Going Under Page 37

“I’m hoping we can take them out somewhere. The Stevens’ are very nice, but it’s a little awkward trying to interact with Harley and Ozzy normally when I’m the oddball in their home.”

I could understand how that would make him uncomfortable. “Have they allowed you to take the boys out before?”

“Yeah. They let me have them for a few hours on their birthday. There’s exactly one year difference in their ages because they have the same birthday.”

“Oh, that’s neat. How long ago was it that you got them?”

He paused, then said, “It was the day after I spent the night with you.”

No matter how I tried to change the subject to something safe, it always came back to remind me how weren’t together anymore, but how desperately I wanted to be again.

When we pulled up at the house where Harley and Ozzy lived, I saw two little heads bobbing up and down in a big window at the front of the house. I laughed at the sight and said, “I think I just spotted two little boys eager to see their big brother.”

“I have to admit I’m eager to see them, too. It’s been too long.”

The front door slung open and two of the cutest little boys came running across the lawn, nearly tackling Jessie right there in the grass. He picked them up and swung them both at the same time. “Ooooh, I missed you guys so much!”

“We missed you too, Jess,” the bigger one of the two said.

He put them down and the smaller one chimed in and said, “You told us you would come back and you did.”

“I always keep my promises, don’t I?” he asked.

“Yes,” they answered simultaneously.

“Now, I have someone I want you to meet.” I walked over to the boys and squatted down on their level as Jessie introduced me. “This is Claire.”

I put out my hand for a shake and the older boy took it. “You must be Harley. I’ve heard some very good things about you.”

“Are you Jessie’s girlfriend?” he asked suspiciously.

Jessie saved me by saying, “Claire is my friend and I wanted her to come meet you and Ozzy because she is very special to me.”

Harley giggled and said, “That means she’s your girlfriend.”

Jessie looked at me and shrugged like he was going to let that one go so I did, too.

Ozzy was hiding behind Jessie’s leg peeking his head out at me. I squatted even lower to speak to him because Jessie had told me he had a tendency to be shy around people he didn’t know. I spoke softly as I said, “Hello, Ozzy. It’s very nice to meet you.”

He came running out from behind Jessie’s leg and launched himself on me, giving me a hug I wasn’t expecting, but one I welcomed. I put my arms around him and smiled at Jessie when I saw the amazed look on his face. Ozzy hopped up on my hip and put his head on my shoulder like an oversized toddler, but I let him because it seemed to make him happy.

“He never does that with anyone. I’m not sure he has ever hugged Mrs. Stevens that way and he’s been living with her for months.”

“I guess he’s like his brother. He has great taste in girls,” I laughed.

A couple appearing to be in their mid-thirties walked out of the house after giving us a few minutes with the boys. “Hi, Jessie. It’s good to see you, again. Harley and Ozzy have really been looking forward to seeing you today and I see you have a friend with you. I’m Heather and this is my husband, Brian.”

I offered the hand not holding Ozzy up on my hip and introduced myself. After we briefly discussed when to return the boys, we left with them and headed toward the park.

I occasionally looked into my rearview mirror at the boys sitting so tall in their booster seats. It felt a little strange to have children in my car and I laughed at myself when I realized I was driving super slow. I looked in the mirror at what beautiful little boys Harley and Ozzy were and wondered how a mother could care so little about them.

I reached over and touched Jessie’s leg just because I wanted to and said, “I packed a picnic lunch in case we got to take them out. I didn’t mention it earlier because I didn’t know what to expect, but it’s in the trunk. It’s just sandwiches, chips and drinks because I didn’t know what they liked. Nothing special.”

I looked forward as I drove, but I could see him looking at me and I briefly turned to him before putting my eyes back on the road. “Is that not okay?” I asked.

He reached for my hand and brought it to his lips. He kissed the top of my hand and grazed it along his face, then whispered, “I know it’s not part of the friend pact, but I have to tell you something. I love you more right now than I ever have. No one has ever done anything like that for them.”

Wow. Never dreamed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches would make him break the friend pact like that. It was a little surprising how such a simple act could mean so much to him and it gave me a glimpse into how terrible his childhood must have been.

As we sat under a large tree on a blanket, I divvied out the food. “Jessie brought us a birthday cake and we ate it at the picnic tables, but I’ve never had a real picnic on the ground before,” Harley said before he took a bite of his sandwich. Although his mouth was full of sandwich, he continued, “I like this a lot.”

“Don’t talk with food in your mouth,” Jessie told him.

Ozzy wasn’t eating his sandwich, so I asked, “Are you not hungry?”

“I was just thinking about something,” he replied.

Curious about what a four year-old could think so hard about, I asked him to tell me what was on his mind and he asked, “Do you and Jessie kiss?”

His question caught me extremely off guard and I didn’t know the appropriate answer to give a young child. I looked to Jessie for a little help, but he was too busy laughing as he waited to hear my response to Ozzy’s question.

“We have kissed,” I said.

He looked thoughtful, then continue his line of questioning. “Do you love each other?”

I looked back at Jessie, but he shrugged, letting me know I had this one on my own. Since he wasn’t willing to help me, I wasn’t making him privy to my answer, so I leaned over and whispered in Ozzy’s ear, “I love Jessie very much.”

Ozzy raised up on his knees and pulled me down to his level so he could whisper in my ear. “Will you marry Jessie and be my new momma since mine is dead?”

I felt the blood drain from my face and Jessie must have saw it because he interrupted our whisper session by telling Ozzy to stop stalling and eat. I looked at Jessie with gratitude for the interruption because I didn’t know how to answer this child’s question.

When we finished eating, we went to the playground and stayed until it was time to take the boys back to the Stevens’. “Come on, boys. It’s time to take you home,” Jessie announced and they both groaned, but obeyed without any trouble.

It was heartbreaking to watch Jessie as he was forced to leave them, but I knew it was in their best interest at the moment. He promised them he would be back to see them soon and they knew he would, so it made the goodbye a little easier.

We got into my car to drive away and saw their two little heads in the window watching us as we drove away. “What did Ozzy whisper in your ear today?”

I hesitated because I wasn’t sure I wanted to tell him or keep it a secret between me and Ozzy, but I decided to let him in on the secret. “He wanted to know if we were going to get married so I would be his mom.”

“Oh. I’m sorry about that,” he apologized.

“No, don’t be sorry because I’m not. It was very sweet of him to think of me that way.”

“They adored you, but I knew they would. Especially Ozzy. Now you see what my life is going to be like when I get them back. It’s not going to be college parties and having fun with friends. It’s going to be all about taking care of two little kids.”

It suddenly registered with me. That was why he brought me today. He wanted me to see and understand the responsibility he had to those two little boys. He wanted to use them to scare me away, but he was wrong. The responsibility of caring for his brothers didn’t scare me at all.

“This was all about us going to the same college. You don’t want me to get my hopes up about being together.”

He didn’t answer and I continued, “Did you really think your responsibility to them would send me running?” I asked harshly.

“Yeah, I sort of did,” he admitted. “I love them, but they’re a huge responsibility and not one every teenager would want to be tied to, so I thought you should see what it is I have on my plate sooner rather than later.”

“Maybe you were right for showing me what a huge responsibility you have with them, but you were wrong about the other part. You are not going to scare me off that easily.”

34 Kimosabe


Seeing Claire with my brothers only confirmed how right she was for me, but it didn’t change the fact that I was wrong for her. She didn’t deserve to go from being a carefree teenager with a bright future to being drug down by someone like me. I thought she would see what getting mixed up with me actually meant and she’d run in the opposite direction, but she didn’t and it only made me want her more.

Harley and Ozzy were crazy about her and she seemed to return the same affection for them. It wasn’t how I expected things to go. She was so natural with them, like they had known each other forever. I laughed as I thought about Ozzy’s peculiar connection with Claire. He didn’t open up to people easily and I think I envied their connection because he seemed to prefer her over me. In fact, he chose to cling to her most of the day instead of playing on the playground.

I spent the rest of the day wondering if I had made the wrong decision by taking her with me to see them. Had I opened a door I couldn’t close by allowing her into that part of my life?

When I pulled into the drive, I saw Rita’s car and cursed to myself. I really wanted to avoid her today because I knew it was about time for her to send me out again.

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