To be fair, Jefferson hadn't given her much to go on, as heavily as he guards his privacy when his mother is around. I know she had very little knowledge of me--just that I was a girlfriend of his, divorced with two small children who would all be extremely close geographically on that particular weekend. Since our paths were coming so close to crossing, he'd invited us to join them.
From the first mention of the invitation his mother was interested in my children and, by extension, me. She forwarded a photo of the three of us to family members, smugly challenging them to guess who we were:
"I bet y'all are wondering who this is. These little boys look a lot like Jason and Collie to me. Hummm, I do wonder who this is."
It's true that Miles has dark, shaggy hair like Jason, and that Jack and Collie are blonds. I found the immediate insertion of my children in the family tree sweet, if a bit silly. I was also aware of Honey's nosiness and her mother-need to know intimate details about her children's lives. I was prepared to reveal only what was necessary and to deftly change the subject to her new litter of puppies should a tricky topic come up.
I worried that she'd press me for specifics.
In Jefferson's life his mother had met two of his girlfriends, one of whom he married and who Honey refers to as "The Bitch" when children are not present. That's not daunting or anything.
Divorce is painful for the couple. It's painful for their children. It's also painful for their parents and siblings. Honey is protective of her son. I got that. I thought about how I would feel in her position.
She was being guarded and careful. I would be careful, too.
Jason, Collie and Lillie had been watching TV when we arrived. They came out to the porch and I introduced the kids around, eventually throwing up my hands saying, "Oh, they'll sort each other out."
Jack quickly befriended Jefferson's niece, Abby, who couldn't remember his name and kept referring to him as "Little Boy" and insisting that he call her "Miss Abby." Within an hour they were in four-year-old love.
Miles hung back, half hiding behind my skirt shyly saying hello.
Our bags had been brought to the guest house by Frank and Jesse. Someone suggested we hit the water. In five minutes we were in our suits and heading downstairs to the dock. Introductions continued to be made on the way. I could tell by the glances that Jefferson had been talking with his brothers about me.
I should mention that I have even more brothers than Jefferson, and that I am the lone girl. I can hold my own with boys. Especially boys who like to show off.
Jesse and Frank were in Impress The Guest mode: Offering me beer, chatting me up, testing my ability to bullshit with the best. Each of their questions was answered rapid-fire. Each facetious remark was met with one of my own. I teased and cajoled them as they did each other and Jefferson.
I lost track of how many times I heard the phrase, "TJ, does Maddie know about the time you (fill in the blank)? Aw, now! Hey, Maddie, you'll never believe this!"
I liked them. A lot. It was just like being home.
More family arrived. Rachel, Jefferson's oldest, came sauntering down to the water in her bikini.
"Ray-chullllllll! Hey, y'all! Rachel's here!"
The calls rose up from the dock in unison. Wolf whistles from her uncles and my "Good Lord, she's gorgeous," met with a nod and a "Told you so," from Jefferson.
I'd had an online friendship with Rachel for several months, ever since she'd requested a webcam introduction while visiting Jefferson last winter. She had taken it on herself to vet me out as a good match for her dad, one of the criteria being my shoe size. I have no idea why.
I walked over and hugged her hello. She was a hotter, girl version of Jefferson. Bullseye. She made herself at home with her cousins and siblings. She spoke to my kids like adults. She was so in with me.
Rachel was joined by her cousins Lynn The Girl and Tracy The Boy-- teenage siblings and more combined hotness than I wanted to think about. I hoped my mouth didn't hang open much.
Papa, Jefferson's father, cut open a watermelon and kids dove for wedges. This would become a daily happening: Watermelon on the dock.
Once everyone had arrived it was time to take the family picture. I'd volunteered as photographer and stood off to the side with Miles as the twenty family members chose positions on the stairs.
"Jack! Come on, baby," My accent was growing twangier by the minute, "come over here and stand by Momma. You don't get to be in this picture, honey."
Except that he did.
Because Honey said that he could.
Twenty people sitting on the stairs. Twenty-one counting the tiny blond boy in the front row. The one who knows that grown-ups will totally cave when he smiles. You know, the one sitting in front of the grown-up blond they all call TJ.
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