Jasper stared out the window of the van and thought. He thought that he would not like his new home. His friends and his father were at his real home, the home he wanted to be his. The home that used to be his.
His mother and father got divorced six months ago and his mother wouldn’t let her husband take Jasper.
Jasper would rather have gone with his father.
His mother could not teach him to fold paper airplanes or throw a football. She could not throw a basketball or sing him his favorite lullaby. She could show him drawing techniques and read to him. Jasper did not like those things.
He had shoulder-length brown hair and green eyes. Like his father.
Jasper stared out the window and looked at the sea. He had everything in common with his father. His father was behind him, like his past. As a matter of fact, his best days were behind him. How would he ever get along with his mother, and how could he do it alone?
Jasper looked down at his notebook. A droplet of water splashed onto one of the pages. Jasper knew where it had come from. He wiped his grimy arm across his eyes and listened to the radio.
“… and it is one hundred three degrees out, humid,” the reporter said energetically. One hundred three degrees, thought Jasper. No wonder I’m sweating.
“Jasper, darling,” his mother whispered, “we’re here.”
They stepped out of the car and Jasper looked at his new home. It was a nice place, two stories, and painted sky blue with white shutters. There was a basketball hoop attached to the garage door and a large backyard. The beach was just down the road and there was a dock and an ice cream parlor.
Jasper’s mother sent him to the beach while she sorted things out with the moving truck guy. She gave Jasper ten dollars for ice cream.
Jasper walked down the road. The beach was deserted. It was too hot. First he went into the ice cream parlor and bought a cone of fudge ripple.
He slung his feet over the dock and squinted into the sun. His feet made ripples in the water. Just like my ice cream, thought Jasper. His mind directed back to the move.
I’ll have to make new friends, he thought.
I’ll have to get along with Mom, he thought.
I’ll have to be missing dad, he thought.
But he knew he had to get along with Mom, because otherwise his father would be mad at him. Now he was totally confused about how to do that.
When he got home, his hands sticky from the ice cream, his mother showed him his room. She bought some wooden letters and spelled JASPER over his bed. His room had a desk and a bed and a closet and a dresser and a bookcase. Like any old room.
“It’s nice,” he told his mother politely. Then Jasper excused himself and went to sit in the backyard.
What would he do? What he really needed was something to keep him calm, to calm him when he was upset. He needed his own special place, that had a sound that calmed him down.
So the next day, he rode around the neighborhood and looked at all the places. The playground, the beach, the ice cream shop…
He settled on the dock. He loved to put his feet in the water, the dock was almost always empty, and it had the sound of the sea.
One day Jasper and his mother went to the beach and Jasper found a conch shell. He sent it to his father, along with a tag that said, “A gift from your boy, Jasper.”
* * *
But then one evening, Jasper had a big fight with his mother. Naturally, it was about his father. And Jasper was so angry and upset he ran out into the backyard and hugged his knees until the lights went out in his house and the stars came out.
Jasper tiptoed back into his room and got ready for bed. He got in bed and closed his eyes.
But the pesky burden that was sleep would not come, and Jasper could not stop his brain from squeezing into thoughts about the fight. Then he remembered his special place.
He looked at his clock. It read 10:02 p.m.
Pretty late, thought Jasper, but not too late.
So he walked into the bathroom and put on some shorts and a T-shirt that read, “The Beach Is Cool,” then tiptoed out onto the street.
His feet ruffled the water and he lay back on the dock and felt the breeze rustle his hair. For once since he moved, he felt, not exactly happy, but at peace. Not upset. He leaned his head back and thought.
Then he took out a piece of paper and a pen and wrote a letter to his dad.
* * *
A week later, Jasper lay on his bed, tinkering with his broken radio until he became bored by trying to fix it. He rolled over on his back and stared at the clock. It read 11:57 a.m.
Jasper would have to wait. It wasn’t happening until one o’clock. The letter had worked.
Jasper was waiting on the front steps. He leaned his head back and let the breeze rustle his hair. Then secretly, he smiled, something he hadn’t done much since his parents got divorced.
Jasper knew his father wouldn’t come exactly on time. He was famous in the family for being late. The times where his mother and father had laughed about that seemed ages ago. So this time, Jasper went into the house around 12:25 p.m. to have lunch. At 12:38 p.m., he came out, licking a purple Popsicle. Then he sat down on the front steps again.
Around 1:15 p.m., Jasper was getting anxious. He hoped his father was planning on coming. Until that moment, Jasper had been certain his father would show up. Now, his confidence wavered.
But at 1:37 p.m., Jasper saw his father, standing up tall in a football jersey. As soon as Jasper saw him, he jumped up and ran to his dad. Then Jasper threw a bone-breaking hug around his dad.
“How’s my boy?” Jasper’s dad chuckled heartily.
“Er, I’m not sure,” replied Jasper. “Since we moved out, it’s been kind of tough.
“How?” Jasper’s dad wondered.
“I love Mom, but I don’t get along with her. Not being with you gives me an empty feeling, only as though my heart was full of hot, strong love, and when you divorced Mom and we moved out, that love was hollowed out.”
His father had a strange look on his face, as though he wasn’t sure what to say.
“Now I have a question,” Jasper whispered.
“Whose idea was it to get divorced, yours or Mom’s?”
That question caught Jasper’s dad by surprise, as though he had walked into a beehive. He was not sure how to answer. And then slowly, he answered, “It was my idea.”
This fact hit Jasper like a speeding bullet. His love for his father was twisted in a knot. How could this wonderful man, his father, cause so much misery and pain in the life of his son? His son whom he loved? His son who trusted him. His son who was not quite sure he could trust his father anymore. His son who was not quite sure he could turn to his father again.
“That’s impossible. You wouldn’t do that to me. You wouldn’t. You’re not that kind of person.” Jasper felt kind of unsure about that now.
Jasper’s father looked sadly at his son. “I’m not the person you think I am.”
“I just thought that maybe I could get you back together.” Tears started in Jasper’s eyes.
“Hmm.” His father’s eyebrows creased. He was thinking hard, Jasper could tell. “Hmm.”
“Also, can I ask you something?”
“Is what caused you to get divorced me?”
Jasper’s eyes were staring at the house. In the kitchen window sat his mother, her eyes full of worry, staring hard at Jasper and his father.
There was an awkward moment of silence. Then Jasper’s dad said, “What gave you that idea? Your mother and I both love you equally. You should know that,” replied his father.
“So can I do anything to make you get back together?” Jasper pleaded. He was almost whispering.
“No, son. No. But one thing you can do to make your mother and me happier is to be happy. Don’t force yourself. Find something, anything, that makes you happy. That’s the best thing you can do for us and yourself.” Jasper’s father had a strained voice. “I’d better go.” He stood up. “I love you. Tell your mother I miss her.”
Jasper’s father walked down the road into the sunset.
Mixed up in his own swirl of thought, the only thing Jasper could say was, “Bye.”
* * *
It was the morning. Jasper’s mother was silent all through breakfast, so Jasper assumed he should get out of the house. And at the moment, he was trying to be happy, and going to his special place would make him happy.
He left the house and ran to the dock.
* * *
The sun was setting. The sky turned pink and orange, the colors whirling and mixing around each other. Jasper had been at the dock all day, and his feet were beginning to prune. But he leaned his hands back on the dock and felt something playing on his lips. Something that made a kind of warmth spread inside him.
A smile. And without realizing it, Jasper had a smile turned on to full blast. Because he was doing exactly what his father said he could do to help. And it felt good, to be happy, so he just sat still, doing nothing, and he did not want to move for fear it would stop the happiness coursing through him. He saw what his father meant. He was helping himself, and his parents too.
So he just leaned back his head, closed his eyes, and listened, listened to the sound of the sea.