"I know things haven't run so smoothly between us recently, Heath," Lonnie apologize, "And I know it's my fault, but I hope to rectify things. I'd like you to come to my house this weekend."
Heath looked almost stunned and Lonnie hurried on,
"I think it's well past time I had you over to meet your sisters."
Heath looked away a moment, quickly blinking back sudden and embarrassing tears.
"I already know Loni Faye, she just doesn't know I'm her half-brother."
"She does now. And both of them want you to come over."
Heath looked back and an eager look that nearly broke Lonnie's heart came over his face,
"You'll come then?"
"Well, if you think they want me to."
"I know they do and so do I."
With that they both became at ease and began to talk about other things, mostly Heath's school activities and plans for going to University next year. By the time they parted both of them were wearing big smiles.
Upon returning home Lonnie announced to the girls that they would meet Heath on Saturday. Jenny had already said she would not come down from her room. She could have gone shopping or across the street to her best friend Bobbi Jo's house. The truth was even though she did not want to see Heath, nor watch Lonnie with him; she couldn't bear not knowing what was happening. If she stayed up in her room and didn't play the TV she could probably hear how it went.
Saturday rolled around and when Heath arrived Lonnie was there to meet him on the walk. He seemed relaxed with his father; the way he used to be and Lonnie was relieved.
They came in the house and had just sat down when Liara came tearing into the room. It looked as though she was planning to take a header onto Heath's lap.
"Whoa, baby, take a breath," Lonnie warned and she stopped dead, her eyes riveted on Heath. He had never seen his youngest daughter so enthusiastic in front of a stranger, or almost a stranger. That was usually Loni Faye's department.
"Liara, right?" Heath grinned at her.
She nodded mutely and plopped down cross-legged on the floor, looking at him like she was afraid he would disappear in a puff of smoke.
Lonnie Faye approached more slowly and cautiously. She rarely felt awkward in social situations, but she definitely did today. She knew who Heath was, of course, and he acted as friendly as he did at school, a confident easy smile on his face.
"Hey, Loni Faye, nice to see you."
She could not know, of course, but Heath felt equally off-balance, hoping the girls would accept him as a brother, but afraid to count on it. He told himself it didn't matter, but, of course, it did. Although he adored Brian, the man he considered his real father, he also desperately wanted to become close to his birth father. He wanted the approval of Loni Faye and Liara, but he was trying to act casual and yet to be himself just the same.
He decided to start with the subject of music, which both he and Loni Faye liked. As their conversation grew more relaxed Liara sat down right between them; assuring she would be closer to Heath and would miss nothing. She could hardly take her eyes off Heath; he looked so much like her daddy except his skin was even darker. In her opinion Lonnie was the most handsome father in the world and now she was pretty sure Heath might be the most handsome brother. Wasn't she lucky?
Loni Faye and Heath had been playing a video game when Liara couldn't stand it any more and told him,
"It's my birthday today, Heath. We're having cake and ice cream later, want to stay for supper?"
Heath looked from her to Lonnie,
"Well, I don't know..."
He hadn't asked about Jenny in any way, but Lonnie realized that Heath guessed it might be uncomfortable if he stayed. Lonnie had told her she could either stay in her room or get over it and come down. Whether Heath stayed for supper or not shouldn't make much difference. Lonnie could whip up something for their meal without much trouble.
He nodded at him,
"We would love to have you stay."
Looking back at Liara Heath said,
"I don't have a card for you or anything."
"I don't care about that, please stay? Pretty please?"
Her sweet little face looked so earnest, how could he say no?
"Yeah, sure, I'll stay."
He remembered then that he had an extra ten dollar bill tucked away, maybe Lonnie Faye would get him an envelope. Then Liara could take the money to Wal-Mart or wherever and buy something she wanted. Ten bucks wasn't much, but there ought to be some sort of toy she could get.
When he agreed to remain for the celebration Liara started bouncing up on down on the sofa like a jumping bean. Lonnie looked at her, totally dumbfounded. It was hard to believe this was Liara, so quiet and usually so reserved with anyone outside her parents and Loni Faye. Yet he realized that from the moment she had learned she had a brother; she wanted him. Evidently not getting to meet and know Jenny's sons bothered her more than they realized. Besides, they were grown men while Heath was still in school and that made him more approachable in Liara's eyes.
Meanwhile Jenny sat up in her room mulling things over. Hearing Heath talk with her family filled her with sudden guilt. She began to realize she was being unkind to him and hurting her daughters as well.
Jenny loved kids and she just couldn't bear that she might upset any child, even one who was nearly an adult. In fact, especially one who belonged to Lonnie because, of course, she still was crazy about him. Really, it didn't matter what had happened so long ago; he was with her now, right?
So she made the decision to support Lonnie and befriend Heath.
To say Lonnie was surprised when she came downstairs was an understatement. In fact, both the girls' jaws dropped. She noticed the minute she came in Heath shot to his feet. He'd evidently been taught to be a gentleman in the old school way, she thought with admiration.
"Hi, Heath, I'm Jenny. I'm sorry I didn't come down sooner, but I had to finish paying some bills," she lied coolly as she shook his hand, "We're so glad to have you in our home."
"He's staying for my birthday, Momma!" Liara chortled, hopping from one foot to the other while Loni Faye looked at her in dismay.
"He is? That's wonderful--I hope you like chocolate cake with cream cheese icing, Heath," Jenny cooed.
"Oh, I like any kind of cake, ma'am. Thanks for having me."
She began to talk to Heath about his plans for college--he'd recently attended an orientation ceremony there with Brian, as had Loni Faye and Jenny. Lonnie Faye was actually nearly eight months older than Heath but since her birthday was in November the school system had held her back a year in school. It had worked to her benefit in her parents' opinion; she had always easily excelled scholastically and been a bit more mature than her classmates. This was how she came to be in the same class as Heath.
Lonnie was so happy at how Heath and his family was getting on he felt like singing. Then he looked over at Liara who was still agape, watching her mother and Heath, and said quietly,
She almost jumped and he patted up under his jaw indicating she should close her mouth. Snapping it shut, she blushed furiously. It wasn't the first time one of her parents had had to tell her that her mouth was hanging open.
"You look simple-minded when you do that, Li," Loni Faye had often warned her.
"I can't breathe if I don't leave it open! My nose holes are too small or something."
"Nostrils. And you can't just walk around like that."
"I'd like to see you live without breathing," Liara had grumbled.
But, never mind about that, her interest was caught again my Heath.
Scooping up the kitten Liara held her toward him and, interrupting his conversation with Jenny, she asked,
"Like my kitty?"
"I sure do."
"She's named Tangerina, but we call her Tangee. Do you have a cat?"
"No, we don't have a cat, but we have a big old dog named Elvis. He loves kids," Heath told her.
"He sounds nice, but no kitty? Well, you can share Tangee--you're family," Liara dimpled as Heath cuddled the kitten.
She was a cutie all right, Heath thought, no doubt about it. He had a feeling she'd get along perfectly with his kid sister, Raine. Maybe that would never happen but he couldn't help but wonder if there was a way.
"Well, I'm going to get started on dinner--I hope you like spaghetti and meatballs, Heath," Jenny smiled.
"Oh, yes, ma'am," he assured her.
Lonnie stood up, his eyes on hers,
"I'll help you."
He followed her into the kitchen. She'd made him very happy and he wanted her to know it.
Loni Faye didn't bring it up until her mother went in the other room, but then she began quietly asking questions about Heath's brothers and sisters. He didn't seem to mind at all and was happy to describe each one.
"We have three other brothers and a sister, but we've only met our sister. She's really nice and we go over there for the weekend sometimes," Liara blurted. She looked around then whispered hoarsely, "Momma was married before, but then she left and moved to this house. She was a diff...a diff...she was a difforcy, you know. then she married Daddy."
Loni Faye was mortified and said in a strangled voice,
"Liara Kaye! The word is divorcee--why don't you just get a microphone!"
Heath smiled at Liara who looked crushed and then said to Loni Faye,
"No biggie, lots of people are divorced and marry again. Kids are just blunt and they call'em as they see'em; at least I know my kid sister and brothers do.
Liara beamed at him, unconsciously batting her eyelashes, then turned furiously to her sister,
"You're not the boss, Loni Faye--DAD'S the boss. You're the not."
That cracked Heath up,
"Man, she's a trip!"
Perhaps Liara was more like Willow than Raine he chuckled to himself.
When supper was over, Lonnie brought out the cake they'd been hiding in his office and told Liara to make her wish.
His eyes were a bit misty as he watched his youngest daughter prepare to become a teenager. She looked at everyone and said quietly,
"I wish I would always be as happy as I am today!"
Everyone applauded as she blew out the candles, even Loni Faye, who said,
"That's a perfect wish, Li."
They all tucked into the cake amid talk of Liara going to high in two days.
Now when Loni Faye went on about people or events Liara would know what she was talking about. And she would get to see Heath and his sisters at school!
Lonnie looked at Jenny, a warm look in his eyes and she looked almost startled.
"Thanks, babe, you're the best," he told her.
Finally a soft smile appeared on her face. It would be all right.
Next blog update: Brian Ottomas Ch. 24 It's Raining Kids Part 1