“Free, A Novella”
by Felicia Denise
She would miss this room.
Where the pantry was Lenore Porter’s anchor as a businesswoman, the family room was her fortress for love. Regardless of what negativity was going on in her life, it ceased to exist when she entered this room. Here is where she was a steadfast mother to her boys, always putting them first. There was no question they couldn’t ask and no plans they couldn’t make. Discussions on friendship, school and grades were commonplace. Sleepovers, weekend getaways and family birthday parties had been planned here with much detail. As the Porter boys got older, their home was always the favorite hangout, and go-to spot after sporting events…owed in part to Lennie’s loving nature and talent in the kitchen.
After the revelations of Aunt Di’s letter, Lennie had felt uneasy around her parents, knowing how they felt about her marriage to Ranard. Avoiding the conversation for nearly a week and missing her parents terribly, Lennie invited them over for an early dinner. Afterward, while sitting in the family room, Burt and Linda Kelimore attempted to apologize to their daughter for not believing in her marriage.
Patting his stomach, Burt beamed. “That was an amazing dinner, Lenore, my compliments to the chef! Your dinner choices are always spot on! I’ve been begging your mother for lamb chops for over a month.”
Linda waved him off while speaking to her daughter. “Number one, he hasn’t mentioned lamb chops since Christmas; and number two, he’s never begged me for anything.”
“I most certainly have!”
Lennie didn’t miss the wicked smirk on her father’s face and threw her hands up. “TMI! TMI! Knock it off you two! I may be an adult, but no way am I old enough for this conversation with my parents!”
Burt snickered while leaning back on the sofa, wrapping an arm around his wife. “All right, all right. But we have no taboo or off-limits topics, Lenore. You know you can still come to us anytime you want or need to talk.”
“I know that, daddy. I’ve always known that.”
Linda Kelimore couldn’t contain her smile. “Good, dear. We never want you to feel there’s anything you cannot discuss with us.” Her smile faded. Linda glanced at her husband, then back at Lennie. “Honey, we’re sorry if we ever made you feel-”
Throwing up both her hands, Lennie left her seat and knelt in front of her parents. “Stop right there.” She enfolded one of her hands with Linda’s and rested the other on her father’s knee. “I have the most amazing parents on the planet. You both have always been there for me and supported me even when you didn’t agree with me. I know I can be single-minded and stubborn, but that’s partly your fault. You raised me to be strong and focused…to make decisions following my first mind, and to be prepared for the consequences.”
Linda quickly nodded in agreement. “Yes, we did…and I blame your father.”
Burt Kelimore allowed his jaw to drop open, feigning offense. “You blame me? And just what are you blaming me for, MRS. Kelimore?”
Lennie ducked her head to hide her smile.
“You are the one who put all those grand ideas in her head about following her heart and her dreams. Never letting anyone deter her from her goals. The only limits she had were the ones she put on herself.”
“And that’s a bad thing?”
Linda leaned over and kissed her husband on the cheek. “Not at all. You were absolutely right.”
“Did you just say I was right about something?”
Swatting him on the arm, Linda addressed her daughter. “I couldn’t be prouder of the woman you are, sweetheart. You are a fantastic mother, a shrewd business woman, and a loving daughter.”
“Just wish some of you had rubbed off on to those two sisters of yours,” Burt piped in.
“Burt! Hush! There’s nothing wrong with Elaine and Penny!”
He raised an eyebrow with a dubious look. Lennie couldn’t hold her laughter in any longer. Falling sideways from her knees to her butt, Lennie shook with laughter and said a silent prayer for the two people who could always bring a smile to her face. Exhaling heavily, Lennie tried to form a serious look.
“Mom, daddy…listen. I’m trying to say you don’t owe me an apology for anything. I should be apologizing to you.”
“Oh, Lenore! Whatever for?”
“For not having the same trust in you as you both have in me. I should have explained…certain things to you from the very beginning about Ranard and me.”
Exchanging worried glances, Burt and Linda sat forward on the sofa. Barely above a whisper, Linda was the first to speak.
“What things, sweetie?”
Crossing her legs, Lennie took a deep breath and told them…everything. About Ranard’s mother dying in childbirth, and Gilbert Porter having nothing but contempt for his youngest son ever since. About the constant bullying from his brothers; Ranard’s low self-esteem; and Lennie taking it upon herself to ‘heal’ Ranard and build him up. She stopped short of telling her parents about how Ranard was becoming his father and his constant verbal attacks upon her. Burt and Linda sat in stunned silence.
“Honey, why didn’t you tell us? I know we could have helped in some small way.” The pain in her mother’s voice caused Lennie’s chest to tighten.
“Ranard didn’t want you to know. He felt you would feel he wasn’t worthy of me. And, honestly Mom…I thought if I supported him mentally and emotionally, and loved him enough…things would be okay.” Seeing the hardness in Burt’s face, Lennie stood and retrieved two glasses of wine from the wet bar near the window. Handing the glasses to her parents, she folded her arms and ducked her head sheepishly. “Obviously, I was off base in my assumptions. Our marriage is far from perfect.” Exasperated, Lennie dragged her hands through her hair. “Who am I kidding? Our marriage is even far from good.”
Lennie poured a glass of wine for herself and sat next to Linda. “I know you and Auntie Di had concerns about me. She may be gone, but I know you both still have issues with,” Lennie waved her hand around the room. “All this. Ranard and I are talking more now, and I believe I’ve almost convinced him to attend marriage counseling with me.
Burt bristled, the hard set of his jaws nearly pulsing. “Almost convinced? What does that mean? Does the man want to save his marriage or not?”
“It’s not that easy, daddy.”
“Burt!” Linda interrupted him. “I’m pretty sure it took a lot for Lennie to share this with us. Let’s not interrogate our daughter, okay?”
“It’s okay, mom.” Pausing briefly, Lennie met her father’s questioning gaze. “When he was little, Ranard’s dad put him into some sort of tough love counseling. He had to admit his guilt for his mother’s death, and accept the consequences of his actions. He had to stand in corners for hours on end, sit in tubs of ice cold water, sleep on cold floors, and go without food for a day. Daddy, he was only seven years old. His memories of it still haunt him. That’s why he shuts down at the mere mention of counseling.”
“God in heaven! Who does that to anyone, let alone a child? That’s not therapy, it’s torture! How could Gilbert allow it?” Anger radiated off Burt Kelimore, while Linda tried to calm him down.
“I know, daddy. I’ve never understood my father-in-law. The best I can come up with is losing his wife warped his mind somehow. How else could he blame Ranard and expect him to admit guilt for something he had no control over? I would think if nothing else, he would have raised Ranard with even more love and affection in her memory.”
They all sat quietly for a few minutes, sipping their wine, and trying to understand. Burt finally stood and began to pace in front of his family.
“I cannot imagine what life was like for Ranard, Lenore, and I’ll never understand how some parents do not cherish and protect the bonds they have with their children.” Burt stopped his pacing in front of Lennie. “But like your mother said, we are here for you, and will try to do whatever you need us to do. You’ll never know how sorry I am for what Ranard’s been through, but you and our grandsons are our first concern. I know you will try to work things out with your husband because it’s the right things to do. But honey, please do not sacrifice yourself for a man you may or may not be able to reach.”
Lennie stood and pulled her father into a tight embrace. “I won’t, daddy, I promise.” Kissing him on the cheek, Lennie reached back and pulled her mom from the sofa and into their group hug. With an arm around each of her parents, Lennie looked from one to the other. “But you know I must try, right?”
Linda Kelimore palmed her daughter’s cheek. “You wouldn’t be our Lennie if you didn’t.” Fighting back tears, Lennie was about to respond, but Burt spoke up first.
“Didn’t you say something about peach cobbler and homemade vanilla bean ice cream?” Lennie laughed aloud as Linda shook her head, lips pursed.
“I can’t help it if our daughter is a dynamo in the kitchen! I have to get it while the getting is good. Lord knows when we get home, you’ll be giving me rice cakes with Greek yogurt and something with quinoa in it. And what the hell is quinoa anyway?”
Still laughing, Lennie enjoyed their usual banter as she led her parents back to the kitchen.
Remembering that evening from so long ago, Lennie Porter smiled to herself as she crossed the room, her heels clicking against the hardwood floor. She had been blessed with amazing parents. They were always true to their word. Even though their conversation from that evening was never mentioned again, Burt and Linda had stood by her through it all without any disparaging remarks or judgment.
Lennie’s smile quickly turned into a full grin when she stopped in front of the window seat. Labeled the ‘Meeting Place’ by the Porter boys, the window seat was where all the serious family discussions had taken place. The large three-section Sunrise Bay window seat had more than enough room for four. However, most of the time only two family members would occupy the space – either Lennie and one of her sons, or two of the boys. Duncan and Myron had many long discussions stretched out on the ultra-thick cushions which covered the bench. The window overlooked a grassy, shaded area in the back yard which the Porter boys landscaped themselves.
Taking a seat on the bench, Lennie looked out at the last handiwork done by her boys before Duncan deployed for the second time nearly two years ago. Perennials in shades of pink and purple circled the Sugar Maple tree and bordered the brick retaining wall. The buds were just beginning to open and by the time the new homeowners arrived next week, the backyard would be filled with vibrant colors and scents.
A single tear made it down Lennie’s cheek before she swiped it away. After her breast cancer scare, Duncan, Myron and RJ became staunch supporters of breast cancer awareness. They all took part in a variety of sporting events supporting outreach and free mammograms for low-income women. After Lennie’s pathology report came back with no signs of cancer or precancerous cells, her three young men openly cried.
“Hey Porter Patrol, I’m going to be fine. Dr. Chaney said no cancer, remember?”
Sitting on the edge of her bed, Myron took her hand. “We’re just happy, mom. We have no clue what we would do without you.”
Reaching out with her other hand, Lennie froze and winced at the pain.
“Hey, hey! Take it easy, mom.” Duncan was on the other side of her bed in a heartbeat.
Leaning back against the pillows, Lennie exhaled roughly. “Who knew a few little stitches could hurt so much?”
“Dr. Chaney assured us the tenderness would be gone in a few days, and your biggest problem would be the itching as the wound site heals.”
“Guess that gives me something to look forward to.”
“Mom, c’mon.” Myron squeezed her hand. “Just take these few days to rest. Let us take care of you.”
“You’re right, sweetie. I’m just a bad patient. But Dr. Chaney did say I could go home tomorrow morning – guess I’m just anxious to get back into my routine.”
“Why? Does that change how serious this situation is?” All eyes turned to RJ standing at the foot of the bed. “You’re acting like you were here for the flu or something.” The pain in his eyes belied the harshness of his tone.
“RJ? Man, take it down a thousand. You okay? Talk to me.” Myron stood and stepped towards his younger brother, but RJ backed away.
“Breast cancer…kills. I don’t think we’re taking this seriously enough.”
“But honey, I’m fine. Our lives won’t change. We’ll continue on like always.”
“I know, mom, and you’ll never know how grateful I am for that.” The obvious turmoil on his face was confusing to his family. “Remember Peter Gleason from the baseball team? His grandma died from breast cancer when we were in sixth grade. When we were juniors, his mom had to have a breast removed. Now she’s undergoing treatment again for the other breast.” RJ scrubbed his hand over his face. “And his sister just found a lump in her breast.”
Duncan’s eye widened. “Cynthia? She’s my age. Are you kidding me?” He shared a quick glance with Myron, and they both nodded. “That’s why you’ve been so keyed up. Even after Dr. Chaney gave us the good news. Myron and I just chalked it up to more in-depth things you were learning in med school.”
“I guess I was so intent on hearing a different outcome-”
“You’re right.” Her boys watched her as Lennie slowly sat up and reached out to RJ. “Even with a positive outcome, this is still a serious situation. The doctor told me about lumps reappearing or new ones showing up in other spots. When I go in for my post-op check next week, I’ll be set up for regular labs and screenings.”
RJ visibly relaxed.
“I’m aware of the situation I’m in. I just didn’t want to burden my boys with it. You’re all at such great places in your young lives, and the sky’s the limit for your futures. I did not want negativity about my health scare impacting any of your decisions.”
Putting his hand on RJ’s shoulder, Duncan pulled Myron closer. “Mom, we’re at these great places in our lives because you busted your butt keeping negativity away from us. Nothing…and no one…came before us. We were still kids when we realized you’d do anything for us. Of course, you are a factor in every decision we make, and you always will be.”
Tears instantly sprang to her eyes as Lennie ignored Duncan’s obvious reference to their father.
“I am so proud of my boys.”
“We know, mom, and I’m sure big brother wasn’t trying to make you cry.” Myron leaned over and kissed her cheek. His brothers then did the same. “We should take off now and let you get some real rest.”
“Good idea!” Duncan herded his brothers towards the door. “We’ll be back bright and early in the morning to bust you out of here, Mom!” With that, her Porter Patrol disappeared down the hallway.
Lowering the head of her bed, Lennie stretched out and slowly adjusted the pillow under her side. She knew her oldest son was up to something. However, before she could give it more thought, Lennie drifted off into a dreamless sleep.
Lennie was halfway through her breakfast – after mastering using her left hand to eat – when she heard her boys making their way to her room. They sprang into the room, panting as though they’d just finished a race. The young men wore unusually bright smiles, and Lennie did not miss the small smudges of dirt on their clothing.
After quick kisses, they each grabbed a seat and pulled out sandwiches from Lennie’s favorite deli.
“How in the world did you get Mira to sell you those during breakfast hours?”
RJ grinned. “That was easy. We told her you were in the hospital and craving one of her special sandwiches!”
“Seriously? You use me as your excuse, and you’re just going to eat those in front of me?”
“Mom! We’re not heathens!” Duncan pulled another sandwich from his bag. “Reuben on rye/sourdough blend with extra sauerkraut.”
It was Lennie’s turn to grin. She slid the plate of powdered eggs aside and watched Duncan unwrap her sandwich.
The family chatted amiably as they ate. Nurses were in and out of the room, and by the time the sandwiches were gone, Lennie’s discharge was complete. While a nurse helped her dress in the private bathroom, her boys packed her bag, and Myron left to pull Lennie’s SUV – the only family vehicle big enough for all of them – around to the patient discharge doors.
Only a few minutes later, a young patient care aide wheeled Lennie through the double doors, stopping curbside. Duncan and RJ huddled around Lennie as she stood.
“Gentlemen, I got this, okay? I’ll probably need someone to close the door for me, but getting in is no problem.” Moving before she finished speaking, Lennie hopped up in the front seat. Her boys looked at each other frowning as the young aide backed the wheelchair away from the vehicle and returned inside…laughing.
Closing her door, RJ smirked. “You aren’t going to make this easy, are you mom?”
Lennie just grinned. Duncan and RJ got comfortable in the back seat, exchanging looks with Myron. He turned around to see his mother staring at him.
“What are you waiting for? Home, James!”
His brothers laughed in the back seat. Myron shook his head. “We are in so much trouble.”
Caught off guard by a wave of fatigue, Lennie relaxed back in her seat and closed her eyes, enjoying the laughter and banter of her three young men.
Waking to the sound of a car door closing, Lennie opened her eyes, trying to get her bearings. Duncan and Myron were standing near the front of the vehicle while RJ opened her door.
“We’re home? Oh, my god, I slept the whole way?”
RJ held on to her hand as though his mother was fragile. Lennie slipped down from the seat, suddenly aware of the brightness of the morning.
“Why didn’t you wake me sooner?”
“We were enjoying the peace and quiet, mom. Well, except for the times you snored.” Duncan quipped.
“Ha, ha, Mr. Funny Man.” Lennie glared at him as she rounded the vehicle, heading for the walkway to the front door.
“Mom? Before you head inside, we want to show you something.” Duncan was backing towards the open garage bay.
Looking at each of their faces, Lennie nodded and wordlessly followed her firstborn through the garage. Myron and RJ fell into step behind her. When they reached the corner door which led to the backyard, Duncan turned and reached out his hand.
“You have to close your eyes.”
Lennie smirked, but took her son’s hand, closed her eyes, and allowed him to guide her through the door. They had only taken a few steps when he stopped.
“Okay, mom. Open your eyes.”
Lennie opened her eyes, looking in Duncan’s direction, but quickly followed his gaze.
Gasping, Lennie clutched her chest with one hand as she walked deeper into the back yard. The area around the Sugar Maple tree which had been empty when she left for the hospital, now exploded with color. There were flowers everywhere. Exotic blossoms of pinks, lavenders, and purples, obviously strategically placed, stretched proudly towards the morning sun. Tears streamed down her face as Lennie turned to face her boys. Overcome with emotion and unable to speak, she looked at each of them with a questioning glance.
Silently, RJ approached his mom, turning her back towards the tree and leading her to the other side.
She saw the banner immediately.
“Lennie’s Love Garden.”
RJ caught his mother effortlessly as her knees weakened. Audible sobs racked Lennie’s body. She held on firmly to RJ with her left hand, her right hand still clutched to her chest.
Myron walked over and knelt by the banner. “We wanted to do something special for you, mom, to let you know how grateful we are to have you for our mom, and that all your tests came back negative.” He slowly waved his hand over the floral array. “This was all Duncan’s idea.”
Lennie turned to her oldest son, and he was already at her side, kissing her on the temple.
“These are perennials. With a little weeding and a bit of pruning, they’ll bloom indefinitely.” He pointed out different flowers. “The large bell-shaped flowers are Agapanthus. These are Agastaches, and these small bell-shaped blooms are Campanulas.”
Regaining her composure, Lennie found her voice. “This explains the dirt smudges on your clothes. You all worked through the night, didn’t you?” She quickly glanced at RJ and Myron – who winked – then returned her gaze to Duncan. “And when did you become such an authority on flowers? Are the Marines including that in training now?”
RJ and Myron laughed aloud, but Duncan ducked his head sheepishly.
“Only when you’re late to PT two mornings in a row and your C.O.’s wife wants a flower garden dug.”
“Oh, Duncan…no!” Laughter overtook Lennie almost as fast as her tears had.
He shrugged. “It wasn’t so bad. She was a nice lady and explained everything to me while we worked. When she talked about perennials, I immediately thought of you.”
“Of me?” Lennie frowned. “How so?”
“Perennials are sturdy and seem to thrive in adverse conditions. Some flower bulbs need to be dug up and stored during winter. But, perennials’ roots run deep. They grab hold of the earth and pull nutrients from it. They learn to get by with less, but they still sustain themselves. As the weather warms up, perennials ‘relax’ and let their buds grow until their blossoms burst forth in the warmth of the sun. Perennials are some of the most beautiful flowers you’ll ever see.”
Duncan swiped his mother’s cheek, wiping away her fresh tears. “You’re a perennial, mom. Strong, determined. Through the worst of times, you held fast. You never let anything or anyone blur your focus. Not even our father. You gave us a great home life; supported us in all our extra-curricular activities and ran a successful business. You were an amazing mom…still are. We love you, mom.”
Planting another kiss on her temple, Duncan stepped aside as Myron kissed Lennie on the cheek. “Yeah. We love you, mom.”
Still holding her left hand, RJ raised it to his lips. “You’re the best, mom. We love you.”
RJ felt her weight shift again, and quickly slipped his arm around her. Myron did the same from Lennie’s other side, careful not to hold her too tightly. Duncan came up behind them and grabbed hold of each of his brothers, and they stood there, silently holding each other up.
Still looking out the bay windows, Lenore Porter smiled at her memories. She was a blessed woman, and she knew it. The more love she gave her boys, the more they gave back. She had braced herself for all sorts of conflict and resentment during their teen years. All the things other parents told her to expect. None of it ever appeared. Not having Ranard take an interest in their lives, and then not having him around at all made them stronger and more supportive of each other.
Most of the time, her husband didn’t notice or chose to ignore the regular family activities that took place without him. With all the memories flooding Lennie’s mind during her last walk through her home, she couldn’t block the one she wanted to remember least. The one time Ranard decided to insert himself into his family’s life.
Lennie couldn’t block the one memory that changed their lives…and nearly cost a life.
Part IV Part VI
©Felicia Denise, 2016