COMFORT ‘N’ JOIE
He looks so lost, she thought, as she watched him hustle the three tiny people out of the backseat of his VW Tiguan.
The girls were immaculately dressed in their school uniforms – hair neatly braided and clipped at the ends with matching sets of berets.
The similarities with the girls were mind-boggling. They all chewed on their bottom lips when worried, and knotted their brows when they were thinking. Sadly, the most noticeable trait was the red eyes – blood shot and water-glazed. Her heart caught in her throat as she thought of the tragic end that took their mother away. He had left the house to collect one of her prescriptions when the house-keeper had called to say that his beloved was calling for him to come back home because she was leaving soon. Her battle was all but over.
What must he be feeling, she thought as they approached the classroom doors.
“Good morning, Miss Jefferson,” the girls chimed as they removed their coats.
“Good morning my honeys – how are you today?” she replied, as she turned to face him. “Good morning Mr. Adams – how are you?”
“Oh … good morning, Miss J. I’m … well … I’m coping.”
“This is good to hear … one day at a time.”
“We’re good too,” Domini piped in. She was the bravest of the three – Domini, Danae and Deidre.
“I’m so happy to hear my 3D’s are good too, Miss Dom’.” She knew that she shouldn’t have favourites but there was something about this triple threat of heart break that got to her – maybe it was the curly red-blonde hair, or the grey eyes that were forever smiling, even in their sadness. It could be the fact that they had their father’s dimples, or his squint as the processed what they were being told. It could be their perfect pink bow lips – again, like their father’s. They also had that tanned peaches and cream complexion – their mother’s heritage … who knew what it was? She just knew that she loved them – much more than her other moppets.
The girls moved away to settle themselves, leaving Joie to stare into their father’s face. His eyes followed his children’s every move.
“You look like you’d love to sit and stay with them,” she quipped, trying to lighten the mood.
“Hi Miss J!” shouted Peter, one of her boys.
“I wish I could stay with them, but I should go home and try to get some sleep. It’s been a rough couple of months.” As much as she fought the urge, she reached out and squeezed his arm.
“Yes, you should,” she said, “listen … if you ever feel like you need to talk,” she continued before she could stop herself, “I’m here. My number is in the Parents’ Directory.”
“Thank you so much Miss J”
“Call me Joie,” she replied.
“Then call me Dmitri.”
“Okay I will. But you need to go now … the other kids are coming in and the girls will start feeling guilty that they’re ignoring you.” Dmitri looked over at the three girls and saw them looking at him as their little friends vied for their attention.
She watched as he blew a kiss in their general direction and swiftly walked away.
He went home – home to a house that felt hollow. Dropping the keys in the “it” bowl as the girls called it, he walked into the den and began absentmindedly picking up pieces of tea sets and the girls’ dolls. Having cleared the floor, Dmitri removed his coat and threw his substantial length on to a sofa. He threw his arm over his eyes, blocking out the sun, but also holding back the tears. Inge had been gone for three months now and while it was getting easier for the girls, he seemed to be stuck in one spot, and his children watched him like mini hawks, and as such, did everything in their power to entertain him…
Inge had been his one true love for as long as he could remember, and now, sickness had left him alone. Sleep had been difficult for him, even when she was hospitalized, and it was worse now. He couldn’t close his eyes without seeing her face, hearing her voice, or sometimes he even felt her presence around him.
Dmitri’s eyes were burning from sheer exhaustion. He closed them and sighed. He drifted into a deep sleep, the deepest he had slept in months, and found himself in a still and peaceful space. He looked around, trying to find some sort of object that would be familiar to him, but nothing stood out. Still, he was unafraid and strangely calm.
“Hello my honey,” said a familiar voice. His heart jumped and he spun around to face his Inge. She looked so beautiful – her red hair braided in a crown around her head, cheeks aflame as she smiled. Her skin glowed with good health, the way it did before…
“Inge … my heart! You look so amazing…”
“You always did know how to make me feel special.”
“Oh God, I miss you so much! The girls do as well. What happened baby? Why did it happen to you … to us? Oh God Inge … why?”
“It’s okay baby … it’s okay.” She walked to him as he spoke and held him in her arms. “I love you so much Dmitri and I love our family. I didn’t tell you anything, but I had been ill for a while … for almost a year before it got to the point that I couldn’t hide it anymore. No – please let me finish.” She reached up and dried his tears, touching his lips with her fingertips as she silenced his protests and questions. “Listen to me honey. I will tell you everything…”
She moved with him to a settee that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere, and sat him down. She sat next to him and held his hand. Dmitri’s eyes searched her face but all he found was peace … a peace that reached him, and calmed his spirit.
“I knew I was ill, before I went to the doctor. I dreamt it. I was afraid for a little while, but the fear didn’t last long. I knew I had to get my musketeers ready for me leaving them. I knew I had to prepare them before I even talked to you, because they would become your strength. Don’t look at me like that,” she smiled, “You know it’s’ the truth. They were six when I started telling them that mommy was going to leave them in charge of daddy. I told them that it was a secret between us girls, and even though it was difficult for them to understand, they never said a word to anyone else, and so they kept our secret.” She rose and walked to the other side of the room. “You once asked me about the stuff that I was eating, and I told you that it was a new diet. Well, it was. It was a life-saving food plan that gave me extra time. There were things that I needed to do, and I did them.” She turned to him and smiled. “But I didn’t bring you here for this…”
“Why did you?” He rose and met her in the middle of the room.
“I brought you here to let you know that I will always be with you. I will always love you and because I love you, I need for you to release me so that I can release you. You need to love again … to laugh again … to believe again. This isn’t about our love, but about your own faith. You need to know that I love you enough to set you free to love again. Dmitri. Love again for me, so I can be at rest, and love again to learn all that you need to. She’s out there, and not that far. She will help you to raise our munchkins the way that I would have done. She will love you in such a way that you will keep me as a memory but hold her as a treasure. She will bring you joy. I will always be in a corner of your heart, and I will live on in our babies. Just love me enough to move forward.”
She held his face in her hands and gently kissed his lips, his cheeks … his entire face, as though she was trying to memorize every feature. She ran her hands through his red-brown hair and placed her hand over his heart, feeling his steady heartbeat. His body felt like he had been electrocuted, such was the power of her touch.
“I love you so much, Inge,” he whispered.
“I know … that’s why I will always be right here,” she replied, pressing her palm once more to his heart. “Goodbye for now my honey. The babies will tell you where you can find stuff.” She winked then, and kissing his cheek once more, she released him and walked out of the room. He waited for the sadness and heaviness of heart to set in at her departure, but it never came. Instead, he felt her love, and a lightness of spirit, and – God help him – joy.
Dmitri woke up around half past noon. He sat up, looked around the room and sighed. Then he remembered his dream, and smiled. Energy surged through his body as he sprang to life. He had his life, the lives of his children and his companies to get back on track. He walked to the master bedroom and stood in the doorway. He hadn’t slept in the room since Inge passed, and it was obvious. The heavy drapes were closed and the bedding was museum perfect. He filled his lungs with air and exhaled, walking to the windows and pushing the heavy drapes back to let in the watery noon-day sun. Then he stripped the bed of its purple paisley patterned comforter set and set about finding something more his style in the linen closet. Everything he looked at looked like Inge until a plastic casing caught his eye. He tugged at it and found a black, grey and white abstract patterned comforter and sheet set staring back at him with a hand-written note that said ‘I figure you’re gonna find this when you need it, baby. Love, Inge.’ God, she knew him so well.
When he had made the bed he wandered into the bathroom and took a good look at the scruffy pirate who looked back at him. His girls had been calling him that for a few weeks now. He smiled and took hold of his razor and shaving cream dispenser. He shook it and filled his hands with warm foam. The reflection that eventually looked back at him made him smile. He was himself again. He then jumped into the shower and marveled at the fact that he heard himself whistling while he washed away the malaise that had become his second skin.
When he was dressed, he took himself off to the kitchen to cook a meal for his family. He called the housekeeping staff while he cooked and informed them that they needed to come back to work that week.
Then he got on the phone and started lighting fires under the vice presidents of his companies. Dmitri Adams was back!
Joie sat cross-legged on the floor, reading to her class. She heard the words coming out of her mouth, but her mind had wandered away to Mr Dmitri Adams. He was so broken … his eyes seemed to be permanently wet with unshed tears. She remembered his beautiful wife then. She was always such a happy soul – chatting with her and with the other parents, hugging and kissing her daughters’ friends. Mr Adams would be very courteous, almost business-like whenever he would bring the munchkins to school. His mind seemed to be occupied with things that were much more important than nursery rhymes and parent-teacher interaction. And now his sadness preceded him everywhere that he went. She felt her heart tighten as she thought of his loss. She was actually startled by the need that overcame her to hold him and let him know that all would be well … that she was there for him.
“Miss Jefferson?” She was brought back to reality by the voice of one of the three, and when she focused she realized that there were twenty-five pairs of eyes looking at her, all full of curiosity and concern. It occurred to her that she must have visibly started with her last thought. “Miss J, are you alright?” asked Danae.
“I am so sorry darlings. I drifted away didn’t I,” she responded, smiling as she did, “I’m a little out of it.” She watched as the curiosity turned to sheer confusion at her words. She chuckled to herself and decided that this might be a good time to take them to the gym. “Come along troupes. We need a little work out today. It’s too cold to go out so let’s go play on the indoor monkey bars. What say we?” Her announcement was met by cheers, so she instructed them to get their gym clothes from their lockers and took them to the washrooms to change, and then she marched them into the gymnasium and let them burn off some excess energy. It was an hour till the end of the kindergarten school day, so they would be heading home to showers and warm snacks anyway.
As she watched them, she let her mind wander yet again to Dmitri. This morning was one of the few occasions when she actually let herself observe him. He was so handsome that he was beautiful, but not in an effeminate way. One of her fellow Kinder-sisters, Stephanie, had actually accused her of having a crush on him several months ago when she had mentioned seeing him in the Business News. He was featured as a successful entrepreneur and investor, and if she was honest, she had practically gushed when she had told Steph’ about the article. Stephanie had laughed her and informed her that they subscribed to the same newspapers and that she had also seen said article and had actually read it word for word, so that Joie’s recount was unnecessary.
Her mind drifted again to her urge to touch him … to hold him in her arms and give him the comfort that he obviously needed. Again, she gasped. She wondered about her forwardness, even though it was all in her mind.
She was not the pushy type. She had always been the silent partner in her previous relationships, but had grown tired of that during her last liaison with that idiot Harold who had tried to control her. She was proud of the way that she had handled that situation. Harold never knew what hit him when he had come to her house to find all of his belonging on her front porch. She told him through the screen door that their time together was over and that he needed to find another sponge for the oozing unpleasantness that was his personality. She had firmly shut and locked the door afterwards, and he had stayed on the porch for a good fifteen minutes before leaving – poor soul. When she had called Stephanie to tell her what had happened, she was over at Joie’s house in less than half an hour with a bottle of wine and a Chinese menu. She said that she was there as the celebration bandwagon and that had Joie not ended ii, she would have done it herself.
“Psst…” Joie started. She turned to her left to find Stephanie standing at the door. Tall and thin with unruly blue black curls, she was the opposite of Joie’s medium heighted curvy self.
“Whassup girl.” She asked as Stephanie approached.
“Nothing really … I just checked your class and came to find you,” she answered, mischief dancing in her eyes. “There’s a cleanly scrubbed, gorgeous man pacing outside your classroom door, Chica. Flip them curls and get in gear. He’s waiting for his three ‘mini-mes’.” And she turned around and left before Joie could react.
“Okay troupes, time to return to headquarters,” she announced.
“Already?” came the response.
“Affirmative. Come on duckies … your parents have already started arriving. Let’s go luvs.”
As she walked the children back to the class to prepare for the end of the day, she actually found her hands going to her hair to fluff up her curls. As they rounded the corner, she was greeted by the sight of Dmitri Adams, dressed all in black, clean shaven, and dry-eyed, with a small smile playing at the corner of his lips.
“DADDY!” screamed three little girls, happy to see him. “Daddy you look so nice. Did you sleep today? Daddy what happened?” The questions came fast and furious as he knelt to hug them.
“Hi babies. Yes I slept … I’m glad you think I look nice … and nothing happened … I just had a really good sleep.” He stood up and looked at Joie, his smile blinding her. She was stunned by the change in the man who stood before her – happily stunned and sad at the same time. “Hello Joie. How were my monsters today?” he asked playfully.
“Oh my munchkins were wonderful as usual. I took them to gym because there was so much unspent energy in the room at Story Time. Did you have a good day? You look like you did…” Joie realized that she was rambling and came to a screeching halt.
“I had a surprisingly good morning. Thank you for taking such wonderful care of the children, Joie. They speak so highly of you.”
“Oh … it’s my job,” she responded foolishly, blushing as she did. “Excuse me,” she murmured as she hurried to the other side of the room, making a big production about ensuring that every child was tightly tucked into their winter gear before leaving.
Thinking she was done, she turned around to find three pairs of eyes staring at her, coats in hand and waiting. “Oh! Hello ducks … I thought you would have let your daddy bundle you up.”
“No … we want you to do it,” intoned Deidre. Joie looked up to find Dmitri looking at her with laughing eyes. She made herself busy with her task, all the while aware of the feeling in her stomach when she thought of the way he had looked at her.
“Alright my darlings … all bundled. Time to go…” she said to her charges.
“Oh … take your time,” Dmitri responded. “We’ll walk out with you.”
I swear he’s laughing at my discomfort, she thought. But then, he can’t see my discomfort so why is he smiling at me like that? She walked to her desk and began stacking workbooks and putting away pencils and crayons. She walked around the class looking for mittens or lunch boxes that may have been left behind. She was actually praying that her heart rate would slow down and her hands would stop shaking. It was blustery, cold day and she felt like she was about to break out into a cold sweat. Realizing that she could no longer stall, she picked up her brief bag and pocket book. Just as she sighed and turned towards the door and the coat rack, she caught sight of a grinning Stephanie running through the corridor to the front door. She made to put on her coat, and found herself being helped by a pair of very masculine hands. She stood stock still as he wrapped her in her trench and handed her the scarf that was hanging there. “Thank you,” she murmured, turning to switch off the lights and waiting as he ushered his three charges out of the room. They waited patiently for her to lock the door and the five of them walked into the dreary sunlight together.
“Are you okay Miss J?” he asked her genuinely concerned by her sudden silence.
“Yes … yes I’m fine. Goodbye my honeys … see you tomorrow!” she said as she turned and walked to her car. She gave Dmitri a cursory wave and hurried to the safety of her Rav 4. When she had settled herself into the car, she turned her key … nothing. She heaved a sigh and tumbled again. Nothing. Looking out of the frosted windscreen, she saw Dmitri coming towards her.
“What’s the problem,” he asked. “I could hear your engine cranking from over there but nothing seems to be happening.”
“Well I wish I knew,” she responded.
“Well, let me take you home then. We can always get the auto club to have this towed and fixed.” She looked at him through the open window. There was actual concern for her wellbeing and a glint of humour. She sighed. “You seem to be doing a lot of sighing today, Joie. Are you trying to take over where I left off?” She started at his response and he actually laughed. “You don’t have to tell me that I’ve been a total wet blanket for the last little while. I’m fine … I promise.”
“Okay,” she replied, “Lemme get my bags.”
The girls were more than happy to welcome her into their car, and talked nonstop about the day they had with their father, while she listened, a smile on her face.
They had just come to the main road that led into their neighbourhood when Dmitri decided that Miss J should come home for a cup of hot chocolate. She was about to respond that she just couldn’t when Domini put her little hand on her shoulder and begged her to come home with them. Joie’s heart melted, and all she could do was nod her response.
The girls took her on a tour of the house, ending with their room. Domini told her that daddy had told the men to knock the walls down between the rooms so they could be in one really big room. She loved the light airiness of their shared space and sat on the carpet with them as they chatted. Their father arrived with a tray with five steaming cups of hot chocolate. “I assumed that you love whipped cream as much as we do, but I didn’t give you any marshmallows.”
“Love whipped cream and marshmallows,” she smiled.
“That’s okay Miss J … you can have some of ours,” Danae said, and they all piled marshmallows into her mug.
“Whoa … that’s enough, girls … or my chocolate may get jealous and leave,” she laughed, and had her heartstrings tugged at yet again as the girls all laughed with her.
They spent a highly enjoyable afternoon playing board games in the den. It was so enjoyable that Joie almost forgot that she needed to go home. When she stood up to get ready to leave the girls were visibly saddened, but she hugged each of them and thanked them for being such wonderful hostesses.
“You’re going to see her for a few more minutes, girls, we have to take her home. Remember, Mrs Cameron is not out to work as yet … not until tomorrow. Go grab your coats.” Dmitri watched them leave the room and walked over to Joie. “I really do need to thank you for all you’ve done for the girls since Inge died. I know I’ve been a lost sheep but I think I’m back to me.”
“Oh you don’t need to thank me. Even though I know that I shouldn’t have favourites, I honestly love those girls like they’re my own.”
“You do love them, don’t you…” Dmitri heard Inge’s voice in his heart and shook his head.
“Is something wrong?” Joie asked, concerned about his reaction to her words.
“Nope … nothing’s wrong. Amazingly, I think something may just be right.” Before he could stop himself he leaned forward and kissed Joie’s lips tenderly. “Joy,” he whispered into the kiss.
“What?” she asked, opening her eyes. “What did you say?”
“I said Joy. That’s the meaning of your name – right?”
“Yes … yes it is. Why?”
“Something someone said to me. Do you know that when I look at you, I feel – and I know that this is going to sound funny, especially now in this holiday season – I feel comfort and joy. Corny huh…”
“Yuh know,” she began, “If anyone else had said that to me, I would have been upset, but somehow …” she paused, not knowing where to go with her response, “Somehow, it makes sense coming from you.” She looked up at him and smiled.
“You’re her…” he whispered as he folded her into his arms.
Joie didn’t know what he meant, and didn’t care. She was reveling in the warmth of his embrace and in the sweetness of his second kiss.
Somewhere in the middle of three joined rooms, three little girls held hands and danced for joy. Their mother had prepared them for the changes that would come after she went away, and had even told them that Miss J would become a big and permanent part of their lives, and finally daddy had woken up from his sleepy time and had noticed Miss J. They grabbed their coats and hurried downstairs to meet the grown-ups, their footsteps halting at the bottom of the stairs as they saw them standing together looking into each other’s eyes and smiling. They looked at each other, giggling behind their hands and winking.
Something wonderful was happening to them all, and it wasn’t even Christmas as yet.
The Beginning …