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Whatever it takes.

Before I moved here, Lydia assured me that Dallas traffic wasn’t all that bad. When I asked how long it would take to get from my potential new apartment to their house, she said, “Oh, it’s no further than ten miles.”

She failed to mention that ten miles in Dallas is a good forty-five-minute cab ride. Most nights I don’t even get off work until seven. By the time I get in a cab to head to her house, it’s AJ’s bedtime. Because of this, she says it’s an inconvenience for me to visit during weeknights. “It makes him restless,” she says.

So Sunday-night dinners and any other day of the week I can talk her into allowing me to come over is all I get with my son. Of course, I stretch Sundays out as long as I can. Sometimes I show up at lunch and don’t leave until after he goes to sleep. I know this irritates her, but I don’t really give a shit. He’s my son, and I shouldn’t have to ask for permission to visit him.

Today has been an exceptionally long day with him, and I’ve loved every second of it. As soon as I woke up this morning, I showered and called a cab. I’ve been here since after breakfast, and AJ hasn’t left my side. Right after we finished dinner, I brought him to the couch, and he fell asleep in my lap after half an episode of cartoons. I usually do the dishes and clean up after dinner, but I don’t offer this time. Tonight I just want to hold my little boy while he sleeps.

I don’t know if Trey is trying to prove a point about how domestic he can be, or if I’m seeing him in a slightly different light, but he actually took over and cleaned up the entire kitchen. From the sound of it, he just loaded and started the dishwasher.

I glance up when he appears in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room. He leans against the frame of the door and smiles at the sight of us cuddled together on the couch.

He watches us quietly for a moment, until Lydia walks in and breaks up the peaceful moment. “I hope he hasn’t been asleep for long,” she says, eyeing AJ in my arms. “When you let him fall asleep this early, he wakes up in the middle of the night.”

“He fell asleep a few minutes ago,” I tell her. “He’ll be fine.”

She takes a seat in one of the chairs next to the couch and looks up at Trey, who is still standing in the doorway. “Do you work tonight?” she asks. Trey nods and straightens himself.

“Yeah. I need to get going, actually,” he says. He looks at me. “You want a ride home?”

I glance down at AJ in my arms, not at all ready to leave yet, but not sure if I should do what I need to do with AJ still asleep in my lap. I’ve been working up the courage to talk to Lydia about our arrangement, and tonight seems as good a time as any. “I was actually hoping to talk to your mom about something before I go,” I say to Trey.

I can feel Lydia glance at me, but I don’t reciprocate her stare. You would think after living with her as long as I did, I wouldn’t be so scared of her. However, it’s hard not to fear someone when they hold all the power over the one thing in life you want.

“Whatever it is, it can wait, Auburn,” Lydia says. “I’m exhausted and Trey needs to get to work.”

I run my hand through AJ’s hair. He has his father’s hair. Soft and fine, like silk. “Lydia,” I say quietly. I glance over at her, my stomach in knots and my heart in my throat. She always shuts me down every time I try to talk to her about this, but I have to get it over with. “I want to talk to you about custody. And I’d really appreciate it if we could talk about it tonight, because it’s killing me not seeing him as much as I used to.”

When I lived with them in Portland, I saw him every day. Custody wasn’t such an issue then, because I came home from school every day to the same house as my son. Even though Lydia had final say over everything that involved AJ, I still felt like his mother.

However, since she took him and moved to Dallas several months ago, I’ve felt like the worst mother in the world. I never get to see him. Every time I talk to him on the phone, I’m in tears by the time I hang up. I can’t help but feel like the distance she’s putting between us is intentional.

“Auburn, you know you’re welcome to see him any time you want.”

I shake my head. “But that’s just it,” I tell her. “I’m not.” My voice is weak, and I hate that I sound like a child right now. “You don’t like it when I visit on school nights and you haven’t even allowed him to spend the night with me.”

Lydia rolls her eyes. “For good reason,” she says. “How am I supposed to trust the people you allow at your place? The last one you had in your bedroom is a convicted felon.”

My gaze falls to Trey, and he immediately breaks eye contact with me. He knows that telling her about Owen’s past has just put a wedge between AJ and me. He can see the anger on my face, so he steps into the living room. “I’ll put AJ to bed,” he says.

I’m thankful for that, at least. AJ doesn’t need to wake up and hear the conversation going on around him right now. I hand AJ off to Trey and turn and face Lydia this time.

“I wouldn’t have allowed him to stay with AJ in the same apartment,” I say in my defense. “He wouldn’t even have been in my apartment if I knew you were bringing AJ over.”

Her lips are pursed together, and her eyes are narrow slits of disapproval. I hate the way she looks at me.

“What are you asking me, Auburn? Do you want your son to have sleepovers at your apartment? Do you want to show up every night right before his bedtime and get him riled up to the point that he doesn’t want to go to bed?” She stands up, exasperated. “I’ve raised that boy from birth, so you can’t expect me to be okay with him being around complete strangers.”

I stand up, too. She’s not about to tower over me and make me feel inferior. “We’ve raised him from birth, Lydia. I’ve been there every step of the way. He’s my son. I’m his mother. I shouldn’t have to ask you for permission when I want to spend time with him.”

Lydia stares at me, hopefully absorbing my words and accepting them. She has to see how unfair she’s being.

“Auburn,” she says, plastering a fake smile across her face, “I’ve raised children before, so I know how important routines and schedules can be for a child’s development. If you want to visit him, that’s perfectly fine. But we’re going to have to work out a more consistent schedule so that he isn’t negatively affected by it.”