Truths of the Father
It was a quiet night in the Hotchner household. Neither felt like cooking or cleaning the kitchen after the day they'd had, and they'd both skipped lunch, so they opted for Chinese takeout for dinner. They ate, watched a little television, though neither was paying much attention to it. The emotional afternoon coupled with very little sleep the night before left Jack completely drained. He went upstairs, took a long hot shower, and went to bed early. Aaron took a few minutes to check his email, many of which were from his team telling him to stop checking his email and enjoy his vacation. He had to chuckle. They knew him too well. He shut down the computer, double checked all the locks and the alarm, and also opted for an early night.
Jack lay awake, his ceiling fan once again spinning in time with the thoughts and images of the day floating through his mind. He'd spent many years imagining what must have happened to his mom. His imagination had conjured up some terrifying scenarios, but nothing that compared to the truth. He knew there was no way he would be able to wrap his head around everything he'd heard tonight. Probably not for days or weeks, if ever. After seeing how deeply those events still affected his dad after so long, he knew he didn't have a prayer. He tried to sleep. It wasn't happening. It didn't happen for him earlier either. He couldn't quiet his mind. He ran through their conversation again. Committed all the details to memory. And though he knew it was completely illogical, he couldn't help but wonder if there was anything he could have done to change the outcome.
He looked at the clock. 2:37am. He groaned and rolled out of bed. He rubbed his tired eyes and thought maybe a cup of tea would help him sleep. He left his room quietly so as not to wake his dad. Until he noticed his dad's light was on.
Aaron tried to sleep. He dozed off a time or two but he kept waking up. He was worried about Jack and couldn't stop thinking about Haley. He wished he could talk to her, get her reassurance that telling Jack everything was the right thing to do. Get her reassurance that Jack would be okay knowing everything he knows now. He sighed heavily, turned on his bedside lamp and got out of bed.
The bottom drawer of his dresser was "her" drawer. It held the special things he couldn't bear to part with after her death. Things they both held dear. Their high school yearbooks from the year they first met. His old pirate hat with their copy of 'The Pirates of Penzance'. Their wedding album. The string of pearls she wore that day. The cards from their first anniversary. An envelope with Jack's sonogram pictures. The tiny blue outfit that Jack wore when they brought him home from the hospital.
Sitting beside the tiny blue outfit was the book he was looking for. He held it gently, a smile spreading across his face. He sat on the edge of his bed and opened it. Inside this book were some of the greatest memories of their lives. She'd put this book together herself. Her creativity and passions revealed themselves with every turn of the page. He ran his fingers gently over the picture on the front page. Her smile was as big as he'd ever seen it. So was his.
He looked up to see his son standing in the doorway.
"Hey buddy. Couldn't sleep?"
"No," he shook his head.
Jack walked in and sat next to his father. He smiled at the picture his dad was looking at. "What are you looking that?"
"Have you not seen this?"
"I don't think so."
Aaron shook his head. "I can't believe I've never shown this to you. I thought for sure I had." He closed the book and handed it to Jack. "It's your baby book. Instead of buying one, she made it herself. She took this book everywhere with her during your first year. She would add to it here and there. Jot down memories and funny stories. All your 'firsts' are in there. And there are some great pictures in there."
Jack opened the cover and saw the picture that had his dad smiling so big. They were in the hospital. His mom was in the bed wearing a smile as big as the sun. His dad was leaning over her, the awe and admiration he felt written all over his face. And in her arms she held her newborn son wrapped in a baby blue blanket, his tiny fist wrapped tightly around her finger.
"I've never seen this picture," he smiled. "It's hard to believe I was ever that small."
"Tell me about it. I remember the first time I held you. You were so tiny I was afraid I was going to break you. But your mom... she was an instant pro. She was amazing with you." Just like in the picture, the awe was evident on his face. "There are a lot of pictures in there you've probably never seen before."
He flipped the cover page. On page one were a few sonogram pictures. He squinted, trying to make out the images. "Soooo... all this black and grey swirly stuff... I'm in here somewhere?"
Aaron laughed. "Yes. Right here," he pointed to the speck in the first picture. "Here," he pointed to the larger peanut-looking speck in the second picture. "And here," he pointed to the shape that was starting to look much more like a baby.
"Wow," he stared in wonder.
He flipped the page. This one had lots of little blue pictures of toys and trucks surrounding another sonogram picture. 'It's a BOY!' was written largely at the top of the page. His grin widened at the obvious joy his mother had when she found out she was having a son. He flipped again and saw a picture of the three of them arriving home as a family for the first time. There were pictures of his first bath, of him laying on the floor on his belly playing with his dad. One he instantly fell in love with was of him sound asleep in his mother's arms while she slept in a recliner by the window. He lingered on that one for a while.
"That's one of my favorites too," Aaron whispered. Jack smiled at him, then kept going through the book. The picture of him smiling showing off his first tooth drew more chuckles. He was in a playpen with a stuffed soccer ball. Sitting in a high chair with food all over him. He noticed in the vast majority of pictures there was a green stuffed dragon somewhere close by. His favorite toy.
"That dragon went everywhere with you for a good three years, I think. Your aunt still has it."
"Really?" Jack asked, surprised.
"Mmm-hmm. None of us were about to part with that dragon. He was special. You got that on your first Christmas." There were pictures of that too.
He flipped through more pages. There was a picture of him smiling and clapping with a caption: "I said my first word today!" A picture of him on very unsteady feet. In a big floppy hat on the beach for the first time. All bundled up in the snow for the first time. And many pictures from his first birthday party.
"This is really great, Dad. She made this really special."
The last few pages were titled "About your Mom and Dad". There were various pictures of them throughout their relationship. High school prom, dates throughout the years, the night they were engaged. Their wedding day. The day they found out they were having a baby. One picture in particular stood out. Two high school kids on a stage in a play.
"Is that..." he cocked an eyebrow and shot a smirk at his dad, "the infamous pirate hat?"
"Do not knock the pirate hat," Aaron pointed at his boy. "That hat is the reason you exist."
Jack laughed hard and so did his dad.
"I love that story," Jack said.
"Me, too," he smiled.
Jack grinned. "Tell me again."
Aaron nodded his head, still chuckling, and went to the drawer. "The story must be told properly," he said, removing the pirate hat from the bottom drawer and putting it on. Then he picked up 'Reflections 1987'. "Thank you, Haley," he whispered and smiled, and sat beside his son.
"Once upon a time, way back in the year 1987..."
Thank you very much to all of you who reviewed/favorited/alerted this journey. Your feedback has been wonderful and insightful! I appreciate all the support!
Just in case that last line should sound familiar to anyone, it's a nod to a story I wrote back in 2009 called "Love of my Life", in which Aaron first tells four-year-old Jack the story of how he and his mom met.