“Mr.Martinez. We are here.”
My sight cast towards the old house. I exhaled a sharp breath, took off my seatbelt, and got out of the car. “Don’t wait for me.”
The driver bowed his head, “Yes, sir.”
One step after another, I made my way towards the house. It’s only been a week, but it felt as if it’d been years. The car engine behind me started, and soon, it disappeared. I stopped in front of the house and pressed the doorbell.
It must be Dustin.
Once the front door opened, I could see a woman held heavily by stress. “Jackson,” she whispered my name softly. Her voice had always managed to make my heartbeat.
The cries brought us both back to reality.
Piper held Dustin closely, “What is it? Why are you crying?” She patted his back numerous times in an attempt to soothe him.
My eyes flicker towards his earpiece.
His hand smacked his red cheek.
Steadily, I reached for Dustin, but Piper flinched back. “May I try something?”
Piper looked at Dustin’s red face before she inched him closer to me. I reached for the hearing device and took it off. Immediately, Dustin’s cries de-escalate.
Piper closed her eyes and exhaled heavily.
“He’s probably not used to all the noises. The doctor said it might take him some time to get used to normal level hearing.”
“Shit,” Piper mumbled underneath her breath. Steadily, Dustin rested his head against her shoulder and closed his eyes. He must have been tired from crying all day.
I hand the hearing device back to Piper.
“Thank you,” she said. She took a step aside, “Come on in.”
When I entered the house, I took off my shoes. Surrounding the home were toys and random items.
“Sorry,” she said. “I haven’t had time to clean.”
“Your mom doesn’t drop by?” Piper’s mom would often help Piper clean the house and babysit the children.
She forced a smile on her face, “My mom isn’t a maid. I can’t call her all the time.”
I know that look. Guilt.
Piper tucked her hair behind her ear, “So what can I help you with?”
“Crystal-” I said, and her smile disappeared. “She called me?”
Piper leaned against the table and exhaled softly. “She called you?”
“Did she tell you about what happened?”
I watched as she bit her lower lip as she fought the urge to cry. “You must think I’m a horrible mother by now.”
I shook my head. How could I ever think of her as a bad mother? I know. We all know. She had been trying her best.
“I had a breakdown Jackson,” she said. “And I pushed all the blame on Crystal.” The tears dripped down her pale cheeks. “I blamed her for everything that had happened. I yelled at a six years old and caused her to have a seizure.”
I held her close to my chest.
“You should’ve seen the way she looked at me.” Her voice cracked more and more with each word. “She looked at me as if I was a monster. And she isn’t wrong. I am a monster.”
“Listen. I will talk to Crystal, okay? It’s a misunderstanding. She will understand once someone explains to her that it was a moment of weakness and you love her.”
She didn’t respond.
I lifted her head to see her red, swollen eyes. “Okay?”
“Where is she?”
“Upstairs. She locked herself in her room since yesterday.”
“Does she need food?”
“She hides snacks and sodas in her room.”
“See? A bad mother wouldn’t have known that.”
Piper smiled softly, “You’ve always known the right words to make someone feel better.”
“I’ll keep you updated.”
Each step up the stairs felt heavier than the last. I should feel burdened, but I don’t.
Because this is an opportunity.
That’s what my inner voice says.
I knocked against the door.
I knocked again, “Crystal? This is Jackson.” In all honesty, I was never really fond of my name - Jackson.
The door opened to reveal a small girl with a giant unicorn on her side. “Jackson,” she whimpered.
But, sometimes, my name doesn’t sound so bad.
When I got down to one knee, Crystal rushed into my arms. I held her petite body. “Are you okay?”
She shook her head, “Mommy hates me.”
I exhaled softly, “Crystal. You know that’s not true.”
The tears streamed down her red cheeks. “It is. Mommy hates me.”
I held my hands on her shoulders, “Why would you say that?”
Her head cast down, and the tangled hair rushed towards her face. “Because I’m a bad girl. No one loves me, Jackson. No one loves a brat like me.”
It doesn’t take a genius to know that she didn’t come to that type of conclusion independently. “And who says?”
Her eyes were still on her carpet. She didn’t respond.
She bit her lower lip.
“Please tell me. I promise I won’t tell anyone.”
Steadily, her eyes lifted until it met mine. “Everyone. They say I have APHD-” ADHD, “and I’m always mad. I’m a no-good girl and I make mommy’s life hard.”
I could hear a slight sniffle from the stairs.
“What do I do?” Crystal asked. “What if mommy doesn’t want me and sends me to the orphanage?”
“No. No. No.” I didn’t know how many times I repeated that single word, but I’ll do it as many times as she needs. “Don’t ever think that. Your mommy loves you very much.”
“But, she doesn’t believe me.”
I sat on the floor, and Crystal fell on top of my lap, “I can’t speak for your mom,” I said. “But, I can speak for myself. And I believe you.”
I nod, “I do.” I tucked a wet strand of hair behind her red ear. She moved it. I smile slightly at the action, “I know, Crystal. She isn’t a good girl.”
Crystal poured out her lower lip.
“But, she is an honest girl.”
Crystal’s hands tighten on my shirt, “I am. I’m not a liar.”
I pat her head, “I know.”
She wrapped her arms around my waist and nuzzled her face against my chest. “I’m scared.”
I moved my back towards a wall, “Of what?”
“What if...dad is really...gone.”
The back of my head leaned against the wall. What can I say in this situation? What are the best words? Comfort? Truth? Which direction should I take to minimize the pain?
“What if...everyone is right,” she mumbled. “What if... I’ll never see him again.”
“Crystal,” I said. She lifted her head. “Your dad. He’s out there.”
“How would you know Jackson?” She closed her eyes, and the tears only streamed down.
I wiped off the tears, “Because no father in their right mind would ever leave someone as precious as you.”
Crystal embraced me firmly. At moments like these, I should feel warm and relieved. I should feel happy that Crystal is opening up towards me.
I should feel happy.
But I don’t.
Instead, there’s this terrible emotion inside of me that’s ready to burst. It’s clawing at the edge of its cage, searching for an escape. This monster that shouldn’t have woken - not at this moment - jealousy.
My eyes met with deep teary brown eyes.
And ultimately, sorrow.
Why did she choose him?
Why wasn’t it me?
It should’ve been me.
Everything should’ve been mine.
If it were me, none of this would’ve happened.
The baby boy downstairs wouldn’t grow up without a single memory of his father.
The young girl in my arms wouldn’t spend her whole life blaming herself for what she couldn’t control.
And the beautiful woman at the edge of the stairs wouldn’t cry herself to sleep every night.
But she didn’t pick you.
There it is - that voice.
And you have to accept that.
I wouldn’t say I’m fond of the voice.
You had your chance Jackson Martinez, and you blew it.
But, it doesn’t make it any less of the truth.
I blew it. I had my chance. Before the complication. Before Emerson. I had her right in front of me, but I refused to acknowledge her.
What was the reason why?
Why did I push her away?
When I felt a weight adjusted on top of me, I looked down to see Crystal fast asleep. I removed the wet strand of hair away from her face and carried her back into her bed. Cautiously, I tucked her in and turned off the light.
I exhaled softly and got off her bed.
A small hand grabbed my fingers, “Daddy.”
I turned my head towards the voice.
Crystal is still asleep.
“Daddy. Don’t leave me.” Her grip tightens, “Please. I’ll be good this time. I promise.”
I settled down on the edge of the bed.
Her breathing intensified, and a fresh round of tears made its way into her pillow. “It’s dark, daddy. I’m scared. I’m scared. Please, don’t leave me. Please...It hurts.” Her body trembled, “It hurts, daddy. It hurts.”
When I adjusted in my position, I noticed a small box on her nightstand. I reached for the box and opened it to see a small crystal unicorn. Light music streamed the room.
Her breaths short and sharp while her chest raises and drops with pure force. “Daddy...Daddy...Where are you daddy? It’s dark. Crystal is scared. It’s dark. Daddy where are you?”
I closed the music box and held her tiny hand. With my free one, I stroked her hair. “I’m...here.”
Her body moved towards me, “D-Daddy.”
Wanting what you can’t have.
“Don’t cry.” I wiped off the tears from her cheek, “I’m here.”
Her body stopped trembling, and her breathing went back to normal.
The door creaked, and I turned my head to see Piper. Her eyes moved from me to Crystal and back towards me. Steadily, she backed away, and before I could utter a single word, her shadow disappeared.
I rushed after her.
At the end of the hallway - very top of the stairs stood the only woman I had ever loved.
I embraced her from behind.
I should say something, anything to clear up this situation, to explain what she had heard inside the room. The longer the silence stretches, the harder I find it to explain.
The truth is...I didn’t want to explain it.