Through Grass, Grown Tall


He was noticing her more and more. The way her long French braid would whip around her face as her body ran through the playground. How rosy the apple of her cheeks would get when she laughed at something one of the other kids said. He was starting to notice how pretty she was. And how sweet she always seemed to be. John was starting to notice everything about her.

But apparently, so were all of his other pubescent moron friends. And if that wasn’t the worst part of it – the whole having to share her thing that is – having to hear his friends talk about her in hushed whispers and stares that lasted far too long for any female being admired to be creeped out by. John hated having to hear the things they’d say about her. He hated how crude some of them could be sometimes. Hunter was still just a kid to him, after all. She was the little girl who he played with in the summer and the one who he helped after she fell from the playhouse in his backyard and broke her wrist. He could recall how tiny she looked as her big blue eyes started to water and even though the cut that sat atop of her broken wrist was bleeding so badly it almost made him want to puke, he still managed to calm her down enough.

“It’s okay, Hunter. It’s going to be okay. Just – just don’t move. Here.” John reached up and unzipped the sweatshirt he’d been wearing before carefully wrapping it around her obviously broken wrist without actually touching her. “There. Just – just don’t move and we’re – I mean, I’m gonna go get your dad. Okay? Okay.” John couldn’t even wait to hear her response – he could recall a whine that left her throat as he up and ran from the backyard, and into the home that had become like his own on the days where the hospital tests took too long and his mom couldn’t get home in time to greet him from the bus. But that was all he remembered. Soon Mr. Champaign was carrying Hunter through the house and into the car and Rosa was telling John to come have a seat and have some cookies and milk to calm down. She was treating him like a child like she’d done it so many times before. In fact, John had witnessed Rosa do it to Hunter on days when her father couldn’t make it home from work or something came up at the office. John knew Hunter hated being treated like she was a child, but for some reason – John was comforted by this action. He told himself he hated it the same way Hunter did, but he wasn’t sure that was actually true. He liked when people made him feel better. I mean, after all life wasn’t so easy for John all the time either. He longed for his mother to show him the same affection Rosa was showing him now. But John knew that Hunter was hurt, but despite how sweet and crumbly soft the cookies tasted as he bit into them he wasn’t sure why anyone, especially Rosa, thought cookies were going to fix things.

But, still, John sat down and he ate the cookies and the milk and watched as Rosa moved around the kitchen with such ease that John was almost mesmerized. He was having flashbacks of his mother doing the same thing so many times. Times that seemed like they were forever ago at this point, but he could still recall how frustrated and elated she looked as she moved from oven to stove top and back to the cutting board, all while holding a conversation with John about his school work or one of his baseball games. John wished his mother was here now. And that’s when his mind started to wander.

If a stupid playhouse could take down the perfect Hunter Champaign, he thought, what exactly would happen to all of them when the hospital tests started coming back with more and more bad news. What would happen to all of them?

John’s mind was stuck in this moment – in the Champaign kitchen with a soggy Oreo in his left hand – when he realized that one of his friends had said something to him. “What?”

“I said, Hunter and Chase are pretty close, huh?” John could predict where this was going, but he wasn’t going to have any of it.

“I guess. They’ve been friends since they were little. Big deal. She’d never like you anyway, Eric, you’re too much of an idiot for her.” John knew his words seemed harsh, but Eric wasn’t even fazed.

“Please, if anyone’s the idiot it’s you. You better be careful or it might be too late for you. Or any of us.” Eric was laughing as their other friend called them over to the lunch table and John knew he’s attention that he’d had on the girl running through the playground with the other kids in the grade below him would have to be focused elsewhere, but that didn’t mean he wanted to. And just as John was about to move his body towards the lunch tables set up in the courtyard for nice weather, he noticed one person looking back at him from across the school yard area. And even though he was physically closer to Hunter as he sat on the bench and watched her run with a smile on his face, John could recognize something in his stare that told him he was really a million miles away. And that’s how John knew; it was never going to be the right time for any of them. Especially, Chase and Hunter – no matter how hard they tried to fight it.

They would all be too late.


“You came home late last night, or rather, early this morning, huh?” Jenny was talking to her oldest boy from just over the top of the coffee cup that was practically bellowing with steam from the fresh pot she’d just put on that actually caused John to wake up from the coma he was basically in. Jenny stared at him and watched as he raked one of his bony hands through his matted and tousled bed head. His eyes were barely open and his torso wasn’t covered showcasing the marks he’s thoughtlessly put on the body she created without even giving thought to her. But then again, she did have a hidden tattoo herself. One she’d gotten in a drunken college spring break way back in the stone ages. She knew how hypocritical it was to feel this way about her own independent grown up sons choices to decorate his skin with inks of all kinds. But then again, with age comes wisdom, she guessed. And also, it’s just different when it’s your child. He was supposed to stay pure and perfect. Her little mop headed Johnny forever. He wasn’t supposed to turn into the boy – no, man – standing in front of her now. He was never supposed to be so sad. He was always her happy go lucky boy. The one who could fix everything and make everyone okay. He was the glue.

‘I guess none of us got out without the shrapnel scars.’ Jenny thought as she noticed John pouring himself a cup, almost blindly, with a pulled expression sitting on his thin lips. She took another sip of her coffee and waited for him to answer. She wanted to say so many things to the son she’d lost, but never had to miss. She wanted to tell him she was sorry. Sorry that she couldn’t do everything right. Sorry he ever had to deal with all of this. Sorry that he was so sad because of Hunter. And Chase. And his father. But mostly that she was sorry it would always be this triangle of hurt if he didn’t let himself worry about her so much. Because that’s what this came down to after all was said and done. It came down to Jenny. Jenny and her never being alone. Because that was a promise John had made so many years earlier. A promise that was supposed to be a secret. One that was muttered under the cover of darkness from one twin sized bed to another and towards the dark room’s ceiling that housed them both from the harshness of the world, but not the realities of it – not everything was perfect.

It was a promise he’d made after the medical bills and doctor’s appointments had become too much and too many. After his father had screamed at his mother that they all couldn’t keep going on like this. That they all had to face the facts, which was that they had to let go. He’d stormed out of the house and drove off without a second thought.

That time he was gone for only a few hours.

John had heard the whole thing. And even though part of him agreed with his father, he’d never speak the words out loud. Good sons don’t say such ridiculous things. Good boys don’t ever want for bad. And good brothers don’t give up on each other. And that’s why John made the promise. One he swore was only heard by two other ears. But that was the same moment that Jenny had made sure to check on the boys. See if anyone had heard anything. Try to keep the peace as best she could. But his voice was what caught her off guard. So small and full of sincerity. Holding in it a rasp they he’d grow into and charm girls all over the town with.

”I promise I’ll never let mom be alone. Ever.” Their was a moment where she found herself holding her breath standing outside the room, just to see if anything else was coming, but that was it. There were a few murmurings of goodnights, but that was it. The voice he’d made that promise with might have been gone, but the promise itself wasn’t. And that’s why Jenny knew how hard this all was for John. How she knew, that if not for her, he’d have found his way out of his sadness. He’d have followed Hunter the minute he heard she was gone. He’d have glued her back together. Because despite Chase and Hunter having synonymous names, John and Hunter had always belonged together. Jenny had always thought that. After all, despite missing so much of John’s life, she never managed to miss the look in his eyes when she walked into the room. And that’s why Jenny knew that seeing Hunter three days ago for John probably seemed like a lifetime. And with the way he smelled like stale booze and an ashtray, she knew he was more upset over it then he’d ever let on.

“Yeah, I was out last night.” John looked at the clock and Jenny noted that his eye’s widened when he realized it was 7:30 at night. She didn’t mention the time to him figuring he just needed the sleep so at least his mind could rest for a few hours, but she knew he was waiting for her to say something.

“John, you came home at 11 am like a complete wreck. You car is parked all crooked and you walked past me smelling like a brewery.” She paused and stared over at her baby with almost pleading eyes. She saw his face go blank and she knew he was putting up his walls. She knew this was when he was going to start faking it. After all, John was just like her. When things got tense, you just make ‘em believe you’re okay. It was practically a motto that her family had passed down. And she knew John had taken it to heart. She wished more than, almost, anything that he’d never even heard the words. Because then this would be so much easier. He’d have put up fewer walls and felt more happiness. He’d have stayed her happy go lucky boy.

“I’m fine, Mom.”


“Ma, it was nothing.”

“Okay, so last night was nothing, but the night before you were where, Eric’s again, right? And the night before that was the wedding, which after you just happened to disappear, and I didn’t see you again until after I got home from the hospice. John –“

“Ma, I’m fine. I’m just… I’m just going through some shit.” She watched him pour the final part of his coffee down the drain and lean with his whole body slanted forward and head bowed. He entire back was full of tense muscles and bones. This wasn’t her John. What had happened to all of them? she thought as she caught her own frail reflection in the window across from the sink. The same window that John was standing in front of as well. They looked like a sad photograph. One that was captured at what seemed like a completely normal image these last few years.

John was trying to remember everything that had happened in the last few days. The wedding was a blur. Seeing Hunter was awful. Seeing her leave with some guy was even worse. And then there was Eric’s party. Fuck, John thought as he pulled at the roots of his hair and shook his head. Fuck.


“What?” He turned so he was looking at the woman who had given him life and had apparently just said something to him, but he was far too lost in the last few days of his life to hear her.

“I asked you to please tell me what’s going on in your head. I don’t want you to hold all of this in, John. It’s not good for you.” Jenny paused as John met her stare and let out a deep breath. And then his eyes started to water. His breathing got haggard and his shoulders started to quake. He looked like he was about to topple over, but then – Jenny caught him. She pulled his lanky body in her own and wrapped her arms around him as tightly as she could. John tried to control his breathing with deep gasps and harsh bellows of air. He tried to fight these emotions, but instead he fell further into his mothers embrace and let all of it out. The last years weren’t fair. Hunter was his. She’d been his and he’d loved her. God, did he love her. But he was always second. To her, he’d always be second. Chase dying ruined everything for John. And that even felt wrong to think, but how could he not. Until Chase died, he’d had Hunter. In life, Chase had always tried to hold onto Hunter. And in death, Hunter was always trying to hold onto him. And that left John with nothing, nothing but his promises.

“Hunter was in the hospital.” John’s voice was crackling and so strained. Jenny felt her body go numb at John’s words and for a brief moment she almost wondered what life would be like now that Hunter was gone, would they all go back to normal? But in the same thought she realized exactly what kind of thought she’d just had. What kind of person was she becoming?

“What? When? John?” She was rapid fire asking him questions and barely giving him a second to register one before the next. She could feel his body shake against hers and her heart completely broke. “Is she alive, John?” Jenny whispered the question now afraid of the answer.

“Sadly.” John muttered the response with such anger that Jenny finally saw the walls around him starting to crumble. He was letting his cards so a little too much. He was angry that she was alive, but not because he wanted he actually dead, Jenny could tell that. But because, John knew all of this was only the beginning.

“What happened?” Jenny croaked out the question with all her might as she tried to avoid the comment John had made and not scold him for how lucky he was that she wasn’t dead or that she didn’t die. She wanted to tell him he’d never forgive himself if something did happen to her, that no everyone got second chances, but she knew now might not have been the right moment.

“She overdosed on a bunch of pills like an idiot. Poor little, lonely, rich girl gets sad so she tries to kill herself. What a fucking selfish bitch.” His words were laced with anger, but peppered with sadness. His words might have been harsh, but his whole body looked dejected. But Jenny still saw the fire in his eyes. She knew he was still burning with a passion to fix Hunter Champaign. And for whatever reason, that made Jenny beyond calmed. She wasn’t quite sure why yet, but she knew she’d understand at the right moment.

“John, don’t say –“

“Say what, Mom, that she’s an idiot? Because she fucking is. That she’s selfish? God, she’s the most selfish person in the whole world. You don’t just disappear from your family with no word for years. You just – fuck – the things she’s done to her dad, fuck, mom, that girl is – is – is….” John turned his body away from Jenny and let out a grunt of air that was mostly full of released anger, but also a little speckled with sadness that she’d hurt him in so many ways. Ways he was still coming to terms with everyday. Ways he was still trying to atone for everyday also. He wasn’t ready to have to face his own anger. After all, it wasn’t just Hunter’s fault they were in this situation really. And despite how much people seemed to forget he was part of it, he still knew, deep down, that eventually he’d have to own up for that too. But right now all he could think about was the fact that Hunter almost died. The fact that he’d almost lost her too. Even though, really, he’d lost her years ago, but this would have been more permanent. Fuck, he wasn’t even supposed to care about her. Actually, he wasn’t sure if he even did. He’d only gone to the hospital cause he’d been annoyed enough by Shay at Eric’s stupid party to drunkenly find himself trying to confront a girl who didn’t want to be confronted with anything so much that she’d always found anyway to disappear. Like leaving in the dead of night two years ago and never sending any word that she was okay. He knew she’d try to weasel her way out of things this time, too, but he didn’t expect her to try to kill herself. And when he saw them loading her lifeless body into the back of the ambulance as he stood at the end of the same driveway he’d snuck up and down too many times to count, all he could think about was Shay and the words she spewed at him from the back deck of Eric’s house. The way she’d talked about Hunter and how awful she was. The way she even told him he was awful. They way he was glad when she said it to him. Because at least someone was starting to be honest. Someone was finally leveling the blame. And the fact that it came from the one girl who was always trying to get into his good graces until Hunter was something that oddly made him drunk with anger and adrenaline.

John should have ignored Shay, and on any other day he would have, but those were the days he thought Hunter was never coming back – not the one’s where she lived six blocks away and he still knew all the codes and tricks to breaking into. So when he practically stampeded away from Shay and her vicious words and her tiny conniving body, John knew what he was doing was years of nights without answer’s worthy. He deserved to finally get answers. And fuck it if Hunter wasn’t going to give them to him one way or another.

But when he got there – the sight of the ambulance initially broke his heart. He’d always known deep down that he might never see Hunter Champaign again; he’d just always hoped he’d have been wrong, but the ambulance wasn’t boding well. And when he saw Rosa get in with the tiny blonde body made of skin and bones he swore apart of him died right there.

He found himself following them to the hospital. He found himself parking his truck so quickly and running into the emergency room that he wasn’t even really sure he’d actually turned off the ignition and taken the keys. He didn’t know anything anymore. But over the next day he did realize a lot of things. And all of them were filled him with an anger he didn’t even know he could possess. Hunter always had the upper hand. She always had the alternative route of Chase. She always had a way to disappear and vanish and leave without ever letting you get a remark in otherwise. He’d wanted to confront her, but now – now he was going to show her exactly who she was fucking with. She was going to know about all the nights he sat up waiting for her to call or come home or fuck, just even tell him she was alive. He was going to make her know the pain he’d known for years. He was going to take back the weight of importance in their argument. He was done.

It was the moment that Hunter was released from the hospital a day later that John really took the upper hand back. He’d sat in that waiting room stewing over his anger when the glow of the vending machines caught his attention. And before he knew it he was putting in a few dollar bills and bending down to grab the purchase that would send a message. A message that would remind Hunter that she was the one acting wrong in all of this. That she was the one who’d never grown up or moved on. That she had to be comforted when people were hurt. That, her needing him just to fix her, was what had gotten them into this whole thing in the first place. How he was always going to have the upper hand on her – because he was always what kept her together.

So when John saw Hunter starting to get pushed out of her hospital room and into the waiting area, John moved before she could make it to the hallway. Their eyes met for a brief moment and John noticed how empty Hunter looked. And despite what the little part of his heart was saying – he didn’t worry about it. Instead, he walked right towards her and he dropped the package of cookies right in her lap before vanishing down the hallway and out of the hospital with nothing but Hunter’s mind reeling in anger with the gesture.

But it took until his car left the parking lot and hit the highway that he realized just how close he was to actually losing Hunter one last time. His mind was working on autopilot, because the next thing he knew he was drunk at a bar with nothing but all of his thoughts of Hunter swirling from his glass and into his bloodstream. Even when he won, he lost. And that was the thing he’d finally realized about Hunter and him, she’s always have the upper hand. Even if he could fix her, she would always be able to break him down. He’d always give in. And what really hit him was the sheer realization that only left one end in plausible sight – they’d have to start all over if they could ever fix themselves. They’d both have to let go of the past in order to even have a future. And none of that would have scared John if that past didn’t also mean letting go of Chase. And fuck, John would never be ready to let go of Chase. They were forever doomed. So John had swigged the last of his drink and stumbled his way out of the always open dive bar and into the early day sun before dangerously driving himself home and passing out. He’d told himself before he fell asleep that none of it was real. That the last few days were not real. That the last few years were not real.

But when he woke up none of that was true. And fuck, that everything was real. Far too real.

“John, Hunter is obviously hurting and not okay and she needs –“

“What, mom, what could that girl need? She’s hurting? She’s not okay? Goddamn, Mom, look around this entire town – none of us are okay. We’re all fucked up. There’s two ways to go about life – you either blame your problems on other things beside yourself or you find a way to be okay when things get tense. You own up to your own mistakes. You accept your own mistakes and you move on.” John was ranting at this point as he slapped his hand against the countertop with an echo omitting around the structured kitchen. And even though he sounded stoic in his words and the meaning behind them, they both knew he was only fooling himself in actually believing them. Because if there was one thing Jenny did know of about this town was that for the last few years, they’ve had plenty to talk about. And for a good portion of them those conversations were about her sons.

“John, ask yourself this, have you moved on?” Jenny was placing her cup in the skin right past John and then crossing her arms over her chest and starring at her eldest boy waiting for an answer, but it was one she knew she’d never get. So she left him with her words and a kiss on his cheek before telling him she loved him and that she was going to shower and head to bed. But just before she left she turned and spoke these final words to him, “I know these last few years have been hard John, but that doesn’t mean the next few have to be also. We all need to fix ourselves this year, John. But none of us can do it alone, Johnny. None of us. And sometimes the people we need to help fix us are the ones that are tearing us apart. Just remember that, John. And let it all go. You can’t let all of your decisions take you to an early grave. Lord knows, we’ve all had enough of early graves.” And then Jenny was leaving. And even if John didn’t want to hear her comments on how much he needed to get better, he knew she was right. The only issue was, that in order to get better, everything was going to have to get so much harder to avoid. Everything and everyone. Including, none other than Hunter Champaign. They were going to have to get better with each other in order to be able to get better at all.
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I'm the worst, I know. I even hate myself. I'd like to thank all of you for your kind words on the last few chapters and also thank Ketely for putting up with me. I had the flu then I went away then school got in the way and then of course there was my battle with procrastination. I lost in case you were wondering. I am really sorry. I'm really trying to update more often and get better. Honest. Thank you all for sticking with us. Leave us some comments so we can keep the motivation we have now going.

There are a lot of subtle, and not so subtle, hints in this chapter about what is going on and what has happened. So we'd love to hear your theories. Thanks so much!!

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