FOR THE LOVE OF JASON
A/N: Since so many have asked, over the next few days I will be breaking this story out into chapters. Since there are so many of them, it may take a few days. But please bear with me. In the meantime, to prevent any interruption to anyone's ability to read the story in its entirety, the whole story can be found in the last chapter posted.
"What are you going to do now, child?"
Christina Belcuri's tear-filled eyes went wide at Mabel's question. Mabel Jenkins was the matronly postmaster for the small town of McAllister, and as usual, she had known precisely what to do to bring Christina back to her senses. On this day, when Christina thought that she might drown in her own grief and helplessness, Mabel's abrupt words were just what she needed.
Pulling herself together, she glanced down at the small bundle that slept in her arms, oblivious to all but a pair of loving arms, a dry diaper and a bottle of milk when the time was right. Three month old Jason Raven, it seemed, was to be her responsibility now. Never mind that somewhere out there he had a father and grandmother -- neither individual seemed overconcerned with the matter. Despite the fact that Christina had sent a certified letter to the address that Jeannie Raven's address book had listed as her mother's, neither Georgiana Stanton, nor the mysterious Mr. Raven who had 18 months previous claimed Jeannie as his bride had put in an appearance at Jeannie's funeral.
"I sup-suppose," Christina said tentatively, "that I'll be caring for Jason now."
"Supposing isn't good enough, girl. A child needs more sincerity than supposing." Mabel's tone threatened to bring fresh tears to Christina's eyes, but she straigtened her shoulders and spoke more firmly.
" But I am sincere, Mabel. I'll take care of Jason just like he was my own. I'll love him just like aunt Elise loved me, and like Jeannie's aunt Cara loved her."
"I know you will," Mabel's voice softened as she placed a plump hand on Christina's shoulder. "I know. " Then turning her gaze to the pink casket that had been partially lowered into the ground, she went on, shaking her head, "Such a shame. That one was too young, and too beautiful die. And she had so much to live for." At that Mabel's eyes rested on Jason.
Then turning again toward Christina, a frown crossed the woman's stern features. "I'm not surprised at the mother. But still no word on the father?" Her tone of voice suggested that there was more behind the questions. But Christina was too exhausted to do more than to answer it at face value.
Christina sighed. "No. When Jeannie showed up on my doorstep a year ago, she was a mess. You know that Mabel. She didn't want to talk about her husband. I didn't even find out that they'd only been married for seven months when she found out she was pregnant. Even then she wouldn't tell me his name. All she would say was that Georgiana was evil, and that he wasn't to blame. And that she would let him suffer for what she had done."
Mabel sighed along with her. "A body can understand why Cara told the child that he mother was dead. Shame that she had to find out different after Cara passed."
"Yeah, she said that, too," Christina confided. Privately however, she couldn't understand why Cara Meridon, the woman who had raised Jeannie would lie to her neice, telling her that her mother was dead. Or why a mother would go along with the game, never visiting or even writing her child.
"She probably found out the truth after that woman got her hands on the money Cara left the girl."
Christina looked up in surprise. Jeannie hadn't told her much about what had happened during the six years she had been away from McAllister. All that Christina knew was that the only person she'd called best friend and 'sister' had changed dramatically in that time.
Having both grown up in a small town environment under the care of Aunts, they'd become fast friends, even to the point of declaring one another family. A year after graduating high school, Jeannie's aunt Cara died suddenly. Those had been difficult days for the both of them, then news had come that Jeannie's mother, Georgiana Staton was alive and well and living on the west coast. Jeannie had been estatic to learn that she might have a 'real' family. Shortly after, she decided to finish college on the west coast nearer her new-found family.
During the initial months of their separation, Jeannie had written quite often. Greenich was a big city in comparison to McAllister, and she'd had a lot that she wanted to share. But eventually Jeannie's letters become shorter and further apart. Within a year they had stopped writing altogether. When Christina's aunt Elise died, the letter Christina sent to Jeannie was returned unopened. No such person as Jeannie Meridon resided at that address.
And then, after more than three years of silence, Jeannie showed up on Christina's doorstep. The once happy-go-lucky young woman had been come a nervous, tearful and sometimes hysterical woman perhaps near the brink of a total breakdown. Christina hadn't known what to do for her. But she could not, under any circumstances, turn away her friend. Once again, they were their only family. A week after her arrival, Jeannie discovered that she was pregnant.
Half-way through her pregnancy, Jeannie seemed to calm down and settle into a routine. And then after Jason was born, it was as if the old Jeannie was back. She was happy again, and had a purpose for going on. Christina had thought that it was only a matter of time before she opened up and confided all that had taken place after she'd moved to Greenich.
But then, suddenly, there was no more time. Jeannie Raven, once vibrant, witty and beautiful, was no more. Just before her twenty-fifth birthday, Jeannie was killed by a hit and run driver while returning home from a shopping trip in a neighboring town. In one careless act, an as-yet-unknown, driver had taken one life, and changed another forever.
"Well, well, well. What have we here?"
Christina was pulled from her thoughts by Mabel's words. Following the woman's gaze passed the thinning crowd of mourners, she caught sight of something sleek and black pulling to a stop along the dirt road that led to this part of the cemetary.
All eyes remained glued on the vehicle as a man dressed in a dark suit got out of the drivers side and then moved to open the passenger door. Christina was sure that even the birds ceased to make a sound as the form of a tall man dressed completely in black, down to the black glasses that obscurred most of his features was assisted from the vehicle. She wondered for a moment if he were hurt, because even after he was out of the car, the driver continued to offer his arm. It wasn't until he rounded the front of the vehicle that she noticed that cane clasped in his right had dancing above the surface of the ground. This man was blind. And he wasn't from around those parts.
The two men stopped near Jeddy Burke and asked him a question. Christina noticed that while the driver had talked to Jeddy, the blind man had gazed absently skyward. But when Jeddy had began speaking, he had turned intently in the direction of the Jeddy's voice.
Christina felt pretty sure that the conversation was either about herself or Mabel, because Jeddy pointed a crooked finger in their direction before getting another eyeful of the slick black sedan that the two men had rode in on. Cars were Jeddy's fascination, and this was probably the type that he had only seen in magazines.
There was no more time to ponder the men's purpose in coming because they were already near enough for Christina see that the driver was of medium height and build, while his charge was tall, slim and dark. Dark was the description that suited him best; dark hair, dark coloring, dark clothing, and a mouth set in a thin brooding line.
"I am Oscar Desmond," the driver introduced himself. "And we are seeking someone by the name of C. Belcuri." His gray eyes wore an expression of sympathy, but also something else. Something that bothered Christina deeply.
She blinked, attempting to hold the feeling of trepidation at bay. But the small gesture of drawing Jason a little tighter against her shoulder, almost in protection, was unconscious. "I'm Christina Belcuri," she said. "Is there anything I can do to help you?"
The driver made a gesture against the blind man's arm, who then turned his attention toward her with an intensity that caused Christina to question his blindness. "I am Michael Raven," the blind man spoke, extending his hand toward her. "You sent a telegram concerning my wife, concerning Jeannie?"
Christina gaped. It wasn't until Mabel nudged her that she glanced down and saw that Michael Raven had extended his hand toward her. It was slightly off, but Desmond gestured that she should take it, anyway.
Moving quickly, too late to conceal her shock, Christina reached for the man's hand and briefly clasped it in greeting. "I'm sorry, Jeannie was a good friend," she managed, having no idea what else to say to the man who had been Jeannie's husband, to Jason's father. Jason's father! The thought struck fear into her heart. It wasn't until that moment that she began to realize how much she didn't want to lose the little guy. The child was as much a part of her as he was of Jeannie. And of, she admitted reluctantly to herself, Michael Raven.
As if beginning to sense some of the turmoil around him, Jason began to whine and fret. Tiny hands clinched as his body wriggled fussily against Christina's shoulder. Immediately, Christina began to make comforting noises. Locating the pacifyer that had been tied to his shirt front, she placed it into his mouth. The child took it, but continued to make unhappy whining noises.
"I'm sorry," Raven apologized. "I didn't realize... Perhaps we can set up an appointment. I'm going to be at the..." His voice trailed off as he turned slightly toward Desmond.
"The Howard Johnson, Sir," Desmond informed him.
"The Howard Johnson. If I may contact you, there are a number of things I would like to discuss."
"There will be a gathering tonight...for Jeannie," Christina found herself saying. "It will be above Elise's Olde Tyme gift shop, on Main Street. Everyone knows where it is. The entrance is in back. Everyone will probably be arriving around six."
Raven seemed to consider this for a moment. "Thank you," he said, finally. "I will look forward to talking to you later."
After mutual good-bye's, Christina watched the two men head slowly back toward their car. Mr. Michael Raven was not at all what she had expected. Handsome, yes; well spoken, perhaps; blind, definitely not.
Jason was sleeping soundly at six o'clock when the guests began to arrive. Angela Kater was first. She was a plump middle aged woman with a cherubic face and an incurable knack forgossip. "Am I first?" she'd asked as soon as she crossed the threshold.
"Um hum," Christina nodded taking her jacket. "Thank you for coming Angie, I know you and Jeannie didn't get on so well." Christina spoke honestly, leading Angie into the living room with a light touch on her back.
"Yeah well, that's no secret," Angie responded good-naturedly. "She always said I was too nosey and she was probably right, but she came back here so mysterious and all." Angie took a seat on the long sofa and picked up one of the little cakes some of the neighbors had made. Taking a bite of the cake Angie changed the subject to the one Christina was sure had been on her mind all along. "Who was that man who arrived late? I saw you talking to him when we left."
"That was Michael Raven." Christina answered reluctantly. There was no sense in hiding it, especially since she'd invited him to the gathering as well. In hindsight, however, she wondered at the wisdom of such a thing. More than likely Michael Raven and Oscar Desmond would be the only men present.
"Raven? as in Jeannie Raven and Jason Raven? Husband of and father to?" Angie's eyes had grown wide. As far as gossip went, this was probably the mother lode. "Did you know all along that Jeannie's husband was blind?!" Without waiting for a reply, Angie went on, practically bouncing on the sofa.
"Oh my goodness, it's no wonder she was so secretive. Do you think she was ashamed for some reason? Maybe he wasn't born that way and it happened later and she couldn't handle it. Oh my goodness! Chrissy! Maybe it was her fault that he's blind!"
Christina had had enough. "Angie, stop it," she told her friend, forcing her own voice to be calm. "You're getting carried away with yourself and I won't have you spreading these ideas. Besides, Mr. Raven and I will be talking soon enough so I suppose we will find out some of the true answers that we've all been craving."
Angie, used to people trying to calm her imaginative, gossipy mind, simply continued on, ready with the next questions as soon as Christina finished speaking. Christina sighed in relief when the doorbell rang.
It was Mrs. Janis Belevedere, a woman who had been an old and dear friend of Christina's Aunt Elise before she had died nearly two years earlier.
"Hello, Mrs. Belevedere," Christina welcomed her with a hug before helping her down the hall to the living room. The arthritis in her legs was obviously bothering her. "I'm so glad you could come tonight."
"Hello, dear," Mrs. Belevedere returned the greeting. "You are such a sweet child to take care of that baby and helping Elise like you did."
Christina smiled and thanked her, and helped her to settle on the sofa. Before Mrs. Belevedere had gotten comfortable, Angie had chimed in with her latest supposition concerning Micheal Raven.
"I never said that!" Christina objected.
"Well, are you going to give him the baby or not, then?" Angie asked, pressing the issue. It was then that Christina realized what she had done. And it was too late to turn back because Angie's words had gotten Mrs. Belvedere started.
"Surely you're not going to just turn the baby over to a strange man you know nothing about and blind to boot. He can't take care of a baby. Why the baby doesn't even know him!" The older woman was outraged.
"I may not have a choice," Christina tried to defend herself. "He is the child's father, after all."
"Listen, honey. You just keep real quiet about whose baby that is. We'll never tell!" That from Angie. Christina doubted Angie could keep anything quiet. But Janis Belvedere backed her up, even stomped her foot on the floor.
Sighing, Christina pointed in the direction of the doorbell. Soon the entire group was there save for Michael Raven. Christina was relieved that he hadn't because she fully suspected that along with planning the conspiracy to prevent Michael Raven from learning about his child, the townswomen of McAllister were quite capable of running the poor man out of town that very night.