XXII. The Tea
After breakfast, Jackson and Crystal still weren’t back inside. I peek out the window the millionth time to see Crystal in the same form. Her head was pressed against her knees, and her body trembled.
There was a large coat around her.
Beside her was a man who had his hands pressed together and a concerned look on his face.
“Piper,” Melody called for me. I turn my attention towards her, “Is everything okay?”
I smile, “Everything is okay. Thank you for helping me clean up.” I pat her head.
Melody looked out the window, but she didn’t say anything. Her lips twisted to the side, “Where are Dustin’s toys? I want to play with him.”
I exhaled softly before I pat her head again. “You’re a good girl.”
Melody stares at me for a moment before a wide smile spreads on her face.
“It’s upstairs. In his bedroom.”
Melody nodded once before she made her way towards Dustin. “Come on!” She supported him upstairs.
My attention went back towards the window to see Crystal hitting and screaming at Jackson. Immediately, I rushed towards the front door and opened it.
“I hate you!” Crystal screamed. She hit him again, “I hate you!”
When I took a step forward, our eyes met. Jackson shook his head, and I stepped back.
“My daddy is coming home! There is no room for you here! Go away!"
Jackson still didn’t respond, and soon, Crystal stopped hitting him. Her chest inflated and deflated dramatically, with new tears streaming down her red cheeks.
“Crystal,” Jackson said softly. “I’m not your dad.”
His eyes went towards me for a moment.
“I know that,” his voice was still low. “And no one could ever replace your dad.”
“Then, why are you here?” she asked.
“I’m here because-”
“Because you want to take mommy away from daddy! You’re evil!”
“Is that what you think? That... I’m here to take away your mommy?”
Crystal stared at him, and after a long silence, she nodded.
“Why would you think that I’m here to take away your mommy?”
Crystal tucked her lips over her teeth. “Everyone-” her lower lip poured out, “They say you’re here to take mommy away from daddy.” The water only streamed down her cheeks that seemed to get redder by the second, “And...And...And daddy will be sad. Daddy will come home and...and-” she wiped the snot onto her sleeve.
Jackson placed a hand on Crystal’s shoulder, and when she accepted it, he softly held her against his chest. “Listen. I’m not going to take your mommy away from your daddy.”
Crystal’s head lifted, “You won’t?”
She wiped off her tears with her sleeve, “Promise?”
Jackson’s eyes went towards me again before he looked down.
Crystal grabbed Jackson’s shirt, “Please don’t take mommy away from daddy. Daddy is going to come home...and...and he will be sad. It’s my fault... It’s my fault this happened to daddy. Please, Jackson. Please.”
I know how he feels - discomfort.
With a forced smile, he said: “I promise.”
Crystal wiped her tears off and lifted a pinky, “Pinky promise! Pinky promise!”
Jackson tightens his lips before he lifts his pinky. Without hesitation, Crystal twisted their pinkies together. “There! Now...Now seal it!” She placed her tiny thumb in the air.
Jackson turned his hand and pressed their thumbs together.
“Now, you pinky promise, and you sealed it! No, take backs, okay?”
He smiled and nodded.
Without a moment to spare, Crystal wrapped her small arms around his neck. Jackson held her. “I’m sorry,” Crystal said. “I’m sorry for being mean.” She inhaled through her nose loudly, “Everyone keeps saying that you’re going to be my new daddy, and I don’t want a new daddy. I’m sorry for saying I hate you. I don’t hate you. I like Jackson alot. Alot. Alot.”
Jackson pats her back, “It’s okay.”
She stepped back, “You’re only mommy’s friend...right?”
He smiled again and nodded.
“You’re not here to take mommy, right?”
“You don’t love mommy, right?”
“Love. Like how daddy loves mommy.”
Jackson’s eyes went towards me again.
“You don’t love mommy, right?” Crystal repeated.
Jackson smiles, “I’ll never take your mom away from you.”
“Not from your dad either.”
Crystal hugged Jackson tighter, “Thank you, Jackson.”
Jackson pats her back lightly, and when the wind picks up once more, our eyes meet again.
Ba-dump. Ba-dump. Ba-dump.
Unconsciously, I look away. And when the door closed, it felt a bit easier to breathe, but the painful sensation inside my chest refused to settle.
I sat in the kitchen for a little while, and the silence seemed to swallow me whole. My fingernails flicker against one another. I dread the moment reality hits again.
“Piper!” Melody screamed from upstairs. I could hear loud footsteps treading towards me.
I fixed my hair briefly and stood up, “What is it, Melody?”
She rushed into the kitchen with Dustin beside her. He smiles wildly. “Dustin! Dustin!”
I made my way towards them and kneeled, “What about Dustin?”
Melody breathes in heavily, “Look!” She turned towards Dustin, “What’s my name?”
Dustin looked at her for a moment before he grinned again. “Melody.” He slapped her cheek.
Melody smiled, “That’s right! I’m Melody!” She turned her attention towards me again, “I taught him to say my name!”
I smiled softly and petted Melody’s hair, “Nice job. You’re a great aunt.”
Melody puffed her chest.
“What’s going on in here?” Jackson walked into the kitchen with Crystal in his arms. The talk seemed to end on a good note.
And then it started.
Melody bragged about how she taught Dustin her name.
Jack chuckles, “Nice going,” he said. He messed up her hair, “I can’t even get him to say my name.”
“He can say my name too,” Crystal said. She sat on Jackson’s leg, “Dustin. What’s my name?”
Crystal smiled proudly.
It’s incredible how her personality can change so much from one talk. But, that’s all a child sometimes needs - a talk. I previously tried to talk to her about Jackson and me, but it seems to enter one ear and leave the other. I guess she needs to hear the story from the other side before concluding.
My eyes met with Jackson.
Steadily, he smiled.
The doorbell rang, and I made my way towards it. Outside the door were my dad and Trisha. Without a single greeting, Trisha walked into my house.
“Sorry about that,” dad says. “She’s just worried.”
“Whatever,” I responded. I couldn’t say - it’s fine - with a smile because it’s not fine. If I’m not happy, I won’t fake it.
“Melody!” Trisha held her firmly. “Did you know how worried I was? Why did you leave?”
Melody ground her molars, “I heard what you said about my siblings, and I don’t appreciate it!”
“Melody. You must have misheard me. That’s not what I mean.”
“Then, I’ll say it so you won’t misunderstand.” I didn’t know Melody had it in her to talk back. I’ve only seen the gentle and shy side of her. I admit I’m impressed. “I want to see my brothers and sisters. You can’t stop me from seeing my siblings. They want me! So, stop lying about how they don’t want me!”
“Sweetheart, your mom would never keep you away from your brothers and sisters.”
She glared at dad, “Liar!” She looks back at Trisha, “I heard what you say to your friends. You don’t like my brothers and sisters. You don’t want me to talk to them anymore. Then, you said Piper-” She looked at me. She doesn’t want to say the bad things Trisha said about me out loud.
Dad rubbed Melody’s arms, “Your mom would never.” He glared at mom, “Tell her you didn’t mean it.”
“Stop it!” Melody screamed. Her eyes watered, “Stop lying to me already! I’m not a little girl anymore!”
I beg to differ.
Being eight is still relatively young.
“Stop lying to me!”
“I hate it when you both treat me like a kid!”
“I’m not a baby anymore!”
“So, stop lying to me!”
“Alright!” Trisha shouted.
“Trish!” Dad screamed.
“You want to know the truth?!”
There it is - the outburst.
I looked at Jackson and tilted my head. He took the signal and grabbed Crystal and Dustin. “Where are we going?” Crystal asked. “I’m still watching.”
“Let’s go get ice cream,” I heard Jackson mumble.
Crystal pumps a fist in the air, “Yes.” The door closed.
“Yes,” Trisha said. “I don’t like Piper, Tyler, Nina, and all your other siblings.”
“I don’t like any of them at all, and I want you to stop being around them.”
“Why?” Melody asked.
“Why? Why?! Do you not see them? Do you not know what people say about them?” Trisha grabbed Trisha’s arms. I don’t like her tone or action. “Nina is a gold digger, and Piper is no different. Do you not see how-”
Trisha looked at dad with crazy eyes, and while she was distracted, I grabbed Melody and hid her behind me. No child should be held like that.
“What? I’m only telling the truth. You heard all the stuff people are saying about these women-”
Dad slapped Trisha.
Melody burst out crying, and I held her close to my chest. “It’s okay. It’s okay. I’m here.” I glared at the couple in front of me. “Get out.”
“I said: Get out!"
“With pleasure.” Trisha reached for Melody, but I pushed her behind me. “Give me my daughter.”
“You think I’m going to let Melody go with you? After that?”
“She’s my daughter.”
“She’s my sister."
“And who do you think the cops are going to side with? The mother or the kidnapper?”
I ground my molars, “Go ahead. Call them. Let’s call the CPS on the way too.”
Trisha laughs, “You’re a woman who can barely take care of your own children. Who are you to take care of someone else? So, go ahead and call them. Let’s see who gets their child taken away.”
I paced towards her, “Is that a threat I hear?”
“Seems like you have good hearing.”
I looked at dad and laughed, “Oh. Have I ever mention how kind your wife is?” He couldn’t say anything. “You sure know how to pick them.” I looked at Trisha and grinned, “Then again, homewr-” I can feel a small hand on my shirt.
“What’s going on here?” We all turned our heads toward the entrance to see Nina.
“Auntie Piper!” Caleb burst through the door. He hugged my leg, then peered at the girl behind me. “Melody!” He hugged Melody. “Are you okay?”
Melody wiped off her tears and nodded, “I’m okay, Caleb.” She smiled, “Hi Josh!”
Josh returned her smile, “Hey there.” He looked down, “Theo. This is your Auntie Melody. Say hi.”
Theo grinned, “Hi.”
“And this is Auntie Piper. Say hi too.”
“Hi too.” He waved at me.
Josh didn’t look at dad or Trisha.
“Hey, Nina. Why are you here?” I meant in California. Nina lives in New York. “Just dropping by to visit.” The perks of being rich. You can take your private jet and drop by your family from another state. “Seems like my timing isn’t too bad.”
Nina’s eyes wandered the room before she walked further inside. She walked past dad and Trisha then pet Melody’s head. “Hey there, Melody.”
“Hi Nina,” she replied.
Nina wiped the water from Melody’s eyes. “Allergies?”
Quickly, Melody nods. “Yes.”
The door burst open, “Nina. Where do you want me to leave these-” Matt stops talking. His eyes wander the room. Who could ever imagine a billionaire carrying all those baby bags?
“You can drop those in the guest room,” I said.
“Okay. Boys come help me carry the rest of the stuff,” Matt said.
“Why do we have to do it?” Josh whined. “Why can’t the driver do it?”
“Because his job is to drive,” Nina replied. “Now, go help your dad.”
“Bring your brothers with you.”
Josh grunted louder, but he still grabbed Caleb and Theo’s hands.
“Melody. I’m sorry, but do you mind helping me too? It’s just I packed too much stuff, and I’m-” She rubbed her large stomach.
Yup. She’s pregnant.
Fingers crossed for a girl this time.
“Of course!” She rushed towards the boys.
“Oh! And open the blue luggage! The pink bag inside is yours!”
Melody squealed. She rushed back and hugged Nina’s waist before she ran out the door. I’m certain she wants to get far away.
Once everyone left the kitchen, Nina sat down. She glared at Trisha, “Piper. I would ask you to bring some tea, but it looks like someone already bought it.”