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Hidden Treasure

Darla found her daughter's confidence stuffed into a shoebox on the top shelf of the hall closet, behind old tennis rackets and ice skates.
"Shit." She set the box down like it might explode if she so much as thought about it too hard. Then she went upstairs, just to get some distance from the thing, and called her mom.
"I need you to get in touch with Jaycee for me."
"Darla, you do it your ownself. I'm not going to be go-between for the two of you forever."
"This is important." She spared a glance at the stairs, as if the spun glass ship, the physical manifestation of something meant to be private, was going to come sailing up and shatter at her.
"Isn't everything important? When are you two gonna mend fences and stop this nonsense?"
"I'm just trying to respect what she wants. Look, just tell Jaycee I've got a shoebox with a ship in it. She'll know what I'm talking about, ok? It'll be on the hall table. I'll be out of the house tomorrow nearly all day. She can come get it then."
"Fine. Now, let's talk about something else so I can pretend you don't just call me to run messages."
Jaycee was dubious about this alleged "unnatural ship" she'd left at her mom's place. She had been very careful to take everything with her when she moved out two years ago. Every childhood toy, every emotion, every last sock. Still, her grandmother hadn't let her off the phone until she'd agreed to go take a look, and by that point she'd have done anything to end the awkward conversation.
Her family wasn't exactly good at talking. Especially about extrusions. That label, unnatural, got thrown around a lot to reference them, even though they were the most natural thing in the world, as far as Jaycee was concerned. Sometimes emotions were hard to hide, that's all. Harder for some people than others.
Jaycee didn't remember the ship at all, not until she saw it nestled in the old t-shirt inside the adidas box. Then, her heart jumped and she had to close her hands into fists to keep so many things inside. Her emotions were trying to push their way out of her and into the world, trying to find a shape. Three deep breaths and she had it under control. Mostly.
Looking at the sparkling thing, she could hear her father's voice saying, "Nah, honey, it needs to be a secret. Just trust me on this." She could see early morning sunlight from the hall window outside her parents' bedroom catching in the fragile sails and shining along the mast. Cartoons were going in the background as they wrapped the thing up and hid it, listening always for Mom's step on the stairs. The memories were clear and bright.
Afternoon light slanted into the hallway. Jaycee sighed. She carried the box into the kitchen and sat down heavily. This was not going to be easy.
For just a moment, she wished her dad was there, but then anger washed away that wish; there was no help there. He'd walked out years ago. That was his way--refuse to change a thing, and then run away when it got too bad for things to stay the same. Radical change or stasis. He acted like those were the only choices.
And was she any better, with her avoidance, with the way she'd moved out? She looked around at the kitchen, spotless and so devoid of personality that it might be in a model home. No, she supposed she wasn't. But she was going to try to fix that.
Darla waited until 6 to leave the coffee shop, to give Jaycee plenty of time to do her business at the house. She hadn't wanted to be out all day, but, well, the girl needed her space. Darla did, too, when it came right down to it.
And then she got home and saw her daughter's car sitting in the driveway. Well. They'd been dancing around each other for two years. Jaycee must be tired of dancing. Darla shook her head as she pulled in. It was impossible to tell what that girl was going to do. Jaycee was hot and cold, just like her father. In too many ways.
Her daughter was waiting for her in the kitchen, so at least Darla didn't have to hunt all over the house for her. She was, however, sitting in the dark, lit only by the glimmer of that confidence-ship-thing, still in its box, but with the lid opened up. Darla flipped on the light, hung up her keys, kicked her shoes onto the mat. All in silence.
Finally, she broke it, her voice just a touch too loud. "You staying for dinner?"
"That's not... maybe. I don't know. But first we need to talk." Jaycee tapped on the side of the open shoebox and Darla shivered a little.
She walked across the kitchen, ignoring the implicit invitation to sit. "I could do a stirfry or--"
"It's not mine, Mom."
Darla closed the refrigerator. "So take it to your father." She was speaking to the magnets. It seemed easier.
"I'm not gonna do that, though he would take it and keep it safe, I'm sure. It's not his either."
She spun around. "What, now you're collecting them from other people or something? That's so--"
Jaycee pinched the bridge of her nose. Her voice had that steady tone she took when she was trying not to holler. "It's yours, Mom. You do them in your sleep. Dad and I packed it up so you wouldn't throw it away, like you did with any extrusion you found."
Darla scrunched her eyes shut tight and took a deep breath. She was not going to cry. She could keep it inside. She could keep it all inside.
Jaycee's voice sounded like it was coming from a million miles away now, a whisper in a too-large room. "Only the person who pushes out the emotion can tell just at a glance what it is. Did you know that? That's something Dad taught me before he... before he left. You two never even got that far talking about this, did you?"
She could see her ex-husband in her daughter just then, the shape of her nose, the angle of her shoulders. Jaycee had always been more his than hers. Or so Darla had convinced herself.
"What is it, Mom? Hope? Joy? You know, don't you?"
In the shoebox, the ship quietly broke into a thousand sparkling pieces.
Darla crumpled onto the kitchen floor, and Jaycee was there to hold her. "It's ok, Mom. Let it out."
In the space between them, something new slowly took shape.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, December 2nd, 2022
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