XXVII. A Good Woman
I laid the flowers in front of the forest.
I know it’s a useless action - a waste of money. I’m laying flowers in front of a forest. And within a week, the flowers would be gone - dead.
My eyes closed, and I could feel the wind brushed against my body. A year and a half ago, my husband disappeared.
I’m an unofficial widow.
That’s Emerson Lun’s status.
“Emmy,” I mumbled. “Do you think I should homeschool Crystal? She said she doesn’t want to talk to any of the other kids. She said she has her cousins to be her friends. She said she would study really hard, and she even bought evidence in how homeschool kids score higher on exams than kids who go to school.”
“Dustin has sensorineural hearing loss. The doctor said it’s only partial, but one day, he may lose all of his hearing.”
The tears leak from my eyes.
“They said if we’re careful enough, it may only be bits over the years. Right now, it’s only in one ear, but they said his other ear might get it as well.”
I stare at the trees.
“They said there are damaged tiny hair cells in his inner ears, stereocilia or something.”
“The doctor said it might be hereditary. Say, does hearing loss run in your family?”
I exhaled softly before I pressed my forehead against my knees. “I’m taking Dustin to a hearing assessment next week so he can get a hearing device.”
I chuckled, “Now he won’t have any excuse when I tell him to do something.”
The weather is gorgeous today; blue sky, no wind, and perfect temperature.
For a perfect day, it feels more like an absence of weather.
I shouldn’t be here - not at this unforgiving location. However, I would always find myself coming back here as if Emerson would walk out of the woods.
He would walk out with dirt all over his clothes and a large smile on his face.
“I’m back,” he would say.
My knees would then go weak, and I would crash on the ground. When he holds me, I would repeatedly hit him while investigating his whereabouts.
But, whenever I look forward.
I could only see trees.
He’s not there.
He never appeared.
After the forest, I went home to see Jackson with Crystal, Melody, and Dustin playing tea party in the living room. There were stuffed animals - mostly unicorns - everywhere.
Everyone had a fake tiara or feathered boa, including Jackson.
“More tea Princess Jackson?” Crystal lifted the teapot with her pinky in the air.
“Oh yes, Princess Crystal,” Jackson said in a high-pitched voice. He lifted the teacup in the air, and Crystal pretended to fill it.
Jackson pretended to sip the cup but stopped when he saw me. He lowered the cup, “You’re back early,” he said slowly.
I laid the purse on the table, “Yes.” I rested a hand against the chair, “And I’m glad I did. What do you think you’re doing, Princess Jackson?”
He smiled sheepishly, “Teatime?”
“Mom!” Crystal put down the cookie and rushed towards me. They probably baked it earlier. She hugged my waist, “Where did you go?”
I smiled, “I went to Amanda’s place.” I couldn’t tell Crystal that I visited the forest. The first and last time I took her to the forest, she had a seizure.
The doctor said emotional stress might lead to seizures.
After that, I decided to keep Crystal away from the forest. I know it’s a temporary solution.
The only thing I can hope for is eventually, with time, Crystal would grow to accept.
“Got anything in mind for dinner?” I asked. “Except cookies and ice cream.”
Crystal tapped her finger against her pouty lips, “Salad?”
I raised a brow, “Salad? Who are you, and what have you done to my daughter?”
Crystal giggled, “Jackson says that veggies are nature energy. It will help me grow stronger-” there is more to the story, “and beat up others who are meanies!”
There it is.
“Like Popeye. Arrrrrg!”
I looked at Jackson and raised a brow.
He grabbed his porcelain cup and sipped on it.
During dinner, I listened to everyone chit-chat about their day.
“Vacation?” Melody responded. “Like when I have summer vacation?”
Jackson nods, “Yeah.”
“Oooooh. So, that’s why you’re here longer,” Crystal responded.
Usually, when Jackson comes to visit, it would only be a few days. He’s been here for nearly two weeks. Matt and Nina, with their boys, left a week ago, so now, Jackson sleeps in the guest room. Of course, with washed sheets. I’m not stupid. There’s a reason why they squeezed all the boys into Dustin’s room.
“Does that mean you will take me to school tomorrow again?” Melody asked.
Jackson smiled, “Sure.”
Jackson had been helping me take Melody to school since she’s still staying at my place. She said she talked to her parents, and they agreed that she needs some time away before she goes back. According to her, she’s still upset with her mother.
Again, a temporary solution.
“Oh! And we can go to the park after!” Crystal stabs the salad leaf onto her fork. She pinches her nose then eats it. After a few bites, she gagged but then forced the food down.
I found a private school for Crystal, but after the interview, she has to pass the entrance exam. No doubt Crystal will pass with flying colors. It’s the explanation for why she got expelled that concerns me.
Jackson’s eyes met mine, and he smiled.
He told me he could pull some strings and help Crystal get in.
Nina said the same thing.
I admit it’s nice to know influential people.
“I can show you how high I can swing! I can almost touch the sky!”
“Aw. I want to go to the park too.” Melody pouted. Nowadays, I’ve been seeing more of Melody’s spoiled little girl side. I like it.
“How about the carnival this weekend?” I suggested.
Melody and Crystal gasped.
Dustin made the same expression.
“But, I’m going to ask Jackson about how you did in school,” I said in my best stern voice.
Melody smiled, “I’m always good in school, Piper.”
I look at Crystal, “And only if someone is good.”
“I’m always good, mommy.” She made a heart with her hands.
Ah, what a little devil.
The rest of dinner passed by with the two little chatterbox girls. After we finished, the kids went upstairs to make a campsite while Jackson and I stayed downstairs. I washed the dishes, and he helped me dry them.
The smooth sound of water from the faucet calmed me. When I hand Jackson the plate, the girls’ giggles from upstairs could be heard. I caught him smiling softly.
“Thank you,” I said.
He placed the dry plate on top of the counter, “For what?”
“For being here all these times.”
“You don’t have to thank me,” he replied. “We’re friends.”
I hate to admit it; that hurts. It shouldn’t. “When are you going back to New York?”
He chuckled, “Desperate to get rid of me?”
“So, I can know when to start bothering my mom.”
“Probably after this weekend.”
“Are you sure it’s okay to be here this long?”
He dried the cup, “Even the big boss needs a vacation once in a while. We’re not robots.”
I hummed slowly, “I’m not sure about that. I heard all sorts of things about you corporate owners.”
Jackson smiled, “Like what?”
“Like how you’re robots. How you eat and breathe work. This is why you don’t have a family when you’re almost 40.”
Jackson chuckled, “37, but I think I’ll be fine.”
I grinned teasingly, “Want me to introduce some girls to you? We can keep the whole you’re rich a secret. You know, make sure she loves you for you. I got your back, don’t worry.”
“And what’s the catch?”
“Catch? What’s the catch?”
“Come on, Piper. We both know you would never do anything out of your own goodwill.”
I rolled my eyes and turned off the water while Jackson dried the last dish. I wiped the wet edges around the sink, “Alright. You caught me. There may be a small fee.”
“Now that sounds more like you. What’s the fee?”
I grabbed the dried plates and bowls to put them back inside the cabinets. When I couldn’t reach the shelf, I climbed on top of the counter. “There is a one-time fee of 100,000.”
“Yup. That sounds like a good deal, right? I mean, 100 grand is like a dollar to you guys. Like, 100 grand for a lifetime of happiness? Who can-” When I turned around, Jackson was in front of me.
Steadily, my eyes travel upward until they meet deep blues. He smiled, “Cups?” When I didn’t respond, he stepped closer until his chest was pressed against my nose. I could hear the sound of cups moving above me.
After he stacks the cups away, he settled one hand on each side of me. I’m trapped. My legs dangled on the counter, and I could feel the cabinet below tapping against my heels. The cabinets in the house aren’t old and broken, but some of them refuse to close.
There is a tall man blocking me, and here I am, thinking about cabinets.
I must be getting old.
His hot breath scattered against my skin, and in the silence, he smiles again. It’s not his usual smile. He’s hurt. I hurt him. And the most horrible part is, I’m aware of it.
“A hundred grand for love, huh?”
I swallowed firmly and chuckled. I tried to sound as normal as I could, but it came out in low broken pieces. “Yeah. Sounds like a good deal, doesn’t it?”
My fingers curl into the edge of the counter, “So...what do you think?”
“I don’t think a good woman would go for a guy like me.”
“There are plenty of good women out there.”
He’s close, but not too close. It’s slightly irritating - this distance. “And in here?”
“There are no good women in here.”
His head tilted slightly, and the distance between our faces closed. “Then, what if I don’t want a good woman?”
I could hear it - intense heartbeats. “You should be with a good woman.”
“It’ll make your life easier.”
“She won’t come with luggage.”
“And luggage automatically makes her not a good woman?”
My grip only tightens on the counter, “She will always be seen as a bad woman in your world.”
Jackson didn’t respond.
“And that’s why she left.”
He looks away.
I placed my red hand on his cheek and swayed him to look my way. “It’s not because she doesn’t want you. She just couldn’t handle it.”
“May I ask a question?”
“Does she still love me?”