A History of Shadows
Chapter 1 – The Greatest Loss
Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live. ~Norman Cousins
Jade's earliest happy memory occurred on her fifth birthday. She was in the living room, playing the piano while her mother was locked in her room, napping with ear plugs against the sound. No one had mentioned Jade's birthday but the cleaning lady, who had given to her a small box of chocolate and a teddy bear. The little girl had thanked her, given her a kiss on the cheek, and taken them up to her bedroom to hide. Her mother would not have approved. Nor did the unhappy woman mention Jade's birthday as she paced her office, conducting business with clients around the world. The young child thought when her mother left her office after lunch that day, she might be planning something, but she'd simply leaned over the railing at the top of the stairs, glared down at daughter, and told her to keep quiet – she had a headache. (Jade knew she could still get away with playing the piano - her mother always wore earplugs while she slept).
With the lonely beginning to the day, it was extra special when her father, who worked so hard he rarely remembered what day it was, came home with a large gift-wrapped box and placed it in front of Jade on the ground. She grinned at him and despite his neutral expression; she could see the happiness in his eyes – the ones that matched hers so well. She opened the lid with the purple ribbon and squealed with happiness when a mound of black fur bounded out at her, licking her face.
"Thank you," she said incredulously. Her father smiled; a rare sight.
"Now, you have to take care of her yourself," he warned. Jade nodded; she could do that. Most of the time, she fed and bathed herself – it would be no problem to take care of the dog.
"What's her name?" Jade asked softly.
"You get to pick it," he answered, still kneeling on the floor across from her as she held the dog in her arms.
"Ramona," she said, deciding to name it after a character in one of her favorite books.
"Why don't you take Ramona outside?" her father suggested. "It was a long car ride." Jade stood and scurried toward the kitchen, which would lead her into the back yard. Ramona followed close at her heels.
She played with the dog for a few minutes outside until Ramona curled into a tiny ball and closed her eyes; she was tired. Jade picked her up and carried her back into the mansion that she called home. Sounds of screaming (mostly her mother, occasionally a retort from her father) picked at the happiness that had wound its way around her young heart. She stifled a sob as she walked up the back staircase and into her bedroom with the sleeping dog. She slipped quietly into her closet, closed the doors, and curled into the floor with the puppy beside her.
It was only a few days later that held Jade's unhappiest memory. She sat on the stone front steps and watched as her father carried his bags to his car. He was not coming back to live with them; her mother had told her already. But Jade's young mind didn't quite understand. Had she done something wrong? Ramona sat at her side, seeming to understand the solemnness of the moment. After the last bag was in the car, Alex West sat on the step with his daughter.
"I'm sorry, Jade," he said quietly. It was an apology no one – who might be listening from the house – would be able to hear. "I love you."
"I love you too," Jade promised him, climbing into his lap for a hug. It would be the last time Jade heard those words from her father – or shared them with anyone for a good nine years.
As he drove away, the front door opened and her mother snapped. "Get up off that stair. Do you know how expensive that dress is?" Jade scrambled to her feet and into the house, Ramona her constant companion. Inside, the house was darker and Jade's mother was nursing what was clearly not her first glass of wine. The young girl knew the sign of that glass meant no dinner – so she crept into the pantry and grabbed an apple and a sleeve of crackers and carried them to her room.
It was lonely without her father – although he'd rarely been home, he at least spoke directly to Jade when he saw her. Camilla West never spoke to the child unless it was to yell, warn, or scream. Her father had taught her to read a calendar and he'd left one in his office, so she went in every day to count down – she knew school would start soon – and then she would have lots of people to talk to.
Before that could happen, her life shifted. John moved into the mansion. John was younger than her father – had messier hair and cheaper clothing. He smelled too strongly aftershave and his hair always looked oily. Her mother didn't seem to mind, since she let John move into her bedroom. Jade avoided him but he left his mark all over the house – and he was always just around the corner, waiting to say something to Jade. He spoke to her often, despite the fact that she did not encourage it in the least. He called her princess, but in a very demeaning way.
"Does the princess not approve of the meal?" he would ask, after Jade picked at a fast-food meal he had brought home. She tried to explain that she was allergic to what he'd provided that evening but he didn't care to listen – and Camilla was certainly not paying attention.
Two weeks after he'd moved in, John cemented his legacy as a man Jade would always hate. He had left his shoes by the back door in the kitchen. One morning, Jade was not fast enough running down the stairs to let Ramona outside. The puppy was still learning and although she tried to wait, she went to the bathroom on the kitchen floor. It was just a small puddle and Jade was in the middle of cleaning it when John slumped into the kitchen in boxers and a tshirt, a cigarette between his lips. He saw the puddle, next to his shoes, and picked up the puppy by the back of her neck.
"No!" Jade cried. "It was an accident. I'm cleaning it! She didn't get your shoes!" John didn't listen. He dropped Ramona into the kitchen sink where the maid had washed dishes earlier that morning. He held the puppy there until she went limp, ignoring the feeling of Jade's tiny nails scratching at his arm. Swatting Jade away, he left the puppy floating in the sink and Jade sobbing next to it.
He told Camilla Jade had done it – that she was tired of cleaning up after the dog. Jade's heart was broken and she could barely form the words to defend herself. Camilla ignored her attempts and simply said, "your father will hear about this." Jade cried for the remainder of the day. Camilla told the maid to bury the dog – and turned a deaf ear to Jade's sobs and insistence of innocence.
"You can't change what you've done," Camilla hissed at her. "Maybe this will teach you not to be such a terrible little girl."
Through her tears, Jade tried desperately to remember when she'd been a terrible little girl. She had nothing to put into context. She always did what she was told; she rarely asked for anything – what else did she need to do to be a good girl?
Her father picked her up for his first visitation a week later. He was angry about the dog. Jade had been planning to tell him the truth – maybe he would take her away from John and her unkind mother. But Camilla had made it impossible. That morning, she had appeared in Jade's room and offered to braid the girl's hair. Jade didn't know how to refuse, so she allowed it. Camilla began to brush her daughter's hair without a lick of gentleness or sensitivity. She grabbed a section to be braided and yanked it hard, causing her daughter to cry out in surprise.
She leaned close to whisper angrily in her daughter's ear. "Don't even mention John to your father. If you so much as say his name, I will beat you with this hairbrush. Do you understand me?" Jade nodded, despite the pain it caused her to do so. Her mother let go of her dark brown hair and shoved her toward the bed. "It looks better down," she said, before disappearing from the room. A small clump of hair, the ends torn and bloody, lay on Jade's cream-colored carpet. The small girl's eyes watered but she fought it, carrying her hair into the bathroom and throwing it into the garbage. She used a rag to stop the flow of blood at the crown of her head. It stopped eventually but she had to part it to the side to hide the spot where hair had ripped out – and it was a painful process.
She was paler than usual when her father picked her up that morning, but he didn't notice – it was still aghast at how his daughter had been able to kill a puppy. A living, breathing animal. He was uncomfortable the entire day – not sure what to say to the little girl he now thought of as a monster. Jade felt the rejection – and knew there was nothing she could do to clear up his disappointment and repulsion.
By the time he dropped her off at her mother's home, Jade knew that whatever love her father had for her was gone. She ran directly to her bedroom and hid in her closet, wishing she still had Ramona. Ramona had loved her. And look at where that had gotten her.
The next morning, Jade pulled on a black dress and slipped her feet into black mary-jane shoes. Her books and television shows had told her that people wore black for mourning. She would mourn Ramona. And she would mourn her father's love. For as long as it took. When school started at the end of August, she was the only first grader with a leaning toward black.
The first two chapters are very short but I promise the rest are longer. It's a harsh beginning - but this story is primarily harsh and shows how Jade's life was never truly easy. But it will get better as Cat and then Beck get involved. Thanks for reading - please share your thoughts!