Chapter 2.125

1

Hey, Nora!

I think I’ve FINALLY got a few minutes to sit down and write you back.

2

We’ve really hit our stride with Tomalee-Two, finally (knock wood!). I got the financial report this morning, and I almost can’t believe how good it’s looking. Profits are so consistent that I think we’re going to break even months earlier than expected—WAY sooner than we did with Tomalee. Don’t tell Tommy, but I’m even kinda-sorta scouting locations for a restaurant in Falkenburg (no, I will not swear not to call it Toma-Three). Oh, and the cookbook is doing better than anticipated, too!

3

Now that my unabashed bragging is out of the way, I know it’s Toddler Time because it’s just not an email from me without an update on Tomlyn the Terror. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

So, you know I’m doing interviews for a new Tomalee manager since Casey is moving. Thanks to timezones, I was video-interviewing this guy while Tommy was in the other room giving Tomlyn her bath. Or, at least, he was SUPPOSED to be.

4

Do you even KNOW the mortification of your naked, screaming toddler running through your meeting!? My office needs to be finished ASAP so I can stop working out of my bedroom! lol

I know I need to enjoy the early years, but dang is this girl making it hard! I swear, the boys weren’t nearly, so, well, bratty. Tommy says she must get it from me, but I’ll have him know I have always been a perfect angel! (Shut up. 😛 )

I’m a little worried about Jasper, Nora. He’s on the soccer team (I don’t care what they call it here—it’s soccer) but he doesn’t really seem that interested in it. It seems like he only wanted to play because Logan does.

5

Tommy and I have both tried to find stuff that interests him, but he just says he’s fine. And he SEEMS fine, so I don’t know why I’m worrying. I guess it’s just a feeling, you know? He IS only nine. Plenty of time for him to figure out his interests, I suppose.

Speaking of Logan, I have the most amazing story and you are SO going to be jealous. I told you about the new school we sent Logan to this year, right?

67

Well, he made this new friend, Tobias. Tobi came over to the house the other day to work on a project, and he just looked SO familiar that I had to ask him about it. Guess who his grandfather is? Alex Rosebrook!!!

8

Turns out, I actually met his mom forever ago that day I got Alex to sign his book for you. Isn’t it so funny? Of all the people Logan could’ve made friends with he ends up best friends with Alex Rosebrook’s grandson. He’s a sweet kid, too. Always talking about this French girl he only gets to see at summer camp. It’s kind of adorable, really. Logan’s been so moody since we moved; I think Tobi’s good for him.

9

Oh, I can’t believe I almost forgot to tell you—Tommy is going to take over the construction business! His boss got diagnosed with cancer (he’s supposed to be fine, thank God!), and he wants to retire. Since none of his kids want to take over, he’s passing the business to Tommy. I know construction has never been Tommy’s dream job, but, honestly? I love it. It’s safer than law enforcement (Cody’s unfortunate accident not withstanding) and the hours are better.

10

Ava is so proud of him. She has her good days and her bad days (a lot of bad days), but I think we’ve seen more good ones since Tommy told us the news.

Before I sign off, it’s your turn. You need to tell Caleb for me that I’m so proud of him for deciding to learn welding. If he sticks with it, it’ll lead to a really good job.

11

You also aren’t sending me nearly enough pictures of Ella. You know I need more of that little cherub in my life. And how is she getting along with her teacher? (I still can’t believe she’s in kindergarten!)

Okay, I think I hear Tommy coming, so I better end this. I can’t wait to see you in a few weeks. I know you’re going to be covering the conference, but you’d better plan on spending a lot of time with your favorite cousin! And don’t you even think of booking a hotel! Logan can just sleep on the couch for a few days.

Talk to you soon!

xoxo Loralee

12131415

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Chapter 2.124

03-02-17_9-41-32-am

—Loralee—

“Mom, why’s dad gone again?” Logan asked from his spot at the bar.

I smiled and took his empty breakfast plate from him. “He went back to Windenburg for a few days. He’ll be home soon.” He was taking temporary leave—actually temporary, this time—from his construction job, as well as setting up a home health aid for Ava so that he could be in Oasis Springs to help with the move.

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“Are we really gonna go live with Gramma?” Jasper scrunched up his face. “That’s reeeaaally far.”

“I think Grandma’s house is a little small for us, so Dad and I are going to find us all a nice big house.” I grinned at them. “And nobody will have to share a room.”

“Cool!” Jasper crowed.

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Logan looked less than thrilled, but I couldn’t blame him. He had friends and family that he was going to miss, just as much as I did. Jaz was easier to get on board with the move, though he would probably kick up his share of fuss before all was said and done.

“Okay, kiddos, go get dressed. We’re going over to Aunt Nora’s today. After lunch, Uncle Josh is going to come over and take you guys to the batting cages.”

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While they got dressed, I went into the nursery to get Tomlyn ready to go. Traveling with a baby was never easy, so it was a rather time-consuming process. Eventually, though, the diaper bag was packed and all persons were ready, and we headed to Willow Creek.


03-02-17_10-12-17-am

Just after lunch, Nora excused herself to put Ella down for her nap, and Logan and Jasper ran upstairs to watch TV in Caleb’s room. Since Tomlyn was snoozing peacefully in her bassinet, I settled down in the living room with Parker and Caleb.

“So, Caleb, you’re starting your junior year in August. Have you started looking at colleges yet?”

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The teenager grimaced. “Come on, Aunt Lor. It’s too early to be thinking about that.”

“It is not,” Parker disagreed. He rolled his eyes at his son. “We’ve been telling him to start looking at programs he’s interested in. He needs to start taking the ACT, too.” He switched back to addressing Caleb. “With your grades and a good ACT score, you could get a full ride somewhere, but you’ve got to get on it.”

“How am I supposed to look at programs and settle on a school when I don’t even know what I want to do with my life?”

I laughed softly. “Fair enough. Not everyone can know what they want to do at your age. You know, when we were kids, your mom insisted for years that she wanted to be a violinist.”

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“Don’t you start telling tales, Loralee, or I’ll have to tell some of my own,” Nora threatened, coming down the stairs. Once at the bottom, she glanced out of the window. “Oh, Josh is here. Caleb, go and get your cousins.”

God, I’m really going to miss this, I thought as I observed the family around me. Not just for my own sake, either; my kids were never going to be as close to their cousins as I was to Nora and Josh. Sofia and Jasper were just months apart, and only a couple of years separated Logan and Trevor, but they seemed destined to just be relatives, seen only at family reunions. The Yuen’s, Harrison’s, and Thoreau’s would go on being close—just without the Thoreau-Smithson’s. As much as I knew I was doing the right thing, it still hurt my heart how much my kids were going to miss out on.

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Josh came in with Sofia to say a quick hello while he collected the boys. A few minutes later, they were off to the batting cages.

“Well,” Parker said, rising to his feet. “I think I’m going to go work on my book and leave you two hens to it.”

Nora snorted and swatted at him. “I’ll show you a hen.”

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She sat down next to me after he’d disappeared up the stairs. “So, what’s up? You’ve got something on your mind; I can tell.”

I smiled a little. “You always could see through me.”

“Did something happen with Tommy? I know he flew in when Tomlyn was born, but I can’t help but notice he’s MIA today.”

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“Yes. Well, no, but yes.” I laughed softly at myself before sobering. “I decided to move. We’re going to move to Windenburg.” The more I said it, the more real it felt. So it was probably going to start feeling very, very real; aside from my parents—and, obviously, the kids—Nora was the only person I’d told. I’d probably be telling a whole lot more.

Much like my parents, she didn’t seem surprised. “Well, it took you long enough.”

“I know,” I said, somewhat sheepishly.

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Nora’s eyes shone. “I’m really going to miss you.”

I resisted the tell-tale burning in my own eyes. “You, too.”

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Chapter 2.123

01-17-17_4-59-35-am

—Tommy—

I practically ran into the hospital. Which, really, was kind of pointless and stupid. I’d already missed it. I’d called to check in as soon as my flight had landed; Loralee had been asleep, but Camille had informed me that I’d missed the birth by a wide margin. Apparently, it had happened so fast that she’d almost missed it herself.

Shallow comfort.

Loralee had told me that I was missing everything, and she was right. I’d planned to be here—ages ago, I’d booked a flight that would get me here two days before the due date. It wouldn’t leave until tomorrow morning.

 

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As I approached Loralee’s hospital door, I tried to mentally prepare myself. I was no doubt in for a royal chewing out, and I was just going to take it. I deserved it. After she’d said her peace, I’d tell her what I’d decided. I just couldn’t do it anymore; I couldn’t miss anymore of my family’s lives.

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I knocked quietly. When I didn’t get a response, figuring she was asleep, I pushed the door open. Instead, I found Loralee at the bassinet. A soft humming floated over to me while she rocked on her feet. For a moment, I just stood there, savoring the tender moment, pretending that I was part of it rather than a veritable outsider.

Loralee bent and tucked the baby back into the bassinet. When she straightened and turned towards the bed, her eyes flared in surprise when she saw me. To my shock, a happy smile crossed her face. “Tommy, you’re here.”

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I opened my mouth, an apology ready on my lips, only to lose all train of thought. Loralee crossed the room and all but threw herself into my arms. I was so dumbfounded I couldn’t even respond at first; I’d come prepared for battle only to find the opposing general waving a white flag.

My body kicked into gear before my brain actually finished processing the unforeseen turn of events. My arms wrapped around her and held on tight. I probably should’ve been more gentle, but the beautiful woman in my arms didn’t seem to mind. When was the last time we’d held each other like this? When was the last time she’d been so happy to see me? Honestly, I couldn’t remember.

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When she eventually pulled back, her smile was blinding. “Tommy, come and meet your daughter.” She took my hand and led me across the room. Then she picked up the tiny little bundle and carefully transferred her into my arms.

All the breath in my lungs left me as I gazed into my daughter’s face. With her tuft of raven hair, she looked so much like Loralee that it made my heart squeeze almost painfully in my chest. She was so, so tiny. And so incredibly perfect.

When I finally found my voice, I whispered, “We still haven’t agreed on a name.” Agreeing to the names Logan and Jasper had been relatively easy, but, those times, we’d been a unit. Lately, we hadn’t agreed on anything.

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Loralee smiled softly and reached over to carefully fuss with the swaddling. “I was thinking of Tomlyn.”

My brows raised. I couldn’t help but note the similarity to my name. Considering the last months, it seemed an unlikely choice. “Really?”

“Tomlyn Avery. That’s your mom’s full name, right? Avery?”

I swallowed thickly and struggled to tamp down a sudden stinging in my eyes. “Yes.”

She smiled gently at me. “Let’s talk, Tommy.”

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I put our daughter down and took a seat next to Loralee on the bed. “There’s something I’d like to say, too. I think I should go first—“

She shook her head. “Me first.” After a breath, she said, “I’m so sorry, Tommy. For everything I’ve put you—put us through since your father died. I never considered your request to move, and it wasn’t really even because of all the excuses I came up with.”

“Your reasons are justified,” I interjected.

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“Maybe, but they were just excuses. Really, I was plain terrified. I’ve been so scared of leaving everything that’s familiar.” She took a deep, shuddering breath. “I’m not going to keep being a coward, though. I want to support you, and, also, that’s not the message I want to send to our kids. We do whatever is needed to take care of family, even if it scares us. You need to take care of your mom, Tommy. And I need to be right there with you because she’s my family, too.”

I stared at her in shock. Loralee had always surprised me, but she was really keeping them coming today, wasn’t she?

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“Are you serious?” I asked in astonishment. Part of me wondered if I was dreaming.

She nodded. “That is…if you still want me to. After the bitch I’ve been…”

My eyes peeled wide. Did she think I wanted a divorce? I shook my head fervently. “No! No. I do. I mean—well, actually, I had decided to hire a caretaker,” I admitted. “I can’t miss your lives anymore, Lor.”

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My wife smiled softly. “You were right before. Ava needs us, her son and daughter and grandkids, around.”

I swallowed thickly. “You’re sure?”

“Completely. We can do this, Tommy.”

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I pulled her into my arms and kissed her with every ounce of love and gratitude that I had inside of me. “I love you. I love you so much.”

Loralee beamed at me. “I love you, too.”

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Chapter 2.122

12-20-16_10-33-53-am

—Tommy—

I was exhausted to the bone, just barely able to keep my eyes open, by the time I got back to Mom’s house. I’d been up for over twenty-four hours at this point, broken up only by a few fitful naps on the plane.

Hoping I would find everything all well, I stepped into the house. I could tell from the smell, though, that it would be some time before I got to sleep. Naturally, I can’t just go to bed.

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I headed towards the bathroom—the most likely culprit of the smell—but stalled out at the sight of Mom, asleep in her bed. She was sleeping peacefully, but it made my heart ache to see how pale and frail she looked.

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I turned away from the sight and stepped into the bathroom. Sure enough, there was a pile of soiled clothes on the floor. Not for the first time, Mom hadn’t made it to the toilet in time.

With a weary sigh, I cleaned that up and scrubbed my hands. When I stepped out of the bathroom, I found a light on in the living room and Mom sitting up in bed.

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The thin woman smiled at me. “Did you just get home?”

This isn’t home, a quiet voice said in the back of my mind. As much as I felt the need to be there, my home was with Loralee and the kids.

“Pretty much. Did you eat before you went to bed?” It was the middle of the night, but Mom didn’t really keep normal hours anymore.

She shook her head. “I wasn’t really hungry.”

“You should eat. I’ll make you something.”

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I turned and went into the kitchen. I didn’t have the energy to cook, so I just pulled out sandwich makings.

“How is Logan?” Mom asked from behind me. A chair scraped over the tile as she pulled it out and eased down into it.

“He’s a tough kid,” I said quietly.

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“Like you,” Mom smiled softly, but the smile quickly dimmed. “How’s Loralee?”

I put a sandwich down in front of her and sat down heavily. “She’s pissed. This is all really hard for her.” I sighed softly. “For all of us.”

She nodded sympathetically. “It’s not easy to be apart.” Grief clouded her expression. “Tommy, maybe you should—“

12-20-16_10-49-42-am

“Mom, no.” I knew what she was going to say and the answer was an obvious and emphatic no. She couldn’t live alone, that was certain, and I still hated the other option.

Silence stretched between us. When she finished eating, I helped her back to bed. Finally, I was free to go upstairs to my own room.

12-20-16_10-53-11-am

With a sigh of soul-deep exhaustion, I sank down onto the edge of my bed. I took out my phone and opened up the Facebook app, navigating immediately to Loralee’s page. Even though I’d just been there, I wanted to see what I’d missed. I stalled my scrolling on a picture of Loralee and Logan. The caption was about Logan going back to school.

I missed them so much. I locked my phone and put it on the night stand because I couldn’t look at it anymore. I raked my hands through my hair and gave it a frustrated tug. Something had to give.


12-20-16_12-06-08-pm

—Loralee—

I stared at the screen in front of me. It had been a long time since I’d actually worked on my cookbook, so I’d thought that I’d spend a little time on it while the boys were at school. But my mind just wasn’t on it. As usual, I was thinking about Tommy.

12-20-16_12-07-00-pm

After a few more minutes of struggling, I sighed in defeat. It was useless. I wasn’t going to make any progress this morning. I shut the computer down and started to get up when one of the two framed pictures on the desk caught my attention.

Back when I’d worked at Simmie’s, Tommy and I had met there so often. On days when he hadn’t had to work, he’d just hung out there while I served coffee. And he’d always greeted me with a kiss. I couldn’t remember now who had snapped that picture or when it had taken place, but I could still remember the kisses.

There weren’t many of those these days.

12-20-16_12-09-04-pm

I averted my gaze and pushed myself to my feet. I meandered into the kitchen. Usually a kind of sanctuary for me, I thought that maybe cooking would offer the distraction I was hoping for. When I opened the refrigerator, though, all I could do was stare blankly into it. I wished now that Luc and Alison hadn’t taken the boys to the park today.

With a sound of frustration, I shut the refrigerator door and pressed my hands against the small of my back in an effort to alleviate the knot of tension that had set up a permanent residence there.

Just when I’d decided to dig out my copy of Dust to Dust, the doorbell rang. I frowned and went into the dining room. To my surprise, I found Mom on the other side of the door.

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“Mom, what are you doing here?” I asked as I opened the front door.

“I wanted to come and check on you, see how you’re doing,” Mom said, a meaningful look in her eye. I knew what the look was about; even though I was making sure the boys still saw them regularly, I’d barely said two words to my parents since that day at their house.

I sighed quietly and gestured to the living room. “Do you want to sit down?” Please, can we just not talk about Tommy or Windenburg? Please?

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Mom and I sat down. A beat of awkward silence passed. Finally, she asked, “Where are Logan and Jasper?”

“Luc and Alison took them and Trev to the park in Willow Creek. It’s the Blossom Festival.”

She smiled. “Oh, yeah. I’d forgotten that was this weekend. You didn’t want to go?”

I rubbed a hand over my very-pregnant belly. “I thought it’d be a good idea to stay close to home.”

“Ah, probably a smart choice. Speaking of, have you got Jasper moved over?”

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I laughed softly. “Yeah. Neither of the boys are super happy about sharing a room.” Just a few days ago, Nora and Parker had come over to help get Jasper situated in Logan’s room. They’d even enlisted Caleb’s help in putting together the new bassinet for the nursery.

“You know what your Mama would say, right?”

I started to laugh, but the sound died on my lips. She’d tell me to move back home because there was plenty of space there.

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Mom must’ve connected the same dots I did because, when she spoke next, her tone was gentle, hesitant. “Loralee, there’s something I’ve wanted to ask you. What would you do if your Mama or I got sick and needed help?”

The breath hitched in my throat. In all these months, I’d avoided that question, that perspective. Because I knew the only answer.

I responded in a voice barely above a whisper, “I’d move to Newcrest.”

Mom reached over and rested her hand on my arm. “So what are you still doing here?”

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Tears burned my eyes. In a tiny voice, I said, “I’m afraid.” I’d never admitted it before, not even to myself, but there it was. “Moving a couple hours from you and Mama was so hard. Windenburg is an ocean away. Everyone I know—you’re all here.” I wiped at my cheeks as tears escaped and spilled down. “I’m just—I’m so scared, Mom.” All of the reasons I’d espoused from day one—sure, they were legitimate, but they weren’t the real reason I had so diligently refused to budge. It was the fear.

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Mom squeezed my arm. “It’s okay to be scared. I was downright terrified, you know, to start seeing your Mama again after she’d hurt me so terribly. But my heart was always hers, and I had to take the leap. You have to leap, sweetheart.”

In my heart, I knew she was right. I’d spent all these months resisting, fighting. Calling Tommy selfish—calling him a lot worse. Really, it was me. I was selfish—a coward. If my parents needed me, I’d be there in half a heartbeat. Children did that for their parents.

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I wiped at my cheeks again and sniffed. “I’ve been such a bitch.”

“Yeah,” mom agreed with a smile, “but it’s not too late to fix it.”

I sincerely hoped she was right.

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“Mom,” I started, intending to thank her. At that moment, a well-remembered tightness painfully constricted my abdomen, pulling a surprised gasp out of me.

I looked at her with wide eyes. “I think we need to go to the hospital.”

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Chapter 2.121

12-20-16_9-32-09-am

—Tommy—

“Do you think you can manage to play house for a few hours?” Loralee’s voice rang in my ears, long after she’d left for the restaurant.

I didn’t even feel upset at that dig. I was an absentee parent at this point. While she was there, it was easier to be mad, but, now, I just felt miserable.

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I stepped into Logan’s room where he was sleeping again. His pain meds really knocked him out. I had never felt like such a piece of shit as I looked down at him. Had he cried out for me in his pain? The thought of it made my heart wrench painfully in my chest.

12-20-16_9-38-17-am

I left the room and took a shuddering breath. It was an accident. They happened. If I’d been living here, I still probably would’ve been at work.

Accidents happen, I repeated to myself.

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After another moment, I opened the door to Jasper’s room. I found him sitting on the floor with a toy in his hand, but he didn’t seem to be playing with it.

“Jaz?”

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The little boy put his toy down and stood up. He looked up at me with wide, watery eyes. “Are you and Mom gonna get a divorce?” His lower lip quivered. “Andy’s parents did, and now he hasn’t seen his dad in forever, but I already hardly see you—“

“No!” I interrupted more fervently than was probably necessary. The very idea made my heart skip a beat. Your mom and I are going to be just fine. Grandma Ava just needs my help right now.”

“Why was she yellin’?”

12-20-16_9-49-00-am

I sighed softly. “It’s really hard to be apart. It’s stressful, and it makes us argue. We love each other very much.” Loralee was the love of my life. This time apart from her and our boys was awful. It seemed as if she didn’t realize that, though.

“Will you stay now? Please?”

I wanted to say yes, but I knew that I couldn’t. Mom was barely okay by herself for a few days. Sarah, who I’d barely spoken to for years before Dad died, had become a good friend again, so she and her husband were able to look in on Mom. But still, I couldn’t stay for very long.

“I’m sorry,” I said weakly. “I’ve got to go back to Windenburg soon to help Grandma.” Jasper looked sad but not surprised by the news.

I forced a smile onto my face. “Why don’t I play with you for a while?” I picked up a toy car.

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Jasper quickly let go of his depressed mood and threw himself into playing. I wished it was so easy for me. While we played, I couldn’t stop returning my gaze to a picture and a ribbon on the wall.

Jasper had won the first grade spelling bee at school. Loralee had told me about it, of course, but I hadn’t realized how important a day it was. Everyone, Loralee’s parents, Luc, Alison, Nora, Josh, Anna, Blake. Everyone was gathered around my beaming son.

Everyone but me.

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Chapter 2.120

12-20-16_8-24-50-am

—Loralee—

“When are you due?” A cheerful voice came from beside me.

I looked away from Jasper playing with a toy car. Next to me a young woman sporting a small baby bump had taken a seat. She smiled brightly at me while she waited for my response.

I pasted a smile on my face. “June sixteenth.”

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“Oh, you’re about to pop!” The other woman exclaimed.

I did notice that. Thanks.

“I’m only twenty weeks,” she continued. “I’m so excited, but really nervous, too, y’know?”

I smiled a little, nodding to her. I remembered that feeling. Looking at her, she was probably even the same age I was when I had Logan. How different it was now. My happiness at the life I was growing was always dampened by the uncertainty of our future. How present would Tommy be in her life?

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“Do you have other kids?” The woman asked, drawing my focus back to her. I had the feeling that she’d asked that at least once already. When she saw she had my attention again, she smiled brightly. “This is my first. My sister had me bring out her little girl ‘to practice.’” She laughed.

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I shook my head. “I have two boys.” I pointed first at Jasper. “That’s my youngest.” Sometimes, it hurt to look at either of them, but usually it was my little Jas that made my heart squeeze painfully.

I forced myself to continue and then pointed out Logan on the monkey bars. “My oldest.”

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I frowned as the boy climbed up on top of them. Twice already, I’d told him not to do that. “Logan! Get down!”

I couldn’t hear it, but I knew he that he let out a very aggrieved sigh. As he started to climb down, I turned to face the woman next to me again. “Sorry abou—“

A child’s surprised, pained cry.

“Mo-om!”


12-20-16_8-46-38-am

Hands shaking, I let myself out of Logan’s hospital room and stepped into the hall. I took deep, calming breaths of antiseptic-scented air. Growing up with a doctor for a mother, I’d grown up visiting hospitals often, so they’d never bothered me. I’d felt comfortable walking their clean, white-tiled halls.

Until today.

Hospitals were pretty fucking horrific when my baby was laying in a bed with a broken arm. I was just barely holding it together.

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I fumbled for my phone and called Tommy. Frustrated tears burned my eyes when he didn’t pick up; he was probably asleep. I called again and almost sobbed when his sleepy voice finally came over the line.

“Tommy.”

There was a brief silence. “What is it? What happened?” He asked urgently. “The baby?”

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I sniffed. “Logan. He got hurt at the park. He broke his arm.”

“Oh, my God.” I heart rustling—him getting out of bed, probably. “I’m going to get the first flight I can. I’ll be there soon.”

Soon my ass.

12-20-16_8-49-58-am

As quickly as if a switch had been flipped, boiling anger rose in me. “You should already be here.”

“I know,” he said quietly.


12-20-16_8-59-57-am

I stood up when I saw the headlights outside. It was late and we’d left the hospital hours ago while Tommy was trapped on a plane. My fury had remained, simmering, despite the intervening hours since the phone call.

The man who walked into the house looked exhausted. “Can we not fight?” He sighed.

12-20-16_9-02-02-am

“Oh, we’re fighting.” If I hadn’t wanted to before, that question sure as hell made me want to. “Do you see it yet, Tommy? You’re choosing Ava over all of us. Your sons need you here!”

“I got here as fast as I could,” he defended weakly.

12-20-16_9-03-17-am

“This is not about what happened today. This is about every. single. other. day. You’re missing their lives.”

“If you’d just agree to move—“

“No, goddamn it!” I screamed.

“Mom?”

12-20-16_9-05-24-am

I looked over with horror to find Jasper standing just outside his door. He looked between us with a quivering lip.

My anger evaporated. I’d been so careful throughout all of this—I’d never wanted to fight in front of the boys.

12-20-16_9-06-48-am

“Hey, Jaz. Let’s get you back to bed.” I turned my back on my husband and herded the little boy back to his room.

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Chapter 2.119

12-20-16_6-47-11-am

—Tommy—

In a routine that felt far too familiar, I grabbed my bag and got out of the cab. I felt tired—so very fucking tired—and it wasn’t just because my internal clock was set to Germany.

As I went up the walkway, I saw the part-time nanny, Stephanie, watching TV in the living room. A muscle in my jaw ticked. Sure, her presence was necessary so that Loralee could keep working nights at Tomalee. But it wouldn’t be if we were living in Windenburg now.

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I went inside and dropped my bag next to the door. “Hey, Stephanie.”

She started and twisted to look at me. “Oh, Mr. Smithson,” she said with relief. “I wasn’t expecting you. Wasn’t your flight supposed to be in a few hours ago?”

I let out an irritated sigh. “Delayed.”

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She got up and walked over to me. “Oh, I’m sorry. Ms. Thoreau just called a few minutes ago and said she’s on her way home.”

“That’s great. Thanks, Stephanie. You can go on home now.”

The young woman nodded and gathered up her things. “Good night, Mr. Smithson.”

“Goodnight.”

12-20-16_6-51-31-am

I shut the door behind her and went into the living room to collapse into a chair. She was a nice woman, but I hated her just a little. I wanted to take care of my own kids. And my own mother. I rubbed my face vigorously, trying to quell the rising irritation. Some of it was directed at the situation. Some at the nanny. A lot, more than I’d like to admit, at Loralee.

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A soft, feminine voice drew me from my thoughts. “Another delayed flight?”

Speak of the devil.

I nodded. My eyes fell to her stomach. Every time I saw her, our baby had grown even more. I’m missing everything.

flashback

I could still remember the joy I’d felt the first time I’d felt Logan move. Jasper, too. But I could barely even remember feeling the kicks of our new little one.

I cleared my throat. “How’re you doing? And Little Spawn?”

12-20-16_7-02-58-am

She laughed a little and sat down, rubbing one hand over her rounded belly. “We’re okay. Heartburn from hell again today, but, otherwise, okay.”

Silence stretched between us. Our silences used to be easy, comfortable. Not anymore.

I opened my mouth to speak—I needed to just start, no use putting it off—but she stood up again.

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“Let’s just go to bed.” She turned away from me and went into the bedroom.

Evidently, she knew I had something to say that she wasn’t going to like. After a minute, I got up and followed her. It could wait until morning.


12-20-16_7-13-03-am

When the bedroom door opened, I shut the kitchen sink off and turned to face my wife. I smiled at her, almost feeling the way I did four months ago. “Just in time for breakfast. You want an omelet?”

She nodded and sat down at the bar while I turned on the skillet again and started beating eggs. When it was done, I set it in front of her and took the stool next to her. I took a slow, deep breath. “So. We both know the current arrangement couldn’t last.” I just couldn’t keep flying back and forth every few days to a week.

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She turned to me, but I couldn’t read whatever emotion was on her face. “Yeah.”

“We need to move, Lor,” I said, almost begging. “Mom—she’s not doing well. I had to move her bed to the living room because she can’t do stairs anymore.”

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My wife squeezed her eyes shut, rubbed them, and then shook her head. “No. My heart breaks for her, but there are people who can help her. I know you want to be there for her but—“

“Just stop, Loralee.” I’d known it would go this way, for all that I’d hoped otherwise. My heart clenched in my chest. Part of me couldn’t believe what I was about to say. “I’ve got to take care of her. So I’m moving to Windenburg. I’ll—I’ll come visit every month or so.” Please, Loralee, please change your mind.

She didn’t recoil with anger or sigh in resignation. She just said hollowly, “What about the force?”

12-20-16_7-20-40-am

“Today I’m going to the station. To officially resign.” The construction job I had in Windenburg wasn’t my dream, but it was managing to pay for all the flights.

“So that’s it, then.” Loralee clenched her fists on the countertop. “You know what? That’s just fine. That’s where you want to be, right?”

12-20-16_7-23-37-am

She got up, glaring coldly at me. “You go and be there, then. I’ll take care of Logan and Jasper, and, while I’m at it, I’ll keep on growing this kid, too. So, yeah, go! Just fucking go!” She turned on her heel and went into the bedroom, slamming the door behind her.

12-20-16_7-24-12-am12-20-16_7-24-43-am12-20-16_7-26-03-am12-20-16_7-26-49-am

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Chapter 2.118

12-20-16_4-59-15-am

—Luc—

Life was funny. That was something I’d realized in the last couple of weeks. The day after our trip to Granite Falls, Alison and I had discovered we were on the same page when it came to our foster son, Trevor. Even though he’d been with us for a relatively short time—less than six months—we were in complete agreement; we wanted Trev to be our son.

I’d thought once that I never wanted kids. Yet, here I was, preparing with Alison to broach the subject of adoption with Trevor. So, yes. Life was quite funny.

12-20-16_5-00-47-am

Alison stood up from the table and started to gather up dishes. “That was good.”

“Yeah,” Trev agreed simply.

I smiled. “Thanks. I’m not my sister, but I get by.”

12-20-16_5-02-27-am

Without having to be told, Trevor got up and helped Alison with the dishes. Just that simple thing made me so proud. The boy who’d never done a chore in his life before coming to us now got up, without any lip, and helped clean up after dinner. It was, really, a small thing—and getting him to do his other chores was not always so easy—but it was everything, too.

Alison dried her hands after finishing the dishes. “Trev, come on into the living room. We want to talk to you for a bit.”

He shrugged. “Okay.”

12-20-16_5-04-11-am

The three of us went into the living room. Alison and I sat down on either side of him. Before either of us could say anything, Trevor spoke. “Y’all can just say it. It ain’t like it the first time I been told I’m goin’ somewhere else.”

My eyes flew open in surprise. “Trev, no. We don’t want you to go anywhere.”

Alison shook her head. “Hon, we want you to stay.”

12-20-16_5-06-16-am

“We don’t want to replace your mom, Trev. We know she was a good woman.” Troubled, yes, but Trev was always quick to defend her. He’d shared lots of stories about her that made it clear that she’d loved him deeply.

12-20-16_5-07-50-am

“But we love you,” Alison continued for me. “We’d like you to be part of our family.”

He looked between us. “You sayin’ you want to adopt me?”

The both of us nodded. “That doesn’t mean anything has to change,” I assured him. “We don’t expect you to start calling us Mom and Dad or anything.”

12-20-16_5-08-41-am

He looked between us again. In a small, insecure voice, he said, “Why’d you want me?”

Immediately, without any hesitation, Alison pulled Trevor under her arm. “Because we love you.”

I nodded. “We really want to be your parents.”

12-20-16_5-09-39-am

His chocolate brown eyes shone as he looked up at me and then Alison. “Okay.”

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Chapter 2.117

12-20-16_3-35-38-am

—Alison—

“I’m not losing to you this time, twerp,” Luc said with mock seriousness.

“Pffft.” Trevor rolled his eyes. “You suck at horseshoes.”

“Oh, because you’re such a master at it.”

12-20-16_3-37-57-am

I smiled as we walked through the woods towards our campsite. “I think you two need to have a tournament. Best two out of three.”

“We’d need a prize,” Luc said.

“Winner gets the best of the toasted marshmallows,” I said with a smile. “I’ll referee.”

12-20-16_3-39-54-am

“Then I’m totally winnin’,” Trevor grinned. He walked over to the horseshoe pit and rubbed his hands together. “Come on, Luc. Let’s do dis.”

While keeping one eye on the two of them, I went to the ice chest and took out all the makings for sandwiches. I listened to the light-hearted trash talk of my boys while I put together the ham-and-cheese’s.

My boys.

At some point, Trevor had become more than a temporary fixture in my mind. He’d grown so much since the first day he’d arrived almost five months ago. He was respectful to me and Luc. He’d made friends at school – good ones, not ones that made my hair turn gray. And, somewhere along the way, I’d started to think of this troubled little foster as mine.

I’d cared deeply about all three of the foster children Luc and I had had before Trev, but I knew it was different this time. I’d certainly never expected to feel that way, but there was no denying it.

12-20-16_3-44-31-am

After I’d made the sandwiches for each of us, I lit the campfire and sat down with my sandwich to watch the rest of the “tournament.”

A short while later, Luc crowed with victory and strutted away from the pit. “That’s right. Don’t try to come between this man and his ‘mallows.”

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Trevor dropped into a camp chair with a sandwich. “Man, that ain’t fair.”

“Isn’t,” I corrected. “If you want to feel good about yourself, you can kick my butt at it later.” We’d found out very quickly yesterday that I was very, very bad at the game.

“It isn’t any fun to win that way.”

12-20-16_3-56-02-am

Luc grinned, taking his own seat. “That’s a good man. There’s no honor in beating an incompetent.”

“Hey!” I wagged my finger at the both of them. “If you two keep up with that, the Marshmallow Master isn’t making anything for either of you.” A cook I may not be, but I somehow had a magic touch with all things campfire.

12-20-16_3-57-03-am

“’Iight, man, shut up now before you mess us up.” Trevor finished his sandwich. “Cause I’m ready for dessert.”

“I’d never stand between you and your sweets,” Luc said with a laugh.


We got back from Granite Falls late Sunday night. I had thought ahead and taken Monday off as well as the Friday I actually needed for the trip. I was exceptionally glad for it when I got up that morning to take Trevor to school.

12-20-16_4-06-38-am

When I got home, I dropped onto the couch next to Luc. He started and looked at me sleepily; he’d evidently started to doze off despite the morning news on the TV. While he and I were zombies, Trevor had seemed perfectly fine. He should’ve; he’d slept the entire ride home.

“Everything go okay?” He asked after a yawn.

I nodded. “Same as usual.”

12-20-16_4-07-52-am

I leaned into his side, resting my head on his shoulder. His hand came up to play with my hair. “Luc, if we were ever going to have a kid for keeps…”

“It’d be Trev,” he finished for me, a soft smile on his face.

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Chapter 2.116

12-18-16_8-54-45-am

—Loralee—

I scraped picked-at French toast into the trash. According to the boys, I wasn’t supposed to make that because mine “wasn’t as good as Dad’s.”

Naturally.

Nothing was the same anymore. When Tommy was gone – which was most of the time, for all he said about splitting time – the house felt empty. I felt empty. I’d never thought that I was a woman whose identity revolved around my relationship, but he’d been my other half for so long. I’d forgotten how to live alone – or, really, I’d never learned at all. I’d gone straight from my parent’s house to our house.

12-18-16_8-57-02-am

“Mom, when’s Dad comin’ back?”

I sighed softly and turned to face my youngest son. He looked so much like Tommy that it hurt. “Next week.”

He shook his head, his blond hair flopping with the motion. “I mean when’s he gonna stay?”

“I don’t know,” I said quietly. We’re not as important as Ava is, I thought bitterly. I bit the inside of my cheek and then pasted a smile on my face. “Hey, go get ready, kiddo. Did you forget we’re going over to Memaw and Granny’s today?”

12-18-16_8-58-10-am

I watched him go into his room before forcing myself into motion. As I did my make up, my mind was already in next week, planning meals and schedules around Tommy’s stay. I tried to make everything normal – the way it used to be – whenever he was home, but it was getting harder to do so. And part of me thought it was a joke. Normal had taken a flying leap out of a tenth-story window.

It wasn’t easy to maintain any sense of normalcy when we were essentially in one long fight. He still wanted us all to move; I still wanted us to look into home health. And we both knew this “compromise” couldn’t last.

12-18-16_9-01-28-am

Tears burned behind my eyes and I impatiently rubbed them away. I cleared my throat. “Boys,” I said as I moved out of the room. “Come on. Let’s go.”


12-18-16_10-16-14-am

Mama looked at me with a soft frown from where she sat next to me on the back porch. “Are you alright?”

I reluctantly turned my gaze away from the scene on the backyard where Mom was playing with Logan and Jasper. I opened my mouth to tell her that I was fine just like I always did, but, this time, that wasn’t what came out. “I don’t know what I’m going to do, Mama.”

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Alarm instantly flared in her eyes. “What’s wrong? Is it the baby?”

I shook my head. “That’s fine.”

12-18-16_10-24-20-am

“You could tell me, you know,” Mama said gently. “If something had happened.”

Irritation flickered. That was the second time she’d said something like that since I’d told her I was pregnant. Vasectomies failed; it happened. If Tommy wasn’t going to accuse me of sleeping around, neither should my own mother.

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She must’ve seen the growing anger on my face because she immediately looked apologetic. “I’m sorry. That was awful.”

I just sighed and let my irritation dissipate. The question of my fidelity was honestly the least of my problems. “It’s Tommy.”

“How is he doing? I know it had to be hard, losing Cody so suddenly.” Mama made the same sad eyes everyone had been since he died.

12-18-16_10-39-32-am

“I wish I knew,” I said bitterly. I hadn’t told my parents what was going on. Part of me, I supposed, had hoped that it would all blow over and it wouldn’t be necessary. But I couldn’t bite my tongue any longer. “He’s in Windenburg more than he’s here.” At her shocked expression, I explained, “Ava’s health has really gone down.  I wanted us to hire a home health service, but he won’t even consider it. He wants to move there.” I noticed my voice rising, and I quickly lowered my volume before the boys took notice. “He wants to just uproot our lives and move us across the world.”

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Mama opened her mouth to speak, but a dam had burst within me. All of my anger and frustration at Tommy just poured out. “What about his job. He wanted to make chief one day. What about Tomalee? I’ve worked my entire life to make that happen, and it’s finally turning a real profit. What about the boys? Their lives are here, too. Our family is all here! He’s just thinking about himself.”

I’d been expecting some sympathy from her, but, when I finished venting, her expression was one of anger.

12-18-16_10-49-58-am

“I’m pretty sure the last person he’s thinking of is himself, Loralee. I’m sure he’s doing what he thinks is right for his mother.”

Her reaction only served to make me more upset. I jumped to my feet. “You don’t understand. There are other options besides moving to Germany of all places.” My own mother wasn’t even on my side.

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“Logan, Jasper,” I called. “Say bye to Memaw and Granny. We’ve got to get going.” If I had to be there any longer, I was going to start screaming.

Mom straightened up with a confused frown. “Loralee? What’s wrong?”

12-18-16_10-56-26-am

I shook my head. “I’m sorry, Mom. We’ve got to go. Boys, come on.”

I rushed the two of them through their goodbye’s, refusing to look at Mama or meet Mom’s gaze. On the ride home, the boys were both petulant and sulky, but, then, maybe so was I. Was I so crazy to think about all the things I did? Was I such an awful person for wanting to explore other options?

By the looks of things, the answer seemed to be yes.

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