I didn’t know how long I held on to her. Five minutes, maybe ten. All I knew was I stayed as long as she needed me to be there for her.
When we started our trek back home, Hazel remained pretty quiet, and I didn’t push her to talk. I knew she’d speak up when she was ready, and she did when the time came.
We were about two hours into the drive home when she cleared her throat. “She’s taking the fall, so he’ll get out before her and be able to raise the kid once it’s born . . .” She cried harder. “It’s not right. No kid should be raised by Charlie. I’ve been through that. It’s not a good thing. And that kid won’t even have my mom by their side . . . even though she struggled, she was still a mom sometimes. That kid will only have the monster.”
“Shit . . . I’m sorry, Haze. I don’t know . . . maybe there’s a way it can be proven that Charlie can’t have the kid . . .”
“I asked to help her, but she doesn’t want my help.” She shrugged and looked down to her hands. “She said I was a mistake. She said I was the biggest fuckup she’d ever made in her life and she wished she would’ve aborted me when she had the chance.”
Her head lowered, her tears returned, and I hated the fact that I was now on the freeway and couldn’t reach over to hug her again.
“That’s a messed-up thing to say to a person. You didn’t deserve it.”
“Maybe I did. What I did was awful. And now she’s going to be there longer, because I didn’t think it all through.”
“What you did saved your mother’s life.”
“I don’t know . . . each night I’ve been having nightmares. I twist and turn in bed at the thought of what I did. I wake up in a panic, because I can’t breathe. Then I can’t fall back asleep. I don’t think I deserve to sleep comfortably while she’s in such a terrible place. Why should I be able to sleep peacefully when she couldn’t do the same? I mean, what kind of monster would do that to their own mother? I figured she’d end up free . . .” She sniffled and wiped her sleeve beneath her nose. “I just didn’t want her to die.”
I parted my lips to speak, but she shook her head. “Can we just listen to music? I don’t think I need comfort right now. I want to feel like shit for a while.”
I agreed to her request and turned on Tool’s second album, my favorite one.
We drove the remainder of the way in silence, even though I wanted to keep telling Hazel that the world was better with her in it. Even if it kept showing her reasons why she shouldn’t have belonged.
I parked the truck in the driveway, and Hazel hopped out. She turned to me and gave me a smile, but it wasn’t a happy smile or anything. I didn’t know smiles could be sad until I saw the one resting on her lips.
“Thanks, Ian. Sorry you wasted your day.”
“It wasn’t a waste. I’m glad I could help you. If you ever need anything at all, I’m around.”
“Thanks again.” She snickered to herself and brushed her finger across the bridge of her nose. “I thought seeing my mom today would’ve brought me a little bit more comfort with today being the day that it is.”
She rubbed the palms of her hands over her tired eyes. “My birthday.”
“Shit,” I muttered. What a shitty birthday. What a shitty life. “Happy birthday, Haze. Sorry it was so crappy.”
“It’s okay. At least I didn’t end up spending it alone.”
Later that night, I heard her tossing and turning in her bed again. It made it impossible for me to fall asleep knowing she was in such distress. So without an invitation, I tiptoed into her bedroom. I quietly closed the door behind me and moved over to the distressed girl, twisting and turning in her sleep.
“Haze. Hazel, wake up,” I whispered, nudging her in the arm. She sat up, alarmed and terrified.
“What?” she screeched, covered in sweat.
I shook my head a bit. “You were having a nightmare.”
Her breathing became more controlled as she combed her hands through her hair. “Oh.”
“Here, move over.”
“When I was a kid, I used to have nightmares after my parents left. Grams would lie with me every now and again, and on those nights, the dreams weren’t as bad. It helped to have someone lie beside me.”
Warily, she scooted over and lay against the wall. I climbed into bed beside her.
As I lay beside Hazel, her body was trembling with nerves or fear or sadness. One of those things. Maybe all three.
I wrapped my arms around her body and held her against mine.
My eyes drifted closed after she felt safe enough to shut her own.
“Hey, can you come help with something in the barn house?” Ian asked, popping his head into my bedroom as I was writing in my journal. “Big Paw has this big log he wants moved, and I can’t do it on my own. Meet me there in five?”
“Sure.” I tossed on a pair of shoes to hurry off to help him. It had been a week since I’d gone to visit my mother, and for the past seven days, Ian had crawled into bed to lie beside me. I didn’t understand why he’d been so nice to me, but having him lying beside me made it much easier to sleep at night. Whenever I’d wake in a panic, he’d be right there, soothing my troubled heartbeats.