I was exhausted to the bone, just barely able to keep my eyes open, by the time I got back to Mom’s house. I’d been up for over twenty-four hours at this point, broken up only by a few fitful naps on the plane.
Hoping I would find everything all well, I stepped into the house. I could tell from the smell, though, that it would be some time before I got to sleep. Naturally, I can’t just go to bed.
I headed towards the bathroom—the most likely culprit of the smell—but stalled out at the sight of Mom, asleep in her bed. She was sleeping peacefully, but it made my heart ache to see how pale and frail she looked.
I turned away from the sight and stepped into the bathroom. Sure enough, there was a pile of soiled clothes on the floor. Not for the first time, Mom hadn’t made it to the toilet in time.
With a weary sigh, I cleaned that up and scrubbed my hands. When I stepped out of the bathroom, I found a light on in the living room and Mom sitting up in bed.
The thin woman smiled at me. “Did you just get home?”
This isn’t home, a quiet voice said in the back of my mind. As much as I felt the need to be there, my home was with Loralee and the kids.
“Pretty much. Did you eat before you went to bed?” It was the middle of the night, but Mom didn’t really keep normal hours anymore.
She shook her head. “I wasn’t really hungry.”
“You should eat. I’ll make you something.”
I turned and went into the kitchen. I didn’t have the energy to cook, so I just pulled out sandwich makings.
“How is Logan?” Mom asked from behind me. A chair scraped over the tile as she pulled it out and eased down into it.
“He’s a tough kid,” I said quietly.
“Like you,” Mom smiled softly, but the smile quickly dimmed. “How’s Loralee?”
I put a sandwich down in front of her and sat down heavily. “She’s pissed. This is all really hard for her.” I sighed softly. “For all of us.”
She nodded sympathetically. “It’s not easy to be apart.” Grief clouded her expression. “Tommy, maybe you should—“
“Mom, no.” I knew what she was going to say and the answer was an obvious and emphatic no. She couldn’t live alone, that was certain, and I still hated the other option.
Silence stretched between us. When she finished eating, I helped her back to bed. Finally, I was free to go upstairs to my own room.
With a sigh of soul-deep exhaustion, I sank down onto the edge of my bed. I took out my phone and opened up the Facebook app, navigating immediately to Loralee’s page. Even though I’d just been there, I wanted to see what I’d missed. I stalled my scrolling on a picture of Loralee and Logan. The caption was about Logan going back to school.
I missed them so much. I locked my phone and put it on the night stand because I couldn’t look at it anymore. I raked my hands through my hair and gave it a frustrated tug. Something had to give.
I stared at the screen in front of me. It had been a long time since I’d actually worked on my cookbook, so I’d thought that I’d spend a little time on it while the boys were at school. But my mind just wasn’t on it. As usual, I was thinking about Tommy.
After a few more minutes of struggling, I sighed in defeat. It was useless. I wasn’t going to make any progress this morning. I shut the computer down and started to get up when one of the two framed pictures on the desk caught my attention.
Back when I’d worked at Simmie’s, Tommy and I had met there so often. On days when he hadn’t had to work, he’d just hung out there while I served coffee. And he’d always greeted me with a kiss. I couldn’t remember now who had snapped that picture or when it had taken place, but I could still remember the kisses.
There weren’t many of those these days.
I averted my gaze and pushed myself to my feet. I meandered into the kitchen. Usually a kind of sanctuary for me, I thought that maybe cooking would offer the distraction I was hoping for. When I opened the refrigerator, though, all I could do was stare blankly into it. I wished now that Luc and Alison hadn’t taken the boys to the park today.
With a sound of frustration, I shut the refrigerator door and pressed my hands against the small of my back in an effort to alleviate the knot of tension that had set up a permanent residence there.
Just when I’d decided to dig out my copy of Dust to Dust, the doorbell rang. I frowned and went into the dining room. To my surprise, I found Mom on the other side of the door.
“Mom, what are you doing here?” I asked as I opened the front door.
“I wanted to come and check on you, see how you’re doing,” Mom said, a meaningful look in her eye. I knew what the look was about; even though I was making sure the boys still saw them regularly, I’d barely said two words to my parents since that day at their house.
I sighed quietly and gestured to the living room. “Do you want to sit down?” Please, can we just not talk about Tommy or Windenburg? Please?
Mom and I sat down. A beat of awkward silence passed. Finally, she asked, “Where are Logan and Jasper?”
“Luc and Alison took them and Trev to the park in Willow Creek. It’s the Blossom Festival.”
She smiled. “Oh, yeah. I’d forgotten that was this weekend. You didn’t want to go?”
I rubbed a hand over my very-pregnant belly. “I thought it’d be a good idea to stay close to home.”
“Ah, probably a smart choice. Speaking of, have you got Jasper moved over?”
I laughed softly. “Yeah. Neither of the boys are super happy about sharing a room.” Just a few days ago, Nora and Parker had come over to help get Jasper situated in Logan’s room. They’d even enlisted Caleb’s help in putting together the new bassinet for the nursery.
“You know what your Mama would say, right?”
I started to laugh, but the sound died on my lips. She’d tell me to move back home because there was plenty of space there.
Mom must’ve connected the same dots I did because, when she spoke next, her tone was gentle, hesitant. “Loralee, there’s something I’ve wanted to ask you. What would you do if your Mama or I got sick and needed help?”
The breath hitched in my throat. In all these months, I’d avoided that question, that perspective. Because I knew the only answer.
I responded in a voice barely above a whisper, “I’d move to Newcrest.”
Mom reached over and rested her hand on my arm. “So what are you still doing here?”
Tears burned my eyes. In a tiny voice, I said, “I’m afraid.” I’d never admitted it before, not even to myself, but there it was. “Moving a couple hours from you and Mama was so hard. Windenburg is an ocean away. Everyone I know—you’re all here.” I wiped at my cheeks as tears escaped and spilled down. “I’m just—I’m so scared, Mom.” All of the reasons I’d espoused from day one—sure, they were legitimate, but they weren’t the real reason I had so diligently refused to budge. It was the fear.
Mom squeezed my arm. “It’s okay to be scared. I was downright terrified, you know, to start seeing your Mama again after she’d hurt me so terribly. But my heart was always hers, and I had to take the leap. You have to leap, sweetheart.”
In my heart, I knew she was right. I’d spent all these months resisting, fighting. Calling Tommy selfish—calling him a lot worse. Really, it was me. I was selfish—a coward. If my parents needed me, I’d be there in half a heartbeat. Children did that for their parents.
I wiped at my cheeks again and sniffed. “I’ve been such a bitch.”
“Yeah,” mom agreed with a smile, “but it’s not too late to fix it.”
I sincerely hoped she was right.
“Mom,” I started, intending to thank her. At that moment, a well-remembered tightness painfully constricted my abdomen, pulling a surprised gasp out of me.
I looked at her with wide eyes. “I think we need to go to the hospital.”