The Gift - a novelette #13 from It's Not Always a Happy Ending

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
A family is in turmoil, sadness surrounds the house but everyone is pushing through and going on with their daily lives as best as they can. Jo arises one day to find out she has been given a very special gift. Watch how the rest of the family is impacted.

Submitted: May 01, 2020

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Submitted: May 01, 2020

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Jo opens her eyes, the room is dark, she turns her head to see the time, its 2:00am and the world around her is silent except for the rhythmic breathing of her first and only love. The love she has had for 38 years now. This man, this warrior who championed all the bad and evil in their lives has lost only one battle. The battle of the cancer inside of her, he could not defeat it, even all the love and devotion in the world could not. He would move heaven and earth if he could have her forever, but forever is not in the cards for them. She knows that, she has known that for a long time, but he has never given up, never wavered from telling her how beautiful she is every morning. Telling her how great she looks in the old tattered concert t-shirt she likes to sleep in now.

Jo gave it her all, she fought this disease with all her might, her children all came to her aide, except for Angel, but that is no fault of her own; she is in a bad situation of her own. Jo knows that Angel is aware of her illness, she ran into her one day and told her the cold hard truth before he showed up and dragged her away. Her heart knows, Jo can feel her. Angel is hurting badly and she needs to be saved if it’s the last thing she does on this earth.

As Jo looks around the room again, she begins to notice a something. She is pain free. Her arms no longer feel like heavy weights hanging from her shoulders. Her stomach does not feel tied in knots with the burn of all the acid that sits there, her breathing is easy and comfortable. Jo stands up and walks around the room. She walks into her closet and finds a dress she has always loved, she puts it on. The material hangs on her a bit so she finds a belt and adjusts herself to fit better. She walks in front of the mirror and brushes her hair, her hair that is back to being full and curly, she brushes slowly languishing over how good it feels to do such a simple task without pain. How good it feels to have more than strands on her head.

She looks at herself in the mirror and does a twirl to watch the rise and fall of the skirt of the dress. Nothing makes you feel better than a twirl of a skirt. She takes a deep breath and lets the air out slowly. Jo feels so good right now, the only thing she can think to do, however, is to go fix up the house. Ben has let the house go because he has been taking care of her most of the day. She is going to put things right. As her job as wife and mother she will set the house right again, then all will be well and she can move on.

Jo walks into her baby’s room and sees she is sleeping soundly. She begins to pick up all the clothes on the floor and hang up what is clean and put the rest in the hamper to be washed at a later date. She picks up her school bag and sees a few papers fall out. They are crumpled, “this must be the reason she is moping around the house confused lately” she says to herself.

Jo opens the first note, ‘Hey Kar, thanks for taking me home last night. I was a bit trashed and you came around – no hard feelings.”  #86

Jo thinks carefully and reminds herself that Karen had mentioned she came home late last week one night because some guy at the party, who lives across town, made her take him home. Karen did this because she owed it to herself to part of his crowd. “Yeah that’s what she told me, that she owed it to her reputation as a dweeb to take him home, that it was an honor.” Since then she has been spending more time with him and less time on her studies. She has been talking to Jo but in disjointed conversations, like she wants to say more but can’t.

Jo knows it’s not nice, but right now she begins to read all the correspondences from #86, it is the last one that gets her mom-blood boiling. “Why that piece of trash, he doesn’t want to date her, he wants to dethrone her. Oh, my poor baby does not understand this. I’ll have to write her a note.”

Jo sits down, after she cleans up Karen’s room, she takes a highlighter pen and begins to highlight all the hints he has given her that she is sure Karen has missed. The innuendos to his real purpose. The exacting nature of what he plans on doing at the graduation party. Jo looks over at her daughter and sees she is wearing a t-shirt of his and on the shirt there are tally marks on the back of it as well as the front of it. She counts them up, there are 99. Now she knows what he meant in his note when he said ‘wear this t-shirt, all my best girls do’.  #86 wants her Karen to be his number 100 conquests in high school. Or so he would like the world to believe. Jo is sure that he may have had ten but definitely not 100.

Karen goes back to the desk to write a letter to Karen. She is careful with her words, she wants to be firm and yet still a loving mother.

 

 

My Dearest Kar Bear,

 

I have been listening to you speak of this new boy in your life and your voice always gives away what is in your heart. He is not for you my dear, he is no way near good enough for you.

I found your notes from him and I have highlighted his code words. I will be blunt. He wants to have sex with you. Not because of you but because you will be number 100. Count the tally marks on his shirt you’re wearing. There are 99.

Count the notches in his belt, I’ll bet he has 3 rows of 33 on them and he wants to make one more.

You are no girlfriend to him, you are a conquest. He is convincing you that you don’t deserve him and should be happy to be with him, but you deserve so much more.

No, that’s not how it works. You ARE far better than the likes of him. You graduate in two weeks, you will have your summer job and your college career ahead of you. I’m so proud of you that you got into your first choice of schools, many don’t. Don’t let a jerk like him take something so personal away from you. He will not think of you one moment after graduation except that you are the 100th virgin he has had, or as I said before, he would like everyone to believe he has had.

You are so much more than a night’s conquest, you have a brain, you have a future. You have so much inner strength that you can explode mountains if you wanted to. But you can’t find that strength when there is a guy in your face pulling on your necklaces to have you kiss him. I’ve seen the broken chains and the marks on the back of your neck. No, don’t allow him access to you anymore. You are soooooo much more and don’t let him make you believe you are not.

Jo gets up from writing, she needs to find something in her room. She pulls open her jewelry box and finds just the right piece. She brings it back to Karen’s room and continues to write:

I am giving you this bracelet and necklace as a symbol of your strength.

Your father gave me this when we were first married, he said I was the strongest person he had ever met. Wear them both. Let the necklace be a symbol to others that you are strong and wear the bracelet so you can look down every day and see your strengths. Your heart, your mind, your soul are strong. Don’t let one stupid high school fling make you question that. He will not be there when you need someone, he will not even be there the morning after.

Greg will, he always has been there for you, he still will be many years from now. I promise you that.

Wear this strength on your heart and your hand and know that I am always with you helping you to stand strong.

He, this #86, will be a blip in your life, as insignificant as the ant you stepped on while walking in the park one day.

A time will come when you will meet the man who will be your first, and when that time does come, and he is the right man, you will know. I count myself as being lucky to find my first and only.

I hope you can be so lucky.

Greg, Brian, Wendy, Tricia and your siblings will be there through good and bad.

I love you Kar Bear.

Jo smooths the piece of paper she has written on, she looks at it twice to make sure all the words are really there, that she hasn’t missed anything. When she is satisfied, she rests the pen next to the note and walks over to kiss her baby girl.

 

~~~

“She can’t do that! What is she doing?” he asks confused.

 

“Ah, but she can, and she is. This is all ok. We are here to only watch.” Number two says

 

“But.” He rebuttals

 

“Shhhhh”

 

~~~

Jo leaves Karen’s room feeling she has done the right thing. No regrets for reading the notes or cleaning up after her daughter. When she wakes up, her daughter will know everything was done from love. She will know, Greg will be happy too. Jo smiles to herself, she has known that Greg likes Karen since the beginning of high school. But he is Charlie’s friend’s older brother and she hasn’t been able to see the truth yet. She will, Jo smiles.

She picks up the towels in the bathroom and changes them for clean ones from the closet and then walks into Charlie’s room. She takes a deep breath. “Oh Charlie” she says to no one. She watches as her for son sleep a few minutes.

Jo begins to pick up his clothes. Each pair of pants holding a small package in one of the pockets. Each shirt holding something small in the folded cuff of the sleeve. She finds a few more packets in his shoes and some other paraphernalia under his bed. Each piece she finds she shakes her head. Jo knows her son has been hanging with the wrong boys this semester, she knows he has not quite been himself, his friends have told her they are worried. She is not as worried as they are, but she appreciates their concern. Each one has come over to talk to her lately. Everyone has. She counts herself as being very lucky to have so many people care.

As a matter of fact, many of her children’s friends have come over to say what they feel they needed to say. Gave her promises of keeping up grades and doing the right thing. Told her some secrets they haven’t told their own parents yet, and shed a few tears with her.

But for now, she has to concentrate on Charlie. She has finished gathering all of what she believes he has. She puts them all together in a pile on his laptop which is on the floor as usual. But he likes to sit in the corner of his room, on his beanbag chair when he works, so she will leave everything here knowing he will find it easily. She sits down on his bean bag chair. “Hmmm, it is quite comfortable Charlie.” She says.

Jo pulls out a notebook from Charlie’s bag and begins to write him a note:

 

Oh Charlie,

Look what I found all over your room. It doesn’t make me angry, it makes me sad. Sad to think you really feel this new group of people are your friends.  Maybe one of them will be a real friend, but the rest will drop you like a hot potato as soon as things go sour in your life.

I know you have all of this not because you are dealing but because they keep giving them to you and you tell them you’ll have it later. I hope you haven’t spent too much money on all of this. What a waste. I suspect you will be flushing this all away when you see this in a pile as I’ve given you. Charlie, kids will experiment, I’m not stupid.

But this isn’t you. Your friends miss you Charlie, they’ve all come by and each one has told me so. Peter seems to think he can trounce you now in chess, I can’t tell you his knew trick but watch his pawns on the left side. I believe his left.

And Big Al? Well, he tells me that with you out of the tournament he is going to easily take the title from you and you’ll never get it back. He thinks he can outthink you in math. HA!!  He doesn’t know my Charlie does he? I know you’ve been doing your work.

You aren’t handing it in because you want to fit in with a group you don’t fit in with.  Not sure what you see in this group. Is there a girl you like? Then teach her to value herself and make something of herself. Even if she hasn’t done so before, doesn’t mean she can’t do it now, and if she can’t? Teach her, don’t drop to her level; elevate her to yours. J

Take her on walks in the park and show her how the world can be wonderful if she is an active participant not a bystander. Show her how you showed me to appreciate the small things. Remember how we moved the garbage cans closer to the benches so people would actually throw their trash away and not leave papers all over the benches?

Whomever it is that pulled you in, work your Charlie magic and pull them out. You CAN do that. You’re my Charlie, my secret hero remember?

Remember how much fun you had last summer working in that special camp? Go back there this summer, find your purpose again. Remember the boy you taught to tie his shoes, took you all summer but he learned and it was a big thing for someone with his condition. You work magic Charlie, it’s who you are.

I love you Charlie and expect great things from you, no matter how small, they are all great if you do it with a full heart.

Always, Charlie’s proud momma

 

Jo rises from the beanbag chair and walks over to her son. She sits on the bed and rubs his back for a moment. Charlie curls up with his mother’s touch. He pulls his blanket in towards him and hugs it while she rubs his back a few more times. Jo leans downs down and holds him a moment before kissing his cheek. A tear falls off of her and on to him. She leaves it there and walks out of the room.

 

~~~

“This is not right I tell you, not right at all!!! Why are you standing for this?! We have to stop her, she will ruin everything!” he says.

“There is nothing to stop, she has been given a gift, we can’t take a gift away; we can enjoy it and watch it unfold. Ah, the gift, not given to many but watching never gets old. I am in awe of her, she is doing it all right. All right.” Number two says.

The first one walks out of the room infuriated.

~~~~

Jo walks downstairs and picks things up along the way. She brings all the clothes to the laundry room on her way down to the basement to visit Albert, her oldest boy. He recently moved back home as a money saver. He was engaged to be married but she broke off the engagement because she was more interested in marrying into the right family than marrying the right guy.

Albert is saving money now so that he can save up enough to buy his own house. He told Jo he is not going to wait for the right woman to come along, he is going on with his life. He wants his own house, he can afford the payments but not the down-payment right now. So, now he saves, each month he puts away what he was paying for in rent and within a year he feels he may have enough to look for a nice starter house.

If life hands him a good woman to live there with, than that will be a bonus. But for now, he came home to help with Jo and all her needs. Albert has always helped. He is very close with Angel and this horrid relationship she is in now has hurt him terribly. He wants to help her but she won’t leave. She has been crushed by this man who has made her feel insignificant. She is a shadow of who she used to be and Albert is ready to accidently find him in an alley. Jo has to stop this from happening. Albert would not do well in prison. Jo opens the door to Albert’s bedroom. Thankfully, he is still asleep. Sometimes he goes for a run at 4:00am but today he sleeps, and she is thankful.

Jo picks up his clothes and hangs them back up. Very unusual for him to have left his clothes out. Albert is neater than she is, he must have been distracted last night. She looks around the room and sees a driven man. His academic trophies and accolades are plastered all over his room as if they were each a Nobel Prize.

It would not surprise her if he actually accomplished that too. As soon as Albert moved home again. Sylvana came around again. She is there at least once a week. Jo will have to open his eyes as to why she is around. He gets so focused he probably doesn’t even know that Sylvana is the one for him. She always has had her eyes on him, ever since they were in college together. Although Jo still thinks it was a coincidence that they ended up in the same school. She smiles to herself.

She talks to Albert out loud, “Albert, don’t be stupid anymore ok? Look at Sylvana and the reason she is here. See her for the beautiful young lady she is.”

Albert rolls over in his sleep. He and his mom always had conversations while he was half asleep. “ok Momma” he mumbles.

“Albert listen to me, I’m going to bring Angel home tonight. But she is going to need your understanding and not your criticism. None of it. You hear me?” she asks in a motherly directive.

 

“yessss Momma, Angel, no criticism.” he mumbles back to her.

“Don’t yes Momma me, do the right thing. Angel will need a lot of love. She needs unconditional love from you especially. Sylvana will be around to help her too, you’ll see. Albert, I hate to pull rank but you are going to have to show your siblings the right way to handle this. Angel is pregnant, I know she is; I feel her pain. I have to get her away from him and tonight I will. I promise you that.” She sighs.

“promise Momma, Angel, love, Sylvana lovely.” He repeats in his sleep voice.

Jo gets up and kisses her son. She knows he will remember all she said but she takes a sticky note and leaves it on his mirror, remember your promise.  Love you Albert  S.W.A.K

Jo kisses him one more time and walks out of the room, she goes back upstairs and looks around the house. She spends a few minutes in each room putting things back the way they belong. Everyone will know the room has been touched by her, they will know where everything goes now, and hopefully it won’t become in such disarray again. They will have a guide now.

 

~~~

“She can’t possibly drive a car. That is plain nuts!!! A car!! This whole thing doesn’t make any sense!” he exclaims.

“For you, no. but it doesn’t have to. It has to make sense for her. For them, too many requests to deny this one. The gift is a wonderful thing, you need to understand that. This is not a cold process, maybe that is what you had, but it’s not the norm really. This, this here, in front of us is the ultimate gift. Stop looking at regulations or what you think is right. We will get her where she needs to be, only not now, she isn’t finished.” The second responds

“ok, let’s go.” Jo says to no one.

 

~~~

Within a blink Jo arrives where Angel has been living. It’s not a dump, she is thankful for that. She walks around the house a moment and she sees Angel has not been in an unsafe environment, physically anyway. She takes a moment to look into each closet, not knowing exactly what she is looking for until she sees them.

Angel’s suitcases, the one she left the house with to move in with this guy eight months ago. She opens one and realizes that she hasn’t been wearing her own clothes at all. She puts the suitcase by the front door ready to grab and go. Something pulls her into the kitchen, she looks around each cabinet and she finds what she is looking for, a packet of birth control. He has been forcing her to take pills. Angel can’t swallow pills, she gags on them. Now she understands the magnitude of the situation.

He thinks she is on the pill, Angel is not taking them, he does not know. Or maybe he does and all her calling to Jo means that she is afraid. Jo hears her daughter calling to her in her sleep. She hears her pleads with her to come help.

“Ok, baby, I’m here” Jo says holding the packet of pills, Jo puts them in the garbage and looks around again in the kitchen. She finds morning after pills as well. “So you want all the fun without any of the consequences? You are a sick bastard.” She says out loud.

Jo is now fearful for her daughter; she runs upstairs and finds her sleeping in her bed. “Wake up!!!” Jo screams at her. “We haven’t much time, he went out running and you have to get the hell out of here now!!!!! Angel, wake up!!!”

Angel sees her mom and begins to cry. Jo had brought up Angel’s clothes. “Here honey, your big sweatshirt, the one you say you feel loved in because it feels like someone is hugging you when you wear such softness, put this on. Here is a bra, and your own underpants and I brought you soft jeans to wear too. Come, move honey. For once, wake up quickly and do as I say Angel.” Jo’s voice is quivering, she is not sure this can work.

She looks around the room, she looks down at her wristwatch and shakes her head no. “Angel honey, he is on his way back from his run, it won’t be long. Please come with me. It’s Momma.” Jo pleads

“Momma, I’m pregnant.” She cries.

 

“I know honey, I heard you in my dreams.” Jo answers

“It’s not the first time.” Angel continues as she begins to waken and get dressed in her own clothes. She missed them but didn’t know where he put them. “Last time he beat it out of me. It hurt so much, he didn’t stop until I bled.” She says holding her stomach. “I never thought I would be able to do this again.” She cries to her mother.

“Oh Angel, Albert would have come, Daddy would have come, any of them. All you had to do was call. But that doesn’t matter now. Now we go home.” She says. Jo has tears of her own running down her face at the thought of her child being beaten into an abortion.

“Angel, does he give you vitamins each morning?” Jo asks.

“Yes.” She whimpers

“And does he give you a different one after being with you in bed?” Jo asks.

Angel can only nod.

Jo holds her daughter in her arms and pulls her in close. She speaks softly but quickly into her daughter’s ear.  “Angel, he has been giving you birth control without your consent and the morning after pill after he sleeps with you. He does not want children. But you don’t swallow pills what did you do?” she asks.

“I held them under my tongue and swallowed twice whatever he gave me. Then he would leave the room satisfied I took I would flush it in the toilet later. He is going to kill me Momma.” Angel leans into her mother she needs to hear her heartbeat.

“I want to go home, are we going home?” she asks through tears.

“Yes baby, we’re going home. Albert is waiting up to help you.” Jo says. The second one looks around for a clock and sees its 5:00am already, she knows this man’s run is about over. Jo knows he will be back much sooner than later. The second one is getting nervous, so is Jo.

She grabs her daughter’s hand and together they run out the door and around the back to where he has been hiding Angel’s motorcycle. Angel puts on her helmet. Jo sits behind her holding onto the suitcases for dear life. Angel starts it up slowly and walks the bike through the back neighbor’s yard to the street in front of that house. She knows her man comes in the front and she doesn’t want to be seen.

Once in the street, she heads home. Jo breathes a sigh of relief she sees her car following them and understanding sets in. Jo finds a smile in her heart.

 

~~~

Back home, Jo prepares a breakfast fit for a king. She makes homemade biscuits, her special strawberry jam is boiling on the stovetop and she puts up the coffee on the timer. She puts the volume up high so her husband can hear it upstairs when it is ready.

She sets the table for the five of them and she sits down for a moment to think. She writes on a napkin;

 

Dear Ben,unconditional always Jo.

 

“It says it all. Each one a private sentiment between us. Tacky?” she asks.

“No, beautiful” says the second.

“When will Angel be home?” she asks.

“Within ten minutes. About the time the coffee timer will go off. We have to go though.” Says the second.

“I know but can you wait till after breakfast?” she asks.

“I will, have you enjoyed your gift?” he asks.

“Oh, more than you know. More than I could ever express. Did I do right? I mean did I blow this gift?” she asks.

“No, you did well and so will they.” He answers.

 

~~~

Karen sits in class worried about her mother. How can she even contemplate having a relationship with this guy when her mother is up in her house dying? How can she go away to college without her around? She needs her advice, she needs her here for a long time. Even graduation won’t mean as much without her.

Tears begin to fall without her wanting them too. ‘great, right in the middle of math.’  Karen thinks to herself. Tricia leans over and hands her a tissue.

Karen looks at her and sees tears in her eyes as well. Tricia and she have been close friends forever. Going to separate colleges is going to be the hardest thing they have ever done. Tricia practically lives at Karen’s house. Thankfully, Greg is going to school with her, at least she will have one familiar face and his is a good face to look at too.

So, why is she with this loser from the basketball team? Is she even with him? He chooses moments to acknowledge her and moments to ignore her, no rhyme or reason to either. Greg is not too fond of him and neither is Tricia but Karen feels stuck dealing with him. Ugh, if only she could have one more conversation with her mom. A real one, the kind where she is blunt with her and doesn’t sugar coat life like many other parents do.

One conversation!!!! Is that so much to ask for? Karen wishes she knew how to put in a request where it would be granted. Which voodoo doctor to call, or even a higher spirit, someone. She needs one more day. That’s all. After graduation, she can go to college and start anew with new friends and a new world order for her. But for now? She still wants her momma.

She lays her head down on her desk to will herself into a different situation. Tricia is right there for her, as always.

 

~~~

Charlie stands among his new friends, if you can call them that, and watches them get high. They are so interested in what they are doing they never noticed that he has yet to join them. He thought a new group of people would give him a new perspective on life. New friends, new ideas, new ways of thinking. But none of them think, do they?

And then they do too much and he is there to pick up the pieces. He comes up with cleaver ways for them to cover for each other while they aren’t exactly doing the right thing. None of it is illegal, it’s not right either though.

Skipping class to get high, seems pointless to him. But here he is watching it all over again. Making out because no one is there to stop you is not a reason to do that either but they do. They don’t care who watches either.

Charlie came to this group by accident. He happened to be around them during a particularly weird moment of two of them getting caught by one of the janitors. He came up with a quick reason why they were there and since then they have pulled him into their group, thinking he is of like mind.

But he is not, and he doesn’t want to simply walk away, but in reality, he walked in so why can’t he? There are one or two who seem like decent kids but they only want one thing out of life so conversations become limited.

Charlie misses talking to his mother about things. They always talk about everything. He once told Brandy that he talks to his mother about everything and she called him a pansy and a momma’s boy. So since then he hasn’t told her anything else about himself.

What she doesn’t understand is that his mother is his rock. She is the reason he is who he is. She has always believed in him and that he can do anything. His father has always backed him up as well. He has great parents, weird but loving siblings too.

As the baby of the family he gets teased the most, even though they always call Karen the baby in the family, it’s only since he grew taller than her. Karen and he are best friends really, he will miss her next year. It’s going to change a lot at home in the not so distant future.

It will most likely be only the guys at home. Unless by some miracle Angel comes home. He misses his sister too. She left to live with some jerk who won’t let her visit and who changed her phone number.

 

He knows Albert won’t let this last, Albert is ready to knock some sense into the guy, literally. He almost feels sorry for the guy. Albert packs a mean punch, especially when it comes to protection of the family.

Charlie shakes his head out of his thoughts, this can’t go on anymore; it can’t. This place, these people, they are not him. He is not enjoying this at all. He walks away from the group and they don’t even notice. If it was his other friends they would have called to him or something.

“Why can’t I talk to my mom?” he says out loud. “One more time, a real conversation. I want to hear from her that I’m going to be ok. She will know. She will be honest with me.” He says.

“Who you talking to bud?” someone asks.

Charlie looks up to see is good friends waiting for him outside of the gym. Big Al grins and Peter pushes on Charlie’s shoulder. “Come on, Coach Michael is on the prowl, let’s get out of here before he finds us skipping gym again.” The three friends walk around the building until they find themselves in the parking lot.

Charlie remains quiet. “We’ve got your back Charlie my friend. That’s a promise.” Big Al says.

The three friends part and make their way back to the building to sneak in before the next bell. Charlie still pondering where he can put a request in to speak to his mother again.

 

~~~

Albert doesn’t like living at home. He actually despises being here. He doesn’t do sadness well and clearly he doesn’t do sickness well either. How will he ever handle his wife or children being sick? He looks on as his father’s undying love for his mother drives him to do everything in his power to make her comfortable. He watches as he reads to her their favorite books. He pushes her around the living room on a rolling chair to music as if they were dancing.

No one has that kind of love anymore. He is not sure he is capable of giving love to anyone either. Besides, who would want affection from him? He was turned down already once, and for what? For not having the perfect family.

His family has no connections, no social climbers, no one who is a “somebody” in society. How was she supposed to cope being in a family where social activities revolve around the family and not society? She also hated that he and Angel are so close

She commented on the fact that he speaks to his sister too often. She should not have such a strong hold on a brother, that connection didn’t look good. None of this came out until after they were engaged and she took a good hard look at his family.

He thought the whole idea of society and social climbing was only in books and movies. He never really realized that real people do that sort of thing. Better he found out now because he was not about to forsake anyone in his family for an outside person, no matter how beautiful.

Angel, he thinks, has not been in a good place for a long time. But he can’t get to her, the jerk she is living with won’t let him speak to her, he has tried of several occasions.

He needs his mom is what he needs. He hates to admit, even at his age, but his mom will know what to do. She will know how he should proceed because the only thing he can think of doing right now is pounding some respect into the guy.

Karen is graduating high school soon and she is involved in a jerk as well but she asked him not to get involved. She said she can handle this one. He only hopes she handles the rejection well. He knows the type all too well.

Albert is the lightest sleeper in the family next to his mom. She used to sit in the room with him and have full conversations with him. He never remembered them as well as she did. But if she ever asked him to do something, that part he always remembered in the morning.

As an adult he should not miss those conversations but he does. One more would be nice. One more request. “Just one Mom. What would it be?” he asks out loud.

 

~~~

Ben met Jo 35 years ago, they met while he was still in medical school. She was one of the trainers at the nearby farm. She gave horseback riding lessons and tours around campus. He followed her on a tour one day and that was the end of him.

Ever since then he has loved her. She didn’t put up much of a fight either. Ben smiles at the memory. He watches her now as she sleeps in her medical induced coma to alleviate the pain they say she is most likely in if she was awake.

It’s the hardest thing he ever had to do. He looks around the house and realizes he doesn’t even know what is going on with his kids right now, he has been so tunnel focused on her. His whole life he has been focused on her. Her care, her happiness, her everything.

His children came second to her, he knows that but he loves them too. He would go to the moon and back for them, barefoot on nails if he had to. Jo always told him he needs to tell them that. He has tried in his own way.

He is so proud of them, this much he has said numerous times. Especially Angel, how smart she is. He knows Jo will find a way to bring her home. He knows it will happen, he doesn’t know how but he knows it will be because of Jo and no one else, that Angel will leave the guy she is with and find her way back to a place where she is loved.

Often Ben finds Karen on the phone with some mystery guy that Charlie says is a jerk. Charlie has been a bit aloof lately but Ben as attributed everything to Jo and her condition. What he wouldn’t do to have one question and answer session with her. Only one, he doesn’t need much. He will settle on her showing him how to care for the kids, like she did.

So, not even a whole conversation, one answer. His heart pleads for one answer.

 

~~~

People don’t understand that even through all the pain, you can hear what they are saying about you. Jo knew the moment the meds were being given to her to make her sleep. She didn’t mind getting rid of the pain, but getting rid of everyone else was hard.

The kids have been confiding in her telling her things she may have had to pry out of them in the past, but now they probably think she isn’t listening. She is, she did, and she heard every word.

Oh, if she could get one day, one, is all she needs to put everyone back on track. Once there, they will be ok, she needs one day is all. Maybe even a few hours, she will take a few hours.

 

~~~

“This is not how it’s supposed to happen. No conversations, no notes read or written, no assisted help in finding a daughter, none of this. It’s ALL wrong.” He says.

“No, it’s ALL right. You still don’t get it do you? There were multiple requests for the same thing. Look at the transcript again, I showed you the whole thing, it’s all written down. Each and every one of them asked for one thing, one more day. A gift was granted. It may not be the way they were thinking it would be, but they received what they asked for. A gift. Understand that and we can move forward.” The second answers

“What do you mean we can move forward? You mean we can’t until I understand? We hang out here until I get what is going on? Why is this all on me? I didn’t ask for this.” He says annoyance in his voice.

“No, but you need to learn about life’s gifts all the same. You need to see wonder again or your position will be changed. You will have a different job if you can’t grasp or understand the gift when it is given.” He instructs.

 

~~~

Angel knows she has missed her period again. He has been avoiding her lately though. As if he is disinterested now. Almost as if he doesn’t see her, doesn’t want her around anymore. When Angel goes to sleep she thinks of her mother, she wonders if the illness is as bad as her heart tells her.

She dreams of her mother several nights in a row. Each time she is calling to her to come get her. Each time she wakes to see she is still locked in her bedroom and can’t leave until morning when he needs breakfast.

He will want sex tomorrow night, he will notice her breast getting fuller like they did last time right away. She cries herself to sleep screaming in her head to her mother. She needs her so badly right now. No one else will understand how she is trapped here.

No one at work understands why her boyfriend takes her to and from work. They think it’s romantic that he packs her lunch when romance is the last thing his bringing her is about. He tells her what she is allowed to eat and weighs her every other week to make sure she is not eating anything else other than what he says.

He decides her clothes in the morning as well as after work. This is not what she signed up for, she thought he was a giving man, but his giving was all a lure.

Angel has a good job, she works with an accountant as his second in command. She can do anything he asks of her professionally. He likes her, a lot too. She can tell. Some days he actually can get her to smile, but then she is reminded that she lives with a man who would not want her smiling at another man’s jokes.

Mr. Beagly, Manuel, is probably the only person she could call a friend outside of college. He is passionate about what he does and believes his job can really help people.

Angel feels the wind in her face again and is enjoying every second. She is headed home in the wee hours of the morning. She knows she will be home before the coffee timer goes off. That is her goal.

Her boyfriend will not follow her, he doesn’t work that way. At least she doesn’t think he does. He may want to possess her but with his recent disinterest she is hoping he will find another, maybe someone who likes being told what to do all day.

Being back on her bike, Angel is feeling free again. She can’t wait to be home. The drive home, the wind in her face, it’s all giving her the revitalization she needs right now.

 

~~~

The coffee timer is going on. Tweeting loudly. Ben wakes to hear the noise. He looks to his wife and is wondering how she is sleeping through the piercing sound. He makes his way downstairs quickly to turn it off. Albert beats him by a second and turns off the alarm.

Albert looks to his dad with a sticky note in his hand, tears are in his eyes. “Angel is coming home, Mom told me last night.” Albert manages to say.

Ben looks around the room, he sees biscuits on the table and the jam on the stove. “When did you wake up?” he asks.

Albert looks to his dad, ‘When the coffee was ready why?”

“You didn’t do this?” he asks as he looks around again. He sees the napkin on the table and sits down to look at the writing. It says it all, the answer he was waiting for. Love them, as long as there is a sun, moon and stars in the sky.

Ben begins to cry, “When? How?” he is baffled.

Albert sits next to him and puts his hand on his father’s which is still holding the napkin. “Last night. I told you, Mom and I talked. She said Angel”

The front door slowly creaks open, the men both jump to run to the door. They freeze when they see Angel. “I came home.” She says as she drops her suitcases on the floor.

Albert runs over to hug his sister and picks her up and swings her around. He puts her down and hold her head in his hands. It’s really her, not a ghost. “Did you speak to Mom too?” he asks simply

Angel’s eyes fill with tears. Ben is in front of her in seconds. He holds his daughter like he has never held her before. This time he will never let go.

 

~~~

Karen wakes to the sound of the coffee timer. “Damn, I don’t want to get up this early. Why can’t Dad set a normal timer? Or at least turn this one down.” She says as she starts to sit up in bed.

 

Something is amiss. She looks around her room. Everything is in its place. Everything has been touched, all of her belongings, she looks to her closet, closed, she runs over and sees everything hanging up. Her book bag is sitting neatly next to her gym bag, her shoes are all put back on the shoe rack, her dresser has been arranged the way it used to be and her desk has a bunch of papers on top.

As Karen stands over the papers she begins to tremble. She sits down and pours over everything that is written before her. The highlighted words, the clues that she missed. She takes off the shirt she is wearing and realizes Mom is right, this is not a design but actual tally marks, she counts them, than she lets out a scream at the realization of it all.

Seconds later her father opens her door, “Honey are you ok?” he asks with concern in his voice. Albert is right behind him, then Angel.

Upon seeing Angel, Karen begins to cry, “I didn’t imagine her? She kissed me last night?” she asks.

Ben looks at his daughter, “I believe somehow she did, yes.” He looks at how she is holding onto the t-shirt. “Should we burn that? Or bleach to take out all the marks?” he asks. He has seen such stupidity before he knows what the shirt is intended to show.

“Hmmm, bleach sounds good, then I can say I washed it before returning it.” She smiles.

Albert holds up his sticky note, “You too?” he asks.

Before she can answer Charlie says from behind Albert, “Can I join the party?”  They all look at him, he is holding up his note as well.

“Breakfast is on the table, let’s go eat and discuss our next moves together, yes?” Ben asks his children.

Everyone follows downstairs and begins to sit down at the kitchen table. After plates are passed and filled and the eating starts, Charlie speaks, “I don’t know what happened last night, I don’t care for an explanation but I do care that Angel is home. We missed you.” He smiles at her

Angel looks around the room, ahhh, love. This is what she needs. “Long story short, I’m pregnant, he will kill me, literally, if he finds out, Mom came to get me last night. Here I am, with all my baggage.” She rubs her belly.

“Ok, so first on the agenda is get you to a doctor to make sure all is well. You don’t do this without a doctor young lady, too risky. Next?” Ben asks.

“I don’t want to go to graduation parties with people who think it’s about losing virginity and not a stepping stone to our future.” Karen says.

“Ok, bleaching the shirt will be a loud statement to him. Then we get to plan a family celebration which you rejected before. Can I invite grandparents? Aunts and uncles?” Ben asks.

“The whole nine yards please. Albert, can you bake me a pineapple upside down cake?” Karen pleads

“If that’s all you want, you got it.” He smiles.

Another knock at the door.

“Who the hell can that be so early in the morning?” Ben asks. His children all look to him confused.

“What the hell? Ooo, Sorry Sylvana, I couldn’t imagine who was here this early. Come in, we’re having breakfast.” He says

Albert stands up to greet her only to sit down quickly after he realizes he is still in his batman pajama pants. “Morning Syl, what brings you out of bed?”

“A motorcycle’s engine.” She smiles at Angel and gives her a kiss hello. “Welcome home.” Sylvana looks around, she knows immediately what has happened.

“She was given a gift. This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever witnessed. I mean I’ve heard of such things but never seen it before.” Sylvana looks around the room, clearly everyone else is confused. She explains what she believes has happened, with each person she said that Jo either spoke to them or gave them the answer they were looking for. Each one held up their note, except Albert, he is too awestruck by her understanding to know what to do.

 

“Oh, I’m sorry to go on so, my grandmother told me about getting a gift many years ago. She said it is as much for the living as it is for the departed.” Sylvana slapped her hand over her mouth.

“It’s ok Syl” Ben says. “We’ve been expecting this for days now. But after this, it will be easier to accept.” He looks around the room, his children all agree.

 

~~~

“So this gift allows her to follow us now peacefully. No fighting, no kicking and screaming they want one more of something?” he asks.

“Now you’re understanding. Come, let’s go get Jo. She is ready.” The second one replies.

“Jo?” he asks.

“Yes, I’ve been waiting for you to come back. Did Angel make it back in time?” she asks.

“I can only answer one question, is that the one you want answered?” the second one asks.

Jo thinks a moment, the rest will be ok, she knows they will. “Yes.” She says.

“She is in the arms of a loving family now.” The second one answers, giving a little more than necessary.

“Ok, let’s go then.” Jo responds

“Just like that? You’re ready?” he asks.

“Yes, unless there is something else for me to do?” she asks.

“No, he is a rookie, come, let’s go.” Says the second one.

 

~~~

After the funeral Karen is wandering around her house thinking of all the things her mother had a hand in designing. Greg finds her in her father’s office. “You ok?” he asks.

Wendy and Tricia had finally left and Karen was still feeling the need to be held and cry with someone but they were spent. They loved Karen’s mom and were having a hard time staying in the house. They will come back tomorrow, she knows for sure.

“Maybe” she says.

Greg walks over to her with open arms. She falls into his arms and begins to cry all over again.  He stays with her that night on the couch and lets her fall asleep on his lap.

Sylvana and Albert cleaned the kitchen up after everyone left. “Syl, why did you really come over yesterday morning?” he asks.

“Your driveway is right near my bedroom remember? Motorcycle’s aren’t exactly quiet at 5:00am. I came because I felt there had to be a reason she is home out of the blue. My instincts were right. Angry?” she asks worried.

“Scared, actually.” He says thinking how his mother had mentioned her in his sleep conversation with him.

“OK.” Sylvana could not say more, she has more in her head but now is not the time to tell him. In time, she hopes he will understand they are meant to be together.

“Syl?” he looks at her

“Yes?” she looks to Albert who looks like a little boy right now about to burst.

She opens her arms and he falls into them holding onto her like he never did before, and loving how she feels.

 

~~~

“Damn, how can you still beat me?” Peter asks.

“I told you that you won’t be able to beat me at chess.” Charlie says.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d think someone told you about my secret weapon, but that can’t be possible.” He tells Charlie

“You should always believe in possibilities, life can surprise you.” Charlie answers with a smile, thinking of his mom.

 

“Hey Charlie, heard about your mom. Been there, done that. If you need a pal, give a call.” Brandy says.

Charlie looks over to her wondering how she got to his house. Peter speaks up first, “Brandy, you need a ride home? It’s a two bus trip ride over here.” He says.

“You took two buses?” Charlie asks.

“Yeah, well, for a momma’s boy you’re ok.” Brandy says.

“Play chess?” Charlie asks.

“I’d love to learn.” She says sitting down next to Charlie to watch him and Peter play again.

‘Bringing her up, one step at a time’ he thinks to himself.

 

~~~

Ben has been numb for most of the morning but then he watches his children and held them and mourned with them instead of by himself. They are all in this together, and together they will stay.

Angel is seeing a doctor tomorrow, he is driving her himself and they filed for a restraining order on her boyfriend, in case it matters. The police officer said he has been reported on before but having solid evidence is even better, they were going to try and get a search warrant to find the pills she was forced to take. Even if she never actually took them

Ben walks around the house and sees Charlie with a girl leaning on him. “Hmmm, nice to see,” he thinks to himself.

He finds Greg and Karen in his office sitting on the couch not talking which is saying more than words to each other.

Then he goes to find Albert and to his shock and surprise, but in a good way, he is in Sylvana’s arms.

Ben walks over to the living room picture of his wedding. He stares at Jo, to him the sun, the moon and stars revolved around her, he is surprised the sun came up today. “Daddy, we’re going to be ok.” Angel says. “Together”

“Yes, Angel, yes we will.” Ben says.

 

~~~

A year to the day Jo was given her gift, Albert and Sylvana decide it is a good day to get married. They have a simple ceremony with only family and a few friends at the park.

Angel stands next to Albert with her son as his best man. Who says a boy can’t have a close sister? Albert was there when the baby was born. The family decided to name him Joe. He certainly has the strength and determination as his namesake did.

Charlie and Brandy have been an item ever since, his friend Big Al has been coming around the house with a girl as well, one of Brandy’s friends. They are quite the foursome, now instead of planning which class to skip they plan on which colleges to apply to, career goals and how to stick together through all life will throw at them.

Karen and Greg enjoyed a great first year in college, Ben couldn’t be prouder. The two of them have made promises to each other that they are trying to keep. Mainly, to stay in each other’s lives.

After the wedding, Ben drives off to the cemetery. He sits on the bench from his backyard that he and Jo used to make their plans on.  He paid to have it transferred to the cemetery. “Ok Jo, we did it. You did really. Everyone is settled here, as you can see. No, I haven’t started dating anyone and for right now I’m content with that so don’t pester me.

Albert and Sylvana want to stay at the house for six more months because they said they will have their money then for a down-payment on a house with a bit left over to fix whatever needs fixing.” He fidgets with his hands a moment.

“Little Joe is a wonder to us all. His curiosity for the world around him makes us all marvel at the simple things in life. We miss you Jo, and there is one thing I forgot to tell you a year ago today. You look beautiful.” Ben smiles down at the stone in front of him that bears Jo’s name. He said the same thing from the first day together to her last. Every day.

Ben stands to leave when he sees something in front of him falling, he reaches out his hand to find a feather landing on his palm. It’s brown, he thinks a moment, upon realization he smiles, the name of Jo’s horse when they first met, Brownfeather. He looks up and lets a tear fall, then walks to his car smiling.

 


Check out C.A.A.'s Book


The Gift - a novelette #13 from It's Not Always a Happy Ending

novellas, novelettes, short stories, romance, drama, realistic fiction, tragedy

© Copyright 2020 C.A.A.. All rights reserved.

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