Stationary

China shards could still be found here and there in the cracks and corners of the wooden floor. She felt one clink under her shoe as she wandered across the room; she stepped back and took it into her fingers, turning it around and eyeing the sharp edges and the sad remnants of a once beautiful floral design. Her heart clenched looking at it; she clasped it away in her hand, ignoring the pain as the jagged points dug into her palm.
Already Sarah Hawkins regretted what she had said. She had been serving supper to a family of guests at the Inn when she had heard it: a heart-wrenching crash and clatter of a dozen precious china dishes as they smashed into the floor. She had swung around to see her teenage son standing there in that moth-bitten old jacket of his father's, long bangs hanging over his eyes as he gazed in shock at the carnage before him, hands open but grasping only air. Everything was still for a moment as they stared; reddening in the face he bent to pick up the broken pieces the best he could. Of course she had been upset, bemoaning the accident to him - she had every right to; the set had been her mother's, and beyond their budget to replace. But catching her son's eyes, she stopped herself; and when she had looked away, he was gone again. It seemed she hardly ever saw anything but his back.
She stretched out her arm and leaned against the mantel of the fireplace with a sigh. The fire had long since died to a smolder. Staring into the crimson embers, her gaze danced across the ashes as she grappled with her own muddled thoughts. Her eyes suddenly alighted on something sitting on the hearth, buried in ashes. Blinking she released the shard onto the mantel and picked up the object, brushing the embers off the surface.
It was a piece of parchment, the top burnt off slightly, edges curled. She could just make out the dark ink letters that flowed across the page, blurred from the heat; it was her son's haphazard printing. In some distant corner of her mind she wondered what it was and how it got there as she perused the first line. Her heart seemed to stop as she read on, desperately clinging to every blotched line.

"Dear Father,
It's been lonely since you walked out of my life. Things haven't been the same since that morning… do you remember then? I'm not sure you would. I was eight years old. You missed my birthday that year, and you missed the tears in my eyes as I came running down the dock, missed my hand when I reached for you as the boat cast off... missed me as I sat on the end of the dock all that afternoon, praying you would come back, hoping. You never did. You've missed a lot of things… do you miss me?
I don't know if this letter will reach you. I'm sitting in the windowsill as I always used to then, waiting for you to come home from your job at the mines. I'm writing this by starlight; Mom thinks I'm asleep. Sometimes I look at the stars and wonder if you're out there, somewhere. I know Mom misses you as well; it's been hard keeping the Inn afloat without you, but we've made it, just as she always said we would. We've all been just fine without you; I've made it on my own, without you, and I'm doing just fine.
…that last part's a lie. Mom's worried about me. I'm fifteen years old now, and I've been getting into some trouble lately, but it's no big deal, I swear. They just won't get off my back about it… they don't understand. I ran into the wrong sort, made all the wrong friends… well, I thought they were my friends, anyway. It's tough growing up without a father, you know? Maybe you wouldn't. Mom, she says I should be thinking about my future… but there's no future here not worth throwing away. Like you did. Everything's lost… if only I had a map.
Remember that Christmas when I was 7, before you left? It was my only wish, to have you there. You came home, and you promised you'd be there for me, and I promised I'd be waiting for you.
I guess we both broke our promises. I always looked up to you back then; even when you forgot about me, I cherished every smile, every broken toy. I tried so hard. You were the shining star of my life, before you left. I'll always have the black hole where that star used to be.
I'm sorry I didn't try hard enough.
-Jim
01.0-062.50"

Sarah stood staring at those last lines, unaware her hands were shaking. "Oh, Jim…" She whispered.
He hardly ever talked about his father, and certainly not to her. Yet no matter how far he hid himself inside that jacket, toeing the ground in an apathetic sort of way, eyes cast down as he muttered meaningless reassurances about his health, she could tell it still tormented him; she just had no idea how much. Her eyes sparkled as she folded the letter in her hands, then shut. She knew why he had tried to get rid of it, tried to make it disappear; it could never be sent. His father was lost to him; he could never read that letter, would never see the look in his son's eyes and cringe, did not have to go to sleep each night wondering how to get by. The regret, the sorrow, the anger, could only smolder in Jim's young heart like the embers on the hearth.
With a turn of her wrist, the parchment fell from her hand. It fluttered through the air and settled in the midst of the ashes; the embers sparked to life and the paper slowly shriveled, then disappeared amongst the ashes. Watching, she could only chance to hope that he would escape that black hole and find the shining star within himself. He only needed to lift his eyes.

------------
Author Note: This is a rewrite of my original "Stationary"; this fic was originally just the letter (a random inspiration one night when I was trying to sleep), then I added a bit of story after to sort of explain the irony (and purpose) of it. Recently I submitted it to my school's creative writing contest/magazine, and they will consider publishing it provided I rewrote it in a sort of "frame" with story before and after the letter. It was their original idea that it should be something like Sarah finding the letter in a wastebin, and I sort of ran with it. The event described where Jim breaks the dishes and the date are, of course, based on an entry in the book Jim's Journal (which is VERY cute by the way). Would like to add I own absolutely nothing. No sue me.
Well, I hope this version is better than the other, anyway... I like it a bit better, for my third try. =)