Anyone Else But You



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Jay Artale discovers that in trying to support his mother he just might save herself



You are always trying to keep it real
I'm in love with how you feel
I don't see what anyone can see, in anyone else

But you



This solo work replaces previous chapter version


Ridgewood High School, Ridgewood, New Jersey….

“Hey!” The girl turned around at the voice,

“What a fucking idiot.” The boy pointed at the girl’s stomach. She glanced down at the child she was carrying and sighed heavily. She was already under the scrutiny of the ignorant elite at her school, but this latest assault was not only rude, but threatening. He stepped closer and spun her around; throwing her to the ground..

“Ooops,” he chortled as his entourage of ignorami joined in the chorus of cruel laughter. She rolled over and glanced at her stomach again; the ‘sympathy’ belly had been flattened somewhat and shoved sideways against her hip.

“Leave the kid alone,” another voice came from off to her side. The bully went to respond but found himself face-to-face with a tall boy wearing a Ridgewood Lacrosse windbreaker and a mean glare.

“Leave him> alone.” Danny pointed to the prostrate figure, his brother Jay. The boy wiped the mixture of dirt and tears from his face and sat up, accepting a proffered hand from him.

“Why the fuck do you do this. I just don’t get you, Jay.”

“I.. I didn’t know you were supposed to get me, Dee.” He stood up and started to walk away.

“Make sure you take that shit off before you get home. Daddy is pissed off as it is.”

“Don’t worry, Dee. I wouldn’t dream of disappointing him… oh wait. I already do.” Jay shrugged his shoulders and returned to his afternoon oblations with another wipe of his face with his blouse sleeve. He didn’t hear his brother’s last words.

“Well…you are a disappointment.” It really would have mattered little because apart from his mother, Jay felt like he disappointed everyone on the planet.


That evening…

The family gathered around the dinner table; a truncated and disjointed version of some Norman Rockwell painting. Jay sat quietly while hoping his approximation of a hero caught his father's attention. Senior instead got right down to business; an odd but accurate description of his interaction with his wife and sons.

“You go to the doctor?” Senior practically snapped at his wife. She looked down at the life nestled inside her and sighed.

“That…That’s tomorrow. I was hoping you could come… she’s scheduled an ultrasound.” Her posture displayed her frustration.

“I can’t” He snapped. He had time tomorrow, but he had plans. He always had plans.

“I can go with you, Mom.” Jay glared at his father. Laurie put her hand up in caution. Just being positive in the midst of his father’s indifference always risked an argument. He didn’t disappoint.

“You won’t.” He went to rise, as if Jay’s offer to support his mother was a declaration of some moral war. Senior eased back down in his chair and changed the subject.

“You hear from Colgate yet?” Danny cringed. No news was always bad news in the Artale house.

“Nothing in the mail, Dan,” Laurie spoke. He shot a look at her that said ‘I was talking to my son.”

“See what happens when you wait to send in the application? Didn’t I tell you? Why doesn’t anyone listen to me?”

“I…” Jay paused for effect, an inward cringe already growing even as his face betrayed nothing. He raised his hand like a kid in class.

“I looked into going to hell like you suggested last night, but all the flights are booked.” Jay smiled even as Senior hit him in the face with the back of his hand, knocking him onto the floor.

‘Dan. Please?” At one point in time Senior might have hit her just for the plea, but she was carrying his child. He pushed away from the table and stood up, pointing to Jay.

“And take off that…” He got a bit flustered at the sight of number two son wearing one of his mother’s maternity dresses over his jeans.

“Or what? You gonna hit me? Oh gosh what will I ever do?” His voice was almost a falsetto sing-song.

“You just wait…” Senior’s bravado began to fade as Jay’s defiance subsided. The child was never given to displays of emotion, but Jay had glanced up at Laurie. Her face was a mixture of fear and sadness; the anger had long buried itself in her hopes to navigate through Senior’s increasing abuse. Jay stood up, his fists balled in frustration.

“You can do anything you want to me, Dad. But…” He turned and faced Laurie.

“Leave her alone.” Jay fought off crying since tears had to be a sign of surrender to his father.

Senior looked back and forth between Dan and Jay and Laurie before offering something akin to a growl.

“I’m going out.” A frequent delving into the art of foregone conclusions since dinner usually resulted in Senior getting disappointed over some frustration or even worse, a never-expressed expectation. And that in turn nearly always resulted in him storming out. He stopped at the front door and turned. His eyes flashed with disdain.

“Call up the admissions office,” he pointed at Dan, his calm demeanor completely ramming oddly against the angry display only moments before. It would have been enough, but he took it further as he turned to Laurie.

“Call me at work tomorrow. I want to know what your doctor has to say.” He turned abruptly and walked out. Dan looked at his Mom, wondering what was so urgent. Jay walked to Laurie and stopped to readjust the sympathy belly to approximate again a kinship with her. He kissed her on the cheek and she fell into his arms, weeping. Jay turned and faced his brother, hoping to convey some truth in the moment.

“What?” Dan raised his hands just a bit, pleading to understand. Jay shook his head as his own tears spilled onto his mother’s sleeve. He mouthed the reply, knowing that even speaking out loud might fulfill his father’s expectations.

“She…: Even silently his words were halting at the rawness of what he had to say.

“She’s having trouble. He wants her….” He shook his head as his own sobbing took over. For the first time in ages Dan recalled just how things actually were. His hopes for escape to college had fueled his denial for what life had in store for his mother and brother. He mouthed back.

“To..to lose..the baby?” He shook only somewhat as Jay nodded. Dan put his hand to his mouth but failed to stifle his response.

“Oh fuck no….”


The next morning…

"Hmmm." Jay began to sing to himself, trying to sound like Ellen Page in a movie his mother and he enjoyed.

"Juno? Nah.. Hair's too red and long. Maybe I can learn to play the guitar?

We both have shiny happy fits of rage...
I want more fans, you want more stage...
I don't see what anyone can see, in anyone else but you..."

He walked to his dresser. He had decided to ‘up the ante’ in the one-person solidarity movement he had established. Instead of wearing a maternity outfit over his clothes, he had grabbed a pair of black stretch pants and a magenta iridescent maternity top. And the accompanying stuff underneath. He didn't think much of that last detail for the present moment. His longish hair was pulled back in a pony tail.

“Should I?” He tilted his head at the reflection in the mirror over the dresser. As he picked up the eye shadow he felt an urging. Something was trying to emerge that he had not so much denied as instead postponed in the midst of his family’s daily chaos. As he applied the shadow something…someone inside spoke softly in his head.

“I want to help, too.”

An odd thought that he immediately dismissed. He grabbed some lip gloss from the dresser. As he finished applying the makeup the voice spoke again. Not quite the falsetto he used to tease everyone, this voice was soft and almost demure and somewhat familiar. Like the voices that are oh so close but just different enough to be themselves in families, Jay heard the voice in his head and realized he sounded almost like his mother.

"Please?" The voice pleaded softly, a patient understanding request instead of an urgent demand.

He shuddered as long-buried feelings brought guilt and regret to the surface. The clothes weren't the thing, but a strong if very sad reminder of what the thing actually was.

“I…I’m so sorry,” his own voice replied, sounding more than just somewhat like the voice in his head. The voice… the girl inside was more forgiving than Jay could be to himself.

“I know…It’s okay,” the voice felt just like the sister he never had and he sighed. Not the sister he never had, but the sister Jay had felt he was since kindergarten. Trucks and action figures never lost their appeal, but the nurturing Jay who cried when the teacher took the baby doll away seemed to feel almost urgently in the moment.

He looked down at the ‘baby’ he bore beneath the clothing and began to cry. Jay came back… The need to be in solidarity with Laurie retrieved Jay…saved the Jay finally who wanted to BE like Laurie. The image in front of him was a sad reminder of who he wanted to be…who she really was, and he threw the lip gloss at the mirror in frustration. The tube broke and fell onto a pile of comic books on the dresser. He glanced at the top of the pile. “Wonder Woman.”

He would have laughed at the irony except he was too busy trying to stand up under the weight of helplessness as he began to sob. He fell against the dresser and laid his head on a sweater lying next to the comic books; another item of Laurie's that drew him further into that solidarity he hope would help. And behind him, his mother stood silently at the door to his bedroom, her own tears only somewhat mirroring the child who wept before her. The girl who cried while her mother stood unnoticed. Laurie softly spoke a brief prayer while her mother’s tears fell freely before smiling as she whispered.

“There you are.”

The pebbles forgive me, the trees forgive me
So why can't, you forgive me?
I don't see what anyone can see, in anyone else
But you


Only minutes later at the kitchen table…

Laurie waved to Jay as he walked past her, heading to the side door.

“What?” Jay’s reaction was a bit ‘abrupt,’ fueled by both his own insecurity and his worry about his mother. She reached out and grabbed the sleeve of the worn charcoal cardigan he was wearing that she had placed in the giveaway pile only days before.

“Sweetie? No school, remember?” The teachers had a two-day conference and the high school was closed until Monday. She let go of the sleeve only to gently grab his wrist.

“Let’s have some coffee. Daddy picked up some bagels before he went to work.”

“How can you call him that… after he treats us….how he treats YOU?”

“We… I talked with Danny before he went out… he’s off to Kieu’s for the day.” Her voice trailed off and his eyes widened in fear.

“Oh, honey… I’m okay…It’s okay. But…”

“But…But what, Mom?” He wanted so much to call her Mommy at that point.

“Danny is gone for the day and your Dad had to go to Trenton and he’s staying overnight.” She lied; Senior was not at work, and while he had used that excuse in the past, she knew exactly where he was. She continued,

“I…. I saw you before,” she said with a wave of her hand at the hallway.

“I….”

“You think you know your kids…” She spoke almost in a sing-song until he lowered his face.

“Oh, honey… I have known. Since a few months ago. At least I wondered until this morning.” She eyed him up and down even as he duplicated the gaze himself.

“You have always been here for me… especially since,,,” She paused before placing ne hand on her tummy while gently touching his as well.

“But this….” She gestured back and forth between them.

“This is so much more than wanting to be here for me.” She was conflicted given how things were at home. Things that she was confident would improve before the end no matter how things might turn out. She stifled a sob, hoping Jay would take her tears as a part of their connection rather than what she feared. Better to deal with Jay’s immediate needs.

“I… we thought about names if you had…. We settled on two…. Lindsey or Jenna.” She wiped her tears with her hand.

“If I had? What Mom?”

“Well… if your outside….” She gestured up and down at his garb.

“If it was like what….who you are. Do you…”

“J…Jenna.”

“Jenna it is… just between you and me….for now?”

“What…what about Dad? And Danny?” She had no answer for that single moment except to smile and nod with as hopeful a demeanor she could muster.

“They…We will all be fine…”

“But…but Mommy,” was all Jay…It was all Jenna could manage before she fell into her mother’s arms. Laurie remembered something her own mother used in comfort for her.

“La mia bambina andrà tutto bene.... mia bambina...”


The pebbles forgive me, the trees forgive me
So why can't, you forgive me?
I don't see what anyone can see, in anyone else
But you

Later that morning…

Senior sat in a fairly comfortable chair at a well-appointed oak desk. The woman across from him sat quietly.

“You’re sure?” He asked. She leaned across the desk and touched his hand.

“Yes, Daniel.”


At the Delano home….

“Please?” Danny could barely manage that before Kieu swatted him hard on his left arm.

“No, Danny. I just don’t get you. He’s your brother.” She held her arms wide in a plea.

“Your Mom hardly has any help, and… Okay, I guess it is weird for him to walk around like a teen mom, but he cares. And he’s your brother,” she repeated. Danny shook his head more out of a growing sense of guilt mixed into a puree of confusion and disappointment.

“You’re….” Her eyes widened a bit.

“He’s running a block for you.” Knowing Lacrosse was second nature since her father was the coach at Ramapo High.

“You haven’t told him about Colgate? Danny?” Kieu looked like she was about to cry.

“So while your father is all up in Jay’s face about the clothes you’ll just say, ‘Oh gee, Dad, did I tell you that Rutgers is giving me a full ride? Sorry but your friends at NJJLL dropped the ball.’”

“It’s… complicated.” Danny shrugged as if being selfish was okay as long as it included self-preservation.

“Doing a cross over pass is complicated, Dan.” She stood up and walked into the kitchen.

“He…” Danny stammered. At that point just being shoved rudely into Kieu’s ‘doghouse’ meant more to him, but like they say in AA, ‘fake it ‘til you make it.’

“Daddy can talk to Senior if you want? They’re like best friends forever.” Kieu opened her arms in plea once again and Danny nodded.” It was sad that he feared his own father; especially since the family had been loving and calm up until the beginning of last year. Nobody knew what had changed inside Senior, but he was hardly ever calm and it was hardest on Laurie, since she was being yelled at ‘for two.’

“Uh…” Danny was tempted to say no, but he closed his eyes, seeking some inner direction and instead was treated to a vision of a girl in her teens. Cute in that ‘she’s attractive but she’s my cousin’ sense. The girl was standing next to Danny’s mother, holding a newborn; probably the soon-to-be-newest Artale sibling.

Even in the dreamlike scene, he could see his mother practically beaming. Dream-Laurie pointed to her right and mouthed ‘she’s a girl, Danny,’ and Danny nodded absentmindedly at the vision. A new Artale? So? Nice but we sort of expected a girl, right? Laurie shook her head and spoke into his mind.

“No, Danny. Not Baby Marie. Your sister.” Danny’s dream-ish gaze darted back and forth until he realized his mother was talking about the girl holding the baby. The girl turned once again and Danny ‘awoke’ from the vision with a start.

“Kieu?” Danny practically cried out.

“WHAT? What’s wrong?” She ran to him and hopped back on the sofa?”

“I…. I have a sister,” he shook his head as if he had spoken out of turn. No Darth Vader to fear, but just maybe even more of a reason to worry about Senior.

“You already told me the ultrasound maybe showed your mom was having a girl.”

“Uh…” he repeated as he stared blankly ahead.

“Not the baby….” Kieu looked at him sideways and he nodded at her growing suspicious stare.

“Jay?”

“Uh…uh huh…” He said as he returned his attention to the indistinctness of the other side of the living room. One might immediately attribute the knowledge to some psychic connection with his mother, but maybe it was just his fairly present but under-appreciated sense of observation.

“Uh….Jay? Yeah, Jay.” Kieu rubbed his arm in sympathy until it came to her that Danny wasn’t the Artale kid that needed support. She sighed and shook her head before speaking.

“ Chỉ trích…

“Yeah,” Danny replied.

“Damn….”


Elsewhere, a short while later…

“I’m sorry.” The woman shook her head.

“Daniel? Laurie is going to have the baby.”

“I suppose this is where you tell me to man up?” He snapped at her but quickly relented.

“Sorry,” he sighed.

“You’re brave, Daniel. You know that, don’t you?” He shook his head.

“It’ll be okay, Daniel. I can’t promise anything, but…” Her voice trailed off as her own doubts invaded what had promised to be an encouraging moment.

“Have you told her about what you intend to do?” He shook his head again.

“Do you want me to call her?”

“NO! No…. I have to do this myself,” he said finally.

“Sorry,” he put his head down. She stood up and kissed his cheek before walking out.

“Have her call me,” she said as she returned to the doorway.


Back at the Delano home...

You are always trying to keep it real
I'm in love with how you feel
I don't see what anyone can see, in anyone else
But you

“You’re not kidding?” Kieu shook her head.

“That…that tears it. I gotta tell Senior about Colgate.” Danny paused and sighed.

“He’ll get pissed, but at least the focus will be off Jay and Mom.”

“You can’t tell him by yourself,” Kieu said even as she was furiously texting on her cell. A moment later her phone rang.

“Daddy? You got time to…Okay…. Sec?” She turned to Danny and nodded. He nodded in return.

“Danny Artale’s here…What? Yes, I know. Mommy’s upstairs… Yes, we k now. DADDY!” She shook her head in exasperation.

“You were teasing?” She turned to Danny.

“He trusts me…. He’s still deciding about you. Daddy? Danny didn’t get into Colgate… What? No, he hasn’t tolf Senior. Do? I wass hoping? You already thought?” She looked at Danny.

“He thinks he can talk to your Dad.”

“Daddy? Love you too.” She clicked off and turned to Danny.

“Maybe we can?”

“I don’t want you stuck in the middle of this,” Danny shook his head. Kieu sidled closer and kissed his cheek.

“You’re in the middle of this, so that puts me in the middle. I’m not leaving your side.”

“Thanks,” he said softly as she kissed him again; still as platonic an expression as she could manage for a girl hopelessly in love. She put her head on his shoulder and sighed.

“Hey,” a voice came from behind. The two turned to find a familiar figure downing a can of orange San Pellegrino. Maroon Doc Martins with black jeans and a olive green tank top under a military style jacket. The face was plain but decidedly boyish and the hair was jet black and very short.

“We….” Kieu began to protest.

“Relax, Sis. You weren’t exactly whispering.”

“How much did you hear,” Danny asked as his face grew a bit pink.

“You already told me about Colgate. And I already knew about Jay.” Danny’s eyes widened in fear.

“Jay’s been on my….” The word was so de classe’ and downright insulting.

“Gay-dar.” Kieu winced at the word. She jumped off the couch and stepped very close.

“Leave Jay alone. He’s not… and besides, he’s not your type.”

“Why? Because I’m Lez?” Kieu’s eyes narrowed as she stepped even closer, practically poking her sister Lihn’s face. An irony of sorts since no one in the Delano household would ever mistake Lihn for a ‘gentle spirit.”

“Sorry,” she apologized as she put both her hands on Kieu’s shoulders.

“Jay is….” Lihn paused and shook her head slightly. A coming further out moment between sisters and Kieu noticed Lihn had begun to tear up.

“We’ve been… It’s complicated. And before you start hitting me with Lacrosse stuff, Mommy and Daddy know already. And I told them what I wondered about Jay and they’re okay.”

“Okay? They better be. Jay’s doing the preggers thing for his mom.”

“They already knew about that and Mommy is going to call to offer help.”

“Then what?” Danny interjected.

“I told them that I…. I really like Jay.”

“This is so confusing…. Chỉ trích… Linny? You’re a lesbian and Jay is a boy.” Kieu went to hug her sister; a mixture of support and a ‘good-shake-some-sense embrace. Lihn chuckled and rolled her eyes.

No, chị tôi, I’m a lesbian and Jay’s a girl!”

“Well, you did hear us, right?”

“About what?” Kieu shook her head, reluctant to share what Danny had seen in his daydream cum epiphany.

“It’s……”

“Complicated? Tell me about it. No, I didn’t hear you talk about Jay…at least not besides Danny’s worry about Colgate. But I guess it makes sense. Hell, I was surprised when I had a dream last week. Why I had to talk with Mommy and Daddy.

“What…what was your dream about?” Lihn shook her head.

"C'mon, Linny. What was your dream?” Kiue grabbed Lihn’s right hand and squeezed; not with force but in encouragement.

“Your Mom was holding a baby,” she looked at Danny. He was tempted to snap at her, ‘so?’ nut deferred to the safer, more benign ‘and?’

“Jay was next to her….” Two sets of eyes begged impatiently.

“Jay was also holding a baby,” Lihn breathed out and looked away. Danny and Kieu could not resist a loud plea and shouted.

“What?”

“The baby was…. Mine….” She paused, her face a mixture of just a little bit of apprehension and not a small measure of wonder as she concluded.

“The baby was ours...Jay's and mine!” Lihn shrugged her shoulders nervously as Kieu faced Danny, all simultaneously uttering,

"Chỉ trích!"


At the same time…

“You look sweet, Jenna.” Laurie smiled at her old/new daughter.

“Daddy’s going to… He hates me already. What will he do if…” Jenna sobbed in her mother’s arms. Laurie separated a bit.

No, honey, He doesn’t hate you. He…”

“What? What, Mom?”

“He…he’s not in Trenton. He’s coming home tonight, but probably…”

“What?”

“Let’s go get some soup at Panera’s…. mom and daughter, okay? I need to eat and we need to talk.


Meanwhile…

“We can talk tomorrow. I have an appointment in a bit.” Senior’s eyes narrowed in disappointment. He picked up a picture frame and stared at the family.

“Your boys are great looking.”

“it’s all in the genes, Daniel. Same with your kids.” Senior winced at the words. Almost completely estranged from son number one and completely confused about son number two.”

“Have you told Frankie?”

“No, Daniel. We can talk about that after next Thursday, okay?” She stepped close once again, kissing him on the top of the head.

“I love you so much,” she said before grabbing her suit jacket from the back of the chair. She grabbed his wrist and lifted him to his feet, pulling him in for a hug.

“It’s going to be alright. I just feel it.”

“I love you, too," he said as his kissed her cheek.

“Always,” she replied.

“Always.”

You are always trying to keep it real
I'm in love with how you feel
I don't see what anyone can see, in anyone else
But you


Panera’s…

“You sort of remind me of me when I was your age,” Laurie said. Jay looked around and cringed a bit, that feeling that so many kids have when endearments and such get dangerously close to the truth they have denied.

“Really, babe. It’s funny how we never noticed, but I guess we all ahd other things that distracted us.” She sighed.

“He’s…. I don’t care what you say, Mom. He hurt you.”

“Yes he did, Jay.” Her matter-of-fact demeanor was unsettling. Like all the energy her emerging daughter had expended to protect her was wasted in denial. She picked up his disappointment and put her hand on his arm and spoke,

“No excuses, Jay. I’m not excusing your father but there still is something you need to know.” She bit her lip as she searched for the next few words…


At the Delano’s…

France Ki Delano stood in the archway to the living room and laughed softly. Kieu stared at her mother and Lihn just echoed Frances with a laugh a bit louder.

“I’ve been talking to your Mom, Danny. We already knew about Jay’s thing with the pregnancy sympathy since you two are all that clever when it comes to keeping quiet. Your Mom needs every bit of help she can get now that the baby is almost here”

“Senior is….” Danny blew out an angry breath.

“I know your father has been…. It goes beyond everything I know about family dysfunction, Danny, but yor Mom shared some things with me…to get some counsel? She’s asked me and Rich if she can talk with you and Jay here tonight. We agreed.’

“I guess we should make ourselves scarce?” Lihn said. France shook her head.

“No, cô gái đáng yêu Laurie wants us all here. Your father should be home in about an hour. We’ll do the coffee and empathy thing after dinner.” It almost seemed cavalier until she walked over to Danny.

“We all are family, Danny. This is a very hard time for your Mom. And now also…. Your sister.” She turned to Lihn and nodded.

“Mommy sorta saw it way before I did. So when I started bawling about how fucked up my feelings were she and Daddy and I had a talk. Jay’s not a boy, you know? So…”

“Lihn has taken too much already for the person she is, and it’s really been confusing when Jay’s been around. It’s probably never been just about your Mom’s pregnancy.” France tilted her head slightly as Danny mulled over her words.

“We’re….” Kieu hesitated.

“Dreams? I don’t dream, but…” Lihn was so sparing with authentic emotion that Kieu could barely remember the last time she saw her sister cry. She walked up to Lihn and hugged her awkwardly.

“I’m so messed up.” Lihn said. France clapped her hands loudly.

“No, con gái ngọt ngào, you’re just human. You like who you like, Linny. And I cannot think of a nicer person to like than Jay Artale. This is why you and Kieu need to be here when we talk, okay? We’re gia đình... family!”

“You should probably wipe the smudge off your face, Sis,” Kieu said as she released Lihn from the hug.

“You could get kicked out of the tough girl’s club if anyone sees…” She teased.

“Danny? Your Mom called to say she and Jay are out at Panera’s. Why don’t you stay for dinner?” France smiled but added.

“And you can hang out with Kieu and Lihn until dinner.” She laughed as Kieu pursed her lips in a near pout.

“Chaperoning is what I do,” Lihn patted her chest, evoking a swat on the arm from Kieu. She imagined her sister and boyfriend kissing, but the image morphed into a hazy picture of her kissing Jay, and she burst into tears all over again….


You are always trying to keep it real
I'm in love with how you feel
I don't see what anyone can see, in anyone else
But you

Elsewhere…

The woman sat in a chair facing Senior. He looked to her as she leaned closer.

“I talked to Franky.”

“How’d he take it?” Senior shook his head.

“What do expect? He was shocked and angry….. sad enough that he bawled in my arms.” Joann said as she rubbed Senor’s arm.

"I’m so sorry,” Senior said in a near whisper. He had a great deal to be sorry for, especially in this stage of his life, but Joann shook her head.

“What did you expect, Daniel? You’ve known him since Middle School. We….” She began to cry. Helpless didn’t even begin to describe how she felt. She had always been a strong woman, but this was too much.

“I…..” Daniel went to apologize again. Apologies were in order almost across the board, but this wasn’t time for regrets or atonement. She looked up and forced a very weak smile; the kind that says no matter how sad or painful, I have hope. He went to speak but she held her hand up to stop him.

“We will get through this, Daniel. I promise.” It was a promise she had absolutely no business making and in which she had little confidence. But it was a promise she had to make. Nevertheless, she lowered her head once again and sobbed into her hands, leaving Daniel Artale Senior feeling entirely useless and guilty…


The Delano home….

“Your Mom and Jay are on the way over.” Rich Delano said as he and the girls finished clearing the dinner table. Danny and France were sitting in the living room. He looked around and noticed a few folding chairs had been added. France noticed his expression and nodded.

“We’re going to be a bit…crowded.” She went to continue, but the doorbell rang. She walked to the front door and welcomed Laurie and Jay with hugs.

“Ah, the butterfly emerges.” France said, noticing Jay’s appearance. Gone was the ever-present sympathy belly. She was wearing a pair of distressed jeans tucked into black flat-heeled boots. She wore a soft hooded pullover brown knit sweater and her red hair peeked out from under the hood. Freckles seemed to decorate her face, along with heretofore unnoticed and unadorned full red lips.

“OMG!” Kieu said as she walked up and pulled Jay into a sisterly hug. And Lihn stared at her erstwhile boy/girl friend and muttered.

“Oh, fuck.” She went to walk to Jay but stood almost paralyzed before running down the hall to her bedroom, crying. A few moments later Rich stood in Lihn’s doorway, holding out his arms. She walked slowly to him and dissolved in his arms, sobbing.

“Shhhh. It’s okay, Leelee….. Shhhh.”


Meanwhile…

Daniel sat in the passenger front seat of Joann’s Sportage. She held his hand.

“Are you ready?” She smiled. Of course he was ready, but it wasn’t just about him….


Moments later…

Rich brought Lihn back and they both walked up to Jay, who looked about as confused and scared as any person Rich had ever seen, much less a newly ‘minted’ transgender girlfriend to Lihn. She shied away, but turned and her retreat was blocked by France, who urged back to Lihn.

“I…. I had a dream….” The two girls stammered almost in sync, like the reverb from a misplaced mic.

“You?” The word was silently mouthed by them bot. They would have continued the conversation except the doorbell range in distraction. Kieu hurried to the door and opened it, revealing Daniel Artale Senior who stood next to a petite woman. She urged Senior forward and smiled at everyone as they entered.

“What’s she doing here?” Danny asked as he glared at his father. Senior went to speak, but Danny wouldn’t have it.

“Excuses, Dad? Fuck that!” He looked at his mother. Laurie shook her head, and tears spilled off her chin, but she held her hand up and spoke, almost in a whisper.

“Honey? Listen to what she has to say…it’s not what you think.” He shook his head furiously, but Laurie pushed him closer to Joann… Dr. Joann Artale Solomon. Senior’s sister. Danny began to protest, but the kind look in his aunt’s eyes both disarmed his anger and evoked a gasp, as he realized why she had accompanied Senior there. Rich spoke.

“France and the girls and I will be in the kitchen getting dinner ready. Okay?” He left without further word.

“Hi, Jo,” Laurie said with a wave. Her crying had abated, but she shook a bit as Joann approached her.

“It’s going to be okay, Laur….” She wanted to promise, but it really was out of her hands. She urged Senior over and they both sat down on the large couch. Laurie motioned for Danny and Jay to sit in the opposite love seat while she stood, her arms enfolded about her in a self-hug.

“Kids?” She hadn’t meant to make it impersonal, but she couldn’t very well call them both boys. She did follow up, though.

“Your mom told me your new name, Jay. Jenna is a nice name.”

“Why are you with Dad?” Danny feared the answer but pressed it.

“What’s wrong?”

“Your fath…” Joann halted and looked at her brother.

“Daniel has a…. a tumor.” She put her hands up, palms down, anticipating a barrage of questions.

“It can be removed.” She sighed, and as much as she hoped to avoid it, Danny’s angry expression pulled her into a quick if nebulous explanation.

“He’s been acting aggressively because of the tumor. It wasn’t his…” She went to continue, but Senior raised his hand as if to ask for permission.

“I… I’m doing better with medication, but I should have seen Joann’s colleague before it…before I got worse. You didn’t deserve that and I am….so…sorry.” He lowered his head and began to weep. Danny shook his head, agreeing with his father’s assessment. Laurie understood that he had a right to his feelings. Senior was abusive and that certainly left everyone emotionally scarred, even if the behavior was unintentional. Time enough for her to do what she could to urge the family back with the help of others. But another voice needed to be heard. An old-new voice so to speak.

“Nnnew….beginnings, Dad?” Senior felt a soft touch on his left cheek as Jay….Jenna Artale spoke with her father for the first time.

“I’m still angry, Dad.” Every recent moment of angry yelling and even that last slap on the face still hurt, but she had decided almost immediately that everything about herneeded to change.

“But I still…I never stopped loving you, Dad.” She resisted to idea of calling him Daddy, having called him Senior or Dad since she was nine.

“We…. We can get…. I can be me and you can get back to being you, okay?” Senior had no answer for the unexpected kindness from the unexpected daughter and continued to weep, albeit softly. Danny gazed almost intensely at Jenn and he nodded his head.

“I….I guess we can all grow?” Laurie spoke and Danny nodded slowly. It was uncomfortably necessary but he got up. He knelt down and faced his father, but not before throwing Joann a questioning glance. She smiled weakly. It was a hopeful as anyone might expect. Danny grabbed his father’s right hand and shook it.

“You’re…” the rest of his words caught in his throat, but the smile on his face left his father at least feeling that they would be okay, no matter how things might go….


A while later….

Take-out boxes of food from both Santoni’s and Mekong Grill littered the large dining room table. The ‘big’ folks were in the kitchen drinking coffee as Rich and France spoke of what the Delano family might do to help.

“Danny’s got everything he needs to succeed at Rutgers.” Senior frowned but relented with a smile.

“Colgate…. Well, being in-state…. Just in case…”

“No, Daniel,” Joann and Laurie said in unison. Joann deferred to her sister-in-law as Laurie continued.

“You’re not going anywhere. Okay. I forbid it. We’ve come through to much and….” She glance down at the soon-to-arrive daughter she carried.

“My children need their father.” Daniel shook his head. At that point he did not feel much like a father, after the past too-many months.

“I cannot believe that god would bring this all back together just to pull some cosmic rug out from under us. OUR children need their father and I need… I love my husband.”

“She’s right, Daniel,” Joann said.

“And I never stopped needing my big brother, okay?”

“This calls for more coffee and dessert,” France said. A few minutes later a fresh pot of coffee and Chè Sương Sa Hạt Lựu sat invitingly on the table. The parfait-like dessert was colorful and inviting. Joann smiled and pointed to the dishes and said.

“Just like a rainbow…. Hope, right?” Everyone nodded in agreement.


Meanwhile….

Danny and Kieu sat on the love sat. Rather, Danny sat while Kieu rested her head on his lap.

“I’m not sorry you didn’t get into Colgate,” she said. He looked at her askance unti she raised up on her elows and kissed him.

“Hard to do that if I’m here and you’re in upstate New York.” She giggled and he nodded even as his face grew to a very attractive shade of red.

And….

“So which one of us is the girl now, Jay?” Lihn shook her head.

“Both of us.” Jenna smiled.

“You won’t be mad at me if I….” she looked down at her stomach. Sometime after dinner, she retrieved the empathy belly from Laurie’s car and had put it on under her now-buttoned loose cardigan.

“So long as it’s yours,” Lihn teased.

“Ours? Mom says I can save something for later? I just feel closer to her and the baby right now.” Jenna smiled weakly.

“Before you start to worry? We had dreams, Leelee….DREAMS. You’re older and I’m not out of high school and I don’t even know if you….”

“What?” Lihn asked.

“I….. I….”

“Yeah, I get that. Me, too.” Lihn stood up and walked over to the fireplace mantel and stared at herself in the large mirror above.

“I’m not like…. You could do better…” she shook her head. Even if anything was in the future, she struggled to see a future that included a goth-like Italian-Vietnamese lesbian. Jenn stood up quickly and rushed to her side. She stood next to Lihn, her almost waif-like appearance in considerable contrast to Lihn’s until she spoke.

“Anyone else but you, Leelee,” she said with a broad smile.

“What?”

“Like in Juno? The song? I kiss you on the brain in the shadow of a train
I kiss you all starry eyed, my body's swinging from side to side
I don't see what anyone can see, in anyone else
But you…”

With that, Jenna Artale did what Jay Artale had been too nervous to do for so long, and kissed Lihn Elena Delano.

And somewhere else at a place not too far away and very soon, Both Artale boys welcomed the newest member of the family. Daniel’s Senior andJunior smiled at all three Artale girls. Daniel wore a newly purchased Rutgers Lacrosse jersey while Senior sported a new if necessary buzz haircut and a nice mark on his head displaying soon-to-be-removed stitches.

Jenna sat on the couch next to Laurie, holding Hope Marie Artale, who wore the best thing of all…. A smile....

Would there be struggles? Of course. Even families knitting themselves back together must learn how things unraveled. Counseling and faith and determination would all play the biggest parts, but they’d all pretty much get pulled together by the one thing that never unraveled for the Artale family. Their love.

You are always trying to keep it real
I'm in love with how you feel
I don't see what anyone can see, in anyone else
But you


Chỉ trích - Vietnamese for 'damn'

chị tôi - Vietnamese for 'my sister'

Anyone else But You
Words and music by
Adam Green and Kimya Dawson
as performed by
Kyla Ren
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XCj1rpUODS4



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