“Honey, I’m home!” The greeting was followed by a round of laughter and an “I’ve always wanted to say that”, as the front door snapped shut.
Jayden turned to Kim who froze, a look of alarm in her eyes.
He smiled, “That’s Terrie”. He then yelled, “In the living room, Sis.”
He and Kim had settled for a game of Wii and hot tea after their coffee in the kitchen. Kim wasn’t especially good at the game, in fact, she pretty much sucked which gave him good reason to make fun of her. She pretended to be offended but she laughed so much it was hard to think she wasn’t enjoying herself.
He threw his controls on the couch and wondered how he hadn’t seen Terrie’s car through the large glass windows. Too distracted with trying to beat Kim – not that he even had to try.
A blonde head popped into the living room, and Terrie came charging at him.
“Little brother!” She exclaimed just before wrapping him into a big hug.
“Great to see you too, Sis” He meant it more than it sounded. Being away from Terrie was always tough.
Terrie pulled away and grinned at him, “Look at you!” She placed a hand on her hip, “Been working out?”
He chuckled, “Stronger than I look.”
She smirked, “Sure you are.”
Jayden mirrored her smirk, a challenge in his eyes. Before she could grasp what he would do, he lifted her petite figure up and over his shoulder.
“Jayden! Jayden put me down.” She hit him playfully over the shoulder and burst out laughing.
Her laughter was contagious. Always had been. He carried her over to the largest couch and dropped her. She laughed, a pleading look in her eyes as if she knew what was coming.
“Oh no. Jay…no. You wouldn’t dare.”
Jayden’s smirk grew. Her laughter filled the living room even before he started tickling her while she fought to break free.
His stomach hurting from laughing so hard, he stopped and helped Terrie sit up. That’s when he caught sight of Kim. Her face held an expression that showed just how uncomfortable she was. She even almost looked in pain, or was he imaging it? Her arms were folded across her stomach and she appeared slightly out of place.
Terrie seemed to have noticed Kim too. He watched as the smile slowly faded from his sister's face. She turned to Jayden, her gray eyes wide. He could tell what she was thinking. He could almost hear the words. He avoided the question in her eyes and cleared his throat.
“Kim, this is my crazy sister Terrie. Terrie, meet Kim.”
Kim attempted what turned out looking like a tight smile. “Hi Terrie.”
Terrie finally grinned and got up to give Kim a hug, like her usual joyful nature would have her. “Nice to meet you, Kim. About time my brother got himself a girlfriend.”
Jayden rolled his eyes.
“Oh, we…we’re not together.” Kim looked from Terrie to Jayden and then back.
Terrie chuckled, “Oh, I know, honey. You are way too pretty for him.”
“Ok, that’s it. You’re not even back two seconds and you’re getting on my nerves. Remind me when you’re leaving?” Jayden mock-glared at his sister.
“Good news. I can stay till the New Year. So it looks like you’re gonna have to deal with me for two months, kiddo.” She hit him playfully on the shoulder.
He hid his smile. Two months couldn’t be enough. Man, he’d missed her.
Terrie turned to Kim, “Did Jayden give you a tour of the house?”
Kim shook her head.
“C’mon, I’ll show you. Jay, help me with my suitcase.”
The ladies hurried out of the living room and up the stairs. Jayden carried his sister’s luggage from the hallway and straight to her room. The last time he’d seen her was Easter. Her new job as an editor was keeping her busier than she could've expected but she seemed to love what she did.
He settled back in the living room, only to be joined by the ladies a moment later.
“Your place is pretty amazing” The amusement shone from Kim’s eyes.
He grinned, “Thanks. Our great grand-dad built the original structure.”
Terrie crashed on the couch beside him and Kim hesitantly followed suit, sitting on Jayden’s other side.
“Jay never tells the story right. But Great-granddaddy built it for a beautiful woman. He wanted to win her love.”
Jayden shook his head at his sister. She had the same sweet dreamy look she always had on her face when she told the story.
“Did it work?” Kim stared intently at Terrie.
Terrie beamed, “well, no. When she found out that he’d done that to win her love she refused to marry him.”
“Wow. Sad. What'd he do?" Kim's eyebrow furrowed in eager interest.
"Well, he stopped trying. But he didn't give up as such. He would write her letters once a week. And then when he saw her he would say nothing about it. But he stopped trying to buy her things and give her things. Two years later, he asked her to marry him again and she accepted." Terrie sighed dreamily.
"When he asked her why she now accepted, she told him that she'd always loved him. But she couldn't get herself to marry a man who thought it was possible to buy her love. She wanted someone who would be himself. She loved him the way he was. She'd wanted him to be confident in that person. You see, great-granddaddy's family wasn't very wealthy. They were all mostly carpenters. But great-grandma? Her parents were pretty rich. That's why he'd tried to impress her with the house. They got married and lived in this house. Great-grandma's father bought them the forest as a wedding present." Terrie looked out through the large glass walls into the forest.
"Wait, the forest is yours?" Kim looked from one sibling to the other.
"Oh, did I forget to mention that?" Jayden grinned at her.
Kim's face fell, "It’s just, I didn't think it belonged to anyone." Her voice lowered, “It...it was my sister's favorite place in the whole world. I...I always kind of saw it as her sanctuary. I don't...I don't think she knew..." Kim's voice cracked. She looked up at Jayden as if awakening from a dream. And he could see the moisture that had started to form in her eyes.
She shifted on the couch and cleared her throat, "I'd better get going."
Jayden swallowed and got up after her. "I'll walk you to the door."
He watched her get her coat in an almost robotic manner, as if her mind was elsewhere. Then he followed her out unto the porch. The moon had set and it was getting dark.
She turned to him, a weak smile on her face, "Thank you Stuttering Jay. Thanks for the coffee, the Wii, the tea. And Terrie's great."
He nodded, feeling the cold make it through his flannel shirt. "You're welcome, Oreo Thief." He felt his forehead crease, "You gonna be Ok?"
She nodded and chuckled, the sound forced. "Yes, of course. I'm fine."
Jayden captured her gaze and stared hard at her. Her façade slowly faded and he was sure there were tears in her eyes but she quickly turned away.
"You gonna find your way around the forest?" His chest tightened in pain for this girl who had been like a stranger only a couple of hours ago.
She nodded and quickly dabbed her eyes as if hoping he wouldn't see. Then she set off. The wind whistled as if crying with her. Her footsteps echoed in the ensuing silence...leaving behind a tormented Jayden.
Jayden grabbed the empty mugs from the living room and took them to the kitchen. There, he found Terrie standing in front of the large glass doors, her back to him, looking out into the dark forest.
He could almost hear her thoughts again. And now that they were alone, nothing would stop her.
He turned his back to her and filled the sink with water so as to soak the dirty dishes. He heard Terrie's footsteps approach but he blocked them out. He blocked out his own voice, screaming at him in his head, blocked out the sight of Kim sitting against the tree trunk in tears from earlier that day.
"I like your new friend, Jay," Terrie's soft voice somehow managed to penetrate his thoughts.
He took out the clean dishes from the washer and put them away. "Yeah, she's alright. She liked you too."
"Mmmm" he could feel Terrie's eyes on his back.
She came beside him and sat facing him on the counter, her eyes fixed towards the glass doors.
Jayden grabbed a couple of mugs from the sink and placed them in the washer before setting it off. The machine's familiar noise filled the kitchen.
He stood there in silence, also looking out into the forest, the machine's noise serving as background music.
"Tell me, what game are you playing, little brother?" Terrie's voice seemed to echo through the kitchen.
Jayden passed on breathing for a second. He turned his back and got to cleaning the sink. "I don't know what you're talking about, Sis."
He heard Terrie sigh. She jumped off the counter. "You know she shouldn't be here."
Jayden's heart went for a sprint. "I s-s-till don't know w-what you're talking ab-about." Sure, his stuttering just had to kick in at this very moment.
Terrie fixed him, a small smile on her sweet beautiful face. "I'm not sure you've thought this through."
"There's nothing to think through. That's just it, Sis. I'm t-t-tired of thinking. I'm s-s-sick of it" he stopped. Took a deep breath. Of course Terrie didn't care how badly he stuttered or whether he stuttered at all for that matter. But this instant, he cared, because it meant his emotions were getting the better of him. "I just want to do what seems right to me."
Terrie came up close to him. She reached up on tiptoes and placed her hands on either side of his face, "Jayden Camden Finnegan, look at me."
He trained his eyes to stop avoiding hers.
"This. This right here. It has got to stop. You have got to stop doing this to yourself. I get it. We all do. But please Jay, live your life."
He shoved a hand through his hair, "that's what I' m doing, Terrie."
Her gaze stayed fixated on him, her hands now on his shoulders. She finally let go and nodded. She walked back to the glass doors and looked out a moment before turning around to meet his eyes, "this could end very badly, little brother."
Jayden swallowed and forced a smile, "as long as it ends."
Terrie's features were consumed by worry.
Jayden walked up to her and hugged her from behind. She still smelt like a mix of cinnamon, mint and vanilla, just like always.
She took his hands and squeezed it, "I've missed you, dork."
Jayden chuckled, "missed you too, Little Bit."
Terrie lightly stepped on him, “watch it, clown.”
“Ouch! That so did…not even hurt a bit. You still step like a girl, Shortcake.”
“At least I can take you on the basketball court, slowpoke.”
“What? That’s never actually happened.”
“Mmm, displaying signs of selective memory there, Lord Dork-ington.”
“Technically, you’ve already used that one, Oompa Loompa.”
Terrie laughed and sighed. "I've been praying for my favorite dork. Now I'm letting go. I'm just gonna sit back and watch what God's up to."
They stood there staring outside. Until Terrie turned to him, a big smile on her face, "Looks like a starry night. You thinking what I'm thinking?"
Jayden grinned, "Sure am. You get the binoculars and the blankets. I'll whip us some hot cocoa."
Terrie squeezed him in a hug before skidding out of the kitchen.
Jayden gazed at the stars and prayed to God he hadn't made a huge mistake today. Whatever the case, it was an easy fix. He'd stay away from Kim. He could do that. He'd done it for the past couple of years anyway. He could still do it now. And he would.