Authors: Sophia Henry
“No!” Indie and I both answered at the same time.
Her cheeks were flushed, bright pink.
“I'm scarred for life.” Damien held one hand over his eyes while he led the girl back out the door with the other. “I'm scarred for fucking life. My sister and my hockey coach jizzing all over the family couch. Fucking gross.”
He shut the door behind him.
“I'm so sorry.” Indie put her hands over her face. She immediately dropped them, remembering her painted face.
I wiped her hands across my pants to remove the paint, just as I had for Holden earlier. Then I slid my arm across her shoulder and squeezed her body against mine. “Don't worry about it.”
“It's so embarrassing to get caught by my brother.”
“Guess all make-outs happen in my truck from now on,” I said.
Indie didn't think my comment was funny. She wiggled out from under my arm. “Just because I'm from the country doesn't mean I'm a fucking bumpkin.”
“I didn't say you were. It was a joke.”
“Sorry.” Her shoulders slumped. “I'm just embarrassed.”
I touched her chin and lifted her face to mine. “There's nothing to be embarrassed about,” I assured her.
Indie pulled herself out of my grasp and gazed at her hands twisted in her lap. “I should have my own place. A room for my fucking kid.” She stood up quickly. “You shouldn't have even seen that.”
I stood up and put my hands on her shoulders, though she still had her back to me. “Don't ever feel embarrassed about providing for your son. You are an amazing mother. You're giving him a wonderful life.”
Indie didn't turn around, so I spun her around. “Seriously, Linden.” I looked straight into her eyes so she could see the sincerity in everything I said. “I've seen some messed-up shit in my years as a police officer. Horrible, sad, messed-up shit. You should be very proud of how you've raised Holden. He's a sweet, smart, beautiful kid. I admire you.”
“You admire a stupid girl who had a kid in high school and still lives with her mom? I highly doubt that.”
“At least you kept him,” I muttered.
Seemingly stunned by my comment, Indie stammered a response. “Well, yeah, Iâ”
“Some women don't have the guts to do it. They just give their kids away, like old clothes.”
“Don't be a jerk.”
“What? I've seen it.” Seen it? Hell, I'd lived it.
“You can't say things like that.” Indie squinted in disbelief and anger.
“Because you have no clue what it's like to be a teenage girl facing a surprise pregnancy. And you have an amazing family. An amazing life.”
“So I'm only allowed to have an opinion if I'd been affected in a bad way? If I were a kid going through the fucked-up system?”
“No, that's not what I'm saying. I'm saying that you have so much to be thankful for that maybe you shouldn't judge people in more challenging circumstances.”
“I'm not judging anyone.”
Indie stopped to take a breath and I knew she was about to let me have it. “But you are. You're holding your mom to higher standards than you hold me. I don't understand how you can see us as different.”
“You kept your son,” I blurted out.
“Do you think it was easy for your mom to give you up?”
I shrugged. Seemed easy enough to me.
Indie took my hand and lowered her voice before speaking again. “Do you think it's easy for a woman to give up a baby? Whether they're sixteen or twenty-eight? No one is thinking, âYay! I can't wait to give away this baby that I cared for and nourished and loved over the last nine months. It's awesome to have gone through such a strenuous time for someone I'm never going to see again.'â”
“I don't know what she thought,” I admitted, glancing at Indie's hand, still holding mine. I let her hold it. I liked when she touched me.
“I don't, either, but I doubt she thought that way, or she wouldn't have given you life at all. She could have had an abortion.” Indie took a deep breath. “But she didn't do that. She chose to set you up for a good life. She made a better choice for you than she did for Auden.”
I couldn't speak, stunned by the realization. My mom had made a better choice for me than she had for Auden. I got an amazing family out of the deal. Auden got life with a struggling single mom.
I squeezed Indie's hand and asked, “Did you ever think that way?”
Her chest heaved and tears sprung to her eyes.
“Yes, I did have those thoughts.” She stopped and sat on the couch, curling one leg under her butt. She tugged my arm to get me to join her and I did. “Tim kept pressing me to have an abortion, and I thought about it. I even scheduled a doctor's appointment. But it scared the shit out of me and I couldn't go through with it. Instead, I tried to think of ways to get rid of the baby without actually having a procedure.” She squeezed her eyes shut and lifted her fingers to her mouth, as if horrified to tell me more. “I thought about causing my own miscarriage. But I couldn't do it.”
Indie shook her head and opened her eyes, but gazed at the coffee table, rather than look at me. I inched closer and pulled her into my arms.
Her voice shook when she spoke again. “I could never have done something like that. But at the time, it seemed like a better way to get rid of the problem.”
Everything she said made me admire her more and more. I couldn't imagine being a kid having a kid.
I rubbed her back. “I understand.”
“No, you don't,” she whispered.
“You're right. I don't. But I understand what you're saying. I understand the pressure you were under.”
“The same pressure your mom was under.” She lifted her head from my chest and caught my eyes. The pain in her eyes implored me to really understand how similar her situation was to my mom's.
How could I hate my biological mother without hating Indie?
Because she kept her child.
“What do you want me to say, Indie?” I asked. “You made me see the light. I forgive her. I'm a huge fucking asshole for being angry with her.”
“I'm not saying that, and you know it. I'm just trying to explain the other side of the coin. Maybe I should have given Holden to another family. Maybe I made the wrong choice for him. Do you know how often I ask myself that? Some women don't have many choices. They doâ”
“Indie,” I interjected.
“âwhat they think is best for their baby,” she finished, shoulders heaving, hands curled into fists on my chest.
“Indie, it wasn't a slam on you.” I wrapped my hand around her fists. “I have strong feelings. But I didn't mean to offend you. I'm sorry.”
She took a deep breath and forced a smile. “Sorry.”
“You're working two jobs, putting yourself through school, and you're a single mom. I have nothing but respect for you and your choices.”
“It wasn't like I had a choice.” She shook her head and let out a small puff of air, as if trying to blow away the thoughts. “Tim and his parents never had any intention of helping me raise the baby. In fact, his parents' exact words were, âTimmy's not giving up his football scholarship because some stupid girl wasn't smart enough to use birth control.'â”
“Idiots,” I muttered. “Of course their son wasn't the stupid one.”
“No. He wasn't a stupid boy because he'd refused to wear a condom. I was a stupid girl because they assumed I hadn't been on birth control. But I had,” she added quickly. “It wasn't our first time. It was just the first time we weren't careful.
“Tim accepted his football scholarship without a second thought, leaving me in Bridgeland to raise the baby. I declined my acceptance to the university of my dreams because I'd have a six-month-old when my freshman year started. Roommates probably don't appreciate having a baby in the dorm, do they?”
“I don't think that's allowed,” I answered.
“Guess that attempt to lighten the mood failed, eh?” she asked.
I shook my head and chuckled. “Oh, geez, Indie. I'm an idiot.”
She lowered her eyes to our hands, still intertwined on my chest.
“Sorry.” I released her hands.
“Please, don't let me go,” Indie whispered.
“I won't,” I promised, and enveloped her in my arms and hugged her to my chest again.
But I knew I'd have to eventually.
“Red Wings! Jason, I see the Red Wings!” Holden yelled from his car seat. I spun around to see where he was looking, since we weren't near the arena yet. Sure enough, in the distance, there was a huge billboard with a beer bottle and the Red Wings' logo advertising the official beer sponsor of the team.
“Good eye, buddy,” I responded.
“I wike hockey.”
“Me, too, buddy.” Jason glanced at Holden in the rearview mirror. “I'm so excited to take you and your mom to the game.”
“I cheer for Wandon. He my brover.”
“No, he's my brother,” Jason corrected.
“He your brover?” Holden asked, as if he didn't believe him.
“You're cracking me up, kid.” Jason reached over and put a hand on my knee.
I reveled in the warmth of his easy banter with my son, and the feel of his hand on my knee. I felt safe and secure. And loved.
When we arrived at the stairs leading to the entrance of the arena, Holden pushed me away, insisting on taking the entire flight of stairs on his ownâone tiny toddler step at a time. Jason stayed behind him, taking over the parental role and keeping him safe from falling. A hundred or so other people dashed past Holden, trying to get to the entrance as well, but my son kept his focus.
Once Holden made it to the top, I scooped him into my arms, so we could navigate the concourse without him getting trampled. Jason held the door for us and handed the tickets to the agent to be scanned.
We got to our section and Jason put a hand on my waist to steer me to the right. “This is our row. These four seats on the aisle.”
I scooted into the row and sat in the third chair, since Jason's mom couldn't join us at the game. We'd be heading over to his parents' house afterward for dinner, and to spend the night. Which made me want to get a few drinks. Then again, if I drank at the game and showed up at their house buzzed with my kid, they'd think I wasn't good enough for their son.
Maybe just one drink.
“Lemme grab Holden.” Jason reached out and lifted him from my arms. “I'm going to take him down to the glass to wave at Landon.”
“Want me to go get some snacks or drinks?” I asked. With him taking my son off my hands, I felt like I should reciprocate the favor.
“Just relax.” He bent down and kissed my cheek. “Tell Mama to relax.”
“Relax, Mama,” Holden said, patting my head with his tiny hand.
I followed instructions, but kept my eyes on Jason carrying Holden down the stairs to the glass. Jason pointed to something and Holden's face lit up with a smile. Which made my face light up with a smile in turn, and suddenly I felt silly sitting by myself with a stupid grin on my face.
The way Jason interacted with Holden was exactly how I wanted Tim to interact with him. I had zero intentions of getting back together with Tim, but I wanted to see him enjoy his time with his son, rather than thinking of him as a burden. Especially since Tim had the easy part of raising him: visits. He had no real parenting responsibilities. He got to have fun, get the kid riled up, then give him back to me.
Too bad he didn't see it that way.
I'd already met Sharon, Jason's mom, so why did my chest tighten with anxiety when we pulled into his parents' driveway?
“You ready for this?” Jason asked. Which didn't help ease my stress level.
I glanced back at Holden, who had fallen asleep in his car seat, exhausted from the activities at the game. “Yep.”
Jason grabbed my hand and squeezed it. “My parents are awesome, Indie.”
“I don't doubt it,” I said. “I'm worried that I'm not.”
The words slipped out. I tried to keep my cool.
“Just be yourself. The witty beauty who won me over. My dad will love that. Hell, you've met my mom. She will, too.”
I took a deep breath and opened the door. I jumped out of Jason's truck and opened the door to get to the back of the cab. I loved Jason's truck, but getting Holden out of the back was more difficult than it was in my little car. I almost bumped his head on the cab when I jumped out, but Jason was there to steady me.
I followed Jason through the front door with Holden asleep on my shoulder.
“Hello?” Jason called into the house.
“Cello!” A male voice responded. The dorky greeting made me relax immediately.
“Come on in!” Sharon yelled. Jason made a quick right and we walked into a warm kitchen. His parents stood behind the large island.
Sharon approached us first, throwing her arms around Jason. Then she hugged me, too, taking care not to wake Holden. “We're so glad you're here.”
“How was the game?” Charlie, Jason's dad, asked.
“We had a blast.” Jason hugged his dad. Then, like Sharon, Charlie hugged Holden and me, too. I'd never felt so welcome walking into a stranger's house.
“Hi, Indie. It's great to finally meet you.” Charlie backed up to give us room to settle in.
“Do you want to lay him in the guest room?” Sharon nodded to Holden.
“Yes, please.” I followed her up a staircase off the kitchen to a room with two twin beds draped in blue, pastoral-toile bedspreads. Instant warmth flooded me, as I hadn't seen that particular pattern since my grandma was alive.
I wondered if this room was for me and Holden, or just him. Not that it mattered. Holden had never slept by himself in his entire life, so I knew I'd be in the bed next to him no matter what.
I set him on top of one of the beds and removed his shoes. Then I covered him with a blanket I'd found draped over a chair.
When I came back to the kitchen, Charlie was standing at a small wet bar, making a drink. “What can I get you, Indie? We have wine, beer, liquor.”
“What are you having?” I asked, interested in the ingredients in front of him that he'd used to make the concoction he had in the shaker.
“A transfusion,” he answered with a smile. His gray eyebrows rose up in excitement.
“I've never heard of that.”
“You've even stumped a bartender with your latest potion, Big C.” Jason winked at me.
“I was a bartender back in my college days,” Charlie said.
“Oh, boy.” Jason rolled his eyes.
“Oh, here we go,” Sharon chimed in from her spot at the stove, where she stirred a huge pot of spaghetti sauce. “You'll hear this story a hundred times, Indie.”
I laughed. “Must've been an illustrious career.”
“It's where I met Sharon.” Charlie looked up from pouring the transfusion into two sixteen-ounce tumblers. “She went to Central State, but we met at a party at Michigan State.” He handed the drinks to Jason, who passed one on to me.
Before taking a sip, he held his cup toward me to clink glasses. I tasted grape juice, club soda, and vodka. A lot of vodka. I reminded myself to sip it slowly, so I didn't end up wasted my first time in the Taylors' home. That would make for an amazing initial impression. I could see the headline now: “Irresponsible Single Mom Gets Wasted and Can't Take Care of Her Son.” Living up to every sad stereotype and expectation. I shook my negative thoughts away and decided to focus on the moment instead.
“So, what's the story?” I asked eagerly, as I settled onto a barstool at the island.
“I was in the basement of my fraternity house making drinks for a few close friends,” Charlie said while passing a glass of red wine to his wife.
“Close friends?” Sharon interrupted, taking the glass. “Yeah right, Big C, there were over a hundred people there.”
It cracked me up that everyone called Charlie Big C.
“I'm a very friendly guy.” Charlie shrugged her off. “Anyway, Sharon walks in wearing this crazy, white, see-through, lacy, fluffy number.” He raised his eyebrows up and down. “She turned quite a few heads.”
I smiled and turned to Sharon. I knew by their banter that she'd have something to say.
“You make it sound like I was dressed like a freaking swan!” she said over her wineglass. “It was a Halloween party. I was Madonna. Everyone dressed as Madonna in the late eighties.”
“I didn't dress like Madonna,” Charlie quipped, and took a sip of his own drink.
“Who's Madonna?” a tall, black boy with hair cropped close to his head on the sides and an amazing fade on top asked when he came into the room from some back entrance.
“Oh, my heart!” Sharon set her wineglass on the counter and covered her chest with both hands. “Haven't I taught you boys anything?”
“Indie this is Calvin, one of my youngest brothers,” Jason said, introducing him. “Where's Nate?”
“Hey, Indie.” A smile spread across Calvin's face. “Nice to finally meet you.”
“Nice to meet you, too.”
“He was right behind me.” Calvin looked over his shoulder, toward the way he came in. “But he might not want to show his face, since I just schooled him on the court.”
“You won by one point!” a kid yelled from a room off the kitchen. There must be a back door over there. A boy who looked almost identical to Calvin entered the room; the only difference was hairstyle. His was pulled back in neat cornrows.
“Keep it down, boys,” Sharon told them in a hushed tone. “Holden is sleeping upstairs.”
“He should wake up,” Nate said. “We brought all of our Legos up from the basement for him to play with.”
“All of them?” Charlie asked.
“No, not all of them. Just a few buckets,” he corrected himself.
“He dumped three buckets in the living room,” Calvin said. Nate immediately kicked his shin.
Calvin's leg buckled and he went down. “Ow!”
Sharon set down her paring knife. “Nathan! Apologize to your brother immediately.”
“Sorry,” Nate mumbled. Then he threw in a “jerk.”
“Now go pick up all the Legos and put them in the buckets. We don't even know if Holden can play with them. He's only three.”
Nate left the room, but not without throwing his brother a dirty look before he did.
Suddenly, the bells hanging from the front door handle jingled, alerting us to another visitor.
“Cello!” A voice called into the kitchen.
Must be a family thing.
Landon entered the kitchen, and gave everyone a hug, even me, though it was my first time meeting him, as well.
“Where's Gaby?” Jason asked.
“Working. She's bummed she couldn't make it.” Landon lifted the lid off the pot of spaghetti sauce and dipped in a spoon.
“How is it?” Sharon looked up from cutting red peppers. Her question surprised me. My mom always swatted me and Damien away when we tried to taste her sauce before dinner. It was interesting uncovering all the little differences between families.
“Amazing.” Landon licked the spoon again. “Who made it?”
“I did,” Sharon said.
“It's not Big C's famous Bolognese?” The way Landon emphasized the pronunciation of Bolognese led me to believe he was poking fun at his father.
“The famous Bolognese recipe he learned from a little old Italian lady as he trekked through the wineries of Italy?” Jason asked.
The two of them cracked up laughing at their own jokes.
“Simmer down there, Bolognese boys. I make the best ragu on the planet,” Charlie said, joining in on the joke.
“Oh, now it's ragu. Look at Big C, throwing out his entire Italian vocabulary,” Jason added.
“I bet that dirty old lady taught you how to make a great ragu,” Landon added.
“Oh, now stop that!” Sharon chastised him, though she'd been laughing the entire time.
I had the feeling this type of banter was everyday interaction in the Taylor house. They traded barbs back and forth like a verbal ping-pong match. I didn't know who to look at, or where the next laugh would come from. But with each joke and jab, there was underlying respect and love.
If it wasn't already loud enough, another visitor, who introduced herself as Aunt Vera, burst through the door. A few minutes later, Holden woke up.
The excitement in the house went from casually meeting the parents to a full-blown party within five minutes.
As soon as I brought Holden downstairs, Sharon and Aunt Vera were all over him. Sharon took him out of my arms immediately.
“Can I take him in the other room?” she asked me. “I brought home books and games from my classroom.”
As a kindergarten teacher for over twenty-five years, I knew she'd be awesome with him, but I stood up to join them anyway. I was used to looking after Holden at my own family gatherings. I rarely had a chance to sit back and gab with the adults.
“Sit down and relax,” Sharon insisted. “I'll get him set up in the other room. The boys have been so excited for a little guy to play with.”
“Thank you.” I sat back down and found myself lost in the guys' conversation about hockey.
“All I know is I would punch that Rolando kid's lights out. He's a punk. Reminds me of Claude Lemieux. Starts a bunch of shit, then goes down with his hands over his head like a fucking turtle shrinking into his shell,” Jason said.
Damien would have two cents to throw into this conversation, but I didn't, so I just sat back and sipped my drink, which I realized had been refilled.
Charlie must have noticed my quizzical look, because he winked and said, “I spruced you up.”
Jason leaned in and asked, “Having fun?”
“Yes,” I answered. His family was so welcoming and easygoing. Though I hadn't been sure what to expect before, my anxiety had faded as soon as I sat down. The family dynamic was where I felt most comfortable, probably because it was all I'd ever known. Sitting among the Taylor family was just as effortless as being with my own.
Jason slid a hand into my hair and lowered his lips to mine, kissing me right in front of his dad and brother. Instead of embarrassment, all I felt was the warmth of his touch and the flipping of my insides.