"I'll get it" Jay shouted as the doorbell rang. "Hi," he said to the woman stand on the front steps. "You must be Janine. I'm Jayson. Won't you come in?"
"Thank you, sir."
"Please, have a seat and make yourself comfortable. Can I get you anything to drink, water, soda, iced tea?"
"I would really love a glass of iced tea, if it's not too much trouble."
"No trouble at all. I'll be right back. JANITA! JANINE'S HERE!" He shouted down the stairs. Returning with the glass of tea, he sat down opposite Janine. "So how long have you known Janita?"
"I've known her for about seven years." Should I tell him that we're dating? I'm not sure how he'd react. She pondered, not knowing that Jay was also gay. "Can I be honest with you?"
She took a deep breath and let it out. "Janita and I have been dating for a little over two years." She said, apprehensively.
"I know. My husband and I have been anxious to meet you."
"Yes, husband. Janita didn't tell you that we were gay?"
"No, she didn't."
"Well, we are." Kyle chose that moment to return from the grocery store. Jay jumped up, kissed him passionately then relieved him of some of the bags. "Janine, this is my husband Kyle. Kyle, this is Janita's girlfriend Janine.
She stood as Kyle approached her. "I'm very happy to meet you. Welcome to our home." He gave her a quick hug. "If you will excuse me, I have to make dinner. I hope you like tacos."
"Thank you. I'm glad to meet you too. I love tacos. I can't get enough of them."
"That's good." Jay responded, "because if I know Kyle, he'll make enough to feed half of this city."
Janita came rushing into the room. "NENE!" She cried ecstatically.
"'NITA!" came Janine's equally ecstatic greeting. The two women hugged each other tightly and cried. Jay discretely left the room to give the two young lovers some alone time.
"God, I thought I'd never see you again."
"Me neither, but things are totally different now. My foster parents are so totally cool. You would not believe what they've done for me. Between clothes, furniture, remodeling my bedroom, electronics and stuff they must have spent at least three thousand dollars on me. I don't have to do any cooking or cleaning, except for picking up after myself and keeping my bedroom clean. I even have a walk-in closet and my own bathroom. I don't have to do laundry either, unless I want to. And get this as long as I keep my grades up, they're giving me a weekly allowance. Twenty-five dollars!"
"That's totally awesome, 'Nita! Your new family sounds wonderful. I'm so happy for you."
"The thing is I don't deserve their kindness. I really appreciate everything they've done for me, but there are better things they can spend their money on, rather than wasting it on me."
"They obviously know how your parents were and are making sure you're going to have a much better life with them than you did with them. From what you've told me, I get the feeling they've just started spending money on you. Let them spoil you a little. Contrary to what you grew up hearing, you are worth it, baby." Janine pulled Janita into a fierce hug. "I love you so much and I can't tell you how happy I am to see you with such an obviously caring family. It's like most of my prayers have been answered. But I need to ask you a question."
"Where are we?"
"What do you mean?"
"Are we together? I know your parents did their best to make sure we'd never see each other again, but your foster parents seem to be cool with us being a couple."
"I love you so much. I want us to be a couple, and yes, they're cool about it." Janita kissed her deeply to reinforce her words.
Janine started crying softly as they broke the kiss. "Now all of my prayers have been answered." She leaned into Janita and sobbed.
"Hey, what's all this?" Jay asked, concerned, coming into the room to let the girls know that dinner would be ready in about fifteen minutes if they wanted to take a walk.
"It's okay, J-dad. We just thought that we'd never be able to see each other again."
Jay squatted down in front of Janine and placed his hand on her arm gently. "Janine, we want you to know that you will always be welcome here. Janita is part of our family now, and since the two of you are a couple that makes you part of our family as well."
"Absolutely!" Kyle chimed in, coming to see if anyone wanted anything to drink.
"Thank you, sir…"
"Jayson" Jay interrupted.
"Jayson. It means a lot to me. I can't begin to tell you how much I appreciate all that you have done for 'Nita. I love her so much. It tore me apart to see what her parents were doing to her."
"That's all behind us now. Let's not talk about that now, all right? Tonight, is a celebration."
"What are we celebrating? Hi, Janine, I didn't see you sitting there." Adam said as he walked up the stairs, his arms full of clothing.
"Hi, Adam! You live here too?"
"Yes, these are my parents. They adopted me when I was five. So, what are we celebrating?"
"The two newest additions to our family."
"Cool. Be right back."
"Adam's moving out?"
"No. He's staying with Kelly so I can live in his apartment downstairs until my new bedroom and bathroom are done, which is supposed to be by the end of the week."
"DINNER'S READY!" Kyle called from the kitchen.
Jay stood up and held out his arms with his elbows bent so both hands were on his stomach. "Ladies?" He prompted. They both stood and linked their arms through Jay's as he escorted them into the dining room where neither woman could believe their eyes at the spread before them. There were soft and hard taco shells, tortilla chips, refried beans, lettuce, tomatoes, shredded cheese, onions, chives, olives, meat, salsa, salsa con queso, sour cream, guacamole and Catalina salad dressing.
After they were seated, Janita just sat there, not knowing where to begin. She had never seen such a spread before. Sensing her confusion, Kyle decided to help her out. "Let me show you a trick. Take a soft shell and put some of the salsa con queso on it then wrap it around a hard shell like this." He demonstrated the technique. "Now if the hard-shell breaks when you bite into it, nothing will fall out of the bottom." She still sat there and made no move to get food.
Adam spoke up. "Remember what we told you the first night you ate dinner with us? None of this 'get-the-smallest-piece-of-pizza-and-sit-in-the-corner-feeling-guilty-about-taking-too-much' crap. Load your plate up or I will." The last statement came out as a growl.
"We never had tacos at home. The only time I had them was at school and they were already made. I don't know how to make a taco."
"It's very simple. Make the shells like K-dad showed you then stuff them with whatever you like." Adam emphasized the last three words. "Then have fun trying to eat it without everything spilling out from the ends. I myself normally take a soft shell, put everything on it then fold it into a wrap so nothing falls out. After about two or three of them, I take some hard shells, break them up and make a taco salad."
She started to follow Adam's example. She took a soft shell and put half a teaspoon of meat on it then started to fold it.
"Do I have to do everything myself?" Adam asked, exasperated. He took her plate and piled the shell high with meat, lettuce, tomatoes and shredded cheese. He handed it back to her. "Now you finish it off with whatever else you like on it, 'cause if you don't, I will."
Jay reached over and placed his hand on her arm. "Janita, it's okay. There's more than enough for everyone to fill up on. Take as much as you want. If I know my husband, there's plenty more of everything out in the kitchen." Kyle nodded affirmatively. "Whenever we have tacos, he usually makes enough to feed half of the city." Kyle again nodded in agreement. They both looked with chagrin as she burst into tears.
Kyle was by her side in two seconds flat. "Janita, what's wrong, honey?"
Between sobs, she managed to croak out "I just can't believe how nice you all are being to me. I don't know what to say. I can't get over the fact that I don't have to worry about eating too much or eating the wrong thing. For as far back as I can remember I always went to bed hungry because I was only allowed to eat about a quarter of what my parents each did. Now here you are telling me to eat as much as I want. I don't understand how you could be this way. It's not normal."
"Honey, this is normal. What your parents did was not only not normal, but cruel and abusive. I know it's not easy for you to understand and accept all this, but eventually, you will, once you realize that this is the way it's going to be from now on for you. I promise you this. You will never be denied as much food as you want to eat. Ever. It's going to take time to overcome your parents' cruel conditioning, but we all" Kyle waved his hand towards everyone in the room "will help you and be by your side every step of the way. You're a member of our family now. And if you get hungry later and want a snack, there's plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables in the refrigerator. Help yourself to all you want. We don't eat a lot of junk food, but if there's some special snack you want like chips or crackers, write it down on the grocery list on the refrigerator door and we'll pick it up the next time one of us goes to the store. Now, eat up. I have a special treat for dessert, but only for those who eat their fill. Okay?"
She gave him a slow smile, and said: "Okay, K-dad".
"That's my girl."
After everyone, including Janita, loaded up their plates and before they started eating, Kyle raised his glass. "A toast." Everyone raised their glasses. "To Janita, welcome to your new home. We sincerely hope you will be very happy here, and to Janine, welcome to our home and our family." Everyone responded, clinked their glasses together and took a drink. After a wonderful dinner in which Janita not only went back for seconds, but thirds as well, everyone chipped in to clean up which was accomplished in short order. They all went into the living room and settled in front of the TV to watch a movie, each couple cuddling together except for Adam, since Kelly wouldn't be getting off work for several hours yet.
About half-way through the movie, Kyle got up and went into the kitchen. He returned a few minutes later with a tray loaded with bowls of dessert. As everyone began eating, Janita suddenly screamed and would have dropped her bowl on the floor had it not been for Janine's quick reflexes. Everyone jumped up and rushed to Janita's side. "What's wrong, honey?" Jay asked the frightened girl. Everyone looked at the spoon she held tightly in her hand and understanding dawned on them, for hanging off the spoon was a gummy worm. "Janita, this is what's called dirt cake. It's made from crushed up oreos, butter, whipped cream and chocolate pudding. That's not a dead worm on your spoon. It's called a gummy worm. Haven't you ever seen them before?" She shook her head. "It's a form of candy, completely edible. I'm sorry, honey. If I had known you didn't know about gummy worms, I wouldn't have put them in. Here, I'll show you." He grabbed his own bowl and fished around in it until he found a gummy worm. He bit it in half and showed it to her. "See? It's not a real worm, nor is it made from one. It's a totally artificial piece of candy. If you don't want to try it, put it in here." He held out his bowl.
Gingerly, she picked it up in her fingers and looked at it. She took a small bite and realized that it was, after all, only candy. She ate the rest of it. "I'm so sorry I acted like a baby. My father used to tell me that if I didn't behave, worms would come and eat me."
Kyle and Jayson both swore under their breaths. No wonder she reacted the way she did. I think we need to get her some professional help. Kyle thought to himself. "It's okay Janita. He can't hurt you anymore. If he tries, he'll have to go through me first."
"Me second." Jay added.
Adam stood up and flexed his muscles. "And if he gets through our fathers, he'll have me to deal with."
Janita could only look at the three men in complete shock. Nobody had ever stood up for her before. As the tears rolled down her cheeks, she told her new family that. She realized then without a doubt that her new family would do anything to protect her and that at long last, she had a real, loving family. Her fears began to subside. She began to wonder what she could ever do to repay them. She knew what their expectations were of her and she knew that she was going to do everything she could to live up to them. She also decided that she was going to put most of her money away and, even though it was still a long way off, she was going to do something very special for them for Christmas. What, she didn't know, but she'd think of something.
Late Sunday evening, Jay called Jack Jamison, his boss and explained that he would be late getting into work Monday morning because he had to take his foster daughter to the DMV and to get her re-enrolled into school. As he was explaining the circumstances behind Janita coming to live with them, Jack interrupted him.
"Jay, you're an awesome Field Agent. Since you've been working with my unit, not once have you been late or called in sick, nor have you asked for any personal time. I also know that you've worked late on more than one occasion. I don't need to know the particulars about why you need the time off. I'm sure we can manage without you for one day. Why don't you take the entire day off to do whatever you need to do with your foster daughter? That way you don't have to rush to get things done and get into work."
"Thank you Mr. Jamison…"
"I've told you before, call me Jack. I'm not like your previous supervisor. I prefer to be on a first name basis with my subordinates."
"Thank you, Jack. I will take you up on your offer and will make up the time this week."
"No need. Family comes first. Oh, and by the way, Jayson, you don't have to prove yourself to me. Your record speaks for itself. You don't need to work sixty hours a week. You need the downtime otherwise this job will stress you out to the point where you'll start making stupid mistakes. Rest assured your job is secure. Take the time to be with your family and your new foster daughter. Relax and enjoy life."
"I don't mean to sound rude or disrespectful, but what do you know about my family?"
"I know you're married to a college professor and physicist named Kyle, and that you have an adopted son named Adam who I'm sure you're very proud of."
"Uh, am I under investigation for something?" Jay asked warily.
"No, why do you ask?"
"Then how do you know so much about me and my family?"
"The issue of About Town magazine that was dedicated to you, and your profile on abouttown-dot-com."
"Anyway, enjoy your day off and I'll see you on Tuesday. Have a good night, Jay."
"Thanks, Mis-er-Jack. See you Tuesday."
The next morning Jay was sitting at the table enjoying a cup of coffee when Janita came up the stairs. "Good morning. How'd you sleep?"
"Great. I haven't slept that good since, like forever."
"What would you like me to fix you for breakfast?"
"What am I allowed to have?"
Jay sighed. How are we going to get through to her? He stood up and walked over to the pantry. He opened the doors to reveal it fully stocked with food. Leaving it open, he walked over to the refrigerator/freezer and opened them both. "Do you see all this food?" She nodded. "You are welcome to have any of it that you want anytime you want, unless there's a note on it saying it's going to be for supper or something special. You don't have to ask. Just go in there and take whatever you want. I mean it. You don't have to ask." He closed everything. "Now, what would you like for breakfast?"
"What are my choices?" She asked timidly.
"Pancakes, French toast, bacon, eggs, sausage, whatever you want."
"Would pancakes and sausage be too much trouble?"
"Plain, banana, blueberry or chocolate chip?"
"I've never heard of chocolate chip pancakes before."
"Honey, you're in for a real treat. Would you like bacon or sausage?"
"Sausage, please. Can I help?"
"Only if you want to."
"I do. I'd like to learn how to make chocolate chip pancakes." She got up and walked over to the counter.
"Some people mix the chocolate chips in with the pancake batter, and some simply make plain pancakes and put the chips on top. To me that's cheating. Do you know how to make regular pancakes?" She shook her head no. "It's very simple. Just follow the directions on the box. Wanna give it a try while I start the sausage patties?"
"Sure." She took the box, read the directions and very carefully mixed the batter while Jay started cooking the sausage patties.
"In the pantry somewhere, there is a bag of chocolate chips. You have to go digging for it."
She opened the pantry and started looking through it. "I think I see them, but I have to move a bunch of stuff out of the way to get to them, so it's going to take me a minute or two."
Jay frowned in confusion then looked over her shoulder just as she started pulling stuff off the shelf. "You don't have to do that. These shelves swing out." He demonstrated the swinging shelves on both sides of the pantry.
"Wow. That is so cool. I've never seen anything like this."
"It's a custom job. Now all you have to do is pour," He paused momentarily, looking to see how much batter she had made dismayed at how little there was in the bowl. "You need to mix another batch, and double the recipe." She looked at him quizzically. "You need a good breakfast, and so do I. I haven't eaten yet."
"Oh, I'm so sorry. I should have asked."
"No need to apologize." Jay watched her as she mixed the rest of the batch, making sure she made enough, only diverting his eyes long enough to make sure the sausage patties didn't burn. "Okay, that's good. Now I'll show you another little trick." He reached over to the spice rack and pulled out the cinnamon container and also got some vanilla extract from the cupboard. "Put two tablespoons of vanilla into the batter, and give the cinnamon about ten good shakes. Good. Now pour in about half of the chocolate chips and mix everything together. Okay. There's a ladle in the drawer in front of you. Use it to put the batter onto the frying platter like this." When he was done showing her, he handed her the ladle. "Okay, your turn." Within minutes they had a huge stack of pancakes and sausage. "Do you like your maple syrup warm or cold?"
"Don't tell me, let me guess. You weren't allowed to have maple syrup."
"No. Neither of my parents liked it, so we never had it."
"How can you eat pancakes without maple syrup?" Janita just shrugged her shoulders. Jay got a glass container out of the refrigerator, opened it and threw it into the microwave. When it beeped, he sat down with it and poured some of it over his pancakes. He pushed his plate towards her. "Try a bite."
Janita took a small bite and her eyes grew wide with astonished pleasure. "My God, this is so wonderful." Jay retrieved his plate and pushed the container of maple syrup towards her. "Be careful, the glass is hot." She poured a generous amount onto her plate and started eating ravenously. "Try some on your sausage as well." She did, and again her eyes grew wide. She finished off her plate and then, without realizing she was doing so, she helped herself to seconds of everything, much to Jay's delight. When they were finished and doing the cleanup Jay turned to her.
"Janita, you did something at the table that made me very happy and proud of you."
"You stuffed yourself then went back for seconds without asking. That's what we've been wanting you to do. You're starting to become comfortable here. That's a great thing."
"Everything was so good I didn't think to ask if I could have seconds. I'm sorry."
"Don't apologize. There will always be more than enough food for seconds, thirds or even fourths. You will never, ever be denied food. That's not a promise, that's a guarantee. Now, go get yourself ready. We have a busy day." And so, it was. Their first stop was the Department of Motor Vehicles where Janita took her permit test and passed with flying colors. Jay signed her up for the mandatory defensive driving course. Next stop was the school where Jay got her reenrolled and set up appointments with her teachers to find out what was needed to get her caught up. They met with the guidance counselor who assured them that since she only missed a little over two weeks, as long as she put forth the effort to get caught up, she wouldn't have to repeat the grade. She would start back to school the following morning. Next stop was lunch. Jay took her to a Mexican restaurant famous for their tacos. After a leisurely lunch, school supplies shopping was next. He was appalled to find out that her parents only bought her the bare minimum, then made her do extra chores to work off the cost of the supplies. Jay took the list from the guidance counselor and bought double the amount on the list. When Janita asked him about why he bought over the amount required, he shrugged his shoulders and said simply "we can always use pens and paper around the house, and what doesn't get used this year we'll set aside for next year."
"But how am I going to be able to repay you for all of these supplies?"
"Simple. Work your butt off to get caught up and keep your grades up."
She turned adoring eyes on him for a moment then threw her arms around his neck. "I don't know how I'll ever be able to thank all of you for taking me in and being so kind to me."
"Believe me, it's our pleasure. Now let's get all of these supplies home and put away."
Later that evening as they were finishing up dinner Jay looked at Janita and said, "why don't you show everyone what you got today?"
She looked confused. "It's nothing but a bunch of school supplies."
"That's not what I'm talking about. What's the first thing we did this morning?"
She got up, when to the refrigerator and pulled out a container with the left-over pancakes. She brought them to the table and said "I helped him make chocolate chip pancakes which I never had before. They were really good."
"What did we do after that?"
Clearly not understanding what he was referring to she replied that they had cleaned up the kitchen. Jay let out an exasperated sigh. "There's something new in your wallet."
She frowned for a moment then it finally dawned on her what he meant. "Oh, you're referring to my learner's permit."
"Yes, the learner's permit you got today."
"Sis, that's great. Want to go out for a drive? I've been waiting to teach you how to drive."
"I've already had Driver's Ed. It's a mandatory course."
"Great. So you can practice. As soon as we get everything cleaned up, we'll go for a drive."
Kyle spoke up. "You kids go on ahead. We'll take care of everything. Have fun."
Adam jumped up from the table and practically dragged Janita to her feet. "Come on. Go grab your wallet and let's go driving!" His enthusiasm was so contagious that she couldn't help but get caught up in it. After excusing herself she practically ran down the stairs to grab her wallet and rushed out the door.
At last Friday arrived, the day Janita's suite, as she called it, was supposed to be finished. Her excitement was such that she had a hard time concentrating in school. When the final dismissal bell rang, she hurriedly gathered her stuff together and rushed out the door, almost bumping into Kyle, who was waiting for her.
"Janita, I came to give you a ride home."
"I'd like that. I hate riding the school bus. Always have."
"Are you ready to go?"
"I just need to put some stuff in my locker."
"Okay. I'll meet you at the main entrance." After a few minutes, they were on their way home. Kyle could tell she was nervous about something, and he was pretty sure he knew what it was. "Excited to get home and see your new room?"
"My suite, you mean. Yeah, I'm really excited. I can't wait. It will be good to have Adam home. I feel bad about forcing him out of his apartment."
Kyle took a deep breath and let it out. Janita had made great progress in accepting her new life, but there were still moments when the old Janita came out. "Janita, you didn't force him out of his apartment. It was his decision, and truth be known, he decided to ask Kelly's parents if he could stay in their guest room the minute Ms. Adkins told him he couldn't sleep on the couch. That's how much he, and indeed all of us wanted you out of the shelter and living with us, so you have nothing to feel guilty about. Nothing at all."
When they arrived home, Kyle parked in the driveway, rather than the garage. They went inside and Janita was surprised to see Jay, Adam, Kelly and Ms. Adkins there. "Ready to go upstairs?" Too nervous to respond, Janita simply nodded. Everyone made their way up the stairs and stopped in front of Janita's door, where they saw a red ribbon stretched across the doorway.
Jay produced a pair of scissors and handed them to Janita, saying "Would you care to do the honors of cutting the ribbon and being the first person to enter?"
She looked at him curiously. "First person, to enter? How can that be?"
"Well, perhaps I should say, the first person to enter since the room was completed."
"Oh." She cut the ribbon, opened the door, looked in and collapsed in a flood of tears. "I can't believe it. It's the most beautiful thing I ever saw."
Adam gently lifted her to her feet. "Come on, let's go in. I'm dying to see what it looks like." He led her into the room, followed by the rest. They were all amazed at how beautiful the room turned out.
Kyle turned to the social worker. "Well, Ms. Adkins, does this meet with your approval?"
"It most certainly does. I knew it was going to be nice, but I never expected this. You and your husband have gone way above and beyond. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I made the right decision putting her with you. I'm sure she'll be very, very happy here."
Jay started ushering everyone out. "Okay, everybody, let's give Janita some alone time in her new room, then we'll help her move all of her stuff up here. Adam, why don't you go get all of your stuff from Kelly's?" After a couple of hours, Janita and Adam were both settled in and the family Matthews-Williams hit the town to celebrate with dinner and a movie.