"So, you're going to UCLA this semester?" she asked nonchalantly, unzipping my suitcase.
"Eavesdrop much?" I asked.
"I was on my way in when I heard you tell Car," she said, defensively.
"Right," I said, sinking back against my pillow.
"Kim, are we going to be able to move past this?"
"Past what?" I asked, running my fingers through the fringes of my throw blanket.
"The hostility and sarcasm. I miss the old you. I miss us."
"I miss us too. I just don't know how to let go of the pain you caused. You hid the truth for eighteen years. Why did you even bother to tell us?"
"I promised myself I would tell you when you were eighteen and an adult."
"Because you knew by then he wouldn't be able to swoop in and steal partial custody from you," I said, seeing through her answer.
"Yes," she said, meeting my eyes before sinking on my bed beside me.
"Do you at least regret not telling us sooner?" I asked.
"I always said I wouldn't, that I would stand by my decision, but the moment I told Rick, I regretted it deeper than I've ever regretted anything. I'm not proud that I stripped you of a father figure, just as I'm not proud that I stripped him of a daughter. He and I talked about it a lot when you were in the hospital, and the impact of my decision hit me like a two-by-four. He wanted to know about all the things I got to experience: where we were when you took your first step, the first time you lost a tooth, your first day of kindergarten and most recently, the day you got your diploma. I'm sorry I robbed you both of sharing these experiences, so yes, I regret my decision. Not because I'm afraid you'll always hate me, but because of the reasons I listed."
"I don't hate you, Mom. I just need time," I said, reaching over to give her a hug.
"I love you, sweetie," she said, kissing the top of my head.
"I love you too, Mom."
"I'll let you rest for a while and then maybe we can order out Chinese."
"Sounds good," I said, sinking down on my bed until I was lying flat.
She covered me with my blanket like she used to when I was little before leaving me alone with my thoughts.
The silence of the room assaulted me and the emotions I had worked to keep at bay for the last twenty-four hours bubbled over. Mason's rejection the day before simmered in my heart like an open wound and tears of hurt burned their way down my cheeks. I thought coming home would be better by giving us a little space, but I felt the distance more acutely than I would have thought possible.
My tears ran down my cheeks hot and fast as my repressed sobs finally broke free. Muffling them with my pillow, I cried until I had nothing left and finally drifted to sleep.
The weeks leading up to the start of term passed in a crazy-busy blur of activity. I pushed Mason to the back of my mind and threw myself into getting ready for dorm life. Mom surprised me by giving me a thousand dollar gift card to Bed Bath and Beyond. I suspected it was a guilt gift, but was grateful for it, regardless. Car and I had a field day spending it, from buying matching comforters for our beds, to completely outfitting our bathroom in deep plum shades. Car's parents kicked in with our appliances so we'd be the envy of the other rooms with our mini fridge, microwave and coffee maker. We'd wanted a hot plate, but all the parents balked at that, claiming we'd forget about it and leave it turned on when sudden inspiration distracted us. We both tried to act hurt over their accusations, but couldn't deny it.
My biggest surprise arrived the day before I headed off to school. Carol and I were dragging my crap down the hall when our doorbell rang. My heart skipped a beat like it had every time our doorbell rang since I got home.
"I'll get it," Carol said, dropping the box she was carrying on the hall table. "Well, well, I know who you are," she said to the visitor.
My heart thudded painfully in my chest and my palms began t
o sweat. He was here.
Carol swung the door open wide and I had to swallow back my disappointment when I saw Rick and not Mason on the doorstep.
Shoving my hurt back to its safe place, I dropped my box before throwing myself in his arms. "Dad, what are you doing here? Is Mason okay?" I asked, pulling back. I instantly wanted to bite my tongue. I was supposed to be acting nonchalant here.
"Mason's fine. He's at home now and goes in for physical therapy every day," he said, giving me a look that spoke volumes.