And it was all my fault.
It wasn’t supposed to go like this.
She sat down across from me, and when her eyes locked with mine, tears flooded my stare. She looked so dead in the eyes—as if any light that was left inside her had been drained away.
“Hey, Mama,” I whispered, my voice pained as I watched her skinny fingers fidget together, same way mine had. I wiggled around in my seat and tried my best to push out a broken smile. “How are you doing?”
What a stupid question, though I wasn’t sure what else I could’ve said to her. What did you say to the woman you loved more than life, yet who you were also responsible for locking away?
She huffed at my question and looked away, picking a corner of the table to focus her stare on.
“Craziest shit,” she murmured, shaking her head. “I’ve been trying and trying to figure out how we got caught, you know? Nobody knew about the drop location except Charlie, me, Garrett, and . . .” She turned her stare back to me and tilted her head in a knowing way. “Garrett stopped by and told me that you had something to do with this.”
Tears burst out of my eyes, and I covered my mouth as her eyes pierced into me. “I’m sorry, Mama,” I cried, feeling every rush of emotion shooting through me. “I didn’t think you would be there. I thought it would only be Charlie.”
“Why would you do that to him?”
“Because he’s a monster. He was going to kill you. He was going to kill you, Mama.”
“He would never hurt me,” she sneered, shooting me looks of hatred.
Hatred. My mother, the only woman I’d ever loved, stared at me with so much hatred that I instantly began to hate myself.
“But he did, Mama. He hurt you time and time again, and I couldn’t keep watching it happen. I couldn’t let him do it to you.” I sniffled and brushed my hand beneath my nose. “I know this isn’t perfect, but after this, when you’re done with your time, we can start over. You’ll be clean, and I’ve been saving up some money for us to get our own place. We can go anywhere in the States. We can start over, Mama. We can build a new beginning and—”
“I took the fall,” she whispered, making me raise an eyebrow.
“For all of it. I took the fall for Charlie. He’ll be out soon, and I’ll be in here for much longer.”
My heart began shattering into a million pieces. “What? No. Mama, you can’t do that! You can’t take the blame for—”
“He’s my soul!” she barked my way. “Everything I am is because of him, and I’d do anything to protect him.”
That made my heart shatter completely. She was so warped in her mind about what love was and how it looked, how it worked, that she truly would go out of her way, give away her own life, for a man who didn’t give a damn about her at all. She was right about one thing, though. Everything she was was due to that man. Her messed-up mind, her jaded lifestyle, it all existed because Charlie had poisoned her soul with his toxicity.
“I hate you,” she sneered, the words hitting me like bullets to the chest. “I hate everything you are, and I never want to see you again. I wish I would’ve had the abortion when I had the chance. Being your mother has made me miserable. You’re no daughter to me.”
“No.” I shook my head. “You don’t mean that. I know you’re upset and hurting, but Mama, I love you. I did this for you, to protect you.”
“You ruined my life. You ruined me, and I hope your life from here on out is a living hell. I hate you.”
Tears streamed down my cheeks at an impossible speed, and I didn’t even bother wiping them away. I reached across to her to grab her hands in hope of her feeling my warmth, feeling my love, feeling me.
She pulled away before I had the chance.
“Guard, I’m ready to go back.” She got to her feet and gave me a harsh glare as her hands fell to her stomach. “At least this time, the baby will take after her father,” she stated, making my mind flip sideways. “And Charlie will be able to take care of the kid once it’s born, no thanks to you. Maybe this one won’t be such a disappointment.”
“Mama . . . let me help you somehow. Let me—”
“It’s a girl,” she cut in as she rested her hands against her stomach. “I always wanted a real daughter.”
That cut me deeper than anything ever had before.
“I can help with the baby,” I offered.
“Don’t you think you’ve already done enough?” she asked as the guard walked over to lead her away. “I never want to see you again, and when karma catches up to you for what you’ve done, I hope it burns.”
She was guided away, leaving me standing there with a hole in my heart and an ache in my soul. And the burning of said karma? It happened instantly. My entire being was set to flames.
When Hazel came back, she was in a frenzy, wiping fallen tears from her eyes at a rapid speed. I hopped out of the truck and raised an eyebrow at her. “Hey, you okay?”
She didn’t say a word, probably because her emotions were too heightened. She toppled toward me as I caught her in my arms. She began to sob into my T-shirt, tugging me closer to her, and I allowed it. She was breaking, and I was the only thing keeping her from crashing to the ground.