"Good morning," Jane said in a tired voice as she stepped into the kitchen the following day.
"Morning!" Buck greeted her with a smile, as Billy jumped off his seat, ran to her, and planted a sonorous kiss on her lips.
"Billy…" Jane rebuked, blushing pushed him away from her as she hastened to take a seat at the table.
Billy chuckled at her reluctance to show her affections in front of his family as he walked to sit back on his chair. "Don't be shy, Janey. There's nothing to be embarrassed about. Pa like everybody else knows we're going to be husband and wife soon."
Jane and Buck shared a knowing look before the girl quickly averted her gaze as she poured herself a cup of tea. "Where's Aunt Ellen this morning?" she asked in an attempt to divert the attention to a different path.
"She took Ike to the doctor this morning. He got up with a slight cough, and you know she's a worrywart as far as her children are concerned," Buck explained as he served the girl a plateful of eggs, bacon, and grilled tomatoes.
Jane smiled her thanks as she took the plate from Buck. "I hope it's nothing," she said, referring to Ike's visit to the doctor.
Once the plate was before her, Janey scrunched up her nose and felt queasy, but she knew she had to force herself to eat something. Her stomach ached, which she imagined meant the baby was demanding some food. Her hand took a forkful of eggs and went straight to her mouth.
"Did you sleep well?" Billy asked.
Jane gulped her food even though she now realized it wouldn't be easy to eat when she actually didn't have much appetite. "Not really," she replied. "I was restless, turning and tossing almost all night long, and couldn't sleep very much." As she talked, her hand spontaneously moved to her stomach, which had been upset last night, and still ached now. It was all her fault because in all her worry about the pending conversation with her parents she hadn't eaten too much at dinner, and then she had to suffer the consequences.
"It sounds as if your mind has been worried and hasn't let you rest," Buck remarked.
"Yes… I guess that's true," Jane replied, her eyes smiling in Buck's direction.
Billy noticed the peculiar, conspiratorial exchange of looks, and grew suspicious. "What are you two so coy about?"
"Why don't you tell him, Janey?" Buck hinted, raising an eyebrow pointedly.
Jane smiled awkwardly. "I'm gonna talk to my parents today, and try to sort out our problems."
"That's great!" Billy exclaimed happily. "I'm really glad for you."
Jane shifted in her seat uncomfortably, feeling guilty for what she was not saying. Uncle Buck had repeatedly told her she should speak to her parents and discuss what she wanted without saying a word to Billy. That troubled her because she felt as if she was betraying him. Yet, Uncle Buck surely was right. Janey was tired of making mistakes, and intended to heed those who knew better.
The girl focused her eyes on her plate, and picked up another load of eggs, and as she was about to bring the fork into her mouth, an acute pain hit her powerfully. Jane let out a pain-filled cry. The fork dropped from her hand, clattering on the table, as both of her hands flew to rest on her middle.
"Janey!" both Buck and Billy called in alarm as they ran to her side.
Jane took a few deep breaths, and as the pain subsided, she smiled weakly. "I'm fine. Don't worry. It's nothing, it's…" She could not finish as another stronger pain shook her and she screamed once again.
"Quick, Billy! Help Janey back to bed, and I'll go get the doctor," Buck instantly took control of the situation since it was obvious there was something wrong with the girl.
Janey did not protest as Billy lifted her from the chair. The pain was totally mind-blowing, and she did not even know how she made it to the bedroom until her body touched the soft mattress. Still in pain, she curled up into a ball, whimpering and caressing her middle.
"Janey," Billy whispered, crouching next to her and taking her hand. "Honey, talk to me!"
Jane opened her eyes, which she had not even been aware she had closed, and when Billy's worried face appeared in her angle of vision, she mumbled in an anguished voice, "It hurts… it hurts so much. What's wrong, Billy?"
"I… I don't know."
She was feeling too lonely and lost all of a sudden, and Billy's presence did not comfort her the way it should. There was a vacuum in her soul, which she wanted to cry, and at that moment there was only somebody she needed. "Billy, please, bring me my mother."
"The doctor will be here soon, and my Ma will come along, too, when she hears."
"I don't care about the doctor, or if your mother comes or not!" Jane exclaimed loudly as the pain became almost unbearable. "What I need is my Ma here with me! Just go!"
"Honey, I don't want to leave you alone."
Jane could not believe he was arguing with her now. What the heck was he doing? "Didn't you hear me? Bring me my mother! Now!"
Billy finally nodded, and dashed out of the bedroom, but when she was halfway down the stairs, the door banged open, and Louise barged into the house.
"Where's Janey?" Lou asked urgently. Before riding to town, Buck had dropped by the McClouds to let them know what was happening with their daughter. Lou had rushed out of her house before Buck had finished talking, and Kid had decided to fetch the doctor while Buck stayed with Ginnie and the two boys.
No sooner had the boy uttered the word than Lou darted up the staircase, reaching the bedroom breathlessly. "Janey!" she called eagerly as soon as she crossed the threshold.
The girl opened her eyes slightly, and whispered tiredly, "Mama." She managed to lift an arm in a meaningful request, and Louise ran to her side, taking her hand in hers.
"I'm here, honey, I'm here." Louise ran her eyes all over her daughter, and soon she noticed that her skirt draped between her legs was marked by red splotches of blood, and she winced, realizing what was happening straightaway.
"It hurts… it hurts so much," Janey wailed, squeezing her mother's hand strongly.
"I know, honey," Lou said in a tiny voice, running her had over the girl's sweaty forehead, and pushing the loose tendrils off her eyes.
"Ma… am I losing the baby?" Jane asked apprehensively.
"I… I don't know," Lou muttered, but as her eyes met her daughter's, she knew Jane wanted an honest answer from her, and she felt unable to lie. "I'm afraid so, honey."
Jane did not have the peace and calmness to even consider what she felt about what her mother had said. She kept whimpering in pain, trembling, and holding onto Lou's hand as if nothing else mattered.
"Honey, the doctor will be here any moment now," Lou said. "Let's get you out of that dress, and into a fresh nightgown."
Jane nodded, her eyes tightly shut, and Lou shifted her gaze to the door where Billy stood, transfixed as he watched the girl he loved suffering while he could not do anything. "Billy, honey, why don't you bring me some clean towels and warm water? And then you can wait the doctor downstairs."
"I'm not leaving Jane," the boy stated firmly.
Louise did not try to protest, but then Jane's weak voice resounded in the room. "Please, Billy, do as Ma says. I'll be fine." The boy was obviously unhappy about the request, but he had not other option than obey. So grunting under her breath, he finally left the bedroom.
Ten minutes later Kid appeared with the doctor in tow. Ellen, who had been in the physician's office with Ike, had also fled from town as soon as she had heard about Jane.
While the doctor disappeared up the stairs, Ellen, Kid, and Billy remained in the living room, waiting restlessly. Upstairs in the bedroom it did not take Dr. Maxwell long to confirm what Lou and Jane already suspected. Without a word the physician simply shook her head at Louise, who sighed bleakly, and in the same thick silence the doctor carried on examining Jane to make sure the girl was fine.
Jane went through the whole examination with her eyes closed, and at some point she dropped off. The soft sound of the door shutting woke her again, and through a tiny slit of her almost closed eyes, she saw her mother step into the room. Louise had walked the doctor outside the bedroom, and had a few words with him, and as she re-entered the room, she tiptoed to the side of the bed, thinking that her daughter was sleeping. That was why she got startled when Jane spoke up. "Ma?"
Louise smiled when Jane opened her eyes wide. "I thought you were dozing," she said, gently caressing her hair. "Honey, how are you feeling?"
Instead of answering her mother, Jane asked one question herself, "What did Dr. Maxwell say?"
Louise stretched her mouth into an awkward gesture. "I'm sorry, honey, but there's no baby anymore," she said softly. "But the doctor says you're fine, and there's no reason you can't have children in the future."
Jane kept quiet, absently looking at the ceiling above her as she reflected upon what her mother had said. "Ma?" she called hesitantly after a beat.
"I… I'm … I'm not sad about what's happened. Does that make me a horrible person?"
"Course not. You ain't horrible, sweetheart. Nobody could blame you for feeling that way. In these weeks you had to go through something that didn't really fit your feet. I do know, though, that if the baby had been born, you'd have loved it with all your heart. Things like this happen all the time and we can't really know why. Maybe there's a meaning behind them." Lou paused for a second and then she said, "Janey, you're a nice girl, and have a good heart. Do believe me. I'm your mother, and nobody knows you better than me."
Lou had to stop talking because suddenly Jane burst out crying. "Oh Ma! Oh Ma!"
"Janey…" Lou breathed in concern, and sitting on the edge of the bed she took the girl's hand while the fingers of her free one wiped her tears. "Shh… I know you're emotional after what happened today. It's logical, baby."
Jane kept sobbing even harder, and could hardly talk, but in a shivery voice she managed to have her say. "It isn't that. I… I'm so sorry, Ma. I've been so horrible to you and Pa… especially you. I'm such a bad daughter, and I don't deserve you being this good to me!"
"Honey, honey, please, there's no need to get all worked up. Don't say that! I do understand everything. This matter has naturally upset you; it's logical."
"I love you, Ma, and I've missed you so… so much, but I was proud and stupid…"
"That reminds me of somebody," Lou remarked wryly, and at her mother's comical expression Jane even managed a very tiny smile. "Honey, we both have strong personalities, but we can also admit it when we are wrong. That ain't the end of the world. I also had my share of bad moments because of my temper. Ask your father, and he can give you a full account."
Jane smile, her tears now gone, and in a sudden impulse she raised her body and threw her arms around her mother. "I love you, Ma!" she repeated, hugging Lou tightly.
Louise beamed happily as she held her daughter in her arms. "And I love you too, my beautiful girl."
When they pulled away, Jane smiled, but her smile turned into a pained scowl when she felt her body complaining. Lou gently helped her lie back down on the bed. "From experience, I know you are sore. You need to rest and have a nap."
"Ma, I want to go home, and rest in my bedroom and lie in my bed."
"We'll see to that when you feel better…"
"Please Ma!" Janey begged, joining her two hands together in pleading.
"Honey, Dr. Maxwell made me promise you'd stay in bed for at least a couple of days. You're sore and tender, and it's too recent. Just stay here, and you know there are a few people downstairs who are worried about you and want to see you, especially Billy."
"I don't want to see anybody," the girl stated stubbornly. "And Pa can carry me home as if I were a little girl. I wouldn't have to make any effort." Lou was still unconvinced, and Jane added, "I just want to be with my family, Ma. I need to be with you, Pa, and the children."
Louise finally relented. "All right. I'll talk to your Pa," she said. "And when Aunt Ellen and Uncle Buck come to see you, don't forget to thank them for their hospitality all these days."
"We could buy them something as a thank-you token," Lou mused.
"Yes, Ma," Jane said again with a smile as Lou walked out the door. The girl snuggled under the covers, and she kept smiling brightly.
For the first time in weeks she felt content and in peace. It was pitiful to feel this way when she had just lost her baby. The little person she and Billy had created did not exist anymore, and in a way she was sorry, but she was also relieved. Like Ma had said, there were things that nobody could control. Now everything would be as they should always be. Her foolishness had pushed her too far, but she had learned her lesson. Her family would welcome her with open arms, and she could not wait to be at home again.
Two pairs of eager eyes followed Louise as she made her way down the stairs, carrying a tray in her hands with the leftovers of Janey's lunch. Since the girl had settled in her bedroom, she had been sleeping, and just some minutes ago Lou had woken her up to give her some lunch. Louise was glad that her daughter hadn't lost her appetite, and seemed to be in higher spirits than Lou expected.
Louise smiled as her eyes fell on her two boys, waiting for her at the foot of the stairs. The pair had logically reacted with genuine worry when they had seen Kid carrying Jane home in his arms. Later Louise had tried to soothe the two boys' fears and curiosity as best as she could to two young children.
"How's Janey?" Matt asked as Lou finally reached the end of the staircase.
"She's fine," Lou replied. "You two needn't worry, but as I told you before, Janey has to remain in bed for a couple of days."
"Why? She sick?" Jed asked this time, his eyes staring at his mother unblinkingly.
"Come here, boys. Let's talk," Lou said, leading the way to the living room table where she left the tray. Then she sat on one chair, and placed Jed on her lap sideways while Matt took a seat opposite them. "I already told you that Janey's a bit under the weather, but nothing to worry about."
"Is she staying with us for keeps?"
"Yes, Matt. Janey ain't going anywhere."
"I've missed her," Jed added, his little face beaming with his beautiful, constant smile.
"We've all missed her," Lou replied, softly stroking her son's soft hair. "Let's do something. Why don't we go and see her later?"
The two boys cheered happily, and at the same time there was a knock at the door. Lou went to answer it while her two children ran off to play. "Please come in," she said when she found Billy and Ellen at the threshold.
Mother and son silently walked into the house. The boy, holding a bunch of wild flowers, looked shy and morose, nothing like the confident youth who had stood up to her and Kid just a few days ago. Louise was sorry for him as she could imagine how disappointed and hurt he must be feeling. Billy had been excited about the idea of a baby and his marriage to Janey, and even though Lou was pretty sure the boy had no idea what he would have got himself into, she could also understand his feelings now. Unfortunately she knew what losing the baby you were expecting was like, and how empty it felt afterwards. Before having Matt, she had suffered several miscarriages, and she remembered all those times as too bleak and desperate. She hoped Janey did not have to feel like her, and this incident would not affect her too much. Jane and Billy were too young, and this episode would surely not leave them indifferent, and would remain in their memories and hearts for as long as they lived.
"Janey's awake now," Lou started, addressing the boy. "Go and see her while your Ma and I chat and have some tea."
Billy looked at his mother for confirmation, and at Ellen's nod the boy shot up the stairs, taking two steps at a time in his eagerness to see Jane. He was still a bit peeved at her for sending him away when she was losing their baby, and for refusing to see him afterwards. Her attitude had surprised and hurt him, but his parents had told him to take Janey's actions to heart because it hadn't been an easy day for her. Billy could understand that, but it had not been easy for him either, and nothing in this world could diminish his constant desire to be with Janey all the time.
Billy knocked at her bedroom, and as he heard a weak 'come in' from inside, he slowly opened the door. Jane was propped up against the headboard, holding a book, and when she saw him appear, her surprised expression clearly revealed that she had not expected to see him.
"Hi," Billy whispered shyly as he walked to the foot of the bed.
"Hi," Jane replied in the same awkward tone.
"These are for you," Billy added, stretching his arm with the bunch of flowers and walking closer to her.
Jane took the flowers, and buried her nose in them, inhaling their sweet aroma. "They're lovely. Thanks," she said, and left the flowers on her bedside table. The two teenagers remained in silence for a while until Jane spoke up. "Please sit down," she said, tapping the place by her side.
Billy awkwardly sank down on the edge of the bed, and kept looking at the girl with open curiosity and concern. "How are you feeling, Janey?"
"I… I'm fine. A bit sore and tired, but that's all."
"I'm really sorry this happened," the boy said sincerely. "I already loved this baby so much, and I can't believe it's gone."
Janey lowered her eyes and fidgeted nervously, guilt-ridden for not sharing his feelings. She was also sad for losing the baby, but she did not really relate to what Billy was saying. They were too young to become parents, and even though she could not say that losing the baby was a blessing, she felt it like a second chance in life to learn from all the mistakes she had made. "Sometimes things happen for a reason. Maybe all this was meant to happen," she whispered, paraphrasing what her mother had told her.
"I guess," he replied gloomily.
They relapsed into silence, and once again Jane spoke up. "I want to give this back to you," she said, sliding the ring out of her finger and holding it on her palm.
Billy frowned in fear and confusion. "Janey, what happened today doesn't have to change anything. We still can carry out our plans. I do want to marry you."
"But I don't," Jane stated with clear conviction.
Her words felt like a stab in his heart, but despite everything, he could understand what she meant. There was no hurry for their marriage now, and they could have all the time of the world to walk all the steps before reaching that point. "I see," Billy muttered sadly. "Please keep the ring. One day we'll get married and…"
"Don't you understand?" Jane broke in abruptly. "Right now I'm not sure we'll ever get married."
A cold shiver ran down his spine, and he stared at her with scared eyes. "What are you saying, Janey?"
"Live your life without me, Billy. Go back to college, and find yourself a nice girl, and…"
"I don't want any other girl!" Billy exclaimed. "You're the only one I love."
"I love you too, but I've realized I'm not ready to have a boyfriend. I still need to grow up in all senses, and enjoy my family and simple childish things. That's what I want now."
Billy panicked, realizing she was actually serious. Desperate, he grabbed her hand and pleaded with her. "Don't do this, Janey. You're just confused and scared because of everything that happened. I'm still the same."
Jane shook her head. "I'm not the same, Billy. I'm sorry, but I can't do this now. Maybe one day, but…."
Jane could not finish her sentence because Billy was not there to listen to her anymore. He had jumped off the bed and dashed out of the room as if fleeing from hell, slamming the door closed. Jane sighed, and looked at the ring on her palm. She placed a kiss on the cold metal, and deflated, she flopped her head on the pillow. Her eyes welled up, and feeling miserable, two tears finally made their way down her sad, pale face.
Louise poured herself another cup of tea, and as she stirred in a teaspoonful of sugar, she threw a casual look at Ellen. They had been sitting for ten minutes now, and neither had said much. After the awkward silence, Lou dared to raise her voice. "I … I feel sorry for ruining Rachel's dinner the other day. She sounded so happy, and I surely spoiled her mood."
"It wasn't your fault."
Lou nodded. "I haven't seen or talked to her for a while, but I was thinking we could meet and have another dinner this or next week."
"I'm sure she'd like that," Ellen replied cautiously, not sure where Lou was heading with this. Things were still awkward between her and Louise, ad Ellen did not know where she stood with her friend.
"We could do it at my place. That way she won't have to clean up afterwards," Lou continued. She paused, and looking straight into Ellen's eyes, she added, "Maybe you'd like to come over, and we can cook together like we used to." Ellen stared at her in obvious surprise, but still did not dare to say something. "We could start from scratch, Ellen."
"This means a lot to me. You know, I'm very fond of you and your family. I wish I could swallow back those horrible words I told you because I didn't mean them. Honestly."
Lou raised a hand to stop her flow of words. "Please, Ellen, let's not talk about that. I…"
Lou was cut short as the loud bang of a door slamming closed reverberated in the house, followed by heavy steps quickly storming down the stairs. The two women finally saw Billy appear, but just for one second because he simply whizzed across the living room and dashed out of the house.
"Billy!" Ellen called, but the boy was already out of earshot and outside. Louise and Ellen shared a look, and without a word both women rose to their feet, one following the boy and the other climbing up the stairs.
Lou knocked before opening the door to her daughter's bedroom. "Janey?"
Jane wiped her tears with her hand, and tried to smile. "Come in, Ma, and keep me company."
Lou slowly approached the bed and her daughter. "Billy just darted out of this house as if it were on fire. Something you'd like to tell me, sweetie?"
Janey nodded. "We've broken up."
"Why, honey?" Lou asked as she sat down on the edge of the bed, just on the same spot that Billy had been on a minute ago. "What happened today ain't nobody's fault."
"I know, Ma, but this is something different," the girl explained. Jane paused, and kept deep in thought before she continued, "Remember when I was eight and Aunt Rachel made a huge lemon cake?" Lou nodded, and Janey added, "I loved her lemon cake, and I couldn't get enough. That time I must have had four or five big pieces in one go… without you or Pa knowing, naturally."
"And the next day you were sick as a dog from all the cake you'd eaten."
Janey grimaced at the memory. "Since then I've never ever tasted that cake again. Just thinking about it revolts my stomach," the girl said in a soft voice. "That's exactly what's happening to me now. I had so much of this man-woman thing that I can take anymore. I do love Billy, but I ain't ready to be his girlfriend."
"It's understandable," Lou replied, caressing her hand affectionately. "Give yourself some time, honey. Maybe one day you can give each other another chance."
"Ma, no man's ever gonna touch me again. That was a mistake, a stupid mistake. Nobody's gonna touch me, I swear."
Lou smiled sadly. "That's good, but don't make too rash promises." She paused, and then added, "There was a time I made a similar promise. I swore I'd keep men as far from me as possible."
Lou grinned sweetly. "Your father happened. He changed everything for me."
"What I mean is what happened to make you feel that way about men before. Did another boyfriend break your heart?" Jane asked with obvious curiosity.
Lou lowered her eyes and shook her head. "Your Pa's been the only man for me, Janey. Before him, I was lost in a world that… that fortunately is gone." Jane stared at her mother, trying to understand what her enigmatic words were describing, but Louise soon changed the direction of the conversation. "Janey, let life follow its course. You're young, and one day you'll be a beautiful, great woman. I'm sure that along the road you'll find love, maybe in another person, or who knows, maybe in Billy again. But don't try to reach your destination before your time. Life is long, honey."
"Thanks, Ma. I'll do that. You're the best!" the girl exclaimed as she wrapped her arms around her mother and hugged her. It had been a hard day, with losing both her baby and Billy. Now she was back to where she had started… the fourteen-year-old girl pampered and protected by her family. Yet, somehow she knew she had changed, and she would never be the same again. These weeks had made her vulnerable and hard at the same time, and she was sure the world looked different. She was not an adult yet, but she knew that in these weeks she had shed the innocence and naiveté of childhood, and those would sure never come back.
Concealed by the shadows of the porch, Jane kept her eyes fixed ahead. A wagon stood before the neighbor house, and she watched the four figures coming out to the yard. Billy was leaving today for college, but he had not bothered to say goodbye to Janey. Actually, he had stayed away since they had broken up, and Jane only knew he was going because her brother Matt had told her. Jane was disappointed and hurt, painfully realizing that she had lost her best friend.
In the distance she could see Billy hugging his mother and brother goodbye before briskly hopping onto the wagon. This time Ellen and Ike would stay at home, and Buck would take Billy to Blue Creek and see him off. As Billy settled in the wagon's seat, he turned his eyes to the house standing not far from his. Jane's heart skipped a beat in hope, and she dared to come out of the shadows. Billy finally spotted her, and kept his eyes fixed on her. Janey timidly raised her hand, and a hopeful smile played on her lips. However, Billy did not move a muscle, and averted his eyes as if he could not bear the sight at the same time as the wagon was set into motion. The carriage became smaller and smaller in the distance, but Billy never looked back.
Jane sighed, and lowered her hand defeated. Her eyes stung in disappointment, but she choked back her tears. Right now she was feeling very lonely and miserable. Naturally, she missed Billy and would miss him even more now that he was going. Yet, she did not regret her decision about stopping things with him. This was what she needed now, time and space, and maybe everything would make sense at some point.
Janey almost jumped out of her skin startled when she felt an arm around her shoulders. She lifted her eyes and found her father by her side. "He'll eventually come around," he said in a soft voice, squeezing her right shoulder encouragingly.
Jane blushed at his words. After what had happened, she had barely spoken to her Pa, and the few times she had done so, she was filled with shame. In the last days her father had not said much about her lost baby, but Janey could hardly look at him in the face. "I hope so," she whispered.
"I've been where he stands now, honey. Many years ago your mother and I decided to walk in different directions. It was more her decision than mine, and I wasn't too happy. Yet, that halt in our road eventually helped us reach where we are today."
Janey nodded, half listening to what her father was saying since her mind was somewhere else. "Pa," she started awkwardly, "Are… are you angry with me?"
Kid stared at her with a frown. "Why should I be?"
"Many reasons," Janey replied in an assertive, honest tone. "I got … I got pregnant. I disobeyed you and Ma. I disrespected her and left home as if I were ashamed of my family."
Kid nodded morosely. "Janey, I ain't gonna lie to you. We've been very sad in the last few weeks. We understand that when you're young, you … you want to try new things, and the baby… it was hard to come to terms with it, but we did. Yet, we didn't understand what was happening to you, the tantrums, the anger… we didn't know what we've done so wrong that you seemed to dislike us so much."
"You didn't do anything wrong. Not you, not Ma. It was me, only me."
"We're your parents, honey, and you are our responsibility. Part of the blame is also ours. We didn't take your… your romance with Billy well and all the consequences. We still think of you as our little girl, and you've grown up, sweetie. We need to accept that, and be honest with you."
"Will you forgive me, Pa? I'll never do something like that again, I promise. You and Ma are the most important people in my life, and I won't hurt and disappoint you again. I've learned my lesson."
Kid smiled. "I know you have, and there's nothing to forgive. I just want you and your siblings to grow into good men and women, and I'll do my best to save you from harm's way as much as it is possible." Kid paused for a second. "Everything's fine now, Janey. And let me tell you what we can do."
"Do?" Jane echoed, not really following her father.
"Yes… I'm feeling hungry, and I know for sure that your mother has prepared a scrumptious lunch for us. I can smell it from here, and my stomach is already rumbling," he said, sniffing in the air exaggeratedly.
Jane giggled and took the arm that her father comically offered her. They walked into the house as Kid called, "Lou, here we come!"
Jane stared at her father confused because she just knew he was up to something. He was too obvious, and this way of announcing himself was just too odd. As they entered the dining room, her siblings were at the table, looking at her with wide smiles, which made her even more suspicious. Even Ginnie on her high chair hit her little hands together in an attempt to imitate clapping. Before Janey could wonder why her family was acting up, Lou walked out of the kitchen, a big smile on her face as she carried a cake with lit candles on top.
At once the children started chorusing a song they always sang on birthdays, clapping their hands and smiling at Janey. The girl turned to look at her father with a dumbfounded expression. "Happy fifteenth birthday, honey," Kid said with a wide, happy grin.
"I'd forgotten about it completely," Jane admitted, blushing from all the attention she was receiving.
The singing finished, and the two boys hungrily ogled at the cake in the middle of the table. "Jane, come here and blow your candles," Lou said. "We'll have your birthday cake for dessert."
Jane came to stand next to Lou, and gave her mother a big hug. "Thanks, Ma."
"Janey, you have to make a wish," Jed exclaimed.
"You have to blow all the candles for the wish to come true," Matt added.
"All right. I'm ready," the girl said as she placed herself before the cake. Closing her eyes she tried to think of a wish, but could not think of anything. What she really wanted is to go back to the way things were before she had that indiscretion with Billy. Yet, that was impossible. Jane opened her eyes and saw her family around her, and she felt really lucky. How had she been so blind to the blessings she already had? She still could not forgive herself for the way she had behaved, but as her father had said, they needed to get on with life, so she just needed to heed him.
"Come on, Jane! The candles are going to burn the candle!" Matt exclaimed a bit too exasperated.
"All right, all right!" Jane said with an amused smile. She closed her eyes again, and as she blew all her handles, a voice in her mind said, "Thanks for my family. And please let Billy be safe and happy."