A Parent's Heart
If you give, you will receive, dear one.
If you let go, you will lay hold of my heart.
If you change, you’ll be exactly what you are!
If you love you’ll be loved.
In fact, you’re loved already!
Nancy felt so small, but needlessly so. She worried if she truly had done enough for the two children lying asleep on the other side of the door. Feeling small against the world of problems is one thing; being small and childlike herself in the arms of an infinite giver of life was something entirely different and comforting....
“It will be alright.” She felt that she definitely possibly heard a voice, but the idea of no trusting it never entered her mind; no matter how indistinct and quiet it remained. She smiled and looked up; a glance toward the maker of heaven and earth, in a way and mouthed ‘thank you.’
How it would be alright wasn’t even a consideration at that point. She had absolutely no doubt that even her best efforts to dissuade Jay’s dad would fall upon deaf ears. But another, louder, more patient voice could and would speak to the man who insisted that he only had two daughters and just one, foolishly deluded son.
“If Terry had left anything other than an example of how odd and ironic life can be, it would be his…her…their legacy of integrity and kindness and goodness and strength. Nancy didn’t know how things would work out, but if Terry had anything to say about it on their behalf, it would work out better than any of them could dream.
Jay's house...a few days later...
“Yes? Oh…” Jay held the phone out and sighed; his voice had turned from eager to discouraged in the time it took to say two words. The woman on the other end…his father’s wife… seemed nice enough, but she was married to his dad, which made it very awkward.
“What? Oh… you want to see me and mom? I don’t get it… Why…” He was tempted to hang up on her; the idea that the woman who broke up his parents wanting to get together with them seemed so unfair and ever more so; insensitive.
“Dad’s not?…oh…okay.” His voice trailed off. Even a poor father, neglectful and obtuse as he might be, still appealed to Jay. That part of him…her, actually. The part of Jennifer that longed for a loving father who would understand and accept and encourage; that was appealing even if entirely unrealistic. He nodded at the receiver before hanging up.
“Who was that, honey?” Marnie’s voice seemed to be soothing and understanding beforehand; as if she had anticipated a disappointing connection when Jay answered the phone moments before.
“It’s... Stella.” Not exactly a welcome name in their household, at least as far as Jay felt. His mother surprised him.
“Oh, good. I was hoping she’d call. So they’re visiting next week, right?”
“You knew about this?”
“I sent her an email asking if there was some way we could get together. She’s your father’s wife, and those precious girls are your half sisters, so….”
“How could you do this without asking me?” Jay shook his head.
“Jay, honey. We have to talk. There’s something that you need to know, okay?” Marnie motioned for her child to come close, and they hugged. She looked over Jay's shoulder and thought she saw the figure of a very kind-looking woman about her own age, but after blinking the figure seemed merely to have been a glare off the front window.
"Let's sit down, okay?"
The Hilton Hotel, Burlington, Vermont, the following week...
“Phil? Are you going to be this way the whole time? You decided to come, Phil. You might as well just stay at the hotel, if that’s the case. Maybe even just not come at all!”
“Listen, Stella. I know what you’re thinking, and it isn’t going to work. You think if I see Jay all dressed up and looking …well looking like a girl that I’ll just go ahead and accept it like nothing has changed. Well, I’m sorry, but I’ve got a son… not a goddam daughter.” He looked over at the two girls sitting on the couch in the sitting area of the suite.
“Oh, for Christ’s sakes! You know what I mean.” The girls’ faces grew red. Lisa seemed more angry than sad; she folded her arms in an almost defiant pose and shook her head. The younger of the two seemed so much more confident and mature at twelve than her fourteen year old sister. Tia, on the other hand, seemed reserved; that afraid-of-one’s-shadow look seemed almost a pervasive stance for her. She had every reason to feel the way she did even if she had assurances from Stella that things would work out.
“Oh, Jeez, Tia. You’re not gonna start cryin’!” Phil breathed out. The girl seemed to Phil to be overly sensitive; especially since the whole issue of having an older brother perhaps coming to live with them. He wondered just what upset the girl, but every attempt at finding out how she felt was met with a nervous, teary stare. And Lisa wasn’t giving up anything to him. She loved her step-father, but there was only so much that love could conquer, and she wasn’t about to betray her sister over any loyalty to Phil.
“You guys go and have a good time visiting. I got a call from an old friend in town anyway. I'd just get all upset if I came along; at least today.”
It really made no sense in the scheme of things. If Phil truly wanted to engage his son enough to start a relationship, he was making no effort whatsoever in that regard. He almost demanded respect that he had not only not earned, but had betrayed already by abandoning Jay and his mother. He loved Stella; why couldn’t they see that? Either way, he was stubborn enough to expect things to go his way merely by showing up at the lawyer’s office the following Monday with his demands.
"Pat Armitage...His wife...Billy's mom...told him I was gonna be in town, so I think I might meet him for lunch. Says he needs to talk to me about something very important."
What Pat needed to discuss was important, but Phil didn't know that; it was just one more way of getting out of his responsibility to his family. But Pat wasn't going to be coming alone, in a manner of speaking, which would come as a surprise to both men; pleasantly to Pat and not at all pleasant to Phil.
Back at Jay's house, a short while later...
“Hi, come on in.” Marnie greeted the three at the door as if they were long-lost and dearly missed. Stella shrunk back at Marnie’s proffered hug. The girls, however, gladly embraced Stella and Jay.
“It’s okay.” Marnie shrugged and waited until Stella had seated herself at the kitchen table. The girls sat down as well.
“Listen, okay….let’s just get one thing straight before we go any further.” Marnie practically snapped at Stella, but the look on her face was one of almost gleeful welcome. Stella cringed only a bit as Stella stepped closer.
“I’m not upset with you, Stella. I know you didn’t know anything about me or Jay when you met Phil.”
That wasn’t entirely true, but true enough. She knew about Marnie, but Phil had led her to believe that he was already divorced when they began their relationship. And a single mother with two girls has a difficult enough time as it is getting someone’s attention. Nevertheless, she felt all of the guilt that seemed to have escaped Phil. She lowered her head just a bit. Lisa squeezed her hand.
“Come on, mom…it’s okay. She’s kinda nice, you know?” The girl tilted her head in Marnie’s direction to indicate her intent.
“I’m so sorry.”
“I know you are. And I am sorry too, Stella. I know that things haven’t been easy for you either. Maybe between the two of us and the kids, we can put together some sort of family that will be okay? As long as we’re related, we might as well make more than the best of this. Pax?”
Marnie held out her hand and Stella grabbed it tentatively. After a moment she felt Marnie squeeze her hand gently. She looked into the woman’s eyes and saw nothing but peace and acceptance; something Stella and Lisa and Tia needed; especially Tia, but to what extent even Stella couldn’t say…yet.
A short while later...in Jay's bedroom...
“Mom says you’re a girl.” Lisa was bold if anything, but her boldness wasn’t born of temerity but of an honest sense of wonderment coupled with a very determined sense of love and acceptance. She was already schooled in that area by necessity. She smiled at Jay and nodded.
Under normal circumstances, Jay might have been timid even in admitting the wonderful truth that Lisa had just noted. But the girl’s wide grin seemed to disarm any timidity or even fear, and the answer came from Jennifer’s lips instead. They weren’t quite related, since their father was the girl’s step father. Lisa and Tia never met their dad, who had been killed in a car accident only a few months after their birth. Jennifer as Jay had hardly known his dad when Phil left.
“Tia has some questions she wants to ask you.” Lisa blurted out. Tia’s face grew red and hot; a mixture of embarrassment, shame, and fear. She went to walk out of the room but Lisa grabbed her arm.
“Oh no you don’t. You’re the one who's been crying all week, and you two need to talk.”
“No…Lis….no.” She began to sob even as her struggles to run grew less and less. A moment later she was sobbing into her sister’s shoulder. Jay felt helpless. What was it he…what was it that Jennifer could possibly do to help the girl. She seemed more than just embarrassed. He shrugged his shoulders. Lisa pushed Tia to arms length and spun her around. She hugged her from behind; almost treating her sister like a doll.
“Mom never really talked much with Phil about us before they got married. He just figured that he got two daughters in the bargain. He’s been a good dad.” She paused, feeling guilty that the same father who treated them with kindness and respect could have been so cold and forgetful with his own son.
Tia practically whispered. It wasn’t her place to apologize for her stepfather, but then again it really wasn’t her place to apologize for her own existence, but that’s what she felt inside every single day. Would Jay even understand? She knew in her head that there wasn’t any way Jay couldn’t understand, but her heart remained so desperately fearful as to give up hope.
If anyone had any apologies to extend, it would have been their father… to all the children for his failure to Marnie and Jay. And Stella owed everyone a huge apology for keeping a secret for nearly three years; a secret that threatened to tear her older daughter in two. Tia put her head down. She would have seen Jay do the same; neither felt worthy of consideration or felt strong enough to consider as well. Lisa broke the stalemate.
“You have to tell him…” She paused and looked at Jay.
“Sorry…you have to tell her…uh…what’s your name?” She stared at Jay. He raised his head slowly and looked at her askance.
“You know…what’s ‘her’ name?” Lisa had a ‘do-I-have-to-do-everything’ look on her face.
“Oh…Jennifer…my name is Jennifer.” With the mention of her name came a relaxed countenance; as if in speaking her name she freed the young lady inside once more like in a fairy tale. Lisa turned to her sister and smiled.
“See…I told you she’ll understand!” Lisa looked back and forth between Jay and Tia.
“Go ahead. Tell her your other name…. you know?” Of course she knew; it was the name she was given at birth by the man who abandoned her and Lisa when they were toddlers.
“My…name…” She began to cry; as if being born one way and becoming another was shameful. No one would begrudge the girl if she had gotten an implant to bestow hearing or glasses to correct vision. She was ashamed enough that the words stuck in her throat.
“My dad’s named Steven… Steven James Aldretti. And Tia was you know? Junior?” It was almost a game to be played between the three instead of the very frightful acknowledgment of commonality. Jay looked at Lisa and shook his head no while squinting in puzzlement.
“Jeez…. My dad is Steven and Tia was Steve Jr.” It was too much for the older girl and she burst into tears and ran out of the room. Nowhere to go or hide in a stranger’s house, she ended up running into the bathroom; slamming the door behind her. Jay looked at Lisa; words failed, but the expression said ‘are you serious?’
“Mom figured maybe you’d be able to talk to her…so she knows that she’s not the only one, you know?” Jay put his head down and nodded slowly. What little confidence resided in the boy came to the surface; likely supplanting the timidity and shame for the last time. Jay would remain a part of the wonderful whole being that Stella bore to term nearly sixteen years earlier, but it would be the young woman named Jennifer who would live from that moment on. She smiled and spoke.
“Give me a few minutes, okay?” It surprised her that Lisa wasn’t surprised at all, but the girl was astute and sensitive. She smiled back at Jennifer.
“Okay. Let me know when you’re ready.” She casually waved and walked out of the bedroom and down the hall and stood calmly by the bathroom door. A few minutes later a tall girl stood before her. There was nothing really remarkable about her clothing other than that she was wearing different clothes; clothes more appropriate for the moment and the task at hand.
“Nice touch,” Lisa said with a laugh, pointing to the beret the girl wore; maroon and suede-like, which matched the vest that covered her cream-colored blouse. She wore jeans and black knee length boots; nothing spectacular, but entirely appropriate for a girl her age. Jennifer smiled at Lisa and knocked on the door to the bathroom.
“Go away!” Tia sobbed from just the other side of the door.
“Nope, I can’t leave until I at least get to meet my sister, okay?” The voice was only a little familiar since they had only just met in a way.
“I’ll just wait until you’re ready to meet me, okay?” Something about the voice was soothing and healing even if it was fairly new. A moment later the lock clicked open and Tia emerged slowly. She looked at Lisa who in turn looked at Jennifer. Tia stared at the older girl; it would have been entirely appropriate to note that a hero was born that day as well. She stepped closer; almost as if she was ready to pinch the girl to see if she really was there. Just getting near was just enough, and she threw herself into Jennifer’s arms and began sobbing enough to shake them both.
Marnie and Stella heard the loud crying and went to hurry down the hall. Lisa held her hand up; almost like a traffic cop rerouting cars. She smiled and gave the two the thumbs up even as her own eyes filled with tears. In that moment all three girls and both moms breathed a collective sigh of relief. It was going to be alright.
Finally: One Big Peaceful Family...
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