated immediately. There they sat, in the middle of the garden, under the old oak tree with their fingers entwined, much like their lives would be from this moment on.
Neither of the two realized in making these simple promises they would also be dedicating themselves to each other wholly and irrevocably. They hadn't a clue, but staring into one another's eyes, each grinning from ear to ear; they had an idea.
"Come on," he said, exchanging her pinky for her hand and pulling her up with him as he stood. " I can't let you get into trouble on account of me, again."
Together they walked towards the brick church, hand in hand.
"We can't stand out here all day, Jack."
Maddie had kept her hand tucked in his the entire walk here. Jack had insisted on walking, most likely thinking the longer he put off really facing his family again, the easier it would be. Maddie wished she could have told him differently, but she too needed the walk, to clear her head and her emotions. Breaking down in the middle of Jeremiah's house just wasn't an option for her.
"We could sneak away. No one will notice that we're not there," he suggested, peering down at the vastly shorter girl.
She shook her head vehemently. "You can't avoid them; They're your family."
"It's not them that I'm trying to avoid."
"Care to expand a little on that?" she asked tilting her head to look him in the eyes.
"It's the memories…"
"Think about the good ones," she suggested hopefully.
His grip on her hand tightened. "Those still hurt."
She tried to smile, but she just didn't have the strength to force her lips to curl. "I know," Is all she said as she squeezed his hand back.
The pair stood staring silently at the suddenly imposing building that sat in front of them, neither ready to take a step. The air was frigid and Maddie was shaking in her pea coat, but she would continue to stand with him, even if it meant a cold, so be it.
"I figured I'd find you two attached at the hip," said a familiar male voice. It came with a pair of arms that wrapped around both of their shoulders. Jack and Maddie instantaneously dropped the other's hand- though both need the support the other possessed. "You know I love you guys."
Maddie turned towards him with a small, barely noticeable smirk. "Really? Even me, Bobby?"
He nodded his head. "Yes. Even you, Maddie-Kins…"
"I love you, too," she said hurriedly, an outsider could tell she was uncomfortable.
Maddie and Bobby never exchanged the sentiment, but they both knew they felt that way. Practically living under the same roof for nearly thirteen years can do that to people. She had been considered a something of a daughter to Evelyn. Even if they could fight like cats and dogs, Bobby and Maddie really did love each other like family.
"How are you holding up?" he asked, looking at his baby brother.
"I'm fine." Jack had always put on a strong front whenever Bobby was around, like he had something to prove. Maddie absolutely hated it.
"Okay," Bobby took his answer, leaving him alone for the moment, but he didn't believe him for a second.
Maddie looked around at the people slowly drizzling in. "Should we go in now?" she asked uncertainly.
"Yeah." Jack finally decided, and the trio made their way towards the house.
"Evie?" sixteen-year old Maddie asked, looking up from her book to the woman rolling out a piecrust in front of her.
"Yeah, Honey," the older woman answered not looking up from her task at hand.
"Do you think Jack will come back?"
Evelyn put the rolling pin down and stared at the girl in front of her. "He will. In time. I think Jackie needs his time away to be free to find out who he is. Living with Bobby hasn't given him much room to be an individual. But he'll come back. I'm sure of it."
"How can you be so sure?" Maddie asked suspiciously. "He never wanted anything more than to play that silly guitar and be famous. I'm sure he's having the time of his life. If only he would call me…Or even write."
"I think he wants something more - he just hasn't realized it yet…" She winked. "I wouldn't worry about him not calling or writing. He has a good reason."
"You have too much faith in him, Evie," she sighed.
"Of course I do… He's my son and I love him. And I love you." Evelyn smiled brightly, her blue eyes sparkling. "Now get your nose out of that musty old book and help me make this pie."
Maddie smirked at her. "You know I'll just destroy it. I can't cook."
"Nonsense. Can't isn't in my dictionary…"
Amelia sat in Maddie's lap and Daniela sat next to her with her tiny head leaning against her shoulder. The three of them sat on the floor in front of the sofa watching 'The Princess Bride' on USA.
Daniela and Amelia were more dozing than actually watching, not that Maddie minded. The movie provided a much needed escape from the harsh realities of life, for that she was at least grateful.
"Here," Camille said as she came to sit down on the couch. She placed a steaming cup in Maddie's hands. "I made some hot chocolate for the both of us."
"Thank you," Maddie said, before taking a tentative sip, testing the temperature.
"You're welcome. I hope my babies weren't any trouble," Camille said as she relaxed her tired body into the sofa.
Maddie shook her head. "Not at all. We kind of just sat here watching movies."
"They adore you," she murmured, taking a sip from her own mug.
Maddie smiled. "I love them, too."
"You know, Maddie. You will make a great mother someday."
Tilting her head to the side, Maddie looked at the woman beside her with an eyebrow raised. "That's if I ever find somebody. Being shy like I am limits your options…"
"I'm sure that won't be a problem," she said with a glance towards the kitchen and a secret smile.
Maddie followed her line of vision and locked eyes with Jack from the kitchen, before looking away quickly, turning pink. "That'll never happen."
"Anything is possible…" she said as she turned her head towards the TV with a smile. "The Princess Bride. One of my favorites."
Maddie was happy for the change of subject and quietly watched the movie with Camille.
"Thanks for the ride, Bobby," Maddie muttered as she opened her door and stepped from the car. She slammed the door shut, and began to make her way across the frozen lawn to her house. As much as she liked to pretend, she would always be the girl next door to them.
Suddenly, someone grabbed her wrist and pulled her back around. "And just where do you think you're going?" Jack asked with a grin.
She turned around to face him. "Home."
"He's not going to be there."
"I know," she said softly, looking down at her shoes. "But I don't want to intrude."
Bobby came up beside them, crunching the snow under his boots. Jerry followed quickly behind after locking up the Volvo.
"Will you save it, Maddie. That's ridiculous and you know it." Jack said.
"You guys need to be alone; to grieve."
"You're not going home alone to that empty house," Bobby decided.
"And besides, you're practically family. Ma would have liked it if you were here with us," Jerry added.
"See," Jack grinned. "You have to come."
She sighed, glaring at the three of them. "Lead the way."