The sun shone down on a cool and breezy day, which didn't fit with the mood of the tall, blonde haired woman who stood at the graveside. She knelt on the ground, placing flowers on her father's grave.
"Happy birthday, Dad," she said quietly to her departed father, who had died when she was sixteen.
She recalled the day of the accident, having been summoned to the principal's office after her third period Algebra class. Two police officers stood nearby, watching as she entered the office. She recognized the guidance counselor, as well as the local pastor. They all stood as she entered. At the time, the crash was thought to be an accident, having gone off the edge of a cliff not far from school. Her father's body was recovered, but her mother's was never found. Many years later, she discovered the reason. It was no accident the car went over the edge. Her father was murdered, with her mother, who survived the crash, being the intended target.
Jamie thought of the days that followed, most of them a blur, which ended when Jim and Helen Elgin, her parent's closest friends, took her in and raised her as their own daughter. Jamie had known the Elgin's for as long as she could remember, having grown up with their son.
A tear came to her eye when she thought of Steve. Once grown, they had gone their separate ways, she becoming a tennis professional and he an astronaut. Fate and medical science reunited them years later. Her accident kept them apart for many years, and when they finally got back together, things didn't go as planned. Their breakup took a toll on both of them driving a wedge that forced her from North America. With permission from Oscar, Jamie moved to London, a place that brought back fond memories of earlier years and reestablished relationships with lost friends.
Startled back to the present by the loud cawing of a Blue Jay, she arranged the flowers once again, and then retreated to a nearby stone bench, continuing to think of the past events.
Years had passed prior to her first return to the States. Rudy insisted since she was long overdue for a physical. She put him off as long as possible, finally relenting three years prior. Although she passed, Jamie knew her doctor, her friend, was concerned about her mental well being. Insisting she was fine, Jamie promised to call more often so they could talk about things in general, keeping up on the latest gossip.
Prior to returning to England, Jamie caught a plane from Colorado Springs to Ojai, suddenly having the overwhelming urge to visit her father's grave. Quietly slipping into town, she purchased a bouquet of red roses from a local floral shop, pleading with the shop owner to forget Jamie had stopped into the shop.
At the cemetery, she quickly found her father's grave. She spread out a small blanket on the ground to the side of the headstone and arranged the flowers. Jamie spent a few minutes pulling the few weeds, which had gathered around the stone, and brushing off some debris when had accumulated over the years.
Although she attempted not to eavesdrop on people, certain sounds made her way to her bionic ear. In this case, the quiet weeping of a young girl at a nearby headstone, the girl appeared to be in her early teens. A bicycle lay nearby, making it obvious she had trekked from town on her own. The girl sported a short haircut, which was becoming of her sandy blonde hair. She wore a black tee shirt, blue jeans and tennis shoes. Her back was turned to Jamie, as she knelt before the gravestone. Jamie returned her attention to her father's grave.
As time passed, Jamie was aware of someone standing behind her. She turned around and looked up into the face of the young girl who had deep blue eyes, yet facial features of soft curves.
The girl smiled a lopsided grin. "Jamie?"
Jamie nodded. "Yes, I'm Jamie."
The girl extended her hand. "I'm Robin Austin."
"Aus... Austin? Steve's daughter?" Jamie stammered, shaking her hand.
"Yup, that's me," she said. "Mind if I sit down?"
Jamie motioned her to the blanket. Robin sat cross-legged, staring at the headstone. "Is he your father?"
"Yes," Jamie replied, still stunned at the revelation. "Where is your father now?"
Robin sighed. "Away on a mission. Uncle Oscar had no choice but to send him. The N.S.B insisted." Steve had been gone for almost a week, and would probably be gone for another two weeks.
"Uncle Oscar?" Jamie said.
Robin smiled, "I know, they aren't my real Uncles, but they are as close as I'll get, Uncles Oscar and Rudy, of course. They've known me since I was born."
"Whom are you staying with now?"
"Grandma and Grandpa, both of whom would love to see you. They miss you a lot," Robin said.
"What about your Mother?" Jamie asked.
Robin cast her eyes down, shaking her head. "Mom died of cancer when I was four. Dad's raised me ever since."
"I'm sorry," Jamie said. "How old are you now?"
"Twelve," Robin replied. "I'll be thirteen in a few months."
They sat quietly for a few minutes before Robin asked, "Would you come back to the ranch with me? I'd like to get to know you, and like I said, Grandma and Grandpa would love to see you."
Jamie hesitated a moment, but she could see in the girl's eyes that it was important to her. "Alright," Jamie agreed. "Let's put your bike in the trunk and we'll ride back to the ranch together."
Helen stood at the kitchen sink, preparing the vegetables for the dinner salad. She heard a car coming up the drive so she put down the knife and peeked out. Not recognizing the car, Helen went to the back door and opened it, waiting for the visitor. She spotted Robin getting out of the car first, heading toward the trunk to remove her bicycle. Helen knew a woman was in the car, but until she exited the driver's side, Helen was unsure of her identity.
Helen gasped when she spotted Jamie. "Jim!" she called back over her shoulder. "Come quick!"
Jim quickly strode into the kitchen and joined Helen at the door. "What's wro..." he stopped in mid-sentence, spotting Jamie and Robin walking toward the door.
Helen took a step outside, embracing Jamie tightly. Jamie returned the hug, tears coming to her eyes. "Hi Mom."
Helen released Jamie into Jim's waiting arms, hugging her with all his might. Once he released her, they were both in tears.
Jim led them inside to the living room, where they all sat close together. Robin sat nearby, letting her grandparents have a little privacy.
"Are you home for good?" Helen asked, holding Jamie's hands.
"No, I just came to put flowers on my Father's grave," Jamie replied.
"Why don't you move back to the States?" Jim asked.
"I have an..." Jamie hesitated, trying to find the right word. "I have an obligation in London."
"What kind of obligation?" Helen asked.
Jamie sat silently for several minutes, trying to find her voice. "A son."
Helen and Jim beamed. "You have a son? Why didn't you bring him with you?" Helen said.
Jim frowned momentarily, "Why do you call him an obligation?"
Jamie cast her eyes downward. Although she was proud of her son and not ashamed of him, she still had problems speaking of him. "He is comfortable there, having a few familiar friends and knowing his way around at his school and at home."
"Jamie, is something wrong?" Jim asked.
Jamie nodded, holding back her tears. "He's blind and deaf." Silence filled the room. "In the beginning I felt it was a cruel joke God played on me, with both his parents having cheated death and physical handicaps, but I soon found myself learning about life, about how people adapt to situations."
Helen held Jamie close for a moment, and then released her. She put on a smile, "So tell us, what is he like? What's his name?"
"His name is Matthew. He's bright, intelligent and happy. He understands he's different from others, but hasn't let it dampen his spirits. From the beginning I found the best teachers for him, ones that wouldn't treat him like a handicapped person, but a person with challenges to overcome. He's 13 years old almost 14, has golden blond hair and deep blue eyes and stands about five foot ten inches. He's learning to speak and can now say a few words as plain as day." Jamie was truly proud of her son, but had always wished she could give more to him.
Jamie didn't mention that she had a standing offer from Oscar to let Rudy perform surgery on her son, giving him the ability to see and hear. She thanked him for the offer, saying that when the time was right, she would consider it seriously.
Helen insisted Jamie stay for dinner and spends the night before her return flight the following day. The guest room was always ready for an occasional visitor. Jamie accepted, admitting it would be nice to stay with family for a change.
While Helen and Jim returned to the kitchen, Jamie and Robin chatted, getting to know one another.
Later in the evening, the adults sat in the living room, catching up on events. Jamie learned that Steve had married a local girl shortly after she had left the country. They had a whirlwind romance and truly did love one another. Robin was born shortly thereafter, and within a year Robin's mother was diagnosed with leukemia. Steve continued to work for the O.S.I. while raising Robin the best he could with the help of his parents.
Jamie heard a car approaching. "Are you expecting company?"
"No," Helen said. Jim glanced outside the front window, spotting his son parking near the barn.
"It's Steve," he said, turning to look at Jamie.
Jamie was stunned. "I thought..."
"He must be home early. We were told he'd be gone another two weeks," Helen said. "Are you going to be alright?"
Jamie nodded. "I'm a big girl, I can handle myself. Besides, he doesn't live here, right?"
"No, he has a ranch..." The kitchen door opening interrupted Jim.
"I'm home!" Steve announced, stepping into the kitchen.
Jim headed Steve off before he made it to the living room. "Son, we need to talk."
"It's alright Jim, let him in," Jamie said from the living room.
Jim let Steve pass.
Steve slowly entered the living room, surprised and dismayed to see Jamie sitting on the couch. "Hi," he said tentatively.
"Hi," Jamie said, smiling slightly. She felt nothing for him other than brotherly love. What she had felt for him died the night of their argument.
Helen and Jim excused themselves, giving their kids some privacy.
Steve seated himself at the far side of the room. "What brings you here?"
Jamie explained that she started making the trip to her grave several years ago, and that today she ran into his daughter.
"Oh. Well, she's been wanting to meet you for a while," Steve commented.
The conversation was strained, but Jamie intended to show she could be civil "How have you been?"
"Alright. Busy with work and raising a daughter. And you?"
"I'm alright. I've got my teaching certificate and teach their equivalent of the fourth grade." Jamie hesitated, deciding to drop the bombshell on him. "And in my spare time, I'm busy raising a son."
"You're, you're married?" Steve stammered, not realizing the last night of passion before their breakup resulted in a child.
"No, I'm not. He's your son," Jamie said, not wanting to drag this on for too long. She went on to describe Matthew much as she had done earlier, watching Steve go to pieces upon the revelation that Matthew is blind and deaf.
Several minutes passed before Steve managed to compose himself. "Have you talked to Oscar?"
"I have his blessing to let Rudy do the surgery whenever I feel he's ready," Jamie said.
"And you haven't done it already?" Steve said, his temper starting to rise.
"No, not yet, possibly not ever."
Steve sat dumbfounded, "How can you condemn our son..."
A flash of anger appeared in her eyes, "My son and don't you forget that. You had nothing to do with his upbringing. You weren't there to help teach him about the world he couldn't see or hear. You weren't the one who had to teach him about joy and heartbreak. So don't you judge me for my actions, Mr. Austin." Jamie stood and left the room, retreating to the guest room. She closed the door behind her, sitting on the edge of the bed.
Steve reacted exactly as she expected. He had become so comfortable with his bionic system that he had forgotten both of them are walking miracles. Jamie wanted her son to hear the music of nature, the birds, the insects, water flowing down a gentle stream, and most importantly, the sound of her voice. She wanted her son to see the beauty in nature, the world around him, both the good and bad,
As he grew, he learned to see the world around him, in the only way a blind person could, by touch. Despite his lack of hearing and vision, Matthew had learned to draw. He would draw what he felt, doing his best to memorize the position on the page. A friend had devised a small raised grid to place under the paper. This provided her son with landmarks while he drew. Jamie learned to see the world through Matthew, and, if the time came, she would permit her son to choose between his world and her world.
A gentle knock at the door brought interrupted her thoughts. "Jamie?" It was Steve. "Jamie, I'm sorry, I, well, I was just a shock. I know you're doing your best..."
"Come in Steve," Jamie said.
Steve entered the room, leaving the door open. He stood just inside, leaning against the doorframe.
"This is why I've stayed away," Jamie started. "You just don't understand that having a less than perfect child is not a bad thing. In my eyes, Matthew is perfect. He's smart, he's witty, he has your warped sense of humor. As I was saying earlier, if the time comes that I feel he needs the surgery, or he decides he wants the surgery, then and only then will I approach Rudy. It's going to be his decision, not mine."
Steve nodded, finally understanding what she was trying to say earlier.
"Can I meet him?"
"When the time is right, yes, I'll let you meet him. For the time being, no," Jamie said. "It would be difficult to explain the situation to him. For now, it's just the two of us. I've never said anything to him about you, and he has never questioned not having a father around the house, even though he is aware his friends have two parents."
Steve nodded, understanding. "Maybe some day..."
Jamie was startled out of her memories and back to the present, sitting on a stone bench near her father's grave. She glanced toward her 16-year-old son racing toward her, with Rudy following close behind. She patted the open spot beside her.
Matthew sat next to her, giving his Mom a big hug. In the year since his surgery, his speech had improved drastically through aggressive speech therapy at a clinic in Colorado Springs. At age 15, Jamie had discussed the surgery with her son, explaining the whole process. It took a while for him to comprehend, which is what she expected, and then another six months to make his decision. Deciding he wanted to see what he was missing, Matthew informed his mother he wanted the surgery.
Jamie moved back to the States with her son, purchasing a house in Colorado Springs so she could be close to Rudy's complex. Having received her teaching certificate within the state, she now taught ninth grade English Literature.
"You should see the fish in the pond," he said. "They're huge!" Matthew showed all the enthusiasm of a person seeing the world for the first time. His first days in the hospital were a little upsetting for him, but he soon adapted to his new senses. She and Rudy agreed he was to have normal vision and hearing and nothing else.
Matthew looked to the gravestone, "Is that your Dad?"
"Yes, Matthew, this is your grandfather. He died when I was your age. Now, how would you like to go meet your father?"
Matthew flashed a brilliant smiled, "I'd like that very much."
Jamie said goodbye to her father, took Matthew's hand and led him to the car, where Rudy patiently waited.
"Where to now?" Rudy asked.
"Matthew wants to meet his father," Jamie replied getting into the car.
The trip to the ranch was a quiet one, Matthew taking in all the sights and sounds. Rudy pulled the car into the ranch, spotting his 15-year-old niece saddling a horse. The threesome exited the car, walking over to Robin.
"Uncle Rudy!" she said, giving him a hug.
"Hi, kiddo. Where's your Dad?"
"He'll be out in a ... oh, there he is," Robin said, glancing over Rudy's shoulder.
Steve strode toward the group, wondering what brought Jamie to the ranch.
"Hi," he said.
Jamie stepped aside, pulling her somewhat shy son out into view. Steve stood, speechless. He felt like he was looking at pictures of himself from his youth.
"Steve, I'd like to introduce your son, Matthew Shawn Austin."
The boy stepped forward slightly, offering his hand to Steve.
"Nice to meet you, Dad," Matthew said, flashing a lop-sided grin.