Jack Richerson decided years ago that he was going to devote the rest of his life to the upbringing of his granddaughter, and primarily, he thought, he’d been successful with her. But for the love of God, he could not figure out a way to get his small packaged, daydreaming-nymph, out of her head and into the now. Mostly, he found the act of her mental wandering somewhat amusing, except on days like today when he was desperate for her cooperation. “Stop looking at your feet Jane-Anne,” he softly reprimanded “and look directly at the cameraman until I tell you otherwise, okay?”
Without much effort, his little Jane-Anne claimed his heart and he didn’t want her to give it back. Never was there a time that Jack could remember loving someone or something more than he loved his granddaughter, and knowing that he wasn’t her biological father, changed nothing. The exact moment her self-seeking, sociopathic father walked out on her, Jack happily stepped in to take his place, and God willing, he would continue to raise her until they put him in the ground, or had him positioned on a mantle; he still hadn’t decided, but either way, he hoped that she would be of an age and maturity where should would be capable to take care of herself.
“But Grandpa Jack, these shoes and this dress make me look like a baby,” she said with her pouty, get- whatever-she-wants-voice that usually worked him over good. “I want to look like a big girl for daddy and if I take a picture wearing this,” she paused and offered up the hem of her dress to him, displaying her distaste for the outfit in her expression, “he might see me in it and think I’m still too young and then he won’t ever come to visit me.”
Her grandfather smiled down at her warmly. “You’re supposed to look like a little girl because you are a little girl and a very special one at that. In fact, you’re my perfect-little-princess,” he said in staccato as he tapped her on the tip of her nose with his index finger. Stopping the smile from spreading across his face would be like trying to make flowers not flirt with the sun. It’s just how he reacted to her, couldn’t change that even if he wanted to.
She crinkled her nose and scrunched her eyes to his declaration. “I am not a princess Grandpa Jack! I’m a professional hotelier who helps you keep this place above water,” she insisted and when he didn’t answer immediately, she roughly nudged him. “Isn’t that right?”
Jack was distracted by her use of the word “Hotelier” and decided she must have been listening in on one of his meetings again. He warned her about not doing that on many occasions. Sometimes the language was less than appealing so he didn’t want her to overhear their conversations.
“Grandpa! Isn’t that right?” she questioned again.
“You know that I couldn’t run this place without you, but what does Grandpa always say to you about worrying yourself with the running of the hotel and growing up too fast?”
Wanting to recite his mantra back to him with her best “grandpa voice”, she cleared her throat then made her best “grandpa lecture-face”. Happy with her efforts, it was time to deliver. “Now Jane-Anne, it is very important that you enjoy your childhood and fill it with special memories that are built on unconditional love. You will have plenty of time to be an adult later, so let me worry about the running of the hotel for now.” She smiled at him shyly and waited anxiously for his praise.
“You nailed it kiddo,” Jack teased, “at least someone around here listens to my instructions.” The comment really was laughable because, yes, he ran a tight ship, but all of his employees respected him and when he spoke, they listened.
Immediately following her performance, she decided it was time to ask the one question that had been plaguing her mind since her feet touched the ground earlier that morning. With hopeful insecurity she asked him, “Do you think daddy will see my picture?”
Jack was accustomed to Jane-Anne firing off questions at random, so the lobbed query about her father didn’t cause much alarm. He knew it was coming. He waved for the cameraman and staff to leave them for a moment, and casually walked over to his heavy oak desk in the atrium. He pulled out the chair and sat down. He eyed Jane-Anne then patted his knee a couple of times, a request that she was very familiar with, signaling her to sit on his lap. Her grandfather was a very busy man; receiving that kind of attention from him didn’t happen often, so she needed no further encouragement to get her to comply.
She ran over to him, not stopping when she neared, and jumped right on his lap. She snuggled into his chest and took a deep breath, holding it in as long as she possibly could. Nothing, absolutely nothing, smelled better to her than her grandpa. Often, she found herself in his office, because in that space, hints of the wonderful aroma of his special aftershave and fine mints lingered, but that lingering was nothing compared to the real thing. Absorbing his scent gave her a prodigious sense of possessiveness and an undeniable need to grasp on to him and never let go. One day, when he was no longer there to hold her, she would recall his spice and mint and hopefully that would make her longing for him a little easier to bear.
Her eyes were wide as she glanced up at him waiting expectantly for an answer. He couldn’t stand to see disappointment on her face, but he knew prolonging it would only hurt her further. Any time she asked to see her father or asked if he was ever coming back, and Jack gave her his answer, the only thing he would glimpse on her sweet face would be deep, hurtful disappointment. He knew what to expect because the answer was always the same, as was her response.
He hoped one day she would no longer ask, not because he tired of talking to her about it, but because he couldn’t stand to see the overwhelming sadness that she would experience, but until she did, he would always tell her the truth no matter what. It was their promise to each other.
He looked down at her with all the love in his heart and said, “Yes. I think your father will see the picture because it’s going to be listed in The Times-Picayune and the Gambit with the article on our annual benefit. But sweetheart, you know that whether he sees the picture or not, he won’t be coming here for a visit.”
She looked down guiltily at her lap then back up at her grandpa’s caring face. She was nervously twisting a dark purple ribbon around her finger until the finger itself was darker than the ribbon and throbbed from being so tight. She released the ribbon, releasing the pressure, and then started stroking the ribbon until it was tightly wound around her finger again. She repeated the motion, praying that the words would come to her to describe how she felt. She didn’t want her Grandpa’s feelings to get hurt because she wanted to see her daddy, but she had to tell him the truth because he made her promise they would always be honest with each other no matter what because that’s what people who love each other do. “I’m sorry,” she cried. “I want to see him though,” her words rushed out guiltily. “I didn’t mean for it to happen. I can’t help it.”
Jack placed his finger under her wobbling chin, lifting her face until she was forced to look him in the eye. “You don’t have anything to be sorry about, or ashamed of. It’s perfectly natural for a girl to want to see her father.”
She put her arms around his neck and rested her cheek on his shoulder and sniffled. “I don’t want to hurt your feelings though.”
“Why do you think that would hurt grandpa’s feelings?”
“I don’t know. I thought that maybe you would think that I’m not happy here with you but I am, I swear it!” she pleaded, wanting him to understand how she felt.
“Now you hush with that nonsense. You don’t have to apologize for how you feel and I don’t want you to worry yourself about hurting my feelings either. I love you no matter what and grandpa knows you miss your father. I’m sorry that you have to live your life without him, but he made his choice, the wrong one mind you, and I want you to remember that nothing he does or has done is ever your fault.”
He saw the confusion on her face and couldn’t stop the emotion from sounding in his voice. He tried to swallow it back because he didn’t want her to know how angry he was with the man he used to call son. “You shouldn’t have to dress a certain way, or be someone you’re not in hopes that it will make him come around. You are a very special young lady, who has a lot going for her, and if he can’t see how wonderful you are, then he doesn’t deserve to have you.” He pointed his finger at her chest and then back at his chest and said, “You and I… we got all the smart genes in the family. That’s why we stick together.”
Jane-Anne giggled. “I love you grandpa.”
He hugged her tight, set her back on the floor and gently patted her on the back. “Now, can we please get these portraits out of the way?”