I held Jude wrapped in my arms on my lap, observing the look on Kennedy’s face. He was torn. If I hadn’t been holding his son, I’d have pressed him to see what he was thinking, but at that moment, the boy who was sleeping against me had all of my attention.
“We’ll talk later. Should I put this sweet boy in bed?” I whispered as my cheek rested against the top of Judah’s head. He was such a great kid, and I would do anything necessary to ensure Kennedy didn’t lose him.
Kennedy chuckled as he began pulling out skillets and placing them on the stovetop. “He’ll wake up in a few minutes. The boy can’t resist the smell of bacon. Orange juice?” he asked as he went to the fridge and pulled out a pitcher and a carton of eggs. I watched him moving around his kitchen, and I laughed, remembering a time when the man couldn’t boil water.
“You learned to cook?” I asked quietly as I watched him mixing up pancake batter.
“I actually learned from you, smartass. I’d sit in the kitchen and watch you make us breakfast every Sunday. Some things rubbed off, okay? You shouldn’t really be surprised, Thorn. We taught each other a lot of things,” he responded with a wink.
Oh, I remembered all of those things but with his son in my lap, it wasn’t exactly the most appropriate time for reminiscing. “Stop. I’m holding your son,” I joked feeling Jude burrow in a little.
“You’re bein’ loud,” he whispered which brought a chuckle from me.
“Sorry, Jude. You want some juice?” I asked as Kennedy poured the liquid into the glasses on the table. Jude climbed down from my lap and went to sit in another chair, still appearing to sleep. I passed him a drink and then took one for myself.
“Over hard or scrambled,” Kennedy asked.
“Up to him,” I said, pointing to Jude who suddenly seemed to wake up.
“Scrambled with pancakes, Dad. When are Grandma and Grandpa getting here?” he asked as he sipped his juice.
Kennedy began ladling batter into a large skillet and added a few blueberries. He turned to look at me with a smile I’d missed more than anything in the world. I cleared my throat and decided to offer a suggestion. “Um, they get in about three o’clock. If it’s okay with your dad, we can go pick them up at the airport. We’ll have to borrow his truck, so we have room, but I think your dad has things to do,” I suggested.
I saw that Kennedy looked relieved, and I was happy I could take one thing off his shoulders. “You’d do that?” he asked.
I smiled behind my orange juice glass. “Anything you need, anytime you need it.” Yes, it was inappropriately loaded with double entendre, but before Jude had his nightmare, I’d been dreaming about Kennedy. Not the Kennedy I knew and loved from college–the beautiful, loving Kennedy I knew now. I’d always known he’d grow into a strong man, and I wondered what he thought of me. He gave nothing away, really, and I hoped he was happy with the man I’d become. Only time would tell.
The ride to the airport was quiet because Jude was busy playing a game on my phone. I needed a little time to think about things before I met Lark’s parents, and Plants vs. Zombies bought me the silence I needed to get my head together.
Kennedy was pissed at me because I’d called Aurora to alert her that Jude and I were heading to the airport to pick up Lark’s parents. When she arrived at the house just as we were leaving, the handsome man gave me a look to let me know I’d pay for it later. The game plan was to not leave him alone, and he didn’t appreciate it, but he’d have to live with it for a while whether he liked it or not.
As we climbed out of the truck at the airport, Jude took my hand as we began walking to the terminal. I cleared my throat. “You’ll have to let me know when they arrive. I’ve only spoken to them on the phone. I’ve never seen pictures of them,” I told him.
“Where do you get money? What’s your job?” Jude asked as he looked up at me, his face filled with curiosity.
“I’m a writer. I write mystery stories. Is there anything you’re interested in doing when you grow up? You have a lot of time to decide,” I told him as we crossed the street.
“I wanna be a fireman. They save people, and they get to put out fires. That’s what I want to be,” he stated proudly.
We made our way to the security area and sat down. “I think that’s a great ambition, Jude. When I was your age, I wanted to be a policeman. I loved watching shows on television with cops,” I told him.
He didn’t say anything, just taking in the area as the people moved through the airport. His gaze settled on something, and he turned to me. “Can I get some flowers from that machine? I’ve got money in my bank at home, but I didn’t bring any. I’ll pay you back.”
I saw a refrigerated case near the security exit, so we stood and approached it. I picked Jude up and motioned for him to take a look. He pushed the button to peruse the case, and when he found what he wanted, he pointed. His flowers of choice were Gerbera daisies, and I felt the pain in my heart at the sight of them. They were my mother’s favorites, and when Kennedy and I lived together, I had clay pots of them on our little balcony in the spring and summer to remind me of her.
“Why those?” I asked quietly. There were many other flowers in the case, but he pointed to them and seemed resolute. I had to know why.
“Dad has lots of them on the deck in the summer, and he planted them at Mom’s house, too. They’re his favorites, and they were Mom’s, too. When we had special dinners, there was always a bowl full on the table. I think Grandma Betsey would like them. She doesn’t have special flowers at her house,” Jude announced.
I closed my eyes for a moment. I never imagined Kennedy would remember the flowers, but then again, I’d discounted Kennedy as a whole because of one foolish mistake. I had a lot to learn about the man, undoubtedly.
“Those are my favorites, too.” I swiped my card through the machine and punched in my pin. When the door buzzed, Jude opened it and pulled out the bouquet, holding it gently. I placed him on the floor and saw his big smile. He didn’t look like Kennedy, but he had a lot of the man’s mannerisms. It was remarkable to watch him because it reminded me of the young guy I’d fallen in love with the first day of my college experience.
“I’ll pay you back when we get home,” Jude reminded. Before I could reply, he looked toward the security exit and ran away from me. I ran behind him, seeing a woman holding him in her arms. There wasn’t anyone on the planet who wouldn’t know it was Lark Nutter’s mother. The man next to her was fighting the tears as he observed her cradling Jude in her arms after accepting the small bouquet of flowers.
I slowed to a brisk pace. “Jude, please don’t put me through that again. I think your dad would kill me if I lost you,” I chastised, seeing warm smiles on the faces of Lark’s parents.
“You must be Thornton. It’s nice to meet ya, son. Thanks for all of this. We were surprised with the special treatment,” Fred Nutter said as he extended his hand. I shook it because he was as kind as anyone I’d ever met.
“Mr. Nutter, it wasn’t a problem. Let’s get your luggage and get on the road. Kennedy’s waiting to see you at home. I hope the flights weren’t too bad. I couldn’t get you a nonstop,” I told them as we made our way to baggage claim.
I felt a warm hand on my arm and turned to see Betsey Nutter with tears on her pretty face. I couldn’t help but hug her. “Mrs. Nutter, I’m so sorry,” I told her, trying to hold in my emotions as I considered the reason she was in Spokane in the first place. Her only child was dead.
She pulled away. “Now, none of that. I’ve heard about you from Kennedy for years. I’m glad you’re here for him. He’s gonna need ya.”
We grabbed their bags, and I drove us back to Kennedy’s house, Jude in the backseat with his grandmother who was trying to find anything to talk to him about other than the horrible reason that brought them to town.
When we pulled into Kennedy’s driveway, my phone chimed. I turned to them and smiled. “Go inside. I’ll get your luggage.” Neither questioned me as they made their way up the sidewalk with Jude in tow. I saw it was a text from Aunt Nora.
We’re about an hour away. Should we meet you at your place? Love, Aunt Nora
I laughed and gave them Kennedy’s address. I hopped out of Kennedy’s truck and grabbed the luggage, pulling it inside behind me. Kennedy was speaking quietly with them, and Jude wasn’t anywhere to be seen. I deposited the suitcases in the hallway and walked into the living room where they’d settled.
I suddenly got the feeling I didn’t belong. Kennedy and Betsey were holding each other and crying, so without a word, I gently deposited Kennedy’s keys on the counter, grabbing mine from where I’d left them. I could redirect Aunt Nora and Uncle Rob to my place and give the family time to mourn together, in private.
I was at the door when a small hand tugged mine. I turned to see Jude standing there with a hurt look. “Where you goin’?”
“My aunt and uncle are on their way here, so I was going home to meet them. You and your dad need a little time with your family. I’ll be back, I promise,” I told him quietly.
He looked at me with deep brown, soulful eyes, brimming with tears. “You’re family. Don’t go. Dad wants you here. Please don’t leave us.”
Kennedy walked into the hallway with tears on his face. “He’s not wrong. I want you here. When will Rob and Nora get here?”
“In about an hour. Ba—Kennedy, I can have them meet me at my house to give you time with the Nutters,” I offered.
“Jude, go show Grandpa Fred that new baseball glove I gave you. Maybe see if he and Grandma want to go outside and have a game of catch,” Kennedy told him.
Judah nodded and began walking away. He stopped and turned to look at me with eyes far wiser than his eight years. He dried them with the backs of his hand and stood a little taller, “Don’t leave, okay?”
All I could do was offer him a heartfelt smile and a nod.
He seemed satisfied with my response, so he walked into the living room. I turned to Kennedy and took his hand. “I won’t leave if you two don’t want me to, but you need to talk to them about things, babe. You all need to begin making funeral arrangements. If you want, I can stay here with Jude. You and the Nutters can go somewhere private to talk. Aunt Nora and Uncle Rob will be here by the time you all get back. Have you made any decisions, or will you leave it up to Betsey and Fred?”
He sighed deeply. “If you’ll stay here with Jude, I can take them to Lark’s house and talk to them about what she wanted. It’s going to be a shock regarding Lark’s last wishes, but I have the will to back me up. I talked with her lawyer while you were gone, and he told me its iron clad. I’m left to make the decisions. I have to be sure they understand it because I don’t want a fight on two fronts, Thornton. My parents won’t win, but Lark’s could. I’ll explain it later, but please, stay.” I nodded and hugged him again. Fuck, I’d stay forever.
I opened the door to see Aunt Nora and Uncle Rob, their arms loaded with bags which didn’t surprise me. “Follow me,” I invited. Jude was in the living room watching a movie, and I’d heard the car pull into the driveway before they’d hit the porch. They were a welcome sight for me. They’d been my support system for years, and when I needed them? They showed up without question. I was very grateful.
After bags were deposited, I hugged both of them. When I pulled away from Uncle Rob, I leaned in, “I’ve got a bag full of pill bottles from a few different doctors I found in her vanity cabinet. They’re all different prescriptions, but I need to know if they interacted with each other and perhaps clouded her judgment or something,” I whispered in case Jude was lurking somewhere.
Uncle Rob nodded, so I continued. “Kennedy’s going to have a fight on his hands to keep his son because he’s gay, and honestly, there are other things I’m not able to tell you yet. He could also use a referral for a psychologist for Jude because how—I don’t know how you comfort a little boy whose mother took her life?” I continued.
Rob placed his hand on my bicep and squeezed gently, offering a gentle smile. “I’ve got a friend, but Thornton, the only way to comfort someone who’s suffered such a loss is to love them. There’s no magic bullet here. Judah needs to feel he’s not alone, remember?” How could I forget?
To be continued…