Meet Jason Britwell
The four main characters of Divided and their sidekicks grew up in a very different world than most people you and I know. Living in a dictatorship, separated from other ethnicities and deprived of the world's advances, their lives revolved around school, family and Market Days (this is no Target or Walmart, trust me!). Jason, a hesitant hero who has difficult choices to make, grew up in the shadow of a neglectful, sometimes abusive power-hungry father in the Ivory section of Queenstown. In this scene, Jason gets in trouble with his father Hudson for low grades in History, the class in school prioritizing Martin propaganda rather than truth. We will also see a very young Junior, who will play a key role in Divided.
Jason Backstory Scene 1: Nine Years Before Divided Starts
Jason Britwell sat on the couch, not daring to move a single muscle as his father scanned the contents of the school letter. The elementary school had sent semester reports home in a letter, rather than handing them out in school. Last year had been pass-fail only. But now, in second year, they received grades in every class.
Math worried Jason. It was so boring. He often fell asleep. And he struggled with his sums. Multiplication tables were beyond him. Must’ve slept through that class, too.
Hudson Britwell, a barrel-chested stocky man with jet black hair, stood on the other side of the ornately carved wooden table in the Britwell living room. Jason could hear his mother, Eleanor, walking upstairs, her footsteps muffled by the thick area rugs. He was alone with this father.
Jason forced himself to draw deep breaths and hold back the tears. Father hated it when he cried.
Hudson Britwell threw the letter aside, drawing Jason’s eyes to his. He felt the blood drain from his face as his father clenched and unclenched his fists.
“This is unacceptable.” Hudson’s lips pursed and his nostrils flared. Jason trembled as he tried without success to peek at the marks on the upside-down letter.
“I-I-I’m sorry, sir.”
“Sorry doesn’t cut it, Jason. I ban you from all sports for the rest of the semester.”
Jason’s heart fell. It was January. No sports until May? How would he survive? Physical Education class was the best part of the day. Surely, he could attend class, right?
“Nothing justifies a mere ‘Satisfactory’ on your report. I’ll be having a discussion with your teacher. How could you embarrass me like this? What kind of sedition are you involved in that you would fail a quiz in history?”
Jason’s eyes narrowed. He hadn’t failed a quiz in history. He knew that much. In fact, he had aced that quiz and the end-of-semester test, too. What was going on? Math, sure, he would expect trouble in that class. But his father had said nothing about poor marks in math.
His fingers itched to look at the letter.
“I don’t want to hear any explanations or excuses. You evidently need a break from sports to apply yourself to academics. Rulers maintain power through their brains, not their muscles. Junior understands this concept. You should spend more time with him.”
Understanding dawned on Jason. Junior was their neighbor, his father, some kind of wealthy manager who traveled back and forth to Martinsburg. Jason didn’t know anyone else who’d ever left the city. Power attracted Hudson like a moth to flame, which had to be why Hudson pushed friendship with Junior.
And evidently Jason was the problem - Junior wasn’t good at sports. He wasn’t on the second year football team, nor did he get chosen to captain the teams in Phys Ed. Plus, he enjoyed tormenting others, something Jason found despicable.
Had his father somehow arranged for Jason to get low marks in history so that he could manipulate him? That seemed elaborate - and unreasonable. Why would Hudson Britwell take this level of interest in Jason? Father and son were hardly together, and never once had his father praised him. He was much closer to his mother - a fact that his father ridiculed him for.
“You have no choice now, do you?” His father interrupted yet again. “I’ll have Junior come over to help you patch yourself up.”
Jason’s eyes grew wide as Hudson Britwell’s fist came barreling toward Jason’s jaw. He flinched backward, but not quickly enough to dodge the punch. He crashed against the back of the sofa, his father’s slap echoing in his left ear. Jason cried out and heard his mother’s frantic footsteps on the stairs.
“No, Mom! Stay back!” Jason sat up, stretching his hand toward his mother as his father’s fist landed across his jaw.
“Maybe you’ll think again about your priorities. No son of mine would value sports over academics.”
“Hudson, what’s going on?” Eleanor’s hand probed Jason’s aching jaw and temple.
“None of your business. This is between Jason and I. And I think we understand each other now. Right?”
His father stormed out, the front door slamming behind him.
“He wants me to spend more time with Junior, Mom. And to not play football. But that’s what I love? What’s so wrong about liking Physical Education?”
“Oh, sweetheart, he means well. You can’t play football forever.”
“I’m only eight,” he whispered. The protest died on his lips. Jason’s childhood had disappeared when the beatings had started years ago. “And I don’t like Junior. He’s mean, Mom.”
Eleanor’s fingers wound together as she sat on the sofa next to him. “You might not have a choice, Jason. There’s a saying - ‘keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.’ Let’s pretend that it applies here.”
Was Junior an enemy? And if he was, could Jason protect other kids by staying close to him? It was worth trying. Junior instigated fights that he then conveniently escaped without punishment. And strangely, no one ratted him out.
Junior strolled in without a knock. Who did he think he was?
“Mrs. B, how ya doin’?” He flopped onto the sofa on Jason’s other side as Jason and his mother stared at him, mouths open like twin drawers.
Jason shut his mouth, then flashed his mother a look.
“I’ll let you two boys play. I have dinner to prepare.” Jason’s mother walked to the kitchen at the rear of the house without a backward glance.
“Finally, the old hag leaves us alone,” Junior said loudly, heading toward the discarded letter on the ground. “Let’s torch this, shall we?”
Before Jason could launch himself off the sofa to grab the letter, Junior had flicked on the gas fireplace and tossed the letter into the flames. Jason grabbed at it, but quickly drew his fingers back from the flames.
“What are you doing! I didn’t read that yet!”
“It’s not worth your time. You’re smarter than that, Jason. Can’t you see? Just stick with me and all your dreams will come true.” Junior placed a hand on Jason’s taller shoulder and squeezed.
Why had just happened? Nothing added up. Had his father coordinated the whole thing with an eight-year-old?
His mother’s words echoed,
Keep this enemy closer. Jason swallowed his distaste.