Kerry stared at the picture that graced her laptop. If it had been a photo album or a mere book, she would have scaled it across the room. Instead she plopped the laptop on the couch beside her; even at that it wasn’t the best way to treat something so expensive, but at that point she almost didn’t care. She fiddled with the ring on her left hand; convention be damned! She would keep the ring no matter what as a reminder to be wiser next time.
“I should just throw this away!” She would have said if she hadn’t been crying for nearly a half-hour. Her throat hurt and her eyes stung from the weeping. She pulled the ring off her left hand and tossed it onto the table against far wall. It bounced once and caromed past the table edge, falling to the floor.
“I hate myself.” She sobbed. Picking up a throw pillow, she brought it to her breast and clung to it like long forgotten favorite blanket or stuffed dog. She was too tired to move, even though every part of her wanted to open up the laptop once again to stare at his picture. It wasn’t fair, but then again life rarely is fair if fair at all. It just is what it is. But for human choices? Circumstances and events may often be almost capriciously guided, but when someone chooses to hurt another, it really isn’t fair.
“I...I tried to....I really tried to tell him.” She had told him, and likely as quickly as things required, but soon wasn’t soon enough and he felt betrayed. That she hadn’t told him the first moment they met seemed understandable; likely by most folk’s estimation. And in all seriousness, all of her friends reminded her that she had nothing to explain or be apologetic for, even if he felt otherwise.
“But...” She often argued with the voices that raged in her heart; nothing audible but still besetting her with doubts and worries than most other women would ever know. Other women...the idea of the distinction hit her hard nearly every day; even more so since he left.
She stared at the ring; the glow of the table lamb glittered and danced in the facets of the gem. A mere promise of a friendship. She would have felt foolish if she knew that he had indeed intended to seek more in their relationship, but her honesty and candor pushed him away. Rather, her real self..The person he was beginning to know...that person was such a disappointment to him as he had expected a lifetime of love with a real girl.
“Caveat Emptor?” She sighed and threw herself onto the couch, shoving the laptop rudely onto the floor.
“Well, I’m sorry, Cameron, but this is an irregular. You can purchase it for half price since we’re really trying to get rid of it. And it’s sold as is; no promises or guarantees.” The words flowed through her heart like poison. “All sales are final,” she shook her head at the cruelty of the indictment that escaped her lips before she dissolved into hopeless tears.
“What does it profit a girl if she gains her soul while losing her whole world?” Being a writer was both a blessing and a curse. If she had read the words she had spoken in someone’s book she would have noted the clever turn of phrase. But in her own story, they were just more words of condemnation. She felt alone and helpless and her sobs caused her to gasp and cough.
The little boy tugged at her sweater lapel, pulling her attention around. The boy looked nothing like her, of course, but he resembled her in ways that matter most. He looked her in the eyes in a way that only a loving child can in concern for a sad parent. Two misfits in an ideal but exclusive world; she with an identity created by a surgeon’s hand and he with a life borne of two who never loved but loved enough to give him a home with her.
“Uncle Cam called.” He smiled as if he had accomplished some Herculean task, and to be honest, cheering up a sad mom is no mean feat. Her eyes lit up for only a moment before she steeled herself to the impending new disappointment. She tried not to frown for her son’s sake. She sat up and wiped her face with her sleeve, failing to notice the box of tissues in his hand.
“Okay, Malik. Thank you.” She picked the boy up and gathered him in her arms. He was getting almost too big to pick up without at least a little bit of help from him.
“Uncle Cam said to tell you he’s sorry.” He half-smiled at her half-frown.
“That’s good, honey. Thank you.” She wanted to dismiss the whole moment but for the loving hug he gave her along with the words. It almost hurt more, since the man had used the child to deliver his message; not brave enough, and certainly not as brave as the little boy who had been through more than any child should endure. But the boy was as strong as can be, and wise enough, at least, to see her disappointment.
“Don’t be sad, Mommy. Okay?” His grin revealed an otherwise perfect smile but for the slight backward tile of his right eye tooth. But love is perfect exercised by the imperfect, isn’t it? He squeezed her hand as she stared vacantly over his shoulder at the ring on the floor.
“Oh, honey, I’ll be okay.” Her words were true if not unconvincing for the moment and for the boy. He shook his head.
“Uncle Cam says he’s sorry.” Of course the man was sorry; easy enough to express some semblance of remorse through the agency of a small child. And of course if she had been honest she would have given him the benefit of the doubt since the call Malik answered was the only call of many that went heeded since she had chosen not to answer the phone herself. The boy smiled even brighter; his efforts to cheer her up weren’t working, but he did have more to say and even something to give of himself as well.
“Uncle Cam said to tell you he wants a second chance.” Six and a half years of age and so wise and perceptive. Her eyes lit up at the prospect of her own second chance. She pulled back hastily as she gave up hope in wise resignation before the boy continued.
“He said look in the mail box.” She shook her head no, as if to short circuit any operation that this small family might undergo in futile hope of a normal life. Normal. What was that, anyway? Nevertheless, her legs and arms and body betrayed her as she found herself gently setting her son’s feet on the floor. A few minutes later she found herself standing at the bank of mail boxes in front of the apartment building. She found the small key on her keychain and opened her box. She sifted through the pile of junk mail and bills and found a plain but almost square envelope.
“Kerry and Malik Montalbano” she read aloud, noting that there was no postage on the envelope.
“Can I open it?” Malik asked with a big smile. Always a help to his mom. She handed the envelope to the boy and he gently pulled it apart and pulled out a card.
He handed it to her with the words, ‘Can I see it?’ She looked down at the boy with pride and nodded, forgetting herself. She opened the card and read aloud.
"Dear Malik. I am so sorry that I’ve been such a bad person. I want you to know that you are very special to me. Can you do me a favor?”
She paused. Looking at the card, she noticed a few stains, as if someone had spilled something. And underneath the words she had just read, there seemed to be something embossed on the sturdy paper, causing her to gasp. She looked up as if to pray, mouthing the words ‘I’m sorry’ before handing the boy the card. He grabbed it eagerly and his hands danced across it until he felt the place of importance. He breathed deep and ‘read.’
“Dear Kerry. I am sorry.”
“He’s sorry, mommy!” Tears welled in her eyes and she nodded and spoke ‘yes, honey.’ He continued.
“Can I come back?”
“He wants to come back, mommy.’ He grinned eagerly, as if to say ‘yes?’
“Yes, honey...he wants to come back.” She gasped
“I want to come home. And Malik? Can I be your daddy?” The boy struggled as the words escaped his mouth. He didn’t add another word as Kerry knelt beside him and hugged him tight.’’
“Yes,” was all she could say as she wept in her son’s arms. He held the card while his arms encircled her neck. With only a bit of a struggle he managed to put hand to card once again.
“Malik? Will you ask your mother if she wants me in your family, please?” The boy stumbled only a bit over the words as he began to cry as well. Kerry nodded yes, but the boy could pay no heed as he finally read,
“Will you both be my Valentines?”
“Mommy? Uncle Cam wants us to be his Valentines. Can we, Mommy?” Again, Kerry nodded; tears falling gently onto the boy’s face. She pulled back and looked at his face; sightless eyes for a boy who had more vision than her. She nodded out of reflex but spoke once more.
“Yes, Malik. Yes.” She hugged him once again before standing up. Grabbing his hand, she looked at her beautiful child and spoke again.
“I think we should go call Uncle Cameron. Okay.”
“Okay.” The boy said eagerly as he squeezed Kerry’s hand.
“And Mommy?. Happy Valentine’s Day.”
"Happy Valentines Day, my sweet boy!"
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