“Lucy? Hi, it’s Jefferson.”
Lucy exhaled. “Yes, I know.”
I paused, expecting her to say something more. She didn’t.
“Well, uh, hey. So I’m calling with some big news. I hope you’re sitting down.”
“What? I really don’t have a lot of time . . .”
“Then I’ll cut to the chase. Rachel is engaged. She’s marrying her boyfriend . . . no, wait, her fiancé, Ray.”
A moment passed. “That’s insane. Are you serious? She’s eighteen years old, Jefferson!”
“How long has she known this guy? Six months? No, I bet it’s more like five months. Five months! She can’t marry him. She doesn’t even know him!”
I sat to listen as Lucy went through the steps of processing this news. “I know.”
“It’s just . . . she’s not pregnant is she? Please tell me she’s not pregnant.”
“She’s not pregnant. I mean, they’re setting a date for summer, and so . . .”
“Next summer? That’s so soon. But wait, no, that’s plenty of time for them to break up, so that’s good. Maybe they’ll break up.”
“She seems to really love him, so I don’t know about that.”
“How can she love him? They just met. She’s eighteen. How old is he?”
I could hear a door swing as Lucy walked outside. Birds chirped in my receiver.
“Well, I have to say,” Lucy said, her lips on a cigarette. “We had hoped she wouldn’t be so conventional.”
“I know.” I had no idea what she meant.
“Is she staying in school?”
“Yes, he goes to college with her. They live together near campus.”
“They live together?” Lucy exhaled a puff of smoke. “Why can’t they just live together? They can wait and marry later, right?”
Lucy took another drag. The kids had told me she was smoking again. Lucy was a chain smoker when we met, but she had given it up when she was pregnant with Jason, over thirteen years ago. Her smoking had taken them by surprise; they had never seen either of us with a cigarette.
“It’s just so conventional.”
“I know.” Rachel’s engagement struck me as rather unconventional, actually, but I was not about to debate fine points. I was merely the messenger.
“Aren’t you disappointed?”
“Well, I wouldn’t use that word. I guess I’m surprised.”
“Well, you did a great job with that one,” she said facetiously. “At least I don’t have to deal with her anymore.”
I had nothing to say to that. After eighteen years of caring about Rachel, Lucy was apparently ready to imagine my eldest daughter meant nothing more to her. With our divorce and Rachel’s “conventional” engagement, Lucy pushed Rachel squarely into my camp. My daughter was officially no longer of any concern to my ex wife.
“So anyway,” I said, breaking the silence. “I wanted to tell you before I told the kids.”
Lucy took another drag. “Look, don’t tell the kids. Okay? Please don’t tell them. Rachel’s going to break up with him anyway, and that will just upset the kids. They don’t want to know when people break up. A break up would be hard on the kids.”
I held the phone from my ear to ponder that last sentence.
“So please don’t tell the kids, okay?”
“Well, I’ll have to tell them soon. Rachel and Ray are coming for New Year’s.”
“Jesus, really? Well,” she laughed ruefully, “Hopefully they’ll break up before that, right?”
“I don’t think so. But I’ll hold off for now.”
“Okay. So, thanks for telling me. Can I talk to Jason?”
“Sure, one second.” I found Jason playing Xbox with Collie. I told him to take a break to talk with his mother.
That night, I sent a note to Rachel.
Part one of my mission is accomplished. I told Lucy about your engagement. She took it well—but I’m glad I broke the news for you.
She suggested I wait on telling the kids. I’ll let you know when they know.
I love you.
A day or so later, Rachel replied.
Dad, I don’t understand why you don’t tell the kids. How can I talk to them on the phone when they don’t know??
Lucy was a bitch, wasn’t she? She can go to hell. Sorry, but it’s true. Ray says so too!
Ray got me a ring. I’ll send you a picture. It’s pretty awesome!! He was so sweet when he gave it to me. It’s big, too. I shoulda told him I was already marrying him, he coulda saved some money. But whatever . . . I got a nice ring. LOL.
In placating Lucy, I had not anticipated that my hesitation to tell the children might hurt Rachel’s feelings. Of course she wanted her siblings to know; getting engaged was the biggest decision she had ever made. My delay in telling them suggested that perhaps I didn’t appreciate the seriousness of Rachel’s intentions.
On the one hand, I had Lucy’s direction to hold off in the event that Rachel broke up with her fiancé. On the other, Rachel was bursting to celebrate her betrothal.
In about six weeks, the kids would be seeing their sister and meeting their future brother in law.
I decided against further delay.
That night, over dinner, I raised my wine glass. “Kids, I would like to make a toast.”
Lillie jumped to grab her Hello Kitty cup. Collie raised his Han Solo glass in the air.
“What’s up, Dad?” Jason asked, lifting his Kool Aid Fruit Punch.
“I would like to toast a new member of our family,” I said. Their eyes looked at me, confused. I paused for effect. “Your sister . . . Rachel . . . is engaged!”
Collie and Jason looked at one another. Lillie looked at the boys, then to me.
“What does that mean?” she asked.
“That, little girl, means that she is getting married. She’s going to marry her boyfriend Ray. And they are coming to see us for New Year’s!”
Lillie looked back to the boys. “I’m going to be an aunt?” she asked.
“No, no,” I laughed. I touched her arm. “Not yet. You are going to be a sister in law, not an aunt.”
She looked at Collie. He giggled.
“Whoa, I’m going to be a brother in law?” he asked. “A ten-year-old brother in law?”
“That’s right,” I said, holding my glass aloft. “To becoming in laws.”
Jason slapped the table. “Man, that means you’re going to be . . .”
“ . . . you’re going to be a grandfather! Oh, snap!” He snapped his fingers in midair, laughing.
Lillie put down her cup and stared at me. “You’re a grandfather?”
“No, no, that’s not true,” I began.
“So what do we call Granddad now?” Collie asked.
“Wow, you are old, Dad,” Jason pointed.
“Now wait, hold on,” I said. I raised my glass again. “We are not toasting a new baby. There is no new baby. We are toasting a new family member. Ray is marrying your sister . . .”
“Our half sister,” Collie corrected.
“Your sister,” I asserted. “And that means we are all about to become in laws. So cheers!”
“Cheers!” Lillie echoed.
I sipped cabernet as they tipped Kool Aid.
“So wait,” Jason said. He looked down to count his fingers. “So this makes Mom . . . wait a minute. This makes Mom my half sister’s husband’s ex stepmother in law. Right?”
I looked at him. I looked down to count my fingers. I looked back.
“Uh, let’s eat,” I said.