She moved back. As her hands left my shoulders, I was able to breathe again. My chest was lighter. She went to the far wall and leaned against it. Folding her arms, she shook her head. “You got beat up. Bones and bruises heal. Those girls didn’t win because they didn’t do what they wanted. They wanted to break you.”
I was already broken.
“You’re not broken at all.”
I held my breath at her words.
She added, “Those two boys have healed you. They took you in. They protected you. They continue to love you because they’re your family and both of them know it. They love you for the same reasons they don’t love anyone else. You’re pure. It might not make sense to you, but you don’t use them. You don’t want anything from them. You don’t want to hurt them. Your love for both of them is pure.” Then she cracked a grin. “I might come off as a batty old shithead, but I’m no dumb broad. I know it because I recognize it; it’s why I snatched your father up so quick, and I made sure he had no choice but to date me. I’m not saying he’s made the best choices, but your father has the same pure love inside of him.” She rolled her eyes. “Doesn’t mean he knows how to show it. He’s dug himself a grave and instead of filling it back up, he ends up digging himself another one. He’s been doing that with you all these years, but he’s a good man underneath. He’s a good man to me. I love your father very much, and I’d like to love you like a daughter.” She brushed a tear away, giving me a trembling smile at the same time. “But I’m not here to pressure you or tell you what to do. Believe it or not, I meant to ask you about breakfast, but then I got on my damn soap box. Sorry about that.”
You’re not broken at all. I couldn’t get those words out of my head. “Did you mean that?”
“That I’m not broken?”
“Oh, honey. You have so much strength in you. You have no idea how much.” She gave me another smile, though it wavered as more tears slipped down her cheeks. “I meant what I said before. I will never leave you. Whether I’m with your father or not, you’re friends with Mark or not, know this will always be a home for you. Okay?”
I could feel her love. It was that same alien feeling I felt when I was bleeding on the bathroom floor. I had clung to it then. I was scared of it now, but I nodded. “Okay.”
She began laughing. “You’re so scared of me right now.”
“You are, but that’s okay. Every time you come and I open my door, some of that fear will go away. Being loved and accepting love are two completely different things. It’s my job to continue to show it to you. All you have to do is accept it, little by little. That’s how I finally convinced your father that I loved him. Between you and me, I still have to convince him sometimes. Being with your mother hurt him, too. That’s something both of you have in common.” A few more tears had fallen, and she brushed them away. “Look at me. I’m hideous. Alright, I’m off to shower and get ready. You want to go out for breakfast?”
“Good.” She gave me a bright smile. “Pound on the wall if you need help getting dressed. I’ll hear it all the way upstairs. Oh, and don’t tell Mark that. I caught him with a couple girls with that secret. He still has no idea.”
When she left, I could her laughter all the way to the second floor. I couldn’t move, but I started to hear a scraping sound. That’s when I looked down. My hand was shaking. It was hitting the cord for the blinds that was scraping against the window frame.
She said I wasn’t broken at all.
Sam called me before my game. She had an unusual conversation with Malinda that day, but we would talk tomorrow. It was her first night back at her home, her old home. She wanted to spend time with David, which worked for my plan.
“You ready for this?” Logan got into the seat beside me. We were on the team bus, returning from our away game.
I nodded. My phone was out. The last text from Sam said: I love you. Wake me up when you get here. Key’s under the broken step in porch. I want to talk.
Logan saw the text. He didn’t say anything at first, but after a moment asked, “She doesn’t know? You didn’t tell her last night?”
“And she doesn’t know we’ll be gone all night?”
“This could backfire, you know.”
“I know.” I clutched the phone in my hand.
“She might leave you.”
“You’re still sure?”
We were in the back seat, separated from the rest of the team. The guys knew a plan was in motion and I was grateful for the space. I needed to go over all the risks and calculations.
I nodded now. “I am. You?”
Logan flashed me a grin. “I’m down for anything.”
“If she leaves, she’s leaving you, too.”
“I know.” His grin vanished. “It’ll be worth it.”
“Okay.” I nodded again as the bus pulled into the parking lot and rolled to a stop. “Let’s go to that party then.”
Logan got up first, and I followed him. We knew what to do next.
Kate was lying to herself. When I called her Sunday night, I heard the hope in her voice. I said all the right things: I apologized; I wanted a clean slate; I missed our friendship.