A Thousand Kisses

Part 10

By: Girl Bard

girl_bard@yahoo.com

Disclaimer: Please see part 1. Enjoy!

For a minute, all I can hear is my heart pounding and Jaden's shallow breathing next to me.

Just when I think my heart will burst and I go to slam the phone down I hear Laura's soft voice.

"Grace?" She says so quietly it sounds like a whisper.

"Yes." I tell her, my hand clenching the phone so tightly that it hurts.

"How are you?" Laura asks me and I'm not really sure how to answer.

"Scared." I admit. "I'm wondering if this was a mistake."

"No." She answers forcefully. "Not a mistake, just a surprise."

"Oh." I respond, immediately soothed by Jaden's comforting presence as she continues to rub my back. "I'm sorry, I just don't know what to say."

"I don't either." Laura confesses. "I've always thought of what I would like to say to you if I ever met you, but right now all I can think of is how hard this must be for you."

"It is." I tell her. My eyes meet Jaden's for the first time since I made the phone call. She smiles encouragingly and I am anchored by her mere existence. "Listen, I don't know if you would like to meet me, but I'm in Chicago until tomorrow." I feel my voice stammering and I try not to cry.

"I would love to." Laura replies immediately. "Whenever is convenient for you."

I look at Jaden who nods. "Um, anytime is fine. We're staying at the Mariott, room 127."

"How about we meet at the Italian restaurant on the corner by your hotel in an hour. Is that okay? And then, if you would like, you can join me at my house after. I would ask you here now, but it's a madhouse with Christmas and all. Everyone will be so excited to meet you that I'm afraid it will be a bit overwhelming at first." Laura says.

"Okay. I guess I'll see you in an hour." I tell her. "Thank you for agreeing to meet me."

"Grace, I wouldn't want anything more." She replies. "Oh, what do you look like so I can be sure to find you?"

"I'm 5'2" with short blonde hair." I answer and she laughs, a full and happy laugh like Jaden's. "And I'll be with my partner, you can't miss her. She's tall with black hair."

"I'll see you then." Laura says, and I say goodbye.

I hang up the phone and look at Jaden anxiously.

"Am I crazy?" I ask, the tears that threatened earlier now fall freely down my cheeks.

"Sweetheart, you're not crazy at all." She answers as she wipes them away with her thumbs. "I'm so happy for you, and I hope this works out for the best. Now, come on, let's get ready to meet your mother." Jaden hops up and sorts through our combined clothes in the suitcase.

"Thank you for being so supportive." I tell her and receive a beaming smile in return. "I know I've been through a lot since I met you and regardless of what's happened, you've been beside me."

Jaden crosses over to me and pulls me into her arms. "Wasn't it not too long ago that you were giving me a speech about roller coasters? Gracie, there's no place I would rather be than at your side. Please remember that always."

I look into her wonderfully blue eyes that are the color of the deepest sea. "I'll remember."

She smiles and rests her chin on the top of my head, her body melding into mine.

************************************************************************

Jesus Christ, I'm nervous. We're not even meeting the mother I never knew today, and I'm still nervous. I can't imagine what poor Gracie is feeling.

I'm trying to be supportive and calm because I know that's what she needs. But my heart is fluttering and I'm hoping that meeting Laura will not harm Grace in any way.

Please just let it be good for her, she needs something wonderful in her life, especially with the first Christmas away from her family approaching so very soon.

"We ready?" Grace asks, looking very stylish in her tailored gray pants and soft sweater.

"Yeah, how are you doing?" I ask. She's been really quiet for the past hour and I know she's just trying to get a handle on all the emotions running through her head.

"Okay. Boy am I going to have a lot to tell Cheryl when we get back." She says and I chuckle. She pulls on her dainty shoes. "Let's go before I change my mind."

As we walk out of the hotel lobby, I take Grace's hand. "I was thinking," I begin.

"Oh uh, bad idea Spots." Grace kids. I squeeze her hand in response.

"Seriously though, if it's too difficult for you to tell your mother about us, I can just be a friend." I mention. I don't want to make things any harder for her.

"No way." She says vehemently. "If Laura and her family are going to meet me, they are going to meet the real me. And that includes you, and always will."

"Okay." I answer simply. Of course secretly, I am pleased by her answer, but didn't want to pressure her.

Grace pauses at the door to the restaurant. I reach down and hug her briefly, pausing to kiss her cheek and whisper in her ear. "It will be okay, I promise."

Reassured, she opens the door and we walk in. A woman is standing in the waiting area and I immediately know that it is Laura Greene. She looks just like my Gracie.

"Grace?" The woman questions and Grace nods. I stand there, smiling brightly, but feeling out of place. Maybe I shouldn't have come; I don't want to intrude on their first meeting.

"Hi." Grace says, looking completely shell-shocked. Laura opens her arms and hugs Grace warmly. Gracie returns the hug but I can tell that she's still nervous.

"This is my partner, Jaden Phillips." Grace says to Laura who turns her attention to me.

"It's lovely to meet you." She says before hugging me. Feeling apprehensive, I hug her back tentatively.

Laura smiles at the both of us and I notice the subtle differences between she and Grace. They have the same face shape, but Grace's features are more delicate and less rounded. Laura's eyes are a hazel color and not the strong aqua of Grace's.

Grace takes my hand as the hostess seats us in a spacious booth. We both sit across from Laura who can't stop smiling.

"This is so difficult." She says, and Grace and I nod our heads in agreement. "Why don't you tell me about yourself and your life now." Laura says encouragingly.

I sit back against the booth and feel myself relaxing. Grace never has a problem talking, so she should be okay.

"I met Jaden in May of last year when I was working at my Uncle Rick's bar. We had a long-distance friendship turned relationship for a year until I moved out to where she lives in Massachusetts." Grace states, finally looking like she can relax.

Laura smiles at me. "I'm glad you have someone so wonderful in your life, Grace. All I ever wanted was for you to have a good life."

"I didn't have a good life until I met Jaden." Grace states simply and Laura raises her eyebrows in surprise. "I was always fed and taken care of, but my mother hates me and my father hasn't spoken more than ten words to me in my entire life." Grace adds.

"I'm so sorry, I didn't know that's how it would be." Laura says, her face completely crestfallen.

"I know." Grace adds. "And I'm not telling you this to make you feel guilty. Laura, I've made some choices in my life that were so difficult I thought I would die. But one thing I realized is that we have to stand by the choices we make, regardless of their outcome."

"I understand." Laura says softly. "Giving you up was the hardest thing I've ever had to do, but I felt at the time that it was my only choice. I thought I was giving you a better life and I can't describe to you how it makes me feel to hear that wasn't the case."

"It's okay." Grace answers, reaching her hand across the table to take Laura's. "I don't blame you for my life, you did what you thought was the best thing. And who knows, maybe it was."

Once again I am struck dumb by what an incredible person Grace is. I could never dream of having the empathy and giving nature that comes so naturally to her.

"Thank you." Laura says.

"For what? I haven't done anything except give you quite a surprise before Christmas." Grace says, smiling.

"And what a pleasant surprise." Laura finishes.

The waiter, who has been hovering around for the past few minutes but must have sensed the seriousness of the subject and decided not to interrupt, finally gets up his nerve and approaches the table.

We order quickly and Grace asks Laura how her life is now.

"Busy, but I love it." She says, the smile on her face so like that of my Gracie. "I married the first man I met when I moved to Chicago and we have five children."

Neither Grace nor I are surprised by this, having gotten the information from Harry.

"I'm very happy for you." Grace says genuinely.

"I would love for you to meet everyone, if you have time."

"We'd love to." Grace answers.

"I have my car, I can drive us all over." Laura responds, her voice excited.

"That would be great." I tell her and Grace nods.

"Well, that settled, I would love to hear more about the woman who has captured Grace's heart!" Laura says and I blush.

"I'm a mounted police officer in Boston and I love your daughter with all that I am." I respond to Laura. "I guess that's all there is to know about me."

Laura laughs and Grace gently elbows me in the ribs. "Jaden is wonderful. She is brilliant and funny and kind. Sometimes I will look at her and can't believe that she is in my life." Grace says and I blush further.

"I am thrilled." Laura says quietly. "My oldest son, Jason, is bisexual and he just told us a few months ago. My husband was a little upset; it was the last thing he expected to hear from his first-born son, but my husband has never stopped loving him. He doesn't even think of him differently now, it just was the initial shock I guess." Laura smiles gently. "I always knew, I think. Jason was always such a jock like his other brothers, but there was something different about him."

"Tell me about your other children." Grace probes and Laura has no problem continuing.

"Well, Jason is the oldest, besides you of course, followed by Jack and Ryan, the twins. Then comes Michelle and the baby, Jillian." Laura digs around in her purse and lays a stack of photographs on the table. "I brought these so you could put their names to their faces."

"Thank you." Grace says quietly. I place my arm around her shoulder and she leans back into my touch.

"Wow, what a brood." I say, looking at the expansive family portrait. Laura smiles sadly.

"This is my husband's family, I haven't spoken to mine in years."

"I'm sorry to hear that." I respond.

"Well, this is my husband Jackson." Laura says fondly, showing us a picture of herself and a plain looking man. "He can't wait to meet the both of you."

"And here are the children." She says, spreading out all of their pictures. They are all nice-looking, and the youngest girl; Jillian bears a striking resemblance to Grace.

I point to her picture. "She looks like the both of you."

"Yes, she does." Laura finishes. "I never lied to my children about you Grace. They know they have an older sister I had to give up. I have your baby picture, the only one I have of you, on the wall with all of theirs. From the minute Jillian was born she looked like you."

"I wish I had known about you." Grace says softly, her voice filled with tremors. "My entire life I thought my mother hated me because of something I had done. Now that I know the truth I can go back and realize it must have been difficult for her, raising a child that wasn't her own, especially when that child grew up to look so much like you."

"I didn't know what kind of a person she was, or I never would have let her take you. I didn't really know her at all." Laura finishes.

"What happened?" Grace questions, and for the first time since we've met, Laura looks nervous.

She takes a few deep breaths before opening her mouth, her words rushing out. "Your father was quite a catch back then, he was rich and athletic and handsome. I was a poor girl from the wrong part of town who had to drop out of high school to take care of my younger brothers and sisters. I got a part-time job cleaning houses for extra money for my family and I worked in your father's home for a few months." Laura explains. "I didn't know he had a fiancÚ until after I fell madly in love with him." She continues, "And he promised me that it was me he wanted to marry and it was me he loved. I thought he was my knight in shining armor who would take me away from my miserable life." Laura shakes her head sadly. "I was a fool and I believed him. When I found out I was pregnant, I was so excited. I thought the baby would bring us together. But instead, his parents found out and weren't happy, to say the least."

"I'm so sorry that happened to you." Grace begins, "I had no idea."

"Neither did I." Laura continues. "Your father told me it was over. I was devastated, I had no money and we couldn't feed my brothers and sisters at home, let alone another child. I told my parents and they threw me out. I had nowhere to go and no money. Your father told me his parents would pay me to leave the state if I gave you up." Laura's hazel eyes fill with tears and she struggles to continue her story.

"I didn't want to Grace, believe that. He promised me you would have a wonderful life and would never want for anything. If I'd have kept you, I couldn't have even afforded to feed you. I thought I was doing the right thing." Laura finishes, tears spilling from her eyes.

"I think you did do the right thing." Grace states. "And if I were in your position, I can't say I wouldn't have done the same."

"I wish things could have been different." Laura says as she wipes her eyes dry.

"I know." Grace responds, "But they weren't." She smiles at her mother. "That doesn't mean things can't be better in the future."

Laura beams. "I hope they will be."

************************************************************************

I'm in a little bit of sensory overload. I was feeling pretty confident after meeting Laura that going over to her house and visiting with her husband and children could be okay. But then on the way over, my stomach started doing the Electric Slide and when we pulled up to her quaint little townhouse on the outskirts of the city and made our way up the snowy walk and the door opened and people came running out and talking and hugging me I think I fried a few circuits of my brain.

But now we're inside, Jaden and I sitting side by side on the sofa, with all of my siblings? scattered around us. I feel like an exhibit at the zoo, and I make a mental note never to stare at the animals quite so much again. It must really freak them out.

I was worried Jaden would get really upset and tense and distant like she does when she's nervous, but so far she's been okay. Very warm and genuine and acting like this entire thing is no big deal. I'm grateful, and I'm trying to learn something from her and follow her example.

Laura's husband, Jackson, is very nice. He is funny and warm and like Laura said, he seemed thrilled to meet us. All of her kids are great, Jason is just a year and a half younger than myself and I liked him immediately. He has a great smile and wears a pair of black wire-rimmed glasses that Jillian told me were just to make him look "cool". He's a senior in college this year and is studying to be an architect.

The twins, Ryan and Jack are sophomores in college this year, and are pretty loud and obnoxious like most guys their age. Regardless, they have been really kind and are both fascinated with Jaden. They just keep staring at her like little lost puppy dogs. It's actually pretty funny.

Michelle is the only one that seems distant. She is dark in coloring like her father and the twins, and seems like she has a lot of energy and intensity. She reminds me of Jaden in that way, always seeming as if she's on the edge of something and poised to jump off. She hasn't been rude to me, but hasn't been kind either. I don't really blame her; I'm sure the last thing anyone in Laura's family expected was to have me appear just before Christmas.

And Jillian, well, she is wonderful. She is truly the baby in the family, four years younger than Michelle's 18. I'm not really sure why I feel so drawn to her, maybe because she really does look like my sister, or because she's Lydia's age. She's a great kid, very silly and sweet, and it's strange for me to say that when Jaden and I leave tomorrow, I'll miss her most of all.

I really like Laura. I know that I'm distancing myself to her because it's easier that way for me to leave. I could get used to this family and this mother, but I have to accept that I need to realize that just because we've all met, it's not going to be one big happy family.

But I'm thoroughly enjoying the time I have here with all of them. They have been so gracious and welcoming to both Jaden and myself, far more than I expected. I really thought that Laura Greene would just simply hang up the phone and pretend I still don't exist.

"Grace, you want to go to Michigan Ave. tomorrow and go shopping? They have the best stores ever." Jillian excitedly offers.

"Sure, I could always shop!" I agree and she claps her hands in delight.

"Can I mom?" She asks and Laura nods. "Mich, you coming?" Jillian asks her big sister.

"No, I have plans tomorrow." Michelle says quickly. "Sorry."

A wave of disappointment crosses over Laura's face. "I know you are skiing with your friends Michelle, I wouldn't ask you to miss that." She tells her daughter.

"I'll go." Jason says quietly. "Unless this is a girls-only thing." He adds hastily.

"No, the more the merrier." Laura offers. "Ryan, Jack? You guys in?"

The twins look at each other and shake their heads. "No way Mom, we're not spending a day of vacation shopping."

Jaden smiles at them. "I don't blame you."

"Well, you could hang with us if you wanted." Jack offers to Jaden, a look of adoration on his face. I grin as Jillian rolls her eyes.

"You guys are lame. Jaden and Grace are together and like engaged. Duh!" Jillian reminds them.

"I'd love to go shopping." Jaden says, her smile forced. I pat her on the arm and snuggle in closer to her.

"Don't worry Spots, I'll make sure it's worth your while." I assure her.

"Why do you call her Spots?" Jillian asks and Jaden's face turns red.

"Do you really want to know?" I respond and she shakes her blonde head eagerly. Everyone else seems interested in the story and I smile in sympathy for Jaden.

"I'll tell you a story of a grown police officer and her battle with a case of the chickenpox." I begin and everyone chuckles with anticipation.

Part 11: Coming soon! I think feedback is cool. I think fanfic readers are cool. Won't you be doubly cool and drop me an email at: girl_bard@yahoo.com


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