I sat with Jude and Aunt Nora for a while as we went through the box of photos, Jude telling us about some of the recent shots. Of course, we could deduce what some of the older ones were based on decorations, birthday cakes, and a photo of him holding a fishing pole with a small fish attached.
Jude’s stomach growled, and I saw Aunt Nora glancing at her watch. “Oh, goodness. I better go put together some dinner. It’s later than I thought. I’ll call you when it’s ready.” We both nodded and continued pulling out the framed photographs. Jude was placing them on every flat surface in his room, and I withheld a little laugh because he was such a cute kid.
“It’s great you want to put them all in here, but I think your dad was hoping you’d put some all over the house. I don’t think you have to keep all of them in here. He’s got pictures up in the living room of the three of you, so I think he’d be happy if you had pictures of you and your mom in there, too,” I offered.
“Maybe later. Hey, can she cook?” Jude whispered, pointing his thumb toward the kitchen.
I laughed. “Very well, as a matter of fact. Aunt Nora taught me how to cook before I went off to college. I used to cook for your dad and me all the time.” He looked at me with curious eyes, and I wondered if I’d said too much.
I heard a throat clear behind us, and I was relieved. “Thorn and I lived together when we were in college. He’s a great cook. He taught me how to cook,” I heard. Kennedy walked in and took a look around the room at all the framed photos, smiling at his son.
“How long have you been friends?” Jude asked.
Kennedy looked at me, and I winked at him. Jude was going to have a lot of questions about new things that were happening to him every day, and I believed it was best if we gave him the appropriate amount of truth, based on his age and depth of understanding. “Ten years. I met Thornton the day we were moving into our dorm building,” he responded.
“When did you meet Mom?” Jude asked. I knew it was coming, but I wasn’t looking forward to hearing the answer.
“It was my second year of college. Your mom and I had a class together and became friends.”
“When were you and Mom like boyfriend and girlfriend?” It was an innocent question, but that didn’t make it any less painful for me.
I rose from the bed and looked at Kennedy. “I think this is a discussion you need to have without me. I’ll go help Aunt Nora with dinner.” I didn’t wait for an answer; I walked out and pulled the door closed behind me.
I walked into the kitchen, seeing Aunt Nora and Betsey Nutter pulling together some sandwiches. I guessed, based on the fact it was nearly six o’clock, they were taking a shortcut to get something on the table for Jude to eat.
Aunt Nora turned to me, likely seeing the emotions on my face. “Where are Kennedy and Judah?”
“Uh, they’re in Jude’s room. Jude asked him about how… He asked about when Kennedy and Lark were, uh, a couple.” I was trying to be sensitive, but the three of us knew that wasn’t exactly the way things had happened.
Betsey and Nora stopped what they were doing and looked at me. “I don’t envy him trying to explain it. How are things between the two of you now? I know Kennedy’s pleased to have you back in his life,” Betsey offered as she touched my arm.
“I’m happy as well, Betsey. So, um, what kind of arrangements are you going to make for Lark’s service? Does Jude need a suit?” I asked, trying to change the subject.
She sighed heavily. “In Lark’s will she stated she wanted no formal funeral at all. She wants to be cremated and have her ashes divided. Half is to go back to Mississippi with Fred and me to be spread at our home. The other half is to be held for Jude until he’s ready to scatter them.”
Aunt Nora’s face immediately showed signs of worry. “What?” I asked.
My aunt’s face morphed into a tender smile alerting me to what was coming. “Well, I’m certainly not one to pry,” yeah, right, “but if she doesn’t want an actual funeral service, maybe a private celebration of her life. I’m sure she believed she was saving all of you from a difficult good-bye and that’s quite admirable of her for the attempt at making things more comfortable under the circumstances. It’s never going to be easy,” Aunt Nora explained.
I started to jump in to change the subject, but of course, she wasn’t done. “I, however, believe people need some sort of acknowledgment of a loss, especially one as deeply felt as this one. If for no one other than Judah, there should be something tangible to mark her passing and the impact she made while she was here. Oh, listen to me. I’m sorry. Obviously, it’s what you and Kennedy want to do, Betsey.” Aunt Nora was definitely a master of subliminal messaging.
“No, no, you’re right. We should honor Lark’s memory in some way, even if it is just a donation to a charity or something as simple as planting a tree with a moment of prayer. I think Judah needs it more than anyone. Thornton, will you speak with Kennedy about it? He listens to you,” Betsey implored.
I was quickly figuring out I was going to become the go-between with Kennedy and the other people in his life. I wasn’t sure if I should be honored they believed he’d listen to me, or if I should be offended for being labeled a manipulative bastard who had some sort of power over Kennedy. “I’ll mention it, but I won’t push him, Mrs. Nutter. I believe you have as much say in this as Kennedy, so maybe you should speak to him,” I suggested.
She smiled and touched my arm. “You’re very kind, Thornton, and under any other set of circumstances, I’d agree with you. In this instance, however, I believe he’d listen to you if you explained how you think having a memorial in Lark’s honor would be healing for Judah. I’m not disrespectful, but you lost your parents, and if you told him you think it would help, he’d listen. I believe hearing it from you would put his mind at ease about it. Trust me, when we get back to Mississippi, I’ll be having a memorial service for Lark’s extended family. Right now, though, I think if you’d suggest I to Kenny, it will mean a lot.”
She was right about honoring her daughter’s memory for Jude’s benefit, and if I was honest, I don’t know how long I’d have waited to contact Kennedy if it wasn’t for Lark, so took up the mantle of championing the cause without being too pushy. “I’ll talk to him. Now, it seems you’ve got the food under control, and I’d guess Jude’s starving so I’ll be right back.”
I walked down the hallway to Judah’s room, knocking on the partially closed door. “Come on in,” Kennedy invited.
I pushed open the door to see the two of them playing a video game. It was some sort of football game I hadn’t seen, so I watched Kennedy and Jude for a minute. Jude paused it and looked up at me expectantly before he asked, “Food ready?” I nodded and watched as he tossed his controller at Kennedy and hustled out of the room like a shot.
“What did you tell him?” I asked Kennedy as I crossed my arms over my chest nervously.
“I explained to him how his mother and I were just good friends. The only boyfriend I ever had was you, and I did something stupid which caused us to break-up. I didn’t tell him exactly what it was because I don’t think it would be good for him to know what happened between Lark and me was the thing that broke us apart. It’s not something I think he can understand at this age. He told me he agrees with you that we should be boyfriends again. I know you mentioned it to him the other night that things were going to be okay between us. How did that discussion go?”
I took a deep breath. “Jude asked me if we were like Sam’s two dads. I said not exactly, but in my heart, you were still my boyfriend. He asked if you thought the same thing, and I said I didn’t know, but I hoped so. You simply walked into it when you accused us of conspiring against you. Now, come to eat. After everyone leaves, I need to talk to you about a couple of things before I go home.”
His face fell a little, but he didn’t say anything. I was quite confident he wouldn’t consider drinking with Lark’s parents in town and Judah so fragile, so it was time for me to go home, mainly since Aunt Nora and Uncle Rob were in town for a visit.
After we ate, Jude played a game of Sorry with Uncle Rob and Fred. We could all see he was fading, based on the number of yawns he was trying to hide. Kennedy was busy going over some documents with Betsey while I was sitting with Aunt Nora, both of us observing the activities taking place.
“Aw, he’s so sweet, Thorn. He seems to like you,” she offered as we watched Jude yawn again.
“I care about that little boy so much, Aunt Nora. He’s got a lot to process right now with his mother’s death, me showing up, and Kennedy telling him he’s gay. Thankfully, he has a friend at school with two dads, so it’s not too foreign a concept for him. Unfortunately, only recently has the topic come up in his own house that has forced him to consider it,” I explained quietly.
“Oh, Kennedy hasn’t had a relationship since Jude got older?” I looked at her to see the wheels turning.
“Stop. Kennedy and Lark didn’t bring dates home to meet Jude, but we haven’t really had too much time to talk about relationships,” I told her.
“So, he doesn’t know about Joseph?” she asked, referring to my former lover.
I sighed because I was exhausted with the events and I didn’t want to tell her about the book that would never be published, but she wouldn’t shut up until I gave her something. “In a roundabout way, Kennedy knows about Joey, but we haven’t talked about it yet. Right now’s not the time for any discussions regarding our time apart. If we decide to proceed with anything more than just being friends again…”
“If!?” Her outburst got everyone’s attention.
“Jude, buddy, you okay?” I asked to divert attention.
He looked up. “I’m tired. I’m gonna shower and go to bed.” He looked at Fred and Rob. “I’ll give ya a chance to make your money back another time.” He held out his hand, and each man coughed up a five, slapping it into his waiting grasp.
“Judah!” Kennedy gasped. I’d seen the three of them with their heads together, but I didn’t know they were gambling. I actually laughed until I saw Kennedy with his eyebrow cocked in my direction.
“We should get going as well,” Aunt Nora decided. Everyone began moving around to say good-night.
Uncle Rob hugged me and held me close for a minute. “Are you, uh, coming home?”
I pulled away. “I am, but I need to talk to Kennedy first. I’m not sure how long it will take, so go ahead and go to bed if you want. I’m not sure what the plan is for tomorrow, but I’ll let you know. On the dresser in my bedroom is that bag with all the pill bottles. Can you take a look at them and give me some idea what they were for?” I asked. Uncle Rob nodded as he patted my shoulder.
“Thank you so much for coming. I truly appreciate it, and I’m certain Kennedy does as well,” I whispered to my uncle who offered a compassionate smile.
I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to see Betsey standing there with her arms open. I bent low and hugged her tightly. “Thank you, Thornton, for taking care of my boys. I’m not sure what we’d be dealing with if you weren’t here.” I nodded as she kissed my cheek.
I hated the thought that maybe she wouldn’t be in the position to have to grieve her daughter’s passing if it wasn’t for my reemergence into Kennedy’s life, but it was probably the truth. I definitely had to tell Kennedy about Lark’s impromptu phone call and the disagreement we’d had. The damn guilt was consuming me.
Everyone left us, and Jude went to shower and climb into his own bed, which surprised me. Kennedy and I sat down on the couch with green tea, and I knew my time was up. “I’ve got a couple of things I need to tell you,” I started.
“Well, I’ve got a couple of things I need to tell you as well, so you go first.” He was grinning a little, and I was sure what I had to tell him wasn’t anything like what he had to say to me.
I nodded, took a sip of my tea, and turned on the couch to face him. “I understand Lark’s will stated she wanted no formal acknowledgment of her passing, but I think, for Jude’s sake, you should do something. It doesn’t have to be anything formal or over the top. Maybe instead of mourning the loss of her, you could plan a celebration of her life? She had a beautiful son, a successful career, and I’d bet she’s got friends who will miss her a lot. You haven’t phoned anyone yet, have you?”
He looked down and played with teabag string. “I have Lark’s phone, so I have her contacts, but I haven’t called anyone. I need to call her work, but I haven’t done it yet. I’m sure they’ve called her home phone. I just thought I needed to talk with Betsey and Fred before I started calling people. What kind of event should we have?” he asked, seeming to warm up to the idea.
“Well, what did Lark like to do? Was there a favorite place or a favorite activity? Maybe she had a favorite charity?” I offered.
He thought for a minute and smiled as he took my hand. “You’d be okay with us doing something like that?”
I placed my hand on his cheek. “Kennedy, love, I’m the last person you should consider in this situation. It’s a gathering to honor Jude’s mother’s memory. Look, I told you Lark came to see me, and I’m not saying I’d have never come around, but she definitely shortened the time it would have taken me to get my head out of my ass and contact you. Something good should come from the loss, Kennedy. It would be good for Jude to experience a remembrance of his mother’s passing. It would be good for him to see all the people who will miss her so he doesn’t feel like he’s the only person who lost her.”
“Betsey’s planning to have something in Mississippi for the family if you’ll let Jude go down over the summer, but I think it would be good for him to see how many people appreciated his mother here in Spokane. I’ll help you plan anything you’d like to do.” He leaned forward and brushed his lips against mine in gratitude, I suspected. Betsey Nutter was a smart woman.
I then moved onto another topic. “This isn’t easy for me to tell you, but the day Lark…did what she did…she called me. She told me your parents had filed for custody, and she threatened to take Jude away and disappear. I told Lark if she did that to you, she might as well hand you a bottle. She said I was right and she’d handle it. Then…” I trailed off.
I studied him to see if he had any reaction, but he didn’t. “She told me nothing about any of it, but as I’ve found out over the last few days, even though I knew Lark for nine years, there was very little about her I really knew. At this point, nothing surprises me.” Knowing what I did about Jude, I was sure he was right.
To be continued…