It All Started With …

By Jean Marie Alfieri

It all started with Jell-O.

Green Jell-O, to be exact.

“Daaaaaad. Pleeeeeeeeeeeese!” wailed Collin as Wyatt, my Pug, and I entered the apartment.

My boyfriend’s 6-year-old son looked as if he was nearing collapse. His tear-filled eyes threatened to overflow as he tried valiantly to blink them away.

“Not right now, kiddo,” Josh replied, “Jean’s here. We gotta get going.”

“Hey, Collin,” I chirped, unsure how to lighten the mood. I had no idea what I’d walked in on. “Ready to go to the Chocolate Festival?”

“Sure,” he mumbled, head down, shoulders drooped. He petted Wyatt like only the dog could understand his dismay.

“They’ve got a rock wall there!” I offered, hoping to inject some enthusiasm.

“Really?” he brightened. “Can I climb it?!”

“Of course,” said his Dad. “Now go use the bathroom before we leave.”

Collin scurried out.

“What was that all about?” I asked, keeping my voice low.

“He wants some Jell-O, but I told him we’d eat there. He can have some later.”

This sounded reasonable. Collin emerged from the bathroom and we were on our way. It was a crisp autumn day, with plenty to see and do at the festival.  Collin climbed the rock wall no less than five times. We ate, then indulged in some melt-in-your-mouth chocolate. Collin fell asleep in the back seat on the way home. Wyatt snored in my lap.

It was much later than we expected. I was exhausted and didn’t want to make the 45-minute drive back to my place. Josh agreed that it made sense to stay the night and leave the next morning. Wyatt was an early riser, so I figured we’d be up and out before anyone else woke.

Josh carried Collin from the truck. I thought he’d put him straight to bed, but as soon as Collin realized we were home, he was suddenly wide awake.

“Can I have green Jell-O now, Dad? Please?”

I had to smile. After all the food we’d eaten, I expected the Jell-O to be long forgotten. But when you’re six years old and love green Jell-O, you keep your priorities in focus!

“We have to make it first,” said Josh, “That will take a while. We’ll do it tomorrow.”

Poor Collin’s face reddened and his eyes filled. His breath quickened, and this time the tears ran unheeded, soaking the front of his shirt before he could wipe them away. He could barely speak for how upset he was.

“But you promised,” he managed between sobs.

I turned on Josh. “Yes, you promised!”

“We didn’t have time to make it,” he defended. His eyes shifted between us—two against one.

“Well then, let’s make it.” I turned to Collin. “You’re gonna help me, right?”

“YES!” – he bounced up and down. (After all, making green Jell-O is much more exciting than going to some silly chocolate festival!)

“Now you still won’t be able to eat it tonight because it has to set.”

He looked at me in horror; the tears brimming again.

“But when you wake up tomorrow, it’ll be ready,” I quickly added.

He decided this was better than going another day without. So we got to work. Half an hour later, he was tucked into a makeshift bed on the couch with Wyatt snoring next to him.

Like an alarm clock, Wyatt nuzzled me awake at 5 a.m. I quietly hooked up his leash and eased out the door to take him for a short walk. When we returned, I grabbed my purse and had almost made it out the door when I heard a rustling from the dark living room.

“Jean,” Collin whispered.

“Yes,” I whispered back.

“Is the Jell-O ready?” This time I wasn’t surprised.

“Yes, it probably is,” I answered.

“Can I have some?” he asked.

So much for slipping out unnoticed.

“Sure,” I said, moving back into the apartment and taking off my coat.

Collin hustled to the counter-bar and slid into a seat. He was a scrawny kid and sat shivering in his underwear.

“Go grab a blanket and wrap up,” I directed as I pulled the Jell-O from the fridge and got him a bowl. I scooped up the green goodness and set it, wiggling and jiggling, in front of him. Then I got the dog bowl of kibble ready. By the time I set Wyatt’s food down, Collin had finished.

“Can I have some more?” he asked.

“Holy cow! Did you inhale that?”

He giggled.

“Okay,” I agreed. “It’s that good, huh?”

“Uh-huh,” he grunted and scooped another huge spoonful into his mouth.

The truth was, it looked pretty good. I checked my watch. Green Jello-O at 5:30 a.m…why not? I filled a bowl and joined him. It was cool and refreshing.

“Want to play Godzilla?” Collin asked.

“How do you play Godzilla?” (I’m a big fan of the movies but didn’t know Godzilla was also a game.)

“On the Xbox,” he explained.

Wyatt had finished breakfast and nestled himself deep into Collin’s makeshift bed on the couch. He was gently snoring once again.

“Sure,” I agreed. “You’ll have to teach me how to play.”

We had a blast! Collin won again and again, and every time I demanded a rematch. He emerged as the undefeated champion. By the time Josh woke up, we’d killed the Jell-O and were ready for some real food, so we set about making breakfast.

As we ate, I decided that Collin might be the best part of dating Josh. During the months and years that followed, I told him so frequently. With a wink, I’d say, “You know you’re the best part of this deal!” As a little boy, it made him laugh. As he got older, he’d reply with a smile and return my wink.

Now a six-foot-tall, 20-something young man, his desperate love of green Jell-O has faded, but he’s still introducing me to new things and ideas. And he’s still the best part of being married to his Dad!

Musepaper Essay Prize #60

An author, speaker, and nomad at heart, Jean Marie Alfieri and her husband currently reside in Colorado. She finds much of her writing inspiration from her “vintage puppies” and volunteer work at her local Humane Society. She is best known for her collection of short story poems starring Zuggy the Rescue Pug.

* This is the author’s first literary award. *
* This is the author’s first essay to appear in print. *

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