Crossroads

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Chapter 17

Mia

“That is, in fact, quite the mess you got yourself into, sweet pea...”

PAST

I felt uneasy when I left the house this morning.

Leaving Lincoln alone the whole day is not something I usually do. Ever since that one night, I can’t help but fear that he might break down again, that he might do something to himself...

But maybe it’s exactly what I need to do. I know this, whatever it is we have, is not a good idea, at all. It’s just not the right time for the two of us. But I’m so tired of fighting something I want so badly, of doing what I’m told. I’ve done that my whole life, and I’m so goddamn sick of it, although it could jeopardize everything we have right now...

“You’re awfully quiet today, sweet pea,” my grandpa’s voice brings me out of my thoughts. He shoots me a kind smile, his pale skin showing off his grandfather dimples when he looks at me like he knows something I don’t.

“She’s met a boy,” mom chimes in, and I immediately spin around to find her grinning at me from the lounge chair in the room.

“Mom!”

“What? It’s obvious!” she giggles.

I look at her for a moment, wondering how on earth she could come up with that explanation. I haven’t brought up the topic at all, showed up for every family dinner right on time so they wouldn’t question me, and I tried to stay under the radar for the time being.

“Sweetheart, you’ve been distracted for weeks, and you start blushing randomly when you’re deep in thought, lately. I mean sorry, but you can be glad your dad hasn’t figured it out yet.”

“I definitely don’t want to be there when he does find out...” grandpa mumbles, and I can’t help but roll my eyes at him. “Sweet pea, tell me about the man.”

He pats the spot next to him on the bed and I sigh as I make my way over to him. “There is no man, pops...”

But he just raises an eyebrow at me as he tucks me closer to him, his arm around my waist as he speaks, “I know for a fact that your mother raised you to never lie, didn’t she?”

“I did!” mom exclaims, still having that wide ass grin on her face when she crosses her legs.

“You guys are insufferable...” I whisper, though I know the words aren’t true.

“And you are a really bad liar!” My grandma’s voice makes me turn my head, and I watch how she steps inside with a tray of food in her hands. “It’s a good thing, believe me. Lying will only get you in trouble.”

She kisses my cheek before placing the tray on the table next to grandpa’s bed, who just shoots her a thankful smile.

“I’m not lying...”

Well, technically, I’m not. We haven’t put a label on anything so I don’t really have anyone.

“Fine, don’t tell us. But be sure to know that we will find out, sooner or later,” grandma speaks again, the silver-brown strands of hair loosely framing her kind face.

I do not doubt her words, at all. My family is nosy as hell and eventually knows about every little thing that’s going on in everyone’s lives. My dad pays a lot of money to make sure he’s kept in the loop when it regards his kids.

“Can we focus on something else now, please? I didn’t come here so you could burn holes into my brain with all these questions...”

“Mia...” mom warns me, the tone in my voice was anything but loving.

I immediately raise my hands apologetically, “Yeah, sorry. I’m just tired.”

She’s right. I shouldn’t act like a brat just because they’re interested in my life.

“How are you doing today, pops?” I redirect my attention to my grandfather, hoping that would distract them from their curiosity.

“I feel good, honestly.”

With the way he smiles at me right now I can’t help but believe him, even though he does look a little weak. I mean, he’s an eighty-three-year-old man, he’s allowed to look weak. But I hope that his good mood is a sign that he might get better soon. I don’t know how mom would cope with it if something were to happen to him. She acts all strong most of the time, and she is, too. But the one thing that can break her is this family. Her existence is the anchor to our solidarity, all of us rely on her to keep this family together.

“You know, I talked to the doctor yesterday and he said the test results were excellent!” Grandma smiles broadly, running a hand through her husband’s hair. “You’ll be just fine. No need to worry.”

It almost sounds like she talks to herself more than to us, and I feel this stinging pain in my heart the second the words leave her lips. We have a bunch of strong women in this family, but to every single one of them, their downfall is their partner.

My grandparents have always lived in a house full of children, they are big on fostering children with special needs, I think they had more than a dozen kids in their house over the course of a few decades. And the second they decide to not foster any more grandpa gets sick. I mean, if that’s not a big fat middle finger from God, then I don’t know what is.

“Would you mind giving me a moment with my granddaughter?”

Both mom and grandma look at pops who now squeezes my waist again, shooting me this look of understanding that immediately causes me to tear up, although I do my best to keep them at bay.

“Of course. We’ll prepare some tea, you can come and meet us in the kitchen later. Come on, mom.” My mother gets up and shoots grandma a meaningful look, who just nods her head before she smiles at me.

“Eat your food, honey. Please.” She places another kiss on grandpa’s head before both of them leave the room, the door gently closing behind them.

“So, sweet pea...” I turn my head to look at my grandfather, who suddenly has this serious expression on his face. “Tell me what’s going on with you.”

I can’t help but sigh, knowing there’s no use in trying not to tell him.

“I’ve met someone...”

“Oh, really?” He raises an eyebrow in mock surprise, and I can’t help but laugh before gently slapping his chest.

But he grabs my wrist and rubs his palm over the back of my hand before awkwardly patting the back of my head, as he always does. It’s a movement so mechanical, considering he’s been doing it with me ever since I can remember, and still, I can’t help but feel my heart ache from the gesture.

“Tell me,” he insists again.

And the way he’s looking at me tells me he’s asking for a no-bullshit-answer. Him and I have always stuck together, sneaked around, sharing secrets mom and dad couldn’t know about... He even promised not to tell grandma some of them, which is huge, since they share everything.

“It’s such a mess, pops...” I have to suppress a wave of tears from the sole thought of the chaos that is my life right now.

“Then let’s clean it up,” he smiles at me, “You know I’m the one doing all the tidying in our house. Your grandmother hates it.”

I can’t help but laugh at his words, grandma hates cleaning and pops being pops, he does everything he can to make her happy...

“Well?” he asks again.

God, he’s persistent today.

“It’s a long story... But you need to promise not to tell anyone. And by anyone I mean literally anyone. Not even grandma.”

“Pinky promise.”

He stretches out his pinky finger and I hook my own around it, shooting him a bright smile before I speak again.

“I kind of helped this guy a few weeks ago. He lost everything, literally. And I took him in, let him sleep on the couch and find back to himself... He’s... He hasn’t been doing too well, mentally. It’s...” I take a deep breath and study the rings on my fingers. Talking about this is harder than I imagined. “He was suicidal when I met him. And he’s doing better now, I made sure he went to therapy and all, but it’s just... We’ve gotten closer, obviously. Him living with me for so long is predetermined to spark something, especially since...”

I quickly shut up, not wanting to reveal that there’s more to it than meets the eye.

“Since...” pops repeats, obviously having picked up on my attempt to avoid this topic.

“I met him before. He doesn’t know that. Or at least I think he doesn’t. And it’s not really an issue, but I’m making such a mess of things now, pops... I should’ve stayed away, I knew it would’ve been right...”

“But you’re in love with him.”

His whispered words make me shoot my head up, and I see the sincere empathy in his eyes when he tilts his head, one hand resting on my cheek while I do everything I can to keep the tears at bay. I didn’t know this whole ordeal exhausted me this badly until I talked about it.

“It’s him, isn’t it?”

He speaks again when I don’t say anything for a while, and as soon as I register his words I can’t stop the tears anymore, one by one flows down my cheek, one by one my grandpa wipes them away. “Oh sweet pea...” the compassion in his voice doesn’t help matters, and soon enough I’m pulled into his strong arms, his familiar scent surrounding me as I cry silently into his neck.

“He’s the guy who broke your heart without even knowing about you...”

I nod my head while he runs his hand through my hair, trying to soothe the ever raging storm in my chest.

“That is, in fact, quite the mess you got yourself into, sweet pea...”

His deep chuckle vibrates against me and I can’t help but join in, sitting up before quickly drying my tears.

“I hate crying,” I whisper while sniffling and wiping my skin.

“You know,” pops responds, “When I met your grandmother I told her something, very early on.” He smiles at me before catching one last tear from my cheek. “I told her that it’s okay to cry. It doesn’t make you weak, it makes you strong.”

I think about his words, and I know that they’re right, to an extent. And still, I can’t help but feel that it undermines my character.

“I just don’t know what to do, pops... It’s so complicated.”

“Well,” he clears his throat as he folds his hands in his lap, obviously ready to give me his speech, “I think you should tell him. All of it. Maybe not now, not tomorrow, but soon... Not only does he deserve to know, but you also deserve to be respected. Your feelings deserve to be seen, sweet pea. He can’t do that if he doesn’t know the full story...”

I know he’s right. God, how many things do I know and still don’t do anything about them? It always sounds so easy in my head. Going out and telling Lincoln that a few years back I’ve worked with him for months, and he never even so much as bothered to look at me, is a whole different challenge in itself, though. And that’s not even the whole story...

“What if it upsets him too much? What if it’ll break him again, pops? I can’t be responsible for that...”

“Sweet pea, I hate to break it to you, but if you can’t be open to him because you’re afraid that he might break from it, then something is terribly, terribly wrong...”

And his words pierce right through me, like a spear thrown precisely at my heart. Because they’re true. Too true. Although I don’t want them to be.

“When have you become so wise anyway...” I mumble, desperately needing a change of atmosphere now.

It seems to work, too, because pops just laughs before squeezing my waist again.

“We both know you’re much wiser than I am. I just act like it.” He winks at me.

“Well, you’re doing a great job at it.”

“I’ve had a lot of practice,” he laughs, but immediately hisses almost invisibly, his face betraying his attempt to hide his pain.

“Pops...”

“I’m sorry, sweet pea. I’m okay,” he whispers as he takes a deep, almost wheezing breath, “They have me on those antibiotics for the infection I got last week, and apparently they make your lung feel like it’s the size of a pea if you’re my age...”

And I can’t help the fresh onset of tears prickling in my eyes at that moment, the sole thought of my grandfather being in pain, or worse, physically hurts my heart. My chest feels heavy, my heart like it’s being torn out of it, because I just know how much he’s trying not to show his pain.

“How bad is it, pops?” I whisper the words, and when he looks up at me I just hope he sees the urgency in my eyes, I just hope he doesn’t treat me like a kid, or a fool. I want to know how he’s doing, and I want to know the truth.

The hesitation is obvious in both his eyes and the emotions running across his face, and he looks at me for an excruciatingly long moment, before he takes both of my hands in his and squeezing them in a manner that tells me I will not like his answer.

“I’m not in pain, if that’s what you’re asking. Well, except for the breathing thing... The results of the blood tests were pretty good, the doctors can’t really explain why I’m so tired all the time, but other than that, it’s not too bad... You really don’t need to worry too much.”

I can see how he’s trying to stay strong for everyone, how he doesn’t want us to bother. But I see this undeniable hint of sorrow in his eyes, like he’s already sorry for the heartache we will endure once he’s gone. And I want to cry. I want to lie in his arms and let him hold me, but I know I have to stay strong. If not for him, then for my mom and grandma. Lord knows they’ve been through enough in their lives.

“Okay. You go and take care of you, pops. We all...” I have to clear my throat in order to swallow the fresh sea of tears, “We all need you. And listen to grams, please. I know she’s overbearing, but really... Would you be any different?”

That makes him smile, and he squeezes my hands once more be answers, “I wouldn’t...” He chuckles. “But damn, the women in this family surely are too smart for their own good.”

“They definitely are, pops. They definitely are.”

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