At fifteen-years-old Jenna appears a full-grown woman in the physical respect. The reddish-brown thick hair spilling off her shoulders and trailing down her back tickles the skin below her cutoff shirt. Her shorts are so brief that bending over leaves nothing to anyone’s imagination. Regardless of first appearances, her slightly turned up nose and long-lashed blue eyes above her pleasantly curling lips betray the rest of her worldliness. And even more than that, the tiny fairy footprints trailing from one side of her face, across her nose to the other side, freckle her cheeks like an innocent child who’d lost her first tooth. When she speaks, sincere people lose sight of anything below her chin.
With the house clean and her homework complete, Jenna scoops up a book she’s been meaning to read. She flops lazily on the couch.
“Let’s go!” her father says. His red baseball cap covers his balding head that used to remind people of Elvis. The sleeves missing from his shirt reveal semi-flabby upper arms with black bear fur covering his forearms. For a man in his mid-forties, he moves around with a newfound energy since his wife’s disappearance. He even reinvented his nickname as Zed.
Curious about this, Jenna performed a search on her computer at school and discovered the name means, “The Lord is just.”
Jenna glances at the photo on the wall of the three of them. Her mother was beautiful. She has her eyes. “Do you think she’ll come back?”
Bends over his camera bag, shuffling things around and throwing a couple of bottles of water in, he hesitates. “Who?” He doesn’t, however, break his stride in preparation.
“Do you think it was something I did?”
Zipping the bag closed, Zed places his hands on his hips, standing tall and towering over her. He shakes his head. “It was nothing you did. But you’ve got to let it go. It’s been over three years now. Trust me when I say she’s never coming back.”
“Will you please tell me what happened again?”
He frowns and his shoulders rise. “Why?”
“Just one more time. I promise I’ll never ask you again after this time.”
“Dammit Jenna. Reliving the past only keeps you from going anywhere. You may as well be on the road to nowhere, walking in crazy circles.” He grimaces as his fingers walk circles in the air. “She went out one night and never came home.” He claps. “End of story. Can we go now?”
The bag slides easily onto his shoulder. Without checking to ensure his daughter’s following him, he leaves.
With a whisk of her hand, Jenna catches her sunglasses off the hook by the door and throws them on her face, jogging out behind him.
The kids in the neighborhood walk their dogs, run through sprinklers, and dash up and down the street playing a game of tag. All of them are young—too young to do anything remotely fun for a teenager. Jenna’s forehead numbly bounces against the car window all the way to the park.
“Wow, looks like we hit rush hour traffic,” Jenna says, observing a group barbecuing. They have what her father refers to as “nigga shit” blaring while several people dance and about ten others watch, cheering them on.
Others relax on blankets or towels in swimwear, even though there isn’t a beach for several states away. They glisten in lotion and oil, inviting the kiss of cancer in exchange for the sake of beauty.
The car swings in and parks.
“This spot is looking pretty good.” Zed tucks the keys in his pocket, grabs the camera bag, and stands eying a twenty-something girl. She’s lying face down with her suit unfastened in the back. Her twisted blond hair in a makeshift bun clings fastened to her head.
Jenna slides out of the car and tugs at the bottoms of her shorts. She groans and tries to get a bit more length out of them. “Next time I think I’ll cut my own shorts off.”
“Whatever.” Zed stands with his back to her. He reaches a hand into the side pocket of his camera case and grabs a business card, displaying a fake company name and logo. Ignoring Jenna, he watches closely as the blond woman stretches for a bottle of water, just out of reach.
As if on cue, Zed prances over toward the blanket, the water, and the woman in need. “Let me get that for you.” His voice sings with compassion as he picks the bottle up and holds it out to her, a little too high. She strains to get it, still smiling, and reveals a tiny bit of what’s underneath.
“Perv.” Jenna leans against the car and surveys her father getting comfortable on the blanket next to his shapely target.
“Hey, wassup?” A couple of dark-skinned boys saunter up the sidewalk, smiling.
“Hi.” Jenna smiles back at them, and they pause in front of her.
“I ain’t never seen you here befo’.” His dark velvety skin contrasts his glistening white teeth, enhancing pitch black eyes. They’re both in jerseys and basketball shorts. One has a ball tucked under his arm.
“I’m with my dad.” She indicates her father hitting on the bikini-clad woman. “We go to different parks on the weekends so he can practice his photography. We’ve never been here before, though. I like it.” Jenna soaks in the trees and laughter, the joy this place brings to everyone. She sees the basketball court in the distance with a couple of kids shooting hoops.
They both peer toward her father, exchange grins and roll their eyes. They chuckle. “Practicing photography,” one says in a slow and deliberate manner.
“So what are you doing?” the other says, shrugging. “Wanna come watch us play?”
Jenna hesitates, wondering what her father might say.
“She likes ’em black, and you ain’t dark enough. Go tan,” Zed says, waving his arm around as if shooing flies from a fresh carcass.
Both of their faces cloud over and their brows draw down. Commencing their shuffle, without a word, they head toward the others with the blaring music and laughter.
“For twenty bucks, she’ll probably give you a two fer!” He continues hollering behind them before redirecting attention to her. “I’m gone for one second and you start picking up roaches like rotting food in the back alley,” Zed says angrily. “What’s the matter with you? You fishing for a jungle disease?”
Jenna peeks past her father’s shoulder at the celebrating people. “You’re judgmental and prejudice. Not everyone else is sick like you, you know.”
She may as well have physically slapped his face. He shudders. With his head hanging, he replaces his camera bag in the car and gets in.
Jenna glares at him through the window, waiting for him to say something, but he doesn’t even look. She reaches her hand out for the handle. A loud click sounds indicates activation of the locks. He waves.
The car jolts backward from the stall, spinning its tires and screeches to a halt. He guns the engine like a high school boy at a stoplight. Zed rolls his window down and shouts at her. “I ain’t no nigger lover. Go play with your new friends.” The car’s engine revs, burns rubber fishtailing, and disappears in a stench of churning gray smoke.
Standing in dismay, Jenna sighs and tilts her head to the sun, determining its position. They had driven for nearly an hour to get here, and her sense of direction was practically nonexistent. Be that as it may, her feet needed no coercion to begin the trek.
Jenna traipses across the driveway to the light at the corner of the park and waits for the traffic light to change. The tunes behind her blur along with the sun and she suddenly goes numb. She crumbles and her body melts into the lawn, spinning dizzy and confused.
The last time she saw her mother was the night her mom was going out with her friend from work, Chloe. Although her mother had been working at the office for nearly five years, and spoken of Chloe as if they were sisters, Jenna hadn’t seen her until that night when Chloe came over. Her father planned on driving and picking them up from the club. He said when he went to get her, she wasn’t there. The club owner said she’d never gone in.
Jenna’s mother had never gone out for a girls’ night before, and that night she was a queen, glowing with a new confidence. Chloe was radiant too, with silky cocoa skin and dark rows of hair. It was all Jenna could do not to reach out and touch her. Despite their differences, they were close friends.
Jenna’s mother never did come home. Her mind flashes back to the night when her father returned. He claimed his wife was on the road to nowhere. Jenna wondered where that road was and if she’d find it too.