Excerpt from "The Odd Couple" second edition
Q. Kelly (c) 2008 and 2011 – all rights reserved—
Charlene’s eyes flew open. That voice was real. Right across from her, just yards away, there he was. Her son, her JP. Four years old again and risen somehow from the grave. There was no mistaking him. He had listened to her, and he was back. Charlene went weak with disbelief. Her heart wobbled. OhGodOhGodOhGod. This was it, then. This was how she was going to snap and plunge into the valley of the insane. Because JP was dead. The gunshot. The holes. The lifeless eyes.
He was not back. He never would be. But how to explain this boy? Was he simply a figment of Charlene's grief?
The child laid something—a caterpillar?—on a tombstone and chased after a squirrel, coming ever closer. His laughter was music to Charlene's ears. This boy was no figment. Charlene was not going off the deep end. She was hearing JP.
Without thinking, she leaped to her feet. She opened her mouth to call her son to her. JP, JP, you're home, you're alive. How? No, no, tell me later. That doesn't matter. Just come here, come here. Let me hug you.
The boy skidded to a stop. He met Charlene's eyes. She got a good look at his face, and her heart sank. In the summer, light tan freckles had covered most of JP’s features, but this boy was blessed with a mere sprinkling. Charlene thought once more that she must be going crazy. Then the child cocked an eyebrow, just like JP would have, and hope filled Charlene's whole being again.
"Hi," the boy said, and he grinned hugely.
Charlene blinked back tears. Freckles or not, this boy was her son. She was being given a chance to redeem herself, to make things right. But a harsh, logical voice cautioned her to take a deep breath, to calm down, to just think a minute, to not say or do anything she would regret later. How could this boy be JP? She had held him for hours, for hours, those lifeless eyes. Still, she had to ask.
"JP?" she ventured.
The child shook his head and flashed another eager smile. "I'm Gareth. Like in the King Arthur story."
Charlene struggled to reconcile the clash between logic and emotion, between mind and heart. Gareth. JP. Gareth. How could it be? How could this child, this so-called Gareth, have JP's blue eyes, his laugh, his hair, his everything, except for the freckles? How? Was it some cruel trick of fate?
Seemingly out of nowhere, a woman, tall and tan, with dark hair and dark eyes, appeared. She tousled Gareth's hair and offered a shy smile. "I apologize if Gareth was bothering you."
A faint thread of hysteria washed through Charlene. She fought to keep it at bay. "Gareth. That's a nice name." No. No. That's JP. My son! My son! Why do you have my son?
The dark-haired woman grinned. "I've always loved King Arthur stuff. Anyway. Hi. I'm Morrisey." She stuck a hand out.
Charlene robotically took the hand and let go after a second.
"Hey, that's a nice bracelet," Morrisey said. "I have a few like that at home."
"Thanks. A friend gave it to me." Charlene could not bring herself to say more. What she wanted to do was fall to her knees and take this other woman's son in her arms. She wanted to inhale his sweet little-boy smell. She wanted to feel him breathe and hear his heart beating. She wanted to tell him everything would be all right, that she was sorry, so very sorry for having failed him. What she wanted to do was trace his face, look into those familiar, lively blue eyes, and reassure him that everything would be okay now.
But she could not do that. That would be absurd. JP was dead, and no amount of pleading, no amount of tears and promises and deluding herself about this look-alike boy would change that.
"You okay?" Morrisey asked.
"It's been a long day."
"I understand. I've had more than my share of long days."
"My son," Charlene blurted out. "He reminds me of my son."
Morrisey's eyes narrowed. "Gareth reminds you of your son?"
Charlene's gaze dropped to the grave marker at her feet. "Yes. JP."
Charlene looked back at Gareth, into JP's bright blue eyes, and fought to keep herself stiff. "How what?"
"How does he remind you of JP?"
"Oh, just…nothing, really. I don't know. I'm silly, huh? I'm sorry."
"Don’t worry about it," Morrisey said, but her earlier friendliness had vanished.