A Gift on Christmas EvebyRugrat60©
An entry for the 2012 Winter Holidays contest.
It was a Friday that late spring afternoon when the unexpected F3 tornado cut a wide, fourteen-mile long swath through the sprawling neighborhoods of Brentwood and Lindon. It destroyed most of downtown Brentwood leveling the small hospital, the town hall, three schools, two churches and numerous businesses and an untold number of homes. The highway was packed with rush hour traffic returning home. A large section of both towns now looked like a nuclear weapon had gone off. The final death toll was one hundred seventy two with over a thousand injured and three who remained missing from that unexpected spring tornado. Two bodies were discovered a month later, the last one was assumed to have been dropped into the river and carried down stream.
The only good thing about the event was the time that the tornado had struck the towns. The schools were empty else the death toll could have much higher.
Robert Conner and his younger brother Sam, both EMTs with the Brentwood Fire Department and their wives Sharon and her identical twin sister Karen both of whom were nurses, were first on the scene. Having been home just outside of the area hit by the tornado. In the utter silence of the aftermath they stood in a vast area of near total destruction. Then they heard the soft sound of a baby crying. After a short search they found, beneath some wreckage in the middle of a street, two naked babies, both were cut and bruised, but generally the boy and girl, both perhaps only a week or two old, were unharmed. Their identities were never discovered. Robert and Sharon adopted the boy, now named Kenneth Robert Conner and the girl, now named Jennifer Ann Conner, was adopted by Sam and Karen and they were raised as cousins.
Christmas Eve - Forty-Two years later:
Kenneth Robert Conner pushed back from the computer monitor and slowly stretched easing the kinks in his back. Then he set his glasses on the desk and rubbed his eyes. On the radio the classical station softly playing Christmas songs, again shifted to another winter storm warning.
The snow had been coming down steadily all day and now it was coming down heavily as seen through the window of his home office. This afternoon's gray sky had promised more of the same over the next couple of days. The weather report only confirmed what he already knew.
The window was outlined in blinking lights, which made the falling snow change colors.
The blur of the window came back into focus as Ken put his glasses on.
Ken chuckled. They would not be going to his sister's tonight.
His sisters. He smiled remembering past Christmas Eves with Pam, Sue and his cousins Jen and her brother Brian. As children, all five of them camping out in one of the bedrooms at one of the parent's homes, developing their grand ideas on how to sneak downstairs and get their presents early. And always, being foiled by their ever-attentive parents. When they were younger their goal was to watch Santa.
Ken chuckled. One Christmas when he was ten they had all gone down and hid in the dining room under the table. And all of them fell asleep only to awake to a pile of presents. Years later their parents showed them the pictures of the five of them all curled up together beneath the table with blankets taken from their beds.
Not for the first time since his divorce six years ago was he thankful he had started his own computer support business. His business was in medium scale business databases. Inventory and sales are what he specialized in. Only during the initial meetings did he travel to learn the aspects of the business - the rest of the time he was here until it was time to install his software and hold the training sessions.
Ken, now age 42, his name and work was well known among the consulting firms down the East coast. And he was doing quite well. The fact that he still held a Top Secret Security Clearance with the military, made him much more valuable. It even got him into the Pentagon and a few Military contracts.
Ken sighed really feeling content for the first time since the divorce. It had been a real nasty divorce. His ex-wife had been three steps ahead of him when she had suddenly announced she was divorcing him and kicked him out of the house. The two police officers she had called made that happen. While her future husband stood at the curb with that sick smirk on his face. It was a good thing the police were there.
He got the short end of the stick on everything. She got nearly everything. Except his bank of computers and servers. She had relented when he had informed her and her lawyer, with his own lawyer present, that either he got all of the computer equipment, software and all programs and full ownership of all of it, or he would go work pumping gas and she could pay off the mortgage on their rather expensive house and the ski lodge she so liked and the payments on her two cars.
Their son James was in his first year of collage and Ken had made payments on his student loans as promised. James was now out living on his own and he stayed in touch with Ken. Next Christmas he would join them.
Six months later his ex married that smirked faced man on the sidewalk. Then she and her bills were his problem.
Ken continued to watch the snow falling past the window, thinking of his father who had been killed in a stupid car accident eight years ago when a drunk diver had collided with him. So once his ex-wife announced the divorce Ken moved home to help his mother and she provided a safe, emotionally stable haven that he could settle in. And it was good to be back with family.
"Ken," called his Mom.
He rose and left his father's old study and walked down the hall towards the kitchen and his Mom who was standing over the stove.
"Yeah, Mom," he said coming up to stand beside her as she was molding hamburger into a baking tin. He put an arm around her and hugged her.
She leaned against him.
Sharon Conner was 65, tall at 5'10" with gray hair, which she usually wore down to her shoulders, but was now pulled back into a single ponytail; his father had been taller at 6'1". Ken had topped out at 6'3" and he pretty well towered over his mother and his two younger sisters and everyone else in the family. Both of his sisters had their own families across town, where they lived next door to each other, while across the street lived Sam and Karen, all about a twenty-minute drive away.
Sharon looked up at him and smirked. "Typical weather." She gestured at the window over the sink. "Not going anywhere in this. Already called Pam and Sue." She looked at him. "They said, hi." She chuckled. "They all say, hi."
"Did you hear from Jen? Did she make it home?" he asked thinking of his cousin who was in the Navy. They were going to meet her at Pam's.
"Yep," replied his mother as she spread some tomato paste across the top of the hamburger. "Jen got in late last night. She and Brian got to the airport about midnight and they got home about three AM. Hope you do not mind meatloaf. Oh, Jen wanted to know if you have that computer she asked for?"
He leaned over and gave his Mom a kiss on the cheek. "Not at all. Love your meatloaf."
She smiled up at him. "You are such a tease. Peppers and onions the way you like it."
"You are going to spoil me," said Ken as he looked at his Mom and not for the first time he marveled at how young she looked. Sharon had always been slim and she jogged everyday as long he could remember. She had a tread master in the basement and that morning she ran her two miles. And when she wore her hair in a ponytail it made her look that much younger.
"Like who else am I going to spoil?" asked Sharon with a laugh. "Ben!" She pointed at their old cat, resting belly up against the kitchen heat vent. "He's spoiled rotten already."
"Yes, I have the laptop for Jen," replied Ken. Thinking of his oldest cousin who was 42, born three days before he was and she was a Captain and a jet fighter pilot in the Navy until her accident several months ago. "All set at military standard, just as she asked." Ken paused and was silently thinking.
"What is it?" asked his mom.
Ken asked softly, "How's Jen doing?"
Sharon snorted. "Ken, you talked to her yesterday as usual."
Ken remained silent.
Sharon turned to look up at him and she smiled warmly. "She's doing fine. She'll call you later tonight."
Ken nodded absently, as he was lost in memories about Jen's accident.
Ken remembered that day. Jen, then stationed in Florida, had been flying her jet fighter on a training mission when. Just after taking off, they hit a flock of birds, which blew out both engines. Her now un-powered jet became a fast falling hunk of metal full of fuel and ordnance. Jen had related the events to him later. She had ordered her weapons officer to eject. Who did what she was told. Then Jen dead sticked the jet, as she called it, to avoid the crowded area below. She was able to avoid a school and nearby homes only by staying with the crippled jet and guiding it down into a wooded area. At 50 feet she ejected and was caught in the fireball from the explosion and landed real hard in the trees with her chute only half opened. Weeks later she had told him that as she had punched out, she actually did not think she would survive.
Ken just happened to be in Atlanta at a client site, when his Mom had called him with the news. It took him, he remembered, seven hours full of panic and dread to get there by a commercial flight then finally getting to the hospital where Jen was still in Recovery when he arrived. Bandaged up and in casts, her jaw was bandaged, she was wired up to monitors and with an O2 line to her nose and bags of blood and fluid. He stepped over to the side of the bed. He could hear her labored breathing.
He remembered how afraid he was looking down at her. Her eyes were also bandaged over. The heart monitor displayed her rapid heartbeat.
Ken remembered that he had taken Jen's right hand and leaned down to tell her that he was there. Ken could feel her fingers wrap around his. And squeeze. He then told her, "Jen, don't you dare go anywhere." She then squeezed his hand again. "I'll be right here." Again she squeezed his hand. Then she held on tight.
It was then that a doctor came in "Excuse me," he had said, "you can't be here."
Ken had turned to face him, but Jen would not let go of his hand.
Ken said only one thing, "I'm family." And remained beside Jen.
The doctor introduced himself and then speaking softly began listing her injuries
He could feel the tears in his eyes that he had not shed then.
Sharon looked at him then nudged him. "Ken, don't!"
"Don't what?" he asked bringing himself back to today.
"It's over. She's okay and she's home," said Sharon. "She's okay because of you."
"I ... just helped her when she needed it."
"That guy never even bothered to visit her," stated Sharon.
'That guy' was Jen's ex. She had been on her first deployment when 'That guy' filed for divorce. His name was never again spoken in the Conner household, a household with a long military tradition.
Ken said softly, "I remember, at the hospital, taking her right hand and I whispered to her that I was there. She squeezed my hand, Mom. Jen knew I was there."
"Then her breathing eased and her heart rate went down," said Sharon.
"One would think you've heard this before," stated Ken.
She gave Ken her 'that really look' when someone told her something well known. "Two broken legs," she said. "Her hip. Seven ribs, her right lung damaged," stated Sharon. "Her right arm broken." Sharon held up her left hand, and continued, "Her jaw broken and wired up. She lost three fingers from her left hand. Broken left arm in four places. Her gall bladder removed. Her kidneys bruised and bleeding. The damage to her eyes from the fire." She paused then added, "Want me to go on? About the burns or how many pins she has?"
"I was there, Mom" stated Ken, shaking his head. "I know."
"We all know, Ken." Sharon looked up at him for a long moment. "Everyone is very grateful for the time and effort and the care you gave Jen. You were down there for three months taking care of her." She then bumped Ken with her hip. "Which brings to mind something that your Aunt Karen told me."
"What?" asked Ken.
"That when your Aunt and Uncle arrived down in Florida they walked in and found both you and Jen naked ... and ... you were carrying Jennifer around her apartment."
Ken's eyes widened with shock. And he could feel his face turning red.
"And," continued Sharon, "that you were rather ... stimulated at the time." She smiled as she waved the spoon with the tomato paste on it at him while she looked at him sternly. "Care to explain what you were doing with your cousin?"
"Mom, I ... I ... I, " he stammered.
"Sam did say you turned a bright tomato red." She waved the spoon in his face. "He was right."
"M Mom," stammered Ken. "I can explain!"
Sharon looked at him. "Relax." She set the spoon down and washed her hands. "Ken, I know that day was the first day Jen had been out of leg casts."
Ken continued to look at her.
"Then three days later was her award ceremony," continued Sharon.
"Jen was so unstable on her feet, and she so wanted to take a shower," explained Ken. "To be ready for..."
Sharon reached up and put her fingers over his mouth. "Hush!"
"Hush," repeated Sharon. "Don't worry. We all know you helped Jen change the dressings and the other care she needed. Karen and I are nurses, remember. We knew what you were doing for Jennifer what was involved. Ken, not once did any of us doubt your intentions. Besides, we know you kids all went skinny-dipping in the pool late at night when you thought us old guys were asleep. We knew we could trust all of you then. And we still do."
"I'm your mother," stated Sharon smiling up at him. "I know everything."
Ken looked at his mom. "You know I was going to donate a kidney if she needed one."
Sharon placed her hand on his cheek. "We all got tested up here, when you did in Florida." She rubbed his cheek. "I'm glad that Jen did not need a transplant. I was worried that you would donate one. But I would have been very proud of you if you had. As I have always been proud of you."
"Mom," said Ken, "I would do anything for Jen."
"I know. And so do Karen and Sam."
The phone rang.
"We all know that," said Sharon as she walked over to the phone on the wall and answered it. "Hello. ... Hi Karen. Just talking about you. ... You did? ... They are? ... How did it go? ... Really! The kids too? ... Wonderful! ... Well, I'll tell him then. ... Yes, I'm sure he would have agreed. ... They're on their way over? ... I'll bunk them down tonight and then we'll come over late tomorrow morning." There was a long pause. Sharon laughed. "Knowing the three of them we might make it for breakfast." ... "I'll call if we are." There was another long pause. "Nice! I like that. See ya." She hung up the phone.
"Guests for dinner," said Sharon as she turned the oven on and placed the meatloaf in.
"Guests?" questioned Ken. "In this weather? Who'd be dumb enough to drive in this?"
"Who else but your cousins, Brian and Jen," replied Sharon. "He's got that Hummer, remember?" She stepped over to him and took his arm and led him into the living room. "We have something to talk about." She got him to sit down on the sofa and then sat beside him.
"What's going on?" asked Ken. "Is there something wrong? ... Jen?"
"No, Ken. Nothing's wrong," replied Sharon. "Its that ... there is something you need to know. So just listen for a moment." She took his hand and held it. "Last spring, forty-two years ago there was that tornado which hit the town."
Ken spoke up. "I remember. I did that report on it in high school. How you and Dad and Aunt Karen and Uncle Sam found those two babies. And how they got adopted and ... and ..." His voice trailed off. Ken looked at his Mom with slow realization. "And ... That was ... that was ... Jen ... and me."
"Yes," said Sharon softly. "We all wanted to tell you both long ago, but things kept coming up. Your graduation from high school. Both you and Jen joining the service. Then your wedding. Then the others. Jen leaving for her deployment. Your Dad was killed. Jen's divorce and then your divorce. And now Jen's accident." There were tears welling up in her eyes. "And we always ... your father and I always thought of you as our son, and ... and you and Jen were and are ... just ... family. I am so sorry."
Ken looked at the far wall that was covered with family pictures. Memories flooded unbidden of this his family, his sisters, his cousins and of his life.
He slowly turned and looked back at his Mom. Then he saw her tears.
"Mom," he said. "My first thoughts are of you and Dad and my sisters. My cousins. You saved those two babies and gave me ... and Jen ... us homes and family." He pulled her into a hug. "Thanks Mom. You have nothing to be sorry about." As he held her he asked, "Pam and Sue know?"
"Yes, they learned this with Jen and Brian. Their at Karen's waiting for us." Sharon looked at him and added. "They hope that you will still treat them the same."
"You mean Pooh and Stinky?" asked Ken, using the nicknames he had given his sisters long ago. "Always. They're my sisters. Besides who would I pick on then?"
Sharon hugged her son. "Kenneth, you are such a wonderful goof."
Ken snorted. "It's my job."
After a few moments Sharon sat back from Ken. "Now I have some questions that you need to think about."
"You might overload my brain," stated Ken.
"Fat chance of that, young man," stated Sharon. "So, are you going to get married again?'
"Fat chance of that, Mom," returned Ken.
"What if you met someone special ... like ... oh ... say ... like Jennifer?"
Ken sighed, thinking of Jen. He looked over at the picture wall again and focused on Jen's photo, the latest one. The one of her in her flight suit in front of a fighter jet. "In a heart beat, Mom." Ken turned back to her. He shook his head. "But there's no one like Jen."
"Remember that when Jen gets here," said Sharon.
"Call from ... Jen," came the cell phone in Ken's pocket. Then the phone began to ring.
"She always did have good timing," stated Sharon.
Ken had the phone out and open before the first ring finished. "Jen!"
Sharon patted his leg, stood and left the room.
"Ken, we just turned on to Davis Drive," said Jen.
"Jen," was as all that Ken could think of saying.
"Ken..." came Jen's voice. "I'll need help getting through the snow."
"The garage is open. Center bay," replied Ken. "I'll meet you."
"We'll be there in five," said Jen.
Brian's voice came at him. "Better make it ten."
Ken said, "I'll be ready."
"Ken ... "
"I know Jen. Mom just told me." He still did not know what else to say. His mind was flooded with how he felt about her. "I'll be waiting for you."
"I know," said Jen. There was silence for a moment then the call ended.
Ken looked at the screen on his phone at a photo of Jen seated in the cockpit of a jet fighter. Closing the phone Ken rose and paused at the edge of the kitchen. Sharon was setting the table for four. "Mom, I'll go meet them at the garage." He turned to go.
"Ken," said his Mother.
He turned back towards her.
"I know you know this, but remember who you are and who Jennifer is to you."
"She's my best friend," replied Ken. "More than that."
"Then let her know, sweetheart."
Ken looked at his Mom. He knew he could never think of Jen, his sisters or his family in any other way then he always had. But then a memory came to him of how close he and Jen had been growing up. That night shortly after they had turned 17, on her doorstep after they had gone to a movie together and later for an ice cream, when he had walked her to the door Jen had suddenly pulled him close and kissed him real good right on the lips. At the time it seemed to last forever. It was enough to make him start to sweat and Jen felt so very warm against him. Then she hugged him and whispered in his ear. "If you weren't my cousin, you'd be in trouble." Then she had quickly retreated behind her front door.