I took Thornton’s advice and walked Betsey and Freddie over to Lark’s house. We settled into her office, and I braced myself to deliver some news I was sure they wouldn’t exactly be happy to hear.
“So, um, I went through Lark’s papers to try to gather everything we’ll need to take to the mortuary. When I was looking for Jude’s birth certificate, I found this,” I told Lark’s parents as I handed them the file folder with her will and the note she’d scratched out inside.
While they looked through it, I continued. “I phoned the lawyer earlier today to alert him of Lark’s passing, and he told me he’d begin the probate process. The house is mine, but it’ll go to Jude when he’s older. The contents are Lark’s, but she’s left everything to Jude. She uh…”
“Cremated!” Betsey shrieked. I was wondering when they’d get to that section.
She looked up at me with shock. I wasn’t sure what the big deal was, but it was what Lark wanted. “Betsey, it’s right there in black and white. That’s what she wanted, and I intend to see that’s what she gets.” I was trying to keep my voice calm and gentle, but I wasn’t succeeding.
“I want to take her home, Ken. I want to take her home and have a proper funeral and burial at our cemetery. Why on earth would she make this decision? She knew we wouldn’t approve,” Betsey complained as she dried her tears.
“If you’ll read further, she doesn’t want a regular funeral. She doesn’t want any formal service at all. She wants her ashes divided. Half for you to take home and sprinkle in your flower garden at the back of your house; half to be sprinkled by Judah when he’s older. I’m sorry, but I’m going to contact a mortuary and crematory to make the arrangements as stated in those papers. I just need to know if you want a formal urn or a simple one since you’ll be sprinkling her ashes. I plan to get a formal one for Jude because I guess he’ll be older when he decides what to do,” I tried to explain.
Her features seemed to soften a bit, and I noticed Fred was yet to say anything. “Fred, is there something on your mind?” He looked at Betsey, and she nodded.
“We have something we need to tell you. We’ve known it for years, but we didn’t say anything because you were so good to Lark and Jude. We wanted her to stay in Mississippi with us and let us help her raise Jude, but she wasn’t havin’ any of it. She was doin’ so well up here, so we decided not to fight her.” I was getting more nervous by the minute, but I nodded to see where he was going.
Betsey cleared her throat. “Lark has always had problems, son. When she was younger, we had a lot of trouble with her. There were good times when Lark was in a great mood, and things were good. Sometimes, though, she would lock herself in her room and not come out for days. Back then, doctors told us Lark had behavior disorders, and they prescribed her pills for ADHD. When she got older, Lark was diagnosed with manic depression—bi-polar disorder they call it now. They changed her medicine again several more times until they got it right, but I wonder if maybe she went off it again. Anyway, I’m gonna guess she never told you anything about it.”
I was sure the look on my face gave away my surprise because I was blown away by the revelation. Lark had never mentioned anything remotely related to emotional or mental health issues.
Sure, over the years, I’d noticed she had mood swings. Sometimes she was down in the dumps for weeks and seemed to have a hard time with everything. Those were the times when she’d have me keep Jude full-time for extended periods. Then, she’d show up at the house one day with a bright smile and a giddy attitude.
She’d take Jude home, chattering details rapid-fire of the many plans she had for the two of them. I always wondered if the mood swings had something to do with relationship issues, but when I’d ask, she’d just giggle and tell me to mind my own business.
“I had no idea it was anything that serious.” That would, however, explain the pill bottles Thornton found in her medicine cabinet.
“I was sure she was doing fine until I spoke with Lark about two weeks ago. She was excited about something and insisted she and Jude were coming to visit. She said she hoped to bring someone with her to meet us, but that was all she told me. I just assumed she was still taking her meds like she was supposed to do. If for some reason she went off them, Lark might hit such a point where she might take her own life after she crashed from her manic episode. Did you notice a drastic change in her behavior recently?” Betsey asked.
When I was drinking, I didn’t notice shit about anyone, and that was a fact. Since I’d gotten sober, I’d witnessed a few things regarding Lark’s actions which had puzzled me, but it was too infrequent to make me question what was going on. Of late, though, it had been happening more than I wanted to admit as I considered some of our recent interactions.
“What do you mean you can’t take him this weekend? You’re his father, Kenny. You’re his fucking father, and he needs you,” Lark blasted me one Thursday night. It wasn’t that I couldn’t take him for the weekend because I had nothing going on, but I had to work on Friday and Judah had a day off school. He’d told me the previous night when we went for dinner he was supposed to go play at a buddy’s house on Friday, but the boy had to get outpatient surgery, so his mom was going to take the day off work and spend it with him.
“I didn’t say I couldn’t take him, Lark. I said I can’t take off work tomorrow. Aurora and I have a conference call with Mom and Dad regarding the corporate taxes, and I have to take it at the office. It’s too late for me to reschedule because my parents are going out of town for two weeks. If he was in school, I could handle it, but he’s out that day. Remember?” I reminded her over the phone.
“Fuck! I can’t take off. I have a meeting early in the morning I can’t miss. It’s your turn to make the sacrifice, Kennedy,” she snapped before she hung up.
I went over to her house to pick up Judah, seeing she looked a hot mess. I tried to talk to her, but she was unreasonable, so I gave up. I told Jude he’d need to go to work with me, and he merely shrugged. The kid was so affable it wasn’t funny. Eli ended up taking half a day off from his job and picking Jude up for lunch. Lark and I didn’t speak for a week after she pulled that bullshit. It made much more sense to me now than it had at the time.
I decided to tell them something I never imagined I would because I didn’t really want them getting any ideas. “I just found out Lark had been keeping a secret from me, and I’m wondering if she kept it from you as well. Before I tell you this, I have to warn you I will fight anyone, and I mean anyone, who tries to take my son from me.”
I saw the alarm on both of their faces, and I thought, “Help me out here, Lark.”
“My parents had decided they were, or rather are, going to try to take Jude away from us. They’ve filed a Petition for Custody here in Washington. With Lark alive, I doubt they had a leg to stand on. Now that she’s gone, I’m not sure how the legal system will treat a gay, alcoholic man raising his son alone.”
When Betsey and Fred found out about my battle with the bottle, they were both so damn supportive, much more than Mom and KC. My dad called me a pussy who couldn’t hold his liquor, and all my mother said was it would be an embarrassment to the family if I didn’t straighten up my act.
Betsey and Fred looked at each with shock. “Did this just happen?” Fred asked.
“Apparently, they threatened Lark with it when she and Jude were in New York. She didn’t tell me about it, but Jude told me what he overheard while he was there. I just need to know if I’m going to be fighting the two of you for custody as well,” I explained, hoping I’d get a clue regarding whether they knew the truth about Jude.
Betsey reached out and touched my hand. “Kennedy, we could never take that boy from you. We just hope you’ll still make sure we get to see him. You’re still a member of our family, so you’re expected for regular visits, ya hear?” she stated with a tender smile.
I stood from my seat and walked around Lark’s desk, hugging Betsey for her words. It was a relief they weren’t going to petition for custody as well, and I was grateful.
As long as no one ever finds out Jude isn’t my son, I’ll be fine.
When we got back to my house a couple of hours later, we’d settled everything that needed to be resolved. Betsey and Fred were going to stay at Lark’s home while they were in town. She offered to go through Lark’s things and get them ready to be donated to a shelter, which reminded me how happy I was Thornton had suggested we make a pass through the house first. On the way out, I grabbed Lark’s cell phone I’d forgotten the night before, hoping for any kind of clue regarding what she’d done during her last hours.
I saw a black BMW in the driveway, along with my truck and Thornton’s fancy car. I guessed that meant his aunt and uncle were there. I picked up my pace a bit because we’d walked over to Lark’s, and I was anxious to see Nora and Rob, hoping there was no bad-blood or tension between us based on the last time I’d seen them.
I’d been calling and calling, and the Edmonds’ hadn’t called me back, so the Saturday before I was leaving to go to Texas for the summer break to visit my grandparents, I decided to take the ride to see them in Portland. If I was standing on their porch, they couldn’t deny me some answers, could they?
I rang the bell, and when Nora opened the door, I could see she was shocked at my appearance. “Kennedy, Thornton’s not here.” She had the coldest tone in her voice which wasn’t typical of the times I’d visited their home with him over the two years we were together, so I knew he had to have told her exactly what had happened.
“Mrs. Edmonds, I’m begging you to tell me where he is. I need to explain to him what happened. It’s not what he thinks, and it’s not what he probably told you,” I pleaded.
Just then, Rob walked up. “Oh, Kennedy? What brings you out here? Thornton’s not here.” He wasn’t any friendlier than Nora.
“I know, sir. I just need to know where he is. I need to talk to him. I’ve been calling you and him for weeks, but nobody ever calls me back,” I pleaded.
Rob sighed, exasperation rolling off him. “Thornton changed his number, Kennedy. He doesn’t want to speak with you. I’m sorry, but after what happened, I think the best thing is for you to leave him alone so he can get over you. He’s been through enough in his life. He doesn’t need any more heartbreak,” Rob responded.
“But, Dr. Edmonds, it’s not what…”
“Excuse me, but are you going to stand there and tell us Thornton didn’t walk into the home you shared together and find you with a woman in an inappropriate liaison? Was he suffering a hallucination? Maybe Thorn needs to get his eyes checked? Based on the fact you’re not protesting I’d say he told us the truth. Please, Kennedy, leave him alone and stop trying to contact him. I don’t want to be rude because I like you very much, but Thornton’s our son and his well-being will always be our priority,” Nora announced and then quietly closed the door in my face.
I sat in their driveway for over an hour, trying to calm down enough to make the drive back to Spokane. All my hope was gone, and I knew I’d never open my heart to anyone else. I couldn’t because it was wherever Thornton had gone.
I stopped the Nutters on the porch. “Um, before we go in, I need to tell you the Edmonds are very nice people, but the last time I saw them, things were a little rough. It was just after Lark and I hooked up, and Thorn had left town. I went to their house to try to find him, and they were none too pleased to see me,” I explained.
I saw Betsey stand a little taller, which was funny because she was nearly as tiny as Lark. “Well, if they’re rude, we’ll just ask them to leave. I realize Thornton’s your friend, but this isn’t about you and him, really. This is about you and Jude and the loss of our daughter. I understand Lark had a part in this, but if they have any negative feelings on the matter, they should leave. I got no problem tellin’ ‘em, either.” She nodded resolutely and then walked inside.
I looked at Fred, seeing his supportive smile. “Son, if they had a hand in raising the guy who picked us up at the airport, I doubt you’ll have any problems with ’em.”
Freddie walked inside, and I followed him a minute later. When I walked into my living room, I saw Nora with her arms around Betsey’s shoulders as the two of them spoke quietly. Fred was holding Jude in his arms, and Rob and Thornton were standing off to the side. When Rob saw me, he quietly made his way over and placed his hands on my biceps. “Kennedy, son, how are you? Nora and I are so very sorry this is the circumstance under which we all reunite. Please understand we’re here for anything you need.” I leaned forward and gave him a grateful hug for his kind words.
I saw Thornton trying to get my attention, so I walked over to where he was standing. “How did it go with the Nutters?” he whispered.
“Better than I expected. I’ll tell you later, okay?” I turned to look at him, and he nodded.
“Aunt Nora, I think you’re about to cause poor Mrs. Nutter to have a stroke you’re squeezing her so hard,” he announced to his aunt.
Nora pulled away. “Anything at all, Mrs. Nutter, you just let me know. Mr. Nutter, we’re so very sorry for your loss,” she addressed Fred, who seemed overwhelmed. She didn’t grab him in a hug, which I could see he appreciated. She gently touched his arm in comfort.
Jude wiggled down and walked over to where I was standing, wrapping his arms around my hips, resting his head on my upper abdomen. I rubbed his back. “You okay, Dude?”
He leaned back and looked up at me with those big crocodile tears. “I miss Mommy.” I moved to sit in the recliner and pulled him onto my lap, holding him and letting him cry. I was sure we’d have many such moments for years to come, and I honestly didn’t know how to handle them. I needed to call someone because I was genuinely operating in the dark when it came to my son’s well-being. I’d never contemplated I would have to face a scenario where his mother was dead.
Nora walked over and knelt down next to my chair, touching Jude’s cheek. “You’re such a handsome young man. Your mother must be a beautiful woman. Do you have any pictures of her you’d like to show me?”
He looked at me with a small smile. “Can I? I mean, I didn’t know if we should talk about Mom.”
I leaned forward and kissed his cheek. “You can talk about your mom as much as you want, Jude. Just because she’s not here to take care of you every day, it doesn’t mean she’s gone. She lives right here,” I said as I touched his chest above his heart. Nora nodded with a tender smile and stood with her hand extended for him.
Thorn walked over to where we were sitting, handing Jude a tissue. “Come on, Jude, your dad packed up a bunch of pictures for you. Why don’t we go through them and you can tell Aunt Nora and me what you were doing and anything else you want to tell us about your mom. We didn’t know her, but we’d like to hear about her.”
I looked up at him and smiled. He would be my best resource regarding how to be supportive of Judah because he’d lost his own parents. I just needed to remember to ask him.
Jude looked at me, and I nodded. “That’s a great idea, Dude. You can put out as many pictures as you’d like.”
Jude climbed down and took Nora’s offered hand, leading her down the hallway to his room where I assumed his boxes had been placed. I rose from the chair and walked into the kitchen to sort through the mail someone had kindly brought inside. There, amidst all the junk, was an official looking letter from an attorney’s office in New York. I ripped it open and found a document identical to the one I’d seen at Lark’s house. The petition had been filed in Spokane, and I read the first paragraph to learn I had thirty days to respond. That was going to be some response.
To be continued…