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Mom spent a long time telling me that everything would be all right, but I hadn’t a clue how that could be true. I felt the walls around me collapsing. Things had finally been getting better. Everyone was coming around to the idea of the baby and the adoption. Then James had to decide to ruin everything.

“We’ll wait until morning to sort through this all. Okay? Don’t worry too much. It will all work out.” She kissed my forehead and left the room.

The moment she left, a few tears fell from my eyes. The whole situation was overwhelming. My fingers rolled over my stomach. He was the only thing that kept me breathing right now. Each breath I took was merely for him.

“James is the dad?” Grace asked, standing in my doorway.

I closed my eyes, wiping the few fallen tears away. “I’m not in the mood right now, Grace.” She didn’t reply, but I listened to her footsteps walking closer to me. “Grace, I said I’m not in the mood.” I opened my eyes and saw her holding two beaded necklaces.

“I used my Christmas bead set and made one for the baby and one for you.”

I swore I felt my heart breaking. I thanked her for the necklaces, and she smiled. “I’m glad you didn’t turn out to be an ugly pregnant person.”

Snickering, I hugged her with my huge belly. “Thanks, Grace.”

* * *

I waited until the next morning to head over to Levi’s house and explain what had happened the night before. Mostly I was embarrassed, and also angry at James for thinking it was okay to kiss me, to even touch me. Standing on Mr. Myers’ porch, I knocked on the door, waiting for an answer.

When the door finally opened and a fragile Mr. Myers appeared with purple shadows under his eyes, I hiccupped nervously.

“Yeah?” he muttered, staring blankly at me.

“I’m looking for Levi,” I said, giving him a half smile.

Mr. Myers grumbled. “He’s gone.”

“Oh.” I bit my bottom lip. “Is he at Soulful Things?”

“No. He’s gone back to Alabama.”

His words didn’t register at first, because those words made no sense. I’d just seen Levi yesterday afternoon; how could he be gone? “What do you mean?”

“I sent him back home yesterday.”

My heartbeat increased as I stared into a pair of brown eyes that were much colder than the ones that belonged to the boy I’d come to see. How could Levi leave? How could he not say goodbye? Why would Mr. Myers send him away?

“Why would you do that?” I asked angrily. “All he wanted was to be with you!”

“We don’t always get what we want, girl. This ain’t no fairy tale.”

“He’s been nothing but good to you. You’ve treated him like he’s nothing, but all he did was take care of you. And then you ship him off because you’re sick of him? Because he’s a hassle? How could you be so selfish?! How could you just take the easy road and send him away?”

“You think this is easy?!” he shouted, tossing his hands in the air with defeat. “You think it’s easy having your son care for you, spoon feed you, because you’re too damn weak? You think it’s easy living with the demons that took over my soul long ago? Living with the memories of the things I’ve done to people in this town? To Levi? To his mom? Well, little girl, you are stupid if that’s what you think. You’re a fool if you think anything about my life is easy.”

“And what kind of issues do you think you left with your son when you chose to ship him off instead of trying to fix some of those past mistakes?”

“It’s too late to fix anything,” he said, rubbing his hands nervously together.

“Whatever. If you want to give up that’s fine. It seems like that’s what you’ve done all your life. But you could’ve at least tried for him. You don’t have to be such a terrible father!”

“I’m a fuck-up!” he admitted. “Over and over I fuck up in my life. I’m an asshole, ask anyone in this town, ask your father. I. Fuck. Up. But everything I have ever done since the day his mom left me has been for that boy and his mother. He didn’t deserve to have the responsibly of choosing between his mother and me. I saw the heartbreak in his eyes, it was killing him. So I made the choice for him. As parents we make choices. We make the hard choices that we never want to. We give things up when it’s the hardest thing in the world. We allow our kids to hate us if it means they’ll have a better life. We sacrifice every single day. We send birthday and Christmas cards that the kid stops replying to because by that point, he just hates you. Which is for the best, because you ain’t got shit to offer him. He needed to be with his mom. She needed him more than my selfish desires of having him here. The last thing he needed or deserved was to sit here and watch me die.

“I separated myself to make their lives better. To make their lives something good. I was nothing but a damn burden for those two. I fuck up and over and over again, but if it means that they get a chance at being happy, then I will keep fucking up. For them. Always for them.” I stood there with tears in my eyes, listening to his words, replaying them in my head. He rubbed his temple before closing his eyes and taking a breath. “Sometimes loving someone means knowing they’re better off without you.”

40 Levi

When I got back to Alabama, Denise was waiting for me at the airport. We didn’t go to the hospital to see Mom until the next morning. Brian, Denise, and I stood outside of her hospital room. When I looked in at her small body, I felt sick. Seeing her hooked up to those machines tore me up inside. She looked a little pale in the face, but her brown eyes had life.