Dragon Valley. It was a small town just a couple days’ drive north of Starlight Shores, with snow on the ground at least four months out of the year. A river ran right through the middle of the village, with snow-capped mountains to the east, and fertile farmland to the west. And in the middle of the farmland, near a little lake stocked with fish was the Jones house. Travis, the only son of Randy and Elizabeth Jones, had a twin sister, Talia. Though the village was small, many families who resided in the farmlands were quite wealthy. This was the case with the Joneses. Randy had a very good job at the research lab, and his wife was a stay at home mother who ruled their household with an iron fist and tough love if love was what you could call it.
Travis and Talia grew up in a modest home with the town fishing spot nearby, so they had many friends, both in the neighborhood and from school. The Drake School of Life and Learning, or DSLL, sat slightly north of the Jones house on a small mesa. Both Travis and Talia rode their bicycles to school every morning and home every afternoon, regardless of the weather. Elizabeth thought it ridiculous to pamper the children and provide rides to school, even on the coldest of days. It will make them stronger, she believed adamantly.
Elizabeth Jones was not a nurturing person and did not want her children to call her anything but ‘Mother’. If they had a problem, she simply did not want to hear it. It was her belief that problems should be worked through without much help because it built character. She was impossible to please, which set her children on a path to do everything they could to win her affection, to prove themselves worthy of her love and attention. But, Elizabeth was not interested in such pleasantries. By the age of ten, her children had been trained to be self-sufficient, unfeeling little robots, and she liked them that way.
It wasn’t until Travis started middle school that he truly began to live. A pretty blonde-haired girl, new to the village, walked into class on the first day of school in seventh grade and sat right by him. He had never seen anyone with light hair before, as his family and most of the village for that matter was mostly darker complected with dark brown to black hair. He was mesmerized by her beauty and uniqueness, and it wasn’t long before Travis and ‘that new girl’ were dating. Amy Cohen had one younger sister and a mother. Her father had long since left, abandoning the family he began with his wife and sought greener pastures. In desperation, Amy’s mother, Linda, brought the family to Dragon Valley, to start a new life with as few skeletons in the closet as possible.
“Travis, why don’t you relax?” Amy asked him as they sat outside the grocery store, eating an apple. “You’re always so tense.”
“I’m sorry, Amy,” he replied. “My mother is strict. I don’t get to have fun very much.”
“Do you even know how to have fun?” she asked innocently.
“No, I don’t.” He honestly couldn’t remember the last time he’d laughed, never mind had fun.
“Well, why don’t I show you how to relax?” Amy suggested. They rode their bikes to the lake near the Jones house and parked them up under a tree. “Let’s just sit an’ watch the clouds go by, Travis.”
“What good does that do?” He just didn’t understand why someone would want to.
“Because it’s fun!” Amy laughed and took his hand. Together, they laid back on the grass, watching the clouds. Before long, she was snuggled up to him. “Travis, you’re so cute,” she said.
He blushed. “Thanks. I’ve never been told that before.”
“You’re kidding me!” She took his hand in hers and intertwined their fingers.
When the sun began to set, Travis walked her home, their bikes alongside them. They could have ridden them home, but walking was better for chatting.
“When can I see you again, Travis?” she asked, standing on the front step of her house.
“At school maybe?” He really didn’t have a clue what to say to her.
“Oh, come on,” she said, giggling. “School is so monotonous.” She kissed his cheek, and he blushed a deep red. “I like you, Travis Jones. I’m not going to give up on you, just because you’re boring.”
“I like you too. I think you’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen.”
Amy smiled. “Kiss me,” she said.
“Here? Won’t your father see and come after me?” he asked, somewhat afraid.
“Nah, my father left us years ago. My mom, she doesn’t care much. She has my sister to take care of, and I’m just left up to what I want to do.” She stood her ground and puckered up, waiting for him to take her lead.
Travis laughed nervously. “Okay,” he said, going in for a quick peck. She grabbed him and kissed him. It was his first kiss, and he liked it. No longer embarrassed, he held her close and kissed her again.
“That was nice, Travis. But we’ll work on your technique,” she teased as she turned to go inside. “See you at school!”
All the way home, he thought of nothing but Amy.
“Psst, Travis!” Amy called from the barn on an abandoned farm. “I’m over here!” He walked toward the voice, carrying a blanket and a bottle of ‘borrowed’ wine from his father’s cabinet. He cracked the door open, slipping through the narrow entrance. Gingerly, he walked through a layer of rotting hay, to a ladder that looked rather rickety. “Up here!” she called from the hayloft.
“What are you doing up there?” He studied the ladder carefully, weighing the risks.
“Oh, come on!” she teased. “What are you waiting for?”
He threw the blanket up toward the top of the ladder, and she caught it by a small corner, pulling it up. Putting the wine bottle in his backpack, he climbed the ladder carefully. Nearing the top, she grabbed his hand and helped him.
“See? Isn’t this awesome, Trav?” she swooned. She had this spot picked out for months. She knew exactly what she wanted, and who she wanted it with.
“Yeah, actually it’s pretty cozy up here.” He looked out the window of the old loft at the trees turning color. “Nice view.”
She wasted no time pulling him into a kiss. They had never found a place where it was so private, so secluded. And she was sure no one would come looking for them there. Travis opened the wine and took a sip right from the bottle, and handed it to Amy.
She took a long drink from it and set the bottle down in the hay. She had the blanket spread out and made a comfortable bed. Amy patted the spot next to her, and Travis went to her.
“You know what I want, Travis,” she purred at him. She pulled him to her and kissed him passionately, taking his breath away.
“I do. Amy, baby, I love you,” he said. And he meant it. Their last year and a half together was incredible. This was the afternoon they had waited for, and she found the perfect place.
“I love you more, Travis,” she cooed at him.
“You know, this is a big step. There’s no going back after this, Amy.”
“Just shut up and kiss me,” she giggled.
It was after dark when they tried to get down from that old barn loft. Using only the light on his phone, he illuminated the ladder. He went down first and reached for Amy. When she was down to the last rung, she jumped off and into his arms, kissing him.
“If I don’t get home soon, my mother is going to kill me,” Travis said. He was hoping he didn’t smell too much like barn or hay, or she would become suspicious.
“Don’t worry, Travis, your mother likes me!” She danced around him as he walked toward his bike. They left the blanket in the loft on purpose.
They walked together back to her house, where they kissed on the front doorstep. Amy’s mother waved to him from the kitchen. “I love you, Amy,” he said.
“I love you, Travis.” She kissed him tenderly, and not passionately at all. She didn’t want to give away their secret.
He rode his bike home and was very late coming through the door, long overdue for supper.
“Where have you been, young man?” his mother scolded. “You should have been home hours ago.”
“Do you really care where I’ve been, mother?”
“I’m responsible for you. You shouldn’t be out making trouble after dark. It will look bad for your father.”
Trouble wasn’t what I was making mother, he thought, but he didn’t verbalize it. “My homework is almost done. Amy and I were working on it together.”
“Why didn’t you say you were with her?” Her expression softened and she smiled at him, perhaps for the first time. “That Amy is a lovely girl.”
“I’m glad you like her, mother.”
“She is the best part of you, Travis. You’re worthless.”
He rolled his eyes. “I don’t want supper. I’ll be in my room.”
Amy looked distraught as she walked through the hallway, making her way towards him. “Travis,” she cried. “I’m late.”
“What do you mean?” he asked innocently.
“My cycle. I’m 3 weeks late.” She hugged him, crying on his shoulder. “I’m scared.”
“Well, whatever happens, I’m going to be here for you,” he assured her. “If you’re pregnant, we’ll get married. I was going to ask you at some point anyway.” He blushed.
“Really Travis? You want to marry me?” She dried her tears and smiled.
“I do, Amy.” He thought of the situation. Maybe not totally ideal, but he doubted his mother would disapprove much. She adored Amy more than she did him or Talia. Why he didn’t know, but he was going to use that to his advantage. “We may be getting married a little sooner than we thought, is all.”
“Is this a proposal, Travis?” she asked him, louder than normal. Everyone around them stopped in their tracks and stared at them, although no one was surprised.
“I guess it is!” he confirmed. “Amy, will you marry me?”
“Yes! Yes, I will Travis,” she screamed. And then into his ear, she whispered, “Baby or no baby.”
On their way home from school, they stopped at the pharmacy and got a home pregnancy test. “I want to take this before I get home,” she announced. “I want to know.”
Travis nodded in agreement. “Whatever happens Amy, never forget I will love you forever.” He kissed her.
They hid behind the bushes by some brush along the roadside, while she took her test. Nervously, she handed it to Travis. “Yuck, I don’t want it,” he announced. “You peed on it.”
“Yeah, duh,” she teased. “That’s how it’s done, silly.” She took the stick back from him after she zipped up her blue jeans. She wasn’t used to using the bushes, but in a pinch, it was okay. “You’ve touched worse, Trav,” she flirted.
He blushed. “How long do we wait?”
“The box says five minutes.” But in anticipation, she peeked before and saw two distinct pink lines. “Uh oh,” she sighed.
“What? I thought you weren’t supposed to look.”
“Two lines, Trav.” She swallowed hard. “I’m pregnant.”
He took a deep breath, trying to hide his emotions. He was scared to death. “Come here,” he said, pulling her to him for a hug. “We’re going to be okay.”
Travis walked through the door of his house, shaking and feeling sick. His mother was cooking supper, and to him, it smelled revolting. “Homework, Travis. Now,” she uttered, not even looking at him.
“I have a problem,” he said. “I…”
She cut him off. “You know my policy on problems. Fix it yourself.”
“It involves Amy,” he replied. “She’s pregnant.”
“Is it your baby, Travis?” she asked.
“Yes, mother.” His stomach was in knots, and the aroma of food just made him more nauseated.
“Are you going to marry her?” She glared at him.
“Yes, mother, I am.”
“That’s a big step for an idiot like you.”
His jaw clenched involuntarily. “Well, as soon as I turn sixteen, I’m getting a job at the market part-time. I have some time to get some money saved, and we’ll find a little apartment or something together.”
“You will not be permitted to leave school because of your blunder. I won’t sign the papers.”
“I won’t need to. In fact, when I leave for college, she will come with me. We’ll make this work.”
“It sounds like you have everything all figured out, don’t you?” She looked at him with derision. “I don’t want to hear your bellyaching when your little plans backfire. Do I make myself clear, Travis Richard?”
“Yes, mother.” He bit his tongue. Being angry would make no difference. But for the first time in his life, he knew exactly what he wanted.
Amy turned sixteen two months before Travis and got a part-time job after school at the grocer in town, just across the river from her home. There was no hiding the baby anymore. Her usual thin frame had a small, but conspicuous bump, the telltale sign of a baby. Much to their surprise, their classmates were very supportive of them and their engagement. Many guys envied him. He had the prettiest girl in class, they were engaged to be married, and their first child on the way. Amy was four months pregnant for her “Sweet 16” party, and most of her gifts were for the baby.
Snow was beginning to fall lightly as the temperatures dropped. The last of the leaves from the fall remained on the trees as the wind blew gently from the north. Travis was busy making plans and researching colleges that would house a married couple with a child. For the time being, Amy would remain at home with her mother and Travis would live at his home, too, while the young couple saved for things the baby would need. Linda Cohen planned a baby shower for her daughter, and was actually pretty excited about her first grandchild, even though she still had her own babies at home. But she was very proud of Travis and Amy for stepping up to the plate to be parents, albeit young parents.
Amy’s boss asked her to take the closing shift. It was a Friday night, and she had no school the next morning, so she agreed. I’ll take all the hours I can get, she thought. Amy and one co-worker worked until the store closed at midnight, then left for home. It had been snowing steadily, but the village volunteers were already hard at work, making sure the main roads were passable. She got into her mother’s hooptie and started it. The old car sputtered and backfired, but once it was warmed up, it ran well enough for a car that had seen much better days.
She turned right onto Clover Drive, on the last stretch of her treacherous drive home in the first snow of the season. Taking it easy, she approached the bridge when she saw an oncoming car traveling way too fast for the weather. The driver of the speeding car lost control and crossed to Amy’s lane, and collided with her head-on. The force of the crash rolled Amy’s car off the road, and into the river. She was killed upon impact, less than 100 yards from her home.
Travis was reading a book that evening when he heard sirens from the fire department screeching away from his house. He didn’t think much of it until his phone rang some 10 minutes later. “Travis, it’s Amy!” Linda Cohen was frantic on the other end of the line.
“What happened?” He began to panic, hearing the frantic tone of her mother’s voice.
“There’s been an accident, please come!”
Even though he did not have his driving permit, he grabbed his mother’s car keys and ran for the door. Shaking, he tried to put the keys into the ignition. After fumbling with trembling hands for precious minutes, finally, he was able to start the car and drove for the house he had visited many, many times over the past two years.
The accident scene was horrific. Amy’s car was destroyed, the front end scattered in pieces across the road, as though it had exploded, what remained sat upside down in the river. The other driver, who was visibly drunk, was relatively uninjured. Rescue workers were frantically trying to retrieve Amy’s body from the freezing cold water before they suffered from exposure themselves. Linda was standing on the side of the road with her younger daughter, crying hysterically. Travis got out of his car and tried to run to her car, but was held back by the deputy at the scene.
“Son, you don’t want to see her,” he said. “She was badly injured.”
“I don’t care!” he shouted. “That’s my fiancée in that car!” He struggled to break the officer’s grasp, but he couldn’t. “Amy!” he yelled into the snowstorm. “Amy….” he collapsed onto the ground, sobbing.
The sun was coming up on Dragon Valley over the mountains by the time everything was cleaned up and the road was reopened. The woman who hit Amy’s car was arrested at the hospital and charged with two counts of vehicular manslaughter, awaiting arraignment the following day. The woman plead guilty to the counts and was scheduled for sentencing at the arraignment, to be in 3 months. But knowing her killer was facing justice was little comfort for Travis.
The school as a whole and the student body rallied around Travis, but no one could begin to understand the tremendous loss the almost sixteen-year-old boy had suffered. His best friend, Emmitt, was his rock when his own family failed him.
“Travis,” Emmitt said gently. “Man, you ok? You’ve been out for six weeks.”
“No, Emmitt.” Travis would have rather died than live another day without her. “Don’t wanna live.”
“You know, we’re all pulling for you. Just come back to school.”
“I can’t. Too painful.” Travis couldn’t even think clearly enough to form complete sentences.
“It’s not good for you to be alone, man,” Emmitt encouraged.
Travis nodded. “You’re right. Amy wouldn’t want me sitting here, missing her like this.” But knowing she wouldn’t want him to be sad didn’t make it go away any faster.
The next morning, Emmitt arrived at the Jones house to pick Travis up for school. His mother greeted Emmitt at the door.
“It’s good you’re getting Travis out of the house,” she told him. But she didn’t mean it how it sounded. She was tired of him sitting in his room, blubbering.
“He needs to be around people who love him,” Emmitt replied. He knew too well the rough relationship Travis had with her, and he knew she was unnecessarily harsh when he needed comfort.
“He needs to get over himself,” she said. “He’s not the only one who lost Amy.”
Emmitt shrugged his shoulders. “Come on Trav, time’s tickin’ man,” he called to his friend.
“I’m not ready for this,” Travis sighed. It would be the first day back to school since she died.
“I’m right by your side, man. We’ve got this.” Emmitt took his backpack, and grabbed his arm, wanting to dislodge Travis from the obviously toxic situation.
Elizabeth Jones looked at her son with disgust. “Get out of here, Travis. I’m tired of looking at you.”
In the car, Emmitt had to ask. “Has she been like that just since Amy died, or is she always that horrible to you?”
“That’s actually her being nice,” Travis replied. “I’m over it. I can’t wait to be eighteen. I’m going to Sim State, and she won’t be able to stop me.”
“Yeah well, first you need to graduate, and you won’t do that with all the school you’ve skipped.” Emmitt chuckled. “You can always crash at my place if you want.”
“Thanks, man,” Travis thanked him.
The spring blossoms were blooming in Dragon Valley, and another school year was coming to a close. Travis barely passed the year and continued to mourn the loss of not only Amy but their son as well. He found himself passing the old abandoned farm on his way home from Emmitt’s one morning after he had spent the night crashed on his couch. He wasn’t looking forward to going home, because he didn’t want to answer the endless barrage of questions that would come upon his arrival. He parked his bicycle outside the property and locked it to the fence. Slowly, he approached the old barn, and tears filled his eyes. The smell of rotting hay and old wood assaulted his nose when he swung the old door open. On the ladder hung Amy’s sweater, where she had hung it the last time they were there together. He walked to it and picked it up, holding it to his face and breathing in her fading scent. It still smelled of her perfume, and he swallowed a growing lump in his throat. Carefully, he climbed the ladder, and at the top, he half expected to see her, her blonde hair in a ponytail, dressed in her faded blue jeans and an old sweatshirt, ready to greet him with a smile and a kiss.
The blanket where they first made love was still there, along with several empty bottles of wine that were buried halfway into the hay. Being there without her was overwhelming, and he curled up on the blanket, her sweater in his hands.
“Why?” he cried, staring at the ceiling in the old barn. “Why did you leave me, Amy?” Sobs wracked his body. “I’m so mad at you!” He waited for her answer, but there was none. “Why….” his voice trailed off, crying bitter tears.
An hour or two passed, he wasn’t sure how long he’d been there. He folded their blanket and placed it into his backpack, along with her sweater and a pair of flip flops she had left up in the loft. He put his backpack over his shoulders firmly and took one last look at their love nest. “I will always love you, Amy,” he said, crying. “I will never forget you. Or our son.” As carefully as he climbed up, he descended the ladder. He never returned to the old barn after that day.
Travis stood in his graduation cap and gown, ready to leave high school and all of its pain behind him. But he was still despondent over Amy, and though he was accepted to attend Sim State that fall, his heart wasn’t in any of it. When he looked back, he couldn’t fathom how he had even made it to graduation, but he was thankful to be leaving Dragon Valley, even if it was only for four years.
“Emmitt, I’m standing here today because you didn’t let me waste away into nothing. When I’m at Sim State, I’ll remember it was you who encouraged me.” Travis shook his best friend’s hand after the ceremony.
“When do you leave, Trav?”
“Sunday morning. Early. I’m driving myself, so I have my car on campus.” A slight smile appeared on his face.
“I wish you all the best, man,” Emmitt told him. “Get away from here. You’d be smart to never come back.”
“I know, Emm… I will go nuts if I have to live close to her.” The person he referenced was his mother, who had gone full-blown coconuts after Amy’s death. She and Linda Cohen were in the worst kind of denial, fully believing that Amy was going to come home someday, and resume life as though nothing had happened.
“I know I might never see you again,” Emmitt stated. “I’m okay with that. Just make sure you live your best life. You deserve that chance.”
“Thanks, man,” Travis replied. “How about you? Are you staying in this hell hole?”
“Yeah, I have no choice,” Emmitt said. “The old man’s getting ready to retire and I am ‘inheriting’ the family business.” He patted Travis on the shoulder. “You’re doing the right thing.”
Travis nodded. “I’m gonna miss you, Emm.”
“I’ll miss you, too.” The best friends hugged briefly and walked away from the other, never to see each other again.
Travis had packed everything into his little car that he could fit, and what he couldn’t bring with him, he forfeited. He had the clothes on his back, a few personal things, a shoebox of love letters from Amy, and some baby things he had bought for Amy, but never gave her. His parents were not standing on the porch waving lovingly when he backed out of the driveway and pulled away from the family home, but Travis was truly happy for the first time since Amy’s tragic death.
A three day drive later, he arrived at Sim State University campus, a little cash poorer, but feeling freedom for the first time in his life. And then he felt sad that Amy should have been here with him, their 16-month-old son with them, beginning a new life together. Referencing a campus map, he found his way to his dorm and checked in. His declared major was science and medicine, but he only chose it because of his father. He was no scientist, and he wasn’t interested in medicine. But he decided to stick it out for a year to humor his old man, and himself.
He had a full course load and was looking forward to moving on with his life. Amy had been gone for a little over two years, and the constant pain had dulled to a twinge of ache on special days, but he felt ready. The first class on his first day of college had him in a biology class sitting next to the prettiest girl he had seen since Amy, though he didn’t feel it was right to compare them. Her name was Charlotte, he noticed on her notebook, and she was intriguing to him. He went out of his way to introduce himself right after class, but he noticed she had a much younger looking man with her. Not wanting to intrude, he walked to his next class which he happened to share with Charlotte, too. Before the professor arrived, he introduced himself.
“Hi, I’m Travis Jones,” he said, holding his hand for her to shake.
Reluctantly, she shook it. “I’m Charlotte St John. This is my little brother, Christopher,” she said, pointing to the younger red-headed boy.
He wasn’t exactly sure what to say to her. He hadn’t been this awkward around a girl since his first meeting with Amy. “It was nice to meet you. It looks like we have a couple of classes together,” he finally managed to squeak out.
“Same,” she said, opening her notebook. “Christopher, it’s almost time,” she said to her brother. Turning back to Travis, she said quickly, “I hope we run into each other again.”
Indeed, Travis thought. And he felt the same flutter in his stomach as he did when he first met Amy.
Up Next: Chapter One, Generation Four