Chapter 2.16: Dear J, Birthday Bash

Chapter 2.16: Dear J, Birthday Bash

Dear J, so much time has passed, I guessΒ I need to catch you up. It makes me feel a little guilty when I think about how I used to write to you every day…. then every few days until, finally, more time has gone by than I realized.
It isn’t that I don’t still think about you. In fact, whenever something happens in my life, you are still that one person I want to turn to and confide in. I’m ashamed to say, though, that I feel your presence less and less and then I reprimand myself for thinking that time actually can heal wounds.
But time can’t remove the scar from my face. And it can’t make me forget the accident in which I was driving. Most of all, I will never forget the last thing you said to me that I can remember right before our lives were so drastically changed forever.
I have never told that to anyone. In fact, I have never spoken about the accident to anyone except for that shrink Dr. Thao and Aunt Keniesha. Even though I told them things, at the time, it was only what they wanted to hear. They encouraged my music because they thought that would distract me from my pain.
Someday, I would like to tell Leela… maybe. There are times when I’m with her that I feel the overwhelming urge to let it all out for once. But something always stops me. We’ve become really good friends, but even after all these weeks, neither of us has made that step to tell our darkest secrets.
Instead of spilling my guts to Leela, I threw myself into Blue’s birthday party. To say I dreaded having a teenager was an understatement. But Leela assured me it wouldn’t be a terrible thing, just another adventure with our children. I took courage from her words and did my best to prepare a day Blue would always fondly remember. I hoped.
The entire family was supposed to attend. Of course, as soon as Mom, Dad and Daylynn got here, Mom made a beeline for the kitchen and started rummaging around my fridge.
“There’s no fresh fruit in here, Leo,” she said. “Don’t you feed your child fruit?”
While most people might be annoyed by this, I smiled to myself. I missed her so much, I was willing to pretty much overlook anything.
“I have to go to the store, Ma. Blue ate our last orange this morning.”
Satisfied, I think, she turned and smiled at me, giving me another hug. “Oh, it’s so good to see you and Blue again.”
“Did you see Rachel and Josh’s house? It’s pretty nice.”
“Oh yes, it’s perfect for them,” she agreed. “Especially if they have anymore children.”
If I didn’t know any better, I would think there was some kind of message in what she said. Raising an eyebrow, I said, “But….”
Her pleasant laugh enveloped me in homey feelings of warmth. “I guess you caught me. I was wondering about this Leela Plummer I’m always hearing about. Blue seems to adore her and Ruby.”
There it was. “Yeah, Blue is quite attached.”
Mom bit her lower lip as if that would keep her from saying what she was thinking. “Is there any chance you and Leela might be more than friends?”
And there it was again. I shook my head. “No. I do like her a lot, but I’m not sure she wants to be anything more than what we are now.”
“So you’re stuck in the friendzone,” she murmured.
Hearing her say ‘friendzone’ was so weird, I laughed without meaning to.
“I worry about you in this big house all by yourself with only Blue. Now that she’s a teenager, she’s going to start living her own life, driving to the mall, hanging out with her friends. You’ll hardly see her. What kind of life is that?”
“Geez, Mom. First of all, I have my music which keeps me really busy. Second of all, Blue is not driving anywhere. Ever.”
She frowned and I hated the look of pity in her eyes as she gazed at me. “That’s not practical. You know the first thing she’s going to do is ask for driving lessons. It’s a rite of passage. It’s part of a teen’s growing independence. Have you still not driven since the accident?”
“No, I haven’t, and I’ve done just fine,” I said, my voice more stern than I wanted it to be. I knew she was only trying to make me see what she thought was reason. But there was no way in this lifetime that I’d allow Blue to sit behind the wheel of a car.
She didn’t say anything else about it, she only patted my arm with that same look in her eyes. “We’d better see how everyone is doing.”
Despite the seriousness of the conversation in the kitchen, I was really stokedΒ to have everyone here. It felt so long since we’d all been together. The noise was great; everyone talking at the same time, laughing and joking around.
I tried to get a group photo of everyone, but it was just impossible. No one would stay still. So, I took pictures of them in smaller groups.
This, of course, was Dad, Daylynn, Mom and Grace.
Aunt Keniesha with her new husband, famous actor, Samuel Serendipity.
On a side note, I was a little bothered and sad that this would probably be the last time I saw my aunt before she had her own birthday and became an elder like my dad. Then my mom would have her birthday. I don’t like to think of the people I love getting older. It’s kind of scary.
Next, I grabbed a pic of Rachel, Josh and little Thea.
Then, Tia, her husband Grant Ventura and their children Ramona and Marvin. Marvin was named after my grandfather, Marvin Noble. To hear Aunt Keniesha and my mom tell it, he was a great father, fisherman and jokester. Mom once tole me that my childhood pranks reminded her of her father’s stories of when he was a boy.
As the celebration got under way, I saw my dad by the cotton candy machine.
“Hey, Dad, I’m really glad you could make it.”
He still had that lopsided grin, it was just surrounded by more wrinkles now than I remembered him having. His hazel eyes were bright and still full of life.
“Do you remember when you stole that cotton candy machine? We were having a family picnic and I found it behind the garage.”
I laughed with him before answering. “But I didn’t steal that. Honestly, I didn’t. That grumpy man, I don’t remember his name, gave it to me.”
“That’s right,” he mumbled, a far away look in his eyes. “Is this the same one?”
“No. You made me take it back to the owner. I bought this one.”
“You still love your cotton candy.”
“That I do,” I said.
“You don’t still steal things, do you?” he asked with concern clouding his face.
All I could do was tell him what he wanted to hear. “No, Dad.” But the truth was, when I was really stressed out, it was hard sometimes not to take something. It was never anything really big or expensive but that urge was sometimes there. Luckily, I’d never been caught; that would be a disaster. Still, there were times I couldn’t help myself.
“That’s good. That’s good,” he said, his eyes far away.
“Is something bothering you?”
“Well, I’ve been working on something and it’s just really disturbing to me,” he said. Suddenly, he pulled out his wallet and began flipping through pictures he had. Most of them appeared to be of Blue and Thea. He stopped on some snapshots he had of Tia’s wedding. “Do you see it?”
I squinted at the small pictures, not seeing anything unusual. “See what?”
He pointed at the edge of the picture. “That! Do you see it?”
Coming closer, my eyes inches from the picture, I stared at what looked like someone in a gray jersey shirtΒ next to his finger. “Is there a person there? Whoever it is got cut off by the camera.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I became distracted as I noticed Mom and Leela talking.
They seemed to be in deep conversation. I was hoping Mom wasn’t telling her about the ‘friendzone.’
Mom smiled, said something else to Leela, then headed toward me and Dad.
As Mom joined us, Dad quickly put his pictures away and cleared his throat.
“Is he bothering you with those wedding photos?” Mom asked. “I keep telling him there’s nothing there.”
“All I can say, is take a lot of pictures today, Kid,” Dad said.
“Uh, okay,” I stammered, wondering what this was all about.
There were more pressing matters on my mind, though. “What did you say to Leela?” I asked.
“Don’t be so worried. Honestly, Leo. I was just getting to know her.”
“You, uh, didn’t say anything embarrassing, did you?”
She rolled her eyes. “Of course not. Have a little faith in me.” Then, she winked at Dad. “Leela is perfect!”
“Mom!” Suddenly, I felt like a little kid again, being told who I could play with.
Mom and Dad both laughed and squeezed each others’ hands.
Giving up on that conversation, I set Blue and Ruby up with karaoke. To my surprise, they sang one of my songs, “Broken Story,” which didn’t seem very appropriate for a birthday but the family seemed to really dig it.
As the girls sang, I made sure lots of pictures were taken, per Dad’s instructions. I didn’t know why he’d said that, but I wanted a lot of photos anyway.
The photographer I’d hired cost me an arm and a leg, but he was supposed to be pretty good.
Tears filled my eyes as the girls finished their show with “Lavender’s Blue,” the song I’d sung to Blue as a toddler. My heart ached as I recalled how Blue sang along with me and it was the first time I’d heard her put any words together.
Now, in just a few minutes, she would be a teen.
As I gazed at her, I tried to smile with encouragement as she seemed reluctant to blow out her candles.
“It will be okay,” I mouthed to her.
She nodded slightly….
…then closed her eyes to make a wish. I wondered what her wish was, but I couldn’t ask her. Everyone knew that if you told someone, it wouldn’t come true.
Finally, she blew out the candles as we went crazy.
Gasping, IΒ wondered how a guy that looked like me could ever have such a beautiful daughter. I would have to keep her locked up, for sure.
The next day, Ruby also became a teen. These are the girls in their school uniforms, Jillybean. I’ve never seen such smart, lovely kids in all my life.

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