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Keira pinched his arm, making him cringe. “But it’s not about the money. It’s about you feeling comfortable.”

I glanced at Dad and Mom, wanting them to speak up for me, to erase all of the issues and make the decisions, but I knew it was my responsibility.

Mike walked into the house laughing with James, and they paused when they saw use all sitting. Mike groaned. “Not another deep emotional baby talk.”

James’ stare shot to me, worry filling his brown eyes. “What’s going on with the baby? Is he okay?” The hitch and level of concern in his voice was alarming.

I glanced around, making sure no one had noticed his urgency before I answered. “The baby’s fine. We’re just celebrating Paul’s new job promotion in Washington.”

Keira’s hands fell to her chest and she took a breath. “We are?”

I picked at my fingernails and nodded. “Yes. Congratulations, you guys.”

James stepped closer into the room, running his fingers through his hair. “So, the baby goes to Washington? Aren’t you going to miss it, Aria? Didn’t you want it close to home?”

He was starting to sweat as he wiped his hands against his jeans. Dad turned to James and cleared his throat. “Sorry, James. This is kind of a private conversation.”

With a few blinks, James apologized. “I didn’t mean to cross any lines.”

Lines were definitely being crossed and blurred.

* * *

“You can’t seriously be letting them take the baby to Washington!” James barged into my room uninvited. He’d probably been sitting in Mike’s room waiting for a decent amount of time to pass before he announced his trip to the bathroom, which apparently happened to look remarkably like my bedroom. “You should’ve talked to me about this.”

I cocked an eyebrow. “Why would I have talked to you? It’s none of your business.”

“None of my…” His jaw dropped before he rolled his hand over his mouth, flabbergasted. “He’s my kid, too!”

I dashed from my bed to close my bedroom door. “Do you want to say that a little louder? I don’t think they heard you in Canada!”

He squeezed the bridge of his nose and pushed the soles of his shoes back and forth across the room, leaving zigzags throughout the carpeted floor. “Sorry,” he murmured. “I don’t know what I’m doing.” He opened the door and left with his head lowered.

I sat down on my chair and rubbed my hands over my growing stomach. At least James and I had that in common; he didn’t have a clue what he was doing, and neither did I.

38 Levi

I received a call from Denise and she spoke words I’d never wanted to hear. “Your mom’s in the hospital.”

“What do you mean she’s in the hospital?”

Denise’s voice was low, almost mute. “She had a bad reaction to one of her new medications and tripped down a few steps in the clinic. The doctors aren’t giving me all the details yet.” She was crying into the receiver, her words getting tangled up with her thoughts. “She was doing so well, Levi.”

She went on to tell me how scared she was for Mom, but she knew nothing about being afraid.

Being afraid was currently being eight hundred miles away from your injured mother, feeling a million miles away from your dying father, and not having any idea what you should do next.

* * *

Music was what resided in my mom’s soul. Every day before she and I would have our violin lessons, she would quote Friedrich Nietzsche, saying, “Without music, life would be a mistake.” It didn’t matter how she was with her mental stability. When she was mentally all with me, she would quote Nietzsche. When she was so far away in her own mind, she would still quote Nietzsche.

Even when her mind had taken her to the darkest places inside of her soul, music was still there for her, her medicine, her life support.

On Christmas Eve I found myself standing inside Soulful Things, unsure what my next move should be. Lance sat in a chair behind me, not making a sound. I’d never heard Soulful Things so silent. After I filled him in on what had happened with Mom, he said, “Why do the most bullshit things happen to the best kinds of people?” He apologized multiple times until no words were left to be spoken.

“How do I choose?” I whispered, my hand rolling over my neck repeatedly as my mind raced. “How do I choose which parent to be there for?” Did I stay with my father who I’d never had a chance to get to know, who was currently living the last days of his life? Or did I go home to my mom who was struggling from her accident and needed me by her side?

How do you choose which need is more important?

How do you choose which parent to stand by when they both need your support?

Lance pushed himself up from the chair and moved into the storage room. He reentered with a case wrapped with a red bow. “I was going to give this to you tomorrow, but I think you might need it tonight.”

I opened the case to find a brand new violin. It wasn’t just any new violin, it was the Karl Willhelm Model 64, the same one I’d been eyeing in his shop since I’d arrived there. “Jesus, I can’t take this. It was over three thousand dollars.”

“Paid in full. I went ahead and set it up for you, too. It’s yours.” He smiled.

I picked up the violin and stared at it in my hands for a moment before bringing it to my nose to smell. For a musician, smelling a new violin was the equivalent of a reader smelling a new novel. It was a homelike scent that made you realize that the world wasn’t a completely terrible place, that there was still beauty that existed.