“Mrs. Crawley, it was very nice of you to meet us today. Jude needs things to keep him busy, and he was very excited when I told him we’d changed plans to come here. Maybe we can get together again soon?” I asked.
She was a delightful woman, and when I introduced myself to her, she confessed she was a big fan of my books. She and I sat for two hours discussing how I came up with the different mysteries, and I wasn’t annoyed for a minute. She was a literature professor at a community college, so her questions were quite insightful. She didn’t flinch when Jude told her I was his dad’s boyfriend, and frankly, I was fucking relieved.
“Please call me Julia. Maybe next time I can bring my books, and you could sign them? I’ll even make Jude and you lunch sometime if you’re up for it. A few of my friends are huge fans, and they have kids at the same school so we could have a little lunch party/book discussion while the boys swim. What do you think?” she asked as she waited for her son to buckle himself into the back seat of her Lexus.
I laughed. “Sounds like a good idea, Julia. Maybe you ladies can give me inspiration for my last book. You’ve got my cell, so give me a call. Jude has soccer camp next week, but the week after that is a down week before computer camp.”
“Oh, what computer camp? I’ve been trying to find one for Petey, and everything is filled up,” she complained.
“Let me make a call and see if they have any openings. It’s a friend of my publisher, and the woman made an exception for Jude. I’ll see if she’ll make another for Petey, and I’ll call you,” I offered.
“Oh, thank you. I can see Jude and Kennedy are in competent hands,” she offered as she closed the door and extended her hand. I shook it, and then Jude and I walked to my SUV. I opened the back door, and Jude climbed in, buckling his seatbelt.
I got into the vehicle and looked in the rearview mirror, seeing a smile. “Did you have fun, Bud?” I asked as I started the car.
“Yep. Petey told me Kylie missed me at school. He said they made cards for me in class,” Jude announced. I chuckled at his attempt to hide his excitement as he stared out of the side window.
“Let’s run to school and pick up your things,” I offered. Jude nodded and smiled a little, and after we stopped to pick up a box with his school stuff, we went home—I mean, to Kennedy’s house.
I let us in with the key Kennedy had left for me, and Jude headed to the kitchen table with the box. He began working through its contents as I pulled out a rump roast, trimming off the fat. I placed it in a large skillet to sear with onions and garlic as Jude continued to peruse the cards from his class.
“What do the cards say?” I asked. I was a little worried about them because I barely knew what to say when someone lost a loved one. I couldn’t imagine how his classmates would react. The smile on his face told me I had no reason to be concerned.
“They all say they’re thinking of me. Everybody drew pictures and stuff. Oh, here’s Kylie’s.” I turned to look at him as the meat seared in the pan.
“So?” I asked as I turned the roast and stirred the onions.
“She asked me to be email pals over the summer. Do you think Dad will let me? I don’t have an email, but she’s goin’ to visit her grandma and grandpa out of town. She wants us to email. What would I say?” he asked. He looked a little scared, and it made me smile.
I turned the roast again and pulled out a roasting pan, placing it on the stove top. I began chopping carrots, celery, and potatoes, sprinkling them in the pan with a bit of olive oil. After the roast, onions, and garlic were inside, I added beef broth and red wine. I knew the alcohol would cook off, so I wasn’t concerned about it bothering Kennedy.
I shoved the covered pan into the oven and sat down with Jude. “I think if we talk to your dad about it, he might allow you to email her but it’s up to him. He’s your dad, so he has the last say, but we’ll talk to him over dinner, okay?”
The boy was so sweet, I would give him anything. Unfortunately, I had to continue to remind myself he wasn’t mine, and I couldn’t make decisions for him. He was Kennedy’s son, and Kennedy always had the last say in any matter concerning Judah.
I’d never thought about having a child. I’d never thought about children as anything other than an encumbrance to my lifestyle, but I was beginning to see how very wrong I’d been all those years. Children were indeed a gift from God. I had never understood it before, and maybe it was the circumstances under which Judah and Kennedy found themselves that drove home the point, but at that moment, I realized something I’d never considered in the past.
If one could look at the world through the eyes of a child, it was all bright and shiny. The world was full of possibilities. Every day was a new adventure for a child, and as an adult, I’d forgotten it. Judah was the reminder for me, and I didn’t want him to lose that wonderment he brought to every situation. I damn well didn’t want to lose Jude or Kennedy from my life.
“Hey, you wanna go kick the soccer ball around, or maybe play catch? Your dad said you got a new glove. How about we break it in?” I asked, remembering my dad. We used to kick the soccer ball in the yard when he had time. I played in grade and high school, and Dad attended as many games as possible. We played catch when we had things to talk about, and they were happy memories for me.
“Really? Sure. I’ll be back,” Jude announced gleefully before he ran off to his room. I went to Kennedy’s closet to find a pair of sneakers. We wore the same size in college, and I was sure they’d still fit. I sat down on the floor to lace them, and something caught my eye. A Nike shoe box I remembered from years ago.
It was wrong to do it, but I opened it and looked inside. As I moved through the contents, the memories were so fucking overwhelming the tears immediately welled in my eyes. It was like a time capsule of our life together in college, and Kennedy kept everything, including two pairs of my boxers.
I picked up a champagne cork from the little anniversary party we had for ourselves after we moved into our apartment. Kennedy had actually carved the date into it. September 2. I remembered coming back from picking up my books and finding a sight that had shocked me more than nearly anything in my life to date.
I opened the door to our apartment, pissed off at the amount of money I’d had to spend for books. The used-book section offered none of the textbooks I needed that semester, so everything was new and still in the shrink wrap. Nothing except the damn ream of paper I’d picked up for my printer was under a hundred bucks.
The blinds were closed on the patio door, and the apartment was bathed in candlelight. There were vases of my favorite flowers… Gerbera daisies… everywhere. I heard a sound behind me, so I turned to see Kennedy standing in a pair of slacks, a button-down shirt, and a massive grin on his face. He had a bottle of sparkling wine in one hand and two juice glasses in the other.
“Happy Anniversary, darlin’,” he offered to me. He placed the glasses on the table and popped the cork, shooting it into the ceiling. We both laughed when it hit me on the head as it fell to the floor, especially when we both saw the crack in the cheap popcorn finish.
“Wow, how smooth am I?” he joked as he poured us each a glass of the cheap fizzy wine before placing the bottle on the coffee table. He offered a drink to me, and then took one for himself.
He lifted his glass in a toast. “To the most amazing boyfriend, ever. Here’s to being lucky enough to find the love of my life at the ripe old age of twenty. May we celebrate this day for the rest of our lives,” announced. We touched glasses and drank, both of us coughing at the taste of it. It was God awful, and we quickly figured out the guy Kennedy had bribed to buy it had pocketed most of the money and bought the cheapest shit he could find.
We didn’t really care, but we didn’t drink it because it tasted like dishwater. We dumped the rest of it down the sink and filled the bottle with water, shoving a few daisies into it and carrying them to the bedroom where Kennedy made love to me, and we talked about how our life would be when we were old.
I sat there basking in the memory before I came back to myself. I threw the cork into the box and closed it, sliding it back into its seclusion. “What are you doin’ in the closet?” Jude asked as I continued lacing up the sneakers. My head snapped up, and I looked at him as he stood there taking in my predicament. It was actually funny, so I laughed. In the closet! Thank god, not for years now.
I stood and walked out. “Bud, I’m not in the closet anymore, and I’ll explain it to you someday when you’re older. I’ve got some things I’d like us to talk about while we play catch. That okay?” I asked.
He nodded, and we went outside with a baseball, a baseball glove, and a lot of conversation about me being in his and Kennedy’s lives.
“So, you know your dad and I used to be good friends in college. Does it bother you that we’re friends again? I asked him.
“No. I like you. I’m glad you’re here for Dad to talk to about stuff so he doesn’t miss Mom too much,” he answered as he threw the ball to me with a decent amount of force.
“You know,” I began as I tossed him the equivalent of a pop fly to chase down, “I’d never do anything I thought would upset or hurt you or your dad.”
“Okay,” he answered as he threw the ball over my head, making me run for it.
I wasn’t in as good of shape as I used to be, that was for sure. After I caught my breath—which required resting my hands on my knees—Jude walked over to the ball and picked it up where it had landed beside the house and walked over to me. “You okay?”
“Yeah, just old. Anyway, you know if you ever need someone to talk to about anything, I’m here and your dad’s here. Aunt Rory and Uncle Eli are here. Heck, even Uncle Rob and Aunt Nora are just a phone call away if you would like to talk to them about anything. Oh, and your Grandma Betsey and Grandpa Fred,” I rambled.
“Can I get a phone?” Jude asked. I should have known it was a goddamn minefield.
“When your Dad says it’s okay. In the meantime, I’ll let you use mine if you need it,” I replied. Jude nodded and we went back to our game of catch.
After I tossed the ball to him, I remembered something I needed to clarify with Jude. “By the way—if you want to spend time with just you and your dad, tell me, and I’ll make some plans to give you two privacy, okay?”
“You like doin’ stuff with us, right?” Judah asked.
I felt my heart jimp into my throat. “Oh, of course I do. My favorite times are with you and your father, but if you ever just want the two of you to do something, you tell me, and I’ll make sure you guys go hang out without me, okay?” I insisted as gently as possible. Jude walked over to me and hugged me around the waist, lighting up my world.
It was a position I never thought I’d be in, having that discussion with an eight-year-old, but at the end of it, we both had a better understanding of where we stood—he was supportive of my relationship with Kennedy, and I was so fucking happy I couldn’t believe my own damn luck. Life was full of surprises.
I went inside to have a bathroom break and grab us a couple of waters. Jude was tossing the ball against the net Kennedy had for him in the backyard, and when my phone chimed, I pulled it from my pocket, expecting it to be Kennedy. It wasn’t. It was Uncle Rob.
Call me when you can talk. Rob
I checked Jude to see that he was okay, and I hit the little icon to return the call. “Thorn? How are you, son?” Uncle Rob asked immediately. I heard a door close, which meant he was somewhere private and could talk.
“Good. I know this violates laws and things, but did you find out anything?” I really needed answers because the mystery of all of those pill bottles was plucking my last nerve. I’d been too caught up in helping my boys get into a routine that I’d left the detective work to Uncle Rob.
Even with Judah’s sessions with the therapist, he still had nightmares and would break down, either in a temper fit or hysterical tears. No one expected anything less from him because the boy was suffering a loss few could imagine. Unfortunately, I could believe it, so I agreed with the therapist. Hug him. Let him know you all love him and you’re not going anywhere. Sometimes it worked, but sometimes it didn’t.
“Okay, first, I spoke with Gretchen Turnbull who specializes in genetics, specifically, disorders passed through DNA. She couldn’t make a diagnosis because she doesn’t have all the facts, so she gave me a case scenario that’s only a hypothesis, son. Based on the information I could share with her, there’s no way to diagnose bipolar disorder in someone as young as Jude because generally, it’s something that shows up in a person’s late teens or early twenties. Other behaviors though, as you related to me, manifested in Lark’s younger years,” Uncle Rob informed me.
“So, he doesn’t have it? He’s not going—” I started to ask, sounding horribly naïve even to myself.
Uncle Rob stopped me. “Wait, Thorn. To date, Jude hasn’t presented with any of those symptoms, but he’s young. I’d say the best advice is to continue with his therapist to help him deal with his grief and continue to love him. If he begins to present with actions that bring you concern, pursue it with his therapist. In other words, don’t jump the gun that he’s going to be like his mother if it’s not warranted,” Uncle Rob advised.
“Okay. What about the autopsy?” I asked him.
“I was able to get in touch with the coroner in King County through a friend of mine. They performed an autopsy on Lark as a matter-of-course to document a cause of death and definitely rule out foul play before they released the body to the mortuary,” he confirmed what I already thought.
“There were narcotics—a lot of them—in her system which could have led her to commit a violent act against her person. There was also evidence of an inactive clot in the frontal lobe. The coroner was hesitant to say it could have affected her behavior, but he wouldn’t rule it out either, based on the preliminary report I was given,” he described. The clot was a surprise.
“What about the pills?” I enquired of him.
“I spoke with two of the physicians she was seeing. Lark was doing something called drug surfing, which isn’t really uncommon for folks with her disorder. In her instance, it’s believed she was searching for the magic pill, so she engaged several doctors, feeding them different symptoms to try new psychotropic meds in hopes of one being the right drug. That’s as much of a picture as I can assemble, and its more speculation than fact, son. I’m sorry that’s all I have, but I hope it’ll be of some comfort to Kennedy, should you decide to share it,” Uncle Rob offered. I truly appreciated the fact he looked into things for me.
I thanked him for his help before I disconnected the call. I wasn’t sure if or when I’d share the information with Kennedy because I felt a self-centered sense of relief I hadn’t caused that woman to carve up her arms and sit in a bathtub of water as a means of avoiding her life. It was awful of me, but as I was reminded on more than one occasion, human beings were a selfish species by nature.
“Thorn? Jude?” Kennedy called from the front door.
“Remember? Not a word,” I whispered to Jude who was standing next to me tearing lettuce for a salad as we made dinner together. Some of the things we discussed were things I wasn’t ready to share with Kennedy, so I’d sworn Jude to secrecy. I needed the boy’s feelings on some issues because if he wasn’t on board with my plans, I wasn’t going to pursue them.
Judah had suffered enough in his young life, and I wasn’t about to cause him any more pain. I promised him that once he offered his opinions, I wouldn’t ask him to keep the secrets forever. The kid actually made me spit-swear. I was grateful he didn’t want to be blood brothers.
“Kitchen, love,” I responded then heard Jude giggle next to me. The kid was going to embarrass me at every avenue, I was sure. I welcomed it, actually, because maybe he had something else to concentrate on besides the tragedies he’d experienced. That was my hope and prayer.
When Kennedy walked in, I heard another set of footsteps behind him. I was slicing tomatoes, and when I turned to him, I saw a man behind him looking a bit sheepish.
“Something smells good. Jude, Thorn, this is my friend, Juan. I invited him for dinner. I know how you cook, and I was sure there was more than enough,” Kennedy told me as he looked into my eyes. I didn’t know who the man was, but apparently, it was vital for him to be there, so I wasn’t going to say anything to the contrary.
I wiped my hands on a dishtowel and walked toward the man. “Thornton Marsh. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Juan Jiménez. You must be Jude,” he observed as he turned to the counter, seeing Jude’s shy grin.
Judah walked over to stand next to me. He looked up, and I smiled. “Introduce yourself. Oh, dry your hands and not on your shorts, Bud,” I instructed as I handed him the towel.
He did as I requested and turned to the man, sticking out his hand. “Judah Nutter Catrelle, sir.”
The older man laughed and shook his hand. “Well, I don’t think I’ve ever met a more well-mannered young man in all my days. It’s a pleasure, Judah,” Juan offered as he released Judah’s hand.
I reached into the cabinet and handed Jude another place setting, motioning toward the table. “I hope you like pot roast. It’s Kennedy’s favorite,” I offered.
“Young man, you could serve me a can of beans, and I’d be happy. It’s nice to have some company for dinner,” Juan offered with a smile.
Just then, the timer went off, and I went to the oven to pull out Aunt Nora’s parmesan biscuits. I placed them on top of the stove and turned to Kennedy, seeing him offer a happy wink for me.
“Juan, what can I get you to drink? We always have sweet tea and coffee, but we also have soft drinks and milk. It’s whatever you’d like,” Kennedy offered.
Suddenly, I was aware of the half bottle of red wine on the counter, and I felt horribly guilty for having it in the house. I moved toward it to pour the rest of it out when Kennedy grabbed my hand and took the bottle. He smiled at me and reached into the cabinet, pulling down a red wine glass.
“Don’t you dare pour that out! You’ll break both our hearts if you waste a lovely Cabernet. You can have a glass of wine, babe. We’re fine,” he instructed as he turned to Juan who was laughing.
“It’s not contagious, son. I’d love a glass of sweet tea. It reminds me of my Sarah. So, Judah, how old are you?” Juan asked, quickly changing the subject.
“I turned eight in February,” Jude responded before he turned to Kennedy with a mischievous smile on his face. “So, Dad, we went to a trampoline park today, and somebody fell off,” he teased as he looked at me. It wasn’t one of my finer moments, and that little shit was going to torment me with it forever.
“Oh really?” Kennedy taunted, looking at me as we sat down for dinner. I served everyone, appreciating the “thank-you’s” as we dug in.
“Hey! That was supposed to stay between us,” I responded trying to keep from laughing as I remembered Jude rolling on the floor while I bounced right off one of the trampolines where the boys were playing basketball. I should have never agreed to play with them, but Jude teased I was too much of a wuss to try it, so I had to prove a point, though unsuccessfully.
Jude swallowed his food and looked at me. “Sorry, Pop, but I can only keep so many secrets.”
He suddenly had a look on his face of shock. Kennedy wasn’t exactly paying attention, so I played it off. “Yeah, well, I’m just surprised you didn’t get Mrs. Crawley to take video of it. Eat.”
I turned to my man because I was sure he had a smartass comment, but he was looking at Jude with a smile on his face. I had no idea what it meant, so I decided to change the subject. “So, Juan, do you, uh…” I honestly had no idea what to ask the man.
Thankfully, Kennedy piped up. “Juan recently lost his wife. We had a meeting this afternoon, and I thought he might like to meet my family. I knew you wouldn’t mind, babe. At the time, I had no idea you were making my favorite, so it was a good day to bring you home, Juan,” Kennedy praised, feeding my ego times over.
I looked at my partner in crime and winked at him. “Well, Jude and I made it together. We played catch this afternoon after we got this thing in the oven. You had fun with Petey today, right?” I asked as I turned to Jude, seeing him gobbling up his food. I was quite happy he was enjoying it.
“We had a good time. I think Mrs. Crawley loves you,” Jude teased.
“Oh, so he has an admirer?” Kennedy responded with a wink at me.
“I don’t know what that means, but Petey’s mom liked him, and she asked him if he wanted to come over for lunch, like a date,” Jude announced with a sly smile.
I wanted to fall through the fucking floor. I turned to see Juan laughing as he sipped his tea. I took a gulp of my wine, wishing I was invisible. “I guess we’ll be spending tomorrow at the library since it’s going to rain again,” I threatened Jude.
“Aw, Pop, I was just teasin’,” Jude replied. I reached over and ruffled his hair letting him know I wasn’t angry.
I turned to Juan who’d been quiet. “So, have you always lived in Spokane?”
He swallowed his food and looked up at me. “I grew up in New Mexico, but I’ve lived in Spokane for quite a while. My wife was a schoolteacher, and I’m a historian in ancient civilizations. We moved here from outside Seattle where we lived near some of my wife’s family. I actually worked as a history teacher at a community college for a while and then as a trail guide,” he continued.
I was stuck on the part where he lived outside Seattle near family. Suddenly, I was petrified that he might know Dante Melendez’s family, since Melendez had intimated he had family in the area, and I could see Kennedy was thinking the same thing.
“How, um, how long have you lived in the area?” Kennedy asked.
“Oh, Sarah and I worked in Arizona when we were first married, but when she got pregnant, we decided to move to the Seattle area so she could be close to her family, especially her abuela who raised her. We both taught there for years, but after Abuelita Anita Melendez passed, we moved to Spokane because she was the only person holding us in Seattle. Sarah got a job working at Johnson Middle School, and I worked at El Centro de Spokane, a cultural outreach center here. I used to tell stories at the center on Saturdays to the children who attended daycare there while their parents worked,” Juan told us.
“How interesting,” I replied.
Juan smiled. “I’ve written a few books on Mayan culture and its traditions, but I never made any money off of them. I tell the kids in my neighborhood stories at the library on Saturdays,” Juan further explained his history.
Before Kennedy or I could offer a distraction, Judah piped up. “I love stories. What kind of stories?” He was totally oblivious to the tension that had developed in the room between Kennedy and me, which was a blessing.
“Oh, I’ve got lots of stories,” Juan offered as we finished dinner.
Kennedy and I began clearing the table after we suggested Jude and Juan go to the living room. Once we were alone, I turned to him and kissed him. “I missed you, love.”
He was distracted, and I knew why immediately. “Kennedy, look at me. There’s no connection. We know nothing about any connection to anyone of Hispanic descent.”
He nodded and kissed me back, easing my mind. We cleaned up the dishes and went to the living room, hearing the end of a story about the ‘Los Día de Muertos,’ the “Day of the Dead.”
“We remember our ancestors and honor them at the cemeteries by having family reunions while we clean the graves of our loved ones. We bring flowers, fruit, and candles to place on the graves and spend the entire night there. The candles are for lighting the way for the dead, and it’s a celebration, not a time for mourning.”
I could tell Jude was transfixed by what he was hearing, and I was suddenly dreading the first few days of November because I just knew the boy would want to do something to honor his mother, even if she wasn’t Hispanic. I could see Kennedy was still worried, so I took his hand and sat down on the couch next to him. “People really dress up and build… What are they?” Jude asked.
“Ofrendas, which are altars. They’re used as a way to remember the people who have departed from us like parents and grandparents,” Juan explained.
“Wow! That’s so cool. Can we do that for Mom?” Jude asked as he looked at Kennedy. Immediately, I could tell Juan had forgotten about what had just happened to the boy, and I could see he felt guilty for even mentioning it.
Juan quickly tried to scramble. “Jude, these are old traditions, but everyone doesn’t participate in the old ways anymore. It’s just something we used to do in Mexico. You can probably look it up online and read about it if you’re interested,” he explained, trying to tamp down the boy’s enthusiasm.
“Yeah, but that’s still really cool. My dad and I like to read about stuff like this. I’d really like to hear more about other customs you know, Mr. Juan. Will you come back to visit?” Jude asked.
Juan looked at us, and Kennedy chuckled, though I could tell he was still worried. “Of course, he will. I’m sure he has a lot of stories, Jude, but it’s time for you to shower and get ready for bed. I’d bet Thorn has a full day planned for the two of you tomorrow. Tell Mr. Juan goodnight.” After hugs, which the man seemed to appreciate very much, Kennedy ushered Jude down the hall to shower and change for bed.
That left me with the man… Juan. “Would you like a cup of coffee? I’m sorry I didn’t make a dessert, but Jude and I were busy today.”
In a low voice, Juan asked, “His mother was Mexican? I can see in his features he’s part Mexican.”
I gulped. “Um, I think Lark was Puerto Rican or maybe Columbian? Her family was from Florida, so I’m not sure. I didn’t know her very well,” I responded, not looking him in the eye.
“Hmm. Well, that just goes to show you. Judah looks like someone I can’t place, but hell, what do I know? I’ll pass on the coffee, but maybe I can call in a rain check sometime? I like you boys, and Jude’s… Well, he’s a sweet boy, and you should be proud of him,” Juan praised. I grinned at him, grateful to have met him.
He stood from the chair, slowly. “I’m going home. Tell Kennedy I genuinely appreciate what he did for me earlier, and I’ll call him later in the week. He saved me today, and I’ll be forever grateful for his kindness. It had to be hard for him to walk into that bar to talk with me, but he didn’t even hesitate. If he hadn’t, well, I’d likely be under it by now,” Juan confessed.
I grinned, finally understanding how Juan had come to eat dinner with us. My Kennedy was an incredible man.
Juan headed to the door, and I walked with him. “You’re a really nice guy, Thornton, and you seem to be a good companion for Kennedy. I’m happy to see it. It’s always nice to see two people in love. Take care, son,” he told me as I extended my hand to shake his. He was a soulful man, and he seemed to have the ability to offer a sense of peace into the balance of our home… Kennedy’s home.
“Mr. Jiménez, I enjoyed meeting you. I hope we have the pleasure of your company in the near future. Be safe,” I offered as he shook my hand before he left.
I closed and locked the door, heading into the kitchen. I was about to dump the rest of the wine down the sink, sorry I’d brought it into the house in the first place, when I felt Kennedy’s arms around me. “Don’t do it. I’m fine, Thornton. Leave it for the next time you make us such a great dinner, okay?” Kennedy insisted.
“I just don’t… I don’t want it to bother you,” I insisted.
“Babe, if I were going to be drawn to have a drink, I’d have done it in that bar today. I wasn’t even tempted, so please don’t discount my control,” he answered sincerely. There was a calm confidence in his voice, so I recorked the bottle and placed it in a cabinet, turning to look into his gorgeous blue eyes.
“I wasn’t… I just didn’t want to… I’m sorry. Next time, I’ll use something else for the roast beef,” I told him.
He pulled me into his arms and kissed me gently, quickly tilting his head and deepening the kiss. His tongue swirled with mine, and it was tremendous. He ground his hardness against me, and I couldn’t catch my breath. God, I wanted him so much.
I pulled away, leaving light kisses on his lips. “Love, I should go. I need to go home, get the mail, and do some laundry. I have my own house, you know,” I reminded with a grin.
He took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. “You and I both know your apartment is a place for you to sleep. This is your home, Thornton. This place right here with Jude and me? This is your home! Move in with us. Live here with us. I love you, and I’ve never stopped. Make a life with us,” Kennedy implored.
I couldn’t breathe. It wasn’t anything I expected to hear from Kennedy, and I was paralyzed, not knowing what to say or do at all.
I finally gathered my senses and… blathered. “Kennedy, you’re going through a tough time right now, and I don’t think this is a decision to be made in haste. I love you. God, how I love you, but we need time. We need time, right?” I asked because I really didn’t fucking know.
“You need time, and that’s fine. I don’t need another day, Thornton Marsh. Thank you for dinner, and I’ll talk to you in the morning. I truly appreciate how you welcomed Juan into…. here. I’ll try not to bring strays here in the future.” He leaned forward and kissed me before he walked down the hallway and closed the door to his bedroom.
The shower started, so I turned off the lights and locked the door behind me, driving back to my apartment with a lot on my mind. I was a little stunned at Kennedy’s acceptance of my departure, but I assumed he knew I needed the time to think. There were so many things to consider, and I wasn’t prepared to make a quick decision. It would be one of the most important decisions of my life.
I grabbed my mail and sat down on the couch as I sorted through it. Most of it was junk, but there were a few bills I’d forgotten about, tossing them on the coffee table.
I went to my laundry hamper to toss in a load, surprised to find it empty. That was when I remembered my dirty clothes were at Kennedy’s house. I’d carelessly thrown them in his hamper when we’d changed, and it hadn’t even occurred to me I’d left them.
I hit the button on my answering machine to hear a lot of bullshit solicitation calls, and then one from my agent, Janae. “Thornton, it’s me, Janae. Stop avoiding me and let me know if this thing with Catnip is going to work outssibility. I haven’t heard from you in weeks. Call me.”
I made a note on the pad in front of me as I continued to sort through the mail. I stopped cold when I saw an envelope addressed to me with Lark Nutter’s return address. I wasn’t sure if I should open it or burn the fucking thing. After everything we didn’t know, I knew I had to open it and see what she’d written.
I saw the postmark was the day before her phone call to tell me she was leaving, so I opened it, trying to find my nerve to read it. I read the words on the page, praying it wasn’t yet another revelation.
Dear Mr. Marsh,
I’m sure this letter isn’t going to be well received, but by now, I’ve left with Judah. Kennedy is probably hurting badly, and I’m sorry about that, but I’ve considered the ramifications, and I believe Jude needs to know his real father, so we’re going to be with him.
I know I lied to you when I told you I didn’t know who he was, but I didn’t see the need to say anything to you. You won’t care about my son, and Kennedy only ever loved you. He’ll get over us leaving but stick around for him. Don’t let him drink. You’re the reason he started in the first place, so you owe it to him not to give him a reason to start again.
He loves you and not me, but Jude’s dad cares about me, and he’ll take care of us. We don’t need Kennedy anymore. I can’t tell him that, but you understand how it is to be left behind, don’t you? After all, that’s what Kennedy did to you when he fucked me.
Best of luck in your future,
Stunned! I was completely stunned. I was every other fucking synonym that would describe stunned. The letter in no way sounded like the woman with whom I’d spoken the day she took her life, and I didn’t understand. I was so fucking confused, I sat on the barstool in my kitchen for a long time, reading the letter over and over, trying my damnedest to comprehend it.
After a time, I placed it on the counter and continued to leaf through the stack of mail to sort it. I came across another letter from Lark Nutter, postmarked the day after she’d taken her life which meant she’d put it in a mailbox after the last collection but before she took her life. I prepared myself to open it against my better judgment.
I went to the liquor cabinet and poured myself a drink. I wasn’t sure if I’d take it or not, but I was bracing myself for whatever Lark had to say. She hated me, evidently, as much as I hated her, and if it was her last stab at me, I needed some liquid courage to get through it. I sat down at the counter with the glass in front of me, and I opened the envelope.
Dear Mr. Marsh,
I understand after my last letter you might not read this, but I have high hopes. I should explain myself, I guess.
I loved Kennedy the first minute I met him. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it was the way I felt. When I found out the two of us wasn’t a possibility, I tried to move on.
I actually thought I had found love with Jude’s father, but that apparently wasn’t meant to be either, as I just found out today.
I can’t…I don’t know how to function in the world any longer, so I’m going to end my suffering. It’s a selfish and cowardly act, but I can’t take it any longer.
Do me a huge favor? Take care of Kennedy and Judah. I could see when we met you still love Kennedy, and I’m sure you’re a kind soul, so I’m trusting you with my family.
Please know, I love them, but I just can’t…I can’t.
Make sure they know I love them…especially Jude.
I grabbed the shot glass and took it down in one gulp. Why the fuck did she do this to me? Why would she set me up like this?
I couldn’t understand her letters at all because they were total opposites. One was full of venom and hate, and the other was a plea to take care of her family. What had happened in those days between when she wrote the letters?
I placed it next to the other letter and poured myself another shot. Just as I was about to take it down, my phone chimed. I put down the glass and picked up my cell, seeing it was a message from Kennedy.
My bed is empty and lonely without you. I miss you. I just wanted you to know I’m thinking about you. Love you. K
After a few minutes of contemplation, I went to the sink and dumped the shot down it, rinsing out the glass and placing it in the dishwasher. I walked back to my bedroom to fish out a massive suitcase with a matching smaller one, and I packed everything I thought I’d need for an extended period of time. I’d figure out the rest of it later.
After I’d unplugged everything that didn’t need to be plugged in, I went down to the garage, pulling the suitcases behind me. I’d determine what to do with the Aston later, but I needed to get home. It was my one thought and all I could consider at the moment.
I drove back to Kennedy’s house and let myself in as quietly as possible. When I got to the bedroom, I stowed my suitcases in the corner and walked over to the bed, seeing Kennedy curled up a little. His face was drawn, and I didn’t like it.
I went to the bathroom and swirled his alcohol-free mouthwash in my mouth to take away any trace of the earlier events of the night. I took off my clothes and tossed them into the hamper which was nearly full, and I slipped into bed next to him.
As I curled around him, I felt his body relax and melt into mine, and I was so fucking happy I couldn’t hold back the tears. “Love, I’m home. I want to be here with you and Jude. This is where I belong,” I whispered. It was definitely where I was meant to be, and as I held him and mirrored his breaths, I found peace. He was my peace, and I’d never let anyone get in the way of it ever again.
To be continued…