“Laney,” Luke said from behind him, his eyes filled with tears even though it was clear he’d already shed so many of them.
Logan released me and Luke approached, his attempts to stifle his cries forcing my own. “I’m so sorry,” I told him.
I don’t know how long we stood in his doorway, his arms around my neck, mine around his waist, holding onto the only thing that felt right, that made sense, in an otherwise cruel and hurtful world. “I’m glad you’re here, Laney.”
“I’ll always be here.”
Winter turned to spring, spring turned to summer—a summer a complete contrast to the year before. But at the same time, it was identical. The previous summer, I said goodbye to my mom and, as strange as it sounds, I found a replacement.
That summer my dad said a single word that had me falling to my knees and sobbing in front of him: Terminal.
I wanted to run to Lucas, to hold him in my arms and never let him go. I wanted to curl up at the foot of his bed, keep him safe, tell him everything would be okay. That I would be there for him through it all. Dad was the only reason I didn’t. “They need some space, Lo,” he said. “They need to spend whatever time the have left as a family.”
Katherine Elizabeth Preston passed away September 25TH .
Her funeral was five days later.
It seemed like the entire town mourned her death.
I can’t really recall much of the actual funeral, my heavy heart and heavy tears preventing me from remembering most of it, but I remember Lucas. I remember the way he stood with Lucy on one side, Leo on the other, his head lowered, wearing a suit with a tie (crooked and tied completely wrong). I also remember feeling like I was a horrible person for thinking that he’d never looked as handsome as he did right then, at his mother’s funeral, surrounded by nothing but heartache and fear.
I wanted to go to him. To all of them. But I didn’t know what to say. What do you say to seven kids who’ve just lost their world?
“You should talk to Luke, sweetheart,” Dad said, making our way up the Prestons’ long driveway, along with many other cars, after the ceremony. “You’re his best friend, and he needs you now more than ever.”
I managed to find my voice for the first time that day. “What do I say to him?”
“You tell him the truth, Lo. That you’re sorry. That you’re there for him. That you always will be.”
The words filtered through the knot in my throat and out of my mouth, “I’m scared, Dad. What if I say something wrong?”
“You won’t, sweetheart. Just be you.”
I found Lucas in his secret hideout, his eyes glazed as he looked out on the lake. “Hey,” I said, barely a whisper.
He didn’t respond. Not verbally, and not in any other way. I sat on the ground next to him, forgetting the expensive black dress Dad had bought me because I didn’t own anything suitable for a funeral. Minutes passed, neither saying a word, neither making a move to do so. My mind worked, trying to find words of comfort, of grace. “Don’t,” he said, breaking the silence.
“Don’t say you’re sorry. Or that you’ll miss her. Or that she was an amazing person and the world is a lesser place because she’s no longer part of it. Or that I’ll be okay. That one day, I’ll get over this. Or to remember her for everything she was, because I’ve heard it all. There’s not a damn thing you can say to make it okay. Not now. Not ever.” He didn’t say it with malice, and I didn’t take it that way. He was just… sad. So damn sad.
And I realized then that it wasn’t as if Kathy had died suddenly—been in a car accident or any other form of accidental death. For months we knew this was coming. For months Lucas, along with all the other children, would’ve heard the same words over and over. It would do nothing to take away the pain. The hurt. The sadness he was so openly displaying. He was a twelve-year-old boy who was hurting, and the one person who could make it better had been taken away from him. He pulled his knees to his chest, his tie now undone, separated and hanging loosely around his neck. His hair was a mess, his eyes tired and teary.
The words came to me quickly, without thought—words I’d held onto and kept secret until that moment. “My dad’s not my real dad,” I told him. “I mean, not my biological dad. I don’t know who he is. Dad married my mom when I was five and he’s treated me like his own ever since.” I glanced at him quickly, but he was looking down at his lap. So I focused on the lake, at the ripple of water that seemed to mirror my emotions. “After they got married, Mom took a late shift at a tile factory. She would sleep in the mornings and be gone in the afternoons, so for a long time Dad was the only parent I had. I barely saw her. On weekends she’d be gone hours, sometimes days at a time, and we didn’t know where. So Dad and I got closer while Mom chose to drift away. After a few years, I’d hear them arguing. A lot. I’d hear her yelling at him for not doing enough to support her, for breaking promises to her that he’d take care of us.” I licked my lips, my mouth dry. “She didn’t have the life she expected, but I’d never been so happy. And as the years went by, things got worse. The breaking point was when Mom came home late one night and Dad asked where she’d been. She picked up a chair from the kitchen table and threw it at him. He told her then and there that he wanted a divorce.” I reached out for his hand, and he let me hold it. “I kind of just stood there frozen, my heart sinking because I was losing the only parent who cared about me.” I blinked back the tears, knowing I had no right to carry them. Not that day. “A few months before I moved here… I stood in the driveway, watching him load up his car, leaving the house he owned, a house he offered to my mom and me… and I just stood there crying, not wanting to say goodbye. I couldn’t let go of him when he hugged me… when he promised to keep in touch. I didn’t want him to keep in touch. He was my dad, regardless of what my birth certificate said.” After heaving in a breath, I found the courage to continue. “And I looked at my mom, pleading with my eyes to not let him go, and she just looked at me, not a single ounce of sorry or regret on her face, and said, ‘Make your choice, Lois. Him or me.’ So I got in his car and we drove away. For weeks we stayed in a hotel room, and she never once checked in on me. Sometimes I’d dream of seeing her waiting for me outside of school, just to let me know she was there, that I could go to her.” I swallowed loudly, pushed through. “He gave up everything, the house, the car, all the money he had. And he never once looked at me the way she had—that I’d somehow ruined his life. So now we’re here, and he’s struggling to make ends meet because he wanted to keep the peace. And I know he did that for me so that I didn’t have to deal with her. And I know you don’t want to hear how great your mom was or any other generic speech you may have heard a million times, but your mom was the closest thing I’ve had to one, and I’d give up my mother if it meant that you could see yours just one more time.”