XXXVIII. She Likes Them
My fingernails flick against one another. When I hear a noise, I look up to see Crystal and Dustin rolling on the ground. Crystal screams, but Dustin screams even louder.
“Crystal,” Jackson calls her softly. “Please give your brother back the airplane.”
“He started it!” She looks at Dustin, “Ever since he could hear, he’s been a butt!” As in, he hasn’t been doing whatever Crystal wants him to do.
Dustin stands up from the ground, “Mean! You mean!” Dustin had been talking more and more recently, which is both a blessing and a nightmare. “Mommy! Crystal means!” He’s been shouting more often too.
The doctor said his speech development had improved at an astonishing rate. Apparently, he had never witnessed such an event - how a single variable can alter an individual at such a quick rate. Let’s say I don’t particularly enjoy all these random medical researchers around my son.
He marches towards me and tugs my shirt, “Mommy! I sad! Crystal mean!”
“Crystal,” I call out her name. I gave her a look - one that says - can you please take a step back.
Crystal pouted, “I miss it when you can barely talk!”
“I talk! I no hear!” Dustin rebuttal. “You mean! That’s it!”
“Children,” Jackson intervened. “Let’s calm down.” Jackson looks at Crystal, “How about we give your little brother his toy back.”
“Yeah!” Dustin screamed.
“Dustin. Please,” Jackson said. “Can we-” he placed a finger on his lips to silence Dustin. “If you give your brother his toy back, I’ll let you go to my secret room?” Jackson bargain.
Crystal raises a brow, “Secret room?”
Jackson presses a button, and a woman appears.
“Can you take Crystal to my private room?”
“Yes, Mr.Martinez.” She looked at Crystal and smiled.
“What’s in the secret room?” Crystal asks.
“You won’t know until you go in there. So, how about we-” he tilted his head towards Dustin.
Crystal glance at Dustin, “Fine. Here.” She hands the toy back.
Dustin yanks it from her and rushes towards the other side of the room. He sat down and wrapped his arms around the toy airplane. He hisses at Crystal.
“Take me to the secret room!” Crystal command. The woman escorts her to another room.
When Jackson sat down, I looked at him, “Secret room?”
“It’s my private room. I sleep in there.”
“You’re showing Crystal...the room you used to sleep in while you’re flying?”
At the moment, we are on a private jet to the East. Matt managed to schedule a private meeting with Makena Kekoa. Private meeting? No, not really. It’s more of an interrogation.
I’m not surprised if he threatened her.
Matt seems like the type.
The only person who doesn’t see it is my too-in-love sister.
“I kind of had it modified.”
“Mommy!” Crystal shout. She ran into the room with a large glass filled with candy. “There is a giant tv in there! It’s bigger than me! How cool is that?!” She ran back into the room.
I press my fingers against my head. The headaches only seem to increase with each interaction I make with either the kids or Jackson. I grab the bottle of medications inside my bag and take two.
“Are you okay?” Jackson asks.
I gulp down the water and swallow the pills, “Yeah. Just a headache.”
Jackson held my hand, “Everything will be fine. We got a lead.”
I should be happy, but I’m not. A lead means one thing - hope. And I don’t want that. It took me almost two years to crawl out of the hole. I don’t want to fall back if it was ever to reveal that the lead we found is another dead end.
I watched as Dustin flew around the room with the airplane. It’s the same one Jackson got for him as a reward for being good during his otolaryngologist meeting.
Jackson smiles, “You like it?”
Dustin rushes towards us and nods eagerly, “I love it!” He held the airplane close to him.
Jackson messes up his hair, “I’m glad.”
Dustin crawls onto Jackson’s lap and hugs him firmly. “I love daddy.”
The smile drops from Jackson’s face, and his eyes flicker towards me. The tension between us only escalates, and soon, the harsh sound of wind rushes into the room.
We shouldn’t take Dustin’s words seriously.
He doesn’t know any better.
As far as he knows, Jackson had been around for as long as he could remember. It shouldn’t be a surprise that he placed Jackson into the role of a father.
Eventually, when he grows up, he’ll forget about time in his life.
Jackson will create his own family, and...with time, he will forget about the three of us.
We will become a part of his memories.
That’s what I like to tell myself.
My fingernails dig deep into my palms.
How selfish of me.
I’m pushing the man away, but the thought of him having a family pains me.
He sets Dustin down and leans towards him, “Dustin. It’s Jackson, remember?”
Dustin tilts his head, “Daddy?” He smiled widely.
Dustin held onto the airplane firmly and stared at Jackson.
“Dustin!” Crystal rushed into the room with chocolate all over her face. “Come! Come!” She tilts her head towards the other room.
Dustin smiled and ran into the other room.
Jackson tightens his fists, “Piper.”
“Have you heard it before?”
“Piper,” his voice lowers.
“Have you heard it before?” I repeat.
He clenches his jaws and nods.
I close my eyes, “I’m sorry.”
“No. No.” He moves my head to face him, “Don’t be sorry. I don’t mind. I’m honored!”
“He doesn’t know better. He’s two. One day-” He forces a smile, “One day, he’ll forget about this. So, it’s not a big deal.”
I turned my head and stood up, “I need to use the restroom.” Escape.
Once I’m inside the bathroom, I turn on the water and splash it all over my face. It’s not a big deal. It shouldn’t be.
But, when I saw how Dustin looks at Jackson. How soft his voice seems to become when he tells Jackson those words. And the way Jackson looks at him.
It wasn’t a simple look.
It was a look that said - I’ll give you the entire world.
And now everything changes.
I wipe off the water and inhale a sharp breath before I open the door. After a few steps, I stopped when I heard laughter.
Inside the main room, Dustin was feeding Jackson chocolate. I’m pretty sure he got it from Crystal in the other room.
“Yummy?” Dustin asks.
Jackson chews the chocolate and smiles, “Yummy.”
Dustin smiles widely, and his body falls onto Jackson. Jackson held him firmly, “Talk more, okay little dude? When your mom hears all your words, she’ll get less worry. She’ll be happy.” Jackson looks at Dustin, “We want mommy happy, right?”
Dustin nods, “Happy!”
I watched as Jackson held Dustin again.
“Daddy,” Dustin said.
When Jackson’s eyes moved around the room, my body involuntarily moved behind the wall.
“Yeah, little bud?”
“I love daddy.”
My body slides down from the wall. For some reason, I couldn’t find the energy in my legs to stand up. When I close my eyes, the tears come in generous streams. I clutch onto my chest firmly to feel the intensity inside.
“I love you too.”
I could hear it - the sorrows in his voice. A type of sound that sends a signal for an escape from the dreams, but at the same time, he doesn’t want to leave. Living in pure delusion will only hurt you. He knows it.
“Dustin,” he said. “Don’t you remember what we talked about? You shouldn’t call me dad in front of your mom or sister.”
Why? Why is he hurting himself?
“Why?” Dustin asks.
“Because...it makes them sad. We don’t want them to be sad, right?”
He responds, but he doesn’t understand the reasoning behind Jackson’s explanation. He simply accepts them. Why? It’s the trust between them. The trust that had built for as long as he could remember.
And for Dustin, Jackson had always been there for him.
There’s no reason to doubt Jackson.
“Don’t be sorry.”
“Jackson!” I could hear tiny footsteps entering the room. “I’m sorry!”
But, the trust between Jackson and Crystal isn’t the same - it’s much more fragile. For as long as Crystal could remember, there is someone who meant more to her than him - Emmy.
Crystal is almost eight.
At that age, people would think she would grow to forget eventually. But, how could she ever forget such memories? It is engraved inside her mind.
Crystal may come off as strong, but her mentality is fragile. Her aggression is her defense. She’s hurt. Who wouldn’t be hurt if the person they love the most in the world disappeared in front of their eyes, and there was absolutely nothing they could do.
At a young age, she realized the weakness of her strength.
She can’t protect anyone.
It’s not her responsibility.
And so, she closed herself off from the world. It’s not recognizable, but I could see it.
Because I’m her mother.
Which decent mother wouldn’t know when her children are in pain?
And a single betrayal from Jackson could hurt Crystal more than ever.
He knows it too.
“What happened?” Jackson asks.
“I accidentally got chocolate on your nice tv. I’m sorry.”
Jackson exhales, “It’s okay. It’s just a tv.”
“Do you have any cleaner?”
“I need to clean it before mommy sees it. I don’t want her to get mad at me again.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll call someone and have it clean.”
“I won’t tell her.”
“Is mommy okay?” She’s aware. I’m not surprised. Crystal had always been keen on others’ emotions. Her action and reaction towards others depend on the situation and how she feels about them.
But, end meets end; she is still a child.
Even when she knows she is in the wrong or hurt, she can’t properly convey it.
“Your mom is okay.” He chuckles, “Why wouldn’t she be alright? We’re on vacation, remember?”
“Yes! I can’t wait to visit New York! I’ve never been there!”
I wipe off the tears, stand up, and walk back into the room. “What’s this about New York?”
Crystal heads towards me, “It’s my first time in New York.” She smiles, “I can’t wait to see Auntie Nina’s and Jackson’s house!”
Throughout the rest of the flight, we listened to Crystal’s chatter until she fell asleep. When the plane lands, I carry Dustin, and Jackson holds Crystal. “Are you alright? She’s a bit heavy,” I said.
Jackson chuckles, “I think my noodle arms could handle a few pounds.” Sarcasm. We both know his arms are far from being noodles.
Out the private jet and into a black car. I laid Dustin’s head on my lap, and Jackson placed Crystal down across from me. He sat down near Crystal’s feet. Once the vehicle starts moving, my body relaxes. “Butt warmer?” I question.
He chuckles, “I thought the kids might get cold, so I asked them to turn it on.” He places a small blanket on top of Crystal, “There’s a blanket underneath the seat.”
My body leans down to see a small blanket beneath us. I can guess that it wasn’t there prior. I grab the blanket and wrap it around Dustin.
“We’ll stay at my place,” Jackson said. “If you’re okay with it.”
“We won’t be a burden?” I asked.
He smiles, “Not at all. I could use some company.”
“Still living in the bachelor’s pad?” I tease.
Jackson shrugs, “It’s too troublesome to move.”
Ten minutes into the ride, Crystal sat upward. She rubs her eyes, “Are we there yet?”
“Almost,” I responded. “I’ll wake you up when we’re there.”
Even in a dazed state, she nods. “Yay,” she responds in a dulled tone.
Crystal’s body sways slightly as she looks around the car, “Big car.” She yawns.
“Yes, it is,” I said.
She looked at Jackson, but she didn’t say anything. I watch as Crystal grabs the small pillow and crawl towards him. She places the pillow on Jackson’s lap and flops down. Her arms wrap around his waist, and she curls her body inward, “Warm,” she grumbles before she falls asleep again.
After the initial shock, Jackson smiles softly and pats her back.
The longer I look at them, the warmer my body becomes - and it isn’t because of the butt warmer. I turn my head towards the tinted window to see small flickering lights.
I never thought this day would come.
The day when I would return to New York - a cold, unforgiving city.
I can hear a light chuckle.
“What’s so funny?” I ask.
Jackson lifts his head, “She’s wearing the earrings I got for her.” His eyes cast downward, and he smiles softly, “She likes them. She really likes them.”