Chapter 8
Never Forgets What I Lost

"As my memory rests,
But never forgets what I lost
Wake me up when September ends"
–Green Day

Jack usually came to meet us during the afternoons on the weekdays. He hardly ever showed up at the house, without asking for my permission first. Most of the time, however, he'd stroll towards the playground at the park and meet us there. The almost two weeks that I'd come to know Jack, I realized that he had an affinity towards dark clothes: navy-blue and black. But one day, he surprised me by wearing a T-shirt that was a light shade of green. It was interesting to see that Jack hadn't any particular choice of color when it came to choosing clothes. My personal preference had always been the brown or black types. They'd been my favorite colors since growing up and they hadn't changed at all. But Jack was different. I also took into account the style of clothes Jack would put on. He would sometimes wear fitting shirts that showed off muscles; other times, it seemed as if he had just carelessly put on a T-shirt at the last minute. One interesting factor was the way his front parts of the shirt would always be tucked in well, whilst the back would never get that treatment. Jack's taste seemed to be diverse. Judging solely from his clothes, I had a feeling he could embrace anything anywhere.

Under Jack's constant guidance and encouragement, the twins also started developing a change. Pete soon learned to overcome his fear of the monkey bars. Though he still looked queasy occasionally, I could tell that he was enjoying it too as he dangled excitedly from one side to the next.

Sometimes Jack and I'd just stand in front of the slides and applaud for the children when they'd run up the ladder and come down the slides, with Jim shrieking loudly and Pete, looking flushed and excited. The twins immensely enjoyed Jack's dramatic applause; both scrambled up as fast as they could to have another ride at the slides again.

Jack always tried to make them laugh too, whether it was a joke, a past anecdote or merely having a laugh at himself.

However, when the twins were busy playing by themselves, Jack and I usually sat at one of the park benches and just talked.

I was surprised and happy at how easy it soon felt to converse with him light-heartedly. Sure, I'd sometimes feel quite embarrassed, especially after the incident when I'd broken down in front of him, and silences often came up in our conversations, but I knew they didn't really matter. We had a long time ahead of us and perhaps one day we could finally get rid of all the awkwardness.

'So…the twins have great fun in their birthdays?' Jack asked one afternoon when we were sitting on the park bench, side-by-side. There wasn't anyone else beside us and we were seated reasonably far from each other.

I glanced at Jack, after hearing his question, and was surprised to see him look guilty.

'Yes, they do,' I answered, smiling to show that it was okay if he asked many questions. I wasn't bothered by it at all; I was more than willing to share. 'I usually bake a cake…or we buy one from this shop down the street. It sells really good cakes…and the twins absolutely love that. And—and sometimes all their little friends from school would meet up at the park…they'd sing the Happy Birthday song, dance around. Everyone would eat cake and give gifts. It's…pretty great.'

'It sounds really amazing,' Jack acknowledged, smiling heartily now. 'The town here seems to be really full of friendly inhabitants…though it's very quiet.'

'I guess, once you get to know them,' I said, pondering. I hadn't properly been acquainted with too many people here, but I had to admit, that the ones I had met seemed reasonably friendly. Even the ones at the office, especially Gary who had helped me to find the information about Jack in the first place. Also, the town seemed to have a very romantic aura of stillness to it. It was something I greatly enjoyed.

'Sometimes this town feels a bit…ghostly though,' I muttered, voicing out my opinion to Jack.

I was again quite surprised when Jack nodded his head in affirmation.

'It does seem like it,' Jack answered. 'But the town where I grew up…it was pretty much the same. But perhaps a little less quiet, actually.'

I nodded too, to show that I had heard him. I smiled wanly to myself as I remembered the large drilling noises emanating from the construction sites nearby the flat I used to live in. No wonder this town, with its tranquil setting and a beautiful park, had managed to capture my heart.

'You grew up in the seaside town?' I asked, quite anxiously. I was almost in knots, whether he'd ask me more about my hometown. I still didn't have proper answers to those questions.

'Yes,' Jack said in response. He suddenly let out a large sigh; I couldn't help but notice that his voice had sounded almost remorseful. But Jack didn't ask me anything else at all. It seemed as if he was lost in contemplation too.

A silence began to cloak itself around us; almost like a daily habit, Jack and I started trading anecdotes about the most important people of our lives. It was the one thing that always managed to save a conversation—the one thing that really mattered, I was realizing.

'You know, the day before yesterday,' I began, smiling as I recalled the incident that had happened during early morning. 'Jim wouldn't wake up to go to school. So I had to grab him by the ankles…and pull him. And it became a game. I have to pull him by the ankles all the times. He lies down and tells me to. He's just so…lively sometimes. It's crazy how he has these ideas.'

'That's interesting,' Jack answered, laughing. 'Wow, that's a pretty new game, invented right there.'

'It is,' I agreed. 'He came up with it so quickly. Now Pete also loves it. And I have to pull him too.'

Jack merely smiled at this, his face lightening up as he remembered something. 'I used to pull off some silly stuffs on Max sometimes too. He's so…gullible sometimes.'

'What kind?' I asked, feeling quite curious.

'Well, once, Mom got this really unique fruit someone sent from faraway,' Jack answered, cheerfulness seeping back into his voice. 'A gift from someone. And uh…I couldn't stop myself; I had to have all of it. And Max…he was playing outside alone. So I told him to hurry up. Of course, that only made him not do that. And you know me, with my big appetite. I just couldn't resist.'

Jack laughed at himself as he continued, 'Then when Max finally came back and asked that he wanted to have the rare fruit now, I just said "If I ate it, it must mean you ate it too.' And well…he believed it.' Jack smile suddenly grew fonder than ever before.

'He gets so mad if I remind him about it now,' Jack said. 'And well…of course, now he knows that it doesn't work that way. Ah, he was such a cute kid back then…he still is.' Jack finished solemnly.

After saying that, Jack lapsed into silence, for a few minutes, a reminiscing look dawning upon his face.

I was quite certain that Jack hadn't any idea how I felt, but hearing him talk about Max with such warmth and affection always made my heart ache and thump with happiness. Through his words, I gathered rare glimpses of their relationship. I firmly believed now that Jack was a great fatherly figure. I needn't have to worry constantly and ask myself whether he could handle the kids or not; he was already quite experienced. And he seemed to rejoice in it more than anyone I had ever known.

By the time the first of November came, Jack and I had already traded numerous funny anecdotes about each others' lives.

We were sitting on one of the park benches again and watching the twins out of the corner of their eyes when Jack started talking about the fun activities Max and he would sometimes do.

'The twins and I have never gone fishing,' I said to him, quite sadly when Jack finished telling me about last summer when he and Max had spent their free times by taking a boat out and fishing in a lake nearby. All of the kids' school holidays, however, had been spent in this town; we'd always gone to the park and had small picnics or strolled through the small woods in the outskirts of the town.

'You know, I'd take you and the kids out soon,' Jack brushed off cheerfully, looking excited as he dug up the memories. 'Fishing is really fun. And well, the eating too.' Jack laughed slightly.

'Max doesn't get too impatient?' I asked him cautiously. After hearing so much about his brother, I'd already come to form a slightly better idea about him. The owner of an impatient nature he was—that much I was absolutely sure of.

'He does,' Jack answered laughing. 'Fishing requires you to be really patient. But you know…Max. He once pulled at the rod so hard that the fish he managed to catch almost hit a man nearby. But he was…a good guy. The man. Had a laugh out if it himself.'

I couldn't help but let out a laugh; his cheerfulness was infectious.

'The twins would really like that,' I said, smiling now. 'It sounds really fun.'

The children, meanwhile, had bonded incredibly well with Jack. After hearing me call him by his name, the twins began addressing him Jack whenever they could. Jack, however, didn't mind at all. He was more than pleased. The twins could hardly stop talking about him any time of the day.

'When's Jack going to come?' Jim would ask me excitedly after the three of us would walk home from school.

'He said he would come today,' Pete would pipe up. I had to ruffle both their hairs simultaneously and tell them to be patient.

Jack had really captured their hearts, I had to admit.

The twins enjoyed being with him so much that they even managed to come up with silly rhymes whenever Jack made his appearance. He only laughed when he heard them and said he was thoroughly proud; he'd never been the subject of any rhyme before.

Frankly, it pleased and frightened me at how quickly the twins welcomed and embraced him into their lives. Jack too had great adaptability, I realized, not to mention an amazing presence of mind. The three of them grew quite close together; they'd either constantly talk about the story or Jack would tell them something funny that was going on in his life.

'Today I was crossing the street and eating this green apple,' Jack began his daily anecdote one day when the four of us were sitting cross-legged on the living-room floor.

'I love apples!' Jim immediately interrupted, getting up and doing a slight dance. 'And-and apple pie! Mom, Mom, I want to have an apple pie!'

'Jim,' I said softly, grabbing him gently by the arms and pulling him into my lap in an effort to calm him down. He allowed so, tucking his head neatly under my chin as I wrapped his arms with mine.

'It's rude to interrupt,' I said softly to him, rocking him slightly with my legs.

'Can't we make an apple-pie soon?' Jim asked, dropping his voice as he looked up, his mouth pouting. 'It's so good!'

'Sure,' I said smilingly as I realized that Jim's hushed voice was only a tad bit lower than his normal tone.

Jack grinned warmly at us, as if he was enjoying the scene, until Pete scooted a little closer to him and tugged at his arm and said excitedly, 'What happened?'

'Oh, these two buses came up beside me and I was standing in between them,' Jack said, his smile increasing. 'I was so afraid I'd get squashed. But well…'

'Why didn't you?' Jim asked bluntly.

'Ah, when you have a tummy like mine,' Jack said, dramatically shaking his head. 'But it was a crazy experience…I felt I was like Harry Potter.'

'Mom hasn't read to us Harry Potter yet!' Jim cried out, removing my arms away and standing up excitedly.

'You know what,' Jack said, smilingly. 'We definitely will. Both your Mom and I'll read it together. It will be absolutely amazing. The books are great.'

Jack looked very happy at the prospect.

'We will,' I agreed, his infectious tone getting into me. The words felt very promising; I became excited as well. It'd be really great to introduce the kids to the books, especially considering their love for anything fantastical. It was time we had some fun.

During Thursday night when Jack came to visit us, he had other fun plans on his mind instead. He decided to make the kids participate in cooking. It bemused and thrilled me to see them being so willing to try it, even Jim. Jack would also bring a little something for them whenever he'd come. A bar of chocolate, a packet of chips, some bubble-gums, candies, whatever that seemed to catch his fancy. I didn't object to these at all; it was his way of rewarding the kids for finishing up their homework on time.

After coming out of the park at evening, the four of us made a trip to the department store where Jack once again paid for everything. He intended to make his famous pizza for dinner this time. I tried to protest during the payment, but Jack solemnly reassured me that I'd done more than enough during the past weeks and he was the one intruding, after all. I couldn't help but feel quite anxious; it seemed as if Jack would hardly allow me to pay for anything now.

Meanwhile, back at the kitchen, the twins had great fun assisting Jack as he made the pizza dough. While it rested for an hour in the refrigerator, Jack and I prepared the sauce. The twins were supposed to be watching their favorite show on TV but they constantly barged in to see whether the dough was ready. Jack and I both laughed at seeing their impatient faces; I couldn't help smile continuously as I realized how easily Jack and I were working together in the kitchen. He always asked me to have a taste, and when I'd done so, he'd look slightly nervous and quizzical, as if wondering whether I'd like it or not. That almost made me want to grin back. But Jack was undoubtedly a great cook and I couldn't find any fault. He was very clean, neat and methodical; I admired all those qualities very much.

After the dough had finished resting, the twins came back, immediately hopping onto their stools and drumming their fingers impatiently on the counter. While I set off to retrieve the cheese and other ingredients, Jack gave the children a small handful of dough each so that the two of them could make their own pizzas. It excited them even more.

For further demonstration, Jack threw a handful of flour over the counter and kneaded the dough for a few minutes, stretching it gently until it became an appropriate size.

'See, that was fun,' Jack said cheerfully. 'Now you guys should do it.'

'Zoom!' Jim shrieked, grabbing a fistful of flour and chucking it roughly over the counter and his small amount of dough.

'Jim, slow down,' I said, sighing. 'Here, let me help you. Like this.'

I gently took his hands and kneaded the dough with him at the same time.

'It feels ticklish, Mom,' Jim yelled out, giggling.

'It's sticky,' Pete piped up, plopping his knuckles carefully onto the soft dough.

'Don't worry, I'll help you,' Jack said patiently, standing beside him and taking his small hands into his.

'You have to add a lot of flour,' Jack said presently, giving instructions. 'And be gentle. Otherwise it will get too chewy.'

'Oh Mom, I can't wait!' Jim sang after a few moments where the four of us busily kneaded the dough together.

I laughed, seeing both the twins' excited faces. 'Neither can I.'

The smile slowly started increasing across Jack's face and his eyes twinkled.

After the pizza dough was stretched out out and both Jack and I'd prevented Jim from sneaking a large handful of flour and blowing it all over our faces, Jack cheerfully helped the twins add all sorts of condiments to it and pile it with cheese and hearty amounts of tomato ketchup.

'Ah, another one of my masterpieces,' Jack said smilingly, after the three pizzas were put into the oven.

'No more pictures this time?' I asked.

'I almost forgot,' Jack said, laughing aloud now. 'Thanks for the reminder.'

'What?' Jim suddenly asked curiously, as he poked his head underneath my arms.

'My brother Max is going to be displeased,' Jack said, with a tad amount of dramatic expression on his face.

'I cannot wait!' Jim chanted out instead and he started hopping around in excitement.

'Okay, since I made pizza, remember the promise you made?' Jack asked pointedly towards Jim, whose face immediately turned into a grimace.

'What happened?' I asked, laughing a little as I noticed both the twins' doleful expressions.

'We are going to do homework now!' Jack cried out enthusiastically.

'No!' Jim retorted back mutinously.

'No pizza, I'm afraid,' Jack said, suddenly looking very remorseful. 'And I will no longer be making my other food.'

'What's that?' Pete quipped, very interestedly.

'Well, my macaroni and cheese…it's so amazing,' Jack answered, letting out a large sigh and clapping him affectionately on the back.

'But—but—' Jim looked as if he was thinking hard, then he began suspiciously, 'You'd make it?'

'I made the pizza, I'll make that,' Jack said solemnly. 'Definitely.'

'Fine,' Jim relented, and I watched amusedly as the twins sped off to their bedroom. I could immediately hear them cluttering around with their stationary and books.

After the pizzas had been baked, Jack took some pictures and the twins excitedly munched their dinner up. Their small pizzas had also come out surprisingly well and the twins were immensely pleased. When dinner was over and all the dishes washed up, Jack said he'd stay for a little while to help with the kids' homework. Also, he had no plans tonight and Max was holed up in his room, watching reruns of his current favorite TV program. It didn't seem likely that the latter would pay any attention to his surroundings tonight, Jack further explained to me.

'Ah, I actually miss doing homework,' Jack said suddenly as the four of us sat cross-legged on the living-room. The twins were doing their homework by themselves-Pete solemnly and Jim groaning every now and then. He'd tried striking up a conversation, but after realizing it wasn't working, resorted back to concentrating on his books. 'Used to do it pretty regularly at school.'

I raised my eyebrows a little bit, wonderingly. 'Me too. Most of the time.'

'I had this friend at school and we'd be super-competitive with each other,' Jack reminisced. 'About nearly everything. It was crazy…how competitive she was. We'd always race each to see who finished first…'

'Hmm,' I commented, pondering. My twins were hardly competitive; Jim was impatient and excited all the time and Pete solemn and serious. But the two got along great with each other, despite their seemingly incompatible natures. As far as their schoolwork showed, both of them shared a mutual aversion towards it, like most other children I'd seen. Pete, though, was less whiny about it than Jim. Also, I'd never been friends with anyone either, who'd been too competitive.

'It'd feel quite draining when someone's too…competitive,' I voiced the general opinion to Jack.

'Yes…but it keeps you on your toes,' Jack responded softly. I glanced up and was surprised to see his eyes were lightened up slightly.

If I could've travelled back in time and change the course of the past, one of the things I'd undoubtedly do is to pinpoint this particular moment, offhand as it might appear to be. It was the first time he'd ever mentioned her and I hadn't made any connection. Life, you see, hardly ever worked that way. Important incidents slipped by without being taken notice of. They lingered in the back of one's mind, just waiting for the chance to pounce out. When they'd make their return and you'd get hit by a compelling force and simply knocked off your feet, then you'd begin to wonder where exactly you went wrong.

It was the following day, though, when my relationship with Jack progressed to another new level. It'd been quite a surprise to me when Jack had begun talking, but I soon came to understand that he indeed trusted me. He saw something in me that had made him open up, even though I didn't know the reason yet. Back when he'd talk about his mother or a bit of his past, I always derived a feeling there were more on his mind than he would ever let another person know. Of course, I couldn't make any judgment based on his relationship with his friends; I had only seen Jack with Stephen for a meager amount of time.

That day, the four of us had been playing throw-and-catch with a tennis ball for the last half-an-hour. The twins' attentions were now on the see-saws, and they rushed off to their respective places excitedly. Jack and I seated ourselves on a park bench, where we talked about the game for a bit until for some reason the conversation drifted towards some other fun things we could do.

'During summer, the kids and I sometimes played a bit of football,' I said, smiling, as I recalled the memories. 'Just passing it around and running. It's great…fun.'

'I bet they love it,' Jack said, smilingly. 'We should do that again. Split into teams. I used to play it a lot…back at the old neighbourhood.'

'Sure,' I said easily. 'And—and you should bring M-Max up too.'

That moment, I really meant it. Max seemed quite gullible, impatient and slightly impulsive now and then judging from the conversations I'd had with Jack. But somewhere in my heart, I had a feeling that he was quite a good boy. What really made me want to meet Max and perhaps include him in our activities was because I could see a little bit of myself in him—how the latter always seemed to refrain himself away. During the past weeks he'd never come once, even one day when he'd been quite near the park. Jack and Max might have different personalities, but at the end of the day, the former had already rooted himself incredibly well with us. As happy and thankful I was about that, there was something mysterious about Max, something which reminded me of what I used to be like during that age. It made me want to reach out and maybe help a little, whatever the circumstances were. Even though I wasn't aware of the reasons and I'd never met him.

However, the moment the mention of Max came up, I saw Jack's doubtful emotions play a little across his face. For a moment, he looked as if he was unsure whether he should continue talking or not. His face lost the usual cheerfulness; he looked cautious and grim. However after a long time of silence, while I waited patiently and Jack got his emotions under control, it seemed as if he'd changed his mind.

As he let out a large sigh, I realized right then and there that Jack was about to reveal the whole truth to me, even more than the first night when he came back. I wasn't still sure about where my relationship with Jack stood—we'd both been having so much fun with the kids for the past few days. We'd shared anecdotes and caught glimpses of each others' pasts, but it hardly amounted to anything deep. I hadn't any idea what Jack's wishes were; neither did he know mine. It'd only been a little more than two weeks, after all. But perhaps, things were going to drastically change from now.