View of a town

On April 15th, 1980, Jamie Atwill was walking to school the same way she did every weekday morning down a few side streets, onto the main street, past the church where her mother Grace worked as an office assistant, and finally past the shops. The walk was rarely interesting; the same people would be parking the same cars and heading down the street to their offices with their Tim Hortons’ coffees. But this morning was strangely different. As Jamie walked past Zack’s Diner, she noticed an incredibly striking man standing in front. He wasn’t striking due to handsomeness, although he was tall; he was middle-aged, and was wearing worn jeans, scuffed boots and a tweed jacket that looked like it had been purchased 10 or 15 years before. He had short brown hair that was graying in a few places and he was smoking a cigarette, a habit Jamie despised. However, there was something deep in this man’s eyes that made Jamie look twice at him. He must have noticed her staring as he met her gaze. Jamie wanted to look away in embarrassment, but something wouldn’t let her. She continued to look at his eyes, which for some reason reminded her of deep pools of water. A shiver ran down her spine, and with that she forced herself to pull his eyes away from his. He nodded at her as she stepped past him, but she was too nervous to say anything and quickened her pace.

John Morrow was back in town. It was 18 years since he’d taken off to work on the oil rigs up north, but he had some unfinished business to deal with in Hopetown. He’d left a lover and an unborn child behind 18 years ago, and had regretted it all his life. There was never a waking moment during which he didn’t think about what might have been. He was no longer an oil man; the physical work had become too tough for him as he entered middle age, so he’d had set up shop as a cabinet maker. Luckily, he had learned those skills back when he’d attended Hopetown High School 18 years before. After his recent return to Hopetown, he’d rented an empty building and was planning on setting up a new cabinet business. He planned on staying in Hopetown at least as long as it took him to reconcile with his former lover and his son or daughter. His desire to meet his child, whom he’d never seen born, was even stronger after seeing the beautiful young girl in front of Zack’s Diner. He figured she was about 18, the same age as his son or daughter would be. John knew it would be hard to find out which of the 200 or so teenagers in the town was his child; heck, there was the chance that the child wasn’t even in town anymore. John didn’t think Gracie would have left with it, though. She’d always said she was born, would live and would die in Hopetown.

When Jamie reached school, she still felt a little spooked by her reaction to the strange older man’s eyes. She went to the bathroom to check her reflection and compose herself before class. Jamie was a tall, thin, pretty girl; as she looked in the mirror at herself, she had to admit that she liked what she saw. She had clear skin, a nice mouth and nose that weren’t too big or too small, and blonde hair with just the right amount of wave in it. She also had blue eyes. As she looked at her eyes and reached into her purse to grab her eyeliner pencil for a touch-up, she was suddenly struck by the realization that they had the same look of depth in them as the strange man’s. The shiver ran up her spine again, and after that, she decided to forget about her makeup and just go to class.

The rest of Jamie’s day passed normally. She didn’t think about the strange man very often, but he re-entered her mind as she prepared to walk home. She was going home to her mother, Grace. Jamie and Grace had lived together since Jamie was born; at first, Jamie’s grandparents had lived in the house as well, but they’d both passed away in recent years. Jamie never knew who her father was, and Grace claimed she didn’t know either. Grace also said she used to drink too much when she was young. Grace was quite a stern woman, and not often of a sunny disposition, but Jamie knew she’d had a hard life as a single mother and loved her with all her heart anyway.

Jamie’s heart started beating hard in her chest as she approached Zack’s Diner again. She didn’t know exactly what about this strange man unsettled her so much. It was like she wanted to see him, but was afraid at the same time. To her surprise, he was standing there in the same spot as he’d been in the morning. He gave a half smile, and Jamie squeaked out, “Hello, sir,” in such an odd tone that she barely recognized her own voice.

The strange man studied her with his deep eyes again, and then said wistfully, “Have a good night, madam.”

Jamie opened her mouth to say something else, but couldn’t think of anything fitting, so she just continued walking.

Later that evening, Grace Atwill was getting ready for bed. She looked into her daughter Jamie’s room, in which the light was already out and the girl was fast asleep, looking like an angel. Grace shut her door and pulled a photo out of her nightstand, as she did every night. The photo was of a man she used to love, a man she’d loved who had never loved her. In high school, he was popular, and she was his “Plain Jane” best friend (she’d been blessed with dirty blonde hair, unlike the vibrant shade of blonde Jamie had). They did almost everything together, and talked for hours on the phone, yet he still searched elsewhere for romance. Well, except for that one night, when they were both 18 and had had too much to drink at a friend’s wedding. Having too much to drink had been common for Grace, or Gracie, which was the nickname she’d gone by in those days. Watching the beautiful girls get all the attention from men could provoke one to down a pint, or two, or five. Anyhow, the morning after the aforementioned wedding, Gracie had woken up in John Morrow’s bed, after experiencing her first sexual encounter. A couple of months later, she found out she was pregnant. John was a man of lofty goals; he didn’t want to hang around Hopetown for life as she did. He offered to stay and help her raise the baby, but she forced him to follow his dream of going north to work on the oil rigs instead. She knew he didn’t love her at all, and would resent her for his whole life if she kept him there. She went so far as to stop speaking to him so that he would leave. On the morning John Morrow left on the train to the northland, she realized she had started to show a little, but she only allowed herself to shed a few tears, alone in her room. When she had to tell her parents about the pregnancy, she told them she had no idea who the father was. This was the same thing she told her daughter, and she’d never mentioned John Morrow’s name to Jamie. If anyone in town had known who the father really was, they didn’t let on that they did.

Jamie looked for the strange man on her walk to school the next day. She was slightly disappointed when she didn’t see him, nor did she see him on the walk home, either. However, the morning after that, he was back in front of Zack’s Diner, smoking a cigarette as he had been two days before. After exchanging pleasantries, Jamie asked, “Are you new in town, sir?”

“I’m back after 18 years away,” the man responded. “Lookin’ for some things I left behind.”

Jamie was slightly confused by the last statement, so she just said, “Oh… that’s nice.”

“How old are ya?” the man asked. “Last time I was here, I was probably ’bout your age.”

“Oh, I’m 18,” Jamie replied. “I’m in my last year at Hopetown High School. By the way, my name is Jamie Atwill.”

A strange look flashed across the man’s face. Jamie started to wonder if he was a little bit crazy, what with the eyes, the look and the claim that he was looking for some past possessions in the town. However, she was too curious about him at that point to cut and run.

The man spoke again. “John Morrow, here. Do you play checkers, girl?” Jamie was taken aback by the somewhat random question.

“Well…yes.”

“Meet me here after school for a game of checkers, if you like,” said John. “Nobody in this damn town wants to play games with me.”

That statement was so silly coming from a grown man that Jamie almost laughed. Curiosity got the best of her again, and she told John she would meet him for checkers that afternoon.

Playing Checkers

Jamie and John became fast friends over the next few weeks. Besides the fact that both of them enjoyed a game of checkers, they also found they had similar tastes in books, movies and music. Jamie didn’t want her mother to know she was socializing with an older man, even though their relations were strictly platonic, so she told Grace she was getting help from a tutor after school. Coincidentally, she’d been struggling with calculus lately, so the falsehood was believable. John knew he was skating on thin ice, as Atwill was the same last name as Gracie’s, and this girl, if not his daughter, was at least related to his daughter’s mother. However, his enjoyment of the young woman’s company and his curiosity about her relation to Gracie motivated him to keep seeing Jamie. One day, Jamie asked him, “Would you like to meet my mother? You’re about the same age, and I bet you get lonely as a single man, with only a kid like me to keep you company!” Curiosity (one trait he and Jamie had in common) got the best of John again, and against his better judgment, he said yes to meeting the girl’s mother. He had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, though, and he was too afraid to ask what the girl’s mother’s name was.

“Remember, you’re my tutor,” Jamie instructed John as they neared the front door of her home. John hoped Jamie didn’t notice that he was starting to feel rather ill, as the door they were nearing was the door of the Atwill house, the one Gracie’s parents had owned and that she’d grown up in. He felt like turning and running away, but he’d come this far; he had to see what was in store for him on the other side of the door.

Jamie opened the door, and yelled “Mom, Mom, where are you?”

“In here, dear!” Grace yelled back, her voice coming from the kitchen.

John would have recognized that voice anywhere, and all of a sudden his knees went weak, but he forced himself to keep walking.

Jamie led him to the kitchen door, and said, “Mom, I’d like you to meet my tutor.”

Grace looked up, and her face went completely white. She dropped the dish she’d been carrying, and it shattered on the floor in a million pieces next to John’s feet. John didn’t know what to do; he stood stock-still with an expressionless face, staring at his former lover and the mother of his child. The only part of him that showed any emotion was his deep eyes. Tearing them away from Grace and looking again at Jamie, he realized he’d known all along that Jamie was his daughter. He just had been afraid to admit it to himself. “Gracie,” he said, reaching out toward the mother. She was just as beautiful as she’d always been, even with the odd wrinkle line starting to form on her face. He was a fool for never admitting that he loved her in high school, and dating every trashy bimbo in Hopetown instead. He was a fool for letting her tell him to leave.

Grace shrunk back against the stove. “Don’t touch me,” she said. “I don’t even know you anymore.”

Jamie stared at Grace and John in disbelief. “Can anybody tell me what’s going on?” she asked. “Do you two know each other?”

Grace stared at Jamie, then at John, and took a few seconds to find her voice. Addressing Jamie and gesturing at John, she said, “This…is…your…father.”

“My… what?” Jamie asked incredulously. “You told me you didn’t know who my father was! You lied to me all these years?!” She turned around and faced John. “Did you know about this? Is that why you decided to become my friend? When were you planning on telling me that I’m your daughter?”

John was struck rather speechless. “Well…” he started, quite pathetically, but Jamie had already started to yell again.

“I can’t believe you both lied to me like that! I guess you deserve each other!” Jamie started to stomp away in a huff.

“Jamie,” her mother called. “Come back here.”

Jamie whirled around. “No!” she replied in a bold, defiant tone. “Mom, don’t talk to me. John, get out of my house. I never want to see you again, Dad.” She spat out the word Dad as if it were the word “Satan,” thundered up the stairs to her room and locked herself in for the rest of the night.

John stepped forward towards Grace again. “Gracie, I’m so sorry,” he said. “I always loved you. I needed to come back and find you. I wanted to get to know…her. I wish I’d never left. There was never a moment I didn’t think of you. All those other girls, I never cared about them. It was always you, Gracie, it was always you.”

As John looked straight at her with his deep blue eyes, Grace somehow knew he was sincere. Tears started to form in her eyes. “I know I made you leave,” she said. “I thought you didn’t love me. I wanted you to stay, but I couldn’t handle you staying, thinking you didn’t love me.”

John reached out and put a hand to Grace’s cheek, and she didn’t push it away. “This is a lot to take,” Grace said. “Jamie’s upset, and understandably so. Call me, and we’ll talk.”

This wasn’t as warm of a reception as John had hoped for, but at least he wasn’t being thrown out by both women. He pulled a scrap piece of paper out of his pocket and wrote down the phone number for the apartment he’d rented. He kissed Grace on the cheek. “You and Jamie be well,” he said quietly, then turned and walked out of the kitchen, down the hall and out of the house. He didn’t start crying until he got down the lane way and out onto the street. Grace put her head down on the kitchen counter and started to cry herself.

Jamie and Grace sat at the breakfast table in stony silence the next morning, neither wanting to make the first move to break the ice between them. “I’m sorry, honey,” Grace eventually said. “I didn’t think he was ever coming back. I thought it was best that you didn’t know. No one knew.”

Jamie sighed. “What are you going to do about him?”

Grace put her head in her hands. “I honestly don’t know.”

For the next two weeks, Jamie went to school as usual. She didn’t see John at all. He no longer waited outside Zack’s Diner in the morning or the afternoon. Occasionally she missed their chats and their games, but she tried to push those thoughts out of her mind. She would have liked to have known her father, but not by these dishonest means. She realized what John had meant by “Lookin’ for some things I left behind,” and one of those shivers went down her spine again. She wondered if John would even stay in town or if he would pack up and move to another place. There wouldn’t be much left for him in Hopetown if he had to hide from her.

Three weeks after she dismissed John, when Jamie was walking down her lane way on her way home from school, she spotted two figures in her backyard. One was tall, and the other was shorter. Jamie crept around by the garage to see who it was. Not surprisingly, the figures were her mother and John, locked in a passionate embrace. John was stroking her mother’s hair and kissing her on the mouth every few seconds. At first, Jamie felt a surge of rage; she wanted to run over and give John a kick in the ass, but she forced herself to stay where she was and watched the couple for some time. As she watched them, two lovers oblivious to the rest of the world, a strange feeling came over her; she started to understand their love, and began to believe that John really did love her mother. She realized she’d never seen this kind of love between a grown man and woman demonstrated up close. It was hard to describe, but they seemed to be filled with so much passion that they would have given their own lives for one another if they had to. Her anger started to melt away, until eventually it was gone completely, and she felt something fill a place in her heart she didn’t even know was empty; it was like a feeling of joy, but calmer. With her heart leading her feet (her mind couldn’t have stopped them if it tried), she walked over to the couple and put her arms around both of them. They embraced her in return. “I forgive you. Let’s be the family we were meant to be,” she said quietly.

The three of them stood there in the backyard, embracing and crying tears of happiness for what seemed like an eternity. Eventually, they turned and walked arm and arm into the Atwill house, which was soon to become John Morrow’s house as well. John and Grace got married a month later in the exact same spot the new family had originally embraced in, as it symbolized their reconciliation after 18 years of estrangement.

Couple

“I guess this town really lives up to its name,” Jamie announced during her speech at the wedding reception. “My parents are proof that one should never give up hope that they will find true love!”

 

image: Boston Public Library, roger_mommaerts, QuinnDombrowski (Creative Commons BY-SA)