I sigh as I sit down in the booth across from Nancy. I think we’ve gone to every home improvement store in the state. If I never look at another oven or fridge again, it will be too soon. I feel my phone vibrate in my bag, so I pull it out and slide my finger across the screen when I see that Kenton is calling.
“Hey,” I answer.
“Hey, babe. I just wanted to call you really quick and let you know I’m gonna be late.”
I feel a frown touch my lips at his words and the anxiety in his voice. “Is everything okay?” I ask softly.
“Sophie’s place was broken into when she was home. I’m with Nico and the cops now.”
“Oh my God, is she okay?”
“She’s fine. A little shook up, but she’s all right.”
“Who broke in?” I ask in shock.
Nancy grabs my free hand, giving it a squeeze.
“We’re not sure, baby. As soon as Nico gets Sophie home, I should be on my way.”
“Okay, I’ll talk to you then.”
“Later,” I say softly.
My mind goes to Sophie and Nico. I haven’t met Sophie yet, but I have met Nico. He looks scary but is very sweet. The two times we’ve talked, he told me all about Sophie, and I can tell just by the tone of his voice when he speaks about her that he is in love. I can only imagine how worried he is right now.
“Kenton said Sophie’s was broken into,” I tell Nancy, setting the phone down on the table.
“Oh my,” she mumbles. “I’m going to call Susan.” She picks up her phone.
I watch as she makes the call, and I know that, by the time the phone is hung up, the Maysons will be on a mission. I’m just not sure if it’s going to be what Nico wants. He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who’d want everyone over after something like that.
“Susan’s going to call Nico’s dad and tell him what’s going on. He’s a cop and may be able to get some stuff sorted before my son or nephew end up in jail.”
I feel my eyes get big. “Why would he go to jail?”
“Honey, Kenton works with cops but isn’t a cop.” She shakes her head, grabbing my hand again. “He can still be arrested if he does something the police find to be criminal.”
“Holy shit.” I stand, grabbing my bag, ready to go save Kenton before he gets into trouble.
“Where do you think you’re going?” She grabs my hand and tugs me back down into the booth next to her. “Let me tell you something. Kenton will always do whatever he wants. There is nothing his father or I—or now you—can say to change his mind.”
“I don’t want him to get into trouble,” I breathe in distress.
“I don’t really believe he will get into trouble, but a mom’s job is never done. I will always protect my family.”
Her words bring tears to my eyes. She’s a great mom who loves her kids. Even with as old as Kenton and Toni are, they are still able to lean on her when they need something.
“You’re family now too, honey,” she says quietly, “and I will protect you as I would protect my own children. That includes looking out for my son so he can continue to look out for you.”
I feel a tear falls down my cheek.
Her hand comes up, holding my face, her thumb wiping the tear away. “Now, what do you say we have some cake?”
“Sure.” I nod, swallowing against the lump in my throat.
We sit there in silence while we each eat a large piece of chocolate cake that is so dense that it’s more like fudge. I have a large glass of milk with mine, and Nancy has a glass of wine. When we’re done, we pay the tab before climbing into Nancy’s Jeep.
I don’t know why she doesn’t say anything, but I know why I can’t. My emotions are too exposed; too much has happened today and I need some time to regroup. It isn’t until Kenton sends a text telling me that he’s on his way home that I feel some of the tension in my belly dissipate. Right then, I know that I’m no longer in like with him; I’m head-over-heels in love with him.
I wake up on a scream when I feel myself being shaken. My throat feels like it’s on fire and my skin feels damp with sweat. I look around in the darkness, holding my chest, trying to remember where I am, when the light is switched on and I see that Kenton is looking at me worriedly. I lower my head, covering my face with my hands, taking a few deep breaths as I try to get my heart rate back to normal.
“You were screaming like someone was killing you,” he whispers, sliding in behind me.
I feel my stomach drop and my insides twist with anxiety. I haven’t had a nightmare in years. When I first left home, I would get them often, but somehow, they stopped. I forgot what it feels like to wake up scared, so scared that I want to turn on every light then hide under the covers.
“Sorry I woke you,” I whisper, trying to pull away from his touch, humiliated that I woke him, that he witnessed that.
“Jesus, don’t do that. Do not f**king pull away. Not right now. Not when whatever it was you were dreaming about is still clinging to your skin and has seeped into mine.”
The bed moves behind me again and my hands are taken from my face. He pulls me down so I’m on my side, facing him, our faces so close that I can feel each of his breaths.
His arms wrap around me and his thigh slides over my legs so I’m surrounded by him. “Talk to me.”
I try to sort out what to say to him in my head. How can I possibly explain what just happened when I don’t understand it myself? “I don’t know if it’s a dream or a memory,” I say softly after a few minutes. I press my face into his neck and press my body closer to his.
I take another shuddering breath and shake my head. “I’m in water. It’s not very deep ’cause I’m sitting in it and it only comes up to my waist. I have this doll in my hand that has blond hair, and I’m dunking her underwater, singing a song to her.” I swallow again, and this time, I feel bile at the back of my throat. “I don’t know what happens, but I feel hands on my head pushing me down. I can’t breathe and I try to scream but end up sucking in lungfuls of water.”
I take a breath just to remind myself that I can. My mom was never a good mom; she was abusive but never left a mark. She always made sure there was never any evidence pointing to her being less than perfect. To everyone who knew us, we lived the perfect life. We had the perfect home, the perfect yard, and she was the perfect mother, who had perfect hair, clothes, and makeup. Everything about her was perfect, and she made sure I was perfect—at least what everyone saw of me.