“Thanks a lot Brady, how would I ever get through the day without you?” He peered up at his aunt through a thick black fringe, his green eyes glowed with pleasure from the unexpected praise. At twelve years old he was wary of adults. It wasn’t his fault, like any child, rich or poor, he was a product of his upbringing. Nobody that received fluctuating abuse and inattention would believe a compliment wasn’t given sarcastically.
She found it unbearably depressing that she hadn’t even known of him until last month. Her sister Zoe had given birth to Brady in a different state and as she hadn’t spoken to any one in her family, no one knew of his existence. The first Alannah had heard she had a nephew was when the social services had called her to let her know her sister had died and that they had her son in foster care. It was a life changing phone call in a sad lengthy line of them this year.
In March she had received the dreaded news about her husband Danny, the Navy had reported that he had been shot down in Afghanistan, his helicopter had taken a direct hit and plummeted to earth. It had been devastating to her, and ultimately her body couldn’t keep their baby safe in the womb with the levels of stress she’d been under. With everything going on in her heart she took a leave from work and tried to just heal her soul.
When she got that fateful phone call in early September, she realized how much there was to consider. Writing a pro and con list of her options was a much-used tool to give her some clarity. On one hand If she took Brady and adopted him it would be a lengthy court process, she was a woman alone and she wasn’t sure that she was the best person to bring up a boy. The other side of the paper had just one sentence. ‘He was her blood, her family.’ With her parents both gone over ten years now, her sister dead from an overdose, and Brady’s father a sperm donor at best, he really didn’t have anyone else.
They had been getting to know each other at his pace, she tried to give him time and space to come around to the massive changes in his life. Moving to Arizona from Wisconsin was a big move in so many ways. He’d had to leave his school and friends in Green Bay, and though his home life was less than comfortable or safe it was still what he’d known for the last decade. He was much warmer here he told her, hitting the pool in her condo complex was a treat for anyone who’d lived in the frozen Packer’s territory. He seemed to enjoy helping her cook and was happy to help her grocery shop as well. They were strolling through the local farmer’s market on a Saturday just chatting about meal planning when Brady started talking about his upbringing.
“Mom never had much money for actually going to a grocery store, mostly we hit up the food bank or when she got paid, we’d order some pizza. It was feast or famine and I never knew what each day would bring.” Brady wasn’t complaining, he never did. Alannah was actually blown away by his maturity in most situations, honestly, she knew grown men with less. She put her left arm gently around his shoulders, it was an exploratory move really. He hadn’t been affectionate with her aside from shy smiles when she gave him a compliment, and she didn’t want to push it. Her arm wasn’t shrugged off, instead he leaned into her just a bit. It took everything she had not to smile or make a remark.
When they got back to the car, he took it upon himself to load the back seat with the bags of fruit and vegetables. She thanked him and told him she didn’t know what she’d do without him. She had torn a ligament in her right forearm the week before and found that having an extra pair of hands around was coming in handy.
“No problem aunty, I can see how this would be hard with your arm, what did you think you were doing on my skateboard in the first place?” He smirked at her. Laughing out loud she tilted her head.
“I haven’t always been this old you know, I used to be pretty good on a board, I saw it sitting on the balcony and couldn’t resist it, just wanted to see if I could still balance on it.” She stopped when she saw his face. His eyes were filled with barely suppressed laughter. She gave him a mock smack on the shoulder and walked around the car to the driver’s side. She heard him chuckling as he belted himself in and felt a warmth in her heart. ‘We can do this’ she nodded to herself.
Alannah dropped onto the sofa and sighed. She held the mail in her hand and ran a forefinger gently over the return address label. The envelope was a peach hued square that practically screamed wedding invitation. She unsealed it and pulled the matching invite and RSVP card from within. It conveyed a simple and common message, ‘please join us at our nuptials, your attendance is most desired as one who supports and loves us.’ The fact that it was her Brady getting married seemed unreal to her.
The last fifteen years was a blur of varying emotions, financial concerns, and all the other things that go into raising a man from a boy. They had become a family the two of them, legally and practically. He’d been calling her mom since a year after he came to live with her. Now her Brady was getting married, she wasn’t the only woman in his life anymore and it kind of pinched her heart a bit. His fiancée Laura was just lovely. She was educated and funny, athletic, and kind. It was impossible not to love her, Alannah was so happy for the both of them and was proud that she’d been the one to introduce them in the first place.
After she felt that Brady was settled, she returned to work. As a teacher, with administration qualifications, she could pick from some choice options in the Tucson School district. At the high school she taught history and served as vice-principal for the last decade and a half. It was a respectable job, and she enjoyed a good relationship with her coworkers. Brady did well scholastically, especially in English, but sports were where his interests really lay. She had attended innumerable baseball and football games and shook her head in mock dismay when he refused to take down his giant green and yellow cardboard football helmet. The large yellow ‘G’ was a shot at her preference for the Cardinals.
When Dan was just sixteen, they received a notice from the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, it read that one of their inmates had asked to get a DNA test. He’d apparently been the common law spouse of Zoe and believed he might have a child. He said that since he knew his sentence was ending, he’d been thinking of his life, and how empty it was. In recalling his life and relationships, he realized Zoe was the only one that had offered any solace. He remembered that Zoe had wanted to talk about something ‘serious’ a few months after a conjugal visit.
Brady asked what she thought and the two of them discussed it at length. She showed him her ‘pros and cons’ exercise and let him do the sheet. While she waited, she tried to be non-committal. She was afraid that Dan would want to meet this man, someone else related to him but also confident that she’d raised him right. In the end Dan did take the test and it came back as negative. This mystery man would stay that way, their mother and son relationship had been tested and ultimately strengthened.
Now her boy was getting married, his fiancée Laura had been a student a decade ago, she’d returned to the school as a teacher after she’d graduated university. She wanted to share her love of science with a new batch of kids. The state of Arizona had some issues with it’s rankings, being voted as third worst in the entire nation was a kick in the teeth for many educators, but Laura saw it as a personal challenge.
Alannah was warmed and impressed by the young woman’s zeal, and they became friends as well as coworkers. Brady was close to finishing his journalism course at the University of Arizona and was looking towards his future. He had really been bowled over by Laura and after a few tentative group dinners with friends, they started dating exclusively the following Christmas. Brady got a job at the Daily Star and the two had been living together ten blocks away for the last couple years now.
When Alannah finally retired last summer, she knew her shoes were good and filled with her daughter in law to be. She stood and made her way into the kitchen, ‘the kids’ as she jokingly called them would be coming for a cold chicken dinner to talk about the ceremony. Brady asked her to be her ‘best mom’ instead of having a best man stand up for him. He said it was appropriate since she’d been standing up for him since the beginning. She thought back to their introduction, all the things they’d taught each other and knew that without Brady she didn’t know how she would have gotten through all those days on her own.