The moment I walked into the house, relief poured through me. Tommy’s suitcase was sitting next to the bedroom door. He was finally home.
“Babe?” I said as I walked towards the bedroom. I pushed the door open – and there he was.
A smile – the big, genuine smile that I knew – split his face. His arms opened wide and then I was in his embrace, his arms wrapped tightly around me and holding me flush against his body. Even though I’d been separated from him for far longer in high school, this time apart had felt so much harder.
He pressed his face into my neck. “I missed you.”
“You too,” I said softly into his shirt.
“Where are the boys?”
“Mama picked them up today. They’re going to a movie.”
He grinned and pulled me into a deep kiss.
We didn’t reemerge from the bedroom until Mama texted to tell me that she was on her way back with the boys. In a loose t-shirt and shorts, I went into the kitchen with a noticeable spring in my step.
Finally, life can get back to normal.
Before I reached the fridge, Tommy’s voice drew my attention back to him. “Hey, babe? Can we talk for a minute?”
How much do I not like the sound of that. With a frown, I turned back to him. “Yeah, of course.”
He sat down heavily at the bar, bracing his arms on the granite countertop. For a long moment, he just looked at his hands. Finally, he looked at me. “Mom’s not doing well. I think her meds are failing.”
Even though I’d expected that, it was hard to hear. “Is her doctor going to try something new?”
“If there’s something new to try, maybe.” He sighed deeply and rubbed his face. “But she’s gone really downhill. She needs someone around to help her. I think it started a while ago, but she and Dad kept it quiet.”
“I’m so sorry, baby,” I said quietly. Everything just had to hit him all at once, didn’t it?
He let out a deep breath, like he was bracing himself. “She needs someone to take care of her. I know what a drastic change it’d be, but it’s my mom. We need to move to Windenburg.”
My jaw dropped. “What?”
“She needs me, Loralee.” His voice was pleading. “She’s alone – she’s completely alone. I have to be there for her.”
“We can’t just up and move to Germany!’ I cried incredulously. “Our lives are here.”
“And my mother – my sick mother – is in Windenburg. You think I haven’t thought about this? Mom can’t come here; her doctors – the only ones who ever were able to help her – are there.”
“Tommy, I understand that.” I spread my hands out in front of me. “But there has to be a middle ground. Why don’t we hire someone who can look in on her or stay with her?”
His face transformed into a scowl. “You can’t just throw money at this!”
I recoiled with a shocked gasp. I didn’t think Tommy had ever raised his voice to me like that before. “I – I didn’t – “
“Wouldn’t you do it for your parents? This is what I have to do.”
My breath froze in my chest. “What are you saying?”
“Tomorrow I’m taking a leave of absence from work. I have to be with Mom at least a few days out of the week, so I’ll split my time, I guess, since you’re being unreasonable.”
My dismayed shock turned swiftly to anger. “Unreasonable? You can’t just spring this on me and expect me to just agree to move to Windenburg of all places! My life – our lives – are here, in Oasis Springs. My family – Tommy, the restaurant is here. How can you expect me to drop everything – everything I’ve worked for – to move to the other side of the world?” Couldn’t he see how impossible what he was asking was? Especially when we hadn’t even explored all the options.
“It’ll be hard, but we have to do it. It’s my mom, Loralee. I have to be there for her.”
“No,” I said harshly, pointing a finger at him. “You want to. There are other options. Other things we can do to help her. We don’t have to uproot our lives – “
Tommy threw his hands up. He pushed to his feet, pacing around the room. “Why can’t you understand?” He sounded like he was on the verge of tears. “I can’t just hand her off to some stranger and go back to life as normal.” He vigorously rubbed his face and held up his hands helplessly. “I’m sorry, Loralee.”
“You’re really going to do this.” My voice was hollow; any trace of anger had vanished, but so had all the sympathy I’d felt. I was just numb with shock now.
He nodded. “I’ve got a flight back in a few days.”
Tears burned at my eyes. So he’d known from even before I’d welcomed him home that he was turning around and leaving again. I turned away from him and pressed my hands against my face, struggling to collect myself.
Behind me, Tommy was silent. Then I heard him walk away.