Crossroads

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Chapter 34

Chapter 34: Mia

“Sometimes you need to hit the restart button on life.”

PRESENT

Sometimes you need to hit the restart button on life.

Well, we might not be able to restart our entire lives, but we are able to restart ourselves, us, together.

Because I have felt different for a while now, but that feeling is even more prominent when my hand is safely secured in Lincoln’s as we give and take in an almost melodic rhythm.

It’s my turn to give now when I turn the knob to my parents’ house. I can feel how nervous Link is, and I run my thumb over the back of his hand in the hopes of somehow being able to calm him.

The appreciative smile he shoots me lets me think that I succeed, and so I open the door, inviting him into my childhood home. He looks around, taking in the dozens and dozens of pictures of my family, of my mother’s students, of me and my brothers…

I take a deep breath when he stops right in front of a picture of Pops and me. It’s from my high school years and I’m holding cotton candy which Pops stole right in front of my nose, his large mouth biting off most of the blue sugar.

“That’s my grandfather,” I explain, and Lincoln just looks at me for a second, nodding his head before he pulls me closer and presses a kiss on my temple.

“He looks like he was a fun guy.”

His statement makes me smile, even though I still feel my heart ache at the sole thought of him. Mom and I worked hard on replacing the pain with all those happy memories he gifted us, but sometimes I can’t stop the pain. “He was. I miss him,” I admit.

Link nods his head again, releasing my hand to wrap one arm around my waist. We just stand like that for a moment, my head resting on his shoulder while we look at the pictures on the wall.

And as we stand there, as I revel in my family’s memories, I suddenly feel extremely guilty. Because here I am, bringing him into my childhood home to meet my parents and show him the big family we are, when he has no one left. Literally.

If there’s anyone who understands what loss means, it’s him. And his reaction just minutes ago shows he has worked on that, too. He knows how to deal with the pain now, his own warmth and strength now seeping right into me.

“I’m good, Mia,” he whispers, and I suddenly look up at him, noticing how he studies me with a smile. “I know what you’re thinking. I’m good, really.”

It will probably take a while until I understand just how different he is now. It scares me a bit. But I am also excited to find out, to see more of this version of him.

I nod my head before I press a swift kiss on his shoulder, “Okay. You ready?”

“Yeah,” he smiles while taking my hand in his again, and I lead him through the hallway into the living room, different voices already echoing through the space.

“Mom, come on, you can’t say that when Noah is here,” I hear my mother speak.

“Why? He is quite the specimen, even your husband must see that. He’s not blind, Hazel,” my grandmother says, and I can’t help but snort at the statement.

Lincoln shoots me an amused glance and I just shake my head as we turn the corner in the living room, instantly having two pairs of eyes on us.

“Oh, there they are! Aren’t they cute,” my grandma points at us, and Mom just laughs out loud.

“God, were you this bad with Noah and me, too?” she asks, but my grandmother just shakes her head.

“Oh, no. I was worse!”

Even Lincoln laughs now, and I can’t help but look at him again. Seeing him laugh and smile so much is such a beautiful and new character trait. One that I instantly fall in love with.

“See, he thinks I’m funny, too,” Grams gets up from the sofa and walks over to us now, opening her arms for Lincoln, who stands extremely still for just a second, obviously not knowing what to do. I give his hand another squeeze and let go of him, to which he responds with a quick smile before he enters my grandmother’s hug.

Mom is by my side, giving me a quick hug with a wide smile on her face. We bonded a lot over the time I spent with my parents when I lived here. I have always been closer to my father, but it seems like Pops’s passing brought me closer to his daughter, too. We watch how Link is getting squished by my grandmother and I suddenly wonder. I wonder how he must feel in a grandmother’s arms; I wonder if anyone even hugged him like that over the past years.

“I’m Summer,” my grandmother says when she breaks the hug and shoots Lincoln a smile, “It’s so nice to meet you.”

“Hi, Summer. I’m Lincoln. It’s very nice to finally meet you, too. I only heard good things about you,” he returns with a smile, clearing his throat before he looks back at me for just a split second.

Grams widens her eyes and looks at me and my mother, almost squealing when she says, “Damn, Mia. He even has manners! And he brought flowers?!”

“Grams…” I chuckle, pulling at Link’s hand to have him back by my side. But he just laughs when he hands the flowers to my mother, who seems almost as flustered as I was only hours before when he stood in front of my door with those bouquets in his hands.

“Oh, thank you, Lincoln. That’s so kind of you,” Mom shoots him her kind smile, quickly leaning forward to give him a brief hug. “I’m Hazel, by the way,” she says when they pull apart.

“It’s great to meet you, Hazel. Thanks for inviting me.”

“You’re welcome,” my father’s voice suddenly echoes around us and we all instantly shoot our heads up, watching him walk through the living room until he’s right beside his wife, eyeing the flowers in her hand.

“Look what Lincoln brought us!” my mother exclaims with a smile, and I almost have to stifle a laugh at the way she says it. She just knows how to defuse a situation before it even ignited.

Dad watches her for a moment, obviously picking up on her spiel, but only replies with a kiss on her head before he turns back to Link and me. The way he looks at us makes Link tense up beside me, but I just pull him a bit closer, giving his hand a squeeze.

Nobody says anything for a while, and that just causes the tension to skyrocket with every second that passes. My grandmother watches us with wide eyes, probably playing out all the worst-case scenarios and what-ifs in her head. But Lincoln just looks down at me for a second, those trusting eyes meeting mine with a smile on his face before he looks back up and clears his throat.

“Mr. Esperanza, I’m Lincoln. it’s nice to meet you,” he says, taking a step forward to shake my father’s hand.

Dad regards him for a slight moment, but my mother nudges him on the side after a few seconds and that sends him stepping forward, shaking Lincoln’s hand with a thin smile on his lips.

“Hey, Lincoln. Call me Noah,” he says, and I think all three of us women have their jaws on the floor right now. This reaction is definitely not what any of us expected. “Thanks for the flowers,” my father adds.

Lincoln just chuckles before running a hand through his hair as he retorts, “You’re very welcome.”

There’s an awkward pause when they release the handshake, and I use it to pull him closer to me again, his fingers instantly intertwining with mine. I don’t know what it is, but I feel the powerful urge to have him close right now.

He shoots me a smile, a smile so genuine that I almost feel myself swooning over it. Because this Lincoln is breathtakingly beautiful, and all of this is going much better than I thought it would. For now.

“Alright, are you guys hungry?” Mom asks, and I nod my head, still feeling my father’s eyes on me.

“Why don’t you go help these two with setting the table, and I’ll talk to Mia for a second,” my father addresses Lincoln, and I almost forcefully have to suppress a sigh from those words. I was hoping we could just rip the bandaid off with everyone there.

Lincoln regards me with this questioning look in his eyes. It almost seems like he’s asking me if I’m okay with that, which honestly blows my mind. Never in my life would I expect him to stand between me and my father when needed. He simply doesn’t have to do that.

But it just shows, again, how many risks he’s willing to take. After knowing what my father did and probably still can do, he’s actually asking me if I’m okay to be alone with him. I know we said we’d do it all together today, but I didn’t think he’d take it that seriously.

To be completely honest this gesture alone makes me speechless, and I instantly feel that fire starting again, that fire that now courses through my veins and threatens to explode if I don’t do something soon. Because fucking hell - what’s sexier than a man ready to take on your bull of a father when you need him to?

I somehow manage to nod my head, knowing that my father would lose his shit if I were to refuse him now. Link just responds with a kiss on my forehead before he lets go of my hand, following my mom and Grams into the kitchen after shooting me one last glance.

“How are you doing?” Dad asks as he wraps me in a hug when everyone is gone, and I can’t help but take a deep breath, inhaling the typical fatherly scent when I nod my head.

“Yeah… Well, no. But yeah.”

He slowly breaks the hug and looks at me, stroking my hair with a sad smile. “Yeah, I get it.”

And I get the feeling that he actually does. I know him and Mom had some issues when they got together because of his business and all. They never told the full story, but I can only guess that it’s similar to Lincoln’s and mine.

“Has he apologized?” Dad asks, and I instantly nod my head.

“Of course he has. I wouldn’t be here with him, otherwise. We talked about it, Dad. It’s a lot to explain, and I’d like to do that while he’s there. It’s his right to be present when we talk about this stuff.”

I hope he sees the plea in my eyes, because I really do not want to do any of this without Lincoln. Because truth be told, despite the fact that he hurt my trust, and that I know I could do this alone, I just want to have him by my side.

He just always had that effect on me. As much as I’m angry for the things he said back then, I’ve also learned to forgive. And I feel at ease when he’s there, that connection between us hasn’t broken over the past years. I guess that’s why I’m willing to learn, willing to give him and us a chance. Even if it’s hard work.

“Okay. Let’s go inside, then. But I want answers, you got me?” he asks, and I quickly nod my head.

“I know. You’ll get them. Promise. Just please… Listen before you speak. Try to understand.”

My statement makes him sigh, and I’m guessing he has an inkling he probably won’t exactly like what we have to tell him. I’m still unsure about how he will react to all of this, to the fact that I hid this from them for months.

But he just nods his head before giving me another hug, and we walk back inside where I find Link and Grams sitting at the now laid table. He turns around when he hears us entering the room and his eyes instantly find mine, like two polarized magnets we just find each other wherever we go.

Lincoln looks content, almost like this is where he always belonged - in my family home, right next to my grandmother. The sight just warms my heart to an extent I can’t even begin to describe, because all I want is for him to finally be happy, to finally find peace within himself.

I place a hand on his shoulder when I reach his spot and he instantly pulls out the chair next to him so I can sit on it, interlacing our fingers the second they find each other beneath the table. You okay? He mouths the words, and again I just want to jump him from the fact that he worries so much now.

I nod my head, asking you?

He responds with a wink, and I have to smile at that, . I can only imagine what my grandmother grilled him about while I was gone.

“Alright… Are we eating or talking first?” she then asks, and I widen my eyes at her while she just shrugs, like she didn’t just set the most awkward mood ever.

“Grams, can you just take it down a notch?” I whisper, nodding my head to my parents who are now walking into the kitchen.

“What? I made sure Lincoln here will survive, don’t worry,” she laughs, shooting both of us a wink.

Link suddenly laughs again, shaking his head while running his thumb over my palm beneath the table, almost as if he was the one who needed to soothe me right now, when it should be the other way around.

He shoots me another glance, the confidence not only audible in his voice, but now also mirrored in those ocean blue eyes when he gazes right into mine. “Well, Summer,” Link addresses my grandmother, only for a second leaving our interlocked glance, “I’m glad you think I’m capable of going through with this, because believe me, I will.”

And then a huge grin crosses my grandmother’s face, one that is filled with mischief and intrigue. “Well, Lincoln. Let’s go and have that talk, then.”

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