The McComber Switch
By Karen Singer
Chapter 18 Part 1 of 2 - Bad Mother
Jan 5 – 6
“Sue!” Clint exclaimed as he hurried into the family business office and spotted his wife. “Are you sure they’re okay?”
“Evidently they’re fine,” Susan told him as the two headed for each other. One quick kiss and they separated again.
“I hurried home as soon as I could,” he said.
“I appreciate it,” Susan told him sincerely. “Jane told me only a little, but I really want to hear all of it. Especially whatever it was that Jasmine did.”
“Jas?” Clint asked. “Which Jasmine?”
“The one who went to school today,” she replied. “Jimmy.”
“What trouble is he in now?”
“Evidently none…as far as Jane is concerned. She made it sound more like he’s the hero of the day. Tommy too from what I gather.”
“Clint?” Jacob’s deep voice called from the inner office. “Is that you out there?”
“I’m here, Dad,” Clint replied as he headed for his father’s office. He walked in. “Hi Dad. So we’re all going to meet here?”
“I thought it might be quickest,” Jacob explained. “You know I’m not one that likes to have to wait for the details.”
“Me either, Dad,” Clint agreed.
“I figure they all ought to be along any time now,” Jacob told him, “but in the meantime, take a look at these drawings we got for the new lodges. Susan has been checking on the water requirements today and from what she tells me, the current well we had dug for this building should handle all six of them, and about fifty more to boot.”
“Yeah, Dad. We had a good well put in when we built this place.”
“So the water will be good. Now tell me about the electric.”
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It wasn’t until forty-five minutes later that John and Jane finally arrived…after dropping their kids off at home. The bus that would bring back the rest of the kids hadn’t gotten there yet.
“Hi Dad,” Jane called brightly as they walked into his office.
“Jane,” Jacob returned as he got up and accepted a hug from his daughter. He accepted the handshake from John as well while Jane was saying hello to Susan and Clint. “So what the heck is going on?” Jacob asked as he returned to his desk.
Jane looked at John, and he looked at her. But he was the school principal. “What went on?” he said. “What went on was a minor miracle as far as I’m concerned. And it was something that made me awfully proud to have married into this family.”
“But you said something about a fight earlier,” Susan reminded him.
John nodded. “A fight that didn’t quite happen. Well, not really as far as I’m concerned.” He launched into as detailed an explanation of everything that had happened at the school as he could. His wife Jane continually filled in some of the finer details as he went. It took a little while, but between the two of them, they managed to get the whole story out.
Jacob was smiling and chuckling through much of it, but not the part where Jasmine stood in front of the whole school to tell them all what he thought. That part, Jacob listened to with even more interest. “And what about the girl…the real Jasmine,” Jacob asked. “What did she do while all this was going on?”
John and Jane looked to each other again. This time it was Jane who answered. “When it all started, Ashley grabbed her and pulled her in the middle of the rest of the girls.”
“Did she try to go out with the boys at all?” Jacob asked.
Jane shook her head. “Fortunately not. In fact, during it, and afterwards too, I think she looked a bit scared.”
Jacob nodded as he considered that. “Maybe that’s good,” he finally decided. “One of the things that I find most interesting though, is Tommy. From what you say, he didn’t waste a second to jump in to protect his kin. And it sounds like he was pretty darn tough about it too.”
Clint shook his head. “I’m afraid some of that may have been my doing. I gave Tommy my version of one of your old speeches a couple of nights ago, Dad. I told him about how the clan always sticks together and about how we all fight to protect our women. It sounds like he listened better than I thought.”
Jacob nodded. “One of these days I’m going to write down all that stuff I used to tell you boys. Maybe it would be more use than I thought.” He chuckled. “Only problem is, I don’t remember most of it myself!”
“Dad,” John said, trying to bring the discussion back to more serious matters. “I wanted to talk with you about something that Jimmy said…the real Jimmy…while he was out there talking to all the kids.”
“I thought you pretty much told me all of it,” Jacob replied.
“I did,” John said. “But one of the things I particularly noticed during that little speech he made, kind of stuck out. And then afterwards when I saw him suddenly standing straighter and walking as if he wasn’t afraid of anything, well, it made me give it all a lot more thought.”
“Jimmy?” Jacob asked. “The one we’ve got all dressed up like his sister? Not afraid of anything?”
John nodded. “It was something he said when he was talking to all the kids. He said he wasn’t a coward. He said he never was a coward and never would be. I found that particularly strange in light of the fact that he told everyone he was too afraid of so many things that he refused to hunt anymore.”
“I’m not sure that he’s exactly afraid of hunting itself,” Clint corrected him. “I think it’s more like he’s afraid to actually kill anything.”
“He is afraid of a lot of things,” Susan told them. “He’s even afraid of the dark! He sleeps with a nightlight on all the time.”
“Either way,” John said. “Either we’re totally wrong about the way he said he was scared of everything, or he’s suddenly found himself a whole lot of confidence. He sure had more than his share of courage today!” He looked briefly at his wife, then back to Jacob. “I was thinking, that in light of the way he behaved in there…which was pretty darn brave if you ask me.”
“Yeah, it was,” Jacob agreed.
“Well, I was wondering if we might want to put an end to this whole business now. Stop it now before things get any worse – especially for Jimmy and Jasmine.”
“Yes! Please!” Susan exclaimed quickly. “Please let’s put an end to this business!”
Jacob sat and considered that. “I’ll think on it,” he finally said. “But I don’t think it’s me that can really end this thing. And I’m not sure it’s time for it to end either.”
Susan’s face fell. “Why not?”
“Cause of Jasmine, the real one I mean. I always knew there was more to that boy of yours than it seemed. I think I had more faith in him than the rest of you. I think I still do. But it’s his sister who’s the bigger problem. We all knew that when we started this thing. She was the one that really controlled everything, not him. Until she learns better and decides not to hunt, we fixed it so that the two of them are stuck in it together – like it or not. And I still think that it’s going to be Jimmy that somehow changes his sister’s mind on the matter.” He had another reason too. One he knew better than to share with Clint and Susan. He shook his head. “I tell you what though,” he said. “I’ll think on it some more tonight. I’ll let you know tomorrow if I decide any different.” He brightened a bit. “But in the meantime, I think I’ve got a bunch of phone calls to make tonight.”
“To who, Dad?” Jane asked.
“All those kids, of course! I got to tell each and every last one of them how proud I am of them. And I mean really proud. They did the McComber name proud today. All of ‘em. And I think they all deserve to know it!” He turned to Clint. “And that includes all those kids of yours too. I’m especially proud of them. Well, the boys anyway.” He stopped to correct himself. “The real boys, that is.”
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That night, while they ate dinner, Jacob told his wife Rose everything that happened. The two of them discussed a few things that he had said, particularly his concerns about Jasmine and Jimmy. And then, to Rose, it was as if Jacob had again gone off and gotten lost in the conversation as he started talking about his two younger brothers. His two brothers who had both died in the war so many years ago.
“I remember Brent,” Jacob said with a far-off look in his eyes. “The army loved him. They loved Charlie too. They loved all of us boys. ‘Course, we could all out-shoot anyone else and we’d been raised in the woods so the jungle wasn’t all that much different. But they was younger than me. And while I got sent to Korea, they both wound up in Vietnam. And from what Brent told me, that was a hellhole for sure! Much worse than what I saw in Korea.”
And then, to Rose, it was as if he changed the subject again. “Do you know how they make steel, Rose? How they make it extra strong?”
“I have no idea Jacob,” Rose replied, just listening to his rambling.
“Well, they heat it all molten hot, and then they pound the living daylights out of it. Then they stick it back into the fire to heat it up again, then they pound on it again. Over and over. And the more they do it, the stronger it gets. Strange that.”
“It does sound odd, Jacob,” she agreed, not really caring.
“Well, that’s what the army did to Brent, Rose. They took him and shoved him into the fire, then they pounded on him, making him stronger and better, then they shoved him into the fire all over again. And he got stronger and stronger, better and better. You saw all the medals he got. You know how good my brother was.”
“Yes, I know,” Rose agreed. All his brother’s medals were in a display cabinet that was prominently hung in her husband’s office in the house. “But it didn’t keep him alive, Jacob. Did it?”
He shook his head. “Unfortunately not. But it took a bullet to the back of his head from somewhere long off to kill him! And Charlie…poor Charlie. That mine he stepped on never let him even have a chance.”
Rose dared not say anything when Jacob got into one of his reminiscing moods. She knew from experience that all she could do was sit there and listen.
“Anyway,” Jacob said, suddenly snapping out of it. “The point is, they stuck Brent into the fire and then pounded him hard over and over again. Making him stronger and better each time. And that’s what I think we need to do with Jimmy.”
Rose jolted in her seat. “With Jimmy?”
“Mm-hmm!” Jacob replied with a nod of his head. “I think there’s more to that boy than meets the eye, even if I’m the only one who can see it. We’re going to put him back in the fire and then pound on him some more. Over and over if we have to. And then we’ll see what we get when we’re done.”
Rose was somewhat aghast. “But Jacob.”
“Don’t worry, Rose. Like I said. I’ve got faith in that boy, even if nobody else does. I’ll keep my eye on him. I always have!”
“And Jasmine?” Rose asked. “What about her? You can’t treat her like that!”
Jacob’s lips pursed into an unhappy frown. “I think there’s something missing from that girl Rose. Something important. Something I’d just as soon not tell her parents. This may be the only way she’ll ever find that something again.”
He got up from his seat. “Now I think I got a bunch of phone calls to make. Those kids did good today Rose. All of ‘em!”
Rose sat at the table and sipped at her coffee. She thought hard about what Jacob had just said. Her husband was smarter than he seemed. But this time, she was pretty sure that he was wrong. She had a suspicion as to what Jacob had meant when he talked about Jasmine. She thought she knew what it was that he thought Jasmine didn’t have…or had lost, which was more the case. And she was pretty sure that keeping Jasmine in the fire like he planned, wasn’t going to help her get it back. Subjecting Jasmine to everything that was ahead of them wasn’t going to bring back to her the one thing that every McComber woman had. The one thing that gave strength to every woman in the clan…and most other women too she was sure. Jacob’s plan wasn’t going to bring back compassion to the girl. Because as she saw it, compassion was the one biggest thing that Jasmine seemed to have lost.
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“Hey, Dad,” Jed said when he had answered the phone after his father had called. “I hear there was some kind of a ruckus at the school today.”
“That’s what I’m calling about,” Jacob told him. “I’m calling to tell Justin and Ashley how damn proud I am of what they done.”
“I’ll get them for you, Dad,” Jed said. “I know they’ll love hearing that from you.”
“Hold on a sec,” Jacob said before his son could leave the phone.
“I want you to continue pushing that girl of Clint’s every weekend, just like we discussed. Keep her as busy as you can. Don’t let any weekends go by anymore. I want to start pushing her even harder.”
“Harder?” Jed asked. “Well, there’s plenty of hard work to be done. Especially once the big hunting seasons are over at the end of the month. I’m sure I can keep her busy.”
“Good!” Jacob said. “And you better let her hunt as much as you can too. Send her out with Ethen or Justin…or her father for that matter. We did promise the girl she’d get to hunt more, so make sure you don’t forget.”
“I won’t, Dad. And like you said, I’ll try to keep her as busy with the tough jobs as I can.”
“Good!” Jacob replied. “Now let me talk to those kids of yours. You don’t know how pleased I am with the lot of ‘em.”
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The last house Jacob called was his son Clint’s house to talk with Tommy and…Jasmine. Clint and Susan listened in as several times Tommy said, “Thank you sir.” Or, “Thanks Grandpa.” Once he told his grandpa, “I just did what I had to.” Then with one final, “Thanks Grandpa,” he turned to his fake sister and handed him the phone. “Grandpa wants to talk to you now,” he said with a smile. Tommy walked off feeling great. It wasn’t often that his Grandpa complemented him like that. And Grandpa had said that he was more pleased with what Tommy had done by jumping in to protect his…sister…than what all the other kids had done. But he was nothing but very proud of all of them. The girls too!
Jasmine picked up the phone. “Hello?” he said nervously.
It was a moment before Jacob could reply. “I guess I have no choice but to call you Jasmine right now,” he said, “but let’s make one thing clear, I’m still talking to you. To Jimmy! Understand that son?”
“Yes sir, Grandpa,” Jasmine replied, not sure why his grandpa was bothering to say that.
“Good,” Jacob replied. “Now you listen, and you listen good. I’ve been on the phone half the evening with every last one of my grandkids…well, those that are in that school of yours anyway. But I’ve talked with every last one of them now except you and your…well, the other one of you that’s supposed to be your brother. Damn this is confusing!”
Jasmine actually laughed a bit. “You should try it from our side. Half the time I’m not even sure who I am.”
Jacob chuckled a bit. “Yeah. I’m sure son. Now listen, like I was saying, I’ve talked to all those other kids, but it’s you that I wanted to talk with the most. I’m damn proud of what each and every last one of those kids did today, but your brother Tommy was a real standout.”
“Yes sir,” Jasmine replied. “I guess he kind of saved my hide. I don’t know what I was thinking trying to fight with Billy. He’s in high school and he’s got a pretty bad reputation if you know what I mean.”
“Yeah, I’m sure I do,” Jacob replied. “All the more reason for me to be proud of you and Tommy both.”
“Hell yes, son. I’m so proud of you today I could spit! You may be all dolled up like your sister. But you had enough guts to stand up in front of all them kids and give them all a good what for! From the way I heard it, you told them all just where to stick it! And then you went and stuck up for your sister and protected her too. That took guts Jimmy…I mean…oh hell, you know who you are! It took guts to do that. And I just want you to know how proud of you I am.”
“Yes sir,” Jasmine replied with some surprise. “I just don’t know what came over me. I got mad I guess. But nobody gave me any trouble the rest of the day. I can tell you that!”
“Good son. Real good! I just want you to know, you may be stuck in your sister’s skirts for a while, but I’ve got faith in you boy. Lots of faith. More than you know. I just want you to know that. Okay?”
“Yeah,” Jasmine replied, happy for most of what he had said, but his spirits were suddenly crushed by the last bit his Grandpa had said. “Thanks, Grandpa,” he replied as his disappointment started to grow. His Grandpa had said he was going to still be stuck in his sister’s skirts for a while. That one comment had taken a lot of the pride he had started to feel away.
“Now let me talk to your father,” Jacob told him. “I need to have a word with him too.”
“Yeah sure, Grandpa. And thanks again.”
“You’re welcome son.”
Jasmine turned the phone over to his father with somewhat of a heavy heart. His grandpa had said he was going to be stuck in skirts for a while. Feeling totally despondent, he headed back to his bedroom as the gloom seemed to close in tighter. He had known before that he would be stuck being his sister until she gave up hunting. But his Grandpa’s words had only made it seem worse. And that was even right in the middle of all the really nice things he had said to him. But that one little comment. That one little fact, seemed to take hold of him hard. The tears started falling from his face by the time he was halfway down the hall. The emotions rushed over him to the point where he ran the last few steps into his sister’s bedroom where he dove onto the bed and buried his face in the pillow. With seemingly countless dolls looking down from the shelves above, he cried his eyes out. He couldn’t help himself. He knew he shouldn’t, but he couldn’t help himself. He just felt like crying, so he abandoned himself to the misery.
Susan noticed the sudden emotional turn in Jasmine as he handed the phone over. As she heard her husband greeting his father, she heard a sniffle coming from her new daughter as he reached the hallway. She was desperately torn. She wanted to hear what Jacob was about to tell Clint, but she also wanted to comfort her child. She was praying for Jacob to put an end to this whole mess. He had to see that now! He had too! She couldn’t wait to hear that word from him…or at least from her husband. But her child… Her heart won out. She would hear what Jacob had to say later. She hurried to Jasmine’s room instead.
She found him sobbing miserably on the bed. She sat next to him and held him. “What’s wrong sweetie?” she asked. “What did Grandpa say?”
“He said he was proud of me,” Jasmine sobbed. “Real proud. More than any of the others.”
That surprised Susan, only because Jasmine was crying so hard. “But that’s a good thing,” she told him. “So why are you crying?”
“I don’t know!” he replied through more sobs. “It was just something he said, I guess.”
“Something he said? Did Grandpa say something that upset you?”
It was a moment before Jasmine could reply. “Kind of.”
“What was it sweetie?”
“He said I might be stuck in Jasmine’s skirts for a while.” He started sobbing bitterly all over again.
Susan let him cry for a minute. Jasmine had just given her Jacob’s decision on whether he would end this switching around business or not. And as he had said he probably would do back at the office, he had decided to let it continue. Susan laid down next to her sobbing child and wrapped her arms around him…as silent tears fell from her own eyes. She knew that much of Jasmine’s tears were due to the hormones now running through his system, but it didn’t matter. Since there was no end coming any time soon to it all, she figured they both had reason to cry.
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Jimmy peeked silently into Jasmine’s room – her own room in reality. Her room that she figured she would be going back to sometime before bed that night. She couldn’t believe that both her mother and brother were laying there crying. What had Grandpa said to them? Whatever it was, it had to be pretty bad. But then, her wuss of a brother seemed to cry over the stupidest stuff lately. What a sissy! But her mother was crying with him too, so whatever it was, it must have been really bad.
She had noted that her Grandpa had talked with both Tommy and Jasmine, but not to her. Why not? She had no idea what Grandpa had said. She wasn’t even sure if she cared. She only felt…left out.
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