Tommy didn’t know that he was a father. Jenny never told him. They were close enough at a glance to lust and dream, but never really that close. The one night they had together was all they had.
Tommy did know that he wanted to be a father. Some day. He would say he wanted a son when asked, but secretly wished for a daughter so he could protect her from the evils of other men and reckless nights like the one he had shared with Jenny.
Tina knew Tommy better than Jenny ever would. Tina knew his dreams and hopes. Tina had worked hard for years to learn them all. Jenny never understood and didn’t particularly care about other people’s dreams, let alone their hopes. She was going through some things and Tommy had a separate life with a separate home. He was a mistake, a regret she could never share or really feel anything about because it wouldn’t go anywhere because of all the bad timings, and Tina’s, and just bad timing.
Jenny didn’t know that Tommy’s father hit him growing up and that he swore to never raise a hand to his children. How could she? She never asked. Jenny’s father hadn’t been around since somewhere between five and six. Tommy would have been around. Tommy would have taken care of the child—his baby girl, sweet baby girl—holding her gently and singing her some random song that sounded good if he sang it just right and soft enough to make him feel warm down to his toes as he looked into his sweet baby girl’s eyes. He would have whispered all the promises fathers promise their daughters. He would plant the seeds of dreams and sparks of fancy that led to magic as pure as the magic in his arms.
Tommy had Jenny’s consent that night. Jenny had his.
Jenny didn’t have Tommy’s consent that Thursday afternoon. Tommy was working a double, his thoughts lifetimes away from the unknown life teetering in the ether of some clinic. Jenny’s palms were wet. She wasn’t crying—her mom was being ridiculous—but it was just a sad thing was all and the whole place smelled like chemicals, like nothingness, like a whole lot of empty nothingness.
Darla wished that Tommy and Tina would get married and give her some grandchildren already. She wasn’t getting younger for God’s sake and Tommy’s father wasn’t going to be around much longer if he kept up the drink and a pack a day. Tina and Darla would talk the idea of children up once a week at every family dinner while Tommy sat with his dad watching the game.
It was Tommy’s eyes. Jenny never told him that. Those sometimes gray-green eyes and long lashes of his. His hands were nice too. But his eyes were what did it. They made her believe in something, not for long, but long enough. They made her want better things and to be better. When it happened, for a brief moment, as she stared up at the fluorescent light in that chemical-scented room drifting in that empty nothingness, she wondered if it would have his eyes. No one would ever know, least of all Tommy and Jenny.
Tommy would have done right by Jenny, if he had known what they had made.
Jenny would have tried, really tried at it unlike the others, if she had known that Tommy would have done right by her. But she couldn’t tell him, didn’t tell him.
Tina would have left and found a happiness a bit more genuine and pure than the sometimes forced safety that was Tommy’s love. She would have been happier.
Darla would have held the prettiest little darling in the rocking chair on afternoons while Tommy worked and Jenny took classes to finish up her degree—something that Tommy never pushed, but suggested because she was too smart to waste that pretty brain of hers. Darla would whistle to that baby just the way she did with Tommy, whistling and looking down at those pretty little eyes that were just like her daddy’s. Tommy’s father, too stubborn to change, would have at least lived long enough to be a grandpa and see his wife rocking that sweet baby for a few months before his heart gave out one day driving home from work.
Tommy would have had a reason to be more responsible. He would never have gotten behind the wheel one December night, alone and sad that Tina and him were fighting and he had nothing but whiskey and dreams and maybe’s and what-ifs to get by on. He would have driven home from work hours before rather than from the bar after midnight. He would have been fast asleep with Jenny in his arms rather than wrapped around a light pole with a bad concussion and a shattered leg.
Jenny would have made an okay mother. She would have surprised herself and Tommy would have kissed her every night, assuring her—despite everything, every argument and stress—that she was a beautiful mother and the best wife he could imagine. They both would have believed it too every now and then, more than most. They would have had that together. They would have had those nights and those looks and those touches and those moments that would have gotten them through a lifetime of highs and lows.
Tommy and Jenny never got to cradle their love in their hands in the hospital room, afraid they’d hurt her, or drop her, or God-forbid have her disappear as if she were too good to be real. They wouldn’t cry and laugh with one another so hard that it hurt and all they could do to stop from dying was hold one another and that tiny sweet baby girl and see the best of one another in her.
Jenny knew that she was making a mistake, but it was the right thing to do. Had to be. Tommy never got the chance to know anything and tell her that she was wrong, dead wrong to throw something so beautiful away. He never got the chance to tell her a thing because of all the things he didn’t know.
And it was all the didn’t-knows, the couldn’t-haves and wouldn’t-haves that stopped a pair of sometimes gray-green eyes and a sweet little heart filled with all the possibilities of what could have been and would have been if Jenny had just told Tommy what he should have known.