She lowered her head. “I didn’t know how to stay. I was losing myself, Emery. I was in a dark place and didn’t see a way out of it. And when I looked at that baby, the thoughts I had were even darker. I left because I felt as if I was going to hurt her. I left because I didn’t know how to stay.”
“You left her alone in an apartment, Sammie!” I argued, tossing my hand up in irritation. Every now and again, I’d think back on that day, on the screaming child, and my heart would break all over again.
“I know! I know! Okay. If you’re just going to yell at me, I can just go—”
She began to stand, and I reached across to her and grabbed her arm.
“No,” I said sternly. “You have to stop running, and I’m guessing you came because you’re tired of that.”
“I don’t need to be yelled at and hear how you hate me.”
“Me yelling isn’t because I hate you, Sammie. It’s because I love you, and you hurt me! You hurt me to my core. And then, finding out that you’ve been seeing our parents and not me broke me even more. And now the idea that they are pushing to have custody of Reese is insane. You have to know this. Don’t you remember what it was like for us growing up? Why would you even want that for her? They are toxic, Sammie.”
“Mama said she could do better this time . . . better than she did with us,” she whispered, shaking her head. “And she said she’d let me back into their family completely, not just once every now and again. That’s all I want, Emery. I just want things to go back to how they used to be.”
“Nothing is ever going to go back to what it used to be. That’s impossible, and truthfully, you shouldn’t want it to be the way it used to. Our parents controlled us and belittled us, Sammie, making it hard for us to trust anyone or anything.”
Her lips parted and her trembles returned. I hated how nervous and fragile she seemed all the time. Even though I was upset with her, it still broke my heart to see her so damaged.
“I just want them to love me.”
“You should never have to beg for anyone to love you. You should never have to do as they say for them to deem you worthy of their love. That’s not how love works.”
“I don’t know how it works,” she confessed. “I’ve never known how it works.”
“Yes, you do. You loved me, and I loved you unconditionally for all of our lives, Sammie. That’s what love is. It holds no chains attached to it. But Mama and Dad’s love doesn’t work that way. It holds you down and suffocates you. You can’t really want that for Reese. Or for yourself.”
She stayed quiet for a few moments before sniffling. “Oliver talked about getting me into a clinic down in Texas that deals with women’s mental health. It’s in the town that he’s from. Said he would cover all the costs.”
That sounded like the man I loved. “Are you considering it?”
She nodded. “I’m supposed to go out there next week, but there’s something I have to do first, and I need you to do it with me, if you can?”
“I need you to confront them with me, Mama and Dad. I need you there with me.”
I was a bit wary about the idea, because I knew how our parents could corner Sammie and make her shift her thoughts. Yes, in that moment she seemed strong and sure, but I knew how my sister’s mind worked. It flipped back and forth between hope and despair. I never really knew who I was going to get, but still . . .
“I’ll be there for you, no doubt about it.”
She hugged me, and I held her so tight.
“I’d visit you and Reese sometimes,” she confessed, wiping her tears away. “I’d come to your neighborhood throughout the years and see you with her. I’d see how happy you both got over time, and it was clear to me that she was never mine, not really. That’s your daughter, Emery. And I’m so sorry for all the hurt I caused you. I’ll do everything it takes to keep her with you. I promise.”
Hearing her say that Reese was mine meant more to me than she’d ever know.
We still had a lot more to talk about, a lot more baggage to unpack, but I knew we’d done enough that evening.
Oliver set up a guest room for Sammie to stay in, and when it came time for me to go to bed with him, I thanked him a million times for getting Sammie to come around and not only drop the conversation with my parents, but to also get my sister the help she needed.
“Should we talk about us . . . ?” I asked, feeling nervous that I’d ruined the chance we had after breaking up with him all those weeks ago. I wouldn’t have blamed him if he didn’t want to take me back with arms wide open. “I mean . . . is there an us still?”
Oliver walked over to me and wrapped me in his arms. “There will always be an us, Emery.”
“You have no clue how much good you’ve done for me,” I said as he held me.
“I’ll do anything for you. From this point on, I’m always here.”
I smiled and kissed his lips gently. “It’s been a wild ride with you these past few months, but I wouldn’t change a thing.”
“I love you.”
“I love you,” I echoed.
His mouth danced against my earlobe as he whispered into me, “Can I show you? Can I show you how much I love you?”
He led me to his bedroom, and it didn’t take him long to lay me against his mattress and pin me down, hovering over my body. His eyes glassed over, and he repeated his words. “I love you, Emery,” he said again, and I knew I’d never tire of hearing those words fall from his mouth.
My lips pressed against his, and I muttered into him, “I love you too.”
He took one hand and traveled it down to the hem of my dress and pulled it up slightly.
First, he slipped one finger inside me, sliding it in slowly; then he added another, spreading me wide. The speed picked up as my hips began rocking against his hand. Then, another finger, and I moaned out from the feeling, turning my head toward the pillow, not wanting to make too much noise as he finger fucked me hard and deep.
The deeper he went, the harder I moaned, until I released against his hand. He pulled his hand from my panties and licked his fingers before pressing his mouth against mine.
“Make love to me,” I whispered, wanting to feel his hardness inside me, wanting every piece of his love to rock my world. He didn’t deny my request. As he slid into me that night, as he made love to every inch of my body, I felt our hearts healing together. As he made love to me, I felt the promise of tomorrow he was giving me that night. As he lost himself inside me, I knew I’d found my home. I knew I was going to be his forever.
And he’d be mine.
Going into the conversation with my parents, I had one thing on my mind and one thing only—breaking generational curses.
“You’re joking, right?” Mama snapped in the same diner where she’d told me she was going to try to take my daughter from me. Only this time, Sammie sat beside me, holding my hand under the table, so we could squeeze each other’s hands whenever we needed a push of comfort. “You cannot think you can keep her. You are not the right fit to have that child.”
“I have been for five years, and I plan to be for the rest of my life,” I said, disagreeing.
“Samantha, tell your sister that she is wrong. You already spoke to us about this situation, and we agreed that what was best for your daughter is—”
“She’s not my daughter,” Sammie said, sure as day.
Mama’s mouth dropped open. “You are wrong. We had a plan. Your father and I were going to raise that little girl and give her a real shot at life, at a family.”
“She has a family,” I said. “I’m her family.”
“You’re a single mother; you could never be enough for that girl. You’ve never been enough. You run around with drug-addict musicians who sleep around with any-and everything. You think he’s going to look after you? Good luck. He’s going to throw you to the side like you’re nothing,” Mama huffed. Her words stung me, but only a little.
Because I knew no truths lived within them. “You have no clue who Oliver is, and you have no clue who I am. You don’t know who Samantha is, either, I’m sure.”
“Oh, shut your mouth, Emery Rose. I know who my daughter is.”
“What’s my favorite song, Mama?” Sammie asked quietly.
“What’s my favorite song? What song did I listen to over and over again growing up? Who’s my favorite musician? What’s my favorite color? What did I want to be when I grew up? How do I like my eggs?”
“Samantha, I don’t see how this has anything to do with anything. Those are stupid facts that don’t matter at all,” Mama snapped. “Now, tell Emery that we are going to move forward with the custody case.”
“‘Heart Stamps,’ by Alex & Oliver—who are her favorite musicians. Her favorite color is teal during the summer and yellow in the winter, because she believes the dark days need some bright color. She wants to be a therapist to help people, and she likes her eggs scrambled with two slices of American cheese,” I said, because I knew my sister.
Sammie squeezed my hand.
I squeezed hers back.
“This is ridiculous!” Dad finally snapped, speaking up for the first time since we’d arrived at the restaurant. “I cannot believe I even wasted a second of my time going through this bullshit, anyway, Harper. This is all your fault to begin with.”