#58 Celeste's secret
My spidey-sense is tingling. Christopher is acting weird, and so are the kids. Or well, Yoah and Jagger are. Davy just runs around playing with Freddie or one of the neighborhood kids, but the others are definitely being weird.
Then again, with the adoption coming up, I guess they’re just nervous or something, I hope that’s it, because they’re kind of freaking me out. Yoah looks at me with this weird smile, Jagger is being even more mysterious that he normally tries to be, and Chris just feels… off. Not in a bad way, but he’s constantly hanging up his phone when I come into the room, or talking to Jagger and then abruptly changing the subject when I walk in. I guess it’s probably about the adoption. What else could it be? Maybe they think I feel left out or something, since I’ll soon be the only one not officially a part of this family, but I don’t mind that at all. I’m happy for them.
Before the big day, it’s time for something else, though. It’s time for me and Chris to finally have a talk with Celeste’s parents. Since her parents came back from their trip, Celeste has spent a few nights at home, but she still eats almost all her meals here, and seems to spend almost all her spare time on our couch.
All. The. Time.
Her parents already stood us up twice, and I’m starting to feel like we might never get to meet them. Again, my spidey-sense tingles. Something is up with Celeste and her parents, and I’m determined to find out what it is.
“They’re not here yet?” Chris asks when he gets home late from his shift at the hospital, his white coat still on. He throws it over a chair and kisses me before grabbing a bottle of water from the fridge. “I thought I was late.”
“You are,” I confirm. “Apparently, so are her parents. Dinner is almost ready, though. Can you tell the kids to come down?”
“Sure.” Chris kisses me one more time and squeezes my ass, making me smile.
Ten minutes later, we’re all sitting around the dining table, including Celeste. The two empty chairs where her parents were supposed to be are annoying me to no end, and when Chris’ phone buzzes, I already know that it’s her parents canceling on us. Again. His glance in my direction tells me I’m right.
“Davy, Yoah, you don’t need to help clear the table today,” I say when we’re all done eating. “Go upstairs to play.”
“But I wanna watch TV,” Davy complains.
“Here.” Chris grabs a tablet and unlocks the screen for him. There is nothing on there except a TV app for kids for when we need him to be quiet when we’re doing something important. Not very good parenting maybe, but with three kids and Celeste and everything else going on these days, I think we’re excused from being perfect all the damn time. After everything he’s already been through, a few hours of lazy parenting won’t screw him up too badly, right? An extra hour of TV has never hurt anyone.
When the younger boys are upstairs watching a show, Chris and I face the sulking teenagers.
“Why aren’t your parents coming?” Christopher asks, sounding a little sad for Celeste. “I thought you said they were in town?”
She shrugs and pulls her fingers through her long blonde hair. She needs to get the roots touched-up, since it’s very obvious she’s not a natural blonde. It looks ridiculous. “They always do this,” she grunts. “Their big important jobs as diplomats keep them busy.”
“Celeste…” I give her a hard look. “What does a diplomat do?”
“They negotiate,” she says immediately.
“What do they negotiate?” I ask, knowing for a fact that she’s full of shit. Why didn’t I drill her about this way earlier? I’m so stupid. When I was her age, I was always making up stories about why my dad wasn’t around, and lying to teachers about my mother having a cold to explain why she wasn’t at parent-teacher conferences, not wanting to confess that she forgot all about it.
“Trade… stuff,” Celeste says lamely.
“Your parents aren’t diplomats,” I tell her sternly. “I bet that the text Chris just received isn’t even from them. Tell us what’s going on. Now.”
“They’re busy.” She looks angry now. “I’m not lying!”
“Look…” Jagger says, putting a hand on her shoulder. “I know you said you don’t want them to know, but we can trust Abby and Chris, honey. They can help.”
I knew it! They’ve been lying to us from the start. Why didn’t I realize this sooner? Why the fuck did we trust two teenagers who are always sneaking around together?
“Nothing is going on,” she hisses, giving Jagger a hard look.
“We can’t keep doing this,” he says softly, shaking his head. There’s pain in his green eyes. “Every night you’re not with me, I’m worried about you, Celeste. We need to tell someone, and Abby and Chris won’t judge you. You know they won’t.”
Chris and I lock eyes, silently agreeing on what to do. I don’t like the girl, but it’s obvious she needs help. I’m not about to send her home when I know Jagger worries about her wellbeing. Neither is Chris.
“You can stay with us if you can’t go home,” Christopher tells her, smiling kindly. “If there’s something we need to know, just tell us. Jagger is right, we want to help.”
Celeste looks down at her empty plate and sighs. “Okay, my parents aren’t diplomats. In fact, I don’t have a Mom. She ran out on us when I was nine years old.”
“Where is your dad?” I ask, fearing the answer. Please don’t tell me he’s some abusive asshole.
She shrugs. “I’m not sure where he is right now. Probably drunk, somewhere in a bar. He cleans up his act every few months, but it never lasts long.”
“Who’s the man I’ve talked to over the phone?” Chris asks, frowning. Celeste’s parents usually text us, but Chris has managed to get her dad on the phone twice. Or well, not her real dad, probably.
“A friend of mine,” Jagger explains, looking guilty. “I’m really sorry, guys. I just… Celeste made me promise not to tell you.”
“Do you even live on the block?” I ask. We dropped her off at her place so many times. Is that house even hers?
She nods. “Dad is loaded. My grandparents left us a shitload of money when they died, and the house was theirs. We’ve got a cleaning lady and a gardener and everything, so I don’t think the neighbors suspect anything. I’m pretty good at lying.” It’s sad that she looks so proud of that. Poor girl. I know exactly how she feels. I spent all my years in high school like that.
“Does your father ever… hurt you?” I ask, studying her face.
“No,” she says, shaking her head. “He’s not a mean drunk.”
“We need to talk to Mary about this,” Christopher says, already picking up his phone.
“No!” Jagger, Celeste and I all yell at the same time.
Celeste shoots me a grateful look, and I know that in this moment, she’s decided to trust me. Good. She’ll need to be able to lean on someone. Poor girl. I get it now. The drinking, the acting out, pretending to be the toughest girl in the world who doesn’t give a single fuck. It’s a coping mechanism. Why didn’t I realize sooner that she’s hurting like hell? I feel like I failed her. She may be a cunt sometimes, but she’s just a teenage girl, trying to survive.
“I don’t want anyone to know,” Celeste says, leaning against Jagger, who rubs her back soothingly. “Dad may not be doing great, but he’s trying, you know. He tries to get clean, but it just doesn’t seem to stick. I don’t want to be put in a group home or a foster family or anything. I was in foster care for a year when my mom left and Dad started drinking, and it wasn’t…” She trails off, shuddering.
“Not all foster parents are like the two of you,” Jagger says, pulling his girlfriend closer to him. I love how protective he is of her. I get their relationship now. He knows what’s it like to have everyone you love leave you or try to get rid of you, and he feels protective of this tough, lonely girl. It’s obvious she’s confided in him, which makes me wonder what else there is. What did her foster parents do to her?
“I get that,” Christopher says, putting his phone back down. “Celeste… we can’t leave you in a house with a drunk father, with no one to take care of you. I’m sure that if we talk to Mary, she will help us figure something out.”
“She’ll get placed in a group home,” Jagger says, giving Chris an angry look. “Just like me if you hadn’t taken me in. I’m not saying all those places are hellholes, I know they’re not, but… can’t Celeste just stay here when her dad is having… a bad week?”
Chris and I lock eyes again, knowing that we can’t have this girl move in with us. It’s not that we hate her or don’t want her to have a good home, but she’s Jagger’s girlfriend. They’re still so young. If they break up, she won’t be able to stay here anymore, and she’ll be back to living with her alcoholic father, without us to help her.
“I’d never ask that of you,” Celeste says, tears in her eyes. “You’ve already done so much for me. I’m sorry I wasn’t honest with you. I made Jagger swear not to tell anyone.”
I get up from my chair and sit down on my knees in front of her chair, pulling her into my arms. Finally, she breaks down, sobbing against me, making my shirt all wet. I rub her back until she calms down, feeling bad for her. I know Christopher is right, we need to involve Mary so she can alert child protective services or something, and get Celeste out of that house, but I know that if we do that right now, she will shut down and never trust us again. We can’t jump this on her. If someone had tried to take me away from my mother when I was her age, I’d have flipped.
“You’re staying with us this week,” I tell her, squeezing her tightly. “No discussion. Chris and I will need to talk about where to go from here, but we promise to involve you in the decision we make and that we won’t just spring something on you, okay?”
“You won’t call the social worker?” she asks, pulling back to look me in the eye.
“Not now,” I promise. “I’m not saying we won’t eventually tell Mary, but we won’t do that without talking to you first.”
“Okay.” She nods, wiping her eyes. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be.” I stroke her hair and for the first time since I met her, I can see the girl underneath all the piercings, jewelry, tattoos and snark. She’s a lost teenager, just like I was. Like Jagger was before he decided to let us in to help him.
We talk for a few more minutes, but it’s obvious Celeste is exhausted, so Jagger takes her up to his room to tuck her in bed. He actually says that: “I’m going to tuck her in.” How cute is that?
“We should have known,” I tell Chris, putting my arms around him when we’re alone again. “I feel so stupid for not realizing that she and Jagger we lying to us about her parents.”
“We had a lot going on.” Chris buries his face in my hair. “But yeah, I feel guilty too. Poor thing. We really do need to talk to Mary about this.”
“Maybe we could talk to Edward instead,” I say, looking up at my man. “He’s your best friend. He’ll keep this to himself if we ask him to. Mary won’t. He knows everything she does, he’s handled situations like these many times before. He’ll know what to do. Celeste doesn’t have to know until we officially alert Mary.”
Chris nods. “Yeah, that sounds good. I’ll give him a call later.”
Jagger walks back in, walking over to us and wrapping his arms around us. The gesture surprises me, as do the tears. He’s crying.
“Hey, Jag,” Chris says, embracing his son forcefully. “It’s okay.”
“I’m so worried about her,” he whimpers. “And I’m so sorry I lied to you guys. I get it if you have to take the car back now. I fucked up.”
“No, you didn’t.” I rub his back and smooth his hair out of his face. “You’re not even 17 yet, Jagger. No one expects you to know what to do with stuff like this. You tried to keep her safe, you supported her, and I know you wanted to tell us. I get it. We’re not mad.”
“You’re not?” he asks, sniffling.
“Of course we’re not.” Chris ruffles his hair. “We’re worried, though. About both of you. We’ll talk more about this later this week, but just so you know… we’ll need to tell Mary eventually and get Celeste out of there.”
“She basically already lives here,” Jagger says, looking at us pleadingly. “Can’t you just take her too? Be her foster parents? Officially, unofficially, I don’t care. The family she stayed with when she was little… They hurt her. That’s why she has tattoos and piercings. To hide the scars.”
“Oh no,” Christopher says, sounding as sad as I do. “Poor girl. I wish we could take her in, Jagger, but what happens when you break up with her? She needs a stable home, not to be depending on her relationship. You’re too young for that.”
“I love her,” he says, his jaw set. “I won’t let her down.”
“I’m not saying you will let her down, but you may not stay in love with her forever,” Chris reasons, leading him to the couch so we can all sit down. “I promise we will do whatever we need to do to make sure Celeste gets a stable home, just like we did for you. I’m not sure that we should be the ones to provide that home for her, though.”
“She can stay until we figure something out, right?” Jagger pleads, still sniffling. “Please, Chris.”
“Of course,” he vows, looking at me for confirmation. “We’re not throwing her out.”
“She’s welcome here anytime,” I agree. “You already know that, Jagger. She’s been basically living her for a while now, hasn’t she?”
He nods. “I don’t feel right leaving her with her dad, not even when he’s sober.” He shudders. “When she’s all alone in that big house, her ex tends to stop by, and he’s not… he’s not a good guy.”
“Keep us in the loop,” I tell Jagger, putting an arm around him. “This is too much for you to take on, Jag. You know we love you, and since Celeste is important to you, we will do whatever we can for her. You know we won’t just throw her out or allow anyone to hurt her.”
“That’s why I wanted to tell you for so long now.” He sighs. “She begged me not to. After we got arrested, she finally realized that she might be able to trust you, and she loves it here. She told me that she finally feels like she’s got a family.”
Oh wow. I feel kind of bad for Jagger now. How is he ever going to be able to walk away from this girl? He’s so young, and chances are he will fall out of love with her eventually. With stakes this high, I’m scared he won’t be able to leave her even if he wants to. This is exactly why she shouldn’t live with us permanently. They both need a family of their own, so they’re not forced to be together.
A part of me wonders if Celeste is with Jagger because she loves him, or because he can provide her with the stability and safety she craves. I can tell Chris is wondering the same thing. We’re not going to tell Jagger that, obviously, but it’s certainly something to be mindful of.
“I’m going to check on Celeste,” Jagger says, getting up from the couch. “Thanks, guys.”
“No need to thank us,” Christopher replies immediately. “We’ve got you, Jagger. And Celeste too.”
“I know.” He smiles slightly. “I can’t wait to be your son in two days.”
“You already are,” Chris says, sounding emotional.
“Abby?” Jagger says, his eyes locking with mine. “I don’t think I will ever call you Mom, because that just feels… wrong, but… if you still want me, I’d love for you to adopt me too one day.”
Oh God, now it’s my turn to cry. “Yes,” I say, wiping at my eyes. “Of course. I’d love to.”
He nods and leaves the room, leaving me and Chris in tears on the couch. We reach for each other at the same time, breaking down together. The tears are both happy and sad, all at the same time. I’m so glad we’re in this together.