Alice saw a mixture of emotions play out across Jimmy Ray’s face once he saw her. Confusion, worry, hope. Alice was sure he thought he would never see each other again. She had thought the same thing after their last visit.
But upon seeing Jimmy Ray, the giddiness from twenty-three years ago rushed over her and she couldn’t contain herself. She ran across his walkway, throwing her arms around his neck. Jimmy Ray didn’t miss a beat, returning the embrace.
“He’s alive!” Alice cried into his shoulder, tears streaming down her face. “Our baby boy is alive, Jimmy Ray. He’s alive.”
“What’s he like?” Jimmy Ray asked after the tears and euphoria had stopped enough for them to have a coherent conversation. They were now sitting in his parlor with glasses of iced tea, though neither one could barely sit still enough to drink.
“He’s handsome--takes after you,” Alice replied. “Has your smile. I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of it earlier.”
Jimmy Ray’s lip twitched upward in his usual mischievous smirk. “What else? Tell me about his personality.”
“Oh, he’s a smart one. Talented writer. He’s being published in the journal next month.”
Jimmy Ray laughed. “And did that happen before or after you found out he was your son?”
“Oh good gracious, Jimmy Ray. After. All my writers have to work hard to be published,” Alice retorted, playfully smacking his arm.
Jimmy Ray laughed again, but his smile quickly faded. “Can I….I mean….Does he want to meet me?”
Alice looked away, almost ashamed. “I….I don’t know, Jimmy Ray. I don’t know. He wouldn’t see me after he found out. His father--his adopted father--told me that I would have to give him some time to process things.” Alice sighed, shaking her head. “He’s a grown man, anyhow. He’ll see us if he wants to. No one can force him into anything.”
“Does he know that we still love him? That it wasn’t our choice to give him up?”
Alice shrugged, staring at the clasped hands resting in her lap. “I don’t know what he knows. His father said he would talk to him.”
“He must be awful hurt,” Jimmy Ray remarked.
“Yes. He is.”
They sat in silence for a few seconds before Jimmy Ray spoke up again. “I’ve missed you, Alice. Not being able to raise Billy wasn’t in our control--but I regret not seeing you for the past twenty-three years.”
Though Alice had nearly spent the whole day shedding tears of joy, she felt the familiar prick sting her eyes. “Oh, Jimmy Ray. You were only trying to protect me.”
“It wasn’t the best way to protect you--I know that now. I should’ve at least written you a letter, paid you a visit. Something.”
Alice looked into his eyes, seeing her pain mirrored in him. “I forgive you. You were only doing what you thought was best,” she paused, letting the words soak in before sighing. “I’m sorry, I should probably get going. I’ve taken enough of your time as it is.”
“Wait, no,” Jimmy Ray said in protest. “Tell me more about Billy. I’ve scarcely heard anything since you’ve come in.”
Though Alice could tell he legitimately wanted to know more about their son, she could also tell it was a plea for her to stay. He didn’t want her to go.
And suddenly, she didn’t want to go either.
Alice smirked, suddenly feeling sixteen again. “Alright, Jimmy Ray. I’ll stay.”
She told him everything. The story of how they met to every single detail she noticed about Billy since then. Jimmy Ray soaked it in like a sponge, asking as many questions as he could think of. After they had discussed everything about Billy, Jimmy Ray began asking her questions about Asheville. She retaliated with questions about Raleigh.
Eventually, Alice looked at the clock. “Oh, it’s well into the evening. I should get going. I haven’t told my parents about Billy yet.”
Jimmy Ray reluctantly guided her to the door, but paused before opening it. “Alice, you can say no if you want to, but--”
“Yes, Jimmy Ray.”
“You don’t have to ask. Yes, I’ll come visit you again.”
Jimmy Ray looked startled, but his face quickly split into a smile. “The Princess of Zebulon strikes again. It seems you’re too smart for Raleigh, too.”
Alice laughed, but quickly dropped it for a serious expression. “I think it’s time we start over. Let go of the past. And once Billy’s ready, we can start over with him as well.”
Jimmy Ray swiftly leaned over and brushed his lips against hers. Their first kiss in twenty three years. It wasn’t big or passionate, just sweet and simple.
“I would like nothing more, Princess,” he whispered into her ear. “I would like nothing more.”