by Deb Shirley
Inside the vehicle, four hazel eyes gaped at me from two plump, brown faces. They had William Hunter’s eyes, but that was the only thing about him they possessed. Their black, curly hair and dark skin obviously came from their mother. I didn’t mean to stare, but I was stunned.
It began that morning. I was in the kitchen making his lunch when William waltzed into the room and ambushed me.
“I want my kids,” he said.
His sudden mention of them surprised me.
“I said I want to see my children.”
“Th … that’s good,” I stammered. “When?”
William inhaled deeply before blurting out the news. “Tonight! Trish died last week.”
I applied mayonnaise to the bread in my hand; my mind raced. Tonight – but we have plans tonight! Trish died! Why didn’t he tell me?
“Jen, are you sure this is okay with you? It’s going to be a big adjustment for us.”
I froze. Adjustment! What does he mean by adjustment? I focused on the white knuckles gripping the mayonnaise-coated knife in my hand. How will William seeing his boys affect me?
When I turned my head to confront him, tortured eyes met mine. Even though he didn’t speak, I could read William ’s thoughts. He was nervous about my reaction. He wondered if the boys would want to see him – if they would like him. I could see it all through the misty hazel eyes – William was terrified.
After several awkward moments, he leaned against the counter beside me and continued, “Jen, I don’t think you understand. I want them to come live with us.”
I opened the overhead cabinet, grabbed a bag of chips, and calmly announced, “I guess I need to go to the grocery store.”
Absent-mindedly, I filled a brown paper sack with the sandwich, chips, and an apple and turned to hand the lunch to William. When I did, he clutched my hand. “Jen, I won’t do this if you don’t think we can handle it.”
I stared past him. “No … I mean yes. Of course. We have to take them. What happened to Trish?”
“She was in a bad accident. An eighteen-wheeler stopped suddenly and her car went under it. She died instantly.”
“Where are the kids now?”
“With her parents. My mother is picking them up after school today.” He released my hand, laid his lunch on the counter, and placed both hands on my shoulders, forcing me to look into his eyes. “Honey, I hate to dump this on you and rush out the door, but if I don’t leave, I’m going to be late for my meeting with Mr.Faulkner . I’ll call Mother and tell her to have the boys ready at six.” William lifted my chin and stared into my eyes. “I love you.”
With a forced smile I whispered, “I know. I love you, too.” I kissed him lightly on the lips, walked him to the door, and watched as he drove away. As I lingered in the open doorway, I wondered if our marriage could survive this.
As a lawyer, William thoroughly analyzed every decision, so I knew he had given this a lot of thought. Besides, the children had occupied his mind for years. Night after night he drifted away to visit them in his imagination. When I asked what he was thinking, he always replied, “Nothing. I’m just tired.” Deep inside I knew.
William told me about his children on our second date. He was a senior in high school, only seventeen years old, when it happened. TrishThompson was only fifteen. Their families had been friends for years. One night he and Trish babysat her younger brother while their parents went to a movie. William said that he and Trish had kissed a few times, but that night, something clicked and before they knew it, they had gone too far. Six weeks later, her parents appeared at his front door and dropped the bomb – Trish was pregnant. Everyone blamed him. He blamed himself. He was older; he knew better. Trish was sent to live with her grandparents and William never saw her again. He was told of the twin’s birth on June 19, but he was never allowed to see them.
William left for college the following September. When he returned home for Christmas break, his mother informed him that they were paying child support and keeping the boys on alternating weekends. Since she promised the family that William would not see the kids, he was to notify her, in advance, if and when he was coming home. As soon as William graduated from college and began working at Faulkner & Franklin, he started making the child support payments to his mother. In spite of that, she convinced him that Trish wanted him to stay away from the boys. Was it Trish or his parents? Who really kept his kids from him?
I watched as William’s SUV disappeared from sight. Well, I can’t stand here all day. Lord, I hope William knows what he’s doing.
Closing the door behind me, I began preparation for the boys’ arrival. I changed the linens on the double bed in the front guest room and placed fresh towels in the adjoining bath. After a quick dusting of the furniture, I threw on a little makeup and headed for Walmart.
As I pulled my Mercedes into an empty parking space, I noticed two young boys and their mother approaching the minivan beside me. I observed as the older boy punched the younger one in the arm.
“He hit me,” the small boy screamed.
“Jacob! Quit hitting your brother.” She said the words as if she had spoken them a thousand times that day.
“Mom, are we stopping for ice cream?” Jacob asked.
“I told you I would stop if you behaved. Did you?”
“Mom,” the younger boy whined, “I want ice cream too and I ain’t done nothin’.”
Defeated, the mother responded, “Fine! I’ll stop. Just get in the car ... please!”
Is this my future? Will I grow to love William’s boys enough to have the freedom to correct them? How does someone learn to love children they’ve never seen? More importantly – how do I make them love me?
I jumped from the car and addressed the exasperated mother. “Excuse me, may I ask a question?”
She lifted the back door of her van and began unloading the buggy. “I guess so.”
“I need to buy gifts for a couple of 9-year old boys. Can you suggest something?”
“Umm … let me think.” She finished loading the bags in the vehicle before facing me. “My boys love the scooters Santa gave them last year. But, if you buy those, you’ll also need to buy helmets and elbow and knee pads.”
“No problem.” She slammed the rear door and yelled at the boys. “I said get in the car NOW!”
As I turned to walk away, she stopped me. “You know, most boys also play sports. My kids play baseball, basketball, and soccer. You can’t go wrong with some kind of ball.”
No wonder you are so tired. “That’s a great idea,” I replied. “Thanks again.”
“Sure. I hope you find what you need.”
“Me too,” I flashed a smile in her direction. “You have a nice afternoon.”
“Mom ... Come on ... We’re hot … Let’s go,” the impatient kids grumbled.
The woman sighed and smiled at me. “I’ll try.”
I glanced at the boys through the glass. Both creatures stuck out their tongues and made faces at me through the window. Is that how boys act? My mother-in-law would never allow that kind of behavior. William’s kids had to be different.
An hour later, I exited the store with a basketball goal, a basketball, three gloves, a baseball bat, a baseball, a soccer ball, and, of course, two scooters with all the safety equipment. In all, it cost just under $500, but it was worth every penny. It was my way of showing William that I was willing to give this arrangement a fighting chance. After a quick stop at the grocery store, I rushed home.
The phone was ringing when I opened the kitchen door. I grabbed the cordless handset and stared at the name. Kathryn Hunter. William had probably called her already and the last thing I needed was my mother-in-law’s opinion of what a huge mistake we were making. Since Kathryn did not leave a message, I picked up the phone and dialed William at work. I could tell by the tone of his voice that the conversation with his mother had not gone well.
“She was furious,” he explained. “I finally ordered her to have them dressed and ready for me by six o’clock and then I hung up on her.” He paused. ”I talked to Ted this morning. He agrees with me. Since Trish listed me as father on the birth certificate, neither my Mother nor the Thompson’s can keep me from seeing them.”
Ted specialized in family law, so I was certain his advice to William was accurate.
I interrupted his mood to tell him about my shopping trip. He sensed the enthusiasm in my voice as I described all the gifts I had bought for the kids to play with. Immediately his tone softened, “Thank you Jen. You don’t know how much that means to me. I’ll be home about six-fifteen – with the boys.”
“Great! I’m looking forward to meeting your kids.” I meant it.
Most of my day had been spent adjusting to the idea of the twins living with us. In my mind, I envisioned a wonderful Saturday playing with all of their new things. On Sunday, we would attend church. I imagined the buzz as we walked into the sanctuary holding the hands of two fair-haired, green-eyed little boys, but my dream was shattered the moment I saw them.
At six-fifteen sharp, I approached the car and, for several breathless moments, stared at William’s kids through the window. When I made no movement to open the door, the boys unbuckled their seatbelts and crawled from the vehicle.
William rushed to their side to make introductions, “Jen, this is John,” he placed his right arm around the child’s shoulder and shielded the other boy under his left arm, “and this one here, this is James.”
“Nice to meet you,” I mumbled, extending my hand for each boy to shake.
“Well, what are we standing out here for? Come on in,” William invited as he grabbed their duffle bags from the back seat and the threesome made their way into the house.
I followed behind in a daze. “I thought we’d order pizza for dinner,” I commented. “Do you eat pizza?”
Their heads bobbed up and down.
“Drinks are in the fridge. I’ll be right back.”
I fled to the master bathroom, locked the door behind me, and splashed cold water on my face. There is not a prejudiced bone in your body, Jennifer Hunter, so why are you acting this way? It’s not their fault. They are just two scared little boys.
“Jen?” The hesitant voice behind the closed door interrupted my thoughts. The door handle jiggled. “Can I come in?”
“I’ll be out in a minute!” I snapped.
“Please, let me in. I’m sorry. I should have told you, I just didn’t think it would matter.”
I flung the door open and glared at the stranger before me. “Not matter! William, we live in an all-white neighborhood. All of our friends are white.” With each word, the volume of my voice increased. I was unable to control myself. “For goodness sake, we even go to an all-white church. How could you think it wouldn’t matter?”
“Keep your voice down!” William commanded as he took my arm, led me into the room, and closed the door behind us. “Do you want them to hear you?”
“No, I don’t want them to hear me,” I responded through clinched teeth, “but, I can’t believe you didn’t tell me.”
“I don’t know why I didn’t tell you! I’m sorry, but they are still my children.”
“I know that. They have your eyes. I just didn’t expect … I just didn’t … “
Tears flooded my eyes, softening William’s response. He took my face in his hands and gently wiped my tears as he spoke. “Jen, I know it’s a shock. I should have told you. I really am sorry. Can’t you just give them a chance?”
Wham! Somewhere in the house, a door slammed.
“You’d better go see about them, William. I’ll be out in a minute.”
The man I once knew, the man who feared nothing, left the room with head hung and shoulders drooped in defeat. Oh God, how can I be so cruel?
I peeped through the curtain to discover James and John sitting in the swing under the huge oak tree in the backyard. They should have been upset, but they were chatting and laughing as if nothing had happened. I tried to convince myself that they didn’t hear us, but I knew in my heart that the innocent children had heard every word. I watched as William sat between them and put his arm around their shoulders.
What is wrong with you Jen? I scolded myself. These boys just lost their mother. I wanted to reach out to them, but I didn’t know how. Outside, in the cedar swing, a white father sat between his two dark children as if it was the most natural thing in the world. There was only one problem. It wasn’t natural. I knew our neighbors. There was nothing natural about this situation. If they stayed, our lives would never be the same again.
I located a pad of paper and scribbled a note. William, I have a headache. Gone to bed. Tell the boys I’ll see them tomorrow. Jen. I attached the note to the refrigerator before swallowing two Advil’s and crawling into bed.
On Saturday, we awoke at seven a.m. to the noise of clanging dishes in the kitchen. William got up to check on the boys and returned a short time later. “They made us breakfast,” he said as he sat beside me on the bed. “Are you getting up?”
I rolled away from him and lied. “I still have a headache. I’m going to try to go back to sleep.”
About ten minutes later, I heard the back door slam. I dressed and ventured from my room. While loading the breakfast dishes in the dishwasher, I studied them through the bay window. They had more of their father in them than I cared to admit. Even at age nine, they were shaped like him with broad shoulders and a stocky build. They ran like him, jumped like him, and even laughed like him. When they smiled, large dimples appeared in their cheeks – just like their father. But there was one thing about these kids that was nothing like William.
The dark children were identical twins. I made a mental note to ask them to wear different colors so I could tell them apart. They took to William immediately. They were laughing and playing as if they had always been together. Without warning, they darted toward the back door; I rushed to the laundry room. William would not allow me to hide out all day, but I wasn’t ready to face them. Not yet.
A short time later, William appeared in the doorway. “We’re going to McDonalds for lunch. You want to ride with us?”
With my back to the door, I continued to fold laundry. “No thanks. I still have a headache.” It was no longer a lie. I had talked myself into a full-blown migraine.
William paused as if he wanted to say more, but changed his mind. “We’ll be back in an hour or so then.”
When I didn’t respond, he left. I knew my reaction was tearing him apart, but I couldn’t help it. I was weary of beating myself up. Soon after they left, I took two migraine tablets and lay across the bed. Within moments, the pain reliever kicked in and I drifted off to sleep.
Hours later, my slumber was interrupted by William screaming in my ear, “Jen, wake up!”
Even though I sensed panic in his voice, I was slow to respond.
“Get up!” He shook me. “John fell off the scooter. He’s bleeding. Please! I need your help!”
Still half asleep, I found the first-aid kit and approached the screaming kid. He was sitting on the sidewalk, hugging his knee, and rocking back and forth, as the tears rinsed his filthy cheeks. Blood gushed from the gaping wound and spilled onto the walkway. I pulled a large gauze bandage from the kit and pressed it to his leg.
Turning toward James, I yelled, “Hold this!”
James reluctantly placed his hand on the bandage.
“Press hard!” I shoved his small hand against the gauze.
I glanced at my husband. All the blood had drained from his face and he looked like he might faint at any moment. “William, go into the house and get a towel!”
When he disappeared, I scolded the injured boy. “John, where are your knee pads? It doesn’t do any good to have safety equipment if you aren’t going to use it.”
The fearful eyes gaped at me, but the sobbing child did not respond.
When William reappeared with a towel, I wrapped it tightly around John’s knee and twisted the ends together. “Hold this in place while I get the car.”
He knelt beside the child and gripped the homemade bandage while I dashed into the house, grabbed several towels, and laid them across the back seat before backing out of the garage and parking the car beside them. William lifted John gently while James held the towel in place.
“Be careful,” I ordered as they crawled into the back seat. “Don’t get blood on the carpet.”
I drove to the hospital while William applied pressure to the wound and tried to calm the screaming child. When I glanced in the rearview mirror, my eyes were met by the reflection of a stone-faced boy. James, who sat directly behind me, glared at me in the mirror. I tore my eyes from the convicting image and increased my speed. Twenty minutes later, I pulled into the emergency room entrance. William ran through the automatic doors carrying his bleeding son. James followed.
For several minutes I sat in the parked car and stared into space. God, help me. Please help me. How can I be so uncaring?
When I entered the building, I was met by the desk nurse. “Go on back honey. Your family is in Room 105. Just go through those doors and turn right.”
Immediately, my ears encountered screaming, “I want my Mama! No! Don’t touch me! I want my Mama!”
I ran down the hallway toward the terrified voice.
“It’s okay John ,” I assured him as I rushed into the room.
“I … I … want my Mama!” His voice trembled.
I wrapped my arms around the small frame. “I’m here now. I’ll take care of you.”
The nurse attempted to lift the towel and look at the knee.
“No it hurts,” John cried, gripping the towel as he yelled. “It really hurts.”
I took his tiny face in my hands. “Look at me, John . She’s not going to hurt you.”
“You promise?” His pleading voice pierced my heart.
I glanced at William who once again had turned pale. “Why don’t you take James to the waiting area?”
“Are you sure? I can stay back here with John if you want to go out.”
At that moment, wild horses could not have pulled me from that child. “I’m positive. Go on. James doesn’t need to see this.”
William took James by the hand and led him from the room as I turned to the other twin. “John, look at me sweetie.”
He stared into my eyes.
The nurse lifted the towel and blood spurted on the floor.
“He’s going to need stitches,” she informed me as she grabbed a clean bandage and placed it on the wound.
“I don’t want no stitches. Please!” John grabbed the front of my shirt, pulled me closer to his face, and begged, “Please don’t let ‘em put stitches in me.”
“John. Sweetie, listen to me. It’s not going to hurt.” Remembering the kids from the parking lot, I quickly added, “I’ll tell you what.”
His lip quivered. “Wh … wh … what?”
“If you let them fix your knee, we’ll stop for ice cream on the way home. You do like ice cream, don’t you?”
He shook his head.
“Okay! It’s a deal.”
“Deal!” John spat into his dirty little hand and extended it. “Shake on it?”
Without hesitation, I spat into my hand and took his small brown hand in mine.
When the doctor entered the room, John grabbed both of my hands as tears slipped down his face. “I’m scared,” he cried.
“I know baby. I’m scared too, but I’ll hold your hand the whole time. You just keep your eyes on me. Okay?”
The doctor rolled his chair in front of John as the child’s grip tightened around my fingers. I watched the doctor stick the long needle into the child’s knee and tears filled my eyes.
John stared at my face. With his spit covered, grimy hand, he reached up and patted my cheek. “Why are you crying?” he asked.
“Don’t you know? Mommies always cry when their babies are hurt.”
While the doctor stitched the damaged knee and taped the bandage in place, mother and child clung tightly to each other. After several moments, the doctor patted his arm. “You are a very brave boy.”
A huge smile filled John ’s face revealing the deep dimples that were so familiar to me.
I stroked the depression with my finger and asked, “Do you know that you look just like your daddy?”
In the open doorway, William appeared holding the hand of his other replica.
I turned toward James . “You both do!”The following morning, a proud father led his family through the doors of The First Baptist Church of Littleville. I followed, holding the hands of two beautiful, curly-headed, brown children – one on each side. I could hear the whispers all around, but I didn’t care. God had given us two precious children and nothing in the world would dim the love that filled my heart.