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Light is Brighter in the Dark

Tags: light, dark

Two people brought together impossibly after so many years of hardship.

The light is always brighter in the darkness.

"Get off your ass and do your chores!" The big man smelled of liquor. The flannel of his shirt was stained. The little boy knew better than to argue with his father.
The little boy got up from his spot on the filthy living room floor and muttered, "Alright, alright."
The wash needed to be hung outside since the dryer broke. It was all Mary's fault. She was dad's girlfriend.
Sometimes she could be alright, she always brought the little boy treats after she went to the grocery store.

All excited, Aaron ran around the car and opened the door. He looked so great in a tux. It's too bad it was only a rental, but he deserved it for one night at least.
"Are you ready, my lady?"
Jessica laughed, "We aren't going to a Renaissance festival you know."
"I know," Aaron smiled as he put his hands around her waist. She was immaculate, flawless compared to him. He wondered what she saw in him.
Jessica noticed his apprehension. "What's wrong?"
Aaron shook his head. "Nothing, I was just thinking how lucky I am."
"Why's that?" Jessica smiled knowingly.
Aaron kissed her softly, holding her delicate face in his hands. She was the first girl he had ever kissed, and though he never asked, Aaron knew she had probably kissed many guys.
Some guys thought girls were like conquests, the more you had the more of a man you were. Aaron didn't like it. He knew that underneath that entire ego there were nervous boys, trying to fit in. Jessica wasn't a conquest for Aaron. He was prepared to spend the rest of his life with this girl, she meant that much to him. It wasn't just her beauty, but her charm, wit, and the way she would always sit by the lonely kids at lunch. He always admired that.

Shut up, Karen thought, as she listened to the old lady rant. She was talking about her son who had just been put in prison. She went on throughout the entire bus ride. This woman had no pause button. Not even a volume control.
"He just kinda gone through a hard time, ya knows?"
Karen nodded awkwardly, "Sure..."
The bus screeched to a halt. Karen was relieved to get off the bus, even if it meant walking home in the cold.
Life was a lot harder without a car. The accident totaled their only one, and they couldn't afford another. The insurance barely covered Hannah's medical, not to mention her own. Hannah was Karen's daughter, her one and only joy in life. The accident had damaged a growth plate in her arm, she had needed surgery. Karen had gotten away with minor back injuries, and although they ached when she taught at the high school, they could have been a lot worse. Her husband's parents had helped somewhat with the bills, but their father was suffering from cancer, so they were barely surviving themselves. Karen's parents were broke and dead, besides, she didn't like accepting money or help from others.
Since her husband died in Iraq, their little family had become a charity case. Karen couldn't stand that kind of pity, not even if it was well meant. The neighbors across the street always brought over cookies and baked goods every Sunday. Mormons, Karen though as she rolled her eyes. Although she did like the mother, Tracy she though was her name, who always had a big smile on her face. She was always carrying things. Groceries, diaper bags, laundry, casseroles, and even her children were always climbing all over her. And yet, despite the chaos, Tracy always looked like the happiest woman in the world. She would always ask Karen how she was doing, and ask if she needed a ride to work. Karen always refused, thinking her offer was out of mere politeness. But then again, Karen sometimes really though she meant it.

The television was always turned on. Never silence, because silence was worse than the lame advertisements and idiotic crap on TV.
The boy folded the paper till it was a firm rectangle, and then bent it in the center. He had found a rubber band on the kitchen floor that morning. With a grin he pulled the rubber band across his fingers gently, and then carefully brought the folded paper against the back end, like a slingshot. Aiming for the TV, the boy let the homemade missile fly, hitting the screen with a slight clink.
"What are you doing?"
This time the boy didn't really care what his dad would do. He picked up the paper and started to draw it back again, this time aiming for his dad's face, as it reddened with anger.
"Don't you--"
Too late. The boy let go of the rubber band, and the target was hit.
The boy's father let out a string of obscenities as he grabbed his son's hair, shaking the limp body furiously as he roared into his ear. Then in an instant, the boy was pitched across the floor against the corner of the entertainment shelf, where his head hit the metal corner right on the nose. Blood dripped slowly from his unkempt hair, as his thin body slid to the floor.

The sun was out, the wind was blowing, it was perfect. Aaron opened up the trunk of his car, plopping the cooler in place, and then checked his pocket for the tiny square box. He had planned this for a while, since before graduation. Somehow though, he didn't know if he had the guts.
Suddenly, Aaron felt his back pocket vibrate. It was Jessica.
"Hey babe, what's up?"
He paused.
"I thought you were going to meet me at the park?"
Aaron's brow furrowed and his lips pouted as he listened to Jessica explain.
"Alright, that's cool. So I'll see you tonight at the diner? Alright, see you."
The line died as Jessica hung up.
The wind blew Aaron's brown hair around his face. It was so perfect, he thought. He wondered why Jessica sounded so rushed, like she didn't have time to talk. Probably just busy, he thought.
Unlike Aaron, Jessica had made it into an Ivy League school. She was always a smart kid, Aaron thought dismally. It wasn't that he wasn't happy for her, it was just he always felt like the elephant in the room . He was the hick town hillbilly. Aaron worked a factory job, he lived with four other roommates, and he got by, but Jessica didn't just get by, she flourished. It was like anything she touched turned to gold in an instant. Except for Aaron.
Later that day, Aaron met up with Jessica at the local diner. It was their favorite spot not because of the menu, but because it's the first place they went together.
"So what was up with you earlier?" Aaron asked.
Jessica sipped her water.
"I mean, it's no biggie, I was just curious."
Jessica rolled her eyes. "Right."
Aaron looked confused, what did he do?
"Look Aaron, I have to be honest with you alright. Can I do that?"
Aaron didn't speak, he just stared.
Jessica sighed, "Okay, this is hard for me to do. Please don't say anything till I'm done."
Swallowing Aaron wiped a bead of sweat on his forehead. This is it, he thought, she's dumping me.
"Aaron..." Jessica started tearing up. "I'm pregnant."

Jim, one of her husband's buddies often came over to check on them. He was sweet, but Karen realized that this naive twenty year old was a distraction for her. She couldn't be with a guy who had seen her husband die, especially one so young.
On weekends she'd take Hannah to the park, she loved that place.
"Hannah, stay where I can see you, okay baby?"
Hannah nodded as she ran towards the swings. Of course, those were her favorite. Luke, Hannah's dad, always pushed on her on those swings. She'd beg him to, and of course who can resist a cute seven year old. He'd push her so high. Karen would have to tell him to cut it out. But she loved it up there in the sky, she would say, "Make me fly, dad!" as if he actually could. Hannah had changed after the funeral. Her once bright sunny attitude dimmed, and she became shyer around strangers which was extremely unusual for her. Hannah used to be a completely spontaneous, greeting everyone she saw and telling them her name.
There was another person at the park with his daughter, who was a bit older than Hannah. He was always there as well, same time every Saturday. Karen thought he looked angry. Though, he was never unkind or impolite, something about the way his brow wrinkled in the middle between his eyes, something about his frown. Karen knew that feeling.
When she had gotten the news about Luke, it took a while for it to sink in. Being in the army, Karen knew the risks that Luke would have to take in order to do his job, and protect the things he loved most. She had always admired him for that, he took all the patriotic stuff really seriously, and he really believed in America and all she was meant to mean to the world.
After a while Karen realized that she was alone, and that scared her almost as much as the pain of Luke's death. Most of all Karen wished that miraculously Luke would appear at the door one day, wearing his uniform, arms open and smiling. She wished her life could be like one of the movies, where a character dies and then miraculously comes back somehow later. She knew though that he wasn't coming home this time, and without a man to wait for, she felt strangely aware of herself. What or who was she waiting for now?

The sound of the heart monitor woke the boy.
He felt hungry.
The boy sat up slightly in the hospital bed, feeling the strange bandage around his head.
"Easy, try to relax Aaron."
Aaron froze. The only time anyone called him by his name was at school. His dad never called him that, sometimes Mary did. It startled him to hear it from a grown up other than one from school. He turned nervously to see a petite lady wearing a button up cotton shirt, and blue slacks. She had brown hair that came to her shoulders, and big green pretty eyes. Aaron realized she was smiling at him.
"Hi, do you remember me?"
Aaron shook his head.
The woman smiled again, but he could see there were tears in her eyes.
"My name is Rachel. I brought you a present."
Rachel held out a plastic bag from a grocery store. Aaron took it hesitantly, feeling the crinkly plastic in between his fingers. He opened it to find a small box of Lego's, they were the Star Wars kind. He had begged his dad for these for a long time. His face lit up slightly.
"Mary said you like those." Rachel said softly.
"Thanks," Aaron said. "Where am I?"
"The hospital," Rachel said even more softly. "You got a bad head injury, you were asleep for a long time. Scared me kid."
Aaron frowned, "I scared you?"
Rachel nodded vigorously. "Oh, yeah."
Aaron giggled as if Rachel had told an immature elementary school joke. "You were scared about me? Why?"
"Because I think you're an awesome kid Aaron." Rachel said as she put her hand on his. "Mary told me that your dad hurt you. Is that true?"
Aaron looked down at his lap. He remembered he hit his father with one of his rubber band missiles. He remembered he had done something bad. He looked around the room through the corners of his eyes, ready to submit to his father's anger. He closed his eyes, not wanting to see his face.
Rachel rubbed his arm, "Aaron its okay, no one is going to hurt you here. Your dad isn't here. Aaron you can tell me the truth."
Looking up at Rachel, Aaron's eyes contorted in anxiety. He had been asked this before by the counselor at school. What had he said? He couldn't remember. Aaron looked at Rachel, feeling that she was truly the only grown up he could talk to like this, the only person that seemed to really care. After ten minutes Aaron nodded shamefacedly.
"He hurt me."
Rachel released a breath, and smiled as if relieved. She gave the small bruised boy a hug, Aaron hugged her back.
"You don't have to get hurt anymore, okay?"
Rachel was crying now, her big green eyes sprouting tears. Her eyes looked deep into his, making him feel a strange warm feeling in his chest. It made him feel different inside.
"Okay," He said.
"You're going to live with a nice family now, they have a boy your age named Luke. He's excited to see you."
Aaron looked confused, " friend from school?"
Rachel nodded as she wiped her face with the back of her hand.
"Yes. You'll be happy, I promise. Trust me Aaron, you're going to be okay."

The hospital wasn't a place Aaron liked to be. He had been there many times before. At the factory he had cut his hand on one of the machines. When he graduated from high school he got in a car accident with a couple of friends, causing him severe neck injuries. Once when he was fourteen he broke his collar bone doing tricks on the trampoline. And then, there was when he was ten, when he had his head injury. He remembered that day like it was a bad dream, his life changed so much.
Jessica was in the room across from him. He had arrived too late from work, to be in the delivery room.
Aaron felt strange mostly because he didn't know how to feel. He remembered when Jessica had first told him about her pregnancy. He remembered feeling happy, which surprised Jessica, but mostly surprised himself. They couldn't have a kid, not now. Jessica was just starting school, and he was just getting by. He should have joined the army like Luke, but he felt he just wasn't cut out for it. They had had a falling out after graduation. Luke wanted Aaron to join the army with him, but Aaron didn't feel right about it, like some greater power didn't want him to. Luke was angry, feeling offended as if Aaron was putting down the military and the men and women who fought to protect America. Then the subject went too far into politics, something they could never agree on. They didn't speak to each other after that, each going separate ways.
Aaron had told Jessica about his past, she always seemed to be supportive and concerned about it. She always wanted to know more, as if it made her closer to him. Jessica had lived such a different life, she was from the other side of the tracks. Her life had been perfect, until he had walked in. At least that's how he felt, sitting there in the lobby of the hospital.
One of the doctors came out of the room, he didn't look worried, so Aaron guessed that was a good sign.
"How is she?" Aaron asked, getting out of his seat.
The doctor nodded, "She's great. Both mother and infant are doing fine. Jessica is getting patched up, both of them will be in recovery where you can see them soon."
Aaron nodded, "Thanks doc."
Even after giving birth, Jessica still looked gorgeous to Aaron. He felt exhilarated as he held his daughter, it felt like he had wings, flying higher and higher until he hit space and he couldn't breathe. They had decided on naming her Lindsay, after Jessica's grandmother. Aaron didn't really care what her name was, that was kind of the mother's say he thought. He also felt he'd like the baby no matter what name they gave her.
"She's beautiful isn't she?" Jessica said softly.
Aaron nodded. "I can't believe it. This doesn't seem real." Aaron laughed as Lindsay yawned slightly. He had bought a little teddy bear from the hospital gift center, it was supposed to be perfect for newborns.
"I like that bear," Jessica smiled tiredly, "It really makes it."
Aaron nodded. Both watched in awe, at their best work, with her little pink cap and her little rosebud lips. She seemed like the most precious thing in the world, as if all the money and wealth of the earth was complete garbage compared to this little human. Aaron felt like he wanted to show her off to everybody, showing them the amazing little person they had made. Jessica although exhausted, felt amazing, like she had just run the longest marathon in existence. Both could barely believe that Lindsay was finally here.
Was this how it felt to have a family?

 As the sun began to set, Karen called for Hannah telling her it was time to go home. She had made friends with the other man's little girl. They were absorbed in their play, pretending to be princesses in their castle.
"Kids, huh."
Karen was startled to see the man walk up to her. He had a tired but amused smile on his face, as if he had had a good life but also a hard one.
Karen laughed slightly, "Yeah, is that your daughter?"
The man nodded, "Yep, she's my princess. Her name's Lindsay. What about you, is she yours too?"
Karen nodded, "Uh huh, that's my Hannah."
They stood there awkwardly for a moment, watching their two little treasures play on the playground.
"I'm Aaron by the way," Aaron held out a big strong hand. Karen saw a scar underneath his thumb, reminding her of Luke's many scars.
"Karen," She smiled as he shook her hand firmly. It wasn't a hard handshake, although it was firm, but somewhere she felt it was honest, and careful, as if he were forward, yet uncertain.
"Husband?" Aaron asked.
Karen looked at her feet.
Aaron frowned, "I'm sorry, I shouldn't..."
Karen shook her head, "No it's okay. It's just hard. My husband died in Iraq about two years ago."
Karen smiled timidly as she tried not to get emotional.
Aaron looked sad too, as if he remembered something in his life that was painful.
"My brother died around the same time, we had a falling out after high school, haven't spoken to him since."
"Did you fight in Iraq?"
Aaron shook his head, "No, I never joined the military. I actually just got my bachelors in child psychology. I'm trying to get a job as a school counselor in town."
"That's neat, they really need one. Hannah tells me about some of those kids, it's sad you know?"
"Yeah, I know." Aaron said.
He looked hesitant as if he was unsure how to proceed. Karen laughed to herself as she saw him move his lips as if speaking to the man inside himself. She realized he couldn't find the words.
"Are you okay? It looks like you want to say something?"
She laughed as Aaron looked up from his shoes. He smiled, he liked the sound of her laugh.
"Yeah, you know what, I do actually."
Karen smiled as he ran his fingers through his brown hair, she caught herself before she started liking him too much. She didn't let herself do that, she was afraid of loving someone who might not be there forever. But she knew also that she didn't want to be alone anymore.
"What do you want to say?" Karen laughed again. "I don't judge."
This time Aaron chuckled slightly, as both of them met each other's eyes.
Each felt the look the other gave was one they remembered, but was new in its desperate and drained hopefulness, as if they both wanted the same thing, to love and be loved. Both realized they were looking light right in the face, after times that had been so dark.
"Okay," Aaron said taking a deep breath, "I'm going to be completely honest right now. I'm somewhat of a loser--"
Karen laughed.
"--no it's true. I'm a Star Wars geek, I love kids, I can't stand it when the television is on all day, I've been divorced, I have no money. But, not to be creepy, I've been watching you these past couple weekends at this park, and I can't help but think about you. You fascinate me, and I don't care anymore if I sound like a lunatic, or if this is the strangest conversation that I've had in my whole life with a woman I don't know. But I really like you, and I want to know if there's a light at the end of this tunnel."
As Aaron was carrying on, Karen didn't know where to look. She couldn't help but smile the entire time as he talked about himself. She hadn't felt this way in what seemed like forever, and she was shocked to find that his pathetic speech was actually working. She felt like her heart had jumped up into her throat, she felt attached to him, flattered, and oddly close to this man as if she knew him already.
Aaron looked like he was trying hard to be composed, but Karen amused, noticed he was suffering from her silence.
Karen opened her mouth, "Dido."
Aaron's lips spread into a hesitant but then guiltless grin as he laughed somewhat to himself. Karen laughed too, as they continued to watch their girls play.
Karen felt a warm hand tighten around hers. Her heart jumped again, wondering at once if this is what she was waiting for, if this is what she had wanted for what seemed to be forever.
She responded by intertwining her fingers in his, feeling that yes, she wanted this.
She didn't know if this is what she had been waiting for, or if this is the moment in her life she would remember forever. She just knew that if she hadn't taken that leap into the light she felt then, she would have regretted it in the darkness forever.
As Aaron stood there, relieved to feel Karen's hand in his, he prayed to God. He thanked God for giving him all the blessings he had received in his life. He thanked Him for a good case-worker who helped him get out of an abusive home, he thanked Him for sending him one of his angel's Lindsay, and he thanked Him for helping him find another woman he could love.
They both realized that if their lives had been absent of darkness, they might have been happier in the past. But both couldn't help but understand that the light they felt wrap around them at that moment, couldn't have been so bright and so warm, if they had not known the coldness of the dark. Somehow they reconciled with the shadows, feeling grateful that they finally had found light, but also grateful that they had the knowledge to know the difference.

The light is always brighter in the darkness.

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

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