When I hit send, I was surprised when I heard my phone start ringing. Hazel’s name flashed across the screen, and I answered right away.
“You should be sleeping,” I told her, falling against my own bed.
“You should be too,” she argued. “But after reading your message, I knew I had to talk to you. I had to hear you say it to me . . . maybe not in person, but I needed to hear it from your lips. So please . . .”
She sounded so exhausted. As if she were already sleeping and speaking to me only in a dream state.
“I love you,” I whispered. “I love you, I love you, I love you.”
Her sighs were so gentle against the receiver, but my phone was pressed tightly against my ear as she replied to me, saying the words I’d hoped she would come to feel. “I love you too.”
“Why do you sound so sad about it?”
“Because I’ve lived life long enough to know that sometimes love isn’t enough. This is why I didn’t want to start this to begin with. This is why I was so afraid to even cross that line with you. Your life is moving so fast, Ian, and it’s all amazing things that are happening to you and the guys. You’ve worked so hard to get to where you are right now, and there’s so much more coming. Everything is moving at warp speed, and I’m so happy for you, but I’m not in that world. Right now, my life feels as if it’s moving backward, not forward. If anything, I’m frozen in time. We’re on different timelines, and I don’t want you to try to slow yours down to let me in.”
I shifted in my bed. “You’re overwhelmed and tired.”
“Did you get in trouble for talking to me today?” she asked.
“Haze . . .”
She took a breath. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe I’m tired. It’s been a long day, and I should get some sleep.”
“Yeah, okay. I’ll call you in the morning.”
“It’s okay,” she said. “You don’t have to.”
“I’ll call you in the morning,” I repeated. “I love you.”
She released an exhalation. “I love you too.”
It wasn’t until that moment that I knew loving someone could feel so sad.
“I want her,” I sternly said to Big Paw and Holly as I paced back and forth in the waiting room of the hospital. It was our third day there, and my sister was making a powerful recovery from all the trauma she’d gone through.
Ian’s grandparents sat down in the metal hospital chairs with their hands clasped together and grimaces on their faces.
“It’s not that easy, Hazel,” Holly said, shaking her head. “There are rules and procedures . . .”
“Screw the rules and procedures. I want her. I want my sister. I can take care of her; I know I can. So do what you did for my mother all those years ago and for other foster kids. Or at least help me be able to take her in. I’ll handle it all, I swear.”
“It’s not that easy,” Big Paw said, repeating Holly’s words, and that enraged me.
“Yes, it is.”
“This situation is different. This is a newborn baby, Hazel. A child that the mother wants to give up . . .”
“She wouldn’t if she knew I wanted her. She would want to keep us together. She wouldn’t want to split up her girls.”
“Hazel—” Holly started, but I cut her off.
“No.” I stood tall and wrapped my arms around my body. “No. You promised. You swore that everything would be okay and that things would work out, so there has to be a way. There has to be some way to get that baby girl to stay with me. She’s the only family I have. I can pay you for your help with getting in contact with the right people.”
“You know damn well this ain’t a situation about money, little girl,” Big Paw barked, as if bothered to his core that I would assume such a thing. But how could I help it? My mind was spinning, and despair was swallowing me whole.
“Then what is it?” I cried out.
“It’s you,” he shot back, gesturing toward me. He stood from the chair, and then he was the one pacing. “It’s you and your future, Hazel. You have the whole world right there in front of you.” He snapped his fingers. “It’s right there in front of you, and I refuse to let you throw that away. You’ve worked so damn hard to not end up with a life like this. Raising a child while you’re still one yourself. You’ve spent your life caring for others, for your mother. You’ve never had a chance to be a kid all on your own. So I refuse to do this. I refuse to take away the small shot you have at a life so you can take care of another. I’ve seen what happens when someone so young is forced to raise a child before they are ready. I’ve seen my own daughter fall apart and crumble, ruining any shot she had at a future. And I forbid for that to be your story. I forbid you to toss away your shot at a future.” He had tears in his eyes, and his words cracked as they fell from his mouth.
I’d never seen Big Paw so emotional, and I knew the words he spoke came from the deepest part of his soul.
He sniffled a bit, and I stood there, stunned, as I looked on the giant who’d worked so hard to stay strong.
“Big Paw . . . ,” I softly said, shaking my head. “With all due respect, I’m not your daughter. I wouldn’t fall into the role of parenthood and run from it. I wouldn’t abandon you or my sister. I would be here completely committed to this. I know that me finding my way is important, and I’ll work toward that—I swear. But there’s one thing I’ve always wanted.”