PROLOGUE: THEIR LAST DAY
February 29, 1988, leap day of a leap year, and the day Jay's life leaped into Hell. The day started out fine. It was a Monday so he went to school. Jay was seven years old, in second grade, and lived in a suburban town outside Columbus, Ohio. When he came home from school that day he was lovingly greeted by his mom as usual. Jay's mother told him she loved him at least once a day and his father often told him as well. Jay always told them he loved them too and he certainly meant it every time he said it, but he didn't realize how precious it was having someone to say those words to and being able to respond in kind, but he soon would. His mother was in an especially good mood because she and Jay's father had plans to go out that night, some formal party for his dad's work, and they would be leaving soon after his father came home.
His father came home from work at the usual time, around 5:30, and quickly headed upstairs to change and get ready for the party. About a half hour later, Loni, Jay's usual babysitter arrived. Loni Holden was fifteen years old, she had strawberry blonde hair, a slightly turned up nose and freckles. She also had a sweet disposition which is what usually made her and Jay get along so well, he couldn't resist doing what she asked of him. But she never abused this influence she had over him. She was always nice to him. She played games with him and let him watch TV and she often told Jay that he was her favorite kid she babysat for. She had been babysitting for Jay for close to a year now.
Jay's parents were ready to depart but before they left, Jay's mother stopped to hug her son and tell him she loved him. Jay smiled and told her the same, enjoying the smell of her perfume along with the warm feeling he always got when she hugged him. She was dressed up in a red evening gown, her shoulder length auburn hair elegantly styled, and wearing the perfect amount of make-up to enhance the natural beauty of her face. Although his seven-year-old mind could never imagine spontaneously telling his mom how beautiful she was, it did register with him and gave him a happy feeling, he didn't recognize it was pride.
As Jay's mom was giving instructions in case of an emergency to Loni, his dad, dressed in a dark blue suit and black tie, his black hair neatly slicked back, came over and squatted before his son as Jay lay on the floor with a coloring book and was surrounded by Crayolas. "Now mind your manners and be on your best behavior for Loni, don't give her any trouble and do what she tells you to do," Jay's father said.
Jay looked up at his father, catching a strong whiff of cologne, and assured him he would be good. With a sparkle in his kind eyes and smiling, his dad reached over and ruffled his son's dark brown hair and told him "Goodbye, Jay-man". After his dad helped his mom into her coat and then put on his, they walked out the door and Regina and Tim Powers were gone.
CHAPTER 1: WHEN THE TEARS DRY UP
Loni had sent Jay to bed at his usual bedtime of 9 o'clock and he had quickly gone to sleep. Water was streaming down the window of Jay's room and rain could be heard gently pitter-pattering on the roof, helping lull Jay into an even more tranquil sleep. Sometime during the night the sound on the roof turned more into a clicking noise and every now and then a "ping" noise could be heard outside, sounding like a tossed pebble striking something metal. The rain started to freeze and sleet began to fall with it.
When the doorbell rang it briefly brought Jay to a semi-awake state but it didn't dawn on him in his sleep-muddled mind to wonder who could be at the door this late. Soon he was completely asleep again. When Loni screamed, that brought him to full consciousness the same way dumping a bucket of cold water on him would have.
Jay threw off the covers and sprung out of bed. He left his room and when he got to the top of the stairs he could see Loni at the bottom and someone else was there with her. It was a policeman! Loni had a hand up to her face and Jay could tell that she was crying. Goosebumps all of a sudden broke out all over his skin and Jay started to shake uncontrollably as a horrible sense of foreboding came over him.
Grasping the banister tightly, Jay slowly descended. When he got to the third step from the bottom he simply sat down trying to gauge the situation. He was behind Loni, so she didn't see him there, the policeman was the first to notice him. He lightly laid a hand on Loni's arm and indicated with his head for her to turn around. When Loni saw Jay she let out a big gasp and a soft squeak as she covered her mouth with her hand, she began to cry even harder.
The policeman came over to the stairs and bent forward slightly placing his hands on his knees. "Hey there," he said in a soft voice, "are you Jeremiah?"
Jay was really scared at this point and all he could do was look at Loni. She turned to the policeman and said in a teary voice, "He likes to be called Jay."
"Ok, Jay then," the policeman said as he smiled. "Is it ok if I ask you some questions Jay?"
Jay finally found the nerve to speak and said through trembling lips, "Where's my mommy and daddy?" A smothered moan of anguish came from Loni and she went into the den to grab a handful of tissues.
"We'll get to that later," said the policeman, "but first I need to ask you a couple things Jay."
"WHERE'S MY MOMMY AND DADDY?!!" Jay shouted as he now began to cry.
"Shh, shh, I promise you I'll tell you but I need you to be brave for a minute and let me ask you some things."
Jay stayed mute. All he wanted right now was to be in the arms of his mother. Loni was back now and she climbed up to sit next to Jay and put her arms around him. After dabbing her own eyes with tissue she did the same for him and wiped his nose. "Listen Jay, remember your daddy telling you to do what I say?" she asked. Jay nodded slowly. "Well I'm asking you to please answer the questions this officer has. Can you please do that for me?"
Jay finally relented and said, "Okay" in a somber voice.
"Thank you Jay," said the policeman. "Do you have any relatives, like grandparents, uncles, or aunts?"
Jay was quiet for a minute then murmured, "I think so."
"You think so?" said the policeman.
"Well, I know my daddy's daddy died a long time ago in a war, the one they show on MASH, and my daddy's mommy died when I was a baby." Jay paused for a minute, "But my other grandma, my mommy's mommy, she's still alive, I think, and my mommy also has a brother and sister, but they all live far away and I've never met any of them. Mommy never talks about them much."
"Does your daddy have any brothers or sisters?" the policeman asked. Jay shook his head. "Okay, you are doing great Jay, just a couple more questions. Do you know the name of the city where your grandmother lives; or your aunt or uncle?" Jay shook his head again. "Do you know if any of them live in this state, or any state they might be in?" Jay shook his head for a third time.
"I only know they live far from here and I never met them," Jay said.
"Okay, thank you so much for answering my questions Jay." The policeman said. "Miss Holden? Could I have a word with you?" Loni looked at the policeman and nodded her head.
"I'll be right back," Loni said giving Jay a little hug, and then she followed the policeman into the living room. Jay couldn't hear what the policeman was saying; he was talking so low it sounded like he was mumbling. He was able to make out Loni's voice when she said, "I'll have to call my parents to check but I don't think that will be any problem for tonight." Then there was more mumbling from the policeman and then the talking stopped. It was quiet for a minute or two and then Jay heard the policeman's walkie-talkie thing go off, someone was saying something but Jay doubted he'd understand what was being said even if he was right next to the policeman. The policeman then said something and Jay could tell he was replying to the walkie-talkie, his voice was louder but he still had no idea what was said. Jay really didn't care, he just had this awful feeling inside of him and he knew he needed to see his mommy right now!
A few more minutes later Jay heard Loni's voice in the living room, "They said it would be okay," she said. Then both Loni and the policeman came back into the foyer where the stairs were. Loni had stopped crying but her eyes and nose were all red.
"Hey, guess what?" she said to Jay trying to sound enthusiastic. "You're going to come spend the night at my house!"
"B...but it's a school night, I can't sleepover anyone's house on school nights."
"Well tonight you can," said Loni
"Where's my mommy and daddy?!! You said you'd tell me!!!" Jay said starting to cry again.
Loni looked at the policeman, he slowly nodded his head. "Jay honey," Loni said, "I won't lie to you, your Mommy and Daddy were in a car accident tonight. They've been taken to the hospital and..."
"I WANT TO GO SEE THEM!!" Jay shouted.
"I'm sorry Jay, but you can't do that tonight," Loni said with tears falling down her cheeks again. "Tomorrow somebody is going to come see you and maybe they will take you to see your parents."
"Who's coming to see me?" Jay asked.
"A person that's called a social worker, they are always really nice and their whole job is to take care of kids when they need help." Loni said. "But for tonight you're going to spend the night at my house, so I need you to be brave for me, can you do that sweetie? If you do, I promise I will stay with you all night long if you want me to, you won't be alone."
"Okay," Jay said in resignation, "but you promise that this worker will take me to see Mommy and Daddy tomorrow?"
Loni looked at the policeman and he said, "Jay, I promise you the social worker will tell you where your parents are and everything that happened and if she can, she will take you to see them. That's the best I can do, I need you to be okay with that, all right little man?"
"Okay," Jay mumbled knowing this was as good a promise as he was going to get.
"Jay," Loni said, "let's go up to your room and you can help me get some clothes and things packed for you to spend the night."
"Okay," Jay said again in an almost imperceptible voice. Loni took his hand and they walked up to his room together.
* * *
Loni felt like her heart was being torn apart every time she looked at little Jay. It was terrible knowing that his parents had been killed and she couldn't tell him when it was obvious he was desperate to know their condition. The police officer had told her explicitly, however, not to tell Jay the true condition of his parents and let the social worker handle that in the morning, they had the training to deal with these situations.
For that night Jay slept in Loni's bed with her hugging him tight. All night long Jay cried. Just when she thought he had finally fallen to sleep she heard him begin to sniffle and whimper all over again. All Loni could do was squeeze him and run her hand through his hair trying to gently shush him. It was the longest night of her fifteen year old life, but she couldn't imagine how much worse it was for Jay.
It was a dreary day the next morning for more reasons than one, the weather had stayed wet and while the temperature had warmed up enough to halt the freezing rain and melt all the ice, there was still a constant drizzle falling from the grey sky. With her parents' permission, Loni decided to stay home from school to be with Jay. He really didn't know her parents that well and she felt he needed at least someone he was familiar with to stay close to him.
Around nine that morning the doorbell rang. Loni was downstairs in the kitchen fixing bowls of cereal for her and Jay while Jay was in the bathroom upstairs. Her mother answered the door and let in a lady that Loni assumed was the social worker. Loni's mother invited her into their home. The social worker was wearing a yellow rain slicker and hat. She was short, maybe only an inch above five feet if that. Her body was a bit rotund and the hair sticking out from beneath her hat was curly and dark brown. She had a haggard look on her face, wary like she had seen too much, yet her eyes bespoke of a certain kindness.
Loni's mother offered to take the rain coat and hat; the social worker gave them over with a "thanks". Beneath the coat she wore a dark purple skirt and blazer with a white blouse. "Loni?" Loni's mother said. "This is Ms. Whittenger, she is from family services and is here to see Jay. Could you bring him downstairs?"
"Of course," Loni responded solemnly. She ran upstairs to her room and found Jay just sitting on the bed in his pajamas. His eyes were red and Loni could tell he had been crying again.
"Jay," Loni said, "the social worker is here to see you. Let's get you dressed and ready to meet her."
Jay just nodded. Loni pulled a pair of jeans and a striped shirt with a collar out of his bag. "Do you need help getting dressed sweetie?" Loni asked.
"No, I can do it myself," Jay said.
"All right then, I'll be waiting outside, if you need me just call." Loni stepped outside her room. Less than five minutes later Jay emerged dressed but tears were running down his face. Loni dashed into the bathroom and grabbed a handful of tissues. She dried Jay's eyes and had him blow his nose, she gave him the remaining tissues she held and told him to hold on to them in case he needed them.
Loni led Jay down the stairs where she could hear her mom in the living room. "That won't be any problem at all, we are happy to do anything we can for Jay," Loni's mother was saying. Loni turned into the living room and saw her mom sitting on the sofa with the social worker.
"Jay, have a seat up here," Loni's mother said when she saw him and her daughter. She patted a place on the couch between her and Ms. Whittenger. Jay looked at Loni, tears still in his eyes, she nodded her head slightly and Jay went and sat where he was told.
"Hello there Jay, my name is Dorothy," Ms. Whittenger said.
"Are you going to take me to see Mommy and Daddy?" Jay sniffed.
Ms. Whittenger's face fell when he said that and she placed her hand over his, Jay immediately recoiled from her touch. "Honey, there is nothing in the world I would rather do than take you to see your mommy and daddy but I can't," Ms. Whittenger said sadly.
"Why not? The policeman said you would!" Jay said adamantly as he cried.
"Jay, I'm sure you realize by now that something bad has happened," Ms. Whittenger said. "I have to tell you something and I need you to be strong for me. Can you do that?"
"I just want to know where my mommy and daddy are," Jay said quietly, a tear dripping off his chin.
"Your mommy and daddy were in a car crash last night. They've gone to Heaven sweetie," Ms. Whittenger said. Loni could actually see Jay's body twitch as if he received an electric shock. Loni felt the tears return to her eyes, her mother was no better. "Do you understand what that means Jay?"
"It means they're dead," Jay said in a quiet and eerily calm voice.
"Yes they're dead; I'm so sorry honey, it was a very bad accident. But you need to know that they are in a better place now and they are still watching over you. They are still with you Jay and you will never be alone, and I'm here to make sure that there's going to be somebody to take care of you," Ms. Whittenger said.
"Who's going to take care of me?" Jay asked.
"Well you have a grandmother and an aunt that live in Maryland, an uncle too!" Ms. Whittenger said. "Your aunt is going to come up here and then you are going to go back and live with her. Your grandmother would come up here too but it's hard for her to travel. Until your aunt gets here, Mrs. and Mr. Holden are going to take care of you. You get to stay here with them and Loni."
Loni's mother wrapped her arms around Jay and said, "We're going to take good care of you, I promise!" Jay stayed stiff in her arms. Loni was happy that Jay would be staying with them until his aunt came here, but one thing she noticed disturbed her. The instant Dorothy Whittenger confirmed that his parents were dead, Jay's crying had stopped.
CHAPTER 2: ONTO A NEW LIFE
Jay's aunt arrived two days later from Lothian, Maryland rolling into town in a 1979 Dodge van. Loni despised her immediately. That you could tell she was Regina Powers' sister was obvious, but Kimberly Fresco looked liked her sister's evil twin. They had the same face but Kimberly's always had a frown while Regina always seemed to have a smile. Their body type was similar, they were of average height; Regina was slighter while Kimberly had a couple extra pounds on her. They probably had the same hair color too, but Kimberly had hers frosted, she wore it short and up; the smell of cheap hairspray overpowered any perfume she might be wearing. The biggest difference though was Regina always carried herself with an heir of warmth and had an inner glow of beauty, Kimberly seemed so forlorn and dour. Also, Kimberly had a habit of gum chewing; she always had a piece in her mouth and was constantly smacking it. Loni had friends in school that chewed gum a lot but seeing an adult do it and make such a big production out of it...it drove Loni nuts.
With the arrival of Kimberly, the funeral arrangements for Tim and Regina could be made. It was decided to have the viewing and funeral in Columbus since this was where they had established their roots and most of their friends lived. Kimberly took Jay into her care and they both stayed in the Powers' house while the funeral arrangements and division of their estate was taken care of.
Financially, the Powers had always lived if not beyond their means then close enough to the edge. Tim Powers was successful as an upper-end manager for the phone company. But Regina was a stay-at-home mom so they only had the one income. Sommer Hills was an upper middle class neighborhood and in order to keep up with the Jones' you had to be moderately wealthy. It turned out that the Powers home had a second mortgage on it and they were still making payments on most of their high valued property. In other words, the bank ended up getting the house because it wasn't worth anything to Kimberly mortgaged to the hilt. The repo man ended up with most everything else. Loni could tell Kimberly was furious about this, it seemed all she could talk about at the viewing was how her sister and brother-in-law had left her in a lurch, that seemed to be the only reason she was upset they were dead. She showed no grief at all.
It seemed that Regina and Tim were woefully unprepared for their untimely demise. Tim always seemed to have one project after another going on at work, he would let matters that could be put off until later slide and Regina was one to trust her husband in all matters financial. Loni knew the Powers were good people and if they had known they were going to go this early they would have done everything they could to secure their son a bright future. It was just that Tim was only thirty-eight and Regina was thirty, it must have seemed to them they had all the time in the world to prepare for their deaths. Unfortunately it didn't work out that way. They didn't even have wills made out. There were no instructions on how they wished to be interred. Since neither of them had a burial plot, Kimberly decided it was in the best interest to cremate them. Yeah, her best interest, Loni thought, this way she doesn't have to pay for their burial.
Fortunately, the one thing Tim did have the foresight to invest in was life insurance. Since they had died in a car accident there was a double indemnity clause in their contract that left Jay with over half a million dollars from the insurance company. However, the way the contract was set up, since Jay was still a minor all that money would be set aside in a trust that he could not open until he turned eighteen. The contract instructed a board of trustees to allow Jay's guardians a monthly stipend from that trust for living expenses, but that stipend was based on the bare minimum it would cost to keep a Jay decently clothed and fed. If there was an emergency or a necessary need for more money the board could be petitioned to grant extra funds.