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Growing up and listening to Alex & Oliver’s music was our dirty little secret. They were the key to our strong sisterly bond. So, to face the reality of who Oliver was nowadays, versus the person I’d thought him to be when Sammie and I met him years ago, was such an emotional whirlwind. I didn’t know how to feel about Oliver being the complete opposite of the person who’d made my sister smile all those years ago. Those smiles were the last ones I remembered ever getting from her.

I wanted to believe that the man I’d seen was a big departure from who Oliver really was deep to his core. I wanted to believe that he was just temporarily damaged, and not forever this way. I wanted to believe that somewhere within him lived the man who’d written the words that had saved me time and time again.

I craved the idea that he was still my hero, and not just a fallen star who’d burned out his light. Yet I knew there was going to be no way to prove his truths. We’d probably never cross paths again. The worst feeling in the world was coming to the realization that your idols were merely human themselves.

When I headed into Seven, still thinking about Oliver, I was completely thrown off.

“You’re fired,” Joey barked out as I walked into the bar through the back entrance. A group of paparazzi was outside the building, wanting to get an exclusive. They stood around like psychopaths waiting to attack. Joey hadn’t even unlocked the front door yet, which seemed odd. It should’ve been opened for business hours ago.

“What?” A knot formed in my gut as I stood there, flabbergasted by his words.

He crossed his arms and nodded toward me. “I said you’re fired.”

“Joey, why . . .” I blinked, trying to get rid of the panic and turmoil that were rising up within me. Numbers started formulating in my head, bills skyrocketed across my mind, the struggles that I’d face without working at Seven. I was already struggling with the job. I couldn’t imagine the hardships without it. “I . . . I can’t lose this job. I can’t.”

“But you did. I’ve been here all day cleaning up the mess you made, and counting up the register, trying to make ends meet, and do you know what? Ends don’t freaking meet because you pushed dozens and dozens of drunk people out of the bar without closing their tabs! When whatever went down, people stole bottles from behind the counter. And you gave a top-shelf bottle of whiskey to some celebrity who you didn’t charge.”

“I can cover the costs . . . ,” I said, my voice becoming shaky.

“Oh, trust me, you already are. I took your check from the past week and am using that to recoup some of what has been lost. Outside of that, we’ll call it even. You can go now.”

My body shook at his words, because I couldn’t walk out of that bar without my check in hand. I couldn’t face Ed without actual cold hard cash to hand over to him. I knew if I showed up without a check to give him that evening, I’d be kicked out in an instant.

“No, no, no. You don’t understand, Joey. That check . . . that’s my rent, and it’s due today. It was due a week ago, actually. Please, you can’t do this.”

“I can, and I did. Now go!” he barked, pointing toward the exit.

I wanted to keep arguing with him. I wanted to fall to my knees and beg for him to reconsider, but I’d known Joey long enough to know that he was stubborn in his ways, and it was almost impossible to change his mind. Besides, I’d seen him fire people for far less than what I’d done.

The tears kept rising to the corners of my eyes, but I tried my best to keep them locked in tightly. I didn’t want to fall apart in front of Joey. I didn’t cry in front of people. I couldn’t remember the last time someone had witnessed me losing control. I kept my sadness and emotional breakdowns to myself, in private, where no one could try to give me comfort. I didn’t want people’s pity; I just wanted to be strong enough to keep myself from falling apart.

But I wasn’t there yet. The moment I hit my car, the tears began to flow. I gripped the steering wheel, and I didn’t even try to keep from allowing my heart to shatter. There were a million reasons why my heart was breaking, a million reasons why I was falling apart, but the main reason was because of Reese.

My beautiful star who deserved so much more than I’d been able to give her. She deserved the world, and I was giving her crumbs.

I didn’t know how I’d do this. I didn’t know how I’d be able to provide for her. All I knew was I couldn’t put her in a position where she didn’t have a place to lay her head. I couldn’t put her life in jeopardy because of my failings. There was nothing more important in this world than my daughter.

When it rains, it pours.

About a year ago, I heard those words from a homeless person who was standing outside a grocery store, panhandling. It didn’t rain much in Los Angeles, but that afternoon it was a downpour, making it hard to even drive through the streets.

The woman stood in the rain with a jacket covering her head, and she was swaying back and forth, chilled to her bones and holding up a sign for some help. Reese seemed completely unaware of that woman’s struggles; her only mission in life was to jump in every puddle she crossed.

When I looked at the woman, my chest felt tight. Sure, things weren’t perfect for Reese and me, but our struggles could’ve been worse. I reached into my purse and pulled out the few dollar bills that I had and handed them her way, along with my umbrella.

“Oh no, you keep the umbrella,” she ordered, as she thanked me for the money. “I don’t need it.”

“It’s coming down pretty hard. My daughter and I can just rush to our car to get dry. You need it more.”

“When it rains, it pours,” she sang, looking up at the sky as her face became drenched, yet still, she was smiling. The biggest smile on her face. “But the rain always stops, and the sun comes out again. Thank you for your kindness. May God bless you.”

I was certain that interaction didn’t resonate with the woman as much as it had with me, but her thoughts got me through some of my hardest times. Especially the ones I was currently partaking in.

When it rains, it pours, but the rain always stops, and the sun comes out again.

Funny how strangers could affect a person without even knowing it.

I was having a terrible day, going through my own deluge, and I couldn’t even fully process it because, before I could be fully human, I first had to be a mom.

As I picked up Reese from camp, I was determined to show some of my best acting skills in front of her. Inside my soul, I was cracking due to the storm; outside I smiled like the sun.

“How was camp, sweet pea?” I asked after climbing back into the driver’s seat of my car as Reese hummed some song she’d learned that day.

“It was good! We are making the biggest, biggest, biggest pi?ata ever, and Ms. Kate said we get to break it on the last day of camp! Mama, it’s the size of the moon!” She gleamed, making me laugh. Even on the worst days, that little girl could make me smile.

“Wow! That must be really big.”

“It is. It’s the biggest thing ever. Plus! They are putting candy in it, and we all got to pick a candy we wanted in it, because Ms. Kate and Ms. Rachel said that all of our opinions mattered and I picked Skittles, because they are my favorite candy, and my best friend Mia said ‘Eww’ because she thinks Skittles are gross, and my other best friend Randy said I picked a bad one, so I changed it to Blow Pops.” She said it so nonchalantly, as if those two other kids weren’t freaking bullies.

It didn’t go unnoticed by me that Mia and Randy were the same two kids who had Reese questioning if we were poor.

Tomorrow, I’d be having a very stern conversation with the camp instructors to make sure that they were truly watching over my daughter to keep her from being bullied by those two.

“Reese, you know better than changing your mind because of what someone else says. You love Skittles. Don’t let these kids make you think you don’t like what you like.”

I glanced back at her to witness her shrugging her shoulders. “It’s just because Mia and Randy are cooler than me, that’s all.”

“Reese Marie, don’t ever say something like that again, okay? You are the coolest person in this world, and don’t let anyone make you think differently.”

Was it too dramatic to think that I really wanted to give those two five-year-olds a piece of my mind? Or at least their parents. I would’ve been horrified to learn that my child was a bully. And I truly despised the idea that Reese was surrounding herself with those types of people. I didn’t want her to (A) start doubting herself in any way, shape, or form or (B) become like those two and bully others.

She was at that stage in her life where everything had an impact on her thoughts. I needed to fix the problem sooner rather than later, before it really affected her growth.

“Okay, Mama,” she said, going back to her humming as if nothing major had taken place.

“I mean that, Reese. You are the coolest person I’ve ever met in my life. Don’t forget that.”

She agreed with me and went back to singing “Background Noise,” by Alex & Oliver, obviously. As we drove, I fell into their music, too, somewhat forgetting the craziness of my life and allowing myself to breathe for a moment in time.