In that moment, I promised myself I’d never abandon her like our parents had done.
I’d be by her side throughout every storm, no matter what.
I’d never shared the truth about Reese with anyone, outside of Abigail. My chest felt as if it were on fire as I told Oliver all the history of what went down with Sammie. He listened closely, without any judgment in his eyes.
When I grew emotional talking about it, when I needed comfort, he gave it to me, wrapping me in his hold. He felt like the safest place I could reside in that very moment.
“Sammie hasn’t been the same since she left. We talk every now and again, but I know it’s different. She went off to find herself, and I can’t even blame her for that. I’d want to escape too. But I hate it. I hate that when I need her, she closes herself off. Then, like today, she reaches out to me as if nothing’s happened at all. As if I’m just supposed to pretend that everything is dandy when it isn’t. I hate it.”
“That’s a lot on your shoulders.”
“I’m okay,” I said with a smile, wiping my face. “Gosh, I did not expect to end up crying so much tonight.”
“It’s fine. I don’t mind.”
“It’s probably all the wine. Speaking of, I should probably get some sleep before I tell you my whole life story.” I stood up from the ground, and Oliver followed after me.
“I’ll walk you to your bedroom,” he offered.
I nodded, not wanting to pass up the offer. When we reached the room, I paused and turned his way. “Reese doesn’t know about me not being her biological mother. So, if you can keep everything between us . . .”
“Your secrets are safe with me, Emery.”
His words soothed the aching parts of me.
He slid his hands into his pockets and gave me a slight frown. “Are you okay?”
I should’ve lied, but that wasn’t something we seemed to do with one another. “No.”
“Can I hold you again?”
I sighed and whispered, “Please.”
His large arms wrapped around my frame, and I relaxed against him, breathing him in. We stayed there for a few minutes. Maybe five. Maybe ten. Long enough for me to gather myself. Long enough for me to fall into loving the idea of being in Oliver’s arms.
As he held me, his mouth moved to the edge of my ear, and he spoke words that sent chills down my spine. “You’re the greatest mother that she could ever have.”
That only made me hold him more.
When we separated, he gave me his broken smile, and I gave him mine.
“Good night, Em. I hope you sleep well tonight.”
He turned on his heel and began to walk away as I slightly parted my lips and muttered, “Good night.”
I awakened as the sunlight beamed into my bedroom, shaking me from my night’s rest. As I opened my eyes, I remembered that I wasn’t in my bed, but the guest room at Oliver’s. I rolled over in the bed, expecting to see Reese still sleeping beside me. When she wasn’t there, I shot up from my bed as anxiety hit me quickly.
I rushed out of the bedroom, on a mission to find my daughter.
“Mr. Mith! We need more chocolate chips!” the familiar voice said, giving me a flash of comfort as I headed toward the kitchen. There, standing in front of me, were Oliver and Reese, covered in flour and hovering over a mixing bowl.
“Hi, Mama!” Reese exclaimed, waving my way as she popped chocolate chips into her mouth instead of the mixing bowl.
“Good morning.” I smiled, looking around at the spotless kitchen that I was supposed to be cleaning that morning. Well, almost spotless, except for the flour and cracked eggs from their morning cooking ventures. “What are you two up to?”
“Mr. Mith wanted to make you your favorite breakfast. So we’re making you chocolate chip pancakes!”
“Oh, how sweet.” I sniffed the air. “Is something burning, though?”
“Oh shit!” Oliver remarked, rushing over to the oven. He pulled it open as a cloud of smoke filled the space. He tossed on an oven mitt and pulled out the tray of bacon. Crispy, black, burned-to-a-crisp bacon.
“That’s a quarter for the jar!” Reese replied. “Eww, Mr. Mith, that stinks.”
He placed the pan on top of the stove and gave me a goofy grin. “Reese said you love bacon, but I doubt you’ll love this.”
I laughed and walked toward them. “Let me help you guys out.”
“No!” they said in unison, shaking their hands in my direction.
“Mama! We wanted to make it for you and bring it to you in bed. So go back to bed.”
“Bed!” Oliver commanded, pointing toward the direction I’d come from.
“Okay, okay,” I said, tossing my hands up in defeat. “Fine. But I’m not eating that bacon.”
He picked up a piece and bit into it to make a statement. The way his face cringed as he chewed it made me snicker. “I’ll make some new bacon.”
I headed back to the bedroom and waited for another twenty minutes or so for the breakfast to come. When it was ready, both chefs entered the room with a tray that had a vase with flowers, a cup of coffee, and a plate with the oddest-looking pancakes I’d ever seen in my life. A bottle of syrup sat next to a bowl of fresh fruit.
“Here you go, Mama.” Reese helped Oliver hold the tray, and then she placed it on my lap.
“Oh my! It looks amazing,” I said, beaming. “I’ve never had breakfast in bed.”
“I picked the flowers outside! And Mr. Mith made you better bacon.”
“I see that.” I picked up a slice of bacon and bit into it. “Perfection. Perfectly crisp.”
Oliver patted himself on the back. “Third time’s a charm.”
“We don’t need to go into details,” he joked.
“Mr. Mith, I’m gonna go eat my pancakes with your parents and tell them about how you burned the bacon,” Reese said, hurrying out of the room. That girl was always rushing off.
“Breakfast in bed? What did I do to deserve this?”
“You deserve so much more than that. But fair warning: if you find eggshells in the pancakes, that’s my fault.”
I laughed. “You should’ve just made me a grilled cheese.”
He moved in closer and sat on the edge of the bed. “Are you okay?”
“Yes. Sleep helped. Thank you for listening last night. I didn’t know how much I just needed someone to listen to me.”
“I’m always here to listen to whatever you need to say.” He brushed his thumb against his nose, and I was getting to the point where I was learning when he had thoughts in his head that he wasn’t speaking out loud.
“What is it?”
“It’s not my business, but last night you mentioned that your sister had reached out to you, and you didn’t respond. After hearing what you told me, I’m sure it’s due to a lot of trauma. I can’t imagine what she’s been through, and it’s not my place to do that. But, I do know that if I had a chance to speak with my brother again, even if we were at odds, I’d take it. Life is short. Each day isn’t promised. So, if there is a chance to fix what’s broken, don’t pass it up.”
That sat heavy on my heart as the reality of it all set in. He was right. Each day wasn’t promised, and Sammie had been through a tragic situation. It wasn’t my place to judge her. It was my place to love her—even if it was from a distance.
After I finished my meal, I thanked Oliver and headed into the bathroom to wash up. To my surprise, I noticed that the mirror wasn’t covered with a sheet. I checked the other rooms, and I noticed that all the coverings had been removed.
Healing came in waves, and it seemed as if lately Oliver was learning to ride the current. I guessed I would do the same with Sammie and called her while I still had the chance.
I picked up my cell phone and dialed her number.
“Hey, Sammie. Sorry I missed your call.”
There was a small sigh on the end of the line, and she sounded emotional as she spoke. “Thanks for calling me back.”
Later that afternoon, I headed home with a very happy Reese and three of the action figures that were allowed to leave Oliver’s home. When I put her to bed later that night, we did her nightly routine of saying our prayers.
When we finished, I leaned in and kissed her cheek. “Get some sleep.”
“Okay, Mama.” She placed her hand against my heart and stamped it, and I went ahead and stamped hers back. “Love you,” she yawned.
“Love you too. Good night.”
I stood to walk away, and Reese called out to me once more. “Mama?”
“Mr. Mith is really nice. I like him.”
“That’s good. I think he likes you too.”
“Maybe next time he’ll let me swim in his pool again.”
I smirked. “Maybe. Good night.”
“Night.” A few seconds later: “Hey, Mama?”
“Yes, rug rat?”
“Do you like Mr. Mith, too?”
I chuckled to myself at the innocence of her voice and the depth of her question. “I sure do.”
“Good, because I think I’m gonna ask him to be our friend the next time I see him, and maybe he can play with the superheroes with me when I go over there too.”
“That sounds like a good plan. Now, get some rest, okay?”
“Okay, Mama.” A brief pause. “Hey, Mama?”