Jenny From the Block Chapter 4
Another sleepless night. Another night watching the stars from a tiny apartment window. Another night contemplating jumping from that window to the pavement three stories down. Helen shrugged the thought off. It'd been a while since she wished she were dead too. Of course she'd never do it. Her sons meant the world to her and she was certain it would hurt them too much, but if she didn't have them… maybe the pavement would be quick. She sighed and pulled the blanket that hung over her shoulders a little bit tighter around her. It was starting to get very cold, and it wasn't even October yet. She crossed to the thermostat and turned it up a little bit more. The boys didn't need to be cold with their fevers.
A door opening down the hall startled her. She hadn't heard anyone get up. She turned and tried to make out which of the two had opened. Sean and Kevin's.
Sean was standing there, a small blanket clutched in his hand looking all of 6 years old rather than 11.
"Are you feeling sick too?" Helen walked toward him.
Sean shrugged and took a step back.
Helen froze. "What is it, Seannie?"
He mumbled something and looked down at the blanket in his hand and than back at Helen.
She still hadn't moved, wondering if perhaps he was walking in his sleep. He looked scared. "Seannie?"
"I don't want you to die!" He blurted out before turning his face to hide any stray tears.
Helen closed her eyes and tried to ignore the pain in her heart for him. "Sean, I'm not going to die."
"Dad did. You could." He protested with a whisper.
Helen took a couple of steps closer, and than stopped again, waiting for him to continue.
"It's just, I don't want to not have a mom like Jenny does now." Sean was looking at her again, tears filling his eyes and dripping down his cheeks. "I love you, Mommy."
She could barely hear the last part, it had been at least five years since he'd called her Mommy. He was 'too old for that' now. She could feel the tears in her eyes as she slumped down at the table, still facing him. "Seannie…"
He stood still, watching her hold her arms out to him. Caught between 11 and a man, crying in his kitchen at 4 in the morning. He dropped his blanket and walked into her hug, nearly collapsing as she wrapped her arms around him.
"I am never going to leave you. I promise." Helen hated it. She couldn't guarantee that anymore than she would have been able to guarantee they wouldn't have lost Bobby, but she did it anyway. "I love you so much."
"Promise-promise?" Sean whispered into her hair as he scooted himself onto her lap. Probably just slightly too big for her to hold, but she didn't stop him.
"Yes, baby." Helen pulled him as tight against her as she could and rocked back and forth slowly.
Some time after he had fallen asleep on her, she managed to put her feet up on the chair next to hers, supporting him better and keeping her legs from falling asleep. She slouched down and just held him, content to make his night a little bit better. Helen, however, still could not sleep.
Jenny woke up early, the sun shining through the tiny window. It was bright, even though the window was just one thin pane of glass not even a foot wide running the height of the wall. She rubbed her eyes and swung her feet over the side of the bed. Sunday morning didn't usually bring silence to the Donnelly household. Where was everyone? She stood and crept to the door to peek out. Helen was at the table with Sean in her lap. She looked awake, but he was out cold. She slipped out and into Helen's field of vision. "Has he been there all night?"
Helen smiled softly. "Since about 4."
"Has to be uncomfortable." Jenny whispered sympathetically.
"I'll live." Helen looked down at Sean and than back to Jenny. "Do you want to make some coffee?"
"Yes, Ma'am." Jenny did coffee best. She would someday be, after all, the third generation owner of Reilly's Diner. She went to the kitchen and busied herself with getting the coffee on.
Helen shifted a little, causing Sean to bolt up, startled awake. "Ssh…" She tried not to laugh at his surprise. "I'm sorry, Sweetheart."
Sean looked at Helen a moment before smiling, almost shyly. "Did you sleep at all, Ma?"
She shook her head. "Not one bit. But that's okay, I wasn't planning on it."
He smiled back at her and kissed her on the cheek. "Thank you, Ma. I'm going back to bed." He slid off her lap gently and wandered back to his room, closing the door behind him.
Helen watched him go before moving her legs gingerly to the floor and leaning forward.
"I can't wait to have kids." Jenny laughed from the kitchen.
Helen eyed her teasingly before nodding. "It's worth every bit of pain and frustration for moments like that."
"Or hours." Jenny offered as she pulled down two coffee mugs.
Helen rubbed her stiff knees and groaned in agreement before laughing herself and joining Jenny in the kitchen. "How did you sleep?"
"Really well, and soundly." Jenny grinned. "Surprised myself I was able too, though."
"I'm sure." Helen located cream and sugar and set them out before going to check on her sickly oldest two. When she was satisfied they were still resting comfortably, and their fevers weren't going up, she returned.
"Good timing." Jenny was pouring the coffee. "How do you make yours, anyway?"
Helen took the spoon from Jenny and scooped just a little sugar and added a small bit of cream. "Something like that."
Jenny laughed softly as she took her own mug to the table. "I've spent a lot of time right here lately."
"Hmm… Yes, so have I." Helen sat in the chair she had just left. Leaning forward instead, she cupped the mug with both her hands and stared into it.
"Do you sleep at all anymore?"
Helen thought for a moment and shrugged slightly. "Very little. A lot of coffee, two hour naps after they're off to school."
"That's not healthy." Jenny raised her eyebrow.
Helen groaned a bit. "No, I suppose it's not any good. It is what it is."
Jenny nodded and sighed softly. "You don't really try though, do you?"
Helen glanced up with a smirk. "No. I hate crawling into that empty bed. It's awful… and cold." The smirk had faded into something like a frown and she felt a lump in her throat.
"Still hurts, huh?" Jenny didn't like the idea of not moving past this point with her own feelings and Mama.
Helen took a sip from her mug, but didn't answer, didn't even look at Jenny. Damn. Why does it still hurt?
Jenny reached across the table for Helen's hand. "I meant last night… what I said about you guys being so great to me. I really feel like I'm part of the family. I don't have much of that, especially now that she's really gone."
Helen squeezed her hand back, but didn't dare try and speak. She felt on the verge of tears, and she couldn't explain it. She saw Kevin out of the corner of her eye, coming out and over to the table.
"I slept in." He announced softly.
"We're proud of you." Jenny teased as she pushed a chair out with her foot. "Have a seat."
"Yep, yep." He grinned and grabbed the deck of cards that was still on the table from the night before.
Helen swallowed the feelings and took a slow breath. "You did sleep in. You're not feeling sick, right?"
"No, Ma." He shook his head while dealing out a single hand.
"What are you doing?" Jenny probed.
"Well, if I play by myself enough, I may get better at Poker without losing money while I try."
Helen groaned. "Do you know how many times his teachers have called me in for him betting on the playground or during study period?"
Jenny started laughing. "No way? You shouldn't be so foolish. They always catch you at school!"
Kevin stuck his tongue out at her and continued his single-hand game.
Helen slid the chair back and stretched out as she stood. "Was Seannie asleep when you got up?"
"No. He said he wasn't coming out though."
"He was out here with me before you got up. I figured he would have fallen right to sleep." She refilled her mug and curled up onto the old green chair. If she tried hard enough, she could smell Bobby's aftershave on it. Of course, it was all just memory. His scent had long left their home. Not a single thing felt like him anymore either. Growing boys force a home to change with them.
"That chair has been through a lot." Jenny mumbled staring at the big stains and the rips and tears.
"And it doesn't match a damn thing in this house." Helen agreed and pressed her mug to her lips, inhaling the scent without tipping it far enough to sip.
Jenny paused, she wanted to ask, but was afraid of hurting Helen's feelings again. "Did Mr. Donnelly make you keep it?"
Helen laughed at the unexpected question, splashing a little bit of coffee over the edge of the mug. She used her sleeve to wipe the new spot off the arm of the chair and shook her head. "Keep wasn't even the issue. He made me help him move it here from his old place when we got married."
Jenny shook her head. "You didn't like it?"
"No!" Helen grinned and patted the arm beneath the spot. "No, not until I found him up in the middle of the night with a newborn Jimmy, sitting right here trying to rock him to sleep. That's when I decided it was a good chair."
"If it makes a man get up with a crying baby early in the morning, I guess it's worth keeping." Jenny grinned remembering Bobby with a baby Sean. She was seven when Sean was born, but she remembered it vividly. She could only imagine how he was with their first infant.
Kevin was mostly ignoring them, but now he was watching Helen. "You okay, Ma?"
"Mm hmm, why?"
"Just checking." He jumped up and kissed her before going to the kitchen for food. "Can I have cereal today?"
Helen stared up at the top of the fridge. "Only if it's open. We're not letting it go stale again."
"Yes, Ma'am." He shook the boxes and grinned when the open one was Honey Nut Spins… a cardboard-ish knockoff of the real ones. "How much milk?"
"If you're going to drink it all, it doesn't matter." Helen watched him douse the cereal in 2 cups of milk before he turned to her and flashed his smile. She shook her head and focused back on Jenny. "Anyway…"
Jenny laughed. "What a good kid."
"Yeah, that's cause he's not yours."
"Hey!" Kevin spun around and grabbed his spoon, charging menacingly toward Helen, before dropping it to the table, smiling and laughing.
Helen, who hadn't flinched stared him down. "Brat."
"Yep!" He returned to the kitchen for the bowl. "Wanna bite?"
"No thank you, Babe."
He looked down at his bowl with some mock contempt. "Just you and me, pal."
Helen stifled her laugh and downed the rest of the coffee before standing and leaning over him. "You're something else, Kev."
He looked up at her with a mouthful of cereal and milk streaming down his chin and just nodded.
She kissed his forehead and continued on into the kitchen where she put the much despised oatmeal on the stove for the sick ones.
To be continued…