This chapter has been a long time coming. I've jokingly started calling it the "cursed chapter" since every time I tried to take pictures for it either my game would have issues (which led to me reinstalling the game three times) or life got crazy. Thankfully, the game issues seem to be resolved.
Speaking of resolutions, I've made one for the new year that includes posting chapters more frequently. I've been dragging my feet with this generation, not wanting to end their story, but it's time and I've made my peace with that. Unless someone (either George or Steph) tell me differently, there will be two more chapters and then a finale to this generation.
The short version: I'm resolving to post more often, finish this generation so the next can start, and this generation will end soon.
Thank you for being patient with me, for continuing to read this story (even with my sporadic posting), and for loving these characters with me. :)
God bless Kelly Clarkson for putting into words what so few of us can. Her song speaks to both Steph's and my heart and was an inspiration in writing this chapter.
Special Thank You To LateKnightSimmer for making the tipping hat pose!!! Love You Sweet Lady!!!
“They’re adorable!” Inside the most recent bag, sat two onesies, both white; one with small blue airplanes and one with tiny pink flowers. The cuteness of each one was too much not share with everyone and I reached inside, holding them up for everyone to see. Those gathered in the family room for my baby shower agreed, and I smiled even more thinking about each baby wearing them. But they looked bigger outside the bag and even though the size on the tag said “newborn”, I couldn’t imagine that each of them would be big enough to fit into them when they were born. That thought made me panic for a moment and I looked down at my huge belly, wondering how much bigger it would need to grow for them to reach that size.
“They grow so much in the last months.” Bridge offered and I glanced up from my belly to see her watching me from across the room.
I nodded and smiled over at her. “I read that in one of the “What to Expect” books, but I still have trouble imagining me getting any larger.” I half joked and chuckles sounded around the family room.
“I felt like I was going to bust during my last month.” I turned to see Emily rubbing a hand over her barely noticeable bump. “It’s amazing to think how much they grow in just nine short months.”
“This isn’t making me feel any better about what’s ahead.” Charlotte somewhat joked as she looked down at her also barely there bump.
“It’s all worth it.” Bridge patted Charlotte’s hand and Emily nodded. “The uncomfortableness you feel in the last months becomes a distant memory as you hold your little one. . .” She smiled at me. “. . .or little ones, and your heart feels like it’s going to burst from the love that you feel whenever you hold them in your arms.”
Daydreams of George and I holding tiny babies moments after being born were interrupted by Charlotte placing another baby present in my lap and I set my attention back to opening them. Before long, they were all unwrapped, the guests full from enjoying tea, cupcakes and other treats, and little by little friends began to leave until all that remained were family.
The guys kept themselves busy doing “guy activities” until the shower ended and their thunderous return proved that they had a good time. “I swear! I wasn’t peeking!” Trev’s loud voice was the first heard as they exited the elevator. “Willie’s just not very good at surprising people!” The laughter that rang out made us women look and smile at each other; something that caused the men to stop dead in their tracks after filing through the door.
“Why are you all smiling like that?” Will wondered and we couldn’t contain our laughter any longer.
“It’s just nice to hear the four of you having fun.” Emily’s reassurance once we stopped laughing broke them out of their frozen state and each one made their way over to join us. As the conversation continued, I looked around the room and drank in the sight of the warm, caring family and each of the happy couples.
The latest addition was among the Christmas surprises of learning that Charlotte and Emily were pregnant. Trev’s admission that he meant to bring a guest with him on Christmas Eve caused a buzz through the family. It didn’t take us long to realize though that Trev had met his match with Pamela, an old college friend of his.
It was something that was common with every couple sitting there, how once each couple got together it didn’t take long for them to move to the next step, and my tiny chuckle didn’t go unnoticed by George. The small turn of his head in my direction caught my eye and when our eyes met, a whole conversation took place where I told him that I’d reveal later what had caused my runaway chuckle, and his eyes showed that he couldn’t wait to hear about it.
The thought that the two of us could have a conversation like that made a soul-warming contentment spread through me, and if I had known how short-lived it would be, I would’ve tried to relish it even more. As was common at that point in my pregnancy, my mind jumped from one thought and memory to another and it wasn’t long before I remembered the moment that I first witnessed him having a silent conversation with Charlotte. . .the night that George and I first opened up about our pasts. . .when I first told him about my parents.
It seemed like anything could send my mind on a path that led to some memory or conversation about my childhood and cause an unsettling feeling to fester deep inside. Every time, I tried to push it even further down, but my attempts became less and less successful and I worried about my ability to keep it hidden. Especially from George.
The moment that everyone left was the when my worry became a reality. His attention turned away from the elevator doors and I knew from the intense focus I saw when his eyes met mine that he had zeroed in on something.
“You got quiet. . .” He hinted and I inwardly cursed at myself for not being more careful.
“When?” I knew exactly what moment he was referring to but I wanted to buy myself some time, even if it was only a couple of seconds. The nerve wracking silence that followed eventually prompted me to look up from the wood floor to see his eyebrow raised in expectation that I would continue, and I knew all hope was lost. It wasn’t a conversation that I wanted to have in the entryway though.
With every step I took towards the family room I could hear the determination in his footsteps as he followed fast behind me and I knew once we reached our destination that there would be no more delaying. But I had no idea how to tell him and I stressed during the journey back into the present filled room about what I should say. That’s when my eyes zeroed in on one of the baby books that I opened less than an hour before and I raced over to grab it.
I wasn’t surprised by the baffled look he gave me as I held it out for him to take and his expression only became more confused as I continued to encourage him to take the book by nodding and holding it out even further. “Is there something wrong with the book?” I sighed and shook my head.
“Page four.” I offered and with that he finally took the book and flipped to the page.
His eyes skimmed it for a second, looking for any clue as to why I wanted him to look at it. “Daddy’s Family” He matter-of-factly read the page title and looked up to question me with his eyes.
“Page five.” I whispered and felt a heaviness in my heart as I watched his eyes lower back down.
“Mommy’s Family.” He sighed more than stated and his shoulders sank as some of the confusion melted away. He looked at the pages for several more seconds before setting the book on the coffee table and I continued to stare at it, dreading the conversation that I knew would follow.
“What. . .” His hand squeezed mine while he paused, causing me to look up from the coffee table. “I don’t know what you’re trying to tell me, Steph.” His concerned eyes looked into mine. “I do. . .somewhat, but I’m not completely sure.”
I looked back down to the opened book and motioned towards it with my head. “There are dates that I can’t fill in.” I shrugged and jerked my head back up to see his brow furrowed in concern. “I have no idea if my grandparents are alive. Hell, I don’t even know if my parents are still alive!”
I looked down at my belly and motioned towards it. “And then what happens when they get older and can actually read it? They’ll see that my side is incomplete and wonder why and then what am I supposed to tell them? That Mommy had a mommy and daddy that didn’t love her and that she hasn’t talked to them in however many years and that I have no friggin idea if they’re alive and that I wonder about it, if they are or not, but can’t make up my mind if I really want to know because that opens up a whole can of worms that I don’t know if I want to open?”
Tears streamed down my cheeks as I pleadingly looked back up at George. I wanted him to tell me what to do, to offer some advice on what he thought I should do. But instead, his hands gently wiped away my tears and rested on my cheeks as his sympathetic eyes looked into mine. “What do you want to do?”
I squeezed my eyes shut and shook my head. “Can’t you just tell me what to do?” I begged.
His hands traveled down to mine and the attention seeking squeeze he gave them prompted me to open my eyes. “I can’t do that. Only you know what you want.” I opened my mouth to try to argue with him but another squeeze from his hands and his voice interrupting, stopped me. “I’ll do whatever you want, go wherever you want, help, love, and support you in any way that I can. . .” The crack in his voice made him pause for a moment and between that and the pain that I saw in his eyes, tears returned to mine. “. . .but I can’t tell you what to do, Steph.”
I took a ragged breath and nodded as I looked back down at the book. “I don’t know what I want.” I eventually admitted.
“And that’s okay. But whenever you decide. . .” His pause coaxed me to look into his tender, loving eyes and his arms wrapped around me as he continued. “. . .I’ll be behind you, no matter what.”
His words stuck with me for the next two weeks. Through consultations with potential clients, catering jobs; even during everyday things like grocery shopping, our conversation followed me and tempted me to wander into the nursery one rare night when I arrived home before George.
I slowly made my way through the room, smiling and stopping here and there as I remembered different additions to it. The cribs that had made George curse when he originally tried to put them together without the instructions. The soft blankets that draped over the edges of each crib that we went to three different stores in search of for the perfect ones. The books that George had meticulously lined up on the bookcase. . .My gaze lingered on the books and eventually rested on one of the most recent additions, the baby books from the shower. They were part of the reason why I wandered into the room and spotting them reminded me of that. I carefully pulled each one off the shelf, trying not to disturb the rest of the perfectly lined books, and opened each one after sitting down on the couch.
Mommy’s Family. There hadn’t been a moment since I first saw the books that the thought of filling in the page didn’t make my stomach hurt. I knew there wasn’t any way I could sugar coat my childhood. Nothing was ever going to make me look back on it with happiness, and I was okay with that. I’d come to terms with it, more so in the past year with becoming a part of George’s family. What bothered me was not knowing what happened after I left. After what happened, the childhood I had, how my parents treated me and how I’d been forced to leave, I shouldn’t care what happened to either of them. But I did. And the more I tried to convince myself not to care, the more the knot in my stomach seemed to grow.
The knock on the door frame made me jump and the harder kicker, our feisty girl, give me a wallop to the belly. Seeing me rub the spot made George apologetically smile while he walked further into the room. “Is she at it again?” He lightly teased and stopped right in front of me.
I nodded and smiled. “I have no idea where she gets her feistiness from.” I joked and he chuckled as he sat down next to me, placing his hand on the spot that I rubbed.
“Oh. . .I think I have an idea. . .” My attempt at pretending to be mad at him made him chuckle, until he noticed the open baby books sitting next to me. His gaze quickly traveled from them to me and with a look he asked me if I was okay.
I sighed as I looked down at the books. “It’s the not knowing. I can’t help it.”
“We could try to find out online. Or email the county clerk. . .” He offered but I shook my head.
“I need to go back. I need to finally put the past in the past.” I said, meaning every word of it. “But will the doctor let me?”
“You have an appointment in two days, don’t you?” I nodded. “Tomorrow’s the last catering gig you have this week, isn’t it?” I nodded again. “Ask the doctor what she thinks and if she says that it’s okay we can leave the next day.”
I looked at him completely confused. “But how? You have to work.” His guilty expression gave him away. “What did you do?”
“I might have told Ron and Bob that I may need to leave town in the near future. I wanted to make sure that if you decided you wanted to do something before the twins are born that it wouldn’t be completely out of the blue. You’re not upset, are you?”
He never ceased to amaze me with the way he knew what I wanted to do or thought before I did and how he endlessly made sure that he was there for me once I figured it out for myself. “No. I’m not upset.” He looked confused as tears fell down my cheeks and he hurried to wipe them away.
“But your. . .”
I shook my head and removed his hands from my cheeks. “I just don’t know what I’ve done to deserve you.” I wept and he leapt up off the couch, pulling me up and wrapping his arms around me.
“Stop.” He whispered into my ear and held me as I tried to regain control over my emotions. As my tears stopped, he squeezed me even tighter, causing another kick of protest from inside my belly, this time from our son. He jumped back in surprise and softly smiled as he rubbed where the protest came from. “They’re both very opinionated.” He chuckled and as if on cue, his hand got kicked away, making both of us laugh.
He reached up to touch my cheek as our laughter faded and searched my eyes for reassurance. “So you’ll talk to the doctor about going?”
I nodded and went up on my tiptoes to kiss him. “What if she says no?”
“We’ll cross that bridge if we reach it.” He reassured me and I tried to not think about it anymore.
When the doctor cleared me for travel two days later I didn’t know how to feel. As much as I wanted to go, the unknown of what we would encounter there made me feel sick to my stomach and second guess going. But as much as I feared facing the unknown, it still bothered me less than not knowing and three days after our conversation, we drove to Lucky Palms.
I didn’t remember much from the bus ride to Bridgeport six years before. I spent most of it worrying about how I would eat, where I would sleep and if there was any way that I could make money to do either. Which meant that much of the scenery I saw as we drove the roads back into Lucky Palms was new to me and I could almost trick myself into thinking that we were on another road trip. That ended though when I saw the rundown gas station that I knew was on the outskirts of town and as more familiar sights came into view, my heart pounded and the knot in my stomach grew.
George must have noticed because I felt him squeeze my hand. “We’re almost there.”
Whether he meant my hometown, the place we were staying while there or both, I didn’t know. But I chose to make the conversation about where we were staying. “You said you found a B&B in town? I don’t remember one being there. . .” I hinted, hoping that it would encourage him to keep at bay the silence that allowed me to think.
“I did. There wasn’t much available since it was such short notice, so I started looking at other places besides hotels.” He turned the SUV down a road that I didn’t know very well and then continued. “It’s pretty new and it’s not the typical B&B.” He pulled into a driveway and I saw what he meant.
“It’s very. . .modern.” I said as we both opened our doors. He nodded and walked around the front of the SUV to help me stand up.
“I’d imagine that a traditional looking one would stick out here.” He said as he looked around at the other houses before mentioning us walking inside to get out of the heat. It was one of many things that I didn’t miss about living there and being extremely pregnant didn’t make me anymore of a fan. I eagerly agreed with him and sighed with relief when the air conditioning made goosebumps appear on my arms.
My first impressions of the entry and its wall of greenery were interrupted by a man who looked a little older than me, greeting us. “Welcome!” He shook George’s and my hands before walking behind the desk and looking down at a book. “You must be the Davila’s.” He looked up and George and I both nodded. “I’m one of the owners, Frank Vincent. We have your room ready. . .” He reached behind him to grab a key and jotted down something in the book before handing the key to George. “We haven’t had many people stay in your room, with us being a new place.” His statement opened up the opportunity for George to question him about opening a modern B&B and while they continued to talk, I glanced further into the house and noticed a little sitting area.
Not wanting to keep him from learning more about the place, I decided to make myself comfortable in one of the chairs and picked up a magazine to glance at. It was the sound of the front door opening that made George notice that I sat down and he rushed over to me. “Oh my God! I’m so sorry, Steph!” He whispered as he helped me stand up.
“It’s okay. I know you don’t get to talk architecture with many people.” I smiled at him and reassuringly rubbed his back.
“Let’s go up to the room so you can rest.” His hand on my back urged me to walk ahead of him and we made it up three stairs before a voice made us stop.
“Shitfire! They’re from Bridgeport?”
I whirled around and looked at George who looked as surprised as I must have. There was no way that it could be her, but with hearing that one word there wasn’t any way that it couldn’t be. I rushed past George and back into the entry way to see if it really was and saw the curly black hair that I’d long given up hope of ever seeing again. “Gina?” At the sound of her name she swung around and studied me for a moment.
“Steph?” We stayed frozen, staring at each other, wondering how it was possible that we were seeing each other again after so many years. Years where she was just a collection of memories to me. Years that I wished that I could hear her voice say “Shitfire” again and we could catch up on each other’s lives. And by some miracle, it had happened.
Her shock wore off first and the hug she gave me was what broke me from my mine. I wrapped my arms around her and clung to her, not wanting to let her go in case the last few minutes were just a cruel fabrication of my imagination.
“This is Steph?” Franks disbelieving voice asked and I lessened my hold on her so she could look at him.
“Yes! Somehow. . .” She turned to look at me again and shook her head. “You’ve been in Bridgeport? How did you get there? How is this possible?!”
I shook my head and looked at George. “Did you know?” It wouldn’t have surprised me to learn that somehow he knew that one of the owners was Gina but he shook his head.
“I had no idea.”
“Why don’t the two of you sit down and I’ll help Mr. Davila. . .I mean George get your bags.” Frank offered after seeing me rub the spot on my belly that was kicked moments before and as he and George walked outside, Gina led me to the dining room table.
“I knew you left. I asked when we first moved here if anyone knew where but no one knew.” I gave her a sad smile and nodded.
“I left six years ago. Mom and Dad got in a huge argument and it ended with him leaving and Mom kicking me out.”
“Oh my God, Steph.” She placed her hand on mine and squeezed it. “I wish we still lived here then. . .” she sighed and shook her head as she looked down at the table. “I wrote you, but never heard anything. I figured that your parents must have somehow kept the letters from you.”
I shook my head and shrugged. “I can’t say that I’m surprised.” I wasn’t but it still hurt to know that they had kept something from me that would’ve made my life then a little easier to bear. “I can’t tell you how many times I wished that I could talk to you.” She squeezed my hand and I looked up from the table.
“Me too.” She whispered and we gave each other a sad smile.
“So you went to Bridgeport?” I nodded and as George and Frank joined us at the table I filled her in on leaving, trying to make it on my own in an unknown city, meeting Charlotte and Trev and then meeting George. She told me about how she had never forgotten Lucky Palms and me, how she’d gone to college to study Hotel and Restaurant Management and met Frank, and how soon after they married they decided to own their own B&B. Remembering Lucky Palms and how it didn’t have any B&Bs they both thought it’d be a great place to open one and moved there six months before.
“I went back to your house, to see if anyone was still there and if they knew where you were, but no one lives there now and no one around there knew what happened to you.”
“It’s abandoned?” The memories made in it weren’t happy ones, but somehow knowing that it was abandoned, made it even sadder.
“Yeah, looks like it’s been that way for a while.” I nodded and thought about asking her about Mom and Dad but couldn’t muster up the courage to. “I haven’t heard anything about them. I asked when I visited that part, but no one seemed to know, or was willing to tell me.”
I looked up at her and wondered how she knew what I wanted to ask. “Your face still gives away what you’re thinking.” She smiled at me and then her attention went to George who nodded his agreement.
“Are you hungry?” Frank asked, breaking the long silence and I then realized just how hungry I was. We admitted that we were and took their suggestion to freshen up while they cooked dinner.
The room was a pleasant surprise. I figured that with it being a B&B that the bedroom would be a smaller size, but there was more than enough room for George and my huge pregnant self to move around. The large bed was one of the first things that caught my attention and before I could ask if I had time to take a nap, George suggested that I lie down until it was time to go back down for dinner. I didn’t hesitate, and it didn’t take me long to fall asleep.
It felt like only a few minutes later that he was waking me up, when really it was almost an hour. We made our way back downstairs and I was surprised to see two other couples gathered in the living room. With us being the only two in the house just an hour before, I figured that we were the only one’s staying there. But the other two couples had gone exploring during the day and returned for dinner.
Any other time I would’ve been happy to join in on the conversation, but the shock of seeing Gina again and the worry about the upcoming days made me unusually quiet. That, and I really only wanted to talk to one person, but I wouldn’t have a chance until Frank offered to clean all the dishes, freeing Gina up to talk.
“There’s a two person swing outside. We could go out there so no one can hear.” She offered and I looked at George.
“I’ll either be down here talking with Frank or upstairs in our room.” He kissed my forehead and squeezed my hand before turning to walk into the kitchen to help Frank.
I followed her outside and sat next to her on the swing. We didn’t say anything for a while, I was lost in my own thoughts that were too many to voice, and I guessed that it was the same for her. Instead we swung in silence, enjoying the warm breeze, and the sound of the crickets. Eventually, the pressure of the twins on my tailbone got to me and I shifted to try to get more comfortable. Something that she noticed and it gave us an excuse to break the silence.
“You’re taking a real chance sitting here with me.” I joked and she smiled but looked a little confused. “I can’t guarantee that this bench will hold me. . .” I glanced down at my belly. “. . .and them.”
Her eyes and smile got huge. “Them?” I nodded. “How many are in there?” She looked down at my belly like she was trying to guess.
“Two.” I said proudly and another brief silence followed her chuckle.
“I’m really happy for you, Steph.” The sound of her soft voice made me look up from the ground and I saw her look through the windows at Frank and George talking. “He really loves you. . .” She quickly turned to look at me and then looked down at my belly. “I always knew that you’d be a great mom.”
“I’m not there yet.” I joked, but she shook her head.
“It doesn’t matter. I know you’ll be a great one.”
“How can you be so sure?” I asked, hoping that somehow her confidence would rub off on me.
“Because you’ve always given and shown the opposite of what was given and shown to you.” She reached down and squeezed my hand. Not wanting to believe her, I shook my head and tried to look away. “And you’ve never given yourself enough credit for how brave and strong you are.”
“Pshaw.” I huffed and turned to face her. “I’m so brave that it took me six years to come back to face the past.” I challenged her but she didn’t back down.
“Most people wouldn’t have even come back. Most people wouldn’t be able to survive if they were forced to run away at sixteen years old or found a job and a way to live, earn their GED, and start their own catering business. . .but you did. You’re the bravest and strongest person I’ve ever known. I thought it back when we were eleven and I still think it now.” She squeezed my hand again and the tears I tried to keep from falling started to run down my cheeks. “So I have no doubt that you’ll be a great mom.”
I kept my eyes on the nearby bushes, or what I guessed were the nearby bushes since I couldn’t really see them through my tears and tried to get control over my emotions. It was all too overwhelming; returning to the place that I guessed I never would, wondering what I would discover the next day about my parents, being reunited with my childhood friend and picking up where we left off as if no time passed. . .
“Shitfire.” I whispered and she smiled when I glanced at her. “All because I had to know. . .” Her eyes filled with tears too and she put her arm around my shoulder as we kept swinging, talking, and enjoying the warm night breeze.
I stayed downstairs for almost an hour talking with Frank after Steph and Gina went outside. In the beginning mostly because I wanted to keep an eye on Steph. But as the minutes ticked by I realized that Gina was the friend that Steph had always described to me, and Frank’s interest in talking about the history of the area pulled me more and more into our conversation.
When it became clear to both of us that neither of our wives intended to end their conversation any time soon, we both bid each other good night and with one last look at them sitting outside on the swing, I headed up to our room. I tried to preoccupy myself by watching TV and even jumped on the computer that was in the room for a bit, but nothing kept my thoughts away from Steph for very long.
I knew it was only a matter of time before she broke down. She was trying her damnedest to stay strong and to not show the conflicting feelings or her doubt about coming there. And from what I saw downstairs, it looked like that was happening somewhat during her talk with Gina. But I wasn’t sure if she would completely open up to Gina and if it wouldn’t happen again at some other point during our trip. But no matter how much she doubted or felt unsure about being there, I could sense an underlying determination from her to face her past. And like I had done many times in the past year and a half, I admired and was in awe of her strength.
After another hour and a half, I decided to get ready for bed. It gave me something else to do as I waited for her to join me, and right as I finished getting my clothes out for the next day, I heard the door open. Her eyes were red from crying and she looked completely worn out. Wanting to do something to help and comfort her, I led her over to the bed and urged her to sit down as I got her nightgown out of the cabinet.
“You don’t have to do that. . .” I turned around to give her a look that let her know that her protesting wouldn’t work and she sighed.
Without another word, I helped her take off her clothes and into her nightgown. She surprisingly didn’t protest as I tucked her into bed and I rushed to turn off all the lights before snuggling in next to her. “We talked more about what we’ve been doing since she moved away, the twins, you, the catering business and the B&B. . .” She yawned and I kissed her cheek.
“Trying to catch up on everything.” I said, letting her know that I understood and she nodded. I thought she had gone to sleep when she didn’t say anything else, but her sleepy voice cut into the darkness.
“It was all worth it, coming here. If only because we got to renew our friendship.” She yawned again and I smiled thinking how that even with the stress of not knowing what lie ahead, at least one good thing came from our trip.
We woke up the next morning and it felt like an invisible weight was pushing down on both of us. It was the day that we planned to go see her old house and to try to ask those who lived around it about her parents. And no matter how much I tried to think of a positive spin to put on us being there and what we were about to do, I still couldn’t convince myself that the outcome would be a positive one. I knew that more than likely that the answers we found or didn’t find, wouldn’t be anything that would magically lift the weight we felt. But I did hope that it gave her some closure and the peace of mind that she was searching for.
And that’s the hope that I held close to my heart as we finished breakfast, said goodbye to Gina and Frank, and headed back to the outskirts of town. I knew from her descriptions of where she lived that it wasn’t the nicest, there were dirt roads, and that it was so dusty and bare that not many people lived there. But seeing and having actual knowledge of what she described was what I could only describe as painfully eye opening.
Every so often we would pass a small house similar to what I imagined her house looking like, and I kept waiting for her to tell me to slow down and pull over in front of one of them, but she didn’t. Instead, she told me to turn down a road and the first house we came to looked worse than the ones before. With each passing house, I felt my heart sink more and more and it became harder to breathe. Knowing the effect that it had on me, I wanted to wrap my arms around her and hold her close, but I had to settle for reaching over to squeeze her hand instead.
When I heard her breath catch, I glanced over and followed where her shocked eyes focused. I didn’t have to ask if the house that came into sight was hers, but wished that it wasn’t. I stared at it, disbelieving that my wife grew up in such heartbreaking conditions and realized for the first time that she downplayed the severity of them. While the house had two stories, it was still tiny, making it impossible for someone to disappear or escape anywhere in it. The surrounding land contained no life, except for the weeds that dotted the sand and a lone tree that seemed defiant in its will to live. Decades of decay showed on the house, making me wonder at the rotted beams ability to hold up the overhang and the safety of the roof that was so worn it looked like it could cave in at any second.
“Has it changed much?” I asked as I helped her out of the SUV, hoping that she would say how much worse it looked.
“Not really. The roof looks a little worse and there’s more cobwebs. . .” Her eyes squinted as tried to study the house for any other changes but she shook her head. “It’s pretty much what I remember.” The disappointment in her voice made me wrap my arms around her and we stood looking at the house in silence. As much as I didn’t want to analyze her reaction, I couldn’t help but try to understand what her disappointment meant. I knew that after distancing themselves from a difficult or painful situation, sometimes people started to doubt their memory of how bad it really was, and I wondered if that was part of it. That she tried to forget how bad it really was.
She took a step forward and I let my arms fall away so she could look around but stayed no less than one step behind each one she took. Her curiosity took her around the side of the house to the vibrant, green, living tree and she reached her hand out to lightly touch the trunk. “This is where I went when I wanted to escape, but couldn’t. . .” She whispered, still in a memory haze and I tried to imagine her younger, sitting under the tree and trying to escape whatever chaos was inside.
Without any warning, she turned and walked with a new determination towards the front door. When her hand reached out for the knob I placed mine over hers and shook my head. “I don’t know if we should go in there. It might not be safe.” I’d never seen the pleading look before, and I found that I couldn’t say no to her, even though I knew we shouldn’t. “Only if I go first. . .” I insisted and let out a relived sigh when she nodded.
I cautiously opened the door and took a step onto the wood floor. It creaked under the weight of my foot, but seemed solid enough to hold and I reached behind to help her into the darker dust covered room. Once my eyes adjusted, I saw a small sitting area and a kitchen that made up most of the first floor, and a door that led to another small space.
“Mom and Dad’s room.” She whispered when I leaned to peek inside the slightly open door. I nodded and noticed her eyes looking into the kitchen area. Not wanting her to walk ahead of me, I continued to hold her hand and led her a few steps further into it. She seemed to be lost in more memories as her fingertips rested on the table and eyes darted to the stove.
“Where my dreams of cooking for people started.” She tried to joke and I squeezed her hand. Her eyes darted down to her fingers on the table and she rubbed them together to try to get the dust off of them before her gaze moved to the stairs. “Do you think we could go upstairs?”
I thought about it and told her that I would go up alone to see if it was okay, but only if she stayed where she was standing. She agreed and I gingerly made my way up the stairs to look at the ceiling and the floor. The small open area seemed to be safe and I carefully walked back downstairs to help her back up them. She immediately motioned to the closed door at the top of them and I opened it to see what could’ve only been her bedroom.
“This hasn’t changed much either.” She sighed as we entered into the room and I felt my stomach sink. There wasn’t anything happy about it, no color, toys, or any knickknacks and I wondered how it was possible for any child to grow up in those conditions and become a happy adult. I flashed back to the first time I saw her face light up, when she talked about apple pie at my old house in Appaloosa, and how it led to my nickname for her, Sunshine. It seemed like the most unlikely nickname for someone that grew up the way she did and as I glanced around the room again, I felt even more grateful that her past hadn’t been able to snuff out her light.
We stayed in the room long enough to satisfy her curiosity and then headed back downstairs where she slowly looked around again, with her gaze stopping in the kitchen. She was about to say something but the sound of heavy footsteps from behind us, shocked her into silence.
“So it’s true.” A gruff and assertive voice filled the room and I reached out to put my arm around her, figuring it could only be one person from her pale face. With a strength that even surprised me, she squared her shoulders and together, we turned around to face him. Physically he was tall and imposing, something that would’ve scared any child, but knowing that he had used it to his advantage against Steph when she was younger made a fury start to build inside me. He had hit her more than once, sent her falling down the steps that we’d just climbed down. . .
Visions of what I would’ve done to him then and wanted to do to him after meeting face to face made me take a step towards him. Without even looking at me, he chuckled and motioned me away with his hand, like I was some irrelevant little thing.
“Relax, junior. I’m only here to find out why my daughter’s come back.” The way he said daughter made my skin crawl, like it was disgusting, like she was disgusting. There was a long silence as the two of them stared at each other and I tried to figure out if I could take him down, both because I wanted to and since he was blocking the only door that led in or out of the house.
“I could ask you the same thing.” She said with more bravery than I felt from her trembling hand.
“Well aren’t you miss high and mighty now?” His head motioned outside. “You should know as well as anyone that if a vehicle like that shows up in these parts, that it’s gonna get noticed. Someone let me know that a couple in a nice SUV was snooping around. So I came by to see if their suspicions were true.”
“I was told it was abandoned. If we’re trespassing, we’ll leave.” Her step forward was halted by him stepping farther into the room.
“I didn’t say you were trespassing, just said I was curious.” I tugged on Steph’s hand, urging her to move back and she did. He noticed and his lips spread into a smug smirk. “How’d you convince him to take you in?” His amused eyes fell to her belly. “Did you tell him that it was his, trap him like your mother was so good at doing?”
“You son of a bitch!” The thin hold I had over controlling myself fell away and I lurched forward. I would’ve decked him if it hadn’t been for Steph using both of her hands to hold me back, reminding me of why I needed to not let him get to me.
When his eyes finally met mine, I left no doubt about what I wanted to do to him and he did the same. We might have made a move towards each other if it hadn’t been for Steph. “Where’s Mom?” He gave me a once over before turning his attention back to her and again smirked at her. “I’ll make you a deal, I’ll tell you, but you’ll have to meet me at Gus’s tomorrow at noon to find out.”
“We had planned to leave before then.” She told him.
“Well then. . .I guess you won’t find out what happened to her.” He smirked and pretended to tip a hat at me. “Nice meeting you.” He turned on his heels and left as swiftly as he arrived.
After some time passed and there was no evidence of him returning, Steph let out the breath that she was holding and I caught her right as her legs gave out. I made a move to pick her up but she swatted my hands away. “If he’s watching and sees you carrying me, he’ll know how much he got to me.”
She was right, and as I wrapped my arms around her, I thought back on what happened and my part in it. I knew that some of my actions were what he wanted and egged him on, but I couldn’t help it. I wanted to protect her, to let him have it for how he treated her, for talking about her like she was trash. And if given the chance, I’d do it again. Because she deserved more than that, and as we slowly walked down the steps of her childhood home, I renewed my vow to make sure that every day she knew how special she was, how much I cherished her, and that she always felt loved.
There were no words spoken as we drove back to B&B. I held her hand the whole time, rubbing my thumb against her trembling skin and felt my heart shatter into more pieces as she tried to hold in each sob. It wasn’t the first time that I wondered about our decision to go there, but hearing her on the verge of a breakdown made me second guess encouraging her to face her past, and I thought about returning to the B&B only long enough to throw our clothes in the SUV and head back home.
By the time I parked the SUV, she was too emotional to walk. Thankfully there was no one near the entrance or the stairs as I carried her to our room, since I knew she wouldn’t want anyone witnessing her on the verge of a breakdown. My plans to lay her on the bed were halted when she started to wiggle in my arms and I gently placed her feet on the floor, asking her why with my eyes. The words I heard next almost made me crumble.
“Hold me.” She pleadingly whispered and I wrapped my arms protectively around her, holding her head against my heart that hurt almost as much as the day that we lost Dad. She finally broke down then, crying into my chest and I caressed her hair as I whispered the same three words over and over again.
“I love you.”
I lost count of how many times I said them, of how many times I squeezed her even closer, feeling not only her but also our babies wrapped protectively in my arms. When her head lifted off my chest and her eyes looked up into mine I wondered what I could possibly say that could take away the hurt that I saw. But her lips touched mine before any words could escape and before I knew what was happening, my body was showing her how much I loved, cherished, and adored her.
My eyes opened to see a darkened room and I panicked for a moment as I tried to figure out where I was. When I realized that I was back in our room at the B&B and lying in George’s arms, I sighed, but wondered how I got there. At first I didn’t remember leaving the house or anything that happened after that, but little by little memories of what happened returned and I snuggled even more into George’s embrace, remembering each moment. The way he carried me upstairs, how I begged him to hold me and he did while repeatedly telling me how much he loved me. How I looked at him, yearning for him to not only tell me how much he loved me but to also show me, and how after, we fell asleep in each other’s arms.
They were all moments that lightened the pain I felt in my heart, but there were others from before that surprisingly did too. Like when my Dad tried to make me feel dirty, insignificant, worthless and unloved. George’s strong and reassuring presence reminded me that I wasn’t the person that my Dad tried to convince me that I was. In the six years since leaving, I became the person that I wanted to be, and did it without his help or influence. And while I was proud of that, there was still part of me that wished that he would be too, that he would be proud of who I became and that he’d somehow changed.
I hadn’t even realized that I hoped for it until our conversation was over and he walked away. The disappointment of knowing that no matter what happened or how much time passed, that I would never hear the words “I love you” or “I’m proud of you”, hit me and it felt like I lost someone. But instead of mourning a person I knew and loved, it was a mourning for what would never be; the loss of never knowing someone.
But even with facing that heartbreaking knowledge, I knew that I would be okay. I was part of a loving family, had an amazing husband whose support helped me in realizing my dreams, and was soon to be a mother to two babies that I already loved more than life itself. Thinking on all of the blessings in my life as I laid in George’s arms reminded me of a saying that helped me get through more than I could remember; “It’s not how you start, but how you finish.” I may have started with a family that didn’t love me, mostly surrounded by people who didn’t think I’d amount to anything and wondering if I would ever find happiness, but that wasn’t the case anymore.
“It’s dark.” His breath tickled my ear and I tried to protect it with my shoulder. He kissed it and pulled my back even more against his chest. “Are you hungry?”
It was a redundant question. I seemed to always be hungry and he must’ve known my answer would be yes. But before we could venture downstairs, there was something that we needed to talk about. “We need to talk about finding my Mom.” I said and tried to roll over. It wasn’t any use though. With my giant belly, it required way too much effort and I ended up rolling out of bed so I could face him.
“You. . .” He started once we were facing at each other and then hesitated before looking away. It’s what he did when he disagreed with something that I said, but didn’t know how to say it. I didn’t understand it though, since I hadn’t told him what I wanted to do.
“I don’t want to go tomorrow.” I clarified for him, thinking that he would react differently knowing what I wanted. But his argument continued as he forcefully shook his head and stood up.
“I don’t want to argue with you, but. . .” He stopped mid-sentence and looked baffled, like the words I said just sunk in. “You don’t want to?” I nodded and he shook his head again. “I thought you’d say you wanted to. . .” I shook my head and he looked down at the floor, still trying to wrap his head around the fact that I wanted to do the opposite of what he thought.
“But don’t you want to find out what happened to your mom?” His eyes raised from the floor to see me shaking my head, and then nodding it.
“I do, but I’m okay if I don’t.”
He still looked completely confused as he walked across the floor to stand right in front of me. “We came here to find out about both of them and with your dad implying that he knows I figured that you’d want to meet him tomorrow.” He didn’t have to say how much he disliked the idea since his face showed it. “What changed?”
The urge to touch him, to reassure him and myself, became too strong and my eyes followed my hand as it slowly traveled down his arm, to his hand. “I know now, that no matter what, whether I see either of them again or know what’s happened to them, I’ll be okay.” He nodded, encouraging me to continue. “I realized something when I saw him again. I’m not the same person I was when I left here. It wasn’t something that happened overnight; it happened little by little, piece by piece, and maybe that’s why I didn’t really see it before now. But I finally realized that who I am isn’t who he or anyone else wants me to believe or think I am. It’s who I decide to be.”
Saying my earlier thoughts made my chest tighten and my tears made it almost impossible to see his face or the cheek that I reached up to stroke. “And I never would have known it if it wasn’t for you.” I whispered. He drew in a quick breath and his teary eyes scanned every inch of my face before his arms wrapped around my back to pull me against him. “I love you, Sunshine.” He breathed into my hair and I squeezed him.
“I love you too.” I said into his chest and closed my eyes as I enjoyed the feeling of being in his arms. When I felt not one, but two kicks protesting the invasion of their space, it made both of us laugh away our tears and look down at my belly.
“It still blows me away that in less than a month, we’re going to meet them.” He marveled as his hands rubbed both sides of my belly.
I nodded and adjusted my weight, trying to relieve some of the pressure that the two of them placed on my back. “Are you okay?” He worried and I nodded again.
“It seems like every day I find new aches and pains.” I shifted my weight again and it seemed to take the pressure off my tailbone.
He nodded and reached behind to rub my back. “Will you be okay to go back tomorrow? We can always wait another day or two.”
I thought about it for a minute. The idea of resting and visiting with Gina and Frank for another day before heading back home did sound appealing, but more than anything, I wanted to get home. “I’m okay going back.” I decided.
He nodded but still looked like he wasn’t fully convinced. “You’ll let me know if you become too uncomfortable?” He looked more at ease when I nodded. “We can always stop somewhere for the night on the way back. That way you don’t have to sit for so long.” He offered and I nodded again.
With our plans set for the next day, we got dressed and headed downstairs to see about getting some food. Gina and Frank offered to cook something but we eventually convinced them that heated leftovers from dinner were fine. We spent the next several hours talking before heading upstairs to bed, and for the first night that I could remember, I slept well in the town that I grew up in.
We woke up early the next morning and were shocked to find Gina and Frank downstairs to not only say goodbye to us, but to also make sure we had breakfast before leaving. We ate quickly, wanting to get on the road at a decent time, but facing the reality of saying goodbye to Gina after just being reunited made me second guess my decision to leave.
“You have my cell?” I asked as I turned around to retrieve my phone from the SUV but her hand stopped me and encouraged me to turn around.
“Yes, I do. Send me a text sometime after you get back. . .” I nodded and continued to delay our goodbye.
“You’ll come visit after the babies are born, right?” She nodded and I fought with myself about hugging her. Neither one of us wanted to say goodbye and wouldn’t have to as long as we didn’t hug. She ended the stalemate when she was the first to give in and as we hugged I remembered the last time we said goodbye to each other; when she moved away almost twelve years before. And even though saying goodbye was hard at that moment, it was a lot easier knowing that it wasn’t what we thought would be a permanent goodbye, like it was before.
“It’s not “goodbye,” just “see you soon.”” She whispered before pulling away and I nodded.
“I know.” My nod to George let him know that I was ready to leave and with one last goodbye to both Gina and Frank, we got into the SUV and pulled away. I continued to look behind until I couldn’t see them or the B&B anymore and continued to think about them long after I turned around to face the long road ahead.
While the drive to Lucky Palms was filled with anxiety of what was to come, the first half of the trip home was filled with more pleasant thoughts. We talked about Gina and Frank coming to visit, last minute items that needed to be taken care of before the twins were born, and other happy topics. About midway home though, my back started to hurt again and I debated with myself about telling George. I knew if I didn’t tell him, he’d be upset, but the thought of spending another night away from home wasn’t something that I wanted to do.
The pain lessened when I shifted in my seat and I made sure to give George a reassuring smile. He didn’t give any indication that he didn’t buy it and we continued on our way. We made it all the way to the outskirts of Bridgeport before my back ached so bad that I couldn’t keep it hidden from him any longer.
“You said you’d tell me if you became uncomfortable.” He scolded me as the SUV traveled across the bridge.
“A little bit of pain is worth it if I get to sleep in my own bed.” I tried to reason with him. His answer was to turn in the opposite direction of the apartment. “Where are you going?” Deep down I dreaded his answer.
“To the hospital.” He said while keeping his eyes glued to the road.
“George. . .” I could tell by the way that he didn’t acknowledge me that there was no way to change his mind. Instead, I sat back into the seat and crossed my arms above my belly as he made several more turns before pulling into the hospital parking lot.
He jumped out before I could try to reason with him and ran around to open my door. “George. . .” I tried again but he acted like he didn’t hear me and offered me his hand to help me out. When I didn’t place my hand in his, his eyes looked at his hand and then mine, wondering why I wasn’t moving. “I’m not in labor.” I said slowly and exaggerated every word so he’d understand.
He shook his head and reached in further to grab my hand “You’re back’s been hurting. It’s probably back labor.” I knew it wasn’t but at that point there was no way to argue with him. I got out and stumbled to keep up with his faster than normal pace.
After two hours of George insisting, me being hooked up to monitors, and then finally the nurses convincing him that I indeed was not in labor, we slowly and silently walked out of the hospital. Knowing that he felt embarrassed for overreacting and that if I tried to reassure him it would only embarrass him more, I decided to stay quiet and neither of us spoke a word the whole ride home.
The silence between us continued as we entered the apartment and each unpacked items from the suitcase. By the time I pulled out my nightgown to put it on I decided enough was enough. Apparently he came to the same conclusion since I felt his arms wrap around me the second after I smoothed my nightgown over my belly. “I’m sorry.” He breathed into my ear and I leaned back into him. “I completely overreacted.” He said, like it was the worst thing he could possibly do.
I maneuvered around so I could face him and kissed the tip of his nose. “I love you.” I said and felt my eyes squint from the smile that appeared on my lips. He looked completely confused at my reaction and continued to apologize.
“But I didn’t listen to you.” My smile grew and I shook my head at how he wouldn’t give up. “I basically forced you to go to the hospital, even after you tried to convince me that you weren’t in labor.”
I peeked up and smirked at him. “And that’s why I love you.” It looked like he might argue with me again and I kissed him to keep him quiet. His shocked and silent reaction when I pulled away gave me a chance to explain. “I love that you love me so much, that you overreact.” He shook his head and I placed a finger on his lips to keep him quiet. “I’m tired, my back is still sore, and right now all I want is to lie in bed and have you rub my back.”
I grabbed his hand and briefly noticed the continued confusion on his face before turning around and leading him to the bed. I guessed that the shock wore off between the steps it took to reach and lie down in it, since his hands immediately started to rub and dig into my lower back that always seemed to hurt. It felt so good and so relaxing that I didn’t even know I had fallen asleep until I woke up several hours later, wrapped in George’s arms.
I laid still for a minute, trying to figure out what woke me up. I didn’t feel a cat walking around on the bed and figured that wasn’t it. Sometimes noises from outside woke me up, but even after several minutes of listening, I didn’t hear anything that would have. I eventually decided that one or both of the twins must have kicked me and it woke me up.
I closed my eyes and felt myself start to drift back to sleep when I felt something like a gas pain in the lower part of my belly and sighed as I realized that the sausage and pineapple pizza I ate for lunch wasn’t the greatest idea. When I still had the same pain an hour later, a small sliver of doubt crept into my head and I started to look at the clock each time the pain happened.
Thirty minutes later, I made the effort to roll over and looked at George’s happy, sleeping face. He looked so calm at that moment, the complete opposite of his reaction just hours before when I wasn’t actually in labor. I tried to imagine what he would do if I woke him up to tell him that I thought I was and covered my mouth to keep him from hearing my little giggle. He must have heard some of it though since the smile on his face grew and his sleepy eyes slowly opened.
“Did I snore?” He mumbled and closed his eyes like he was going back to sleep.
“No.” He smiled again and within a couple seconds his mouth fell open like it usually did when he was asleep.
“George!” I whispered and tried to shake him awake.
“Hmm?” His eyebrows raised but he didn’t open his eyes.
I shook my head and smiled. “I’ve been having pains for the last hour and a half. They’re about ten minutes apart.” Right then I felt another one and sat up to look over at his clock. Eight minutes after the last one. I thought as I tried to breathe through the pain that felt more intense than it did when I first noticed it. His inability to wake up stopped being cute at that point and I got much more forceful in my attempt to wake him up.
“George!” He sat up straight when the sound of his name echoed through the room.
“What?!” He rubbed his eyes and sleepily looked around the room, trying to figure out what was happening. When he realized I was sitting up he immediately became worried. “Are you okay?” He placed a worried hand on my thigh and I nodded.
“I woke up an hour and a half ago thinking that the pizza I ate didn’t agree with me. But the pain’s been steady and is between eight and ten minutes apart.” I never saw him move so fast. He was out of the bed, putting on pants, and calling the doctor all within a matter of seconds. With what I told him and then having another contraction while he was on the phone with her, we were told to go to the hospital.
Our return to the hospital was met with humorous looks by the nurses, but once it became obvious that we weren’t there from George overreacting, they became serious and the wait to meet our twins began. Once we were set up in a room, George called his mom and she texted the rest of the family. I wondered if it wasn’t a little premature to let everyone know, but as the next hour passed and my contractions got closer and closer together, I realized that my labor might not be as long as I originally thought.
George was of course amazing the whole time. He rubbed my back when it hurt, held my hand and let me squeeze it until it was bright red when I got my epidural, kept the cup next to me filled with ice chips, and reassured me whenever I worried about going into labor at only 36 weeks. The doctor also tried to reassure me when she first arrive in the room and after complaining that I felt some pressure and checking me, she declared that it was time to start pushing.
An hour later, we were a family of four and I could fully realize the truth of Bridge’s words at the baby shower. “The uncomfortableness you feel in the last months becomes a distant memory as you hold your little ones. . .and your heart feels like it’s going to burst from the love that you feel whenever you hold them in your arms.” It was all true but was even more powerful than I could imagine. I looked over at George standing next to me holding our daughter and I saw him look at her in a way that my Dad never looked at me and tears of love and happiness fell down my cheeks. She would have what I didn’t, a dad that loved her, and in that moment I couldn’t imagine loving him more.
As if sensing that I was thinking about him, he turned and smiled at me as he moved even closer. “I love you, Sunshine.” He said before leaning over to kiss me on the forehead. The sound of a light knock on the door interrupted us and we glanced over to see Charlotte and Ethan peeking in.
“Can we come in?” Charlotte whispered. We both nodded and they quietly came in and closed the door behind them. “Mom’s on her way and Trev and Pamela will be here later too, but they, Will and Emily want you to call them and let them know their names.”
George nodded and Charlotte got everyone on the phone. “So who are they?!” Bridge asked over the speaker phone while driving.
George smiled and looked over at our son who I was holding. “Aidan Charles was born first.” He barely got the name out before she was asking about our daughter. He looked down at her in his arms and smiled down at her like he did moments before. “Evelyn Amanda was born a couple minutes later.”
There was a gasp from the phone and in room after hearing both of the names. “Charles and Amanda. . .” Charlotte whispered and George and I nodded. “After Grandma and Grandpa. . .”
I looked down at Aidan and back up at Evelyn, or as we had already started to call her, Evie, and nodded again. “After Grandma and Grandpa.” I whispered and smiled up at George, hoping that Grandma was looking and smiling down on us.