The Memorial Garden
"What exactly are we doing here?"
Jesta stepped reluctantly out of her companion's vehicle, pausing to look around her with a confused frown on her face. "This is a garden centre! Why are we at some hippy garden centre? I thought you were taking me somewhere important!"
"It's not a garden centre." She scolded lightly, locking the car and coming to join her sister. "Don't be silly."
"Well, then why are there signs up advertising plants with prices?" Jesta put her hands on her hips. "Looks like a damn garden centre to me!"
"Well, then you're not looking at the right things." Copper gently linked her arm in the other girl's, leading her away from the gated entrance towards another one, set in a stone wall. "This is the way in we're taking."
"What's this, a sneak round the back way? Are we breaking in or something?" Jesta raised an eyebrow and Copper chuckled.
"No. Everyone comes in this way. Family members, I mean. It's quieter, prettier, and you avoid the shop."
"I told you it was a garden centre!"
"Will you drop the garden centre garbage?" Copper shook her head. "It's no such thing."
"Then what was that back there?"
"That is where people go to buy trees, bushes, whatever." Copper explained slowly. "When someone dies."
"When someone dies?" Jesta looked nonplussed. "What's wrong with a gravestone? This is sounding more and more hippy the further in we go."
"You're the one with the hippy hair colours." Copper retorted. "Besides, you can only have a gravestone if your loved one is buried. Many people aren't - including Papa. He told Mama and me both that he wanted to be cremated. He even picked out this place for his ashes...and Mama and I brought them here to spread them about six months after he died. It was...too emotional to do it before."
She faltered, swallowing the lump in her throat. "We agreed that Papa was better among the trees and the flowers, but we didn't want him forgotten. So we bought a tree and planted it in his name. It's his tree."
"But there are hundreds of trees here." Jesta glanced around her. "Thousands, even. How can you tell which is his?"
"Because I can." Copper said simply. "Besides, each has a plaque beside or beneath it, commemorating the life of the person they represent."
"So it's a memorial garden, then?"
"Something like that. Yes."
"Why didn't you just say so?" Jesta demanded.
"Because I was a little afraid you wouldn't come with me if I told you I was taking you to the closest thing Papa has to a grave." Copper admitted, twisting her hands together. "I can't give you Papa. I wish I could - more than anything, even if it was just for one meeting. But I can bring you as close to him as any of us are these days. When I lived in Detroit I would walk down here every sunday and put flowers by his plaque. Mama often still does, and so do Ros and Luis when they're around."
"This way. Papa's tree is over here."
Jesta allowed herself to be led across the grassy park in silence, her mind going slowly over everything Copper had said. Her sister paused beside a sturdy young tree, with healthy branches full of green leaves, and despite herself, she felt a tug on her heart. Beside the tree was a gold plaque inscribed in black, and above it was a photograph, framed in silver.
"It really is Papa's tree." She whispered. Copper stared at her in surprise.
"You called him Papa." She remarked. Jesta blushed.
"It's because you keep doing it." She returned. "Dad's tree. Whatever."
"Isn't it beautiful?" Copper settled herself down on the damp grass, indicating for her companion to join her. "I swear it's the most peaceful part of the park, and it has such gorgeous plants around it. Papa loved his garden - he would have approved. And whenever things were difficult, I could come here. When I had cancer, I used to come here almost every day. Somehow being in the shade of Papa's tree stopped me being so afraid."
"Wait a minute." Jesta held up her hands. "You had cancer too? What is this, a family disease? Because I'm just resigning myself to being a part time relation to the Santiago clan. I might yet change my mind."
"Well, if you're worried, I advise you to stop smoking the cigarettes that are on your dresser back at Mama's place." Copper said frankly. Jesta snorted.
"Like that matters. You don't smoke. Did Papa...er...Dad?"
"Well then." Jesta folded her arms.
"I was just saying, if you're worried..." Copper's eyes twinkled. "But no. I think we were just unlucky. Papa's cancer was terminal, aggressive and very, very quick. It was literally a matter of months between him being diagnosed and his...his passing on. Mine was treatable and it got treated. I've been in remission for five years now...I'd like to think it's gone for good."
She pursed her lips. "I used to think that it was terrible, that Papa died so quickly." She admitted. "But when I think back on it, I'm glad for him that he did. He was such an active and busy man, so full of life and fun. It paralysed his body, damaged his vision, and stopped him doing anything. We had to take care of him entirely, before we couldn't cope and the hospital had to take over. At the time I wanted so much for Papa to go on living...I didn't even stop to think of it from his side. But now I guess...I guess it was good that it happened how it did. I wouldn't have liked him to go on suffering. It wouldn't have been fair."
Jesta was silent for a moment. Then,
"When you talk about him I almost believe he's real." She admitted awkwardly. "That there was a man called Esteban Santiago who was my father, and who loved me and kept looking for me right up till he died. And that only the fact that he got sick and passed on meant he didn't find me...not that he gave up on me entirely. At the risk of sounding entirely pathetic, I need to know. Do you think that, if he'd still been alive, he would have kept looking? Even after I'd grown up and become an adult myself?"
"He never discussed you with me, so I can't tell you one hundred percent either way." Copper considered the question carefully. "But from what Mama's said...yes. I think so. Even more, maybe. From what I understand it was your mother in the way - but when you were eighteen, you would have had the right to dig information out for yourself. Wouldn't you?"
"Guess so." Jesta glanced down at her fingernails. "But I never did. I told you...I figured he was some no good jerk who'd laid my mother and taken off...and there were enough of them in her life as it was. I didn't really care to find out for sure what fathered me."
She glanced up at the plaque, then sighed.
"It would've been too late anyhow." She said matter-of-factly. "He was dead before I was eighteen."
"I shouldn't have let you bring me here. I'm starting to get morose over a man I never met." She accused. Copper shrugged.
"It was the right thing to do." She said simply. "He would have wanted you to come, anyhow. Who knows? Maybe he's here too. Just because we can't see him doesn't mean he can't see us."
"Don't." Jesta shivered. "That's creepy and unecessary. Didn't your visit to Bainbrook Castle teach you that ghosts only exist if you're stupid enough to believe them?"
"Nancy and I saw a real ghost." Copper was unmoved. "Besides, I didn't mean it that way. I just meant...well, it's hard to explain." She spread her hands. "I just like to think he's with me, like he promised. And now he knows that Mama has found you, he'll know you'll get what he intended for you...and he'll be happy."
"Your mother didn't find me. You did." Jesta said quietly.
"Same thing in the end." Copper responded. "You still get what you wanted."
Jesta cast another quick glance up at the fading photograph in the frame, taking in the man's warm, peaceful smile and his twinkling brown eyes. She sighed, shaking her head.
"Sometimes we never get what we want." She said, resigned. "But it's as close as I'll ever get."
She got to her feet.
"Can we get out of here now?" She asked. "I really, really don't think this wet ground is good for my boots, and I don't want grass-stains up my new jeans."
"Why not? I thought green and blue was your thing...if nothing else it'd match your hair." Copper tweaked one of her sister's pigtails playfully, and Jesta pulled back, annoyed.
"Do that again and I'll knock your front teeth out." She warned. Copper laughed.
"I used to say the same thing to Luis when he used to tie mine together on the school bus." She remembered, amused. "See, we're more alike than you think we are."
"We'll see about that." Jesta shook her head. "I don't think we could be more different."
"So, are you still going back to LA tomorrow?"
Jesta hesitated, then, slowly, she shook her head.
"If I do, I'll always be annoyed by the gaps I have." She said seriously, all confrontation gone from her expression. "And I guess I've reached the point which makes me different from my mother. I want to know both sides of me before I make up my mind exactly who Jessica Talley is. You, your mother - you can tell me things, and it's time I knew them. It's my right. Only Luis..."
"Luis doesn't live at Mama's these days. It was one of his flying visits." Copper shook her head. "He's moving out to Chicago in the winter, anyway...when he's done with school. But he has his own apartment across the city."
"Then I'll come back with you." Jesta decided, rubbing stray dirt from her trousers. "Hey, but before I do, do me a favour?"
"Whatever you do, when we go back to LA, noone knows anything about what's happened here. Any of it. Okay? I mean it." Jesta pursed her lips. "I don't want to be giggle fodder for your silly friends."
"I'm not a teenage drama queen. I'm a responsible married woman." Copper scolded her. "And if that's what you want, I promise. In honesty, I'm not sure it's their business. It's family stuff - Santiago family stuff. And that's all. Besides, when I get back, it'll be work on the double. There won't be time and everyone will soon forget we even went."
"Good. That's how I'd like it to be." Jesta looked relieved.
"Do you still want my help with your Spanish song?"
Jesta shot her a sidelong glance.
"Now we're properly sisters, are you asking for royalties or is this still just a blood favour?" She asked slyly. Copper grinned.
"A blood favour." She assured her. "I'd like to help."
"Then sure. I guess I could use it - Whatson is a fool but he can be hard to shift when he has an idea."
"It's a deal then." Copper dimpled, taking her sister's hand and shaking it mock-formally. "And I'm sure it will be a huge hit!"
* * * * * * *
Topaz sat down on the end of her bed, setting down the tops she had been folding with a troubled frown. Across the room, her companion glanced up from where he had been carefully packing Hollie's belongings, raising a curious eyebrow.
"So you do still speak?" His tone was playful, but there was gravity in his green eyes. "I was startin' to wonder."
"I know." Topaz's frown deepened. "I realise I haven't been easy to live with this week...have I?"
"It wasn't quite what I expected." Cameron put aside Hollie's clean bibs, pursing his lips. "But I suppose I should become accustomed to livin' around how things are between us these days. I know we made all those big promises and plans when Aaron got 'itched, but we didn't 'ave to bring them into force. This was the first real test of 'ow we're gonna work together."
"No, it wasn't." Topaz rubbed her temples. "I mean, it began like that, but..." she trailed off, shaking her head. "I don't even know where to begin. It's just not been my ideal week from start to finish."
"I'd kinda figured that." Cameron admitted. "Did it bother you, stoppin' 'ere in my folks' 'ouse like this? I know the Starlight is somethin' special, but..."
"God, no! I've loved every minute of that." Topaz shook her head. "That and my anonymity. It's just..."
She took a deep breath, then sighed.
"I want to apologise for how I've been acting these past few days." She said at length. "Since the zoo, in fact. I know I've been short with you and I've offered you no explanation for my behaviour. Nor can I even justify it."
"So are you tellin' me that you cold-shouldered me since the zoo for no reason at all?" Cameron looked confused. "Rora, you get 'arder and 'arder to bleedin' read, I swear you do! I used to think I understood what went on in your head - now I wonder if I even know you at all!"
"It wasn't for no reason!" Topaz protested. "It's just the reason is not justifiable."
She bit her lip.
"The truth was, I was jealous."
"Jealous? Of what, woman?"
"You and Eva."
Cameron stared. Then he snorted.
"Eva's been married a damn year!"
"I know. She came by today and we had a chat about a lot of things. She's expecting a baby, too, and I know that there's nothing between you. And that there never was anything, despite that...that one night."
Topaz's cheeks pinkened. "And even if there was, it's not any of my business, which is why I can't justify it. I've been acting really dumb and I'm sorry. I just hope I haven't ruined your last week in England, that's all."
"So let me get this straight." Cameron sat down on the bed beside her. "You've been in a pissy 'uff with me since we took 'Ollie to the zoo because I met an old friend and you jumped to the immediate conclusion that I must be interested in 'er in other ways?"
"Basically. I know. It's tragic."
"I thought we were working on platonic."
"Well, we are." Topaz sighed. "I'm just not very good at it. Before I came out, I was all set up in my mind how we'd cleared the air and that things would even themselves out and be fine when I saw you again. But all that really happened was that I realised how much I was still in love with you and what I'd thrown away by being a total idiot. And then when you greeted Eva so easily, it pushed it home even harder that this is how it will be. Here or Los Angeles or San Diego - it doesn't matter. A pretty resident, a girl from the apartment below..."
She trailed off, spreading her hands helplessly. "I'm finding it hard to deal with. In truth, I don't know if I'll ever be able to deal with it. We've been broken up two years or more now...I shouldn't still feel this way."
Cameron was silent for a moment, digesting this.
"And what of Hollie?" He asked quietly. "The whole point of our friends routine was to make sure the kid 'ad a stable upbringin' where Mum wasn't 'atin' Dad and vice versa. What of that?"
"Good question." Topaz looked troubled. "I'm sorry, Cameron. I guess I'm not as mature as I thought I was. I'm being a screw up again...and making assumptions without properly thinking them through."
"Perhaps we're both guilty of that to some degree." Cameron said thoughtfully. "I admit, I've 'ad the odd date since Aaron's weddin', but I'm still well off the datin' curve. There was something you and I 'ad - and I don't mean the kid. Something that ain't like any other relationship I've ever been involved in. Hollie makes it complicated." He ran his fingers through his thick auburn hair.
"Rora, I love 'er to death, but sometimes I wish she 'adn't been born."
"What I mean is, not this way." Cameron sighed. "Not with you and I like this. When I left after Taylor got married, I was serious when I was talkin' rings at the airport. I now know why you were so reluctant to play along with me, because you already knew you were pregnant and 'ad made up your mind what was to be done about it. But I was damn serious then, Rora. If things 'adn't gone the way they did, well, I fully intended on coming to America for my residency anyhow. It never had anything to do with Hollie - but you know that, because I applied long before I knew about her. It was to be close to you. I almost didn't do it, after we were split. But even though I'm sad to be leaving home, I'm lookin' forward to it. And to bein' within driving distance of Los Angeles."
Topaz glanced down.
"Except that I'm there." She said softly. "And that makes it difficult."
"No. Because you're there." Cameron looked sheepish. "Because even if I can't touch...well...I can look. Okay, it ain't quite the same, but my memory can always fill in the gaps."
"Cameron!" Topaz blushed furiously, and Cameron laughed.
"Sorry." He said, though his tone was unrepentant. "But I think it's time we stopped pretendin'. This chat this afternoon has proven it more than anything. I thought that you were actin' aloof because you wanted me to know the last thing on your mind was any chance of us getting back together. Me, I 'ate 'aving you so close and yet not 'aving you. We've been through some really crazy stuff, and we planned this platonic deal for 'Ollie's sake. But this week 'as shown that it's not going to work because it's not real. Neither of us are gonna be able to keep up the act for long, are we? All it will take is for one of us to 'ave an Eva incident in America an' immediately the other will be wonderin' what's goin' on and feelin' like their world has caved in. We're both prone to jealous fits...lets face it."
He rubbed his chin ruefully.
"What are you saying?" Topaz looked startled.
"I'm saying that enough time 'as passed and enough water 'as gone under the bridge for me to be able to look at what you did with Hollie objectively." Cameron said simply. "At the time, I couldn't rationalise it. But we've been apart a few months and it's 'elped to do that. I'm makin' some big decisions in my life now. I'm twenty five, Rora. I've spent most of my life in school meetin' class deadlines - well, from next month I'm goin' to be involved in people's life and death dramas. I'm a father - you're a mother. We 'ave a beautiful little girl who needs us both to guide 'er. And what better way to do that but together?"
Topaz's blue eyes opened wide.
"Are you asking to get back together?" She whispered.
"More or less."
"But what if we mess up again? What if...?"
"What if we don't?" Cameron shook his head. "There is no damn reason why we should be feelin' so strongly about each other after so many damn problems an' things in our way. Is there?"
"No...I guess not, but..."
"But the fact we do obviously means that we're supposed to be together." Cameron shrugged. "And we need to stop fightin' it."
"Cameron, is this because you care for me, or because of Hollie?" Topaz's expression was anxious. "Because I won't let you tie yourself down to me just out of duty to your daughter. You'll see plenty of her, and..."
"Shut up, will you?" Cameron looked impatient. "How many ways do I 'ave to tell you I love you before you listen?"
Topaz stared. Then a smile touched her lips.
"I told you I was a dumb blonde." She said wryly. "But you're serious?"
"Yes, woman! I've never been more serious!"
"Then so am I." Topaz's blue eyes lit up with hope. "Though this time I vote we don't approach it like giddy, lovesick teenagers. Like you said, we're parents. Can you deal with the fact Hollie always has to come first?"
"So long as you can deal with the fact she's the other woman in me life." Cameron nodded. He grinned. "Not countin' me Ma."
"I can deal with that." Topaz agreed. "And the press? My life is very public, Cameron. You know that and it's caused problems before. Can you handle their intrusions?"
"Yes." Cameron nodded. "If I'd been more tolerant of them and the fact they're out of your control when I first came out to the states, none of this whole madness would 'ave happened. We would never have broken up at all."
"But we mightn't have got back together so fervently, and Hollie mightn't be here." Topaz pointed out. Cameron shrugged.
"True." He acknowledged. "You know, when I was in America, it was all over the press reports still that Hollie was that Luca jerk's. I think I'd like to set the record straight."
"You are not interviewing with any American magazine or newspaper, do you hear me?" Topaz put her hands on her hips. "You have no idea what you are dealing with!"
"Fine." He conceded. "Then you can do it for me. After all, if we're going together again, we'll be seen together places, won't we? I'd rather they knew that your little girl is mine, an' not the result of some sordid fling with that Diablo monkey."
"If that's how you want it." Topaz grinned. "Though I think we both need to take it slow and careful for a while. No jumping into bed together the moment we touch down in Los Angeles, okay? We both know we love each other, but it's like I said the other night. I'm not sure how well I know you. And you said it tonight about me. Love's fine, but we need to be able to trust each other long term. I'm not looking at having an on-off relationship any more. It isn't good for Hollie. So we need to see if we can be compatible first. And we'll only do that by really getting to know each other properly - in all the ways we skipped out on the first few times round."
Cameron looked thoughtful for a moment. Then, gently, he kissed her.
"Deal." He said softly. "Once we're in America, you'll 'ave to look after me a lot, anyhow. I can't always ask Aaron to show me around, an' Taylor is up to 'is neck in other things."
"Promise." Topaz grinned. Then, playfully, she pushed him away.
"And since this is your parents' house and we're supposed to be packing, I guess we should continue this conversation in Los Angeles." She suggested. "Unless you want everyone in the house to be discussing it over dinner."
"You already know this place too well." Cameron looked sheepish. "But all right."
He got to his feet, reaching once more for Hollie's bibs and putting them carefully into the case. "But I won't forget. We've a lot of things still to talk about, an' this time there ain't gonna be any secrets between us. Right?"
"Right." Topaz agreed. "No more secrets."
"Just a whole new start."
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The copyright for the original Jem characters featured in this and other stories by me belongs entirely to Hasbro and their interpretations to Christy Marx and the other writers of the Sunbow Jem series. Their future selves are based on concepts that are entirely my own and are not to be repeated elsewhere without due permission.
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The Teenangel Outsiders, Jesta, Flame, Ryan Montgomery and the future interpretations of Aja, Danse and certain of the other original characters are all or in part the concept of Gemma Dawn whose teenangel outsider fiction world is twinned with Jewel's World. You can visit her site at www.teenangeloutsiders.com!
All events in the stories on this site are based on original ideas and are not rooted in any existing Jem fiction nor in any real life event or person.