Special

Title: Special

Author: Jen Tidwell

Rating: NC-17

Feedback: Please email the author with feedback.

Summary: All of the children of the world are special. But sometimes, some children are even more special than others.

Copyright: © 2004 Jen Tidwell. All Rights Reserved.

Notes: This story is dedicated to all of the families and caretakers of special people everywhere.

Final note: Some of the text formatting seems to have gone awry. Apologies. I am working to fix it as quickly as possible. Thanks!

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Being a single mom isn’t easy. Understatement of the year. Not wanting to be mistaken, I adore my son with all of my heart. It’s just that some days…. It’s hard. Getting pregnant at nineteen was certainly not on my list of things to do in the grand scheme of my life… but it happened, and faced with the options of abortion, or giving the baby up for adoption, I chose to carry my son to term.

The thought of keeping him had not even entered my mind until he was born. He came out of me, and they laid him on my chest, and I just looked down at this amazing little baby looking back at me with wide and expressive blue eyes and I fell instantly in love. I can still remember the look on the couple’s face when I told them that I wouldn’t sign the papers releasing him into their custody. I still feel terrible about it. But after all, he is my son…mine… and it was my right to keep him if I wanted to.

My parents weren’t happy about it at first, either. But now they wouldn’t give up their grandson for the world on a silver platter. Just last year at Chanukah, my mother took me aside and said to me that she was glad that I kept him, and that she and my father couldn’t imagine their lives without him. I told her that I felt the same way.

I’ve tried to maintain as normal a life as possible, even while raising and providing for my son. I’ve somehow managed to squeeze in a few college courses, while working a full time job and caring for Joshua. That’s my son’s name, Joshua… Josh for short… or even J.J. sometimes. It depends on his mood… and mine too. He’s a good boy, even with the challenges.

My mother was the first to notice. I didn’t even realize anything was wrong. I didn’t know that by the time a baby reaches six months old, they should be able to sit up on their own, or hold their bottle, or crawl…or even stand a little. I didn’t know. But mom knew and she suggested that we take Josh to the doctor for some tests.

He was diagnosed as being mildly mentally retarded, with a possibility of being re-diagnosed as moderately retarded as he got older, depending on the progress of his development. I remember how my heart felt when the pediatrician had uttered those words, it felt like my chest had caved in and my entire world was sucked backwards threw the hole that was now there in the middle of me. I think I almost fainted, because I can remember my mother’s arms wrapping tightly around me and holding me in place. I just looked at Joshua, lying on his baby blanket on the floor, clumsily pawing at his rattle and I tried so hard to see the truth in what the doctor had said. I remember thinking, aren’t retarded babies ugly, or strange looking? Joshua isn’t either, he’s a beautiful little boy… how can a beautiful little boy be retarded?

I know it was terrible of me to think that, but I was trying to make sense of the suddenly crazy world that had sprung up around me in the span of four words, “Your son is retarded.” When your child is hurt or sick, you just want to kiss them and make it better, but no amount of kisses will ever be able to fix what’s wrong with my son. My baby.

Joshua was diagnosed two and a half years ago. He’s three years old now and still a beautiful boy, despite his slowness. He is a gem sent from heaven to be a part of my life and he makes everyday even more precious than the last.

I don’t see his father anymore. In truth, he walked out of our lives before Joshua was even born. I’m not even sure he knows that I kept our son. He probably assumes that he’s with a set of adoptive parents somewhere, if he even thinks about him at all.

His absence doesn’t bother me. He was a mistake anyway. The first man I’d ever slept with, and the first time I’d ever slept with him, and I got pregnant. Typical. I only slept with him to try and prove something to myself… to prove that I wasn’t gay. I was wrong though, because I am. I mean, I really, really am. It just so happened that in the process of coming to terms with my sexuality, I got a little going away prize.

I love my son. I really do. He is the sweetest being on the face of the earth.

Sometimes it’s hard though…from day to day. I don’t have many friends, and it’s difficult to make new ones. I’ve had a lot of friendships that start… but come to an end once they realized that, not only do I have a small child, he’s a special needs child, and apparently for a lot of people, that’s just too much to handle, even just as a friend.

There’s a stigma associated with being a young parent. You’re sort of treated like you must be stupid, or easy, or irresponsible to get pregnant while you’re still a teenager. But let me tell you, I was valedictorian of my high school class, so I am not stupid. I’ve only ever been with three people, two of which were women, and one of which was a man, so I am not easy. And the fact that I can juggle a job, school and taking care of my beautiful son shows that I am not irresponsible.

What I am is frustrated… and lonely. But I’m hoping that’s going to change soon.

I met this amazing woman at the Easter Seals Children’s Development Center. It’s a specialized daycare center for children like my Josh, who need extra care and attention. I’ve had Joshua enrolled in their program since he was two, so that I could go to work full-time, instead of having to depend on my parents. J.J. has done so well there, he really thrives in the colorful and warm environment, and all the staff are totally in love with him. Who wouldn’t be?

So, this woman, this amazing woman, just started working there last week as a CAS (Children’s Activities Supervisor). I remember seeing her for the first time when I dropped Josh off in the morning on Wednesday. She was standing by the front desk telling something to the receptionist, Marci, and she looked up to see who was coming through the door. It was me, of course, gently pulling J.J. along by his hand. He’s still getting used to walking on his own, so I try to take things slow.

“And who is this handsome young man,” she had said, smiling this beautiful wide smile and walking over to us. Her hair, long and blonde, was pulled back into a ponytail that swished when she walked. She knelt down in front of Josh and looked at him through gorgeous blue eyes that spoke of serenity and patience and love. What can I say, I’ve always had a thing for blue eyes. Joshua hid his face against my leg, shy of this pretty new stranger.

“His name is Joshua,” I announced, proud of him despite myself.

“Joshua Klein?” she clarified, looking up to me. I couldn’t help but notice the rainbow beaded necklace resting at the base of her throat.

“That’s right,” I nodded, trying to hide my happiness at my discovery of her.

“Well, Josh,” she smiled, looking back to my son, “you’re in my room today. Would you like to come and play with me?”

She waited for J.J. to respond until I finally explained, “He’s… he’s nonverbal.”

“A quiet guy, huh?” she grinned, “well, I like quiet guys… I think they’re cute.”  She touched his cheek lightly with her index finger. Joshua blushed and pushed even harder against my leg, trying to hide. She stood and extended her hand to me, “Hi, I’m Terri, the new CAS for room 302.”

“Jillian,” I replied, shaking her hand. It felt warm and soft in my own. Gentle.

“Would you like to take Josh back to the room?” she asked, “or is he okay with new people?”

“He’ll be okay,” I assure her, “just take his hand and lead him where you want to go.”

I passed Joshua’s hand to her and pulled him away from my leg a little so that I could kneel down and look into his eyes. “You be a good boy for Miss Terri, J.J. Mommy will be back to get you later, like always.” I kissed his forehead and stood back up.

“He’ll be fine,” she reassured me.

“I know,” I smiled, “He loves it here. He does so well…” My thought drifted off as I found myself caught up in the beauty of her face, the soulfulness of her gaze. I don’t know how I did it, but I managed to pull myself out of my thoughts long enough to say, “Well, I have to go. Work is waiting.”

“Okay, we’ll see you later,” she smiled, “Right Josh?”

“Bye, J.J.,” I said, giving him a little wave, before turning to go. Over my shoulder I could hear Terri talking to him as she led him down the hall. “We are going to have so much fun today, Joshua. You and me. We’re going to paint and make stuff out of play-dough and play pretend with Tonka trucks….” Her voice faded out and I surmised she must have entered the daycare room at the end of the hall.

All day long that day at work I just kept thinking about her. Terri. Such a pretty name. And she was so good with Joshua. I decided right then and there that I was going to get to know this woman better.

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When I got off work that night, I bee-lined for Easter Seals. This wasn’t anything new. I always rushed to pick up Joshua, finding it difficult to be away from him so long, even after leaving him in such capable hands. But this night, I had another reason to hurry. Depending on what shift the CAS’s worked, they got off at different times. Sometimes even as early as 3’o’clock. It was half past four when I got off of work, and I secretly prayed that Terri was a nine to fiver. I wanted to see her again, and see how she was with Josh, after a long day of dealing with the other children and their behaviors. Joshua, thankfully, didn’t seem to have too many disruptive behaviors, but I knew that some of the other children in his group could be a handful sometimes. If Terri walked out of that room just as easy-going as she had been when she walked in…the girl was a keeper.

I walked into the lobby of the care center and was surprised to find Terri and J.J. almost as I had left them, in front of the receptionist’s desk. She was kneeling down in front of him, playing patty-cake. Joshua was smiling, clearly enjoying this game, even though he missed her hands more often then not. His eye-hand coordination was still very underdeveloped, but bless his little heart, he was trying.

Terri looked up at me and grinned. “Hi, Mom,” she said, standing to greet me. “Josh and I were waiting for you.”

“You were,” I smiled, playing along. I looked to Joshua. ”Were you really waiting for me, J.J.?” Joshua clapped his hands together and bounced a little causing himself to go off-balance. I stepped forward to catch him, mother’s instinct taking over, but Terri was there instantly, holding him up.

“Whoa, there, cowboy,” she said, “Now, I’ve told you, Joshua, if you want to keep coming back to play, you have to quit drinking so much.”

I laughed, unable to suppress my reaction to the humorous comment. She looked at me again, this time keeping Josh’s hand in hers so that he wouldn’t fall. “His file said that you normally picked him up at this time,” she explained, “So I thought I would have him ready for you.”

“Thank you,” I replied, I don’t think my voice could have sounded more sincere. I noticed the backpack slung over her shoulder and asked, “What time do you get off?”
She chuckled a little, the sound rich and throaty in her chest. “Um, twenty minutes ago, actually,” she answered, glancing to her watch, “I was going to catch the 4:20 bus, but either I missed it, or it’s late. I’ll just grab the 5:–“

“I can give you a ride,” I offered, cutting her off.

She regarded me for a moment, considering. “Um…no. That’s okay. I don’t mind the bus and I don’t want to inconvenience you.”

“It’s not an inconvenience,” I assured her. I couldn’t believe I was being so bold, but something inside of me was driving me to know more about this woman.

“I appreciate that,” she smiled, “but I’m new and I’m not sure if there’s any sort of policy on clients taking staff home.”

“There isn’t,” I stated. I must have been a little firm about it because she seemed to look at me with quiet shock. “I mean… I’ve driven Marci home before,” I tried to backpedal to seem less desperate. “I don’t think it’s a problem.”

“Well…if you’re sure.” She still seemed hesitant.

“I’m sure,” I nodded, and indicated to Josh, “Besides, the way he’s clinging to you I don’t think he’s ready yet to say goodbye.” That seemed to be the closing argument. Terri looked down and smiled at Joshua who was holding tightly to her hand and pant leg.

“Okay,” she finally agreed. We started slowly to my car, J.J. keeping his hold on Terri’s hand the entire way. I took hold of his other hand, and she and I walked with him between us. It was almost like holding hands with her, and Josh was acting as the conduit.

We finally reached my little white Honda and I opened the doors, putting Joshua in his car seat in the back, while Terri climbed into the front passenger seat. She arrested her movement a little as she sat down, reaching beneath her and pulling up a stuffed animal of Clifford the Big Red Dog.

“I didn’t know you had pets,” she joked.

“Oh,” I smiled, taking it from her. “It’s Joshua’s favorite. It was mine when I was a kid.” I reached into the backseat, offering it to J.J. “Here, honey, you want Cliffy?” He took it eagerly and hugged it tightly to his chest. I smiled and finished buckling him in. After a few more moments, I made it into the driver’s seat and started the engine. “Where to?” I asked.

“Um… Baker Street near Owens.”

“Really?” I asked. “That’s over by our apartment. We live in Palo Verde Heights.”

Terri’s jaw nearly dropped. “So do I.”

“Building 6 number 2145,” I related our address.

“Building 8 number 1162,” said Terri.

“And you thought you were an inconvenience,” I playfully scoffed..

“I guess not.”

I pulled out of the parking lot, marveling at the coincidence of it all. We chatted on the way home about this and that. She asked me if I was married and I tried to stifle my laughter at the idea. I pointed out the bracelet on my wrist, a simple band with a pewter pride triangle in the center. I couldn’t help but notice her smile at the realization that we had yet another thing in common. I asked her where she had worked before and she said that she had been working in a group home for disabled adults when she realized that she really wanted to work with children instead, which was why she was now at Easter Seals.

When we got to the apartment complex, I pulled up to her building to let her out.

“You could have parked by your place,” she said, climbing out from her seat, “after all, we’re only two buildings apart.”

“I’m not staying,” I explained, “I have school tonight, so my mom always watches Joshua.”

“Where does your mom live?” she asked.

“Across town,” I replied guiltily.

“See, I was an inconvenience,” she sighed.

“No! No, not at all,” I said hastily. “I usually have to come home to grab some books anyway. It’s fine.” That was a lie. I always packed my books with me in the morning on days that I had school. But I couldn’t have Terri beating herself up over my giving her a ride. “Besides,” I said a second later, “I enjoyed the company.”

“Me too,” she smiled after a moment. She leaned down into doorframe to look at me.

“You know, if you want, on nights that you have school, I could keep on eye on Josh for you. That way you wouldn’t have to drive all over town.”

“I’d like that,” I said, my insides secretly jumping for joy. “But only if you let me drive you to and from work everyday so that you don’t have to take the bus.”

“I’d say that’s more than a fair trade for baby-sitting,” she surmised with a grin, extending her hand, “It’s a deal.” I took her hand and we shook on it. “When do I start?”

“Thursday. My mom is expecting him tonight,” I answered by way of explanation.

“Thursday it is. I’ll see you in the morning?”

“What time do you have to be there?”

“Eight-thirty.”

“That’s perfect,” I agreed, “that’s the time I normally drop off J.J. anyway.” I dropped the car in to gear. “See you,” I said, with a wave.

“See you,” she waved back.

I pulled out of the apartment complex, watching Terri in my rearview mirror. I then turned my attention to my son, still in his car seat. “Joshua, do you think Mommy likes Miss Terri?” J.J. clapped his hands again and gave his head one giant nod. “You are a very smart boy,” I commended him, turning my eyes once again to the road ahead.

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Just like any parent with their child, you have good mornings and rough mornings. It just so happened that Thursday morning, was a rough one. Joshua woke up in a cranky and uncooperative mood. He kept squealing and struggling to get away every time I tried to get him ready to go to daycare. Just because he was nonverbal, didn’t mean he was mute. It just meant that he wasn’t yet capable of utilizing language as a form of communication.

By the time I had him dressed, had gotten him to eat a little and finally out the door, Terri was already waiting by my car, ready to go.

“Eee…Eee…Eee…Eee,” Joshua rhythmically protested in a loud and nasal voice as he pushed against my shoulder trying to get out of my arms.

“Sorry,” I apologized, trying to talk over him. “We’re having a bad morning.”

“It’s okay,” answered Terri. “Do you need any help?”

“Yeah,” I sighed, growing exasperated at J.J.’s continued struggling. “My keys are in my right pocket, would you mind pulling them out and opening the car?”

“Sure,” she agreed readily, walking around to my side and reaching into my pants pocket.

“EEE!…EEE!…EEE!…EEE!” Joshua increased the volume of his cries.

“J.J….sweetie…calm down…please,” I urged him, “sh…sh… it’s okay…we’re going to your favorite place. Easter Seals, honey…don’t you want to play today?” I was too distracted trying to calm my son down to even begin to enjoy the closeness of Terri to me, the feeling of her hand inside my pocket, brushing over my thigh as she retrieved my keys.

She swiftly unlocked the car and opened the back door so that I could slide Joshua inside and into his car seat. Once sitting, he began rocking forcibly back and forth, making it difficult for me to buckle him in. “Oh, Joshua, c’mon,” I groaned, trying to keep him still. I felt the car shake and looked up to Terri coming through the door on the other side so that now all three of us took up the back seat. She gently laid a hand against his sternum and pushed him back up against his seat.

“EEE!”, he cried out, not happy with being restrained.

“Hey, now handsome,” she smiled, talking to him as I quickly did up the buckles, “you might want to calm down so that you can look good for your girlfriend today.”

“EEE!”

“You don’t want her to see you acting this way, do you?”

Josh looked ready to let out another wail, when he suddenly seemed to stop and consider Terri’s words. He stopped his chanting and his rocking eased up a bit to be less violent then when he had started out.

“I didn’t think so,” she grinned, and lifted her hand from his chest to touch her finger to his nose. He seemed to ignore her, caught up in his now mild back and forth movements, held in by the straps of his car seat.

She and I both eased out of the backseat and moved to the front of the car. I turned the engine over with a twist of the key and looked at her quizzically, “Girlfriend?”

Terri chuckled and turned her gaze to me, “I noticed yesterday that he and Janine, the little four year old girl with downs, seemed to play a lot together. I think they favor each other.”

I laughed and put the car into gear, pulling out of the apartment complex. “I’ve always said my son was a lady-killer,” I joked.

“He is,” Terri agreed, “I fell in love with him yesterday the first second I saw you walk in with him.” I felt myself blush a little at the compliment. “He’s precious,” she continued on.

“Yeah well… this morning ‘precious’ isn’t exactly the description I would have given him,” I stated wryly, glancing at his reflection in my rearview; he continued to rock in his seat, but at least he had quieted down.

“It must be difficult being a single parent so young,” she empathized.

“It can be,” I admitted, “but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

“I understand,” she smiled. “He is a beautiful little boy.”

“Thank you,” I blushed again.

“Of course, it’s easy to see where he gets his looks,” she added, gazing at me intently. If my face had flushed any redder it would have been the color of my hair. It took a great deal of self-control not to give into my giddiness at her flirtation. I was beyond pleased to know that she was interested in me.

“Thanks,” I finally managed. “You’re not too hard on the eyes yourself,” I stated boldly. I smiled when I saw the tables had been turned as her cheeks turned slightly pink.

“Thanks,” she shyly replied, ducking her head a little. “So, you have school tonight, right?”

“Yes.”

“What are you studying?”

I went on to explain that I was pursuing my Bachelor’s of Science in Information Technology/Software Engineering. She was suitably impressed, making a comment about how I must be really smart. I told her not really, that I had always had a knack for computers and that it was a field that tended to help you earn a lot of money, which was necessary when having to raise a baby, especially a special needs baby, on your own. She nodded that she understood and could sympathize; she and her brother had been raised by her mom after her parents had gotten divorced when she was ten.

We kept on talking about children and raising them. Terri asked me if J.J. had any specific behavior issues, sighting that his behavior that morning seemed more like a normal tantrum than a regular thing. I agreed that she was right, and explained that Josh hadn’t seemed to have developed any significant behaviors yet, and I hoped to try and keep it that way. She mentioned looking into Positive Behavior Supports, and I agreed that it was something I was planning on taking some training in. After a while she fell silent, and I could tell she was trying to find a way to broach a sensitive subject.

“What?” I asked, trying to prod her.

“I was just curious… and you so don’t have to answer this question if you don’t want to,” she pre-empted, “but…is his father involved at all? Do you not get child support?”

“No, his father hasn’t been involved since before he was born,” I answered freely, going on to tell her the rest of the story. She listened intently and by the time I had finished we were pulling into the parking lot at Easter Seals. I brought the car to a stop and we both stepped out onto the asphalt. She slung her backpack over her shoulder and waited patiently while I pulled Joshua out of his car seat. He had calmed down considerably during the drive and was now just as meek and pleasant as ever.

I walked him over to where Terri stood and she took his free hand, and we entered the building as we had left it the night before, the three of us in a row, holding hands.

Once inside I kissed Josh goodbye and wished Terri luck with her day, affirming that I would be back at four-thirty to pick them both up. I watched her lead J.J. again toward the back room, and once they were out of sight, I turned to go.

I rushed to work, hoping to find my desk swamped with assignments. The more assignments there were, the faster the day would seem to go and the sooner I could get back to Easter Seals to pick up my son and his beautiful new babysitter.

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It was 8’o’clock that night and my class was on a fifteen minute break. I had left Josh at home in Terri’s capable hands and I couldn’t help but smile as I thought about how wonderful she was with him, and how he seemed to have really taken to her after only two days. All this kismet had to mean something, it just had to.

I leafed through a packet that I had received in the mail that day. It was from SNAP (Special Needs Advocate for Parents) a not-for-profit organization that assisted parents of special needs children with ways to increase the effectiveness of their medical insurance company, especially when it came to obtaining authorization for and payment of the care necessary for a disabled child.

Most insurance companies, including my own, tended to baulk at paying for tests and procedures that a normal child usually wouldn’t need, but were regular business for a child like my son. Secondary health issues are not uncommon with children diagnosed with MR (Mental Retardation) and Joshua was no exception.

It was discovered when he was a year old that he had a mild heart arrhythmia, and there was a completely unrelated concern that he might develop epilepsy as he grew older. I was becoming a pro at dealing with my reaction to “the look” on J.J.’s doctor’s face every time I took him in for a visit.

I used to lie awake at night, wondering what I had done wrong while I was pregnant, or even just after he had been born, to cause my son to have the problems that he does. I thought that maybe it was because I hadn’t originally planned on keeping him that I didn’t take care of myself well enough, or him, while he was inside me. Or maybe because I was such a young parent I had done something to hurt him when he was still an infant to cause brain damage.

I would tell my fears to my mother, and to the doctor, and they both always said the same thing. That it wasn’t my fault, that these things just happen, and that I shouldn’t worry myself about it, or beat myself up over it. That I should just focus on what I can do for my son now, and not dwell on what made him this way.

Easier said than done.

I looked up from my reading to see one of my classmates, Kim, standing over me. I sighed inwardly, not wanting to deal with her that night. Kim was a nice lady, in her mid-forties, who was returning to school after growing tired of working secretarial jobs her whole life. She was gay, and she was interested in me, which made things awkward because I was certainly not interested in her. For several reasons, her age for one, not that I have anything against dating older women in theory, it’s just that I have never been attracted to anyone outside of my own age group. Another issue was, well, her butch status. And wow, did she take that title seriously, right down to the buzz cut and the Harley. I had always found myself drawn more to softer feminine types, like Terri. I smiled as I thought of her sitting at home with Josh, I glanced at my watch, she was probably putting him down to bed at that very moment. I couldn’t wait to get home and see them both.

“Hi, Jillian,” said Kim, pulling me unwilling from my thoughts.

“Hey, Kim,” I acknowledged her politely.

“What’re you looking at?” she asked.

“Oh, just some information for my son,” I explained. I found it odd that with Joshua, I had the patience of Gandhi, but with this woman, I went from zero to annoyed in less than five seconds. I felt terrible for it; she was only trying to be nice after all, but her motives bothered me.

“For Josh?” she queried, “How is he?” She had “that look” on her face, that look of profound concern and pity. I hated “that look”. My son wasn’t dying of some deadly disease for chrissake, he was just retarded. There was no reason to start behaving like Sally Struthers on one of those “Save the Children” campaign ads.

I decided to do away with this problem once and for all. “He’s fine,” I answered sweetly, “he’s at home with my girlfriend right now. She’s probably busy tucking him in to bed as we speak.” I would be lying if I were to say I didn’t take some pleasure in watching the color drain out of her face.

“Oh,” she said, trying to suppress her shock and disappointment. “Your girlfriend?” I nodded. “I didn’t know you had a girlfriend.”

“Sure do,” I affirmed. Okay, well maybe she wasn’t my girlfriend yet. But with any luck, hopefully that would change soon. And even if it didn’t, Terri never needed to know about my little white lie, and if she were to somehow found out, I was sure she would at least play along. In my mind, it was a fool proof plan.

“But I thought that Josh stayed with your mom on school nights,” Kim questioned, her eyes narrowing a little in suspicion.

I grumbled internally, kicking myself for the one night everyone in the class went out for drinks afterwards and I had ended up telling Kim way too much about my private life. “They take turns,” I hastily explicated.

“Oh.” It seemed all she could say.

“Alright everyone,” said the instructor from the front of the room, “let’s go ahead and turn to page 521.”

Kim trudged back to her desk and I breathed a deep sigh of relief at knowing that her repeated advances were hopefully, finally, something of the past.

I got home at around 10’o’clock and found Terri watching television on the couch, with Josh curled up fast asleep against her, his head on her leg. She absentmindedly stroked her hand over his back, soothing him even in his dreams.

“Hi,” she whispered, looking up to me. “I hope you don’t mind. He didn’t want to lie down in his room…”

“It’s fine,” I whispered back, walking around to the front of the sofa and crouching down so that I could gaze at my son’s sleeping face. “How was he otherwise?” I asked, running my fingers lightly through his hair.

“Great,” she assured me, “he ate all of his dinner and played quietly with his cars here in the living room for most of the evening.”

“What did you make for him?” I questioned.

“Spaghetti-O’s,” she explained, “I found a few cans in the pantry.”

I smiled, “Yeah, that’s his favorite. I leaned forward and kissed him on the forehead. He shifted a little, nuzzling his face against Terri’s thigh. “I should put him to bed,” I announced, standing and gently picking him up in my arms and carrying him down the hall and to his room. I set him down on his small bed and pulled the side rail up, so that he wouldn’t fall out if he rolled over in his sleep. I pulled the covers up over him, and touched my hand to his head softly and with adoration.

It is impossible to describe what it feels like to love someone so completely and unconditionally. Your every breath is for them, your every thought, your every move, your every motivation; all for them, because without them, your life has no meaning. The meaning of my life, was to love and care for my son, and I did both to the full extent of my being.

Satisfied that his sleep had not been disturbed, I turned to leave Joshua’s room, only to find Terri blocking my path by leaning in the doorway. She seemed to be gazing at me with a similar look of adoration to that I gave my son.

“You are a wonderful mother,” she said softly and sincerely.

“Thank you,” I blushed. “I try to be the best I can be for him.”

“You are,” she emphasized seriously. I blushed again and ducked my head a little, not used to such compliments. She smiled and stepped aside, out of the doorway, so that I could move past and back down to the hall. She followed behind me and once we were back in the living room, started to pick up her book bag and jacket, preparing to leave.

“Going so soon?” I inquired, the disappointment evident on my face.

“Yeah,” she shrugged, “It’s late and I’m kind of tired. I just think I’ll head home to bed.”

“Sitting up with Josh isn’t going to be a problem, is it?” I asked, fearful of her answer.

“No, not at all,” she quickly assured me, “I just didn’t get a lot of sleep last night and I was hoping on catching up on it tonight, that’s all.”

“Okay…”

“If it was going to be a problem,” she went on, “I never would have offered in the first place.”

“Alright,” I said, believing her. I walked over to the door and opened it for her to go. “I’ll see you in the morning?”

“You bet,” she nodded, smiling lopsidedly. I felt my heart melt at the sight.

“Well… goodnight,” I stated.

“Goodnight,” she echoed, stepping through the door to the outside and heading toward the stairs.

I shut the door behind her and leaned up against the wood, my hand still resting on the door knob. I sighed as I thought about how wonderful she was and how I couldn’t wait for it to be the next day. A sudden rapping on the door startled me out of my reverie. I opened the door again to find her standing on the other side.

“Forget something, “ I asked, trying to understand her reappearance.

“No,” she said, followed quickly by, “Yes…sort of…”

“Um…” I was baffled.

“I was just worried…”

“Worried?”

“That this might be too soon,” she continued, explaining, “But I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep tonight if I don’t…”

“Don’t–”, I was about to say, “what” when she suddenly stepped forward and placed her hands on either side of my face, drawing me to her, her lips pressing against mine soundly in a kiss. After recovering from the initial shock, I felt myself relax into it, my hands coming up to rest against her back. She didn’t venture to deepen anything, and neither did I, content for now just to enjoy the pressure of her lips on mine. After a long moment, she pulled away, our lips parting with a semi-audible pop.

She stepped back out of my arms and gazed at me happily. “So, I’ll see you tomorrow…”

“Yeah…” I was at a complete loss for words.

“Night,” she said, giving a cute little wave and turning to go.

“Night…” I shut the door again, locking it this time. I pivoted and faced the interior of my apartment. I stood perfectly still, until a sudden wiggle of joy spread through my body, starting at my toes and working it’s way up to the top of my head. “Yes!” I exclaimed under my breath, not wanting to wake Joshua, and skipped through my apartment, shutting lights off as I went, until I made it into my bedroom and collapsed backwards on my bed with a satisfying plop.

Tomorrow was going to be a wonderful day.

——————————————————————————————————————————————

Friday had been a very long day. Work had been slow, making the seconds excruciating as they had ticked by. The worst part about being an administrative assistant was that you had no identity outside of merely being an extension of your boss. Unless of course your boss screwed up on something, and needed a scapegoat, then suddenly you were very much your own person. I sighed and gripped the steering wheel to my car a little more tightly. I was just glad that the day was over. TGIF was certainly not an understatement at that moment.

Despite my exhaustion, I couldn’t stop the grin that crept onto my face as I pulled into the care center parking lot. Terri was waiting out in front, holding J.J. in her arms in anticipation of my arrival.

That morning had been a very interesting experience. Instead of waiting for me and Josh down by the car as she had the day before, Terri had showed up on my doorstep just as I was finished feeding my son his breakfast. Joshua still required being spoon fed, so our routine in the morning still took awhile to complete.

When I had let her in she immediately went to Josh’s side, keeping him entertained while I hurriedly finished getting ready and cleaning up. It was sort of cute really; we didn’t exactly know how to behave toward each other after the impromptu kiss the night before. We were almost like a couple of school kids to each other, suddenly bashful and shy, blushing at anything that could even be remotely interpreted as innuendo.

Before I had dropped them off at Easter Seals, I invited Terri to dinner that night with Josh and I. Friday nights we usually went to Shoney’s, a sort of end of the week ritual celebration. I thought it would be nice to include Terri in yet another aspect of our life. I was very pleased when she had readily agreed.

We arrived at Shoney’s and were quickly seated by one of the back windows. I situated J.J. in the highchair they had provided and pulled a couple of his toy cars out of my purse, placing them on the table top for him to play with. He didn’t show an interest at first, but I knew he would eventually. His reactions were usually delayed as result of his condition.

Terri and I chit chatted for a little bit about the day we each had had while I tried to get my son to eat a small portion of tomato soup, and of course we spent a while talking about Joshua (my favorite subject). Finally, our conversation turned to her. As attracted to her as I was, she was still a mystery to me and before I allowed anything serious to develop, I needed to have a better idea of who I was starting to fall for.

I asked her how she had come to work with the intellectually disabled. Terri explained that it had started out as nothing more than a desperate need for work right out of high school. She had been in a hurry to move out on her own, all too aware of the financial burden she was on her mother, but also eager to move west and try new things. Terri related that she was originally from Albuquerque, had spent her entire youth there, but admitted that she never really like the town, and once she had hit eighteen, she was out of there as fast as she could go.

Terri had moved to California with nothing more than a bag full of clothes, a few personal possessions and enough cash in her pocket to buy her a week’s worth of nights at a cheap motel. She had applied for every job within walking distance of that motel and had been turned down for every one, except for the last: an adult care facility.

“They were hiring for client attendants,” she explained, “people to work one on one with the individuals living in the home. They had asked me if I had an issue working with intellectually disabled people. I said no. Then they asked me if I had issues with toileting, and I said no. I remember thinking to myself, why are they concerned with me being able to use the bathroom?”

I nearly spewed my iced tea across the table at her comment, finding it absolutely hysterical.

“Well,” she went on, “I realized when I started work the very next day that ‘toileting’ actually meant assisting others with going to the bathroom. I was mortified. I almost walked out.”

I understood where she was coming from; I couldn’t imagine helping a grown man, disabled or not, use the restroom.

“But I really needed the money,” Terri admitted, “I only had enough left to get me through two more days at the motel, and that was only if I didn’t buy anything to eat. I had to find an apartment right away, and I could only do that if I had a job. So I kept it. At the time Palo Verde was running a special where the first month was free and no deposit was required if you had a job and could verify your employment.”

“They do that sometimes,” I confirmed.

“So I moved in, got a bus schedule and the rest is history,” she concluded.

“So you worked in the group home for…” I drifted off, hoping she would fill in the blank.

“Four years,” she replied, seeming to marvel at the number herself.

“And you just decided one day that you wanted to work with kids instead?”

“Pretty much,” she shrugged, “it all really started with Blondie the Therapy Dog.”

“Oh, I love Blondie,” I interjected, “her trainer sometimes brings her to visit the kids at Easter Seals.” Blondie was a lovable German Shepard that had been trained as, among other things, a therapy dog. She frequently visited hospitals and other facilities where people couldn’t necessarily keep pets of their own.”

“I know,” Terri smiled, “she also visits the group homes. During one of her visits, I started talking to her trainer and we ended up having a great conversation. I asked her if she wanted to join me for lunch, and she said she couldn’t because she had to take Blondie to visit the kids at Easter Seals.”

“And suddenly your interest was sparked,” I grinned flirtatiously.

“Yeah,” Terri nodded, her cheeks turning a little pink under my gaze. “So… um… I had heard of Easter Seals, but I wasn’t exactly sure what kind of services they provided. So I asked Charlene, Blondie’s trainer, and when she said they dealt with MR kids something just clicked inside me and I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

“So it’s like your calling,” I suggested.

“More like… my accidental calling,” she chuckled. “I never lay awake at night in my bed dreaming that one day I would work with special needs kids.”

“What did you dream of instead?” I asked.

Her expression became wistful for a moment as she recollected childhood dreams. “A painter,” she said, a sad smile caressing her face. “I always dreamed I’d be some famous painter living the bohemian lifestyle in Greenwich Village, painting provocative and shocking paintings of nudes in watercolors.”

“You still can,” I encouraged her.

“Maybe…” she said, letting the word hang mid-air.

We fell silent for a few moments. I returned my attention to my salad, pecking at a few neglected croutons. I looked up from my munching and noticed Terri staring intently at my son in his seat. She seemed to be paying particular attention to the movements of his hands. Curious to know what she found so fascinating, I began looking at him as well.

Joshua was playing with his cars. Or at least, he was trying to. He would stare at them intently before reaching out an unsteady hand and grasping at them, usually missing. I was used to the behavior. I had always attributed it to his mental slowness and arrested development. But the look on Terri’s face suggested it might be more. I became very concerned.

“What is it?” I asked, worry evident in my voice.
Terri pulled her attention away from Josh and looked at me, letting out a breath as if she was trying to find the right words to say. “I’ve been meaning to ask you,” she began, “exactly what kind of diagnosis your doctor gave Josh. His file at work just says mild MR.”

“That’s all it is,” I responded, trying to do my best to keep my defensiveness regarding Joshua at bay.

“Remember how I was playing patty-cake with him the other day when you came to pick him up?” she asked. I nodded. “Well, I was doing that for a reason. I had noticed earlier that day that he seemed to have a lot of trouble with his eye/hand coordination, so I was playing patty-cake to see if it was as bad as it seemed.”

“Please tell me what you are trying to say,” I stated firmly. When it came to the welfare of my son, I absolutely did not put up with people beating around the bush.

“The general inability for him to stand on his own, the poor eye/hand coordination, the slight tremors in his hands,” she listed off the symptoms she had recorded. “Jillian,” she said seriously, “I think Josh may have a form of cerebral palsy.”

“Don’t say that, “I said, dropping my fork in shock.

“I could be wrong,” Terri admitted quickly, “I’m not a nurse or anything like that. But I’ve worked with a lot of people with it and… I think you should at least get him tested.”

“He doesn’t have cerebral palsy,” I countered, “cerebral palsy is usually diagnosed by six months old. Josh was only diagnosed with MR. If he had…that… they would have known back when he was originally tested.”

“Okay, okay,” she soothed, putting her hands up in surrender. “I was just pointing out what I had noticed. I wasn’t trying to upset you.”

I suddenly felt terrible for my behavior, it was clear that she was only trying to help. She really seemed to care a lot for Joshua, and here I was punishing her for her concern. “I know,” I acquiesced, “I’m sorry. I just get sort of… crazy… sometimes when it comes to Josh.”
“I understand,” Terri replied. I could tell that she really did.

“You ready to get out of here?” I asked, noting that neither one of us had seemed interested in our food for a while.

“Sure,” she said. I paid our check and we left to head home.

And so began one of the most amazing nights of my life.

 

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When we arrived back at my apartment, the first thing I did was get Joshua ready for bed. I usually tried to have him tucked in between eight and nine so that I was certain he was getting a full night’s rest, and also so that I could have some quiet time in the evening for myself as well.

At the time it was only a little bit after seven, so it was too early to actually put him down, but at least having him in his pajamas already would make it easier once the time came.

While I had been washing J.J. up and getting him ready to retire, Terri had waited patiently in the living room, flipping through one of my Women’s World magazines. I had groaned internally when I had seen her pick one of the copies up, thinking she must think me so sadly domestic at only 23 years old. Honestly, I had only started reading them because my mother had purchased a subscription for me. I don’t even remember her reasoning except I think she saw a picture of Ellen DeGeneres on the cover once and thought that they had somehow become a lesbian magazine or something to that effect.

At one point Terri had called out from her seat asking if I needed any help. Of course I politely declined her offer, but let her know she could watch TV or whatever she liked until I had finished up with my son.

When Joshua and I had finally re-emerged from his room, with him looking as dashing as ever in his Captain America PJ’s, we found Terri doing the dishes from that morning, up to her elbows in soapsuds.

“Sorry,” she had said, looking up to me and blushing deeply, “I just…wanted to feel like I was doing something useful.”

“That’s okay,” I chuckled. “Can I get you anything else to clean?” I asked jokingly.

“No, I think I’m good here,” she replied faux-serious, flashing me a flirtatious smile. I felt my insides happily shiver a little at the sight.

I sat Josh down in his high chair and scooted past Terri to get to the fridge. “I was going to share a pudding cup with Joshua,” I announced, “did you want one?”

“Sure,” she replied amiably, pulling the plug from the bottom of the now dish-free sink and rinsing her hands off under the faucet. “What flavor?”

“Oh, it’s just vanilla,” I said, pulling a couple of the small foil-topped containers from out of their cardboard packaging. “We don’t get too crazy around here with those new fangled chocolate concoctions,” I teased. Truth was I just didn’t want J.J. to get too hyper before bedtime. “Can I get you anything to drink?” I offered.

“I think I saw a couple of beers in the fridge last night,” she commented, leaning against the countertop, “I’ll have one if you will.”
“That sounds great,” I exhaled, but then the disastrous flavor potential crossed my mind, “but… won’t that taste kind of gross… beer with pudding?”

She shrugged, “only one way to find out.”

I smiled, pulling the bottles out of the fridge and handing them to her, “Here, you crack these open while I put some juice in J.J.’s Sip-E-Cup.”

Terri used the lip of her shirt to protect her hands from the rough edges on the bottle caps as she twisted them off. She crossed over to my little dining room table and sat down across from J.J.

“So, Josh, let me ask you something,” she said playfully. “Would you say that you have the prettiest mommy in town?”

I did my best to keep my attention on filling my son’s Sip-E-Cup and not give in to the urge to look up at them. I could feel Terri’s eyes on me, her smile glowing at me, waiting for my reaction. I heard Joshua giggle and clap his hands happily in answer, causing me to blush.

“I’d have to say that I agree with you,” Terri approved, I blushed even more. I snapped the top of the cup into place and joined them at the table, setting the pudding cups down with a couple of spoons and placing J.J.’s juice cup on his highchair tray.

“You don’t have to do that, you know,” I stated, pulling the foil cover off of the pudding and setting it aside.

“Don’t have to do what?” Terri asked, doing the same with hers.

“Flatter me,” I explained.

“Maybe I feel you’re worth flattering,” she countered with a charming smile.

I laughed a little self-consciously and offered Joshua a small spoonful of pudding. “So,” I said, taking a bite for myself, “Are you going to school at all?”

“No,” she replied, “I take on the job training courses and stuff. I just… haven’t yet settled into the idea that this is what I am going to do for the rest of my life.”

“But you’re so good at it,” I said, continuing to share my pudding cup with Josh. He bounced happily in his seat, a true pudding fan.
“I know,” she shrugged, “and I love what I do. Especially now, working with the kids. But… I don’t know… I guess, I just don’t see myself doing this ten years from now.”

“What do you see yourself doing?” I asked, taking a sip of beer. I winced, not the best flavor combination in the world. I decided to save the rest of it until after I was through with the pudding.

Terri let out a breath that was half laugh and half sigh. “I don’t know,” she admitted.

“Painting?” I offered, referring back to her statement at dinner.

“Maybe,” she said again, as she had before. “I just… haven’t been that inspired lately. Most of my watercolors lately have been…all wet.” She laughed at her own pun.

“Ah…ah…ah…!” Joshua exclaimed, slapping his hand on his tray three times. I realized that I had been holding the spoon with pudding on it just out of his reach as I had listened to Terri.

“Sorry, sweetie,” I apologized, finally bringing the spoon to his mouth; he sucked on it happily.

“He likes his pudding,” Terri commented, smiling.

“He does,” I affirmed, “I’ve created a monster.” I looked down to see the cup empty. “Oh, all gone,” I announced, “All gone, little man, you ate it all up.”

“Ah!” he said again with another slap to his tray.

“Nope, that’s all you get,” I said, helping him to hold his two-handled Sip-E-Cup. “Here, have some juice and then bedtime.” He brought the cup to his mouth with shaky hands and began to suck on it greedily. I sighed as I looked at him, my precious son, my baby. I ran my fingers gently through his hair as he drank. “Do you really think he has CP?” I asked sadly.

Terri took a drink of her beer, also grimacing at the awkward taste of pudding and fermented grain. “Might as well get him tested and prove me wrong,” she said. “I’d much rather be proven wrong,” she added softly after moment. I nodded.

Joshua started to cough a little from drinking too fast. I quickly and delicately pulled the cup’s spout from his mouth and rubbed his back, encouraging him to take a deeper breath. I took the cup from him and set it on the table once he had calmed down and stood, lifting him from his chair and into my arms. “Okay, bedtime, J.J.” He whined a little bit, but nothing that could qualify as an actual protest. “You can follow me to his room if you like,” I offered to Terri.

She smiled and stood, following us down the hall to Josh’s bedroom. I laid him on his bed, tucking him in and pulling up the side rail as I always did, and because he was still awake I turned on the electric mobile that I had attached to his headboard. It began playing Brahms’ lullaby on a soft tinkling music box while lit up figures of sleeping animals began to turn in a clockwise circle above his head. I leaned down and kissed him softly on the forehead whispering, “Goodnight, Joshua, I love you” in his ear. I pulled back and he looked up at me with the same wide expressive eyes he had the day he was born. I felt my heart squeeze inside my chest with emotion.

Letting out a sigh of contentment I stepped away from his bed and looked up to see Terri standing next to me with Clifford, J.J.’s favorite plush toy, in her hands. “I thought he might like someone to keep him company,” she said, indicating to the stuffed animal.

“He’d love that,” I smiled. I moved aside far enough for her to squeeze by in front of the bed.

“Here you are, handsome,” she said, placing the red dog in his arms, “sweet dreams tonight.” She touched her hand to his forehead and then stood up, looking back to me. I grinned at her and she followed me back into the kitchen so we could both retrieve our drinks.

We sipped on our beers and talked for a little while about menial things; the weather, our jobs, hobbies, etc. I found out that she liked to play tennis sometimes, which excited me a little because I did too, but couldn’t seem to find a partner to play with. There were tennis courts in the apartment complex and she and I agreed to meet the next day to play a few rounds. We continued to flirt throughout our conversation and I became increasingly aware of my attraction to her and the desire for her that was creeping into my veins.

After a while we started talking about Joshua again. It seemed like it was impossible for me not to bring him into every conversation at some point. After all, how can you easily leave out your entire world? I related cute stories about him from after he had just been born. Somehow we came, not surprisingly, to the subject of baby pictures. I eagerly announced that I had several albums of photos in my bedroom, and she followed after me as I went to retrieve them.

I stood in front of my bookcase, looking for a particular album that had most of my son’s newborn pictures in it, when I felt Terri’s arms wrapping gently around my waist from behind, her body pressed up against my back and her lips descending on my neck just below my ear.
“Let me know if this is too soon,” she whispered against my lobe.

With any other woman, this would have been too soon. With any other woman, this would have been a total breech in proper dating etiquette. But with this woman, it almost didn’t seem soon enough. Something about her, something intangible, was pulling me toward her, the inevitability of it all inescapable, not that I even thought of wanting to escape.

I tilted my head to the side, exposing more of my neck for her to taste. After a moment more, I spun in her embrace, my arms coming up to curl around her neck, resting on her shoulders, my lips seeking to capture her own. We kissed deeply and with opened mouths, skipping all pretenses, our tongues quickly finding each other to feel and explore. Her tongue felt soft and textured against my own and tasted of sweet pudding and bitter beer, the combination now much more delectable then it had been before.

Her arms, deceptively strong, tightened around me, her hands pressed up against my back, pulling me to her.

I was hyperaware of everything going on around me, against me and inside me. The feeling of her breasts pressed firmly against my own, her thigh inching its way between my legs, the hot breath from her nostrils against my cheek as her heavy, aroused breathing mirrored my own. My hands came up tangling in her long, blonde hair, cupping the base of her skull in my palms as I learned her flavor.

I felt her hands slide down my back to the edge of my blouse. She slipped her fingertips under the material, coming into contact with the skin of my low back. I let a moan of pleasure escape into her mouth through the kisses we continued to share. Her hands caressed upwards, dragging my shirt with them, until she had lifted it, along with my chemise, up and over my head disturbing our kisses for a moment, as I pulled back to let the garments fall to the floor.

Now, with my upper body clad only in my black lace bra, I leaned forward again, recapturing her lips in a heated exchange as my own hands drifted to the base of her red-colored polo shirt, tugging it up her body and pulling my head back once again to free it up over her head and toss it aside.

Her strong hands grasped my waist and drew me to her, our semi-nude upper bodies pressed together, as she dipped her head to my collarbone and began to suck gently. I clung to her frame, giving myself to her, once again letting her take the lead.

Nimble fingers found the clasps of my bra, and quickly had it undone. I felt the thin straps fall down my front and free of my body. As soon as it was gone, Terri’s mouth descended on my right breast, licking and sucking. I arched into her, unable to control my body’s response; I let out a breathy sigh of excitement as I felt the skin of both my nipples grow taut with desire. My hands moved, almost magnetically, to her head holding it in place. I felt her teeth delicately graze the engorged tip of my right nipple and I let out a small cry of pleasant surprise at the sensation.

Fearing she might misunderstand me, Terri pulled away for a moment, looking into my eyes, “did I hurt you?” She asked.

“No,” I replied breathlessly.

“Do you want me to stop?”

“No,” I answered again.

“Would you tell me if you did?”

“Yes,” I admitted. She gave an almost imperceptible nod and went back to her task, this time sucking my entire left breast almost fully into her mouth. My head lolled back on my neck, my jaw dropping open in pleasure as my fingers gripped her hair tightly. I was more aroused than I had ever been in my entire life.

After she had finished thoroughly satisfying my breasts, she stood up and pressed her lips once again to mine. My hands fell from her hair to the fastening of her own bra, undoing it quickly and practically yanking it off. She chuckled into my mouth at my actions and pressed her upper body to mine. The soft skin of her breasts, so much fuller than my own, tantalizingly caressed my still hardened nipples as they rubbed against each other almost roughly.

Her hands still gripped me by my waist and I could feel them slide to the middle of my low back, just above my ass, her fingers finding the zipper to my modest length black skirt and pulling it down, the metal teeth undoing themselves with their familiar sound. Wanting to be fair in keeping things even, I reached between our bodies and undid the button of her khakis, unzipping them as well.

Much as she had done with my blouse, she slipped her fingers under the edge of my skirt, and pantyhose as well, bending at the knees and sliding them down my body. Placing my hands on her shoulders for leverage, I prepared to step out of the offending articles of clothing, when I heard Terri chuckling, that rich and throaty sound, from below me. I looked down at her quizzically, and feared she found something about my body to be humorous.

She smiled up at me from her position on bended knee. “Shoes,” she explained with a wry grin. I felt my face flush with mild embarrassment. How strange that I had never taken them off when we got home. She carefully removed them from my feet, before helping me step out of my skirt and hose, leaving them as a puddle on the floor.

Terri stood back up, kicking off her tennis shoes and shucking her pants off in the process. Only a pair of panties each kept us from viewing each other fully.

She placed her hands on either side of my head, as she had the first time we had kissed, and once again drew me to her. Our lips met again passionately. It seemed as though no matter how we tried, we could not get enough of kissing each other.

I felt her begin to move backwards to the bed, sitting when her calves struck the edge. I followed her, straddling her thighs and sitting on her lap, my hands gripping her shoulders, steadying myself. Terri wrapped one strong arm around my waist, her other hand coming up between us to massage my left breast. I moaned again into her mouth. It was as if she had knowledge of my body that was more thorough than my own.

She slid her hand from off of my breast, around to firmly hold my upper back, surprising me again with her hidden strength as she pushed backwards up and off of the floor with the balls of her feet, toward the head of the bed, somehow twisting our tangled bodies in mid-air so that we landed, I on my back, her resting gently on top of me, her thigh coming up and pressing between my own into the heated wetness there. I gasped, my head pressing back against the sheets, my body arching forward and down, hips pushing against her firm quadriceps, seeking further purchase on their own accord.

As our bodies began to rock against each other, sending bolts of white-hot electricity upwards through my veins, Terri brought her left arm that was resting under my upper back, to cradle my head, my neck resting in the crook of her elbow. Her other arm she pulled free of its confinement beneath my low back and raised her right hand to tenderly cup my face as our lips and tongues continued to dance. I curled both of my arms underneath her own so that my hands now rested against her back, gripping at the musculature of her shoulders, holding on to her tightly as her lower body made slow, deliberate and sensual movements against my excited center.

Terri moved slightly off the midline of my body so that she now rested against my right side, using her left thigh to spread my right leg open to the cool air of my bedroom. My hips flexed, missing the pressure of her thigh, I whimpered against her lips, communicating my sadness at the loss. I did not have to wait long for her remedy as I felt her right hand slide down the skin of my neck, down my body, caressing my breasts, lower still across my abdomen, now tensing with anticipation of what I knew was to come. I clutched more tightly at her shoulders, a shuddering breath escaping my mouth, a semi-audible cry of pleasure let loose from my lips as she slid her long and agile fingers under the elastic of my panties and through the molten heat of my drenched center. Terri played her fingers over my sensitive flesh, her digits growing damp and sticky with the evidence of my arousal. She sought out and quickly found the swollen proof of my lust, tickling the tips of her fingers over it, causing my body to arch suddenly against hers in surprise at the sensation which had been until that moment long absent from my life. Long absent, but never forgotten, and still wonderfully familiar.

I grew suddenly impatient with the pace Terri had set up until then. I reached down with my left hand and hooked my thumb into the band of my underwear trying to pull it down off of my hips almost frantically. Seeing my urgency, Terri quickly moved to help, her right hand temporarily leaving its home between my legs to tug my panties free of my right hip. I assisted in lifting my ass from off the bed as we both pushed the material down to my knees where I was able to pull my left leg up and slide the offending cloth the rest of the way off. The other half stayed looped around my upper right leg, my thigh still pinned to the mattress by Terri’s own. I was content to let it stay there; satisfied that it was at least out of the way.

Terri wasted no time returning her fingers to their mission. My arm returned to its previous position, my fingers clutching against her shoulder and back. My breath arrested, frozen in my chest and throat, as I felt her push two fingers up inside of me, filling me completely. I pulled my mouth from her lips, resting my left cheek against her face, my breath coming hot and fast now, mixed with soft whimpers of delight, played across the contours of her ear, encouraging her actions.

I let out a loud and sudden grunt as the tips of her fingers inside me found the hidden ridge deep within the confines of my valley. Pleased with her discovery, and my reaction to it, she skillfully began to lightly rub and massage the secret within my core.

I clung to her urgently, my cries and whimpers growing in intensity as I felt the gathering storm beginning to manifest within me. My hips bucked wildly at her attentions until suddenly my entire body arched into a rigid pose, slamming hard against hers, my jaw locked open in a silent cry as my release washed through me, more intense than any sensation I had ever felt in my life. Wave after wave crashed against my soul, my body shuddering with each new crest, until finally I lay exhausted, spent and limp in her arms, breathing deep and labored breaths as I slowly recovered. I felt Terri carefully withdraw her fingers from within me, my hips pressing down involuntarily, not wanting to let go of her. She wiped her fingers against the sheets before bringing her hand up and lovingly brushing my hair away from my eyes as she gazed down at me, her eyes filled with love and peace.

“Are you okay?” she asked softly. Too weak to speak, I merely nodded. “You needed that,” she accurately observed. Again I could only nod in affirmation. Taking pity on my exhaustion, Terri rolled onto her back, and pulled me with her so that I curled against her side, my head pillowed on her breast. My breathing slowed and my eyes fluttered shut. I felt her place a tender kiss on my forehead as she soothingly ran her hand up and down my back, caressing me into a deep and dreamless sleep.

 

——————————————————————————————————————————————

I awoke slowly, my sand-filled mind not wanting to leave the contentment of such a peaceful slumber. My senses stirred independently of each other, slowly coming together to complement each other and create a full picture of my environment. The first to stir was my sense of touch. I felt how my body was positioned, on its right side, my left arm extended and curled around something warm, my nose pressed up lightly against something preternaturally soft and smooth, my legs tangled around the soft sheets of my bed, the fabric lightly draped over my body, coming to rest just below my breasts. Next my sense of smell activated, inundating my nostrils with a bouquet of olfactory flavors: citrus, lavender, mint, and the unmistakable musky odor of a night’s spent lust. My ears opened and I listened to the sound of the morning breeze kissing at the window screen, the coo of a pair of mourning doves outside and maybe a sparrow as well, inside the room I was aware of the soft rustling of sheets, the soothing sound of deep and steady breathing, the hum of electricity, the purr of air conditioning, and the gentle buzz from the baby monitor on my night stand. My taste buds came alive, and I swallowed uncomfortably, smacking my lips together a little, morning breath something I never had been able to stand, particularly my own. I kept my mouth shut and consciously forced myself to breathe through my nose, a temporary remedy to the otherwise only unpleasant sensation so far. I urged my eyelids to unlatch and blink open, taking a moment to focus at the image in front of me. The smooth expanse of alabaster skin that my nose was pressed against belonged to Terri’s back, the warmth I had my arm wrapped around her body and the sweet scent I was inhaling was distinctly her own, a combination of shampoo, body wash, perfume and something that was exclusively hers. The sound of steady breathing mirrored the gentle rise and fall of her chest as I felt it press against and away from my hand in a slow rhythm.

I shifted a little, languidly stretching my legs and arching my back, my arm tightening its hold across her abdomen. I felt her stir against me, a delightful sigh escaping her lips as she swam toward wakefulness. We simply lay there silently for a long time, both our consciousness’s equally muted by early morning haze.

I was the first to make any sort of progression, subtle as it may have been. With my nose already pressed firmly up against Terri’s shoulder blade, it was no surprise that my lips easily gravitated forward to press against the soft skin there. As if spurred by this simple action, Terri twisted in my arms, rolling on her opposite side to face me, her gaze mere inches from my own, my left arm still draped across her waist.

“Morning,” she said softly, blinking at me adorably through heavy-lidded blue eyes.

“Morning,” I echoed, my voice cracking a little, not quite ready yet to be used.

We lay there gazing sleepily into each other’s eyes. She reached up with her right hand and brushed a few strands of hair from off my forehead. I cringed internally as I thought how horrible the rest of my hair must look; it was always a wild bird’s nest in the morning. Unlike how I imagined my own, Terri’s hair was tousled, but in no way messy, framing her face nicely in a supple halo of golden blonde.
“Sleep okay?” she asked sweetly.

“Mm-hmm,” I sighed, my lips curling into a soft smile. I leaned forward and delicately captured her mouth with my own, sharing a few gentle good morning kisses before I pulled away again, satisfied grin happily in place. My eyes drifted shut lazily, too heavy to be kept open.
Terri placed her hand on my shoulder and ran her fingers back and forth lightly over my skin. “What did you want to do today?” she asked, seemingly innocent.

I let out a dry throated chuckle. “Oh,” I said, “I can think of a few things…”

“Really,” she replied in a coy sounding voice, “and what might those be?” It was obvious she was smiling as she spoke.

I opened my eyes and regarded her Cheshire grin with one of my one. “Well, for the first one, we don’t even have to get out of bed…”

“Mmm… I like this plan,” she purred as we leaned in toward each other and began to kiss again, this time more passionately. The thought of morning breath flashed quickly through my mind, but was quickly dismissed because certain things stop me thinking completely and it just so happened that Terri had shown herself to be an expert in all of them.

I tightened my hold on her, pressing her upper body firmly against my own as her right hand began to wander down my side to the edge of the sheet that had now fallen to my waist.

“The cow says… moo…”

“Huh?” Terri asked, reluctantly pulling away.

I couldn’t help but giggle a little at the audio intrusion. “It’s the baby monitor,” I explained, “Josh must be up and playing.”

“I didn’t think he could get out of bed on his own,” Terri puzzled.

“He can’t,” I replied, “I attached some toys along the wall against his bed so that he just has to reach out to play with them.”

“And one of them happens to be a ‘Spin and Say’,” she concluded.

“The duck goes… quack…” the mechanized voice filtered through the small monitor speaker.

“Yep,” I confirmed needlessly. “It keeps him occupied for a little while.”

Terri’s hand resumed it’s languid journey stroking down my side. She gazed up at me through her eyelashes and inquired huskily, “How long is a little while?”

“Mmm,” I sighed, moving in once more, “long enough…”

We met again, our lips tangoing against each other, our tongues sparring in the middle. I gripped my hand against the smooth skin of her back, my fingernails digging in slightly. I felt her hand finally descend beneath the fabric on my hip, caressing the curve of my ass and squeezing slightly.

Suddenly, almost inexplicably, I felt overwhelming and confused emotions rush through my body in a torrent. I pulled away from our kisses, realizing I couldn’t do this again yet, not with so many unanswered questions still whirling through my mind. Terri looked at me intently, her hand stilled on the outside of my upper thigh, her brow knitted in confusion and concern.

“What’s wrong?” She asked, her worry clearly evident in her tone.

“I…I can’t, “ I sputtered, looking down and away. “Not yet.”

Terri was quiet a moment, absorbing this. It was obvious she didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t blame her, after all, I was the one who had started things, it’s no wonder she was so mystified by my sudden halt.

“I need to know what this is,” I tried to explain, looking deeply into her eyes, “I need to know what last night was… and I need you to be honest with me.” I paused, letting my words settle a moment before continuing, “I have to be careful… for Joshua… for me too, I guess… but mostly for him. He likes you so much already.”

I watched as a glimmer of recognition flashed across the landscape of her eyes. “So tell me,” I went on, “what happened last night?”

“What happened last night…” she reluctantly began, echoing my words, “was…” She drifted off, as though she were trying to find the right words, or trying to admit to something that she didn’t want to. I stayed silent, my gaze locked on her face with almost animalistic intensity.

“What happened last night was,” she repeated, then exhaled the answer grudgingly with a sigh, “sex.” My face must have fallen, because she quickly went on to explain, “but not just sex. It may have started out that way… but that’s not how it finished.” Terri looked at me, and I looked at her, wordless in my urgings that she should continue. “It wasn’t making love… but it wasn’t just casual sex. It was something in the middle. Like… leaving from a station and being halfway to your destination… like you’re on your way…”

“And this morning?” I asked, wanting to know if her feelings had changed.

“Still traveling,” she answered, “but getting closer.” She let a lopsided grin escape onto the corner of her mouth. I smiled and blushed a little, ducking my head bashfully. “And what about you,” she asked, “what do you feel?”

“Last night I wasn’t sure,” I replied, “I was so caught up in the moment… I hadn’t had… in a long time… and it was nice to just give into the feeling. I was so turned by the fact that someone actually found me attractive enough to want to sleep with me…and the fact that someone also happened to be the most beautiful, kind, thoughtful, amazing woman in the world who my son seems to adore…made the whole thing almost too good to be true… and then this morning…”

“You thought that maybe it was,” Terri finished for me.

“Yeah,” I admitted with a sigh.

“Before the thoughts this morning… what were the feelings?”

“When I woke up pressed against you, it felt so… like it was something that had always been, “ I tried to explain, “like, we’ve always been as we are now… and waking up with you in my arms felt…wonderfully routine.” I watched as her grin broadened across her face. “What about you?” I asked.

“Me too,” she answered simply.

I reached up and touched my finger to her chin, drawing a line along her jaw up to her ear, before turning my hand and cupping her cheek, caressing her lower lip with the pad of my thumb. She kissed it softly.

“But, please understand,” I advised gently, “I still have to be careful… for my son.”

“What will it take for me to convince you that this isn’t just a weekend fling?” she inquired seriously.

I gazed deeply into her eyes, easily finding the sincerity inside. I smiled wistfully and leaned forward, kissing her lightly before pulling back and answering, “Still be here on Monday.”
——————————————————————————————————————————————

And Terri was there on Monday. And the Monday after that… and the Monday after that. She was there with me when Josh was finally diagnosed with Ataxic Cerebral Palsy, the rarest, and thankfully mildest, type of CP, affecting his depth perception and balance. He would still be able to walk, but always with some difficulty, almost like being in a permanent state of vertigo. His doctor assured me though that because Joshua had never, and would never, know anything different he would most likely find a way to adapt to his ailment and not be troubled by it. Still, the news that my son had yet another diagnosis, yet another disability, caused me to fall into a moderate depression where I most likely would have stayed, if it had not been for Terri’s constant presence, her reassurance and her attentiveness to both myself and my son.

She was there when my four year-old Joshua uttered his first word, surpising us all at that Thanksgiving’s dinner. He had been contemplating his plate in front of him, filled with thinly sliced bits of turkey, a dollop of cranberry sauce and a small serving of mashed potatoes when he softly stated, “soup.” I remember freezing mid-action, my turkey-filled fork half-way to my mouth, and looking at him next to me with wide, almost disbelieving, eyes.

“What, honey?” I had asked, unsure of my own hearing. He was silent again, and I started to think it had been my imagination when Terri spoke up from his other side, “What did you say, J.J.?”, she urged. Everyone at the table was still, my parents, friends and a few other relatives, all sat with breaths held, waiting.

Agonizingly slow seconds passed until quietly, Josh spoke again, “soup,” he reiterated, his face pensive as he stared at his food. My hand shot up and clasped over my mouth, even as tears started to well at the rims of my eyes.

“I think he wants soup,” Terri announced through a watery smile, her eyes misting over as well. I swallowed the emotional lump in my throat even as my tears finally spilled over onto my cheeks, “Is that right, baby? You want soup?” I asked, trying to suppress the hiccoughs caused by the overwhelming rush of happy-tears. Joshua nodded his head once in affirmation. “Soup it is!” My mother exclaimed, leaping out of her seat, also crying. “Today, J.J., my darling, you can have whatever you ask for!” She went on, practically diving for the kitchen door to begin making the now sacred soup.

Everyone at the table broke into applause and cheers, I leaned over and kissed Joshua soundly on the cheek, my tears falling onto his face, he wiped them away with an annoyed expression which only caused me to laugh at his cuteness, and apparent dismissal of this historic moment. Terri ran her fingers affectionately through his hair, kissing the top of his head, and then leaned over and up to quickly capture my lips, my son patiently waiting for his soup beneath us.

My father raised his glass, and everyone at the table followed suit, including Terri and I once we had parted. “To soup!” he proudly toasted. “To soup!” We all echoed, laughter and glee bubbling out of us, even as we clinked our glasses against one another and drank deeply in commemoration.

When I realized a few weeks into our relationship that she really was there to stay, I fell in love with her very quickly, finally allowing my mind to accept what my heart already knew, she was the one. It was 78 Mondays later, because yes I actually did keep track, when Terri asked me to marry her. It was a strangely-timed proposal, considering that at that moment I had been on my hands and knees, scrubbing the bathtub.
I was just about to apply another liberal coating of Comet when I heard Terri speaking to Joshua down the hall in the living room. I paused in my chores and tuned in to the conversation. “Josh, I need your advice,” I heard her say, not even attempting to speak in a low voice, so I knew I was meant to hear. I imagined my son sitting on the floor, playing with his new Tonka truck, primarily oblivious to Terri’s earnest request, perhaps glancing up at her once to show that he had heard her.

“I want to ask your mommy something, but I’m not sure how she will react,” she went on, my ears perked up even more. “You see these papers here in my hand? Well, if your mommy and I fill them out and sign them and turn them in with some money, then it means that I could be your mommy too.” I gasped, and almost put my Comet-covered rubber-gloved hand to my mouth in shock, stopping myself just in time. I continued to listen, even more intently. “Well, not your mommy so much as… your daddy…without being a daddy, because I’m not a boy, but…maybe like, your Terri-daddy. Taddy.”

I smiled at the adorable name, and giggled a little, despite my stomach doing jumpy flip-flops. “But, I’m nervous about asking your mommy about these papers because what if she says ‘no’? I mean, we aren’t even married. So I was going to ask her to marry me too–” Hearing those words I ripped my gloves from off my hands and bolted out of the bathroom down the hall into the living room, tackling her on the couch and wrapping my arms around her neck, kissing her deeply, interrupting her as she was saying, “…because I love your mommy with all of my–” Our lips broke apart with a pop, “heart,” she finished. We kissed again, deeper this time; I thrust my tongue into her mouth possessively, tasting her now familiar sweet taste. After several long moments, I drew back and gazed at her wistfully, my forehead resting gently on hers. “And I can’t imagine my life without her, Joshua, or without you,” she went on, still keeping up the pretense of speaking to my son, even though she was looking deeply into my eyes, her voice soft and sincere, “and I just hope that when I ask her… she says yes…” I gazed at her as she let the sentence hang mid-air. I brought my hand up to cup her face, caressing her cheek with my thumb.

“Jillian, will you marry me?” she whispered, “will you let me adopt Josh?”

I took only a second to pause before answering, “yes.”

“To which one?” she asked her eyes wide and hopeful.

“Both,” I grinned, unable and unwilling to suppress any shred of my happiness, “yes to both!”

“Yes?”

“Yes.” I affirmed.

“YES!!!!” She exclaimed, lifting us both off the sofa and spinning me around in her arms, she kissed me soundly before pulling away and picking Josh up from the floor, away from his toys, “She said, ‘Yes!'” Terri laughed, kissing his forehead. Joshua protested in her grip, “car”, he whined adorably, not happy with his play being interrupted. “Oh, I’m sorry, baby”, she apologized with a giggle, setting him back down to play. She turned back to me, taking my hands in her own, “I love you,” she said reverently. “I love you, too,” I replied.

She reached into her pocket and fumbled a little, finally pulling out a small velvet box and holding it up between us. “For you,” she said, “for saying ‘yes’.” I accepted her offering, opening the case with a soft creak; inside sat a simple golden band with a small diamond on top glittering back at me. My heart caught in my throat, knowing that even this humble representation of her love and commitment must have set her back at least a paycheck. Not-for-profit organizations generally can’t afford to pay much, and Easter Seals was no exception. Neither of us was by any means wealthy, and I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty that she had spent such a sum on me.

With shaky fingers she reached out and plucked the ring from where it was nestled, sliding it onto the ring finger of my left hand, lifting it to her lips and kissing it softly. I gently pulled my hand from hers, resting my palm again upon her cheek, she closed her eyes, leaning into the touch. “Thank you,” she sighed, opening her eyes again and gazing deeply into my own. We kissed again, just as deeply, but with less urgency than before.

We were married in a small ceremony in the park the following spring. J.J. was our little ring-bearer, and did a commendable job, walking on his own the entire length of the make-shift isle, only teetering a twice, and even then only slightly, which was amazing considering that we were on grassy, uneven ground. Once he had made it to where Terri and I stood, (I in a soft yellow sundress with a small garland of flowers in my hair, she in a light blue, embroidered kurta shirt and bodhi pants, her hair pulled back in a long French braid), my father held him for the majority of the ceremony until it was time for the rings. My dad tried to pull the pillow that the rings were tied to from his small hands, but he wouldn’t let him have it. “No, no,” he said, “Taddy, get.” Everyone laughed sweetly at his well-meaning defense. Terri walked over to him and gently took the small pillow, kissing his forehead and touching his nose, “thank you, handsome,” she smiled. The rest of the ceremony went on with only one other hitch, that is, Terri and I to each other.

After what seemed like years of filling out papers and jumping through bureaucratic hoops, Terri was finally able to adopt Joshua as her own. My son was now officially “our” son. Terri and I couldn’t have been happier.

My degree in Computer Science was fundamental in my ultimate ability to finally start pulling in some very decent money. Terri had been promoted to Program Manager over the day care at Easter Seals, and her take-home pay received a satisfying increase as well. Not a tremendous amount, but enough that with our shared incomes, we were able to buy a small house in the suburbs near my parents and live in relative comfort.

——————————————————————————————————————————————

The years slipped by with easy grace. Terri continued her work at Easter Seals while I settled into a comfortable job with a local corporation as their lead IT technician. Joshua grew older, but maintained his childlike mentality. His doctor estimated that when he reached his full potential, J.J. would be between the mental age of four and five years old. Imagine, being eternally four… sometimes I envied his everlasting innocence, mostly I found myself loving him even more.

It was amazing to me how much love the human heart can hold and sustain for infinitely long periods of time. I loved Terri with all of my heart, and yet I still loved my son with all my heart… and more.

Although we were incredibly happy together, and our relationship was sound and in no danger of falling apart, I could tell that some part of my lover was still unfulfilled. When I’d look into her eyes, I’d see the hollow place, up in the right hand corner, and I knew that there were things she still longed to do, and perhaps could have done, if Josh and I weren’t in the picture. I’d ask her about it and she’d shrug it off saying, “Nothing, nothing. I love you, baby, and Josh. I can’t imagine my life without you both. I’m happy.”

I continued to pressure her for a real answer until one day, when Joshua was twelve, she finally fessed up. “Sometimes I still think about Greenwich Village,” she admitted, “and I wonder, ‘what if’? But then I look at you, and J.J. and I think about how much I love you both, and how happy we are, and I realize this is all that I need.” She leaned in and kissed me tenderly on the lips. As she pulled away again, I regarded her sadly.

“But not all you want,” I said, trying to hide the emotion suddenly forming a lump in my throat.

She took my hands and held them to her chest, her blue eyes gazing deeply into mine. “I had a dream of Greenwich Village, but I set it aside in favor of something I never could have dreamed of. Something so much better.”

“But you still want something more,” I challenged; I could read her too well.

“I do,” she confessed, “but with you.”

“What?” The word practically stuck in my throat.

She lifted my hands to her lips, kissing my knuckles, before lowering them again and cradling them against her chest. “Do you think Joshua would like having,” she broached slowly, “a baby brother?”

——————————————————————————————————————————————

You would have thought that a question like that would have inspired spontaneous happy tears, kisses and lots of gay love. But it didn’t. Instead it caused my heart to drop into my feet. I was overcome with devastation. I just looked at Terri, my face a mask of shock and hurt. I pulled my hands free of her grasp and stood awkwardly from my chair, knocking it over in the process.

“Jill?” she said, her voice filled with worry and concern.

I said nothing, mute with the emotion locked in my throat. I suddenly couldn’t breath. I had to get out of the house. I pushed past her and ran to the front door, grabbing my coat and purse and racing out to the car, jumping in and peeling out of the driveway and down the street.
Suddenly the tears came, in great torrents down my face. I couldn’t stop them. I could barely see to drive. Somehow I navigated myself to my parents’ house, sloppily driving up onto the curb as I parked in front of the two-story colonial. My mother must have seen me from the kitchen window and met me on the front porch as I clambered toward the door.

“Jillian?” she asked, her voice frantic, “What’s wrong? Is it Joshua?”

“No”, I sobbed, wrapping my arms around myself. “Terri…”

“Something’s happened to Terri?” She grabbed my shoulders, “Is she hurt?”

I shook my head, “No, she…” I realized I couldn’t explain it. Not now. Not in words that she would understand. I wiggled my way out of her grasp and pushed toward the door. “I just want to be alone for a while, Mom.” I rushed up the stairs and to my childhood room, collapsing on the bed in a fit of tears.

After awhile the tears finally stopped, and I lay on my bed in an exhausted, weepy haze. Through the fog I heard the phone ring downstairs and my father answer it.

“Hello? (pause) Oh, thank God. Are you alright? (pause) Yes, she’s here. We thought something had happened to you. Michelle was about to start calling hospitals. (longer pause) Yes, of course… What happened? (pause) Alright. Good bye.”

I heard the phone click back into its cradle and I shut my eyes at the sound. I felt myself begin to drift off, my parents’ voices growing distant as echoes until they were gone and I was in a deep and dreamless sleep.

I woke up a while later, the setting sun creating orange and purple shadows on my closet door, playing across my old poster of Melissa Etheridge. A familiar warmth spooned up against me from behind, Terri’s arm wrapped around me possessively and tenderly all at once. I let out a long sigh. Part of me wanted to pull away, still angry, even if I couldn’t articulate the reason why. The rest of me desperately sought out her affection, needing it feel strong so that I could explain why I was so upset, if only I could find the words to do so.

“Are you awake?” she asked softly, her breath hot on my neck.

I said nothing, but shifted a little in her arms to let her know that I was.

“I’m sorry,” she stated. The words hung in the air for a moment. “I’m sorry that I hurt you,” she went on. “But I don’t understand… I don’t understand what I did wrong.”

“No…” I said finally, unable to hide the bitterness in my voice. “I’m sorry.”

“What–”

“I’m sorry that I’m not enough for you…”

“Jillian,” she said, cutting me off. “How can you say that? I love you. I love you so much I want to have a child with you–”
“You have a child with me,” interrupting her this time. “His name is Joshua, he’s twelve…”

“Jillian…”

“But I guess he doesn’t count, does he?”

“Jill, stop…”

“Because he came out wrong…”

“No.”

“So now you want to try again to get it right–”

“Stop it!” She shouted, stunning me into silence. She pulled away from me and tugged on my shoulder so that I rolled onto my back, looking up at her. She looked down at me through watery eyes, her chin quivering as she worked so hard to keep the tears at bay. “How dare you,” she managed to say through gritted teeth, “think that of me. How dare you say that.” She paused to exhale, taking a sharp breath in through her nose, still fighting the tears. “I don’t want to have a child with you as a ‘do-over’.” She practically spat the last two words out in disgust. “I want to have a baby with you because I love you so much. And I love Joshua so much. And we have so much love between the three of us that I want to share it. I want to build on it. How could you think anything else?”

“I don’t know how,” I confessed, my head spinning with regrets and apologies, jumbled thoughts and emotions. “I don’t know why…” I went quiet for a moment, trying to put everything in my mind in order. I realized it was going to take much longer than a few moments in thought. But I also recognized something else. “I’m sorry. I guess I went all ‘mama-bear’ for a while there.”

Terri raised her eyebrows humorously, “Try ‘mama-bear’ with a hefty dose of ‘melodrama-queen’ and ‘overreaction-man’.” I chuckled at the spoken truth. She reached down and caressed a few strands of hair out of my eyes. I sighed and closed my eyes, once again welcoming her touch. I blinked my eyes open again and gazed up into her blue. “I want to have a baby with you,” she stated again, “but if you’d rather not…”

“I do,” I said, coming to the decision then. “I really do.” I took her hand within my own and kissed her palm, placing it down on my chest over my heart.

“Yeah?” she asked sweetly, unsure.

“Yeah.” I affirmed.

She leaned down and kissed me then, softly, gently, a tender unspoken affirmation of her love. We deepened the kiss only a little before I pulled slightly away.

“Where’s Josh?” I asked.

“He’s here,“ she assured me, “downstairs with your parents.”

“Okay,” I nodded, leaning up and capturing her lips again. Our exchange becoming more heated this time. I reached up with my hand and held the side of her face as we kissed, silently encouraging her with my actions. I felt her reach down and grasp my waist, pulling me to her. I gasped as her tongue entered my mouth, forceful in its urgency.

“Wait, wait,” I said, pushing her back a little as I tried to catch my breath.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, clearly fearing another unnecessary angst-filled episode.

“Nothing,” I smiled shyly, “I’ve just… never made love in my parents’ house before.”

“Me neither,” she smirked. I rolled my eyes and playfully swatted her shoulder. “We don’t have to,” she said seriously.

I smiled at her consideration and giggled a little. “I feel like we should lock the door and turn on loud music or something.”

A wicked grin curled onto her beautiful lips. “I’ll get the door,” she offered.

“I’ll get the music.” I replied, quickly bouncing from the bed and over to my old stereo system.

Looking back there hasn’t been a day since that I haven’t felt that if Terri were a man, she would have gotten me pregnant that night. Our lovemaking was filled with such urgency and fervor it reminded me of the kind you only read about in romance novels. I have to confess, it was great.

——————————————————————————————————————————————

So, we decided to have another baby. There was no question who would carry it. Terri had a severely tipped uterus, so she was incapable of having children, which left only me. I was not entirely comfortable with the idea. I loved Joshua so very much, but I still couldn’t quite deal with the possibility of having another special needs baby. We didn’t know why Joshua was born the way he was, so there was no way of knowing if it would happen again.

We had lots of arguments over it, even despite being unified in our decision to expand our small family. Terri worked so hard to convince me that I was worrying too much, even if it was understandable anxiety.

It took us awhile to save up enough money to pay for everything involved in the insemination process but finally, two years and a couple of attempts later, the stick turned blue. I was excited and petrified all at once, Terri was marching around like the proud papa that she was, and Joshua… well, we hadn’t told him anything yet. We weren’t sure he would be able to understand clearly unless the idea were more tangible. We decided to wait until I really started to show to say anything. Looking back on it, I’m still not sure if that was the right decision.

Sometimes I wonder if we had told him before, then maybe… I don’t know.

J.J. was fourteen, and still my darling little boy. He still loved his cars, and watching cartoons, and eating Spaghetti-O’s. He had matured in other ways. He could toilet himself, which made our lives easier, and I think gave him a greater sense of independence, even if it did seem like such a small accomplishment to the rest of the world. He dressed himself, which was sometimes a blessing and a curse depending on how creative his outfit. One time, in the middle of the summer, he came out of his room dressed in three layers of sweat clothes because he liked the way all the colors went together. It was a fight getting him out of those sweats and into something more sensible. He was a very determined little boy. I admired that about him. His vocabulary was still limited, but he had no trouble getting his point across with the few words he knew.

Perhaps Joshua’s greatest accomplishment was his friends. He had quite a few. Not just at the special school he attended (he had long since outgrown Easter Seals), but outside of there too. A handful of neighborhood kids had sort of adopted him into their group. Once I was satisfied that they weren’t just using Josh to satisfy some evil adolescent joke, I became eternally grateful for their near-constant presence. They watched out for him and kept any bullies at bay, and gave him a sense of belonging I don’t think he’d really experienced before. Children can be cruel. But they can also be incredibly kind. Thankfully for all of us, especially Josh, these kids were the latter.
I was just about to enter my fifth month when Joshua’s fifteenth birthday came around. I was showing by then, enough that anyone else would have been able to tell I was definitely expecting, but still Terri and I decided to wait in telling J.J. I don’t know why, it just seemed right at the time. Still sometimes, I wonder…

Anyway, the school had thrown Joshua a small party, but Terri and I had arranged a get together for he and his neighborhood friends, as well as his extended family. My parents were coming of course, and Terri’s mom and brother were coming from Albuquerque to visit. They tried to visit at least once a year, ever since Terri and I had gotten married. I loved Terri’s mom. She was such a strong woman. It was easy to see where my wife had gotten her character. Her brother Lonnie was a sweetheart, if a bit of a rascal at times. He had far too much love for the practical joke. But still, he was too charming not to put up with him.

We took everyone to the local amusement park. The kids had a great time tooling Josh around in one of the park’s rented wheelchairs. Given his CP, he wasn’t able to walk for long periods of time, and the walkways at the park seemed to crest and drop like great cement hills, so it was no difficult decision putting him in a chair for the day. At any rate, he didn’t seem to mind, he was having too much fun to care.

We wouldn’t let him on most of the crazy rides, which I think frustrated the other kids more than him. Even though we had told them they could ride whatever they wanted, they seemed to feel bad about doing anything without Josh. Finally, one of the kids pointed out a wooden coaster that he was proud to state, “has absolutely no loopy-loops, and the first drop isn’t so bad.”

After a quick conference, Terri and I relented provided that an adult rode with him in the rail car. I, of course, couldn’t due to being pregnant, Terri wouldn’t leave my side and neither of our parents were really up to riding a roller coaster. But Lonnie had no trouble agreeing and a twenty-minute line wait and 2-minute coaster ride later, Joshua was returned to us unscathed and very hyper.
“Faster than car, Mommy!” he told me excitedly. “Fast, fast, fast!”

“Yes, very fast,” I agreed, sighing internally. It was going to take a long time to calm him down after that ride.

Even in the car home, it was all he could talk about. “It was fast,” he stated seriously, and repetitiously. “Fast. Faster than car. Fast.”

When we tucked him into bed that night, he was exhausted, but still going on about that damn ride.

“Fast, Mommy,” he said sleepily.

“I know sweetheart,” I answered patiently, drawing the covers up to his chin, “you told us.”

“Did you have a good birthday, son?” Terri asked, wrapping her arms around me from behind, her hands resting on my swelling belly.

“Yeah,” he smiled. “Good day.” He blinked, his eyelids becoming heavy. I leaned down and kissed his forehead, standing upright again with a little help from my wife.

“Love you, son,” said Terri, stepping around me and leaning down to kiss him as well.

“Love you, Taddy.”

Terri stood back up and whispered in my ear, “I’m going to start cleaning up.”

“I’ll be out in a minute,” I whispered back. She gave me a quick peck on the lips and disappeared out the door and down the hall. I gazed back down at my precious boy.

“I love you so much, J.J.”

“Love you too, Mommy.”

“You really had a good day?” I asked, somehow concerned.

“Best day, Mommy.”

“Good, baby, I’m glad,” I said, “Sleep now, okay?”

“Okay,” he easily agreed. “Bye.”

“Night,” I gently corrected.

Joshua seemed to consider this a moment before finally echoing, “Night.”

I caressed his head, running my fingers through his hair one last time as I watched him close his eyes. I turned off his lamp and went to leave, standing in his doorway for the longest time, watching him sleep. I somehow found it in myself to finally move the rest of the way through the door and close it behind me, going to help Terri finish cleaning up.

I hadn’t known it at that moment, but Joshua had been right in saying “bye.” He went to sleep on the best day of his life… and never woke up.
Terri had gotten up to get him ready for school and discovered he wasn’t breathing. She tried CPR, but it was far too late. Sometime during the night his heart had just… stopped.

I don’t know how she did it, but somehow Terri had the presence of mind to call an ambulance. Not for Joshua, but for me. She knew that once she told me my son was gone, I would go into shock. She knew I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I lost two babies in one day.

His doctor told us that it was a congenital heart defect that killed him. Yet another malady he had been born with. I was furious; I demanded to know why we hadn’t known before. It wasn’t like Joshua hadn’t been to the doctor enough. We knew he had an arrhythmia, how come we didn’t know about this? His answer was lame, of course at that moment I suppose any answer would have been. He suggested that the arrhythmia had masked a greater, more deadly problem and that it was sadly not uncommon for defects like this to go unnoticed.

It was all I could do to not spit in his face. Terri was stoic. She hadn’t spoken too much since Josh had passed away. Instead, she focused really hard on preparations for the new baby, and making sure that I didn’t go completely insane.

I didn’t know what to do with myself. Joshua had been my world, my light, and now that he was gone, what was I supposed to do? Half the time it didn’t feel real to me. How could it be real? How could he be gone? Sometimes I wondered if Joshua had somehow willed himself to die. If he thought that his life was never going to get any better than that day, so he decided to leave the world on the best note. It’s silly, I know. Wishful thinking on the part of the grieving mother. But sometimes I think if we had just told him that he was going to be a big brother, that he would have stuck around… he would have loved his little sister.

Abigail Marie Murphy came into this world almost four months to the day that Joshua left it. She was a pretty, happy, perfectly healthy baby with no problems whatsoever aside from being a little gassy now and then. She was as perfect as Joshua had been flawed.
I miss Joshua so much.

Abby’s ten now, and doing wonderfully in school. She even skipped a grade, going from fourth directly to sixth. Terri and I love her immensely and we’re both so very proud she’s in our lives. I just wish she could have known her older brother.

Terri got a job as a buyer for a local art gallery when Abby was two years old. She still works at Easter Seals now and then as a volunteer. So do I. But it’s hard…just being around those kids.

There’s a strange heaviness to our lives now that Josh is gone. Like a shadow that never really goes away. I cry everyday for my son. I’m pretty sure Terri does too. She’d probably admit it if I ask her but… what’s the point, really?

Terri and I are strong. There’s no question that we’ll be together for the rest of our lives and I take comfort in that fact. She is my strength. She’d argue that I’m the strong one but, no… it’s her.

Not a day goes by that I don’t find myself looking at the world and wondering “What would Josh think?”, “How would Josh react?”, “What would J.J. do?” I always know the answers to these questions. Josh was never a difficult child to figure out. He taught me so much about being alive and understanding the world, and I will be eternally grateful for the gift he gave me with his life.

What would J.J. do?

He’d love it all.

________________________________________
The End

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