In my mind, I played out the fairy tale of what Graham and I would be. Selfishly, I thought how it could be if maybe someday our love led to forever. Selfishly, I allowed myself to feel completely.
I was a dreamer, like my mother, and while I’d always adored that fact, I was slowly beginning to see her flaws. She floated more than she walked, skipped more than she stood, and no matter what, she never faced reality.
So, whenever reality came for her, she was always alone.
That terrified me—being alone.
But not being with Graham and Talon terrified me more than anything.
When I arrived at Graham’s house, I didn’t have the nerve to walk inside. Even the run hadn’t cleared my mind, so instead, I went and sat in the backyard near Ollie’s tree. I sat with my legs crossed, staring at the tiny tree that had so many years of growth to go. I stayed there for seconds, minutes, hours. It wasn’t until the sun started setting that Graham joined me outside. He was dressed in a perfectly fitted suit and looked out of this world amazing. I felt awful missing our date, but I knew due to my emotions I wouldn’t have been ready to go out with him. Mari put more guilt in my heart than I knew I could hold. Maybe I was being na?ve about the way Graham made me feel…maybe I was being foolish.
“Hi,” he said.
“Hi,” I replied.
I nodded. “Yes.”
“You’ve been here for four hours.”
“I wanted to give you space.”
He nodded. “I think you’ve had enough space, though. You can only be alone for so long before you start convincing yourself you deserve to be that way—trust me, I know—and you, Lucille Hope Palmer, do not deserve to be alone.”
No more words were exchanged, but the feeling of wholeness was loud and clear. If only the world could feel the way our hearts beat as one, then maybe they wouldn’t be so harsh to judge our connection.
“This is a terrible first date.” I laughed, nerves shaking my vocals.
He reached into his suit pocket, pulled out a pack of licorice, and handed it to me. “Better?” he asked.
I sighed and nodded once before opening the package. “Better.” Being beside him always felt right to me. Like home.
In that way, I was different than Mama. While she always wanted to float away, my heart craved to stay beside Graham Russell.
For the first time in my life, I desperately wanted to stand on solid ground.
“You should call her,” I told Lucy as she went around the house, making up reasons to keep distracted. For months, she and her sister Mari hadn’t talked about anything but work-related issues, but apparently they’d had a big falling out over something a few days before. I could tell the issues were eating her alive, but she tried her best not to talk about it.
“It’s fine. We’re fine,” she replied.
She turned to me and cocked an eyebrow. “Don’t you have a book to finish or something?”
I smiled at her sassiness.
I loved that side of her.
I loved all sides of her.
“I’m just saying, you miss her.”
“I don’t,” she said, her poker face communicating the complete opposite of her words. She bit her bottom lip. “Do you think she’s happy? I don’t think she’s happy. Never mind. I don’t want to talk about it.”
“I mean, he literally left her during the worst days of her life. Who does that?! Whatever, it’s her life. I’m done talking about it.”
“Okay,” I agreed.
“I mean, he’s a monster! And he’s not even a cute monster! I just hate him, and I’m so angry with her for choosing him over me, over us. And now this afternoon is Talon’s first birthday party, and Mari won’t even be here for it! I can’t believe—oh crap!” she screamed, running into the kitchen. I followed right behind her to witness her pulling out Talon’s chocolate cake, which was badly burned. “No, no, no,” she said, placing it on the countertop.
“Breathe,” I told her, walking behind her and placing my hands on her shoulders. Her eyes watered over and I laughed. “It’s just a cake, Lucille. It’s okay.”
“No! No, it’s not okay,” she said, turning her body around to face me. “We were going to backpack across Europe. We started saving up when she got sick. We started a ‘Negative Thoughts’ jar and every time we thought something negative about her diagnosis or fear took over our minds, we had to put a coin in the jar. After the first week, the jar was filled to the brim, and we had to get another jar. She wanted to go right after she was in remission, but I was too scared. I was afraid she might not be strong enough, that it might be too soon, so I kept her home. I kept her locked away, because I wasn’t strong enough to get on a plane with her.” I swallowed hard. “And now she’s not talking to me, and I’m not talking to her. She’s my best friend.”
“She’ll come around.”
“I invited her today, for Talon’s party. That’s what started the argument.”
“Why was that an issue?”
“She…” Lucy’s voice cracked and she took a deep breath as we stood just inches apart. “She thinks this is all wrong, you and me, Talon. She thinks it’s weird.”
“It is weird,” I told her. “But that doesn’t mean it’s not right.”
“She told me you’re not mine. She said you’re not mine to love.”
Before I could reply, the doorbell rang, and she tore herself away from me, finding a fake smile to plaster on her face. “It’s fine, really. I’m just upset that I burned the cake. I’ll get the door.”
I stood there, staring at the cake, and then I pulled out a knife to see if perhaps I could somehow save it by scraping off some of the inedible parts. Lucy needed a win that day. She needed something to make her smile.
“Oh my God,” I heard from the other room. Lucy’s voice sounded terrified, and when I walked into the living room, I knew exactly why.
“Jane,” I muttered, staring at her standing in my doorway with a teddy bear and a gift in her other hand. “What the hell are you doing here?”
She parted her lips to speak, but then her eyes traveled back to Lucy. “What are you doing here?” she asked her, a bit of a sting lacing her words. “Why on earth would you be here?”
“I…” Lucy started, but I could tell her nerves were too shaken for words to come out.
“Jane, what are you doing here?” I asked her once more.
“I…” Her voice shook the same way Lucy’s had a moment before. “I wanted to see my daughter.”
“Your daughter?” I huffed, stunned by the nerve she had to walk into my home and use those words.
“I…can we talk, Graham?” Jane asked. Her eyes darted to Lucy, and she narrowed them. “Alone?”
“Anything you say can be said in front of Lucille,” I told her.
Lucy’s already bruised heart was taking another beating. “No, it’s okay. I’ll go. I should probably get some work done at the floral shop, anyway. I’ll just grab my coat.”