Shattered King(8)

By: Sherilee Gray


So much for stealth.

I had no idea what I’d do about this latest bit of drama. It started about an hour ago and I’d spent the entire sixty minutes clutching the steering wheel in the death grip of all death grips, as if that would stop my car from crapping itself.

I took a minute, not ready to get out, trying to pull it together. I hated this out of control feeling growing inside me. I was a fighter. I’d been scratching and clawing my way through life for a while now. Did whatever necessary to keep Josh safe, to make sure I’d always be there for him. The fact that I couldn’t do anything for my mom was tearing me apart.

I felt like I was hovering above myself, looking down on someone else, some other girl. This wasn’t how it was meant to be. I wasn’t meant to be living this fucked-up freak show of a life. Always looking over my shoulder, always moving, hiding. Struggling to feed my kid. If it weren’t for my aunt, some weeks I wouldn’t have managed.

I thought I was prepared for it. Mom had been sick for a long time, spent more time in the hospital than at home. Still, the news had hit me like a sledgehammer. Three weeks, that’s all she had, maybe less. I hadn’t seen her for almost three years, but I’d known she was there. I liked knowing she was there, that if I ever got the chance to come back, she’d be waiting.

I’d already decided it was time to pack up and move on from Lawrence. I liked Indiana just fine, but staying in one place for too long was stupid, careless, and I’d already been there longer than I should. It was a risk coming home, a huge risk, but I had to see my mom one more time. I had to.

Josh let out an earsplitting wail in the back, scattering my thoughts, and kicked his legs. To say he’d had enough of being stuck in his car seat was an understatement.

“We’re here, baby.” I climbed out quickly and opened his door, pulling him out of his booster before he woke the neighbors.

His legs kept kicking. “Down.”

My son was independent. He’d informed me a week ago that he was a “big boy” and only babies got carried around. Unless they were sleepy and wanted snuggle time, of course. I put him on his feet, his little hand firmly held in mine. The porch light above Sara’s front door flicked on.

It opened a second later and my aunt walked out. My two-year-old big boy wrapped himself around my leg and popped his thumb in his mouth. Something he’d been doing since he was a few months old.

“Lucinda? Is that you, bunny?”

My breath caught in my throat at the sound of her voice. “Yeah, it’s me.” It was all I could get out. Tears clogged my throat, and I had to swallow repeatedly to stop from falling apart. We talked all the time, but I hadn’t seen her since I ran. It’d only been me and Josh all this time, and seeing her, her slight frame moving toward me in her fluffy blue robe and pink slippers, hit me hard.

Then she was standing in front of me. She was short like me, like my mother. I probably had an inch on her five-foot-three inches. But when she wrapped her arms around me, her hold strong and warm, I felt like a little girl. I never wanted to let go. I wanted to come home and let her take care of us, like she begged every time we spoke. I’d been on my own so long, had been forced to be strong, to fight every damn day, and sometimes, I just wanted to give in, to not have to think about . . . anything.

My son wriggled against my side, and Sara pulled back, tears glistening in her eyes. She framed my face in her warm, hands. “My babies are home.”

Josh popped his thumb out of his mouth, and tilted his head back, looking up at us. “Not baby.” Then stuck it back in.

Sara chuckled, threaded her fingers through his in-need-of-a-cut black hair, and grinned. “I don’t suppose you are.” She looked at me. “He’s beautiful, sweetheart.”

My smile wobbled and Josh blinked up at her, his bright blue eyes taking us both in. His body had been tense up until then. He didn’t like new situations, even as a baby, but he relaxed instantly at my aunt’s sweet smile.

Sara wrapped one of her arms around my waist. “Come inside. I bet you’re both hungry?”

That got her another thumb-pop, followed by a big grin. “Pop Tarts!”

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