Part 16 (Conclusion)
by Kim Pritekel with Alexa Hoffman
All original songs by Alexa Hoffman.
If you'd like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am, or that I royally suck, feel free at: XenaNut@hotmail.com
"Are you sure he'll like it?" I asked, looking down at the package in my hands.
"Yes, babe. I'm positive, for the fifth time," Dag said, thoroughly fed up.
"Okay. But only if you're sure." With a growl she turned to me and took me by the shoulders.
"Chase, Jesse will like the guitar!" She shook me for good measure.
"Okay, okay." We walked on, Dag putting her arm through mine as we looked at the different shops. We had come to the mall to look for a student guitar for Jesse, and I had been beyond thrilled when I had found one on sale. It was absolutely adorable, not full size, and just big enough for an eight-year-old boy.
Jesse and I were ten weeks into our sessions now, and I had been beyond excited when I had gotten him to actually play Melo. He had let me get close enough to teach him some very simple chords, and I knew it was time he had his own.
It was hard to not get frustrated, and concentrate on the progress. I wanted that little boy to talk to me so badly, wanted him to sing with me. I wanted him to have what every child his age had.
Dagny had started up his normal sessions with her, and was surprised that he was actually responding to her even more, now. He still had not said a word, but was willing to draw her pictures, and even brought her a paper from school that he had received a gold star on.
We headed down the hall toward the food court, when I turned to look at some benches gathered in the middle for people to sit on. A guy in particular caught my attention, and I looked again.
"Hang on a sec, Dag." I said, heading over to him. He was sitting with an ankle crossed over his knee, his elbow resting on that as he rested his chin on his hand. He looked absolutely bored, and I grinned at that. He hates to shop, I knew.
"So who managed to drag you to the mall?" I said, standing just a little to the side and behind Mike. He looked at me over his shoulder, then turned to face me fully.
"Hey." He gave me a small smile. "How are you, Chase?" Standing, he gave me a hug, and I hugged him back.
"I'm great." I indicated Dagny who stood back a bit to give me a chance to talk to him. "You remember Dagny?" He nodded, giving her a small wave. She smiled.
"Hi, Mike." He turned back to me.
"You look great." I looked him over, noting the normal clothes and hairstyle. Before he had looked every bit the drummer. His usual attire, a metal band shirt and torn jeans to go along with the spikes in his hair. Now, he was clean cut, although his usual stubbly beard was still there. I had to laugh at that. He once had told me he'd never get rid of that, and he had been telling the truth.
"So do you. How's school going?"
"It's going great. I'm more than half way there. I've been real busy, got a job, still in CID, came out, Carla got married. You know, typical stuff."
"Whoa, wait a second." He looked at Dagny again, then at me. "You came out?" I grinned and nodded. "Oh, does that make so much sense now." He smiled, crossing his arms over his chest. "Wow. So I take it you guys are together, now?" Again I nodded.
"It's been interesting with the folks."
"Yeah, I bet. That's great about Carla. Todd?"
"Yeah. So what about you?"
"Well, I'm waiting for my girlfriend." He glanced over his shoulder at the Gap store behind him. "She takes forever. We're engaged."
"No shit?" For just a second, I felt pained. He had meant a lot to me at one time, and I still cared about him, probably always would. I was glad he was happy, though. "That's great, Mike. Really."
"Thanks." He looked down to hide his obviously proud smile. "I also went back to school. I just finished up getting my associates in graphic design." I looked at him, stunned.
"Who are you and what have you done with Michael?" He smiled. "Good for you."
"Well, it looks like things have turned out well for us both, I guess." I nodded.
"Yeah, it does. I wish you well, Mike. I always did."
"You, too, Chase." He leaned down and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek. "See you around."
"Yeah. Bye." With one last smile, I turned to Dag, and we walked away.
"Hon, you have to learn some professional distance," Dagny told me one night. "It's great that you care so much for Jesse, hell I do, too. But, in the end, he will go on and you can't go with him."
I knew this, but I also knew I would do whatever it took to get through to him.
The door to the outer office opened, and I knew it would be a matter of moments before Jesse would be here and see his gift. I had called Ava to see what her thoughts were on it, and if it was okay. She had started crying, telling me she thought her grandson would be overjoyed. We'll see.
Jesse and Ava appeared, both looking a bit sullen.
"You guys okay?" Dagny asked, walking over to the older woman and the little boy.
"This one got into a fist fight yesterday." She said, looking down at her grandson. I looked at Jesse to see the slight discoloration under his right eye. Jeez, eight and already had a shiner.
"What happened?" Dag asked, kneeling down to look at his face. He glared at her, then up at me.
"I don't know. I think some little kid made fun of him, or something. The teacher said Jesse threw the first punch."
"Hey, Jess. How are you?" Dagny asked, smiling at him. He wouldn't respond.
"Those kids, they're so mean sometimes. They tease him because he is different than they are." Ava was obviously upset by this, tears beginning to well in her dark eyes as she stroked her grandson's hair. I looked at him with concern. Just the sort of thing I didn't want to happen to him. I knew as he got older it would get worse. Kids were cruel.
"Hey, big guy. Guess what?" I took a step forward, he looked at me, but did not step away. This was good. "I got you a little something. Wanna see what it is?" He stared at me, seemingly unsure of what to do. I decided to take a different angle. "Do you like birthday parties, Jesse?" He nodded. I smiled. "So you like it when you get presents?" Again he nodded, this time accompanied by the tiniest of smiles. "Well, come here, then."
I walked toward the table, knowing Dag and Ava were watching closely. The three of us had been excited about this all week, curious to see how Jesse would react. I picked up the wrapped guitar, a dark blue bow tied around it. I had managed to get out of the boy through questions and gestures that blue was his favorite color.
Jesse stood with his grandmother for a moment before deciding to walk over to me. He stood about a yard away, but his eyes were lit up. It was good to see this; I figured we would have a major setback from the fight.
"This is for you, Jesse. Now, you have to let your sisters see it, too, okay?" He looked up at me, then at the gift, slowly nodding. I gently nudged the guitar toward him, and he looked at it for a few moments before grabbing it and picking it up. I could almost read his thoughts, wondering what it was by its weights, slightly shaking it. I stood back, my arms crossed over my chest, afraid to breathe. My little charge turned the brightly colored package around in his hands, studying it. I was fascinated by the way his brain worked. Since I'd been working with him for the last three months, I thought he'd be a good scientist or even architect. He was creative, analytical and intelligent. Now if I could only get him to say even one word.
The sound of ripping paper brought me out of my reverie as he tore into the gift, throwing the paper aside. When he saw what it was, his eyes opened wide, and he looked up at me.
"It's yours, Jess." He stared for a moment longer before his eyes wandered down to the guitar in his hands, and a wide smile spread across his lips, seeping up into his eyes. He turned and hurried over to his grandmother, lifting his gift for her to see.
"What did you get, boy?" she asked, kneeling down. "A guitar?" He nodded vigorously. I glanced at Dag to see she was watching, too. Her eyes met mine, and we shared one of those great shared moments of silent discussion. Turning back to Jesse, I saw him slowly walking back toward me, the guitar held out to me. I wasn't sure what he was doing.
"What's up?" I asked, looking down at him. He thrusted it toward me. "I don't know what you want, Jess."
"He wants," Ava began, but Dag stopped her.
"No. Let him tell her." He refused to say anything, just held the guitar out to me.
"Do you want me to teach you how to play?" He nodded, smiling. I casually sat in a chair, my arm hanging over the back. "You know, Jesse, this guitar is yours, and it is a gift, but it does not come without a price." He looked at me, narrowing his eyes a bit. "If you want to learn how to play it like I play Melo, you have to talk to me." He just stared, then looked down at the guitar in his hands. "Can you do that for me?" Not looking at me, he shrugged. "Jesse?" Dark eyes met mine. "Can you?" finally, with a small sigh, he nodded.
I smiled, thinking back that day with Jesse. I would never forget the little guy, no matter how many kids I talked to or helped.
"Yo, Chase. You in outer space, or what?" I turned, Shanita staring at me as if I'd lost my mind.
"Sorry. What did you ask?"
"I asked what happened to the kid?" I sighed, staring into the face of this very troubled girl, fifteen, and already kicked out of her house. She was a pretty girl, smooth, dark skin, her hair in dreads. This was our third meeting, and I knew we still had a lot of work.
"Well, I began to teach him how to play the guitar, then it was the most wonderful Christmas present I could ever have gotten." I smiled at the memory. Shanita stared at me, and though she tried to hide it behind her tough act and androgynous clothes, I could tell she wanted to know. "He came in, just two days before his tenth birthday. He had his guitar with him, ready to go, and we talked, well I talked, about what Christmas songs we should play that day. As I started to play Jingle Bells, Jesse looked up at me, his great big dark eyes, much like yours, Shanita, and he smiled at me. I looked at this kid like he's lost his mind." The girl smiled, but only for a second before turning stoic on me. "He opened his mouth, and I swear I'll never forget this, he opened his mouth and said my name."
"Yep. He said Chase. I stared at him, dumbstruck to hear another voice in that room besides mine for the past year and a half. What did you say?" I asked, nearly throwing my own guitar to get to him faster. He smiled at me, very proud of himself."
"Damn. Why'd he say your name as his first word?"
"I don't know. But, I was just glad to hear it. It amazes me to think he's now, let's see here. Around eighteen years old." For a moment I was taken aback, how fast time does fly.
"So what about that Dagny chick? What ever happened to her? You still wid her?"
"Oh, yes. In fact, we hit ten years last week."
"Damn, that's cool."
I sat forward in my chair, forearms resting on my thighs. "The reason I told you all this is that you have to understand things do change, Shanita."
"Hell, my parents don't give nothing about me, though, Chase. Fuck, man, my dad kicked my ass when he found me an' Nora together. He don't care."
"You are so young, Shanita, and you have a jump start on your peers just because you have a clear picture of who you are. That's a great place to start."
"Man, I wish things could turn out for me like they did you. The only thing that makes me feel better is that you was screwy as a kid." I laughed, patted the girl on the knee.
"Thanks, Shanita. I appreciate it." She grinned. "Okay, well our time is up. I'll be here again next week, as you know. Same time, same channel." I grinned, so did she as I stood. "Okay, you. I have to go pick up my son." Shanita stood, and put her hands in her pockets, suddenly looking very shy.
"Um, I just kind of wanted to say thank you, and all, know what I'm sayin'? You telling me about your past when you was young, and all." I smiled, putting my hand on her shoulder. She would be tall, already standing a good few inches taller than me.
"You got it. I'll see you next week."
"Oh hey, and tell the cute blonde chick hi for me." She grinned wide as I headed out of the room.
"Which cute blonde chick?"
"The one you is celebrating a decade with. Man, you's a honky."
"Thank you, Shanita. I take my honkyness quite seriously."
"Man, get outta here."
I laughed all the way out to my car.
As I drove to the daycare center, I thought about my session with Shanita today, and it made me so angry to think of what this poor girl had to go through. Her parents were not the richest people in Portland, but they were not living on the streets, either. Shanita was one of five children, she being the second to the oldest. She was a gay teen, and had been caught with her girlfriend. Her father had beat the crap out of her, then had kicked her out. Shanita was now at a shelter for runaway teens.
I was working with four other girls here at the shelter, but Shanita was the only one who was a lesbian, and struggling with its effect on her family and life. This shelter was on my schedule three days a week; I also worked with kids at the detention hall outside of town, visiting them twice a week, then off to Green Meadows, the alternative high school where kids who could not handle regular high school for one reason or another, went to school. Four times a month I also worked with the kids at a local elementary school.
"Hey, Chase. How are you, hon?" I smiled at Martha, Hunter's daycare lady.
"Not too bad. How about yourself?"
"Pretty good. Our little man here got into a spot of trouble today, though." I looked down at my two year old son who sat with a group of kids playing cars. He looked at me with his big blue eyes, trying to get the puppy dog look in there. I walked over to him, grabbing him up under the arms and lifting him high into the air. He squealed with delight.
"What did you do, big guy?"
"Nothin'." He smiled when I set him down again. I looked at the older woman.
"Biting again?" She nodded. I turned scornful eyes on him. "What did I tell you about that, Hunter?" He threw his bottom lip out. "Hun uh. Don't even try that." I looked to the daycare worker again. "I'm sorry, Martha. We've really been working with him on that."
"No harm, dear. I just thought you should know."
"Thanks. See you Monday. Let's go, fella."
I got Hunter strapped into his car seat, and pulled the Lincoln Navigator out of the space, headed home. Tonight was my night to make dinner as Dag was still seeing patients until six. Tonight was also a special night for Hunter as Carrie and Paul were bringing their five-year-old and two-year-old, Brianne and Jake, to our house. They went out once a month for a night on the town with just the two of them, and we watched the rugrats for them. They had very busy and stressful lives, Paul a professor at the University of Oregon, and Carrie a painter, her work in some of the greatest galleries in Oregon.
I pulled into the garage, turning the car off, and opening the back to get my boy out.
"Come on, big guy." I unstrapped him, lifted him to rest on my hip as I headed into the house. Our dog Gracie, a beautiful husky fur ball, barked excitedly as I walked through the kitchen. "Hello, baby. How's my girl?" I knelt down, letting her greet me and Hunter with excited wags of her tail and licks to our faces. When I received a tongue in my mouth that wasn't Dag's, I knew greetings were over. Hunter followed me around as I put his diaper bag in the closet, and headed for the answering machine. He rambled on and on about his day, and all the toys he played with at "dare". He hadn't quite figured out that there were two words to day care, and dare wasn't one of them.
Hitting the play button on the answering machine, I started on making my specialty, homemade pizza for tonight. Hunter happily munched on a graham cracker and his little cup of juice as I kneaded the dough.
The first message was from Dagny's mom telling us they'd be able to make it in two weeks. I smiled, knowing Dag would be thrilled. The next message caught me, and I stopped, listening.
I could not stop the grin from spreading across my face as I grabbed the cordless from the breakfast bar, and quickly dialed Dag's voicemail.
"Hey, beautiful. I just wanted to call and tell you I love you, and to hurry home. I am not handling these monsters all by myself. Oh, and Joie called. Seven pounds, nine ounces, twenty inches long. I love you."
I set the phone back down, and continued with my pizza. My mind began to wander back to a time so long ago. Talking to Shanita today, it made me realize just what I have. Things were not absolutely perfect, of course. Life isn't perfect, and nor are the people who comprise it. Even so, I had an incredible woman by my side, and a son who was beautiful, smart, sometimes a little too much for his own good, and a wonderful career and house.
Taking my little journey back through my early life for that troubled girl today told me so much. It had been such a hard time in some ways, but a valuable time, too. I had learned who I was and where I was going.
After graduation I decided to go on for my masters while Dag finished up her doctorate. She got a job at the university until I finished, then we both found work in Portland, Oregon. We'd been here ever since. The climate was great, the landscape beautiful, and the people friendly and giving.
Five years ago we had started discussing children, Dag's clock ticking so loud it kept me awake at night. Finally I had agreed, and we had started to look into having a baby. Dagny got pregnant three years ago, and I have to admit, I was not so happy about it. I was scared that I would turn out to be the kind of parent mine were. Dagny assured me that this would not be the case, but still I wondered. The day arrived, a rainy day in December, Hunter Marin-Robertson was born. He was so beautiful, just like his mother. His fair skin and hair, but blue eyes like the father. He was truly the biggest joy I could have ever imagined. He and Dagny made my life complete.
Carrie and Paul had followed us to Portland a year later, Dag getting Paul on with the local university where she still taught classes part time. He also still taught there, receiving his tenure four years ago. Natalie and I still spoke on occasion, I'd say about four or five times a year either through email or phone calls. She, married to her career, was a geneticist in New Jersey, and had also decided to come in two weeks. Dagny was so excited about it, finally making it known to our friends and family.
Family. Ah, now there was an interesting subject. My father and I have made great strides to try and keep a relationship. He had come by himself to both my graduations, which had meant so much to me. My mother and I had not spoken in far too many years. Once Hunter was born, my father made her come to Oregon, and when she saw his little face, I swear I saw a light go off in there somewhere. She took him in her arms and began to cry. We were not close by any means, but she did call on occasion, and we see them for Christmas about every second year. She was interesting.
Now Carla, however, and I turned out to be surprisingly close. She and Todd practiced in D.C. in the family practice they had started six years ago thanks to donations from his and our fathers. They had yet to have children, so my dad was beside himself to have a grandson in Hunter. He was the greatest grandfather, far better then I had ever imagined. But then, he was almost retired now, so had the time.
I put the pizza in the oven, and just as I closed the door, the garage door opened.
"Hunter, boy, mommy's home."
"Mommy?" He came tearing around the corner, toy car in his hand. "Mommy, mommy!" I grinned as I watched his face light up, blue eyes huge with excitement.
"Hunter!" could be heard from the other side of the door to the house from the garage.
"Hunter?" This was a game they played nightly until finally Dagny appeared, and our son nearly squealed at the sight. Dag, looking gorgeous in her green skirt suit, waked in, picking up the little guy as she did. "How are you, baby boy?" she said, kissing his forehead.
"Good, mommy. Pizza!" he exclaimed, pointing to the oven.
"Pizza?" He nodded, a grin on his face. "Sounds yummy." Again he nodded. She kissed him again, and walked over to me. "So? Is it Aaron or Erin?" I smiled, walked over to her and kissed her soundly on the lips.
"Hello to you, too."
"I'm sorry, baby." She said against my lips. "I just was so excited after getting your voicemail. I missed you today."
"I missed you, too. Are you ready for three monsters and homemade pizza?"
"Well, I'm ready for pizza." We smiled and kissed again. "Okay, so tell me." She looked at me, nearly holding her breath.
"Yes! I just knew it would be a girl." She put Hunter down, and grabbed the phone. "I'm so excited for them." As she dialed the number she glanced over at me. "Don't you think it's time to get a permanent playmate for Hunter?" She wiggled her eyebrows. "And remember, you promised me you'd have the next one."
"Of course I promised you that, you were in the throes of labor. I would have promised you anything." I grinned when she smacked me with the kitchen towel. As she left her message of congratulations on Joie and Jenny's answering machine, I looked at both my son and my partner, and I thought to myself, how could life get any better?
This was her day as she'd dreamed of a ceremony for our love for years now. To me it had seemed pointless. We were happier not married than my parents had been with thirty-odd years of marriage under their belt. But, she had won me over, saying she wanted something special for us and those who cared about us. She also wanted to set a good example for Hunter.
Sitting in the basement where all my musical equipment was, and where my band practiced, I grabbed Melo and began to strum her, the intro into the song soft and gentle. I began to sing.
The years have passed quickly
Since that stormy night
When my world went off kilter
And your love was in sight.
It always astounds me
Each morning I wake
The look in your eyes
Is mine for the take
Chorus: Your breath on my skin
Keeps my fears at bay
The look in your eyes
Gets me through each day
There is nowhere
I'd rather be
Than in your arms
Tucked ever gently
Before you admitted
To feeling the same
I hoped beyond hope
You'd one day whisper my name
With love on your lips
Matching that in your eyes
I thought of you often
With nothing but sighs
Now when you're not near
I'm dying of thirst
With you by my side
My full heart will burst
For your hands give me strength
Your words, my power
There's nothing I can't do
With you I stand tall, never cower
With you in my life
My puzzle piece fits
There is no strife in my days
You inspire such bliss
And now there are three
In this family of ours
Each moment is precious
Ev'ry minute, every hour.
I stopped playing, looked into the eyes of Dagny. I smiled as I saw the tears that had already begun to gather, lazily falling down her cheeks. She sat next to me on the stage, looking beyond beautiful in her dress, ivory satin, but simple. She looked at me with such love in her eyes that it reached out and touched me until I, too was choked up.
"I love you, Dagny." I leaned over and kissed her.
"I love you, too, Chase." Kissing me back, we didn't even hear the clapping of our guests. I felt someone tugging at my the arm of my pants suit. I turned to see Hunter staring up at me, his blue eyes filled with worry as both his mommies were crying.
"Hey, big guy." I grabbed him, pulling him onto my lap before my eyes returned to Dag's. Yeah, this was the way it should be.