The next week melted by, ever so slowly. Jesse, to his own surprise, found himself regularly attending class. It wasn't due to any great love of learning; rather, he just found that he didn't really want to let Jenny down. Not to mention, he was growing to enjoy the short rides to class with Deanna and Maya, where they spent most of the time bad-mouthing people at school who they didn't like.
On this particular Tuesday morning, they were discussing Sherri.
"Bitch and a half," Maya declared. "I mean, seriously. I heard her bragging about all the schools she's applying to. I hope she doesn't get into a single one. And that she cries about it, too!"
"Wow," Deanna said with a grin. "You're not, like, bitter at all – are you?" She leaned over to look at Jesse. "How's your aunt doing, Jesse?"
His hands tensed on the steering wheel.
"I don't know. All right, I guess." He didn't know whether Deanna and Maya knew that Jenny was sick, and he really didn't want to be the one to tell them. Saying it out loud would make the whole thing real. And she didn't really seem sick, not yet at least. He figured once she started chemo, then that was when things would get…
He brushed it away. Didn't want to think about it.
They pulled up into the parking lot and got out, before walking to Mr. White's class. This time, they were on time. Unfortunately.
"All right, class. Pop quiz."
Jesse groaned and peeked over at Deanna, who gave him a glare.
"No," she mouthed, and he turned his head away, only mildly offended. After all, what the hell did he care if he passed the damn class or not? Chemistry was just a waste of time anyway.
Jesse scribbled his name at the top of his paper, then the date: 9/11/01.
Jesse's throat was dry. He couldn't believe it. He was staring at the television screen with everybody else, but the only thoughts that seemed to stay in his mind were that if this was the end of America or the end of the world or something, he should rush home and make sure that his aunt was okay.
What if the hospitals shut down and she couldn't get there? What if she got so scared that she made herself sicker and died while he was sitting in English?
He wished he could open his mouth and talk to Kayla about it, but everyone was quiet, silent, in shock, and he couldn't break the moment. It was just too hard. Plus, as cool as Kayla was, she just didn't seem the type of person he could talk to about something like this.
Before long, parents started showing up to pick up their kids. Kayla's mom arrived when the classroom was about a third full, and she gave a little wave of encouragement to Jesse.
He just kept staring at the board.
What the hell? He wasn't ready for this kind of thing. A terrorist attack? That was something that only happened in movies, wasn't it? None of it seemed real.
None of it seemed real until the door opened and his aunt walked in. She looked shaken, as nervous as he was, but otherwise okay.
Maybe he could have signed himself out. Could he have? He wasn't sure. Everything was kind of spinning. Everything just seemed totally wrong.
"How are you holding up?" Jenny's voice floated across her living room, reaching Jesse about halfway.
"I don't know," he mumbled. "Is this even real? I don't even…"
She was standing next to him, then, putting a hand on his shoulder.
"It's going to be okay. We're both okay, aren't we? Everything will be set right, somehow or another. A lot of horrible things happen, Jesse. But good things happen, too. Don't they?" She smiled. "You have to take the horrible, scary things or else the good stuff doesn't mean as much."
She sat down next to him on the couch and put her hands in her lap.
"I was a little girl when President Kennedy was shot," she told him. "It's one of those things where everyone remembers where they were. I was sitting in class. Second grade. Your mother was in eighth. The teacher, well, I don't know how she heard, but she drew all of the blinds and told us and it was as if someone in everyone's family had died. It was as if somebody reached over and shut off all of the lights."
Jesse watched her as she spoke. There was some kind of authority about her, but a quiet authority. She didn't need to scream or yell or belittle. She just spoke, and Jesse would always listen.
He let his head fall to his shoulder. It was too much effort to keep it up. How was he supposed to figure any of this out? It was like there had been some switch when he had turned eighteen, that now he was an adult and that should have meant that he had some answers. But he didn't.
Maybe no one did.
"Aunt Jenny?" Jesse whispered.
"You're… you're gonna be okay, right?" In that moment, he wished he was young again. That she could lie to him, tell him that it'd be fine.
Instead, she reached out and took his hand.
"Everything's going to be all right," she told him. "There's scary things up ahead, but I know you can make it through."
He shook his head. He didn't know.
He wondered about his parents, if they were wondering about him. Whether Jake knew what was going on and if he'd gotten frightened over the whole thing, too. But he wouldn't call them. They wouldn't want to hear from him. They'd sounded so done, so final when they had dropped him off.
Jenny reached out and patted Jesse's back.
"Let's just take it one day at a time, okay? I'll make a pot of coffee and we can watch anything that isn't the news."