Friday, April 23, 2010

76.) Open and Honest

Soundtrack Song - Metallica, Nothing Else Matters

The pads of my fingers started at the base of his skull, massaging upwardly with firm pressure until I reached his forehead. Then I dragged my nails gently along his scalp, finger-combing his hair back in place. Honestly, I liked playing with Kris’s hair as much he obviously liked me doing it. He had gorgeous hair, so soft and thick and perfectly long. We were both silent for a moment; I waited for him to continue, and he was probably waiting for some type of response from me.

I had waited for this moment for a long time. For him to come to me, just like this, and be ready to talk openly and honestly to me. To trust me with that part of his life—that part which he wouldn’t share with just anyone. Because I wasn’t just anyone to him. If we were supposed to be serious, shouldn’t I be privy to his past? Wouldn’t I have to find out eventually anyway?

The day that Kris took me to his favorite little deli stuck out in my mind vividly. He’d wanted me to instantly be able to share everything with him and talk about James with him, but it wasn’t that easy. I’d made him tell me about Luc first before I could trust him—and even then it had been difficult to talk about. I’d made him earn it, sharing little by little until eventually, he knew everything there was to know. Until he knew more about me than anyone else. Well, anyone else other than Tubby, and that was only because Tubby had actually been there through it all. Tubby had experienced it, whereas Kris had only heard me tell him about it all. I think it meant more that I had to tell Kris about it and make the conscious effort to let him in like that.

So, how was the reverse any different? Hadn’t I earned this? I thought I’d showed Kris that I would be here for him, no matter what. It was more than me just being curious about his past, even though I was; but I wanted him to stop bottling things up. I thought it would help him if he talked about it with someone. Since we were close, I just figured that someone would be me—after all, he wouldn’t just go around talking about this with anyone. It was all about trust with him, and I thought I had earned it

Not to mention, I’d been there, done that. I really had hated talking about my past because it hurt to bring it up, but I wouldn’t be where I was today if I hadn’t opened up to him that day. And even though things weren’t perfect right now, they were better than how they used to be. I knew from experience how talking was a good thing, even if it were painful at first; which was kind of funny in how this all turned out and had come full circle. When Kris had approached me with the intent to help me, he claimed that his similar experiences were what qualified him to do just that. Now it was my turn to repay the favor. Ultimately, that’s what I wanted for Kris: for me to help him the way he had helped me.

Finally, I realized he wouldn’t keep going unless I prompted him to. So I did just that. “And what, exactly, are you afraid of being to someone else?”

It still took him a moment to answer. “I told you. Not a good guy.”

I twirled one section of hair between my fingers. It was so soft. No way could Kris ever be “not a good guy.” Whether the reason behind that was his personality or a conscious effort on his part didn’t matter; he’d never be that. I just wanted him to spill his guts already and confess everything so I would understand his faulty logic, but I realized it would take some strategic question-asking and teeth-pulling. Instead of asking why or how, I changed my approach. “Do you remember anything about him?”

“A little,” he breathed. “I was young, so it’s, like, hard to remember detailed things, but I remember he was the one who first taught me how to skate. Him and Mom took me to this frozen little pond one day, but she couldn’t skate, so she watched from the edge as he took me out and held my hand, and eventually let go so I was skating on my own. That’s probably my earliest memory of anything in my life.”

“That doesn’t sound bad,” I casually commented, hoping to once again spur him to delve a little deeper.

He sighed, probably wondering why I couldn’t get it. Because if I could just mysteriously understand, he wouldn’t have to explain. He reluctantly clarified, “That wasn’t the bad part. That was him sober. He wasn’t bad during the day, but then when he started drinking at dinner.... It was the same every day. Mom would always tuck me into bed soon after dinner, before it got bad, with explicit instructions that I wasn’t to get up until she came and got me in the morning.” Even though I couldn’t see his face, I could hear him lick his lips with a dry tongue. “As long as I was hidden away, I was safe. But still, I could hear things. Every night, without fail. And I was scared, I mean, I was just a little kid, I didn’t really understand. But I did as I was told.”

“What kind of things were you hearing?”

“Screaming. Yelling. Mom and Dad, both hollering at each other. Things being thrown.” He paused. “He’d hit her. I never saw it, never had the proof, but she’d cry, beg him to stop. ‘Non, arrêtez! S’il vous plait, non.’” I didn’t ask him to stop, but I pinched my eyes shut. I couldn’t imagine a woman going through that or staying put in a bad relationship to subject herself to that. We all know it happens, but we all think we’re strong enough to leave if it ever happened to us. “And in the morning, they’d both pretend like nothing happened. I don’t know if they thought I was sleeping through it or that I couldn’t hear them. But it was so loud that Helen Keller would have been able to hear them.”

I didn’t laugh; instead I reached down with my left hand, draping it across his chest, and then I wrapped my right awkwardly under his head and around his shoulder to hold him. He placed his left hand over mine and squeezed it. I interpreted that to mean he was still doing okay, so I pressed on. However, even though I had a bit of an idea about what Kris was dealing with, it still bothered me to hear all this—especially to hear the way he talked about it. It was almost like he was reliving it. I think he could feel how my hands were shaking. “I can’t imagine how scary that was. How... how old were you?”

“Three?” he replied, a lilt in his voice making it seem more like a question than a fact. “I’m not really sure. Things all kind of blend together that young. I’m not sure sequentially which events happened first, like, compared in a timeline. Like, I remember being at Mamie’s, too, but sometimes I’m not sure if that was before or after Mom and I left.”

I hugged him and never relaxed my arms, holding him to me tightly. I tried to be vague, not wanting to lie but also not being totally truthful. “So you two left him? The way you talked before made it sound like he left.”

“No. One night, we left. Just me and Mom, nothing but the clothes on our backs and Mom’s old Buick. She never looked back. We went to Mamie’s, showed up unannounced at some late hour, but she took us in and let us stay with her while Mom looked for a full-time position that would pay enough to support us. Mamie helped us start over.”

This was the million-dollar question. “So, what happened? What made that night you left so different?”

He tensed in my arms, and I felt his breath on my knees. “That night, uh, the night we left... I didn’t stay in bed.”

The scenario flashed behind my closed eyes. Even if Charlene hadn’t accidentally clued me in, I instantly would have known exactly what happened, and it played out like a movie. Kris left his room and that’s what displaced his father’s anger onto him. And that’s what finally made his mother decide to leave. That was all I needed to know. I had changed my mind; I didn’t want to know details. Panicking a little, I squeezed his hand fiercely. “It’s okay, Kris, you don’t have to tell me about it—”

“No, it’s okay. I-I want to tell you. I want you to know,” he stuttered, the tone of his voice not sounding as convincing as his words. “I’ve gotta say it now while I still have the guts to.”

I kept my eyes closed tightly and shook my head with quick, sharp movements, and my heart pounded away in my chest. He didn’t have to tell me, because I knew. All I could see in my mind’s eye was little, innocent Kris. Just a young, three-year-old boy with a crazy mop of dark brown hair to match his wide, brown eyes. Dressed in light blue, flannel, footie pajamas with little hockey sticks and pucks all over them. Peering around his door as he got out of bed one night, for whatever reason, even though he knew better than to leave his room. Checking first to make sure the coast was clear.

Kris’s deep, thickly accented voice echoed in my ears, narrating the scene I could already see. I was surprised I could hear him over my screaming heartbeat. “I went looking for Mom, because I wanted a drink of water. He said I was a bad boy for not doing what I was told, for not staying put. He said I needed to go back to bed, but I said that I was thirsty. ‘J’ai soif,’ I said. So he threw his scotch glass in my direction, but he was drunk enough that it missed me, and it shattered on the wall behind me.”

I could feel that my cheeks were wet, but I wasn’t aware that I was crying. I didn’t want to hear this, or hear about what maybe happened. He was just a scared little boy back then, and it was like he was a scared little boy right now, too. And I wanted to baby him and take away his pain, absorb it, do whatever it took to ease his distress. “I’m sorry, Kris. You don’t have to tell me. ”

“I just remember the loud noise and how frightened I was by it. I cried, ‘Maman!’, and she was there in an instant.” As soon as he mentioned his mother, I felt a little relieved; I knew that the worst was over and she had rushed in to rescue him. Marlene wouldn’t have let something happen to her baby boy. “She scooped me up in her arms and carried me out the door, and never once did she look back.”

“Oh God, I’m so sorry, Kris,” I told him softly. “I’m sorry you had to go through that. I’m sorry your dad was that way. You were so young, and something like that’s gotta be so scary.”

“It was. Of course it was.” He rolled, still in my arms, onto his back so he could look up at me. “It definitely wasn’t something I enjoyed going through, but it wasn’t even the worst part about it.”

It was a loaded question, but I couldn’t stop myself from asking it. After hearing that horrible story, I wasn’t sure how anything could top it. “What’s worse than that?”

“The secrets, the mystique about it, the hushed discussions that I wasn’t supposed to be hearing. Mom, she didn’t want me to hate my father for being the asshole that he was. But she couldn’t bring him up, because otherwise I’d ask questions and eventually she’d be forced to talk about his drinking and his behavior at night. So she avoided the subject altogether, and she wouldn’t answer my questions about him, either. It was like I was a product of Immaculate Conception and didn’t have a father. There were no pictures of him, or of us as a family. It was like he never existed except for my memories.”

“That doesn’t seem right,” I mumbled, not agreeing at all with how Marlene handled this with her son but not wanting to outright bad-mouth her either.

He sighed, his hand playing with my fingers. “I don’t think so either. Don’t get me wrong, I love my mother so much, but I wish things had been different. I remember that at night, I would sneak out into the hallway after I went to bed, just so I could overhear her conversations with Mamie, either over the phone or in person. That’s how I learned about my dad and the type of person he was. That Mom still loved him, because during the day, he was a loving, doting husband. It was only at night that he turned into Mr. Hyde. I hated having to only be able to find this stuff out in such a sneaky way, but I had to. If I wanted to know, that’s how I had to do it.”

“That surprises me. You two were so close, you and your mom. I can’t believe she wouldn’t talk about this with you, after you got older.”

“She tried to do everything right. She tried to be the perfect mother and the perfect father for me. Mamie would babysit me during the day, and then after school when I was a couple years older, while she worked so hard to make enough to provide for us and also to buy me hockey equipment and pay for skating lessons and everything. She wanted me to be involved in something, to succeed at it, and have something to feel proud of.

“Mom gave up so much for me. Like, she wore her clothes ’til they were faded and threadbare and never bought herself new things, just so I could have new jeans to fit in with the kids at school. She cut her own hair, just so I could have new skates. She worked her ass off, two jobs, one during the day and then a night shift a few days a week, so we could have the evenings together. I don’t know when she slept. And it was all for me.”

“She’s your mother, Kris. She’d do anything for you.” I had to defend her; I, after all, had just been caught doing the same thing. I had wanted to protect him from having to feel negative emotions, so I hid my pregnancy scare from him. We want to protect the ones we love from the things that will hurt them. In the long run, it hadn’t done Kris any favors to keep this information from him, but I can’t say that I had entirely faulted Marlene for her intentions.

“Yeah, I love her for it, because I wouldn’t be where I am today if it hadn’t been for everything she sacrificed for me. My mother is incredible, and she was so strong. She left him, for my sake. The man she cried herself to sleep over for years and years, because even though he treated her like shit, she still loved him. She couldn’t do it for herself, but she did it for me.”

I wasn’t sure how to take Kris’s little rant. He could have been facetious or serious. It wasn’t clear until he added, “He should have been a better man to her. He didn’t do anything to deserve the love and devotion she gave him. He had her heart, and he treated her worse than gum stuck to the bottom of his shoe, and I don’t understand how anyone can treat another person like that and still say they love them. It just doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Kris rolled over again so that his body was facing mine, and he wrapped his arm around my waist and pressed his face against my stomach. “Hey,” I whispered quietly, running my hand through his hair again to try to get his attention, but it didn’t work. He wouldn’t look at me. So I awkwardly slid down onto my side and pulled my legs out from under his body until we were face-to-face again. I was squished between his firm, hard body and the soft back of the couch, but I wouldn’t have traded positions for anything in the world. “And that’s why you’re not like him. At all. Ever. You are caring, and patient, and loving, and supportive, and giving, and amazing, and I’m running out of adjectives.”

He smiled softly, obviously wanting to believe me but still unsure. This proof of his naïveté and innocence and insecurity broke my heart, setting me off into tears again. “I don’t even know how you can think otherwise, Kris. I mean, we’ve fought and argued tons of time, and never once was I ever scared of you. You’re such a sweetheart, such an amazing guy, I love you, and you are not your father. You never will be, never could be.”

Resting my forehead against his, I closed my eyes again and tried to psychically get inside his head and rewire his brain, change the misfires of his neurons, and reroute his synapses to alter his mental processes. His line of thinking was wrong—dead fucking wrong.

So much more about Kris’s personality made sense now. I always knew the way he was: he wasn’t controlling, but he liked to feel in control. Like he had a hand in the outcome of his life, because for so long, he didn’t. He did what his mother told him while she kept him in the dark about his father and his past. Kris was definitely one of those people who thought history would repeat itself if you couldn’t learn from those mistakes, so he adamantly made sure to treat life like a lesson and grow from one day to the next.

That’s why he was always direct when he talked to me, often brutally so, which made him come off as brusque or rude and having no social tact. God, I’d been so put off by him at first, because he came on so strong and was so awkward about it, even though he had really good intentions. Not to mention, maybe I had been a little hard on him for his interference. He had been judgmental and preachy, and even Charlene hadn’t liked him when she first met him.

But now that I knew more about his past, I knew that’s why he demanded nothing less than open honesty from me. He needed it in every other aspect of his life because his mother hadn’t given that to him. Perhaps that’s why we fit together so well, because I thought life was too short for bullshit and beating around the bush and was always up-front.

Kris had only met one person in his life who he had shared all this with; one person who understood and helped him learn to let go of the bad stuff and learn to live despite his past. But then Luc had died. Given the circumstances of his death, Kris’s point of view that been solidified: he needed to be the master of his own fate—he needed to be strong and completely in control at all times. He had lost his confidante, the one person to whom he could tell anything, and that loss made it that much harder to open up again. I understood where he was coming from in that respect, even though my reaction had pretty much been the exact opposite.

As I kept my forehead pressed against his, feeling his breath hit my face, I tried to think of the single best thing I could say to him at this moment. I wanted to tell him that there would always be facets or events of his life that he’d be unable to control, because while he could regulate his own behavior and actions, he’d never be able to prevent how other people affected him. Life was uncontrollable; it happened to us, and all we could possible control was our reactions and decisions.

I wanted to tell him that his mother had made her own decisions and had tried her best to do what was best for her son. The thing about life is there is no right or wrong; you can never know the outcomes and consequences of a decision until long after that decision has been made. I wanted to tell Kris that he could disagree with what she had done or neglected to tell him, but he couldn’t make her tell him anything if she didn’t want to. I wanted to tell him that his mother had obviously dedicated the rest of her life, from that one particular night on, to trying to make it up to him.

I wanted to tell him something to change his way of thinking into something that was closer to reality—that he was a good person, the best, and it didn’t matter who his father was or what he did, because although he may share some genes and DNA from the man who fathered him, Kristopher Allen Letang was his own person. Kristopher Allen Letang was in charge of his own fate, just like he had set out to accomplish. I wanted to tell him if that if his one goal in life was to not be his father, then he was succeeding with flying colors.

“Why are you crying?” he asked me, brushing away my tears with the backs of his fingers.

It didn’t make sense for me to be the one who was so upset, because it was his rocky past that we were discussing. But I was upset. “I just, I don’t want this to hurt you. You’re so great, I never want you to hurt. I wish I had a way to just, you know, take this all away. I don’t know how you made it through all that, but you did. Anybody else, though, wouldn’t be able to overcome all that to be where you are today. It just makes me respect you that much more.”

“Really?” he asked, his bloodshot eyes peering into mine for reassurance.

“Really. You’re incredible, Kris, and I always knew that. I knew that there was something in your past that you weren’t proud of, but none of that was your fault. It’s not something you need to be ashamed of. And yeah, that’s a lot for anyone to overcome. I promise I don’t mean to be condescending when I say this, but I’m so proud of you.”

He kissed me with enough force to push me harder against the back of the couch. It was our first real intimate moment together since he returned from his break. Well, maybe that’s not the right way to describe it, because we had just had a crazy, emotional discussion about a lot of topics over the past hour. But this was our first intense, physical exchange. It made me realize how much I’d missed him over the past five days.

It was a simple kiss, just his lips and my lips dancing together, our tongues occasionally factoring into the equation. But we weren’t in any hurry to rush anything; especially not since we weren’t sure how far the other was ready to go. We simply made out for a while, sometimes breaking our mouths apart to kiss other areas. He’d nibble on my ear and I’d lavish some attention on his neck, but we kept it pretty PG.

At one point, I removed his shirt so I could get a better look at his new tattoo. My fingers walked over the elaborate designs, memorizing every tiny detail. It really was a beautiful work of art. And Kris’s arms made a great canvas. So big and strong. I squeezed his bicep and ran my hand over his shoulder. Being wrapped in these arms was my favorite place on Earth.

I kissed the top of the angel’s head, parting my lips and letting my tongue run along the black lines. Our eyes met and he quickly brought his mouth down on mine, this time more urgently. I wanted him; I wanted this, but I wasn’t sure if I was ready for it. I knew that our scare was just a scare, and that as long as we continued to be as careful as we had been, that we didn’t need to not have sex. But I was still feeling a little hesitant.

But I didn’t want to be the one to stop and bring it up. I felt so close to Kris, and I didn’t want to not feel this with him. His hand made its way up my shirt, slowly caressing upwardly but stopping short of my breasts. And then he pulled away. “I’m sorry. I’ll stop.”

“But I don’t want you to,” I sighed, confessing my conflicting feelings. “I don’t think I can have sex just yet, but I don’t want to stop either.”

“We can find a compromise,” he breathed, a smile playing on his deliciously pink lips. “You’re creative, right?”

“No, but I read Cosmo,” I quipped, knowing that there were plenty of ways that we could be together tonight without having to be together together, and I couldn’t wait to try a few of those ways out.

12 comments:

  1. Ok you have me nervous about this so... as I go, with caution lol.

    Ok, Kris having to deal with all that, breaks my heart when I think about it now... trying to imagine how little and tiny and innocent he would have been when it actually happened, is even worse.
    No one should ever have to go through that, especially not a child.

    Being a mother, I can only imagine how hard it would be to feel like you're stuck. You love this man but you know it's wrong to be with him... but you put up with all the crap anyway because you think two parents is better then one... you do everything you think is right, but you always have to question it. Wonder if you'd be better off alone. Wonder, 'if I take him away from his father, will he resent me forever?'

    “Three?” he replied, a lilt in his voice making it seem more like a question than a fact. “I’m not really sure. Things all kind of blend together that young. I’m not sure sequentially which events happened first, like, compared in a timeline. Like, I remembering being at Mamie’s, too, but sometimes I’m not sure if that was before or after Mom and I left.”
    ^^ This was so real. Too real. I'm amazed I can read because I'm crying so much, but seriously... amazing. This is how you think back on those childhood memories. There are certain things that stand out and you can recall easily, other things that you're not sure on whether or not they happened... and then there's the time period.
    Did this happen before or after? I think everyone can relate to this description and it's just making this update more real and even harder to read.

    "All I could see in my mind’s eye was little, innocent Kris. Just a young, three-year-old boy with a crazy mop of dark brown hair to match his wide, brown eyes. Dressed in light blue, flannel, footie pajamas with little hockey sticks and pucks all over them. Peering around his door as he got out of bed one night, for whatever reason, even though he knew better than to leave his room. Checking first to make sure the coast was clear."
    ^^ Ughhhhhh! Ok like... I had to stop here, terrified to go on. I mean, I know that Kris is still alive and kicking (obviously) but just that image.
    I can see it too clearly... like the flashback in a movie... the little boy just coming around the corner and the shadows of the abusive father, playing out on the walls behind him.
    It's almost too much... you wrote this with such perfection that I feel like I need to go check on Rowan lol.

    "He was just a scared little boy back then, and it was like he was a scared little boy right now, too."
    ^^ <3 That's all I really have to say... other than I love Jo just as much as I love Kris. Seriously.

    “And that’s why you’re not like him. At all. Ever. You are caring, and patient, and loving, and supportive, and giving, and amazing, and I’m running out of adjectives.”
    ^^ Awww, and I love that you can put me into hysterics and then make me giggle at the end lol.
    That's the sign of a fantastic writer... someone who can take you on a roller-coaster ride of emotions, all in a few minutes.

    "Being wrapped in these arms was my favorite place on Earth."
    ^^ Again, heart. I love this line... thank you for ending this update somewhere when I can breath again.

    This was amazing... really. I can't explain how fantastic it was, but just know that it was phenomenal and blew my expectations away (and considering I assume that your writing is always brilliant... that's a compliment lol).

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  2. This was a lovely moving chapter. you captured everything so well - you have an amazing skill with words.

    You get your thoughts across with crystal clarity and you can touch the depths of the human heart so well. You also naviagte the maze that is the human mind with skill rarely seen today.

    Keep up the amazing work - I love your stories and you should be proud of every chapter

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  3. Definitely a relationship breakthrough for Jo and Kris, you can see that they're communicating on a new level of consideration for each other now, still looking out for the other but with a better understanding of what is needed.

    You really communicated the way that Kris had to regress and to become a little boy in order to access that past. I was a bit relieved that his past wasn't worse, because I'm sure your writing could have made that traumatic for me.

    Lovely writing Jay, very moving and sensitive.

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  4. Wow. That was intense.
    I felt HORRIBLE.
    Like you know when you just get that feeling when something bad/sad happens??
    Well you made me feel like that!

    Jo was crying, well the tears were a coming when he was telling her his story <3

    I don't have much to say, other than I don't know where you come up with these things, but god. You're good. : )
    Great update.
    You say the right things at the right times.

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  5. *Sigh*

    Jay, Jay, Jay...

    I cannot even, I just, blah...

    It was beautiful, and heart wrenching, and precise, and dynamic, and realistic, and sad, and witty, and psychological, and necessary, and I'm running out of adjectives. :)

    "She can't top that" - Just for good measure :P

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  6. aww.. kris having to go through that breaks my heart. =(
    his behavior makes sense now though. It was so well written too I can't commend you enough on your writing abilities. Keep it up youre doing great work!!
    =D

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  7. Every time I think you can't top yourself you prove me wrong.

    This was like a painting. The things Kris told Jo were the broad strokes, the outline of the painting. Just that part would have made it interesting. But the details, the descriptions, the way you use dialogue, those are the fine stokes. The ones that bring it to life, and draw you into the painting. Only then you realize that the true beauty of the painting is in the fine strokes.

    I thought I was handling this chapter pretty well, I only had a few tears running down my face, okay more than a few but not full on sobbing. Then I got to **All I could see in my mind’s eye was little, innocent Kris. Just a young, three-year-old boy with a crazy mop of dark brown hair to match his wide, brown eyes. Dressed in light blue, flannel, footie pajamas with little hockey sticks and pucks all over them.** (Those are some of the fine strokes.)By then I was crying too hard to read the words. I had to take a break!

    **He was just a scared little boy back then, and it was like he was a scared little boy right now, too. And I wanted to baby him and take away his pain, absorb it, do whatever it took to ease his distress.** That just about did me in! It reminded me of when she was having nightmares and he tried to absorb all the bad vibes and fill her with good ones.

    It was her turn to take some of his burden and he had made her strong enough to do it.

    As I'm reading this comment I'm thinking "look at all those words and I still haven't found the right ones". I know I tell you this all the time, but I really can't find the words to explain how good you are and how much I love this story.

    As always thanks for sharing your time and talent.

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  8. WOW you are an amazing writer i cried when i read this cuz ive been through this and you are amazing thats all i gotta say

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  9. I adore this story. Ditto to what everyone else has already said. =)

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  10. Jay, you are so ridiculously talented. This chapter was literally amazing. You had me crying like a baby for Kris. Everything you wrote seemed so, so real. I felt like I was actually there, witnessing it. Your writing just moves me to a whole other level emotionally. I just can't describe it. Perfection, my dear. Pure, pure perfection.

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  11. I shall steal @PeytonRose's last line in her comment..."Pure, pure perfection."

    Hands down one of your best chapters yet, and your writing is always excellent!

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  12. Wow! You are an amazing writer.
    I was crying like a baby while reading this.

    As a mother,I wouldnt want my child or anybodies child to go throught what Kris went throught.My heart was breaking for him when he was telling Jo what happened to him as a child.
    In the middle of Kris telling Jo what happened I had to go check on my son Kyegan..lol
    (Mother instincts ? lol..mother's always got to check on their baby's..haha)

    But anyways..I love this story.. <3

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