Sunday, August 13, 2017

Affective Needs--Chapter Thirty

I opened the oven door and stared in at the turkey. The heat scorched my face and made me pull back for a second before I reached in with my mother’s beat up oven mitts and lifted the steaming bird out, careful not to slop the juice sliding around the bottom of the pan all over the floor.
“It’s too soon,” my father complained. “It’ll be undercooked.” Rob, now nine months old, squirmed in his arms.
“Where’s the meat thermometer?” my mother asked.
“Turn the potatoes off,” Derry chimed in. “They’ll get watery if you cook them any longer.”
Annoyed with all of them, I sighed loudly and was just about to ask why the hell we had all decided to celebrate Christmas together when the doorbell rang.
“Here,” I said pulling the mitts from my hands and passing them to Derry. “You take over. I’ll get the door.”
I left the kitchen and their frantic attempts to finish cooking the Christmas dinner. My mother raked through a drawer trying to locate a thermometer, Rob started crying, my dad burned his hand on the piece of turkey skin he was attempting to “sample,” while Derry shouted for everyone to get out of her way while she dumped boiled potatoes into the strainer in the sink. “If you get burned, it’s your own fault.”
At the door, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and reached for the doorknob just as the door started to swing toward me. A second later, he poked his head in door, “Hello?” he called right before he saw me standing there.
I smiled. “Hello there.”
Still in the doorway, he stood up straight. “Sorry, I didn’t know if anyone would hear—”
I took his hand and pulled him inside. “Don’t be stupid.” I shook my head and reached up to wrap my arms around his neck.
Porter leaned down, wrapped his arms around my waist, and kissed me. “Merry Christmas,” he whispered.
The sounds of everyone in the kitchen still trying to figure out dinner echoed down the hall.
“Thank God you’re here,” I whispered back. “It’s crazytown in there.”
Porter smirked and kissed me again, longer this time, harder. When he pulled away, his eyes still closed for a second before he looked into my eyes. “I love your crazytown.”
“That’s only because you don’t live here full time.”
“I would if I could,” he said.
“Careful what you wish for.” I smiled and reached up to brush his hair from his eyes. “Did you see her?” I asked.
Porter nodded, a soft smile on his lips. The family Paige was being fostered by had invited Porter to come spend Christmas morning with them and watch her open her presents from Santa.
“How is she?”
He shrugged and tilted his head. “Happy.”
“Was she excited to see you?”
“Yes . . . I mean, I think it was hard for her too. She cried a little at first, and clung to me. It worried me, like maybe they weren’t as nice to her as everyone kept saying. But after a while she started showing me her room, her toys, she pulled open every single one of her dresser drawers so I could see all her clothes.”
“So you’re okay? They’re taking good care of her?”
Porter nodded. “Very good care.” He swallowed. “She even looks different, rounder, healthier. She calls their older girls her sisters, and she doesn’t have meltdowns at school anymore. She said she loves school now . . .”
“Well, that’s great. Isn’t it?”
He nodded, “It makes me sad, too. To think about Paige not having that for so long.”
“Or you,” I whispered. “And for much longer.”
His eyes shifted and met mine. “They want to keep her.”
He nodded.
“What did you say?”
“Nothing, really. They said it’s a long process, but they were hoping I wouldn’t try to stop them.”
“Would you?”
“I guess I don’t really know. . . . It was a lot to try and wrap my head around all at once. I always imagined that as soon as I was old enough and had a job, I would take care of Paige. That I would be what was best for her. But . . . I don’t know. Maybe there’s something even better for her than that right now. I’ll need to think about it some more.”
“At least you know she’s happy and loved right now.”
“Yes,” he said, the relief obvious in his face.
“Are you hungry? Should we join the crazy people? Dinner’s almost ready.”
Porter nodded, “But can we go upstairs first? I have something I want to give you . . . in private.”
I raised my eyebrows, “What? Like a present?” I had one for him as well, but it was sitting wrapped and waiting under the Christmas tree in the family room.
“Yes, a present.”
I could still hear everyone in the kitchen. They sounded like they were now debating the most effective way to mash potatoes. “I think we can escape for a few minutes.” I took his hand and started up the stairs. “But you shouldn’t be spending your money on stuff for me,” I protested. Porter was taking online classes, finishing up his remaining credits for graduation, with straight As this first semester, but also working nights and weekends at the Trenton-Mercer Airport as a baggage handler. He made enough money to rent a room in a house and support himself—but only barely. His plan was to finish high school next May and then start taking classes at the community college. When his grades were good enough, he would apply to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in McGuire, New Jersey—half an hour drive from Princeton.
Porter was going to become a pilot—someday.
In my room, Porter closed the door behind us before taking my hand and leading me to my bed. When he sat down he pulled me into the space next to him and then reached into the back pocket of his jeans. He held some papers folded into thirds.
“Do you remember that time you drove me to the airport and watched the planes take off with me?”
I smiled, “Yes.”
“That was the first time you told me . . .”
“That I liked you.”
“And I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that a girl like you could possibly be insane enough to want anything to do with a guy like me.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I shook my head and stared into my lap.
“That day, it scared me. I wanted that so much, wanted to believe that it really was possible that someone as amazing as you could want me, too. Even after you said it, I didn’t think, never imagined . . .”
He handed me the papers he had in his hand.
“And I also told you that day that I wanted to fly someday and you couldn’t believe that I had never even been on an airplane.”
I unfolded the pages. It was an itinerary.
“So I figure if I want to be a pilot so bad, then I should probably at least fly somewhere on an airplane, and I was hoping that first time could be with you.”
“San Francisco?”
Porter shrugged, “It’s warm, I’ve never been . . . and the flights were on sale.”
“The flight leaves tomorrow.”
A worried expression settled on Porter’s face. “I should have asked you first.”
“No.” I put the pages down and picked up his hand. “It’s not that.” I smiled. “I just . . . when I woke up this morning, I never imagined, not in a million years, that I—we would be leaving for a trip to San Francisco . . . tomorrow.”
Porter smiled, and pulled me down onto my bed until we were lying face to face. His fingers pushed a stray lock of hair from my face and then traced a line from my temple to my chin. “So, does that mean you’ll come with me?” His lips found mine, soft and full. His hand moved to my hip and pulled me closer.
“Anywhere,” I whispered, and kissed him back. “Always anywhere.”
“I love you, Ruth. Everything . . . that’s what I owe you.”
I gave him my look of disbelief. “What? That’s not true. Everything you’ve done you’ve done on your own.”
“But I never would have believed I could, if I hadn’t seen that belief through your eyes first. When you said I could make my life better . . . that was it. That was the moment I knew it too.”
“You just never saw yourself the way I did.”
“You’re right. I never did.”
His hand slipped to the back of my neck, his fingers tangling in my hair as our lips met again and again.
“I love you, Porter.”
He closed his eyes and swallowed hard. “Do you mean that, really?”
I moved close again, kissed the corner of his mouth, his cheek, his ear, his closed eye, the middle of his forehead. “Yes. I mean it.”
“Say it again.”
“I love you, Porter Creed.”
“I think I must be the luckiest person on the entire planet.”
“I think we both are.”

The End

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