Jenessa ‘Jen’ Quinto was awakened again by her daughter’s cries. She rolled over to where her one-year-old lay on the bed. Little Shauna was supposed to sleep in her crib, but after the first few months of getting out of bed in the middle of the night, the teen mother thought it would be easier to sleep with the baby by her side. “Shh, little one, Mommy has school tomorrow.” Jen turned on a desk light. Her GED textbook was on the end table.
Whenever the baby woke her in the middle of the night, Jenessa took the time to multitask and get some studying done. Or tried to, anyway. Her middle-aged Lamaze instructor once told her ‘always try to sleep when the baby sleeps’. Yeah, right. More like, ‘feel free to pass out from exhaustion when the baby finally tires herself out.’
Jen glanced out the window at the dark Seattle sky. Thousands of miles away from her parents and friends. All Jen knew, for certain, was that she needed to earn her diploma if she was ever going to make a future for herself and her family.
“Jenny?” Her grandmother emerged from the other room. “Do you need anything?”
“I’m ok, thanks.” But Jen wasn’t ok. The light danced across her dark, coffee-colored skin, a strong contrast to her daughter’s soft olive complexion.
With tears in her big blue eyes, Shauna motioned to the phone on the nightstand. “Ba!” Her blond daddy with his long surfer hair was living back in North Dakota.
Jen pulled Shauna on to her lap. “I know what you want to see.” Jen unlocked her phone to the background image: her sixteen-year-old self in the arms of hunky high school athlete Sean Foster. She and Sean were kissing with their arms interlocked. The word ‘Seanessa’ was written across their wrists in black marker. “I miss you, Sean.”
Shauna squealed with delight. She grabbed a sleeve of her mother’s ash-grey sleep shirt and began to gum on it with her drooling little mouth.
“Yeah, little one, that was almost your name: Seanessa. But nope! You’re my Shauna.” Shauna Campbell Foster: Jen had named the baby after the three most important people in her life. Jen opened the camera app, pulling up her image gallery. First was an image of a teenage Hispanic boy. He was wearing a hospital gown, playing checkers with a five-year-old Jen. “Who’s this? Can you say- Uncle Cam? I wish you had a chance to meet him, he would have adored you.”
“Ca!” the baby shouted. She was smiling, her chubby cheeks filled with happiness.
“Maybe you did meet him. All babies come from heaven, right?” Jen pressed her face to Shauna’s, rubbing her nose against the baby’s soft cheek. “Did you meet my big brother in heaven? Did he send you to me?”
Shauna smiled and nodded.
Jen swiped to the next photo. It was of a blonde teenage girl with round cheeks. “This is Auntie Sara, your daddy’s sister. You’re going to meet her someday and she’s going to spoil you rotten. Sara’s the reason why you’re named Shauna: Sean plus Sara equals Shauna. You’re the perfect mix of my two best friends.”
Shauna giggled at the revelation.
“And then there’s this picture.” Jen couldn’t help but smile. The image of Sean was high fashion sexy: his high cheekbones, his pouty lips, and of course his mesmerizing eyes, the color of the cloudless North Dakota sky.
Jen’s grandma knocked on the open door. “Let me take her for a bit.”
“I’m fine, really.”
“Please, Jenny, let this old woman have her fun. I’ll sing to her in Spanish the way I sang you to you and your brother. And your father.”
Jen chuckled. “Before Dad was a badass Master sergeant?”
“Yes, as hard as that is to believe. Before your father was a war hero, he was my little angel just like this precious miracle.”
“Na!” shouted the baby.
“Can you say- Nana?” Jen’s grandmother asked.
“If she says Nana, before she says Mama I’m going to be pissed,” Jen said with a joking smile.
“Well, Nana is going to give this little one a bottle while Mama gets some rest.” She picked up Shauna, who offered no resistance.
Jen resigned herself to cuddling up with her textbook. “Thanks, Grandma.”
“I love you, Jenny.”
“I love you too.”
Jen watched as her grandma closed the door. She then rolled over, to face the light. Jen tried to start reading but her eyes quickly fell shut. “Oh well,” she sighed. Her eyes had only been closed for a moment when she felt a soft breeze, followed by a pop. The desk lamp appeared to have blown a fuse. She blinked in the darkness. “Well, crap.”
Suddenly she could hear his voice. “Hey, Jen, how’s my sexy Latina princess?”
She could feel Sean’s big strong hands caressing the bare skin of her stomach. His soft lips pressed against her neck. It was as if he was materializing into her bed, one memory at a time. “Sean, baby, you never called me your princess.” She blinked her eyes and there he was, in all of his beauty, his sparkling blue eyes gazing at her with nothing but love.
Sean swept his long hair over one shoulder. It appeared wet like he had just emerged from the ocean. “My goddess, my queen; you were my everything. Why did you have to go and leave me?”
Jen now had a choice, her imagination was even trying to help her. But her logical mind could not be stopped. She reached her hand out and stroked his hair, moving it away from his chest until she could clearly see his sexy, defined pecs. The sadness hit her like a kick to the gut; she knew this was a dream. There was no chest port, this version of him wasn’t sick. “This isn’t you.”
But that didn’t change the fact he was in her bed, in her arms, his gorgeous body on full display. He looked at her with a pouty lip and sad innocent eyes. “You don’t want to be with me because I’m sick? Jen, I loved you from the moment we first met.” Sean moved to the side, cuddling his head against her shoulder, as he wrapped his long legs around hers.
Jen’s voice trembled as she felt the warmth of his body. “There’s no cure for cystic fibrosis. You have so much to deal with, I wasn’t sure if you were strong enough to deal with being a father. I mean, do you have any idea what I’ve been through?”
Sean bit his lower lip. “I lived with CF my whole life. I know what it is to struggle, to feel lost and alone. I would have given anything to be by your side.” He kissed her forehead, down her nose to her lips. “We’re Seanessa, right? It’s you and me against the world.”
She knew he was right. Jen took his hand, placing it on her naked thigh. “Where are you right now, Sean?”
Sean smiled his sweet, sexy grin. “I’m probably in bed thinking of you. Do you remember that night when we made love under the stars?”
“I won’t be forgetting that anytime soon.” Their one sexual encounter had resulted in Shauna.
“I want to make love to you.” Sean sat up on his knees and stripped the comforter from the bed.
“Um… ok.”Jen took off her sleep shirt, revealing her breasts. In this dream, they were perky and firm, not like someone who had been breastfeeding and pumping milk for the past year. She had grown to hate her body. Even when her chest was swollen to the point where she was getting flirtatious glances everywhere she went, all she could think about was the pain and exhaustion.
“Oh God, you’re hot,” Sean moaned. He straddled her hips, gazing at her naked form.
“In this reality,” she muttered. She looked down at her body. Her stomach was perfectly flat and toned. By the light of the moonlit window, Jen suddenly noticed she was wearing a pair of red lace panties that did not exist in her real life.
“When we met I had a trach in my neck. You honestly think you could ever be anything less than beautiful and inspiring to me?” Sean’s eyes sparkled with tears.
This was all a dream but it felt so real. Jen placed her hand on his chest; she could feel his breath, strong and healthy. She stroked her fingers down his pectorals to his abs. “I miss you.”
“I miss you too, Jen.” He moved on top of her, pinning her down with his muscular athletic build; large hands, sexy strong arms, and shoulders.
She could feel his erection pressed against her thigh. But Jen dared not look down for fear the illusion would vanish.
“I want you so bad.” Sean’s lips touched hers, coaxing her mouth open with his tongue. He tasted sweet like the soda and candy he loved so much.
The taste reminded her of their road trip. “Do you remember the energy drink I made you try?”
“In South Dakota? Yeah, I liked it.”
Jen laughed. “You vomited.”
“I vomited because I said ‘I love you’ for the first time and you didn’t say it back.”
Jen paused, looking into his eyes. This was her dream. Did she honestly remember him saying ‘I love you’? She did. “Sorry, it just takes me time.”
Sean rolled off of her, stretching his long legs. “Well, I have nothing but time.”
“Yeah, I know.” Jen swallowed hard. Sean had all the time, yet no time. So what right did she have to claim him as her own?
Sean stroked her hand from her wrist down her fingertips. “I’m waiting for you. I will love you until the day my illness takes me from this world.”
“I know.” Jen woke with tears in her eyes. She looked down and she was wearing her long sleep shirt and shorts. She sat up, pulling her knees to her chest; this was her reality. She left him behind. And why? He was sick but that didn’t mean she couldn’t love him. She picked up her phone. All she had to do was message him. But what if this was a bad time? What if he was too ill? She knew from Sara that Sean had been hospitalized a while back. Jen scanned through her messages; Sara hadn’t replied to her in months. Yes, Sean was probably sick again. She put her phone down and tried to calm herself.
Her grandma re-entered the room with Shauna in her arms. “Jenny, did you have a bad dream?”
“Kind of.” Jen’s voice quivered. “Did Shauna take a bottle?”
“Yes, she’s a big eater, just like your daddy was.” Jen’s grandmother put the baby back in Jen’s arms. “She should be ok until morning.”
Jen held Shauna on her lap. “Thanks.”
Jen’s grandma could see the phone from where she stood. “Sweetheart, you can always call him. I never met the boy, but from what you tell me he seems like a good, kind young man.”
“I know. I’m just so afraid. I need a sign.”
“I’ll leave you to search for it.”
“Goodnight, Grandma.” Jen turned to the phone, placing it between herself and Shauna. She went to her voicemail messages. “Do you want to hear Daddy?”
Shauna looked at Jen, her eyes heavy with sleep. She rolled on to the phone but in doing so played a different message.
“Hello, Jen, this is your father. I’m so sorry I couldn’t see you off at the airport. Your grandmother will take good care of you, she will show you how to be a great Mom. Because she herself was always an amazing mother. I miss you with all of my heart and I hope one day to meet my grandchild. I love you, Jen.”
“I love you too Dad.” Jen looked at Shauna. “How did you do that?”
Shauna only giggled. “Da!”
That was when Jen looked down at her sleep shirt. The ash-grey shirt had the US Air Force logo- it had belonged to her father. “You deserve to know your daddy.” Jen opened a different message, the last voice message she had from Sean.
“Hey, Jen, it’s Sean. In case you deleted my number from your phone…You haven’t been returning my calls. Fuck, I don’t even know if this is even still your number.” Jen could hear his voice breaking. “Sara says I should give you some space, so this is the last time I’ll bother you. I don’t know what I did. I can’t change who I am. I’m trying to tell myself that’s not the reason you left. It can’t be. You loved me through the worst of my illness, you helped me feel strong. I love you with all my hear─” The message cut off due to the time constraint.
Jen stroked Shauna’s cheek. “Your daddy doesn’t know about you. But I know he would love you.”
Shauna crawled on top of the phone, hugging it like a stuffed toy. “Da-Da.”
Jen pursed her lips as she pulled her daughter close. “Yeah, he is. No matter what happens, Sean Foster will always be your father.” She wiped her tears and went to bed with her daughter in her arms.
Days turned in to weeks. Jen completed her GED while working part-time at Target. Then out of the blue, her phone rang with a familiar ringtone. “Hello?”
“Hi, Jen, it’s Sara.”
The adventure continues in Dakota Son-