An Ocean Apart

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This is the sequel to my story “An Exercise in Fertility.” This story is intended to be stand-alone, but you might find it easier to follow if you read them in order. Thank you all for your kind and beautiful feedback on my previous stories and poems, and I hope you enjoy this one as well.

All characters in this story engaging in sexual activity are over the age of 18.

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The boy’s cheeks dripped with tears as his knees dripped with blood. His little body shook with sobs. He tried to sit and rest on the sidewalk, but an older girl held his hand and urged him along.

“Come on, Jakey,” she said. “We’re almost home. I know it hurts, but my mom will fix it. She can fix anything.”

“But Jenny, what about my bike?” he asked.

“I’ll go back for it later,” she said. “That’s a nasty scrape, we need to get it cleaned up.” He stood back up and followed her. He trusted his nice cousin Jenny, even more than he trusted his own brother Howie. Well, actually he could trust Howie to be mean. He was glad he was with Jenny because Howie would have just laughed instead of helping.

“What happened, Jakey?” Jenny’s mother asked when she examined his badly scraped knees.

“I fell off my bike, Aunt Giselle,” he said. “I hit a big rock I didn’t see.”

“Oh, poor thing! This might sting a little bit.” She sprayed his knees with something, and it smelled funny, and it did hurt. A lot. He bit his lip to avoid crying, because adults always told him he needed to be brave. Also, Jenny was right there staring at the blood, and he didn’t want to keep being a baby in front of her.

To take his mind off the pain, he watched his aunt while she put on bandages. Her brown hair was wet, like it always seemed to be, and there were little water droplets on her skin. She smelled like swimming pool, but he liked that. She loved swimming, just like he did. He remembered a question he wanted to ask her.

“Aunt Giselle? Is it true that you’re a mermaid?” She looked surprised at the question but smiled like it made her happy. Cousin Jenny burst out in giggles.

“Now where on Earth did you hear such a thing?” his Aunt asked.

“My mom told my dad that you swim like a mermaid.”

“Well, that was truly kind of your mother to say. But it’s just an expression, I’m not a real mermaid.”

The boy couldn’t keep the disappointment off his face. He almost felt tears welling up again.

“I wish you could be a real mermaid,” he said. His knees felt better already, like her hands had magic in them. The kind of magic mermaids might have.

Aunt Giselle smiled and stared at him with her big green eyes. They really were green, he noticed, like the ocean was sometimes green. Most people who said they had green eyes actually had kind of mud-colored eyes. Then she leaned forward and kissed him on the forehead. He thought her lips would feel dry and scratchy, like his grandmother’s, or wet and soggy like his other aunts and even his mom, but instead they felt warm and smooth and soft, like he thought mermaid lips would feel.

“I’ll tell you what,” she said. “Since you’re being such a brave boy…we’ll pretend that I’m a mermaid. Just for you. Does that sound good?”

“Yeah,” he said, his happiness breaking out in a big grin. “I mean, yes please.”

??????????

I had just gotten out of class when I got the text from Dalia, who was my Cousin Jenny’s girlfriend and soon-to-be-fiancée.

Dalia: ‘Can u come over today?’

Me: ‘Sure what’s up?’

Dalia: ‘Bad news her mom is not coming’

Me: ‘What??? Seriously? Is Jenny ok?’

Dalia: ‘No she’s pretty upset. We need u.’

Me: ‘On my way 45 minutes’

When I arrived at the apartment they shared, Dalia put a finger to her lips as she opened the door.

“She’s sleeping,” Dalia said in a low voice. “Sorry you rushed over. But I know she’ll really want to see you when she wakes up. Can you stay for a while?”

“Of course,” I said, giving Dalia a big hug. She was a gorgeous, statuesque, rather muscular brunette who was only a few inches shorter than my 6’4″ height. “So, tell me what happened.”

“Jenny tried to call her mom a couple of times and left messages. She never got through. Then her Aunt Rose, uh, your mom called us. She said she got a call from Giselle saying she’s too busy and can’t come out for the delivery. She wouldn’t even call Jenny herself.”

“Fucking hell,” I growled, feeling anger boiling up fast. My stuffy, traditional extended family had taken years to accept Jenny as a lesbian, but they had finally come around. Most of my relatives even seemed genuinely happy about Jenny’s pregnancy.

The only holdout, though, was the most important one: my Aunt Giselle, Jenny’s own mother.

??????????

As I grew into late childhood, I was aware that my Mermaid Aunt and I shared a special bond. We were, as she put it, “water babies.” At grandma’s house, we were always the first ones in the pool in the morning, and we were splashing and playing long Casibom after everyone else was sunburned and exhausted. On a couple of shared vacations at the beach, she taught me open water swimming techniques and we raced each other through the waves. She always told me I moved naturally in the water, like she did.

Giselle, my mom’s youngest sister, had been a star swimmer in high school and college. For a time, she had Olympic aspirations. At 20, those dreams ended. She was impregnated by an older man and they decided to get married. She sacrificed her swimming career for two decades of marriage to a wealthy but cold and distant man who was a philandering alcoholic.

I remember my father saying, when I was still too young to understand what he meant, that the only good thing to come out of that marriage was Jenny.

??????????

Jenny groaned and struggled to get out of bed. Dalia took her arm and helped her. She waddled to me and we hugged: hers strong and needy, mine careful and delicate.

“For crying out loud, Jake,” she said. “I told you, you can give me actual hugs. The baby’s not made of glass, she won’t break.”

Jenny was seven months pregnant. She was a naturally slender girl, and the pregnancy had been difficult. These days she spent a lot of time in bed, with Dalia doting on her and loving her and doing everything she could to make it better and easier for Jenny. Their love was strong and had already survived difficult obstacles. Any child would be fantastically lucky to have Jenny and Dalia as parents.

And how did I fit into the picture? Well, aside from the fact that I attended college nearby and was geographically the closest relative, there was also the fact that Jenny and I had for many years shared a special connection. “Favorite cousins” might begin to describe our relationship, but our shared history and powerful emotional bond and even physical spark had pushed us toward something closer to taboo romance.

And then there was the fact that I was the baby’s biological father.

With Dalia’s blessing, and even participation, my cousin and I consummated our intense but unorthodox relationship and created Dalia and Jenny’s baby. The rest of the world could assume there was an anonymous sperm donor supplied by an agency. The baby’s true origin was a secret that only Jenny, Dalia and I shared.

Now, the very pregnant Jenny sat awkwardly in a chair in the living room and stared sadly out the window.

“She wouldn’t even call me herself,” Jenny said in croaking whisper. “She called your mom and had her tell me.”

“Maybe that’s not a bad thing,” said Dalia. “At least your Aunt Rose could deliver the message nicely. Your mom…” she trailed off. We knew what she was going to say. Jenny’s mom was a royal bitch who probably didn’t care anymore whether she hurt Jenny.

“So, she told my mom she was too busy to come out,” I said. “What else did she say?”

“I don’t know for sure,” said Jenny. “I got the feeling Rose was holding a lot back to avoid hurting me. I’m hoping you can talk to her and get more detail.” She paused and gave me a determined look. “And I know you’ll probably try to protect me too, but at least you and Dalia can talk about it and tell me an edited version.”

“Sure,” I said. “I can do that. I’ll call mom tonight.”

“You don’t have to do that,” said Dalia. “She’s coming down here. Catching a plane tonight, should be here first thing in the morning.”

“Oh, wow.” I felt out of the loop. “Why? What’s going in?”

“She offered,” said Dalia. “She knows Jen’s having a tough time, and I have a lot going on at work so I can’t be here all the time…”

“I can help out,” I said. “I can come out here more–“

“No,” said Jenny, “you’re doing too much already. You have to worry about school–“

“I can work from here–“

“Jake,” interrupted Dalia, “this is gonna get worse before it gets better. Your mom’s been through this. We know you want to help, but you’re going to be as useless as tits on a bull.”

“Yeah, okay,” I sighed. They were right, and I was glad my mom would be helping out. But I felt terribly sad for Jenny that her own mom couldn’t–

No. Not couldn’t. Wouldn’t. Aunt Giselle wouldn’t be there when her own granddaughter entered the world.

Not for the first time, I wondered how things had gotten to this point.

??????????

The journey from boyhood to manhood is, to paraphrase the song, a long and winding road. There are milestones along the way: your first kiss, your first job, your first car, your first fuck.

There are also developmental stages. For example: when girls stop being weird and annoying, and start being worthy of crushes.

For most guys, this takes place over a gradual period of time through a slow process of maturation and osmosis. They wouldn’t really be able to tell you exactly how or when it happened. For me it was different. I know exactly how and when it happened.

I had just turned 13, I was in my older Casibom Giriş brother’s room, and he wasn’t. Howie and I had a very simple hate-hate relationship, so I felt no guilt about snooping. The fact that I wasn’t finding anything interesting was more likely because he was a sneaky bastard who knew how to hide things rather than because he had nothing to hide.

I had almost given up when I spotted something stuck between two books on his shelf. It was an oversized holiday greeting card, something I vaguely remembered seeing a couple of years in the past. On the front panel, along the top, was a small, festive headline that read “Happy Holidays from Daniel, Giselle and Jennifer.”

The rest of the front panel was a photo of my relatives on a beach somewhere. Hawaii, I assumed, because I knew they went there a lot. I felt a stab of jealousy. I didn’t understand at the time why Howie would have kept that card, but it felt wrong that he had it instead of me. Giselle was my favorite aunt, and Jenny was my favorite cousin, and Jenny hated Howie. I felt like they were my relatives, not his.

I stole the card.

Fuck Howie. He probably wouldn’t miss it, and even if he did, he might suspect I took it, but he’d never know. Having a weasel for an older brother made me good at hiding things too.

Later, in the safety of my own room, I took a closer look at the photo. Uncle Daniel, tall and distinguished and looking like James Bond, was flashing a rare smile, while a young, gawky, coltish Jenny beamed in joyous laughter as he gave her a piggyback ride in knee deep water.

But the photo was dominated by Giselle. Dominated because she was closer to the camera, and because she was more central, and because she was beautiful.

She she wore red two piece swimsuit. She was standing at a slight angle to the camera, which displayed her body contours. She was all long, lean muscle and shallow curves. A classic swimmer’s body.

The grace and confidence of her body was offset by an almost introverted facial expression. Instead of turning her head to look straight at the lens, her face had the same camera angle as her body. Her hair was alive in the breeze and one hand brushed away an unruly strand to reveal a shy side-eye gaze at the viewer. One corner of her mouth quirked up in a half Mona Lisa smile that seemed to hold infinite hidden meaning. She looked sad, vulnerable, and lonely.

Of course, almost all of these impressions came to me later, layered on over the many years that I kept that card. Young Jake simply felt the painful longing of his first schoolboy crush.

For the first time in my life, I had some notion of what it felt like to be in love.

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Dalia and I de-briefed my mom as we drove home from the airport.

“Yes, it’s worse than what I told Jenny,” she said. “Giselle didn’t say she was too busy, she just said she didn’t want to come, period. I tried to convince her to come out later, after the baby’s born, but she flat out told me no.”

“Do you think you might be able to work on her and convince her over time?” asked Dalia.

“I doubt it,” mom answered. “I don’t think she’ll even take my calls. She called me out of the blue, and only because she didn’t want to call Jenny herself. This is the first time I’ve spoken to her in three years. I’ve talked to everyone else in the family, and it’s the same story. She’s cut herself off from us.”

We rode in silence for several minutes. Finally, I asked the questions I’d been holding onto for years.

“Mom, what the hell happened to her?” I asked. “How did it come to this? I’ve never really understood it. Is there some deep dark secret?” Mom thought about for a while, and finally shrugged.

“You were always close to her, so I doubt I know more than you,” she told me. “All I know is, she and Daniel never had a happy marriage, but they stuck it out for Jenny’s sake. By the time she went off to college, they were leading separate lives, so I think they just didn’t feel like divorce was worth the bother. But then after Jenny came out as a lesbian, they decided to split up.”

“I don’t get it,” Dalia said. “I knew Giselle had huge issues with Jenny coming out, but how did that lead to the divorce?”

“Daniel, for all his faults, supported Jenny on this. He thought it was best to let her find her own way. Giselle wanted to convince or even pressure Jenny into…I don’t even know what the word is…renouncing her sexuality, I guess.”

I glanced over at Dalia, who was driving. Her jaw was tense, her eyes staring ahead like the world was her enemy. I knew her own coming out had been even more horrific than Jenny’s. I put my hand on her knee and gave it a gentle squeeze. She gave me a quick glance and only a tiny smile, but I could see her release some of the tension.

“Daniel agreed to a generous divorce settlement for Giselle, so it was over quickly,” my mom continued. “He took off with one of his bimbos and lost touch with all of us, even Jenny as Casibom Güncel Giriş far as I know. Giselle and Jenny had a major falling out, so Giselle set up a trust fund for Jenny to finish college, then she moved to a house in Maui that she got from Daniel in the divorce. And she’s been a virtual recluse from the entire family ever since. Basically, no contact with anyone.”

“Jenny never told me exactly what happened,” said Dalia. “But there was a lot pain and anger, and I was there with Jenny a couple of times when she and her mom were screaming at each other over the phone. I remember, after Giselle just packed up and moved to Maui, Jenny told me ‘she’s dead to me,’ and that was the end of it.”

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The twin terrors, my cousins Richie and Robbie, had me pinned helplessly on the ground. Robbie was sitting on my legs and had a grip on one of my hands. Richie was twisting my other arm and his pudgy body straddled my chest. My brother Howie looked on and laughed cruelly. The family re-union had turned into a nightmare for me.

At thirteen, I was the youngest cousin there. Aunt Giselle, my new crush, didn’t come, but Uncle Daniel and Jenny did show up. My disappointment over Giselle’s absence dissipated the moment I saw Jenny. The gawky teen who’d once picked me up after I crashed my bike was now a radiant 17-year old beauty. I was smitten. Unfortunately, I had no experience in hiding emotions like that, so it was painfully obvious to anyone who saw.

Certainly, my brother and my cousins saw it. They teased me relentlessly and now they had caught me in an upstairs window at grandma’s house spying on Jenny as she swam in the pool.

“You’re in love with your couuu-sin,” said Richie in a taunting, sing-song voice.

“He’s always staring at her butt,” said Howie. “Put your butt in his face. Hey Jakey, you like Richie’s butt too?” Robbie laughed uproariously as Richie tried to follow Howie’s command.

“Oh my god, you guys, stop!” said Cousin Trish, but she was laughing as hard as they were.

Suddenly the door burst open and there was Jenny.

“What the hell are you morons doing?” she shouted. “Leave him alone!”

“Get lost,” growled Richie. Normally, he was a little intimidated by her and wouldn’t talk like that, but he was a lot braver when Howie, the oldest in the group, was around.

Jenny marched into the room and grabbed a handful of Richie’s long, curly hair. She yanked violently. Richie screeched and rolled off me as he tried to follow Jenny while she pulled him away from me.

“Hey, knock it off!” he squealed as his post-puberty voice broke back up into little boys’ range. He struggled to his feet and grabbed the hand that still threatened to give him a bloody bald spot. He tried to twist her arm to make her let go, but she used the nails of her free hand to leave bloody trails from his bicep to his wrist.

“You fucking psycho bitch!” yelled Richie. “We’re gonna tell your dad, and you’re gonna be grounded till you go to college.”

Jenny didn’t even bother looking at Richie. Instead, she glared at Howie, the ringleader.

“Is that right, HOWARD, are you gonna be a little bitch and rat me out?” Howie stared back for a few heartbeats, then gave her a condescending smile.

“Relax, princess,” he said. “We’re just having a little fun with lover boy. Let’s go, guys.” With that, they filed out of the room. Richie tried to give her a tough guy stare on the way out, but he bumped into the doorway and she laughed out loud at him.

Later, she sat next to me on the floor, holding my hand and placing an arm over my shoulders. It would have been the answer to my fantasies, except I was sniveling like the little boy with skinned knees.

“You’re a good kid, Jake,” she said. “They’re not. They’re mean and they hurt you.” I sniffled but didn’t answer.

“I know about hurt, about pain,” she said. “I see it a lot in my house. The thing is, pain comes and goes. But what’s always there is you. You just have ride through it, like waves in the ocean. And if it knocks you down, you have to get back up. Because if you stay down, pain will drown you.”

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Having mom in town was helpful in the sense that I didn’t have to keep making that long bus trip out to my cousin’s apartment. I had a busy but focused five-day period where I got caught up on my studies. But I began to realize that I was falling out of the loop. I really had no sense of how Jenny was doing, and whether my mom and Dalia were holding up okay.

It was pretty clear that this was by design. Keeping me focused on school was a collective priority among the three women in my life. They weren’t going to reach out to me and cause a distraction, and on the rare occasions I found time to call them, all I got was cheerful platitudes. Like it or not, I was going to have to trust them to let me know if anything was going off track.

On the fifth night, they did.

Dalia called and levelled with me that Jenny’s pregnancy was becoming increasingly complicated and she had been to the doctor twice and the hospital once during the last week. The doctors were concerned about Jenny’s condition. In the midst of this, Jenny was insisting on talking to me and she wouldn’t tell Dalia or my mom why.

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