A few months passed after her divorce and Kathy had a whole new outlook on her life. Her twenty-eighth birthday had come and gone and she was feeling really good about herself. She was looking forward to every new day with Jess and their life without Dan.
In the quiet evenings after Jess went to sleep, Kathy often thought about what she wanted out of life. She was very happy in her job at the machinery office and she was quite active with the church. Yet she still felt something was missing.
After a lot of time thinking and a lot of time talking with her co-worker, Shelley, who was about her same age, Kathy decided it was time to start dating again. Even through her experiences with Dan, she knew not all men could be bad.
Kathy set a time table for herself that by the time she turned thirty in two years, she would be married again. At the time, she didn't realize how unrealistic this was. But she soon found out.
For the next two years, Kathy dated a few men, none of whom she had any intentions of marrying. She never thought how much went into who she dated now that she had Jess to consider. Not all men wanted to be involved with a divorced woman with a five year old daughter.
Even though Jess was a very lovable child, Kathy found most men could not handle fully loving a child who was not their own flesh and blood. Most of the men she dated were over thirty and Kathy thought men that age would be ready to accept the responsibility and settle down. She was wrong.
Instead of getting depressed about the possibility of being single for the rest of her life, Kathy decided to focus all of her energy into her daughter.
Considering everything Jess went through a few years ago, Kathy was amazed at how well she was doing. She was a shy little girl but Kathy figured it was just hereditary. After all, she herself had been shy as a child and still was as an adult.
When Jess had entered kindergarten the month before, Kathy worried about the other little kids asking about her mommy and daddy. Jess just told all her friends she did not have a daddy. Kathy let her daughter deal with the situation her own way. She felt that was best.
Anyway, since the day Dan disappeared from their life after her father exchanged words with him on the porch, neither she nor Jess had ever mentioned him again.
Kathy was convinced that if she gave Jess a loving, stable environment the whole incident with Dan would not come back to haunt her in her adult years. Kathy's parents agreed with her and were also very active in Jess' life so she would not feel any lack of family attention.
Since they moved into their own house almost three years ago Kathy and Jess began visiting Miriam and John every Monday and Friday for dinner. They even went to Florida every year together on vacation.
Although Kathy did not reach her goal of remarrying by the age of thirty, she was still happy. She knew she would occasionally miss the companionship only a man could offer but maybe after some time had passed, she would get used to it.
Anyway, she could not just get involved with any man off the streets. She had to make sure he would be as close to perfect as possible for her and especially for Jess.
There was no way she would ever put Jess through any more trauma like Dan had done to the both of them.
Five years passed and life went on the same as usual. Jess was now ten-years-old and in the last half of her fourth grade year of school. Kathy and her parents had just thrown a birthday party for her and three of her friends.
Although she was still quite shy, Kathy was happy her daughter at least had a few friends. That was all she had growing up so she reasoned everything would work out all right for Jess.
One night after Jess had finished working on a project for her science class, she came over and sat by Kathy on the couch. "Am I ever going to have a daddy again?" she asked.
Taken aback, Kathy didn't respond at first. This was the first time anything about a daddy had been mentioned since Dan.
"Why do you ask, honey?" Kathy said, looking at Jess.
"Well, all my friends have a daddy or even a step-daddy too, and I was wondering if I would ever have one?" she answered.
"Do you want a daddy?" was all Kathy could think to say.
"No way!" Jess shouted, looking straight at her mother, "I hate daddies."
"Well, not all daddies are mean like Dan was," Kathy responded.
"I know, Mommy but I like it with just you and me," Jess said and then ran into the kitchen for a glass of Koolaid.
"Great." Kathy thought to herself. She was at the point in her life when she needed and wanted companionship again. It had been eight long years without any men in her life except the few she dated about five or six years ago.
Her friend Shelley had suggested joining a club she belonged to. Kathy was thinking about going to their Valentine's party next weekend but after what Jess said she was not sure. "What if I meet a nice man but Jess won't tolerate him?" she wondered.
After discussing the situation with her mother the following night on the phone, Kathy decided she did need a life of her own. She would go to the party with Shelley.
The days prior to the party Kathy felt almost like a school girl again. She was very excited and nervous. It was practically her first social gathering in years except things she did with the church, her parents, and Jess.
Saturday night finally arrived and Kathy dropped Jess off at her parents' house. Jess could spend the night there in case Kathy had a late night.
With much trepidation, Kathy forced herself to actually go to the party. It turned out better than she had expected. She met Mike who had been divorced for several years; and they continued dating two or three nights a week for the next several months. They were having a great time together, and Kathy decided he was someone to hold on to. It was time for him to meet Jess.
It was a beautiful Saturday in May and today was the day they planned to spend with Jess. Mike was going to pick them up and take them to the zoo. Kathy was a little uncertain how Jess would react but even if today was a disaster, she was confident that over time, Jess would learn to like Mike.
Jess came into the living room when she was finished dressing in a new shorts outfit Kathy had bought her for the occasion. She stood beside the TV while Kathy was on the couch watching it.
"Mom, I don't know why you are making me meet this Mike guy," she said shortly, with her hands on her hips.
"Jess, I told you he is a good friend of mine and he wants to get to know you. I really like him, and I think if you give it a chance, you will like him too," Kathy replied.
Jess said nothing. She just stood there staring at her mother in disgust. Even when the doorbell rang a few minutes later, she did not budge.
Jess barely smiled when Kathy introduced Mike to her and she walked silently out to the car when they left for the zoo. Mike tried to start a conversation with her during the drive but she wasn't interested. He decided to give up for now. There was no reason to push her.
Jess cheered up a little during their walk around the zoo. She even talked with Mike about the animals but in a tone to let him know she still wasn't sure about him.
When they got back that evening, Jess was silent again. She had sat in the backseat all the way home as if she was deep in thought. Mike followed Jess and Kathy into the house to say goodnight. Jess walked straight through the door and headed for her bedroom.
Just before she got out of sight, she came back toward the entry way and extended her hand to Mike. He shook her hand and she muttered, "Thanks." With that, she turned toward her room again.
Kathy smiled as Jess left the room. "Well, I guess today wasn't so bad. She wasn't very talkative but she wasn't obnoxious either. I think everything's going to be okay."
"I hope so," Mike said to her as he pulled her close, "because I plan on seeing a lot of the two of you." Before she could respond, he leaned forward and kissed her. A few minutes later he left and Kathy stood in the doorway waving goodbye.
Over the next few years, Kathy and Mike continued to see each other almost on a daily basis. Jess had come to love Mike just as much as her mother did and Kathy felt ready to try marriage again.
The only problem was that even though Kathy knew Mike loved her, he never said the words. The subject of marriage had never been discussed between the two of them. She did not know if it was because he did not want to marry again or if there was some other reason.
That night at dinner, Kathy decided to bring the subject up with him. It took a lot of courage for her to start the conversation because she did not want to sound too forward and scare him off.
"Mike, do you ever think of getting married again?" She could hear her voice quiver as she asked him.
He looked at her but did not respond.
"I mean, we've been going out for three years and I just think it's funny the subject of marriage has never been discussed," she continued.
This time, Mike put his fork down and slowly raised his head to look at her again. "Kathy, you know how much I care about you and Jess," he paused, "but to be honest, I'm not sure I ever want to marry again."
"Oh, well okay," was all she could say. She immediately began eating again. Mike watched her for a few minutes and then also began eating. Nothing was said throughout the rest of the meal.
Mike dropped Kathy off at home that night and barely kissed her goodbye. She was sure he would never call her again. But she was wrong. He called the next day and acted as if nothing was wrong. The relationship continued as usual.
Kathy was not sure how she felt about the fact that Mike might never marry her and she might not ever hear him say he loved her but for the time being, she was going to stay with him. She did not want to be alone again.
Two more years sped by and Jess was now fifteen and near the end of her sophomore year in high school. Just when Kathy began to have some major concerns about her daughter's lack of social life, Jess came home from school and announced she had a date with a boy named Craig.
Kathy was surprised and excited about her daughter's first date. Craig was sixteen and in Jess' class at school. "Dating may be just the thing to bring her out of her shell," Kathy told Mike the night Jess and Craig went out.
"I sure hope so," he responded. "It is kind of unusual for a teenager to be so unsocial. She only seems to like doing things with you."
Kathy shook her head in agreement.
"Of course," Mike continued, "you do tend to shelter her so I'm sure that hasn't helped."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Kathy said, getting defensive.
"Well, ever since I've known you, you never have encouraged her to be outgoing and do things with her friends. It's like you think she'll learn how to have fun and won't want to spend as much time with you."
Kathy did not say anything. She just stared at Mike as if he had slapped her.
"I'm not trying to upset you," Mike said, trying to soothe her. "But it's like you have to have her for yourself. Kathy, you have a life of your own with me so why not let Jess develop a life of her own too."
Kathy picked herself up off the couch and headed for the door. "I want you to leave now. You don't know what in the hell your talking about," she said angrily.
After Mike left, Kathy went into her bedroom, laid on the bed, and started to cry. She knew there was some truth to what he was saying but she was not ready to face up to it.
The first date between Jess and Craig turned into a budding first love. Over the next year, they did almost everything together. They saw each other every day at school, every night, and every weekend.
Kathy did not like how absorbed they were in each other but Jess never seemed to listen when she voiced her concerns. In fact, Jess more or less lost all interest in her mother. Kathy felt very hurt about the whole thing.
No more did they rent movies on the weekend, go for ice cream late at night, stay up late talking, or any of the other little things they used to do. Jess even skipped their yearly trip to Florida with Kathy and her grandparents.
Even though Kathy was still involved with Mike, she began feeling very lonely. She lived with Dan all those years and he neglected her. Now she lived with Jess and she was neglecting her too.
Kathy started spending more and more time by herself. She hardly ever went out with Mike anymore. Instead, she drowned herself in food. Slowly, she began gaining weight. And as the pounds went on, her loneliness and misery just got worse.
Then one day, while Kathy was downing a carton of ice cream, Jess came running into the house screaming and crying. She went straight into her bedroom and collapsed on the bed.
Kathy went running after her, frightened by her daughter's emotional outburst. "What's wrong, Jess?" she said as she entered the room.
"He dumped me!" Jess said in between uncontrolled sobs.
For the next hour, Kathy stayed in Jess' room and cradled her in her arms. For the first time in over a year, Kathy felt needed by her daughter. Although she hated how her daughter was feeling, she felt thrilled at the possibility Jess would be all hers again.
A few weeks passed before Jess came out of her gloomy moods. She was not feeling altogether wonderful but she was beginning to get over the hurt of Craig dumping her. Being with him for a little over a year would take some time to get completely over.
To keep her mind off her failed relationship, Jess once again began spending time with her mother. Kathy was ecstatic. They spent a lot of time shopping, going to movies, staying up nights and talking, and doing other girl stuff together.
The relationship with Craig and the painful aftermath had left Jess totally uninterested in dating. Anytime she knew a guy was showing the slightest bit of interest in her, she turned stone cold toward him.
Kathy was worried about her daughter's behavior but decided that maybe with time she would work through her feelings. She knew her first and only relationship with a boy had scarred her but she did not want her to miss out on another opportunity later.
However, for the time being, Kathy was going to enjoy all the time together with her daughter. The entire summer before Jess started college, they did everything together. They went to movies, baseball games, horseback riding, weekend getaways, and also spent a lot of evenings at the Dairy Queen. Sometimes Mike would tag along with them but usually not.
All the ice cream sundaes and movie popcorn helped Kathy gain even more weight. By the end of the summer, she was more than forty pounds overweight.
Although she was having a great time with Jess, her self-image plummeted. She did not mind going out in public with her daughter but she no longer wanted to be in an intimate relationship. Therefore she cut Mike completely loose. They had not spent much time together lately and Kathy just made it official.
That fall, Jess stayed at home while she commuted to a nearby college. She had thought about going to the state university two hours away but could not bare to part from her best friend, her mother. Besides, the thought of being lost in the crowd at a larger school frightened her.
Due to Jess' classes and the oncoming colder weather, Jess and Kathy did not go out as much as before. Instead, during their free time, they just stayed at home and watched rented movies. When Jess had a lot of studying to do, Kathy would bake cookies, cakes, and breads all night long. She drowned her loneliness and low self-esteem in food which did not help her weight problem.
To fill the void of ending her relationship with Mike, Kathy became more involved in the church. She and Jess had always gone to church on Sundays with Kathy's parents but now she got involved in as many activities as possible.
Kathy started teaching Sunday school for the young kids and also led the youth groups on Wednesday evenings. She became active in all the church bazaars and even organized a food pantry for the needy in her church.
Being at church or with her daughter were the only times Kathy felt okay about herself. She felt self-conscious at work and when she was in public alone doing the shopping and other errands. She knew she was too fat to ever attract another man and resigned herself to being alone for the rest of her life. She would hold on to Jess as long as she could.
After Jess turned nineteen midway through her first year in college, she had an unwanted surprise arrive for her when she got home.
As she was putting her books down and walking toward the kitchen to get a drink, the doorbell rang. A uniformed courier stood in the doorway and asked for her by name. She signed for the registered letter he delivered and almost fainted as she read the return address.
The letter was from her father, Dan. She had not seen or heard from him since she was a little girl. She felt her hands trembling as she stood staring at it in disbelief. The letter dropped from her hands and she ran towards her bedroom and shut the door.
An hour later, Kathy arrived home. As she hung her coat in the closet, she noticed an envelope lying on the floor. "Jess must have dropped some of the mail," she thought to herself as she bent to pick it up.
Her heart almost stopped beating when she turned the envelope over and read the address. "Jess!" she yelled. There was no reply.
After walking into an empty kitchen, she headed to Jess' bedroom. She found her daughter there lying face up on her bed staring at the ceiling. Jess barely acknowledged her when she came in and sat down beside her.
"I take it you saw the letter," Kathy tentatively started the conversation.
"I signed for it before I knew who it was from," she said in a monotone.
They sat together on her bed for a long time in silence. Neither really knew what to say. All the years since Dan was out of their life, his name was rarely ever mentioned. And now all of a sudden, he came crashing back in.
Kathy got up from the bed and walked toward the door. "I'm going to start dinner." She paused before she went on. "If you want to read the letter that's fine. If not, we can return it unopened."
Jess did not respond as her mother left the room. She just laid there feeling as if her insides were turned upside down. She tried to hold back her emotions but to no avail. The first of many tears trickled down her cheek.
That night after a silent dinner, Jess retired to her room, saying she had a big test to study for. Kathy thought about going in and talking to her but decided her daughter needed to sort her feelings out on her own.
When Jess woke up the next morning, she felt a little bit better. She had made up her mind about the letter from her father. She walked into the kitchen for her daily glass of orange juice and glanced at her mother sitting at the table.
"Good morning," Kathy said looking up from the paper. She scanned her daughter's face for some kind of sign to what she was thinking.
"Morning," Jess returned, as she reached for her favorite glass. Once again, no words were exchanged during their morning rituals of getting ready for work and school.
But as Jess was heading out, she stopped by her mom's bedroom. "I've decided to return the letter. He has not been my father for years so there is no reason to start anything now." She quickly left before her mother could reply.
Kathy sat down on the edge of her bed as a great feeling of relief spread throughout her body. She was hoping Jess would make that decision because she was unsure how she would handle Dan's being back in their lives again.