By: Girl Bard
Disclaimer: Please see Part 1.
August 17, 2001
I open the oven door for Jillian and she slides the pan of lasagna in triumphantly. Grinning at me, Im once again surprised by our physical resemblance.
"How long till its done?" She asks, setting the timer.
"About an hour. We should make a salad or something to go with it." I tell her as I open the fridge and get some ingredients out.
"This was cool, Im glad we made dinner for everyone." My little sister says as she plops herself down on the kitchen stools and begins chopping cucumbers.
"Me too." I answer. "I know Jaden will be starving after work."
Jillian cocks her head, studying me. "She hasnt been around much."
Frowning, I wash the lettuce before ripping it apart. "I know. Shes been really busy lately, especially since were leaving in a few days."
My sister mirrors my frown. "I wish you werent. Youre so much cooler than Michelle. She never wants to do anything with me because shes always hanging out with her weird friends."
"I know." I tell her. "And I know it has nothing to do with you personally. Michelle is just getting older and more independent now." I smile at her. "Anyway, we have to get going. My semester starts soon, and you have school. Can you believe youll be a sophomore this year?" I ask, hoping to cheer her up by changing the subject.
Jillian shrugs. "I want to be done with school. Its so boring. Jason is so lucky that hes graduated and has a real job."
"Im really excited to have him so close to us in Boston." I tell her honestly. Jason announced he was taking the job on the East Coast last night at dinner. Im thrilled to be able to have him closer! "I wish I got to see all of you more, though."
"Well, Im going to go to college in Boston, so Ill see you then." Jillian says, smiling.
"I hope you do." I answer. "Now, come on, lets set the table. Well put a place setting for Jaden in case she is able to make it for supper."
My eyes stinging and skin tight from windburn, I yawn with exhaustion. This project is taking more time of mine than it should, and Im counting down the days until I return home with Gracie.
To our normal life.
Chicago is a beautiful city, certainly cleaner and easier to get around than Boston, but I miss the charm and people of my hometown. Id never thought Id say that.
"Jaden, you up for a drink tonight?" David asks from atop his mount. "We all get together on Thursday nights." Glancing over at him I regard my options wearily. Martha, one of the other officers smiles at me, and Im torn between saying yes and doing what I really want to do. Maybe if I socialize with the officers more, theyll try a little harder for me and wont put up so much resistance.
Sighing in defeat, I smile briefly at them. "Sure, but just for a while."
"Great, lets get off of these fleabags and head out." David states, patting his mounts neck roughly. My heart goes out to the horse, a nice draft mix gelding, as he kicks the horse into a trot.
Martha follows suit and I shake my head in both anger and frustration at the people Im working with on this program. Most of them have no idea what it takes to be a mounted officer, and the rest just dont care. Ive tried everything from lectures to real world experience and still cant get through to a few of them.
I cant wait to go home.
After our shift, I hitch a ride with Martha, Joanie, and Greta to the bar where the force is meeting tonight. They are the only three women new to the mounted program, the other newcomers being seven men. As soon as I complete their training, they and their mounts will join the existing force of five.
Needless to say, it scares me that the ten newcomers will outnumber the veterans on the force, but its not my problem.
Im discouraged about everything right now, and its frustrating because Ive never once felt this way about work. Maybe its because I cant see any good coming out of my hard work here, or that Ive been working so much Ive seen Grace for only a few hours a day at best. Usually by the time I get in shes sleeping, and I leave before she even gets up.
At least she has her family here, and I know shes able to visit them while Im working.
"This is a new place that just opened." Joanie comments as we join the others on the force at the large central table. "We havent been here yet, but it seems nice."
"Yeah." I answer, looking around. It seems to be filled with mostly college kids, and I suddenly feel very old. Was I ever that young?
I know Im not that much older than Gracie, but sometimes I feel it.
"Jaden! Lets get you a drink." David and John, two of the male officers greet me. I agree, exchanging pleasantries while wishing the entire time I was home with Grace.
Soon the table has a few more pitchers of beer and everyone around me is getting more and more increasingly drunk.
Im a little tipsy, realizing the night will be a lot more tolerable if Ive at least had a little to drink.
Steve is one of the nicer guys in training, and I didnt turn him down when he offered a game of pool. Hes alright to talk to and were both equally matched at the game. After weve been playing for a while and he has more and more to drink I realize hes flirting with me.
Ignoring his advances, I glance at my watch and realize its late. Finishing one last game I drink the last of my beer and set it down noisily on the table.
"Steve, its been fun, but I gotta go."
The tall man approaches me, a frown evident on his boyish face. "We were just getting started!" Slinging an arm around my shoulder, he gives me a wide smile.
"Stay, Jaden. Ill make it worth your while, I promise." He practically leers with beer-laden breath. Disgusting.
I give him a slight hug. "No, but thanks anyway."
Steve leans over to kiss my cheek, and then I pull away. "Listen, I said no thanks." Flashing him my left hand, I make sure he sees the gold band of my commitment ring to Gracie. "Besides, Im married."
Holding up his hands, Steve backs away. "Cant blame a guy for trying. See you tomorrow."
"Yeah, see you." I tell him before saying goodbye to everyone else at the bar.
I catch a cab back to the hotel and let myself in the room, hoping Grace is still awake. Instead, I find her sound asleep and clutching my pillow.
Exhausted, I sink onto the soft mattress and immediately fall asleep.
When I wake the next morning, Grace is gone. Pushing down my surge of disappointment, I check the clock to find Ive got little more than thirty minutes to get to work.
"Shit." I complain as I get out of bed and turn on the shower. Its then that I see the note.
Missed you last night. You lost out on my lasagna at dinner, but dont worry, I saved you some for lunch at work today. Its in the fridge, so enjoy.
The family is taking us out tonight; were leaving their house at 6:30. I hope to see you, its my birthday, remember?
Of course you do. J
"Double shit." I moan as I step in the steaming water. I didnt forget it was Gracies birthday, but the days just caught up and flew bye. Ill have to make sure Im there tonight.
Throwing on my uniform, I take the Tupperware container housing Graces famous lasagna with me for my lunch break. Shes so considerate, sometimes I feel like I can never repay her for all shes given me.
I glumly hang up the phone and turn to my waiting family. "We can go, shes not going to make it."
Laura places a comforting hand on my shoulder. "Im sorry, sweetheart."
"That sucks." Jillian says as she follows her brothers out the door.
"Shes just really busy right now." I say, understanding why Jaden cant make it to dinner tonight. She sounded really upset and I thought she might be crying.
I cant say Im not disappointed though, I really wanted to see her tonight. And it is my birthday; I wanted to spend it with my wife and family.
I head out the door, followed by Laura and Jackson. Michelle trails along, a strange little smile on her face.
"This is beautiful, thank you all for coming." I tell my family after we order. We are at a beautifully decorated Italian restaurant.
The loud and boisterous company of my family is helping to ease my disappointment about Jaden, with the usual exception of Michelle who wont stop smirking.
Try as I might, theres something about her that always makes me feel uncomfortable.
"Such a shame Jaden had to work tonight." Michelle suddenly states, her dark eyes flashing.
"I know, shes been working so hard, I was hoping it would be easy for her to get off tonight." I respond, taking a sip of my wine.
"She didnt look like she was working hard last night when she was getting fresh with some hottie." Michelle answers, smirking.
I almost drop my wine glass and it clatters loudly on the table as I rush to catch it. "What?"
"Michelle!" Laura practically shouts.
"What are you talking about?" I ask, hiding my hands under the table to hide the shaking.
My sister shrugs, trying to act nonchalant. "I saw her in a bar last night, some guys arms all around her. They were laughing and he kissed her."
"What were you doing in a bar? Youre only 20!" Jackson growls, his hands clenching his napkin.
I just feel sick, my stomach doing flips inside.
"We will talk about this later." Laura tells her daughter, her composure finally returning. "When we are at home. Now, lets enjoy our family dinner."
"Sure." I agree before excusing myself to the restroom. I think Im going to be ill.
Begging off desert because of my stomach, I thank everyone as they drop me off at the hotel. Entering the room, I see Jaden isnt here yet.
Perhaps thats better. I wearily kick off my shoes and lie down on the bed. "Happy birthday to me." I mutter to myself as I burrow my face in Jadens pillow.
Tears flow suddenly, and I soon find myself sobbing. I dont know what to say or who to believe, Jaden has never lied to me before and has no reason too.
But why would Michelle make that up? I know shes bitter and angry toward me, but that doesnt excuse her for making up an outright lie. The only thing to do is discuss this rationally with Jaden when she gets here.
As if on cue, the door opens, and Jaden strolls in. Shes carrying balloons and flowers and has a huge smile on her face.
"Hey birthday girl! Im so glad to see you, Ive missed you so much!"
I fly into her arms, still sobbing uncontrollably.
Part 9 is Coming Soon:
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