"There are no fortunes to be told, although,
Because I love you more than I can say,
If I could tell you I would let you know."
The Long Hello
Jacob Reilly stepped into the doorway of Room 114 of the Greenville Nursing Home and saw the form of a person lying in the bed. It was evening, there were shadows, and at first he didn't see the second person sitting in a chair in the dark corner of the room. He stepped closer to the bed and he was startled when a voice pierced the shadows of the quiet surroundings.
"May I help you?"
Jacob jumped and then he peered at the person in the chair although he couldn't make out a face. "That's Mrs. Alberts, right?" He asked, gesturing toward the motionless person lying in the bed.
"Yes, it is," the voice informed him. "Who are you?"
"My name's Jacob Reilly," he replied. "I knew Mrs. Alberts a long time ago. I just….." His voice trailed off.
The person in the chair stood and her face became visible out of the shadows. "Hello, Jake,' she said.
Jacob squinted at the person for a long moment. Her hair was straight and yellow with no bangs hanging to her shoulder and he didn't recognize her but it was the voice that struck a cord. "Moriah?"
"It's been a long time," she said. "I'm surprised to see you here."
"I bumped into Bob Hampton the other day," Jacob reported.
"Mr. Hampton the teacher?" Moriah asked with surprise.
"He mentioned your grandmother was ill."
"She's dying, Jake," Moriah clarified. "She's been unresponsive for three days now."
"I'm sorry," Jacob sighed.
"It was nice of you to come," Moriah replied. "I appreciate it."
"Your grandmother was very good to me," Jacob said.
"I know," Moriah said.
Jacob looked at Mrs. Alberts lying under the covers on the bed. She was frail and pale, her gray hair matted on the pillow. "I wouldn't have recognized her," he admitted.
"She started failing a couple of months ago," Moriah explained. "She's been here about a month. I get the feeling she's had enough and wants to go to heaven now."
"Did she have a stroke or something?"
"No, just stopped eating and then one morning a few days ago they couldn't wake her up," Moriah explained. "My mother said she opened her eyes once yesterday."
"That's a hopeful sign," Jacob said with encouragement.
"Look at her, Jake," Moriah sighed. "Does she look like she's going to rebound?"
"I guess not," Jacob admitted.
"My mom and other family are here with her during the day and some of the church ladies are doing the overnight vigil."
"Your grandmother was the best of the church ladies," Jacob observed.
"I took the 'second shift'," Moriah informed him. "We don't want her to die alone."
"That must be hard for your husband," Jacob remarked. "You being away in the evenings."
"I'm divorced, Jake," Moriah said awkwardly.
"Sorry, I didn't know," Jacob said with embarrassment.
"Well, you haven't been around," she noted.
"I haven't," he agreed, sounding remorseful.
Moriah took her seat in the chair again but she kept her eyes on him. The yellow hair continued to throw him off since she used to wear her hair dark and wavy. "So, where'd you see Mr. Hampton?" She asked.
"At a gas station in Miller City," Jacob replied, taking a seat in a second chair which was one of those metal folding chairs with a small cushion on it whereas Moriah's chair was an old overstuffed arm chair with a faded green pattern.
"Is that where you live now?" Moriah asked.
"Yeah, I have a state job with the Department of Transportation," he said. "Been there about ten years."
"How come you never came back?" She wanted to know. "Miller City's only forty-five minutes away."
He shrugged but he didn't have an answer. "What do you do these days?" Jacob asked instead.
"I'm a waitress at Johnny C's," Moriah replied, catching him off guard.
"Oh," he said, trying not to sound judgmental or surprised.
"I used to be the assistant manager at the credit union," she let him know.
"That's a good job," Jacob said.
"It was," Moriah agreed.
Jacob glanced around the small room, painted white with flower trim along the border below the ceiling. There were some family photos on the corkboard near Mrs. Albert's bed and several greeting cards set on the white radiator cover by the lone window that looked out on the side parking lot. Otherwise, there wasn't much to the space and that left Jacob feeling sad for some reason. He stared at Mrs. Alberts for a long moment before finally returning his attention to Moriah.
""It's nice to see you again," he said, struck by her changed appearance.
"A lot has happened since we last saw each other, Jake," Moriah replied.
"I know," he said.
"Do you?" She asked, raising her eyebrows.
"Apparently not," Jacob said, glancing at her grandmother in the bed.
"Not just her," Moriah said.
"I figured it was best to stay away," Jacob explained. "Best for everybody."
"My grandmother spoke of you often," Moriah let him know. "She always missed you."
"I never forgot her," Jacob said.
"You could have dropped a line once in a while," Moriah told him. "Stopped by for a visit on occasion. Shown up for family weddings and funerals."
"You would have wanted me at your wedding?" Jacob asked suspiciously.
"You know what I mean," Moriah said.
"This wasn't my family, More," he reminded her.
"We were the closest thing you had to a family," she pointed out.
"I know that," he said softly.
"What are you doing here?" She asked.
"I wanted to see her," Jacob answered, gesturing toward the bed. "To say goodbye. And to thank her."
"Maybe waiting until she was in a coma wasn't the best timing," Moriah said snidely.
"You don't have to make me feel worse than I already do," Jacob told her.
"You're right," she said with realization. "I apologize."
"You didn't think it was time for me to move on?" He asked, looking at her.
"I guess I didn't think you were going to go forever," Moriah admitted heavily.
"As much as I wanted to stay here, I couldn't," Jacob told her.
"I know," she said.
"You look good," Jacob smiled.
"Thanks," she said with a sigh. "Even though I know it's a lie. Look at how much weight I've put on," she grumbled, rubbing her thick thighs through her jeans.
"I think you look terrific."
"I've been to hell and back the past few years," Moriah revealed heavily. "I was just getting back on my feet when Grammy got sick."
"I'm sorry," Jacob said with sincerity.
"I don't know what I'm going to do without her," Moriah said sadly, her voice choking. "I've been living with her the past few years."
"I didn't know that," Jacob said.
Moriah was staring at her grandmother again so Jacob gazed at Moriah as they sat in silence. She must have sensed his eyes on her because she slowly looked toward him. "What?" Moriah asked.
"How's the rest of the family doing?" Jacob asked.
"Everybody's okay," Moriah let him know.
"Good health, doing well. Dad's still at the bank and Mom's getting ready to retire from the school system."
"How 'bout Dale and Janice?"
"Dale's married with three kids, lives in Florida," Moriah reported. "He's debating whether to come up now or wait until Grammy goes. Janice lives in New Hampshire, married with two boys. She'll probably be here this weekend but for now it's me and mom and Aunt Sally and Uncle Roger, mostly."
"I know your grandmother would appreciate your efforts," Jacob commented.
"It's the kind of thing she did all the time," Moriah said.
"I know," Jacob replied.
"So, do you do something you like at the Department of Transportation?" Moriah wondered.
"I'm a truck driver, More," he sighed. "But it's a state job and it pays well."
"Well, I'm a waitress," Moriah replied. "You're doing better than me."
"What happened?" He asked.
"I don't think I'm ready to tell you about it yet," she sighed.
"Okay," he said with understanding. "When you're ready."
"When I'm ready," she said softly.
There was a moment of quiet reflection as they both stared at Moriah's grandmother.
"She's going to miss the Patriots game this weekend," Moriah sighed.
"You can still put it on the television," Jacob said.
"And the Red Sox will lose their biggest fan."
"Did she still go to Serguci League games?" Jacob asked.
"Not so much these past few years," Moriah said. "She started to slow up some. Couldn't be everywhere for everybody anymore."
"Makes sense," Jacob said as he kept looking at Mrs. Alberts. "She was getting older."
"Never stopped with the church stuff though," Moriah said proudly. "There was always some project she was involved in."
"I'm not surprised."
"So, when was the last time you saw her?" Moriah wanted to know. "High school graduation?"
"A couple days after," Jacob clarified. "That's when I shipped out for Army boot camp."
"And never came back."
"And never came back," he verified.
"Do you regret that?" Moriah asked.
"I do now," Jacob said, staring at her grandmother.
"I'm sorry it ended so badly, Jake," Moriah said.
"We were eighteen," Jacob shrugged. "We were kind of stupid back then."
"Sometimes I feel like I still am," Moriah sighed. "I made some really poor choices," she muttered.
"I guess we just have to deal with them as they happen," Jacob remarked.
"What kind of poor choices did you make?" Moriah inquired. "Besides not coming back, that is?" She added sardonically.
"Leaving in the first place," Jacob answered.
"Why did you then?" She asked. "Because of me?"
"Partly," he admitted. "And I was aging out of foster care with your grandmother,"
"She would have let you stay," Moriah told him.
"It was time for me to go," Jacob reasoned.
"To the Army?" Moriah asked, not sure if that was a better deal.
"Gave me a place to be," Jacob explained.
"You must have hated it."
"There were definitely challenges," Jacob admitted. "But I was supply, not infantry so while I was in harm's way a few times I was mostly driving a truck. Met some good people, felt like I was serving the cause, did my time and then got out."
"But you didn't come back," Moriah commented.
"Well, I came back to Blue County," Jacob reasoned.
"And didn't tell anybody," Moriah complained. "Or visit Grammy."
"It seems like that part of my life was over," Jacob said sadly.
"So you spent all this time driving a truck for the state?"
Jacob nodded. "The Ghost Rider," he joked.
Moriah bit her lip. "You didn't have to hide," she said quietly.
"I don't think people would have welcomed my return with open arms," Jacob remarked sarcastically.
"Grammy would have," Moriah told him.
"Yeah, but why do that to her?" Jacob asked, throwing the comatose woman another glance. "Why put her back in the middle of all the drama? She already did her best for me. She didn't need that soap opera back in her life."
"I suppose," Moriah said with a wry half-smile.
"You're engagement announcement was in the paper the week I got back," Jacob revealed, giving her a long look.
"Timing was never our strong suit, Jake," Moriah sighed.
"I thought it was kind of funny to tell you the truth," Jacob replied. "Or at least ironic."
"Well, at least you didn't show up at the wedding and do a Mrs. Robinson," Moriah laughed.
"That definitely would have added to the drama," Jacob grinned.
"Matty's father would have shot you before you got half way down the aisle," Moriah acknowledged.
Jacob offered a half laugh but then he cleared his throat and turned more serious. "I didn't think you'd be here this time of night," Jacob said. "I was planning on just slipping in, saying goodbye to Jane, and then just disappearing again."
"Sorry I ruined your plans," Moriah deadpanned.
"You really going to stay until the church ladies get here?" He asked.
"Of course," she said. "She's my Grammy."
Jacob nodded his head in understanding. "Then I'll stay too," he said.
"Oh," Moriah replied, surprised. "You don't have to do that. You have to drive back to Miller City and everything."
"I don't mind," Jacob said. "I've been gone a while," he added as a half-joke.
"Yes, you have," Moriah agreed with a serious tone.
"You never asked me to stay, More," Jacob reminded her.
"I didn't think I had too," she sighed.
"Oh?" Jacob asked as he raised his eyebrow. "Did you think I had ESP or something?"
Moriah let out a groan, "I had sex with you, Jake," she said. "I thought that said it all."
She chewed on her lip for a moment, second guessing herself for saying such a thing after all this time. She heard Jacob catch his breath and she purposely avoided his eyes while she swallowed dryly.
"I'm sorry," Moriah mumbled. "I shouldn't have said that."
"Having sex only complicated matters even more," he said quietly. "We both know that."
Moriah sucked in her breath, "Obviously," she agreed.
Jacob looked down at the floor causing his hair to fall over his eyes. "But I don't regret any of it," he whispered.
Moriah's cheeks blushed as she let out a sigh. "Me either," she said softly.
" But things are different now," Jacob observed.
"Yes," she agreed, without clarification.
There was a noticeable pause in the conversation until Jacob finally spoke again.
"Are you still a book worm?" He asked, looking up at her while rubbing his hand through his hair.
"Yes, I still like to read," she replied with a smile. "But this isn't high school anymore, Jake. What was then is really not how it is now."
"I know," he said sadly.
"But the memories still mean something," she clarified. "No matter what happened between us and to us and because of us, our experiences together still mean something."
"I know," he said again, sounding sentimentally sad.
"Jake," she said softly. "I'm sorry for all the crap me and my family put you through."
"Except for your Grandmother," Jacob pointed out.
"She was the only one who wasn't an idiot," Moriah sighed.
"Your parents thought I would screw you up," Jacob shrugged. "Can't really blame them for wanting to protect their daughter."
"How ironic that I got screwed up anyway," Moriah laughed.
"I'm sorry," Jacob said quietly.
"You had nothing to do with what happened to me," she replied.
"But I was still a jerk most of the time," he said. "Acting out, screwing up, getting in trouble."
"It doesn't matter now," Moriah said.
"I was so lonely and miserable and messed up and angry back then," Jacob sighed. "My life sucked and I was just trying to survive."
"I know," she said. "But you don't have to think about that now."
"Actually, I barely have any memory of most of it," he admitted. "I really did work hard on moving on and leaving the past where it belonged. But now that I see you again – and Jane," he sighed, glancing at her grandmother in the bed.
"Yeah," Moriah said with understanding. "Me too."
They didn't talk for a long while, listening to the gentle breathing of Moriah's grandmother in the otherwise quiet and dimly light room. Moriah wasn't sure how much time had passed when a large figure appeared in the doorway.
"Mrs. Hartman," Moriah said as she stood. "Thank you for coming."
"It's my pleasure, sweetie," the woman replied. "I wish I could do more for your dear sweet grandmother."
Jacob stood too.
"Mrs. Hartman, this is Jake," Moriah said politely. "He was one of Grammy's former foster kids."
"Oh, she had so many I couldn't keep track of all of them," Mrs. Hartman laughed, giving Jacob a nod. "It was nice of you to come, Son." She turned to Moriah. "Now you go home and get some sleep, child. I have the night watch. Don't you worry."
"You call if anything changes," Moriah said with worry, glancing at her grandmother.
"Of course," Mrs. Hartman vowed. "Don't you fret yourself about that."
Moriah turned to Jacob. "Did you want to say goodbye one last time?" She asked gently.
"Yes," Jacob said with a heavy swallow. He stepped to the bed and took Jane's hand in his. "There are no fortunes to be told, although, because I love you more than I can say, if I could tell you I would let you know," he said quietly.
Moriah was surprised to hear Jake utter such a sentiment but it made her feel good too. He stepped away from the bed and then quietly disappeared through the shadows of the room and out the door while Moriah leaned over and kissed her grandmother goodnight.
"I love you, Grammy," she whispered, rubbing her hand through her grandmother's hair before she nodded to the smiling Mrs. Hartman and left the room.
Jacob was waiting for her in the hall. "It's late," he said. "I'll walk you to your car."
"Who's going to mug me around here, Jake?" Moriah asked, rolling her eyes.
But she didn't say anything else as she allowed him to escort her to the parking lot.
"You drive a Mercedes?" Jacob asked with surprise when she gestured toward the white car in the lot.
"It's ten years old now," Moriah said with a shrug. "One of the last reminders of my previously successful life."
Jacob pointed to a beat up twenty year old green Ford pick up truck parked a few parking spaces down. "That's what I'm driving."
"A pickup," Moriah noted with unusual interest, Jacob though. "Anyway, thanks so much for stopping by for my Grammy. That was really very thoughtful and considerate of you. Please keep her in your prayers."
"I will," Jacob replied.
"I really need to get going," Moriah told him. "It's late and I work the early shift."
"It was great seeing you, More."
"Likewise," she said pleasantly. "Good night, Jake."
Moriah hurriedly got into the car to avoid any more conversation. She waved through the window before firing the car to life and speeding out of the parking lot faster than she needed to be going.
Moriah tried to catch her breath as she drove home. The stress of her Grammy's illness had been taxing Moriah's clean and sober stance but when Jacob Rielly walked into Grammy's nursing home room after a seventeen year absence Moriah wondered if his presence was meant as another test of her psyche.
They met when they were fifteen. Jake was an unplanned last minute temporary foster placement with Grammy who had plenty of foster kids before his arrival and just as many after his departure. Usually it was one kid at a time (occasionally two) and for the most part it was girls but occasionally Grammy would take in a male when he had nowhere else to go.
Moriah was never sure of Jake's story. No father, an unfit mother that resulted in the state taking Jake out of the house (more than once apparently). Moriah was pretty sure the mother died while Jake was with Grammy which was why he ended up staying with her for so long. Jake was rude, angry, sarcastic, mean and constantly in trouble from the moment Grammy took him in. Moriah loathed everything Jake represented except there was something about him - under his rough exterior and tough guy bully act - that seemed vulnerable and even likable in a strange alternate universe kind of way.
Moriah was a popular, talented and successful student at St. Anne's Catholic High School and her parents didn't want her within fifty feet of the new Foster staying with Grammy. But they couldn't ban Moriah from seeing her grandmother and Moriah found herself visiting Grammy's house more often when the mysterious bad boy Jake was around.
Jake started out at Hillsboro High School (expelled for fighting). He had a brief stint at St. Anne's (Moriah tried to befriend him and help him with his work but he was hardly accepting) and he burned his bridge at St. Anne's by vandalizing some of the school's religious artifacts. Jake went to the charter school for a while (asked to leave after stealing money from the cafeteria till) and he finally ended up at the tech school where he met a mentor who gave him some direction, boundaries, and expectations and Jake actually ended up doing fairly well, managing to graduate with a diploma.
Moriah was already with her future husband Matty by then - an energetic, resourceful, confident, go-getter who was well liked by his peers and adored by Moriah's parents - another reason why they didn't want their daughter anywhere near the brutish foster Jake.
Grammy Jane never gave up on Jake and it was her commitment, compassion, dedication, love, and belief in the kid that got him through those awful years which was why he showed up to say goodbye at the nursing home. It would be easy to believe that Jake was the bastard who pursued and perhaps even sexually abused Moriah during those three years he was with Grammy but in truth it was Moriah who was constantly flirting with and even daring Jake, playing a strange game of seduction augmented by a dangerous temptation of desire.
Moriah knew it was wrong of her on so many levels - she was aware even then that she was going to marry Matty - but there was something about Jake that sparked a hidden secret force within her and she found that she wanted to be with Jake in that inappropriate way even though it was irrational and would hurt a lot of people not to mention get Jake in big trouble - undoubtedly kicked of Grammy's place - if found out.
Moriah didn't care. She ignored Matty's suspicions. She paid no attention to her parents' restrictions and boundaries. She refused to pay heed to Grammy's warnings. She cruelly tempted Jake to such a degree that he eventually had no choice but to go along with the seduction, something that Moriah felt shame and guilt about for years, especially when Jake disappeared and she married Matty just as she always knew she would.
In the end, nobody suspected anything - even after Moriah and Jake shared wild and crazy sex several times (usually at Grammy's when she was off doing church related activities) but Moriah knew that Grammy was wise to what happened and that even those who didn't know still despised and loathed Jacob for a variety of reasons. Moriah and Grammy never spoke of it and Grammy never mentioned Jake by name after he shipped out to the Army - but every once in a while (especially after Moriah's divorce) Grammy would allude to the "forgotten one" and Moriah would know exactly who Grammy was referring to.
Did any of that matter now? Did Jake's unexpected return serve as a terrible reminder of Moriah's dark side and would it threaten her clean and sober status now, or was his surprise presence a blessing, offering Moriah someone who knew and loved Grammy almost as much as she did?
Moriah was both physically and emotionally exhausted when she got home. She had to be at the diner by 5:30 a.m. and it was already 11:30 p.m. by the time she kicked her shoes off. She already knew Grammy had willed the house to her and she had started to gather some of the fifty years of clutter and hoarding that dated back to Grampa's era (he had been dead for nearly thirty years which was why Grammy took on fostering). Moriah knew she needed to clean the place out but she didn't think she had the energy and she wondered if it was ghoulish of her to start such a project before Grammy was even dead. Moriah quickly changed into her jammies, brushed her teeth and fell into bed, trying not to worry about Grammy or think about Jake as she drifted off into an exhausted sleep.
Moriah awoke with a start when the alarm clock beeped in the morning dark, her eyes heavy as she struggled to sit up in her bed. The room was dim as the autumn sun had yet to rise at this early hour. But Mrs. Hartman hadn't called so that was good news and Moriah dragged herself out of bed, took a two second shower, threw on her Johnny C's sweatshirt with her jeans and sneakers and headed for the diner and her seven and a half hour shift.
Although Moriah never envisioned herself as a waitress at thirty-five, Johnny C's wasn't a bad place to work. Birdy Braft the owner was a great boss and the crew was good to work with. The patrons were also very nice, many of them aware of Moriah's unfortunate fall from grace and they were sympathetic to her current situation. Many asked after her grandmother each morning. The day tended to fly by and before Moriah knew it, 1:00 had arrived and her shift was over. She went home and took a quick shower and then a half hour power nap before getting up in time for a three o'clock twelve step meeting in Greenville. She attended a meeting a day (sometimes two) knowing she needed to stay clean and sober to keep her job, her sanity, her integrity, her pride and to have money coming in.
After grabbing a bite to eat with her sponsor, Moriah headed for the nursing home to spend the evening on watch with Grammy. She relieved her parents but decided not to mention that the long forgotten Jake had stopped by the nursing home the previous evening. Moriah had put her parents through the wringer in recent years and there was no need to bring up a topic she knew they wouldn't necessarily be thrilled to hear. Sharing the grief and concern regarding Grammy had brought Moriah and her folks closer and she didn't want to ruin that bonding feeling, especially if Jake had already disappeared as quickly as he had shown up.
There was no change in Grammy's condition and after sitting on her bed holding her hand for a while, Moriah settled into her corner chair to stand watch until one of the overnight church ladies came to kindly relieve her. Moriah was lost in her thoughts when a presence in the room startled her. She looked up and was surprised to see Jake standing by the foot of the bed.
"I didn't think you'd be back," she said quietly.
"I thought of you sitting here alone like this and I figured I should keep you – and Jane – company," Jacob said.
"You didn't have to do that," Moriah told him.
"I wanted to," Jacob said. He gave Grammy a long look. "How's she doing today?"
"No change," Moriah reported, standing and stepping closer to the bed. "I'm not sure what she's waiting for."
"Looks like we're in for The Long Goodbye," Jacob noted.
Moriah dabbed at her eyes. "I just hope she's not suffering."
"She looks peaceful to me," Jacob said. He glanced at Moriah. "How was your day?"
"They're getting longer the longer Grammy hangs in there," she sighed. "Does that sound insensitive? Kind of hoping she dies soon?"
"It's understandable," Jacob told her gently.
"I love you, Grammy," Moriah said before returning to her chair.
Jacob took a seat in the same cushioned folding chair as the previous night.
"How was your day?" Moriah asked, mostly to make conversation in the quiet shadows of the room.
"Same old same old," Jacob reported.
"Do you like your job?"
"I like driving around," Jacob admitted. "It's mostly highway but it still gets me out and about."
"Are you with anybody?" Moriah wondered.
"Not right now," he revealed and Moriah had no idea why she was relieved to hear that.
There was a long silence between them as they both stared at Grammy in the bed.
"Is this hard for you?" Moriah asked.
"Not as hard as for you," Jacob replied.
"How 'bout seeing her…..me….again?" Moriah dared to inquire.
"There weren't a whole of happy memories of my time in Hillsboro," Jacob admitted. "But you and Jane are definitely among the most favorite."
"Most of my memories growing up are happy ones," Moriah said.
"That's good," Jacob smiled. "You had a wonderful family, a terrific upbringing, good friends, and a sound foundation."
"You had none of those things."
"Your grandmother did a pretty good job of giving me some," Jacob smiled, glancing at the bed.
"She had the innate ability to make a difference," Moriah agreed.
"Yep," Jacob agreed warmly. Then he glanced at Moriah. "So, with that wonderful upbringing and your strong foundation, what happened?"
Moriah nervously sucked in her breath.
"You can tell me," Jacob said with gentle encouragement.
"Well, my decadence left when you did," Moriah noted with some trepidation. "So I resumed the life I knew I was destined to have. Things with me and Matty got back to normal. We went to Green College together. Got our degrees. Married. Started our careers. Matty's computer business took off. I quickly advanced at the credit union. We were making ungodly money. Bought the Mercedes. Had a nice condo in Greenville. Life was great."
"Until?" Jacob asked
"Until I got sick," Moriah revealed. "Women plumbing problems – tumors that resulted in a total hysterectomy."
"Oh, More, I'm so sorry," Jacob said with true sorrow in his voice.
"There went the whole mother fantasy," Moriah sighed. "Needless to say, I got a little depressed and tended to drink too much after that."
"Then a few years later I got sick again, more cancer."
"God, Moriah,' Jacob said with disbelief.
"It was pretty tough for a while," Moriah testified. "Painful, especially after the surgeries. I was on pain meds for a long time and of course you can imagine what happened."
"You became addicted."
"Oxycontin, mostly, but any opiate would do," Moriah verified sadly. "It didn't take long for me to become a full-blown addict and when the doctors tried cutting me off I turned to the streets and any other illegal way to get the stuff," she said. "I would stop at nothing. Fraud. Theft. Dealing. I wiped out our bank account. I put my husband's business into bankruptcy. I stole from him, from my parents, from my grandmother, from work – which is why I got fired, of course. I finally had to run when the law started to close in on me. I was gone for months, still stealing when I could and finally I couldn't take it anymore so I came home and turned myself in."
"And got the help you needed?" Jacob asked hopefully.
"I went to jail first," Moriah sighed with embarrassment. "Then I finally got a rehab bed and I spent nearly nine months there. Matty asked for a divorce. We had to sell the condo to save his business. I'm a convicted felon. I'm an addict in recovery. I'm a cancer survivor. I'm a drunk staying sober. I'm a waitress at Johnny C's working with a lot of teenagers and college kids. And now the one woman who never gave up on me is dying." She wiped a tear from her eye as she stared at her Grammy in the bed.
"But you survived, More," Jacob said with emphasis. "That was my only goal in life during the bad times. Just get through it. Just make it another day. Just survive long enough for hope to take over. Look at you! You're clean and sober. You're back on your feet. You have a job and your health. You're taking care of yourself. You're here for your grandmother instead of out on the streets looking for your next fix."
Moriah looked at Jacob with wide eyes, surprised that he was so positive and understanding. "Thanks, Jake," she said softly. "I was afraid you would think less of me. You already saw my worse side once."
"I did?" He asked with confusion.
"What I did with you was inexcusable,' she said. "I loathe that person."
"Don't beat yourself up to much, More," Jacob told her. "You helped me survive."
"I did?" Moriah asked with surprise, parroting Jacob from a moment ago.
"Try not to look back too much," Jacob advised. "Stay in the moment and look ahead."
"Look ahead to life without Grammy?" She sighed sadly, giving her grandmother another look.
"You knew this day would come eventually," Jacob pointed out.
"And yet I was never prepared for it," Moriah admitted.
There was another long pause while they both thought about what was just discussed.
"Did anybody ever know about us?" Jacob asked with worry after a while.
"She did," Moriah revealed, gesturing toward her grandmother.
"Damn," Jacob groaned. "She really must have despised me."
"You know something, Jake?" Moriah asked in all sincerity. "I think she understood in her own way. I think she liked us having a linked past."
"Linked?" Jacob asked awkwardly. "That's a strange way of phrasing it."
"You know what I mean," she said, blushing slightly.
"I'm sure she was there for you when you had your troubles," Jacob observed.
"She was such an expert at that sort of thing," Moriah confirmed. "But I don't think she ever imaged her granddaughter being in such a situation though."
"You should be proud of yourself for getting through it and out the other side," Jacob said. "I saw a lot of kids in the foster care system and even in the Army flame out when the going got tough but you did what you had to do to get back on the right track."
"Thanks," she said. "But every day is still a struggle."
"I can only imagine," Jacob replied.
Moriah sucked in a deep breath. "Father Fitzgerald came the other day and gave last rites," she said, staring at Grammy. "She's been absolved of all her sins."
"I doubt she had very many," Jacob commented. "She was a church lady, after all."
Moriah laughed at the remark. "That she was," she said warmly.
A couple of the nursing assistants came in to turn Grammy. Jacob stepped outside into the hall to allow privacy and dignity while Moriah watched the aides work with impressive care and sensitivity. Jacob returned to the room when the aides left and he took his seat while Moriah stood in the window for a few minutes looking out into the night.
"How long have you been a blond?" Jacob wondered.
"Since rehab," Moriah acknowledged. "I wanted a new look when I came back to begin my new life."
"It looks good," Jacob told her.
"Thanks," she said with appreciation. "It took a long time to earn people's trust back."
"Did Matty forgive you?"
"He could have been a real bastard but he wanted me to get the help I needed," Moriah reported. "He was very supportive but I had violated too many boundaries for the marriage to survive. I'm sure he still loves me but he could never trust or depend on me again in his view so it was over. He had to move back in with his parents, refinance the business. He's with someone new now. I'm happy for him."
"When are you going to be happy for you?" Jacob wondered.
Moriah's eyes became teary. "I don't know," she whispered.
Moriah could feel Jacob's eyes on her and that made her feel subconscious for some reason.
"What, Jake?" She asked, still looking out the window. "Why are you staring at me?"
Jacob stood and stepped closer to her, reaching out his hand and taking hers in his. She glanced at him with curiosity
"I always thought you were amazing," he said quietly.
"Not now," she mumbled.
"Especially now," he replied.
Although she tried to fight it, Moriah turned and fell against him, resting her head against his chest, his chin tucked on the top of her blond head. She closed her eyes as Jacob's thumb rubbed along the back of her hand.
"I thought about you often," Jacob revealed.
"Oh?" She said.
"Did you ever think of me?" Jacob asked.
"Sometimes," she admitted, lifting her head off his chest and glancing up at him.
"Yeah?" Jacob asked with surprise. "Really?"
"Jake," she sighed. "I would have run off with you if you asked me," she said.
Jacob was shocked. "What?" He asked with disbelief, looking into her eyes.
"I would have given it all up to be with you," she admitted. "I know it sounds crazy but it's true. You held a power over me that made me think and do crazy things. I seduced you. I cheated on my boyfriend with you. I disobeyed my parents to be with you. I became an unscrupulous wild woman when I was with you. I would have done anything to maintain that strange high you gave me."
"Jesus," Jacob whispered.
"I know," she sighed. "I never felt that feeling again. Matty was wonderful but it was never the same."
She felt his fingers intertwine with hers and then a gentle squeeze. She lifted their hands up to her cheek and she rubbed them along her skin, closing her eyes at the welcomed touch.
"I didn't know," he whispered.
"I know," she smiled. "It's okay." She clutched his hand in hers, opening her eyes and biting her lip. "Who knows what might have happened if that actually had happened."
Jacob rubbed his thumb along her cheek before leaning in and softly kissing her. "Thanks for the thought," he said.
Moriah realized it was the most sedate and chaste kiss Jacob ever gave her. Their sex had been aggressive, angry, animal-like and vulgar. The first time they did it, Moriah had slapped Jacob hard across the face when Jake said something mean she didn't like but she was really just trying to provoke him. It worked because Jake chased her through the house in anger. When he finally caught her, he pinned her against a wall and the next thing either of them knew they were nearly breaking each other's faces with jaw breaking kisses and Jake basically ripped Moriah's clothes off of her and he humped her standing against the wall, literally cracking the plaster behind them.
Sex with Matty was planned and refined, polite and calm, orderly and methodical, organized and almost choreographed. When she was with Jake, Moriah forgot about all her ethics and sensibilities. She was liberated and independent, sexy and sexual, slutty and reckless. She didn't know what possessed her to do the things she did with Jake - hanging naked over the upstairs banister while he rammed her from behind was an experience she never forgot because it almost felt like she was suspended in midair. She never experienced sex like that again but she didn't want to remember Jake only in that way because she also related to him in other ways, even more so now that she had endured her own life challenges.
Moriah stepped back from the kiss, aware that one of the nurses or aides could stroll into the room at any moment.
"Sorry," Jacob said cautiously.
"Don't be," Moriah smiled as she returned to her chair. "That was nice."
Moriah knew that it wouldn't be the same now as it had been then even if she and Jake somehow miraculously got together again. Her many surgeries and illnesses and sapped her sex drive and while she longed for intimacy and emotional closeness she didn't image herself being bent over a bannister rail ever again. She just wanted to be held in a soft comfortable bed. Moriah knew it would be silly to think that could ever happen with Jake who had been gone for so long.
Jake didn't strike her as being angry anymore. He seemed surprisingly mellow and laid back in his thirty-something form, noticeably gentle and thoughtful as evidenced by his visits to the nursing home and his compassionate conversations with her. He could have blown her off or avoided her (like he tended to do as a teenager) but it was clear that he cared about what Moriah had gone through and that he was genuinely sad about her grandmother's fade.
"You're much less intense and irate than you used to be," Moriah observed. "What caused the change?"
"Life," Jacob acknowledged. "I went into the Army with a huge chip on my shoulder but I quickly learned that nobody gave a shit about my past or my problems. I figured out that I needed to move on and refocus or I'd never make it. It was all about the mission, responsibility, obligation, and getting the job done. I remembered everything your wonderful Grandmother tried to instill in me as well as the stuff Mr. Jenkins imparted on me at the tech school, applying those standards to my life in the Army. Made it much easier to get along with the people I served with and all of a sudden life seemed much easier to survive with a positive outlook. All that anger about my mother and my upbringing and how unfair it was and how much I got screwed over just didn't matter anymore."
"Sounds like some of the stuff I've learned in rehab and at my twelve step meetings," Moriah noted. "I'm glad you finally found peace," she said.
"I'm sorry you lost yours," Jacob replied.
"Maybe I'm getting it back again," she smiled.
"Perhaps that can be your grandmother's final legacy," Jacob said.
They both gave Grammy another appreciative look as she lay in the bed.
"How long do you think she'll hang on?" Jacob wondered.
"As long as she wants," Moriah sighed. "I don't know what she's waiting for. Maybe for Dale to come home?"
"Maybe," Jacob replied.
A large woman plowed into the room carrying a huge wad of knitting material.
"Oh, Mrs. Wittingham, you're a few minutes early," Moriah remarked as she stood from her chair.
"What difference does it make if I'm up all night anyway?" the visitor said with a snort before throwing a look at her friend in the bed. "Hello, Janey, how are you today?" She said pleasantly, almost as if she expected the comatose woman to answer.
"No change, Mrs. Wittingham," Moriah reported.
"She's one stubborn broad," Mrs. Wittingham proclaimed. "Who's this?" She asked, noticing the man sitting on the folding chair.
"This is Jake, one of Grammy's former foster kids," Moriah told her as Jake stood too.
"Well, nice to meet you Jake, but you two can go now," Mrs. Wittingham said cheerfully. "Mary Wittingham is on the case."
"My family and I are so deeply grateful to you and the rest of the ladies, Mrs. Wittingham," Moriah let her know.
"Oh, believe me, Janey would be sitting right here if that was me in that bed," Mrs. Wittingham said assuredly. "Please, do me a favor, go home."
"Okay," Moriah agreed, touching her Grammy on the foot. "Good night, Grammy. I love you."
Jacob stepped up to the bed. "There are no fortunes to be told, although, because I love you more than I can say, if I could tell you I would let you know."
"That's beautiful," Mrs. Wittingham said.
Moriah gave Jake a look, pretty sure he had said the same thing the previous night. "Is that from a poem or something?" She asked.
"Or something," Jacob replied.
"Go home," Mrs. Wittingham ordered.
Moriah and Jacob left the room and Jacob walked Moriah to her car again.
"May I be presumptuous enough to ask if you were thinking of coming tomorrow night?" Moriah asked. "It's Friday."
"I don't like the idea of you being here alone at night," Jacob responded. "And I don't mind spending time with you and Jane."
"Well, maybe you shouldn't come tomorrow night," Moriah suggested. "My sister Janice is going to be here and that might make it weird."
"Oh," Jacob said with surprise. "I wasn't very nice to her the few times we met, was I?"
"No, not particularly," Moriah recalled.
"Well, okay then."
Moriah glanced at his pickup truck. "But I was wondering if you'd be willing to help me out with something," she said.
"Sure," Jacob offered openly.
"Well, if Grammy's still with us and the weather is okay, I was hoping you could help me transport some stuff to the dump and to Good Will," she said. "I've been trying to clean out some of the clutter and junk from Grammy's house. There's fifty years worth of crap piled up."
"I'd be happy to," Jacob let her know.
"Great, thanks," Moriah smiled. "How 'bout nine o'clock on Saturday? I'll have donuts."
Neither made an effort to kiss goodnight.
"Sounds good," Jacob said as he started for his truck.
"Thanks," Moriah called after him before climbing into her ten year old Mercedes.
She drove home wondering if she now lived in an alternate universe where her life was really starting over right now. But a few minutes later she was pulling into the cement driveway of her grandmother's house and it was hard not to remember all that happened before - and why she was living there.
Moriah slipped into bed and tried to fall asleep quickly knowing the best way to do that was to try not to think about anything - hopefully there would be no phone call in the middle of the night announcing that Grammy had passed away.
The alarm clock went off and Moriah reluctantly dragged herself out of bed once again. She took a quick shower, put on a clean Johnny C's jersey and headed for another shift at the popular diner. She was glad when one o'clock arrived. She went home, took a quick nap, and then did a couple of loads of laundry in the cellar knowing time was of a premium. She went to a five o'clock twelve step meeting and then out to dinner with some meeting acquaintances before arriving at the nursing home where her sister Janice was waiting with their parents. Amazingly, there was no change in Grammy's condition (or prognosis).
Janice had a nice job at the Portsmouth Naval Station and her husband was a successful lawyer in Portland so they were living the good life, role reversal from their teenage years when Moriah was the go-getter and Janice drifted through relationships, skipped college for a year before ending up at the community college and then happened to meet her future husband on a fluke at Summer Beach. Now her life was perfect while Moriah was a waitress living with her grandmother. Moriah didn't need to hear all about Janice's wonderful life and false concerns over their dying grandmother when she barely saw the woman these past ten years.
Janice was in great physical shape and she spent hours at the beauty salon every Saturday so, even though she was two years older than Moriah, she looked younger and healthier although Moriah couldn't help but wonder if perhaps she got a tummy and/or fanny tuck and maybe even some facial 'reshaping'.
Moriah sucked in her breath realizing it was 'stinking thinking' (as they said in the 12 step halls) to have such mean thoughts about Janice in her head so she gave her sister an earnest hug and they sat long into the night in their grandmother's nursing home room telling stories and reminiscing about Grammy (with Moriah trying not to get competitive in who loved her more!).
Mrs. Schouler (another one of the church ladies) showed up a little after one to stand the night shift. Janice went to their parents' house where her husband and two kids were staying while Moriah returned to Grammy's place. She set the alarm for eight to be ready in plenty of time for Jake's arrival - although the thought did pass through her head that maybe Jake would change his mind and bail, finding the job of cleaning out Grammy's house to intense and personal for his liking after all this time.
Moriah made a quick run to Fontaine's Family Grocery Store for some pastry and orange juice, got the coffee maker going, and then tried to make herself presentable before Jake's arrival. She heard his truck backing into the driveway and she took in a deep breath to prepare herself. It was a cool but sunny autumn day as she stepped outside to greet her guest who seemed to have a look of serenity on his face.
"I never thought I'd be back here," Jacob admitted as he climbed out of his truck.
"Welcome home," Moriah smiled. "Sort of," she added awkwardly.
He nodded and glanced around at the familiar surroundings - the old garage with its creaky sliding door, the cement driveway, and the rose bushes in the back yard. Moriah had parked Grammy's car on the grass since the garage was too cluttered to be used and her Mercedes was on the street to give Jake room to park his truck in the driveway.
"Come on in," she said warmly. "I got some stuff from Fontaine's."
"I worked there for about eight days once," Jacob recalled as he followed her inside, glancing around the familiar kitchen with nostalgia. "Man, it's exactly the same," he marveled.
"Just about," Moriah agreed.
"Anyway, I got canned from Fontaine's for stealing a couple of live lobsters," Jacob reported.
"What'd you do with them?" Moriah frowned.
"Left them in the middle of main street," he said. "I wanted to see if somebody would run them over before they waddled off the side of the road."
"Boy, you really were screwed up back then, weren't you?" Moriah said, shaking her head.
"Yep," He said honestly.
She smiled while handing him some pastry and a glass of OJ. "So, the garage might be the first place to start. There's so much junk out there you can't even see the floor. Most of it's not worth keeping so I'd say we haul most of it to the dump and keep whatever might sell at a tag sale."
"Sure," Jacob agreed as he ate the Danish.
Moriah was sipping a cup of coffee.
"Everything go okay last night?" Jacob asked.
"Grammy's still hanging in there," Moriah said with amazement. "And I had a nice visit with my sister, so yeah, everything's okay."
"Good," Jacob smiled. "Let's go take a look at the garage," he suggested.
Moriah led him out of the kitchen and he opened the door to the garage which was packed with years worth of junk from old wood, to crates, to cardboard boxes to rusting bicycles and toys once used by generations of foster kids.
"I assume Jane herself aged out of the foster care business," Jacob said as he glanced around the structure.
"Yeah, but only about seven or eight years ago," an impressed Moriah replied.
"She did God's work well," Jacob said.
"I know it was worth it," Moriah said. "You're a living testament to that."
Jacob pointed to a spot on the wall where spray paint covered a large area of the wall. "I did that," he said sheepishly. "I originally made it a swastika but then I changed it into a giant A for Alberts."
"Well, you were a work in progress," Moriah noted.
"I try not to think about the sense of old shame I often had," Jacob admitted.
"It's all good now," Moriah assured him.
"Thanks mostly to your grandmother," Jacob sighed as he took in the surroundings, trying to figure out where to start.
"I think about all the things here —fifty years of my grandmother's' life, all the things she cared about and the pride she had in what she did and the joy she took in sharing it with others and I wonder if I'm doing the right thing getting rid of some of this stuff," Moriah said.
"You're keeping the good, important and sentimental stuff," Jacob reminded her. "There is a lot of junk that will never be used again though."
"I guess," Moriah sighed.
It didn't take Jacob all that long to make a first sweep of the garage and load up the back of the pickup with the first load of obvious junk that was worthless and needed to go to the dump.
"Is the landfill still in the same place?" Jacob asked Moriah who had helped with some of the loading.
"Sure, but I'll go with you to prove residency," she said.
"I guess this place really is home if I remember where the dump is," Jacob joked as he drove the truck out of the driveway.
"I don't mind that I never left," Moriah said.
"I pass by on the interstate a couple times a week but I've never gotten off the ramp," Jacob revealed.
"I guess I was afraid," he admitted.
"Are you afraid now?" Moriah asked with raised eyebrows.
"No," he smiled. "It's really nice to be back – and without the baggage."
They made five dump runs and two good will runs before the day was done, working side by side making idle chat and easy conversation about jobs and people, hobbies and interests, the Army and Rehab.
"It's good that we both managed to turn our lives around when we needed to," Jacob commented at one point.
"I'm glad I've been here for Grammy even though she's the one who was there for us most of our lives," Moriah said.
"My admiration for her will never end," Jacob resolved.
It was after five and the landfill and goodwill were both closed now so there would be no more runs on this day. They are back in Grammy's house, tried but satisfied for their accomplishments. Moriah showed Jacob the rest of the house and he ended up standing in the doorway of his old bedroom, amused that Moriah now used the space as her room.
Moriah stood in the hallway and glanced back at the bannister where they once had angry sex, her bent over the rail naked with him standing behind her and plowing her like he was working a jackhammer. He was no longer angry and she was no longer sexually crazy and just for a moment she felt sad about everything.
"I need to show you something, Jake," Moriah announced softly as she stepped past him into the bedroom.
"What?" Jacob asked, naively thinking she was going to produce a forgotten photograph or a collectable sitting on the dresser.
Standing in the middle of the room, Moriah pulled up her sweatshirt to reveal her breasts. One of them had a purple scar running from one side to the other and a nipple that looked somehow abnormal. Without saying anything, Moriah pulled down her jeans to reveal other scars running along her brown pubic line and up to her abdomen.
"I've been carved up in many ways," she said, her voice shaking. "I wanted to make sure you saw beyond the illusion." She wiped away a tear as she dropped her sweatshirt and pulled up her jeans.
"All of us have all sorts of scars, More," Jacob said with compassion as he stepped close to her, pulling her into a warm hug. "We both have honest pain that we've dealt with."
"I've been through cancer, I've been through addiction, I've been through divorce, I've been through job lost, and now I have to get through death," she sniffled. "I don't think I can take anything else."
"You're a born fighter with a forever positive attitude," Jacob reminded her. "You know what your grandmother would say."
Moriah wiped her tears and stepped back, looking Jacob in the eyes. "She would say that you are a handsome gentle person who is a good match for me," she said.
Jacob was surprised by her remark. He blushed and lifted a hand to her cheek, brushing away another falling tear.
"I've never seen you cry before," he told her.
"I was always so virtuous except when I was with you," she said quietly. "For a long time I felt shame for the things we did, mostly in this house but now I kind of miss it sometimes."
"I was very angry back then," Jacob said. "I'm not angry anymore."
"I know," she said. "And I'm not out of control around you either."
He leaned and kissed her. "Let me make love to you," he whispered.
"Please," she sobbed.
It wasn't angry or vulgar or rude or animalistic. It was gentle and loving and compassionate and emotional and when it was over they lay cuddled and hugging when the phone rang. Moriah rolled over and answered.
"Okay," she said after a moment. "I'll be there in a few minutes."
She hung the phone up and looked back at Jacob with a peaceful look of serenity on her face. "That was Mom," she said. "Grammy just died. She opened her eyes and then they never closed."
"Oh, Moriah, I'm sorry you weren't there," Jacob exclaimed.
"It's okay, Mom and Janice were there," she said warmly. "I didn't mind being here. With you."
He hugged her and they held the embrace for a long moment, both grateful to have known the woman and both happy to share the moment of loss together.
"There are no fortunes to be told, although, because I love you more than I can say, if I could tell you I would let you know," Jacob said one more time.
"Grammy knew all along," Moriah promised him.
"That goes for you too," he said softly.
"I think you just told me too," she smiled, kissing him before slipping naked from the bed with her back to him to search for her clothes. "Will you be here when I get back?" She asked, glancing over her shoulder.
"Of course," he vowed. "Will you tell your mom and sister I'm sorry for their loss?"
"I definitely will," she said knowingly. "Will you be okay until I get back?"
"I'll be praying for Jane," he answered.
Moriah was dressed now and she gave Jacob a long look as she hesitated in the door.
"There ARE fortunes to be told because I love you more than I can say and I will try to let you know," she said, revising the verse he had been reciting.
"You already have," he smiled.
"Hello, Jake," Moriah said as she disappeared from the door frame.
"Hello, More!" He called after her, listening to her feet as she descended the stairs.