I turned back to the window. I couldn’t face her. She was another one. The same would happen, and she had no idea she’d do it until the day she left me, like the rest of them. “She’s going to get away with this.”
She grew quiet. “Who?”
I couldn’t answer. Kate. All of them. Everyone.
“They followed me into that bathroom.” The door opened, but the hand dryer was on. “I remember it now. I knew they were coming. I knew someone was there. There was a small movement from the corner of my eye. It’s why I turned to leave, but …” I couldn’t go further. That day would haunt me, like so many others.
I turned back now.
Malinda straightened from the doorway. Her hand dropped and slapped against her leg with a soft thud. Her eyes widened an inch, and her mouth fell open.
I didn’t know what she saw in me, but she couldn’t talk for a second. I could. For once, the words were there, and they were gutting me. “How do I get over this?” How was I supposed to go back to that school? She was there. Mason said they only got in-school suspension. They got a slap on the wrist and were given a holiday from their usual studies.
I couldn’t. That was my truth for the morning. I couldn’t go back to that school, but I couldn’t afford not to. Coach Grath already said that I’d have to bust my ass to catch up to my old times. As soon as I was cleared by the doctor, he wanted to meet for individual training sessions. I needed that scholarship, I had no one to help me now. I needed to go to college. Kate would be there …
I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.
“What do I do?” My voice hitched on a sob.
“Oh, Samantha.” Malinda rushed into the room and folded me against her. She wrapped her arms around me gently and cradled my head to her. “Oh, Samantha, honey.”
At the feel of her arms, I was jerked to a different reality. This one felt alien.
This was what a mother did. She comforted. Malinda wasn’t my mother. She was dating David, who was rarely at the house. It hit me then that he’d been avoiding me or maybe he’d been avoiding a moment like this. Malinda took his place and because of that I couldn’t let her. I wouldn’t be reassured by her. There would be a time when she’d leave me too. It was inevitable.
I moved back and tried to give her something that resembled a grin. “It’s fine. I’m fine.” She grimaced. My smile must not have looked like one. I tried for another and repeated, “I’ll be fine. Really.”
I heard her stricken tone and prepared myself.
She raised a hand and tucked some of my hair behind my ear. Her touch was gentle. “I’m not like the rest.”
My eyes jerked to hers.
“I know what it’s like to be abandoned and left behind. I do. I know what it’s like, and I’m not here to make excuses for your father. That’s between you and him, but me—I’m here for you. I won’t leave you. I had Mark when I was young. His dad didn’t stick around.” She chuckled. “His dad didn’t even stick around long enough for me to say he didn’t stick around. He was out the window the second he saw my pregnancy test. You know what happened to me?”
I was listening to her. There was a pull to her, and I couldn’t not listen to her, but I didn’t answer.
“I got thrown out of my family. I’ve been out on my own ever since. My family is full of pretentious ass**les and bitches that think they’re better than everyone else. Pissed my grandfather off. He didn’t like not being able to see Mark, so he left me his money.” Another dry chuckle. “That changed their tunes. They tried seeing me, apologized out of their asses. They sent over Mark’s cousins to be friends. That one I couldn’t fight. He’s close to a few of them, but I could fight the rest. I was an embarrassment to them, but I became an inspiration when all those dollar signs were connected to me. Pansies. I hated my family. For years I hated them, and now I just want nothing to do with them.”
I grinned as an ache started in my chest. “Didn’t you hear the phrase that family means everything?”
“Not to you.” There was nothing held back from her. “Not to me. Sometimes family hurts you more than they could ever love you. That’s a truth a lot of people don’t want to hear, but sometimes people get the opposite. They get the families that love you more than they could ever hurt you. Those people are the luckiest in the world. You know what pisses me off? Is that they probably don’t even know it. They don’t know how lucky they are, but, Sam, you’re one of them.”
I sucked in a breath. That ache was a stabbing pain now.
She leaned forward. Some of her long hair fell forward, but she ignored it as she grasped my shoulders. Malinda moved so we were eye-level. “Forget the people who’ve hurt you. You don’t have them anymore, but you have two others that’ll do anything for you. Mason and Logan would move mountains for you. I see how you are with them. You love them, but you’re scared to let yourself be happy. Why? Because that’s when they’ll leave? Is that what you think? You’ve got it all wrong. Those two will never leave you.” She tapped my chest. Once. Twice. “You. You’re the one that’s going to hurt them. You have that power, and you don’t know it. You could rip those two apart in a second, and they’re the ones who are scared of you. Not the other way around. You need to recognize the real situation.”