The following two days came and went without any incidents from my parents and Sammie. For a minute, I thought they’d come to their senses and realized they needed to back off, but I wasn’t that lucky.
After Reese and I came home late one afternoon after spending time swimming in Oliver’s pool, I found a thick envelope sitting outside my door. Picking it up, I noticed the word “Emery” scribbled across the front of it. It was definitely in Mama’s handwriting, and that fact alone made acid start to rise from the pit of my stomach.
“What’s that?” Reese asked.
I smiled her way and patted her behind. “Nothing, sweetheart. Go pick out some pajamas so we can get you ready for bed, okay?”
Thankfully, she did as I said, and I headed into the apartment, nervous about what I was going to uncover in the envelope. After I ripped it open, my heart dropped as I read the letter: Is this the man you are raising Reese around? This won’t look too positive for you in court. Make the right decision, and hand Reese over before things get messy.
Inside the envelope was article after article of Cam’s interviews about Oliver and the terrible made-up story lines she’d created. They spoke about Oliver’s spiral over the past few months. They spoke about his drug usage, which didn’t exist, and his cruelty toward her. They highlighted every false subject that Cam had made up about Oliver, and it made me sick to see those words lying against the page.
Mama had grabbed every fake article she could find on Oliver, and she was now throwing it all in my face as a way to get her way. The worst part of it all? The articles seemed real, since Oliver had never voiced his side of the story. I couldn’t believe this was happening.
I was going to be sick.
“What are you looking at, Mama?”
I quickly put the papers down. “Nothing, sweetheart. Let’s get to bed.” I stood up with shaky hands and tried my best not to reveal my panic in front of my daughter.
My daughter . . . she was mine, and my mother was trying to take that fact away from me. What kind of woman would do that? What kind of person would ruin someone’s life? Reese had been mine for over five years. I’d spent five years raising her, teaching her, loving her, and now my parents were threatening to tear her away from me.
“Slow down, Em. What are you talking about?” I asked. She wasn’t making any sense as she stood in front of me. She’d shown up to my house with puffy eyes and a shaky voice.
“I can’t work for you anymore.” Her eyes were swollen, and I couldn’t imagine the amount of crying she’d done the previous night. I didn’t know what had brought her to spend the evening crying, but I hated that I hadn’t been there to comfort her.
“What happened?” I asked, concern overtaking me as I stepped in her direction.
Her shoulders dropped and rounded forward. “It’s a long story.”
“I have time.”
“I don’t. I’m sorry. I just wanted to tell you face to face instead of over the phone. I figured you deserved that much.”
“What aren’t you telling me?”
Her lips parted, and her body began to shake. She was trying her hardest to keep herself together, but she was failing every single second that passed by. “It doesn’t matter, Oliver. I’m handling it. Which means I can’t work for you.”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
“It does. I know it’s probably a lot to hear, but I have to do what’s best for my daughter. I have to put her first.”
“Is it about your parents?”
“What does that have to do with me and this job, though? I mean, hell, if you want to quit, that’s fine, Em. But what I really want to know is how I can help you. I need to know what I can do for you.”
“Nothing. You can’t do anything for me.” She glanced down at the tiled floor in the foyer as tears rolled down her face. “Oliver, I can’t be with you anymore. After this, we can’t see each other again.”
That sent a shock of panic through me. “What the hell are you talking about? What does that mean?”
“It means exactly that. I don’t have time for a relationship right now, not with everything going on with my family and Reese. My main focus has to be on her and keeping her safe.”
“Of course that makes sense. But I don’t see why you won’t let me help you. I can do whatever it takes to make sure Reese stays in your custody. I can get you the best lawyers. I can—”
“Oliver, stop. Please. You’re making this harder than it has to be.”
“You’re breaking my fucking heart, so please excuse me if I am making this hard,” I snapped, and I instantly felt like an asshole for doing such a thing, but dammit. My heart felt as if it was going through a fucking paper shredder. I couldn’t think straight.
She wiped away the tears that kept streaming down her cheeks and locked her brown eyes with mine. She didn’t say anything, though; she just stared my way, and with that simple stare, I felt her worry, I saw her fears. I couldn’t help but step toward her and wrap her into my embrace. “Em, come on. It’s me. You don’t have to do this alone.”
“I do,” she disagreed, shaking her head. “I do. You don’t understand, Oliver. My father is a powerful force in our small town, and he has connections with people in the law system, and he will use this against me. He will use you against me.”
She sniffled and tilted her head up toward me. “They sent me all these articles from Cam about you. They said it shows proof that you being with me is an unhealthy environment for Reese. What’s worse is there’s no interviews or anything from you to counter the assumptions. So it makes you look guilty.”
Son of a bitch.
How could someone shoot so low to hurt another person?
Did they really think they were doing what was right?
Did they think this was the best way to go about everything? By ripping a child away from the one parent she’d known her whole life?
I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know how to comfort her over this issue, because I knew how Cam’s comments appeared. She’d painted me as a sick devil.
“I’m sorry,” I muttered, not knowing what else to say, because shit. I was so fucking sorry. And sad. And hurt.
She pulled me in closer and laid her lips against mine, kissing me hard. Her kisses didn’t taste like new beginnings anymore. Her lips tasted like goodbyes, and that broke my fucking heart.
“Please,” I muttered against her mouth, not even knowing what I was begging her for. Because I knew it was too much to ask her to stay. I knew it was too much to beg her to give us a chance. I would never want to be a roadblock in Reese’s life. I would never want to be a cause of Emery losing her daughter.
But damn it, it hurt.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, her lips still grazing mine. I didn’t want her to pull away. I didn’t want her to walk away from me, because I needed her more than I’d realized. I loved her. I loved her so much, and the thought of losing her was killing me second by second. And that was exactly what was happening. I was losing the woman who’d saved me.
“This is just a bad track,” I said, my hands against her lower back, holding her to me as I shook my head. I rested my forehead against hers and closed my eyes. “This is just a bad song on our mixtape, Em. This isn’t the end of us. Okay? This isn’t the end, and I will wait as long as it takes for everything to work out for us. I’m not giving up on this, I’m not giving up on us,” I told her.
She gave me one last goodbye kiss as she slowly removed my touch from her. With one big step backward, she let me go.
“I’m so sorry, Oliver,” she repeated, turning to walk away. “I love you,” she whispered, walking out of the front door quickly, almost as if she had to run away; otherwise she might’ve thought about staying.
She didn’t even hear me tell her that I loved her too.
The next several days all felt like night. Even though I wanted to turn to my familiar demons, I didn’t do it. I wanted to drown in the whiskey and wake up with vodka in my hands. I wanted to shut off my brain and forget how I’d lost the two girls who meant the world to me.
But I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t spiral, because that would prove that Emery’s parents were right about me. That would prove that I wasn’t good enough for the two girls I loved.
I missed Emery. Every second, every minute, and every hour of every day, I missed her. I turned to the only thing that kept me sane in the darkness: I turned to my music.
I wrote nonstop, almost in a manic state. The words poured out of me until my studio floor was littered with paper. Then I wrote some more.