“You two have the greatest bond,” I said to Michelle as her husband danced around to Biggie Smalls while he scrolled through the playlist on his phone with Oliver.
“We’re just a bunch of nutjobs. It’s how we stay sane. I swear, if I hadn’t had Richard by my side these past few months, I would’ve crashed and burned.”
“I can’t imagine how tough things have been for you with your loss. I’m so sorry. I’m glad you had Richard.”
“I’m glad too. He’s my anchor. My weird, oddball anchor. What about you? Are you close with your family?”
My whole demeanor shifted, and she witnessed it happen. I shook my head. “No. My parents and I are the complete opposite of close. And my sister . . . we grew apart.” Sammie had actually reached out to me earlier that day. She wished me a happy Fourth of July, and I didn’t reply to her message. That was the first time she’d gotten in touch since hanging up on me during my time of need. I couldn’t for the life of me bring myself to respond to her message. I was still too hurt by the way she’d shut me out. Then, she had enough nerve to text me as if nothing ever happened.
That was the thing about Sammie: she disappeared and reappeared on her schedule. That wasn’t fair to me, though.
Michelle frowned. “I’m really sorry to hear that. I come from a disconnected family, too, so I know how hard that can be.”
“Yeah, it’s hard. But at least I have my little girl. She’s the only family I truly need.”
“She’s beautiful. Truly your twin. Seeing how Oliver and her connected was so touching. Gosh, it’s good to see him like that. Smiling.”
“Isn’t it? I’ll be honest, it took a bit of time before he shared his smiles with me.”
“Why do I get the idea that you might be responsible for some of those smiles?” she asked, making cool chills race across my arms. “You have a great spirit, I can tell. I’m good at reading people.”
“I wish my own mother felt that way about me,” I muttered. It hadn’t even been eight hours since we’d met, and Michelle had given me more compliments than my mother ever had. “I’m actually very envious of watching you and Richard with Oliver. My parents and I are nothing like that.”
“I know that feeling well. I wasn’t close with my parents, either,” Michelle said, sipping her glass of wine. “Well, at first I was, but after I brought Richard around for them to meet, they had very strong views against it because he didn’t really come from money. I grew up with wealth like no other. My father and mother were both very successful lawyers. Richard’s family was the complete opposite, living on food stamps. My parents hated the fact that I was dating someone lesser than me.”
“I’m so sorry. I can only imagine how hard that would be. To be torn between two worlds.”
“Yes, it was. I was only sixteen when I met Richard, and I was smitten right away. My father told me he’d disown me if I kept seeing him, and my mother told me I’d be alone forever, because she had no doubt that Richard would never be able to provide for me. They told me to make a choice, Richard or my family.”
“They wanted you to decide that at age sixteen?”
“Yup. Either I walk away from Richard, or I walk away from them.”
“What did Richard say about it?”
She smiled a sad grin and shook her head as the memories came flying back to her. “Sweet Richard said, ‘Don’t you dare walk away from your family.’” A few tears danced down her cheeks as she wiped them away and locked her eyes with mine. “Which is exactly why I stayed with him.”
“He was your family.”
“My heart family. The only family that truly matters. Not for a second did he tell me to choose him. He sacrificed his own happiness in order to protect mine. If that’s not a man you hold on to, I don’t know what is. That was when I learned that true love is unconditional. It doesn’t set guidelines for how you have to act in order to be loved. His mother and father took me into their home without question. They raised me; even though they already didn’t have much, they made enough space for me to exist within their home. When I think of my parents, I think of them.”
“I felt crushed when my family turned on me. I still do, honestly.”
“Yes, and that doesn’t really go away—not fully. But you now have a beautiful daughter that you can begin again with. You get to start from the ground up, building a family set with values that serve you. From new traditions, to new love stories—you can break generational curses based on how you love one another.”
Generational curses were something I’d thought about for a long time in my life. I never knew my grandparents, because Mama had had a falling out with her parents, and Dad never knew his. Now I felt as if I was repeating that same pattern of disconnect, because Reese didn’t know her grandparents, either.
If I had it my way, my children’s children would know me, and know of my love. They would never feel a disconnect from love, because it would surround their souls. One day, that family curse set against the Taylors would be broken. I was more determined than ever to make that true.
“Sometimes family isn’t what we were born into—it’s what we choose,” Michelle explained.
Those words were so important to me. Sure, perhaps I wouldn’t have the connection to my own parents that I’d craved, but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t get to create something even more powerful down the line.
“How old is your daughter again?” she asked.
“Almost six, and sassy as ever. She and Oliver bicker like no other, but they have a connection that they can’t deny.”
Michelle smiled brightly. “I always thought Alex would be the family man. Oliver looked so far away from settling down. Alex always seemed to connect so well with kids.” Her smile slowly faded away as she stared off in the distance, thinking about Alex.
Sometimes the world didn’t make sense. No parent should ever have to bury their own child. I couldn’t even imagine that kind of pain that raced through her heartbeats on a daily basis. If I could offer up only one set of prayers for the remainder of my life, it would be for the parents who had to say goodbye too early to one of their own.
Those hearts would always beat a little slower in my mind.
“I’m so sorry, Michelle.”
“Thank you, sweetheart.” She reached out and patted my hand, and I knew it was because she needed a hand to hold. So I wrapped both of mine around hers. “The mourning doesn’t get easier. It just gets quieter. Some days, I still cannot get out of bed, but I’m blessed. Because Richard stays in bed with me and my quietness. Then, when it’s time for me to get up, he pulls me to my feet, and we dance. A piece of advice—find yourself a man who will dance with you even when your heart is broken.” Her eyes flashed with tears, and she held my hands tighter. “You want to know a secret?”
“I thought I was going to lose Oliver too. He kept everyone so far away, even Tyler and Kelly. So, when I flew out here, I prepared myself for the worst. I thought he’d be in a drunken stupor, or worse . . . so much worse. Last time I came, a few weeks ago, he wasn’t doing too well. But this time? This time I came back and he’s smiling.”
“That’s so good.”
She smiled brightly up at me as tears freely danced down her cheekbones. “So thank you.”
“I didn’t do anything,” I swore.
“You’re the only difference in his life since I came back. Plus, there’s the way he looks at you when you’re not looking. Now, sweetheart, I don’t know what you did, but I’m almost positive that you helped bring my son back to life after he was holding death’s hand. Call it my mother’s intuition. So, thank you for helping him. Even if it’s just by being his friend.”
Now I was tearing up, and I pulled her into a tight hug. “You’re an amazing mother,” I whispered, and she began to cry harder.
“You have no clue how hard it is to believe that each day.”
All mothers probably thought that. The ones who doubted their mothering skills were sometimes the ones who were trying their best, day in and day out. I didn’t expect the conversation with Michelle to go the direction that it had, but I was glad it had taken that path, because it was clear we both had some healing corners of our hearts that had to have been touched that evening.
“Oh, don’t tell me you two are wine drunk and emotional,” Richard cut in, walking in our direction. “We were just picking out a song for two seconds and we turn around to find you both moping.”
“Oh hush, Richard. Can’t us girls have a moment every now and again?” Michelle said, standing to her feet.
“Yes, but for now, we dance to the Spinners, my lady.” Richard reached out for his wife and took her into his arms as they began swaying to the song “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love.” Richard serenaded Michelle as she smiled and melted into him like a perfectly fit puzzle piece.
Oliver came to stand beside me as we both watched his parents fall more and more in love with one another.
“This was their wedding song,” Oliver said. “Dad recorded it, and they danced to it for their first dance.”