We stood there in awkward silence for a few seconds as we stared at each other.
“Hello Jackie.” I eventually got my voice to work.
“Hi Noelle. How have you been?”
“I’ve been great. Australia is amazing.”
“That’s good to hear.” Jackie replied sounding sincere. “And how is Henry?”
“Uh.. your husband?”
“His name is Hugo.” I said tightly.
“Oh… Yeah. Sorry. Hugo.” she said sheepishly. At least she had the decency to blush. “How is he? Is he here?”
My response was curt. I had tried not to think about Hugo and the huge fight we had just before I left Australia. When I told him my mum was sick and only had a few months to live, he insisted on coming with me. He had been wanting to visit my family in the US for years but I always found a way to put things off. We got married the day after I accepted his fourth proposal. He always joked that he didn’t want to give me time to change my mind. It was a quick ceremony at the registry with a few witnesses. It was short and sweet nothing like the elaborate affair I had planned when I was engaged to Fehi. My family obviously hadn’t attended. Hugo had spoken with my parents on FaceTime a few times over the years. He had always wanted to come visit but I had always found a reason not to.
When I went to Australia I wanted to leave my past behind. So I never mentioned Cole, Jackie or the trial to Hugo. He didn’t even know I had been engaged before. My mum being sick meant I couldn’t put off coming back to the US any longer, and coming back with him meant opening up old wounds and telling him everything. I couldn’t let him come with me to Mansfield without telling him everything first. People talked. It was better he heard it from me than from a stranger.
The conversation did not go well. He had been upset with me for keeping my past hidden. Some horrible things were yelled and doors were slammed. The day before we were to travel, he told me that he wouldn’t be coming with me.
Our last conversation flashed through my mind. “If your mum hadn’t gotten sick, would you have ever told me?”
I stared at him unable to say a thing. My silence was the only answer he needed. He turned around and left the room. That night for the first time in our marriage, we slept in different rooms.
Standing here looking at Sawyer and Jackie and how in sync they were, made me miss Hugo more and hate myself for waiting too long to tell him the truth.
“He has a lot of work.” I said. A lame excuse, but it was the only one I had.
“Yeah. Of Course.” She said. Her eyes slid down to my belly. “I hear congratulations are in order.”
My hand automatically went to cradle my tummy where my 7 month old baby should have been.“Umm… we lost the baby.” I said my voice coming out in a hoarse whisper.
Jackie’s eyes snapped back up to my face, “I am so sorry. I had no idea.” There was surprise and sympathy etched on her face.
Just then the baby strapped to Sawyer started crying. I looked at the angry red ball and I couldn’t help the pang of sorrow that shot through my chest.
“I have to get Coop back home and down for his nap.” Sawyer said as he leaned over and kissed Jackie and got in the elevator with the baby and the little girl.
Jackie waved at her little family. When the elevator door closed she turned to me and said, “I’ll show you to Gammy’s room.”
“Gammy?” I said with a raised eyebrow.
“When Eliana was little she couldn’t say Grandma, she started calling Debra, Gammy, and it kind of stuck.”
“Oh.” I said. I hated myself a little for being jealous that Eliana saw my mother as her Grandma while my mum would never get to meet the child I lost.
When we got into the room there was a nurse by the bed blocking my view of my mother. She turned around when she heard us walk in.
“Hey, Jackie, I just gave your mum some medication for the pain. It put her to sleep. She should wake up in a few hours.”
“Thank you Bev.”
So Jackie was on a first name basis with the staff? I clenched my fist. Yet another reminder that Jackie had been here for my mum and I hadn’t.
The nurse glanced at me and smiled, “Hello, are you a friend of the family?”
“No, I’m Debra’s daughter.” I said.
Her eyebrows went up and she looked at Jackie, “I didn’t know you had a sister. I thought Debra only had two kids.”
I answered, “She does. She’s the step daughter, I’m the real daughter.” I tried to keep the bitterness out of my tone but from the look on the nurses face I failed.
Her smile faltered a little but she recovered and said to Jackie, “When Deb wakes up, I’ll have to ask her what her secret is. My 13 year old stepdaughter is determined to hate me. No matter what I do. I think she blames me for the divorce, but I don’t know why. I met her dad two years after the divorce was finalized.”
“Teenagers are moody. She just wants someone to blame and you’re a convenient target, she’ll come around soon.” Jackie said in a reassuring tone.
Bev smiled at her. “I hope so.” She looked at me, “I’m sure Deb would be happy to see her real daughter.” She put the emphasis on the real, the same way I did. I heard the unspoken question, ‘Why has the stepdaughter been here for Deb and not the real daughter.’
Jackie spoke up before I did, “Noelle lives in Australia.”
“Oh!” Bev said, “That’s really far. I’m sure you’re happy your mum has Jackie to look after her.”
“Yeah. Really happy.” I said in a dry tone.
Bev picked up on my mood and said, ” Okaayyy. Umm… I have other patients to check in on. You can stay until visiting hours are over but please try not to wake her. She needs her rest.”
She finally moved out of the way and I got the first good view of my mum.
My knees almost buckled at what I saw. She looked so much worse in person. The warm, plump, huggable woman I knew was gone. My mum was all skin and bones. Her skin was an uncomfortable looking shade of grey.
“I need to make some calls for work.” Jackie said and left the room. I knew she just wanted to give me time alone with her.
I sat on the seat near the bed and took my mum’s hand in mine. “I’m so sorry I haven’t been here for you mum.” I laid my head on the bed and silently prayed. I hadn’t prayed for a while and I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d been to church but it was the only thing i could think to do.
I didn’t realize I had drifted off to sleep until I woke up when I heard shuffling. Jackie’s on the other side of the bed, gently rubbing lip balm on my mum’s lips.
“The nurse said not to wake her.” I whispered fiercely.
“Oh. It’s fine.” Jackie said with a flippant flick of her wrist. Yet another reminder that Jackie probably knew my mother better than I did now. “I do this all the time. The medication is hell on her skin and lips.”
“It really is.” Mum croaked. My head shot up to look at her. Her eyes were still closed but she smacked her lips.
“Mum! You’re awake!”
She smiled and I could see that it took a lot of effort and that broke my heart. “Hi baby girl. Where’s that handsome husband of yours? I’ve been waiting to meet him.” She said in a whisper as she slowly pried her eyes open.
I couldn’t hold back the tears that streamed down my face.
“Hey! No crying. Stress isn’t good for my grandchild. Bring that belly over here. I want to feel it kick.”
I started sobbing louder. “There’s no baby mum. I lost it.” Sobs wracked my body as I sat there and cried. I felt her hand stroke my hair. I vaguely registered Jackie leaving the room.
“Noelle. I’m so sorry honey. Why didn’t you tell me?”
I couldn’t respond, I was crying too hard.
I felt my mum shift on the bed and pat the empty space next to her. “Get up here and tell me everything.”
I got on the bed and curled up next to my mum the way I used to when I was little. She stroked my hair and listened as I told her everything.
I started writing again and I can’t stop! There was supposed to be one follow up post but I made it two and now… it’s going to be three!! The third post should be up sometime next week. Be sure to comment and let me know what you think!