I missed him to my core. At night, he’d show up in my dreams, and come morning he’d live in my thoughts. Even though I knew I was making the right choice for my daughter, it didn’t make things any easier. I wished I could’ve figured out a way to make our love work. I wished I could’ve been able to keep him by my side during my hardest days, but I didn’t see any way that it was possible.
“I know, baby, I miss him too.” I sighed, rubbing my hands against my eyes. I hadn’t cried in a few days, so I took that as a win. I knew I had to stop my tears from coming when Reese began asking me why I was sad. Hiding my sadness from my little girl was probably the hardest thing for me to do. Appearing strong when I felt weak was harder than anyone could’ve ever believed.
There was a knock at my door, and I hurried over to answer it. Kelly was standing there with two bottles in her hand. One was red wine, and the other was sparkling grape juice.
I cocked an eyebrow. “What are you doing here?”
“It’s good to see you too,” she joked, barging into the apartment without an official invitation inside; not that she needed one. “I figured tonight was a great night for a girls’ night out!” she exclaimed. “Reese! Do you want to have a girls’ night out?”
“Yes!” my daughter shouted, making me shake my head.
“No,” I said back. I didn’t have the energy to get up and go out. Most days, I was just trying to make it from morning to night. I didn’t have an ounce of extra energy to put anywhere else but within my daughter.
“Oh, gosh. Don’t be a party pooper, Emery,” Kelly said.
“Yeah, don’t be a party pooper, Mama,” Reese echoed. I gave her a stern look, and her eyes widened as she whispered, “Is ‘pooper’ a bad word?”
I couldn’t even hold my smirk in from her comment. But she wasn’t the one I was supposed to be scolding in that moment. Therefore, I turned back to Kelly. “I can’t go out tonight. I have to keep trying to find a job.”
“Jobs will be there tomorrow. A girls’ night is needed. And I bet you’ll feel even more inspired to job search tomorrow after a great time. You were there for me when I needed a girls’ day, so let me be there for you when you need one. Please, Emery?”
“Yeah, pleeeeeeease, Mama?”
I wanted to say no, go crawl into bed, and surrender to my sadness, but the spark of hope in Reese’s eyes wasn’t something that I could let fade away. Ever since Oliver had stopped coming around, I’d noticed how sad Reese was about it. If me going out for a girls’ night would make her smile, I’d do it.
“Okay. What do you have in mind?”
“It’s a surprise. Just go get dressed, something cute! I’ll help Reese pick out something to wear. Meet out here in about twenty minutes, okay?”
I snickered. “I don’t need twenty minutes to get ready.”
Kelly scanned me up and down with her blue eyes. “Oh, sweetheart. I’m sorry to say, but you do need twenty minutes to get ready. You’ve been running around looking like a zombie for the past few days.”
“She’s right, Mama. You look like a zombie with fifty billion bags under your eyes,” Reese agreed. Then the two of them began walking around the living room like zombies.
That felt like the confidence boost I was searching for.
Before I could reply, Kelly was patting me on my behind, shooing me in the direction of my room.
“And wear a nice pair of heels!” she shouted.
Heels? Yeah, right. She was going to get a pair of sneakers, and she was going to like it too.
It took me fifteen minutes to get dressed and do my makeup, but I hung out in my bedroom for those extra five minutes, giving myself a pep talk. I needed to put on my superhero cape in order for the girls to not notice how sad I felt. From zombie to superwoman in twenty minutes or less.
“There our lady is!” Kelly cheered as I emerged from my bedroom as a butterfly. Well, maybe more like a moth, but they were getting what I had to give that night.
Reese was wearing an adorable pink dress that flared at the bottom, and her kiddie heels. Her wild curly hair was tamed and pulled back into a perfect bun. I had no clue how Kelly had managed to do that in less than thirty minutes. It normally took me five hours to tame my daughter’s hair.
“You look beautiful, Mama,” Reese gasped, looking my way. “Like a princess.”
When my girl was sweet, she was the sweetest. “You look like a princess, too, sweetheart.”
Kelly poured two glasses of wine, and one of sparkling grape juice, and handed them out to both Reese and me. Then she held her glass in the air. “A toast to Emery Rose Taylor. The best mother and friend that a person could ever have. We’re better with you, Emery. And nothing is ever going to keep us apart.”
Reese hadn’t a clue how important and meaningful my friend’s words were to me, but I needed to hear them. To hear that my life as Reese’s mother wasn’t going to come to a standstill. I’d been overthinking it all. How would I explain to her the truth about what had happened? How I wasn’t her biological mother? How her real mother had abandoned her?
I couldn’t answer those questions at that time, so I went ahead and pushed them to the back of my mind the best I could.
We finished our drinks—well, after another glass of wine each—and we headed downstairs to the Uber that Kelly had called for us. I still had no idea where we were going, but she wouldn’t give me any clues at all. “Just enjoy the ride,” she said, smirking.
When we pulled up in front of an arena with a massively long line wrapped around the building, I cocked an eyebrow. “What in the world . . . ?” I muttered, climbing out of the car.
Then, when I looked up at the sign flashing on the building, my heart stopped beating.
LIVE TONIGHT OLIVER SMITH’S RETURN TO THE STAGE.
Oliver’s return to the stage? Oliver was performing tonight? How hadn’t I known this? How hadn’t I been aware of him getting to the point of where he’d perform again? Would he be able to perform? Or would he relapse and spiral again, like he had all those months ago when I first met him at Seven? Was he okay? Was he nervous? Why were we here?
“Kelly,” I started, but she linked her arm with mine and cut me off.
“Come on. We’d better get backstage before the show starts,” she said, giving her other free hand to Reese to hold.
“Yes. For the meet and greet.”
“Meet and greet?”
“Geez, Emery, are you going to echo everything I say? Less yappin’, more trackin’,” she said, yanking me along. With ease, Kelly flashed a few passes to a few security people, and before I knew it, we were backstage at the arena, standing beside Oliver’s dressing room.
My stomach was in knots, and I felt as if I were going to pass out any second. Kelly still hadn’t explained herself, and honestly, now that we were standing in front of Oliver’s door, I didn’t even need an explanation.
I just needed him.
Kelly knocked on the door, and before anyone answered, Reese took the doorknob in her hand, turned it, and pushed it opened. “Mr. Mith? Are you in here?” she called out.
The moment the door was fully opened, we saw Oliver standing there, fussing with his microphone pack in his back pocket. He dropped his hands quickly, and his eyes lit up the moment he saw Reese. She turned into the brightest light when she saw him too. “Mr. Mith!” she hollered, dashing in his direction, and he was there to catch her in his embrace with arms wide open.
“Kid!” he exclaimed, spinning her around.
She snuggled closer to him and held on tight. “I missed you, Mr. Mith.”
“I missed you, too, kid.”
“Mama missed you too. She’d been crying a lot since you left.” She moved her mouth toward his ear and whispered—but a loud whisper because my daughter didn’t know how to lower her voice. “But she pretended she had allergies.”
Oliver moved his stare from my daughter over to me.
I looked at him.
He looked at me.
And still, he controlled my heartbeats.
His sweet yet somehow sinful lips turned up into a smirk that made my thighs tremble.
“Hi there,” he said as my heartbeats drummed away in an erratic pattern.
“Hi there,” I replied.
He placed Reese down on the ground, and before I knew it, his arms were around me. Within seconds, I was melting into him, because I didn’t know how to do anything but. He felt so warm against me, he felt like the missing piece to my small family puzzle, and I knew he fit perfectly as Reese wrapped her arms around our legs.
We were the perfect trio, and all I wanted to do was love the two of them for the rest of time.
“I missed you so fucking much it hurt,” he said, holding me close.
“That’s a quarter in the swear jar!” Reese remarked, making us both laugh. “Hey, Mr. Mith. Is it true that you’re performing tonight?”
“It is. At least, I hope so. I’m going to be honest: I’m really nervous. I haven’t performed in a long time without my brother, and I’m not sure how it’s going to go.”