The Niteo Chronicles: Lies Undone

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Chapter 17

Chapter Seventeen

Past

Trial picked up quickly the next morning. I had almost no time to think about what I was about to hear from my mother—or the fact that I’d somehow been convinced to talk to her after court today.

“Ms. Jones, you may proceed with your next witness at this time,” Judge Breelan announced.

“Thank you, your honor. The state’s next witness is the victim’s mother. I call Natalie Flynn to the stand.”

Hearing my mother’s first name sounded strange to me. The last time I’d heard it was during a fight between her and Jim. It sounded just as strange to me now as it did back then.

I heard the doors at the back of the room open and watched as my mother walked past the plaintiff table up to the witness stand to be sworn in; a manner full of nerves and caution replaced her normal air of confidence. This was the first time I had gotten a good look at her since the trial began. Today, she wore a chocolate brown women’s suit ensemble that matched nicely against her auburn hair, which now had a darker undertone dyed into the lower layers. The jacket was fitted tightly around her thin waist, as was the knee-length skirt around her lower body. Her small, brown pumps clicked softly on the tile floor of the courtroom. My mother had always been a slender woman, I was lucky to take after her, in that aspect anyway. Today, however, she looked thinner than I remembered.

As my mother took her seat after being sworn in, I noticed that laying on top of the cream-colored blouse she wore beneath the suit jacket was a necklace – a very special necklace. It was a simple silver chain with one small pendant dangling at the center. The pendant was an intricately designed compass locket. Beside the compass was a small, silver charm with the letter ‘N’ on it and another that was stamped with the word ‘mom.’ I knew that necklace very well because it was one half of a set; I had the other half. The lockets matched but my charms were a letter ‘C’ and the word ‘daughter.’

Seeing that necklace around my mother’s neck reminded me of the bond we once shared. I hadn’t worn my half for months, but this morning, I had put it on before coming to the justice center, and now I was feeling good about that decision. In a way, seeing that necklace and feeling my own clutched in my hand gave me something I hadn’t felt in months; hope.

“Please state your full name for the record.” I heard Hannah start off the now usual routine of questioning.

“Natalie Elizabeth Flynn.”

“Ms. Flynn, I understand you are recently divorced?”

“Yes.”

“When exactly was your divorced finalized?”

“February 18th of this year.”

“Ms. Flynn, how long did your first marriage last?”

“Barely a year.”

“What caused the breakup of you and Cassie’s father?”

“We were both young when we married. There had only been a few dates, and we made a rather hasty decision to marry before either of us were ready.”

“At what age did you and Mr. Flynn marry?”

“I was nineteen, he was twenty.”

“And how old were you when Cassie was born?”

“She was born eleven days before my twentieth birthday.”

“Were you pregnant with Cassie when you married Mr. Flynn?”

“Yes.”

“Was that your motivation to marry Mr. Flynn?”

“Yes.”

“How long were you divorced before meeting Mr. Whitlin?”

“About nine years.”

“How long did you date before getting married?”

“A little over a year.”

“How do you feel that Mr. Whitlin interacted with your daughter?”

My mother paused to reflect before she answered Hannah’s question.

“Well, at first, it seemed as though they got along just fine. They actually seemed as though they were getting along, becoming friends.”

“How old was Cassie when Mr. Whitlin moved in?”

“Nine years old.”

“Okay, and when you say that at first Mr. Whitlin seemed to get along with Cassie when exactly are you referring to?” I could see the focus in Hannah’s eyes as she continued through the versed testimony with my mother.

“While we were still dating.”

“So, once you were married you noticed a change in their relationship?”

“Yes, eventually.”

“Ms. Flynn, when were you and Mr. Whitlin married?”

“April 14th, 2001.”

“And when would you say you first noticed the relationship between Cassie and your new husband changing?”

“Well, the first change I noticed was just a few months into the marriage.”

“So, around the time your daughter first described an incident occurring between her and Mr. Whitlin?”

“Yes.” My mother sounded dejected as she connected the dots in her mind.

“When you say this was the first change you noticed between Cassie and her new stepfather, what exactly do you mean?”

“There were a few times I noticed things change between the two of them.”

“What was the nature of this change?”

“Cassie started to seem hesitant to be around Jim. She would be upset when he came home from work like she didn’t enjoy having him around anymore.”

“When did you notice their relationship change again?”

“Not for a while, a couple years I’d say.”

“And what did you notice about this change?”

“Cassie was becoming more hostile toward Jim. She began trying to avoid him as much as possible. She just didn’t seem happy anymore.”

“Was this the last change you saw in your daughter’s relationship with her stepfather?”

“No, there was one more.”

“When did this happen?”

“Just a couple years ago.”

“What did you notice this time, Ms. Flynn?”

“Cassie’s hostility toward Jim had turned to sheer anger. It seemed as though she had come to actually hate him. I would hear her saying that she couldn’t stand him, how she was desperate to move out of the house. She would say that she wished I would divorce him, that he had never been part of our lives.”

“Can you explain the lack of peace?”

“Cassie and Jim fought almost constantly. I would come home from work every day and they would be at each other’s throats.”

“What would they fight about?”

“Everything.” My mother looked out from the witness stand with a blank stare.

Hannah was pacing around the courtroom as she questioned my mother. She stopped pacing after her last question and looked straight at my mother.

“Ms. Flynn, you have described clearly that you were aware of the fact that the relationship between your daughter and your husband was deteriorating over time, would you agree?”

“Yes,” my mother said with hesitation.

“That being the case, why is it that you never thought to talk to your daughter about the growing strains? Or your husband? Weren’t you concerned with the relationships in your family?”

“Yes, of course, I was concerned. I never thought to talk to Cassie or bring up my concerns with Jim because I knew that relationships between stepparents and stepchildren were known to be strained. I assumed Cassie and Jim were just going through the normal strains of their relationship and that Cassie was just becoming a rebellious teenager.”

Hannah began pacing again.

“Ms. Flynn, when did Cassie first tell you that something was happening between her and your husband?”

“Just before Christmas of 2008.”

“Now, Ms. Flynn, when Cassie and Luke came to you with the information about your husband, how did the information make you feel?”

I saw my mother’s face cringe when she was asked this question. I knew this was a memory that was difficult for her to bring up. The way she dealt with everything when I first told her was not how I feel she should have reacted, but I still felt some sympathy for her in having to answer these questions.

“Well, I was heartbroken. This was my daughter, and she was telling me that for a good portion of her life she had been abused, and had been living in so much fear that she couldn’t even tell me. I felt lost.”

“Were you angry with your husband?”

“Eventually, yes I became angry.”

“What was your first reaction toward him?”

“I felt torn about how to react to him; I was so lost after learning everything from Cassie. It felt like my whole world had come crashing down around me.”

“What were you torn between?”

“This was my husband, the man I had fallen in love with. I couldn’t make the decision to leave him overnight. It was a process for me, a process of going through the emotions in my head and figuring everything out.”

As my mother spoke, I felt the anger rekindle inside of me. If we did still end up talking after court, it would be a long and heated discussion; I knew that for sure.

Hannah’s next question made it clear that she wanted to find a new direction to avoid creating any more drama on the stand.

“Ms. Flynn, when did you actually tell Mr. Whitlin he needed to leave your house?”

“Christmas day of 2009.”

“Any particular reason you chose the holiday?”

“Cassie was still living with the foster family, so it was just Jim and me home for the holiday. Her brother was out with friends from school. We sat down to our traditional holiday dinner, and I immediately started in asking him questions about everything that happened between him and Cassie. He owned up to everything I asked him about. He had a nonchalant attitude about it all, which is what finally did it for me. I could see in his eyes that he did not care at all about what he had done to my daughter. After I talked to him at dinner, I stood up from the table and told him he better be out of my house by morning or he would be picking his things up from the curb.”

“Did Mr. Whitlin leave that night?”

“Yes, I was surprised by how compliant he was after that conversation. He just went through the house packing up a few boxes of his belongings and then he left with no complaint or fight.”

“Have you had any contact with Mr. Whitlin since he left?”

“At first I did. I would answer his calls and text messages, but eventually, it was only for the divorce hearing. After the hearing was over and our divorce was official, my name was changed and everything, I no longer had any contact with him.”

“How soon after your husband moved out of the house, did Cassie move back home?”

“I had to prove to the police that Mr. Whitlin no longer lived on the premises, which took place on January 6th, and she moved back in to the house the following weekend, on the 9th.”

“It is my understanding that you were the next one to move out of the house, is that correct?”

“Yes.”

“When did you move out?”

“February 4th. Cassie and I were at a point in which we simply could not live together anymore. This was the decision I felt was best.”

“What was happening between you and Cassie that caused you to move out?”

“We were fighting, a lot. We disagreed on everything it seemed. We no longer had a civil relationship with each other.”

“What caused the fights between you and your daughter?”

“After Cassie came home, she was angry with me and about what she had been through with Mr. Whitlin, how I handled the whole situation, being back at home with me. She never wanted to talk to me about anything she was feeling, so we ended up fighting about it.”

“What happened on the 4th that caused your final decision to move out and let Cassie live on her own?”

“Well, Jim called my cell phone, and I picked up the call. I took the call upstairs hoping Cassie wouldn’t and hear realize who I was talking to. After about twenty minutes, Cassie came upstairs to get some of her art supplies, but she overheard some of my conversation and it started the worst fight of them all.”

“What did Cassie overhear?”

“I don’t remember exactly. It was something about the divorce not being finalized yet.”

“What happened after Cassie overheard you?”

“She got angry. I heard the art supplies she had in her hands slam down to the floor as she ran down the stairs. I quickly got off the phone and came downstairs to try to explain what she had just heard but by the time I got down there, she didn’t want to hear my excuses, as she called them. The last thing I remember from that night was our last conversation.

“I was trying to explain everything to Cassie, but she interrupted me shouting, ‘Look, I don’t want to hear your crap. You need to decide where your loyalties lie. You can’t have both of us – it’s either him or me. As far as I am concerned, if you keep communicating with him, you’re choosing him, and as long as you choose him, I can’t live with you anymore. I swear that if I have to keep living with you, I will kill myself before it gets better. That’s not a threat, that’s a promise.’ After she said that, I told her I would be moving out. I left that night and we haven’t talked since.”

My mother’s testimony brought back many difficult memories for me. I remembered the exact speech my mother spoke about. I remember what happened that night after our massive showdown. I called Luke and told him about everything; that was the first time he spent the night with me in the house. That part of my mother’s testimony made me want more than anything to push toward reconciliation with her – anything to make sure those emotions never came back.

“Ms. Flynn, how do you feel about everything that happened with your daughter?”

“I feel horrible. I failed my daughter. I should have been there to protect her, and I was not.”

My mother sounded as though she was in agony as she spoke. Now I knew for sure that I wanted to talk to her after court and start to repair our relationship, I hoped it wasn’t too late for the two of us.

“How do you feel about your ex-husband today?”

“I feel as though he committed a horrible crime, one that he does not fully understand the consequences of, and one for which he needs to serve the maximum sentence. It needs to be made certain that he is never able to hurt anyone else the way he hurt my daughter.”

Hannah paced back over to the plaintiff table, back to her usual spot and looked up toward Judge Breelan.

“No further questions, your honor.”

“Thank you, Ms. Jones, and thank you, Ms. Flynn. Mr. Smith, do you have any questions for cross-examination of this witness?”

“Yes, your honor.” Mr. Smith’s voice sounded nasally compared to everyone else in the courtroom.

“You may proceed at this time.”

“Thank you, your honor.”

From the way Mr. Smith began his questioning, it became clear that his cross-exam would be short and that he was only out to try to prove one thing.

“Ms. Flynn, in your testimony, you mentioned that when your daughter first approached you with her claims of the alleged crimes my client had committed against her, that you were initially torn as to how to respond. This may simply be me, but if I were a parent and my daughter was coming to me talking about the things that Cassie was, I would not be torn at all. I would instantly retaliate against the person who had done these things to my child. Would you say it is possible that you didn’t react this way because you didn’t believe Cassie?”

“No, definitely not.” My mother’s answer came quickly. “I believed every word that came out of Cassie’s mouth.”

“If that’s the case, why didn’t you react the way most people would have expected you to?”

“As I mentioned in my testimony, I was in shock, for several reasons. Not only was my only child telling me about this secret life of torture she had been living, but she was telling me that she had been suffering at the hands of my husband. The man I thought I loved was causing my daughter untold amounts of pain and there was nothing I could do about it.”

“Ms. Flynn, do you still love my client?”

“No, absolutely not.”

“How can you be sure? Love is an eternal emotion is it not? Maybe the reason you waited so long to remove him from your house and cut off communication with him was that you secretly want him back. Maybe you are hoping that this court will find him not guilty so that you can get back with him.”

“Mr. Smith, I can assure you that there is absolutely no desire in my heart to get back with your client. I may have taken my time in cutting off communication with him and in removing him from my household, but neither of those events had anything to do with a secret desire to get him back.”

I looked up for a second at Mr. Smith. He had clearly been hoping that question would be his saving grace in this trial. Strike three for the defense. Mr. Smith walked back over to the defendant’s table with his head slightly lowered.

“No further questions, your honor.”

“Thank you, Mr. Smith, and thank you once again. Ms. Flynn, you may return to your seat.”

My mother walked back over to her seat and sat down making sure to keep her head down. It was clear that she was trying to avoid eye contact with me.

“This concludes our proceedings for today. We will reconvene tomorrow to finish the state’s case and begin the defense’s case.” Judge Breelan banged his gavel and the courtroom began clearing out.

Luke grabbed my hand as we both stood up. I looked at him, suddenly feeling nervous about my decision.

“You have nothing to worry about, you just heard her say how she feels about everything. I think it’s time to make things right,” Luke whispered in my ear.

I turned around to see my mother gathering her things from the chair behind me. When she stood up and saw me watching her, I saw a look of both confusion and almost panic fill her face.

“Hello,” I said to her, my voice shakier than I expected it to be.

“Hi.” My mother sounded confused by my talking to her.

“You did great up there.”

“Thanks, you did too. I am proud of you for doing this, Cassie.”

“Thanks, Mom. Listen, I’ve been thinking, a lot, about us and everything that has happened…”

“I’m so sorry, Cassie,” my mother blurted out before I could finish my sentence.

“I’m sorry too, for everything. I’ve acted horribly, and I’ve treated you even worse.”

“Cassie, I deserve everything that has happened.”

I paused to think about how to say what I needed to say next, this conversation was proving more awkward than I thought.

“Well, I’ve been thinking about everything a lot lately, and I was wondering if you would be willing to come over tonight, so we could talk for a while.”

“Of course, Cassie, I would love that.”

“Okay, I’ll see you at seven tonight. I hope you don’t mind, but Luke will be there.”

“I’ll see you then. I love you, Cassie.”

“I love you, too.”

My mother quickly turned around and walked out of the courtroom with her head down. I knew our conversation was as much of a shock to her as it was to me. I turned back to face Luke, who now had a big smile on his face.

“She’s going to come over tonight, so we can talk more. I told her you would be there if that’s alright.”

“It’s no problem, Cassie.”

Once we made it back home, the nerves set in full force. My stomach felt like it was doing acrobatics inside of me, my heart had never pounded so heavily in my chest. I began questioning why I had spoken to my mother, why I had invited her over. Sure, our small beginning of a conversation had gone well in the courtroom, but that was in a public area where she couldn’t be her true self if she wanted to. Once she got to the house and it was just the three of us, alone to talk about such difficult concepts, I had no idea what to expect.

Luke picked up right away on my change of mood between the courtroom and the house. We sat across the kitchen table from each other, with cups of coffee steaming before us. My mother would be in the same room with me, talking about some of the most difficult things in this world, in mere hours. I didn’t know what I was going to say to her or how I was going to begin our conversation. I was still thinking about how she would take everything and if there was any hope for our shattered relationship.

His story from the night before was still fresh in my mind. Could it be too late for my mother and me? Was it possible that there was permanent damage between us? Did we still have a chance to repair any part of a relationship, restore anything that we once had together? I found myself reminiscing to my childhood before Jim had ever come into our lives. My mother and I had been the best of friends when it was just the three of us living together. It felt as though we were sisters rather than mother and daughter. With Josh, we felt like the perfect little unit. I missed our old relationship.

As I sat at the table with Luke, continuing to lose myself further in my thoughts, he decided to bring me back.

“Cassie, what are you thinking about?”

“I’m just processing. I’m trying to figure out why I agreed to this.”

“Why you agreed to have your mother over tonight?”

“Yes. What if she was just putting on a show for court today? What if it is too late and there is permanent damage between us? What if I can’t forgive her? What if she won’t forgive me?”

I had plenty more ‘what if’ questions to throw out but Luke took hold of my hands and started speaking before I could continue.

“Cassie, remember what you said last night. Remember how you felt last night. You’re going to drive yourself insane coming up with all these ‘what if’ scenarios. Think only of whatever is true. What ifs are not true so don’t think about them. Your mother just told you today that she is sorry and that she loves you, which is a good start; think on that.”

“It’s been so long since I’ve had a civil conversation with her. And this is going to be the first time I’ll get to hear her whole side of the story, I don’t know if I am ready to hear all of this.”

“After what you have done in court this week I know you are ready to handle anything. And remember, I will be here with you the whole time.”

“Thank you.”

“It’s no problem.”

“I love you, Luke.”

“I love you too, Cassie.” Luke leaned over the table and placed a gentle kiss on my lips.

The next few hours passed entirely too quickly. When the doorbell rang, I was instantly nervous all over again.

My mother had changed her outfit since court. She was now wearing something classic to what I remember her wearing when I was a child. A simple pair of jeans with a plain black turtleneck, her necklace still dangling around her neck.

“Come in and sit down, there’s coffee ready if you want some.”

My mother came into the kitchen and sat down at the head of the table. I took the seat next to Luke and grabbed his hand below the table.

“How are you tonight, Luke?” my mother asked, seeming to give him another one of the mysterious looks I could not figure out.

“Doing well, better now that Cassie’s part of the case is finished. How are you? I’m sure you’re relieved to be through with your part as well.”

“Oh yes, very relieved.”

Silence filled the room after my mother answered Luke. I knew I needed to start the conversation. Luke gave me a gentle nudge below the table, and I began speaking, unsure of what I was going to say.

“So, Mom…I, um, wanted to meet with you today because I wanted to discuss a few things with you.”

“Such as?”

“Well, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately, and I’ve been talking a lot with Luke about some of the things that have been on my mind since the trial started. I am not sure how to start this, so I am just going to get right into it and see what happens.”

My nerves had now completely consumed me, but I pressed on. I hoped that once I got started on the conversation, the words would begin to flow the way they needed to.

“The first thing is that I want to tell you that I’m sorry, for everything. I’m sorry for how I have acted through this whole situation, for not giving you the proper chance to explain how you reacted to everything, for letting our relationship reach the point that it is now.”

“Cassie, I accept your apology, however, I feel as though I should be the one apologizing to you. I am the mother in this relationship and I failed to fulfill those duties. I should have been there as your support system throughout this whole process and I have done just the opposite. I am sorry for not being the mother you deserve.”

“I also want to tell you that I am working on forgiving you. I wish that I could sit here and tell you that I was already there and that you were completely forgiven in my heart, but I’m sorry to say that I’m just not quite there yet. I want to tell you that ever since that first day in court, when Hannah was questioning me about our relationship, you have been on my mind almost nonstop. I have been bombarded by thoughts of you and everything that has happened between us; it has been so strange to me because since you left I honestly have not thought about you much at all. I know that sounds cold, but I have been so angry that I have not even wanted to think about you or anything about you.”

“I can understand that. I don’t blame you.”

“But ever since Hannah brought up our relationship and the fact that it had been so long since we had last spoken, it’s like I can’t get you off my mind. I finally told Luke about it and he talked to me about something last night. After I talked to him, I realized that maybe it was time to start trying to work some of these problems, start trying to fix some of our brokenness.”

“Can I ask what you and Luke spoke about?”

“Well, I told him about the constant thoughts of you that I was having and how I just couldn’t seem to clear my head, and he brought up the subject of forgiveness. He started talking about God. He told me that God wants me to forgive you and that trusting God can bring me true freedom from my past.” I paused to be sure I was saying everything right. Luke nodded, and I continued.

“Then Luke told me a story. He said to imagine a hypothetical situation in which I never forgave you. He said to imagine the long-term consequences of a decision like that; one consequence he mentioned was a permanent damage occurring between us. He told me to envision our relationship becoming so broken that it reached a point that we never have a chance to repair or restore what we once had together.

“When Luke brought up that idea, even though it was hypothetical, it scared me. I cannot imagine losing you forever mom. I may still be angry about a lot of things and I’m not quite ready to forgive you for everything or trust you the way I used to. But I also know that I’m not ready now nor will I ever be ready to lose you as my mom forever. I miss you despite our past.”

I noticed that my mother’s eyes had begun to tear up as I was speaking. She reached her hand out and met the one of mine that was on top of the table. I felt her love pulse through my veins and into my heart.

“Cassie, you have no idea how happy it makes me to hear you say that. All this time that we have been apart, I have not stopped thinking about you. The same concerns that Luke brought up with you in his story have been on my heart.”

“Well, we are talking now, which I think is a good first step, but there are some questions I need to be answered before I can move on.”

“Okay, like what?”

“Before I start asking, I need you to promise that no matter what you will give me the honest answers to my questions. I don’t care if the truth is hard to hear or even if you think it will hurt me.”

“You have my word.”

“Why did it take you seven months to kick him out of the house? I want the full explanation, the real reasons.”

My mother did not answer me right away. Her face took on a look of pain as she sifted through the memories.

“Jim was my husband; I made a vow to him to stay together through everything. The night you went to the police and gave your report, I was shocked and completely unsure of how to react. I wanted to get you somewhere that I knew you would be safe, so I could figure things out. And I had to think about Josh. He was an adult, but he was still home from school and in the house with him. Knowing you were somewhere safe meant I could handle the other problems at hand.”

I hadn’t thought about that point. I always seemed to forget about my mother needing to protect Josh because he was so independent and refused to let anyone help him. But, it made sense. He was her son and she had just as much responsibility to him as she did to me.

But that realization didn’t change how I felt about the whole situation. I had something to say and I needed to say it while I still could.

“Okay, Mom, I just need you to listen for a minute, if that’s alright.”

“Okay.” My mother sounded both confused and a little worried about what I was about to say to her.

“This is something I have needed to tell you for a long time. The whole time I was staying at the foster house, do you know what was going through my head? I was wondering how on earth my own mother could have justified keeping my abuser in the house over me. I knew from listening to the police officer that night that the only thing that was keeping me from being allowed back in my own house was your decision to kick him out or not. Every day I thought about how you were choosing him over me – how you must love him more than me and how you must think he is more important than me. You will never understand what that did to me. I didn’t know if I would ever be coming home again. I felt so betrayed that night I moved out and the whole time I was away. Mom, you were the only parent I had in my life that I could look to for support, love, and care and you let me down in the biggest way.”

My mother looked down after I finished speaking.

“That being said, I love you and I think that in time we can be friends again. I miss having you as my best friend.”

“Cassie, I am so sorry that you had to go through that. You should never have had to, and I can never take back anything I did.”

“Were you still in love with him before you kicked him out?”

“At the time, yes, I was.”

I gritted my teeth against my lips, so my mother couldn’t see. Luke squeezed my hand to keep me calm.

“Are you still in love with him?”

“No, I am not. I want absolutely nothing to do with him anymore.”

“Have you taken his number out of your phone? Stopped answering calls, responding to text messages? Have you stopped all communication with him, cut him completely out of your life?”

“Yes, to everything. I solemnly swear to you that he is no longer a part of my life and he never will be again.”

“When was the last time you had contact with him?”

“The day of our divorce hearing. We spoke briefly in court that day and that was the last time.”

“Why did you react the way you did? I mean, I know you said that you were in love with him, so you couldn’t kick him out when the police report came out, but Luke and I came to you five months before the report came out. I just feel like if it were my daughter coming to me telling me that my husband had done something like this to her, that I wouldn’t hesitate to react in anger against him. Why didn’t you get angry?”

“I did get angry; believe me, it took everything in me not to rip his throat out the day you told me, however, like I said before I was also not sure how to react.”

“Did you believe me when I first told you or were you hesitant in your reaction because you had to convince yourself that you believed me?”

“Cassie, I believed you the instant you spoke. I don’t want you to think for a moment that I didn’t believe you. I know my reaction doesn’t speak to support everything I am telling you, but please trust me when I say that I believed you from the beginning.”

I paused after listening to my mother.

“Mom, I want to apologize to you for what I said that night, the last time we spoke. I was angry. I let my emotions get the best of me that night and it wasn’t fair to make you the victim of that, so I’m sorry.” I kept my head down as I spoke to my mom this time.

“Cassie, you have nothing to apologize for. That night was a huge miscommunication on my part, it should never have happened. I’m sorry that I even took his call and spoke to him. Can I ask you one thing?”

“I guess.”

“Did you mean what you said, about killing yourself if we continued living together?”

“At the time, yes I did. If things stayed the way they were between us, I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep living with you. I was not stable at that point in time and I definitely considered ending my life to just get some relief from everything.”

“Do you still feel that way?”

“You mean about us living together?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I’m not at the point of wanting to kill myself anymore. You heard in court the other day that it has been several months since I tried anything. However, I don’t know if I am ready to live together just yet, I still have a lot of processing to do.”

My mother looked upset by my answer. “Okay, I understand.”

“Mom, that doesn’t mean I never want to live with you again, it just means I need time to work toward it, I don’t think you realize how hard it was for me to even approach you after court today.”

“So, where does this leave us for right now?”

“Well, I guess we are on speaking terms again. I want you to know that I am working on the forgiveness part, it’s just a hard process for me.”

“I understand. I can wait as long as you need.”

“Thank you.”

“Well, it’s getting late. I think I should get going.”

“Where have you been staying?”

“Just across town, nowhere special. You don’t have to worry about me, I’m well taken care of.” My mother had a small smile in her voice as she spoke.

“Alright, I’ll walk you out.”

My mother stood up from the table and slipped into her coat. We walked together toward the front door. Luke stayed in the kitchen, giving us a moment together. As my mother stepped toward the door, I reached out to give her a hug for the first time in nearly a year.

“Thank you for meeting with me tonight, Mom, I think this was good for us.”

“I think it was too, I am happy to be getting my Cassie back. I’ve missed you so much.” My mother smiled as she stepped forward to leave.

“I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Goodnight, Cassie, by the way, the necklace looks good on you, I’m happy to see it’s back.”

“I’m glad yours is back too, Mom.”

“It never left. Oh, I almost forgot. I have something for you.” She slipped a folded piece of paper into my hands. I unfolded the paper and found a Bible verse written on it.

“Goodnight, Mom.”

“Goodnight, Cassie.”

I closed the door behind my mother and locked it, as I did every night. I walked back into the kitchen and found that Luke had already cleared everyone’s coffee cups and had the dishes all washed.

“You didn’t have to do that, I was just about to…”

“I am so proud of you, Cassie. You have no idea how happy that conversation has made me. How do you feel?” Luke said as he turned around and wrapped his arms around my waist.

“You know, I feel better than I thought I would. I’m still angry with her about a lot of things, but I am glad we finally got to talk. Do you think it went well?”

“Definitely, you were calm the whole time and you listened to everything she had to say. I don’t think that could have gone any better. You’ve made the first step toward forgiving her and toward repairing the relationship between the two of you.”

“I guess you’re right,” I said as I sighed under my breath.

“What is it, Cassie?”

I slipped out from Luke’s grip and made my way into my room. I walked in and lay on my bed, holding a pillow against my chest.

Luke followed me into my bedroom. I felt him sit beside me and rub my leg.

“Cassie, what’s wrong? Are you thinking about something your mother said?”

I froze for a minute just thinking. “She said that she was living just across town, that she was being taken care of. Do you think she’s okay?”

Luke took my hand in his. “Cassie, I’m sure that she is safe wherever she’s staying. She wouldn’t be able to stay for so long if she weren’t safe.”

“I just worry about her. I feel like I am the one who abandoned her.”

“Cassie, she is not your responsibility. She said so herself. She is the mother in your relationship. Maybe you need to take some time off of the mother role and allow yourself to play the daughter role for once.”

“I guess.” I turned my head so I could see Luke’s face. “Thank you.”

“It’s no problem.” Luke leaned down and placed another one of his sweet, gentle kisses on my lips. As was usual, all feeling in my body was lost.

“So, what did she give you at the door?” he asked as our kiss ended.

“What? Just a note with a Bible reference.”

“Which one?”

I pulled the note out again and handed it to Luke.

“Psalm 103. Do you know what that passage says?”

“No, I was going to look it up, eventually.”

“How about now?” Luke said as he handed me his Bible from the nightstand.

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