By Sandra, Xanii@aol.com
At the fifteenth and the late twenty-something of the month, he always came to spend the weekends. It wasn't something I signed up for or that I was even aware of, it was just there, to happen, like clockwork. And Jared came that weekend.
When he was younger, It would usually be Lila home with him. Her work clothes and his school clothes scattered on the floor and the both of them- he in his briefs and undershirt and her in shorts and a tank - sprawled on the living room carpet building Lego cities. Sometimes they noticed when I came through the door, usually it was when I bought dinner: KFC. Jared would turn his head toward the door, his ears perked at the rustle of the plastic bag against my attaché.
And I'd hear the soft thud of his feet against the carpet as he made his way to the door and managed to twist the knob with both of his little hands. He'd wave up at me.
"Hey Jared! Fancy meeting you here today!"
I'd sweep my eyes past his pouty lips into the house to survey the damage.
"Hey Molly. " And her brown eyes met mine, a little sheepish, a little tired.
"Hey. " I wave, letting the warm bag graze my forearm. Jared would jump up, trying to snatch the familiar red and white colors to him.
He planted his tanned heels further into the beige carpet and would hide his hands behind his back. His green saucer eyes meet mine and his curly blondish head would nod a yes.
"Well, I guess we should clean up before we have dinner."
His curls turned in the direction of the Lego city and his small shoulders slumped.
"C'Mon kiddo, let's get at this while MaMolly puts dinner on the table."
Lila scoops him up by his legs and he squeals as she swings him back and forth by the ankles. The phone rang and no one noticed.
"What's all that racket ? " Carl, Lila's brother making his weekly inquiries.
"Just the kids. " I glance over my shoulder at Jared lining up buildings on Lila's thigh and her moving to make them fall.
"So Jared is there."
The phone crackles as I cross into the kitchen. I reach into the cupboard and grab the stack of fancy printed paper plates and matching cups.
"Why haven't you spoken to her yet?"
"Carl, there's just this- arrangement- that I have no business butting into."
I drag myself to the black lacquered table and wince as I try not to imagine the state the table will be in after this meal.
"You can't just roll over and play dead either!"
"I know! " I bite my thumbnail as I search the bottom of the matching black china cabinet for the yellow and red place mats my grandmother gave me. I find them and give a sigh of relief.
"Don't stress over it now, it won't be good for the little guy."
"I'm not stressing."
"Stressing?! Over what?"
Lila appeared in the spaceway between the kitchen and the dining area. Her layered blonde hair tousled, clicking Lego pieces between her callused fingers. Brown eyes squinted at me.
"Why are you stressing?"
I spun around and gripped the phone. A deer caught in the headlights.
"I was just telling Carl how hard my day of work was. " A lie.
"Oh. " She walked to the sink and washed a few utensils.
"Tell him I said 'Hello'."
"Lil says 'Hey', Carl."
"Tell her how you're feeling Molly."
"I've almost got dinner on the table. I'll speak to you soon. Bye."
Lila looked over to me from the fridge, a carton of milk in her hand.
"Hard day at work? " And she looked at me, the way she does, when she knows she's been lied to and I just hustle into the dining area.
"Yeah. " And I head back to our room.
The bed was made but it looked like the battling duo had a wrestling match. I walk in, striping as I go along and hang up my peach silk blouse. I reach into the dresser and yank out an undershirt. Jared catches a peek of my bra and slaps his hands over his eyes.
"Sorry MaMolly! I was just gonna tell you to wash your hands before dinner."
I pulled the undershirt all the way down and quickly slipped off my pants and knee-hi's. Looking around for a pair of sweat pants, I eye a clean white pair in the closet shelf and slip them on.
"You can look now if you want Jared. I'm dressed. " He slowly pulls his hands away and wipes his forehead with the backs of his hands.
"Com'on and help me fix the bed. " I hand him a side of the sheet and he gives it a yank, then pats it down into the mattress. I pull on my end and even out the top sheet, then begin smoothing it. He mimics my actions.
"Good deal kiddo! Gimme five! " And he spins around, meeting Lila, the other half of the way to complete the high five. I watch as his little backside struts out of the bedroom. I rub my neck and begin to pick up around the room. Lila sits on the edge of the bed and watches.
"What? " I amass a melange of clothes and head for the hamper. She grabs the crook of my arm, taking me into her lap. I sit, hugging the clothes to me, avoiding her stare. I feel the callousness of her palm against my backside. I finally look at her and my eyes begin to well.
"Jared is always going to be a part of me. Where ever I go or whatever I do. He will always be there. " She looks to me, hoping I understand and she misses the fact that she never gave me the choice of accepting her and Jared and her and Tonya and her life with Tonya and Jared, before me. I stuck my jaw out and tugged myself out of her grasp.
And we ate dinner. Lila, Jared and me. Our Family.
The fifth of the month came two years later and I found myself opening the door with Jared on the other side, watching TV. His curly hair grew and rested into his eyes. He started looking more and more like Lila, really like Carl. And he hopped up, running to the door to hug my waist, like most seven year olds and jumped back when he realized that by some code of growing he wasn't supposed to be hugging me, that way. Not like he used to.
"Hey Jared! Nice to see you. " I beamed. Running my fingers through his hair. He dug his fingers into his pocket and pulled out a rumpled piece of paper.
"Report cards came out today! I got all B's. Except that for that C in Reading."
I walk to the table by the entry and put my briefcase down. I hang my purse on the rack and begin to unfold his piece of paper.
"I even set the table for dinner. I made dessert, your favorite,..."
"... Butter Pecan Ice cream with graham cracker crumbs on top..."
"Where is Lila?"
"... I put them in the cups and put them in the freezer."
He looked down, hoping I wouldn't ask him again.
I looked at the calendar by the door. The fifth.
"This is your mothers house and you are always welcomed but I don't think she'll appreciate you leaving your home without letting her know you were ever coming. " I went to the back and changed.
He helped me make dinner. Steak and potato salad and string beans. He cut his finger peeling the potatoes and I bandaged him and kissed it.
"Thanks. " And he looks at me that way he used to, that always made me want to hug him. But I didn't.
"Molly, what the fucks' with you leaving the key in the door?"
Lila arrived, carrying her hard hat and her muddy work boots in her left hand, the pair of keys in the other. She spotted Jared and turned red. I patted him on the back and left him to the string beans to see about Lila.
She had laid back across the bed and laced her fingers behind her head. I straddled her and kissed her nose. She opened her eyes and just stared at me.
"What's He doing here?"
I sat back on my haunches and rubbed my thighs.
"I don't know. I didn't ask. It's not my place to."
I rub her belly and notice the green slip that poked out from her shirt pocket.
"I'll save you the effort. I got another written for arguing with the Foreman. He's hiring these guys who wouldn't know how to make sand castles and blaming me for their shoddy work. I need to find another company. This isn't worth my energy."
"Speaking of energy, Tonya's lawyer sent a summons. She wants to sue for suspension of your visitation rights."
She buried the heels of her palms into her eyes.
"Then why is He here?"
"I told you already, I don't know. " She rubbed the sides of my arms and hoisted me off.
She stood next to Jared, who was still peeling potatoes and crossed her arms.
"What's going on Kiddo?"
He looked into the bowl, quiet.
"I'm gonna have to call Tonya, if you don't tell me something."
He spoke to the bowl.
"Ma, I just want to stay here. I don't want to go back to Mom and Greg."
She reached out and pulled his head into her shoulder.
"I'm still gonna have to call her."
"She's gonna make me not see you any more. And I hate Greg! He's so boring and stupid!! He doesn't even know how to go fishing!! Who doesn't know how to go fishing?"
He pushed the bowl of stringbeans away and plopped himself into the sofa in the living room. Lila shrugged out of her jacket and threw it on the dining room table. She pulled the striped shirt out of the back of her pants and plopped in the sofa next to Jared.
"What are we going to do?"
"Why don't we run? If we leave she'll never be able to find us!"
Lila shook her head from side to side. Jared frowned.
"I'll call and tell her where I am..."
He dragged his feet until he got to the phone and dialed the digits to his house. She watched me from the sofa as I portioned out the meal onto plates. I placed the plates on the table as Jared squirmed from the high pitch voice I heard through the phone. He lifted the phone into the air and made his way to the bathroom to wash up for dinner.
"Molly? I don't want to talk to you... put Lila on the phone!"
"Good evening to you too Tonya. " I threw the phone backwards. Lila caught it.
The arguing began to escalate and ended with Lila slamming the cordless phone on the glass table and making it fracture.
And we ate dinner that night. Jared and me, while Lila lifted weights. Our family.
She asked me one night. I curled myself around her body and held on. Her heart beat against my cheek.
"Would it be alright if Jared lived here?"
"This is your house. You can have anyone you want to live here. " I rolled back and wrapped the covers around myself. She sat up and looked at my back then kissed my shoulder through the sheets. I got up to get some water.
"You know how I've been fighting Tonya on this visitation thing. I want to ask the judge to grant me full custody. " I walked to the bedroom door.
"I'd win, the lawyer assured me of it. " I walked naked to the kitchen.
"Molly. " she stood behind me in the dark.
"You never gave me the choice of being in his life. You never invited me to share that side of you. Like I would destroy it or something. That boy means more to you than your life. That's why we're almost broke paying the lawyers, that's why you haven't touched me until tonight. Six months and you've been fighting and I've been losing. " Angry tears rolled down my face.
She ran her fingers through her hair.
"What else am I supposed to do Molly? Let her take him from me?"
"You can keep doing whatever it is you want to keep doing. "
And that weekend Jared stayed for good. I picked him up from Tonya's and packed his things in the trunk of my car. We rode to the ice cream store on the way home and ate double chocolate cones. He had grown a lot for an eight year old.
"MaMolly... is it okay that I live with you and Ma?"
"Sure. " And I step on the gas. He stayed silent, savoring the taste in his mouth.
"Then how come you've been sleeping on the couch? You've never done that before."
"It's fine that you live there Jared. I don't mind. Lila and I are just going through some problems and it's better that I sleep on the couch for now."
"Does everyone have problems when I'm around?"
I drove us home. Jared and I, to meet up with Lila. Our family.
We fell into a routine. Lila would see Jared off to school in the mornings and I would pick him up in the evenings from the after school care. I taught him how to cook and most weekends, while I ran the errands and while Lila cleaned house, he would make lunch and dinner. We planned our time when he was away, with Carl or the sitter or down the hall at his friends. She'd be careful and easy and sacred, was what she was.
"Thank You. " Was all she said when she held me to her and tasted my skin and sweat and tears and love. I smiled, in pain, that it had been so long for us to be together, like this, like it was, with us and just us and Jared and us. I made sure to keep away from the couch.
It had been four years from that day, when Jared came to live with us. I saw him to his baseball practices and his band rehearsals. As his legal guardian, I saw him through his first broken arm and his first chipped tooth. He grew, tall, almost reaching to my height, a scant five three. I had grown to speak to him, eye to eye.
"Not everyone has two Moms. " He said this while we rode to church. Lila said she'd meet up with us, something about forgetting to pick something up. I gulped.
"That's true. " I turned down the sleepy main street and kept my speed to a minimum.
"Did you have two Moms Molly? " He stopped calling me 'MaMolly' when his school friend teased him mercilessly.
"No. I had a Mother and a Father. " He frowned up his face.
"I haven't found anyone who has two Mothers like I do."
"They are sometimes far and few between, honey. " I reach over and push the curls out of his eyes.
"Does it bother you to have two Mothers? " He pauses.
"No. Ma is the best. Not even Freddy Matthew's' Dad knows how to gut a fish like Ma does. And Jackson Levys' Mom doesn't make peanut butter brownies like yours. " He shrugged his bragging.
"Does it bother you to not know your Dad? " His eyes followed a pigeon to the edge of the sidewalk.
"No. If he traded me, so that I could live with Mom and Ma and then for me to live with you and Ma, I guess he knew what he was doing."
I loosened my grip on the steering wheel and watched as Lila, in her dark blue collar less shirt and her black vest and trousers, leaned against our conservative Saab in the church parking lot. I park and step out.
"Hello. " I kiss her lips and caress her waist.
"Hey. " She gives me a look to ask what had happened and I am only glad that we made it. She rests her forearm on Jared's' head and smiles as he tries to knock it over.
"You've got to grow up to be a proper young man, no more of this 'me' business."
"Yes Ma. " And he smiled his chipped smile and bowed as I made my way to the third pew. I blush at the added attention.
She stands behind him to make sure he knows to wait until I am seated before he thinks about taking his place. He stands a while beside the pew as she does a quick walk around and finally nods her approval at his dress. Sharp creases, she would say. A belt, shiny shoes, tied laces. No slouching, slouching is for scrooges and misers, a son of mine is neither. And his back would straighten. My heart began to ache, he looked so much like Lila.
She apologized to me, as Jared washed the car that evening and I fixed us dessert after eating out.
"It wasn't fair what I did. I'm sorry. " Her brown eyes begged me to look.
"It's fine. " I whispered.
She reaches to my face and caresses my cheek.
"Thank You. " She slips her hand into mine and tugs at my finger.
It must have cost her a fortune. Two carats at least. But she didn't realize that we had always been a family.
Jared, Lila and me.