I’m staring at the way he’s looking at her. Sort of like the way we started looking at one another more than a year ago. Definitely interested. But cautious. Our eyes catch just before the bell rings. I leap out of my chair to get to the door before he catches me.
Talking to James isn’t high on my list. Except… I sort of left him hanging at my house the other day. Crap.
“Ziah!” He steps up behind me almost touching as I stop at my locker. We may be broken up, but after so much time together, he has no problem invading my personal space.
“What’s up?” I try my best neutral smile.
“No offense, but you look like hell.” He leans sideways on the locker next to mine. It’s not a “James” thing to do. He doesn’t lean.
“Thank you.” I hope he catches my sarcasm.
“Sorry, that came out wrong. I take it things didn’t go well?”
“Do you care?” I ask.
“I don’t know. I mean, it’s weird for me to think of you with someone else. I still can’t imagine myself with someone else.” Traces of the sadness he’s been wearing are back.
“Even Rachelle?” I try a smile. I’m not sure how it comes off.
His cheeks seriously turn a little pink. “I don’t know. Is that weird?”
“Yeah.” I nod. “But that doesn’t mean…”
He holds his hand up between us. “I think you’ve made it clear plenty of times that we won’t ever be together. My ego really doesn’t need to hear it again.”
I look down. “I’m sorry, James. Yes, it’s weird. I feel it.” I touch my fingers to my chest. “But it’s okay.”
“We’re friends now, right?”
“Yeah.” I nod. “We’re friends now.”
“You really should do some girl thing with Alyssa, because I mean it. You look like hell.”
I slug him in the shoulder. “Go find Rachelle and pester her, huh?”
He sort of nods once and walks away—embarrassed again.
Why can’t Dylan have an eighth of his persistence. No, a twentieth? Just enough persistence to stay on the phone for twenty more seconds? Who hangs up with NO explanation? Why did he think it was okay to do this to me?
I go from feeling like shit, to being pissed. Over. And over. And over.
Mom and Lora are in the kitchen when I step inside after school. Mom’s never home. Well, almost never. I stand just inside the front door, a little unsure of what to do with myself. Her eyes catch mine, and she comes straight toward me. I’d bet money on Lora, Alyssa, or both having called her.
Her arms come around me without hesitation. “Wanna talk about it?”
“No. I’m exhausted from talking.” My body rests against hers.
“I finished the mac and cheese you like from the restaurant, but I added some extra spice for you.” Mom pinches my cheek like she’s always done and half jogs back into the kitchen.
I let my pack drop to the floor and kick off my shoes. I head for my bedroom to get pajamas. Our movie is starting when I walk back out. How To Marry a Millionaire – the ultimate chick flick.
Mom’s sitting with two heaping bowls of mac and cheese and two glasses of eighty dollar a bottle of wine from the restaurant. Normally it’s just for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I guess me looking like hell is an exception.
“Sorry I haven’t been here, but you know I love you, right?” Her arm comes around me, as she kisses my head.
“I know. Thanks so much. I…”
“I know. You didn’t want to talk. When you do, let me know. Dylan’s okay. We found him.”
Relief pours through me followed by more nausea because they found him, but he hasn’t called.
Lora flops on the other side of me with a salad. I raise a brow trying to pretend to be at least half-okay when I’m definitely not.
She shrugs. “I’m getting married in two days. I can’t be bloated.”
I open my mouth twice to ask more about Dylan, but nothing comes out.
Lora squeezes my shoulder a few times as I try to get my breathing under control so I don’t cry. I’ve never been such a crier in all my life.
I slump back into the couch, take a long drink of the wine, and rest the huge bowl of spicy mac and cheese on my chest. The movie pulls me straight into warmth, comfort, my family, and distraction.
Even though it’s freezing outside and I hate to be cold, I’ve been sitting on the deck since I got out of the shower. Yep, that’s right, a couple hours. But the cool, crisp air is not only keeping me awake, it’s also somehow keeping me from freaking out while Paul’s gone.
I’ve been trying to judge time since he left. He was calling when he walked out. It wouldn’t take long for him to find her or to get a hold of someone who knew exactly where she was. If she gave a crap or cared at all and left right away, she could be here in minutes.
My heart and head have been warring this whole time over whether I’m ready or not, but I wonder if this is something you can ever be ready for. Or if it’s something you just jump into, somehow navigate your way through, and then come out on the other side either better for it or more screwed up than you were before.
Wow… maybe Paul’s not the only one who’s doing better at figuring stuff out.
Lights chase each other across the driveway off to the side of the house. My leg starts jumping up and down as a car door opens and slams shut. Click, click, click, of heels sound on the pavement, and then she’s here, standing in front of me.
She looks just like I remember. Young—she was always young, younger than dad. My eyes look back at me, but her hair is lighter than mine or Derrick’s. She’s all wrapped up in an expensive jacket, and I can’t help but wonder if she bought it herself. What does she do? Or does she stay home with other kids the way she used to stay home with us while her new husband works?
All of a sudden, I am ready. I need this. No, I want this. Without a word, I walk inside. She follows.
“Dylan,” she says, but I turn to her, holding my hand up to stop her.
I plop into a living room chair, and she sits across from me on the couch.
“Where have you been?” I say. There’s no emotion in my voice, and I like it that way.
She’s fidgeting with her purse. “California first. Then back East. I’m in New Jersey right now. I’m head of my department—”
A small nod is my reply. It pierces through me, but it’s just another thing to add to the hurt she’s caused. The hurt I’m going to get over.
“How long have you been back? You been talking to everyone but me?”
“I just got into town when I saw you. Derrick started looking for me because of the wedding. I got a message. He wasn’t even sure it was me, but I had to come before I lost my nerve.”
Before she lost her nerve? Heat spikes in my body. She stands like she’s going to come over to me, but the look on my face makes it clear she’d better not. I don’t want her comfort.
She sits back down.
“I’m not done.” My hand automatically moves up and rubs the back of my neck. I’m freaked out that my voice won’t work. I’m freaked out about what she’ll say, but I have to ask.
The word is near a whisper. “Why?”
“Like I said, Derrick called because of the wedding… I think he wanted closure.”
It’s not what I meant, and she has to know it.
“Why?” I ask again, scared of having the answer and not having it, too. “No bullshit either. Even if you didn’t love Dad, why did you leave me and Derrick?”
I wait while she stalls. Takes a few breaths. Messes with her purse more. Her eyes look back at me shimmering more than they were before. When she finally starts to talk, her voice is so soft I have to struggle to hear her.
“I… I had to get away. We got together young, got pregnant with Derrick. I wasn’t in love with your dad, but I tried… for you boys I tried, but I couldn’t make myself happy. When I—” She stops to rub her eyes. “I didn’t plan not to see you boys. I just had to go. Then I met someone, and I didn’t tell him. I don’t know why. Maybe I felt guilty, but I didn’t say a word. We got serious, and I still didn’t tell him. After a while, I’d been gone so long, I couldn’t come back. How could I just show up again in your lives? How could I tell him? Once we got married… pregnant. How could I tell him then that I had other kids out there?
“Maybe it makes me a coward, but I convinced myself you guys were better off without my interrupting your lives after so long. That Jim and Sally were better off without knowing they had siblings they know nothing about…”
So that’s it. I waited years for this, and it’s not even a real reason to me. She didn’t love Dad, needed a break, and left. Then some other guy—some other family—became more important, and she was too chicken, didn’t want the drama. That’s it.
Sometimes there’s something so big in your life, something so monumental that you make up all these different, life-altering reasons why it happened. She was an FBI agent, involved in some huge plot and had to go to save the world. She was a f**king princess in some other country. Even though she left a note, she never really wanted to leave, but was forced. Something.
It’s all kid stuff. Things I knew could never be true but always let myself believe because this was so huge to me. Now I see the truth isn’t so big at all. There aren’t reasons, and there doesn’t have to be. Sometimes, things just are.
It’s so strange how one choice can derail so many lives. It was so huge to me, I expected her answer to change everything, but it didn’t. I guess that’s life, right? You never really know what’s waiting for you. You never really know what’s going to happen or why. You just have to be able to deal with it. Big or small. And I haven’t been dealing. I’ve been just as selfish as her, getting mad at Derrick for Lora, pushing Ziah away.
Not anymore. Because to me, Mom’s just sad. I don’t want to be like that. Like her.
She cries. “I wish I could change it. I wish I could go back, but I can’t. I’ve regretted that day so many times, Dylan. I’ve wanted to come back so often, just to see you boys, but I was so scared. I knew I didn’t deserve you.”
I don’t hesitate to answer. “No, you didn’t. And you still don’t. Good luck with your family. I hope you don’t ever do to them what you did to us.”
There’s nothing else to say. Nothing else to hear. When I let her out of the house, somehow I come out on the other side different. Better.
I don’t get the door closed before two figures step out of the shadows: Dad and Derrick. They knew I’d need them, and they’re here. Hell, my brother left behind his fiancé the day before their wedding. Shit, the night of the bachelor/bachelorette party for me. For the Gibson Boys.
Derrick closes the door as Dad pulls me into a hug, squeezing me tighter than I ever remember being squeezed. That easily, they’re forgiven. Nothing is forgotten, but forgiven.