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Family Reunion

 

"...Whoever you are
Wherever you go
Whatever you've lost
I want you to know
Whenever you give
All that you are
Nothing is lost
In the circle of love
In the circle of love..."
"Circle of Love" by the Marie Sisters

 

Chapter 1

The breeze was warm as it brushed against her cheek. The minister's voice, his words meant to comfort, and offer peace, became nothing more than background noise as her memory took her back in time. Like the photographs in the albums that filled the bookshelves in her modest living room, moments of time flashed before her eyes. The first time she had seen him, when he'd been a delivery driver. That he was interested in her, the daughter of a factory worker, seamstress by trade, had made her sixteen-year old heart flutter with delight. How dashing he'd looked in his spiffy white uniform! Then, that uniform had changed from delivery white to Army green. President Roosevelt had declared war, after that awful day when Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor. One of only two men who had immediately joined the army from their small hometown, he had been considered a local hero.

She remembered the letters that had been exchanged during the months of his deployment. The long, frightening silences; broken when an envelope would arrive, his bold handwriting scrawled across the front. Often, the sheets of paper inside were dirty and smudged, the letters written while he sat in a foxhole or whatever it had been called, while he had served in the Pacific. Doing whatever his country, and his commanding officers, had demanded of him. His return had been sudden, and seven months shy of the thirty-six he had told her he would serve. In all of the years they'd been married, he'd never once spoken to her about his experiences during the war, nor had he ever explained the reason for his early arrival back home.

When he had returned home, they had married right away. They'd lived with his parents, who owned the local bakery, for the first two months of their marriage, while he studied for the teacher's exam. They'd had two tiny rooms in the attic, taking their meals with his family, sharing the family bathroom. Love had seen them through those trying days.

He'd gotten his teaching certificate the first time he'd taken the exam. And had immediately been hired by a small school district. His first teaching position had been in a little one-room schoolhouse in the middle of Iowa. Their first home hadn't been much larger...but it had been theirs, and alone for the first time since their honeymoon to Niagara Falls, they had been ecstatic in their happiness. Or, she had been. He was always quiet. Stoic. Firm.

The first few weeks together, alone in their own home, had seen routines established. Marvin had been - succinct - in telling her the way he wanted things done. Everything she did had to meet his approval, from the way she washed dishes, to the direction she swept the floor to the folding of the laundry. At first she had balked, had argued that she was quite competent in taking care of the house. Marvin had simply frowned, told her that he was her husband, and she was to obey him. It wasn't, she'd decided, important enough to fight about. So she'd conceded to his wishes. She'd been too young, too much in love, to realize how much she was giving up...how much of herself she learned to - control - in order to please the man she had married.

They had been married barely six months when she became pregnant for the first time. When she'd excitedly shared the news of their impending parenthood, Marvin hadn't been happy. He'd been rather surprised, as a matter of fact. He hadn't, he had informed her as soon as she had shared what she had believed to be joyful news, fully decided whether or not he wanted to be a father. She'd actually feared that if he came to the conclusion that fatherhood wasn't something to be desired, that he would take her to Des Moines, where disreputable doctors performed abortions in filthy rooms in the seedier sections of the city. She spent several sleepless nights, worrying about her baby's safety, until she realized that even if Marvin hadn't wanted children, an illegal abortion was simply out of the question...his reputation was far too important to him to ever besmirch it in any way. Once he had become accustomed to the idea of fatherhood, Marvin had actually seemed happy at the prospect. He'd been kind to her, insisting that she rest often. He'd prepared dinner every night until the baby was two months old.

She would never forget the morning their first son had been born. Oh, how proud he had been that day! He'd held the baby with shaking hands, and then hurriedly handed him back to her. It was the only time she'd ever seen him with tears in his eyes. One of the few times he'd ever held Melburn.

When their second son had arrived a short eleven months later, he'd already established himself as a stern father. She'd done her best to keep Marvin...mollified...while taking care of two babies, making certain that everything in the house met with his approval. It hadn't been easy...he always complained if either of the boys cried. Then Marvin would reprimand her for 'spoiling them' if she picked up the crying baby and cuddled him, to silence those cries. He rarely wanted to hold them. In fact, he preferred not to be in the same room with them. Oh, he loved his boys, she had never doubted that for one moment. What worried her was that her sons had never been certain of that love. They had never known how to ask for it, any more than Marvin had known how, or been able, to show it. She had done her best to explain to her sons that the actions of their father bespoke of his love.

Losing Ralph had taken the wind of his sails. Not interested in college, their youngest son had decided to avoid being drafted, and had joined the Navy. Foolishly believing that he would be 'safe'. The young man had been on liberty, on shore in Saigon, when he was killed in the restaurant where he and his shipmates were eating dinner. Two men, Viet Cong, had walked into what had become a favorite 'hang-out' for the Americans. And had detonated two bombs. Ralph had been one of the twelve causalities. Marvin had never recovered from the loss.

Marvin had been a staunch supporter of all that President Johnson had done, up to that point. He'd been against the Vietnam war after that horrible day, when the uniformed officer and the military chaplain had visited their small, three bedroom home in Butler, Missouri, just southeast of Kansas City. To tell them that their youngest son had been killed. Not in a 'war', as Marvin had complained so often, but a 'military intervention'. The news anchors always referred to it as the 'Vietnam Conflict'. As if refusing to use the term 'war' made a difference in what was happening. The images on the television news every night were those of a war, she'd often thought. Her son had died not in a battle, but in an act of what was now, she thought dryly, considered terrorism. No matter what it was called war...police action...conflict, it had claimed Ralph...had stolen him from them.

Melburn had already gone away to college when Ralph had enlisted, partially to avoid the draft. Partially to earn the doctorate he dreamed of one day having. The other motivating factor, no doubt, was to escape his father's iron-fisted control. He was interested in history, which by then was what Marvin was teaching at the local high school. Their oldest son, however, had dreams of becoming an archaeologist. Marvin had been furious. It was a useless profession, her husband had claimed. Odd, given that the very history he taught, that he professed to love, was founded on the findings of archaeologists. She'd always suspected that Marvin's anger had less to do with Melburn's career choice than the fact that he hadn't sought his father's permission, or his approval, before declaring his major.

Melburn had worked his way through school; not a minor feat, considering that he was the youngest student in his class. Melburn had started college at the age of seventeen, and had done two years of course work by the time he was eighteen. In spite of his son's obvious intelligence and drive, Marvin had refused to pay his tuition when he'd transferred from the University of Illinois to the more specialized Oriental Institute in Chicago. Marvin had predicted that Melburn would see the error of his ways, come home and ask forgiveness, and return to the University. He never had. He'd finished his college classes, diving right into the graduate courses that would make him a full-fledged archaeologist. He'd earned his doctorate at the age of twenty-five. No, when Melburn had left that day, after the horrible argument with his father, he'd never looked back. In fact, his visit, the last time she'd seen her oldest son, had been made while his father was away on his annual spring fishing trip with his lodge pals. And he'd only been in Butler long enough for him to show her the diploma that declared him a Doctor of Archaeology, and to have lunch with her.

He'd been so excited, his dark blue eyes lighting up with such excitement as he told her about the 'dig' he was preparing to go on. Somewhere in South America...she couldn't recall just exactly where...

 

"This could change what we know about the Maya," Melburn said, his entire body animated with his excitement. "The ruins are in spectacular condition, and we should be able to read the majority of the glyphs from the walls themselves. So many times we have to make copies of what's there, and then 'fill in' the blanks that time and the elements have created."

"Will you be gone long?"

He shrugged, sipped from the cup of coffee she had poured him...the one thing they shared a passion for. "I have no idea."

"Well, you will write to me, and let me know you're all right?"

He smiled. Melburn always had such a beautiful smile. "Of course, Mom."

 

His letters had been sporadic. And then after less than a year, had stopped completely. She'd always wondered just what had happened...

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

"I'm so sorry for your loss," the minister was saying, holding her hand tightly between both of his. "If there's anything at all I can do for you, please don't hesitate to call."

She forced a smile to her lips. "Thank you, Reverend. I appreciate your most gracious offer."

An arm wrapped around her shoulders. "The church is hosting the meal. I'll drive you over," the owner of that arm said softly.

She looked up. Helen was her best friend's daughter. Was just as good to her as she was to Susan. "Thank you, dear. I appreciate it." She glanced around. "I suppose Susan is already there, ordering the other women around."

Helen smiled. "No doubt."

She didn't look back at the casket. Or the hole that gaped beneath it. The past few years had been difficult. Marvin had developed crippling arthritis. As the disease ravaged his body, his normally stern demeanor had become downright surly. She understood that the inability to build the miniature sailing ships, with their rigging and masts and ropes that looked every bit as real as the ships they had been modeled after, had been a blow. Being the brunt of his rages had never been easy. When they had become a daily occurrence, she had shut off her emotions. It was just so much easier than dealing with the swirling, conflicting feelings of anger and frustration and regret.

Settled into the seat of Helen's car, a limousine for the widow not part of the very simple funeral that Marvin had planned...and grudgingly paid for before his passing...she dared to examine those emotions. Wondered where the overwhelming grief was. When Susan's husband Charles had died three years ago, the woman had been nearly inconsolable. It had taken months for Susan to begin living again. She felt...God forgive her...she felt free. After sixty-two years, she finally felt free!

That wasn't to say that she hadn't loved Marvin. She had. But it hadn't been an all-consuming love. It had been...unexceptional. She understood him, accepted that he would never be the type of husband to bring her flowers or dance in the rain with her. He wasn't given to displays of affection. He never held her hand, or put his arms around her, never hugged her. Even their lovemaking had been...methodical. Certainly nothing like the books she read. She supposed she'd found her 'romance' within the pages of those dime store novels. Which she'd always had to hide from Marvin, using what change she could gather from the grocery shopping to purchase them. She'd quietly adjusted her expectations with each passing year, grew accustomed to the way of her life. Had lavished all of her love on her sons. Had grieved for both...the son who had been killed in war, and the son who had simply walked away, unwilling to live under the shadow...and control...of his father. He'd been killed as well.

She stared out the window, didn't see the fields of winter wheat as they passed by. She hadn't known that Melburn had died, until Helen had searched for him last year. Marvin did little more than sleep at that point. Took no interest in anything at all. It was as if he had already died, but his body hadn't quite figured that fact out. During a conversation with Susan, she had lamented about the fact that she had no idea where her oldest son was. What he was doing. If he ever thought about her. Susan had asked Helen if there was a means of finding Melburn. Helen had assured both women that there were a myriad of resources available to find out just what Dr. Melburn Jackson was doing, and where he was doing it. And Helen had determined to do just that.

Reaching into her purse, she pulled out the copy of the newspaper article that Helen had gotten for her. From the New York Times. It had been on page nine. It seemed that Melburn had been killed in an accident in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Carefully unfolding the clipping, she stared at the grainy photographs. He'd been married, her Melburn. To a woman named Claire Ballard. Daughter of famed archaeologist Nicholas Ballard. Although the most recent articles about the good Dr. Ballard had been less than favorable, according to Helen.

She had a grandson. Daniel. Helen had found two articles about him...he'd been a child prodigy, it seemed. Raised in foster homes...that fact tore at her heart every time she thought about it. She assumed that for some reason Dr. Ballard had been unable to care for the boy. He'd taken the archaeological world by storm, it seemed, this young Daniel Jackson. And then, shortly after putting forth a rather...odd...theory about the true origins and purpose of the pyramids in Giza, he'd disappeared. Helen had told her it was as if he'd dropped off the face of the earth. She'd found no less than fifteen hundred 'Dr. Daniel Jackson' listings. But without a middle initial, or even a clue as to which state he was living in, if he was even living in the country, there was little hope of finding him.

Her finger traced the picture of the eight year old Daniel had been when his parents had been killed. Wondered once again, as she did every day now, if he was all right.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Justin Langford was Marvin's sole surviving friend. In fact, Justin was the sole survivor of the group of men who belonged to the local Odd-Fellows lodge, fished together regularly during the spring and summer, and bowled every Thursday night. Or at least had, until the ailments of old age had put an end to their more physical activities. The five men had taken up pinochle, and played three nights a week. Not that any of the wives had ever complained about their games. After several years of being 'bowling widows', the women had become friends as well, and most often were together while the men fished or bowled...or played cards.

He stood to his feet. His grandson, a strapping man and the local sheriff, held his arm gently. "I'm so sorry, my dear," Justin said, his voice quavering.

"So am I," she responded automatically. Although deep down inside, she wasn't. Oh, no doubt she would be punished for her less than charitable thoughts about her husband...and on the day of his funeral no less. When had the love died? When had they become nothing more than two people who shared the same house, held memories in common...who were strangers to one another more often than not?

Susan hurried out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on the wide, white apron that covered her black dress. "There you are!" Her hug was as tight, as strong, as it had ever been. "It was a lovely turn out, don't you agree?"

"I suppose it was." The Jacksons had lived in Butler for fifty-six years. Everyone in town had known Marvin Jackson. Most of them had sat in his history class when they'd attended high school. So it hadn't been surprising that nearly every family in town had been represented. The principal of the high school had been there, and Ms. Miller had only been in town for three years. She supposed that was a nice thing...someone from the school district recognizing the contributions Marvin had made as a teacher.

"Come have something to eat. Diane Filbert made a dish of her broccoli, rice, and cheese casserole. I know you like that."

"I suppose I could eat a bit," she admitted.

"There's a lovely piece of ham as well, would you like me to carve a slice off for you?"

"That would be nice."

Helen appeared at her elbow, with a steaming cup of coffee. "Here, it's been a couple of hours since your last cup," the woman teased gently.

She smiled, blew on the rich black brew, sipped cautiously. How she loved her coffee. Had since she'd been just a teenager. It had been the one thing she'd never backed down on...Marvin preferred tea. Right after they'd married, he had found the can of coffee in the pantry. Told her he didn't want her drinking the beverage. In an uncharacteristic show of stubbornness, she'd taken the can, placed it back on the shelf, and told him if she wanted coffee, she would have it. She was a grown woman, not a child to be told what to do. It was one of the few times she could ever remember standing up to him. That day, he had been so surprised that he'd merely mumbled beneath his breath, and walked out of the kitchen. It was never mentioned again. That she drank most of her coffee while he was out of the house was her own decision. It had simply been a means that had prevented further...unpleasantness. But drink it, she had.

Helen led her to one of the folding tables that had been set up, placed a plate of food in front of her. Ham, cheesy broccoli and rice casserole, scalloped potatoes, tomato slices, and a dinner roll. Good heavens, if she ate all of that, she wouldn't be able to eat again until tomorrow!

 

 

 

Friends and neighbors, people she had known for years, adults she remembered as children, all came to offer their condolences. And then they would ask her what her plans were, what she would do now that she was alone. It was an odd thing...almost as if they were as aware of her newly arrived freedom as she was.

The answer to the question, however, was frustrating. She had no idea what she would do. Even though his death had been...expected, having it actually happen had been a bit of a surprise. Marvin had died quietly in his sleep. When she'd gone into his room to check on him...they hadn't shared a bedroom since Melburn had left for college...he was gone. She'd calmly called 9-1-1. The ambulance had arrived, and the very nice young medics had taken Marvin away. She'd called the funeral home, all of the arrangements had already been made, so there was little for her to do. There was no family to notify. Marvin's older brother had passed years earlier. Her children...both had died long before they should have. Parents should never outlive their children, she thought gloomily. In spite of not having the details pertaining to his funeral to see to, she hadn't actually had time to think about what she would do.

She'd finished packing away all of his things within two days of his passing, with the intention of donating everything to charity. If she was ridding the house of nearly all signs of him...well, that was her right. For the first time, watching as the gurney had been wheeled to the waiting ambulance that morning, she'd felt as if the house was truly hers...her home. She would arrange the furniture the way she wanted, rather than the way Marvin insisted it be, for his convenience. She would put the good tablecloth on the table, and keep the crystal vase in the center. She would put her favorite chair beside the window so she could read there, and she'd put that old round table there, and cover it with that pretty little quilt she'd found...

Part of her wished she were younger. So that she could thoroughly enjoy this newfound freedom. She was seventy-nine years old, too old for such silly thoughts, she chided herself. Whatever time she had left on this earth, she would enjoy. And god help her, she rejoiced in the opportunity to do so. Marvin had been a good man. A good husband. Not a great man. Certainly not a loving husband. But he'd provided a nice home. Never hit her. Never drank or ran around on her. At least, not that she was aware of. Not, she thought guiltily, that she really would have cared much if he had.

"You look tired," Susan said quietly. "Let Helen take you home. She can pick me up on her way back, we haven't quite finished cleaning up yet."

"Let me help," she said, already rolling up the sleeves of her good black dress.

"No, you go on home. I'll call you in the morning. If you need anything, you call me, or Helen."

She hugged the woman who had been her best friend for forty-seven years. "Thank you, dear. I believe I'll go home and read my new book."

Susan smiled. "Just remember, when you finish it, bring it over to me."

"As always," she said, patting Susan's arm, " as always." Susan liked romance novels as much as she did...a shared 'secret' passion that they had giggled over many times during the preceding years.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

It was lovely to putter around the house in her bathrobe and slippers. Marvin had never approved of that. One should be dressed as soon as she...or he...rose. And remain that way until it was time to go to bed. During the previous year, she'd developed the habit of cooking breakfast in her robe, and having a second cup of coffee before she dressed for the day. Marvin hadn't seemed to notice. Not that she would have given a hoot anyway. She'd passed the point of caring what he thought years ago. She'd done as he asked...demanded...simply to keep the peace. When he'd stopped nagging, she'd started doing more to make herself happy. 

She found herself a bit hungry around eight that evening. Fixed herself a slice of toast, and warmed a bit of ham that Susan had sent to the house with her. She watched an hour or so of television, and by ten, was ready to go to bed and read until she was sleepy.

As she settled onto her pillow an hour later, she closed her eyes and whispered a prayer...asking forgiveness for her feelings regarding Marvin, praying that he had at last found peace, and that she would live long enough, and remain healthy enough, to enjoy a few years of peace herself.

"Please, God," she whispered, just as she had every night since learning about him, "let Daniel be all right, wherever he is."

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

She'd just finished vacuuming the carpet in the room that had been Marvin's. Felt a pang of loss. Marvin had been a part of her life for so very long. He'd been gone for less than a week now. The house already reflected that fact. The windows were open, even though it was still chilly outside, the pale green curtains blowing gently. The room had smelled so...stale. Like...death. She wanted, no...she needed to rid the house of that depressing odor. She contemplated the room for a moment.

It would, she decided, would make a lovely guest room. If anyone took it into their head to visit, well, she'd have a nice place to offer them for the night. Or nights, whatever the case might be. Maybe...she shook her head and sighed. Maybe one day Daniel would sleep here. And if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

Two days earlier, in a moment of weakness, during her bi-monthly trip to the nearest Target store with Helen and Susan...which was closer to Kansas City than Butler...she had picked up a 'bed in a bag' ensemble. Comforter, bed ruffle, pillow shams, sheets. It had been pretty, and at the time she had thought it would match the green of Marvin's room perfectly. She opened the bag, pulled the items out one by one. She'd been right. The colors of the quilt and accessories were perfect. She gathered them into her arms, and hurried to the laundry room. The thought that she'd been redecorating this room in her mind when she'd purchased the set eluded her.

The chair in the corner, a huge recliner she'd always hated, caught her eye. That would have to go, if she wanted to make the room inviting. Daniel was an archaeologist. Just like Melburn had been. Did he sit at a desk somewhere, pouring over pictures and books, writing on yellow legal pads for hours at a time? She could remember Melburn doing that. He'd had a desk...which was, she thought, down in the basement. Moved there when Marvin had bought that damned ugly chair. If she could get rid of that chair, and have that desk brought up...

Not giving herself time to think about what she was doing, she tossed the first load of linens into the washer. Whom could she call who would help her? Her mind ticked off names, and just as quickly dismissed them...at work or at school...that's where all of the men and teenagers she could think of were at the moment. She picked up the phone and called Susan. Explained that she needed help moving a couple of pieces of furniture. Susan promised to find someone and send them over right away. She assured her friend that it wasn't an emergency, just whenever someone was available.

It took her longer to make the bed than she'd thought it would. Moving the mattress off the box springs, in order to put the new bed ruffle down, completely wore her out, and she was forced to sit down for a bit before finishing. But the greens and whites of the new comforter, sprinkled with sprigs of pink and yellow flowers, freshened the room dramatically.

The doorbell pulled her from her place beside the door, where she'd been standing and admiring her new 'guest room'.

"Good afternoon, Miz Jackson," Marty Langford said, smiling down at her, taking off his sheriff's hat. "Miz Hamilton said you needed help moving some furniture."

Oh, good lord! Susan had actually called the sheriff's department? "Well, I do, but I certainly don't want to be a bother."

Marty smiled. "Just comes with the job ma'am. To Serve and Protect."

"Martin Langford, I may be old, but I'm not an idiot. Moving furniture for old women is not part of your job."

The sheriff chuckled loudly. "True. But it's a quiet day. Might as well do something useful."

"You and Adam patrol our streets night and day. You keep all of us here in Butler safe. I'd say that's more than useful."

He couldn't help but puff out his chest just a bit, feel just the slightest bit proud at her praise of his abilities as the sheriff of the tiny burg. "Why don't you show me what you need moved, and I'll see what I can do to help."

"Come right this way." She led him to the guest room. Didn't miss the look of surprise on his face. He'd visited a time or two when her husband had been ill, sitting in the old chair and reading to him from the fishing magazine Marvin had subscribed to for years. "I'm fixing the place up a bit."

"Looks very nice, Miz Jackson."

If he thought she was nuts, or horrible, she'd never know about it, she thought, with a bit of amusement. "What I'd like to do is move that chair out of the room, and then have a desk brought up from the basement."

"Let's take a look at the desk," Marty said. He glanced at his watch. Just after five. He knew that Adam would be up and about by now, getting ready to take the night shift of patrolling. If he needed help, he'd give him a call.

The desk wasn't large. Just a typical 'student's desk', made of oak. It was sturdy, and just a bit on the heavy side. Marty walked around it, then reached for the radio on his shoulder. "Adam, you there?"

The radio crackled. "What's up, Sheriff?"

"Can you come over to Miz Jackson's house asap? Need a hand here."

"On my way."

She was a bit surprised that the deputy hadn't asked for more details. Perhaps, she thought, it was the way he was supposed to respond. No doubt he'd be more than a bit surprised to find out he wouldn't be dealing with an issue pertaining to the law...but moving furniture for a possibly crazy old woman. "Tell him to come in the back way, it's always open."

Marty heaved a sigh. "What have I told you about that? You're just inviting trouble by leaving your back door open, Miz Jackson."

"Pshaw! I know every youngster in town. And their parents. And their grandparents. Don't figure there's anyone silly enough to risk my rolling pin."

It was true, she probably did know every kid, parent and grandparent in Butler. Not that there were that many people to know. With a population of not quite three thousand, and for as long as she'd lived here, that wouldn't have been difficult. He couldn't help but grin. Having Miz Jackson pissed off at you was just a stupid thing to do. The woman had a glare that could freeze fire. Just that look could have kids confessing to a multitude of sins. It had worked on him well enough when he was a child. The thought brought a mental chuckle along with the memories.

"Let me fix you a cup of coffee."

"It's not necessary," he objected politely.

"Probably not. But I'll do it anyway. I just baked a banana cream pie, too." Marvin hadn't liked that particular pie. She loved it.

Muriel Jackson could win prizes with her pies. Marty settled at the kitchen table after following her into the room. "Can't pass that up."

She poured coffee, sat the cream pitcher, which was filled with 1% milk, and the matching sugar bowl onto the table. She put three cups and saucers out, one for Adam, when he arrived, and then cut two large pieces of pie. "How're Kathy and the kids?"

"Doing just fine, ma'am. Kathy went with Tom and Carrie to Kansas City today."

She nodded. Marty's older brother Tom was the mayor, and his wife Carrie helped him run the grocery store. The very same store Justin had bought when he'd arrived in Butler just two years before she and Marvin had moved to town.

"So, have any plans for tonight? Seeing as how you aren't known for going to Wednesday night services over at the church," he teased, his smile wide, just before savoring his first bite of pie. Muriel had been the first adult to tell him that what he believed, and how he worshipped God, was between him and God, and was no one else's business. He'd fallen in love with her in that moment, given that he'd been the tender age of ten; and Muriel Jackson had always been a beautiful woman. That crush had lasted until he'd been twelve, and Kathy Simpson had crossed his path. Muriel, he decided, was still a beautiful woman. Didn't look near what he knew her age to be. Her skin was still flawless...oh, she had the requisite wrinkles around her eyes and mouth that came with the years, but her cheeks were smooth and lacked the blemishes that usually accompanied old age. Her brown eyes were still as sharp as ever, he knew she didn't miss a thing. Her hair had always been a rich blonde. He also knew that she continued to get a 'rinse' every two weeks at Mable's beauty salon to keep that golden color. Yep, Muriel Jackson was still a beautiful woman. And he had no doubts that the older gentlemen in the area would soon be knocking on her door. Beauty and a great cook. That was just a combination no man in his right mind could pass up!

She couldn't help but grin. Marty wasn't much of a church-goer, either. That was another thing she'd had in common with Susan. Muriel believed in God. She just didn't think He was as doggone judgmental as most preachers assured her that He was. "I'm going to Susan Hamilton's to watch NCIS. Helen records it for us, and then we can just skip over those annoying commercials. Jackasses with their stupid ads. Should be taken out and bullwhipped for interrupting good shows like that."

Marty's lips twitched. He'd seen glimpses of the woman who lurked just beneath the surface, held in place by Marvin Jackson's stern demeanor and no-nonsense attitude. Wondered just how long it would be before the town finally met the real Muriel Jackson. "You ladies keep it down. I don't want to hear reports of you two disturbing the peace with catcalls and wolf whistles."

She giggled like a school girl. "I'll tell Susan we've been warned."

Adam arrived, and after the men had eaten pie and finished their coffee, the chair was carried to the basement, and the desk put into the bedroom. Adam bid her good afternoon, and then Marty checked to make certain her back door was latched before walking to the front. He realized that the next time she went into the back yard, the door would remain unlatched. Just as he realized he'd continue to do the extra patrols in the neighborhoods where the oldest of Butler's residents lived...for that very reason.

She saw the sheriff to the door, waved as he pulled the patrol car out of the driveway. Walked back into the bedroom. The desk was dusty...twenty minutes later it gleamed under a fresh coat of polish. There had been a lamp that Melburn had used...she located it in the basement as well. Thank goodness she'd wrapped the shade with plastic, and then covered it with newspaper. She pulled the chair from her room, the one Melburn had used, rescued when Marvin had banished the desk to the basement. Cleaned and shining, the lamp went onto the corner of the desk; the ladder-back chair with the yellow and blue cushioned seat pushed into place. The room was ready. Just in case.

With a final tug and pat to the new comforter, she went to the kitchen to start another pot of coffee. She was going to sit down and finish her book.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Susan had a plate of cookies on the coffee table when she arrived. The coffee was almost ready, she could smell it.

"I have a question for you," Susan said as soon as their usual greetings were dispensed with.

"What question is that?"

"Have you thought about finding your grandson? I know you didn't try because of Marvin. But he's gone now. No reason for you to wait any longer," Susan said.

Well! She'd never expected that! She had to sit down and gather her wits before she could even form any type of response. By the time she'd done so, she realized there was absolutely no reason not to search for Daniel. And half a dozen reasons she should. He should at least know about the people his father had come from...his family tree, such as it was. Their medical history. The reason she and his grandfather had never been a part of his father's life. How much she still ached over that fact. To beg his forgiveness for not being there when he'd been a child, and needed family to care for him. It was in that moment that she consciously admitted to the fact that she'd been preparing to do so all day...she just hadn't realized it. Having Susan ask the question out of the blue, however, had still been a surprise.

"Muriel? Are you all right? You're awfully pale. I didn't mean to upset you, dear."

She patted Susan's arm absently. "I'm not upset. I...to be honest, I never thought about it. I wouldn't have the first clue how to go about looking for him, or even where to start!"

"Well, we could hire a private investigator!"

"You've been watching too much television," she scoffed.

"There are real private investigators, and I'm certain we can find one in the phone book."

"Only if it's the Kansas City phone book," she replied dryly.

Susan reached over the side of the sofa, grabbed something from the side table. Flopped the thick metropolitan telephone directory onto the cushion between them. "Start looking."

She stared at the book, remaining as still as a statue, as if the book might attack her if she made any sudden moves. "I don't know," she said, hesitantly.

"I'll look for you," Susan offered.

She stared for a few seconds longer, then shook her head. "I need to do this. He's my grandson," she said softly.

With a nod of approval, Susan waited anxiously. "Well?" she said, when Muriel still hadn't even picked the directory up.

She shot a look of annoyance at her friend. Opened the yellow pages. "Should I look under 'private investigator', or just 'investigators'?"

"Private investigators, first," Susan said firmly.

She flipped through the pages. Began to read off the names. "My, there are a lot of them." She frowned when one small, plain ad caught her eye...

 

Franklin Enterprises. Specializing in corporate and private security. Investigations handled with utmost discretion.

 

"Muriel, I think that's it! I know that name! That's the company that Bernice Preston's sister used," Susan exclaimed excitedly, after her companion had read the ad aloud.

"Bernice...from Passiac?" That small town was just a few miles up the road from Butler.

"Mmmhmm. Her sister was having an awful time with a group of hoodlums in her neighborhood. I don't know whether she just picked them out of the phone book, or if someone recommended them to her, but those Franklin people took care of that problem, and all it cost her was ten dollars and a batch of homemade cookies. And one of the young men from that agency still calls every now and then to make certain she's okay."

"Her sister would have to be in her eighties," Muriel mused.

"Eighty-three," Susan confirmed.

It was difficult to tear her eyes from the advertisement. Bernice certainly wouldn't lie about something like this. And if her sister had called this company, and had satisfactory results...although this was a bit different than dealing with punks, she thought. "I don't know..."

Susan waited for the excuse. Smiled when it never came. "Just call them. What's the worst thing that can happen? They say no, and you just find someone else to do the job!"

"I suppose so," she allowed.

"Here, I'll get a piece of paper and you can write the number down. Call them first thing in the morning."

She sat back, her heart pounding against her ribs. Was she really going to do this? Was she really ready to look for her grandson? What if this company accepted the job...and they found Daniel? What if he had no desire to meet her? She straightened her skirt. She could always write out the family history, what she knew of Marvin's side, and what she knew of her own family tree. Add any pertinent medical information that might be important. And then...oh, it would be so awful if the investigator found him, and she was unable to meet him! If she didn't look for him, she wouldn't have to face that possible rejection...

Muriel Jackson, stop being a coward, she scolded herself. You will make that phone call. And if Daniel doesn't wish to speak with you, then there's nothing you can do about it, and nothing in your life will change. And if he does...her heartbeat sped up. If he does, you won't be alone in the world, will you? Who knows, he just might use that spare room!

It was difficult to concentrate on the show. Even when the characters were being particularly amusing, she found her attention drifting, her eyes going back to the phone book that had remained on the sofa beside her.

Rather than staying and chuckling over the episode, going over it point by point with Susan, she opted to go home, walking the two blocks to her house in a daze.

She sat in the dark for nearly an hour before getting ready to go to bed. Muriel Jackson, get a-hold of yourself! She shook her head. She hadn't felt this nervous, this excited, since her wedding day! And just look how that all turned out, her mind grumped. Well, she wouldn't walk into this situation with any grandiose expectations. Chances were, with no more information than she had, the investigator wouldn't even be able to find him.

Trying to convince herself that the search would be for naught in the end, she turned off the light and attempted to sleep.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

It was just barely after six a.m. when she crawled out of bed. She wasn't normally an early riser. She'd often gotten up, fixed breakfast, and as soon as Marvin had left the house, she'd snuck back into bed for an hour or so. Melburn had been the same way, abhorring early mornings...unless he was excited about something. She couldn't help but smile. Just as she was excited today. Excited, and not a little bit afraid of what she was doing. She might be opening a can of worms best left closed. She heaved a sigh. Started a pot of coffee, and watched as the hands on the clock moved slowly.

At eight a.m., she could wait no longer. She carefully dialed the number for the office of Franklin Enterprises, located in Kansas City. Listened to the sound of the ring. Was about to hang up when a breathless voice answered.

"Franklin Enterprises, how may I help you?"

The voice was feminine. Very friendly, Muriel thought. "Yes, I understand from the ad in the telephone book that you handle private investigations?"

"Well, not exactly. We handle corporate and private security."

"Oh, dear. I'm afraid I've misunderstood then," Muriel said, her heart dropping to her feet.

"Why don't you tell me your name, and what exactly it is you'd like for us to do," the woman said kindly.

"My name is Muriel Jackson. I'd like to hire you to find my grandson, Daniel Jackson." There was a pause...so long that she was afraid the line had been disconnected.

"Um...Muriel Jackson, looking for Daniel Jackson."

"That's right."

"Do you have a middle initial, any idea of where he might be located, any information that might help us locate him?"

"Well, I don't have much. His father, Melburn, my son...my oldest son actually...left years ago. I didn't even know that Melburn had married until Helen, that's my best friend's daughter, did a search for me, last year. He was an archaeologist, my Melburn was. He died in 1978, in New York City. Some sort of accident in the museum there. Daniel was eight years old at the time. What Helen could find about Daniel was that he's also an archaeologist, but there hasn't been anything published by him or about him in several years."

"Mrs. Jackson, I'll have to speak to the owner of the company, but I believe we'll be able to help you."

She hadn't even realized she'd been holding her breath until it rushed out of her in one huge gust. "Oh, thank you!"

"If you can give me your number, I'll have Mr. Franklin call as soon as possible. He's out of the office right now, so it probably won't be until tomorrow."

Tomorrow? Another day? Well, there was nothing she could do about that, was there? "That will be fine, thank you." She gave her number, repeated it when the woman asked her to do so. Then with the promise of hearing from Mr. Franklin ringing in her ears, she hung up. Maybe she'd do a bit of gardening today. She needed to get her flower beds ready for her spring flowers. Gardening always helped her when she was trying to pass time, or not think too hard on a subject.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

In Kansas City, Charley sat staring at her notepad. Oh, this was just unreal! Things like this just didn't happen outside of Hollywood! She picked up the phone and dialed the one number she knew by heart. Didn't even stop to think about the hour's difference in time zones. "Gary? Oh, I woke you!"

In his apartment in Silver Springs, Gary Franklin sat up. He didn't have to see her to know that Charley was upset. "What's wrong?"

"I have no idea how to tell you this," she muttered.

A dozen different horrific scenes bounced around in his head. Which one of his close friends had been hurt? How badly? Where? Which hospital?

"First of all, pack a bag, boss. You're going to want to handle this job yourself."

"Job?"

"Yep. I just got a call from a very sweet old lady-"

"Charley-"

"-by the name of Mrs. Muriel Jackson. She lives in Butler, Missouri, according to white pages dot com. And she's looking for her grandson, archaeologist Doctor Daniel Jackson."

He'd been jotting down notes as she spoke, a habit born over years of needing to keep facts straight. It took a moment for what she had said, and what he had just written, to impact on his still sleep-fogged brain. "Did you just say...Daniel Jackson?"

"Yep. Father, Melburn Jackson. Also an archaeologist. Killed in 1978 in an accident in a museum in New York City."

"Well I'll be damned."

"Probably. But before then, you need to get here so you can call her, and meet with her."

"Right. Give me her number. I'll call her today. I have a flight out tonight, since you said there are papers I have to sign." He still couldn't figure out why she couldn't just fax the damned things, he'd sign them, and fax them back. Something about original copies needing a verified signature...he'd probably have to sign in front of a notary. Hadn't he taken care of this stuff when he'd bought the building?

"Oh, hell, I forgot all about those," Charley admitted.

"No problem. And Charley, this stays between you and me for now. Until I talk to Daniel about it, and know how he feels, I want this kept quiet."

"Right, boss."

"What time is it there?"

"Just after eight. I told Mrs. Jackson you wouldn't be calling until tomorrow."

"Well, hopefully it will be a pleasant surprise when I call her in an hour or so."

"She sounded disappointed that she wouldn't hear from you sooner, so I'm betting you'll be making that sweet little old lady's day," Charley informed him. "And boss, my gut tells me she's the real deal."

"Thanks, Charley."

"See you tonight?"

"I'll be at the airport around nine. Feel like a really late dinner?"

"Sure. Um...what about..."

Gary closed his eyes, ran his hand over his face. And promptly pushed away the excitement that filled him at the thought of seeing his secretary. Totally ignored the little voice that asked him just why he wasn't feeling more guilty about that. "Janet?"

"Mmmhmm."

"What about her? Charley, we're friends, and have been for years. Having dinner together isn't even in the same ball park as sleeping together."

The words hung between them, resonating in two brains. Neither willing to address the multitude of emotions that the simple comment stirred up. Something meant as a reassurance...a qualification of their relationship...shouldn't cause so damned much unease. Shouldn't have been necessary in the first place. But suddenly was.

"Right," Charley said, her voice a bit shaky. Sleep with Gary? Only in her dreams! A fact that she'd die before admitting to.

"Maybe we can grab a burger or something," Gary said, doing his best to make this dinner anything but...desperate to keep his relationship with the woman he'd known for twenty years in the nice little cubbyhole where he'd filed it when Cookie had first introduced them. Refusing to question why suddenly that relationship seemed to have changed. Why it didn't want to stay neatly filed under 'friendship'. Wouldn't even consider the fact that it was possible it could become something...more.

"Sounds like a plan. So you still want me to pick you up, or just meet up at McDonalds?"

Now that sounded downright cheap. And as if he was trying to avoid something. "You pick me up, and we'll head to BB's."

Charley hesitated. BB's Lawnside BBQ was quintessential Kansas City. A small, 'hole in the wall' type of place, the food was spectacular, the music pure blues, the atmosphere both intimate and party-like at the same time. It was a favorite haunt of the employees of Franklin Enterprises. She'd been there dozens of times with the guys, sometimes just one of them, other times it was one or two. Often it was all of the 'Franklin Family', as Gary referred to them.

"Charley?"

"Are you sure?"

Now what the hell kind of question was that? BB's was the 'family' haunt! The group ate there at least once a week, usually on the weekend. Charley was almost always in attendance. It wasn't a big deal. "Sure, I'm sure. Haven't had decent barbecue since I moved here," he grumbled.

"You've got a date," she replied.

Date? As in...date? Like pick her up and take her out kind of a date? Nah, that's not what she meant, airman! Jesus, get a grip! "Good. See you tonight."

"I'll be there."

He closed his phone. Looked at the pad of paper on the bedside table. Was able to push every personal emotion and thought completely from his mind, to his silent relief. He had one hell of a job to do. If Muriel Jackson was indeed Daniel Jackson's paternal grandmother, how in the hell was he going to break the news to his son-in-law that, after all of the years since his birth - about thirty-four if he was remembering correctly, someone from his father's family was finally deigning to search for him? Something told him there was a reason for that delay. There was a story there. And Gary Franklin liked having the full story.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

When the phone rang, she assumed it was Susan. "I'm just starting coffee," she said immediately, knowing that her friend would be walking over.

"Uh...that's good to hear," Gary chuckled.

"Oh, my! I'm so sorry! I thought you were my friend, calling to tell me she's on her way," Muriel gasped.

"Not a problem, Mrs. Jackson. My name is Gary Franklin, of Franklin Enterprises. My secretary tells me you're looking for your grandson."

"Mr. Franklin? Oh, I didn't think you'd call until tomorrow!"

"Well, when a potential operation deals with family, I like to get to it right away. I need to ask a few questions. They may seem rather personal, but I really need to know as many of the facts and details as possible. I also have to warn you, your grandson may not wish to have his contact information passed on to you. If he tells me that, I have to honor his wishes," Gary warned.

"I understand. To be perfectly honest, Daniel would have every right to tell me to take a hike."

Gary grinned. He already liked this lady. She had spunk, he could sense it. "So what can you tell me about him?"

Muriel sighed. "Not nearly enough. His father, my son Melburn, left Butler for college. He never came back. He visited me once, just after he graduated from the Oriental Institute in Chicago. Melburn was an archaeologist, you see. He left for some place in South America. He was so excited about it."

"And you never saw him again?"

"No, Mr. Franklin, I never did. He sent letters, sporadically, but then, that was just Melburn. When he was focused on something that had his attention at that moment, nothing else mattered to him. Then, the letters just stopped coming."

Like father, like son, Gary thought briefly. "What about Melburn's father?"

Oh, dear. How could she explain about Marvin?

The pause gave Gary more information that the woman on the other end of the phone realized. "It's all right, Mrs. Jackson-"

"No, I need to tell you. So that you can explain to Daniel. Marvin was a good man, Mr. Franklin. He provided a decent living for the boys and I. But..." She took a deep breath. "I know he loved his sons. But he was never...he didn't grow up in a household that showed any sort of affection. His mother was a nice enough woman, but she wasn't the warmest person I've ever met. His father was a very stern disciplinarian. Marvin simply believed that a father was expected to behave in such a manner. His father had laid out his life, and so he assumed that it was his...responsibility...to do so for his sons. Melburn was always so independent. He simply refused to follow the path Marvin felt was best for him. I guess Marvin never saw that spark in Melburn that I saw. Melburn was a bit of a dreamer. He saw the world in colors, rather than the harsh black and white that his father viewed everything in. He was also a very hard worker. He earned his degree on his own, without help from his father."

He sat back on the sofa. "I take it that making contact with Melburn after he had left wasn't...possible?"

"Oh, no! Marvin made it very clear that under no circumstances was I to speak to Melburn, until he had apologized."

"Apologized?"

The snort slipped out before she could stop it. "Yes. Marvin wanted Melburn to apologize for leading his own life. For daring to do what he wanted, rather than what he was told to do. I suppose that in Marvin's eyes, Melburn was just being a stubborn child, and needed to be taught a lesson. All those years...lost," she said softly, sadly. "Marvin was quite ill for a year. He passed away a few days ago."

And his wife had lost no time in reaching out. That fact also spoke volumes. "My condolences, ma'am," he said automatically.

"Thank you, Mr. Franklin." Her response was just as perfunctory.

"How did you learn about Daniel?"

"Last year, my friend Susan and I were discussing the fact that I had no clue where Melburn was, if he was all right...I knew nothing. Her daughter, Helen, lovely woman, offered to see what she could find. She located a newspaper article about an accident that had occurred in New York City, in that big museum there. In 1978. My Melburn-" Her voice caught. "He was killed, you see. I hadn't even known he had married. The article told a bit about Melburn, and his wife, Claire. There were pictures of her, and Melburn, and little Daniel. He was eight years old."

Gary could hear the grief, the guilt, in her voice. "Mrs. Jackson, my secretary has down that Daniel is an archaeologist, is this correct?"

Muriel took a deep breath. "Yes, it is. Helen tried to look for him, but she said it's as if he just disappeared. I'm afraid he might not even be in the country at this point in time."

He couldn't help but glance at his watch. By now, if they were on today's mission roster, his daughter and son-in-law probably weren't even on the planet! "Well, I've found people with less information than this. I don't think it will take long to locate him."

Her heart began to pound. "Oh, Mr. Franklin, that's wonderful to know!"

"I just want to remind you, Daniel might not want to hear from you." It was a warning Gary didn't think was needed. If he was any judge of character, Daniel would be hell bent to meet his grandmother. And he would never hold her responsible for his late grandfather's heavy-handed ways.

"I understand."

"I'll call you as soon as I have something," Gary promised. With luck, it would be a couple of days. Just to make it seem as if he'd really done a search. He'd stop by the SGC before he went to the airport. If Daniel was there, he'd speak to him then.

 

 

 

Muriel sat down at the kitchen table, trembling fingers twisting around one another. She'd done it. She'd started the ball rolling to find her grandson. The grandson that she'd been denied all of these years. Because Marvin had been a stubborn old fool. Tears that she hadn't before allowed herself began to fall onto her cheeks. So many years! An entire lifetime...her grandson's lifetime! Lost to her, forever! She covered her face with her hands and gave in to the grief that she'd held in check for so long. She wept for her oldest son. She wept for her youngest son. She wept for the daughter-in-law she had never known. And she wept for that eight year old boy who had been abandoned to the Social Services when his parents had been killed in front of him.

When the phone rang, she sniffed twice, wiped her eyes on her apron. It was Susan. For the first time in years she begged off of their morning coffee klatch. She needed time alone. To grieve. And to prepare herself for the fact that, in spite of her best intentions, and her fondest wishes, she might never have the chance to know her grandson. To know Daniel Jackson.


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