Lexie looked nervous at the thought of being left alone with him.
Jay reached over and gently took her hand in his. “Hey Lexie,” He began softly as though he was trying not to scare her off. “We don’t have to be alone for this if you don’t want to. If you’re scared or nervous for whatever reason, we can even do this later if that is what you want.”
Lexie shuddered gently as his thumb circled the top of her hand. “No, it’s fine. It’s just, I’ve run through this conversation with you in my head so many times in the past, but now that it’s here, I don’t know what to say.”
Jay took a breath and slowly released it. “Just start wherever you feel most comfortable. We can talk about what happened to us as kids or what has happened to us since we last saw each other or we can even talk about why the two of you reacted like you did to the French article. I don’t really care. Lexie, I just know that I want to talk to you again. You were my best friend before when we were younger. I wasn’t kidding about that and I want you to be again.”
She took her own deep breath to calm herself and replied in a steady voice, “I think I’d like that. You were mine too, you know. Let’s save talking about anything heavy, though, until we have more time. For now, let’s just talk about why Aunt Tracy and I reacted the way that we did. To do that, though, you need to understand that what I am about to tell you is all secondhand information. Information that I was told by aunt Tracy and my grandfather.”
Jay nodded in understanding and waited for her to continue speaking.
“Since everything that I know was told to me by them, I’m sure there is more to the story that I don’t know yet for whatever reason.” She paused as she reached across the counter with her free hand and grabbed the article from where it was laying.
“I believe, and Tracy does as well, that this article is about me, or rather about my parents. You see, I was born in France and had never even been to the States until after my parents died in what I was told was a house fire. I’ve never been entirely clear on the reason why, but my parents weren’t talking to anyone in the family at the time and as a result, they didn’t even know that I even existed until grandfather was told that they had died.”
“When my grandfather learned about their deaths, he flew over to France, and it was only then that he learned about me. This newspaper.” She waved the paper in front of Jay’s face as she did. “This article has the right date for when they died, but it is different from the others I have seen before. It mentions that there was a young boy as well. As far as I know, I didn’t have a brother.”
Jay squeezed her hand to let her know that it was alright if she didn’t want to say more. Lexie shook her head a little as she tried to clear it before looking at him.
“I understand that this can’t be easy for you to talk about, Lexie, and we can change the subject if you want. Before we do that, though, I still don’t see why your grandfather would suddenly declare me your brother?” Jay told her, puzzled by the crazy old man.
Lexie smiled appreciatively at him before answering. “I’m not sure either. The only thing I can think of is that my grandfather must have read this article and that he believes I did have a brother. He knows more about what happened in France than either Tracy or I, and he never told us many details about it. It is almost guaranteed that he knows more than he told us. Why he thinks that boy survived and is you though… I have no idea.”
Jay looked at her, disbelief clear on his face. “No offense, Lexie, but that is the most insane, bat shit, crazy idea I’ve ever heard. I’ve never even been outside of the States, much less been to France. And you’ve met my parents.”
Sheepishly and, more than a bit indignantly, she replied. “I never said that it was the actual reason or that you actually are.” Standing up straight, she removed her hand from his. “I merely said that it is the only reason I can think of. Like I said though, I don’t know everything, so I’m sure whatever the actual reason is, it will make more sense. I hope.”
Jay winced at her reaction to what he had said. “You’re right, I apologize. That was completely out of line. I didn’t mean to be so rude to you. I guess I’m just a little in shock at seeing you again after all this time.” Truthfully, her sudden reappearance into his life had thrown his emotions through the wringer.
Tracy walked in with Jay’s grandfather before he could say any more.
“I didn’t expect you to get here so soon. We just barely put my clothes in the dryer a few minutes ago.” Jay explained quickly when he saw his grandfather.
Jay’s grandfather looked at everyone there and cleared his throat. “I didn’t like the way we left things earlier.” He said gruffly.
“It’s alright, they already know that we had an argument. And that I left the house right afterward.” Jay said, watching his grandfather’s eyes.
Jay’s grandfather walked over to Tracy and held out his hand. “Right then. I’m Jethro Refton, Jay’s grandfather. How do you all know my grandson?”
“I’m Tracy, that’s my niece Alexis. Jay was nice enough to, umm…” She paused for a second as she searched for the right words. “Bring my father back to us during one of his episodes.”
Jay smiled appreciatively at her as she explained what had happened.
“Lexie and I go way back. We knew each other as kids,” Jay told his grandfather. “It’s really remarkable that we found one another again after so long and in such a way.”
Jethro looked up at his words. “Really where did you meet back then?”
Lexie looked at Jay as they both thought it through. “The first time we met, I think it was in Colorado Springs right before you moved, wasn’t it?”
Jay nodded in agreement. “I think that’s right. Then we met again in Oregon about six months later. Then again, when we moved to Nevada. We lost touch with one another when I moved from Texas to New York, though.”
His grandfather looked worried as they listed the locations. “Wait, you’re telling me that the two of you kept meeting each other in these different locations and never thought it was odd?”
Tracy nodded as she added her own thoughts to his. “I agree Lexie had mentioned Jay to me, but I had never met him, so I just thought that he was an imaginary friend until now.”
“What does it matter, mom and dad knew her, and they never said anything about it. At least not to me. They loved Lexie. Every time she showed up they were excited and welcomed her with open arms.” Jay told them defensively.
Lexie smiled at his words. “I loved your parents, too. It was nice to see how you all interacted with each other.” She looked at her aunt before continuing. “I love my aunt Tracy and my grandfather and am forever thankful that they took me in as a child. They’ve had to sacrifice a lot for me though, it was just nice to see a normal functioning family.”
Tracy rushed to Lexie’s side and wrapped her in a hug. “Oh, honey, I’ve never regretted taking you in for a single day. I love you and love having you here with us, and anything you believe I may have sacrificed has been utterly worth it to have you in my life. Besides, I’m not dead yet I can still get married. I’m not even that old.” She teased lightly about her age.
“Thank you for saying that auntie.” Lexie choked out as her tear-filled eyes threatened to overflow.
Everyone was silent for a moment as she struggled to bring herself under control once more.
She hugged Tracy back before letting go and turning a question-filled gaze to Jay. “Where are your parents, by the way? I’d love to see them again.”
Jay was stricken at her question and confessed the truth he had hidden from her earlier. “They died in a car accident four years ago while we were living in Montana. I’ve been living with and taking care of my grandfather ever since. He didn’t take their death especially well and was in the hospital himself for a couple of weeks after he heard and had a minor heart attack.”
Jethro nodded along as his grandson spoke, his eyes misting up as he relived the memories of what had happened.
Lexie gasped as her hand flew to her mouth. “I’m so sorry Jay, I had no idea!”
“It’s not your fault Lexie, there’s nothing to be sorry about. We had already lost touch with each other for years by that point. There is no way you could have known.”
Tracy interjected then as a faint dinging noise was heard from the back of the house. “It sounds like your clothes are done drying, Jay. Lexie, why don’t you go bring his clothes to him, so he can get changed, and then we can continue talking in the living room if that is all right with everyone?”
Everyone nodded in agreement, and Jay followed Lexie to the back of the house. He stood in the doorway, leaning on the frame as she removed his clothes from the dryer and handed them to him.
Her hand reached for his before halting and falling limply to her side. She took a step forward and hugged him instead, squishing his newly dry clothes between them.
“I’m so sorry Jay.” She whispered in his ear. “I know it’s too late, but for what it is worth, I truly did love your parents. They always welcomed me and made me feel like a part of your family. I was always afraid that you would move, and we’d never find each other again.” She grimaced. “Which is exactly what ended up happening. I still wish that I had been there for you. I don’t know if there is anything that I could have done for you besides holding your hand and just being there for you. Still, I wanted to let you know.”
She stepped back in time to see Jay wipe his eyes quickly with the back of his hand.
“Why don’t you get changed now, just leave the robe here and I’ll see you in the living room.” She squeezed his upper arm as she walked past. The simple action letting him know that she was there for him.
Jay changed as quickly as he could, relishing the warmth of the clothes as they dispelled the last of the cold that had crept back into his body. He folded the robe and set it on top of the dryer, lost in his own thoughts, before making his way to where everyone was waiting.
He found them waiting silently for him in the kitchen and followed as they turned around and walked through the house to the agreed-upon living room.
Lexie headed to the couch in the corner of the room and sat on one side while motioning for Jay to join her on the couch. Jethro sank into a Lazy Boy while Tracy remained standing.
“Before we get back to talking, does anyone want anything to drink? Water, Orange Juice?” She looked at Jethro before continuing. “We also have some whiskey and scotch if you would prefer that instead.”
At the mention of scotch, Jethro noticeably perked up. “I wouldn’t say no to some scotch if that is alright.”
Jay and Lexie shook their heads in the negative, letting her know that they were fine as they were. They still had their bottles of water from earlier in their hands.
Tracy went to the corner of the room and opened the cabinet that sat there and took out a bottle and a glass.
“Would you like some ice with this?” She asked over her shoulder.
“No, that’s alright. Thank you for offering though.” He replied kindly.
Taking the offered scotch, he took a sip as he waited for Tracy to seat herself.
“So, what aren’t you all telling me? I get the feeling that there is something else here going on that you haven’t mentioned yet.” Jethro said when they were all comfortably seated.
Glances were traded as they had a silent conversation to decide if it was worth mentioning what had happened. After the three of them nodded, an agreement reached. Jay conveyed what had occurred, as well as some of the less personal details of Lexie being from France.
After he finished, they all watched as Jethro downed the rest of the scotch and then held his breath while he waited for the burn in his throat to go away.
“It seems that it is my turn to tell you a tale Jay, it’s personal, but I believe that you may want to have them hear this as well. And for what it is worth, I believe that you should have been told this a long time ago and not by me. Since I haven’t told you myself, however, I understand why your parents never said anything. Before I start, there is one thing that you must understand, and that is that your parents and I love you more than anything, never doubt that.”
Jay felt his stomach drop at his grandfather’s words. “What are you saying? Why would I ever doubt that?”
His grandfather looked at his empty glass for a second before responding. “Actually, there is one more thing I guess I should say. That is that while I don’t condone what they did, I am glad they did it.” He paused once more before forcing it out slowly. “You are not actually my biological grandson Jay.”
Jay sank onto the couch, his head falling back at his grandfather’s words.
“What are you saying, exactly? That I’m adopted or something?”
Jethro winced as he replied. “Or something.” His head shaking slightly from side to side.
Tracy and Lexie shot each other wide-eyed stares but remained silent, not wanting to interrupt what was happening.