The doorbell rang.
I made my way towards the front door and opened it to see Stephanie and Hailey. “Hey, Steph.” I lean down and mess up Hailey’s hair, “Hi, Hailey.”
“Hello, Piper.” The volume of her voice is low but polite.
“Mom! Is that Hailey?! Tell her I’m almost ready!” Crystal shouted from upstairs. I pray that Crystal somehow becomes a bit more like Hailey. I’m not talking about personality, but her voice. I wish Crystal’s voice volume would decrease, even if it’s just a little bit.
“She said she would be ready soon,” I told them.
Hailey hugs her doll, “We can wait,” she responds. She looked around before she sat near the edge of the door.
“Hailey. Honey,” I said. “You can wait inside.”
“Oh. May we?”
My heart is about to burst.
I look at Stephanie, “Tell me your secret,” I whisper.
Stephanie laughs, “If I ever figure it out, I’ll give you a free edition.”
“Mommy! Did you-”
“I told them!” I scream. I turned back towards them and smiled, “Come on in.”
Stephanie and Hailey walk into the house, pass the hallway, and into the living room. Hailey looked around the room before she sat down at the dining table across from Jackson and Dustin. Jackson had Dustin on his lap, who had a tablet on his hands. Dustin is playing with the calculator again.
I still don’t understand the joy he finds in the calculator, but it gives me time to myself, so I’m not complaining.
“Do you want something to drink?” I ask.
“No, thank you,” Hailey responded. I need Stephanie’s book of parenting. It should be considered a crime for her to keep it all to herself.
“I’m good,” Stephanie responded. She sat beside Hailey.
“Hi,” Jackson said.
Hailey smiles, “Hello, Uncle Jackson.”
We all turned our heads towards Hailey. “What?” I was the person who decided to speak up.
“I’m sorry?” Hailey responded.
“You called him Uncle Jackson?” It seems like this is new to Stephanie too.
“Oh. I did.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because Crystal said you’re Uncle Jackson.”
“Hailey.” Stephanie lowered herself to Hailey’s level. I need to take notes. “Remember when we talk about full explanations so others can understand?”
“Full explanation is important because sometimes people don’t understand a single sentence,” she said. I cannot believe Hailey is six years old.
Crystal is older than Hailey.
If she decides not to explain, she won’t explain. Even if she knows someone’s feelings are hurt, if she doesn’t care for them, she doesn’t care. There’s no empathy.
I know I shouldn’t compare my children to other children, but it’s something that occurs involuntarily. Parents who say they don’t compare one child to another are lying to themselves.
Similar to how you judge someone based on appearance.
It’s not necessarily bad.
As long as you control it.
I will never tell Crystal to be more like Hailey - to be quieter and polite. I would ask her to be polite, but I would never bring another child into the conversation.
“When I asked Crystal if you’re her dad now.”
“She told me you’re never going to be her dad because you promised her that you wouldn’t be her dad. Then, when I asked her why you’re at her house so often. She told me you’re her uncle. Uncle Jackson.”
Stephanie chuckles, “Oh. Silly children conversation.” Most likely, she regrets asking Hailey for a full explanation.
“It’s not silly,” Hailey said. She kicks her legs underneath the table. “Crystal said it’s serious.” She looks at Jackson. “Uncle Jackson will never break a promise. A promise is very serious.”
Jackson’s eyes went from Hailey towards me. Stephanie looks everywhere except us.
Loud stomps made their way down the stairs. “I’m packed, and I got the baby!” Crystal burst through the doors with Dustin.
“Crystal!” Hailey leaped off the chair.
“HayHay!” Crystal and Hailey hugged. She looked around, “Why does everyone look so weird?” Such perception. “What are we all talking about?”
“We were talking about-”
“Alright!” Stephanie stands up, “It’s time to go children.” She carried Dustin. Dustin fought his way out of Stephanie’s arms. “Hey.” Stephanie stared at Dustin. Immediately, he stopped fighting.
I hope she writes a book about parenting. I’ll be one of the first to purchase it.
Dustin laid his head on Stephanie’s shoulder.
After they left, it was only Jackson and me. Stephanie took Crystal, Dustin, and Hailey to Ben’s house so I could go to court.
So, that’s Jackson’s status in Crystal’s heart.
Since Jackson is here so often, she self-convinced that he’s similar to Tyler and Ben - her uncles.
When I looked at Jackson, he was still staring at the road. After a few seconds, he noticed me. He ran a hand behind his neck and said: “Should we get ready?” He made his way back into the house.
I wonder if...there are moments when Jackson hopes that I will fix our status. Correct what others claim where we stand.
But, what’s the point in wondering?
Because we both know what I’ll do.
If someone claims we’re lovers.
I’ll reject it.
If someone claims Jackson is my close friend.
I’ll silently accept it.
That’s the verbal agreement between us.
I’ll allow Jackson to stay by my side as long as he wants to stay. If one day, he’s tired of everything, he can leave. I won’t stop him. Will I be sad? Of course, I’ll be sad. It’s a part of human nature.
But, I won’t create any problems for him.
If, one day, he wants to create his own family.
So be it.
I’ll sit in the crowd and clap for his happiness.
He doesn’t want to involve himself with me?
So be it.
But, what if he wants to stay...forever?
What will I do?
After we gathered our stuff and changed clothes, we walked towards the front door. Jackson tugged on his coat and shoes. After I put on my shoes, Jackson already had my jacket. Quietly, I turned around and allowed him to put it on for me.
I could feel the heat behind me. Right arm in. Left arm in. His arms wrapped around my body, and a soft kiss rested on my head.
I won’t do anything.
Jackson lowers himself in front of me and kisses me. “Ready?”
“Ready.” I went on my toes and kissed him back.
Inside the car, my hands continuously tighten and loosen against the hem of the coat. This feeling is normal. That’s the sentence I repeated inside my head.
It’s a normal feeling.
It’s an understandable emotion.
It’s an emotion I shouldn’t push away. It’s a part of my mentality that protects me; prepares me for the worst.
I want to throw up.
I’d be more concerned if I weren’t anxious.
I rolled down the window and allowed the wind to scatter into the car. My head rests against the edge, and I could see one tree past another. Soon, it blurs.
MistVille is in the middle of nowhere.
A quiet and peaceful town where nothing ever happens.
An old hospital caught my sight.
I placed an arm against the edge and rested against it.
The old hospital on top of the mountain is the first and last building you would see when entering and leaving MistVille. A building that was there before I was even born.
For some odd reason, I remembered a time when my classmates talked about the abandoned hospital.
When I was in elementary school, the children said the hospital eats people.
When I was in middle school, they said there were monsters inside.
When I was in high school, they said it was a building to test your courage.
When I was an adult, they said it was simply an old abandoned building.
The longer I stared at the building, the more unsettled I got. I’ve always disliked that building. When I was younger, and my stupid friends decided to do a test of courage inside, I opted out.
I waited for them outside of the building.
I didn’t care if they called me a chicken.
But, waiting outside alone was no better than going inside in a group. I remember how I would sit there and listen to their voices until I couldn’t hear them anymore.
Then, it was all silence.
And the longer they stayed in there, the harder the beats inside my chest became. Then, faster...faster...faster.
Ba-dump. Ba-dump. Ba-dump.
Ba-dump. Ba-dump. Ba-dump. Ba-dump.
It’s a dream.
I know it is.
There is a man in front of me that’s gone missing for two years.
He stood in front of me with a slight smile on his face. I watched as he lowered himself. Steadily, he reached for me but stopped.
I want to say something...anything.
But, when I open my mouth, the words won’t come out. Instead, the tears streamed down.
“I’m sorry,” Emerson said. “I’m so so sorry.”
Why? Why is he apologizing?
“I tried, but I still can’t find a way,” he said. “I don’t know how to get back.” The tears trickle down his cheeks. “Piper, I want to go home.” His hands fall onto the dirt, “I want to go home. To be with Crystal and Dustin...You.”
I want to move.
To hug him.
But, for some reason, I couldn’t.
If this was a dream, I should be able to control it.
Why can’t I move?
“Piper,” he said. His eyes were locked onto mine. There was this smile on his face, this sad, tragic smile, “Don’t wait for me.”
Why would he say that?
“Piper.” Jackson’s voice. “Piper. Wake up.”
When I looked back at Emerson, he forced another smile to surface. “Don’t wait for me. Move on. Be happy.”
There’s this feeling inside of me. As if someone grabs my heart and squeezes it so hard that it may burst any second.
“Jackson,” he said. “He’s a good man. He will take care of you all.”
I shake my head.
“He will love you all with all his heart.”
“So, please. Don’t be sad anymore.”
The longer I look at the man in front of me, the more changes I noticed. He’s Emerson, but somehow everything about him changed.
“I love you,” he said. He came closer to me, but we didn’t touch. I couldn’t feel it - heat. “Please remember. I love you all very much. I love you. I love Crystal. I love Dustin. I love you all so very much.”
“It’s almost time.” Who’s that? Who’s voice is that?
His shaky hands curled into fists, “Shit,” he mumbled underneath his breath. Emerson’s wet eyes went back towards me, “No matter what happens. No matter where I am. No matter how much time passes. I’ll always love you, Piper Lynn Lun. I love you so fucking much.”
Before I could fully adjust to the situation, Emerson grabs me and kisses me.
A warmth that vanished without a single trace.
A heave of air thrust into my lungs. I could feel it, the moisture on my body.
“Piper? Are you okay?”
There’s a ringing inside my ears, and it only triggers my headaches. When my vision finally cleared up, Jackson came into view.
“I’m sorry. What?”
“I’m asking if you’re okay.”
Sometimes, I get dreams about Emerson. But, most of them are about our pasts, from when we first met at the park to our first kiss on one of the most questionable streets in New York. I remember a woman screaming for help and police sirens while we were kissing. Not every first kiss is filled with flowers and unicorns.
“Yeah.” I cover my face with my hands and lean forward slightly to get a bit of peace.
This is the first time I have a dream like this. It felt so real - so sad.
Jackson turned my head towards him, and he held onto me. When the heat hits me, my body relaxes.
This isn’t good.