A/N: Don’t forget to read chapter 4.5 first, which was posted just the other day. I’m on a roll apparently, haha. Also, this is post #50, wahoo! Enjoy ^_^
“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me sooner!” Kira shouted over the phone, thereby intensifying the headache I already had since Jo had been screaming all morning.
“I’ve been kind of busy,” I responded through gritted teeth, resisting the urge to hang up the phone right then and there.
“But I’m your SISTER! I’m one of your best friends, I’m-”
“Not here,” I pointed out.
“James! You know I didn’t purposefully leave you, I got an incredible opportunity and I needed to-”
“I know,” I interjected again, my voice firm. “I’m not blaming you; I was merely stating a fact. You weren’t here and everything was falling apart. I barely had time to figure things out with the people around me, let alone people halfway across the planet. Cut me some slack, will you?”
“Um, that might be a valid excuse for say, getting a girlfriend or joining a new club, but a BABY!?”
Now I was getting irritated. My head was pulsing and I could already hear Jo stirring again over the baby monitor.
“I’M SORRY, okay?” I shouted in exasperation. “I SHOULD have told you, but I was a little preoccupied here, what with being a goddamn teenaged dad, our parents barely speaking to me, one of my best friends pretending I don’t even exist anymore, and Maddie falling into this goddamn black hole of depression!”
Kira was quiet for a moment, and in that small expanse of silence I felt the weight of my words weighing me down like an anchor.
Jo was not an easy baby. She was colicky and seemed downright unwilling to be soothed. Grandpa had the best luck with her, but sometimes she’d even fussy with him.
Regardless, it didn’t help Maddie’s funk at all. She had been trying so hard since Jo had been born, but failing with Jo hit her harder than anything else. I tried to explain to her that even my grandfather, who had raised SIX children, THREE (technically five) grandchildren, and now a great grandchild had trouble with her sometimes, but it did nothing to cheer her up.
Eventually she stopped trying. When Jo started crying, Maddie was nowhere to be seen.
On top of that, my parents seemed content to leave me with all the work, only helping “as much as grandparents normally would.” I knew they were trying to make a point, and I knew it was a fair one too, but it was still incredibly frustrating, ESPECIALLY because they still didn’t treat me like they had before.
Conversations became stilted when I walked in the room; looks were exchanged, and I had never felt lonelier in my life.
I mean, I did still have Mitch and Chris I guessed, but there wasn’t much time to hang out with them. I only really got to talk to them at school, and then, in only limited amounts as I tried to work hard throughout the day to get all my homework done before the end of the school day.
After all, I knew that once I was home, I wouldn’t have time to do it anyway.
As for Candice, she didn’t say much to me anymore. I mean, she’d ask how I was and how the baby was and I think she genuinely cared, but then she’d always make up some excuse or other to head off, evidently not wanting to spend too much time with me.
It was incredibly isolating.
“Huh?” I said, having been so lost in my thoughts that I hadn’t heard Kira’s response.
“I said I’m sorry,” she repeated, though much softer than her voice had previously been. “I guess I was just…shocked, you know? I always thought you’d go to college…become some great writer or something….Not that you still can’t do those things! I just mean-”
“Relax,” I said with a sigh. “I know what you mean.” I pursed my lips together, staring out the window and then winced as I heard Jo start crying again.
“I’m going to try and visit soon. I have big news of my own! Well, not as big as yours, but…oh well, I may as well tell you now—just don’t tell Mom and Dad yet. ….I’m engaged!” my sister squealed. “Nolan asked me the other day!”
“That’s great,” I responded with as much enthusiasm as I could muster with a screaming baby and a pounding headache. “Hey, I have to go, Jo’s crying.”
“Oh, no problem! I’ll call you again some other time, okay? Take care.”
“Okay. Thanks, you too. Bye.”
I hung up the phone and made my way to Jo’s room, but someone had already beaten me to it.
“Hi James,” my grandpa said, looking up at me when I walked in.
“Hey,” I responded, a twinge of guilt poking me in the side that I wasn’t the one giving Jo a bath. “I can do that, Grandpa.”
“I know you can,” he said, and then nuzzled his nose to Jo’s face, which made her stop screaming at least for a moment so she could gaze in awe at his glasses.
“I don’t know how you do that,” I sighed heavily, leaning against the door frame. “When I try cuddling her she starts screaming bloody murder and tries to tear her blankets apart in a bid for escape.”
Grandpa laughed, placing a now naked Jo in the warm bath water. She looked like she wanted to cry, but then seemed to notice that her hands could splash the water around, which made her less grumpy.
“I think she just likes the glasses,” Grandpa admitted with a smile. “You could also try music. I played some for her in the night and she fell right back to sleep.”
“You got up in the middle of the night to take care of her? Grandpaaaa,” I groaned, feeling even guiltier.
“Don’t worry about it, kid. You needed sleep,” he said quietly, and then continued to attend to Jo as if I weren’t there.
I knew there was no arguing it, so I left the room at that point, mentally reminding myself to turn up the baby monitor in my room so I could get to Jo before anyone else. After all, she was my responsibility—my parents had made sure I knew at least that much.
Later that night, I brought Jo a bottle, but she was screaming so much that I couldn’t even feed her. I remembered what Grandpa had said though and, in exasperation, kicked open the music box next to her crib.
Next thing I knew, she was laying peacefully in my arms, her eyes bright with wonder. I took my chance to feed her then, and she didn’t even complain, her eyes falling closed in contentment as she suckled on the bottle.
I couldn’t help but laugh a little in relief. I needed to give Grandpa a huge thank you for that one.
I never got the chance to. It hadn’t even been a week after that conversation that Grandpa fell asleep one night and didn’t wake up.
He’d been mumbling about seeing Grandma Marina that day, but none of us thought anything of it. After all, Grandpa was really very old, and he sometimes did do and say strange things like that. That morning though, when Mom went to go check on him because he hadn’t come down for breakfast yet, she discovered that he had passed away in his sleep.
We had a small funeral, but received calls and visits for the next few weeks from people who had known and loved Grandpa.
All of us were crushed. The house itself felt darker—lonelier. We’d go along with our lives, trying to move on, and then the pain would just hit us all over again and we’d be reduced to tears.
Grandpa was one of those figures in your life that you just thought would always be there. He had survived to see all of his children get married and have children of their own, and had even survived seeing his grandchild (me!) having a baby of my own. It was hard to imagine he would ever be gone, but the empty room upstairs, and the emptiness within all of our hearts, brutally proved us otherwise.
Rest in peace, Grandpa Reed. We’ll never stop missing you.
Slowly, but surely, time crept forward. With that passage of time, and the chaos of our busy lives, the pain gradually subsided. It seemed to be a pretty agreed upon fact that Grandpa had lived a very long and very fulfilling life, and would have hated to see us all depressed because of it.
So when it came time for not only Jo to celebrate her birthday, but also Maddie and I, we pulled ourselves together and threw another party, albeit a small one with just the family.
Maddie and I would finally be turning 18 and would be graduating soon. I was more than a little relieved, as balancing school and taking care of Jo had taken a toll on both my health, and my grades, but I’d still managed to pass.
I may or may not have had to pull some all-nighters to help out Maddie (i.e. by doing her homework for her), but she too managed to pass by the skin of her teeth and seemed to be happy about it. Or at least I thought she was. It was still hard to tell with Maddie.
Even though we’d gotten her a therapist after Grandpa passed away, she had made only small improvements since then, still mostly keeping to herself and rarely looking after Jo. By this point though, I was used it.
I didn’t know what to wish for once the candles on the cake were lit. Maddie blew hers out pretty quickly, not wanting to make a show of it, but I stared at the candle for quite some time before finally blowing it out.
After all, there were so many things I wanted—to be a famous writer, for Maddie to get better, for Jo to grow up okay…how could I choose between them?
So I chose the simplest solution: for everything to work out in the end.
After the party, I spent time with Jo, tickling her and talking to her, and overall just trying to keep her entertained and happy. I had hoped that maybe Maddie would join me, but she stayed in our room after the party, fidgeting with one thing or another as I kept hearing drawers open and shut.
Sometimes I found it hard to believe that she didn’t want to be with Jo. Yes, she was a fussy baby, but she’d gotten better as of late, and just one look at her face was enough to melt you instantly. She had my mom and grandpa’s jet-black hair, Maddie’s jade eyes, and a laugh that automatically put a smile on your face. Or maybe that was just what happened to me. Regardless, although I regretted having her so early, I could never actually regret her.
Jo was perfect—and I wished that Maddie saw that too.
“Woah!” I exclaimed as soon as I finally went to check out what Maddie was up to.
“Is it too much?” she asked, looking startled to see me.
“Well, no, I mean, wow. You look…wow.”
“Is that good?” Maddie asked uneasily, scanning my face carefully.
“God, yes. You look incredible,” I said truthfully, then giving her a winning grin. She blushed and I felt myself falling in love all over again. Maybe she really was getting better. After all, I hadn’t seen her care about her appearance in months.
“You don’t look so bad yourself,” Maddie said in a low purr that instantly made me feel like the room was at least ten degrees warmer.
I chuckled nervously, but Maddie seemed to be serious. Her eyes never left my face.
I opened my mouth to tell her about how Jo was doing (seeing as she seemed to be in a good mood), but I never got the chance to say what I’d wanted to, because the next thing I knew, Maddie rushed up to me and kissed me hard.
The action took me aback, and for a moment I just stood there, shocked, as I felt Maddie’s grip on me tighten.
I couldn’t even remember the last time Maddie had kissed me like that, so once I regained control of my senses, I kissed her back. I was hesitant to do anything else though, unwilling to break this brief moment of bliss. It been so long since I’d tasted those saccharine lips.
Haltingly, I pulled Maddie closer to me, her body pressing against mine. I broke our kiss reluctantly to take in a breath of air. My heart had started beating so hard I could feel it pounding in my chest.
I barely had a moment before Maddie’s lips were on mine again, her tongue darting into my mouth as she leaned into me even more, her grip on me tight. I finally gave in—fully and completely and with no hesitation. I no longer feared her pulling away. All I wanted was more and I soon got it as Maddie’s fingers fumbled with the hem of my t-shirt, pulling it off and over my head. We paused our kissing for just a moment, and then flew back together again, rushed now and desperate as we tried to remove the rest of our clothing while still keeping our lips in as much contact as possible.
We were clumsy, but we laughed as our noses bumped and as we stood on one leg to try and remove our tangled pants.
Maddie was the one who finally pushed me onto the bed, all determination and focus as we finally shed the last of our garments.
I wanted to say something to Maddie before we made love, something profound, a statement of relief, a declaration of love, but as soon as I opened my mouth to speak, she shushed me and crushed her lips to mine once again.
Having her lips crushed to mine turned out to be a good idea though, because her next action made me cry out in ecstasy, a cry that probably would have been easily heard by my parents upstairs if it hadn’t been for those clever lips of hers.
In the end we were uncoordinated, fast, and maybe even a little too rough, but the pace clearly suited us, as it wasn’t too long after that Maddie was muffling her gasp into a pillow while I buried my face into her neck to stifle my own.
We stayed like that for a moment until Maddie rolled off of me and turned on her side to face me. The two of us were breathing heavily, our heads swimming.
“I love you,” I managed to whisper between breaths.
“And I love you,” Maddie whispered back.
She curled up to me and held onto me then, our eyes closed as we slowly drifted off. I wasn’t sure exactly how long it had taken me to fall asleep, but it must have happened soon after that, because my last memory of that night was simply Maddie’s arms around me…and the brief feeling of wetness on my chest where her head lay, but I was too far gone in dreamland to take any more notice.
The next morning I woke up to find that Maddie had already gotten up. I blinked wearily at the empty space next to me; yawning and then finding myself smiling as I remembered our night. It finally made me feel like things were getting better—that maybe my birthday wish had come true after all, and that everything was indeed working itself out.
I showered and got dressed before leaving my room to go find Maddie. What with this new turn of events, I had the distinct feeling that she might even be upstairs with Jo, so it was with a bubble of happiness in my chest that I began whistling and making my way to the stairs. Maybe we could even start being a real family after this. Sure, it was earlier than I would have ever wanted a family, but that didn’t mean we wouldn’t be happy.
I realized that I should start looking at rings and making this official just like my father had wanted me to do ever since Maddie got pregnant in the first place. Then it seemed like a ridiculous idea, but now it seemed like the next logical step, and thinking of us being married made my bubble of happiness grow even more.
My mom was already in the nursery when I walked in and I noticed two things that made the bubble in my chest deflate just slightly: 1.) Mom was looking uneasily at a note posted on the wall, and 2.) Maddie was not here.
“…Mom?” I asked hesitantly, suddenly terrified to know what words were scrawled on that sheet.
She jumped and slowly turned toward me, her eyes darting briefly to the note and then back to me. “I didn’t hear you get up,” she said, her face paling. I glanced from her, to Jo, who was playing with a block at my mother’s feet. My heart was beginning to hurt. I could feel a tightness growing in my throat, and my eyes began to burn.
I cleared my throat, clenching and unclenching my fists as I looked from Jo, back to my mom, and then murmured the last words I would have ever wanted to speak: “She’s gone, isn’t she?”
I didn’t need to see Mom’s slow nod to know that the answer was, excruciatingly, “yes”.