A/N: So a couple things delayed this chapter…writer’s block, being busy doing other things, and the fact that my Winters save kept CRASHING every time I played it, but I finally got some inspiration, some time, and the patience to move all the Winters to a new copy of Neverglade thanks to NRAAS’ Porter, which is a life-saving tool. This means no more crashing AND, of course, the part that you guys are actually interested in (hopefully)- A NEW CHAPTER. This will be the second to last chapter for Tamara, with the next chapter being the last. Or at least that’s the current plan. Let’s hope it all works out! In the meantime, I’m going to quit rambling and simply say: ENJOY!
He is the epitome of perfection.
This thought ran continuously through my head as I gazed at my baby boy sleeping, his tiny form warm and wrapped up in his blanket as the baby swing swung slowly back and forth, back and forth. I could sit there for hours watching him—just marveling at his perfect little face, his ten fingers, ten toes, and his shining eyes, a peculiar violet tone that hadn’t been seen in the Winters line thus far. My beautiful baby boy….James.
“Momma!” Kira cried suddenly, knocking me out of the reverie I got trapped within as soon as I’d walked into the nursery.
“Yes?” I asked, tearing my eyes away from my son for a moment to gaze down at her.
“I wead!” she announced proudly, gesturing down toward the book Jiang had bought her just that morning.
“That’s wonderful,” I said with a smile. “Hold on a second…” I added absently, walking over to James to check on him. He’d fallen asleep, the blessed thing, tired out from a morning of peek-a-boo and endless cuddles.
Kira glanced at me in confusion for a moment and then just smiled, turning the page of her book and beginning to read aloud.
“And da gween fwog ju…guh…je…”
“Jumped, Kira. Quiet voice, honey. James is sleeping.”
“….otay, momma,” Kira whispered with a slight frown, studying the word for a moment as she tried to make sense of it. She began to test out the word again on her lips, but I’d forgotten her for a moment, worried for a moment as James made a face and squirmed in his swing. His face relaxed a moment later though, as did my heart.
I wouldn’t know what to do if anything ever happened to James.
He was my son—my perfect baby boy.
But he was growing up…and far too fast.
Everyone was for that matter. It seemed that having children somehow made time go faster, and soon we were throwing a triple birthday party for James, Kira, and my little sister Lynn.
Lynn was especially excited about this because she’d finally be old enough to move out—something that she had been wanting to do for awhile now. It wasn’t the fact that she disliked everyone or anything like that, but seeing all of her older siblings move out and have jobs and families of their own had made her especially anxious to start her own life, even though she was significantly younger than the rest of us.
I was especially excited too, but mostly because I got to see a lot of people I hadn’t had a chance to see in awhile, like Daniel, who had really established himself as a doctor at the local hospital, and the youngest twins, Laura and Andrew. Andrew was still kind of figuring his way out in the world, but Laura was settled down with children. I didn’t know the father, as she seemed to avoid the subject whenever I asked her about him, but she seemed happy enough, so I didn’t think much of it.
I even got to see my Aunt Buttercup, who was doing fairly well, much to everyone’s delight as we hadn’t heard from her in awhile. Her and Dad spent most of the night talking and laughing to themselves, Dad also making it a point to make fun of her needing a cane and bragging that he could still take afternoon jogs, to which my Aunt just rolled her eyes.
It was Kira’s turn after Lynn (so gorgeous and grown up!), blowing out the candles and then immediately insisting upon a makeover from Liu. Kira really adored and admired her older half-sister, so she was thrilled when Liu smiled and helped her, styling her hair into two adorable buns on either side of her head.
I thought she looked perfect and thanked Liu, who just shyly smiled and said thanks. Jiang’s children still didn’t really know what to make of me, but we were at least getting along, which was as much as I could ask for at that point.
After we enjoyed some cake because we were starving, it was James’ turn. Although it nearly killed me to do it, my dad ended up taking James to the cake to blow out his candles. I just couldn’t say no when he asked….and besides, it really did make him happy, so the loss was worth it.
That left myself and the others to cheer him on. I think I nearly deafened the party goers with my cheers, but my little boy deserved only the biggest and best celebration!!
Unsurprisingly, my little man turned out even more perfect, if that was even possible! He inherited his grandma, Marina’s, deep brown hair color and his soft lilac eyes popped more than ever. Jiang said he had a great grandmother with that eye color, but they hadn’t really been seen in awhile, so it was definitely surprising that James had them.
It just made him even more perfect though. He was going to be a real heart breaker, I could tell!
It was then that a loud scream suddenly echoed throughout the house, startling James into tears and making my heart jump into my throat. Kira beat me to comforting him while I turned toward the sound of the scream only to find that Daniel’s wife, Georgia, was doubled over in pain.
SHE HAD GONE INTO LABOR!
“She’s going to explode!” my eccentric Uncle Aspen screamed, panicked out of his mind as a rather strong contraction took over Georgia.
“WHAT DO WE DO!?” Catherine shrieked, evidently and inexplicably losing her senses.
“Calm down, guys, I’ve got this,” Lynn announced, quickly calling the hospital to let them know Georgia was on her way.
Seeing my little sister Lynn being the cool, collected adult amidst a bunch of other, much more experienced, adults luckily sobered up most of the party guests, who calmed down enough to at least go alert Daniel and get Georgia safely into the car.
Well, there was at least one thing about our triple birthday party—it certainly wouldn’t be forgotten anytime soon!!!!
Not long after the party, I realized that our kitchen needed a makeover. It had pretty much looked exactly the same since my dad was a kid, and what with our fairly common tradition of holding birthdays in the kitchen, we realized that we had loads of photos that looked, well, strikingly and boringly similar.
Thus, after some talks with a decorator who we hired and some debate about how much we really wanted to spend on this project, our entire kitchen was remodeled. And I have to say, I think it was definitely for the better!!!!
Besides our new kitchen remodel, life in the Winter’s household was pretty quiet for awhile. Jiang continued to work at the hospital, Liu and Wang continued to excel at school, Kira continued to want to be just like Liu, and our darling James continued to grow healthily. He was especially fond of playing with his xylophone, sometimes spending hours just tapping away at the keys…or chewing on his xylophone mallet—whichever happened to strike his fancy at the time.
He kept to himself a lot, preferring to be alone, a fact that drove me insane at first. I’d always want to play with him and hold him, but he tended to push away or squirm after any extended period of time, preferring solitude and independence. It made him quite different from his older sister, who loved attention and company. She had a big heart and was super affectionate, whereas with James you were lucky if he let you hug him!
It was kind of depressing actually, but I tried not to think about it as my birthday came along—a startling reminder to myself that I was truly getting older.
It was an early morning affair with just the family, half of us just celebrating in pajamas. I wasn’t really that phased about getting older, but I also wasn’t exactly keen on making it a big production either, especially as the age difference between Jiang and I would become that much more pronounced. It always threw me off that Jiang was younger than me when he was the father of two teenagers, but I suppose getting married and having children at age 17 would do that!
On the bright side, I thought I looked okay for my age, and thus enjoyed my birthday cake with a smile.
As I enjoyed said birthday cake too Jiang leaned down and whispered into my ear that I was gorgeous.
And you want to know the best part?
I could tell that he totally meant it.
My children kept me feeling young as well—not to mention the happiest I think I’d been in a long time. I’d been through so many random hardships in my life that it felt good to finally feel at ease and confident about my future. I had a loving husband, a beautiful daughter, and a perfect little son. What more could a woman ask for?
Or at least, any ordinary woman.
But I’d never really been an ordinary woman….had I?
I missed traveling. I missed traveling with every fiber of my being, but I had two young children that I loathed to leave. Especially James. He was so young…so perfect…what would his mom leaving do to him?
Not that I had to be gone for a long time. I could take just a week trip…couldn’t I? A week wouldn’t damage him….
I took a breath, quietly walking through the displays I’d set up in our basement. Thousands of dollars worth of precious gems, artifacts, and statues…over a decade worth of thrilling memories. My heart beat faster as I recalled the dangers I went through to obtain some of those precious pieces—the poison darts I had to evade, the chasms and fire traps I’d had to avoid. Just…the rush of it all.
But I was getting older. A mother now even. It wasn’t really appropriate for me to do those kinds of things anymore.
But I wanted to. I wanted to badly….and as soon as my children were old enough, I vowed that I would.
“Momma, momma, look what I learned at ballet!” Kira cried as she raced into the kitchen and immediately planted herself before me and assumed a starting position.
“Hold on a second, Kira. I was watching your brother. Look how cute he is with his new toy!” I beamed, looking around my eager daughter to smile at James.
“Mommmmmm,” Kira groaned.
“I said hold on!” Kira deflated before me, but I couldn’t help but laugh when James began to “introduce” himself to his doll, babbling and shaking his new toy’s hand.
I was distracted from James though when Kira stomped her foot, an action really uncharacteristic of her as she was typically very agreeable and sweet.
“Hey now, I said wait a moment! Don’t stomp your foot at me,” I scolded, looking at her with annoyance. Kira opened her mouth and looked ready to protest, but then she closed it and looked down, muttering an apology. “It’s okay, honey. Now what did you want to show me?”
Kira looked like she was debating just not showing me what she had learned, but then she put on a smile and bent into a deep plié, which was actually executed pretty well…or at least it looked like it from my limited knowledge of ballet.
“Hey, great job, Kira! Looks like those ballet lessons are really paying off!” I praised, grinning.
“Yeah they really are!” she responded excitedly. “We’re even going to put on a great big show! Can you believe it?! I’m going to be in a real live show!!!”
“That’s wonderful, Kira. Excuse me a second though….I think your brother is getting hungry…..” I said distractedly, leaving her to attend to James.
As I left though I should have looked back…maybe then I would have noticed the tears that formed in Kira’s eyes after I turned my back on her. Maybe then I would have realized sooner what I was doing…took notice of my actions before they got out of hand. But I didn’t.
In all the perfection and happiness I was experiencing in my life, I hadn’t noticed a damn thing.
Nor did I notice for awhile. Life went on pretty normally, albeit somewhat fast, and soon enough we were throwing a huge party for Jiang’s children, who were turning 18 and graduating high school now—a fact which I still couldn’t quite wrap my head around.
Neither, I think, could Jiang, who had trouble accepting that his babies were suddenly going to be old enough to fend for themselves. Heck, Liu had already been accepted to medical school and Wang was going to college to study criminology, as he wanted to be a detective. Both of them would be spending a year in China first though, as per an agreement with their mother, who was already upset enough that the twins had decided to attend high school here.
Thus the huge party actually—since Jiang wouldn’t see them again for a year AND they had accomplished so much here, we both agreed that they deserved the best.
We invited everyone that we could think of, family and friends alike, and everyone made it too! Daniel, Andrew, Laura, Lynn, Catherine and her family, and some of the twin’s friends as well.
Both of them grew up beautifully…so much so in fact that I even saw Jiang get a little misty eyed. I was going to tease him about it, but I decided against it this time. After all, this was a pretty special day. Even our little boy James would be celebrating his birthday that evening!
“Momma, can I go play outside? All the grown ups are walking around funny and laughing way too loudly,” Kira said, wrinkling up her little nose in distaste.
“What? No, honey. You can’t just go wandering outside. Go entertain your brother, okay? And bring him his bottle, will you?”
“He is entertained! He’s playing with his doll! And couldn’t YOU bring him his bottle?”
“Hey you,” Kira grumbled as she walked over to her baby brother, bottle in hand. “Here.”
“TANKEE!” James cried excitedly, immediately downing his bottle as quickly as possible.
“Aw man, I can’t stay mad at you, James,” Kira said quietly. “It’s not your fault everyone likes you more.” She sighed and then sat down in front of her brother, folding her legs. “You wanna play peek-a-boo?”
“Okay, so put your bottle down and cover your eyes. ….cover your eyes, James. Like this! ….now no peeking!!”
James put his little hands over his eyes, giggling as he tried to sneakily peek through his cracked fingers.
“Peek-a-boo!” Kira suddenly cried out, uncovering her face with a grin.
James jumped and let out a shriek of laughter that put a genuine smile on my face, elation filling my being…but it was slightly tainted as Kira’s earlier words echoed in my head. What did she mean everyone liked him more?
Attributing the comment to normal sibling jealousy, I went over to the pair and picked up James to bring him to his birthday cake before it got too late, tickling him and smiling as he laughed and squirmed in my arms.
I still couldn’t believe it was already his birthday—the thought was enough to make me want to cry. I think I might have too if James were a more affectionate toddler. After all, you can’t really miss holding your baby in your arms if he tended to squirm and try to get away whenever you tried to do so!!
Still though, he was my perfect little man and seeing him get older so fast was heartbreaking to say the least.
He turned out to be an incredibly handsome young man though!
And even though my children were growing up far faster than I would have liked, there was no doubting at least that they were growing up beautifully. I truly loved them both from the bottom of my heart and could not have been more proud of them.
And remember I said BOTH of them!!!
It was a good thing that our family had that party to all hang out at too, because after the party life got incredibly busy. Liu and Wang were frantically preparing to move back to China, Jiang was helping them out while also trying to balance his life as a doctor at the local hospital, the children were working hard on maintaining their position on the honor roll while also pursuing their hobbies (painting and writing), Mom was getting fit, Dad was writing too, and I was working on improving my cooking skills and keeping my position on the Llama’s soccer team—a task which wasn’t at all easy.
And in all of this chaos we barely had time to interact, which left most of us to fend for ourselves—our children included.
“James, can I talk to you?” Kira asked one evening as they were helping each other out with their homework.
“You already are,” James said matter-of-factly, furrowing his eyebrows at a particularly puzzling problem he’d come across.
Kira rolled her eyes. “You know what I mean,” she responded in exasperation. “It’s just…well…” she paused, tapping her pencil and pursing her lips.
“Why do you think Mommy doesn’t like me?” Kira finally blurted out, a flash of hurt appearing on her face as the thought came across her mind.
“What do you mean?” James asked in confusion, giving his sister a questioning look.
“I don’t know…she always seems annoyed with me. I try really hard to make her happy—I get on the honor roll and I’m getting really good at painting and I’ve learned all kinds of things in ballet—but it never seems like enough for her,” she pouted.
“I dunno, Kira,” James said thoughtfully, slowly erasing an error on his paper. “I don’t think I noticed. I mean…I think you’re awesome,” he said with a shrug.
“Really?” Kira asked, a look of genuine surprise on her face.
“Yup. You do everything…and you have so many friends. I don’t have any of that,” he said.
“That’s because you don’t want to,” she pointed out. “Lots of kids try to talk to you.”
“Yeah…well…” he responded uncomfortably, letting his voice trail off and the subject drop.
“What do you think I have to do to get her to notice me though?”
“She does notice you,” James insisted. “I think…I think she just spends so much more time with me because she’s worried about me. I mean…I’m kind of weird,” he said, voicing a private worry he’d harbored for awhile.
“Maybe…” Kira said slowly. “But there’s nothing wrong with you, so I doubt that.”
James shrugged his shoulders again. “I guess. I wouldn’t worry about it though. Mom loves you.”
The two fell silent for a long moment, identical expressions of concentration on their faces as they worked on their respective homework assignments.
“Hmm?” he asked distractedly, frowning at his math worksheet.
“Awww…you guys actually like each other!”
“EW NO HE’S MY LAME BROTHER!”
“YEAH RIGHT, KIRA HAS COOTIES!”
And so ended that close sibling moment. It was one that I wish I’d actually been witness to instead of hearing about it afterward. Maybe if I’d known about Kira’s worries I’d have paid more attention. Maybe I would have been more careful.
And maybe, maybe, I wouldn’t have been fucking working instead of being present on one of the biggest night’s of Kira’s life—a night which I had completely forgotten about…because at the heart of it all…I’m really a horrible mother.
It was the night after Kira’s big performance at school. I had at least seen that—I’m not THAT horrible of a mother….but I was still horrible enough to completely lose track of time and NOT realize that the day after said ballet performance was actually Kira’s birthday.
The family had tried to hold off the celebration as long as possible, but I was at work especially late that night, getting in a nice long workout at the stadium’s gym before returning home. After all, in my head, there had really been no reason to hurry home, and since my cellphone was locked away in my locker on silent, I was never successfully informed otherwise.
Everyone else was there though, and Kira put on her best smile as she made a wish and blew out her candles.
I can only imagine what that wish might have been.
Maybe a wish that she’d had a different mother.
If that was actually her wish…I really couldn’t blame her.
Missing her birthday was unforgivable, I knew. Hell, I wouldn’t even be able to forgive myself.
Unsurprisingly, Kira grew up to be amazingly beautiful—a bold, artistic soul with an overwhelming amount of talent.
And I should have been there for her birthday. I really and truly should have.
But it wasn’t until late that I arrived, exhausted from my workout but feeling good as I’d taken a shower before I left and the night air was cool and crisp on my skin.
“I’m home!” I announced when I walked in. It was a habit that each of us had developed since it was often hard to notice who was coming and going at any one time if you weren’t actually by the front door, which people typically weren’t. Tonight was no exception as I didn’t see anyone immediately around, which meant that they were probably upstairs.
As I walked further into the house though I caught sight of someone sitting on the living room couch…and then immediately felt my heart sink deep in my chest as I laid eyes upon my daughter and took notice of the look on her face.
“Welcome back, Mom,” Kira said in an even voice, her expression already speaking louder than anyone physically could.
“Oh my god, Kira,” I whispered, unsure whether in that moment I was more horrified or more ashamed. “Oh my god, I am SO sorry.”
Kira responded only by pressing her lips together, her eyes looking unnaturally bright.
“I’ll make it up to you, I promise!” I immediately burst out, desperately grasping at anything at this point. “Look, I’ll take off tomorrow and we’ll spend the WHOLE day together. Just you and I! We can go shopping and I’ll even buy you some fancy new paints or some clothes and we could go to the beach or the spa or wherever you want, honey. The whole day is yours! We could-”
“Save it, mom!” Kira suddenly interrupted with a snap, standing up and looking angrier than I’d ever seen her in my life. “JUST SAVE IT” she continued loudly, clenching her fists. “I don’t even WANT to because you know what, Mom? YOU WOULD PROBABLY FORGET ABOUT IT!”
“No, no, I won’t. I promise. I’m so sorry. I didn’t—wait, where are you going?” I asked as my teenaged daughter shot me a death glare and began stomping toward the front door. “Kira, it’s LATE!”
“You’re right,” Kira hissed angrily once she had reached the front door. “It is late. TOO late, in fact. You’re too late, Mom. TOO FUCKING LATE!” she shouted, and then flung open the door, stormed out into the night, and ran.
I stood frozen in my spot for a full minute it felt like before I registered what had happened and ran out the front door after her. I ran without purpose in the direction I thought I’d seen her going, my legs pumping harder than they ever had before. I knew I was at least faster than her—I KNEW that. I was probably in the best physical shape of all my family members COMBINED and so I KNEW that I could catch up to her, and yet I couldn’t find her.
I ran and I ran and I screamed and I yelled until my legs shook from exhaustion and my throat was raw from shrieking, and still I ran, but she was nowhere to be found.
“Kira!” I cried out for the umpteenth time as loud as my hoarse throat could possibly yell at that point. “Kira, I’m SORRY! Please come home, honey. KIRA!!!” I choked out, and then finally broke down and sobbed as hopelessness descended fully upon me. How long had I even been running at that point? It had felt like hours and I hadn’t seen any sign of her…no sign at all. Where could she possibly be?
I lost myself again to my despair as a particularly painful sob wrenched through my being.
Kira…my perfect, beautiful daughter…I am so, so sorry.