Thank goodness Abigail dropped off those groceries for Reese and me the other day. I could make that stretch for a while, and if worse came to worst, I could sell the car.
There’s always a way, there’s always a way, there’s always a way.
My mind was filled with the affirmations that I spoke to myself on a daily basis. They kept me from crumbling and spiraling too far away from myself.
“Who’s my dad?”
My heart sank into the pit of my stomach as I looked back toward her as she played with one of her dolls that was always left in the car. That was the last question I’d expected to come from her. I knew down the line I’d have to address that question. I’d played that conversation over and over again in my head for the past five years.
“What makes you ask that?” I responded, trying to sound as calm as I could, even though my heart was beating as if it were ready to burst from my chest.
“Well, at camp we are making Father’s Day cards for everyone’s dads, and I told Mia and Randy I didn’t have a dad to make a card for, and they told me that everyone had a dad, and I didn’t know that. I thought some people just had mamas, so now I’m just wondering who my dad is if everyone has dads.”
Freaking Mia and Randy. The two devil children.
“That’s a very good question, sweetheart, and we should talk about it later when we get home, okay?”
“Okay, Mama. I hope I get to meet him one day. I want to tell him I love him like I love you.”
My already shattered heart crumbled into even more pieces than ever before.
“I love you, Reesey Pieces,” I choked out, fighting the tears that were sitting at the back of my eyes.
“Love you, too, Mama.”
Thankfully, she didn’t bring the topic up again that night. After dinner, she headed to her bedroom to play with her toys, and I cleaned up the kitchen and gathered the garbage to take out to the trash bins outside.
As I walked outside, Abigail was walking in and gave me the brightest smile. “Hey, Emery. How are you—” Her words faded when her eyes met mine. “Oh no, what’s wrong?”
The mother shield I’d been carrying on my shoulders began to crack as my shoulders dropped and my chest burned. “Just one of those days.”
“I lost my job today due to the craziness that took place at the bar last night. I don’t know how I’m going to keep things together. We were already living paycheck to paycheck, and I made the stupid decision to spend a big part of my savings on summer camp for Reese. Now, things are even tighter, and I’m out two jobs and it seems like the world is spiraling.”
“Oh, sweetheart. If you need help—”
“No, truly. It’s fine. I’ll figure it out. Thank you, though. To add flames to the fire, Reese asked about her father today.”
Abigail grimaced and nodded in understanding. She knew my life story inside and out. Heck, she was there for me more than my own mother was when my world turned upside down five years ago.
“She’s getting to that age where she’ll start wondering about these kinds of things,” she said. “Especially if she’s surrounded by other kids who are living different kinds of lifestyles.”
“Better lifestyles,” I sighed.
“No life is better than another. They are all just uniquely different.”
“I don’t even know what to say to her. How to even bring it up. Heck, I can hardly bring it up to myself without getting emotional about it.”
Abigail placed a comforting hand against my shoulder and gave me one of her sincere smiles. “Speak when you’re ready. Your daughter will be willing to listen when you’re able to tell it. Until then, just let her know that she has a mama who loves her. You’re doing great, Emery. Just know that, even on the days when it feels like you’re not.”
I thanked her for her kindness, and she gave me the hug that I hadn’t even known my soul needed. I continued on my way to throw out my trash as Abigail headed up to her apartment. On my way up, I ran into Ed, who of course was in search of his rent.
“Emery!” he called out, walking my way.
“I know, Ed, I know. I’ll have you the rent tomorrow,” I said, not exactly sure if it were true, but I’d do what I had to do to make it happen. Even if that meant taking out loans for money that would cost me double to pay back.
“You said that you’d have it tonight!” he argued, fuming as his fuzzy brows sat low. “I can’t keep doing this, Emery. This is it!” he barked. His face was a deep red, and I could feel his annoyance. I didn’t blame him. He’d put up with my struggles long enough, and he didn’t have any reason to keep allowing me to slide.
“Just twenty-four hours more, Ed. I swear. I’m selling my car tomorrow to get you the money. Please,” I begged, wiping away the stubborn tears as they danced down my cheeks.
The moment he saw my trembles and shakes, his body relaxed a bit as he grumbled to himself and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Twenty-four hours. After that you and your kid are out, all right? That’s it, Emery. That’s the deal.”
“Deal. Thank you, Ed.”
He muttered something under his breath and waved me off before he walked away.
That night after Reese and I got down on our knees and said our prayers, I kissed her forehead, tucked her into bed, and went to my room for my own good session of falling apart. After I’d had a lengthy private cry, after I’d cracked, I knew I needed something. No. I needed someone. I needed my sister.
As I dialed her number, tears sat at the back of my eyelids.
“Hello?” Sammie answered. Just from the sound of her voice, I began to break, and she must’ve sensed that. “Em? What’s wrong?”
“I lost my job.”
“Oh my gosh, Emery. I’m sorry.”
“Do you think you can come here? I just . . . I need you.”
“Emery . . . ,” she sighed.
“I need you, Sammie. This is all too much. I’m drowning, and I need you here with me. I can’t do this alone.”
The line went silent for a split second, and I felt an overwhelming sense of dread as I went back to begging. “Please, Sammie. I’m struggling. I can’t do this alone. I wouldn’t ask unless I really needed the help and—”
“I can send money,” she offered, her voice cracking now.
“No. I don’t need money, Sammie. I need you. I’ve always been there for you at your lowest . . . please . . . I need you at mine. It can be quick. You don’t even have to see Reese, I swear. I just need you.”
Again, the silence filled the receiver, and I felt a spark of betrayal as Sammie whispered, “I’m sorry, Emery. I just can’t be what you need me to be. I can’t.”
I didn’t get to finish my sentence. She hung up, leaving me to feel unbelievably alone. How could she do that? How could she turn her back on me when I’d shown up for her time and time again? The hardest truth to learn in life was that not everyone loved the same way you did. I’d given my sister everything in the past, and all she’d given me was a dropped call.
My parents stayed the night and flew out in the early morning. Even though I was certain they were hurting, they didn’t show an ounce of their pain in front of me. If anything, they brought their bright, bubbly personalities that I grew up around and shone their love over my darkness. I was grateful for their light.
Cam had no interest in coming over, as she was still pissed at me for not answering her calls the day prior. She was even more upset that I hadn’t performed at the show, saying she was ready to do a surprise song for the audience. “You didn’t even think of the exposure it could’ve brought my new album,” she scolded. “You never think of me, Oliver.”
Not once did she ask why I wasn’t able to perform.
Not once did she question if I was okay.
Not once did I think that we were destined for happily ever after.
Still, I selfishly needed her. When no one was with me during the nights, I crumbled and gave myself to the bottle. I didn’t want alcohol to be my fix anymore, because it always swallowed me whole and I’d wake the next morning feeling worse off than I had the previous evening.
So, I leaned on Cam coming home each night.
Our whole relationship was based on selfishness. She stayed with me because it made great press for her to be the sweetheart who stayed by my side during my storm, and I stayed with her so I wouldn’t lose myself in the dark.
Terrible coping mechanism? Also yes.
I sat in my bedroom with large headphones covering my ears. I was home alone, so I turned to music to drown out the noise that was echoing in my head. I had a playlist with over six hundred of my favorite songs that meant something to me—half of which I’d probably learned about from Alex when he’d send me a song a day. I missed getting those songs.
I missed sharing my songs too.