(Lark Nutter’s Journals…)
“Thornton’s back in Kennedy’s life, and it leaves me out in the cold, for certain. I don’t begrudge Kennedy his happiness, but what have I got to be happy about? I called Dante, and he told me he’s going to Germany. I’m going to take Jude and go to Ft. Campbell before he leaves. When he sees Jude, he’ll know… He’ll see that Jude is his son, and he’ll take us with him. We can start over in Germany as a family.”
“I was able to find Dante’s home phone number by calling the post and claiming to be his sister, and I called it because he refuses to answer his cell. When a woman answered his home number and told me she was his wife, I played it off that I was the wife of a friend of his who was deployed. He’d talked about his friends who had been stationed elsewhere, so I told the bitch I was married to Colin, and she believed me. She told me they were packing up the house and kids to move to Germany, and if I gave her my number, she’d have Dante call me. I gave her my name and number all right, that cunt. How could he do that to me?”
“I can’t possibly live this life anymore. I went off my meds because they just never worked right anyway. They never made Kenny love me, so why suffer the side effects? I guess I’m officially insane, now. My precious boy deserves so much better than the life I can offer him, and with Thornton in Kennedy’s life again, he will have less and less time for Jude if I’m alive, and I can’t let that happen to my son.
His real father will never acknowledge him, and Thornton Marsh has already taken Kennedy away from me. Jude and I are alone. I only have one option to give Jude the life he deserves. If I’m gone, Kennedy will have no choice but to make Jude his priority. I won’t have to deal with the crazy in my head anymore either, and that’s peace I’ll welcome.”
“Love, you coming?” Thornton called up the stairs. When we’d arrived in Portland, Nora had ushered us into the kitchen to immediately feed us. After food, Rob and Jude went into the backyard to kick the soccer ball so Jude could show him what he’d learned at soccer camp. I’d excused myself upstairs to check my work emails while Thorn stayed in the kitchen with his aunt.
Checking emails was a lie, but I’d eventually tell Thorn what I’d done when we returned home on Monday night. I’d stopped at Lark’s house before I went to pick up Jude, and I’d found a box in her closet as Betsey had directed.
I bagged it up to go out to the trash, having determined no good would come from me reading all of her journals. It wouldn’t help any of us understand her over the years, what with her somewhat distorted view of life over time, so I decided to allow her the privacy she deserved and destroy the old journals.
Then, I went to her bed and felt around under the mattress, finding a black and white composition book, just as her mother had suggested I might. I’d brought it along to Rob and Nora’s home, hoping to try to understand what Lark had been going through before she took her life, and as I read the scant entries, it all became much clearer.
Dante Melendez was married. He had a family, and he wasn’t going to be taking Lark and Jude away to Germany as she’d conjured in her imagination. It was all settled in her mind they’d be a happy family, and when it didn’t happen the way she envisioned, she took another path—the path leading to her taking her own life to force me to be a father to Jude.
I guessed she’d lost all hope by then, and she saw it as the only way to handle things. If I’d have only known what was going on behind the scenes of her life, I’d have tried to help her. The helplessness and subsequent guilt I felt was the worst part.
“I’ll be there in a second!” I called down the stairs. I quickly changed into swim trunks and joined everyone in the pool.
Thorn and Jude were already in the water, tossing a beach ball around. Rob was asleep on a lounger under an umbrella, and Nora was sitting in a chair at a table. There was a pitcher of lemonade on a tray accompanied by a few glasses, so I poured one for myself.
“Nora, thank you for allowing us to just barge in on your weekend,” I offered as I sipped the lemonade.
She slipped off a pair of designer sunglasses and turned to look at me, pouring herself some lemonade as well. “You love my boy, and you’re not going to hurt him?” She had a stern look on her face, so I nodded. For such a lovely woman, she had the evil eye down to a science.
Her face softened, and she smiled. “Then you’re family. You never need an invitation to come for a visit, Kennedy. You and Jude are welcome here anytime you need a break. Thornton told me things didn’t go well with your family, and I’m genuinely sorry to hear it. People who don’t appreciate the gifts God gives them just chap my ass,” she stated, which nearly made me spew lemonade on the glass-topped table where we were sitting. The comment was very uncharacteristic of the woman I was coming to know.
“Rob and I tried to have children when we were younger, but it just wasn’t in the cards for us. I loved my sister, Eliza, very much, and when she and Raymond were killed, it broke my heart. When Thornton came to live with us, I was beside myself with happiness. After he graduated from high school, he chose to go to college in Washington to be close to us, it was like a gift from the heavens, a blessing I never thought I’d have. Now, having you and Judah in our lives, well, that’s just another gift.” Her warm smile was appreciated.
She then reached across the table, taking my hand. “You have people who love you, Kennedy, so don’t you forget it,” she stated sternly. It brought a chuckle from me. After a few seconds, Nora laughed as well.
“I’m sorry if I’m so strident, but I’m very protective of that boy. I truly enjoyed getting to know Betsey and Rory. I’m sorry I never knew Lark. It seemed she had a lot of people who cared about her. It’s a shame she wasn’t able to see it for herself,” she offered kindly.
I wasn’t sure what to say, so I said nothing. Nora was generous, and when I looked at the table and saw the lemonade, I remembered what Henry the bartender had told me the day I went to find Juan. With a smile, I began, “A friend of mine told me nothing was better for the soul than a glass of lemonade and a listening ear, so I’m going to take advantage of your good nature.”
With that, I proceeded to tell Nora Edmonds everything. I told her about my drinking problems after Thorn and I broke up. I told her about all of the things Lark had lied about. I told her about Jude not being my biological son. I told her about the letters and the journal entries, and I explained to her how afraid I was to lose Judah.
Bless that woman’s heart, she listened. Thorn and Jude continued to play in the pool while Rob slept in a lounger. Spilling my guts to her was far easier than I ever thought it would be. When I was finished talking, she and I had drained the pitcher of lemonade, and my soul felt as light as that empty glass pitcher.
“So, that’s me. Your neph—son has decided to step into a huge disaster, and I’d suggest you tell Thorn it’s best for him to walk away from me and allow the fireworks to settle, so he doesn’t get burned. He would be right smart to rid himself of me and my problems at the moment,” I finished. Wallowing in self-pity wasn’t attractive, but I believed I was due at the time.
Nora giggled and pointed to the pool. I turned my head to see Thorn standing up to his waste in the middle of it with his eyes closed. “Marco!” he yelled.
Jude climbed the ladder and stood on the pool deck, leaning forward and yelling “Polo!” Thorn whipped his head around, eyes still closed, and he began swimming until he reached the side. By then, Jude had hurried to the other side of the pool, his finger held to his lips for us to be quiet.
“See that smile on Thorn’s face? That was never a smile I thought I’d see. He was so damn shy when he was younger. He barely spoke. After he finished high school here in Portland and started at Gonzaga, he simply blossomed. When he brought you home that first time, I finally understood why. I’m so very sorry for the way I behaved when you came here looking for him,” she apologized.
I couldn’t allow her to feel guilty for my bad behavior back then. “Nora, I believe someone up there had a plan for us, and if one thing hadn’t gone the way it has, I wouldn’t be sitting here with you, watching the two most important people in my life enjoying themselves on a lovely, summer evening. It’s been a trip to hell and back, that’s for sure, and there are still things out there that can hurt us, but I’m hoping to keep them to a minimum. We all deserve a little happiness,” I told her.
She watched the scene in the pool for a moment as Jude jumped in and surprised Thorn. He picked up my son after he cleared the water from his eyes, and the two of them tussled a bit, Jude laughing the whole time.
“Have you considered just telling your parents Jude’s not your son? I’m not pushing anything, but if they pursue this path, Kennedy, it’s going to come out about Jude’s father. Maybe if you just tell them, then you can be rid of the threat,” she suggested.
I took a deep breath. “I thought about it, ma’am, but I’m still not sure how it would affect Judah if he found out the truth. You see, I had these pie-in-the-sky hopes my parents would be good grandparents. They were terrible parents, but I hoped with their grandson, they’d surprise me. They seem to care for him, but I’m afraid if they find out I’m not his biological father, well, Jude won’t have any grandparents. I mean, he has Betsey and Fred, but they’re older, and I think Jude’s a reminder of what they lost.”
She grabbed my hand again, and when I looked at her, she had a soft smile on her face. “Jude will always have us, I mean if you’ll accept our intrusion into your life. Hell, Kennedy, Thorn loves that boy, and it’s just been a short time since the two of them became acquainted. After spending time with us, you can’t think we wouldn’t do everything we could for him. Judah will never be without loving grandparents.”
Just then, we both heard a loud splash, and when Rob surfaced, he was laughing. He picked up Jude and put him on his shoulders. “I think this has been one-sided long enough, and I demand we teach T-Bone a lesson,” Rob ordered.
Jude looked at Rob, who laughed. “That was the nickname I gave him because he was skinny as a bone when he came to live with Nora and me. Now, let’s make this a fair fight,” Rob stated as the three of them discussed rules.
Finally, Jude and Thorn grabbed hands and began struggling while Rob held Jude on his shoulders. Thorn was no match for the two of them, and when he went under the water, my son and his newly adopted grandfather gave each other a high five. At that moment, I knew Nora was right. My son and I had another family I never expected, and they supported us. It was a wonderful revelation I’d appreciate until the day I died.
“I think you cheat,” Rob announced from the corner of the room. He had taught Jude how to play chess when they were in Spokane after Lark took her life. Currently, the two of them were engaged in a match at a gaming table in the corner of the large family room. Nora was reading, and Thorn and I were on the couch, his arms wrapped around me as I relaxed on the couch in front of him, the two of us watching an old Cary Grant movie. I glanced at Nora and saw her look up at where Rob and Jude were sitting, offering a warm smile. It was like a fucking greeting card, and I was grateful for the sight of it. It brought me joy.
“Oh, no, Doc, I never cheat. You told me if I moved this here and that one there when we played before, I would have won. That’s what I did this time. If I didn’t do it right, then maybe you’re not a very good teacher,” Jude taunted as he crossed his arms over his chest, cockily.
Thorn leaned forward and whispered, “He gets that attitude from me, you know.” I didn’t doubt it in the least. They’d spent a lot of time together, and I could see Judah picking up some of Thornton’s mannerisms, namely brushing his hand through his short hair and pinching the bridge of his nose when he was frustrated. Both actions brought a smile to my face every time.
“Show me how you did it again?” Rob asked, seeming perplexed.
I started to get up to make sure Jude wasn’t cheating, but Thorn held onto me. “Don’t you dare go over there, love. He won fair and square. He’s brilliant, you know. I was watching them out of the corner of my eye, and while Jude doesn’t know what the moves are called because they all have names, he worked out the strategy in his head. He reminds me very much of you, Kennedy.”
I laughed. “I never had the patience to learn to play. I remember your uncle trying to teach me once when we were here for a visit, but all I wanted to do was take you upstairs and fuck you. That was about as much as I could think about at the time,” I teased, grinding my ass into his growing hard-on.
Nora giggled, and we both turned to look at her, seeing she was still staring at her book. I was a bit relieved, having forgotten she was nearby. I turned back to the television, and as Thornton’s hands moved down my body to lightly scrape across my hard cock in my shorts, I was suddenly tired.
I sprang from the couch. “Jude, it’s time for bed, son. You can challenge Mr. Rob to another game tomorrow. It’s supposed to rain in the morning, so you’ll have time if he isn’t busy,” I suggested.
“Aw, Dad. It was double or nothin’. I’m…”
Suddenly Rob clapped his hand over Jude’s mouth, causing Thorn and Nora laugh. “Rob, you didn’t,” Nora chastised across the room.
“It’s a friendly game, Nora. He took me for ten bucks when we were in Spokane last time. I was trying to win back my money, but he beat me again. Here, you little shyster. I’ll figure out your game, Judah Catrelle,” Rob stated as he handed Jude money and stuck out his hand.
Jude took the money and shoved it into his pocket, accepting Rob’s hand to shake it. “You’re a worthy opponent, Doc. Night.” After they stopped shaking, Rob pulled him into a hug. “Sleep well, son.”
He kissed the top of Jude’s head and then released him which warmed my heart. Jude walked over to where Nora was sitting, reaching out for a hug. “Night.”
“Pleasant dreams, sweet boy. Would you like pancakes in the morning? What’s your favorite?” she asked.
He looked at me and then leaned forward and whispered in her ear for a few seconds. When he pulled away, she smiled. “You’re at Nana’s house. I dare him to tell me no. Goodnight, sweetheart.”
She released him, and he walked upstairs to the room they’d told him would be his when he came to visit. “Night, Dad. Pop.” We both returned the sentiment, and I saw Thorn with a smug smile on his face. “Where’d that come from?” I asked.
“He’s been talking to his friend, Sam, about it for a while now. Apparently, there was a discussion regarding what Sam called his dads. He just started calling me Pop out of the clear blue when we had Juan over for dinner. I haven’t said anything to him about it. You should… You talk to him, Kennedy.”
I thought for a minute and smiled. “Actually, Pop, I think you should have a talk with him if it bothers you. It doesn’t bother me at all.”
Thorn smiled widely and announced, “We’ve had a long day. We’re going up. See you in the morning, Nana.” He walked over to Nora and kissed her cheek and then he went to Rob and hugged him before bounding up the stairs.
I rose from the couch and kissed Nora goodnight. “Thank you for the talk and the lemonade. You’ll never know how much I appreciated it,” I whispered.
She kissed my forehead and smiled. “Always, Kennedy. I’m always here for you.”
I hugged Rob, hearing him laugh in my ear. “I’m going to have to watch that boy if he ever picks up poker.” I smiled and made my way upstairs.
When I got to the top of the landing, I heard Rob address his wife. “Well, you’ve got yourself two sons and a grandson. I hope you’re happy now.”
She giggled. “More than happy… blessed.” I chuckled and went into Jude’s room seeing him and Thorn sitting together on the bed with a book. It was a magnificent sight to behold, and it filled my heart to overflowing.
I took a quick shower as the two of them read together, and I climbed into bed because I couldn’t stay awake any longer. Sometime later, I felt warm, wet arms surround me and a kiss on my bare shoulder. “I love you so very much, Kennedy, and one of these days, you’ll marry me. We’ll live the life we planned years ago, I swear it,” he whispered. My eyes sprung open because I’d never thought about marriage after Thornton left me. Was that really in the cards for me? Marriage? At that moment, I could totally see it. I could see us being married and raising Jude together. It would take time, but… Yeah, it was a definite possibility.
To be continued…