This story is the sequel to Glue Sticks and Crayons. It was originally posted elsewhere. It also is slightly rewritten from the first draft, though not as much as the first story.
Cassandra Cillian pulled into a parking lot and stopped to collect the items on the passenger seat, a bouquet of flowers and a piece of paper with directions on it. She hadn't told her boyfriend where she was going today, she'd instead asked his sister for directions to his late wife's grave.
She took a deep breath and opened the car door, stepped out and looked down at the directions. Tomorrow she was officially moving in with Jake and the twins. She'd pretty much been living there since Labor Day when they'd sat the children down and talked about the move. The kids seemed more excited about it then her cat did, though in his last trip to the house, he'd discovered a window that seemed to be to his liking. She'd had such a tough time getting him out of it, that Maggie had laughed and said that was a sign that he just needed to stay. So Sparky moved in two weeks ahead of schedule.
Tomorrow, the last Saturday in September, would be the day they moved the last of her belongings out of the apartment she'd lived in since she'd come to Texas. Most of her things had already gone to Jake's but there was some furniture that she was moving in, a few assorted books and the things that were going into storage until she could decide what to do with them. Despite the fact that she'd been basically living with Jake for a month now, tomorrow felt so final.
And that's why she was here this afternoon. To have a conversation with Mabel Stone about this new change in her husband and children's life.
"This is a beautiful spot," Cassandra said as she sank to her knees next to the stone, placing the bouquet on the grave. "I'd chose it if I had the choice myself."
She bit her lip. "Hi May, I'm Cassandra. I know Jake's told you a lot about me. And he's told me a lot about you. I know it seems silly for me to come seek you out, given that I'm moving into your house. . ."
She sighed. "But that's just it. I am. And I know that you're comfortable with that, I've never once felt anything but acceptance and love in that house. And I really want to thank you for that. For loving him enough to help him move on. Made it easy for him."
"It's just . . .May. . .it's so unfair. Jake might just be the love of my life. I know it's so early and I feel like I'm getting ahead of myself sometimes . . . . But he's the man I've been searching for all my life. I love him so much and I'd like him to be the father of my children. But I know that for me to have this happiness, you had to die. And . . . .oh May, that's not right."
"Maggie, she cried before she had to go to school because she missed you so much. And I'd give it all up if you were still with them."
Cassandra bent her head, letting the tears fall into the grass, a breeze stirred up the leaves in the tree above her and blew past her cheek. An odd sensation as if someone or something touched her shoulder came over her and she looked up. But there was nothing there but the breeze and a leaf that had fallen off the tree.
But she felt oddly comforted just the same.
"I know life isn't always fair," Cassandra said softly. "But Jake told me that life had given him you and me and that we're the reason he gets through it. So I promise May, I'll take care of them for you. I refuse to take your place, but I will love your children just like I will my own. And I will love Jake until he goes back to you and even then I'll love him. We'll just have to figure out how to share when we get there, huh?"
Some leaves twirled in a circle on the sidewalk in front of the grave and Cassandra giggled. "Thought that was funny, huh? Yeah, me too. He's got a big heart, May, more than enough room for both of us. And I don't mind sharing him as long as it's with you."
"Jake showed the twins a video you made before they were born, about how you would love and support them, no matter what they want from life. I think you and I have a lot in common when it comes to our own childhoods. So I promise, I'll give your kids all the support they need in life, just like Jake will. And I'll remind him of the promise he made to you. Don't worry, okay? You're leaving them in good hands. I promise."
"Thanks for everything May. For being accepting, for those beautiful children, for the influence on Jake that's made him the man he is today. And for hearing me out. I feel a lot better about things now that I've talked to you. Goodbye May."
She rested her hand briefly on the stone and then got up and walked away. Above her head, a bird kept pace with her until she got to her car. Then it landed on the gate, chirped once and then flew into the sky.
Jake and Cassandra were sorting boxes at her apartment while waiting for Flynn and Eve to arrive to help. The twins had really wanted to help but Jake had put his foot down, figured they'd be more hindrance than actual help. His mother offered to babysit, so they were off with her for the day.
"Are you sure you want all of my decorations over at your place and not in storage?" Cassandra asked, looked up from where she was labeling boxes with a marker.
"Yeah, we'll put the seasonal ones in the crawl space with the ones I have and then you can decide later what works together."
"But . . . ." Cassandra bit her lip, not sure what to say.
"Ba-"Jake broke off, he'd nearly called her 'baby' which had been his choice of endearment for May. He'd not wanted to use it with anyone else, though sometimes Cassandra's insecurity reminded him so strongly of May's that he almost slipped into it. "Honey, what is it?"
"It's just it's your house and I don't know if . . . ."
"Now, cut that out." Jake strode over to her and cupping her chin in his hand, tilting her face toward him. "You're not just coming over for a weekend. This is going to be your home. Our home. Decorate it as you want it to look and will make you comfortable. If you like my stuff better, that's fine. But only if it's your preference. There are certain things that need to stay up because they mean things to me and the kids. But I'll let you know what those are. Everything else is fair game. And even those things can be moved to another room if we have to. Okay?"
She nodded. "I'm sorry, I'm just . . . ."
"I know. Trust me. I do understand. But I mean it, it's your place too now. So if you want different curtains or want to change the bedding, just let me know and we'll do that. Maybe I'll even like it better. Like how I like your dresser better than mine, so yours is going in there. And we needed the nightstand anyway."
She smiled at him. "Thank you, I needed the reminder. It is going to be our home now."
He smiled back. "I like the sound of that, our home." Then he kissed her.
Soon afterward, Eve and Flynn arrived to help them move.
After dropping a load of items off at Cassandra's storage unit, they headed off to the house with the U-Haul. Eve had whispered something to Jake before they'd left and he'd laughed and nodded.
They pulled into the driveway and Jake said to Cassandra, "okay we need to go in the house first, I need to make sure the dresser will fit through the door, we might need to take it in around back."
She nodded and headed up with him. She did wonder why he didn't grab measuring tape from the garage, but she figured maybe it was inside. She was wondering why Eve and Flynn were following them. Though it had been a hot day, so maybe they all wanted a drink of water first.
The door opened and it was quite dark in the living room. Jake flipped on the light and suddenly shouts of "Surprise!" came from the living room.
Several of the neighbors and their kids, both of Jake's parents, Ezekiel and a few of their co-workers stood in the living room. The twins were holding a banner that they quite obviously had made themselves (though likely with their grandmother's help) that said "Welcome home Cassandra!"
"Oh, Jake," Cassandra said.
He shook his head. "This was all the kids' idea. They got Eve and their granny in on it. I didn't find out about it until this morning."
"Oh," and Cassandra burst into tears, which caused both the kids to stare at her in dismay, dropping the banner.
"What's the matter, darlin'?" Jake asked gently.
"Nothing, nothing at all. This is just so wonderful, happy tears. Come here you two and give me a hug. This is so wonderful, no one has ever done something like this before for me."
"We have cake!" proclaimed Matt.
Their grandmother laughed from behind them. "Don't worry Cassandra, they didn't make it, your kitchen is safe."
"My kitchen," and she squeezed Maggie just a little tighter. "Yes, my kitchen is safe. Well, let's go eat that cake then!"
A while later, the chaos gone except for a couple of the neighborhood men who were helping Jake, Eve and Flynn move the stuff into the house, Cassandra was in the kitchen with Jake's mother.
"I want to thank you so much for this Mrs. Stone."
"Honey, please call me Jeannie, okay? We're family now. Or close enough."
"Does that bother you? " Cassandra blushed. "That we're not married yet?"
Jeannie shook her head, "sweetie, Mary had two children before she got their father to make it legal. And that was only because the kids asked him. He ain't ever gonna leave her, he just wasn't into the paper. But anything for his little ones. As for you and our Jake, he'll ask you to marry him when the time is right."
Cassandra smiled. "I know. I'm not too worried about it. Jake actually surprised me, he seemed more old fashioned. And he and May . . . ."
"Well, he and May were barely past babies when they got married. Her mother pitched a fit that they had to be married to live together. I thought they were too young, but ah, they were so determined. But they . . . ."
"They'd still be happily married if she was still alive, I know." Cassandra sighed and wiped at some invisible dust on the counter.
"Now, darlin', don't. Fate is fate. May got taken way too young. And yes, Jake and May would have gone the distance, but that's not how it happened. And you gotta stop beating yourself up about it."
"How did you know that I . . . ."
"Oh, Cassandra, it's written all over your face. You have so much guilt over it. And Jake can reassure you until he's blue in the face but it don't do a lick of good." Jeannie shook her head. "You have a mama like Mabel's don't you? She was always so insecure too, poor thing. My Jake is head over heels for you and my heart is so glad to see he's in good hands. And Mabel would be too. I'm sure she never had thoughts about that sort of thing when she was alive, you don't when you're young. But she wasn't the type to have wanted him unhappy and alone for the rest of his life. You make him happy and you make his children happy. So enjoy this life you have. May's a lesson for all of us. Don't dwell on what could have been or should have been. Live for today. Love him and make your life together. Alright?"
Cassandra hugged the older woman much to her surprise. "Thank you so much. I wish I had a mama like you."
"Well, now that does a heart good." Jeannie shook her head. "Best ya can do is be like May was and vow to do better by her own children. You're doing great with the twins and when you give me more grandchildren, you'll be a great mama to them too."
Cassandra blushed but nodded. She's long ago made that vow. She'd be the mother she always wanted, not the one she had.
That night, after checking that the kids were asleep, Jake firmly locked the door behind him entering the bedroom.
She smirked from the bed. "Oh, welcoming me home in proper fashion?"
"I told ya before this was our bed, but now it's our bedroom. So I think it's only fitting. That is if you're not too tired from everything today."
She hopped off the bed to kiss him. "Not too tired."
"Good," and he lowered her onto the bed.