Grade: 8th grade
Age: 13

Unfinished Business

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Stephanie
I open my front door and carefully step inside, trying not to wake anyone. But the floorboards betray me, creaking under my weight. I set my cleaning supplies down, take off my purse, lean my shoulder against the wall, taking off my flats. I lift my head and there stands Robin. I freeze, shoe in hand, leaning against the wall like an injured flamingo. How does he know every time I arrive? I sigh as he shuffles into the kitchen. At least I can buy him anything his heart desires. That was the best part of my childhood. I would give anything to make his childhood as good as mine. Always keeping up with trends, never eating alone, ah, the good old days.

Marcus
I’m lying awake in bed, lost in thought, when a whine from the front door snaps me out of it. She’s back. I would greet her but Robin is probably there, greeting her or getting her food from the fridge. He’s becoming a much better chef, but we should be taking care of him. Instead, Steph tries to do her part and mine, while Robin picks up the rest of my slack. Robin has never had a home cooked meal he didn’t cook, never had friends over, he’s never even slept well since I was paralyzed. I rarely get to talk to them anymore, they’re so busy doing my work. Out the window, my eyes glaze over my incomplete masterpiece. Supposed to be a place for making good memories, now it’ll just sit there insufficient, a constant reminder that I can’t do anything correctly.

Robin

The floorboards creak. I stir in my bed; she’s not fooling anyone. After 5 years you’d think she’d be stealthier. I check the time. 3:56. I roll out of bed, slide into my slippers and shuffle down the hallway. When I reach the living room, Mother freezes, slipping off her shoes. She looks at me, face full of shame and defeat. This no longer fazes me, I wished for her support but it never showed. She sighs as I shuffle into the kitchen to heat up the remnants of dinner.

Stephanie
A snapping noise suddenly rips me from my dreams. I look at Marcus lying to my right, still sleeping. I slide from under the blankets and stand up. I step around the bed dragging my feet, head hanging, rubbing my eyes as I open the door. Robin is in the living room, staring out the sliding glass door.

Maybe if I talk he’ll snap out of it, “What was that noise?”. In a few steps I’m standing next to him, he points to the backyard. I turn to see a power line hanging in the tree. I straighten up. We’re both focused. I hope it won’t hit the tree- but that bit of hope is crushed.

Robin
I accidentally drop the measuring cup. A cracking noise shudders through my bones. Why did the lights go out? I look around in the gloom, and out of the corner of my eye, I see something move in the backyard. I cautiously walk around the sofa, towards the sliding glass doors. A black rope hangs from one of the branches of the tree. It’s flailing around like a fish out of water. I see the end and understand why- it’s a power line.

Mother comes out of the bedroom, rubbing her eyes and dragging her feet “What was that noise?” I don’t know what to say so I just keep staring. When she reaches me I point. She becomes focused on the power line. It doesn’t take long for the inevitable to occur. The tree catches on fire. Mother goes into full panic mode, while trying to hide it.

Neither of us moves. “We have to go get Father, get everyone out, and call someone,” I say, voice trembling. We rush to the bedroom to see if we can perform the nearly impossible task of waking him up.

Marcus
I wake to screams beside me. The warmth of the sun glows through my eyelids. I slowly lift them, careful to let my eyes adjust to the sunlight. Something starts tugging on my right side below the waist, they’re probably moving my leg. It’s been a while since they’ve moved me – usually I slide out of bed myself. Regardless, I don’t want to get up, not after I finally fell asleep. Steph pulls my right arm around her shoulders and wraps her left around my back, so her hand lies on my ribs. I sit up completely, giving up on sleep.

Expecting to be disappointed by the sight of the unfinished tree-house, I look through the window. Instead, the tree is ablaze.

Now, I pay attention to the screams. “Hurry!” the voice comes from Steph, but it doesn’t sound like my wife. She’s never yelled like that.

She and Robin carefully place me in my wheelchair. Why? We’re in a hurry, we don’t have time to be gentle. I lift my legs, placing my feet on the footrests, and before I know it, Robin is pushing me through the darkness while Steph leads the way. Without me they could’ve escaped already.

Robin
Once outside, Mother calls 911. I turn to Father who is staring at the house, devoid of emotion. “Sorry we never finished the tree-house,” I say, staring at the house, trying to see what he sees.

I don’t see anything. “It was supposed to be a place to make memories.” He states flatly, “I’ll never forget this.” He hasn’t broken his gaze from the house, even the wind doesn’t dare touch him. I stare into the empty shell of a home, the fire burning bright behind it. It’s probably experiencing the warmest atmosphere it has felt in 5 years. I close my eyes, feel its heat, smell the smoke, hear the crackling of the wire as it flails.

Our household is going down in flames and I’m powerless against it.

2 thoughts on “Unfinished Business

  1. Magnificent job relating the story through the eves of the working mother, the paralyzed father, and the over-compensating son, each dealing with life after the accident that paralyzed the father. The treehouse he started, in orer to be closer to his son, is destroyed in a fire, just as their lives seem to be.

  2. Lots of promise here, and definitely an intriguing premise—what was already a difficult life (partly paralyzed parent, overworked parent, child who has had to grow up too fast) is about to get worse. Shifting perspectives and good tension, but there is too much repetition and too little character development to connect with the characters.

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