Please let me hold it together. Please don't let me scare
him. He won't understand, and I love him too much.
Reid put out a tentative hand and rang the bell. He could hear the patter of little feet running in his direction. A little blond head appeared in the side window, turned and bellowed, "Mommy, Uncle Spence is here! He's here!"
The ride over to JJ's had seemed so strange. In the two weeks since he'd left his apartment, everything had changed. It all looked different. Could the world have changed so much in that time? But, inside, he knew it wasn't everything else. It was him. His world had shifted on its axis. And it had changed everything.
The door opened to JJ standing behind Henry, both of them smiling widely at Reid. Henry seemed to be doing some sort of dance with his feet, moving forward, and back, and forward, and back. The little boy kept looking up at his mother, and then to Reid, and back again. Reid began to wonder if something was wrong, and looked to JJ for direction.
"Is there something…"
She shook her head. "I just told him not to overwhelm you. Now I'm sorry I did."
They could both see that Henry was struggling. Reid needed to put him out of his misery. He knelt in front of his godson and opened his arms.
"Hey, buddy, do I get a hug?"
Henry literally leapt onto Reid, reaching his arms as far as they would go and squeezing with all his might. Reid bent his head as though in prayer, holding the little boy tightly. He looked up through the tears in his eyes to see them in JJ's eyes as well.
"I love you, Uncle Spence! I missed you!"
"I love you, too, Henry. And I've missed you too."
Godfather and godson held each other until Henry, done with the preliminaries, pulled away and grabbed Reid by the hand, dragging him into his bedroom. JJ smiled at the look of amusement she saw on her friend's face. You work fast, my little one.
"I'll just be in the kitchen, boys. You know, slaving over dinner."
The remark was lost on Henry, but Reid turned to ask if she needed help.
"And keep you from your play date? Perish the thought."
In the bedroom, Henry had already dumped literally every interlocking block he owned into the center of the floor.
"We can build the whole world, Uncle Spence! We can make a tower this big!" He was raising his hand as far as he could above his head. "Bigger than the whole house!"
Reid gave him a one-eyed squint. "If it's bigger than the whole house, what will we do when we get to the ceiling?"
Henry considered that for a moment. His mom would probably frown upon their cutting a hole in the ceiling. "Okay, we'll just make it this big then." Hand over head again.
In spite of himself, in spite of everything, Reid became immersed in Henry, immersed in his potential. He recognized the learning opportunity when it presented itself.
"So, Henry, if we don't make it that tall, what can we do with the rest of the blocks?" Waiting to see if the youngster would get it.
Henry stared at the pile on the floor, thinking. He actually stroked his chin, causing Reid to smile. Finally...
"I know, Uncle Spence! We can make it this wide!" And he held his hands apart as far as they would reach.
As if the child was a product of his own genes, Reid was consumed with pride. He gets it! Two dimensions! At four! My godson!
And they proceeded to build the tallest, widest tower that Henry's room would hold, Reid lifting Henry to put the upper blocks on top. Embroiled in their building, they missed two calls to dinner.
JJ was walking down the hallway. "Guys, didn't you hear me calling you?" Then, "Oh, my gosh, what did you build? Look how tall that is!"
"Tall and wide, Mommy!"
Reid was beaming at JJ. "He figured that out all by himself!"
She loved how pleased he was at Henry's accomplishment. "Runs in the god-family, does it?"
He laughed. He actually laughed. JJ realized it before Reid did, and then watched as a sudden pall of guilt settled over his face. She understood. He wasn't supposed to be enjoying himself, or his life, if Maeve couldn't enjoy hers. She was sure that's where his mind had gone. She was going to have to help him see that Maeve wouldn't want that. But how? Help me, please.
Help wasn't immediately forthcoming, but it didn't matter. For now, she simply had to feed him. "Come on, guys, wash up before dinner gets cold."
"Let's go, Uncle Spence! It's biscetti and meatballs!" Henry started tugging at Reid's hand again.
"Biscetti and meatballs?"
"Well, some of us are having spaghetti. But I'm sure Henry will share, if you'd rather..."
Henry was a man who liked to immerse himself in his food. Or so it seemed to Reid, as he looked at his godson.
"Henry, you should see your face. You've got biscetti sauce everywhere!"
"Isn't it better if you eat it instead of wearing it?"
"Nope." And he proceeded to acquire more facial foodstuff as he slurped in another strand of pasta.
Reid looked from little boy to mother and smiled. In spite of his reaction in Henry's bedroom, Reid's mood and appetite were definitely improving. And it didn't hurt that JJ was a good cook. He was finishing a second helping of everything, and wiping his plate clean with his bread.
As he looked up from the dish, Reid could feel eyes on him. Henry was studying him carefully.
"Where's your sauce, Uncle Spence?"
"In my belly, little man. I prefer eating it to wearing it."
Henry giggled at him. "You're funny, Uncle Spence!"
"Ha, ha." JJ got up to clear the table. "Why don't you guys go back in and play some more?"
Reid stood as well and grabbed the plates from her.
"Uh-uh. You cook, we clean. Henry, clean up detail." He remembered JJ saying how tired she'd been.
"Aww, do I have to? Can't we play?"
Reid bent to him. "Little man, we have to help your mom first. She made this delicious meal for us, and we need to let her rest. Besides, I want to hear all about school. You never told me who won the race? And what happened to that turtle?"
That got the little motor mouth going. Once he started talking, he couldn't stop. Henry didn't even notice that he was drying pots and pans as he filled his godfather in on all of the adventures and intrigue of preschool.
JJ sat on the side of Henry's bed watching as Reid, stretched out next to his godson, read the boy a story. Henry caught him every time Reid tried to change a word, and it became a game between the two of them.
"It's 'toys', Uncle Spence, not 'boys'! He didn't put boys in the toybox!"
"Are you sure, Henry? Because it says right here..." Reid was pointing at the word.
Henry rolled his eyes. "Uncle Speeeeence..."
Reid squinted at the book. "Oh. You're right. It says 'toys'."
"Told you. Mommy, Uncle Spence is silly."
She smiled at two of the most important males in her life. "Yes, he is. And now my other silly boy needs to go to sleep. Prayers first. And say goodnight to Uncle Spence."
Henry reversed the order. He squeezed Reid in his arms once again.
"This was the best day, wasn't it, Uncle Spence? Can you come over again tomorrow?"
Reid gave a small snort. "We'll see, Henry. If not tomorrow, then soon. And you're right, it was the best." He hugged the little boy tightly, looking his thanks to JJ as he did so.
Settled into his bed, Henry launched into his usual set of prayers, and asked blessings on everyone, including his parents, and grandparents, and godparents. And he added a new one, one that Reid hadn't heard before. "And please bless Aunt Maeve. And tell her Uncle Spence misses her."
JJ flashed a look at Reid. She'd forgotten to warn him they'd added Maeve to the list. And she'd had no idea Henry would add his last comment.
Reid stood there, gaping at Henry, but looking touched, rather than upset. His eyes were wet. She breathed a sigh of relief, and bent to kiss her son goodnight, followed by Reid.
"Good night, little man. Thanks for playing with me today. It was the best. I love you, Henry."
There was a bottle of wine waiting for them on the coffee table, along with two wine glasses.
"I thought maybe you could stay a little while, Spence. Unless you're too tired?" She had a sense he would need to talk.
"I can stay for a while, thanks." He opened the bottle and poured the wine. Each took a glass and sat back on the sofa. Reid didn't need any prompting this time. He started with what was most immediately on his mind.
"JJ, what did you tell him about Maeve? When did you tell him about Maeve?"
"Yesterday. I told him that, when he saw you, you might be a little sad, because somebody you loved had to go to heaven, and you missed her. It was Henry's idea to pray for her."
Reid had to swallow before he could speak again. He'd encountered his godson's empathy before, but was still consistently amazed by it.
"He talks to God so easily, doesn't he?"
She nodded, smiling. "I like to think it's because he was with Him more recently than I was. That maybe I just forgot how easy it should be. But I don't know..."
"I never really learned how to pray. When I was a kid, my mom was so sick that she talked about God as some sort of 'Big Brother', spying on us all the time. Someone, or something, to be afraid of, and angry with. I never learned to ask God for anything, because I was taught I would only be disappointed."
She knew what his childhood was like. He'd shared it with her, little by little. But she'd never been able to fully realize the extent of the fallout of having a mentally ill parent. Every time Spence shared some new detail about his life as a little boy, she was surprised, sometimes shocked, almost always saddened. And uniformly amazed at the adult that was before her, given the youth he'd suffered.
"Did you believe?"
He stared off as he answered her. "At first, I really wanted to. Maybe not anything called "God", because that was who my mom was angry with. But I wanted to believe that there was something, or someone, who could save me. Who could make life better for me and Mom. So I guess I did try to pray, actually, because I asked that…..entity, I guess…to save us. But, when it didn't happen, I gave up. I didn't think there was anything that could help."
She caught his use of the past tense.
He thought a long time. "Now? Now I'm not sure what I believe. I told you I had that experience in the shack. I could dismiss it as a biochemical reaction, I suppose. But something in me….something strong….says it wasn't. So I guess I have to believe in something. But, God? I don't know. Is God the Presence?" He was shaking his head. "I just don't know."
She smiled a wry smile at him. "And you don't like it when you can't 'know' something, do you?"
His smile acknowledged hers. "Knowledge is important, JJ. To me, at least. It's what I have, when I don't have anything else."
He was quiet a few moments. JJ could see that he was thinking, and gave him time.
"But I sense….maybe I know…..that there is something more. Whether there's a person involved….like God…or not, I can't tell. But I know….I know…with everything that is in me….. that there's something more. That somehow, Maeve still exists somewhere, somehow. The essence of who she was...is. I can't explain how or why I'm sure of it, but I know she's not just gone."
She looked up at him, studying him. "You weren't so sure yesterday. What changed?"
"I don't know. The quote, maybe. The fact that you found it, when I hadn't. I don't know. I just know that I woke up and I had just the smallest sense of peace. A sense that she is at peace. So I should be, too." Even if he was not.
JJ felt the tears coming. "I'm so sorry, Spence. I was so excited when you told me about her, and I so wanted you to have someone in your life that way. I'm so sorry."
He stretched his arm out to her, and she scooted close to him, leaning back against him. This was becoming a habit for the two of them. One in distress…sometimes both….holding one another, comforting one another.
"I wish you two could have known each other. I wish you could have met. Even if you would both be talking about me."
When she looked up, she could see his smile.
"Well, there's a lot to talk about."
"Like what?" He was being sincere. He found absolutely everything else interesting, but he didn't think he was interesting at all.
"Like…..like your taste in movies, and books, and how you play such beautiful music, and how you wear two different socks every day, and how you love…ugh…ComicCon…."
He'd been surprised that she noticed his socks, but then distracted by the next item. "ComicCon is great, JJ. You've just never given it a chance."
She saw it come over him again. Immediately, unexpectedly. He'd been reminded of the things that gave him pleasure, and his psyche immediately condemned him for it. This time, she confronted it.
"Spence." He was staring off, no doubt back in the loft, punishing himself for a moment of enjoyment.
"Spence." She took his chin and made him look at her. "Did Maeve love life?"
He looked at her, confused. "Did ….well, yes, she did. Until the stalker…."
"And did she want to get back to living the life she had before the stalker? Wasn't that what you told me? That she was so happy he….she…was gone, so she could enjoy things again?"
"Enjoy, Spence. She wanted the bad time to end so she could find joy again. Which she did, with you. She did have joy, Spence. You gave it to her. And she would want you to have it too. Don't make her sad. Wherever she is, she would want you to be happy." Pause. "Wouldn't she?"
His mind knew the truth of what JJ was saying, but his heart wasn't cooperating. "I know, JJ, you're right. I know she would. But I can't feel it. I can't feel joy."
That guidance she'd prayed for before was coming her way now. "Not even with Henry?"
He squinted at her, measuring her words. "With Henry?...Well, it's different with Henry. I love him."
"And he loves you. Which is what brings you joy. It's how Maeve brought you joy, Spence. And she still loves you, right? Isn't that what you said, that you can feel that she's still there? So she still loves you. And she still can bring you joy. And so can Henry. And so can anyone who loves you."
She'd gotten herself worked up as she spoke, and her voice was increasingly choked.
"I know it hurts, Spence. It should. When you love deeply, you hurt deeply. It's the chance you take. But it's okay. It will be okay. It hurts, but it won't annihilate you. It just shows the depth of the love you have with her. And, when the pain heals, it will be your joy that shows the depth of that love."
His emotion had risen, cutting off his words. Instead, he just held her, close, taking in all that she'd said. Taking in all that she'd done for him. Taking in JJ.
Finally, his voice reappeared. "I believe you. I don't feel it. I can't feel it. But I believe you. And, for now, I'll hold onto that. I don't feel like I have much else to hold onto, but I can hold onto you."
JJ closed her eyes, content. Thank You.