Sitting on his knees in bed, Brayden continued to cry out for Jimmy. He refused to let Kylie or Martha hold him. His fever was high. His medicine wouldn’t stay down. Kylie cried along with him, begging him to calm before he made himself sick again.
“Call him,” Martha insisted again, holding out Kylie’s cell phone. “Or I will.”
“No! It’s not fair to him. You should have seen his face when he left here tonight. I broke his heart all over again! I can’t keep shutting him out just to pull him back in. He said his goodbyes. I have to leave him alone.”
“Jimmmmeee!” Brayden wailed, a long soulful cry.
“Look at your son! He’s sick, he’s feverish, and he is in pain. Let him have the one thing he wants. Jimmy will understand.” Martha held out the phone again. “Call him!”
“No!” Kylie reached for Brayden and he pushed at her arm, screaming remarkably loud for how sore and infected his throat was.
“I used to call the time and temperature recording and tell you it was Santa Claus whenever you pitched a fit,” Martha said angrily. “You didn’t know better, but it worked. Sometimes a child just needs to hear a male voice.”
“So call the time and temp guy.”
“Brayden needs Jimmy’s voice.”
“I’m not calling Jimmy. It’s almost midnight. He’s probably sound asleep. Or drunk.”
“Kylie!” Martha admonished.
“What?” Kylie shot back. She was exhausted and done being nice. She lifted Brayden from his bed. He screamed again and again, pushing hard against her chest, throwing his head back, desperate to escape her grasp. Kylie paced the room, trying to calm him down, but he only kicked harder, screaming louder.
“Jimmy is a grown man capable of understanding this is an extreme circumstance that you need his help with. He won’t make more of it than what it is,” Martha reasoned.
“I don’t think he’s going to make more of it than what it is!” Kylie snapped back. “I don’t want to hurt him again!”
“You won’t hurt him. I promise you, he will understand.”
“Jimmy!” Brayden bawled.
“Kylie, call him.”
“Fine,” Kylie caved, unable to listen to her son’s misery a second longer. “Give me the damn phone.”
As soon as she set Brayden on the bed, he immediately threw himself onto his stomach and screamed face-down into his mattress. Martha handed Kylie the phone and she dialed the number she would forever have memorized. He answered on the fifth ring, just as she was about to hang up.
“Ky?” His voice was heavy, thick, but he wasn’t drunk. He actually had been sleeping.
“I’m sorry I woke you—”
“Jimmy!” Brayden cried again, his sorrowful voice breaking as he started to give up.
“Put him on,” Jimmy said, instantly alert.
Kylie pushed speaker phone and held it close to Brayden. “Brayden, Jimmy wants to talk to you. He’s on the phone.”
Brayden hit the phone and pushed her away.
“Listen, Brayden,” Kylie pleaded. “It’s Jimmy.”
Brayden hit the phone again and started to cry harder, but when Jimmy’s voice came over the line he paused.
“Brayden? Buddy. Are you listening?” Jimmy asked, his voice soft and soothing. “It’s Jimmy, Little Man… I want to sing you your favorite song, but if you cry you won’t be able to hear me sing. You have to stop crying so you can hear the song. Okay?”
Brayden sniffed, pulling in air in giant gulps. He started to hiccup. “Oh, tay.”
He pushed himself up onto his knees and Kylie pulled him into her arms. Martha filled a medicine dropper with Tylenol and snuck it into his mouth while he was distracted.
“Are you ready?” Jimmy asked.
Brayden nodded his head and snuggled into Kylie’s shoulder as he swallowed the medicine. She handed him Boo Bear and he clutched him tightly to his chest. His thumb snuck into his mouth and he stared wide-eyed at the phone, still hiccupping, but his huge breaths decreased in size and frequency as he slowly calmed down.
Softy, beautifully, Jimmy began to sing John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy.” His deep voice carried over the phone so clearly it was as though he were sitting in the bed with Brayden, holding him in his arms, gently rocking him as he drifted off to sleep. Kylie had heard Jimmy sing the song a hundred times over the years. As she closed her eyes and opened her heart, her mind wandered back to the very first time she had heard him sing.
Brayden had been only a few hours old, and Kylie had been exhausted, lying in the hospital bed but unable to sleep, terrified, and feeling utterly alone, despite the roomful of people. Ashley had bounced around, talking nonstop and fiddling with everything, asking a million questions and grating on Kylie’s last frayed nerve. Finally, Martha had suggested they go to the cafeteria to eat, so Kylie could rest. Ashley jumped at the chance to leave, but Jimmy had stayed behind, sitting quietly in the rocking chair in the corner, watching Brayden as he slept in the bassinet.
There had been something in Jimmy’s eyes, a tenderness she had never seen before, that had compelled Kylie to offer him a chance to hold her son. Even though he had looked scared to death at the prospect, he had nodded.
As she’d pushed herself painfully out of the bed, Jimmy had stood to help her, but she had waved away his concern. Still inexperienced herself, she had had been careful as she lifted Brayden from the bassinet and settled him into Jimmy’s arms, fussing over the blanket and showing him the proper way to support Brayden’s delicate neck. Jimmy had sat frozen, not even breathing, as though he feared the natural act would somehow cause Brayden harm.
He had been so beautiful with her son in his arms, she had reached for him. She had brushed her fingers through Jimmy’s hair, her light touch calming him enough to begin to breathe again. After a few breaths, he began to rock, slowly, carefully, his eyes never once moving from the fragile life in his arms. Once she was confident Jimmy wouldn’t pass out, she had returned to her bed, curling onto her side so she could watch the two of them together.
After a few moments of silence, Brayden had begun to fuss. A heartbeat later, as though instinctively, Jimmy started to sing.
Kylie had lied to Nessa about when she had fallen in love with Jimmy. It hadn’t been a slow, gradual emotion she had naturally evolved into. She had fallen in love with Jimmy like a hammer hitting a nail, suddenly and explosively, and it had happened the moment he sang the very first word of John Lennon’s song.
She had never expected the beautiful voice, the delicate tone, or the loving words to come out of his mouth. But when they had, something inside her changed forever. That moment in the hospital had been the first time she saw the man Jimmy could be some day.
Or, maybe, in that moment, she finally saw the man he already was.
She had lain transfixed by him, losing her own ability to breathe as his words washed over her. The song was exactly what Kylie had needed to hear that day so long ago, and exactly what Brayden needed to hear this night. He fell deep asleep before Jimmy reached the end.
With Brayden cradled to her chest, Kylie closed her eyes and followed him to sleep, with Jimmy’s voice singing in the backdrop of her dreams.
“Thank you, Jimmy.” Martha sighed into the phone. “It’s been a long night for our poor baby. He needed to hear your voice.”
“Is he asleep?” He wished he could reach through the phone and hold his son.
“He is. And we snuck in some more Tylenol. Hopefully, he’ll keep it down this time, and finally break his fever.”
“Do you want me to come over? I can sleep on the sofa, just to be there if he wakes up again.”
“If it were up to me I’d have you here in a heartbeat,” Martha said, her voice soft with regret.
“But it’s not up to you. I know.” Jimmy paused before asking the question that had been burning up his heart for so long. “What do you think Kylie would say if I wanted to call Brayden once in a while… maybe go out to California and visit him?”
Martha didn’t answer for so long Jimmy thought she had hung up the phone. When she finally spoke, he could hear the tears in her voice. “If I were you, I wouldn’t ask Kylie anything. I’d just do it.”
“I don’t want to upset Ky.”
“I love my daughter with all my heart, but she can be too stubborn, and too proud, for her own good sometimes. She thinks it’s easier to cut ties and forget, but it’s not. It leaves the wounds open and raw, and they never heal. Believe me, I know.”
“I am so sorry for what I did—” Jimmy started, but Martha cut off his apology.
“You can’t change what already happened. All you can do is try to fix it as best you can and go on from there. I haven’t given up hope for you two yet.”
Her support lifted Jimmy’s dark mood a shade or two. “Good night, Martha.”
“Sweet dreams, Jimmy.”
He didn’t think he would be able to fall back asleep, but he drifted of quickly, and slept better than he had in a very long time.