There was a knock at the door, and don’t you worry, momma with her southern hospitality didn’t make the nice man in a uniform wait long.
“Mam? Are you Cheryl Jones?”
“Why yes sir, that’s me.”
“I regret to inform you that Terry Jones has passed, you were listed as his next of kin.”
“Mam? Are you okay?”
“S-sorry, yes I am fine. Would you like to come in? I can fix you a glass of my famous sweet tea.”
“That would be lovely.”
That was the first, and the last time I had ever heard my dad’s name.
“Charlee? Earth to Charlee?”
“Hm? Sorry, what?” Tays irritated voice snapped me out of the trance I’d been in.
“Your birthday? The big 1-8, can be tried as an adult? I’m thinking party, with alcohol, and boys, lots and lots of boys.”
I tossed my carrot stick back on the kitchen table, “Do we have to do anything crazy Tay? I’d rather just spend time with you before we both go off to different colleges?”
“It’s not my fault you’ve decided to enroll in the elusive Blackbird Academy when we planned on going to New York together.”
“You know it wasn’t like that, they sent me a letter and offered a full scholarship, room and board plus a meal ticket, you know my mom couldn’t afford to send me to college, this is my way of taking that burden off of her.” I frowned, we weren’t poor but we weren’t wealthy either. My mom owned a diner right in the middle of town, Dining with the Jones’ in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Don’t get me wrong it paid the bills with some left over- but I had heard her talking to the bank about second mortgages to carry the weight of my school loans.
“Yeah so you’ve said. You know I’ve never heard of them before you told me you were going there, weird right? I even checked out their website, you have to have a login to even look at pictures of the campus.”
“It’s just a private college, I’m sure it’s normal.”
She huffed at my response and immediately went back to texting on her phone.
My stomach turned sour. I knew she meant well, but she didn’t understand, her dad was the only lawyer in town, and her mom owned one out of the two medical practices in town. She could go to college wherever she wanted and not have to worry about finances.
“So party, this Friday, It’s not up for debate-You’re leaving in two weeks for college anyway. Which is another thing I don’t understand? Why would your semester start in June?”
“I’ve told you, it’s not the academic semester, they invite all students to come early and spend a few months getting used to campus, getting to meet new people, as well as free workshops for the upcoming academic school year. I can’t pass that up.”
Her response was rolling her eyes.
“Fine, I’ll let you throw me a birthday party.”
“YES! You won’t regret it, I promise! I’m going to leave before you change your mind.” She picked her keys and purse off the table and sprinted for the door.
I groaned, what had I done? I still had so much to get done before I left. I might as well start now, I dragged myself up to my room, I spotted the moving boxes still sitting in the corner, I’m not sure why I haven’t packed up yet. Sure, I’m excited new life experiences and all that, but I didn’t want to leave mom. Sure Cheryl Jones put on a tough front, but it had always been just mom and I, heck she never even dated, told me that the Diner and I were her number one priority. I remember the time Tay and I had tried to set her up on an online dating website, when she found out I had posted her picture online, She cursed so loud and chased me around the house with a newspaper swearing to tan my hide if I didn’t take it down that second. If I hadn’t been so terrified in that moment, it would have been funny.
“Charlee? Are you up there?” My moms’ voice pulling me from my memories
“Yeah, be down in a second.”
I came into the kitchen as mom was pulling out dishes from the Diner, looks like country fried chicken and mac&cheese. I studied my mom for a second and realized that my looks must have come from my dad, we were as different as night and day. Her pencil straight strawberry blond hair and eyes that reminded me of honey, still tan and skinny, didn’t look a day over 35, I swear she hadn’t aged my entire life. Whenever anyone asked her what she did to maintain her skin, shed just laugh and say “Soap.” My brown hair fell just past my shoulders in slight waves, if you looked at my driver’s license it would say my eyes were blue, but I swear they changed, rotating between the colors of the sea during a storm, sometimes they even looked black.
“What happened to my dad?” the words rolled off my tongue before I could stop them. I saw my mom’s back go rigid. She turned around her eyes round and wide.
“What?” she whispered
“I’m sorry, I promised myself I’d never ask you about him, after the day the cop came by and I heard you cry yourself to sleep for the next three months, I told myself I’d never bring it up if it caused you that much pain… but I’ve always wondered.”
She fiddled with the lids on the food containers…
“It’s not that I ever planned on not telling you, it’s just that you never asked, so I never let myself remember.” She looked at me, and I could see the unshed tears in her eyes
“Its fine mom, never mind. Forget I mentioned it.” I didn’t want to spend the next few weeks at home shuffling around in awkward tension with the one person who’s always been there for me.
She sat down on the stool at the end of our island and sighed. “What would you like to know?”
She gave me a half smile, “I wish I could tell you that our story was a happy one, and tell you his favorite books and movies or what music he listened too, but I can’t. Our time together wasn’t very long.”
My heart faltered, “Well, what can you tell me about him?”
She paused and pushed the food around on her plate, “Charlee, please know, that I wouldn’t trade my life or you for the world. I don’t regret a single thing, one of the reasons I haven’t told you about your father is because I didn’t want to lie to you. Just promise me that you won’t judge me or your father too harshly? I can only tell you my side of the story, and he was the villain in my story, my downfall.”
It was as if all the air was sucked out of the room, I don’t think I was prepared for this, but I’ve already come this far, and now I had to know the truth.
“Cheryl, will you please for the love of god put the groceries in the car for your mother please?” she stormed off towards her car on her cell phone, not even bothering to look back.
“Sure thing mom.” I muttered under my breath
“Parents, huh?” his voice infiltrated all of my senses, like the smell of fresh mowed grass, the opening notes of a song you can just tell is going to knock you off your feet. I turned around and was met with the bluest eyes I’d ever seen in my 18 years.
“Uh yeah...” I stammered, “Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.”
He gave me a half smile that I swear almost brought me to my knees, I didn’t even see the hand he held out to me, “I’m Terry.” I finally looked down, noticing his hand and grabbed it. “Cheryl” I said, and looked back into his stormy blue eyes.
Those blue eyes would haunt me for the next 19 years.