A MOTHER'S SECRET
Jethro comes home one day to find Mrs. Mallard looking at a photograph.
An established relationship story.
Written: February 2008. Word count: 805.
Jethro strode into the large Reston house he shared with his long-time lover. Ducky was away at a conference, and Jethro had promised to keep an eye on Mrs. Mallard. "It's me, Mrs. Mallard," he called. "Are you ready for your G&T?"
Surprisingly she didn't answer.
Frowning, he dropped his briefcase and hurried into her sitting room; she was in her chair, gazing down at a photograph. He squatted down in front of her, glancing at the picture. It was of a young boy, maybe four or five, and looked fairly old and well handled. "Who's that?"
She looked at him. "My grandson."
Jethro swallowed hard and fought the shock he felt from making itself too obvious. Her grandson! But that meant . . . And Ducky had always said . . . It was impossible. Ducky was, had always been, gay. He'd never slept with a woman. Never! Jethro pushed the insidious thought that maybe Ducky had lied to him out of his mind.
When he felt able to speak without sounding accusatory, he said, "I didn't know Ducky had a son."
She frowned at him. "What makes you think he is Donald's?" she demanded, her tone sharp.
"Um, I thought Ducky was an only child."
She looked at him; then glanced away. "He is," she said.
"In that case –"
"And he isn't."
He took her hand; she was shaking. "Mrs. Mallard," he said, keeping his voice low. "Why don't you tell me?"
For a moment she was silent. Then she looked at him; there were tears in her eyes, but also a look of steely determination. "You must never tell Donald what I'm about to tell you. Promise me, Jethro."
"I promise, ma'am."
"When I was fifteen I –" she broke off. "Things were different then. I was not allowed to keep the baby. It was a girl, Jethro. She was so beautiful. So tiny. And they took her away from me." A single tear fell from her eye and slipped down her aged cheek. "I was never told who brought her up. But one day I received a letter from her, enclosing this photograph. She said she'd found out who I was and wanted me to see my grandson. She said she'd been well cared for, loved, and was happy. She didn't want anything from me, not money, nothing. She just felt . . . My husband never knew, and nor did Donald. And he must never know. Never, Jethro. Never, do you hear me?"
"Yes, Mrs. Mallard." Jethro soothed his lover's mother. He felt an overwhelming feeling of pity for her, and more affection than he'd ever felt. The poor woman, to live with her secret, to keep it from her beloved son for fear he'd think less of her. Didn't she know her son better than that? Of course she did; he knew she did. But he understood; he understood fully. "I promise, Mrs. Mallard," he repeated. "I promise I'll never tell Ducky. It'll be our secret."
She lifted her other hand, it too was shaking, and stroked his cheek. "Thank you, Jethro dear. I have never told anyone before," she added. "I'm glad you know. His name, my grandson's name, was Jeremy. His mother was named Charlotte."
"They died. Both of them, along with Jeremy's father, died in a car crash less than a year after the photograph was taken. I'd hired a private detective. Not to interfere, please believe me, but just to be certain my daughter and my grandson had all they needed. You do believe me, don't you, Jethro? Believe that I never –"
"I believe you, Mrs. Mallard," he interrupted her gently.
"Here," she held out the photograph. "Take it."
"It's the only thing I kept. And with my memory fading, I should get rid of it too. Please, Jethro. Do that for me. Get rid of it."
"But, Mrs. Mallard, don't you –"
"No. No, Jethro. Donald is my only child and I love him. He is what matters, he and you. Now –" And suddenly the lucidity he'd seen so clearly in her eyes fled. "What are doing on the floor, Jethro? Get up. It's time you poured me a drink. And remember, not too much tonic. Well?" she demanded.
For a brief second he shut his eyes, seeing, truly seeing, maybe for the first time, what Ducky saw every day. Then he squeezed her hand, pushed the photograph into his jacket pocket and stood up. "One G&T, without too much tonic coming up, Mrs. Mallard," he said, forcing his voice to be cheerful and matter-of-fact.
Later that night, hours after the old lady and the Corgis had retired to bed, alone in the room he and Ducky shared, Jethro took the photograph and his Zippo from his pockets.
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