“I should’ve never even given you another chance after you got knocked up by that asshole all those years ago. You should’ve gone ahead and aborted her anyway,” he said, gesturing toward me. “Instead I’ve been forced to deal with your mistakes.”
Mama’s eyes teared up as she looked at her husband, stunned. “Theo. You promised you would never bring this up.”
“Well, obviously it needs to be stated. I’ve dealt with too much of your bullshit over these years. And now I’ve watched the same thing unfold with my daughter because of your flaws. Same mistakes, same story. And now, I bet the same shit happens to that little girl because this family is cursed.”
“What is he talking about?” Sammie asked.
“I’m talking about this family’s sins! The same thing that happened to you happened to your mother, which is why I’m so sick of watching this story unfold the same way. Yet somehow I ended up raising her bastard child.”
“Mama . . . ,” I started, but my words faded. What was he saying? I wasn’t his? My father wasn’t my father? How?
Mama wiped the tears from her cheeks as she tried to keep her composure. “I was young and went to a party. I made mistakes, and a boy took advantage of those mistakes. My father found out and kicked me out.”
We were living in a loop.
Everything Mama had gone through, she’d put Sammie through too. And if the generational curse stayed in place, if we didn’t change our future by speaking and healing from our past, we’d keep that loop going.
Everything was beginning to make sense. It made sense why my father never seemed to love me the way he loved Sammie. It made sense why they were so hard on us, so overly protective. Because they didn’t want what happened to them to happen to us.
Yet still, life happened. And there they were again, trying to control the outcome by taking Reese in as their own, so they’d have another shot at molding her into something they thought was right.
“We failed with you both, but we can do better with Reese. I knew it the moment I lay eyes on her,” Mama said, falling apart in the diner. “I can be better with her. I know how to fix her.”
“She’s not broken,” I said, shaking my head in disbelief. “She’s not yours to fix.”
“You have no clue what you’re doing,” Dad told me with coldness in his stare. “You don’t know how to be a parent.”
“Sure I do. I’ll just do the complete opposite of everything you’ve ever done to me.” I turned to my sister, feeling sick to my stomach as the revelations unfolded before me. “Are you ready to go?”
Mama huffed. “Really, Samantha? You’re going to choose her over your own parents?”
“She is my family, Mama. She’s the best family I’ve ever had,” Sammie confessed, squeezing my hand. We headed out of the restaurant and went back to my apartment. The whole ride over, Sammie kept holding my hand, and I was thankful for that. I needed the comfort.
I think she needed it too.
“Are you okay?” she asked me as we stood in the hallway in front of my door.
“Not now. But I will be. Everything makes a bit more sense now, that’s for sure. I always thought I wasn’t enough for them both, but truthfully, they were dealing with their own demons. It had nothing to do with me.” I smiled at her. “Or you. Parents can be broken, too, it turns out.”
I looked down toward Abigail’s apartment and nodded once. “Do you want to meet her? Reese? I’m going to be honest: I don’t know how we move forward with this. I don’t know where we go from this point with her.”
Sammie placed her hands over her heart and nodded. “I’d love to meet her, but only if you’re comfortable with it.”
I nodded and headed over to grab Reese. The moment we walked back to my apartment, I could see the nerves shooting through Sammie. They were running through me too.
“Mama, who is that?” Reese asked with narrowed eyes.
“That’s my sister, Reese. Her name is Sammie.”
Reese’s mouth dropped open. “You have a sister?”
“Yes, I do. And she’s a very strong person.”
Reese smiled at Sammie, who began to cry. Reese frowned at the sight, walked over to Sammie, and hugged her. “Don’t be sad. It’s okay,” she said, giving her comfort.
“Thank you, Reese,” Sammie said, bending down to meet her eye to eye. “Oh my gosh, you’re beautiful.”
“You’re beautiful too. You look like Mama. So, if you’re her sister, does that make you my aunt?”
Sammie looked up to me, and then back to Reese. “I think that does make me your aunt.”
“Oh great!” Reese’s eyes lit up once more, and she hugged Sammie again. “I always wanted an aunt.”
“When is Mr. Mith going to get back?” Reese groaned as I picked her up from school. Summer had come and gone, and Oliver was back to work with his band, traveling around the US doing interviews for their newest song release. It turned out Alex & Oliver may have come to an end, but Oliver Smith was finding himself day in and day out. Watching him find his footing in a new world without his brother was inspirational and, truthfully, empowering.
I’d missed him a lot during his travels, but our FaceTime calls were enough for me.
Reese, on the other hand? She was missing her best friend.
“He’ll be back next weekend, sweetheart, don’t worry. You’ll be annoying one another again in no time.”
“Good,” she said as we parked the car and headed upstairs to our apartment. Her eyes widened more when we reached our floor and she saw Oliver standing outside my apartment, holding a houseplant in his hand. “Mr. Mith!” she screeched, running in his direction with her backpack on.
I pretty much ran, too, the moment I saw him. “What are you doing here?” I asked, leaning in to kiss him.
“Took an early flight home. Figured I’d stop by to see my girls. Plus, I wanted to get you another houseplant to add to your collection.” I laughed a little but grew silent as I looked down at the plant. Staring back at me was a huge diamond ring.
“Oliver,” I muttered, stunned by what I was seeing.
He got down on one knee in front of me and held the ring in his hand. “I love so many pieces of you, Emery Taylor. I love the quiet parts, and the loud ones too. I love how you give your all to everyone around you, and also save some love for yourself. I love your cooking, and I love your laugh. I love the way you love your daughter. I love her too. I love your daughter. And if you’ll allow it, I’d love to spend the rest of my life being able to shower that love on you both from this point on. Marry me, Emery. Marry me, and I’ll keep you forever,” he swore.
I was stunned, unable to say anything. All I could stare at was the ring, and then I turned around to look at my daughter, who had a devilish smirk on her face as she held up a sign in her hand from her now-opened backpack.
SAY YES, MAMA!
She was in on this, too, the sneak.
I turned back to Oliver and said the word that mattered the most in that very moment. “Yes.” He stood to his feet and wrapped his arms around me, pulling me in close. His lips crashed against mine, and as he slid the ring onto my finger, we both laughed nervously with one another.
Once he’d finished proposing to me, Oliver turned to Reese and got down on one knee in front of her. “I wanted to propose to you, too, kid. Now, I don’t have a ring, but I have this.” He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a half of a heart necklace. Alex’s heart. “This was my brother’s, and it means the world to me, so I wanted to give it to the little girl who means the world to me too. I wanted you to know that you have half of my heartbeats, and I’d spend forever protecting you if you’ll have me.”
Reese was cheesing so hard, I was almost certain her cheeks were going to pop. “Yes, Mr. Mith! Yes!” she shouted, jumping up and down. He placed the jewelry around her neck and then gave her a tight hug. “Does this mean I can call you ‘Dad’ now?” Reese asked nervously.
“Yes, Reese. If you want to, you can call me ‘Dad.’”
She hugged him tighter. “I love you, Dad,” she cried, breaking and healing my heart all at once.
In that moment, I knew the truth about family. There wasn’t one cookie-cutter way to create love bonds. Families came in all shapes, forms, and sizes. Some were tied together by blood, and others by heartbeats. At the end of the day, it didn’t matter how you came together; it only mattered that you stayed together. That you looked out for one another and loved in an unconditional way.
There were no limitations on my love for Reese and Oliver.
Which was exactly why it was going to last forever. Before, they stamped my heartbeats, and those stamps would last forever.
One Year Later
“It’s too tight,” I breathed out as Sammie finished lacing up my dress.