*JUST A NUDGE *
IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
p. Copyright 2017 by Reagan Miller
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When I woke up in this morning, my first thought was “I’m going on a plane.”
I tried my best to help my face look awake with makeup, but it just made me look even more tired and bedraggled. Dannie Cottenwall, my mother’s best friend since grade school, offered to help me, but I knew she still had herself to get ready. And I needed something I could do. My clothing was still neatly packed and organized. I just had to pack my toothbrush and makeup.
The hotel room Dannie and I were staying at was nicer than what I had expected. It had a fountain in the foyer and statues with assorted plants framing every corner in an orderly fashion. Our room was quaint and cozy with two twin size beds that had three too many blankets and sheets tucked around. Paintings with similar colors and useless meanings covered the blank spots on the walls.
When we reached the airport, I instantly felt claustrophobic. It was busy. Every person I see had a suitcase, a cell phone, and either coffee or a kid in hand. They all look focused, with pressed lips and wide eyes. There were some who were more laid back, others who were standing around because they have no idea where they were going, and some that were just sleeping.
I stayed close to Dannie. She seemed fine and comfortable. She talked to the employees confidently, and before long, we were waiting at gate 5C with our bags by our sides.
After Dannie and I had boarded and were seated, the flight attendant began instructing us on how to use our safety devices and whatnot. Next thing I knew, the plane started moving—slowly at first, and then fast—and then we were flying.
Our flight was going to be three hours long. Way too long for me, in my opinion. I plugged my earphones into my phone and pressed shuffle. The only sound I could hear was the strumming of the guitar and the faint whooshing of the airplane.
I was moving. Against my will, nonetheless, but it was only for the summer. When my mother suggested I move in with Dannie, I laughed in her face. The thought of me living with someone other than my mom and dad was ridiculous to me. I didn’t understand why she thought I needed a break, but there was no changing her mind about it. I was off to meet up with Dannie the following week.
It wasn’t until I was in Dannie’s presence that I understood the real reason for my mom’s actions. My parents had been fighting quietly for the past few months. I could hear them talking late at night when I should’ve been asleep. The subject of the fights never concerned me. They never got violent. Just very heated. I woke up more than once to see my dad asleep on the couch.
I knew they weren’t going to divorce, but I could see that they needed some time alone. They didn’t need to worry about their daughter on top of the stress that was already there. My parents loved each other very much, but sometimes you needed to take a step back from everything and breathe.
I hadn’t realized I had fallen asleep until Dannie started shaking my shoulder, asking me to wake up. We had landed in my new home state
“Pretty cool, huh?” Dannie said as we walked out of the tunnel. She led me around the winding airport, holding my hand tightly in hers. We picked up the rest of our bags from the conveyor belt and kept walking until we ended up outside facing the parking lot. “I have somebody picking us up here. He shouldn’t be too long.”
Not a minute later, a bright blue sports car swerved and parked in front of us. The window of the passenger side rolled down to reveal a smiling man in the driver’s seat.
“Hey there!” He said, his blue eyes smiling. “I heard you were in need of a handsome ride. And a working car.”
Dannie smiled and introduced me. “Charyse, this is Mr. Jens. Mr. Jens, this is Charyse. She’s the young lady who’ll be staying with us.”
[_Us? _]I thought. I wasn’t aware that Dannie was in a relationship. Mom would’ve told me for sure.
As I took a closer look at Mr. Jens, I noticed he had very nice skin, but his hands looked rough. As if he played instruments or worked with wood. His eyes were almost an exact match to his car and just as bright. His hair was shaggy but styled in a way that it looked professional.
He stepped out of the car and around to us. He was a couple of inches taller than me, but he didn’t seem intimidating. He stuck out a rough hand to me. “Nice to meet you, Charyse. I’m Patrick Jens, but you can just call me Jens.”
I carefully took his hand and shook it firmly, the sound of my father’s voice softly echoing in my head. “Never have a flimsy handshake. Grip their hand tight and shake with confidence. That’s the first sign you’re worthy of their time.”
“Likewise, sir. I’m Charyse Nevada.” I said back.
He gave a bright smile, “Beautiful name for a beautiful gal. C’mon, let’s get on the road.” He opened the back passenger for me and placed our bags in the trunk. I watched as he opened Dannie’s door and gently placed his hand on the small of her back. She thanked him with a smile. Jens hopped into the driver’s seat and wheeled out of the lot.
After a few minutes of winding through the airport parking lot, Dannie finally spoke. “Patrick,” She started.
Jens turned to face her. “Yes, ma’am?”
“If you don’t mind, could you stop at a place to eat? I’m famished.”
He turned back to the wheel, but not before I caught a glimpse of a smirking grin. “Yes, ma’am.”
After eating lunch, Jens drove us to Dannie’s house. It was about three hours from the airport, so I slept most of the way again, or at least tried to.
I ended up thinking about what would happen this summer. Was it going to be spent in my room reading or outside? Would there be kids my age? How far was the mall? Was the food good?
My thoughts then shifted to Dannie. Mom and Dannie had always been the best of friends. They met in elementary school and graduated high school together. My Mom had moved to the East Coast with my Dad after they were married and that just so happened to be where Dannie was going to college. They were never separated for long. I don’t remember it well, but about thirteen years ago, Dannie had moved back to their hometown. Mom never told me why—only that it was for personal reasons. But she always came to visit.
When we arrived, I was awoken by the early evening sun shining through my window. The house was adorable. It had a cheery exterior with trimmed bushes. Pots scattered around the front yard held flowers blossoming in a multitude of different colors.
As I rubbed my eyes, Dannie sighed. “You’ve got to be kidding me. I told him to be here. He knew we had company coming over.” Dannie said, stepping out of the car while Jens held the door.
“Maybe he went to get more food?” Jens offered.
Dannie shook her head and pursed her lips. “No, I bought food last week. Besides, I had stuff for dinner already planned out.” She gave a motherly sigh and cleared her throat. “Never mind. Let’s get Charyse settled in. Come, dear.”
I followed Dannie to the front door while Jens grabbed my bags. He came up behind us and set the bags down only to open the screen door and unlock the front door for us. He nodded his head and we walked in with Jens following behind us with the bags back in hand. I nodded in thanks, receiving a nod in return.
“It’s a very pretty house,” I said, trying to be conversational.
“Thank you, Baby.” She smiled and sat on a kitchen stool. “Patrick and I renovated the whole thing when I first bought it. It was so drab with its flower wallpaper and cracking baseboards. But I loved the old feel to it and I wanted to keep it that way. And somehow, good old Patrick found a way to keep that feeling.” Dannie relaxed on her seat. “He’s done a wonderful job with it.”
Jens walked up behind Dannie and put a hand on her shoulder. “It was fun. Earned me a lot of scars from those damn floorboards,”
“Language.” She warned.
Jens laughed at her reaction. “But I enjoyed every part of it. Then again, I was only twenty with loads of time on my hands.”
“My, has it really been that long?”
“It sure has,” Jens walked to the refrigerator and grabbed out a water bottle.
“May I ask you a personal question?” I ask while leaning on the counter. I was too nervous to sit, but I didn’t want to look like a statue.
“Sure,” Jens says, taking the cap off the bottle and taking a sip.
“How long have you been together?”
Jens’ eyes grew wide, and he choked on his water. He started coughing and hitting his chest while Dannie laughed, though I wasn’t sure if it was at him or my question. I was standing there awkwardly, not knowing the answer.
“Oh, no, sweetheart. Jens is just a very close family friend. I’ve known him for so long it’s crazy.”
Jens starts to recover from his coughing fit. “Yeah,” Cough. “I’ve known the Cottenwall’s for as long as I can remember.”
“Oh,” was all I could say. I would’ve thought with the way that Jens treated Dannie that they’d been dating, or even engaged, for quite a while. “I’m sorry for asking.”
“Nonsense, sweetie,” Dannie said, laughing at my mistake. “Jens, why don’t you show Charyse her room? I’ll start on dinner.”
“Uh, sure.” He said, coughing one last time. Then he smiled, showing off his straight, white teeth.
He picked up my bags again, and walked down a hallway. There were only a few pictures on the walls—mostly photos of Dannie when she was younger, her with her parents, and then Dannie and my Mom graduating high school. I felt a small pang looking at that picture, but I couldn’t help but smile. My mother was smiling and hugging Dannie. You could barely make out my father in the far corner of the picture.
The story was that my parents met and married in college, but their story went further back. They went to the same high school as Mom and Dannie, but they were in different classes all those years. My mom mentioned that she caught glances of him at lunch, but it was when her lunch started and his ended. I remember her laughing every time it would come up.
“How do you spend four years in the same building as someone and never meet them until college? And then find out that they’re the one for you. It’s the craziest thing I tell you.”
Jens interrupted the memory with the thud of my luggage. “Here you are.” He opened the door for me, and I stepped inside. It was a cozy, little room. The perfect size for me. It had a small desk set in the corner, and a twin bed on the left side. My dresser had four drawers and a blank picture frame sitting on top.
Dannie knocked on the door and leaned against the frame. “How do you like it?”
I took another sweeping glance. “It’s very nice. Thank you, Dannie.” I sat down on the bed and exhaled a sigh.
“Patrick, can I talk to you for a second?” Dannie asked. Jens nodded to her and then to me as he shut the door behind him, leaving me by my lonesome.
I stood up and began to unpack my clothing. As scary and confusing as it was, I knew I needed to embrace this change. I wasn’t going to mope around the house and drag my feet behind me. This would be a semi-fresh start—even if it was unwanted in the first place.
Once my clothes were neatly put away, I started setting out the personal items I brought with me. The first thing I did was put a picture of my parents and me in the empty frame. Seeing us smiling and happy made my heart squeeze. I knew that I wouldn’t see those smiles in person for a while, so I wanted to see them all the time. Next came a couple of books, then my pens and pencils, and lastly a poem my mother wrote and stitched for me. The smile that crept over my face was as natural as breathing.
My little love, so soft and sweet
I hope you hear my melody
Though I might be far and you might scared
Just know my heart is always there
My soft, sweet love, so little and meek
[I love you forever, and you always love me
Once I had put the last of my belongings away, I felt at ease. As if I belonged here and not like I was renting a room. I took out my phone and plugged it into the charger. Three messages from my mom showed. I replied back telling her I missed her and Dad and that I was safe. I told them that Dannie was very sweet and kind and a bit about Jens. After I sent the last message, I lay down on the bed and gave a tired sigh.
My eyes had only been closed for a second before I heard a knock at the front door. I sat up and walked out to the hallway. I poked my head out to see who was there, but I couldn’t see. Warily, I made my way to the front door where Dannie and Jens stood smiling.
“Charyse, you’re just in time. I’d like you to meet my son, Carter.” Dannie said. She moved from her spot at the door so I could see.
Carter stood tall and sturdy with broad shoulders and a backpack in his hands. His hair was cut low, like a buzz cut, but you could see it starting to grow back. His eyes were big and brown and warm. Carter smiled and said, “Hi, Charyse. It’s been awhile.”
I knew Dannie had a kid, but I had never met him before. I smiled back. “Nice to meet you.”
“Carter was never with me when I visited you after the move. But you guys used to play a lot together when you were little.” Dannie’s smile grew. “You would go to the playground and get sand everywhere! In your shoes, hair, and sometimes your underwear too! My, that feels like a lifetime ago.”
“How long ago was that?” Jens said, cupping his forehead.
“Thirteen years, Patrick. Charyse was only three and Carter was four—” Her smile disappeared, and I felt a deep sense of dread wash over her and Jens. Carter could feel it too. I could tell by the way he wrapped his large arm over his mother’s shoulders. Dannie’s eyes teared up, but she blinked them away quickly and took a deep breath. “Sorry, um, I-I think dinner’s almost ready. I’ll go check on it.”
We watched as she rubbed her wrist against her face, walking into the kitchen rambling about how the veggies would get soggy and wouldn’t taste good. Jens patted Carter’s shoulder and then my head. He followed Dannie into the kitchen, but not before whispering something into Carter’s ear. Carter nodded and walked around me and into the hallway.
I was left standing at the doorway, not knowing if I should go to the kitchen, follow Carter, or just go to my room. The kitchen was off limits, which was obvious. I couldn’t just ask Carter if I could join him—I had pretty much just met the dude, despite what Dannie had said about my early childhood. I didn’t want to be alone, but that seemed to be my only choice.
I made my decision and headed down the hallway to my room. The house was quiet except for the tinging of pots and pans and the soft hum of the air conditioning. It was unsettling—as if I were alone in the house.
As I shut the door behind me, I heard Carter’s open up. Glancing at my clock, I saw that it was already seven. I kicked my shoes off, ready to recuperate from the past day’s events. Before I could even settle on the bed, a loud knock sounded on my door.
“Charyse? Are you in there?” I heard Carter ask.
“May I come in?”
“Yeah,” I replied, not caring how my tone sounded.
I sat up as he opened the door. Carter looked around my room, and his eyes landed on the picture sitting on my dresser. He smiled and then looked at me. “I wanted to see if you’d like to take a walk around town. It’s still light out.”
“Isn’t Dannie almost done with dinner?”
“Yeah, but she’s still waiting on the meatloaf, so it’s gonna be another twenty minutes or so.”
“Okay, um, sure. Lemme get my shoes.” I swung off the bed and made my way to the shoes I had tossed aside.
“Sounds good. I’ll meet you outside.” He clicked his tongue before closing the door behind him.
Sighing, I ran my fingers through my hair. I had never had to worry about somebody coming into my room before. Once my shoes were tight and tied, I took a quick look in the mirror to make sure I looked decent. Semi-satisfied with my appearance, I grabbed a ball cap and threaded my ponytail through the back.
Carter was waiting for me, leaning against the car Jens had been driving. He smiled and motioned me over. “Have you ever ridden a bike before?”
I couldn’t help but give him a deadpan look. “Is that sarcasm? Of course I have.”
He shrugged off the car and walked over to a white and baby blue bike. “There’s another one in the garage. Grab it, would you?”\
My jaw clenched, I went into the garage to find a similar bike to the one outside. It was a bit smaller and a different color, but it would work for my size. I assumed it was Dannie’s. I walked back outside. The sunlight was still strong for being in the evening—I was thankful I had decided to wear a hat.
Carter was already straddling his seat when I stopped in front of Jens’s car. Then he pushed off, pedaling down the street. “You’ll get lost if you don’t hurry up.”
“Hey!” I yelled, following suit. “Wait up!” I began pedaling his way, but he was pretty far ahead of me. Even though it had been a while since I’d ridden a bike, my body remember exactly what to do. I stood up a bit more to put more power behind my pushing. I caught up with Carter quicker than I had expected.
The slight breeze against my face cooled and relaxed me. A few cars whizzed by, but other than that, it was just us two. Carter pointed out a few houses where his friends lived as we rode along a dirt path. Then he turned left, and we ended up at a stoplight.
“Okay, so now we begin the tour of our pretty rad town, Dot.”
“Dot?” I asked, making sure I heard correctly.
Carter nodded and pushed off to the right. “Yup, Dot. Established sometime long ago. Despite the name, we’re not famous for polka dot apparel. But, we do have some pretty neat places that take the name a little too seriously.”
I listened carefully as he continued with some more of the town’s history. Carter seemed to know quite a bit about it, but he didn’t seem like a history buff to me. So maybe he was just a very passionate resident. He led me down more streets, singling out the best shops and places to walk your dog. Dot was bigger than I had expected.
“And here is our little park,” Carter said as we passed by Kravis Avenue. I looked over to see a small playground with slides and swings. The colors had dulled over time, but the children running around didn’t mind. I could barely see the running path that the trees were covering with their great, big leaves. “Park hours are dawn ‘til dusk. Sometimes there’s an ice cream truck that’ll drive by if you’re lucky.”
We passed by the library, police station, courthouse, and the elementary school and middle school. When we reached the high school, we could see the athletes on the field and hear the coaches blow their whistles. As I continued to follow Carter throughout Dot, I noticed how adorable the little town was. Our impromptu tour ended at a strip mall café. It was best in town, according to Carter, even if it was the cheesiest.
“It’s a got an interesting name,” he said, pointing the sign above that read Double Dot Café. Carter hopped off his bike, “But it’s got really good cake.” He set his bike on the side of the building and motioned for me to follow. “You like coffee?”
I scoffed. “Of course.”
We walked inside, and instantly the scent of coffee hit me. It was the smell of syrups, coffee grounds, cookies, icing, cinnamon, and something else that only a place like this could have. I felt my body warm instantly with a homey sense. There were a few people scattered around. Some were reading, others were just drinking and eating. There was one girl who was looking at the wall and talking to it while making hand gestures.
I walked to the counter and started scanning the chalkboard menu. It was colored with pinks, yellows, purples, and white. Assorted polka dots of various colors and sizes conveniently boarded around the words. Each drink piqued my interest—the clever names made me wonder which one I should get.
“Welcome! How can I help you?” A friendly voice asked. “Hmm, I’ve never seen you before. Are you visiting?”
I jumped back, not realizing that there was a person standing in front of me. The cashier had handsome green eyes and spiky brown hair. He was tall and dressed in a maroon shirt with a black apron tied around his chest. He gave a small smile.
“Oh, um, yes. I’m visiting…I guess.” I said, not entirely sure how to answer. “Carter,” I started, but he wasn’t next to me. I looked around, but I didn’t see him. “I’m sorry, but do you know where my friend went? He’s tall and barely has any hair. Kinda bulky? His name is Carter.”
“You mean Carter Cottenwall?” He asked surprised.
His eyebrows raised. “I wouldn’t have pegged you for his friend. But, yeah, he’s over there.” The cashier pointed towards the far corner where I saw the girl talking to the wall. “I’m Jake, by the way. Jake Kline.”
I nodded. “Thank you. I’m Charyse Nevada. It’s nice to meet you, Jake.” I walked quickly to where I saw the girl. When I got there, Carter was sitting in a chair facing away from the front entrance. No wonder I couldn’t see his massive frame. He looked to be laughing and talking eagerly with the girl.
As I got closer, I noticed she had shoulder length hair, but almost all of it was a blueish green. She had it pulled back into a ponytail and had strings of hair framing her face. Suddenly, she looked my way and gave me a pleasant smile. Her skin was pale, but glowing. She had a nose piercing, but it was so small you could barely see it. Her eyes were more of a hazel than a blue, but they sparkled like a summer pool. Carter turned in his seat and greeted me.
I leaned down to him, and said quietly, “Please don’t leave me by myself again!”
Carter’s jaw tightened. “Sorry. I saw Minette over here, and I got excited. She’s been avoiding me the past couple of weeks.”
The girl—Minette—scoffed. “I was not avoiding you. I was isolating myself from the outside world. Sometimes I need time alone.”
“And that means turning your phone off and never answering the door?”
She pointed her pen in his direction. “Exactly. My creative mind needs a break from your idiotic thoughts.” Minette spun the pen between her fingers.
“Sorry, those are a lot of words to take in. Try it again. Like you were talking to a kindergartener.” Carter laughed. “Oh, yeah. Minette, this is Charyse Nevada. She’ll be staying with my mom and I. Charyse, this is Minette Trent.”
Minette stood up and shook my hand. “Nice to meet you. But nobody calls me Minette. Only people who like early graves call me that,” she cast a quick glance to Carter. “I go by Mixie. Please, have a seat.”
I sat down across from her. I was unsure of what to do with my hands, so I clasped them in front of me. Carter said he’d get some coffee for all of us. Mixie asked for green tea instead, then began to restack the papers scattered in front of her.
Mixie coughed out a laugh. “Sorry, I was in the middle of rehearsing my lines. Carter scared me and made me drop them. He’s such a jerk sometimes,” she laughed.
“Yeah, I can see that.”
Mixie leaned back in her chair, the papers neatly stacked on the table. “So, what’s your story?”
“My story?” I repeated.
“Yeah! I mean, getting to live with Carter and Dannie? We don’t really get anybody new here.”
I started working my jaw side to side. I wasn’t sure how to answer. “My parents decided to send me off with a family friend for the summer for reasons unbeknownst to me. Oh, and I literally just arrived today.” It wasn’t something that I could just say out loud to a stranger. “Um, it’s kind of complicated.”
“Hey, complicated is what I live for.”
“Like she said, it’s complicated. Maybe another time.” Carter appeared behind me. “Here, green tea with no sweetener.”
“You’re a regular housewife, Carter,” Mixie said, taking the hot drink from his hands. “Thanks, love.”
Carter handed me my coffee as well and sat down next to Mixie. “Mixie, my dear, what are you doing with your life now?”
She took a small sip from her cup and smiled. “I’m helping out with the play next weekend. I’m the backup for the main character, but I’m also helping out with costumes. So, I’m having to memorize lines and make designs.”
“Can I see some of them?” I asked.
Her eyes lit up. “Of course! This isn’t their final designs, but I’m close to being done. Okay, so here’s the farmer’s outfit. I’m still trying to figure out what color shirt he should be wearing under the overalls. The guy playing him looks amazing in dark reds, like maroon, but it doesn’t compliment the rest of the outfit. Blue would work fantastically, but his skin is too dark for the blue I’d want. Moving, on, this is the city girl’s first outfit. She has three, so I get to play around,” Mixie spoke at mock speed with no interruption. Her thought process and attention to detail was surprising.
“Whoa,” I said. “You put a lot of work into these costumes.”
“Yes, I love doing this. It’s one of the many things that coaxes my brain. I have so many ideas running through my head all the time that I can’t get them out. So using different creative process helps me figure them out.”
“She’s amazing at what she does—that’s for sure.” Carter agreed.
Mixie flicked her ponytail. “There’s a reason I’m always asked to make the costumes.”
“Because she’s local and inexpensive,” Carter said, nudging my arm.
Mixie started circling the top of her tea lid with her index finger. “I wonder what would happen if I took the lid off and tripped over you.” She said, absent-mindedly.
“Kidding! Completely kidding,” Carter said, holding his hands up.
I could only smile at them. To be able to laugh and joke like that could only mean they were close friends. Mixie continued to wonder about the many ways to spill her tea, and Carter could only apologize so many times. I craved that relationship at that moment. Someone who I could talk to about anything and everything.
“Well, now. Look at the time. Charyse, we better get back before Mom has a fit.”
I glanced over at the clock. “What time did we leave?”
“Will you freak out if I tell you it was over an hour ago?”
I jumped out of my seat. “Are you serious? It’s been that long already?”
“I told Mom we might be out later than expected, but I didn’t think it would be that long.” Carter sighed and picked up our coffees. “Sorry, Minette, we got to go. We’ll catch up soon.”
“Whatever, I’ll see you two later. Be safe!”
“It was nice to meet you, Mixie.” I said, extending my hand. She pulled me into a hug instead.
“Same here.” Mixie let me go and gave me another smile.
I turned to leave, and heard Jake call out. “Have a nice night, Charyse!”
I waved, “You too, Jake.”
Carter grumbled something along the lines of “Never gonna happen,” as we went outside, but I couldn’t determine what it was. I hopped onto my bike and started pedaling down the way. Carter wasn’t far from me, but I had to slow down so he could catch up.
“Carter?” I asked. He didn’t say anything; he just kept pedaling. “Carter?”
“How long have you known Mixie?”
He took a deep breath. “Huh. Um, I dunno. A couple of years, I guess. Why?”
“I was just wondering. You both seem to be very close.”
Carter stopped his bike and smiled. “Mixie is a special person. She’s like that with almost everybody.”
“Yeah,” he laughed. “I have a feeling you two will hit it off well. She loves talking to people about stuff and learning new things.”
I smiled. “I’m happy with that. I hope we’ll be good friends, too.”
“Yup. And there are people like Mixie everywhere. So, I’m sure you’ll find one of your very own.”
“Could you imagine? A whole world full of Mixies?”
Carter groaned. “Please don’t put the image in my head. Better yet, never mention that to her. It’ll go straight to her head and who knows what she’ll do next.”
Two weeks had passed by already. I’d gotten used to hearing the sound of dishes clanging and people talking first thing in the morning. Having to wait to use the bathroom was probably the biggest thing. I learned how to make five different meals, how to deep clean a garage, sand a bench with Jens, and navigate my way around town.
The sound of a metal bowl dropping woke me up. I slowly sat up and rubbed my eyes. Swinging my feet off the bed, I tried taking a sharp inhale to wake me up. Outside of my room, there were voices busily chatting away. I could hear Dannie and Carter, but there was another voice that I faintly recognized. It was a female voice, and she was laughing.
“Carter, would you hurry up and grab the eggs now? The pancakes are going to be done any second now!” I could hear Dannie say.
“I’m going, but Oak won’t move!”
“You never asked me politely to move. Geez, how ungentlemanly.”
“I’m not supposed to be a gentleman to you.”
“Oh,” she gasped. “I’m sorry to hear that I’m not worthy of your charms. Your own flesh and blood! Oh, how will you treat your wife? Or your children? Mom, you simply must do something about this.”
“I’m going to have to if he doesn’t get the eggs out.”
“Oak, will you please move!” Carter said, sounding exasperated.
“Of course! Why didn’t say something?”
I walked out and quietly made my way to the kitchen door. I leaned on the frame so I could see the commotion. Watching as Carter and the girl bicker was endearing to me in a way. I kept silent as Dannie finished cooking up a big thing of scrambled eggs and flipped the last of the pancakes. She was wiping her brow when she looked up, and she saw me.
“Baby! Why are you standing over there? C’mon, the food’s almost done.”
I gave a sheepish smile and stepped further into the tiny kitchen. Then a pair of arms wrapped around my shoulders and squeezed the life out of me.
“Charyse!” the girl yelled. “Oh my gosh! You’re all grown up! How long has it been? I hardly recognize you.”
Carter mumbled something under his breath as he walked past. He set a gentle hand on her shoulder. “You might want to let her go before she faints.”
She instantly dropped her arms and laughed. “Sorry, I can get carried away. Do you remember me at all? I’m Lynette, but most people call me Oak. I’m Carter’s older sister. He’s probably never mentioned me before because he hates me.”
“I do not hate you,” He called.
I looked at her tall frame and sharp, yet soft features. Her hair was pulled back in a short, curly ponytail making her eyes look bigger and brighter. She had a small S shaped scar on her right arm.
I pointed to her scar, “You got that climbing on the tree in my front yard, didn’t you?”
Oak’s eyes lit up. “Yes! I fell down and had a broken branch cut me.”
“How do you think you got the nickname Oak?” Carter said.
“Yeah, I remember that.” I said, ignoring Carter. “You tried to act tough, but there ended up being a huge splinter in there.”
She shook head, “I was stubborn.”
Carter yelled from the dining room, “Still are!”
“And where do you think you got it from?” Oak retorted.
“Okay, I hate to interrupt you two, but let’s continue this at the table, hmm?” Dannie suggested.
When we were all seated, Dannie laid out the rest of breakfast. Then she sat down and we all held hands. Dannie said a quick prayer, asking the Lord to bless the food and the souls who would enjoy it. As we said “Amen,” a knock sounded at the door. Oak cleared her throat and went to answer it. I looked to Carter and Dannie, but they showed no interest.
Oak returned with Jens in hand. “Look who’s decided to stop by.”
“Hi, Jens,” I said.
“’Sup,” Carter said.
“Hi, Patrick. Would you like something to eat?”
Jens greeted Carter and I, then looked to Dannie. “No, thank you. Danielle, I needed to ask you about next weekend. I’m going into town, and I’d like to take Carter with me if possible.”
“Sure, sure. Here, let’s go outside and chat for a bit.” Dannie excused herself from the table. “Go ahead and finish eating, kids. I’ll be back in a bit.” She followed Jens out to the front yard, but none of us moved or said a word until the door shut completely.
“Ugh, Carter. When is it just going to happen? I’m getting impatient.” Oak sighed, sitting back in her seat. She scooped a mound of scrambled eggs and a couple slices of bacon onto her plate.
“When is what going to happen?” I asked. Both of the Cottenwalls give me a deadpanned look. I look back at them confused. “Seriously, what’s going on?”
Carter snorted. “You can’t tell? I mean, you must’ve noticed by now.” He finished pouring half of the bottle of syrup on his pancakes.
I took a moment to fill my plate up before speaking again. “Does this have to do with the relationship between Jens and your Mom?”
“They’re not even dating!” Oak exclaimed. “Ugh, it’s so frustrating.”
“I asked them about it when I first came here. They just said they’ve been family friends for as long as they could remember.”
Carter choked on his orange juice. “Wait, are you serious? You asked them if they were together.”
“Yeah,” I said. “It wasn’t my place to ask, but—”
“No!” Carter interrupted, laughing. “I think that’s the first time someone’s asked them.”
“It’s annoying isn’t it?” Oak ate some more eggs before speaking again. “It’s been more than ten years since Dad died. I just want Mom to finally move on.”
The same heaviness I felt yesterday filled the air again.
“You probably don’t remember him. Carter was only four when he died. That’s around the time we moved back here too.” She took a long sip of her water. “Even when I was younger I could tell that Jens liked Mom. But I didn’t know he like liked her, you know?”
“I guess that makes sense. He seems to be very close to her.”
“Pfft. Obviously not close enough.” Carter laughed.
“See here’s the thing. I admired Jens for being able to keep being friends once our parents got married. I’ll admit, I didn’t like the guy for a while because he liked Mom, but I could see why. Dannie’s an amazing woman.” Oak pointed her fork at us, “Now I’m not saying this because I want to shame my father, but now is the time to finally act upon those feelings! I mean, how much longer is he going to hold out?”
“Maybe he’s scared she doesn’t share the same feelings?” I offered.
“Valid point,” Carter agreed. “But that’s the same man who told me that if I don’t have the guts to express my feelings, there’s no point in feeling them.”
“People don’t always take their own advice,” I said.
“My thing is, is that if he does like her, then he should tell her. He basically raised me, so it’s not like it’ll be any different.” He countered. “We’ll just have to see him every morning, but—as you’ve already seen—he comes over all the time.”
The front door opened not a moment later, the sound of Dannie and Jens floating through. When they entered the dining hall, Dannie placed a kiss on all of our foreheads.
“Patrick, are you sure you don’t want to stay? There’s plenty to go around.”
He smiled but declined. “There’s work waiting on me that’ll take most of the day. So I’m trying to get a head start. Thank you for the offer, though.”
“Oh, at least let me pack you something for lunch then. I’m sure I can throw some stuff together quick.” Dannie rushed into the kitchen mumbling to herself about leftovers.
I watched as Jens smiled and shook his head. “That woman. You tell her ‘no’ and she just finds another route to take.” He reached over to steal a slice of bacon. “It’s a good thing I love her cooking.”
“Is it just the cooking you love?” The words were out of my mouth before I could process what I meant. I felt my eyes go wide, and a blush run up my neck and cheeks. Carter and Oak stopped eating and looked at each other, both having uh oh written on their faces. “I mean,” I tried to save myself. “Is it just the cooking you love or the presentation? Just look at how nicely the food looks.”
Carter snuck a glance at me and gave me a quick wink of courage. He cleared his throat, “That’s true. Mom does make the food look as good as it tastes.”
“Hmm,” Jens paused, deep in thought. “Probably both. Remember that time when she tried making that German dish? It looked fantastic, but it was the worst her cooking has ever reached.”
“I can hear what you’re saying.” Dannie called from the kitchen.
We all laughed and continued with our breakfast. Afterward, Oak said her goodbyes and promised to visit soon. Dannie drifted off into the kitchen again to start the dishes and prepare dinner for tonight. Carter offered to take me to Double Dot Café for some more coffee. And for some reason, this was enough for me.
The food, the company, the sights, everything. I couldn’t think of anything else I wanted.
“I want them to get together.”
I spit out my soda onto the asphalt in front of me. I looked over at Carter with a confused expression. “Excuse me?” I said groggily.
“Mom and Jens. I want them to get hitched.” Carter saw my frustrated expression and relented. “Or at least go on a date.” Sighing, he leaned back on the bench where we sat. “Like Oak said, it’s been awhile since Dad died. Mom loved him a lot, though, and that’s the hard part. Anytime he’s brought up; she gets heartbroken all over again. I guess that makes it hard to even think about dating someone else.”
Almost a month and a half had passed since I moved in with the Cottenwalls. Three weeks ago, I learned that Dannie’s kids—Carter and Oak—wanted the family friend, Jens, to ask her out on a date.
“That makes sense.” I say, tilting my neck to pop it.
“Can I ask you something?”
I took another sip before answering. “Of course.”
Carter leaned on his knees like he was in deep thought. “Oak moved out at seventeen to go to college abroad. My eighteenth birthday is at the end of the school year, so I’ll probably be leaving then too.”
“That’s not much of a question, Carter. What’s your point?”
“Mom’s going to be alone. She’s going to have me for another year, but afterward?” He clenched his fist. “Patrick is a good man with good morals. If I had to choose an ending, it would be him living in that house with her.”
A long moment passed before I spoke. “How do you think your Dad would feel?”
Now it was Carter’s turn to give me a confused look. “What do you mean?”
“How do you think your Dad would feel about another man living with his wife?”
“I-I’d never thought of that.” He admitted.
“Maybe the reason Jens hasn’t said anything is that he wants to respect his friend. Put yourself in their shoes.” I crossed my legs and continued. “If you had died, would you want your wife to go love another man?”
His brow pulled together in thought. A moment passed before he spoke. “I don’t know. I know I wouldn’t want her to be sad. I’d want her to be happy and joyful and bright. But at the same time, I wouldn’t want another man’s hand to be laid on her—even if that brought her the happiness, she was missing.”
“Now, if the woman you love was widowed, would you finally admit your feelings to her?”
Again, he pauses before speaking. “I guess I would have mixed feelings about it. I wouldn’t tell her right away, obviously. I would be relieved that I could tell her freely, but then I would feel guilty for thinking that. The man she loved died, and I’d feel happy about that. I think I would feel sick.”
“Even after thirteen years, would you still feel sick about that?”
“Damn, you don’t let up.” Carter sighed. “Maybe. I know I would get tired of waiting to tell her. But I guess I would do what I could.”
“Like, helping her raise two children? Or remodeling a whole house with her? Maybe you would visit her often to make sure she was okay?” I hinted.
He laughed and hopped off the bench. Carter’s eyes smiled at me, but they held a sadness as well. “I believe I would. I think I know what to do now. C’mon, let’s head back. We’ve got some planning to do.”
“Planning?” I stood up and followed him to our bikes.
“Yup,” he said, mounting the bike. “We’re gonna find a way to get Jens to confess to my Mom.”
I hopped on my bike and started following him down the road. “How do you plan on doing that?”
“I don’t know yet. We’ll figure it out at Double Dot’s!”
We arrived at the café in less than five minutes thanks to Carter’s speed pedaling. He all but tossed his bike against the wall and ran inside, leaving me stumbling to catch up. Once I got inside, Carter had already ordered us two coffees and two slices of pink lemonade cake. I was still panting as I placed a hand on Carter’s wide shoulder.
“Here you go. One coffee and cake for the pretty lady. And one coffee and cake for Charyse.” Jake said, setting our orders on the pick-up counter. Carter grumbled again as he grabbed our stuff. I looked to Jake to thank him, but he gave me a wink and my previous thoughts were completely wiped from my mind. I could feel a blush rising up my neck.
“Hey, you still got your complimentary notebooks here?” Carter asked, stepping between us.
Jake’s back stiffed, but his smile remained. “Of course. What colors?” He disappeared behind the counter.
“Purple.” He said. “And a red pen. No, make that a multi-pen instead.”
Jake popped back out with a thick notebook with a purple cover and a multi-pen in hand. “Here you are, my friends.”
“She’s not your friend.” Carter said.
Jake pressed his big hand to his chest and gasped. “Well, it’s not my fault. Someone won’t let me properly introduce myself!” He called to us as we walked to the corner booth.
“I wonder whose fault it is then?” Carter said sarcastically.
We sat down and Carter started scribbling and scratching out ideas. I would hear him mumble something here and there, but nothing more than a few spare words. Mixie eventually walked in and joined us. She sat down next to me and asked what was going on. Before I could explain the situation, Carter jumped up and pointed at the color filled squiggles on the paper.
“Ha!” Carter yelled triumphantly. “I’ve got it!”
Jake called over to us in a falsetto tone, “Sir? Please use your inside voice. You’re disturbing the other customers.”
Carter flipped him the bird and sat back down. When I realized what had happened, I saw that we were the only ones in the entire place beside the employees.
“Okay, so here’s the plan.” He pointed to a place on the page. “Jens’ shift ends at six-fifty, right? Then, he comes for dinner at our house, right?”
Mixie and I nodded along even though we had no idea where this was going.
“Okay here’s my plan: When Oak comes over to visit, I’ll call her at dinnertime. I tell her that my bike got a flat tire and that Charyse and I are at the mall or something. But, we’ll actually be down the street waiting for her. Then, Mom and Jens are stuck having dinner together! Voila!”
“One thing,” Mixie said. “What’s the point of all that?” I took a bite of my cake before explaining it all to Mixie. She nods her head along and then sips her green tea. “Okay, I get what’s going on here. But that’s a terrible—not to mention clichéd—plan.”
“I have to agree,” I said as I sipped my coffee. “All that’s left is awkward silence and the possibility of them going out to look for us.”
Carter sat back down, sighing as he crumbled the paper in his hands. “True. But we’ve got to do something.”
“I have to agree with you on that,” Mixie adds. “It’s like watching your two favorite characters get so close and then someone walking in right before they kiss. It’s mentally frustrating, and all you want to do is just smush them together in a tight room and lock them in.” She added for clarity after clasping her hands tightly together.
Carter and I gave her a strange look.
“What?” She shrugged and took a timid sip of her green tea. “I’m a huge fan of this sorta stuff.”
“We still need something,” Carter sighed into the couch. He rolled his head in his hands. “Like Mixie said, it’s mentally frustrating.”
“What if we see if they like each other first?” I asked. “I mean, if we succeed in getting them alone together, it won’t help if they don’t have mutual feelings.”
“Just say it out loud in front of them both.” Jake said, sitting down on the arm rest by Carter. He turned his smile to me. “Hi, Charyse. Sorry to jump in on your conversation like this.”
Carter all but shoved him off the armrest. “Get the hell outta of here, Jake.”
He smiled back and picked up Carter’s plate of untouched cake. “Sorry, sir. I was here to pick up the trash that was laying around. Unfortunately, your ego and attitude aren’t going to fit in there, so I’m gonna have to ask you to drop it.”
“Well, it looks like yours is taking up all the space.”
I stood up and took the plate from Jake. “Okay, that’s enough. Carter, Jake makes a valid point about saying it out loud. I did say we should ask them separately if they had feelings for each other.”
“See? All you had to do was listen.” Jake said, tapping Carter’s shoulder.
“You interrupted. Besides, aren’t you on the clock?”
“Nope. Got off a couple of minutes ago, so I thought I’d come over and help brainstorm.”
“No one asked for your help.” Carter grumbled.
“Well, your ideas didn’t seem to be going anywhere. Besides, I like Charyse’s idea of asking them alone, but the flaw to that is that they may get suspicious or not answer truthfully. They’ll probably just say the same boring stuff, “He’s a good family friend,” and “I couldn’t just let her do everything herself, even though she could.” Blah, blah, blah.”
Mixie took another sip of tea before speaking. “Then how about we ask them plain and simple, like Jake said?”
“That’s just asking for a beat down from my Mom.”
“Ooh, what if you did an uncover thing? Like, you mention how awesome Jens is and stuff. It would be like what the cops do on the shows. You know, how they say stuff without saying it?” Jake said, nudging Carter’s bicep with his elbow.
I snapped my fingers. “Jake, you may not be as useless as Carter says!”
He looked at me funny. “You guys talk about me? Wait—he says I’m useless?”
I took the notebook away from Carter’s side, click the pen to blue, and started scribbling down my thoughts. When I was done, I pushed it to Mixie who looked over and nodded in approval. She slid it to Carter and sipped her tea while we both gauges his reaction.
He read it, tapping the pen against his chin, and then smiled. “I think this might work. Now, we just gotta find out when Oak’s visiting.”
Carter and I smiled at each other. This should be just the thing Dannie and Jens needed. And hopefully, everything went according to the plan.
At last, the day our plan would go into action had arrived. Dinner that night was simple: chicken fried steaks with fresh mashed potatoes and a veggie medley. Dannie had been brewing tea since the afternoon and now the dark, amber liquid was sitting crisp and cool in our glasses. Oak had put a small bouquet of flowers in the center of the table.
Once everyone was seated, we joined hands for prayer. Carter glanced at Oak and then to me. His face was cool, but his eyes gave away the nervousness he felt. This was what we had been planning since that day at the café.
Oak and I gave him a nod of courage and affirmation. He took a deep breath and asked if he could lead prayer. Dannie looked at Jens suspiciously, but he just shrugged his shoulders and bowed his head. Dannie, Oak, and I followed.
“Dear God,” Carter started. “We ask You to bless this food that we are about to receive. We ask that You bless the family around the table tonight.” He continued. “I want to thank you, Lord, for putting Jens into our lives tonight. He has taken care of us since I was little. He’s always been there when my Mom needed help. He’s helped Oak with her disarray of boyfriends more times than I care to count.” This brought a soft laugh from Oak, but Carter kept going. “He’s what helped me find a skill in carpentry. He’s why I’m the young man I am today. Thank you, Lord, for all Your ways, for they have brought us together in an unexpected blessing. Amen.”
Our voices echoed the “Amen,” and then we lifted out heads. Oak had a smug expression on her face as she picked a steak out. Carter looked like he was about to pass out. I scooped some mashed potatoes onto my plate, trying to look nonchalantly at Dannie and Jens. Nothing seemed different. Jens had a small blush, and Dannie kept her hands close to her. It seemed that nothing had changed.
I cleared my throat, “Jens, you do carpentry?”
“Mm, yes.” He said, finishing his drink. “I teach at the high school, but I own a woodshop in town. I’ve been teaching Carter since he was seven or eight I’d say.”
“Yeah,” Carter agreed. “I’ve been doing it for a while. He helped me finish my latest project. It was a carving of a fish for one of my friends.”
“That’s really cool.” I turned to Jens. “I hope I can go see it sometime. I’d love to see some of your work.” I asked, moving a steak onto my plate.
Jens nodded. “Actually, I, um, have something in my car for you, Dannie. I’ll grab it after dinner, though, okay?”
Dannie smiled, but it was tight. “Sounds good. Charyse, could you pass me the vegetables?”
After dinner, we sat in the living room while a strawberry cake baked quietly in the oven. Carter and Oak sat on the couch while I took the ottoman. Dannie was on the loveseat and Jens was in the reading chair. We were all leaning in as Oak was telling us about the places she had seen when she was studying abroad. Where she ate, who she was with, and the smells that surrounded her.
Soon, Jens stood up and excused himself for a moment. “I’ll be right back.”
Once Jens was gone, Dannie excused herself as well to check on the cake.
Carter sighed and leaned on Oak’s shoulder. “This is exhausting. I thought that would’ve work.”
She placed her hand on his head and rubbed it in a sisterly way. “Yeah, but maybe it’ll work itself out?” Oak didn’t sound too sure of herself, but she was trying to be optimistic.
I leaned back and stretched. Our whole plan was turning out to be a bust. Carter was going to say some things about Jens, and that was supposed to kinda nudge them together. “What if we just left for snacks? Or toilet paper? Maybe that might strike something.”
At that moment, Dannie walked back in with the smell of fresh cake trailing behind her. “It’s almost done. Just have to cool it down before we frost it. What do you think? Cream cheese or buttercream?”
“Cream cheese!” Jens called shutting the door behind him. “Not to be harsh, but you’ve never been able to make a good buttercream. Okay, here you go. Carter, Oak, this is for you and your Mom. I wanted to give it to you sooner, but I guess it’s better late than never.”
He placed a box in the center of the living room. It was almost two feet tall and another two wide with decorative cuts and carvings around the edges. The box had four dates on each side and a symbol with it. The first date had a wedding ring, the second date the Venus symbol, the third date had the Mars symbol, and the fourth date had a cross. On the top, Cottenwall was written in cursive with flowers.
Dannie started crying instantly. She dropped to her knees and turned the box around, touching each side carefully and smiling. “Our wedding date. Lynette’s birthday. Carter’s birthday.” When she reached the cross, Dannie bowed her head and cried harder.
I had tears in my eyes as well. Seeing this woman break down in front of her children was brave. Carter and Oak sat down with her and hugged her. They both were crying as well, but not as much as their Mom.
Jens stood to the side. I couldn’t tell if he was happy or not. The box itself was beautiful. The reaction to it was heartbreaking. He swallowed hard before saying, “Open it, Danielle.”
She reached a shaking hand out to lift the top off. Dannie pulled out an oval wood plank with more carvings and letters written. I couldn’t see what it said, but after Dannie had read it, she hugged it close, and didn’t let go.
Oak pried it away from her steel grasp so we could all read it.
~ It’s okay to have lost a love and find love again.
[_Because love is something that appears every day. _]~
Jens took the plaque and hung it on the wall where two nails had been sticking out. It fit perfectly. “I’d been planning on giving that to you for a while now, Dannie. I’m sorry it took so long.” He tried a laugh, but it just came out an airy breath.
“I-it’s fine Jens,” She sniffed. “I appreciate this. I really and truly do. I was just shocked; that’s all. Everything is beautiful.” Dannie stood up and gave Jens a hug. Her head resting neatly on his chest and his arms came around to embrace her. We could all see her back shudder with shaky breaths.
No one said a word. All you could hear was the misplaced sound of the home phone ringing and then the air conditioning kicking on again.
Carter stood up from his spot on the floor and took a deep breath. “Mom, do you have romantic feelings towards Patrick?” If it wasn’t quiet before, it was now. I think Oak and I stopped breathing for a whole ten seconds.
Dannie instantly moved away, her arms snapping to her side. “Carter! What kind of question is that?”
He turned to Jens, who also had become ridged. “Mr. Jens, do you have romantic feelings for my mom?”
Dannie spoke in a hushed tone. “Carter, that’s enough. It’s not your place to ask such questions. Go to your room.”
“Mom,” Carter started.
“Not another word, Carter. I will not ask again. Go to your room and don’t leave until I get you. Charyse, please go as well.” Dannie bit her lip and was taking deep breaths. She looked like she was about to have a mental breakdown.
“C’mon, Carter,” I say, nudging him in the shoulder. “Let’s go.”
He nodded and followed me down the hall, but it didn’t keep him from saying, “It’s time to move on, Mom. Dad’s gone and not coming back. It’s time to start living again and being happy.” He turned, almost to his room. “We’re not going to be here forever, and I don’t want you to be lonely.”
“Carter,” Jens started.
“That’s enough!” Dannie yelled. “You’re not supposed to worry about your mother. You’re still a child.”
“Dannie,” I tried to say, “Carter doesn’t mean it like that.”
“If I hear one more word from either of you, it’ll be the last thing you say!” Her voice cracked. I could see her breathing pick up, and I knew she was going to start crying. Her fists were clenched at her sides, her eyes shut tightly.
I put my hand on Carter’s shoulder and pushed him further. Jens looked over at us, and we shared a mutual smile of encouragement. I mouthed over to him, “Tell her,” He gave me a wink and mouthed back, “I always do,”
Oak stood up awkwardly, and walked with us to our rooms. She pulled us into the first room on the right and shut the door. Carter looked like a puppy who had just been scolded as he stood in the corner, not saying a word. I walked over to him, but Oak motioned me to stop, and to follow her instead. “Don’t tell my Mom about this, okay?”
She moved a picture frame, revealing a hole in the wall. Oak looked through, and then told me to join her. I placed my face where she had hers and saw that I could see the whole living room. The first thing I saw was the black TV screen, but if I tried, I could see Dannie and Jens standing three feet apart. I moved away to look at Oak accusingly.
“This used to be my room. I would get mad when Mom and Dad didn’t let me watch shows with them. This house is old; you can’t even see the holes from the living room unless you look closely. It made me feel like a spy.” She shrugged. “I was an eccentric child.”
Carter stepped over to us and looked through the secret peek-a-boo hole as well. “This is perfect. C’mon guys, we can all see I think.” Oak and I stepped over to him and sure enough, if we were careful, all of us could see. “Ssshhh! Be quiet, okay? The walls are still pretty thin.”
We saw Dannie, hands still clenched her at her sides. Jens was off to the side, pondering something. He looked over the walls and the pictures, the mantle by the fireplace and the door frame. Jens walked over to the box, picked it up, and moved it into a corner by the bookshelf. He sighed, and then said, “You know, I could probably give the books some new shelving. I just got some new tools in; maybe Carter could help.”
“Patrick, are you still talking about that stupid bookshelf? You’ve been telling me that for ages.”
He shrugged. “Well, I gotta talk about something. You don’t want to talk about the elephant in the room, so I’m trying to find a relevant topic.”
“Then let’s talk about the elephant in room, Patrick. Huh? Let’s talk about the fact that my own children asked if we shared the same feelings for each other. Let’s talk about why you made me that box and plaque.” Her tears fell, not stopping.
Jens walked over to her and held her as she cried. He rubbed her back, not saying a word. Dannie gripped onto his shirt and buried her face.
“Ssshh,” Jens said. “Just relax. Okay, Danielle? Everything’s fine; it’ll be all right. Just calm down, deep breaths.”
“No, Patrick, I can’t.” She said, pulling away from him. “I’ve tried, but it hasn’t worked. I’ve been trying for the past thirteen years to be calm and relaxed, but I’m fed up with it. I cried myself to sleep almost every night since Michael’s death. And then even more because of you.” Dannie wiped her eyes.
We watched on as the tears and confessions unfolded before us.
“Not gonna lie,” Oak whispered, “But does this seem a little dramatic?”
“Ssshh!” Carter said. Oak mocked him, but went back to watching with us.
Dannie paced back and forth near the mantle, rubbing her reddened face.
“Patrick, I’ve known you for as long as I’ve loved Michael. And since he left, I’ve known you better than ever. You spent so much time here, that, at first I misjudged your intentions.” She scoffed. “But you helped me with Oak when she was causing mischief. When Carter was in the hospital. Even moving back into town!”
Oak and Carter tried to cover up their snorts at the mention of their names.
“You were always there to lend a helping hand no matter what it was. You—you’re my best friend. There’s no doubt about it.” Dannie continued.
“Dannie, you don’t have to say anything else. You don’t have to explain yourself.”
“No, I have to. I can’t take the guilt anymore,”
Jens pulled her in closer and hugged her tight. His face buried in her shoulder and hair. He made sure his strong arms supported her when her body went limp. His eyes were closed, and I could see that if he opened them he would start crying. “Just say it.” He whispered. I could barely hear him. “Don’t worry about me, just make yourself better.”
“I love Michael. And I will love him until the day I die. But, I know you’ve loved me just as long. From the moment I first met you two, I saw both your eyes light up in a way I’d never seen before. My suspicions were correct when you cried as I walked down the aisle. There was barely a tear to form, but I could tell. And I loved you too, but not like that. Michael was my one, true love.”
I looked over to see that both Carter and Oak were completely engrossed in the scene before us. For a moment, I couldn’t help but think I was out of place.
“I’m terrified right now, Patrick. I want to be in love again. I want to wake up to a handsome face next to mine. I want to go on a date. I want to go out of town for the weekend and do something I’ve never done before. I want to be alive. I don’t want to drudge through the days. I want to be in the kitchen with you eating breakfast every morning talking about those damn floorboards and the shelving. I want you, Patrick.” All her words were said quietly, but the meaning was as loud as if she were shouting.
Dannie pulled away, tears still pouring down her face. “I don’t want to be lonely anymore. I’ll love you, Jens. And I can love you until I see Michael again. Is that okay?”
Jens looks at her blinking back tears. “Danielle, if you only knew how long I’ve been waiting to hear those words. If you’ll let me, I’ll love you until I die.” He sniffed and his voice cracked as he mustered out the next part, “I know, you’ll never love me like you did Michael. And I don’t expect that from you, either. But I’ve loved you since the day I saw you, Danielle.” Jens softly pressed his lips against Dannie’s forehead as a final gesture. “I love you, Dannie. Please let me love you until we see Michael again.”
Dannie’s tears subsided as she nodded her head. “I will,” she said, hugging Jens.
There were a couple weeks of August left when Carter’s and my restrictions were finally over. The first thing we did was hop on our bikes and ride over to Double Dot’s, smiling, happy to be out and about again. After being grounded for a week, Dannie had added another week when she found out we had been spying on the entire thing.
As we stopped at the red light, Carter looked over at me with a fresh look in his eyes. “I finally have an answer for you.”
I put my legs on the ground, straddling my seat. “For what?”
“Remember when you asked me how I would feel if I was in father’s shoes? You know, how I would feel about another man loving my wife?”
“Yeah,” I said, not knowing where this was going.
Carter smiled, and we started pedaling at the green light. “I think Dad would like it. To have someone who loves his wife and to look after her. To bring her happiness and pleasure and brightness when he can’t. I know that when they join Dad, Mom will go back to him. And Jens will be happy to let her go.”
I took a moment to process what he’s saying.
Carter continued. “I thought Dad would be mad about something like that. But, I think Jens truly understands the love she had for Dad. And if he still chooses her without hesitation or holding a grudge, then he really and truly loves Mom.”
I smiled at the idea. “I think it’s okay for Dannie to miss your Dad and be sad about it. And it might be unfair to Jens, but as you said, he understands it as well. Jens and your Dad were best friends, so you know he wouldn’t do anything wrong to your Mom.”
“I don’t think Dad wants Mom to forget him, not that she would.” He laughed. “And I think Dad knows she can’t love another man as she loved him.”
I sighed. “If you ask me, that sounds like true love.”
Carter nodded, “Yeah.”
We continued our route to the café, quiet but happy. I took the time to soak in the sights of the town around me, knowing I only had a few weeks before I left.
I took in the bright sunlight and the sounds of the birds and cars. The green lawns of the houses that lined the roads was flush and the flowers were blooming. I let myself feel the thrill of pushing the pedals of the bike and the wind against my face. It was beautiful.
“Hey! You see that well hiding over there?” Carter asked, pointing to a dilapidated well alongside the road. “There’s a legend that says if you whisper a name into it, it’ll tell you your future with that person. Mixie and I tried it once, but I never heard anything. Oh, and there’s the original cobblestone they laid when building the town. They say that when they had to tear it up they found…” Carter continued, telling me the endless legends and tidbits about the small historic town.
I watched Carter smile as he continued talking about the history of the town. I couldn’t help but smile back at him. I knew that I was going to be happy and that the rest of my time in Dot was going to be just fine.
With her parents' marriage in shambles, Charyse is being sent to the nowhere town of Dot to stay with Dannie, her mom's best friend from high school. Charyse is sure this will be the most uneventful summer ever...until Dannie's teens, Carter and Oak, decide to hatch a plan to get Dannie and their long-time family friend, Patrick, to finally admit they are in love. Dannie faces the ultimate question...Can you love again after loss?