I can hardly believe it. So much time has gone by… it’s been four years since I picked up this old journal of mine. Things have changed so much that looking back on my previous entries, even I cannot believe just how different life is.
Jamie is the sole provider of our family with his garden, for instance. That’s right. I quit my job as a foster care mother and social worker. Are you shocked, diary? I know I was when I made the decision. You see, after Jeff went away to Dribbledine, I realized that it’s not only the children who have been abused or abandoned that need love and affection – my own children required just as much from me and to be a better parent, I had to be around for them. What kind of a hypocrite would I be if I wasn’t there for my babies? Especially now that they’re all getting so much older.
I think my quitting is what really made Jamie cave into my desire for another baby. We were both wary, of course. After two sets of twins, we could hardly expect to have a singleton and yet, somehow, we did.
Gawain was born a few months before Lancelot and Merlin’s second birthday. He was a quiet baby and easy to care for. But Jamie and I worried about Gawain. We didn’t want him to grow up without someone his age to play with like the rest of his siblings. That’s when Jamie and I made the decision to adopt another child. It felt right, in a way. It felt as though I were making up for quitting the fostering of other children by adopting one into my family. And that is how little Guinevere came into our lives.
I can’t believe it though. I have seven children and I’m not even thirty yet! I wonder if this is how Gabe feels when my children call him ‘gramps’ although he hasn’t long since he became a parent himself. Most of my former peers from high school have one baby, if at all. I know that not all of them have been blessed with a life as good as mine.
I have a wonderful husband who loves me just as much as I love him.
I have a son who is just a year shy of graduating from Dribbledine Academy with high honors and a recruitment to the Sunset Valley Llamas Soccer Team.
I have eight year old twins who are very accomplished in their respective afterschool activities. Arthur finally left his imaginary friend days behind when he started school and joined the boy scouts. And Morgana, my bossy little social butterfly has joined girl scouts. Jamie and I are scout leaders for their respective programs and I couldn’t be prouder each time I see my children with a new badge on their chests.
I have two beautiful five year old twins who, although entirely different from each other, are already beginning to express their interests. Merlin, my handsome little boy, is a logical thinker and spends all of his time tinkering with toys whereas Lancelot is more of a creative and artistic soul. He has an imaginary friend too but I’m hoping that, like Arthur, he’ll grow out of it.
And finally, I have two amazing little three year olds who never fail to astound me with their intelligence even at such a young age. Gawain is my sweet little boy. He’s always giggling and laughing. And his ‘twin’, Guinevere, is very similar to him, always enticing her elder siblings to play with her if even just for a few minutes.
I’m happy, diary. Happier than I ever envisioned myself being. All the things I never wanted for myself – finding my father, love, marriage, children – I can’t imagine my life without it. I had been cold and analytical and then I met Jamie, the love of my life who changed me. He taught me so much about myself, about how to live and how to love. I can’t thank him enough. Maybe someday I’ll take up fostering again when my own children have grown up and left to follow the thread of their own lives. Maybe I’ll become an artist or a singer. Who knows? All I really do know is that no matter what I do with the rest of my life, I will always have this beautiful boy by my side.
Jenna Sarah Hart
Jamie didn’t say no outright but he didn’t say yes either.
“I’m not saying no,” Jamie said, holding me close to him. “But if we’re going to do this, we need to take a break from fostering for a while after the baby is born. At least until he or she is five. Could you handle that, Jenna?”
To distract myself, I picked up painting again. I understood Jamie’s hesitation. Before we could think about bringing another baby into our house to stay, our home needed more stability than it currently had. Not to say that Jamie and I are struggling with money, we have more than enough, but to have boys and girls with varying degrees of pain and needs coming in and out of our home… it’s unlikely that we’d be able to raise a child and give him or her the same attention that we gave to Jeff, Arthur, and Morgana.
But could I do it? Could I stop fostering children for five years? When I stop and think about how many children I can help in five years, I start to feel selfish for wanting to let someone else handle them just so I can have more children of my own.
I’m only human though and although I love each and every one of the children that come through my door, I want my own baby. I want to hold my little one in my arms and know that he or she came from Jamie and me.
While I struggled to come to a decision, I did what I do best – I fostered children.
First came a seven year old boy named Jamal Paramour from South Texas. Fortunately, Jamal wasn’t an abuse case of any kind but there are still scars on his young mind. Jamal came from a single parent family, his father having passed before he was born. According to social services, Jamal was often left home alone while his mother worked the night shift as a nurse to support them. Six year old Jamal had been waiting for his mother, nose pressed against the window, when he witnessed something no child should ever have to see.
I think this is why he’s obsessed with dressing up like a traditional western cowboy and almost always has his nose buried in books featuring famous heroes. I’m sure Jamal thinks that becoming a hero will somehow avenge what happened to his mother. Jamie and I have tried talking to him about it but we haven’t really been able to get through to him. He’s a cheerful enough kid though and I’m sure that his forever family will be able to keep him safe.
Lai came to us not long after Jamal’s departure. Social services didn’t give me much information on this little angel apart from the fact that her parents were Chinese immigrants and that their house burned down. I would like to say that I helped Lai in the short time she was in my house but to be honest, her presence helped me. If Lai had never come into my life, I don’t think I ever would have made a decision.
Lai had only been with Jamie and I for about two weeks when I received a phone call from social services. There was a family willing to adopt Lai and they were calling to set up an appointment to meet her as well as have their interview with Jamie and myself.
Roseanne Palacios struck me as a bit of a ditz despite being several years older than both Jamie and I. Still, despite everything, she had a beautiful sense of humor and an easygoing smile.
“Why do you want to adopt, Mrs. Palacios?” I inquired.
A small, sad smile curled at her lips and she pressed a hand to her heart. “I’ve always wanted children, Mrs. Hart. You’re young and you’ve been blessed with not only adopting a handsome young man but two of your own. Surely you can understand why I would want to better the life of a child who has no home?”
“My wife isn’t getting any younger, Mr. and Mrs. Hart. Roseanne and I tried when we were in our youth but our Heavenly Father, for reasons unknown to us at the time, decided that we were not meant to have children of our own. We just want to provide for a child.” Her husband, Marcos, chimed in.
I could see their sincerity, their love. I put myself in their shoes. What if Jamie and I had struggled to conceive like Gabriel and Susie? What if, like the Palacios family, we had never been able to have children of our own? And to better a child’s life… wasn’t that the reason I had originally chosen to follow this career path?
After the Palacios family left (with an armful of paperwork to fill out in order to finalize Lai’s adoption), I wrapped my arms around Jamie. All that working out with Marty had its perks and his strong arms wrapped themselves around me, holding me tight and he asked no questions. How long we stood like that, I’m not sure, but when we broke apart, I couldn’t look Jamie in the face.
“I can’t do it, Jamie.” I whispered. “I can’t let this blessing I have go to waste when so many other women wish they had it. I want another baby so bad.”
Jamie scooped me up into his arms and pressed his lips against mine softly. “Are you sure?”
I looked into his beautiful green eyes. Jamie’s always been there for me, solid and steady as a rock. I know he’s genuinely giving me the choice although I know he wants another baby too.
“I’m sure.” I whispered.
Needless to say, we wasted no time trying.
It wasn’t long after my decision was made that Jeff’s thirteenth birthday rolled along. Jamie and I offered to throw Jeff a party with family and friends but he declined. When we asked him why, he claimed that it would be too noisy in the house for Morgana and Arthur and his uncle, Farrow.
“And it wouldn’t be fair to Gramps, either. Or Grandma.” He added. “Gramps worries too much and he’d be freaking out the whole time. He’d probably end up making Grandma mad.”
Knowing Gabe’s tendency to stress out, particularly after Susie’s pregnancy with Farrow, Jamie and I had to agree that Jeff was probably right.
We did get Jeff a cake though. Jamie and I overcompensated for the lack of party guests, going wild with the party favors we’d picked out when we had originally been planning a party.
I think we might have embarrassed Jeff a little and I’m sure he was grateful that none of his friends were around to watch us bounce around and cheer like idiots.
Jeff had only two requests for a birthday gift. The first was that he be allowed to get a haircut. He’d found that it was much easier to tame his unruly curls if he kept his hair short. Jamie and I were only too happy to oblige him. The second request though…
“Mom, Dad,” Jeff began after we had put the leftover slices of cake away in the fridge. “I want to enroll at Dribbledine Sports Academy in Bridgeport.”
I couldn’t believe my ears! My little boy, my first child, wanted to go away to boarding school? Jamie, sensing that I needed a minute to process this, spoke up.
“Why Dribbledine, son?” He asked. “I thought you were into painting.”
I shot Jamie a thankful glance.
“Well, yeah, I like painting but you guys know I only took it up so I wouldn’t die of boredom.”
“How come you never mentioned sports before honey?” I asked, finally having recovered enough to join the conversation.
“No offense mom but I didn’t think you’d have the time to come to any of my games. The coaches all said I’m really good though and, get this – we haven’t had any athletes in the family since my great-great-great uncle, Mason. I found out about him when I was researching the family tree for a project. He was the best. This is what I want to do and Dribbledine will help me get a scholarship for college. Please, mom? Dad? Please?”
My heart broke when I heard Jeff plead his case for two reasons. The first was that he considered himself a part of the Hart family so entirely, so completely, that he even accepted relatives he’d never known to be his. But then I felt guilty. I had always thought I’d done my best to be there for Jeff, to never make him feel neglected and yet here was my son telling me he didn’t think I’d have had time to watch him play! What else could I do for him but grant him his wish? Jeff had never asked for much.
And now, more than ever, I understood why Jamie had set the one rule to having more children. I don’t want any of my kids to ever feel like I won’t have enough time for them.
And so the great preparations to enroll Jeff at Dribbledine began. Jeff took to using our weight and exercise room to prepare himself for the rigorous regime the school follows while Jamie and I set up a payment plan and started buying Jeff the things he would need. I hated the idea of my baby being so far away from me but he promised he’d be back to visit every school holiday.
The time it took to prepare for Jeff’s departure meant that my pregnancy passed in the blink of an eye and before I knew it, I had given birth to my second set of twins, Merlin and Lancelot.
It was as easy to distinguish between my boys as it had been between Arthur and Morgana. Merlin, the elder by five minutes, had blonde hair just like Susie and Jamie’s biological mother as well as Jamie’s beautiful green eyes. Lancelot, on the other hand, had the same dark hair as Morgana and what looked like AB’s blue eyes.
Jeff spent a lot of time with his younger siblings, hoping that they might have at least faint memories of him before he left.
He also spent a great deal of time with Morgana and Arthur although Morgana was far more receptive to spending time with her elder brother.
And then the day came.
My twins turned one and my baby, my Jeff, finally left to embark on his journey at Dribbledine Academy and I?
I was going to ask Jamie for just one more baby.
What a precious thing sleep is. I don’t think either Jamie or I ever truly recognized its value until we had children. Babies, I mean. As an older child, Jeff had never really given us much trouble at night. Occasionally he would wake up and crawl into bed with Jamie and I because of a nightmare here and there but really, it was nothing compared to when Morgana and Arthur entered our lives. Not even Chance, who had been far needier than any of our children thus far, had robbed us of so much sleep.
Jamie doesn’t mind and neither do I. My children are my life even if Morgana is a bit of a daddy’s girl.
Whenever she isn’t trying to engage the boys in a game, she can typically be found with her daddy babbling up a storm. She’s passed the fifty-word-stage and is progressing at a rapid pace.
But while Morgana is content to babble away at just about anyone whether they be human or not, Arthur is different. He has progressed at the same rate that his sister has. I know because I’ve often heard him talking to himself when he thinks no one is looking. The only person he speaks to with regularity apart from himself is his twin.
You can imagine my excitement, I’m sure, whenever Arthur voluntarily chooses to speak to either me or Jamie. It makes my day! But as much as I love spending time with my twins, I always make sure to make time for Jeff.
He’s taken up painting recently as a quieter alternative to blasting his rock music. Jeff has taken his role as ‘big brother’ very, very seriously and tries to help out in any small way he can. As much as Jamie and I appreciate this, we still want him to understand that he has plenty of time to be a kid before he has to grow up.
This is why, although his thirteenth birthday is coming up, Jamie makes plenty of time to play pillow fights with Jeff. It brings out the inner child in both of them and I love watching them play.
Jamie’s no good at pillow fights though. Jeff beats him every single time. I think the only reason Jamie puts up with being walloped with a pillow every night is just for the sake of hearing Jeff’s carefree laughter. Neither of us likes the idea of our children growing up so quickly. The twins are turning three and soon, they just won’t need me as much anymore. The thought makes me sad. 😦
Occasionally, Jamie and I turned to coffee to keep our bodies going. As the twins grew older and the nighttime feedings and the diaper changes dwindled in number, we relied less on caffeine. Still, sometimes it was necessary. Particularly when we had cases that didn’t really seem receptive to our care.
One such case was Martha Brown, an eleven year old girl from Southern California. Marty, as she preferred to be called, was another abuse case. The mother, whom has now been deemed to have psychological issues, had nearly beaten Marty to death on more than one occasion.
Her fear and mistrust of fellow women was severe enough to limit my interactions with her. Most of her care was relegated to Jamie.
Marty was an active child though and often coaxed Jeff to play Gnubb with her. She won more often than he did but he never lost his patience or refused to play. Jeff confided in me one night, telling me that the only reason he played with Marty was so he could be for her what I had been for him. My little boy is such a sweetheart.
Jamie too did his part in taking care of Marty. Although my poor, sweet, clumsy Jamie is the furthest thing from athletic, every single afternoon he would don his shorts and a light shirt and work out with Marty. The two of them would bond and Jamie, after receiving coaching from me, learned how to conduct an interview without making it seem like one.
After seven months in our household, Marty’s fear and mistrust of women had diminished enough for her to be in the same room with me. Once, she quite politely asked me if I could get her a glass of water before bed. Marty had been living with us for almost an entire year when she finally found her forever home.
I couldn’t help but think of Susie when Marty left, about how she would be unable to give a child up. Words cannot describe how happy I am that little Farrow was born. And to find out that she’s expecting again? Well, I couldn’t be happier for her.
After all, she’ll soon find out what having two babies is like although my own children are fast leaving babyhood behind them.
Arthur remains more introverted and has taken to hiding in his toy box. Occasionally he’ll peek his head out and look around the room as though he believes someone else is playing with him. From the books I’ve read, it seems perfectly natural that he has an imaginary friend. I can only hope that he grows out of this soon.
I take him out on strolls often in the hopes that he’ll open up but thus far, I have been met with limited success. The best I’ve gotten was Arthur exclaiming “Buh-fly!” when a blue and yellow butterfly fluttered past us on the way home.
Morgana, on the other hand, has taken to spending a lot of time with her elder brother. Jeff, though already closer to fourteen, delights in spending time with his baby sister. She emulates Jeff often and the two can spend hours playing peek-a-boo together.
What I love the most, though, is that he never seems to be too old for me to help him with his homework. Jeff doesn’t struggle with school – I know he’s a bright boy and his teachers have said as much – but he still likes to ask for help which I appreciate. Jeff is the complete opposite of the boy we fostered after Marty.
Micah Evans, a seventeen year old boy who’d been in foster care since age eight, came to Jamie and I after his previous foster family kicked him out. When I got my first glimpse of Micah, I have to admit that I was more than a little apprehensive of having someone with the word punk written all over them in the same house as my children. But I had vowed that all children would have a home with me so I did my best not to judge him.
As it turns out, I was right not to judge Micah. Although he wouldn’t talk to either Jamie or I very much, he absolutely adored my children. I swear, nothing could get a smile out of that boy as much as reading to Morgana. Sometimes he even got Arthur out of his shell. And Jeff liked him very much so clearly Micah wasn’t anything like his rough exterior.
Micah stayed with us for just the one year and on his eighteenth birthday decided that it was time for him to strike out on his own despite Jamie and I’s reassurances that he could stay as long as he needed or wanted.
“It’s okay Mrs. H.” Micah said with a smile. He then did something that surprised me and wrapped his arms around me in a tight hug. “Thank you for all that you’ve done. It’s time I go out and make something out of myself now. I won’t ever forget you.”
And after what was quite possibly the longest thing Micah had ever said to me, he got into a taxi and left our lives. I still hear from him every now and then. Micah’s currently got a job at a local elementary school as a teacher’s assistant.
It’s hard though. I never let on to Susie just how hard it is to let go of a child. Sure, I know I can’t house them all. Some of the kids are better off in other homes with their forever families. But I can’t deny that it’s difficult. But Jamie’s always there to pick up the pieces. He always hugs me tight and kisses me and whispers that it’ll be okay.
And that’s why, on the night before Arthur and Morgana’s fifth birthday, as we were lying in bed talking about our days, I decided to ask Jamie for something.
“Jamie, I want another baby.”
“MOMMY, ARTHUR HIT ME!”
“MRS. HART, ANNA WON’T SHARE!”
“BOBBY’S BEING GROSS AGAIN MRS. HART!”
As both a mother and a social worker, this house has never been quiet except perhaps during the few months it took to get all our permits signed. That was just over three years ago.
“Bobby, take your finger OUT of your nose! Barbara, honey, could you PLEASE put the toys away? Anna, that dollhouse is for everybody! I’m coming Morgana! ARTHUR! Stop being a naughty boy and quit hitting your sister!”
Tiring as this job is though, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. Still, sometimes I can’t help but think back on before all this craziness started. Before my and Jamie’s lives became about changing diapers, wiping sticky faces and fingers, and learning how to play the moderator. I still remember my wedding day like it was yesterday…
It all started after Jamie and I turned eighteen.
We’d told our parents about our engagement, of course. Everyone was supportive of us. Susie and my mother threw themselves into wedding preparations. I hadn’t expected anything major. To be honest I’d just wanted to go down to the courthouse, sign a few papers, and be done with it but of course, no one would allow that.
“Jenna, you only get married once.” Susie said, eyeing just how tightly I was holding Jamie’s hand. “You have to make a big deal out of it. You’ll regret it later if you don’t. Trust me.”
My mother agreed with Susie and so, with Adam Blake footing the bill, a large party was born. It was bad enough having to deal with selecting a wedding dress and party favors, decorations and cakes but Jamie had a few surprises of his own too.
“You didn’t think I’d ask you to marry me without giving you a ring, did you?” Jamie asked. He’d nearly dropped the little black velvet box as he’d tugged it out of his pocket. With fumbling fingers, he opened the box and nestled amongst the velvet was a ring, beautiful in its simplicity.
“Oh Jamie, you didn’t have to!” I said as he slipped the ring onto my finger. The band was a thin golden circle with a tiny gem in baby blue in the shape of a heart. It was beautiful.
“Do you like it?” Jamie asked. “Gabe helped me pick it out.”
“I love it!” I cried, admiring the ring on my finger.
Graduation came not long after our engagement and even I was invited to attend the ceremony. Although I was not a member of Riverview’s High School, I was still voted as “The One Most Likely to Have a Large Family”. How my peers came to that conclusion, I’ll never know.
Jamie, on the other hand, was voted “Most Likely to Be Mediocre”. He didn’t mind though. At least no one was picking on him or being cruel toward him. I’d half expected someone to trip him on his way to the podium but no one did. Maybe the graduates of Riverview had finally begun to move on, to acknowledge that Jamie Kelly is just an ordinary person like the rest of us.
After graduation, Jamie pulled his second surprise: telling me about his past.
It was hard on both of us but mostly on Jamie himself. He cried a lot in the telling of his story and worried frequently, telling me that I didn’t have to marry him if I didn’t want to, that he would understand if I didn’t want someone who was tainted. His honesty, his bravery, in telling me what had happened to him in his younger years only made me love him all the more and I told him as such. It also strengthened my desire to become a social worker, to help keep kids out of situations like Jamie’s… and Arthur’s. I’d made my own silent decision then to name our firstborn son after Jamie’s brother to honor him (yes, even then I’d already known I would have children with Jamie).
Jamie’s high spirits returned when I didn’t reject him and as our wedding date drew closer, I knew I had made the right choice in coming back to him. He’d been through so much, far more than I ever have been, it wouldn’t have been right of me to judge him.
Adrian and Cedric were the first to arrive after the wedding invitations were sent. I had felt it was only right that I invite them. After all, in their own strange ways, they’d kept me sane during my stay in Riverview.
Cedric wasn’t his usual cheerful self though. It was only later that I found out why.
“Hey Jamie, let me tell you something.” Cedric called out on the day we were setting up wedding decorations. The boys were needed to reach the higher places and to carry in the arch and the chairs and such.
“What’s up?” Jamie asked, putting down the silverware he’d brought.
Cedric leaned in close. From my vantage point, I could only just hear the words that were said. “If you ever hurt Jenna, I’ll kill you myself, understand? Just light a fire you can’t escape from and poof.”
Jamie froze, uncertain whether he should take this as a joke or as a serious threat.
“Boys, I need some help with the table so if you could have less of the chit-chat and more of the work, I’d appreciate it!” I called out in an effort to defuse the tension.
Cedric straightened up and flashed me a winning smile. “Of course, Jenna. Well, you heard the lady. Get movin’ ginger.”
After a quick, nervous glance in my direction, Jamie followed after Cedric toward the truck in order to unload more silverware and plates. Cedric maintained a cool level expression as they worked but there was a glint in his eyes that made me think he’d very much like to gut Jamie with one of the knives he was carrying. I fretted, debating going and helping the boys in order to reassure Jamie or just leaving them to it.
“Don’t worry about Cedric,” Adrian murmured from behind me. “He’s just jealous because you’re marrying Jamie and not him. He really liked you, you know.”
“I know,” I said. I’d figured as such. I still didn’t feel very reassured though.
Adrian enveloped me in a hug. “Don’t worry, he won’t really hurt him. He’s a firefighter. He takes that job seriously so he’d never really set Jamie on fire. Besides, I’ve got my eye on him either way and I’ll stop that idiot if he gets too hot-headed. Congratulations, Jenna. I’m so proud of you.”
Oh Adrian, always there and always knowing what to say. I’d found a great friend in him.
My grandmother and Adam Blake arrived on decoration day. Eilonwy was as cheerful as ever, glad I had remembered to send her an invitation. She spent the majority of her time ogling Jamie and making loud, sexual innuendos about him whenever he passed by her which understandably made him more than a little uncomfortable. She winked at me when I caught her at it though, letting me know it was all in good fun. And it was just too funny to make her stop regardless.
I’d worried about how Adam Blake and my mother would react after finally seeing each other for the first time in over eighteen years but fortunately for me, Adam Blake seemed determined to keep the peace.
“It’s nice seein’ ya again, Mandy.” He greeted. “I’m grateful ya sent the kid t’me. Let’s make this a special day for ‘er, okay?”
My mother, according to Jamie, smiled and said, “It’s nice to see you too, AB. Now if you really want to make this a special day, help me with setting up the chairs, will you?”
They seemed cordial enough, willing to get along, even.
“Sure. Just want a word with Jamie first.” Adam Blake said.
“You love my daughter, right?” Adam Blake said.
“O-of course, Mr. Hart.” Jamie replied.
“And you’d never do nothin’ t’hurt ‘er, right?”
“No sir, never.”
“Good. Because if you do, remember kid, you don’t want me as an enemy.”
Correction: Adam Blake was determined to keep the peace with my mother. Jamie, on the other hand, was a different story altogether.
Jamie swallowed hard. “Understood, sir.”
And with that cheerful note, the rest of the day went by without any major incident.
My wedding day dawned bright and beautiful. Everyone had to get ready earlier in order to take the pre-wedding photos. Jamie took pictures with Gabriel (Susie had made him shave for the occasion, claiming he needed to look clean for his son’s wedding) and Adam Blake who’d conceded to wearing the coat jacket in order to cover up his tattoos. The guys were all determined to wear serious expressions (except for Jamie who just looked nervous) but wound up laughing after the shoot.
I took a picture with my grandmother and mother. Three generations of women in a single photo really is impressive.
The photographer we’d invited insisted on photos of me by myself which I obliged to on the condition that none of them be released to a newspaper or magazine without my consent.
And then, finally, it was time for the big event.
Adam Blake walked me down the aisle. I thought back on all those times when, as a little girl, I’d realized I wouldn’t have a father to give me away. And yet here I was, my arm tucked in the crook of Adam Blake’s arm, walking slowly toward Jamie amidst the sighs and the cheers from the crowd of invited family and friends.
“I never thought I would be walking down the aisle, much less with a father.” I said as Adam Blake and I made our way down the small walk. The grass had been carpeted in white flowers which suffused the air with their floral fragrance.
“N I never thought I’d be givin’ away a daughter.” Adam Blake replied.
We looked at each other and quickly looked away although I knew we were both smiling. Although we had gotten off to a rocky start and hadn’t bonded as my mother had intended, things really had turned out for the best.
Jamie and I posed for a few pictures once Adam Blake had placed my hand in Jamie’s. I could tell that both Jamie and I were more at ease with the whole proceedings now that we were finally together. As per wedding tradition, I hadn’t seen Jamie all day long and he’d never once seen me in my wedding dress up until that moment. I have to admit, I liked watching his eyes pop when he first saw me. It made the day apart worth it.
And then, as the sun began to set, it was finally time. When I faced Jamie and looked into his eyes, I knew that I had made the right choice.
We said our vows, short sweet and to the point, in front of our friends and family. Many of our former peers attended our wedding to my surprise and congratulated us on a beautiful ceremony. I guess they really had moved on or had at least chosen to quit picking on Jamie which made our celebration even merrier.
I don’t think a kiss has ever tasted so sweet nor have any two words sounded so good.
Jamie might beg to differ though because I surprised him with a gift on our wedding night. We had fit together beautifully, I’m glad to say, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen Jamie more passionate than that night.
Jamie and I enjoyed wedded bliss for at least two months, give or take a week. The two of us had immediately settled into our new house and were eager to get out into the world, Jamie as a self-employed gardener and me as a social worker.
It took at least a month before all the paperwork was completed. Jamie’s a forgetful person at times and I can’t even remember how many copies we made of each form as a ‘just in case’ he so happened to lose a sheet. As for me, applying for a job was a much longer process which involved several interviews and mountains of paperwork.
Throughout all this, Jamie and I never once lost track of what was important: each other. But of course, our time to be alone was coming to an end.
The end of our alone time came in the form of ten-year-old Jeffery (“Jeff”, as he prefers to be called), my very first foster case. Jeff was an abuse case coming from Bridgeport. His father had been a party-going drunkard and his mother had been a crack-addicted prostitute who’d died when Jeff was only three. Despite his rough upbringing, Jeff has a positive and sunny attitude although he’s inherited his father’s love of parties and loud noises. There was a secret side to Jeff, though, an artistic side. Anyway, Jamie and I fell absolutely in love with Jeff and eventually wound up adopting him as our own.
It wasn’t long after adopting Jeff, maybe two months later, that I realized something. Or at least, I hoped. I didn’t have much time to dwell on my revelations, though. Jamie and I had our hands full.
I spent a lot of time with Jeff those first few weeks. I wanted to make him feel comfortable. He’d already been living with us for over a month as a foster child but I wanted to make sure he understood that he’d found his home with Jamie and me. So we did a lot of activities together like playing Gnubb…
… and Jamie made sure to make time to play chess with Jeff in the evenings. I tried to get the house in tip-top shape so I could paint at around the same hour. I wanted us all be in the same room together and bond like a family ought to. It was interesting to be working on a piece for the nursery and to hear Jeff cheering or groaning, depending on how the game was going. Jamie says that Jeff is actually really good, always coming up with new strategies to win.
We’re a team, Jamie and I, and together we’d usually get through the day without any major incidents. Occasionally the shower would break or the sink would leak but, let me tell you, as clumsy as Jamie is, he’s gotten pretty handy with a wrench! I knew then that, if my hunch was right and with more foster children on the way, we wouldn’t have the time to personally attend to (and have a little fun while cleaning) breaks like this so I cherished the time I got to spend alone with Jamie, even if I had to mop the floors throughout it.
I made sure my boys had a warm breakfast every morning. Most days, I still do. I didn’t mind waking up at six to cook so that they could eat before the bus came to pick Jeff up for school and Jamie went out into our small garden to get the day’s work done. After all, the family that eats together stays together, or so they say. Whoever ‘they’ are.
I remember the day I found out that I was pregnant, I wondered briefly whether eating at the table as a family already counted for the little life inside of me. At eighteen years old, I was pregnant with my first child and while most girls my age would recoil at the fact and claim that their lives were over, I knew mine was just beginning.
The day I told Jamie was a funny one. He’d just come inside after making sure his plants had been watered when I cornered him in the living room. That poor boy. “Now, don’t panic Jamie,” I began that fateful afternoon. “But… honey, I’m pregnant.”
I remember thinking that Jamie’s eyes were going to pop out of his head and wondering whether his jaw had become unhinged. His reaction was priceless! Internally, I considered the chances of Jamie passing out. Fortunately, he’s stronger than he looks and once he got over the shock, Jamie was thrilled.
“You mean I’m gonna be a daddy?!” Jamie gasped. When I nodded, he jumped up and down like an excited little kid. Really, I have the best husband despite his… performance anxiety.
After I formally announced our pregnancy, Jamie really stepped up to the plate of a soon-to-be father. He read pregnancy books (which terrified him and made me comfort him for hours on end…) to get more informed about what was going on in our lives.
He became, if possible, even more attentive than before, showering me in kisses, little gifts like flowers, and massages. It was almost as if Jamie knew what was bothering me before I could even put my complaints into words. Whenever I felt ugly, when my emotions would go haywire, Jamie was there to comfort me with kind words and gentle kisses. Whenever my back hurt and my feet were sore and I felt nauseous, Jamie was there to give me a massage or to hold my hair back whenever I threw up. I knew how frightened he felt by the changes but that he would overcome those fears to make sure I was happy meant the world to me.
Of course I enjoyed all the other perks to being pregnant. Cookies for lunch? Most definitely! I perfected my cookie-making skills during that pregnancy.
But I wasn’t able to enjoy myself fully. Not until I dealt with one more person…
I wasn’t sure how Jeff would react to the news. I worried and fretted, wondering if he would think that he wasn’t good enough or that he was being replaced. When I sat him down in his bedroom to talk to him though, he was more easygoing and excited than I had expected for him to be. In fact, there was only one thing about the situation that bothered him.
“I don’t have to give up my room though, right?” Jeff asked in a small voice. He looked around the room anxiously.
“Oh honey, of course not! The new baby will be in the nursery and that will later become a room for him or her. I promise you can keep your room.”
Jeff leapt up off of his bench and enveloped me into a tight hug. “I’ve never had a sibling before,” He mused. “I’m happy for you mommy.”
The months of pregnancy whirled by in a flurry of activity, preparing for the baby and making sure Jeff never felt neglected. The day I gave birth was both one of the happiest and most painful days of my life because, of course, life has its own surprises in store.
I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy with a fuzz of light brown hair on his head. When I told the nurse to write down the name Arthur on his chart, Jamie started crying even harder. Oh, right. I forgot to mention why Jamie was crying in the first place. Well…
I’d also given birth to Arthur’s younger twin sister, Morgana.
Jeff showed a great deal of interest in his younger siblings and took his responsibilities as ‘big brother’ very seriously. He even turned down the volume on his radio whenever the twins’ naptime came along.
The years have continued to go by with no major events of note. Foster children come and go and my own children continue to grow older. Just a few months ago, we celebrated the twins’ second birthdays.
I wonder what else life has in store for me. For Jamie. For the future.
That’s how long it took me to walk back to Riverview. Three long, impossibly crazy days.
When I left Bridgeport, I didn’t stop to think about anything but getting back to Riverview, back to Jamie. I walked for hours though it felt like minutes. I stopped only when the clock struck midnight and took refuge in a nearby park to rest for a few hours.
I woke and walked almost all of that first day, stopping only at noon for a quick bite to eat. I continued to walk all through the night, pausing for hour-long intervals. When my body just couldn’t go any further and my eyes were so heavy I could barely see, I wound up stopping in some little town whose name I can’t remember. Although I didn’t have much money on me, I used some of it to hire a taxi to drive me for a few miles. I got off at the next small town and, I regret to say it but, I used Adam Blake’s name to secure myself a free hotel room. I don’t know which was worse: using celebrity to get something I wanted or having to fend off people who suddenly admired me and wanted pictures with me.
The second day I spent walking was so much harder, and in some ways easier, than the first. It was easier because I knew what to expect. It was easier because I was well-rested and had gotten both a comfortable bed to sleep in and food to nourish me. But that bed was also my downfall. So comfortable, so soft, the bed had trapped me, making it difficult for me to want to get up and face the challenges of the day. When I finally managed it, my body screamed in protest but I forced it to rise, to get dressed and continue my journey. My muscles were cramping and the sun always seemed to be in my face no matter which direction I turned. I’d always thought I was fairly in shape but this trip convinced me otherwise. I had to stop to rest more frequently and I had to find another hotel to sleep in that night. There were times when I questioned my sanity in just getting up and leaving Bridgeport but the thought of seeing Jamie’s face kept me going.
On the third day of walking, I marveled as the vestiges of civilization slowly melted away, transforming into long open pastures and fenced in ranches. The scent of pure, untainted air filled my lungs, flooding my mind with nostalgia and my body with renewed strength.
When I finally crossed into the Riverview town limits, I had to stop and wipe a few tears away. This is where I belong. It is where I will always belong. I couldn’t believe it. I was finally home.
As happy as I felt to be in Riverview again; however, I couldn’t face going back to my mother’s house just yet. Living with Adam Blake has made me infinitely more independent and I don’t want to deal with being babied right now. And although the purpose of my long trek had been to see Jamie, the thought of going to him without even knowing what to say… I needed time to think. And here I could think, here amongst the quiet of nature I could finally start to form the words I would say when I saw him.
I walked without purpose, without paying attention to where I was headed wrapped in my thoughts a I was. I wound up on a bridge overlooking the river for which Riverview gets its name. I stood there for I don’t know how long, simply taking in the sights and sounds and smells I had missed for seven long months. My stay in Bridgeport had given me one gift and that is appreciation and a strong reminder not to take anything for granted.
There’s no way you would ever be able to hear the gurgling of the river, the melodies of the birds, or smell the sharp tang of the leaves on the trees in Bridgeport. I was focusing so intently on nature that I hardly even registered the sound of footsteps on the bridge until they paused directly behind me.
The voice was masculine, hesitant and disbelieving. I didn’t have to turn to know who it was. This was a voice I would recognize anywhere. But… what should I do? I wasn’t ready for this meeting. Not yet. I hadn’t even begun to think about what I would tell him but then again, could I ever have prepared for this? Still, what were the odds of running into him the first five minutes of my return to Riverview?
As I processed this; however, a thought wormed its way into my head… if Jamie were truly guilty… if he were the monster that the newspaper had printed him out to be… wouldn’t he have been in prison right now? Surely he wouldn’t be allowed to roam Riverview so freely. The fact that he was… that meant he had been released, right? And if he had been released… then either he was innocent or he’d acted in self-defense… meaning Jamie isn’t a murderer. He could still be my Jamie. From those thoughts, I drew strength and the words I needed slowly formed in my mind.
“Hello, Jamie.” I said without turning around. I’m not sure how my voice sounded.
I heard the tiny hitch in his breath. Had he been surprised that I had spoken to him? “Wh-what are you doing here?”
“I could ask you the same thing.” I replied. I cringed internally when the words tumbled out of my mouth unbidden. I sounded so cold, so distant. What was I doing?
“Oh, um, well, yeah. I guess you could.” Jamie mumbled. We stayed quiet. For one brief moment, I wondered if Jamie had walked away, had just left without another word but then I remembered that Jamie is clumsy. I’ve never once seen him move quietly. So he had to have still been there, waiting.
When the silence grew maddeningly uncomfortable, I turned around. My eyes went immediately to Jamie’s face. I had to see for myself that he hadn’t changed, that he was still my Jamie.
He smiled tentatively at me for a second but the smile quickly melted away. He looked nervous and, for a reason I couldn’t pinpoint, afraid. Was he… was he afraid of me? Why? I hadn’t done anything wrong, had I? This wasn’t how I wanted things. Why did it feel like I was talking to a stranger?
“Well, to answer your question, I walked all the way from Bridgeport… to see you.” I said in an attempt to diffuse the tension. I tried to smile but it felt fake and the action felt awkward and stiff, like the muscles in my face had forgotten how to move my mouth into the proper shape.
“You did?” He asked incredulously. Jamie’s face lit up and in that moment he resembled my Jamie more than ever but, as earlier, the happiness didn’t last. His face lapsed back into an expression of nervous fear and in his eyes there was more pain and sorrow than I had ever seen in them before.
“But… why? I didn’t think… I thought…” Jamie paused, struggling for words. He turned his head away from me, eyes downcast. Then, in a voice so quiet I had to lean forward to hear it, he said, “I thought you didn’t want anything to do with me, that you hated me.”
“I don’t hate you, Jamie. Why would you think such a thing?” I said, mildly hurt that he would consider the possibility. But then again… I had considered Jamie a monster, a killer, which by far was worse.
“You didn’t… your friends didn’t… they didn’t tell you?” Jamie asked, his voice colored with hope.
Discomfort settled in the pit of my stomach as I remembered the first text I’d gotten. Jamie Kelly is a murderer. And then the second: Is it Jamie’s fault you left? The boy’s a psycho stalker so we don’t blame you. The texts had horrified me, left me wondering just what kinds of people my ‘friends’ were. Jamie wasn’t a stalker, didn’t have the talent to be a stalker. I mean seriously, could they honestly picture Jamie skulking around, following someone? Could they see him with one of those trench coats, twirling his evil-guy mustache and cackling as he planning some innocent girl’s doom? I had actively sought out his company. Had the girls forgotten that?
“They… did?” Jamie whispered, looking utterly crestfallen. I nodded.
Jamie’s eyes flooded with tears. “God Jenna, it’s not true! Well, the, the getting arrested for shooting someone part, that’s true but I didn’t go psycho crazy stalker on you, I promise!” Jamie started speaking faster, as if he were afraid he wouldn’t be able to get the words out otherwise. “You were my friend Jenna, my one and only friend but I’ll leave you alone if you want! I’d never hurt you Jenna, honest I wouldn’t! You mean everything to me Jenna and please, please, please believe me! I didn’t mean to kill him Jenna! It’s just, he hurt Gabe and he was gonna hurt Susie and he was gonna kill me and Jenna please believe me I—”
I put a finger to Jamie’s lips, silencing him.
“I know. I know you wouldn’t hurt me and I know you must have had a good reason for doing what you did. I believe you, Jamie.” And as I said the words, I knew I meant them. It was like a puzzle piece had fallen into place, making the world feel right again.
“You… you do?” Jamie asked, his eyes wet. He wiped the tears off of his face roughly with the sleeve of his shirt. In his eyes I could see a faint glimmer of hope.
“Of course I do Jamie. You’re my best friend and nothing can ever change that.”
Jamie’s lips stretched into a genuine smile and his eyes, though still pained, brightened and he finally resembled the boy I had known. “Oh, Jenna, thank you.” Jamie said fervently. “I missed you so much.”
“I missed you too Jamie. Every single day I missed you. We have a lot of catching up to do,” I murmured. “But let’s take this slow, okay?”
“Okay.” Jamie agreed.
Jamie and I parted not long after that and I resumed wandering aimlessly around town for a few hours; however, when the sun began to set, I knew I had no choice but to go to my mother’s.
I found the house easily enough and, using the spare key underneath the welcome mat, let myself in. All was quiet, making me wonder if perhaps my mother was working overtime or if she was even in town when I heard quiet footsteps on the stairs.
“You made it,” She said, letting out a breathless sigh of relief.
Clearly someone had called to let my mother know that I’d left Bridgeport. Had Adam Blake finally manned up enough to speak to my mother for the first time in years? Or had my grandmother handled that conversation? I didn’t know and I wasn’t in the mood to find out. I had mixed feelings about seeing my mother again. A part of me had missed her, wanted to hug her and let her soothe me and apologize for having sent me away (though I doubted she’d ever do that). Part of me wanted to just get out of the house and avoid her, hate her for having sent me away at the worst possible time without having asked me about it first.
My mother walked around to face me when I said nothing and looked me squarely in the eyes. “Your father called me when he said you’d left. I wanted to send a taxi for you but he told me it was better not to.”
“He was right.” I said, making a mental note to call Adam Blake and thank him. “I needed the time alone to think.”
“And did you?” My mother asked. I nodded. “Good. Why don’t you join me on the couch then and we can talk about it.”
I most certainly did not want to join my mother on the couch and I didn’t feel much like talking either. Until I decided how I felt toward my mother’s decisions, until I sorted through all the emotions of resentment and gratitude (for at least having been given the chance to know my father is still alive and thereby meeting my grandmother) I wasn’t ready to talk. But I have always been close with my mother and I wanted to give her a chance to explain.
We each took a seat on our sofa, neither of us speaking. That’s when I realized this was every bit as awkward and uncomfortable for my mother as it was for me. In that way, we are very much alike.
I realized that I was going to have to get the ball rolling even though it was my mother who had asked me to talk with her in the first place. I asked the question that had been on my mind ever since she’d announced my sudden trip.
“Why did you send me away to Adam Blake’s for a year?” I asked. “Why didn’t you even ask me if I wanted to go? Were you tired of motherhood and need a break or something? I’d have understood if that was the case you know.”
“Oh, no honey! No! That’s not it at all.” Mom exclaimed. She gave me a funny look as though I were crazy for even having considered such an idea.
“Then why?” I asked, training my eyes on the wall opposite us. “Why didn’t you give me a choice?”
My mother sighed. “If I had asked you to go, would you have gone?”
I wanted to say yes, that I would have voluntarily gone if she had placed this decision in my hands but to say that would make me a liar. I hadn’t had much of an interest in getting to know my father and if I’d realized that meeting him would thrust fame I didn’t want or deserve upon me, I would have been even less inclined to spend time with him in Bridgeport. Heck, the idea of going to Bridgeport in and of itself is fairly repulsive.
“No, I wouldn’t have.” I finally admitted.
“That is why I didn’t give you a choice in the matter, Jenna.” My mother said with a sad smile on her face. “Honey, I wanted you to meet your father but I also wanted you to get out into the world, gain some new experiences and some new perspectives. Bridgeport is extremely different compared to the life we live here in Riverview and I didn’t want for you to live your entire life sheltered here.”
Much as I didn’t want to, I understood my mother’s point. “I hated Bridgeport,” I admitted.
“I can understand why you would.” My mother replied. “And sometimes I hated living there too yet it’s where I was born and raised. But there are things about Bridgeport I miss.”
At first, I thought it was ridiculous that my mother should miss that insane city compared to what she had gained in Riverview but when I stopped to think about it, I realized that I too had left behind things I would miss in Bridgeport.
“I made two friends in Bridgeport,” I said. “Adrian Guerra-Waters and Cedric Puckett-Reed. Adam Blake said they were the sons of your friends.”
The smile on my mom’s face grew wistful and I swear her eyes got misty. “Christy and Jessica were my absolute best friends. Their husbands befriended your father which is how we all wound up being so close. It was when Jess was pregnant with Cedric that things went downhill for us all.”
I wanted to ask her what she meant but refrained. I felt that would be a very touchy subject sure to reopen old wounds so instead, I asked an equally mindboggling question. “What did you ever see in him, mom?”
My mother pressed her hands lightly to her chest and a sad smile once again graced her face. “Your father wasn’t always the way he is now. He was… unique. A bit on the slow side but it was what made him endearing. He was clumsy and all the kids in school picked on him for not having a father. His resilience was what attracted me to him at first. And his Elvis impersonation as a kid was the funniest thing I’d ever seen.
“Adam Blake was kind. He took care of your grandmother when her mother – his grandmother – passed away before his very eyes. He’d had a rough childhood which made him stubborn and selfish but he could be very charming when he wanted to be. He’d had a crush on me since we were thirteen, can you believe that? He was so determined to win me over and eventually, I realized I loved him too. I still do, to be honest and I think I always will.”
“Why’d you leave him then if you still love him?” I asked, mystified. Hearing all these things about Adam Blake hadn’t changed my opinion of the man but I was beginning to understand him just a little more.
“I have no doubt that your father loved me just like I knew he would forgive his friends when he realized they were going to quit the band they’d started since they were teenagers. But I was always in second place when it came down to Adam Blake and his music. When things don’t go as he plans them to, he turns to drinking which leads to some foolish decisions on his part. That instability and knowing I wasn’t first in his heart is why I left him. I don’t know if things are different now but I’m happy where I am in my life and I hope you achieve that happiness through much less painful means. I know you’ve never wanted to marry and I blamed myself for it but I hope that hearing this at least gives you some perspective.”
“I do want to get married, actually.” I replied. As when I spoke with my grandmother, my hand went automatically to my heart and a slow smile spread across my face.
“To Jamie Kelly.” It wasn’t a question. It was a statement. From those three words I could discern nothing of my mother’s opinion.
“Yes,” I said, just a little defensively. “I know in my heart that he’s the one for me. He’s my other half, mom, and I think I’d go crazy without him.”
When my mother didn’t say anything, I chanced a glance at her and found her smiling at me. “You’re a good person with a good heart, Jenna and you’re too old for me to be telling you what to do. And Jamie Kelly is a good man no matter what the press says about him. He came over personally with his father to explain what had happened in case you contacted me, you know. So whatever you do with your life, I’ll support you Jenna.”
It was then that I realized just how fortunate I am to have a mother like mine.
Life in Riverview went on almost exactly like before.
Jamie and I met up after school almost every day. I had officially become a drop-out, something I had never imagined myself becoming. I’d had big dreams of becoming a scientist but now I really can’t picture myself shut up in a lab all day. I still liked science but my calling is elsewhere. Still, during my free time I worked hard to pass the state exam which would enable me to earn a high school diploma anyway. I could have just re-enrolled at Riverview High School but somehow, that just didn’t feel like it would have been the right decision for me.
After all, life was hard enough to handle every time Jamie and I went out. We were followed by at least one member of the paparazzi at almost all times. I never knew if they were following Jamie, myself, or both of us and I strove hard not to care about the headlines proclaiming DAUGHTER OF FAMOUS ROCKSTAR AND WOULD-BE MURDERER TOGETHER?
It was harder for Jamie. Shy by nature, he had never gotten used to being followed around and all this publicity was making his life even harder. No matter how many times I proclaimed that I was spending time with Jamie because I wanted to, there were still people who swore I was being threatened with death. Honestly. How anyone could be afraid of Jamie Kelly is beyond me.
Sometimes, to get out of the public eye, Jamie and I would go to the theater and catch a movie. After all, you can’t take pictures in the dark. Well, you could but the ushers here are strict about no photography which means Jamie and I are usually guaranteed some privacy.
We couldn’t hide forever though. I didn’t want to hide. I wanted a normal life with Jamie. Or as normal as could get with me being Adam Blake’s daughter and Jamie being accused of murder and all. Adam Blake had gotten interviewed, asked what his thoughts were concerning his daughter spending time with a boy who’d been accused of killing someone. I swear I could have hugged him when he was quoted saying, “I haven’t met the boy yet but I trust my daughter’s judgment. ‘N in case you haven’t noticed, the man died in a huntin’ accident so quit spreadin’ shit ‘bout my future son-in-law cus you’ll have me t’answer to otherwise.”
Whenever I wasn’t with Jamie, I was at home. To fill up my time, I experimented in the kitchen, learning new recipes and improving old ones. I don’t know why but cooking always helps calm me down. Whenever doubts began to creep into my mind, making me question if what I was doing was the right thing, I would always head to the kitchen and make something new.
Usually by the end of the meal, I’d feel good about my choice again. After all, I reminded myself, I’d made my decision based on what was in my heart and I knew deep down inside that it was the right one.
Jamie was usually with me so I hardly had time to even entertain such thoughts. We spent a great deal of our days just sitting in my backyard, talking. Talking about each other, about our days, our plans for the future. Jamie wanted to become a self-employed gardener like Gabriel (yes, I finally quit calling him Mr. Nesaren at his insistence).
Jamie and I didn’t waste our days simply talking though. I usually dragged us indoors to work on his chemistry homework and to help him study and prepare for his final exams. Jamie’s grades had slipped in the months that I’d been gone and was in danger of not graduating which was something I wasn’t going to let happen. Not on my watch.
As for me? After completing my exam and having gotten my high school diploma, I’d decided upon a job with the government, namely working with foster children. I wanted to provide a stable environment for children who’d been abused or were lacking a parent. I didn’t want anyone else to suffer like Adam Blake had… like I had.
But sometimes the lure of the crisp cool air caressing our faces and the sounds of birds chirping outside was too strong, too much to handle, and Jamie and I would wind up outside again.
It was during one of our talks that our relationship began to shift. I don’t quite remember what I’d been talking about. Maybe some recipe I’d tried or one of the questions I expected to be asked when applying for the foster-care business when I felt his hand, his warm slightly too big hand, covering mine.
When I looked at him, his cheeks were red and his eyes were looking at me shyly underneath his fringe of red hair.
“I’ll let go if you want me to,” Jamie said in a small voice. He gave me a small, tentative smile.
I hadn’t realized just how much I had craved his touch. Where our hands met, tingles flowed all over my body and I felt butterflies in the pit of my stomach. I looked Jamie in the eyes and smiled at him, “I’ll allow it.”
“Really?” Jamie asked, his face lighting up. His eyes turned into little half-moons as his smile grew wider. I nodded at him. “Really.”
After that, Jamie and I grew closer than ever. We would sit together, his arm pressed lightly against my back with mine against his. Sometimes we would sit in silence, simply looking up at the sky and enjoying each other’s company.
It became all too easy to lose track of time whenever I was with Jamie. I can’t even begin to count the number of times we would stay out talking and end up falling asleep together out in my backyard. The first time this happened, my mom panicked and Gabriel called our house looking for Jamie. Eventually both sets of parents grew accustomed to this happening and thought nothing of it. They knew we weren’t like most teenagers and weren’t going to do anything stupid.
Seeing Jamie’s face first thing in the morning, bathed in the sun’s light, transformed him from this awkward, clumsy guy into someone who was worthy of having sat for Michelangelo’s portraits. He became otherworldly in these brief, stolen moments. Beautiful even. Seeing his face in the mornings became something a guilty pleasure for me.
Parting from him after seeing him look so glorious was hard for me. I think it was hard for Jamie too who, despite seeing me every day, still seemed to expect me to vanish or to suddenly turn around and tell him I hated him, to go away.
I don’t think he understands that that’s impossible for me. I’m in love with you, Jamie Kelly. When you hold me, I never want you to let go. How could I ever get rid of such a feeling? I think I’d rather die before being separated from you again.
As the weeks passed and my eighteenth birthday drew closer, I started spending more time on the computer looking up houses for sale. Living with Adam Blake made me independent and while I love my mother and she tries hard not to interfere with my life, I need a place of my own. Besides, if I’m going to work in the foster care business, I’ll need my own residence anyway.
Adam Blake offered to pay for whatever house I choose. He claims it’s to make up for eighteen years’ worth of missed birthdays. I think it’s way too much but he refuses to take no for an answer.
Still, it’s hard looking for houses when I prefer spending my time with Jamie. We go out almost every day and do something new whether it’s taking a walk or visiting the art museum. Jamie doesn’t really understand art but he enjoys going because I enjoy looking at all the different styles.
Foosball is more Jamie’s speed and I don’t mind indulging him in this. It’s fun. We spend at least one night a week at the Watering Hole, typically on Monday nights when it’s at its emptiest so Jamie can relax and be himself. He’s not that bad at the game whenever paparazzi aren’t there to stress him out and he brings out the competitor in me whenever we play.
Sometimes, I think he lets me win just so we can keep coming back.
Jamie graduated from high school, giving us more time to spend with each other. It was the night before my eighteenth birthday, as we sat gazing at the stars and enjoying each other’s company, that my life changed again.
“Look Jenna!” Jamie exclaimed, pointing excitedly at a bright spot in the sky. “A shooting star! Make a wish!”
He screwed his eyes shut tightly and his nose scrunched up like it always does when he’s thinking hard. I got a good look in the direction Jamie was pointing and had to stifle a giggle.
“Um, Jamie.” I whispered, cupping my hand around his ear.
“Yeah?” He asked.
“That was a satellite.”
“Oh. Oops.” Jamie blushed. “Well I still hope my wish comes true.”
I looked up to respond when I realized just how close our faces were to each other. There was a slight smile on Jamie’s lips and a hopeful light in his eyes. I had to pause for a minute to recollect my scattered thoughts.
“What did you wish for?” I whispered.
Jamie stood up and held out his hand. I took it without hesitation and let him help me up. He took both of my hands in his own.
“Marry me.” Jamie whispered. He gave my hands a gentle squeeze and looked me directly in the eyes. There was no hesitation, no fear. Just a quiet confidence. In those two words, I heard just how much Jamie loved me. I knew he had to love me to have even had the courage to say those two words. I responded in the only way I knew how.
“Wish granted.” Jamie said with a smile. And he leaned forward, pressing a gentle kiss to my lips.
I know what you’re thinking about. You’re probably wondering how prom went. You’re also probably under the assumption that my week-long silence meant that some guy swept me off my feet, making me forget all about Jamie, and I’ve spent the entire week in new-love bliss. Well, you’re wrong. Prom wasn’t a big deal for me. Not really.
I mean, it was alright, I guess. In some ways, it was like those fake movie proms. You know. The ones where the decorations are so lavish you wonder if they’re for a high school dance or some fancy party. The ones where you have the three stereotypical Barbie-doll girls showing up looking gorgeous and looking down their snooty noses at just about everyone else. The ones where the most popular boy in school winds up Prom King. Where all the kids are busy goofing off, too embarrassed to dance but once they start, it turns into a sort of club scene where you’ve got teenagers grinding on each other or making out in the corner. Yeah. That’s what prom was like.
For the most part, if I wasn’t with Adrian or Cedric, I was by the punch bowl. I’m not much of a dancer but I did dance at least two dances with each Adrian and Cedric. There were plenty of girls vying for their attention which courtesy demanded that they dance with. Oh don’t get me wrong. I got plenty of boys asking me to dance too. But fortunately for me, being a girl means I could politely decline anyone I didn’t want to dance with (you can translate that to: I said no to all of them). Some boys got a little over-upset when I declined which prompted Adrian or Cedric to come to my defense although I didn’t really need them. All I’d say when a boy got hotheaded was “If this is the type of guy you are then I really don’t want to dance with you.” I’d walk away and leave them all baffled. It was pretty funny, to tell you the truth. I did at least try to dance with the nicer boys though.
All in all though, prom was boring.
Life resumed its normal pace for me after prom. There was nothing special about it to change things for me. No. Life for me changed after prom was over. I was on my way to the kitchen, hoping for some coffee, when he stopped me.
The voice was awkward and strained, like he didn’t quite know how to address me. Good. I hadn’t heard much from Adam Blake after my little meltdown. I’d always considered apologizing for being so harsh because really, I’ve never exploded like that before but… the opportunity never came up. Adam Blake didn’t bother me again and I never sought him out. To be honest, he’d started spending a lot of time out of the apartment. I assumed he was out drinking or something. In a way, it worked out for us. There was none of this false bonding, no crap advice. I have to say that I preferred it that way. Even as he called my name, I was tempted to ignore him as I’d been doing for the past few weeks but, as I said, it’s just not in my nature to be like that.
Adam Blake shuffled his feet and averted his gaze, keeping his eyes trained on the floor. “I’ve been thinking… about what ya said. And I jus’ wanted to let ya know that… well… I’m sorry.”
His apology took me off guard and I stared at him blankly for what seemed like an eternity. I hadn’t thought he was capable of being sorry. “Um, apology accepted.” I managed.
We stood in an awkward silence for a few minutes before a quiet knock at the door interrupted it. I sighed, thinking it might be Adrian or Cedric again but Adam Blake gave me a sheepish look which made me think otherwise. Clearly he was behind whoever the visitor was.
“I know you’ve been havin’ a hard time these past few months ‘n I’ve been lookin’ into ways I could make it better. Truth is, there ain’t nothin’ I can really do ‘bout it but… I brought someone I think might be better at talkin’ to ya than me. Know that no matter what happens, no matter how awful I’ve been, I do love you ‘n I’ll support anythin’ you do.” With that said, Adam Blake awkwardly walked off, down the hall and into his bedroom.
I couldn’t decide what to feel. Shame for having thought so low of Adam Blake… awe that he’d given my problems some serious thought after all… anger for his bringing someone new into the mix, someone who probably didn’t need to know my problems. Mostly I guess I felt gratitude though. Gratitude that he cared enough about me to open his eyes, that although my callous screaming had been cruel, it possibly might lead to some reconciliation between him and my mother. I know it’s wishful thinking but…
My eyes remained fixated on the door. How innocent that door looked on an ordinary day. Now it looked vaguely sinister. Who could possibly be behind it? Someone I knew? Someone I didn’t know? The possibilities were endless, really.
“Come in,” I called, surprised to find that my voice was shaky. The door knob slowly began to turn and the door creaked open ominously…
… revealing an elderly woman I had never seen before. Everything about her, from her fiery red hair, streaked with gray, her freckles and brilliant blue eyes… they were completely unfamiliar to me although something deep inside of me said I should know this woman.
“Hello, Jenna.” The elderly woman said, carefully closing the door behind her. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”
“Erm… who are you?” I asked. The feeling that I should know this woman intensified and with it came a small amount of embarrassment that I didn’t.
“Why, didn’t AB tell you? Honey, I’m your grandmother.”
I stared at her.
Grandmother. Adam Blake’s mother.
I hadn’t known that she was still alive. I hadn’t even begun to think of family members outside of Adam Blake despite having done brief research on them during the beginning of my stay. I wracked my brains, trying to remember any details on who this woman might be.
There had been the famous business executive… several athletes… an actor… a rockstar… a farmer… an artist!
“You’re Eilonwy.” I said. “The artist and sculptor.” And I knew I was right. She was much, much older now but I recognized her from the pictures I’d seen online.
She smiled. “Yes, although I don’t do much of either nowadays. We aren’t here to discuss me though so why don’t you join me on the couch, hm?”
It felt a little weird, I must admit, being asked to sit in… well not my “home” but in a place I’d never seen this woman in before although I guess she had a better claim to it than I did. Perhaps it was she who had decorated this place many years ago? It doesn’t suit her either but… who am I to judge? It was an extremely strange experience to wrap my head around the fact that this complete stranger is not only my grandmother but also a very famous and talented artist of world renown.
Nonetheless, I sat.
“You’re probably wondering why I’m here and why we haven’t had the pleasure of meeting yet,” She said. I don’t know what to call her. Grandmother seems too… personal, whereas calling her by name seems too disrespectful. She seemed to pick up on my hesitation. “Don’t worry about manners, Jenna. Just call me Eily, most everybody does. Now, your father’s been coming up to see me most every day for the past few weeks, talking to me about you.”
I stared at her. Was she serious? Surely she wasn’t serious. So that’s what he had been up to? I’d spent all this time assuming he’d been out drinking or partying with his band and he’d been visiting his mother?
“I know, it’s hard to believe isn’t it?” She chuckled. “But it is true. I hadn’t seen AB in years so for him to show up on my doorstep to ask me for help concerning someone else, well… I was shocked. I wasn’t the greatest mother so you can blame me for your father’s flaws. I’ve had years to come to terms with my life though and I hope to impart some wisdom on you to to keep you from making similar mistakes for different reasons.”
The information was almost too much for me. Not only did I have a grandmother but now she had admitted that she was to blame for Adam Blake’s shortcomings? I wondered, briefly, what sort of childhood Adam Blake had had.
“Now, I wondered for a long time what to tell you, Jenna, you who hasn’t been raised like most of the Hart family has for generations. This is why I took so long in coming to see you. After all, what could I possibly have to say that would comfort you? I’m sure a lot of the habits we have in Bridgeport disgust you so I was certain anything I said could be construed badly. It took me a while to think about it but I believe I know what to say now.
“You are not accustomed to celebrity. Let me tell you that your great-great-great grandfather, Bacchus, did not like his celebrity either. It doesn’t make sense why you should be famous, does it?”
I shook my head. “It doesn’t.” I agreed. “No one ever looked twice at me before and now just because I moved to Bridgeport I’m an instant star. I haven’t even done anything to deserve that, assuming I would even want the title of celebrity.”
“And you are right to think that way; however, you wield the power to do many great things with your newfound status. Your great-great grandfather Basil, for example, chose to carve his name into the business world and make something of himself. People listened to him because of his name but came to respect him for his skills. Having celebrity opened the door to paths he might not have the ability to choose otherwise and he did the world a great service by helping to balance our economy. Not only that but his celebrity was used in order to help find his sister, Lily who went on to become an advocate for abused women. Do you understand me, Jenna? You have been given a gift. What it is depends on what you make of it.”
“I understand.” I said hesitantly.
“Good.” She said with a faint smile. “Now, onto other matters. Your father tells me you have a particular young man who is dear to your heart. Is that right?”
My lips curved into a smile and my hand pressed against my heart of its own accord as my thoughts turned to Jamie. My Jamie with his red hair and beautiful green eyes… my clumsy Jamie who can’t even remember the difference between an electron and a proton… my Jamie…
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Eily said with a grin on her face.
I whipped my hand back onto the couch as the blood rushed to my face, staining my cheeks a darker red than my grandmother’s sweater. “I… I don’t know.” I mumbled. “I thought I knew who he was and I loved him but… now everyone’s saying he’s a murderer and I don’t know what to think.”
It stung to say the words aloud. I had never said them after my fight with Adam Blake, almost as if to avoid speaking of it was to negate the truth but now…
“And why haven’t you asked him if it’s true?”
“He was in prison last I heard. Even if he wasn’t, he doesn’t have a cell phone or a computer so it’s not like I can call him or anything.” I replied glumly. “And I know my mom will try to sugarcoat things for me if I call her and ask.”
“Honey, we live in a technological world. I’m sure a smart girl like you could find a way to contact him if you really wanted to. Tell me what’s really stopping you from calling that boy.”
“Nothing is!” I asserted but even I could hear the lie in my voice. Eily was absolutely correct. I was fairly certain that I could find a way to contact Jamie if I really wanted to. If he wasn’t in prison, he was bound to be desperately seeking a way to contact me, right? Surely he was. He wouldn’t think so low of me as to not want to talk to me, right? Of course this was all assuming his innocence…
“Ah, I see.” Comprehension sparkled in her vivid blue eyes. “You don’t know if he’s innocent. And if he’s guilty, you don’t know what prompted the action, whether he’s got good reason or if he’s changed from the boy you knew into someone else.”
Shock coursed through my body. Was I really that easy to read? Were my every thoughts written so clearly on my face? I highly doubted it. Had this woman been in a similar situation at some point in her life? Somehow I didn’t think so.
“There’s more to it than that,” I said although really, she had hit the nail on the head. “When I came here, I came knowing I probably wasn’t going to get my happily ever after with him.”
“Why’s that?” Eily prompted gently.
I swallowed hard. “A lot of things can change in a year. He could have fallen for someone else, gone into the military… murdered someone…”
Eily clasped her hands together. “You’re a lot like your father and me. Always thinking about what can go wrong. In fact, I think all Harts have gone through something similar with their spouses. We’re stubborn that way. Your young man sounds a lot like your mother and Thomas, too.”
“Who’s Thomas?” I asked curiously, pouncing on the opportunity to change the subject.
My grandmother got a faraway look in her eyes and a wistful smile curved at her lips. “Thomas was the absolute love of my life and your father’s father.”
I could only look on this woman in awe. What I wouldn’t give to be able to talk about love like she did. It was clear that her heart belonged to this Thomas, whoever he was. “Has he passed on?” I asked, noticing the word was.
Eily nodded. “I lost him because of my stupidity. If I could have simply apologized and understood his point of view, he never would have left. I know now that we were both to blame but I can never forgive myself for my part in his death. You see, Jenna, that’s why we should never give up on the people we love. We have to trust them and trust that they trust us in return. Look inside yourself. You already know the answer to the questions that plague your mind.”
I puzzled over Eily’s words. Did I really know the answer to my own problems? I thought back to the very first question I’d asked myself when I heard about Jamie’s incarceration. Would it matter if he was really a murderer and would it change my feelings for him?
Jamie’s face flooded my mind.
I thought about the way his eyes crinkle up when he smiles. The way his innocent clumsiness never fails to make me laugh. His willingness to do whatever I want. The way he remembers everything I tell him, down to the most insignificant details like which cookies I like best. And then I knew. I could never hate Jamie. Could never fear him. Jamie is a part of me and I am a part of him.
I love Jamie Kelly and nothing will ever change that. I think about the last time I saw his face, so full of anguish and pain and I know that I have to fix it. Even if there is no future for us, I cannot let my last memory of Jamie be a sad one.
A smile slowly crept across my face and I turned toward my grandmother to find that she’d stood up.
I stood up too and faced the elderly woman.
“So, did you find the answer you were searching for, Jenna?”
I nodded. “I did. Thank you… Grandma. I don’t think I could have figured this out without you.”
“Oh I’m sure you could have.” She said with a sly wink. “You’re a smart girl. Now, what are you doing standing around talking to me for, hm? Go get him! And don’t forget to invite me to your wedding.”
Surprising even myself, I flung my arms around my grandmother and wrapped her in an enthusiastic and grateful embrace. Her arms wound themselves around me and she gave me a reassuring squeeze in return.
“Thank you, Grandma.” I whispered. And suddenly, Adam Blake’s words meant sense. He had already known that this was probably our last night underneath the same roof. “And thank you… dad.”
She released me and I turned toward the door. I opened the door and stepped out into the hallway, not once looking back.
With nothing but a cell phone in my pocket and a small wad of cash, I’m going back. Back to Jamie. Back home.
This post is so text-heavy and I apologize for it but it was necessary! I hope you enjoyed it! I wonder what awaits Jenna back in Riverview, don’t you? 😉