This is the final chapter of a story entitled The Other One. To start at the beginning, click here. Thank you so very much for reading.
“You’re late! ;)”
There wasn’t a chance I would ever understand why Jenn insisted on ending every text message with some sort of smiley face. There also wasn’t a chance she would ever stop doing it, so I guess I just had to live with it. Plus, I wasn’t late. I had just pulled up to her place to pick her up. We weren’t late quite yet, but the rest of my family had already gathered at my parent’s house so we were certainly holding things up.
Jenn got in the car and greeted me with a quick kiss on the cheek. As she held my hand, the rock on her ring finger glistened in the sunlight. It would, of course, be a sunny and warm Christmas here in Manchester, Mississippi. I’m not sure we were capable of having any other kind of weather.
“Can you believe it’s been a year since Bryce was in the hospital?” I asked her. It was certainly odd to me how quickly the time had passed by. Just a year ago, I was ready to abandon Manchester for the second time. I had started to completely regret ever coming back. But in just a year, I had permanently returned. It’s amazing how time allows you to look at events with much different clarity and understanding. After only a year, I can see my nephew’s sickness and surgery as something that shaped my family much more than hindered it.
“And it’s been a little over a year since you met me. Don’t just look at the bad stuff!”
“I wasn’t, I promise!” I had promised Jenn to look at the positives in life more often than I used to. I’d like to think I was making progress, but I knew that it really was something I would be working on for quite some time. Thankfully, she was there to help me out.
“I really wasn’t, Jenn. The whole event was a lot more than just a scary few days. You know, it changed things for the good, too.”
“I know.” She squeezed my hand a little tighter and smiled. “That’s much better.”
I suppose it was. I suppose a lot of things were much better these days.
By the time we got to the house, things were already chaotic. Mom had all of the food prepared and ready to set on the table. Dad was trying to conserve his social energy for lunch by avoiding everyone and finding anything to watch on TV. Ashley was with Rachel, watching after a very happy Bryce, who was more than keen to show off his Spider-Man costume. I had no idea where Alex was, but after the loud collective hello that greeted us, I’m sure he would find his way in here soon.
We had offered to bring some food, which of course was an idea Mom shot down, but we figured a pie would be appropriate anyway. We said hello to everyone, then walked into the kitchen to place it down. We found Alex in there, sneaking a taste of the honey glazed ham.
“Umm….this isn’t what it looks like,” he said, with all of the conviction of a kid raiding a cookie jar.
He received a berating from Mom, greeted Jenn with a hug, and we moved into the TV room with Dad as we were ordered away from the food.
Alex started the conversation after we got comfortable in couches far across the room from each other. “So man, how’s work going?”
“Oh, it’s about what you would expect. I think the best part of working in IT at a college is that they’re not terribly interested in making you dress well. I basically just sort of look like an older student who fixes the bad wifi.”
“Which is something you are, so I guess that fits, huh?”
Greymont University had generously offered me a position in their IT department under the caveat that I actually earn a computer science degree from them as well. This was also helped by the fact that working for them meant discounted tuition. All in all, they were incredibly helpful, and it made the transition back to Manchester much easier.
“You going to class?” My father broke his silence to treat me like I was 16.
“Yes, Dad. I am. Thanks for trusting me.”
He shrugged. I suppose he was limiting himself to just one sentence before lunch.
The only thing that interested us on television was some basketball which we had little interest in. Oh well. If it would allow us to mindlessly kill time before gorging ourselves on a Christmas feast.
Ah, that feast. I saw my mother move back towards the kitchen, so I assumed I would offer to help her out with something. I knew what the response would be, but maybe the smell of the food would satiate my appetite slightly.
“Hey mom, you need any help?”
“Oh no, honey, I’ve got it.”
She looked stronger these days. Of course, even if she wasn’t feeling strong, she would fake it because she was stubborn. Thankfully, treatment had gone well for her.
“Thank you for your offer, though, honey. I do appreciate how much help you’ve been since you got back.”
I think being here for my mom during her treatments was much more helpful than I realized. I wasn’t even trying to do anything special, but my mere presence was good for her spirit. I was glad, too, because it gave me more motivation to be around.
“Thanks, mom. I’m glad I could help out in what little bit I did.”
She placed a plate down on the table, walked back, and gave me a large hug. “You were more than a little help, son. You were wonderful.”
I feel like she was exaggerating, but at the same time, she was always good at making me feel important. She made me feel like much more than just a son, much more than an adopted one at that. She helped me feel like I belong, now more than ever. And this place, this city I had all but given up on, that I had once felt like such an outcast in, made me feel like I belonged. This really was where I supposed to be.
“You know,” Mom said, looking at me with a smile, “I’m really glad you returned home, son.”
I looked away from her for just a second, not because I didn’t want to respond, but because I wanted to take a moment before doing so. I wanted to look into the living room and see my family. I wanted to be reminded of what all was here. Dad, mom, Alex and Rachel, Ashley, Bryce, and now Jennifer, my lovely fiance. All eight of us, happy and at home in Manchester.
I wanted to look back and be reminded of what I returned for.
“I’m glad too, mom. I’m certainly glad too.”