*Chapter 9*: Do You Want To Know A Secret

Late May At Manning Manor: Jessie gathered all her willpower and walked downstairs to join the celebration. She was making small talk in the kitchen when she saw Jena walk in. Jessie just stared for a second before greeting her ''Hi'' Jessie looked quizzically at her. ''Hey'' Jena went to put her coat away. Jessie followed the older girl. ''What are you doing here?'' ''Your mom made me promise to come'' Jena answered while hanging her coat up. The dinner went on mostly without a hitch. Jena volunteered to get a dish from the kitchen. The younger girl followed. ''Why did you come here?'' Jessie badgered. ''I told you, I'm here for your mother. Some of us actually keep our promises." Jena said coldly. ''What are you talking about?'' Jessie demanded. ''I never promised you anything!'' ''Oh really, how about you saying 'let's not tell anybody about us just yet"...I'm still waiting on the yet" Jena didn't want to talk about it any more. Jessie was about to counter, but Jena was already halfway through the door by then. Jessie followed her back into the dining room. The brunette wanted to leave right then, but thought that that might seem kind of suspicious. So she decided to wait a little while. A few minutes later Jena stood up. ''Well, thank you for the lovely dinner, but I think I'm gonna be going'' Jena turned to go. ''Wait'' Jessie stood. ''Don't go'' Jessie took a step towards her ex-girlfriend before she felt the world go black. Jena and Karen were the first to her side followed quickly by Grace. ''I'm fine'' Jessie tried to gather herself. ''You're not fine Jessie. You fainted'' Karen countered. ''I'm fine mom'' Jessie got defensive. ''She's not fine...she hasn't been eating'' Grace spoke up. Jessie just looked down. ''I found food in her garbage last week'' Grace continued. ''Jessie is this true?'' Rick was getting really concerned. ''I am. I have been...since then'' Jessie lied. ''You have to eat Jess'' Jena grabbed Jessie's hand to help her up. ''I will'' Jessie promised. ''Please stay'' Jessie pleaded. ''I'll stay if you promise to eat everything'' Jena smiled. ''I promise'' Jessie smiled back. After returning to her chair and shoveling down her food. The dinner resumed and gradually got back to the previous casual banter. After the main course, the adults poured champagne for themselves and white grape juice for all the younger members of the Manning/Sammler clan, save one who snuck a glass of the real stuff. Rick stood up and raised a glass ''to Sam and Judy, I've known Sam since college and only met Judy more recently, but I can say that I've never seen either more happy than they are now. May the rest of your lives together be just as joyous'' Everyone tipped their glasses to the couple. After several members of the Manning/Sammler clan toasted the loving couple, things seemed to quiet down. ''Well if all of the toasts are over I'm just gonna bring in dessert'' Judy said getting up to head to the kitchen. ''I'll help'' Sam got up to help his fiancé.

B&W: Jessie sits nervously while countless contradictory voices consume her thoughts. Suddenly she bolts upright and silently shouts ''enough!''

''Um..I gotta toast, actually'' Jessie stood while raising a glass. The happy couple returned to their seats. Jessie took a deep breath and looked uncertainly around the table, tipped her glass towards them. ''To Judy and Sam, I want to thank you for a lovely dinner. I think you're a really cute couple and I know it wasn't the easiest road to get to here, but I hope that you will both live happily ever after. You both deserve it''. Everyone nodded and took a sip. Jessie sipped and continued. ''Eli, I wish you luck on your new job. I think that you are so much more intelligent than you give yourself credit for. I just want to let you know how proud we all are of you''. Again everyone sipped while Rick added a ''hear, hear''. Jessie turned to her left. ''To Grace, when we first moved into this house, it seemed like we were always at each others throats, but lately you've been really kind to me. You were a comfort and confidant when I felt like I had no one else to turn to. Thank you for being the older sister I never knew I needed.'' Another round of sips while Judy and Lily shared a look. Jessie finished a long sip and then turned to her right. ''And to Jena..You've been such a good friend to me. You were here for me today when you didn't have to be. I hope you can forgive me for being an idiot and for being too scared of what people think. I think you're amazing, and I love you with all my heart, and I don't care who knows anymore. I wanna scream it from the roof tops. And I really wanna be your girlfriend if you'll still have me.. Oh and by the way this is real champagne not juice.'' Jessie added while nervously finishing off her glass and putting it down. Grace stood and hugged Jessie. Almost everyone sat there too stunned to speak. Rick and Karen's jaws were wide open. Jena quickly went over to Jessie and embraced her giving her a little peck which Jessie gladly accepted.

Later that night at Manning Manor: Jessie sat nervously on the couch while her mother and father fidgeted across from her. Jessie looked over towards the kitchen door where behind it her girlfriend waited conversing with the rest of the clan. ''So, Jessie. How..how long have you been together?'' Karen choked. ''A couple of months'' Jessie played with her sleeve. ''Are you sure?'' Rick was still hoping for a no. ''Yes'' Jessie answered. ''Have you...you..'' Karen motioned with her hands. ''Mom!'' Jessie's eyes widened in horror. ''I'm trying to be supportive. I really am, but I have to know. Did she corrupt you in some way''. Karen needed to know. ''What? No one corrupted me. God! She's wasn't even my first.'' Karen was stunned to silence. Rick put his head in his hands ''I don't wanna know this!'' ''Wh...h who'' Karen stammered. ''Katie'' Jessie whispered hanging her head. ''This can't be happening... How could...how can you know. You're just a child. Are you sure this isn't some kinda phase or something...'' Karen was rambling trying to understand. ''This is not a phase, mom!'' Jessie was getting upset. ''But how can you be sure..'' ''I know...I've never felt anything towards boys..not like..'' ''but how could you know. I mean, you dated Tad for like what five minutes? Maybe..'' ''I slept with him'' Jessie's whisper cut her mother off. ''You what?'' Rick's head snapped up. ''I slept with him...I broke his heart..'' Jessie teared up. ''I didn't feel anything...nothing at all...I'm sorry, but I'm gay'' Jessie started to cry. Rick felt horrible. His only daughter was crying in front of him and he didn't know what to say or do. He felt sick inside for not trying to comfort her. He only knew that he'd do anything to take his little girl's pain away. Karen was going through her own torment. She hated seeing Jessie in so much pain, but hated that all her dreams for her daughter were being ripped from her. On some level she really wanted to be OK with this, but how could she? Jessie brought her legs up to her chest as if trying to comfort herself. Rick felt like he had to say something ''Does she make you..happy?'' ''Yes'' Jessie smiled through the tears. A wave of emotions rushed through Rick. His little girl was happy. She made her happy. What did that mean? How could he deny her this? How could he deny her happiness? No, he couldn't. The answer surprised him. As understanding washed over him, a small smile appeared on his face. Rick knelt in front of Jessie. Taking her hands in his, he looked up into her eyes. ''Are you sure?'' As if wanting to be completely sure. ''Yes'' Jessie nodded. ''Then you have my support'' Rick said before kissing her forehead. Jessie cried again as he engulfed her in a big bear hug. ''I love you'' Rick said. ''I love you too dad'' Jessie cried. Karen let out a sigh. She didn't know what to do. As much as this had shaken her to her very core she would have to support her daughter. That's just what she'd always do. She'd just have to pretend to be OK with it, till she really was. ''Come here'' Karen took Jessie into her arms. ''It's OK..shh shh it's OK'' Karen hugged Jessie close to her, kissing her on the head. ''I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I'm here for you..OK'' Karen assured her daughter and herself. Jessie leaned back to face Karen ''are you sure you're OK with this?'' Karen only nodded an affirmative before hugging her again. ''OK, off to the kitchen with you. I think Lily's got a load of dishes with your name on it'' Karen cracked a tearful smile. Jessie got up and dried her eyes before heading to the kitchen. Karen watched her and hoped again that someday she actually could be truly OK with this. Upon entering the kitchen Jena enveloped Jessie in a warm embrace while whispering words of comfort into her ear. Karen watched this display of pure affection and an unexpected wave caused her to smile. Now she understood.

July in a park near Evanston: Judy and Sam were exchanging vows as the Sammler and Manning clans looked on. Jessie looked over and took her girlfriend's hand in hers entwining their fingers. They both smiled. Jessie felt really good about whatever else the future held for her.

And that's a wrap!