Crossroads

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Chapter 22

Mia

“It’s astounding, really, how the weight of this day instantly washes away as soon as I touch him, how the compelling chemistry between us creates a potion that simply obliterates any trace of anxiety in my soul.”

PAST

I knew something was wrong when I watched Lincoln leave today. I knew something terrible was about to happen, but I didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t listen to my gut.

Because I thought it couldn’t be, that just when things got back in order, just when life started to sort itself out again, it surely wouldn’t just throw me the biggest fucking curveball in existence… Right?

But now I’m here, standing in Finn’s apartment, mouth wide open as I look at my two big brothers.

“What do you mean, we have to go see grandpa?” I ask, still being flustered by this excuse of a greeting when I knocked on the door. The first thing Max said was that we need to leave immediately, while Finn just shot me this sympathetic look, almost pitying me.

“I mean what I say, Mia. Come on, we gotta go.” Max is grinding his teeth when he grabs my hand and pulls me out of the doorway, and I already feel the panic rise in my chest, the dread of something being wrong with my grandfather instantly knocks the air out of my lungs.

“Bro, come on. Give her a minute.” Finn removes Max’s hand from mine and replaces it with his own, giving it a gentle squeeze as he shoots me a sad smile.

But Max just scoffs and rushes down the stairs, while Finn simply looks at me for a minute, his kind eyes filling with tears when he speaks, “Grams called… They said it’s time.”

“Time? Time for what? He’s been fine!” Of course I know what he means, but I’m actually confused. I didn’t know there was any indication of pops leaving us any time soon.

“They’ve had a doctor check up on him every day for the past few weeks. They realized a few days ago that he won’t have long anymore.”

“What?! Why do I only hear about this now?!” I’m basically yelling at my brother now.

He sighs and tries to wrap me in a hug, but I just take a step back. The last thing I need right now is his comfort. “Answer my question, Finn.”

“I… I don’t know, Mia. We didn’t know much either, it sounded like a routine thing until we got the call a few minutes ago.”

“I don’t care that it sounded like a routine thing! Did you know about this when we had our family dinner on Friday?!”

Finn doesn’t need to answer my question though. I can see it in the guilty expression on his face. He knew. They all knew, and they decided to keep me out of the loop. Again, for the hundredth fucking time.

I rip my hand away from his, working extremely hard on not letting my anger turn into tears as I storm down the stairs, ignoring how he calls out for me, how Max tries to stop me when I reach out to open my car door.

“Mia, calm down…”

“Fuck you! Fuck all of you!” I scream and push him away when he moves to block the door. “Get away from me!”

“Don’t talk to me like that!” Max is now yelling at me, too. But my mind is clouded by rage, by hurt. Because once again the men in my family thought they could rule over my life as if it belonged to them, as if they had any right to play with my emotions, to keep this from me.

“I talk to you the way you treat me. Show me some fucking respect for one goddamn second and I might actually talk to you like you deserve it, too!” And with that I finally manage to open the door and slip inside, locking it immediately to stop Max or Finn from getting in.

I’m well aware that my words were harsh, but their behavior was as well. I had a right to know about my grandfather’s care. I had a right to know how he was doing.

“Fuck!” I scream when my fists meet the steering wheel, the tears now streaming down my face as I drive down the road toward my grandparents’ house. They don’t live far away, luckily, and so I pull up their driveway a few minutes later.

Frantically wiping my face in an attempt to remove any evidence of my tears I take deep breaths, trying to calm my raging and aching heart in my chest. I can’t even imagine life without my grandfather. I don’t know how to. I know it’s natural, and it was a long time coming, but it still seems so soon.

When I feel like I can talk without tearing up again I finally get out of the car, locking it before walking up to the front door. I open it with ease, knowing their security would stop me if I wasn’t allowed to enter. The familiar scent of my grandma’s perfume lingers in the air as I step through the hallway and slowly make my way to grandpa’s room.

The door is wide open and I already see Grandma, Aiden, Liam, and Ethan sitting on some chairs in front of Pops’ bed. I don’t regard them for long though, my eyes immediately settle on my grandfather in his bed, looking fragile as hell. The dark rings on the pale skin under his eyes, combined with the sunken cheeks and glass eyes… It kills me.

“Sweetheart…” My mother’s voice makes me turn my head to find her standing in the hallway behind me. All the rage I have felt before immediately vanishes as soon as I see the expression on her face, the dried tears on her blotchy cheek, her whole appearance seems so strained and full of pain, that it’s almost impossible to keep my own tears at bay.

“Mom…” I suddenly realize that this is not about me. This woman is losing her father. My grandma is losing her husband. There are worse fates than mine. And so I walk over to her, and my mother immediately steps toward me, throwing her arms around my body, engulfing me in her motherly love, although this time it’s paired with pain as well.

She takes deep breaths while we stay like that, just holding onto each other, and I can only imagine how hard it must be to keep it together, to stay strong for everyone else, when all you want to do is break apart. “You’ll be okay, mom. We’ll be okay,” I whisper into her ear, and she nods her head, giving me another squeeze before leaning back. We still hold onto each other as we both take a few deep breaths, and it almost looks like she’s searching my eyes for the strength she needs. I nod my head, letting her know that I’m here, that we’ll get through this.

I take her hand in mine and give it a quick squeeze before I turn back around, walking straight into my grandfather’s room. His eyes immediately find mine as we step inside, and it takes everything within me not to break apart right here and now, the sight of him is the most heartbreaking thing I have ever witnessed. “Sweet pea…” his fragile voice is like a stab in my heart, but when he waves me over I follow his command, dragging Mom with me as I take a seat next to him on the bed.

“Hey, Pops,” my voice almost breaks when I whisper the words, but my mother squeezes my hand once more, sharing her strength. “How are we feeling today?” I try keeping my voice light, although that’s probably impossible with the heavy atmosphere in here.

“Ah, you know me…” he coughs, “Same old, same old.” His hand covers my own as he shoots me a weak smile.

“I’m going to prepare some coffee…” Liam suddenly speaks, and I don’t even dare to look at him. I’m fairly certain he knew about this as well and didn’t tell me anything, and so I ignore them when the triplets leave the room, leaving only my grandma and mother with Pops next to us.

“How are you, sweet pea?” Grandpa croaks out while squeezing my hand, and I just shoot him a smile, trying to keep it together. “I’m good, Pops. Just worried about you.”

“Have you done what we talked about?” he asks, obviously referring to our last proper talk, the one about Link. I’ve seen him a few times since then, but we have never been alone. “Not yet…” I give him an honest answer, and he just nods his head. “Don’t forget to do it. You deserve to be happy.”

He closes his eyes for a second, and I immediately feel the panic rush into my veins, the thought of not being able to talk to him makes me feel lightheaded. “Pops,” I sob out the word, and he immediately opens his eyes again and pulls me closer to him, wrapping his arm around me as my head rests on his shoulder, his shaky fingers combing through my hair.

And I don’t know if it’s the feeling of his fragile body beneath mine, or the sob that escapes my mother’s throat while she still holds on to my hand like her life depended on it, but I can’t hold it back anymore now. I cry into his shoulder, feeling a gentle hand rubbing my back as another sob escapes my throat. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner, Pops? I could’ve been here more, I could’ve helped…” I don’t know if my words are seven somewhat comprehensible, but I have to ask. I have to know.

“Oh, sweet pea…” He hugs me once more, “You couldn’t have changed anything. And you’re here now, aren’t you?”

I manage to sit up, drying my tears with the back of my hand as I take a deep breath. “But…”

“No, sweet pea. Life’s too short to hold grudges. You’re a beautiful, strong woman, and you might be able to change the world, but you can’t change my fate,” he speaks with so much conviction, that it’s almost impossible not to believe him.

My grandma sits down next to me, her hand rubbing my shoulder when she shoots me a weak smile. “We’re here for each other,” she whispers, although I hear the tremor in her voice. I nod my head and turn to look at my mother, who is still holding one hand over her mouth, the tears streaming down her cheeks as she closes her eyes in an attempt to suppress them.

“Come here, all of you,” Pops suddenly orders, his arms waving at the three of us before he pulls us in, holding us in his arms with all the strength he has. “You are the strongest women on this earth, remember that. I love you.” He presses a kiss on each of our heads, and by now even grandma is sobbing into his chest. The sight breaks me, really. It’s the first time I’ve seen her cry, ever, and apparently Mom can’t take it either, her hand in my own trembling like she’s about to fall apart.

“Sweet pea…” Pops speaks up again when Grams doesn’t stop crying, “Could you give me a minute with my wife before the rest of the clan shows up? You know how busy it can get…”

Busy doesn’t even begin to describe what it looks like when our families come together. We’re a huge family, and my grandparents’ kindness meant it continuously grew, even when they were too old to even consider getting biological kids. Once my aunts and uncles and cousins arrive he won’t get the chance to get Grandma alone, I’m sure of that.

“Of course,” I press another kiss on his forehead, same as my mother before she gives Grams a quick shoulder squeeze, and after one last long look into my Grandpa’s eyes, we make our way out of the room. I immediately pull us into the guest bathroom right next door, a sob escaping my throat as soon as I close the door behind us.

Mom joins in, and for a few minutes we just stand there, holding hands as we just let go, for once. She pulls me into her arms, wrapping them around me as she sobs into my neck, “I’m sorry. I should be strong for you. I’m sorry…”

“Mom, no…” I shake my head while squeezing her tightly, “We’re strong for each other, that’s what you always said…”

She nods her head, slowly pulling away from me and taking a few deep breaths. I repeat her movement, both of us now calming our aching heart until the tears have dried. “I should get back to your brothers…” Mom suddenly whispers, and I just nod my head, knowing that she’s right. My brothers might act like irrational assholes half the time, but most of them are sensitive souls.

And so we make our way into the living room, where Finn and Max are also present, now. Finn has a cut above his eyebrow, and Max’s knuckles look like they have been used recently. I can’t help but shake my head when I meet my big brother’s gaze, and I steer in the opposite direction, to Ethan and Aiden. Mom shoots me another smile before she walks over to dad, who looks ready to kill someone when he looks at my big brothers on the couch.

“Sis…” Ethan whispers when I reach the two chairs they’re sitting on, and I open my arms as soon as I see the tears in his eyes. He has always been the most sensitive out of the six of us, and so I’m not surprised when he wraps his arms around me and breaks down the second he touches me, his tall figure shaking in my arms as I rub his back. “It’s okay, E. Let it out.”

He shakes his head, probably in an attempt to get rid of those tears, but they keep on coming, and I already feel them drenching my shirt as I just hold my little brother, trying to give him the strength he needs, if I have any of that left, somewhere.

I see Aiden sitting there from the corner of my eye, staring out into nothing at all, just looking forward, and so I reach for him with my free hand, tugging at his elbow until he looks at me, and soon enough he gives in to the notion, joining Ethan and me in our hug. “I’m so sorry…” I whisper into the little space that is left between the three of us, and now I can even feel Aiden shaking slightly, all three of us standing like that, living off each other’s strength.

About an hour later the rest of the family has arrived as well, and only minutes later we’re all gathering in his room, the atmosphere filled with tears and sorrow. I’m running on autopilot, I just can’t dive into the sea of pain in my chest without drowning in it, too.

The doctor shoots us one last sympathetic smile before he closes the door and respectfully waits in the corner of the room. An eerie silence surrounds us, the only sound being Pops’ heavy breathing and the quiet sobs from those who can’t contain the tears.

My cousins are squeezing into a corner while my aunts and uncles gather around Pops’ bed, but when I try to give them space I feel my mom’s hand holding me back, her sad eyes pleading me to stay with her. I look to dad to the other side of the room, his arm around Finn’s waist, nodding his head at me. You can do this. He mouths the words, and I take another shaky breath before I wrap my arm around mom’s waist as well, preparing myself for this.

Grams is lying next to Pops on the bed, who looks even paler than before, his eyes closed while she strokes his hair. “All of you…” his voice is almost inaudible by now, the strain in it immediately sending tears to my eyes. “You’ll be okay. You all will,” he whispers the words, but as much as I’d love to believe him, I simply can’t. The looks on everyone’s faces, the grief lingering in the atmosphere just makes it hard to come to terms with his impending death.

But once again, this is not about me. “We’ll be just fine, dad,” Mom reassures him, her hand shaking when she squeezes his shoulder. “It’s okay, pa. You’ve done enough for all of us,” aunt Grace whispers as well, holding onto her brothers right next to us.

Pops opens his eyes and looks at all of us, the sight of his tired eyes feeling like a blow to my gut. “Promise me,” he whispers again, and everyone holds their breath, wanting to hear his words, wanting him to be heard, one last time. “Promise me you’ll be kind to one another… I don’t want to come back down and haunt you, if you aren’t,” he laughs at his own joke, and as much as we all try to laugh with him, half of us sob at his words, the pain just being unbearable, already.

“I’m tired…” he suddenly exclaims, and Grams just looks up at him, gently stroking his cheeks as she nods her head, “It’s okay, honey. It’s okay. Go to sleep…”

“I love you,” he whispers one last time, and my grandmother just presses a swift kiss on his lips. “I know. I love you, too.”

And so my grandfather says goodbye the same way he lived: Surrounded by a ton of people who cherish him dearly, making them laugh, cry, and believe in the one thing he deemed irreplaceable: Love.

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