Crossroads

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Chapter 46

Mia

“Reality means new experiences, adventures, love, happiness, laughter... It means life. And life is what we make of it, after all.”

PRESENT

Life is chaotic.

That’s something I’ve learned from having five brothers.

I’m usually easily annoyed by their quips when they all visit our parents for family dinners, but today I just enjoy it, leaning against the living room wall with a smile as I watch all five of them converse and chatter.

“He came clean to them,” Dad says as he joins me, wrapping his arm around my shoulder when we watch how Max slaps Liam upside the head for something he said.

I turn to look at my father, raising an eyebrow in question. “Max. He talked to them, told them what happened with Riley and that he treated you unfairly. He didn’t tell them about Lincoln, he said it’s your decision what you want to tell them in that matter...”

He presses a kiss on my head, and I can’t help but lean in, letting his fatherly love seep straight into my bones as I lock eyes with Max, who just shoots me a smile. I’m sure he knows as much as I do that we still need to talk. I haven’t even told him about my talk with Riley, yet. I just pulled him into a hug when he opened the door earlier, which surprised not only him, I also saw the smile on my mother’s face when she nodded her head, approving of my gesture.

“He is coming, right?” Dad asks, making me look back up at him. “Lincoln, I mean.”

“Yeah, he wanted to be here already but something came up at the hospital and I dropped him off on our way here... He just texted saying he should be here soon, in time for dinner.”

Dad nods his head, heaving a sigh when he suddenly pulls me into his arms, letting his chin rest on my head when he mumbles, “He’s treating you right, isn’t he? Because if he isn’t, you tell me and I...”

“Dad...” I interrupt him, tilting my head up to make him look at me. “You raised me to be strong and independent. I wouldn’t be with him if he wasn’t treating me right, or if he couldn’t accept that. Promise.”

He sighs while tightening his grip around me once more, and I just instantly feel how worried he is. I know he’s struggling with letting me go like that; I know it can’t be easy for him to see me confide in another man that isn’t him. We’ve always been a team, despite the stunts he pulled and despite the troublemaker I was in my teens.

“All this time I’m thinking I have to have that talk with him, you know. That famous father-boyfriend talk,” he says with a quiet laugh, and I smile right with him, meeting his trusting glance when I look up.

“Did Pops have one of those with you?”

“Oh, princess, you don’t even know...” he laughs louder now, eliciting some raised brows from other family members in the room.

“Was it that bad?” I ask with a smile, imagining how Pops threatened Dad if he ever were to hurt my mother. The image is funny, somehow.

Dad sighs, rubbing his hand over my back when he looks at my mother, who is watering her plants with a smile on her face. “No, it wasn’t that bad. You know your grandfather - He was a good man, protective of his family... But he hated my guts in the beginning.” He laughs again. “He came around eventually, and damn am I glad about that... I was persistent. I made sure he knew I wasn’t leaving, ever. I guess that made him realize how much I did love his daughter.”

And like she knew he was talking about her, my mother looks up, shooting Dad a quick smile to which he responds with a wink before he looks back at me, the happiness radiating off of him every time he looks at his wife. The sole display of love in his eyes almost makes me want to cry, he just always knew how to show all of us how much he cares for us, how much we mean to him.

“Well, for all it’s worth... I don’t think you need to have one of those talks with Link. He’s persistent, believe me.” I laugh, and my father smiles right back at me, brushing some hair out of my face as he just studies me for a moment. I know how much he wants me to be happy, it’s all my parents ever wanted.

“I kind of want to, though... It sounds like fun.” He grins, and before I can even say anything to that we hear the doorbell ring, the sound instantly sending another smile to my face. It must be Lincoln, everyone else is already here.

Dad dashes for the door, and I quickly sprint behind him, pulling at his shirt, “Dad! Let me open it!”

But he just shrugs, the amusement on his face washing away like it always does when he gets into business mode, and I can’t even suppress the eye-roll now when he opens the door. My boyfriend stands there, looking handsome as ever when he regards both my dad and me with wide eyes. I sigh, knowing I can’t do much now, but after a few seconds Lincoln actually shoots me a wink before he addresses my father, “Noah. Good to see you again.”

“Lincoln. Please, come in.” Dad shakes Link’s hand, and I really hope he will be able to operate tomorrow, the way the muscles twitch on Dad’s bicep tells me he was not going easy on his fingers.

“Thank you.” He steps inside, passing my father with a smile until he stands right in front of me, that disarming smile right back on his lips when he searches my gaze. The fire is blazing in his eyes when he places his palm on my cheek, pressing a quick kiss on the other as he whispers, “Hey, sola.”

I swallow as he leans back, his hand moving from my cheek to my arm, interlacing our fingers the second he finds them. “Hi.”

It’s still hard to understand how much this man blows my mind sometimes. I watched how he was all those years ago, before he even knew I existed. And I know that version of him is not even the one I want or prefer, because I love him for who he is now. But seeing him slowly find himself again, finding his confidence and self-worth, is mesmerizing. In the weeks since we reunited alone, he managed to make me speechless more than I have ever been in my life, honestly.

“Well, let’s introduce you to the rest of the family, shall we?” Dad chimes in, raising an eyebrow as he passes us and walks into the living room. Glad that he decided against that famous father-boyfriend talk, I take a second to just look at Link, preparing myself and him for the evening that’s about to come. He suddenly jerks me into his arms though, and a split second later his lips find my own, chasing them down like a predator its prey. “I missed you...” he whispers while pulling back, and I smile as I place his hand on my cheek, feeling his warm fingers on my skin brings me home in a matter of seconds.

“You were gone for like an hour...”

“Exactly my point.” He grins, pulling me in for another kiss, but we don’t get to execute it, the sound of someone clearing their throat behind us makes both of us lean back.

“Sis, I swear, this is just weird.”

I recognize Finn’s voice and can’t help but sigh when I turn around, facing him with narrowed eyes. “Don’t look, then.”

“It’s like an accident. I can’t not look.”

Lincoln laughs at my brother’s words, and I immediately join in, playfully kicking Finn’s butt. “I swear, I hate you.”

“You love me. Now come inside before the trio explodes with curiosity in there...” He nods into the living room, and I know he’s right. I’m not even nervous, I want Lincoln to meet all of my brothers, want him to be a part of my family.

Because that’s what he is, he’s family.

“Well, let’s go then.” I pull Link behind me as we steer for the living room, giving his hand another squeeze as we step through the doorway.

Lincoln greets the trio, shaking each of their hands. Liam takes a little longer than Ethan and Aiden, probably wanting to show off, as always, but Link doesn’t seem too phased about that. He just introduces himself before walking over to Finn, who just pulls him into a hug. “This is my house now, Dr. G., no handshakes here.”

Finn grins when Link pulls back, shaking his head with a laugh, “Alright then... Finn."

“Hell yeah! Mom, did you hear that? He said my name!”

My mother nods her head with a laugh, releasing herself from Dad’s grasp as she steps toward Lincoln, throwing her arms around him as well. “Hey, Lincoln. It’s good to see you again.”

Something changes in Lincoln’s demeanour when he looks at her, a smile on his lips when he speaks. “Thank you, Hazel. It’s good to be here.”

I can’t even begin to imagine how it must be for Lincoln, to step into this house full of life and family when he misses his own every day. It can’t be easy to see what I have, what he wishes he had for himself. That might be one of the reasons why I want to clear the air, why I want my family to get back to the rhythm I miss so much.

We should appreciate what we have, should enjoy the moments we still have, before they’re taken away from us.

And like he knew what I was thinking, Max steps into the room, emerging from the kitchen with caution. He eyes Lincoln and Mom, but I shoot him a smile, encouraging him to approach us.

He reciprocates the smile before he steps inside, attracting everyone’s attention in a matter of seconds. I notice how Lincoln tenses up when Max stretches out his hand, but he keeps his cool, shaking it with a smile. “Hey, Max. Good to see you.”

I don’t really know if he means the words; I know he wants me to mend fences with my brother, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t still furious himself. He has every right to be. What my brother did wasn’t right, and we all know that.

“Good to see you, too, Lincoln. I hope you’re doing okay.”

Link turns around to face me, a bright smile on his lips when he says, “More than okay, actually. Thanks for asking.”

“That’s good, I’m glad...” Max shoots him a smile, a genuine one at that, before he releases the handshake to look at me, that same smile still on his lips when he asks, “Sis, you got a minute?”

I look at Lincoln, who immediately shoots me a wink as he squeezes my hand, letting me know he’ll be okay with the chaos that is my family. Turning back to Max, I see him studying us with interest, but I wave it off with a nod of my head. “Yeah, let’s go outside.”

Getting on my toes, I press another kiss on Lincoln’s cheek, ignoring the glances from the rest of my family as I follow Max to the hammock in our backyard. I can still hear my mother ordering everyone to set the table as I close the terrace door behind me, shaking my head with a chuckle at the thought of Lincoln laying the table with the rest of my brothers like he was always a part of this family. It fills me with happiness, somehow, knowing that he’s already so included in our lives. It’s all I ever wanted.

The silence settles around Max and me as we get comfortable in the hammock, both of us watching our family work in the dining room through the glass facade of this side of the house. I watch how Lincoln shakes his head with laughter, throwing Finn an amused glance while distributing plates in front of every seat. Ethan and Aiden keep switching the position of the wine glasses, apparently not agreeing with each other’s way of setting the table, as always.

“I heard you talked to Riley...”

My brother’s words make me turn my head so quickly, I might just get whiplash from the force. “What?”

“Yeah. She called me.”

“She what?!”

Just a minute ago I was so content, watching how Lincoln interacts with my family, and now I feel that fire in my veins again, the rage instantly getting to my head as I wait for Max to explain.

“She called a few days ago, apparently after you visited her. Tried to blame me again for the fight you had.”

“Fucking hell... How did I ever call that woman my best friend?!”

Max laughs, a sad and rather unhumorous laugh, as he leans back on the hammock, watching the clouds with a sigh. “Question is, how did I ever fall in love with her? Let her do all of that to me, to you, to everyone else that was somehow involved in this mess. I feel like an idiot. A weak one, at that...”

“You’re not weak, Max... You were so alone. She just didn’t help matters. She should’ve known better, and she did. I’m convinced she knew what she was doing. That talk I had with her only confirmed that...”

He closes his eyes, taking deep breaths as he reaches for my hand, giving it a tight squeeze. “I’m sorry you lost your best friend. I never wanted any of this...”

“I know you didn’t, really. I believe you.”

I’m having a hard time keeping my emotions at bay when he turns his head to look at me again, his glassy eyes showing all ranges of sorrow all of a sudden.

“Fuck, I was such an asshole, Mia... It’s pathetic, really. How I treated people. Mom would be devastated if she heard about the shit I said. And I still don’t really know why I did all of that. It scares me. Not knowing what’s going on with me, how I actually let those words leave my mouth...”

This must be, hands-down, the most honest conversation I ever had with Max. He’s usually very closed off, he works and deals with stuff on his own. But it seems that’s all coming back to bite him now.

“Maybe you need to talk to someone to figure that out.” I try nudging him in that direction. I know he won’t just jump at the chance to see a therapist, but I feel like it could help him. He’s obviously overwhelmed, has been for a while.

“Did you go to therapy because Lincoln left you back then?”

His question startles me at first, but I soon shake my head with a smile, “No. Well, maybe that was just the tip of the iceberg of issues I already had, but it wasn’t what triggered it. Pops probably was, to be honest. It broke me more than I thought it would, and it just made me realize there’s a ton of stuff I haven’t really dealt with.”

“I’m sorry I made your life even harder by behaving like that... I really am.” And again I hear the emotion in his voice, I hear how much he recognizes the mistakes of his past.

“I know, and I forgive you. Really. You know...” I look back at the house, watching how Lincoln and my parents are in deep conversation. The sole sight of that makes my heart soar, the fact that he seems to get along with them means everything to me. “You may have been the one who made him leave... But I think, looking back at it now, it might have been for the best. In the long run, at least. We both needed to learn a lot, and we weren’t really good for each other the way we were. You had a point when you said that. Both Link and I know that now.”

It’s the truth. Lincoln and I talked a lot about the past, we learned to be open about that part of our lives as well, as painful as it may be. But I feel like this version of us, the one we have now, wouldn’t have been possible if things continued the way they were back then.

I’m just about to say something else when my father suddenly laughs at something Lincoln said, and that alone makes me chuckle as well. “What is it?” Max asks, but I just nod toward the glass facade in response. “Well, I’ll be damned... Did he really make Dad laugh?”

“Yeah... He did.” I watch them with a smile on my lips, and it’s like he knows I’m thinking of him, because Link suddenly turns around, our gazes locking in an instant - just like they always do.

I see the question in his eyes, asking if I’m okay. A smile tugs at his lips when I nod my head, suddenly feeling emotional as hell again. Just looking at him fills me with pride and love.

“You really love him, don’t you?” Max asks, the question making me look at him for just a second, seeing the curiosity in his glance when I wipe a stray tear from my eye.

“Yeah, I do...” I turn back to watch my family again, to watch the love of my life behind that glass facade, and my heart suddenly feels so light and so heavy, all at once.

Sometimes it feels like I can’t contain all the love I feel for the people inside that house. When Pops died, it was like someone ripped my heart out, and never in my life did I think it could heal enough to make me feel this way, to make me feel both sorrow and love, without missing the other. As much as I still grieve my grandfather, as much as I wish I could just talk to him one more time, I realize that one more time wouldn’t have been enough.

It could never be enough. That’s what losing someone means. It means coming to terms with the fact that the words you still wanted to say won’t be heard, that the answers you feel you deserve won’t be given to you. Grieving, in the end, is like dreaming. We can imagine the what if’s, the why’s and how’s, we can dwell in memories and wishes and dreams to soothe our souls. But reality will catch up. It always does.

And that’s a good thing. Because reality means this right here. Reality means new experiences, adventures, love, happiness, laughter... It means life. And life is what we make of it, after all.

Our life is in our control. We just need to remember that.

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