The next day was extremely hard. Nissa slept till about noon. She was woken up with a phone call from Nick. She had totally forgotten about him. She answered and hearing his voice opened up the waterworks.
“Nissa, What’s wrong?” He asked sounding worried.
“Oh Nick. I’m so sad right now! I haven’t felt this way since the day I comprehended mom’s death.”
“Nissa, tell me what’s wrong!”
“It’s my dad…” She was having a really hard time getting it out.”
“What’s wrong? Look I’m already at the airport. Give me about half an hour and I’ll be at your place.”
“OK. I’ll see you then.” They hung up. She put on her jeans, a t-shirt, and her 3XL ‘Black and Blue World Tour’ hoodie. She made her way downstairs. Patsy was sipping on coffee. Jeff was still in bed. He had a longer treatment the previous day so he was exhausted.
“Morning baby girl. How are you feeling?”
“Like I forgot to take my antidepressants for months and I just had a relapse.”
“I’m sorry for all of this. I want you to know that I will always be here for you. Whether you’re up in Maine or down here or where ever. You can always count on me”
“I know Patsy. I’m just really sad. I can’t imagine not having him in my life. I know that they both would want me to live my full life, but it’s going to be hard at first.”
“I know. But you know they are both gonna watch over you.”
“Yeah you are right. By the way Nick is on his way here.”
“What do you mean?”
“We didn’t have plans, so he decided he was gonna fly in and we could hang out. Then he’d go back to Malibu tomorrow morning. That was before dad told me. If he hadn’t flown in already, I would cancel.”
“No Ma’am. You need to go deal with this in your own way…”
“But I’m going to feel so guilty going out and having a good time.”
“He needs you to continue your life as if he hadn’t told you. I know that it’s hard being the strong one, but you must for him. He already feels like he destroyed your life by telling you.”
“He didn’t. I just need to process it.”
“Well as much as I oppose to this, you should go hang out with Nick.”
“What about dad?”
“Don’t worry. He’s been down here with me for a reason. He’s in good hands.”
“Thank you Patsy. For being you and taking care of us.”
“You know you guys are my family. And I would do anything for you!” Nissa hugged her. Patsy has been her guardian angel. And she didn’t know what she would’ve done without her. Nick finally made it to the house. He came in and met Patsy. Of course she was inspecting him the whole time. They got in his car. They pulled out of the drive way, Nick looked at her. He immediately knew that the reason she was crying over the phone was really bad.
“Are you going to tell me what’s going on?” Nissa looked over at him and he saw the tears in her eyes. He grabbed her hand and kissed it.
“It’s my dad.”
“What about your dad?”
“What do you mean? Is he sick?”
“He’s got cancer.”
“Oh baby girl, I’m so sorry.” He kissed her hand once again. She felt safe with him. Like she could let him in and wasn’t going to hurt her. Their date went well. They had lunch, then they went to the Stockyards in Fort Worth. He had never been there. They went to some other places and then they had dinner. They both had an awesome time. He took her home and went on his way. The following day, Jeff and her went back to Friendship. They were gonna be there long enough to pack up some stuff and say goodbye. Norma invited them to dinner that night. Nissa was gonna take advantage and talk with her.
She received them like she always did. Which was confusing as hell since she was acting that way with Eric and Nissa. They all sat down to have dinner. They talked about their trip. About what Norma had been doing, etc. Jeff told her about being sick. Nissa could tell Norma was devastated. Eric came home from work for lunch. They ate in silence for several minutes. Then Norma broke the silence.
“Jeff, Nissa, Eric. I’m glad I can get you together. There’s something I need to talk to you guys about. But I couldn’t get myself to say. And now that you’re in your situation, it’s important that I tell you before I lose the chance to do so.”
“Norma, what is it?” Jeff said with a worried tone. Norma was extremely nervous, you could tell. And Nissa was just too curious to know what was that secret that had her in an uproar.
“Well here goes…Jeff do you remember when I went away after highschool?”
“Yes, you had just broken up with me.”
“Uh huh. Then I came back with Eric.” Nissa didn’t know about their past. But she had seen too many novelas to know where Norma was going with this.
“You mean to tell me that when you left, you were pregnant?” Nissa asked being funny expecting her to say something entirely different. But instead she said…
“That’s right Nissa, your dad is also Eric’s dad” They all looked at her like she had three heads.”That’s why I’ve been such a bitch, because the closer Eric and you got, the dangerous it was. Being that he is your half-brother.” Jeff was trying to comprehend the situation. Eric was shocked. But he seemed ok with it. Nissa was having mixed feelings about it. She was disgusted, happy, sad, relieved, etc. But the first thing that came out of her mouth was not expected by anyone.
“Good thing mom’s not around. She’d kick your ass.” They all laughed.
“Eric? How are you feeling? Talk to us.”
“Mom, I think it’s cool but why couldn’t you tell us before?” He shuddered. “I’m scarred for life. You could’ve prevented the nasty thoughts that I had about my sister” He shuddered again just thinking about it.
“I wanted to sweetheart. I just couldn’t find the words.”
“It’s ok, mom”
“So how’s everyone taking this?”
“I’m ok with it. I just wish you had told us sooner. I thought you began to hate me.”
“My dear Nissa, I will never hate you.”
“I’ve always seen Eric like a son. Now I have a bigger reason. You weren’t here when I told your mom that I have cancer. I don’t have much longer to live…”
“I’m so sorry to hear that!” Eric interrupted.
“Don’t worry. I’m ready anyway. I’d hate to not try and make up some time with you. I was wondering, if it’s alright with you Nissa, would you like to go on our trip with us?”
“Of course it’s ok with me. I have to take a leave of absence, but I would love that”
“Ok then, it’s settled!” Nissa turned to Norma. ” You know, there’s an old friend in Dallas who would love to see you” She hugged Norma.
“You’re right. I could use a vacation.”
“I better get back to work. I’ll get all that done. When are we leaving?”
“In three days.”
“Good. That should be enough time for me to get all the paperwork done and get packed.”
“Great. I’m so excited!” Nissa squealed. She walked Eric to his car.
“So…this means that we’re officially broken up? Huh?”
“Nissa, of course. I’m against incest!” She couldn’t help but giggle.
“We’re cool, big brother. That sounds weird, but cool!!”
“Yeah” He gave her a big bear hug and got in his car. She went back inside.
p class=”MsoNormal” style=”text-indent:.5in;”>”Don’t worry guys, he broke up with me.” She laughed and they rolled their eyes at her. They continued talking in the kitchen. Nick texted her just as she was sitting in Norma’s porch swing.
Nick: Hey beautiful
Nissa: Hey you. What you up to?
Nick: Not much. Got home. Worked out a little and that’s it. Not really in the mood to go out tonight.
Nissa: Why not
Nick: I don’t know. I’ve been down since I left Dallas.
Nissa: Oh? Why do you think that is?
Nick: Not sure. Anyway, what you up to?
Nissa: We just got through with dinner.
Nick: Anything interesting?
Nissa: Um actually, funny you should ask. LOL
Nick: What’s going on?
Nissa: I have a brother!!!!!!
Nissa called him up.
“Um yeah. Turns out that Eric is my half brother.”
“That’s disgusting. And she didn’t bother telling you guys?”
“She was hoping we’d break up on our own. But that didn’t happen. So when dad told her he was sick, she was forced to tell us.”
“So in other words, she wasn’t planning to tell you guys. If it wasn’t for your dad being sick, you guys wouldn’t have found out.”
“Yeah. So anyway dad decided that we were gonna take a trip and visit all of mom’s favorite places. And so he could catch up with Eric, he invited him to go with us.”
“Is he going?”
“Yes, it’s gonna be great.
“I’m excited for you! But I have one question. Do you think it’s going to be weird after dating so long?”
“I don’t think so. I mean yes we loved each other, but we barely saw each other. So we went from ‘In a relationship’ to ‘Best Buds’. I think that’s what’s gonna make it easy on us.”
“That’s good. So does this mean that I have a chance of courting you?”
“Mr. Carter, it’s so romantic when you use that kind of language” He laughed.
“So, do I?”
” I won’t say yes or no because we are going on this trip. I don’t want you to waste your time. I want to give dad all my attention.”
“We could meet up and hang out, but more than that wouldn’t be a good idea.”
“You know, a simple no would’ve been ok” He laughed.
“Well, if I say no then it would get awkward. I mean you can try but I’m not promising you anything. That’s what I meant.”
“Ok. I like that answer at least I can try!” She giggled.
“What are you up to now?”
“Watching Nacho stare out to the beach. You’d think he want to go swimming.” He laughed. She giggled.
” I’m just waiting till dad is ready to go home. They have been talking up a storm. I’m just beyond bored!”
“Maybe you should be here with me…”
“What did you say?” She asked interrupting him.
” I said, I hear ya. I’d be bored too. When are you going on this trip?” She was pretty sure that’s not what he said.
“We leave in a couple of days.”
“Can I come up and see you before you go?”
“Nick, you know I would love that but we have so much to do before we go.”
“Yep I know how that is! Touring and all. we can meet up some other time.”
Of course. And we can talk all the time.”
“That’s right we can.” They talked for another hour. Jeff finally decided that it was time to go. They headed home. She laid in bed thinking about Nick. She couldn’t believe that she had been talking to her favorite singer for several years. And all because she was herself. When she was younger, she use to get on the message boards and chats. She would see the crazy fans saying lies to impress each other. That never got them anywhere. Nissa on the other hand, was raised with the ‘Be Yourself’ motto. And apparently it worked. So she laid there thinking about that. She was also trying to remember all the places mom talked about. She loved Greece. She loved Italy. She had gone to Japan, Hawaii and other places here in the states. Nissa planned to go to all of them. She was really excited.
The following couple of days went smooth. Jeff and Nissa packed and settled everything, bills wise. She hung out with Sophie before they left. Eric got his paperwork straightened out. They left and headed out to Japan first. Jeff figured they’d traveled west. They would spend 2 weeks in each place. Exploring and sight seeing. Eric and Nissa loved every moment of it. Spending it with Jeff. It was an awesome time. It took them 3 years to make it back to Friendship. Once they were there, Jeff rested up and Eric went back to work. Norma decided to stay in Dallas. She was coming back several days after they came home. One night Jeff and Nissa were sitting having dinner.
“Nissa, I know we went to all your mom’s favorite places, but we haven’t been to the most important one.”
“Where your mom and I started.
“Oh how exciting! When are we leaving?”
“We leave tomorrow morning.”
“Is it a long trip?”
“No it’s about 4 hours”
“Ooooooh, I’m so excited, can’t wait!” That night she called Nick.
“Hey, how’s my jetsetter?”
“YOUR jetsetter?” She could hear him giggle. “I’m excited!”
“Dad is taking me to Springfield.”
“That’s great! That’s definitely a place that you must share with your dad.
“Yeah I agree. What did you do today?”
“Nothing. Same ol, same ol. Hanging out with Nacho. Catching up on some shows.”
“That’s really good.” Nissa would’ve hated back then to admit that she was feeling more love towards Nick than she did before. she was feeling more than fanatic infatuation. He’d been there for her this whole time. She was also seeing more of him that a fan could see. He’d completely let her into his life. He was really private so he tried to not let just anyone in. It was an honor for him to let her in. The question that was on Nissa’s mind was ‘Why me?’. She was wondering why he had chosen her to let in. She knew she’d never find out since all he wanted was to hear about her and what she had done that day. Which was nice. They talked all night. Until she was falling asleep every 5 minutes. They said good night. The next day Jeff and Nissa got out of bed and packed some stuff for the trip. As soon as they were done, they hit the road. They were both in great moods. Although she did notice he was pale. He wasn’t as tan as usual. Other than that he seemed normal. She put on some music. Her playlist consisted of the fun late 90’s and early 00’s pop like, Aqua’s Barbie Girl, Nsync’s Pop, and everything in between. They rocked out. Jeff knew ALL the lyrics. That always made Nissa giggle.
They reached Springfield in 3 hours and 45 minutes. They stopped at Red Rose Pizzeria on Main st. in the middle of downtown. They had excellent pizza there. They had a great lunch. Then they filled up the tank and headed up State st. Up there was the high school that Jazmine, Jeff, Patsy, and Norma attended. The High School of Science and Technology. Sci-tech for short. Even though he looked calm and collected. You could tell he was bursting with excitement. He hadn’t been there since he left Springfield, when Jazmine died. She had never been to the school. She was too young when they left Springfield. She was really excited. They finally arrived.
“Here we are.” He said beaming. He parked at the Dunkin Donuts across the street. They got out of the car and crossed the street, which was the side street right next to the school. He led her to a tall willow tree. Like Grandmother Willow from Pocahontas. It was so beautiful.
“This tree is where it all started. Your mom was a cheerleader at the time. But she wasn’t one of those dumb cheerleaders. She always sat under this tree with a different book everyday. She devoured them. She loved to read and she would almost never put them down. My crew and I would chill at Dunkin Donuts everyday. While they were goofing around, I was watching her. I had been in love with her since the 5th grade. But I never told her. One day, I noticed that she was crying. I approached her. Without a word, I wrapped my arms around her. She leaned in. And she just cried it out. We stayed out there all day…”
“You mean you skipped school?”
“Yes! We did! And we had an amazing time. I got to know her. She told me that I wasn’t at all what she expected. The only problem was that I was dating Norma. I know, why stay with someone when you’re in love with someone else? Norma had been an excellent girlfriend, companion, and lover. I was in love with Norma. I felt we had a future together. Jazmine and me became close friends. Norma and Patsy were friends with her already. For 3 years all 4 of us were inseparable. You know that part of the story. 2 weeks before prom, Norma broke up with me. She told me that she had seen how I looked at Jazmine. And that she didn’t know how to compete with that. I was really heart broken. Your mom asked me to prom, to cheer me up. Norma had already left town. I accepted. Prom night was more than I expected. If I thought I was in love with Jazmine before prom, I was wrong. We slowed danced to Bryan Adam’s ‘Everything I do (I do it for you)’. That was the moment I realized who my heart belonged to.” As Jeff was telling her that story, his face lit up. Nissa loved seeing him like that. “Graduation day came. On that day I made a decision that changed my life for the better. After the ceremony, I brought your mom back to this very spot and I proposed to her.”
“What’d she say?”
“She said YES!!! We even carved our names and date of that day.” He pointed at the spot with the carvings. “A year later we got married in an intimate affair. Just our closest friends were there. We invited Norma but she never came. Anyway these little carvings we made on every anniversary of the day we started talking, wedding anniversary, etc.”
“Thank you dad, for bringing me back here. This means the world to me.” Nissa hugged him.
“You needed to come here.” He took her to all their hang outs. To their old homes. He said that nothing had changed. On their 4th day up there, he got really sick. He couldn’t keep anything down. He also had a bad fever. Nissa drove him to Baystate Medical Center’s Emergency Room. They communicated with his doctors back in Friendship and they kept him there. The doctor sat down with Nissa and explained to her that Jeff has lasted longer than what his doctors predicted. That all the exams he had done were showing that his body was shutting down and that the fever was the last attempt his body was making to fight. She knew he wasn’t gonna make it out of Springfield. She called Patsy while the nurse made Jeff’s bed comfortable.
“Hey sweet girl. How are you? How’s your trip?”
“The trip has been great. He took me to all the places you guys use to hang out at…”
“What’s wrong Nissa?”
“How’d you know?”
“I recognize your voice, when you’re holding back tears”
“It’s dad. We are in the hospital.”
“How is he doing?”
“He’s not gonna make it. They are making him comfortable.”
“How are you holding up?”
“I’m OK. For the moment”
“I’m flying up there. You shouldn’t have to go through this alone.” Hearing those words broke that thin wall holding back her tears.
“Oh thank you! I was afraid to ask you.”
“Nissa, you don’t have to ask me twice. You know when you need me, I’ll be there.”
“I know Patsy. Are you going to try and make it in today?”
“Yeah, I’m going to close the diner till I get back.”
“OK let me know when you head out so I can go get you at the airport.”
“OK honey” She got back to Jeff. He was awake. He was comfortable in his bed.
“Hey daddy, how are you?”
“I’ve had better days, sweetheart.” She was tearing up. “Honey, I know I won’t be leaving here with a pulse, but I don’t want you to be sad. I want you to live your life. Remember the good times. Your mama and I don’t want you to get stuck on this. We want you to lead a good life.”
“I know daddy, but life without mom was hard, and now life without you is gonna be miserable. You’re my best friend.”
“I know sweetheart. You’re gonna be sad for a while but I know you can pull through. You have many friends that love you very much. And they will be there to support you.”
“Yeah. You know daddy I was thinking of burying you here next to mom.”
” I would love that!”
“Great! Patsy is coming up today. So while she’s here with you, I can set that up.”
“OK honey. I would like to say goodbye to Norma and Eric too.”
“I’ll call them up.”
“Thank you darling. Can you get the nurse. I’m hurting.”
“Yes I can. She called Norma up and let her know what’s going on. She was set to travel with Eric that same day. They all got in around the same time so it worked out for Nissa. They saved her one trip. They got some dinner to go and headed back to the hospital so they could have dinner with Jeff.
The following day, Jeff was weaker. She went out to OAK GROVE CEMETERY, where Jazmine was buried. Nissa arranged for Jeff to be laid next to her. She got in the car and her phone rang. It was Nick. She had been too busy to answer phone calls. She had to talk to him eventually.
“I’m sorry I haven’t answered.”
“Nissa, I don’t expect you to stop your life just because I call.”
“I know. I’ve been busy with dad.”
“Is he alright?” Nick was the only one, besides Jeff and Patsy, that she felt comfortable crying with.
“I’m trying to be strong for him because he wants me to. But it’s so hard. He’s not gonna make it back to Friendship.”
“Are you by yourself?”
“No, Patsy, Norma and Eric came up.”
“Do you mind if I come up?”
“Of course I don’t mind. I would appreciate it.”
“OK. I will be on the next flight out there.”
“Thank you.” They hung up. She headed back to the hospital. When she got there, Jeff was worse. The pain killers weren’t working. And he was having a hard time breathing. All they could do was try and make him as comfortable as possible. Nissa sat next to him.
“Daddy, it’s all set. You will be resting next to mom.”
“Thank you sweetheart. You are the best daughter a man could have. I wouldn’t trade you for the world.” he said without any strength.. He turned to Eric. “Eric, son I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to know you more. But I’m glad that you are my son. You are an extraordinary man. I’m proud to be your father. And that at least I saw you grow up.” He grabbed Norma’s hand. “Norma, I’m so sorry for the hurt I put you through. I wish I was a bigger man.”
“Jeff, you didn’t do anything wrong. I wish I had told you sooner. But you were great with me. I was never mad at you. I will always cherish all our memories.”
“I’m glad we talked it out” he kissed her hand. Then he turned to Patsy. “Thank you for being so good to us. Thank you for being so real with us! I don’t know what I would do without you.” He kissed her hand too. “I want all of you to take care of each other.” At that instant Nick walked in and dad noticed. “Ah, Nick, I’m glad you are here. I need to say something to you.” Nick stood next to Nissa and rested his hand on her shoulder. “I’ve seen and heard you with Nissa. And as a man I can tell that you are in love with her…” Nissa blushed. “Don’t waste time. Take a chance. The worse that could happen is she doesn’t love you back. Which in my honest opinion, I don’t see that happening!” Nissa couldn’t believe that Jeff was telling him that. But deep down she was glad he did. Jeff stare at Nissa for several minutes. All she could do was cry. Then he turns back to Nick. “If you’re the one, please take care of her. Love her like I loved her mother. Don’t take her for granted. And Nissa same goes for you. Take care of him and love him like your mother loved me.”
“I will daddy.”
“I will Mr. Hernandez” Jeff was fading, Nissa could see it. He was silent. Then out of nowhere he said.
“Jazmine, you didn’t have to come. I would’ve found my way.” Nissa knew that at any minute he was going to heaven with Jazmine. Nissa noticed that when he talked to Jazmine he sounded like his normal self. A surge of panic came over her. Nick had noticed her panic because he put his hand on her shoulder. He was the last person Nissa expected to notice something like that. She leaned her head on his hand. Jeff struggled to breathe. After 3 minutes of him trying to take breaths, he took his final breath. Everyone expected Nissa to fall apart. Inside, she was. But she put up a front. She kept herself together because at that point she wasn’t sad, she was angry. Angry that she had lost her father and best friend.
When he passsed away, Nissa felt a cold breeze brush her cheeks. And in her heart she knew that it was Jazmine and Jeff kissing her goodbye.
“Guys, I’m going back to the hotel. Patsy can you stay and make sure they get everything done?”
“Of Course!” She told Nissa as she hugged her.
“Thank you!” Nissa headed back to the hotel room. When she walked in, she could smell his cologne. She sat on the bed she was using, and stared at his bag. Although any normal person would’ve broken down at that sight, she didn’t. She sat there for a long time. She didn’t know how long until she heard a knock on the door. Nissa woke up from her trance and opened up. It was Nick.
“Hey, I’m sorry I left so suddenly.”
“It’s ok. We all understand.” He pulled her into a hug. Once again, she felt so safe. And feeling that was a green light for her emotional flood gates to open up. She began to cry like I’d never done before. Nick held her tight.
“It’s Ok baby girl. I’m here for you. Let it all out.”
“This is going to be so hard to adjust to” She said between sobs. “Yes he had been in Dallas that long, and I was alone all that time, but I called him a lot everyday. What am I going to do when I need to talk to him!?”
“How about you call me instead?”
“It’s not the same.”
“I know. But you can count on me.”
“Thank you. I’m sorry I stained your shirt with mascara.”
“It’s OK. I have others.” She started feeling sleepy. Before Nick came over, She had found some Xanax in Jeff’s bag. She took one to calm her nerves.
“I need to lay down. Just FYI, I did take one Xanax to calm my nerves down. Just wanted to let you know, in case I have a reaction.”
“Thank you for telling me.” He laid down on her bed. She snuggled up to him. She rested her head on his chest. He wrapped his arm around her. She listened to his steady heart beat. It helped her relax. As she was drifting away, NIssa said out of habit…
“Good Night daddy.” She was gone for the rest of the night.