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Keblinger

Keblinger
Tears Like Rain

Warnings and Disclaimer: Warning: this story includes difficult / sensitive subject matter that may include one or more of the subjects listed in Rule #7 on the Season of Our Discontent profile page. Please refer to the profile page before reading if you are concerned about content. Twilight belongs to S. Meyer. She writes a fairy tale, I write real life.

A/N: Thanks, love, hugs, and everything as always to LJ Summers. It's been over a year now, bb, and I can't ever thank you enough for all your love, encouragement, ass kicking, red-highlighter-of-dooming you do for me! Mwah, mwah, mwah!

You love it when it hurts? You love it when I make you cry and make your heart feel heavy? Hurt you. Stab you. Make you weep, eh? Be careful what you wish for....





For Michael

— • — • — • —

Drip, drip, drip
goes the rain
Streaking down
the window pane.

Are these
heaven's tears?
Because he's
no longer here?

I think not.

I think these
are tears of laughter,
of joy and love,
and happily ever after.
                      By mostly a lurker

— • — • — • —

I was born with a club foot. These days, that's usually not such a big deal, but my first surgeons were crap and there were complications. Well, whatever. The end result was a  slightly shorter leg and a pronounced limp. There would never be Louboutins for me.

My parents insisted on more surgeries as the years passed, hoping for a better outcome, a more "normal" childhood for me. They just couldn't see there was no "normal" for me.

When I was about eleven or twelve, I could never quite remember, I was in the pediatric ortho ward once again. This time, they had my leg all strung up in traction, hoping that would encourage it to lengthen. I snort every time I think about it. Yeah, right. What a bunch of quacks!

I lay there one day, alone as usual, staring out the window as my mind wandered with no particular place to go. Slowly, I became aware of a huge commotion heading down the hallway.

Oh, please. Anywhere but here.

The shouts, the laughter, the smile, and yes, even tears, suddenly poured into my room to my intense displeasure. I didn't even move my eyes from the window to see what all the fuss was about.

When my curiosity finally won out, I turned my head to see an entire crowd of people surrounding a small, still form in the bed. Everyone seemed to be talking at once, and no one was listening to anyone else. There were get well balloons and flowers and plants. A girl, maybe a year or two older than I, was arranging a pile of cards on top of the cabinet across the room. No one seemed to notice me. It was as if I weren't there at all, they ignored me so completely.

The small figure in the bed stirred slightly, and the crowd shifted so I could just catch a glimpse of white blond curls encased in a spinal halo brace.

"Ma?" His voice was only the softest whisper, and I would have thought it would be lost in the cacophony, but it silenced the room immediately.

"Yes, Jay, I'm right here, baby. Can you feel me holding your hand?"

"Ma?"

"Yes, sweetheart?"

"Can I have. . . drink?" He smacked his dry lips. "Thirsty."

"Sure, honey." She reached for a cup with a bendy straw in it on the side table and held it to his lips. "Here, have a sip."

He drew on the straw and there was a slight pause. "Gah! What did you give me?"

"Water, Jay."

"Water?! No wonder. . . I deserve a beer about now, dontcha think?"

A split second of silence followed before almost everyone burst into raucous laughter.

"Jasper Walker Whitlock!"

"Gotcha!" I could see his blanket shaking slightly as he chuckled carefully.

Just then, a nurse bustled into the room. "All right everybody. Out! Out with ya. That's enough excitement for one day. The boy's just had surgery and needs his rest." She followed up her words with action and shooed everyone out before closing the door in their faces.

Turning around, she planted her fists on her ample hips and gave us the stink eye. "I don't want to hear another peep outta this room. You hear me? Trust me, you don’t want me to come back in here before my next rounds. One is the same as both." She quickly checked our vitals, tubing, IVs, and various wires and equipment before heading to the door. She turned back to give us both one more glare before flipping the switch and sweeping out the door.

— • — • — • —

Over the next several days, we became fast and furious friends. We were both completely confined to our beds. He couldn't turn his head, of course, so he had no idea what I looked like. I could usually only see the end of his nose or part of his lips, but that was about it.

He answered every question I had, but asked few in return. He was just like that. The details didn't count. He was only interested in the big picture, the broad strokes.

"What happened to you? Did you have an accident?"

"Naw. I was born this way. My spine wants to be crooked. My mom wants it straight, so she had rods put in."

"What do you want?"

"I don't care, really, as long as I can swim and bike and race."

"You race?"

"Well, sure I do. Why wouldn't I?"

"Well, isn't it awkward or hard or even painful?"

"Sure! But I don't care about any of that. I'm not any different from anyone else. I can compete and win just the same as any other kid."

"But you're so small. . . ." The words were out of my mouth before I knew what I said.

"Hey, who you calling a small fry, Shrimpy?"

"How do you know what size I am? You can't even see me."

"You're right. You're so small, I can't even see you. Shrimpy."

He laughed. I wanted to throw something at him.

— • — • — • —

"C'mon you slowpoke!"

"Hey, who you callin' a poke?"

"Me, that's who."

"Shrimp."

"Small fry."

"Tiny."

"Midget."

"Ooooh, Pinky!"

"Pinky?" He laughed. "Where'dya come up with that one?"

"I don't know." I pouted. "I couldn't think of anything. That just popped out."

"You got a weird brain, sister. Make sure you donate it to science when you're done with it, okay?"

"Yeah, right. I'll donate mine if you donate yours!"

"Pffft. They'd no sooner crack open my head and find it filled with saw dust. You're definitely the brains of this outfit."

"I swear, JJ, you could sell ice to Eskimos."

"Why, thank you. That's my life's ambition, I'll have you know." He winked at me and I couldn't help but laugh at his patented cheeky grin, the one he flashed to get anything he wanted from me or anyone else.

We were both finally out of the hospital and rehab, ready to rejoin the rest of the world again. He was so tiny still, smaller than I. To his utter mortification, he had to buy girl's jeans and then have them hemmed. His mom took pity on his plight and took him shopping two towns over so no one would know. I only knew because he asked me to go with them for back-to-school shopping before the start of the school year. As we were looking through the racks, a saleslady approached him from behind.

"Can I help you, dear? These pink ones are all the rage!"

I tried and failed to smother my snickers. He dropped his head for a moment, but I could see his scarlet blush.

"If pink's not your color? How about yellow or purple?"

He turned slowly around and faced her before softly replying, "No ma'am, I'm just looking for some plain blue ones." When she finally realized he was a boy and not a girl, the look on her face was priceless, and I couldn't help my guffaws. He shot me a dirty look over his shoulder.

"Sorry, sorry!" I held up my hands in surrender. "It's the hair, you know — those beautiful long blond curls of yours you refuse to cut." He was still giving me the stink eye. "Aw, c'mon, admit it! You do look a bit like a girl from behind. Deal with it."

He blew me sarcastic kisses before following the apologetic saleslady to another part of the store and flashing her his best grin.

That beaming face created a pattern in our lives. All the way through middle school and into the start of our freshman year, his cheeky grin got our lockers next to each other, some of our classes together, even homeroom and study hall. The nurse had it right all those years ago when she'd said one is the same as both.

He was my best friend. He was my only friend. The only friend I'd ever had. All the time in and out of the hospital and spent home recovering set me apart from other little girls. I'd made a friend once, in the summer before first grade. We played dolls and stuff together every day until one morning she didn't come over. I waited and waited for her until after lunch. Thinking she was at her house waiting for me or maybe that she was sick, I shuffled down the street to her house and knocked on the door.

"Can Karen come out and play?" I asked her mother when she opened the door.

"Karen? Alice is here. I think you'd better talk to her."

Karen came to the door then, followed closely by a plump girl I'd never seen before.

"What do you want?"

"I thought we were gonna play at my house today. But when you didn't come, I thought maybe I was wrong, so I came here." My voice faltered and died out on the last few words as the other girl pushed forward and glared at me.

"Alice, this is Lori. We met yesterday. She told me I could play with you or I could play with her. I chose her. You and I can't play together anymore. Bye." Karen closed the door in my face without another word.

My face flamed in embarrassment and humiliation as I stood there utterly speechless. There was nothing to do but shuffle home again. Mom wiped my tears and told me not to worry, that'd I'd make lots of friends once school started. When I asked her if she'd ask Karen's mom why Karen wouldn't play with me anymore, mom told me it was between us girls to work out.

We never did. Karen and Lori went on to poison everyone else in my class against me. No one would talk to me or sit with me in class. When I went into the cafeteria at lunch time, there wasn't a seat at any table for me. I sat in the corner alone. At recess, I learned to be very careful because away from the teacher's eyes, the other kids would laugh and taunt me, take my cane away, or humiliate me in some way until I cried.

But, with JJ at my side, things were different. He was loud and brash and bold, and I was content to bask in the glow of his light. If anyone gave me a hard time, he had my back, and I felt safe at school for the first time. Grateful, I had to pay him back somehow, so I tutored and helped him with his homework even though I knew he’d never ask for or even want anything in return. He was cute and funny and all, but he wasn't the brightest bulb in the box.

"Hello, earth to Shrimpy?"

"Huh, what?"

"You haven't heard a word I've said have you?"

"Yes, I did."

"No, you didn't."

"Did, too."

"All right, prove it."

I wracked my brains trying to remember anything he'd just said, but I'd been lost in my own memories. I drew a blank.

"Uh-huh, see? Liar."

"I am not a liar! You said. . . you were talking about. . . Bella." I made a wild guess. It wasn't that far off-base. He talked about her all the time.

"That was a guess, now wasn't it."

"No it wasn't."

"Tell the truth now."

"I am."

"No, you're not. Last chance!"

"You were talking about Bella. I know it. I heard you." I said this with great conviction.

"No I wasn't, silly. I didn't say anything. Liar." He pinched my arm before I could knock his hand away.

"Ow, stop that!" I whined and pouted before scooting out of his easy reach.

Just then, I felt a faint breeze on my back, one that had a fruity, floral scent about it. I saw Jasper look up out of the corner of my eye and followed his gaze to the chestnut-haired beauty that was walking by.

"Hey, Bella," Jasper managed to squeak out before she passed.

She turned her head, long shiny hair swinging around her head like a shampoo commercial.

"Oh, hey." She gave a sort of half-smile to him before turning away again. She hadn't even broken her stride, but JJ was radiant.

"She spoke to me! She smiled at me."

"Oh, gimme a break. She doesn't even know who you are. She's outta your league."

"Fine. You go ahead and think that all you want. You watch me. She'll be mine someday. She won't be able to resist the Whitlock charm."

"Yeah, right. 'Cause you're Super J."

"Yes ma'am, I am!"

— • — • — • —

I should have known not the bet against him. He showed me and everyone else in the place that he was not going to be denied something he wanted as badly as he wanted Bella Swan. He chatted her up, he charmed her, he wooed her until she finally said yes. And then he made her laugh and giggle and smile at him like no one before.

It made me want to puke. He was my friend, dammit, not some popular cheerleader girl's. She could never appreciate him like I did. She could never know him, know what he'd been through. How could she? She had a perfect body. Not like his. Not like mine.

But she didn't see any of that. I could tell. Even when he confided in me his fears about letting her see the twisted body he hid so well under his clothes, I could honestly reassure him she wouldn't care. And she didn't.

I got to hear all about their first dates, their first kisses, and even the first time they had sex. Those were supposed to be my firsts with him. But he was oblivious to that along with everybody else. I hid my true feelings very, very well. Apparently too well.

"Come sit with us today, Alice. I miss you at lunchtime."

"I don't know. . . ."

"Yes you do. I know you miss me, too. I'm sorry I've been so busy lately. C'mon. It'll be fun." He gave me the grin and I caved.

"All right, you win. I'll sit with you, but you know I won't fit in."

"Bullshit. That's nonsense. It's all in your head. C'mon." He grabbed my tray and led me to the far side of the cafeteria, to what had become his regular table.

"Babe, you remember Alice, don't you? Bella, this is Alice. Alice, Bella." I began to give her a shy smile when a loud male voice interrupted us.

"What's this, Jazz? What bottom of what barrel did you scrape her from?" Scattered giggles erupted around the table.

"Em, c'mon now. You know this is my friend, Alice."

"I'm sure she's nice and all, Jazz, but . . . ." A different voice, female this time, bored and snooty. My face burned at her words.

"Guys, guys, I've told you about Alice a hundred times! We've been friends for years."

Bella finally chimed in then. "Jasper, sweetie, I know Alice has been there for you. But you have all of us now. You have me. If you want to sit with her today, that's fine. But not at our table."

There was a long, awkward pause where no one said anything. I wanted to kill him, run and hide, and have the ground swallow me up where I stood all at the same time. I'd never felt my cheeks so hot before. I waited and waited for him to say something. To come to my defense. He'd always had my back in situations before and had never let anyone speak to me that way. I couldn't see his face, but I had seen his shoulders stiffen up.

"C'mon, JJ. Let's just go. It's no big deal. Let it go. We'll have some grub. It'll be like old times. The way it used to be." The way it's supposed to be.

He turned slowly to face me and straightened his shoulders before speaking. "I'm sorry, Alice. Let’s get you settled with Angela or whoever. Raincheck?" He tried to smile his smile, but it was a pale version, and his eyes were sad.

I felt all the color drain from my face. I just gaped at him in utter disbelief. This must be a bad dream. I can't believe what's happening. In front of all these people.

My stupor broke when he turned toward another part of the cafeteria with my tray.

"No, that's okay. I'm not very hungry. I'll. . . I'll see you lat- um, around." Still in shock, I turned and stumbled away.

This can't be happening. I'm dreaming. He'll come find me later and apologize. Tell me it was all a big joke. A misunderstanding. I. . . He. . . Just wouldn't do that. Not to me. . . .

But he did. He didn't come to find me later. He didn't call. There was no note in my locker or on my car. No letter in my mailbox. Just. . . nothing.

I was left alone to watch my best friend from afar.

— • — • — • —

I wanted to be jealous. I was certainly hurt, but deep down I wasn’t surprised. Everyone always chose someone else over me. And how could I hate him for choosing her when she was everything I wasn’t? Beautiful, popular, smart, perfect. I’d hoped at least to keep my tutoring spot in his life, but she took on that role as she’d taken on everything else I’d ever done for him, and more.

Carefully, I watched and waited for things to fall apart. For a chink in her perfection, for a crack that would allow me back into his life. But after that first year passed, I had to admit defeat. They really were perfect together. She doted on him and he lavished attention on her. I’d never seen him so happy – he had everything he’d ever wanted.

He’d even managed to weld me back into his life, albeit on the edges. Now that he was secure is his relationship with Bella, there was more room for others, including me. Not that I was welcomed in with open arms and we all became besties or something. No way.

But on the odd afternoon after school or weekday evening when he was free, we’d hang together like old times. Or how we pretended old times used to be. He never apologized about that day in the lunchroom, and I was too grateful – and too chickenshit – to bring it up.

Slowly but surely all his other friends – including Bella – began to if not accept my presence on the periphery of their group, then at least allow it without comment. To my face, anyway. I was not usually acknowledged, but at least I wasn’t ridiculed or humiliated, either.

For months, the plan was to go to the beach the first warm sunny Saturday of the year. All through April and May, it would be decent to beautiful during the week, but dark and stormy on the weekends. The school year ended before the fates allowed everything to come together in our favor.

I was secretly glad about this. I hated going to the beach. My pale, poorly-muscled, no-curve body on display, trying to wade through loose sand in shoes and socks with a cane was just not my idea of fun. I didn’t want anyone to see my ugly foot. My many scars.

The phone call came just after dawn one June morning.

“Shrimpy! Wake up!!! The sun is up, and there isn’t a cloud in the sky! Today’s the day!”

“Oh man! Dude! You’re really gonna make me go? You know how much I hate the beach. C’mon. I don’t even have a swimsuit. Lemme off the hook.”

“No can do, sister mine. We’re going and you’re going too. Who needs a suit? Be there in fifteen, and you’d better be ready or I’ll drag your ass down the stairs naked. I’ll do it and you know it.”

“Yeah, you would, too. Asshole.”

“And proud of it!”

I sighed. He was completely irresistible when he was like this and he knew it. “Yeah, yeah. I’ll be on the porch.”

“High phone five!”

I threw on my only pair of shorts and a t-shirt before grabbing my book, an umbrella, and my shoes.

“Where are you going so early on a Saturday, Alice?” Mom magically materialized from the kitchen before I could make my escape.

“Oh, um, JJ and I are going to the beach.”

“Just the two of you?”

“No, the whole gang will be there.”

“Well, at least take some sunblock. And several bottles of water. Wait, let me make some sandwiches for everyone. . . I think there’s a bottle of fruit punch in the pantry. . . .”

“Mom, stop. No. I’m not taking all that crap. I’ve got my umbrella for shade. Others are bringing drinks and eats. I’ll be fine.”

“You don’t even have a swimsuit! I know, take mine!” She turned toward her bedroom.

That teensy hot pink floral horror?! No. Fucking. Way.

“No, Mom, um, thanks, but I won’t be going near the water. I’m just going to sit on the sand and read. I’ll be fine.”

“Well. . . if you’re sure. . . .”

A car horn sounded out front.

“That’s JJ. I’ve gotta go, Mom.” I threw open the door and moved as quickly as possible out of the house and down the steps to his car before she could say anything else.

Of course he has the top down. You’d think the guy lived in Vegas.

“Sister mine! Hop in the back ‘cause we gotta go. Still have to fill the cooler and gas the boat.”

“The boat?!”

“Yup. My folks let us have the boat today.”

“Really? What about the beach?”

“No, but what they don’t know won’t hurt ‘em. Why sit on the shore when you can fly on the water? They’re away for the weekend, and the keys just fell off the rack and into my hand. I don’t know how that happened.”

“Yeah, you’re just so innocent. Like yellow snow.”

“You know it.” He turned his head and winked at me in the backseat before putting the car in gear and pulling away from the curb. It was then that I realized he didn’t have a shirt on.

“Dude! Where’s your shirt? I don’t wanna see that shit, and I don’t think anyone else does, either.”

“It’s right here in my lap in case the girls all faint from my hotness. Isn’t that right, baby?” He reached over and gave Bella’s thigh a squeeze. She just giggled and lightly smacked his hand away, which only made him grip her leg higher. I quickly looked away and fixed my gaze out the side window.

We took care of both errands at the dock, where the other kids met us. JJ’s folks had a nice little power boat, but there were an awful lot of us, more than I thought the boat could carry. I wondered about life vests and just as I was about to speak, JJ handed me a cold beer and stepped to the wheel.

“Mikey! Cast off the last rope and push us off, will ya?” The engine roared to life and we were off.

I cowered in the corner, but didn’t say anything. It was too late and I was outvoted anyway.

— • — • — • —

The day turned out to be fun, or at least more fun than I expected. A couple of kids joined us on jet skis, Tyler came later with his dad’s fishing dingy, so the overcrowding on the boat thinned a bit. This allowed JJ to bring out the water ski gear, and I was given the red flag job.

Watching these “cool” kids make complete asses of themselves in the water trying to ski was the best entertainment I’d had in years. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d laughed so hard for so long. I had a terrible stomach ache from it but couldn’t have cared less. The more they drank, the sillier they got, too. And for once, I wasn’t the only who didn’t take a turn on the skis.

The sun was past its peak in the sky, and the air was just beginning to get a little chilly. JJ was giving everyone an opportunity for one more pass on the skis before calling it a day. We were all sunburned, windburned, and worn out. The beer had run out long ago, and most everyone was sobering up.

“Bella, will you drive for me, baby?”

“Jazzy, are you sure? That last round, you really wiped out.”

“Yeah, I’m fine. It looked worse than it was. I can’t leave it like that and you know it. C’mon.”

“I don’t know. . . .”

“Alice will do it for me if you don’t want to. Right, Shrimpy?”

Before I could stammer an answer, Bella huffed out a “fine” and stepped behind the wheel. “Life jacket or not at all.”

He took the one she handed him and snapped it on before he dropped into the water. She circled around to pick him up. Of course, he was the show-off on the slalom ski. No one else could get up on two, much less one. I watched carefully and he was up and off in spectacular fashion, wake hopping and goofing off. Just as he lifted off the wake once again, the pull rope rope snapped and he was suddenly airborne and out of control.

I dropped the flag, stood, and shouted, “JJ!” before I knew I did anything at all. Bella quickly killed the throttle and started circling back. I never took my eyes off him, so I was the only one that saw him hit the water hard at an awkward angle.

“Where is he? I can’t see him!” Bella cried.

“There, he’s there. Look for the fluorescent green. See it?”

“Yes, yes, I do.”

The other kids began screaming now as it was clear he was floating face down in the water. When we were close enough, a couple of the biggest boys slipped over the edge and swam to him. We all kept expecting him to pop up and laugh at us, pulling yet another classic JJ prank. But he didn’t.

When the guys got close enough, I saw how gentle they were with his tiny body. They carefully rotated him over so he was floating on his back, one holding up his legs, pain contorting JJ’s face.

It seemed like it took forever to get him back on the boat. They used skis and anything else we could find to fashion a body board. Bella was a mess, and I had to take over driving for her. She kept begging me to drive faster, but I wasn’t taking any chances with jostling him any more than necessary. One of the kids on a jet ski had zoomed ahead so  the EMTs met us on the dock when we pulled in.

Bella rode in the ambulance with him, and Emmett drove JJ’s car and me to the hospital. As always, the short stick landed in my lap and I was the one to call JJ’s parents and tell them what had happened. ‘Cause that was just SO fun. We agreed to wait to call them until the doctors came to tell us what was going on, so there was at least some news for them.

It wasn’t long before Dr. Gerandy came through the double doors. “Where are his parents?”

“They’re out of town, sir.” Bella was the brave one to whisper this out.

“I see.”

“Is he. . . I mean. . . we were gonna call. . . waiting for you. . . news. . . .” I stammered into the silence.

He sighed and rubbed his face with his hand. “Well, he’s alive, if that’s what you’re worried about. No head injury. But he broke the rod in his back. We have to remove it. Get his parents on the phone. I need to speak to them.”

I hit the speed dial on his cell and handed it over with shaking fingers.

— • — • — • —

It was like deja vu, seeing him in a hospital bed, once again crowned with a halo brace. I wanted to smack him and kiss him all at the same time.

This will be it for the two of them. Bella will leave him for sure, she won’t be able to handle it. I prepared myself to step in, just in case. I knew he would need me instead of her this time. I knew all about hospitals and surgeries and rehab.

I was wrong. So very, very wrong. She sat vigil by his bedside without fail. Every time I went there, she was already ahead of me. We spelled each other and all the grudges and judgments between us fell away. She finally won me over with her steadfast determination to be there for him, to care for him. I had to admit she was better at it than I was, and that he let her in, let her care for him as he’d never let me or anyone else for that matter.

More than once, I caught him being openly vulnerable with her. No jokes, no laughter to cover over his pain. Seeing him cry in her arms in apology and shame was too intimate and more than I could bear.

I let him go freely at that point. After all, wasn’t that what love was about? Wanting for them what they want for themselves or better? His happiness was my happiness. I wanted him to have everything and anything he wanted. It was clear that he wanted Bella; he loved her and she him. They fit together as he and I never did. Yet, he and I fit in ways they couldn’t, too.

It made it both harder and easier when I left for school at the end of that summer. Bella opted to wait and remained by his side as he recovered and rehabbed for many long months. It came as no surprise to anyone when he proposed that Christmas and they wed the following summer, wanting to be sure everyone was home for the big event.

When the day finally came, I stood at his side – his best maid, he’d said. Bella very sweetly sought me out during the reception to thank me and ask me for my forgiveness for her behavior toward me in high school. With that, all the fences were finally as mended as they were going to be.

They started U-Dub in the fall, while I transferred out of state. It was time for us all to move on in our lives. They came to my graduation and I went to theirs. Bella found a job teaching kindergarten and JJ landed a position in a marketing and advertising company. I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I took a secretarial position in a non-profit agency while I mulled my options and thought about returning to school.

One rainy day, Bella called me to see if I was free for lunch. We hadn’t sat down for a girl’s chat in ages so I readily agreed. After we’d placed our orders, we settled in for conversation.

“What brings you into this part of town today?”

“Oh, um. . .” She hesitated, biting her lip before continuing. “I had a doctor’s appointment.”

“Nothing serious, I hope.”

“Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know.”

“Wait. You don’t know?! What’s going on? What kind of doctor? Spill.”

“An infertility specialist.”

Really?

“Yes. He didn’t tell you?”

“No. How long have you, you know. Been trying?”

She sighed and looked down at her plate. “Why am I not surprised?” She muttered under her breath before looking back at me. “Since our wedding night.”

What?! Seriously?

“Well, sort of. We stopped using birth control then. It’s only the last couple of years that we really made a conscious effort.”

“But, but, it’s been years.”

“Don’t have to tell me. First college, and then teaching were just things to do until I became a mother.”

I didn’t quite know what to say. “Um, is he, um, or you. . . well. . . .” I cleared my throat.

“It seems to be a bit of a combination. His sperm are slow and my eggs are weak or. . . something. I don’t really understand it all.”

“Oh, Bella, I’m so sorry.” I touched her arm. “What did this doctor say?”

“He said the same things the others have said. That naturally, we have no hope together.” She winced as she spoke the words.

In vitro?”

“Yes, that’s the next option. No other doctor will consider it. My eggs are ‘too fragile’ or something. But this guy has some cutting edge way of harvesting and he’s willing to take us on.”

“That’s good news, yes?”

“Well, we only get one shot at it, so, I’m not sure. I’m scared Alice. Kids are so important to Jazz. You know? I don’t know what will happen to us if this doesn’t work.”

“Stop. One thing at a time. You’ve got a shot. Take it and then worry about what comes next if next comes. Okay?”

“You’re right.” She offered me a watery smile. “You always are.”

“Shut up! You lie and you know it.” I whacked her arm lightly with my napkin, and we laughed together as the waiter delivered our food.

They tried, the in vitro failed. It was as if her eggs rejected his sperm even though they were supposed to be fragile. No embryos were created. She was crushed, he was. . . distracted.

I pulled him aside. “So, what’s the deal, JJ?”

“What, Shrimpy?”

“Don’t be calling me that to avoid me. Where are you? Your head doesn’t seem to be in the game. I thought you wanted this bad.”

“I do, I do. But with the house under construction, and the new job, this is just one more thing I have to take care of. The timing stinks.”

“But that’s always true for you. You’re the mile-a-minute man. What gives?”

“Yeah, yeah, all right. I do want this. And I want this thing with Bella to work. But the baby thing has really changed her. It’s changed us. She’s never been fearful or insecure before and I don’t like it. I don’t know how to handle it. She needs a baby, and I want a family.”

“Adoption?”

“No. I mean, yeah, I mean. . . .” He rubbed his face with his hand. “I mean it’s an option that works for other people. But it’s not for us. I need a connection, a biological connection with my child. Call me shallow, but there it is.”

“Hey, you want what you want. Got no quarrel with that. What about a donor?”

“I just said. . . .”

I cut him off. “Not a sperm donor, you dope, an egg donor.”

His eyes got very round. “They do that?”

“Yeah. It’s kinda new and it’s different from the frozen sperm deal, but I looked into all the options when Bella came to me that day. I didn’t know diddly about it and thought I could support you better if I at least knew the basics. How could you not know?”

“You know me. I don’t care about the how, just tell me what needs doing and it’s done. She never mentioned it. I wonder if she knows.”

“Well, ask her. Not today, of course. . . .”

He glared at me.

“Hey! We both know you can be an insensitive asshole.”

“I know, I know. You’re right. You’re right.”

“Whoa. Can I get that signed and dated for posterity?”

He just looked at me.

“What? You said I was right. Twice.”

He rolled his eyes and smacked me on my arm.

“Ow. Not so hard. I’m tender and delicate.”

He snorted. “Yeah, about as delicate and tender as teak.”

“Yeah, yeah. Fine. Now go, take your wife home. Snuggle and love on her all weekend. Maybe take her on a second honeymoon. I don’t know and I don’t want to know. . . .”

“Yes, ma’am, Captain Shrimpy!”

He laughed and darted out of my range before I could smack him back.

— • — • — • —

I shouldn’t have been surprised when they came to me just a few months later, but I was. After looking over their options, they wanted to proceed with an egg donor. Specifically my eggs. Well, it wasn’t like I was using them or looked likely to any time soon.

They took me to their (new) doctor who explained everything about the process, the side effects, the ramifications, and anything else I wanted to know or could ever want to know. I told them I had to think about it, which was a lie. I knew I’d do it, I just needed a little time to get used to the idea.

It wasn’t a bad process for me at all, and they were pregnant on the first round. Everyone was thrilled. There had been lots of papers to sign and agreements to sort out legally, but we’d decided that they were unquestionably the parents and I would be the sort of funky aunt on the side. They would eventually tell him or her about the donation, but not before the child was able to really understand what that meant.

We all held our breath through the amniocentesis and all the rule outs for genetic stuff. That was the one right I held onto – I wouldn’t allow a child to be born with a club foot. Period. They weren’t happy with my stipulation, but they understood and accepted it. Of course, nothing showed on the test, the baby looked as healthy as a horse, and Bella’s pregnancy continued apace.

I was dead asleep one morning, dreaming of centaurs and Whole Foods, when I heard this annoying bell that wouldn’t quit. Finally, I realized it was the phone on my nightstand and when I reached for it in my sleep drunk state, I knocked it onto the floor. Fumblingly, I put the damn thing up to my ear only to hear laughter.

“What is it with you and early morning phone calls?”

“Hey, Shrimpy Sleepyhead. Wake up! The birds are chirping, dawn is here, and it’s time.”

“Time? Time for what, you asshole? Me to tear you a new one?”

“Grumpy, grumpy gopher guts. No, it’s time.”

“All right, Small Fry, this better not be just for your entertainment or I really will cut a bitch. Time. For. What.”

“The baby. The baby’s coming. We’re heading to the hospital now. Meet us there, Shrimpy, or be square!” He hung up.

He. Hung. Up. On. Me. What a fucking. . . oh my God. Baby. The baby’s coming.

I bolted out of bed and into the shower and down to the hospital before I drew a deep breath. It didn’t matter. I missed it. I missed the first breath, the cry. But when I finally saw that little boy in my friend’s arms, I knew. I knew I’d finally done something that meant something to somebody, and I looked at that tiny body with awe.

“You pushed that out of your va-jay-jay? While you were awake?” I asked Bella incredulously.

She smiled weakly. “Yeah, I did. It sucked, but I’m so happy.”

“You’re a better woman than me. I’d have made them cut me open while I was totally out. Better yet, I’d never have grown that thing in the first place. But he is awfully cute, and I’m glad you did it.”

I reached over and touched his soft, soft cheek with my fingertip.

“Aunt Shrimpy, meet Jason Brandon Whitlock, JB, this is Alice.”

“Brandon?”

“Yes. We wanted to surprise you. You deserve it. We wouldn’t have him if it weren’t for you. Here, hold him. It’s like nothing else.”

“Oh, but I. . . .”

“Here, sit in the chair and I’ll put him in your arms.”

Obedient, for once, I sat and JJ put the tiny bundle in my arms. He yawned and I was hooked. I looked up into JJ’s face and he was radiant, like I’d never seen before, not even on his wedding day. His eyes never left the little man he’d sired.

“He’s beautiful. He’s. . . he’s. . . okay?” I finally choked out, trying to surreptitiously peek under the receiving blanket to see his little feet.

“Yes, he’s perfect. All ten fingers and all ten toes. A perfectly healthy baby boy.”

He chose that moment to show me just how perfect his lungs and vocal chords were, and I laughed as JJ took him from me and gave him to Bella.

“Wow, he’s got a set of lungs on him doesn’t he?”

“Yes, just like his father, he likes to make his presence known in the loudest, most demanding way possible.” Bella beamed up at Jasper and he stroked her hair.

I wanted to leave the new family alone together, but they wouldn’t hear of it. The nurses bustled in and out checking on Bella and JB, and she eventually shooed JJ and I out, ordering us to go get something to eat.

“Now that the house is finished and JB is here, we want you to come live on the property with us.”

I spluttered, trying not to spray the table with my iced tea. “What?!”

“The guest house. It’s for you. This way you’ll be near JB and we can all be together like a family.”

“JJ, um, listen. That’s real nice, but no. No way. I’m not some baby stalker creepy Aunt Shrimp. I’m happy in my life. I’m happy that you’re happy.”

“But. . . .”

“No buts. We’ve talked about this. The baby is yours. Yours and Bella’s. Not mine. I have no interest in having children of my own. I love that you do and I was happy to help you do that. . . .”

“But. . . .”

“No, Jasper. Not this time. No way. I’m happy being the oddball auntie. Really.”

He sighed and dropped his head and shoulders in defeat. He knew no matter what, I wouldn’t budge on this point. Not now, not ever.

— • — • — • —

Before I knew it, years passed beneath my feet. JB was an angelic child. He was surrounded by love and laughter, never knowing the hurt of being shunned because of difference. His limbs and spine grew straight as arrows, so much so, that he was actually scrawny with knobby knees and elbows that always seemed adorned with a scab or a bruise. I cherished him and our time alone together, but I never, never wished to be his mother or for a child of my own.

They tried again a couple of times for another child using the embryos from our one cycle, but Bella was unable to get pregnant again and their gratitude and love for their miracle child ensured he would be loved whomever and however he grew up to be.

JJ had climbed his career ladder with the power and determination so characteristic of him. He now was the marketing and advertising exec for Bombardier, the small private jet company to the ultra rich. It was all about the next big deal, the next sale, the next meeting. He had to be available 24/7 and was never without his phone, nor far from his laptop.

Bella never returned to work. As JJ climbed the ladder professionally, he climbed it socially as well, and this pressed Bella into new roles and responsibilities which she shouldered with her usual grace. They were in their prime now and exemplified the power couple so prevalent in our area.

I was more like the poor relation with my old Volvo, simple clothes, and non-profit salary. They had toys – JJ had always been a sucker for fast and/or shiny things, and now was no exception. Cars, a boat, motorcycles, and dirt bikes were scattered around their property. I had solitude, a cat, a fireplace that roared, and all the books I could read in a lifetime. I thought we were all settled and content.

Finally. We all have what we want. What we’ve ever wished for. Thank you, whomever’s up there, or out there. I’m so glad to see JJ get what he deserves. What we all do.

I couldn’t have been more wrong while being so right in my entire life.

— • — • — • —

Labor Day weekend was coming up. The end of summer’s lazy days and the start of fall and school and harvesting the crops, for we must always reap what we sow.

It was a tradition to spend summer holidays with them on the water and at the beachfront down the way. Their whole neighborhood came together for bar-b-que and homemade ice cream. The kids got sparklers and the adults played with fireworks. It was a wonder no one had ever blown off a finger or had a bad burn. The guys were terrible about using roman candles as weapons on each other.

Beer and wine would flow all day for anyone old enough to drink it or sneak it, and there was always enough food and snacks to feed a small army, though rarely were there left-overs. A large, but carefully controlled bonfire was held after dark with plenty of marshmallows and weanies to roast. In the past, I was always full to bursting at this point and amazed that anyone could eat another bite, and this year promised to be no different.

I arrived just after noon, having enjoyed a relaxing and pressure free morning at home – a rare treat. Bella waved me down to the dock. I could see the big boat was already out on the water.

“Having fun yet?” I asked, walking up to her.

“Oh yes. How could we not?” She looked down to the restless horde of children around her.

“I swear, you’re like the Pied Piper of children.” I laughed and she joined me.

“I know. I don’t know why exactly, but I don’t mind. Not really.”

“Where’s JJ?”

“On the water. Where else?”

I laughed again in acknowledgment. “JB?”

“With his father.” She rolled her eyes. “Make yourself at home. It’s a zoo and everyone for themselves.”

“Ah, the usual.”

“Yes! Exactly. The usual.”

Now I rolled my eyes at her, and we shared another laugh together. As she gathered her pack of rugrats and I moved to walk down the dock, we were joined by a very handsome man I’d never seen before.

“Oh, Alice, this is Edward. Edward, Alice.”

He extended his hand and I nodded in greeting. “Sorry, but as you can see, my hands are a bit full.” I glanced down and he followed my gaze to see my cane in my left hand and a covered basket in my right.

“Yes, I see.” His extended hand made its way into his hair. “Nice to meet you. I’ve heard so much about you.”

“Yeah? Don’t believe everything you hear.” I looked at Bella questioningly.

“Edward is Jasper’s boss at Bombardier.” She returned my gaze meaningfully.

“Oh! I see. Well, welcome to the jungle. Make yourself at home. It was a pleasure to meet you. Excuse me, I have a boat to flag down.”

“Good luck with that!” Bella laughed before moving off with Edward and the children.

He turned back. “I’m sure I’ll be seeing you around.”

“Yeah, sure. Later.”

I walked to the end of the dock, shielding my eyes from the bright sun with my hand. Whistling the shrill signal that JJ had taught me when I was only a few years older than JB was now, I waved my straw hat over my head. Faintly, I heard the returning whistle and smiled knowing he would come pick me reasonably soon.

— • — • — • —

The big powerboat pulled alongside the dock and idled in place. Several people got off, including JB, who slowed long enough to give me a hug, and I clambered aboard.

“Alice! Always good to see you!” JJ wrapped me in a one-armed hug and kissed my cheek.

“Having fun, big man?”

“Sun’s shining, boat’s running, and the party’s happening. How could I not be having fun?”

“A classic JJ answer.”

“You know it! And now that you’re here, the party can really get started.” Reaching under the wheel he grabbed something and shoved it across my basket. “Flag girl.” He winked and moved the boat away from the dock and back out into deeper water. “Who wants to ski?”

We spent the rest of the afternoon ferrying people back and forth to the dock after dragging them through the water on skis or a giant inner tube thing. I could tell he loved the spectacular wipeouts he created when someone rode the tube. It was wild and looked incredibly dangerous to me, but nobody seemed to mind. They’d come up spluttering and spitting water, begging to go again.

He even convinced me to give it a try, and he was very sweet, driving slowly and straight so I could enjoy the ride without fearing for my life. It was actually kinda nice and I could finally see why he loved it so.

I knew he missed it terribly, though he’d never admit it. He was banned from water sports for life after the fall that broke the rod in his back. It was the main reason I finally caved and rode the tube that day, I did it for him, so he could maybe enjoy it through me. We did things like this for each other without conscious thought. He’d always been the daredevil I didn’t have the guts to be, and I’d been the slow thoughtful one who worried about the consequences.

“Well?” He asked as I struggled to climb the ladder from the water to the boat. “How was it after all these years?”

“I’m glad I waited.” I huffed out. “It was so worth it.” I gave him my very best grin and was rewarded with my favorite smile in return.

I haven’t seen that grin in a while. Huh. Hadn’t noticed.

Just when I went to speak, a child’s voice piped up. “I wanna go Uncle Jay.”

“Sure thing, Betsy. I see you have on your life vest already. Jump in and I’ll swing around and pick you up.”

She wagged her finger at him. “And no funny stuff. I want a ride like you gave her.” She pointed at me.

“Yes’m. You got it.” He winked at me as she climbed over the side and jumped in.

“Kids these days, I swear. . . .” I grinned at him.

“You know it.” He turned and eased on the throttle, swinging the boat and the giant tire around to pick up the little girl floating in the water behind us.

As the sun lowered in the sky and the heat of the day waned, JJ made his customary one last pass for anyone who wanted a final ski or tube for the day.

“You’re looking a bit haggard there, old man. You all right?”

“Huh? Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. Just a little tired. Nothing that’ll slow me down.”

“Is there anything that’ll slow you down?”

“Nope, not even a halo.” He laughed and I joined in, nodding my agreement.

After the last of the last passes were finally done, he dropped us all at the dock.

I was last off and turned when I realized the boat was backing away again. “Wait, aren’t you tying up and coming in with us?”

“I’ll be right there. The water’s a little shallow here for my new boat, and I feel better if I anchor it close in but in a little deeper water. Low tide is due in a couple of hours and I don’t want her to bottom out.” He patted the boat fondly, like a lover.

“Yeah, sure. You just want a little alone time with your new love.”

“You know it! And she’s a beauty ain’t she?”

“She is, indeed. Take all the time you need, Small Fry. Heaven forbid anything come between you and your lover.” I winked and turned away.

“You know me so well, Shrimpy. I won’t be long.”

I raised my hand in acknowledgment without turning back and headed down the dock to dry land.

After making a quick pitstop in the house, I wandered down to the beach where the party was in full swing. The sun was low in the sky. Lower than I realized.

Huh, I must have spent longer in the house than I realized watching the kids play video games.

I waved and nodded to neighbors and people I’d met at previous parties as I scanned the crowd, but I didn’t see JJ anywhere.

“Hey, you seen JJ?”

“Nope, not since he dropped everyone off.”

Continuing to ask around I couldn’t find anyone who’d seen him since he’d gone to anchor the boat. Finally, I returned to the house and found Bella in the kitchen.

“Hey, you seen JJ lately?”

“Lately. No? Why?”

“He seems to be missing. I can’t find him and no one’s seen him in a while.”

“Eh, I wouldn’t worry. He’s probably passed out in someone’s house somewhere thinking it was here. You know how he is at these things.”

Really? I don’t remember that. Huh.

“Can I. . . .” I was interrupted by a piercing scream from outside. We looked at each other for a second before heading for the back door. I was just behind Bella as we reached the deck to find the origin of the rising commotion.

A teenaged girl was pointing and screaming. People were running to her and to the water. Several other screams joined hers. My eyes followed her arm and out toward where she was pointing, where everyone was looking. Bella gasped as her eyes beat mine. I stood frozen and in disbelief. My mind refused to believe what my eyes were seeing.

I heard a low moan only to realize I was the one who’d made the sound. “No, no, no, no, no, no, no.” A man was floating face down in the water. He wasn’t moving. His swim trunks were green. JJ was wearing green shorts today.

“No, no, no, no, no, no.”

Several men reached the floating man. They turned him over and began swimming to shore, dragging him with them. I couldn’t tear my eyes away. I couldn’t hear anything but my own breathing, my heart racing in my chest.

“No, no, no, no, no.”

I was moving, but I couldn’t feel my feet. I couldn’t feel anything.

He was on the shore now. Someone started pounding his chest. Someone else made him breathe. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t speak. I could only watch. I couldn’t not watch.

I was closer now. There were no sirens. Why are there no sirens? Someone clutched my hand. I shook them off without looking and moved closer. My breaths matching the someone that was making him breathe, my heart matching the pounding on his chest.

Faintly, I heard the distant wail of a siren. Not many. Only one. I couldn’t see anything else, only him lying on the sand as others pumped his heart and lungs. I saw his face, placid and limp. No, that’s not how he looks.
But it was him. There was no doubt. The crooked chest. The scars. Is that a tattoo? I didn’t know he had a tattoo. The dark ink peeking above the waistband of his shorts, just along his hip. He’s so still. Too still.

A police officer. A police officer appeared and took over beating his heart. Another, in a different uniform pushed air into his lungs. People began backing away, looking away, clumping in groups and pairs. Clinging to each other. I moved closer.

Quiet. It was very quiet now. I could hear the bonfire crackling, the men counting as they breathed and pumped. The inane video game music. Quiet. Too Quiet.
Get up. Get up. Game’s over. Give up. Not funny. Not funny at all. Never was funny. Get. Up.

It was just me. Just me and the men and JJ. Everyone else had backed away. Mothers herded the few children left on the beach into the nearest house. Others moved off as if this dance of death was too intimate, too horrible to watch.

As if it won’t be you here one day. As if you can hide your heads and ignore your own mortality. The mortality of everyone around you.

I wanted to hiss and spit at them all. For their callousness. Their carelessness. He was maybe dying here and they couldn’t look, they couldn’t be with him when he needed them most.

Time passed. The EMTs arrived. A look passed between the men in uniforms standing over the still, too still form.

“Time of death, 7:57 pm.”

They stood, they stopped the breathing, the beating.

“No, no, no, no, no.”

I was there, pounding, breathing, screaming, begging, pleading, clutching the limp body to my chest.

“No, no, no, no, no!”

Arms and hands tried to separate us. I clasped him tighter to me. I fought them off with teeth and nails.

They don’t care. They gave up. They let him die. He died. He died. He died.

“No, no, no, no, no!”

I wailed and moaned and cried and sobbed until there was nothing left and I cried some more.

They left us there together. They backed away. They held the black body bag in which they would take him away.

“No, no, no, no, no!”

Not JJ. Small Fry, so full of life. So full of my life. Not funny, JJ. Not supposed to be this way.

Someone was bringing Bella. Holding her close. Pulling her forward.

Where has she been? Kitchen. We were in the kitchen.

I searched through my memories, but I didn’t see her anywhere near me. Near us. Near him. She didn’t watch. She wasn’t here. She didn’t hold his hand.

“No, no, no, no, no!”

A hand on my shoulder. I tried to shrug it off. “Alice? Alice. You have to let him go. They need to take him away now.”

Bella. That was Bella’s voice.

I looked blindly into her face. My eyes focused. Pale. Her face was pale. But no tears. No tracks. No red or puffy eyes. No tears. She doesn’t cry. She doesn’t cling. She’s not even touching him now. I turned away from her and looked into the dead face of my beloved.

Carefully, I tried to wipe the sand off his face. No response.

“JJ? JJ?” I shook him. “JJ, it’s Shrimpy. It’s time to wake up. Please wake up now.” No response. “JJ, this isn’t funny anymore.” Nothing.

I pulled his head tighter to my breast and wailed my loss for the world to hear.

“Alice? Alice. Stop now. Hush. You’ll scare the children.” She tugged on my arm. I pulled away.

“No, no, no, no, no!”

“Alice. You must let him go now.” A new voice. Vaguely familiar. My fingers buried in JJ’s hair.

“No, no, no, no, no!”

I rocked and swayed embracing my beloved.

“Alice! Enough!” A strong hand grasped my arm and jerked it up, forcing me to see just who dared to interrupt me and my love. Who? Who is. . . Edward. Edward? I looked more closely to see his arm wrapped around Bella protectively. She was tucked into his side looking at me gravely. It clicked then. Edward. Edward and Bella. An affair? Had she cheated on my JJ. . . ?

“No, no, no, no, no!”

I howled and wailed my betrayal. I trusted you. I trusted you with him. He loved you. How could you have possibly turned to another? I trusted you to take care of him. To be faithful to him. I helped you have a baby with him. How could you?

“No, no, no, no, no!”

Voice raspy in my throat. Dry gasping breaths. Cold, limp body in my arms. Sand under my legs.

I tumbled.

I fell.

My beloved was dead.

— • — • — • —

Drip, drip, drip
the rain runs down
the window pane.

Drip, drip, drip
the blood runs down
the shower drain.

My love, my life
my existence is gone.

Do not fret,
do not fear

I am coming my love
I am very near.

How you hate
solitude and silence,
the things I hold dear.

But I will go with you,
follow you
anywhere.

I am coming my love
I am very near.

Drip, drip, drip
the blood spills
onto the floor

Oh! I think it’s time now
for me to be
nevermore.
             By mostly a lurker

2 comments:

{ TongueTwied } at: December 27, 2011 at 2:44 AM said...

That story was quite a journey! I laughed, cried, and enjoyed. I need to go call my best guy friend.

{ mostly a lurker } at: December 27, 2011 at 2:52 PM said...

Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it :-)
I hope you did give your best guy friend a call. They're a priceless gift dearly missed.
hugs,
mal

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