There are times when my brain fries up.
It’s not an excuse for my behavior, I know.
Jackson had been there for me since the beginning. Despite all the troubles I bought into his life, he’s still supportive. When I needed a shoulder to cry on, he was there. When I selfishly asked him to come, he would fly from New York to California.
Despite the fact that Crystal and Dustin have no relations to him, he still loves them.
He loves children that aren’t his - and that’s before Emerson’s disappearance.
Even with all the cruel words thrown at him, he still stayed. An action a man like him doesn’t have to take.
Jackson Martinez is a man with options.
He doesn’t have to stay with a widow with two kids.
He can have anyone he wants - a model, actor, or anyone he’s interested in.
But he still stayed.
Would I’ve fallen without him?
But, it’s a lot easier to stand while being in his arms.
I took a few blinks and looked away. The longer I stood there, the higher the pressure inside my head grew and the harder it got to breathe. Jackson reached for my arm, and I took a step back.
I can feel it - my families are looking at me - they’re concerned.
They’re probably looking too.
What do we look like to them?
With all my willpower, I turned away. I can’t make my family worried again. I should hand Dustin to Nina and sit inside my car until the emotions calm. Once the headache is gone, I should go back and tell them everything is fine. Give them an excuse.
But, what type of excuse is good enough?
I haven’t drunk enough water today.
That’s a good excuse.
Halfway towards the car, Jackson stepped in front of me. He held my cheeks, “Hey. Is everything okay?” His voice sounds as soft as always.
When was the last time Jackson screamed at me?
I don’t remember.
But, I do wish I could say everything is fine - it isn’t.
No elementary school wants my daughter.
And my son...
“Ear damage...hearing loss-”
My precious son is diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss.
Why is this happening to me?
I held Dustin closer.
Why is this happening to my son?
He didn’t do anything wrong.
Why is he being punished?
If Emerson were here, he would’ve had the answer to all these problems.
If he were here, Crystal wouldn’t have been expelled.
If he were here, we would’ve found out Dustin’s condition sooner.
Jackson embraced me, “Whatever it is. Everything will be okay,” he whispered. “I promise, I’ll never throw Dustin again. I promise.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scream at you.”
“Hey. Hey. Don’t apologize.” He held my cheeks again. “You have the right to scream at me. I was irresponsible. You’re only doing your job as the mother.”
“Is everything okay here?” We turned our heads to see Tyler and Nina. Nina stepped closer, “Are you okay?”
I closed my eyes and inhaled a sharp breath, “Yeah. I’m sorry. I just whack out seeing how high Dustin was thrown.”
“Alright.” Nina exhales softly, “I need to get some extra clothes for Josh since he slipped in the mud. Can you help me?” That’s Nina’s way of saying she wants to talk, but not in front of everyone.
I nodded, “Sure.” I hand Dustin to Jackson.
“Up! Up!” He commanded.
“Well, I can’t do that. But, how about airplanes?” Jackson airplane Dustin back to the field with Tyler behind him.
Nina and I walked towards the parking lot. Once we got to the back of the van, I leaned against the car.
“Something happened during the meeting with the doctor, didn’t it?”
She tucked a strand of hair behind my ear, “What happened?”
I bit my lower lip in an attempt to control my emotions.
“No one can hear us from here,” she said.
When Nina hugged me, the uncontrollable tears burst, I held her firmly and cried: “The doctor said Dustin has hearing loss, Nina. All this time, I thought he was a being brat and refused to talk, but it’s not like he doesn’t want to. It’s because he can’t hear me. He can’t hear me, so he can’t respond. No wonder why he wouldn’t say anything unless we screamed at his face. I screamed at my poor baby so many times about how-”
During these types of moments, I am least proud of who I am. I failed at being a strong woman, a mother her children could depend on.
When I felt a large pair of arms, I looked up to see Tyler. He caresses my head gently like he did when we were younger. Whenever I got hurt and dad wasn’t there, Tyler would hold me. I would cry and cry until I fell asleep.
I feel like I’m back in the past.
A frightened child, someone who is afraid of her own shadow.
It’s the same as the past, except right now, I fear what I could see, not what I couldn’t.
I know these problems aren’t for anyone to solve except me; after all, I am an adult now.
But, right now, I request considerations, and they kindly offer it to me.
Am I taking my time?
I hope I’m not.
I hope I’m not...bothering or annoying anyone.
“I understand,” Tyler whispered. “It’s difficult.”
If anyone can understand my current state, it would be Tyler. Vinny was born with a weak body, and it scares him every day.
I can see it.
He still remembers - a time when he could only look at his tiny son through a glass.
How he laid inside a small incubator and fought for life.
Somehow, Dustin’s problem feels insignificant.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have-”
Tyler pressed my head into his shoulder, “No. Don’t do this. Don’t compare.”
How did he manage to know?
If I said: I’ll never know.
I would be lying.
Back then, I wouldn’t have understood what Tyler was thinking while he stood outside the glass, but I think I do a little now.
I’m pretty sure while Tyler stood outside the glass and waited for his son to get better, he thought of all sorts of things to force the situation to be better than it actually is.
He would compare his situation to others.
How he should feel lucky that his son is still alive while others’ child is gone.
How lucky he is that his company has insurance to pay for the large bill that is about to arrive.
Look at the bright side and turn your back against the dark.
When you’re calm, face the darkness again.
That is if it doesn’t swallow you whole first.
Without another word, I clung to his shirt and cried heavier than ever. When was the last time I cried like this?
I don’t want it.
I don’t want to relive that moment.
Tyler kissed my temple, “It’ll be okay. We’re here. You’re not alone.”
After the park, I somehow found my way home. Before I knew it, Crystal and Melody were passed out on the bed. Dustin was fast asleep in his crib.
Nina, Matt, and their boys are also fast asleep. Nina and Matt in the guest room. The boys are sleeping inside Dustin’s room on the floor.
It’s been a long day.
I settled my head against my knees and stared at the fireplace. It burst wonderfully in darkness. I couldn’t stop looking at it. The closer I get, the warmer I get.
My hands and face feel hot, but I couldn’t get away.
The smallest movement away, and I would feel cold again.
When I felt a soft blanket wrapped around me, I looked up to see Jackson. He smiled softly, “Can’t sleep?”
I shook my head and turned my attention back towards the fireplace. Most nights aren’t peaceful. It used to be, but not anymore. There’s too much to worry about, too many thoughts.
Jackson settled beside me, and he wrapped his arms around his legs. “Me too.”
I chuckled, “Not used to my springy couch?” I teased.
Jackson placed a hand on his back and grunted, “No. Of course not. I love that couch. It makes me feel pain in places I never thought I could feel it.”
I rolled my eyes, “Shut up.” I swayed my body against his.
Jackson laughed, and when it finally died down, he asked: “You like fireplaces?”
I nod, “Yeah.”
I shrugged, “Makes me warm.” I stretched my hands out and reached for the fire. I know I shouldn’t touch it, or else I’ll get burned.
When the fire cracked, my skin did the same. “Ow!” I jerk my hand back.
Jackson grabbed my hand, “Fuck. Are you okay?” He held it close to his face then blew on it lightly.
The longer I stared at him, the faster my brain seemed to indulge in the past.
I remember the first time Jackson did laundry.
He would stare at the washer for fifteen minutes before he searched how to do laundry online.
He pretended to know what he was doing, but I knew he was lying.
He is the type of man who has never done laundry.
An educated businessman with a lack of common knowledge.
Then again, I wouldn’t know how to do laundry either if someone did it for me my whole life. I wouldn’t know how to vacuum or the different types of cleaning products. How cockroaches and ants require different sprays.
“Dustin is diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss.”
Jackson’s eyes went from my palm towards me.
“And no elementary school wants Crystal.”
I smiled softly, “I’m a failure as a mother, aren’t I?”
Before I knew it, I was facing the fireplace again. But this time, instead of hearing the wooden cracks, I could hear erratic beats.
“No. You’re a great mother.”
I turned my face away from the fire. “Then, why don’t I feel like one?”
His hands caress my cheeks, “When I grew up, my parents were never there. Whether I got in trouble or on the verge of death, they were never there.”
Jackson and his parents aren’t on good terms. Long story short, his parents neglected him and physically abused his younger sister. They went to court, and Jackson won the rights over his younger sister.
“But, you. You’re always there for Crystal and Dustin. You love them with all your heart. Never once did you think of abandoning them. You reach out for support, something that’s so difficult for people to do because you know it’s best for them. So, don’t think you’re a bad mother because I know a bad mother, and you’re not her. You are a wonderful mother, Piper Lun.”
Such sweet words.
My eyes flicker towards his lips.
I want to taste the sweetness.
The longer I look at Jackson. The more wrinkles seem to appear. Had business been rough? Or is it the fact that he flies from one state to another at least twice a month? It’s been a long time since I’ve been this close to him.
The answer is simple.
Because I’m afraid.
I’m afraid if I get close to his beautiful blue eyes, I’ll get lost again.
His hands were still on my cheeks. My fingers tighten on his shirt. I could feel the fire bursting into flames beside me, and the temperature in the room seems to escalate with each ticking second.
Jackson released my cheeks and held me.
I shouldn’t get lost.
But, at that moment, I did - I got lost.