The Teddy Bear with a Red Bow Tie
By Jillian Wood
What follows is a 5,600 word short-story written by my 15-year-old daughter for her Creative Writing class. I thought it was pretty special. I hope you do too.
“What were you thinking of ordering, French toast?” Matthew Davis had asked his eighteen-year old daughter, Alexa, as he scanned over the menu and took a sip of his water. He knew it was her favorite to order as a child whenever they had come to the local diner for breakfast. Due to her seemingly tense mood, he believed she really needed this carb-filled dish with sugary coating, in which she’d probably complain later on how much she regretted eating her days worth of calories for breakfast.
Ever since Maddy Harlow had commented on her maroon, strapless dress (which took forever to find) saying it looked a bit snug in the stomach at homecoming in her sophomore year, Alexa had been avid about how many calories she consumed in a day, the percentage of carb-intake, and adding at least 30 minutes to an hour of cardio to her daily routine. Although in her father’s eyes, she was always stunningly beautiful.
“I’m not really hungry, I’ll stick with my coffee,” Alexa stated softly, looking down, and rimming the edge of the porcelain mug in a circular motion with her fingertips.
“You’re not starving yourself, right? Because then that would require me to send you to a shrink to talk about your feelings and what not,” Matthew had an edge of humor as he spoke, trying to slightly lighten her mood.
Alexa scoffed, and rolled her eyes with a slight smile, “No Dad, I’m not starving myself,” she shook her head slightly, and sighed, “But maybe a shrink would be nice right now.”
“What makes you say that?”
She could hear the genuine concern in her father’s voice, igniting a small feeling of comfort within her; it’s been a long time since she felt that with him.
“It’s stupid,” she mumbled.
The loud chatter of early breakfast goers muted her voice, creating a struggle for Matthew to hear. He hummed faintly and looked out the large window for a brief moment, studying the murky water that stretched out along the harbor of Cape Ann, Massachusetts.
For the middle of March, it was not surprising that the morning wasn’t very bright. There was more of a gloomy aura with light grey skies and dampness permeating the misty air…almost the perfect scene for a time as it. White sailboats with arrays of different colored flags dotted along the small waves. Some boats that were larger docked into the wooden posts, with miniscule buoys bobbing up and down in the surrounding water. There was a stretch of a steep hill that protruded out from the horizon of the harbor, with neighborhoods accompanied by old, wooden homes that would make one imagine it having a screened in porch and a swinging door for those summer nights near the water.
The Davis’ had lived together in a small, two story, rustic home. It was a picture-perfect cliché for being near the water, with its wrap around porch, large windows, and a hammock hanging from a large Maple tree in the front yard. On the inside, you would find a small kitchen attached to an even smaller dining area accompanied by plain, eggshell white walls, as it was throughout the rest of the house. Matthew thought the choice of white walls brought positivity and a brighter atmosphere, but Diane, Matthew’s wife, believed it was too bland. Yet, Diane always had something contradicting to say. With only being about 10 minutes from the harbor, the location of the house offered a great view of the water.
Matthew knew Alexa loved the beach, and with just moving into a new home, he offered to renovate the attic space for his then six-year old daughter to room in. Together, the two hung fairy lights, sheer curtains over the bed to replicate a canopy, and painted a small picture of flowers opposite to the window wall. Some of Alexa’s greatest memories were in that room, having Matthew read “Goodnight Moon” to her every night before bed and acquiring the chance to build forts with Sammy, her younger brother.
As Matthew reminisced on the times spent within the house, he realized that he probably had been dazing off for a while now, “I bet you it isn’t,” he argued, snapping back from his thoughts, and glancing at her.
Alexa pursed her lips, “You would probably think it’s stupid if I said it, it’s not important.” She sipped her coffee, pinched her mouth in distaste, and reached for another sugar packet. The taste of bitter coffee always made her slightly cringe on the inside.
A bell chimed as a family of four walked through the door, distracting Alexa from her expectant father. The mother wore an olive green parka jacket, a cream-colored scarf, and beige boots paired with high socks peeking over the knees. It was something Alexa’s mother would probably wear; Diane always loved the Earth tones. A small infant lay in the woman’s arms, tugging at her dirty blonde strands and sucking on a pacifier. Alexa’s eyes travelled to the father placing his hand on the lower back of his wife, with a young girl, more than half his height, reaching to hold onto his jean jacket. The young girl’s free hand held a teddy bear with a red bowtie around its stuffed neck, similar to the one Alexa had once owned as a child.
Once the family of four had followed the hostess to their seats, Alexa returned to the paper sugar packet, tearing it open with her slender fingers, and pouring it into the creamed coffee. Matthew continued to look at his daughter with a look of expectancy masking his unshaven face and raising his brows. The inspection made Alexa uncomfortable as she shifted in her seat, and subconsciously played with the seashell necklace around her neck; it was a comforting mechanism.
“Does he actually care?” she asked herself, “Guess we’ll find out…”
“I feel that I didn’t live my life to the fullest. Nothing spectacular or amazing happened. All I’ve done is gone cliff jumping at St. Mikes with a few friends, and I didn’t even jump off the highest edge…I was too scared. I haven’t gone to one single party, smoked weed, gotten drunk, had sex…” Taking a slight pause, she shook her head slightly, “Like how lame am I? I only ever cared about school, and working almost every day of the week at Joe’s by helping rude customers just to try and make some cash for college. Oh, and lets not forget about taking care of Sam every night when Mom wasn’t around, but now he’s goanna be 14 and thinks I’m a lame sister! He basically called me a “goody-goody” for not wanting to have a good time like all of the other screw-ups in my school!”
It seemed to Alexa like the whole diner had quieted down after she had ranted; only the sound of plates clattering and utensils following was heard back in the kitchen. Slightly out of breath from her hurried speech, she turned her head slightly to peer at the booth behind her, trying to reassure herself that they weren’t looking at her like some clown…in which she was right. All of a sudden, a deep and contagious laugh escaped her father, his palms coming down to slap a few times on the wooden table.
“A-Are you serious?” He stuttered between chuckles, his front crooked tooth coming into show, “Is that what you think life is about? Partying and having sex?”
Alexa flushed in embarrassment, “Well, no. I don’t know, it just seems like it sometimes.”
“Mm, okay. You sure are lame for wanting to succeed in your future and taking care of your younger brother. Maybe if you did coke, you would be cooler.”
As she sensed the sarcasm Matthew exhibited, she began to question whether she should have said anything in the first place. He might find it funny, but this was no joke to Alexa. With a small frown, she picked up the menu lying flat on the table to the right and scanned over it again. She had been ready to get her reoccurring order of French toast,
“Where is the damn waitress?” Alexa questioned this to herself, peaking past her father to see if anyone was coming, but unfortunately saw no uniformed waitress coming her way.
“Listen,” Alexa’s hazel eyes snapped back to the voice of her father, settling back down into the burgundy, cushioned booth, “Just because you didn’t party, get drunk or high, and didn’t do the stupid shit most of the kids in your school probably do, doesn’t make you lame. In fact, it makes you smart and considerate.”
Alexa scoffed at this, and with a sigh escaping her father, he continued, “Seriously, Lexis. Life isn’t even about that anyways. You don’t need spectacular grand moments to be fulfilled. As long as you’re enjoying the times you have with the people you love, you should be happy.”
She took his words into consideration with great thought, and ran her fingers through the roots of her brunette waves; Alexa tended to do this while thinking, “Yea. I guess you’re right.”
“I know I’m right,” Matthew said confidently, “How about this…you tell me your greatest memory with your favorite people.”
“I don’t have many people in my life…you know that. All I have is Sammy and Claire. Me and mom…well…we don’t have great memories and she definitely isn’t one of my favorite people.” Alexa stated hesitantly and in consideration.
“Okay…and? What does that matter? Now, go on.”
“Well, alright,” Her front teeth clenched down to slightly bite the side of her lip, “I remember it was sunny outside, although we had been in the therapy facility, the day Sam was able to walk. You weren’t really there for much of his life, but damn, I wish you could’ve seen the smile and excitement on his face. We were all excited that day…even mom and especially Uncle Chris since he had been the main one, besides Sammy’s physical therapist, to help him into getting back on his feet.
Before that though, Mom was hopeless. The doctor said Sammy would need to see a specialist for his cerebral palsy, but she couldn’t afford it at the time. We had been struggling with money anyway because of the treatment for you, so I offered to try and start babysitting and walking dogs to earn some cash, but at the age of 11 that’s pretty tough I guess. Plus, Mom told me she didn’t want her 11-year-old daughter having to work and make money for the family yet…it was embarrassing in her eyes. By some chance, Mom earned a bonus at work a few months later and found a wallet with only cash inside on the side of the road… I always thought you might’ve had something to do with that day.
With gleaming eyes and a small, closed smile, Matthew interrupted, “Possibly.”
A short moment later and with a roll of the eyes, Alexa continued with her memory, “After that, everything was a quick blur. At the age of six, Sammy visited the specialist and began to attend physical therapy three times a week over the course of three years. He had to do a few home exercises as well, which I always helped him with, unlike Mom. There were some tough nights where he got frustrated with himself…being so young. I understand why. He pulled through thankfully, and the day came where his therapist informed us that he could try taking a few steps with his walkers. I remember how big his braced smile was, with his brown locks all messy because Uncle Chris mushed it together.
When Sammy began to lift himself out of the wheelchair, I recall going to his side to try and help him, but he pushed me away and informed me that he wanted to do all of it himself. I made sure to watch him carefully, almost going over again as he wobbled a bit while getting on his feet. Sammy looked at us with his big, bright eyes and yelled out, “Lexi! Mommy! Look at me!” I praised him while Mom just smiled, and in great anticipation, Sammy took his first step. After all that hard work, I was immensely proud of him and I made sure to show that by picking him up and giving the biggest hug I could muster.”
Alexa had a brief smile on her face as she recalled on the memory. Everything about her younger brother made her happy, she wished that she would never have to leave his side. The relationship had always been strong between the two, except the one time when Sammy called her a prude for not wanting to go to the biggest party of the year. She had been angry with him for a few days for protruding into her business, but eventually forgave him when he consistently apologized; it got annoying.
“I can only imagine how happy he was,” Matthew stated, drifting his words off slightly, and looking out the window again. She was slightly taken aback with his lack of words and was about to reach out to tug on his light wash, jean-jacket sleeve to pull his attention away from the quiet harbor outside, and back to her, when he began to speak again, “I miss him, you know? I wish there was a chance I could see him again and watch re-runs of Full House together.”
There was a stutter of silence between the two, both beginning to let their minds drift. Alexa studied her father; she hadn’t seen him in a while. He looked as he did when she was slightly younger, definitely better than the last time she saw him, with his chestnut mop of hair, brown eyes, and thin lips. Slight aging under his eyes could be spotted, with a few stray lines beneath a cluster of masked freckles. More color in his skin and liveliness in his eyes could be spotted, if looking hard enough. She felt at ease with the man in front of her, knowing that the time did him well. Alexa wondered if time would do the same for her.
“Should I continue?” She asked, breaking the silence and taking yet another sip of her coffee.
“Yea, sorry. I didn’t mean to daze off like that…I was thinking of Sammy,” Matthew stated, with his face filled of sorrow and nostalgia, “But continue, tell me about Claire.”
With Claire in mind, Alexa’s best friend, she began to speak about her greatest memory with the girl, “It had to be almost the middle of July when Claire and I almost killed a bunny in the middle of the road. We had fallen asleep in her room watching Netflix and completely missed my curfew, which meant when I actually did get home, Mom would probably throw a fit and lock me in the house for two months. I think it was almost midnight when Claire and I tried to speed back to the house, her driving. We were bickering with one another, our voices overpowering the music playing on the radio in her mom’s old Volkswagen.
While I was blaming her for missing my curfew, she was blaming me because I didn’t set an alarm in case we had fallen asleep. It all happened so quickly, but as Claire looked over at me to yell once again, I spotted a bunny in the middle of the double, yellow lines, with the car heading straight for it. I screamed at her to hit the brakes, but it was too late. When Claire comprehended what happened after the small thud under the car, she instantly slowed to a stop and hopped out of the car quickly. I followed her of course, and there she was, walking towards where the bunny had been. We had both been looking down at the limp little guy; standing in the middle of the road, when all of a sudden it twitched its leg! I was shocked it wasn’t dead, but I remember feeling extremely relieved due to the fact that there was a chance it would be okay. Its little chest was rising up and down fast, probably scared out of its mine, and struggled to get up. Claire asked me what we should do about it, so I offered to take the bunny home for Sammy to help nurse it back to health. She agreed with me, but then, all of sudden, Claire busted out laughing, which eventually turned into sobbing.
Unfortunately, whenever she starts crying, I start too…we were emotional wrecks looking at the bunny. I was trying to console her, through my own tears, because she wouldn’t stop saying how terrible of a person she was for almost killing a bunny. When we both calmed down, I went back to the car and looked for some type of cloth or shirt to wrap its body in. Claire watched over me as I wrapped the bunny in an old scarf that I found behind the passenger seat, and bring it into my arms. Surprisingly, the bunny didn’t freak out or try to escape, but just let me take it to the car. Let me just say, Claire visited that bunny everyday after that night, and made sure Sammy was taking good care of it. After officially naming the bunny Roady, in honor of where the little guy was almost killed, we bought a cage for it to sleep in Sammy’s room. Roady ended up living two years with us, but all he did was sit in a cage so…”
Matthew watched his daughter as she explained the story, using her signature Italian hand gestures and great facial expressions; she sure knew how to tell a story. Even though he had been gone for the past seven years, he still had the chance to watch her grow and become a young woman. Alexa had changed her hair a bit, going from her original dark brown to a nice auburn. She stuck a piece of metal in her nose, which his parental instincts didn’t agree with of course, but it wasn’t too noticeable. It was true that she definitely had dropped a couple pounds, admiring her already petite figure, but it was good that she lost it in a relatively healthy way. The woman in front of him was no longer his little girl.
As her words trailed off to the ending of the story, Matthew took the moment to interrupt, “So almost killing a bunny is the greatest memory with your best friend?”
Alexa laughed at his question; the story did sound pretty morbid when she thought about it, “No! It wasn’t about almost killing a bunny; it was about the situation in general. The whole night was a classic Claire and Alexa moment. We tend to bicker over the smallest things, and will always end with one of us apologizing or the both of us laughing it off. It was my greatest memory because it was a night that truly showed our entire friendship, and the Claire that I grew to become my best friend.”
“You guys seem to love each other a lot,” Matthew stated, resting the top of his chin on the palm of his hand.
“Yea…we do. She’s the only person who’s stuck by me all these years and vise versa. I wonder if she’ll be okay when I’m gone…” She trailed off, feeling a bit disturbed by the thought. Claire didn’t have many people in her life, just as Alexa didn’t either; the two were each other’s best of friends. Alexa would miss the Netflix marathons they made sure to do once a month and the long drives they took along the coast of Cape Ann beach, jamming out to 80’s classics and drinking the normal, vanilla frosty that they would pick up from Wendy’s.
“She’ll be okay. Time heals all wounds,” He gave the questioning girl in front of him a warm smile, trying his best to reassure her.
“You’re right. As time went on after you passed away, it became easier to deal with the sadness,” Alexa said softly, coming to terms with how content she began to feel about everything. “Claire would be okay,” she reminded herself, “and Sammy too.” With all the talking about her father, Alexa was brought to another memory, “Do you want to know my favorite memory with you?”
Matthew shifted in his seat, straightened his back, folded his hands together, and smiled at her, “Go on.”
“It’s a bit random, but my 11th birthday, you took me down to the beach even though you weren’t feeling up to it. At the time, I might have been in denial that the cancer was soon going to get to you, but subconsciously I think I knew. I remember I really wanted to spend the day at the beach for my birthday, and I had continuously begged you. Mom wasn’t in the house…like usual. Uncle Chris had taken Sammy to his therapy appointment, so you were the only one there to take me. Now that I look back, you were probably really annoyed that I had pestered so much. Because you were too drained to drive, you insisted that we take the bus.
Matthew took a sharp inhale and snickered, “The bus ride is a whole memory itself.”
A look of confusion crossed the once again, interrupted girl, as she tried to recall what he meant. She let out a small hmph, while in thought and instantly began to laugh once realization crossed her mind, “Oh, yea! The woman that decided to argue with you about her seat. You were trying,” struggling to find air as she laughed, “so hard not to curse her out in front of me.”
“Trust me, it wouldn’t have been good to do that in front of my 11-year-old daughter,” He stated, laughing along with her, “But, continue.”
Gathering herself up from the funny moment, Alexa wiped her minimal tears and began again, “I instantly wanted to go into the water with you once we got there, but you told me it would be too rough on your body at the time. “These waves definitely aren’t Miami ones,” you said, although I had no idea what that meant at the time. Even though you hadn’t gone in with me, you let me go in by myself anyway. I made sure to scoop up a bunch of seashells while I was in the shallow area of the water, because you seemed unhappy and I wanted to cheer you up. You were sitting by the water watching me play, when I ran up from the water and plopped the seashells near your feet.
Each shell I had brought up you inspected carefully, and chose the smallest one. It was almost too small with a very clustered shape, that I thought it was ugly compared to the rest of them…then you informed me that’s what made it unique. In the moment, the shell was very insignificant, but you suggested that we poke a hole in the end of it and pull a string through it to turn it into a necklace. I learned a good lesson that day because of you; to not judge others by the first glance, but what essence lies behind them.”
Alexa twiddled with the necklace as she explained the memory of her father. Somehow, when she would glide her fingers over the small ridges and bumps of the bluish shell, it brought great comfort and soothed her. While she had found the necklace so important to her as a young girl to now a young woman, Matthew didn’t completely understand why she had held onto it so long, “What do you mean the essence that lies behind them?”
“Well, after you had passed away a few months later, that necklace we made reminded me of the last good moment we had shared. When I began to miss you, I would hold onto the shell, think back to that day, and remind myself that you were at peace; it helped me move on. Yea, it’s still not the prettiest shell, but what’s behind it is beautiful,” She explained, and looked at her father.
“I never knew you were so deep,” Matthew chuckled, “but I’m glad that it brought you comfort for when I couldn’t.”
“Yea, me too…” Trailing off, she looked down at her half-full cup of coffee again.
“What about your mother?” Matthew asked this hesitantly, he didn’t want to hit a touchy subject and bring her back to the tense mood.
“What about her?” Alexa said sharply.
“I’m assuming by that tone of voice missy, that you don’t have a great memory with her?”
“Maybe as a child, but I can’t remember any off the top of my head. You already know that when you were diagnosed, she changed.”
A disappointed sigh escaped his lips as he heard this, “Yes, I know. It’s sad isn’t it? She used to be so happy, and loved spending time with you and Sammy. We always used to come to this diner when you were a child…it was kind of a ritual every Sunday morning before church.”
“She’s the reason I’m dying and talking to you right now,” Alexa stated bluntly, not letting the mention of a good memory from her father budge the way she felt.
“Technically, you two were both argu-,”
“Diane was the one drinking and driving with me in the car,” Her harshness cut him off, and he instantly silenced. Tears began to brim in Alexa’s eyes, as she felt the sting in her nose begin to approach, “I would be alive right now if she hadn’t picked me up from Claire’s drunk.”
Alexa loved her mother and tried her hardest to forgive and forget, but the way she acted when Matthew was diagnosed and after his death, changed her view of the woman she once had a close relationship with. From the passing of her father, she had been the one to basically raise Sammy and put food on the table, with her own money, while Diane stayed at the local bar and reappear every few days to stay in her room, and then leave once again. Yes, there were some not so bad times with her mother, but the bad always outweighed the good when it came to Diane.
“The only way you’ll find complete peace is to forgive,” Matthew said kindly, sympathizing for the young girl he left many years ago.
“But I’ve forgiven her so many times. Why should I when this could possibly be the worst thing she’s done to me?” Desperate filled her voice…she wanted to forgive but she did not know how, “She should have known not to drive with me under the influence; what kind of mother does something so ignorant?”
Matthew slid from out of the burgundy booth and stood up, extending his hand outward, “Let me show you something.”
She looked up at him hesitantly, began to slide out of her side of the booth, and put her smaller, feminine hand into his extended one. When their hands molded together, Alexa instantly felt at ease to be in the smallest touch of her father. Matthew guided her towards another booth in the back, dodging a few coming people heading towards their seats, and passing the front door of the diner.
“What is he doing?” She began to question to herself.
He began to slow down in front of her and came to a stop in front of a small table in the back corner, with another large window on the wall. Once Alexa comprehended the sight in front of her, she tensed and let out a small audible gasp. There, sitting in front of the two standing, was the family of four that she saw walk in earlier enjoying their breakfast. But this was not any random family; it was Alexa’s.
Recognition became clear as she took notice of the young girl seen before, as herself at the age of six, eating a small plate of French toast, and holding onto the teddy bear with the red bowtie. One-year old Sammy sat in a high chair across from young Alexa, nibbling on dry cheerios. A slightly youthful Diane was sitting to the right of her, holding Matthew’s hand from across the table and sipping on her coffee. The young girl kept asking Diane for a sip of the coffee in her mother’s hand.
Seeing his persistent child, Matthew smiled, “You always loved coffee, even at the age of six.”
“Explains why I’m constantly choosing it over water,” Alexa said with a slight laugh.
“This was my greatest memory with you two. I think this morning was when the ritual of going every Sunday began. It was a couple years before I was diagnosed…your mom was still happy…we were still happy.
As she watched the young family interact, she began to remember everything about that morning. Six-year old Alexa had been complaining that morning because she wanted her mother to make French toast, but they didn’t have any of the right ingredients to make it. To make her daughter happy, Diane suggested they go to the diner and eat there for breakfast. She bought Alexa a plate of French toast, which the young girl complained about eating at first, but became convinced to because then she wouldn’t be able to try the coffee her mother was drinking.
Alexa watched her younger self finish the plate of French toast and turn to her mother, reaching for the coffee.
Diane quickly pushed her hand away, “Hey! We don’t grab, we ask and say please,” she reprimanded in a strict voice.
The six-year-old didn’t let that drop her mood, “Sorry, Mommy. Can I try coffee, please?”
Seeing the gigantic grin on her young daughters face, she passed it to the girl hesitantly, “It’s a little warm, remember to blow first.”
Listening to her mother’s words, Alexa blew slightly on the coffee, and carefully took a sip with her small fingers wrapped around the stained mug from the previously, multiple times it had been filled with coffee. As soon as it entered her mouth, the young girl’s face twisted up in distaste as it did earlier with older Alexa and the bitter coffee. She quickly spit it out and the whole family began to laugh at the child.
“Oh honey!” Diane said laughing and reaching to wipe her face off, “I knew you wouldn’t like it yet.”
Looking at the past memory of the family made Alexa tear up slightly, as her heart swirled with nostalgia, “I remember it was too bitter, that’s why I spit it out.”
“I know you might’ve had complications with your mother, but she wasn’t always the way she is now. She was happy, but sometimes people take traumatic situations differently. Your mother didn’t have the seashell necklace like you did,” Matthew explained to her, and gripped her hand a little tighter.
With this entering her mind, Alexa began to feel less agitation towards her mother, but more forgiveness and understanding. The thought about how hard the death of a husband must be had never crossed her mind, and it wasn’t her place to judge due to the fact that she couldn’t relate. Yes, she felt a great loss towards her father, but Diane experienced something quite different than Alexa had. No longer did Alexa want to hold this grudge against her mother; she was ready to find peace.
Light began to flood through the windows, forcing the two to squint their eyes slightly to block the harsh rays, and bring their free hands to make a small shade over their eyes. As the light became less bold, Alexa peered out the window to the sky and became aware that it was no longer grey. The water was not dark and murky, but a strong blue with the reflection of the sun expanding along the small waves. Seagulls were flying around the harbor, some perched on the flags peak of the sailboats that were docked at the harbor, and squawking at the town’s people walking down below. It was a peaceful scene.
Everything around the father and daughter became silent, as Matthew guided Alexa towards the door of the diner. The two stood for a second, observing the surrounding area of the diner.
“Are you ready to go?” Matthew asked with patience, but with readiness laced in his tone of voice.
A small smile of content rose on her face and she answered to him, “Yes.”
With their hands intertwined, Matthew pushed the door open to the outside and continued to walk into the appending light. Before Alexa stepped out into the field of unknown, she took a quick glance back at her younger family with joy spread on their faces; enjoying each other’s company. Six-year old Alexa was coloring in a placemat from the diner, seeming to be focused intently, when she took notice to the older girl looking at her. A smile played on her lips, as she stood up on the chair to wave excitedly; the teddy bear with a red bow tie dangling from the young girl’s free hand. Alexa waved back, a final sense of ease overpowering, as she turned back to the front and stepped into the calm light with her father.