Day 14 of 100 Word Prompts: Photograph
The rhythm of the music in the room made Jessica’s body sway as she looked through the viewfinder of her camera and snapped photos of the gathering of people. She could feel the group moving in time with the beat, whether the people were aware of it or not.
“What are you doing?” a voice asked from behind her.
“Taking pictures,” she replied without turning around.
“Why?” the person asked.
Jessica rolled her eyes and let the camera hang around her neck once again as she spun around.
“Why is it so-” she stopped as she recognized the person speaking. She screamed and threw her arms over Stephen’s shoulders. “When did you get here!?” she asked.
“My flight landed an hour ago. I thought I’d find you here,” he replied with a chuckle. “You know I couldn’t wait to see my baby sister.”
“Well, what have you been up to?” Jessica asked.
“You know, traveling, scraping by with my art, and meeting people all over the country,” he replied with a shrug. “What about you? I’m glad to see you’re still doing your photography.”
“Lucky! I can’t believe you got to travel all over. Just a couple more years and I might be able to do the same,” she said. “My photography isn’t really doing much these days.”
“Let’s go for a walk,” Stephen said, nodding for the door. “It’s too loud in here.”
“Are you getting that old?” Jessica teased, “You’re only in your thirties.”
“I just like to be able to hear myself think and who I’m talking to speak,” he replied.
“Alright, I think I’ve got what I need from here anyway,” Jessica said.
Jessica followed Stephen outside, and they began the walk toward downtown. Jessica watched Stephen look up at the buildings they passed as though he were seeing them for the first time. The cloudless sky let the twinkling of stars shine down between the buildings. Stephen stopped when they reached the corner and looked up at the old Baptist church. The look in his eyes was one that Jessica wasn’t used to seeing, so she pulled her camera up slowly and took a picture.
“What was that for?” Stephen asked as the flash went off.
“I don’t know. You just looked like you were lost or something. It just looked interesting,” Jessica replied.
“I heard the paper is buying your pictures,” Stephen said, looking back up at the old church.
“Yeah, but it’s pennies. They don’t pay well enough for me to make any real money off. I’d have to capture something truly extraordinary,” Jessica said. “Maybe then they would actually pay me more.”
“You could refuse to sell to them,” Stephen suggested as he jammed his hands in his pockets and continued the stroll to the right toward the town hall.
“If I do that, I wouldn’t make any money at all. Mom and Dad are nice enough to let me stay with them, but I know that it’s wearing them down a little,” Jessica said. “Dad’s going to tell me I need to move sooner or later. Like he did with you.”
“What do they expect for raising two artists?” Stephen said, flashing a smile at her. “At least one of us is good at what we do.”
“Yeah, your paintings are amazing,” Jessica said. “I think I still need more work on my eye for pictures.”
“What are you talking about? My paintings are garbage. Did you get the one I mailed last week? Your photographs are amazing. The way you capture the light and the emotion of your subjects is insane,” Stephen protested.
Jessica’s phone vibrated in her pocket, drawing her attention from her brother.
“You know, I don’t think I said I love you enough growing up,” he said as she fished her phone out of her pocket.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Jessica said, seeing her mother’s face staring up at her from the screen. “It’s Mom. Hang on.”
“I love you,” Stephen said as Jessica answered the phone.
“Hello?” Jessica said.
On the other end of the line, she heard crying and heaving breaths.
“Jess-Jessica?” she replied.
“Yeah, I’m here. What’s wrong?” Jessica said as she turned around.
“Something terrible happened,” she cried.
“What is it, Mom? What happened? Are you and Dad okay?” Jessica asked.
“We-we’re fine,” her mother managed as she took a deep breath. “It’s Stephen.”
“Yeah, I know,” Jessica replied, spinning to discover she was alone on the sidewalk. “He’s he-”
“You heard about his plane crashing?” she bawled. “How did you hear about it? They just called us.”
“What? Mom, he was right here,” Jessica said, looking around.
“He couldn’t have been, Honey. His plane crashed two hours ago. There were no survivors on board,” her mother said. “Come home, please. We need you here.”
“O-okay,” Jessica said, as she pulled the phone away from her ear. She walked up and down the block looking in the occasional alley for Stephen.
She shook her head and thought about it. She had seen him at the venue. She knew it. Jessica lifted her camera from her chest and used the screen to look at the last picture she had taken. The old Baptist Church was lit beautifully, the moon hung in the sky just above the spire, illuminating the cross at the top as though it were light around it.
“What the-” Jessica muttered as she looked at it. The spot where Stephen’s face had been was blurred, as though the camera tried to focus there first. “I took his picture. I know I did,” she said as she scanned through the other pictures on the screen.
Jessica looked up at the church, confused. She thought about walking back to the venue and questioning the security guard at the door. She was sure he had been there, but if his plane had crashed. Her body suddenly felt numb. Her legs threatened to give out beneath her.
“Stephen?” she said out loud. “I didn’t imagine you. You were here. Are you still here?” she asked the sky.
A cool wind blew past, feeling almost like a hand touching her cheek as a shiver traveled up her spine. The tears came then. She cried as she got back to her feet and stumbled down the sidewalk toward her car. They continued as she drove home and didn’t stop even after her parents met her in the driveway.