A Charmed Life
Chapter 44: Pasts, Presents and Futures
Copyright© 2016 by The Outsider
17 March 1997 - Hilltop Road, Lancaster, Massachusetts
“We have been parents for two days, Jeffrey, and you already know how to hover. I am not going to break!” Keiko swatted at Jeff’s hands as he “helped” her to the couch; they’d just returned home from Leominster Hospital with their sons.
“Keiko, nothing in this world is as important to me as you and the boys!” The aforementioned boys were unimpressed with their father’s declaration; they were sound asleep in their baby carriers.
“Do you wish for me to kick your gluteus maximus around the mat while we spar? Jeffrey, relax! Sit down here with me.” Keiko pushed Jeff onto the couch and snuggled up to him. She gazed down at the boys while his arms encircled her. “Jeffrey, I know you care about us but I do not wish for us to become ‘those’ parents; we will NOT hover over them, and you will NOT hover over me! We make sure the boys are safe, yes, but we must also allow them to fail. It will not be easy for us to do, but they will be better able to succeed later in life if we encourage them to try their best no matter what the outcome. You say it yourself, Jeffrey: ‘What if I hadn’t made the attempt to change when I was thirteen? What if I’d been too afraid of failing?’ We would not be here together, that is for certain.”
“You are right far too often, Keiko.”
“You should be used to this by now, Jeffrey. It is the natural way of things.” Jeff blew his wife a raspberry and tickled her; she tapped him in the ribs with an elbow. “In all seriousness, Jeffrey, an awesome responsibility has been given to us in our children, our boys.”
“Which we will handle like we’ve handled the past three years, Keiko: as a team. I’m not going anywhere. I know our hard work is just beginning, but we will make it through together. I’m sorry your Dad couldn’t come out with your Mom this time.”
Keiko gave an un-Keiko-like shrug. “Father knew he would not have much vacation time left after the visit to Japan and the visits to us last year. You submitted your summer vacation requests, correct?”
“Yes, I’ve been approved for the week off after July Fourth as well as my Monday and Tuesday shifts the week after. I’ll get off work at eleven the night of July fifth and won’t have to be back at work until seven in the morning on the nineteenth. I found my own coverage for the shifts on the fourteenth and fifteenth; that’s why they approved the requests. We’ll fly to Spokane on the sixth, come back the fifteenth, and I’ll still have three days to relax once we’re home.”
“Next item,” Keiko said, “we need to make sure that the house is ready for our visitors tomorrow.”
The two grandmothers burst into tears when they walked into the boys’ bedroom the next afternoon and caught sight of them for the first time; Kara reacted the same way. Stu, Joe and Jeff shared a silent look, shaking their heads. Matty - holding his little sister’s hand - took in the scene, shook his head and muttered: “Women.” The three older men fell over each other laughing. The women were less amused.
Marisa and Mayumi each claimed a baby; they carried their grandsons downstairs to the living room. Jenni Masterson scrambled up onto the couch to sit next to her “Gamma” and check out the interesting doll she held. Gamma showed Jenni that the doll was something called “cousin Ryan.” She thought it was cool when Ryan opened his eyes and looked at her.
“How much do they weigh again, Keiko? Alex doesn’t seem very heavy.”
“Alexander was five pounds, eleven ounces at birth, Mother; Ryan was five pounds, nine ounces. Dr. Nuno, our obstetrician assured us those weights are well within the norms for full-term twins.”
“And Alex has such big blue eyes!” Mayumi cooed to the boy in her arms. Alex closed his eyes and tried to go back to sleep.
“Just like his father!” Marisa said. Jeff batted his eyelashes at his wife when he passed by. Keiko looked at the ceiling as if she were in pain.
“So the visitations continue through the week?” asked Joe while settling into his chair in Jeff’s basement family room. The men let the women have their time with the boys by retreating downstairs.
“Yep,” Jeff replied, handing his father and Stu each a beer before settling into his own chair. “Heather and TC are coming tomorrow; Beth, Sean, Pamela and Finnegan on Thursday; Gene, Jean, Elise and Brady on Friday; Emilie, Charlie and Madeline on Saturday ... Going back to work next Monday will seem like a vacation!”
Stu gave his brother-in-law a cautionary look while leaning forward in his chair. “It would be best if you never say anything like that again. Have you forgotten your wife is a black belt?”
“She’s on the fifteen-day disabled list right now.”
“And when she comes off of it the first thing she’ll do is kick your ass! Trust me, Jeff, do not ever let Keiko hear you say anything remotely as stupid as what you just said! Ever!”
Joe watched the byplay with amusement. “I dunno, Stu. We could be messing with the survival of the fittest.”
“Good point, Joe,” Stu replied, leaning back into his chair and taking a drink of his beer.
Keiko tried to put the boys back down for another nap two hours later. They were fussy and irritable, however, like they’d been the night before. Jeff and Mayumi helped Keiko check the infants’ diapers but they were dry; they’d been fed prior to being brought upstairs which made the situation even more puzzling. After twenty minutes of rocking Alex and trying to get him to go to sleep, Jeff stood from the rocking chair he’d been in. On a hunch he put Alex in the same crib with Ryan and the wailing stopped. The silence was shocking.
Keiko’s face reflected that shock when she looked at her husband. “How did you know that would work, Jeffrey?”
“I didn’t,” he shrugged. “It was a hunch, nothing more.”
“They have been sleeping next to each other for nine months,” Mayumi pointed out.
“Exactly what my hunch was. They may not be identical twins but they are still twins.” Jeff watched the faces of both his sons relax while their breathing suggested they’d both fallen asleep. He nodded towards the door and filed out after the women, closing it behind him.
Keiko gave him a grateful hug. “Perhaps now they will get the rest they should have been getting.”
“And us as well. Mayumi, let’s get you set up in your room.”
“Oh, they’re so precious!” Heather gasped a day later when Keiko and Mayumi carried the twins into the living room; Jeff kept his sarcastic comments on how long they’d remain “precious” to himself, though he and TC shared a glance. Mayumi handed Ryan to Heather. He gazed up at her when he settled into her arms.
“Look at those big, brown eyes! Hi, Ryan! How have have they been sleeping?”
“The first night home was a long night for everyone,” Keiko replied. “Neither boy slept well so, as a consequence, neither did we. Yesterday, however, Jeffrey discovered the solution.”
“Quite by accident, if you remember,” Jeff added.
“How you arrived at the solution is irrelevant, Jeffrey. That you hit upon it is completely relevant, however.”
“What was the solution?” TC asked.
“He placed the boys in the same crib. They stopped crying right away; they appear much more at ease that way.”
“And, as a result, we’ve been able to get more sleep,” Jeff pointed out. Keiko rolled her eyes while giving him a smile.
The women started talking between themselves. TC motioned Jeff out of the room and out to the workout area.
“What’s up, Reb?”
“Jeff, I need to ask you about something,” TC replied as he pulled an item from his pocket; he showed that item to Jeff.
Jeff looked at what TC held for a moment. “I’m flattered, TC, but I’m afraid that my answer will have to be ‘no.’ I’m already happily married to Keiko.”
“Why I became friends with you I’ll never know,” TC sighed. “It’s for Heather! You’re a pain in the ass.”
Jeff smiled. “I know, TC, I know. You’re not just figuring this out, I hope? When are you going to ask her and why show me the ring before you do?”
“I wanted to know if you’re okay with me asking her.”
“Seems like Jane’s permission would be appropriate, or Tom Cavanaugh’s.”
“I’ve already gotten permission from the colonels, but she considers you her brother.”
“And you’ve got my blessing too, TC,” Jeff replied while placing a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Now you’ve got to figure out when to ask her the most important question of your life.”
“Are you going to be okay?” Jeff asked Keiko while they made the trip from his parents’ house to the Cliffside Hotel in Prescott.
“I will be when we return to your parents’ residence later this evening,” Keiko replied, wringing her hands.
Jeff patted her knee and returned his hand to the gear shift. “The boys will be fine, Keiko. It’s my parents I worry about.”
She gave him a pained look. “It is my first night out away from our sons, Jeffrey. You will forgive my trepidation, I trust?” Keiko received a smile in return.
The couple arrived at the Cliffside for Jeff’s Tenth Reunion. This would be the last year the Class of 1987 would be considered “young alumni;” their official reunions would now be every five years. Jeff admired his wife’s figure while they walked in from the parking lot. Six weeks of hard work in their gym at home paid obvious dividends. Unless you knew she’d delivered twins two months ago you’d be hard-pressed to tell.
“Take a picture, Jeffrey, it will last longer.”
“Those guys from our honeymoon, they can keep the pictures. I don’t need any because I have the real thing and that’s much better.”
Keiko gave him a big kiss before they went inside.
They picked up their name tags from the reunion’s registration desk and stepped inside the function room. They scanned the crowd but didn’t see any of his classmates or friends right away.
“Would you like anything from the bar? You’re still nursing the boys, so a Coke or something?”
“I will come with you.”
When the bartender handed them their drinks a voice came from behind them.
“Why do I always run into you at the bar, you lush?”
Jeff turned with a smile on his face, ready to introduce his wife to his oldest friend; he was not expecting to see the woman on Jack’s arm.
“Kathy Stein! You look terrific! Where have you been?”
“Hi, Jeff,” she said, giving him a hug. “Where I’ve been, as well as how, is a long and not entirely happy story.”
“Kathy’s staying here at the Cliffside like I am,” Jack said after giving his drink order to the bartender. “We ran into each other at the registration desk while we were checking in this afternoon. It took Kathy most of the afternoon to tell me her story. It’s ... It’s not a good story for a night that’s supposed to be fun like tonight.”
“Well, we’ll table that for now. Kathy, Jack, this is my wife, Keiko. Keiko, these fine folks are Kathy Stein and Jack Jarrett, two of my oldest friends in the world.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you both. Where are you sitting?”
“We haven’t picked a table yet,” Kathy replied.
Keiko hooked Kathy’s arm. “Let us go find one, then.” The arrival of Allison Newbury and Tony Rosado interrupted table selection. Then the arrival of Pauline and Frank McGahn delayed it further.
“We’re gettin’ the band back together!” Jack crowed while they all sat.
“Pauline, your Tenth Reunion was last year, wasn’t it?” Allison asked.
“Yes, but I knew this year was yours, and that all of you would be here. You, all of you, were my best friends growing up. I miss those days. I miss all of you. Other than Frank, I didn’t make any friends at UMass like the ones I made at Thompkins, who are all sitting right here around this table. Keiko, Tony, I don’t know you very well yet, but you’ve married two of my best friends and that’s enough for me; I look forward to getting to know you.” Tony and Keiko both thanked her.
“I’d like to say something about my absence over the past ten years, everyone.” Jack looked at his former girlfriend. “No, Jack, I know what you’re thinking, and I do need to explain myself to our friends.”
Kathy took a deep breath. “I was so excited to be going to NYU; as much as I loved it here during high school, I thought of going to school in New York as the biggest adventure of my life. I wasted the summer after graduation. I didn’t concentrate on my remaining time with Allison or Jack after you left, Jeff. In effect I left not too long after you did, even though I was here until August. Jack, I know you felt the distance I built between us that summer, but you were too kind to mention it.”
“When I got to NYU I found someone even more quickly than you did, Pauline. Unfortunately, my discovery didn’t evolve into the fairy-tale and wonderful life you and Frank have enjoyed. Domenic Accardi swept me off my feet within my first two months in the city; he was oh so smooth. He slowly, subtly, began to cut me off from my family in California, my parents here, and finally my friends in New York.”
“He convinced me to stay in New York after my freshman year, convinced me to move in with him by the end of the summer. I know why he did that now - to make it harder for my parents to find me and easier to control. My ATM card, credit cards? Gone. He insisted on giving me cash to spend; the apartment was in his name, the phone, everything.”
“He convinced me I didn’t need to go back to NYU by my junior year. By Halloween he’d convinced me to get married, which we did on New Year’s Eve 1989 in front of witnesses of his choosing. The first two years were okay, I guess. After that, things began to get worse. When I didn’t get pregnant right away his moods grew darker. That’s when the abuse started. He beat me for years after that. I made the standard excuses - I said I fell down the stairs, walked into doors, or shouldn’t have made him mad. Jeff, I see you nodding.”
“I’m a paramedic, Kathy,” Jeff answered, heartbroken for his friend. “I hear that more than I ever care to, directly or indirectly.” He knew her story would get worse.
Kathy nodded. “He grew steadily more violent until last year when he made his last mistake, a fatal one: he hit me in public. We were in the middle of Central Park when he flew into a rage, over what I don’t know. He punched me in the stomach and drove me to the ground. He followed me down and hit me in the head, sides and back while I tried to curl into a ball. Two officers walking foot patrol in the park stumbled across us. They ordered him to stop, but he didn’t until they took him down with their batons.”
“The officers called an ambulance for me. I finally summoned the courage to tell the paramedics how he was abusing me; then I told the nurse and the doctor who treated me. Each time I told the story it got easier and easier to tell. I told my story over and over until he went to jail. There he learned that he wasn’t the toughest; he was stabbed to death in the dining hall at Riker’s Island after being locked up less than a week. I was told he’d pissed off the wrong person. I didn’t shed a tear for him when I heard.”
“I cried for close to an hour when I spoke to my parents for the first time in almost eight years. They didn’t care how long it had been, just that I was safe. They’d looked for me for a couple of years, but then my mother’s cancer diagnosis derailed the search. Their time, effort and money went to that; there wasn’t enough left over to do both. Dad took an unpaid leave from GVMC, so there was no money coming in.”
“Mom was on her last legs when I called home last year. She was still lucid enough to answer the phone herself and know my voice. When I was well enough I came back here, back to Prescott. I helped Dad take care of Mom while her end approached; he and I took care of each other when she passed in the fall.”
“I convinced Dad go back to work last month; he’s only fifty-nine and still healthy. Dad convinced me to come to the reunion and to spend the night here, rather than feeling like I needed to rush home to him. I couldn’t believe my luck when I ran into Jack when we checked in, or my luck that he wasn’t married.”
“I can’t believe the luck that my friends aren’t disgusted by my story. I see your sorrow, but that’s all I see. There’s shock, but no pity in your faces, and I thank you for that. That makes me feel stronger than I have in years.”
Jeff looked across the table at Kathy. Jack’s fingers were interlaced with hers, a silent gesture of concern and an offer of support; they’d been like that since the start of her story. Jack give Kathy’s hand a squeeze. Allison, who’d been crying since she’d heard her friend had been battered, rose, pulled Kathy from her chair and wrapped her in a hug. Then everyone at the table rose to hug her.
Then the discussion turned to happier things. “They’re really two months old?” Kathy asked while Keiko passed around pictures of the twins; Pauline did the same with pictures of her kids. “You both look terrific, but you must not have gained any weight at all, Keiko!”
“I was in very good shape before I became pregnant, Kathy. Sparring with Jeffrey, as well as other work in our home gym, helped me shed what weight I did gain. I am not yet back to my original level of fitness, and I continue to work towards that goal.”
“Yes, Jeffrey and I practice our karate at home together when he is not working. Next month I will begin teaching at the dojo where he trains.”
“You’re still studying karate?” Kathy asked Jeff. “I thought you’d stopped before you joined the Army?”
“I did, but I started up again not too long after Keiko and I reconnected three years ago.” Jeff explained their history. “She’s second-level black belt; I’ll be testing for my black in two months, Sensei estimates. What’s next for you, Kathy?”
“I’m kinda out of touch with how far technology’s progressed in Computer Science, thanks to the last eight years, but I think I’m going to try night classes at UMass this fall. I’m also going to get back into the dating scene on a limited basis.” When Jeff raised an eyebrow she reached over and took Jack’s hand again.
“Jack?” he asked.
“I’m taking a job at GVMC ER, Jeff; I’m moving back to Massachusetts once my residency ends next month. Tom may like life in the Big City, and while my experiences in Dallas were good from a professional standpoint, I miss New England in general and the Valley in particular.” Jack looked at Kathy. “We may find that we’ve both grown too much, or that we’ve experienced too much, but we would like to see if we can find what we had back in high school.”