Jay closed his eyes, visibly fighting to keep his temper in check, before he finally replied. “What exactly do you mean? Am I adopted or not? Explain exactly what happened.”
Jethro nodded at his grandsons’ request before continuing. “I didn’t find this out myself until you were 14 and your parents,” He paused, “I mean my son and daughter-in-law let it slip one night after they had a little too much to drink.”
Jay interrupted him then, “No matter what they did, they raised me and if nothing else, that still makes them my parents and you, my grandfather. Don’t, just don’t!” He finished quietly.
With a quick, grateful nod, Jethro continued. “Alright, as I was saying, they had a little too much to drink when they started to tell me how guilty they were feeling about what they had done. Not because they had done it, no they said that they never regretted what they had done but because they felt guilty that your real parents never had the chance to know you because of them.”
The room was quiet, each wondering what his parents had done.
“Do you remember them telling you about that time you were lost as a child?” Jethro wondered, looking at his grandson.
Jay nodded before answering. “I remember.” He had the sudden feeling of standing on a cliff with unstable footing.
Jethro turned to Lexie and Tracy. “When Jay was only 2, he somehow got lost in the woods for a couple of days. When they finally found him, he was in bad shape as you can imagine and had to be put into the hospital for treatment afterward.”
He turned to Jay. “This is the part that you don’t know. The injuries you suffered back then… they were third-degree burns and covered much of your body. After investigating, they learned that there was only one report of a fire anywhere close to the area where you were found at the time. It was a house that had burned down several miles away. There weren’t even any reports of a campfire in the vicinity.”
Jay’s grandfather raised the glass of scotch to his lips and took a gulp. “With no other reasonable explanation, in the end, the police wrote the incident off as a freak sunburn accident and moved on.”
He coughed and took another sip of the liquor. “You have to understand, the why wasn’t really important to your parents at the time. They were more concerned with keeping you alive, which was a monumental task, I can assure you. It was a miracle that you were even still breathing when they found you. You were rushed to the hospital, and all thoughts of looking for a proper explanation were pushed to the background.”
A lone tear trickled slowly down Jethro’s cheek as he remembered that time. It was a painful, life-altering event for his son and daughter-in-law, and he hadn’t been there to help them through it.
He cleared his throat and continued. “By the time that they realized you weren’t actually their son, weeks had already passed. The burns and subsequent risk of infection had prevented them from being allowed to see you before then. And the condition you were found in had made identification impossible. You were found in the right area, and were a boy. Everyone assumed you were the child that had been lost.”
Tracy and Lexie both gasped at the revelations and gaped at the silent Jay. He was sitting stiffly on the couch, not saying a word. That cliff he had been standing on earlier crumbled and sent him spiraling into the abyss below.
“They never said anything to anyone at the hospital and quietly hired people to look for any information. Groups who knew the woods were sent out to scour for clues, anything that might tell them what had happened to their lost son. From what they told me at the time, all that they were able to learn is that there were tire tracks in the area. They never found anything to pertaining to the son that had been born into their family.”
“They figured that you must have somehow wandered away at the same time he had. Then the people behind the tracks must have found him and taken him instead. It doesn’t really explain how he was mistaken for you considering the burns that you had at the time, but it was the best that they were able to come up with at the time. So, they did the only thing that they could think of at the time. They placed a grave marker in the woods for their lost son and then brought you home from the hospital as him.”
Jethro dragged his hand across his mouth, cleaning his lips. “Whenever they moved, they would put out feelers looking for any information that they could get about what had happened. And in the meantime, they raised you as the son that they had lost and loved you just as fiercely as they would have their actual child.”
Everyone remained silent as he finished, each lost in their own thoughts.
“The burns were life-threateningly bad, and I suppose they could have been from a house fire like the one mentioned. After all, the location that you were lost in and found, was that part of France.” Jethro threw in one last tidbit at the end of the tale.
Jay looked up finally at his grandfathers’ words. “I didn’t know that. They never told me where I had been lost. I always just assumed that it was somewhere in the States.”
“No, it was during a vacation in France that it happened.” Jethro replied, meeting his gaze.
Lexie and Jay looked at each other before they were interrupted by Tracy. “So, you’re saying that the boy mentioned in the article, Lexie’s brother, might actually be Jay after all?”
“I don’t know one way or the other. The most I’ll say on the matter is that it could at least be a possibility. More than that though, I have no idea.” A shadow fell into the room as Jethro finished speaking.
“He’s right, we don’t know for sure one way or the other.” Lexie’s grandfather said in agreement, as he appeared in the doorway. “I started to track them down after I heard the story about a boy being found in the woods nearby who was badly burned. Those woods were near the house in France and with the timing, I was always convinced that he was actually the boy listed in the article.”
Tracy jumped to her feet. “Dad, are you alright? How are you feeling? You weren’t asleep for very long.”
Her father looked at her warmly, a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. “Of course, I’m alright. You think a little dementia is enough to keep me down?” He asked gruffly, his weak voice fooling absolutely no one. Tracy grabbed his arm and guided him to an open spot to sit down.
“I apologize if I scared you at all earlier, Jay. I was excited that I had finally found you and it seems that in my excitement I’d forgotten to take my medication the last couple of days. Allow me to formally introduce myself. My name is Alex Thomas. I’m Alexis’s grandfather and I believe yours as well.”
Jethro stood as Alex sat down. “Wait, you said that you were tracking them?”
“I did,” Alex replied, unsure where this was going.
Jethro threw back his head and laughed. “You have got to be kidding me! I always thought they had gone slightly crazy because of the guilt!” He looked at Jay. “Part of the reason you were always moving around was that they felt like they were being followed! Now I’m really wondering why they never said anything about Lexie always showing up like that.”
“I had no idea they felt like that.” Jay looked down at his hands. “Though I guess I couldn’t have since they never told me, anyway.”
Lexie rested her hand on Jay’s as Jethro sat across from them, comforting him with her presence. “Wait, grandpa, how did you even recognize Jay as the boy from the story. Is he the reason we moved here?”
Alex grinned and nodded. “I have my ways, and the internet has helped me a few times in the past as well. Getting a photo of him was relatively easy once I learned how to use the blasted thing. Anything more complicated than that was pretty much impossible for me though.” His grin faded. “Then my mind started to go, and it was all I could do to just get his last known address. That’s why I was out this morning. I wanted to go to their house and hopefully end this search once and for all.”
Tracy pulled out her cellphone during the brief lull that resulted from her father speaking. “What does everyone like on their pizza? We might as well have dinner now that dad has joined us.” Tracy placed the order, and everyone made small talk while they waited for the food to arrive.
After dinner, each person was lost in their respective thoughts. There had been more than one sensitive and personal issue coming to light in an incredibly short amount of time.
“Alright look,” Jethro clapped his hands to get everyone’s attention, while leaning back in his chair. “I don’t think any of us are really in the mood to keep talking about any of this right now. Why don’t Jay and I head home for the night? We can come back in the morning after breakfast or something. Then we can take all the time we need talking over everything tomorrow.”
“I think that sounds like a good idea,” Tracy said, looking at Jay and Lexie. “I think we all need some time to digest what we learned here today.”
Lexie pulled Jay to the side as they were preparing to leave. He had been oddly distant from her during dinner. She thought she knew what the problem was, it was rather obvious really, but couldn’t be certain.
The knowledge of him being found in the woods, and not related to the family that had loved and raised him. Combined with the news that they might be related had undoubtedly shaken him as much as it had her. They had a history together that they couldn’t just ignore. There was something between them that, even if it had started when they were kids, meant something to them both.
“Jay, how are you doing with all of this?” Her hand rested on his bicep as she asked.
In all honesty, he didn’t think that there was a good way to answer that question. More than that, if he told her how he really felt about the news, it could only be taken the wrong way without an in-depth explanation. They were leaving for the night and didn’t have the time such an answer required.
“I don’t know. It’s not what I expected, that’s for sure. If it is true though, then at least we don’t have to worry about being separated again.” He answered, choosing the lesser of the two evils as he saw them.
Lexie’s face fell at his words. “I know, at least there’s that.” She replied with downcast eyes.
He took her hand from his arm and squeezed it gently before turning to leave. “We’ll talk more tomorrow. We have a lot to discuss and more that we never had the chance to go over today. Get a good night’s sleep. I have a feeling it will be a long day tomorrow.”
With those parting words, Jay said good night to Tracy, Alex, and Lexie before he walked out the door and into the cool evening air. His grandfather was waiting beside his trusty truck and tossed Jay the keys so that he could drive them back home.
The cab of the truck was silent as Jay drove through quiet suburban streets. Neither willing to break the silence and discuss the life-altering sized bombs that had been dropped that night. That could wait until they were in the privacy of their own home. For now, now they would just enjoy the peace and quiet before it was shattered.
Jay steered the truck into the driveway and sat there. Neither moved to exit the truck, and Jay made no move to turn the engine off. They both just stared out of their respective windows, neither wanting to be the first to make a move.
With an irritated sigh, Jay turned the key to the off position and opened his door. What they were about to talk about had been put off for far too long already. Years too long, in fact. If what his grandfather had said was true, they should have told him a long time ago. His parents should have been the ones to say something, not that he didn’t understand logically why they hadn’t. Emotionally, it was a completely different story, and he felt as though the floor had been pulled out from beneath him.
They had barely stepped into the house, the door still closing behind his grandfather when he threw down the proverbial gauntlet.
“Tell me everything that you know!” He roar out, unable to contain himself any longer. “I want every single detail that you know, word for word. What they told you and everything that you discovered on your own since.” Jay stopped, his fist clenching tightly in restrained anger. “I know you would never have just let it go, so you must have been looking into it yourself as well.”
Jethro’s feet shuffled back for half a step in the face of his grandson’s anger, despite knowing the boy would never hit him. He sighed and held up his hand and moving into the kitchen to grab a glass of water.
Jay followed him and waited for him to take a few swallows before nudging a chair in his direction, barely refraining from kicking the suddenly offensive piece of furniture across the room.
His grandpa grabbed the chair, pulling it closer to him and at the same time farther away from Jay’s tapping foot. Afraid that he would still kick the chair with him in it this time. Jethro knew that he had been putting this discussion off for far too long already. But a part of him, a part that was growing larger by the second, was scared at how his grandson would react. He loved his grandson, and didn’t want anything to come between them. A secret like this one was exactly the kind of thing that tore families apart.
Grabbing his own chair, Jay swung a leg over the back of it. Sitting down on it backward. Then, seated and mostly comfortable, he shot a pointed look at his grandfather and the chair that he was holding in a death grip, his white knuckles betraying how tense he was.
With an almost imperceptible nod, he slowly released the chair and flexed his hand as he sat down. Even after sitting though, he still didn’t start talking, instead looking at his hands, or the floor, anywhere and everywhere but at Jay.
Jay let him look around for a moment before slamming his foot on the ground, catching his grandfather’s attention at last. It was time to talk and to get down to business.
Secrets needed to be told right now before they could do any more damage. Emotions needed to be freed and the only way that was going to happen was if they talked. It seemed that the only way that was going to happen, though, was if he gave his grandfather a kick or some tough love.
“Let me start with what your parents told me.” Jethro began at last.