Elliot entered his mother’s hospital room cautiously. Terry told Elliot that he had told Darlene about everything that had happened, so she knew Jenna was now Elliot. Still, Elliot didn’t know how she was going to react to seeing him this way.
Dana helped him dye his hair back to the dirty blond it was naturally. This morning he shaved for the first time in over a year. The testosterone had given his jaw more definition. The scar from the beating his father had given Jenna before she went missing was clear on Elliot’s cheek bone.
Darlene had her eyes closed, and Elliot stared at his mother. She looked like she’d aged ten years over the past two and a half years. The wrinkles around her eyes and mouth seemed more pronounced as she lay there sleeping. There were deep, dark circles under her eyes and Elliot knew he was the cause for the sleepless nights his mother must have had.
Moving to the edge of the bed, Elliot slowly reached out and touched his mother’s hand. He wanted to cry for all of the time they had lost because of his father. Elliot wondered if his mother knew that he was going to be testifying for the prosecution.
Darlene’s eyes fluttered, and she opened them. She jumped at the sight of the young man standing next to her bed.
“Sorry,” Elliot said. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
Pushing herself up a little on the bed, Darlene stared at the young man, recognition slowly setting in. “Jenna?”
Darlene put her hands to her mouth and let out a small cry.
The tears that had been burning behind Elliot’s eye lids spilled forward. “I’m so sorry, Mom.” And then realizing he was holding a boutique of his mother’s favorite flowers, daisies, in his hand, he held them out to her. “For you.”
Darlene looked from the flowers to Elliot. She took the flowers and set them on the table next to her bed, and then turned back to Elliot and opened her arms. “Come here, baby,” she cried.
Elliot went to her, wrapping his arms gently around her and she pulled him to her. They held each other and cried for several minutes.
Someone cleared their throat behind them. Darlene’s nurse stepped closer. “I need to check her blood pressure.”
“Of course,” Elliot said and stepped back out of the way so the nurse could check Darlene.
When the nurse finished, she turned to Elliot. “Please try not to upset her. She is still struggling with breathing, and we don’t want her to get too excited.”
“Yes, ma’am. I won’t do anything to upset her,” Elliot promised, hoping that just his being there was not going to upset his mother.
The nurse left the room, and Elliot pointed to the flowers. “I should put them in the sink for a little bit. Terry is going to bring a vase for them.”
Darlene watched as her daughter, now her son, picked up the flowers and set them in the sink with a little bit of water dripping on the cut ends. He was dressed in a violet button-up shirt with the collar open, gray dress slacks and a dark gray vest. Jenna had always been tall and lanky, which seemed a little awkward for a girl. She had a beautiful face with high cheekbones and cobalt blue eyes. Her father’s eyes. Except, Jenna’s eyes had always been filled with kindness, something Darlene could not remember ever seeing in her ex-husband’s eyes.
“You’re quite handsome,” Darlene said, eliciting a grin from Elliot.
“You think so?” Elliot asked, walking back to the bed to be on his mother’s right side, the side that had not been shot.
“Yes,” Darlene said with a smile.
“I wasn’t sure how you were going to take this,” Elliot said pointing to his suit.
Darlene reached for his hand. “Terry and I had a long talk about your changes and I realized that there had been many signs along the way that you liked boy stuff more than girl stuff, but your father never allowed it.”
Elliot nodded. “I’ve never forgotten the beating you got for letting me dress like a cowboy when I was playing with our neighbor’s son, Devin. I’m so sorry about that.”
“It wasn’t your fault, Jen…son,” Darlene said. “Your father is just a horrible and mean person. I should have left him after that, but I was too afraid he would take you away from me.”
“He would have,” Elliot agreed, “Just to hurt you.”
“So why Elliot?” Darlene asked.
“It’s our street name,” he said. “My full new name is Elliot Judson Cross. I’d hoped that one day Cara would see it somewhere and make the connection. We lived on Elliot Street. You have to take Cross Street to get to Judson Street where Cara lived.”
Darlene laughed. “I should have known it had something to do with Cara. But I like it.”
“Really?” Elliot asked.
“Yeah, it has a nice ring to it.” Darlene frowned. “Your father wanted to name you Michael, Jr. if you would have been a boy. I didn’t want to do that, so I was glad you were a girl.” Darlene studied Elliot’s sad expression for a few minutes. “I’m okay with you being a boy, man, now. I’m so happy that you are alive period.” She squeezed his hand tightly. “And the only thing I want is for you to be happy.”
“Thank you,” Elliot said leaning down to hug his mother.
“I heard Cara didn’t take the news well,” Darlene said.
“Yeah, it might have gone better if I hadn’t stripped my shirt off in front of her so I could expose myself to my father. Although, the shocked expression on his face was priceless,” Elliot said with a small grin.
“Pull up a chair,” Darlene said. “And tell me everything.”
Elliot did as his mother asked. He started with finding the body in the freezer and ended with shaving this morning.
“Wow,” Darlene said. “That is quite a tale.”
“Yeah, it’s been an exciting adventure,” Elliot agreed.
“Shot your dad in the elbow?” Darlene asked. “That’s some skillful shooting.”
“I’d been practicing a lot,” Elliot admitted. “At the time, I just wanted him to drop his gun, but taking his right elbow out is going to make hitting women very difficult for him in the future.
Darlene took a slow deep breath. “So what happens now?”
“The preliminary hearing about the woman I saw in the freezer will be in a couple of weeks. That’s the only thing I’m involved in. There are a lot of other evidence and witnesses that will be testifying about the other things he’s done, including you,” Elliot explained. “Because his intentions when he shot you were to kill you, me and then himself, he’s not going to be released from jail on bond. Mark talks like he’s going to more than likely get life in prison.”
“Good,” Darlene said. “Then we can move on with our lives.”
“That’s right,” Elliot agreed.
Darlene looked down at their hands and asked shyly, “Did Terry tell you about us?”
Elliot grinned. “Yes. I’m very happy for you two. Terry always did have a big crush on you.”
“He’s a very sweet man.” Darlene smiled brightly. “I have never been so spoiled in my life.”
“That’s wonderful,” Elliot said. “You deserve to be spoiled.”
“I’m glad you think so, but what about you and Cara?” Darlene asked.
Elliot shrugged. “She took finding out I was a man pretty hard. I think the fact that she was attracted to me as a man and not knowing who I was flipped her out pretty good.”
“I can imagine,” Darlene said. “You think you’re a lesbian and then you like this guy, only to find out he’s a girl, sort of.”
“Yeah, it’s very confusing for most people,” Elliot agreed.
The nurse came back into the room. “I’m going to have to shoo you out of here. I need to give Ms. Darlene a bath.”
Elliot stood and nodded. “I have some things I need to do anyway.” He turned to Darlene. “I’m staying with Terry while I’m in Evansville. I’ve got to go back to Salt Lick and check on my stuff out there in a few days. The FBI is still sorting things out, and I’m not sure what my next move will be, but we’ll talk about that more later.”
“Yes,” Darlene said. “I’m not going to lose you again. You need to keep me informed of what you are doing.”
Elliot leaned down and kissed Darlene on the cheek. “I will, Mom. I promise.”
The nurse stared at Elliot as he left the room and then turned to Darlene. “I thought you had a daughter.”
“No,” Darlene smiled. “I have a son.”