It wasn’t a competition. Nova loved both of us.
But that was the thing. We weren’t equals.
I was back to scowling. Honestly. What was going on with me?
“You don’t have to go back if you don’t want to. I didn’t mean anything by asking.”
He thought I was scowling at him.
I smoothed out my face, silently cursing, and then tried to smile. My whole face felt jerky. I was the opposite of what I used to do professionally. So not smooth.
“I’m not—no. I mean,” Breathe, Quincey. Breathe. Slowwww down. I could hear Miss Clara’s voice again in my head, and it worked. My breathing automatically evened out, and I sat on the floor, reaching forward for my toes, stretching down to rest my chest across one knee.
Home. Being in this position felt like home.
I could feel my heart rate slowing, steadying, and I shifted to the other leg. I moved my arms over my head, graceful, until everything flowed naturally again. I was envisioning going through water, it moving over my body.
I took another breath and sat up. That was better. “Since Valerie died, I’ve thought about nothing but her.”
A dark look flashed in his gaze. “Have you heard from your father at all? Logan asked this morning.”
Right. Back to business.
He was only being polite by asking earlier.
I needed to remember that.
“No. It’s not what I expected.”
He frowned. “Yeah. Me neither.” His hand flashed up, catching a puzzle piece that Nova threw. He put it back down, almost as if he didn’t know he did it. “That alarms me, to be honest.”
I grunted. “Me, too.”
I nodded, feeling my throat burning again. I moved my legs together and bent forward, turning my head and resting my cheek over my thighs, just short of my knee. I could sleep like this. I murmured, almost to myself, “He’s gearing up for something. Something big.”
“I don’t know what he could do, though, unless he tried to take over your charge for some reason.”
Panic slammed in my chest. It was icy cold. “What?”
“Does he have anything on you that he could stretch? Anything to make it seem like you’re not sound enough to be Nova’s guardian?”
Yes. So much.
That burning doubled. “No.”
“Then the only play he’d have, but I can’t see him even attempting it, is a coup by your other family members.”
“What?” I was tasting acid.
“Your mom. She’d have to go to his side, a united grandparent front against you. But there’s no way Graham or the other sister would go along with it. Well, I can’t speak for the sister. I don’t know her, but not Graham. If anything like that was even in the works, he would’ve called and given us a heads-up.”
I had started to tune him out.
I had problems growing up, so many of them. But I conquered every single one of them.
There was no way… Was there?
All my therapists, though. He paid for them. He’d have those records, those notes, because I knew he made them share their notes with him, regardless of any doctor-client confidentiality. He ruled the roost and held the purse strings when I was younger. He’d been my father. He’d been paying my bills. He only chose the therapists who would agree to his terms and conditions, and the ones who wouldn’t, I never went to them. That one therapist had been the exception, Naomi.
I should look her up, find her phone number.
I should call her. She’d know ways to help me with problems that I wasn’t even aware I was having. It was how she had always been for me.
“Aahhhaamama!” Nova shrieked, pumping her hands all the way up, and then, hearing herself, she began laughing.
My heart stopped. Mama? Had she called me that?
No. She was staring at the wall, and I looked.
It was a picture of a woman with red hair. Not Valerie. It looked like a piece of art the designer had chosen to make the pool house feel more like home, but Nova was now pointing and staring at the picture.
“Mama.” She was saying it over and over again.
Nova couldn’t talk when Valerie died.
I bent my head over my knees, and I let the burning move through me.
I wasn’t surprised when I tasted salt on my lips a moment later.
Why did you have to go?
The next night
I gave Graham Robertson a look as he tapped me on the arm, passing to slide in the seat across from me.
“You don’t know me well enough to use Logan’s terms of endearment.”
He laughed, taking his coat off and putting it on the chair next to him. “You’re right, but we’re family, so I figure I can. And who says it was Logan’s term of endearment? Maybe that’s what Val called you on your ‘off’ times?”
I relaxed, then sat up. “Was it? Did she?”
“No.” Another laugh from him as he grabbed the drink menu. “Val just called you ‘him’ or by your name. That’s about it. She didn’t talk about you much, to be honest. Didn’t have to, I guess. We all knew she loved you.”
I felt a good one-two punch at everything he just said.
I’d been so focused on Nova that I pushed my thoughts and emotions about Valerie to the side. I didn’t know if that was fair to her or not, but Nova and the fight for Nova took first priority. Hearing that information now, regret sliced through me.
If she had told me? What then…
But I hadn’t called him to discuss Valerie. It was the other sister I needed information on.
The waitress came over, getting our orders. When she left, Graham lifted his chin toward me. “So, what’s up? I’m guessing you called for a reason, and talking about Val’s term of endearment isn’t it?”
I liked Graham.
We’d known him since college, though not well. Mason had met him at a football camp, but it wasn’t until after college that we got to know him better. He suffered an injury and went into sports broadcasting instead of an NFL career. Then when my brother-in-law and Aspen lived in Seattle, and Graham was here, it was inevitable our paths would cross more and more. Because of all that, I felt comfortable viewing Graham as a friend.