Dear J, things have been moving right along. Ruby and Blue spend every waking minute together. Last night, they slept in their sleeping bags downstairs. I had to go in three times after midnight to tell them to settle down. The last time I checked on them, there were feathers all around. A testament to the pillow fight I’d heard earlier.
It’s my parental duty to make sure they get some sleep. But honestly, I really enjoyed hearing them giggle and talking in hushed whispers. I can only imagine what secret information they share.
It reminds me of the secrets we used to share with one another. After you were gone, I often heard Rachel and Daylynn doing the same thing.
Anyway, it’s really nice to know that Blue has a best friend to share those important things with.
I finally finished up some details on one of the compositions for the film I was working on. Tomorrow, Leela was going to watch the girls while I headed into the city to deliver my music to the studio. It was Josh’s turn to take over with the orchestration. I would act as a consultant, but until the pieces were recorded, I wasn’t needed.
Just as I was getting ready to climb into bed, my phone rang.
“Leo? It’s Chrissy. Look, I know you probably want to hang up on me, but I really want to talk to you.”
I let out a reluctant sigh. This was both the phone call I was hoping for, and the one I was dreading. “I’m not going to hang up on you. What do you want?”
She sounded just as reluctant as I did. After a long pause, she said, “Could you meet me in Central Park tomorrow? So we can talk.”
“Uh, yeah, it’s going to have to be really early, though. I have to go to Bridgeport for a meeting.”
“That’s fine. Whatever time is fine.”
I told her I’d be there at seven and then we hung up. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep that well.
The next morning, I dropped the girls off to spend their Saturday at Leela’s, then I hurried to the park. I was running about fifteen minutes early, but was still shocked by what I saw.
Chrissy Valentine, the mother of my child, was sound asleep on one of the park benches. Cautiously, I came nearer to make sure it was her.
It was definitely Chrissy, and she was sound asleep. But why here? Had she been there all night?
She sat up, stretched, then rubbed her eyes.
“Chrissy?” I said, stepping even closer.
She startled, her blue eyes widening with surprise. “Oh, Leo. I didn’t realize you were here.”
“Chrissy…” I began, my voice trailing off as I slowly sat next to her.
She shook her head, her eyes filling with tears. “You know, I never imagined my life would turn out this way.”
Her voice was so quiet, so full of despair, I just stared at her for a moment. She couldn’t meet my gaze.
“What happened?” I asked after a few moments passed.
“There’s no point in bringing it all up. You’re just going to think even worse of me than you already do.”
“I’m here because you called me. What’s happened to you?”
For a minute, I didn’t think she was going to answer me. Her eyes looked off into the distance and seemed very far away. Finally, she said, “I don’t think I can do it anymore.”
My breath caught in my throat. “What does that mean exactly?”
For the first time, our eyes met. “You don’t owe me anything and this isn’t your problem. I shouldn’t have called you.”
Was this a new game she was playing? I didn’t trust her, that was true. But she seemed so down, desperate even.
“You know, once we were good friends and I would have done anything for you. I wish you’d tell me what’s going on.”
“We weren’t good friends, Leo. We barely knew each other at all. In fact, we were just two stupid kids that did stupid things.”
She had a point. “We shared something, though,” I said. When she didn’t respond, I decided to change gears. “Did you really come over the other night to see Blue?”
Chrissy let a small sigh pass between her lips as she gazed off into the distance again. “No,” she admitted. Before I could say anything, she quickly added, “But I did mean what I said about knowing that what I did was wrong. Someday, maybe, I’d like to see her. But I know I can’t right now.”
Raising an eyebrow, I chewed on my lower lip for a minute. There were so many questions I wanted to ask, I wasn’t sure where to begin. But maybe my next question would tell me how sincere she was being. “Why can’t you?”
“I don’t want to see her until I’m the person I should be.” A single tear escaped her eye and rolled down her cheek, dripping off her chin. She hastily wiped it away. “The guy I was with, he was no good. I found out he was only with me because he thought I could get money from you. If you didn’t pay me what he wanted, he was going to have me give you a hard time with custody of Blue.”
I was stunned into a temporary silence. “Why are you telling me this?”
“Because I want you to know that I’m not like that anymore.”
“You’re not? You were just at my house,” I said.
“Well, I don’t want to be like that anymore. I’m tired. I don’t care if you don’t believe me. I am just sick and tired of how I live. Since high school…. since Blue was born, it’s just been one guy after another. They always promise things but they just turn out to be abusive drunks.”
“So, what’s changed then?”
“I’ve changed. After I left your house, I was feeling lower than I ever had. Seeing how well you’ve done for yourself, and for Blue, made me feel like even more of a failure. So, when I got in the car, I told Steve that things were going to change.”
“What happened then?”
She shrugged. “He left me here.”
It was my turn to sigh. “Let me guess, you’re broke and you’ve been sleeping in the park?”
She nodded as more tears escaped. Impatiently, she wiped her face with the hem of her blouse. “I’m just a loser. Like I said, I’m not your problem. I would totally understand if you got up, left and never looked back.”
My head and heart were in a battle. Chrissy looked as sincere as anyone could. She seemed truly miserable without a friend in the world. But could I trust her this time? She’d abandoned our daughter. Should I now abandon her?
Nervously, she clasped and unclasped her hands over and over again. Slowly, another test formed in my mind. Whatever I decided to do, depended on how she answered my next question.
“What do you think you should do?”
“I know what I need to do. I’m just…. scared.” Wiping her face again, she said, “I need to go to rehab and get myself straight. Nothing is going to go right for me until I do that.”
“Do you mean it?”
She nodded as more tears spilled from her crystal blue eyes.
Gently, I pulled her into my arms. My trip to the city would have to wait as this was more important. While I didn’t completely trust Chrissy, I couldn’t leave the mother of my child to live homeless on a park bench either.
Her shaking body melted into me as I held her. As she cried, I murmured into her ear that everything would be okay, that she would be all right and that someday, she would meet Blue.
I’m not sure how long we sat there, but it was the first time in a long time that I felt close to her. I knew that I couldn’t save her from herself. She had to decide that she was serious about her treatment and get clean. All I could do was help her get there. So as morning turned to noon, I took her for some lunch, then to the hospital where she checked herself in to the rehab unit. She was to stay there for a few days, then transfer to a residential setting on a private lake with intense therapy, which I agreed to pay for.
Just before I departed, Chrissy hugged me, telling me thank you. The last thing she asked was that I not tell Blue about any of this. She was embarrassed and didn’t want Blue to see her until she was better.
I had reservations about keeping this all to myself, but in the end, I agreed to since I thought it might help ease Chrissy’s mind. Blue was going to be a teenager soon, so I figured this could wait.
After my trip to the studio, I arrived at Leela’s late in the afternoon. She had a pretty little lake house not far from where I lived. The yard was immaculate and I could see why Blue loved it here so much. She and Ruby often swam right from the deck in the back of the house.
Tall windows were framed by rough cut stones, painting a picture of calm serenity and beauty. Kind of like Leela herself.
Peeking around the garage in the front yard, I saw Leela and the girls in the garden. They were weeding but it seemed to me that the garden had been neglected for a while as the plants were brown and some were overgrown.
Smiling to myself, I came further around the corner so they could see me.
“Hello, ladies,” I called.
The girls called a hello back to me and continued with their work as Leela came out to greet me.
“How’d it go?” I asked, noticing a smudge of dirt on her nose.
“Oh, everything went just fine,” she said. “The girls have been helping me in the garden. I’m afraid it’s a bit of a lost cause, though.”
I glanced around her at the sad looking garden, then smiled at her. “It’s not as bad as that. We could have it looking great with a little work.”
Surprise lit up her face and eyes. “Are you volunteering to pull weeds, Leo?”
“Sure. We can make a lot of progress if we both work on it.”
“But I can’t ask you to do that and you’ll spoil your clothes.”
I flashed my best grin, although I knew it would be lopsided like my dad’s. “I’m volunteering!” I brightly exclaimed, wiping the smudge from her nose with my thumb.
“Well, you might be crazy,” she laughed as I followed her through the garden gate.
“Yeah, maybe,” I agreed.
“You seem to know your way around plants,” Leela said as she watered a tomato plant.
“Well, see, whenever I got in trouble, my mom made me work in the garden. When I got older and I got in trouble, I had to chop wood.”
“So, you were in trouble a lot!” she said with a smile.
“To hear my mom put it, I was ‘incorrigible’!” I answered with another grin.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Blue and Ruby watching us, in a deep and hushed discussion. I briefly wondered what they were scheming, but I didn’t have a chance to ask them because Leela chose that moment to splash water on me.
While Leela and I continued with the garden (and our playful water fight), the girls moved their discussion to the seesaw.
Leela and I looked at each other with satisfaction when we were finished.
Tonight, the way she looked at me, filled my heart to the brim with happiness.
“Thank you so much for your help. I couldn’t have done it without you.”
Shyly, my face turning bright red, I smiled softly and looked at my feet. “Sure you could have. It just would have taken a lot longer.”
“Well,” she said, “the garden has been saved and you must be starving. Can I make you dinner as a thank you?”
“That would be great,” I gushed.
The girls did their homework as Leela cooked. The conversation wasn’t heavy, it was small talk. But it was more company than I’d had in a long time.
We talked about how the girls were doing in school and about the cooking class Blue and I were taking. She seemed surprised that I was trying to learn how to cook. But I felt our friendship was making some real headway.
She told me that she’d been engaged to Ruby’s father, but he had died and never met his daughter. I wanted to tell her about Chrissy, but decided the girls were too within earshot, so instead, I told her about my music and what it meant to me.
Leela seemed impressed by the amount of work I put into my compositions and she asked questions that made me feel like she was truly interested in what I did.
It felt really good to know that we had so much in common even though we were coming from completely different places in life. She loved her bakery and took great pride in her business. And, I have to say, I’m proud of her accomplishments, too.
Someday, I might even tell her about you, Jillybean.
Author’s Note: The gorgeous Lake House was made by Bee (BMIT04) and can be downloaded at TSR.