Owen sighs. “That’s why you moved to Texas? You couldn’t stop her from leaving Oregon?”
I shake my head. “She has the legal right to take him anywhere she wants. She said Texas was a better place to raise a child and that if I wanted what was best for AJ, I would move here after graduation. My final class ended at five P.M. on a Friday and I had moved into this apartment less than twenty-four hours later.”
“What about your parents?” he says. “They couldn’t do anything to stop it?”
I shake my head. “My parents have been supportive of my decisions, but they don’t get involved. They don’t really have a close relationship with AJ since I moved out of their house and into Lydia’s when I was pregnant with him. Besides, they have enough to worry about. I would feel bad telling them how Lydia is treating me, because it would just make them feel guilty for allowing me to move out all those years ago.”
“So you just pretend everything is okay?”
I glance up at him and nod, slightly worried as to what I might see in his eyes. Contempt? Disappointment? When our eyes meet, I don’t see either of those things. I see sympathy. And maybe a little bit of anger.
“Is it okay for me to say that I hate Lydia?”
I smile. “I hate her, too,” I say with a quick laugh. “I also love her, though. She loves AJ as much as I do, and I know he loves her. I’m thankful for that. But I never would have given up custody to her in the first place if I knew it would end up like this. I thought she wanted to help, but now I realize she’s using AJ to replace the son she lost.”
Owen scoots toward me until I’m looking straight up at him and he’s staring down at me. “You’ll get him back,” he says. “There’s no reason a court wouldn’t want your son with you.”
His compliment makes me smile, even though I know he’s wrong. “I’ve researched all my options. A court wouldn’t take a child away from someone they’ve legally been with since birth unless there’s a legit reason. Lydia will never agree to let him live with me full-time. The only option I have, really, is to do whatever I can to appease her, all the while saving every extra penny I can to pay the lawyer I’ve hired to help me. But even he doesn’t seem hopeful.”
He rests his head in one hand and brings his other hand to my face. His fingers trail lightly across my cheekbone, and his touch makes my eyes want to fall shut. I somehow keep them open, despite the soothing feel of his skin against my cheek. “You know what?” he says with a smile. “I’m pretty sure you just made determination my favorite quality in a person.”
I know I barely know him, but I definitely don’t want him to move on Monday. I feel like he’s the only good thing to happen to me since I arrived in Texas.
“I don’t want you to move, Owen.”
His eyes shift down, and he stops looking at me. His hand moves to my shoulder and he traces an invisible pattern with the tip of his finger, following it with his eyes. He looks apologetic, and it’s more than just the fact that he’s leaving. He’s upset about something deeper, and I can see his confession wanting to fall off the tip of his tongue. He’s holding something back.
“You didn’t get a job,” I say. “That’s not where you’re going Monday, is it?”
He still doesn’t look at me. He doesn’t even have to respond, because his silence confirms it. He answers anyway, though. “No.”
“Where are you going?”
I watch as he winces slightly. Wherever he’s going, he doesn’t want to tell me. He’s afraid of what I’ll think. And honestly, I’m afraid of what I’m about to hear. I’ve had enough negativity for one day.
He finally lifts his eyes to meet mine again, and the regretful look on his face makes me wish I didn’t bring it up. He opens his mouth to speak, but I shake my head.
“I don’t want to know yet,” I say quickly. “Tell me after.”
“After this weekend. I don’t want to think about confessions. I don’t want to think about Lydia. Let’s just spend the next twenty-four hours avoiding both of our pitiful realities.”
He smiles appreciatively. “I like that idea, actually. A lot.”
Our moment is disrupted by the fierce growl of my stomach. I clench it in my hands, embarrassed. He laughs.
“I’m hungry, too,” he says. He exits the tent and helps me out as well by giving me his hand. “Want to eat here or my place?”
I shake my head. “I’m not sure I can wait fifteen blocks,” I say, heading toward the kitchen. “You like frozen pizza?”
All we’re doing is cooking pizza, but it’s the most fun I’ve had with a guy since Adam. Getting pregnant at the age of fifteen doesn’t leave a lot of time for social interaction, so saying I’m a little inexperienced could be an understatement. I used to grow nervous at the thought of getting close to another guy, but Owen has the opposite effect on me. I feel so much calmness when I’m around him.
My mother says there are people you meet and get to know, and then there are people you meet and already know. I feel like Owen is the latter. Our personalities seem to complement each other, like we’ve known one another our whole lives. I had no idea until today just how much I need someone like him in my life. Someone to fill the holes that Lydia has created in my self-esteem.
“If you weren’t in such a hurry to graduate, what career would you have chosen other than cosmetology?”
“Anything,” I blurt out. “Everything.”
Owen laughs. He’s leaning against the counter next to the stove, and I’m seated on the bar across from him. “I suck at cutting hair. I hate listening to everyone’s problems while they sit in the salon chair. I swear, people take so many things for granted, and hearing all their whiny stories puts me in such a bad mood.”
“We’re kind of in the same business if you put it that way,” Owen says. “I paint confessions and you have to listen to them.”
I nod in agreement, but also feel like I could be coming off as ungrateful. “There are a few really good clients. People I look forward to. I think it’s not so much the people that I don’t like, but the fact that I had to choose something I didn’t want to do.”
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