“What’s on your mind,” Scott asked Jean as he handed her a glass of lemonade.
“Nothing,” she lied, taking the glass and drinking it quickly to avoid having to talk.
Scott sat in his rocking chair, next to the swinging bench where Jean sat. He looked out over the porch. The house was surrounded by woods on three sides and a pond seventy yards in front of them. Scott owned forty acres of land in Northeast Texas, his home for the past sixteen years.
He took a long drink of his lemonade before rocking back and forth slightly, the wood creaking in a gentle rhythm.
“Jean I’ve known you your whole life,” Scott finally said, fixated on the turtle on the edge of the pond. “I can tell when something is wrong. I can tell since you arrived yesterday that something has been bothering you.”
Jean closed her eyes. She should have known better than to think she could hide her feelings from Scott.
“I’ve never forced you into talking to me and I won’t start now. I know that whatever is on your mind is big, life changing big. You’re a grown woman, you have questions and I just hope I have the answers.”
Jean took a long drink of her lemonade, finishing it off, as she let what Scott had said sink in. She did have questions. Questions she knew her mother would never answer, questions she knew Scott would not be willing to answer but she needed to know the truth.
“I’m not sure where to start,” she finally said with a heavy whisper.
“Just start,” Scott answered gently. “Don’t worry about my reaction. Once the first question is asked the rest will come easily.”
“Why didn’t you want to be my dad,” she blurted out, tears filling every word.
“Well that’s a good place to start,” he answered, unfazed by the question. He continued to look across the pond but was staring past the turtle. He was drifting off to his own little world. He knew someday these questions would be asked and his own private world is where he kept the answers.
“If you want your answers follow me,” Scott said as he stood up and walked off the porch. He didn’t say another word or slowed down. He didn’t have to turn around either, he knew Jean would rush to catch up.
They walked through the woods in silence, taking the deer trail they had taken so many times before on nature walks when Jean was little. Scott knew she knew these woods like the back of her hand but there was a trail hidden that she didn’t know about.
Scott moved a bush aside to reveal the hidden trail. They continued on in silence until they came to a small tree. This tree was out of place because all the ones surrounding it were fully grown and this tree was still young.
There were two benches facing the tree in a V shape. Scott sat on one and motioned for Jean to sit on the other so she could face him. She was about to break the silence when Scott held up his hand, staring at the tree for a few more moments.
“I have always wanted to be your father,” he said, finally breaking the silence. “There are a lot of things you don’t know. Things your mother wanted to protect you from. It was not my place to say but now.” He drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly, “Now I think it’s time you know.”
“First of all, I have loved your mother since the day we met. I was promoting my first book and the email I got from her was life changing.”
“We emailed back and forth for a day before I sent her my phone numbers, because I had to drive out to my first book signing. Literally less than a minute after sending that email my cell phone was ringing. She said she didn’t want to stop talking and stayed on the phone the whole way from Houston to Dallas. It ate up most of my minutes but truth be told, I couldn’t stop talking either.”
“This went on for about a week, talking on the phone or emailing. I couldn’t get any writing done at all. Finally her vacation was over and she had to go back to work, so there were some breaks but we still chatted every day.”
“The only thing that bothered me was that your mother was already engaged. I never liked the guy but they were engaged before we had ever met so I felt I had no right to say anything. She swore in some ways he and I were a lot alike but deep down I knew better.”
“After a year she filed for divorce. I saw that coming too. I was happy for her but at the same time I knew she was hiding something. She refused to tell me and I loved her too much to make her tell me.”
“I had a book signing in D.C. and your mother snuck away to come see me. We had a chemistry together that exploded the moment I looked into her eyes for the first time. It was a magical evening and the next day I was on a plane to Chicago. Looking back now I wish I had taken her with me to finish out my book tour.”
“Your mom went to her new life in Virginia. No one, not even me, knew where she was, or so she thought. That bastard tracked her down and did the unthinkable.”
“For five days he kept her tied up to her bed.” Scott swallowed hard, trying to get past the anger and pain building in his body. He had to be respectful for Jean’s sake. “He beat her, starved her, raped her. He walked away and left her for dead.”
“I knew something was wrong but I didn’t know where your mother lived, she was trying to start over wanted space. This was the longest we had ever gone without talking and I was dying inside. Finally the police found her. When she didn’t show up for work they came looking for her. She was in the ICU for a month, in a medical induced coma. I was listed as an emergency contact and I cancelled the rest of my tour. A week later I flew out to sit with her.”
“I never left her side and when she woke up I had to be the one to tell her everything that had happened. Your mother died a little the day she was kidnapped, her spirit broke completely when I told her what happened. She goes on, for you, but inside it still kills her and she comes here to get away from what happened. That’s why she needs the entire summer to recover, because it took the entire summer before she left the hospital.”
“What exactly did happen,” Jean asked, afraid of the conclusion that was forming in her mind.
“The police were looking for him. Your mother’s best friend since kindergarten and your uncle were looking for him. Your uncle found him first but in his anger he didn’t call anyone and it cost him his life.”
“I had the element of surprise because no one knew I was there. Tracking is tracking, no matter what kind of animal you’re hunting.” Scott looked over at the tree before continuing, “he never knew what hit him.”
“I brought him here. It took all my strength not to let my anger take over him. Jail was too good for him, he could still torture your mother as long as he was alive and he had already destroyed her world. Killing him quickly was too good for him as well. I did the only thing I could think of.”
“I cut him all over his body so that he would bleed out slowly. I dug a hole ten feet deep and put him in it. I covered him and planted that tree to mark him.”
“I never told your mother the details but she does know he’s dead. Six months after she left the hospital you were born. You know your mother almost died giving birth to you and since she was in another coma I named you after your uncle.”
“I brought you both here. You lived here the first year of your life. I asked your mother to marry me but the thought of marriage brought up images of her first marriage and she would break down so after three rejections I stopped asking.”
“Your mother moved back in with your grandmother and I sold my house in Houston to move out here permanently so I could make sure your father would never be discovered accidently and destroy your mother again.”
“DNA makes a man a father but love makes him a Dad. I have tried to raise you as my own because I love you and your mother with all my heart. I know it’s a lot to put on a sixteen year old but what happens next is up to you. If you wish to turn me I understand and will not fault you. I will love you no matter what you decided.”
“Dad,” is all Jean said as she flew into Scott’s arm and hugged him tight.