Jessie looked down. There was the woman’s hand, wrapped around hers, their sweat mixing and mingling, delicate beads catching the light as if making unspoken promises of hope amidst the despair. She could not bring herself to move forward, to hug or to hold, and although she knew somewhere in her being that everyone in that room was watching her just then, it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered except the fact that somehow she had failed this mother and her child, and Jessie felt utterly empty, devoid of consciousness, absolutely uncertain of what to do or which way to turn in the next moment or the next. She could feel a cottony bulge starting deep in her throat and she was terrified that, like her own mother, she too would melt into a lump on the floor, aided by a dusky hot breeze and fatigue and hopelessness and two glasses of Baileys.
“Jessie,” Jackie finally spoke, recognizing the girl’s plight and coming to her aid, as everyone who knew her understood that she would, for this was Jackie Cassidy, an independent woman who had lived in the town all her life and who was well known for her strength of character. “Thank you for trying. You tried - I know you did. Terri wrote about you in her emails.”
Josh watched from behind as the line stalled. He felt anger churning inside and he squeezed his left hand into a fist as he watched Charlie abandon Jessie and move on down the line of cousins without her. Idiot, he thought, as he watched Jessie struggle to remain composed.
Jessie shook her head in response to Jackie’s comment. The woman was as generous as her daughter had described her. She must know that Jessie had, in fact, failed, especially if the man in the blue coat was who she suspected he might be. If that were indeed the case, then she’d let Terri down big time, because she should have known better than to think Deuce McCall would possibly leave her alone. At any rate, at that point the first meeting between the two women was brief, because Jessie was immobilized in disgrace and fear, and Jackie was kind and cognizant of her pain, so she let go of the singer’s hand after thanking her for coming, and then she turned to Maggie, who was behind Jessie in line.
Stumbling carefully forward, Jessie found her voice but it was awkward. She said “Thank you” to everyone in line, she wasn’t sure why, it just came out that way. Maybe she was thinking ‘thanks’ for sharing Terri, who was someone who had enriched her own lonely life deeply. Josh heaved a sigh of relief as he watched her go slowly forward, then he turned ahead as he felt Jackie firmly grasp his hand.
“You’re Josh, aren’t you?” she said with a warm smile.
He nodded. “Yes. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Cassidy. I’m sorry for your loss – I met Terri. She was a sweet girl.”
It was the older woman’s turn to nod. “She told me. You went with Jessie once, played board games with the girls, if I do recall?” She touched a finger to her lips to ostensibly help her remember what her daughter had said.
Josh was surprised that his visit had warranted mention. But he nodded. “Yes, I did.” He hesitated. “I had my own troubles not all that long ago.”
Jackie looked saddened and happy all at once, the emotions playing over her open face like a bow gracing a fiddle. “I’m glad you’re doing well, Josh,” she said. It was a line fraught with emotion, genuine, real and raw. Her eyes were red rimmed and he could see that she was not the rock that she appeared to be – how could any mother be, after losing her young daughter twice?
She drew her diminutive frame up, and countered her inner distraught self for the thousandth time that stifling afternoon.
“Terri spoke very highly of you. I think she harbored a secret hope that you would run away with her some day. Or if not her, then with Jessie, perhaps.”
Josh felt a current of lightning shoot through his body. Nobody had ever even hinted at the possibility that he and Jessie could ever be together, or belong together, some incredible day.
He straightened, smiled awkwardly. “It would have been my pleasure, Mrs. Cassidy,” he said, as he leaned forward and gave her a gentle embrace. “Terri would have made any man proud.”
She smiled and hugged him back. Whispered in his ear. “So would Jessie,” she said. His face flushed red, and he let her go, but she watched him for a moment and saw the little smile hidden under his blush. So it was true. Terri was right.
There was more to life in Camelot than royal weddings.
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