“Why did she say I wasn’t yours?”
I shut my eyes as tears rolled down my cheeks. “I don’t know, sweetheart. She was just a crazy woman.”
“Oh, okay.” She accepted it easily as ever, before saying “Hey, Mama?” again.
I sniffled. “Yes, sweetheart?”
“I don’t think you’re a disappointment.”
My head lowered as the tears kept falling from my eyes. “Thank you, baby.” I tried my best to still the shaking of my body so Reese wouldn’t see my poor reaction.
“Are you okay?” Oliver whispered.
With a deep inhalation, I said, “Just drive, please.”
He did as I requested, and I kept my eyes closed the whole time as we drove toward the bed-and-breakfast. I didn’t pull away when I felt Oliver’s hand fall against mine. With a gentle squeeze, a splash of comfort hit my soul.
“Thank you,” I whispered.
Reese was asleep within seconds of falling against her queen bed once we made it to our room. I moved slowly as my mind was spinning fast. After washing my face and putting on my pajamas, I heard a knock at the door.
I opened it to find Oliver standing there with his hands in his pockets. “Hey.”
I tried to force a smile, but it wasn’t there. “Hey.”
“Let me hold you?” he asked.
I shook my head. “It’s okay, you don’t have to; I’m okay. I’m fine. It was just a long day, that’s all. I should be getting to sleep.”
“You don’t have to do that, you know.”
“Be strong all the time.”
“Yes,” I said while nodding, “I do. Because if I’m not, then I’m not able to be what my daughter needs me to be. She needs me to be strong in order to take care of her.”
His eyes moved to the sleeping girl in her bed, and then he looked back to me. “Right now she’s good, she’s safe, she’s okay, Emery. So, now it’s time for you to be taken care of.”
“I . . .” My words faded as I crossed my arms and shook my head slightly. “I’ve never had anyone take care of me before. I don’t even know what that looks like.”
“It’s different every time, but tonight it’s me holding you.”
I bit my bottom lip and nodded slightly, giving him permission to take me into his arms. The moment he wrapped himself around me, I melted into him, feeling at home in an instant. He moved us to my bed, and we lay down beside one another. His arms felt like the greatest weighted blanket that my soul needed that night.
He didn’t push for conversation; he didn’t try to understand what had unfolded before him that evening. He simply gave me comfort, he took care of me, and I kept falling, falling, falling . . .
I love you, I thought.
I love you, I felt.
I love you, I knew.
I couldn’t say the words, though, because love scared me. Every person I’d ever loved had always let me down. I couldn’t allow myself to verbalize my feelings for Oliver, because once I did, I knew there was no going back for me.
My body turned to face him, and I looked into those brown eyes that had been the source of sparks of happiness over the past few weeks, and then my stare fell to his lips. My heart began racing; my mind began to spin.
“Do you feel for me what I feel for you?”
“More,” he whispered, inching his face closer to mine, resting our foreheads against one another. “I feel more.”
“Does it scare you?”
“It scares me,” I confessed. “I’m not used to people caring about me, and the ones who were supposed to are the ones who left. So that scares me. Getting close to you freaks me out, because what if you change your mind? What if one day you decide that you don’t want me anymore and you leave?”
“I can’t erase your fear, Emery, but I need you to know that you did this to me,” he said, taking my hands into his and laying them against his chest. “You found me when my heartbeats were hardly there, and you stamped them. You stamped my heart, and that’s why it’s still beating.”
The way my body filled with love was almost overpowering. “Oliver . . .”
“Ask me to be yours, and I’ll be yours. If you let me stay, I’ll stay forever.”
I moved in closer to him and slightly brushed my lips against his, and the small graze sent a ripple throughout my whole system. My lips crashed against his. I kissed him hard at first, and then a gentleness fell over me. His lips tasted like every dream come true, and I loved the way he kissed me back. He kissed me as if he’d missed me for decades before we’d met. His kiss felt like a promise that I needed to feel. As he pulled back, I met his stare and gave him a small smile.
“I’m yours, please stay, and please kiss me again,” I whispered, and then he did.
I didn’t know how long our lips stayed together, or how long it was until exhaustion fell over us. All that I knew was that in his arms, I felt comfort; in his arms, I felt safe.
As my eyes faded shut, and his closed, too, I dreamed of him saying he loved me.
In my dreams, I whispered back that I loved him too.
The next morning, I knew I needed to talk to Sammie, and I knew exactly where I’d find her—down at the church getting ready for morning Bible study. It didn’t take much effort to find out where she’d be in a small town like Randall. All I had to do was ask around, and I quickly received my answers.
I arrived before the church service had begun, and I found Sammie in one of the classrooms, preparing for her lesson. She hadn’t noticed me, as she was busy flipping through paperwork, so I stood in the doorframe and knocked on the wall.
The moment she looked up, she dropped the papers in her hands, which went scattering across the room.
“Emery,” she whispered, her voice in pure shock. She looked as if she’d seen a ghost, and in some ways, she had. “Wh-what are you doing here?”
“Are you kidding me, Sammie? What are you doing here?” I barked, stunned. I hated the fact that a part of me wanted to hug her, to embrace her, to cry, knowing she was alive and well. Another part of me wanted to cuss her out. “You told me you went off to start a new life. You didn’t tell me that you came back here. Each time we talked, you were somewhere new. How could you do that? Why would you keep it from me that you came back here? Did you ever even travel at all?”
Her eyes showed the truth. She hadn’t. She’d run straight home all those years ago. I was going to be sick.
“I . . . it’s . . .” She swallowed hard and glanced over my shoulder as if she was afraid of someone overhearing our conversation. “It’s complicated.”
I closed the door behind me and walked into the room in her direction. “You ran back to Mama and Dad right away, didn’t you?”
“I had to, Emery. You don’t understand. I had nothing.”
“You had me!”
“Not really. And I get it. It was easy for you to walk away from Mama and Dad, but I’m not like you. My relationship with them was good before I made a mistake.”
“You didn’t make a mistake—you were raped, Sammie.”
She cringed at my words before breathing in deeply. “Yes, well, that was a long time ago, and it’s something we don’t talk about anymore. So, yeah. I have to get ready for class.” She went to pick up the paperwork, and I was so confused. What was going on? She was acting like a weird Stepford wife, moving as if she had no real emotions and acting as if her abandoning me and Reese five years ago wasn’t a big deal.
“Sammie, you left Reese. You left me. We struggled for years trying to keep our heads above water, and you walked away and came home. You could’ve reached out and told me. You could’ve given us help somehow.”
She blinked a few times before shaking her head. “I made the best choice I could, Emery. That’s all I could do.”
“And Mama and Dad were fine with you abandoning Reese?”
Her brown eyes glassed over before she went back to picking up the pieces of paper. “It doesn’t matter what they think.”
“Well, they seemed pretty shocked when they saw Reese in town yesterday.”
“What? They saw her?” Sammie gasped. “No . . . no . . .”
“Yes. And they were stunned. They said you told them you lost the baby. They didn’t even know she existed.”
Sammie wasn’t listening to me. She wasn’t taking in the words that I was saying. “Reese is here? In Randall?”
“Yes . . .”
“No one can know I had that baby, Emery. Do you understand? No one can know. It would ruin my world. Mama and Dad would flip out. I told them I lost the baby, and that’s why they took me back in. They said it was God’s way of healing me.”
That alone made me want to vomit. The only way my parents would take my sister back was by believing she’d had a miscarriage? And they believed something so horrific was a sign from God?
What was wrong with those people?
What was wrong with Sammie for telling such a terrible lie?
“Well, now they know Reese exists. So you’ll have to deal with that,” I warned her. “Not that you’re good with dealing with things.”
“You don’t get to scold me,” she started.