Ruth's Reunion - Chapter 4

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It was around 8 am the next morning that I ferried Jackson downstairs in search of breakfast. He'd already been up for thirty minutes at that point but I'd been up thirty minutes prior trying to decide what he and I were going to wear for the celebration.

Deciding on Jackson's outfit had been simple enough. I'd chosen a button-down shirt and khakis, a timeless choice for any event. Dressing a young boy was easy, if a bit boring.

A bit more difficult though was choosing an outfit for myself.

My mother had made it clear last night that this wasn't a wake and was intended as more of a lighthearted event so we didn't have to wear black or grey or any other gloomy colors we might have had in mind.

I'd initially considered wearing dress pants to keep up with the theme of not overwhelming my family but decided against it. If I wanted them to see me as a woman, I had to show them the unapologetic woman I could be.

I wanted to make it utterly ridiculous for my mother to speak of me as her son. The goal was to make my mother look crazy for misgendering me but also not bring any undue attention to myself. The day was for Matty and certainly didn't need any unnecessary uproar.

In the end, I settled for a light blue mid-length dress that I'd only ever worn once before. We wouldn't be getting dressed until later in the day though so Jackson and I came down in our pajamas, although I donned a silk robe for added modesty.

As we made our way towards the kitchen, we passed by the dining room where I found Jess breastfeeding her baby with Sarah eating cereal across from her. Our eyes met just as I had begun to turn away.

"Sorry," I apologized while still looking away, "I didn't think anyone would be here"

"Good morning" Jackson greeted Aunt Jess like I'd always taught him to do with any familiar adult.

"Good morning, sweetie" I heard her reply. "And please, it's okay," she  said turning her attention back to me "It's nothing you haven't done before"

I turned back to face her although I was a bit confused by her statement.

"Aaron told me" she revealed.

"Right," I replied awkwardly. It was not something I'd ever talked about before. Tom and I thought it was better kept between us and I really shouldn't have said anything but I had been too focused on defending my status as Jackson's mother that I'd wrongly let it slip.

"He was not happy about it" she laughed and I just shifted uncomfortably, "Sorry about him by the way, he's not taking it very well, is he?"

"Yeah," I replied simply.

I was holding Jackson's hand and the very last thing I wanted to do was talk about my identity with him there.

"I tried to talk to him about his behavior but you know how he is" She continued after adjusting the baby in her arms.

"Jackson's hungry so I was just taking him to the kitchen to get breakfast" I tried changing the subject.

"Oh, you don't have to go all the way there" she answered, "Just press the button" She gestured to the familiar button on the wall that did well to blend in with the overall decor of the room.

"You don't find it weird?" I asked, "Bells all over the house because we're too lazy to go ask them for help, or God forbid get anything done ourselves"

"Not at all" she answered, "The way I see it, parts of the house are their space. If I was the help, I wouldn't want you coming into my space forcing me to act all prim and proper all the time"

"I guess" I acquiesced, "Go take a seat, honey," I said to Jackson before walking over and pressing the button as she'd suggested.

Jackson picked a chair and sat obediently in it and shortly after, I took the one beside him.

"Such a healthy, young man" Jess commented while looking closely at Jackson, "Is it really safe? No side effects? I didn't even know it was possible,-- you feeding him"

"No offense, but can we not talk about this right now?" I replied quickly.

"No of course, sorry" She replied then quietly returned to her task at hand which made me feel bad. She meant well and I really shouldn't have been throwing her goodwill and curiosity back in her face.

Those were the same questions I wished my family would ask before immediately assuming I was some kind of monster.

A short while later, a girl walked into the dining room wearing the usual black and white attire they all wore.

"Yes, hi," I turned to her thankful for the opportunity to escape that conversation, "Can we get breakfast?"

"Of course," she replied smartly, "What would you like?"

I let Jackson pick as a reward for being so quiet and well-behaved but I should have known better because he immediately opted for cake.

Jess and I looked at each other and laughed before I informed the help that toast and eggs would do just fine.

I handed my phone to Jackson to keep him busy while he waited and set out to apologize to Jess for snapping at her.

"Sorry about how I reacted earlier," I began, "It's a sensitive topic for me"

"I understand" Jess looked up from the baby. Little Andrew's feeding had been slowing down for some time and he'd begun to lose interest so Jess carried him upright and redressed herself, "I shouldn't have asked"

"No, it's fine, it's just--" I paused and prepared myself to open up, "It's not something I talk about"

She didn't respond. I thought she might have been reluctant given how I'd reacted earlier.

"It's perfectly safe" I finally answered her question, "at least according to my doctor"

"He does look healthy" she offered.

"He really is," I agreed, "rarely gets sick"

Jess rocked the baby in her arms as he began to fall asleep.

"I hope it isn't inappropriate to say but I find you very fascinating," Jess said in a quiet tone.

It was a bit odd but I'd been called worse. A lot worse.

"I hear about it online and always thought I'd be able to tell but I mean--" she stared at me with an astonished expression which caused me to chuckle uncomfortably.

To my great relief, Rebecca came to my rescue stumbling through the door that led into the dining room.

"What are we talking about?" she asked leaning on the wall for support.

"We missed you last night," I commented turning to her. Rebecca had gone up those steps and never returned.

"Look who it is!" She squealed and then held her head in pain, "Ow"

"Are you okay?" I asked worried.

"Look who it is" she whispered as she walked up to where Jackson sat and hugged him tightly. I wasn't even sure he recognized her since he'd only ever seen her in video calls.

"Hello," he said nonetheless in the cutest little voice.

"You're so cute!" she held his shoulder and squealed again before wincing.

"Are you okay?" I repeated with a worried expression.

"Hi Sarah" she waved to the little girl who was engulfed in something on her iPad.

"Hi Becky" Sarah replied without looking up from her screen.

"Sarah! She's 'Aunt Rebecca'" Her mother corrected her.

"Oh God no, that makes me sound so old" Rebecca protested as she made her way to the button, "Becky is so much better"

"You know your mother doesn't like you taking the Lord's name in vain" Jess reminded.

"Ugh, she's so extra" Rebecca rolled her eyes as she pressed the button, two seconds later, she pressed it twice more and then once more for good measure before she walked to find a seat at the table, "Ruthie, I'm so glad you're here to help me handle Mum"

"If you keep ignoring me, I'm just going to keep asking" I informed her.

"Oh my God--" she paused the looked to Jess with a sheepish expression, "Oh my gosh, you worry as much as Mum, I'm fine"

I raised my hand in submission. I wasn't going to press her, certainly not that early in the morning.

Eventually, Jackson and I got our breakfast at which point Rebecca asked for coffee. With the eventful day I would have, I wished I would have followed Rebecca's lead.

=^..^=

I had thought I'd made my peace with Matty's death but when Jackson and I came back downstairs later that afternoon to find his celebration beginning, I was faced with some unresolved feelings.

I'd been nervous about allowing my family to see me in a dress but all of that washed right away as soon as I found pictures of my brother littered around the house surrounded by wreathes of flowers.

"Mummy, are you okay?" Jackson innocently asked.

I'd begun to nod but eventually decided to be honest with him, "Mummy is just a little sad about Uncle Matty"

"Uncle Matty is very nice" He commented which caused me to smile.

I leaned towards him and moved a stray hair away from his face, "Yes, he was, wasn't he?"

The two had met on two separate occasions. Once at my wedding when Jackson was only a baby and another time when he was just over a year old. Jackson wouldn't have remembered either encounter but they'd spoken over the phone a few times and he received many presents from his uncle.

"When is he coming back?" I heard Jackson ask and did my best to keep my emotions in check.

"He’s not coming back" I answered with sadness filling my voice, "When someone dies, it means their body stops working and they don't come back to us." I explained carefully, "It’s very sad, and we miss them a lot."

It had always been my intention to protect Jackson from the harsh truths of life until he was a bit older but in times such as these, it felt important to be honest with him.

"Will I die?" He asked rather ominously.

I smiled nonetheless, "Not for a very very very long time" I answered, patting his head gently.

=^..^=

We followed the directions given by the house staff until we found a tent that had been set up in an open clearing near the lake, where the celebration was being held. I'd received a few looks from straggling guests on our way there and even more as I walked into the tent, holding Jackson's hand.

Several of those looks were from my own family.

I admired the decorations as we approached one of the tables where my family was seated together.

There was a center stage where Rebecca stood using her powers for good, giving a beautiful opening speech. She looked very beautiful in her elaborate pink gown that certainly put mine to shame.

Dotted around the large tent were several round tables where guests sat in groups. In total, there were over 50 people in attendance, very few of whom I recognized.

I did recognize an old girlfriend of his and a former family friend of ours to whom I waved after our eyes met. She waved back shyly.

I helped Jackson into a chair and took an empty one beside him, leaving just one more for Rebecca to return to.

It was nice of my family to accept me as one of them and not hide me away at one of the rear tables like I'd half expected them to.

This however drew the attention of several guests as they either wondered who I was or worse, pieced together my identity.

"Thank you so much for coming," Rebecca began to wrap up with a bright smile, "I know my brother would have loved to see so many of you here. Before we all get up on stage and start talking about him, which I know he would have absolutely hated--" She laughed and so did most of the crowd, "Let's hear a few words from him first"

Shortly after, Rebecca returned to her seat and beamed a smile in my direction. The screen behind the stage that had been showing a slideshow of moments from Matty's life changed to a video and I saw my brother again. Weak and sickly but there he was, my beloved brother. I covered my mouth with my hand and stared wide-eyed at the screen.

"If you are watching this, it's too late" A voice much deeper than his own came through the speakers.

"Be serious" I heard and immediately recognized the woman's voice. It was Carly, the old girlfriend I'd waved to earlier.

I hadn't known she'd been with him so close to the end. All the times we'd talked while he was in the hospital, he'd never once mentioned her, and I began to wonder whether I'd paid enough attention to him or whether I'd just been worried about my own problems while he went through what must have been a truly harrowing ordeal.

Up till the end, he'd only ever asked how things were going for me. I felt terrible.

"Okay, okay--" Matty composed himself, "Fuck, I'm really bad at this," he said under his breath.

"Just you know, be yourself," Carly said from behind the camera. I looked over to her and she seemed to be holding back tears.

"That is terrible advice" Matty replied, "You suck"

Both versions of Carly laughed and I felt terribly for her. She seemed to miss him just as much as we did.

It was lovely to see smiling and having a good time even in that moment. It warmed my heart to know he wasn't lonely at the end.

"Ok, I got this" Matty focused and looked straight into the camera, "I guess I just want to thank everyone for your kind words. Even if I lost this fight, I was happy to try with you all behind me."

"Mum and Dad--" he continued, "I don't want you to be sad. I lived an amazing life thanks to you. You're the best parents anyone could have asked for"

"Aaron, I would ask you to take care of everyone but you were going to do that anyway. You're reliable like that. You have such a beautiful family and I'm very proud--" Matty coughed and what came out was the most gut-wrenching sound.

Every second of that video broke my heart a little bit more.

"Water?" Carly's voice came through again and Matty nodded. The camera followed her as she walked around offering us a view of his hospital room, so dreary and gloomy and what must have been hell for a very adventurous person.

Hiking, sky-diving, sledding, someone who had done all of that shouldn't have been stuck in a boring hospital room.

Matty graciously accepted the water and drank before continuing.

"Right, I'm so--" he paused and cleared his throat multiple times, "I'm so very proud of you, big bro"

He took a deep breath and gathered himself before continuing.

"Mummy" Jackson tugged at my arm, trying to get my attention.

"Shh, baby" I quickly quieted him.

"-- probably feeling this more than anyone else," I heard after turning my attention back to Matty's video, "Leah, you're the most caring person I know and that's saying something. I sincerely hope you don't mourn me for too long. I just want you to be happy"

I looked at my sister and found someone devastated. While I couldn't reconcile the people Matty was describing with those sitting in front of me, I could see that we were all going through the same situation and dealing with the same pain and I guess Matty had hoped that shared pain would bring us closer.

"Ruth," I heard my name through the speakers and felt my heart skip a beat, "I know you don't need me to tell you this but you're very brave and I've always admired you for that. I hope more than anything that you're sitting there with everyone else, reunited and happy"

He paused which gave me time to take in his words. I missed him.

"And Becca," he moved on to our little sister, "You know, I don't really have anything nice to say about you" he laughed, "I've been thinking for a while now and I've got nothing"

"Asshole" I heard Rebecca say softly with a smile.

"For real though, I love you, I love you all so much" he finished and shifted his gaze from the camera back to the person holding it, "Is that good?"

"Yeah," Carly answered.

"Can you do me a favor?"

"Yeah sure"

"Don't show it to them until after I'm gone, okay?"

"Yeah, of course"

Matty smiled one last time and the video froze. I just kept staring at his face, daring not to look away. I stared at his smile until the screen switched back to the slideshow and I took my first breath in some time.

My mother passed me a handkerchief and I realized I'd been crying. As I took it from her, I noticed that there was no judgment in her eyes. She simply let me mourn my brother without a word.

They had been with him during his final days and had long since dealt with their grief. I thought I had but I was wrong.

I was glad my mother hadn't let me leave the previous night.

Rebecca returned to the stage and announced that the floor would be open for anyone who wanted to say a few words about him. It was in those sessions that I began to realize just how much I'd missed about his life.

I wondered whether running away to a faraway country had been the right move after all. It did give me Tom and Jackson so it had to have been.

"Mummy" My son tugged at my dress once again.

"What, baby?" I turned my attention to him.

"I wanna pee" he whispered.

"You wanna pee?"

He nodded.

"OK baby"

I made a quick apology to the group before leading Jackson out of his seat. I tried as much as possible to avoid disrupting the young man who was on stage, talking about his experiences with Jackson but we were drawing too many stares.

Still, I did my best to ignore it and led Jackson out of the tent.

=^..^=

Quickly, I led him back towards the house and ushered him into the nearest restroom. While Jackson was gone, I took that time to pick up the numerous pieces that seeing Matty again had broken off.

I leaned against the wall, put my face in my hand, and just breathed in and out.

Unfortunately, my time alone was interrupted by approaching footsteps and a now familiar voice.

"Ruth, hi" I quickly opened my eyes and found the owner, Carly.

"Oh hi," I replied forcing myself to smile once more.

"I don't know if you remember me--"

"Of course I do, long time no see, Carly" I went in and hugged her.

"How have you been?" she asked.

"You know," I replied as I stepped away, "as well as can be expected"

"Yeah"

"How are you?" I returned.

"Okay," she replied. I could see the sadness in her eyes.

I didn't know what to say to her or how, so I said nothing at all.

"You look great" she offered.

"Thanks" I replied awkwardly. The last time we'd seen each other, I'd been a boy, and it felt like a lifetime ago, "You do too" I added.

"Matty talked about you a lot," she said with her gaze falling to the floor.

"Did he?" I shifted nervously.

"He was very proud of you" She answered.

"I wish I'd been here" The words slipped past my lips before I had a chance to stop them.

"Umm, he made another video" Carly ignored what I'd said. Without waiting she shoved a hand into her purse and pulled out a USB drive, "Just for you, I think"

I took it when she handed it to me but stared at it with an utterly confused expression, "For me? Did he say anything else?

We heard the toilet flush and Carly seemed to take that as the signal to end our conversation.

"It was nice to see you again," Carly said as she stepped away, "You do look very beautiful"

Before I could say any more, she'd stepped back out through the door and out of sight.

Jackson emerged a moment later with a pleased expression on his face.

"Did you wash your hands?" I asked him.

"Mmh" he nodded back to me.

"Come on baby, let's go back"

=^..^=
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Thanks for reading. Would love to hear your thoughts :)

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Comments

Another day of high emotions

Not just for Ruth and her family, but also for us readers. The story draws us in to feel some of the emotions of all of the characters. Carly, Amy, and Rebecca seem to be more than comfortable with Ruth, Mother is definitely wavering, that only leaves father, who is playing a quiet waiting game, Aaron, and Leah to be won over. Wonderfully written Emma.

I wonder what message is hidden on the USB drive.

photo-1592621385612-4d7129426394_1710612803242_0.jpg

Gill xx

Thanks for reading!

Emma's picture

We're still playing setup and there's so much story to get through so I hope you'll stick around.

3D

Emma Anne Tate's picture

I love how each of the characters is getting filled in, and also that it is happening slowly and sort of organically, as the story progresses naturally. We start with bare outlines, and all of the family seem pretty dreadful. We haven't seen much positive from Leah or Aaron, but clearly Matty thought highly of them -- or at least found something to like or respect. The Mom is coming into focus a bit. The breakfast scene with Becky was fascinating . . . I'm thinking there are trouble waters underneath all the sparkle she shows the world.

Great chapter, and great writing. Lots of gems; I especially liked this one: "where Rebecca stood using her powers for good." Perfect!

Emma

A Few On Her Side

joannebarbarella's picture

Ruth seems to have Jess, Becky and now Carly, in her corner. At least, I'm betting on Carly. Mom is sitting on the fence but is not being nasty. Dad? Well, we have to see about him.

Still, nobody has disrupted the funeral service. Matty's speech would have been very emotional. I teared up at the last service I attended when the deceased's son gave a speech which really captured her spirit.

This is a really excellent story, Emma. The pacing is exceptional.

Yikes

Dee Sylvan's picture

Emma, thanks to you, I'm sitting here with a pile of used tissues next to me trying to dry my eyes.

Some of us that have been exactly in Ruth's situation, with family judging us so harshly, and our thoughts alternating between "I don't give a damn what you think", and "Why is it so hard for you to accept who you know I am?" We're looking for a solution that doesn't exist.

I love your story. Even though I keep wondering how Tom is going to change the dynamic, I am glad to have you share more about Ruth and her struggles. The video of Matty was excellent, I am looking forward to viewing the USB contents. Thanks for posting. :DD

DeeDee