She looked so helpless, so lost, so much the little girl waiting by the window for the rain to stop, for the sun to peek through the clouds and brighten her day, set her free…
Only, there was no rain, there were no clouds, the sun ruled the sky and children were running barefoot through the grass.
He eased up behind her, slipping his arms gently around her waist, pulling the curve of her body into his, cradling her in the comfort of his warmth, his strength, his love. Instinctively he nuzzled his face into her soft hair and his special place, the tender skin of her neck, just below her ear.
“Mmm. Hey, Honey, how ya’ doin’?”
Her chin dropped slightly as she smiled a small, fleeting smile. “Good. I’m good.” It took three swallows for her to choke the words out, to give the lie room to breathe.
The strings of love drew tightly around his heart. Suddenly his own breath hung painfully in his throat, not ready to suffer the weight of his pain. “Jackie, Baby, she’s gonna be just fine. Syd’s a big girl now. She can take care of herself.” His arms tightened imperceptibly around her body. She’d never felt quite so small, never quite so fragile.
“I know. I know. It’s just that I … well, I wish I’d done more for her. I wish I could have filled their cup for her. And now it’s too late. Now, she’s gone. I guess eighteen always seemed light years away, so terribly far off. But it came so fast. Too fast. Yesterday she was just a little girl. Then I blinked, and now it’s done. She’s gone. And I’m not ready. Not yet. I’m not done.”
“Honey, you did great. Every day. The good days and the bad. You gave her love, you gave her you. No one could ask for a better Mom. And no, you didn’t fill Lily’s and Rémy’s cups. But you couldn’t, no matter how hard you tried. Those were their cups to fill, no one else’s, not even yours, no matter how much you might have liked for them to be.” She tucked her chin sideways as the tears slipped silently down her cheeks, spilling onto his chest.
His thumb stroked along her cheekbone, searching for the key to her happiness, her laughter and smiles. “But, I also watched you make your own cup inside Syd’s heart. And I watched you fill it until it was overflowing every single day she was with us. Lily and Rémy gave Syd life, they brought her into this crazy, messed up world, and they loved her as no other parents could. But you, Baby, you loved her when there was no one to love her, you loved her when her world turned dark and stormy. And you only loved her more the days she was hard to love. You gave her a love that asks for nothing in return. A love that goes beyond blood and bones and birthrights. And now, because of us, because of you, Syd’s able to go out into the world, make her own way, find her own true self. Her destiny.”
She tipped her head back, smiling through the lingering tears. My God, she was so beautiful all wrapped up in her humble, sweet, uncompromising love for a little girl left behind, alone and afraid. “I know, Quince. I know you’re right. But, I still see that defiant little ten-year-old ready to fight the whole entire world, afraid to ever love anyone again, to ever need anyone again. She still has so much to learn, there’s so much I didn’t get to show her, to explain to her. And now she’s gone. She doesn’t even know she graduated, for heaven’s sake! How will she take care of herself? Get a job? Go to college?”
He gently guided her head back onto his shoulder, turning it towards him, and smiled down into her warm brown eyes. “Jackie, there’s a time to love and a time to let go. Syd said her goodbyes on the dock that day. You know that. She’ll always be a part of us. And we’ll always be a part of her. She couldn’t cut us out of her, even if she wanted to. But children aren’t possessions, they’re … loaners, gifts you have to give back. We get to enjoy them for a time, get annoyed as hell with them for a time, love them, maybe even hate them from time to time, but there comes a day when we have to set them free. It’s a fine balance of helping give them roots to grow and wings to fly all on their own.”
“Yes. Of course, you’re right. But, knowing that doesn’t ease the pain.” A single tear traced its way down her silky skin, slipping onto her lips, then easing slowly over her chin, staining his boots with the blood of her love. “It doesn’t stop the ache, or fill the empty space in my heart. Syd’s space. Maybe I wasn’t so one-sided with my love after all. My cup aches to be filled by her. I miss her. I miss the three of us.”
“I know, Honey.” His hands moved to her shoulders, turning her into his chest. Then slowly, his hands slid gently up her throat and came to rest on her jaw, cupping it tenderly, but firmly. Lifting her chin up, he captured her eyes with his own. God, how he loved her! “Baby, I know you’re still in a state of mourning over Syd, I am too. But, we need to get to bed. It’s already ten and we’ve got a big day tomorrow. We have an appointment first thing in the morning.”
Eyes as warm as Sunday coffee blinked up at him incoherently, trustingly. That was one of the things he loved most about Jackie. Her ability to love him, to believe in him, no matter what the day held. “What are you talking about, Quince? We don’t have anything going on tomorrow. It’s not even grocery day.”
“Actually, yes, we do. 9 am sharp. Downtown. There’s a shelter there needing good homes for kids with none. I spoke with the director today. There’s a baby, a boy named Russell, who was just admitted Friday. I think he may need us almost as much as we need him.” He slid his hands down to her arms, not sure if she’d be able to remain standing all on her own.
“What?!” Quince, are you serious? A baby? A boy? When did you …? How did you …? Oh my goodness! I … I … I can’t believe this! What do you do with a boy?! Oh my God! I’ve got to go make a place for him. We’ve got to clean out Syd’s room tonight!” She pulled back from him, turning for the door, half-running in her excitement.
“Oh, no we don’t! He’s a baby for heaven sake, he’s not gonna care if it takes us a few days or a few years to get his room ready.” Jackie turned back to face him at the door, a protest at her lips. But he didn’t give her a chance to speak as he started towards her. His love, his life. “Russell’s cup will be full the minute he’s in your arms. But tonight? This night, our last baby-free night? Your sweet little ass is mine! I’m the only one who’ll be in your arms.”
She squealed, turning and running for the stairs. Smiling, he swatted her soft, round bottom as he followed close on her heels. He’d found her happy button. He’d filled her cup when no one else could. Yes, Syd was gone. And he knew there would be more tears. But he also knew they’d be okay. Syd had given them their own set of wings.
When exactly had that happened … ?