Caring Christopher

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#29 Love doesn’t have an expiration date


Abby and I are snuggled against each other underneath a blanket, watching TV, when Jagger rushes in, his eyes shooting fire at us. I sit up, the blanket slipping onto the floor, and Abby shifts as well so we’re no longer cuddling, both turning our complete attention on Jagger.

“What’s wrong?” I ask, motioning for him to sit down in the loveseat.

He grunts and takes a step on our direction. “How the fuck can you sit here all lovey-dovey while my mother is dying upstairs? You’re glad she’s dying, aren’t you?”

“What?” I ask. “Of course not! If I could help her get better, I would, but there’s nothing anyone can do for her anymore.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if you were making her sicker,” Jagger hisses, nothing but hatred in his eyes. “You could put whatever you want into her IV, right? Maybe it’s not pain medication at all. Maybe you’re just poisoning her so she will die. That way, you can have Yoah and Davy all to yourself!”

“What?” I ask, getting more incredulous by the second. “Of course not!”

“Then why didn’t you tell me you were planning to adopt them the second she takes her last breath!” he shouts, kicking the wall so hard that I can tell he hurt himself. “You act all saintlike, but you’re just a fucking liar!”

“Adopt?” I repeat, not sure I heard him right. “I haven’t even thought about that, to be honest. All I’ve been focused on is making sure all three of you are alright and your mother isn’t suffering more than she has to be.” I get up from the couch and walk over to Jagger, but I don’t touch him, fearing he might start kicking me instead of the wall. “Jagger… if I was ever going to see if I can adopt them, I would always talk to you first. And I would…” I hesitate. “I would always give you the option of being adopted too, of course.”

Jagger looks at me with shock in his eyes. “So this isn’t… you didn’t put Mom up to this?”

“Up to what?” I ask, not sure what I’m missing here.

“Dorothy talked to Mary about you adopting the boys,” Abby says behind me. “Three days ago, to be precise. She’s trying to make sure the boys will get to stay with you, and she’s filling out the paperwork so she’ll have done whatever she can to make the process go as smoothly as possible before she’s not here to help anymore.”

“Oh,” I breathe, sitting back down, my legs trembling. “I had no idea.”

“You knew?” Jagger shoots as Abby, redirecting his anger to her.

“She wanted to tell you herself,” she explains, putting a hand on my arm for support. “I’m sorry I didn’t say anything, but… it’s not really my place. I’m just the nanny.”

“You’re not just the nanny,” Jagger and I say in unison, and our eyes lock, the tension lifted. Even though he was just yelling at me, we both care about Abby. And about each other. I do love this obnoxious teenager, and I’ve been seeing his sweet side more often lately, although he’s still not getting his car anytime soon, because he keeps calling his teachers names and spraying graffiti on lockers. As long as it doesn’t get any worse, I’m perfectly okay with that, although I will never tell Jagger that.

“Okay,” Abby agrees. “I’m not just the nanny. Still, it’s not my place to say anything when Dorothy obviously wanted to talk to Jagger first.”

Jagger sinks down in the loveseat and pulls his hands through his hair. He needs a haircut desperately, but he refuses every time I mention it. At least Davy and Yoah didn’t fight me on it, although they didn’t want their hair cropped short, both of them pointing out that I wear my hair messy and rather long myself. There’s no way I’m cutting my curls when I know how much Abby loves pulling her fingers through them and tugging at them, so I guess we’re just a shaggy-hair-household.

“Sorry for yelling at you,” Jagger says softly. “I’m just…”

“You can yell at me anytime you want,” I assure him. The boy needs to get all the hurt and anger out somehow, and taking it out on me is the healthiest thing in the world. His mother won’t be around much longer, so Abby and I are the only parental figures he’s got. He sees Abby more like a confidant, while he seems to regard me as the one making the rules and giving him a curfew, even though most of the rules were put in place by Abby, not me. I’m the oldest one, the dad, the one Jagger focuses on when he’s upset, so I get the worst of his temper, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I can take all the yelling and the angry looks. Not a problem. If that’s what he needs, I’ll be his goddamn verbal punching back for as long as he needs me to be.

“Look, Jagger,” Abby says in a kind voice. “You know that Chris and I want you and your brothers to stay when Dorothy dies. Yoah has already told us that he wants to stay here, and I think Davy will agree. If Chris adopts them, that will make everything easier, but he will still take care of the if he can’t adopt them.”

“Obviously,” I agree. “Same goes for you, Jagger.”

“We’re not offended if you don’t want new parents,” Abby says, putting everything that Jagger and I are feeling into words. “Whether you get adopted or remain in foster care, the deal we made on your first day here stays the same. If you keep being good, you’re welcome to stay as long as you want.”

“Until I turn 18,” Jagger grumbles.

“No,” I say immediately, not wanting him to think there is a time limit on us caring about him and taking care of him. “As long as you want. I will gladly pay for you to go to college, you can come here during holidays. Or you can get a job after high school if you don’t want to go to college, and Abby and I will help you find a place of your own if that’s what you want. You can come over to see your brothers, come over for dinner as often as you want… There’s no expiration date on this thing we’re doing, Jagger.”

“But if I don’t stay on my best behavior, I’m out,” he insists, his dark green eyes so sad that it hurts.

Abby laughs, breaking the tension in that way only she can. “Jagger, please don’t tell me that you call these couple of weeks you’ve been staying here your best behavior. I get call from your principal almost daily, you leave your dirty socks all over the place, you just came in screaming at Chris even though he’s done nothing wrong, and don’t even think I don’t know about you sneaking out after midnight yesterday.”

Jagger grunts. “I fucking hate that goddamn alarm system Chris put in last week.”

“And you’re always cursing,” Abby goes on, still smiling. “Yoah and Davy copy you. That’s not something I’m comfortable with. We’re not asking you to be the best you can be, Jag. You’re not getting a car until you’re 30 at the rate you’re going, but we’re not kicking you out.”

“Exactly,” I agree. “Just… don’t rape or murder anyone.”

That actually earns me a smirk from him. “No promises, old man.”

We’re all silent for a few minutes, lost in our own thoughts. I’m hurting for Jagger, but a part of me is overjoyed that Dorothy wants me to adopt her boys. There is nothing in this world that would make me happier. It wouldn’t make me love them more – that’s impossible – but it would make things more permanent. More real. Yoah wouldn’t have to worry about getting taken away from me anymore, and I think it would be good for Davy too.

“If you adopt Davy and Yoah,” Jagger says, looking right at me with a pensive look, “are they going to call you Dad then?”

I shrug. “Honestly, I haven’t really thought about any of this. But I’d never make them call me that. It’s up to them. I’m perfectly fine being just Chris to them, but if they want to call me Dad, they can. Names and titles aren’t important to me.”

Jagger nods, and I can tell I gave him the answer he was looking for. He turns to Abby next. “Does this mean you’re adopting them too?”

“Me?” Abby asks, sounding like she’s choking. “I’ve only been Chris’ girlfriend for three days, Jag. I think it’s a little soon for that conversation.”

“You’ll adopt them when we get married,” I say, not even having to think about it. “If the kids want that, of course, but I’m pretty certain that if they’re okay with me adopting them, they will be more than okay with you doing the same.”

“You want me to…” Abby falls silent, shaking her head. I can tell she’s pushing down her emotions the way she always does, pretending she’s not on the verge of tears. “Let’s just see if we can even make it through a full month without killing each other,” she says in a light tone. “Because Davy is absolutely right, you snore like a maniac. Last night I was seriously contemplating suffocating you with a pillow.”

I let her laugh it off for now, but we’ll get back to this eventually. If I get to adopt the kids, and Abby and I are still together in a year or so, I’m getting down on one knee and making her my wife and the mother of my children. These past three days have made it clear to me that she’s the love of my life and I’m never giving up on her. I don’t care that she might get Alzheimer’s at a young age or that she’ll probably never have kids with me. We already have a family.

“Can I think about what I want to do?” Jagger asks, sighing. “Mom kinda sprung this on me. I do want to stay here, but I’m not sure if I want to get a new Dad. My last one kinda sucked.” He looks at Abby, knowing she gets it better than I do. “If I do decide to do it, though, I want both of you, not just Chris.”

“Jagger…” Abby has a hard time trying not to cry, and she only manages for about five seconds before tears are streaming down her face.

“I’m not saying I want to be adopted,” Jagger verifies. “But if I do, I want you too. And even if I don’t… I mean… if I stay here in foster care, I still want you to be here, Abby.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” she promises, getting up to hug Jagger.

I watch the two of them embrace, and although I’m happy that they understand each other so well and that Jagger is making feel Abby included in this family in a way even I don’t seem to be able to do, I also feel excluded. Davy and Yoah look up to me as a father figure, but Jagger turns to Abby for everything. He’s nice to me, and he acts out mostly to me, but he doesn’t have the bond with me that Abby managed to form with him on that very first day he showed up on our doorstep. It’s only been a short period of time, but part of me wonders if I will ever have that with Jagger.

“Dude, get over here,” he says, surprising me. “I only do sappy lovey-dovey hugs once a year, so grab your opportunity, old man.”

I laugh and wrap my arms about both Abby and Jagger, my reservations and fears evaporating. I know that Jagger will be back to being a mean teenager in the morning, and I fear he might never earn that car, but right now, I don’t care. It was shock to have him barge in here when his aunt decided to get rid of him, but he’s one of us now.

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