I couldn’t move. My feet felt like they were sinking in solidifying concrete. Just when I thought Grandma had finished with the earth shattering revelations, Kyle dealt a deathly blow to my ribcage, and he didn’t even know it.
“He—Drake’s your father?” Grandma asked.
“Yes,” Kyle said, still oblivious to the blank stares from me, Grandma, and the others at the table. He draped his arm over Drake’s shoulder. “Dad, this is the woman I’ve been telling you about—“
“Jenny,” Drake said.
“Jenny’s niece,” Grandma corrected.
Kyle dropped his arm. “Niece? Mom never had any siblings.”
Mom. If it didn’t hurt enough to hear him call Drake “Dad,” hearing him refer to Jenny, a woman whose blood I shared, as “Mom” was like another punch to my gut.
“Well, he was her older brother,” Grandma said, swallowing hard to keep from choking up. “He died too soon. She was still a teenager.”
“This just keeps getting good,” Jerry said.
“Need some popcorn to keep watching,” Thomas added.
“Yeeeeeaaaah!” Marcos said.
“Wait, I don’t remember . . . who’s Jenny?” Tammy furrowed her brows and turned to Frank who only grunted.
Kyle turned to me, studying my face as he scratched the smooth skin under his chin. “You know what? You actually do look a little—“
“Don’t say it!”
A boy’s first love was his mother, right? Where had I heard that before? Had my resemblance to Jenny initially attracted Kyle to me? Did I remind him of his mother? Maybe not consciously, but was there something about me that was familiar to him, almost nostalgic?
I ran out of there as fast as I could. Not stopping in the lobby to talk to the front desk nurse, I walked right out the door, went straight to my car. The heat that rushed to my face sucked the breath from my mouth, stopped me from getting in, and gave Grandma enough time to catch up to me.
“I’m not leaving, I’m just going to talk to my granddaughter!” she yelled back inside, probably to the nurse inquiring where she thought she was going. She stood on the curb and sighed. “You’re running away?”
“You saw what happened in there. He’s my cousin!” I felt like crying, but the heat evaporated any tears from my eyes. I rubbed my knuckles against them, drying them out even more to the point that they burned.
“No, he’s your mama’s cousin,” Grandma said. “Once removed from you.”
“It’s not fair,” I mumbled. I slammed my car door and leaned back against it, crossing my arms over my chest.
“Meg, you’re not married to the man. You said it yourself. Besides, what does it matter if you were? I married my cousin.”
“Kennedy was a son of a nephew of a grandparent of a whatever!” I shouted in frustration.
“No.” Grandma stepped closer. “I mean again. This time, to my first cousin.”
I shrugged my shoulders. “You’re just trying to make me feel better.”
“No, I’m serious. I’m actually still married to him in fact. He’s not dead.”
I looked at her for the first time. She seemed much shorter outside, hunching over to shield her face from the setting sun burning its brightest before it was time for it to disappear behind the horizon.
Her smooth, cool fingers pried through my folded arms, and she took my hands and held them at my side. “His name’s Zachariah. He’s my cousin on Daddy’s side. Zappy guy. So full of energy, you wouldn’t even know he’s dying. He’s off in Peru, climbing Machu Picchu, crossing another item off his bucket list. I was number seven.”
“To marry his cousin? He actually planned that?”
Grandma nodded. “To marry his cousin, have kids and see if they’re born with pigs’ tails. We’re a bit too old to be having anymore children, so he didn’t get to do that, but he still married his cousin.”
“And everyone was ok with that?”
“Who was gonna stop us? Our parents were dead. He doesn’t have any kids. Your Mama knew this wasn’t out the ordinary for me, and everyone else was just too old to care!” She bent over, knocked her forehead against mine laughing.
I pulled back and grabbed my side. “This has been the weirdest day, Grandma.”
“I know, sweetheart.” Grandma patted my cheek. “That’s partly my fault.”
“I mean, I know I didn’t know Lindell or Jenny, but they were still family . . . which means that Kyle’s still—“
“He might not be your cousin,” Grandma interrupted. “Drake was a rolling stone, and Jenny wasn’t his first wife. Have you looked at that man in there? He’s almost ninety! Jenny was only sixty when she died.”
I hadn’t even realized I was holding my breath. I let out a heavy sigh, my chest falling, my shoulders dropping. “So you’re saying Drake had as many wives as you had husbands?” It was hard to believe that Grandma’s twenty-six marriages wasn’t just an isolated tale, like something you’d read in tabloid magazines while waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store.
“Maybe not wives, but definitely children. Before, after, and during Jenny. Now, I don’t know if Kyle was one of those children Drake had outside of his marriage to Jenny, but me and Jenny talked, even more when she and Linda started to build a relationship to be closer to Lindell in a way, and I only know of Jenny giving birth to one child. A girl. Trina. You probably don’t know her, but she actually helped your Mama get that neurosurgeon job down in New Orleans.”
The glare of light from the glass door opening drew my attention. Kyle walked out to the parking lot, squinting his eyes up at the sun.
Grandma looked over her shoulder then turned back to me. “He might not know,” she whispered, “like you and your Pawpaw.”
Kyle stuffed his hands in his pocket and kicked crumbles of concrete as he stepped down from the curb and looked up at me. “So—” He shrugged. “Does this mean dinner’s off?”
“Nonsense!” Grandma waved her arms. “You two go out, have fun.” She took both our hands and joined them together.
“Is it bad that I still want to go out with you?” Kyle intertwined his fingers with mine. His eyes moved down to my lips then back up to meet my eyes. They were similar to Drake’s, but softer, calmer, a dark brown, almost black. They held that same worried look, afraid I would tell him, no—it was just too weird, let’s stop it before it gets too far, pilots and flight attendants on the same airline shouldn’t date anyway . . .
Grandma twiddled her thumbs, nervous about my anticipated answer too.
Instead, I took a page out of her book. After the way Grandma waved her life, full of twenty-six husbands, all in my face today, warning that if I kept running away from the “what ifs,” I would miss out on finding true love, as she had, at least six times, in Andrew, Carl, Ian, Lindell, Quinton, and Pawpaw, maybe even more. I couldn’t ask for the life she had, I wasn’t sure I even wanted it, but it wouldn’t kill me to take her advice, just once, would it?
I smiled, squeezed Kyle’s hand. “I’ve heard weirder things.”
© 2016 Nortina Simmons
And with that, the A to Z Challenge is over! Thanks for reading along! I hope you enjoyed Grandma’s 26 husbands!
Read again from the beginning here.