|~ Part One ~|~ Part Two ~|
Disclaimer: All things `Once and Again' belong to the creators of the show. Or some tv network. I don't really now. I'm sure someone owns them though. `Dear Jessie' is a song by Madonna.
Feedback: Yes, please: email@example.com
Archive: http://www.realmoftheshadow.com/megan.htm (My eternal gratitude to Kim for saving my stories from oblivion.)
Summary: Karen's little girl is growing up. But it's hard to let go of things. Especially memories.
Author's Notes: Fourth story in a series that deals with the ship between Jessie and Katie. The previous ones are (from first to last): `Perfect In an Imperfect World', `Near Heaven', and `Love Is Blue'. This one is about Karen, fighting a depression, and at the same time learning new things about her daughter. Timeline is... just before 'Gardenia'. Like the previous one, this story was largely inspired by a song. This time by Madonna's `Dear Jessie'. For obvious reasons. Lyrics at the beginning.
// Baby face don't grow so fast
// Make a special wish that will always last
// Rub this magic lantern
// He will make your dreams come true... for you
// Ride the rainbow to the other side
// Catch a falling star and then take a ride
// To the river that sings and the clover that
// Brings good luck to you... it's all true
// Pink elephants and lemonade, dear Jessie
// Hear the laughter running through the love parade
// Candy kisses and a sunny day, dear Jessie
// See the roses raining on the love parade
// If the land of make believe
// Is inside your heart it will never leave
// There's a golden gate where the fairies all wait
// And dancing moons... for you
// Close your eyes and you'll be there
// Where the mermaids sing as they comb their hair
// Like a fountain of gold, you can never grow old
// Where dreams are made... your love parade
// Pink elephants and lemonade, dear Jessie
// Hear the laughter running through the love parade
// Candy kisses and a sunny day, dear Jessie
// See the roses raining on the love parade
// Your dreams are made inside the love parade
// It's a holiday inside the love parade
// On the merry-go-round of lovers and white turtle
// Leprachauns floating by, this is your lullaby
// Sugarplum fingertips kissing your honey lips
// Close your eyes sleepy head, is it time for your bed
// Never forget what I said, hang on you're already there
// Close your eyes and you'll be there
// Where the mermaids sing as they comb their hair
// Like a fountain of gold you can never grow old
// Where dreams are made, your love parade
// Pink elephants and lemonade, dear Jessie
// Hear the laughter running through the love parade
// Candy kisses and a sunny day, dear Jessie
// See the roses raining on the love parade
I stare after the rude girl, as she walks towards exit.
What did she mean? And why was she so rude? I was nice. I smiled. And I talked pleasantly. So, why would she...
"What was that all about?", Judy breaks my thoughts, when the girl makes it through the door.
I turn to stare at the woman behind the counter. She's a friend. A good friend. The best I have. How sad, that I have to befriend my ex-husband's new wife's sister. Not that she's a bad person! No. Judy is a great friend. But it's still weird.
And she asked me something... what was it? I see her confused expression turning into even more confused, when the silence just grows longer. I have to say something. Now, "I... I'm sorry, what did you say?", I smile and shake my head.
Judy just smiles her usual smile, and leans her elbows on the counter. I walk closer, "That girl. What was her problem?"
"I... I have no idea", I stutter out, and place my handbag on the table, "I just mentioned I was Jessie's mother and... well you heard it, right?"
Judy nods, "Weird", she says, "Who's this Katie?"
Exactly what I'd like to know. Who IS this Katie? She seems like a nice enough girl, a good friend to Jessie. But something is off. Something doesn't add up. And if everything wasn't so hazy up in my head, I'd figure it out. But this creepy wakey-dream I'm constantly in, isn't helpful. Things slip by me unnoticed. Important things. Important to other people, not to me. Nothing is important to me.
"Karen?", Judy says, with a concerned look.
"Oh! Sorry", I smile apologetically, and shake my head, "Katie's this... new friend of Jessie's", I hope.
"A friend?", Judy asks incredulously.
I get the feeling she wants to comment further, but something makes her change her mind. Instead, she just smiles again. Judy smiles a LOT, I've noticed, "Yeah", I nod, and quickly change the subject, "So, anyway... I came to ask, if you have time for coffee?", I say, and smile back, "We were supposed to go shopping with Jessie but...", damn it! I was gona change the subject!, "Something came up", I finish with a mumble. Something all right. Katie again. Love thing? What on earth did the girl mean by that?
"Sure, I can take a break. It's good to be the queen", Judy answers, "We can go across the street, to that new place."
"Mom!", the little blonde girl screams, and runs down the hall, towards me, as fast as she can, "You're home!"
I quickly put away, my coat, and kneel down to sweep her into a hug, "Oof!", I grumble, when she slams into me a little too hard. Her tiny arms circle my neck, and her head digs into my shoulder, "My sweet little Jessie", I whisper quietly, and stroke her hair with my hand.
Her muffled giggles tickle my shoulder, and make me smile. I don't know what I would do without her. Just to see her shining face and hear her bright voice, are enough to make my day. Make my life.
"What've you been up to today?", I ask, when she pulls away. Her mouth is still twisted into a happy smile.
"Eli and me built a fort. Up in his room", she says after a time.
I smile and lightly mess with her hair. She laughs, and shies further away from my touch, "Where are the boys?"
"They are in the kitchen", the girl answers, and nods her head a few times, "Making coffee. Daddy's gona give me coffee!"
"Oh!, he is?!", I start laughing and stand up, "We'll see about that", I take a hold of the girl's hand, and place my bag on the table. Together we head towards the kitchen.
In there, we find the two coffee making men. A grown up man, who's busy filling cups, and a young boy, who is hovering at the feet of his father, "Oh, hi honey!", the man says with a smile. The man, whom I once loved. And who once loved me, "You're just in time for..."
"... coffee?", Judy finishes her sentence with the word. She's sitting across the table from me, looking worried.
Again I've missed her words. A millionth time today, "Sorry, what?", I apologize, and shake my head.
Judy keeps looking at me for a few seconds. Then she sighs, and leans back on her seat, "I asked you, if there's something wrong with the coffee", she says, and starts spinning a spoon in her own cup, "You know, cause you're not drinking it. But now I'm thinking, maybe coffee's not the problem", she stares intently at me. Boring a hole into my head.
This is why friends are so bothersome. They are always insisting on knowing what's going on. Always wanting to help. Even when I don't ask for it. I guess that's why I don't really have friends anymore. They make it so much harder to just disappear into the confines of my own mind.
"What's up, Karen? Is this still about Jessie?", she asks.
Of course it is. Deep down, everything is about Jessie. She's the last thing I have left. The only thing still connecting me to this life. Without her... There is no `without her'.
"What do you think the girl in the shop meant?", I finally ask, after almost a minute of silence. She only stares back at me. I lift the cup to my lips, and take a small sip. The coffee's cold already, and it disgusts me, "Cold", I comment with a grimace, while placing the cup back down.
Judy sneers, "Should be. It's been sitting there for fifteen minutes, just waiting to be drunk."
"But yours isn't", I note. There's still steam rising from her cup.
The concern on the brunette's face deepens even more, "You mean to tell me... that you didn't see me getting another cup?"
Oh. Right. I do have a vague recollection of it. Don't understand how it slipped my mind like that, "O... of course I remember!", I answer, and laugh a little. Trying to make it sound like I was only kidding, "Don't be silly, Judy!"
She doesn't buy it, the disbelief is evident all over her face. But neither does she press the matter, and I'm grateful for that. Cause I really don't have any explanations for spacing out like that all the time. Other than, that I'm going out of my mind.
"What about the girl?", I ask again.
Judy seems reluctant to talk about it. Turns her eyes to the table, and purses her lips, "She seemed really hostile, even before you came in", she finally says, "I wouldn't waste too much time on her words."
Words. Exactly. Cause it's the two words that keep haunting me. Actually, just that one really. Love. Thing. What did she mean? Sure, Katie and Jessie seem awfully close these days... but love? They are really good friends, but love? And even if there is love, why would this other girl spit the word at my face, like she was telling some huge secret? I would like nothing better, than for Jessie to find a true friend. Then how come I'm so uncomfortable with this Katie thing? It's because there's more to it, than meets the eye. And I would see it, if my mind wasn't so foggy.
"Earth to Karen...?", Judy is chirping. She's leant closer again, and is waving a hand in front of me. When she sees that I'm focused again, she smiles that worried smile again, "Would you, please, just tell me what's going on?"
"It's nothing", I answer, pushing the cup away from me. No way I'm gona drink it cold, "I just haven't slept well lately. So I'm really tired", she doesn't believe me, but it's all the same. She believes enough to leave the subject alone, "So, how are things with Sam?", I ask her, more to divert the conversation away from me, than from actual interest.
"No, Eli!", I scold the boy, when he brings yet another box of corn flakes, that are ninety percent sugar and ten percent chocolate. Where's the corn in that, that's what I wanna know!
"Bring the white box!", the blonde hared girl runs after her brother this time, "Mommy wants the white box!"
I smile, and watch them go. How can a child be so obedient? How can a girl be everything I could hope for? And more. And how can I still not be satisfied? Pushing the shopping cart into motion, I start to follow my children. They've rounded the corner to the next aisle already. I do love both of them equally. But there is something about my daughter... something otherworldly. The way she shines, when she's happy. Or when she is sad, the way her sadness is overwhelming. All conquering.
I come to a stop at the start of the aisle, and turn to look down it. The girl is desperately trying to reach for the desired box of flakes, but she just isn't tall enough. Third shelf is still out of her league. The boy is standing close by, with a different box in his hands. He's staring in wonderment at his sister's attempts. Finally, when it becomes clear to him, that the girl won't give up, he takes a step closer and picks up the white box.
"Here", I can hear his disgruntled voice carry over.
The boy hands the box to his sister. I smile from the distance. I smile, because even though he sometimes can't stand his sister, I know that he loves her. I know that he wouldn't let anything hurt his sister. My daughter. The most precious girl in this world.
They turn around, and see me standing here. The girl starts running again. She runs a lot. Mostly because it's the only way to keep up with her brother.
"Mom! Is this the right one?", the girl calls from a good distance away. I'm looking past her towards my son, who's still looming by the corn flake shelves. Engrossed in studying the colorful box.
"Yes, honey. That's the one", I say and smile, "Thank you."
"Eli gave it to me!", she cheers on.
I accept the box when offered, and place it into the cart, "Eli!", I shout to the boy. He looks up, "Bring that one too."
I step into the house and close the door behind me. The quiet strumming of a guitar, coming from upstairs, breaks the otherwise perfect silence. Eli's here. For a change. Night shift again, I guess. Or something. Or something else. It's hard to care anymore.
I hang my coat on the rack, and try to remember what I needed to remember. There was something. A thing that needed to be done, before I can go to sleep. Dinner maybe? No, who would eat it? Dishes? There are no dishes without dinner. Vacuuming! That was it. Oh, joy of joys. That can wait. I'm too tired. Besides, who's gona notice, whether I do it or not? Eli? Yeah, sure. He'd probably suffocate in dust, if no one cleaned. I don't think I've ever heard him complain about the cleanliness of the house. Or the cleanliness of anything at all.
But Jessie's another thing all together. She cares. And she sees. So maybe I ought to clean, if just for her sake. Was she supposed to come over today? God. It's hard to remember anything, when all the days blend into one. I know they were supposed to come over in a few days. But, was it few days from today, or yesterday? Or from four days ago? Eli's here though, so maybe that's like a clue.
I startle out of my thoughts, and realize I've been standing by the door for close to ten minutes. Trying to decide whether to clean or not. The strumming has ended, and Eli's pounding down the stairs.
"Mom?", he confuses from the last steps, when he spots me hanging by the front door.
"Oh, hi, Eli!", I greet him with a smile. It's still nice to see him, if it is only for a few moments at a time.
He stops in his tracks and stares at me for a few seconds, "What are you doing?", he asks, shaking his head once.
I shake myself awake, and chuckle a little, "Nothing", I say and start to walk towards the kitchen, "Are you just visiting, or is it my turn to play the parent again?"
Eli follows me, "You got the part, mom", he says, and walks straight to the refrigerator.
"Where is Jessie then?", I ask, taking a seat at the table. It's not that I don't enjoy seeing him as much, but... oh, who am I kidding?! That's exactly it. And he probably knows it, and that's probably why there's this tension between us, whenever we are together now. God, I'm a horrible, horrible mother.
"She's with...", he starts talking absentmindedly, "There's nothing to eat! Don't you ever shop anymore, mom?"
"She's with...", I don't pay any attention to his complaints. A grown man, he should be able to buy his own food.
Eli pulls out a carton of orange juice, and closes the refrigerator. He glances at me, and then picks up a glass from the shelf, "Katie", he says, and pours the juice into the glass.
Again with Katie, "Katie...", I repeat quietly, and turn my gaze away from my son.
"What are you, repeating everything I say now?", Eli says, sounding a little irritated, "Yeah, with Katie", he adds, as if he thinks I didn't believe him the first time.
"They're spending a lot of time together. Have you noticed?", I ask Eli. Maybe he has seen something that I've missed. Oh God! I'm actually relying on Eli's observation skills.
"Yeaah", he drags out the word, like he so often does. An annoying habit. There's a short pause, before he continues, "Don't tell me it's bothering you? I'd think you'd be happy, she finally has a close friend."
"No, it's not bothering me!", I turn to face him, swaying my hands a little, "It's just that...", I frown, and try to form a coherent observation from my confused thoughts, "I'd like to know a little more about Katie."
Eli shakes his head quickly, "What's to know? A teenage girl. Makes for lots of high-pitched squealing and giggling and talking about...", he shakes his head again, "Girlie stuff."
"Girlie stuff...?", I ask quietly, while grinning.
"You stop right now with the repeats! I hated it when Jessie used to do that, and I still hate it!", Eli says with mock seriousness in his voice.
I start to laugh. Maybe things aren't so bad with Eli. If we can still joke. Maybe things aren't so bad with me, if I can still laugh.
Eli grins, and heads out. Leaving me alone.
"You have to hold still, Jess", I tell her again, when she's squirming away from the cloth. She's sitting on a chair in the kitchen, and I'm kneeling in front of her. Gently I place a hand on the back of her head, and try to clean the grisly scratch on her forehead. She winces at the first contact, but I stop her from jerking her head away. She shoots an evil glare at her brother, when I pull the rag back a little, to get a better view of the now cleaner wound.
"I said I was sorry!", the boy insists again. He's standing to my left, leaning his back against the refrigerator and hugging a basketball to his stomach.
"I said I was sorry", she mimics in a whiny voice.
I pull her face back towards me, and resume the cleaning operation. She takes the pain, and refuses to let out a single complain.
"Hey! YOU crashed into ME!", he tries to reason with his sister. But I don't see him succeeding any time soon. The sister is very upset, and won't listen to reason, or accept an apology, in this state.
"Hey, you crashed into me", she repeats quietly again.
"Mom, make her stop!"
"Mom make her stop."
But I won't. Cause it works as a great distraction. I give the wound one last wipe, and then lower my hand down.
"Mooom!", he gripes.
I smile at my daughter. She smiles back. It's a small smile, but a smile none the less, "Mom", she again repeats. But this time it's not to irritate her brother. It's said tenderly. And I get an overwhelming urge to hug her.
"Eli, hand me that Band-Aid", I say to him, and point at the table behind my daughter.
He obeys immediately. Normally there would've been a storm of complaints and reasons why he couldn't do it, but not now. Not when his sister is hurt, and he's to blame. Even though he really isn't to blame. Accidents happen, people bump into each other while running around, chasing a ball. But he blames himself. It's really quite adorable, how protective he is of his sister. Even when the girl sometimes drives him mad by following him everywhere. By insisting on doing everything with him.
I take the patch he's handing to me, and carefully place it on the wound. My daughter's still smiling. I plant a light kiss on the now covered scratch, and pull back, "There", I say with a smile, "All better. You can go watch tv, if you want to."
She hops down from the chair, and glances at her brother with a smug face once more, before wandering off. I turn my eyes on my son. He's still holding the ball, pressing it to his side with one hand. All ready for the scolding. But I only smile at him too, "You okay?", I ask.
He's a little taken a back. From the smile, I guess. But then manages to utter an answer, "Uhh... yeah. I am", I nod, "She really did run into me, mom. I tried to catch her before she fell..."
"It's okay, honey. I know. Just a scratch anyway", I assure him, "But you have to be careful, cause she's still so small."
"I know!", he says, "But she wants to play with me."
"And it's very nice of you to let her", I say, and stand up. He nods to me, "You go make up with her, and I'll bring you some ice-cream", I watch him go, and thank my lucky stars for two such gorgeous children. They compensate for so much other stuff.
For a loveless marriage. Not loveless. Just... different kind of love. Love comes in many different flavors.
The sound of a door banging shut startles me to reality. I find myself still sitting by the kitchen table, looking out the window. I've been here a long time. The sun is down already, and the room is dark.
"Weird... all the lights are out", Jessie's voice carries over from the hallway, "I guess no one's home", she's coming closer.
"Hey, that's great news!", it's her not-so-new best friend. I turn my head towards the doorway, "Means we have the house all to ourselves", she says just as their shadowy figures come to view.
Jessie giggles, and flips on the lights, "And what do you...", she starts to say, but stops when she sees me. Katie's standing behind her. Her arms circling my daughter. Her head snuggled to my daughter's neck, "Mom!", Jessie shrieks, and furiously disentangles herself from the other girl.
And then I know, what `love thing' means.
Jessie and Katie. Standing by the door. Caught. I stare at my daughter. She looks mortified, like her whole world has just come to an end. Her right hand is still holding onto Katie’s. She probably hasn’t even realized it from the shock.
I blink once, and they’re gone, along with the lights. Replaced by a younger girl, “Why you sitting in the dark, mom?”, little Jessie asks. I smile at her. She’s dressed in her pajamas. A teddy bear is dangling from her right hand. I blink again, and they’re back, “Mom?”, Jessie says, furrowing her brow. She exchanges looks with the taller girl.
I lower my eyes to the table, “How long?”, I ask quietly. There is no answer. The silence lasts for a good ten seconds. I finally start to lift my head again, and the lights go out.
“How long what, mom?”, the child says. Her voice is as innocent as her face. She has never lied to her mother. She would never lie to her mother. She’s pure.
I shut my eyes, and brush my hand across them, “How long have you lied to me?”, I ask, opening my eyes again. The lights are back on. I wish someone would stop blinking them. It’s giving me a headache. I direct a stern look towards Jessie.
Now she releases her hold on the other girl’s hand, and lets it hang on her side, “I haven’t lied”, she says weakly. But the voice is tainted. Forever. It’ll never be innocent again, “This is SO not what it seems!”, she suddenly blurts and starts flailing on her feet.
Aww! Bring back little Jessie! I want to deal with her. Not with this hard stuff. My daughter is in love with a girl. I can’t even let my mind go there. I have to concentrate on the easier side. On the lying side. That’s something I can understand, “That’s another lie, Jess”, I say sadly.
“No, it’s not!”, she says, and half turns towards Katie, “We were just...”
“Shut up!”, I yell, before I can stop myself. She stops talking, and fidgeting. I immediately regret shouting, and lean my elbow on the table and my forehead down on my hand. Pressing it hard, to stop my body from shaking, “You shouldn’t lie, Jessie”, I say, gaining control of my voice, “You never lied when you were little.”
“It’s not her fault, miss Sammler”, Katie says. I turn to look at her, “I didn’t want anyone to find out”, she nods once.
Oh, I’m sure. I can just see Jessie bursting with anticipation in sharing her new found love. Cause she really doesn’t care what people think. Except, that she does, “Is that so?”
Katie opens her mouth to answer. Another liar, “No”, Jessie intercepts, finally telling the truth. But it comes too late, “I’m sorry, mom”, she goes on. Her voice is different though. Brighter. I turn my full attention to her, and she shrinks right before my eyes. Becomes a five-year-old. I frown, and try to make sense of things, “I didn’t want to lie to you”, the girl looks hopeless.
“Oh, honey! You haven’t lied to me!”, I tell her. Little Jessie never lies to me. But the girl still looks sad, and only nods her head, “No you haven’t!”, I jump up, ready to clear all misunderstandings with a hug.
But before I can round the table, the girl starts to frown. Suddenly she ages back to fifteen, and looks freaked, “Mom? What the Hell?”, Jessie shakes her head. Oh shit! I’ve finally gone over the edge. Lost what little sense I had left, “What’s the matter with you?”, she asks. It’s one thing to get lost in my own head, and quite another to start hallucinating. For one, people tend to find out about the latter.
“D... don’t change the subject”, I go on the offense. Best way to distract someone. I lift my hand and rub my forehead, “This is about... about you... and... her”, I say motioning towards Katie.
“What is?!”, Jessie shouts, managing to scare me a bit, “You’re not making any sense! You just found out, that I’m in love with Katie, and you’re obsessing about the lying, which is totally irrelevant!”
“It’s...!”, I start to yell back, but manage to stop short. Taking a deep breath, I start again, more quietly, “It’s not irrelevant. It’s everything.”
Jessie sneers and throws her hands in the air, “Everything...”, she says, shaking her head once. She glances back at Katie, and takes hold of the girl’s hand again, “Fine”, she says looking back at me, “Now you know the truth. And I promise not to lie again. So, if that’s EVERYTHING, me and Katie are going up to my room.”
Jessie gives me just enough time to protest. But when I don’t, she turns around. I don’t protest because, frankly, I’m relieved they’re going. I have no resources to deal with this thing. I have no means to make any kind of judgment.
Jessie takes a step towards the doorway. I blink once, and she’s five, walking away from me, dragging the teddy bear behind her. I blink again, and she’s gone.
I walk into a white room. The walls are covered with white wallpaper, and there’s a white rug on the floor. There’s a blonde girl in the white bed. Her head is barely sticking out, from under the white sheets. Still her eyes are fixed on me, the second I walk in. She pushes down the blanket, and sits up with a grin on her face.
“What are you doing?”, I scold her, sitting down on the edge of the bed, “You’re supposed to be asleep already!”
“But I’m not sleepy!”, she chirps, and makes a move for my hair. I quickly duck away, and take hold of her hands. Gently I push her down on the bed, and pull the covers back up, “Aww, mom!”, she grumbles.
“Sleepy or not, sleep you will”, I say smiling.
“You can’t make me sleep!”, she starts to mope, and turns to look away.
“Oh, yes, I can. I have a hammer in Eli’s room”, I say, stroking her hair, “Are you sure, you want the same treatment as him?”, she still doesn’t agree to look at me, but I see her mouth twist into a grin again, “That’s what I thought.”
I start to stand up, but her small hand grabs my wrist, “Sing me a song”, she says, “Then I can sleep.”
I look down at her tiny hand. The tiniest little hand I’ve ever seen. And the softest touch I’ve ever felt, “What do you want to hear?”, I ask, settling back down. She’s always asking me to sing. Never a story, always a song.
“Sing my song, mom!”, her eyes are shining, like little light bulbs.
“Well, you know, it’s not really your song”, I say. I pick up her arm, and guide it back under the sheets, “It’s Madonna’s.”
“Who’s Madonna?”, she asks frowning.
I squint my eyes a little, “Haven’t we gone this over before?”
“I don’t know”, she says, with big round eyes beaming with innocence, and shrugs her shoulders, “Sing me.”
I look at her crookedly for a second. But in the end, it’s such a small request, why would I deny it from her?, “Pink elephants and lemonade, dear Jessie...”
I start humming quietly, but am rudely interrupted by my daughter, “Start from the beginning, mom!”
I take a deep breath, and give her a very serious look. She doesn’t flinch under it. Not in the least, “We’ll be here ALL night, if I sing the whole song.”
She just looks straight back at me, “I’ll be here all night anyway.”
And there really is no way of arguing with that kind of reasoning. Sighing, I start the song again, this time from the top, “Baby face don’t grow so fast...”
I make it all the way up the stairs, before realizing that there are tears sliding down my face. I didn’t know I was crying. Funny when that happens. I can be so lost, that I don’t see, or feel anything happening around me. To me. I don’t even know, why I am crying. It’s not any one reason. It’s a million things. It’s that I’m losing my daughter, and I don’t even care. It’s that I can’t feel anything, but this sadness. Can’t see anything, but the bad things in life. But mostly, it’s that, every breath I take, hurts.
I head for the bathroom to wash my face. My path takes me past Jessie’s door, and through it, I hear music. Music, that sounds strangely familiar. Something from the past, way long ago. Even before the kids. But I can’t put a name to it. It’s not loud enough, I can’t make out the words. It’s luring me closer, and I inch my way to the door. Right next to it. I press my ear against it, trying to hear the song better.
I want to go into the room. I want to take Jessie into my arms, and hold her until I love her as much as I used to. How long has it been, since I hugged her last? An eternity. And I don’t see any hugs being initiated from her part in the near future.
My hand lowers itself onto the handle, and stops there. I should knock first. But, what am I gona say? She’s gona expect something. Some kind of an opinion on this Katie thing... and, oh yeah. She’s in there too. So maybe I better postpone this meeting.
I sigh, and start to move away. But for some reason my hand has other plans. It knocks on the door. Three times. I turn to look at it. Damn Judas! I should cut you off!
First the music stops, and seconds after that, the door flies open. I’m staring into Jessie’s furious face, “What?”, she demands to know.
“Umm...”, I mutter, trying to think of something to say. Anything. Jessie’s face softens a little. At first I’m puzzled by the change, but then I remember the tears. Still evident on my face. I bow my head, and quickly dry them with my sleeve, “I’m sorry... to bother you...”
“What is it?”, she asks. The voice is still angry. And why wouldn’t it be? I’m sure ‘indifference’ wasn’t the reaction she hoped from me. Anything is better than indifference. Even hate, or disgust. At least they are feelings.
“I didn’t mean to...”, I start talking. Movement behind Jessie distracts me, and I lose my thought. Katie’s hovering there, by the bed, trying to see what’s going on, “Could I come in... please, Jessie?”, I plead with a smile.
She shrugs, and leaves her guard post. Walks straight to her... girlfriend... what a word. They sit down on the bed, only inches apart. Jessie places her hand on Katie’s knee, and turns a defiant face towards me. I didn’t think she had such courage in her.
I observe all this happen, before stepping inside, “I’m sorry about... downstairs. I really didn’t mean to be so uninterested”, I say and bow my head. It’s hard to look at her, when she’s angry, “I just felt... betrayed. That you didn’t tell me...”
“Mom...”, she cuts me off, “You have to stop treating me like I’m five”, her words remind me of my hallucinations, and I’m forced to close my eyes for a second. But Jessie isn’t talking about them, she’s just making a point, “I’m fifteen. My life doesn’t revolve around you anymore”, she says, “And yours shouldn’t revolve around me.”
But it does. And it always will. Maybe it’s not right, or for the best, but it’s the way it is. I can’t change that. After a few silent seconds, I decide to take a different approach, “You know, it really doesn’t bother me, that you are... gay”, I force the last word out with a nod. How can such a short word be so hard to form? I lift my eyes, and find Jessie gaping at me. The disbelief on her face makes me smile, “It really doesn’t.”
“Wh..at? You’re okay with it?”, Jessie can’t believe what she’s hearing. She glances to her side, as if to make sure, it really is a girl sitting next to her.
I can almost see through her skull, and into her mind. I can almost see what she’s thinking. All this time, she has dreaded the day her secret is revealed. And when it happens, it isn’t as big a deal as she expected. It’s either a huge relief, or a huge disappointment. Depending on the person. To Jessie, it’s a relief, I think. She doesn’t do things to shock people.
I nod. Tears are forming in my eyes again. I blink a couple of times to get rid of them, “I just... need to be part of your life”, I’m at a point, where I’d let her get away with murder. If it meant I could be closer to her. But surprisingly enough, the gay thing really isn’t a big deal to me. I thought it would be, but now that I’m letting the thought sink in, it isn’t.
“Of course you are!”, she shouts and stands up. Not far from tears herself, “Why are you saying things like that?”
“But you just said...”, my voice is getting threateningly close to a whine. Way to act like the parent, Karen.
“I just meant that, you can’t control everything about me anymore. I have to have a life away from you too.”
Tears fall from my eyes, when I nod quickly, “I understand”, I say, even though I don’t. I can’t see, why I’m not enough for her. She’s enough for me. But I guess that’s the way it is with mothers and daughters. One can live through the other, but it doesn’t work vise versa, “But you can still tell me about it, can’t you?”, I snivel pitifully. I’m loading her up with all these extra problems. I’m supposed to be the strong one. She’s supposed to come to me for support.
“Sure”, she says, and walks closer to hug me, for the first time in an eternity. Oh, how I’ve missed it! Missed the smell of her hair, the feel of her arms circling me, “Are you okay, mom?”, she asks, and pulls away. It’s over way too soon. I want to hold onto her forever. I nod, and turn to look at Katie, smiling to her as warmly as I manage. The girl smiles back, but it looks like an uncomfortable smile. And it must be. This conversation really didn’t require an audience, “No!... not with this”, Jessie corrects quickly, when she sees the exchange of smiles, “Are YOU okay? You’ve been so...”
“I’m fine. You don’t have to worry about me, Jessie”, I say, extending my hand, and letting it graze her cheek quickly. She doesn’t believe me. No one believes me anymore, when I say I’m fine. But I really feel a little better. More awake than in a long time. I haven’t spaced out once, during this whole conversation. Nothing like a life altering revelation, to knock some sense into a person.
“Then why are you crying?”, she asks quietly. I’m not sure, if I was even supposed to hear it.
“Because”, I say, and shake my head, “I love you so much. And sometimes it feels like I’m losing you.”
“Stop talking like that! I’m right here! You’re right here!”, she shouts.
“I’m sorry!”, I take back the words, “You’re right. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it”, it’s just that, there are different ways of losing people. Even when in the same room, we can be in different worlds. And that’s how it feels sometimes. Even with Jessie. But she doesn’t need to know it. God, why am I so weak, that I have to burden my daughter with my problems! It’s not fair, like she hasn’t got enough to deal in her own. She calms down a bit, and takes a seat on the bed again, “Look... maybe I should go”, before we end up worse than where we started from. It’s been a good meeting. I feel better, Jessie doesn’t hate me. So, why push it?, “We can talk more in the morning?”
She just nods, and I exit the room. Leaving her alone with the girlfriend. I hope she’s not staying for the night. I hope they’re not...
Quickly I shake my mind free of the nasty thoughts. They’re not helpful. Of course they haven’t done it, Jessie’s not ready for that... I hope. It’s probably something I should talk to her about... Oh. My. God. I’m so unprepared for this.
“Mommyy”, a whispering voice invades my sleep. A small hand is shaking my shoulder. My eyes shoot open, and the first thing I see is my daughter, “I can’t sleep, mom.”
I glance to my other side, where the man is still sleeping. Carefully, so as not to disturb his rest, I climb out of the bed. I take hold of the girl’s hand, and guide her out of the room, into the hallway. I close the door behind us, and kneel down in front of her, “Why not, Jessie?”, I say. She’s staring down at the floor, looking ashamed. Or scared. One or the other, “Bad dream?”, she only shakes her head in response, “What then?”
“I did something bad”, she mutters barely audibly.
I wait for her to go on, but she doesn’t. The unresponsiveness is a little unsettling. Usually, it’s hard to get her to quiet down, “Come on, Jessie. Out with it.”
“I lied, mom”, she says, still refusing to look up, “Eli didn’t eat the cookies. I did.”
“Oh”, is all I can say. She’s so adorable, all repentant. I wonder why the boy took the blame so easily, though? Then again, it’s exactly what he would do.
“I only took one, but they were just so GOOD!”, she says, finally looking up. Her eyes are glistening from unshed tears, “I couldn’t stop!”
Sighing deep, I dry off the tear that has escaped her eye. I catch it midway down her cheek with the back of my hand, “You naughty girl. I guess you’re on cookie-duty tomorrow, with your brother then.”
“Are you mad, mom?”, she asks tentatively.
I smile crookedly, and let my hand fall back down, “Furious”, I say. She isn’t sure what to make of it. Just stares at me confused, “You shouldn’t lie, Jessie. No matter how much the truth hurts, it’s always better than a lie.”
The girl starts shaking her head fast, “I won’t lie again mom!”
“Good”, I agree, and nod, “Now, do you want me to come tuck you in?”
She shakes her head, “It’s okay, mom”, she says, completely taking me by surprise. She has never declined a tuck in offer. The girl starts walking away, past me, and towards her room. I straighten my back, and turn to look after her, “I have to grow up sometime”, she says. And I get even more confused. This isn’t supposed to happen yet. I’ve still got a few years left!, “It’s okay mom”, she calls when she’s almost at the door, “You’re still a part of my life. But I have to have a life away from you too”, before stepping into the room, she turns to look at me. I’m gaping at her from the distance. This isn’t supposed to happen yet! Not in many years!, “Mom?”, the girl asks, and frowns, “M...”
“Huh?”, I stutter, and look for the voice’s source. What a weird memory flash! Usually they are a hundred percent accurate. But this one was corrupted. My eyes finally focus on Jessie, sitting at the table.
“I’m pretty sure the box is empty”, she says with a nod.
I follow her gaze, and find a cereal box in my hand. Tilted upside down over a half full bowl. I turn it over, and give it a quick shake, “You’re right. It is.”
“Told you”, she chirps, while I dispose of the trash.
I retrieve a milk carton from the refrigerator, and empty it into the bowl also, “So”, I say, and take a seat across from her. Jessie’s eating an apple. Just an apple... I haven’t really paid attention to her eating habits lately. But, I guess she’s over that already. Hopefully, “Katie”, I go on, and give her a smile, “She didn’t spend the night, did she? I mean the two of you...”
“Mom! God!”, she rolls her eyes, and blushes, “It’s none of your business!”, hey! I read about that answer in a parenting book once! It means yes... or no... I can’t remember. She must see me mulling it over, as she decides to go on, “And no, she didn’t. And no, we haven’t”, the red on her face brightens even more. That’s a good sign. That she feels awkward even talking about it.
“Good”, I say, “I think you should keep it that way...”
“That’s enough about that!”, she cuts me off for the second time, during as many sentences I’ve said, “Change the subject, or I’m going right now.”
Okay. There should be plenty to talk about. I made a list last night, while not sleeping. But like so many other things, my brain seems to have misplaced it. I knew I should’ve written it down. I bet Jessie would’ve been impressed, if I’d showed up with a list of things to discuss.
“Do other people know? Am I the last one to figure it out?”, I say, holding my breath. Please say no. Please.
“No!”, thank you. Her voice is very pointed this morning, “And don’t you dare tell anyone.”
“Hey, I thought I was gona have more say in these things”, I mean I’m the parent. Isn’t it my job to set some rules?, “And I thought people knew”, I frown, remembering the girl from the Booklover’s.
“What? No! People don’t know”, Jessie says. The pointyness still present in her voice, “Why would you think that?”
“Well, your friend knew. The girl from the play, she’s the one who told me”, I say.
“What friend?”, Jessie’s getting anxious, “Grace?! And wait a minute... you KNEW? Even before...”
“No”, I say firmly, “Not Grace. The girl who made your costume, Sarah.”
“Sarah?”, her face falls, “She told you?”
“Well, yeah. In a way”, I say, with an apologetic look. Jessie looks beaten, and bows her head, “But I didn’t really figure it out before... last night.”
She doesn’t answer. Just mopes. I decide to give her time, and start to eat my breakfast. Jessie twists and turns the apple in her hand, like trying to find some fault in it. Time goes by, and I keep observing her observing the apple. She looks so troubled. It breaks my heart, seeing her this way. She was very confident last night, but I guess it’s a whole different thing out there. And Jessie’s not ready to face the stares, and the slander, that will irrevocably follow if she’s found out.
Finally she lifts her head, and I stare into her sad, but smiling face, “I’m so glad you took it so well”, she says. My heart swells, “You have no idea, how much it means to me.”
I have some idea. I reach over the table, and place my hand on her wrist, “Oh, Jessie. Dear, sweet Jessie. All I want, is for you to be happy”, I say, and smile back at her, “And I’m sure, that’s how your father feels too”, Jessie’s smile disappears, and she starts shaking her head, “You just have to give him a chance.”
“No. I’m not ready yet”, she says, and keeps shaking her head.
“Isn’t it better that he finds out from you...”
“I said, not yet”, Jessie says adamantly, and takes a bite out of the apple. She leans back on her chair, and I’m forced to release her hand. Picking up the spoon, I shrug. Truth be told, it makes a tiny bit happy. That I have this HUGE secret with my daughter. And he doesn’t know about it. THEY don’t know about it. Serves them right for trying to steal my baby away from me. I would never admit it to anyone, that I’m that petty, but I have to admit it to myself, “But I’m happy you found out, mom”, she goes on after chewing up the food.
“You don’t ever have to keep secrets from me, Jessie. Nothing you do, can make me love you less”, sometimes it feels like I loved her more, when she was a baby. But that’s not true. I see now, that I love her just the same.
Jessie smiles, “I know that, mom”, she says and stands up, “I have to go. Don’t wanna miss my bus”, she turns around and heads for the door, “Mom”, she looks back before exiting, “I love you”, she says, “I’m glad you’re feeling better.”
“Higher dad!”, the girl shrieks from joy, “Make me go higher!”, her father is pushing her in one of the playground swings.
I wave to her from my seat on the sandbox fence. My son sits close by, and is trying to bury his basketball in the sand. He never goes anywhere without his basketball, “Why are you doing that, Eli?”, I ask, making a funny face at him. He only shrugs. He does things, without even knowing himself why. Whatever feels right at the moment. It’s such a great approach on life. I hope he never loses it. Though, eventually it might become less adorable. Some degree of planning is essential in life.
“I wanna go to Heaven!”, the girl is still screaming, “Push me all the way to Heaven dad!”
“You’re gona ruin the ball”, I say, directing my eyes back to the boy, “It’s not meant to be buried in sand.”
“Doesn’t matter”, he mumbles, and shovels even more sand on the ball.
“Everything okay, Eli?”, I ask. Put off by his quietness.
He doesn’t answer at first. Instead, he pushes his hands inside the pile of sand, and pulls out the basketball. After the ball is saved, he turns to look at me, “I heard you and dad last night. Fighting”, oh, no. It was one of our worse fights. Evil words were said all around. And no hatchets were buried in the end, “Is he going away?”
At first I mean to quash such claims straight up, but then decide otherwise. He’s old for his age. He understands things, “No. He isn’t going anywhere”, yet. The boy nods, and starts wiping off leftover sand from the ball, “What if he was, though? How would you feel?”
“Sad”, he mutters, and refuses to look at me, “But not as sad as Jessie”, he continues, and glances at me.
I give him, what I hope, is an encouraging smile, “Could you promise me something, Eli?”, I say. He turns his full attention to me, “Whatever happens, you’ll look after your sister, right?”
His head turns even further, away from me, and towards the two other members of our happy family. The man has stopped pushing the swing, and is instead slowing it down. I hear the girl grumble a protest, when she comes to a halt. The father and the daughter seem to have a brief exchange of words, “Yeah”, the boy quietly says, “I will.”
I spread out an arm, and invite him to me. He hurriedly stands up, and throws himself into the hug, “He isn’t going anywhere, though”, I assure him with a whisper. Yet.
“Good”, he says.
“Hey, you two!”, the man shouts, “Up for some ice-cream?”
“We’re almost out of time, Karen”, a man’s voice interrupts my memories. Slowly my gaze returns from the window to the man sitting in front of me. He’s wearing a soothing smile. In his hands, he has a small notepad, “Where’d you go?”, he asks.
I smirk, and look down, “Same place I always go, into the past.”
He’s quiet for a few moments, “Well, you certainly look a lot better than last time”, he says, earning a nod from me, “The medication is working then?”
I keep nodding my head, “Maybe”, I say, and turn to look at him again. Not a thing in his expression has changed. Nothing in him ever changes. That is what’s so soothing about him, I guess. The reliability.
“Just maybe?”, he asks, furrowing his brow.
I stand up, and grab my handbag from the floor, “Yeah. It’s either the meds, or this other thing that happened.”
“What other thing?”, he sounds a little confused.
“Jessie... she... umm... gave me a bit of a shock treatment”, I start stuttering, and turn an embarrassed smile towards him, “She’s gay.”
He makes a weird face at me, and pulls his head back slightly, “Wow. Didn’t see that coming”, he says, “Why didn’t you mention this earlier?”
“It doesn’t bother me”, I answer, a little proud of myself, “Funny, isn’t it? I bet you thought, I’d go totally berserk over it, right?”, I say and grin. He returns my grin, and then scribbles down something in his little booklet. I take a few steps towards the door, and then remember something, “Oh, about these drugs. What kind of side effects are they supposed to have?”, I ask and turn to look at him again.
He's puzzled at first. Then looks away from me for a second, “Fatigue, headaches sometimes... irritation. Brain tumors, but that's only on fifty percent of patients!”, he says with a grin. I smile back, “The usual stuff. Why?”, he finishes.
How about hallucination, I want to ask him. But I don’t. Instead I shake my head and smile, “No reason. So, I’ll see you next Monday?”
He squints his eyes a little, and nods, “Monday, right.”
Quickly, I hurry out of the room, before he starts questioning me. I like this doctor Solomon, but I’m not sure I wanna share with him, just how crazy I am. He might even get the urge to lock me up in some institution.
“Bye”, I smile at his receptionist, on my hurried flee. The woman only smiles back.
Even the doctor said I looked better. It must be true then. I must be getting through this God awful depression. But the rapid pace of the recovery scares me a bit. Only yesterday, I was at my lowest point. I didn’t care about anything. Not even Jessie. Is it really possible to get from that to... this, in just one day?
I walk to the end of the corridor, and push the elevator button, “Going down...”, a familiar voice to my left asks. I turn to look down, “Mom?”, at little Jessie.
“Sure”, I nod and smile. The elevator arrives accompanied by a bling sound. The doors open, and both of us step inside the empty elevator. I push the first floor button, and wait for the doors to close again, “What are you doing here?”, I ask the girl, when she isn’t talking. Just standing there, next to me.
“Came to say good-bye”, she states, staring straight in front of her.
We start moving down, and Jessie’s hand seeks out mine. I take it, and start smoothly rubbing her palm with my thumb. She was always afraid of elevators as a child. She was afraid of a lot of things, but that never stopped her from doing them. There is incredible inner strength in Jessie, something that you won’t believe until you see it for yourself.
“Are you going somewhere?”, I ask confused, and turn to look at her again. She looks so sad now. Nothing like in my memories.
“Told you I was growing up, mom”, she says. Her voice sounds bitter, like she doesn’t want to do it, “Can’t stay a kid forever.”
Again with this, “Sure you can. You’re a creature of my imagination. You can be anything I want you to be.”
“We’ll see”, she says the same time we reach our destination.
Again the bling sound precedes the opening of the doors. We walk out into the empty hallway, and towards the exit. She’s a few steps ahead of me all the time, guiding me from my hand. It’s the way it’s always been. Seemingly, I’ve led the way, but in truth, I’ve always followed my daughter through her life. I push open the door, and make room for her to get past me. She lets go of my hand and slides outside, into the brightness of the day. I follow her, and squint my eyes.
“It’s bright”, I comment to the girl. An elderly woman is just passing us, and she looks at me like I was a mental patient. Which, of course, I am. I smile to the woman, and she just picks up speed.
“You’re scaring people, mom”, little Jessie says. She still doesn’t look at me, but starts walking again. Down the street, towards the intersection.
I look after her for a second, and then start walking too. And here I was thinking, I was getting better. Don’t make me laugh, Karen. You’ll never be better. Some people are just born wrong. No shame in that, as long as you accept it.
Jessie stops in front of the crosswalk, and turns around. When I reach her, she finally looks up to me, “I’ll stay here”, she says with a serious look, “You should go home, see if I’m there already.”
I brush my hand through her hair once, and smile. Her expression doesn’t change, “You talk funny”, I say, and let my hand fall down.
She doesn’t respond. I turn, and start to cross the road. Midway through it, she calls for me, “Mom”, I barely hear her voice. I swing around and find her staring after me, “I lied”, she says, making me frown, “I’m not going anywhere. You are”, her face stays exactly the same.
For a second I consider asking her, what she means. And then an overwhelming pain takes over my world. It consumes everything. For a few moments, it is everything. And then I’m falling.
An annoying tickle just under my nose, bothers my otherwise blissful rest. I try to brush it aside with my hand. And it goes away, but only for a few seconds. Then it returns.
“Wakey time!”, a sweet voice whispers into my ear. I try to open my eyes, but the brightness is too much, it forces me to close them again. Even that doesn’t seem to be enough, it’s like the light is searing through my eyelids, making everything red, “Mommyy!”, the voice scolds me, “Open them slowly!”, I try again, opening my eyes only slightly. At first I think I can’t do it, it hurts so much. But surprisingly quickly my eyes start to get used to the light. I find myself staring at the brightest blue sky I’ve ever seen. For a second. Then the view is blocked by even a more beautiful sight. My daughter’s smiling face, “Hi!”, she says.
“Hi”, I reply groggily. My throat feels so dry, talking is hard. Feels like I haven’t drunk in years, “What happened? Where are we?”, I force the words out.
She shakes her head, “Does it matter?”
I think about it for a few moments. No, it doesn’t. If my little Jessie’s here, then nothing else matters, “I guess it doesn’t”, I answer. And her smile grows.
I push myself off the ground, into a sitting position. Ahead of me, a road opens up. There’re lots of cars parked on it, they’re blocking up the whole road. Why would people do that? In the middle of it all, there is a huge crowd of people gathered into a circle. And an ambulance. I’d expect such a spectacle to create an awful ruckus, but no. I can’t hear anything.
“Come”, little Jessie calls from my side. I turn to look at her. She has extended her hand to me.
I take it, and stand up, “What’s that?”, I ask pointing towards the road. My thirst is gone, I realize vaguely. It doesn’t seem to matter. It’s only a distant memory anymore. Soon I won’t remember it ever existed.
“That’s where we are going”, Jessie answers with a smile. I turn to look ahead again. The road is gone. The cars are gone. The people are gone. Soon I won’t remember they ever existed. Only a green grass field remains. It seems to go on forever. In the horizon, the bright light seems to be even stronger. It’s blinding even from this distance, “Come. Eli’s waiting.”
“Eli’s here too?”, I ask. My heart fills with happiness. I could ask for nothing more.
Jessie nods, and takes the first step. She leads me into the light.
< end >
Thanks for reading,
|Watching||Megan||Once And Again||Main Index|