“Yes, you’re right,” Rebecca replied, retracting her hand and placing it in her lap. When a woman inquired about it, she grinned. “Oh, it just makes me a bit dizzy, that’s all. Kent’s just watching out for me.” Her smile became more fake as the night went on.
After dinner was served, Graham was sent to his room for the remainder of the evening, where he spent time playing video games and watching the New Year’s Eve countdown on ABC. He watched the ball drop first in New York City, and then again when they replayed the clip to celebrate midnight in Milwaukee. He listened to the grown-ups cheering in the other room, and could faintly hear the sounds of the fireworks exploding over Lake Michigan.
If Graham stood on his tiptoes, glanced out of his window to the left, and looked way up high, he could see some of the fireworks painting the sky.
He used to watch them all the time with his mother, but that was so long ago that he sometimes wondered if it was a real memory or one he made up.
As the people began to leave the house, Graham crawled into bed and pushed the palms of his hands over his ears. He was trying his best to drown out the sound of his father drunkenly yelling at Rebecca about all of her mistakes that night.
It was amazing how Kent could hold in his anger until his company left.
Then, it just spilled out of all of his pores.
A toxic amount of anger.
“I’m sorry,” Rebecca always ended up saying, even though she never had anything to apologize for.
How could his father not see how lucky he was to have a woman like her? It hurt his heart knowing that Rebecca was hurting.
When Graham’s door opened a few minutes later, he pretended to be sleeping, unsure if it was his father or not.
“Graham? Are you awake?” Rebecca whispered, standing in his doorway.
“Yes,” he whispered back.
Rebecca walked into the room and wiped at her eyes, removing any evidence that Kent had caused her pain. She wandered over to his bed and combed his curly hair out of his face. “I just wanted to say Happy New Year. I wanted to stop by earlier, but I had to clean up a bit.”
Graham’s eyes filled with tears as he stared at Rebecca’s eyes, which were heavy with exhaustion. She used to smile more.
“What is it, Graham? What’s wrong?”
“Please don’t…” he whispered. As the tears began to roll down his cheeks and his body began to shake in the bed, he tried his hardest to be a man, but it wasn’t working. His heart was still the heart of a young boy, a child who was terrified of what would happen if his father didn’t ease up on Rebecca.
“Please don’t what, sweetie?”
“Please don’t leave,” he said, his voice strained with fear. He sat up in his bed and placed his hands in Rebecca’s. “Please don’t leave, Rebecca. I know he’s mean and he makes you cry, but I promise you’re good. You’re good and he’s mean. He pushes people away, he does, and I can tell he makes you so sad. I know he tells you you’re not good enough, but you are. You are good enough, and you’re pretty, and your dress was beautiful, and your dinner was perfect, and please, please don’t leave us. Please don’t leave me.” He was now crying full-blown tears, his body shaking from the idea that Rebecca was two suitcases away from leaving him forever. He couldn’t imagine what his life would be like if she was gone. He couldn’t even begin to envision how dark his life would become if she walked away.
When he was only with his father, he was so, so very much alone.
But when Rebecca came, he remembered how it felt to be loved again.
And he couldn’t lose that feeling.
He couldn’t lose his light.
“Graham.” Rebecca smiled, tears falling from her own eyes as she tried to wipe his away. “You’re okay, please, it’s okay. Calm down.”
“You’re going to leave me, I know you are.” He sobbed, covering his face with his hands. That was what people did—they left. “He’s so mean to you. He’s too mean to you, and you’re going to leave.”
“Graham Michael Russell, you stop it right now, okay?” she ordered, holding his hands tightly in hers. She placed his hands against her cheeks and nodded once. “I’m here, all right? I’m here, and I’m not going anywhere.”
“You’re not leaving?” he asked, hiccupping as he tried to catch his next breath.
She shook her head. “No. I’m not leaving. You’re just overthinking everything. It’s late, and you need rest, okay?”
She laid him back down and tucked him in, kissing his forehead. As she stood up to leave, he called after her one last time. “And you’ll be here tomorrow?”
“Of course, honey.”
“Promise?” he whispered, his voice still a bit shaky, but Rebecca’s remained strong and sure.
Lucy and I fell back into our normal routine. In the mornings, she’d show up with her yoga mat and do her morning meditation in the sunroom, and whenever she wasn’t working a special event, she’d come over to my house at night to help take care of Talon while I worked on my novel. We ate dinner together at the dining room table almost every night, but didn’t have much to talk about other than the cold that had found its way into both Talon’s body and mine.
“Drink it,” Lucy told me, bringing me a mug of tea.
“I don’t drink tea.” I coughed into my hands. My desk was still scattered with tissues and cough syrup bottles.
“You will drink this twice a day for three days, and it will make you one hundred percent better. I have no clue how you’re even functioning with that nasty cough. So, drink,” she ordered. I smelled the tea and made a face. She laughed. “Cinnamon, ginger, fresh lemons, hot red peppers, sugar, black pepper, and peppermint extract—plus a secret ingredient I can’t tell you about.”
“It smells like hell.”
She nodded with a small smirk. “A perfect drink for the devil himself.”
For the following three days, I drank her tea. She pretty much had to force-feed it to me, but by day four, the coughing had disappeared.
I was almost positive Lucy was a witch, but at least with her tea I was able to clear my head for the first time in weeks.
The following Saturday evening, dinner sat on the table, and when I went to get Lucy to eat, I noticed her in the sunroom on her cell phone.
Instead of interrupting, I waited patiently, until the roasted chicken was cold.
Time passed quickly. She’d been standing in the sunroom on her cell phone for hours now. Her eyes were glued to the rain cascading down from the sky as she moved her lips, speaking to whoever was on the other end of the line.
I wandered past the room every now and then, watching her move her hands to express herself, watching the tears fall from her eyes. They fell heavily, like the rain. After a while, she hung up and lowered herself to the floor, sat with her legs crossed, and stared out the window.
When Talon was down, I stepped into the sunroom to check on her.
“Are you all right?” I asked, concerned about how someone as bright as Lucy could appear so dark that afternoon. It was almost as if she blended into the gray clouds herself.
“How much do I owe you?” she asked, not turning my way.