Caring Christopher

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#38 Jagger actually makes a lot of sense

Abigail

It’s three am, but I’m wide awake. Christopher’s parents went home last night, at last. They’re great people, but them staying here made me feel like I had to be all cheery when I was anything but. At least now I can just be miserable. Chris has a night shift, the kids are asleep, and I’m sitting on the couch in the living room with all the lights out. I considered calling Brittany a million times already, but she’s asleep and I don’t want to wake her up.

Introducing Christopher to my mother was nerve wrecking, but it was right thing to do. Every time I look at him now, I can tell that he understands me better. The question is: what does that mean for us? He keeps telling me he loves me no matter what, but that’s not fair to him. When I saw him talking to her, it felt like I was watching him talking to me. Not that long from now, I will be in a home just like she is, and she’ll be long gone by then. She may have been in a good mood at Christmas, but Grayson told me the truth. She’s not doing great at all. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’d die this year. People with early-onset Alzheimer don’t live long, happy lives. Their lives are crappy and short. That’s just the way it is.

That is what my life will be like.

I hate myself for putting Christopher through this. He loves me, I love him, and we’ve got three foster kids we both adore and would kill and die for, but we both know I might not be around to watch them grow up. When Davy graduates high school, I might already be forgetting all of their names.

Right when I pull out my phone to call Brittany, needing to get some perspective, Jagger walks into the living room without turning the lights on, utterly unaware of me sitting on the couch. He moves into the kitchen, grabs two beers from the fridge and makes his way back to the door.

“I don’t think so, mister,” I say, trying to sound stern instead of amused. “You’re nowhere near 21 yet.”

“Fucking hell, Abby!” he exclaims, clutching his chest. “You scared me half to death! Why the fuck are you sitting here in the dark?”

“Why the fuck are you stealing beer from the fridge in the dark?” I shoot back. “And… why two?”

He grunts. “You know why.”

“Celeste,” I realize, sighing. “She’s in your bed, isn’t she?”

Jagger shrugs with a small smirk. “Christopher used your birthday as the code to the alarm system. It was only a matter of time before I was going to figure that out, right? The old man’s not as smart as you’d expect a doctor to be.”

I grin at that, motioning Jagger over to the couch. “Hand me one of those,” I order, twisting the cap off the beer and taking a swig. “If you sit with me for a moment and talk to me, I will even let you have the other one.”

“Sweet,” he says, flopping down and gulping down half of his bottle like he’s afraid I will change my mind before he can pour it all down his throat.

“Talk to me,” I tell him, taking another swig. “Are you having sex with Celeste?”

“Are you having sex with Chris?” the rude teenage boy shoots back, trying to provoke me.

“Yes,” I confirm, enjoying how his eyes go wide. “Of course I am. Back to you now. Are you sleeping with Celeste?”

“Like you don’t already know,” he grunts, gulping down more beer. “I’m 16. What do you expect, Abby?”

“Are you being safe?”

Jagger laughs. “Chris gave me the talk five times already, Abby. And I found the condoms in my nightstand, obviously. Just so you know, I’m gonna need more soon. Should I get them myself or are you going to make sure I never run out?”

Okay, now it’s my time to get uncomfortable. “Jagger… I’m serious. Last thing we need is for you to get a horrible STD or get Celeste pregnant.”

He rolls his eyes. “I’m not stupid. Plus, you’re constantly taping pictures of droopy dicks and genital warts to my door, so I think I’m plenty informed on what can go wrong.”

“Just looking out for you, Jag.”

He smiles and puts an arm around me, squeezing my shoulder. It’s an unexpected gesture, and it feels nice to have someone with me, even if it’s this stupid teenage boy that wants to get drunk and fuck his girlfriend tonight instead of sitting on the couch with… well, his nanny, I guess.

“Your turn to talk,” Jagger decides, finishing his beer and putting it on the coffee table. “You’ve been moping around for days now, and it’s making poor Chris miserable. What’s going on with the two of you?”

“Nothing,” I say quickly, praying that Jagger is the only one who noticed. I don’t want Yoah and Davy to worry about us as well. They’ve got enough going on.

“Look, it’s just me,” Jagger says, his green eyes locking with mine. This is the real Jagger. No bullshit, no scowl, no girl sticking her tongue down his throat. “Tell me what’s going on, okay? I know I’m only 16, but I’m not stupid.”

“I took Chris to meet my mother,” I confess, cursing myself for being honest. I shouldn’t be unloading my crap on a teenager that I’m supposed to be taking care of.

“Ah,” Jagger says, nodding. “I’ve been googling early-onset Alzheimer’s lately, ever since you told me, you know. I was curious, and I’ve got to say… it fucking sucks balls. Horrible disease.”

I laugh bitterly at his colorful description. “Yeah, it is.”

“So… Chris met her?” he urges, wanting to coax me into telling him the whole story. “Are you going to finish that beer?”

I hand the bottle to him. Chris would disapprove, but I know Jagger is drinking anyway. This isn’t the first time he’s stealing bottles from the fridge, and I know he’s got ways to get booze outside of our house as well. I don’t like it, but I know there’s nothing we can do except talk to him about it and try to keep him on the straight and narrow. I’ve been drinking since I was 15. Not much, but I did think it was pretty cool to have a beer every now and then when I was his age. Made me feel all grown up. Which is pretty sad, since I was already doing my mother’s taxes by then, which should have made me feel like an adult even without beer.

“My mother has a certain genetic condition,” I explain to Jagger, leaning against him a little. “Her blood has been analyzed, and her doctor told me many years ago that I can get a test done to see if I carry the gene and if I will be able to pass it on to the next generation.”

“You could end up like her,” Jagger realizes. “And your future kids might too. Wow, that sucks.”

“Yes.”

We’re quiet for a moment, and I can almost hear the wheels in Jagger’s brain turning.

“Chris loves kids,” he says eventually. “And you might give them some shitty disease. Oh wow. Okay, yeah, that is… I’m so sorry, Abby.”

I shrug. “It’s not like I haven’t known this since I was 16 and Mom got diagnosed.”

“Still… it’s…” He seems at loss for words. “So when are you getting tested?”

I jerk away from him, feeling like he just slapped me. “Never.”

“W-what?” he asks, angling his body toward me so he can look at me. “Are you insane? You might not even have it!”

“I probably do. With this gene, chances are 50-50.”

“Which means that chances of you not having it are just as big as you forgetting everyone you love,” Jagger reasons. “Why isn’t Chris pressuring you to take the test?” He grunts and goes on before I can reply. “Never mind. The guy is a goddamn saint. He’d never pressure you to do anything. You should take the test, though. What if you turn 50 or even 60 and you still don’t have any symptoms of Alzheimer’s and you’re all like… Oh my God, I could have had a million kids without any problems?!”

I shrug. “I probably won’t even make it to 60 with my luck.”

Jagger finishes my beer and slams the bottle down on the table, glaring at me. “Fucking hell, you’re so stubborn. How the hell does Chris put up with you? You’re so… Ugh. If you already think you’ve got it, why not take the test? If you have it, it will suck, but it won’t change your life all that much. If you find out you’re alright, you can marry Chris and have all the babies you want.”

When he puts it like that, I do feel stupid and stubborn, but it’s not that easy. Knowing that I carry the gene will change my life in horrible ways. It will break me. I will never be able to unlearn that knowledge, and I will… well, I think… I almost fall apart just thinking this, but I don’t think I can stay with Chris knowing I am going to end up like Mom. In this wonderful limbo of not knowing I can pretend to be good for him, but once I know for sure I am going to forget all about him one day, I will have to leave him. I know what it does to a person to watch a loved one go through that, and I can’t do that to Chris and the kids. I just can’t.

“Although I guess that it’s in my best interest for you not to have babies,” Jagger goes on when I don’t respond.

“What?” I ask, shaking myself out of my horrible thoughts. “What do you mean?”

He shrugs, looking sad but trying to hide it. “I kinda like it here.”

“Jagger…” I grab his hand a squeeze it. “You know that no one is ever going to kick you out, right? Chris is going to adopt Davy and Yoah in a few months, when all the legal stuff is taken care of, and he’d love to add you to his family as well. And I… I mean, I know me and Chris only got together recently, but I’d love to be here for all of it.”

“I know,” he says with a sigh, looking down at our hands. “It’s just… you don’t owe me anything. My little brothers are all cute and stuff, and I get why Chris wants them, but me…”

“Don’t even go there,” I warn him, tearing up a little and shoving that emotion to the side immediately. “You’re an amazing person, Jagger. Sure, you’re an obnoxious teenager, but we all are at some point in our lives. Chris loves you. I love you. Trust that we’ve got you no matter what.”

To my surprise, Jagger starts crying when I say that, and I pull him into my arms, rubbing his back until he gets a grip again. Poor guy. I know exactly how he feels. No one has ever been there for him the way Chris is. The way I am. Dorothy was trying, but she was grasping at straws, and she had to send Jagger to live with his aunt. It’s hard to believe someone truly loves you unconditionally when you’ve never experienced that before. It’s how I feel about Christopher sometimes.

“I miss Mom,” Jaggers says when he finally pulls back, wiping his eyes. “And I… I feel bad for being so… horrible, you know? But I also… I mean… Chris is just so annoying with his talks about responsibility and shit. I want to yell at him sometimes.”

“Then yell,” I say, shrugging. “He can take it.”

“I know,” Jagger agrees with a little smile. “He’s… I don’t know, Abby. He’s like… my dad or something.”

My heart soars when Jagger says that. I know Chris will cry when I tell him this when he gets home. Thinking about how ecstatic Chris will be makes me happy too. “He is,” I say, hugging Jagger again. “No matter what happens in the future with me and him, no matter if we have kids or not, he will always be your dad, even though he’s not.”

He laughs and squeezes me. “That sounded really weird, but I get what you mean. It’s just so weird how someone I haven’t know for that long feels like more of a father to me than my actual one ever did. My biological dad… he wasn’t… good.

“Same here.” I shudder when I think about my father beating my mother, spending all her money, and not once paying attention to me. I still believe that him dying was for the better. “Chris is good, though.”

“Yes,” Jagger agrees. “He is. Don’t tell him I said so.”

“I won’t,” I lie, already knowing I am going to rely every single part of this conversation to Chris the moment he gets back home in the morning.

“You’re good too,” Jagger goes on, meeting my gaze head-on. He looks so earnest and mature in this moment, pushing his dark messy hair out of his face and smiling at me. “The title of Mom is already taken, even though she’s dead, and you’re only eleven years older than me, but you’re the closest thing I’ve got to having a mother.”

Oh God. Even I can’t stop myself from crying when he says that. “I’m just the nanny.”

“I will fucking cut you if you ever call yourself that again,” Jagger warns, shoving me playfully. “You know as well as I do that you’re not the nanny. I doubt you’ve ever been just the nanny. Not to Chris, not to me, and not to Davy and Yoah.”

“Stop it,” I plead, wiping at my eyes. “We’re the strong ones, Jagger. If we’re going to crack, there is no hope left for Chris and the rest of the world.”

He laughs loudly and pulls himself together while I do the same. “You’re right, Abby. We are the strong ones. And Yoah. He’s stronger than the two of us put together. And since you’re so strong… I think you should take the test. You can take the outcome, no matter what it is. Davy and Yoah would love to have a little sibling one day.” He smiles at me. “So would I. The title of Mom might not be up for grabs, but I do have a space reserved for as many brothers and sisters as you’d like to give me.”

“We’ll see,” I say vaguely.

I have to admit Jagger is making me contemplate it. Brittany has told me a million times to take the test, and I know Chris wants me to, but I’ve never truly considered it.

Maybe, just maybe, Jagger is right. I’m tough. I can take it. And maybe… maybe… No, I’m too scared to get my hopes up. Still, I think that I might be able to do this. Not now, but maybe some day.

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