Bless the Broken Road

Jem is married, Atticus is dying, Dill hasn’t been seen in years and Jean Louise is more alone than ever.

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ONESHOT

 

 

As he walks up to the land of Maycomb County, the mud from the rain the night before was beginning to chunk their existence at the bottom of Dill’s boots. He felt weirdly Nostalgic, walking along the familiar road, passing the house of the then Boo Radley. He wonders, if he was still in there somewhere or if the man had deceased already.  Everything looked very much alike what he remembered except more dilapidated; the houses had cracks in the paint; the windows barely hanging on some places and gutters screaming to be changed already.  

Finally at his destination, he knocks on the door, waiting on the porch with a suitcase in each hand. Without even realizing it, he is already tapping a foot against the wood underneath as he waits for someone to answer the door.  And answered it is, but not by the face of the little girl he remembered as Scout, no, this was an older  more mature version – this was a lady, a young one, sure,  but a lady nonetheless, and an absolutely gorgeous one at that. The heat crawling up his neck did little to shield his thoughts. However, what he noticed as well was –  something was missing -the look in her eyes was different; blank and seemingly void of emotion as she stared him down. Dill gulped, wondering how to greet her. It had been so long, too long.

“I-“ he starts, in a pathetic attempt to strike a conversation, hesitantly reaching a hand out for her to shake. She doesn’t.

“What is this? What are doing, Dill?” she spoke, in a voice so unlike her; raspy, tired. No sign of excitement or indication thereof anywhere on her face - Nothing but a sunken, sullen, thin-lipped expression, and Dill felt a pang in his chest at that. He wants to hug her so bad, smoother the frown on her forehead away and pull her lips into a smile. He wants to apologize for all the years he had been away – he wanted so much but- “Jem contacted me,” is all he ever utters, throat dry and mind completely at a loss for words- something the young lad that was Dill rarely experienced.

“I think you should leave. That is, after all, what you’re best at isn’t it?” she lets out a breathy chuckle – one of which creases into a huff by the end of the sentence. Her hand is gripping hard at the doorframe, keeping him from stepping inside, and Dill who was about to speak up once again closes his mouth as if burned, looks to his feet.

“Scout, sweetheart, who is it by the door?” A voice suddenly sounds from inside the house, the first familiar voice Dill has heard so far albeit a little weak sounding. He turns his head up, cranes his neck to get a peek.

“It’s me, Dill, Charles Baker Harris, Sir Atticus.” He pretends he doesn’t see the glare Scout shoots him and elaborates: “Jem sent me.”

“Dill? Come in, child. Scout let him in,” Atticus Finch demands, and reluctantly Scouts arm falls down by her side. Dill bites down on his lip, as he passes her, knowing fully well how she felt about his presence. Did he even have permission to feel disappointed? He was, after all, the one who didn’t answer her letters when she sent some back in the years. He never even tried to explain why he never came back, he just didn’t. Scout was in her full right to hate his guts. He would’ve too, he thinks, bitterly.  There’s no denying he would’ve too.

“It’s been so long, hasn’t it? How come?” Atticus asks when Dill is finally seated on the carpet in the living room before him. He looks so much older, Atticus. Older and paler. The glint he used to have in his eyes; the one Scout had inherited from him, was faded to a small wavering glow. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Scout silently taking place beside him, the once blank look now clearly a sad one, as she sat with her hands in her lap, without looking neither of them in the eyes.

“I was busy,” Dill then answers or more like apologizes, feeling like a little child once again under the gaze of the older.

“Well, actually he was just about to go,” Scout presses through gritted teeth.

“Oh no,” Atticus smiles, waving a hand in the air, “I talked with Jem just yesterday – Dill is staying over for… some time.”

“What? Why?” Scout spits, eyes widening to the size of teacups. And Dill silently realizes, especially by Atticus’s next answer; “Just till I get better, Scout” – she doesn’t know. That alone almost makes Dill sick to the stomach. If this was how she was without knowing, he didn’t even dare think about how things would turn out when she found out. However, he doesn’t deny Atticus, merely keeps his mouth shut, as they play a conversation between their eyes only. There was a small pause after that before Scout responded, and even then, Dill could tell that it had no commitment to it. “Right…”

____________________

“You can sleep in Jem’s room. The bed is made already.”

“Oh, thanks,” Dill answers hesitantly

“Jem did that himself once when he visited.” And Dill isn’t quite sure if that is the actual truth or not, because he can’t see her eyes for her bangs, and she is already heading for the door, when Dill speaks up again: “Goodnight…Scout.” She doesn’t answer, but he knows she heard him - the little halt in her steps gave her away more quickly than anything. A small smile pulls at his lips, as he watches her back disappearing in the hallway.

____________________

“I don’t understand,” Dill says, keeping an even tone. “When I bought these they told me that they’d work just fine for the country.”

“Then maybe you’ve been away for too long,” Scout replies indifferently. They are on their way out the door, putting on their outerwear. “Those boots are good, sure, but you’re going to need something higher that’ll cover mid-calf. Yours are only just a few inches above your ankles. It’s not enough.”

Before he could argue

any more for his footwear, Scout presents to him a pair of basic, black boots as if she expected Dill to make the mistake.

“Where are we going anyway?” Dill asks as to mask his embarrassment as he changes into the new pair of boots.

“The fence needs to be fixed. Now that you’re here might as well do something useful,” Scout answers without looking him in the eyes, as she trudges out the door to the garden behind their house. She doesn’t wait and Dill has to hurry to keep up with her long strides all the way to the other end of the green lawn. It doesn’t help the boots are a size too small either – probably because they are Atticus’s. He doesn’t mention that it wasn’t needed to change boots either – it’s really not that muddy by the fence.

“Help me lift this,” Scout utters, late on purpose as she lifts one of the planks lying on the ground up in the air and almost hits Dill square in the face hadn’t it been for his quick reflexes. She doesn’t even spare him a glance to check if he’s okay. Needless to say, this new version of his old childhood friend, wasn’t quite the people-pleaser as it seemed. It didn’t chance over the day either. Each time they were close to touching – even just hands or shoulders, she would flinch away as if struck by lightning.

“Hey, remember that time when we-“ Dill tries to start a conversation, but is cut of mid-sentence: “No.”

“But I didn’t even finish…”

“I know,” Scout scoffs, moving on to lifting next plank from the ground. Getting the hint, Dill doesn’t try to strike a conversation again after that.

On their way back Dill was given the task of carrying all the equipment to fix the fencing, which meant he trudged along with a large roll of wire, that hadn’t been used and a heavy rusty box full of tools. Scout led the way carrying absolutely nothing and Dill highly suspected her of having brought the wire along for the sole purpose of annoying him. He kept that thought to himself as well as many others along the day.

______________________

“I’m not taking you because I want to,” Scout makes sure to say, as they walk into town to do some groceries shopping.

“Don’t worry, I know,” Dill smiles, and as if on accord she looks away.

“You push the cart. I find the stuff. No unnecessary talking,” she commands, strutting ahead into the store, and Dill obeys without a complaint, fetches the cart hurriedly.  Quick was one of the things the girl had always been, but now more than ever it seemed.

____________________

By night time, Dill felt tired. Not because of all the things he had done throughout the day, but because Scout had yet to warm up to him and he really wanted to explain himself but so far the right time to do so hadn’t appeared. Moreover that meant that basically the only positive person had been Atticus Finch, who even seemed amused at their countless bantering, which though, were actually really serious despite what Atticus thought.

It must’ve come to no surprise that, that day as well, when Dill went to sleep, Atticus was the only one to wish him goodnight and sweet dreams. Scout had remained stoic, as she sat by her father’s side in the couch – whipping sweat of his forehead with a wetted cloth. The sight was one to behold; admirable, Dill thought, how empathic she were and all. Really, Dill did not deserve a girl like that, that for sure he knew, but he still owed her an explanation.

______________________

That night, Dill woke up with his mouth wide open and throat dry as a dessert, and groggily made his way up from the bed, out of his room and down to the kitchen. Half-asleep as he was, he didn’t spot the figure sitting by the dinning-table either, before he turned on the light and almost jumped up ten meters into the air.

“What are you doing awake this late?!” Dill questions, trying to control his beating heart, but to no valid. It keep beating, pounding against his ribcage. And after a while he isn’t sure if it really was just the scare or the fact that Scout is sitting there by the table with nothing but a big worn t-shirt covering her lithe form.

“What are you doing awake?” Scout hisses back, glaring hard at him.

“I woke up. My throat was dry. I wanted to get some water,” Dill answers tiredly, ending the sentence with a yawn. “Now, you?”

“I fell asleep beside Atticus, but just now I woke up and were about to head to bed.” He gives her a scrutinizing look, before deciding.

“I can’t see your eyes this time around either, but that’s definitely a lie.” Scout huffs, rolling her eyes.

“So what?” Dill grits his teeth, he wasn’t going to be annoyed. This was actually the perfect time to explain himself if just she would let him.

“Look, it doesn’t matter – what does matter though is that I owe you an explanation.” He reaches out for a chair and plumps down right before her. Scout is looking at him expectantly with her eyebrows raised and at the same time her hands placed on the tabletop, ready for flight if needed. Dill licks his lips and clears his throat.

“First of- I’m sorry. I’m really really sorry that I didn’t answer any of your letters and most of all that I never explained why I didn’t come back. I really was busy, though, I had an education to tend to and I was forced to study for the whole summer break each and every year. It wasn’t like I didn’t want to come back – I really did but I just-“

“Hold on, what was the reason for not answering my letters? I thought you didn’t get them, you know that?” A hurt look flashes in her eyes but it’s gone as quick as it came.

“About that- I- I was afraid of hurting; of my feelings-“

“Afraid of whose feeling? Yours? It obviously wasn’t mine,” Scout bites, scoffs, cutting him of once again. And perhaps that was really the last drop it took for the glass to finally tip.

“Will you shut up?! I was afraid of my feelings for you! I was afraid of your feelings for me! I was afraid of hurting you and thereby myself! I was so very afraid and I’m sorry for that!”

“No! that’s a lie. You didn’t care about my feelings at all, Dill! If you did you would have answered my letters no matter what! You know what I wrote in those letters don’t you? You read them right? You just didn’t feel like answering, did you?!” Scoat growls, clearly offended, her already red eyes from being tired now welling up with tears.

“No, that’s not true! I did care about you! I do care about you, but you won’t give me a darn chance, Scout!”  Dill pulls at his hair in frustration.

“Yeah, ‘cause I’m the bad guy here! Of course I don’t want to give you a chance when you’re acting like this, is it really so hard to understand?!”

“Yes, because I like you, Scout! You know that!”

“Like, yes, but you know what, Dill, I loved you, okay, like doesn’t quite add up to that, do you think?” Scout laughs bitterly, pulling a hand across her face to wipe away the descending tears.

“Okay, so maybe I love you, would it even matter now?!”

“No, Dill, the thing is – it wouldn’t. It doesn’t, because I don’t love you like that anymore, and don’t say you love me now just to make me feel better, when that’s not how you actually think of me!” Scout roars, raises herself from her seat by the table.

“Well, how would you know?! You won’t listen to anything I say!” Dill answers as he raises himself as well.

“Okay, fine, prove it to me! Prove how much you love me! Say something now and I will listen to any darn thing you might say!”

“Actually there is something! And I’m telling you this because I love you – your father, Atticus, is dying, okay! He knows and Jem knows but none of them have told you have they? I’m saying this because I don’t think you deserve to be left in the dark,” Dill lets out a deep breath, he didn’t even know he was holding onto before then, and Scout steps closer – so close their tip of their noses almost touch and he can feel her ragged breathing – then it happens. A slam so hard the whole neighborhood must have heard as her hand make contact with the skin of Dill’s cheek.

“Liar!” she screams, with tears cascading down her face like waterfalls. “You are a liar and I hate you! Leave me alone! Leave me and Atticus and Jem alone! JUST LEAVE!” She begs, and Dill immediately falls silent.

“I- Scout- Jean Louise- I’m-“

“LEAVE!” She screams, once again, between long heart wrenching sobs, making Dill stagger back, to get away, then she turns her back to him. And no matter how much Dill want’s to reach out for her and pull her into a hug – he can’t – she wouldn’t allow that. Instead he staggers all the way back to Jem’s room, and lies down on the bed, but can’t fall asleep after that, and the sobs from downstairs doesn’t die down.

____________________

The next day eventually rolls around, and Dill who had thought he would never fall asleep ended up doing so anyway. However as morning comes around Dill finds his luggage already packed, and standing on the porch.  When he then makes his way to the kitchen he is met by the back of Jean Louise Finch.

“I packed your stuff. Please, leave and never ever come back again,” she whispers in a voice barely audible.

“Jean, I’m sorry,” he apologizes, and the name sounds oddly unfamiliar on his tongue.

“Please just leave and never come back, that’s all I want…”

“Okay,” Dill gives in. “Okay, I will.” And for the first time Dill looks at Scout and instead thinking of holding her balled fist of a pair of hands in his and latching their fingers together, he looks at his own hands, and thinks about letting go. Because isn’t that what love is really about? Letting the person you love go?

 

It is not before the door is closed shut and Dill is gone already that Scout lets her knees wobble together, and falls down on the linoleum flooring. And not before Atticus calls for her, does she even try to stand up straight again.

“Scout,” The old man voices from the couch. “Did Dill leave already? I think I heard the two of you fighting this night?” Atticus frown, eyeing his daughter worriedly. “Oh, child, don’t cry,” shushes when the tears starts welling up in her eyes. He reaches out a hand, but she shakes her head in a silent ‘no’.

“Please be honest with me, Atticus. Is it true what Dill said? Are you really… dying father?” Scout asks, trying her hardest to blink the tears away, and when Atticus doesn’t immediately answer after that, she knows, without him even saying it – Dill told the truth. And everything pools in her stomach all at once; the feeling of betrayal and hatred but most of all confusion, making her sick to the stomach.

“Dill told the truth, yes, so don’t hate him too much. If anybody - hate me. He really cares about you that kid,”

“…Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I- didn’t want you to hurt, but In the end you ended up doing that anyway, and for that I’m sorry, child, but is that really the greater question right now?” Atticus asks with a hesitant smile.

“I-It’s too late – he already left,” Scout answers then, knowing fully well what he was referring too, and therefore looks at her feet.

“Are you telling your old father you can’t outrun a boy? The Jean Louise I know sure can,” he smirks, making Scout look up. He lift his eyebrows at her, and she gulps, and the next moment she is out the door leaving an chuckling Atticus by himself as she sprints as if life depended on it, and in a way – it did. It had to do with Dill; her first and only love. And hopefully also her last.

 

 

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