Crossroads

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Chapter 47

Lincoln

“Dwelling in those yesterdays seems so insignificant ,when we have so many tomorrows ahead of us.”

PRESENT

I miss my family.

Every single day, I miss them. I miss my mother’s laugh, miss my father’s inappropriate and dumb jokes... I just miss every little thing I never even thought about when they were still there. The way my mother ruffled my hair when she gave me a hug, the way my father tried shooting me a wink, but always failed miserably and ended up looking like he had something in his eye... He didn’t want to admit it, and he kept on doing it, enjoying how I laughed out loud every damn time.

Those memories have been painful for a long time, and even though I learned to deal with them, learned that it’s important to remember them, I can’t deny that it still hurts like hell.

Being here right now, watching this big family enjoy their day... It hurts like hell, too. Hazel did her best to make sure I feel welcomed here, and I have to admit I’m thoroughly surprised that Noah has been rather quiet the whole evening. I expected a lot more, honestly, but I also know that Hazel has a hold on her husband I will probably never understand.

The way they act around each other reminds me so much of my parents, too. You can see it in their eyes, see it in the subtle touches they steal, the possessiveness in both their eyes giving you an unmistakable idea of who they belong to. It’s mesmerizing, and also so goddamn painful again, because I just wish they could’ve met.

I wish I could’ve introduced Mia to them. They would’ve loved her, I’m sure of that. It’s hard not to love her, really, but especially my mother would’ve been delighted by my choice.

“You okay?” Mia whispers, and I just now realize I haven’t really eaten anything, my thoughts so loud that I missed half of the conversations at the dining table.

I’m glad she talked to Max, that she’s trying to fix her relationships and sees her own mistakes, too. I just want her to be happy, and I know her family gives her the kind of happiness no one can replace. She’s so proud of being her parents’ daughter, of being her brothers’ sister, even with the drama that occurred lately. And she embraces that pride, carries it in her heart like a token of appreciation, visible for anyone to see.

Her azure eyes fill with worry when I don’t answer, and I instantly reach for her hand, giving it a squeeze when I respond, “Yeah, I’m okay. Just in my head.”

She nods, placing my palm on her cheek for just a second when she whispers again. “Just say the word. I mean it.” The smile on her face shows me how serious she is, how much she understands that this is not exactly easy for me. And god, do I love her even more for that...

“I know.” I can’t help but press a kiss on her forehead, unsurprisingly hearing how Liam clears his throat in an attempt to get our attention. Both Mia and I stifle a grin from that predictable behavior, our fingers intertwining in my lap as I turn to look at her little brother.

He’s not little, really, but he is younger. I think he’s the only one who isn’t convinced yet, who doesn’t really know what to think of me. I knew I had Finn on my side pretty early on, Ethan and Aiden seemed extremely nice and welcomed me with open arms, quite literally, while Liam just kept narrowing his eyes at me like I was public enemy number one.

Max apologized, and even though it’ll take a while until I can actually forgive him, I do my best in trying to find it within me. I know Mia would be devastated if I didn’t get along with her family, and I also know that everything that happened in the past should be just that. The past.

We’ve both grown enough, talked about everything that happened between us enough to know where we stand now. We know about our mistakes, know about our issues and about how we want to live our lives now. Dwelling in those yesterdays seems so futile, when we have so many tomorrows ahead of us.

“So, I don’t think we really got an explanation about how exactly this...” Liam points at Mia and me, wiggling his finger between us, “...happened. Care to elaborate?”

“Of course, baby bro,” Mia answers before he can even finish the question, and I have to stifle a laugh from the confidence in her voice, knowing she’ll shoot every shred of doubt down before it even occurs.

Noah and Hazel don’t even hide their smirks, both of them looking at Mia and her brother with curiosity. Mia’s thumb runs over my palm when she explains the whole situation with a calm in her voice that absolutely blows my mind every damn time. I have no idea how she balances the scale between fiery confidence and quiet composure like that. It’s magical, really.

“Well, Lincoln and I met two years ago. He wasn’t in a good place, neither was I, which is why I didn’t tell you guys about him. We were together for a few weeks, and he lived with me during that time, too. One day a lot of... Misunderstandings occurred, some of them being connected to Max, and it all ended in Link and I having a fight and then we split up. We met again, two years later, talked it out, and now we’re here.”

It sounds so easy when she talks about it, when in reality it was everything but...

She looks up at me, her calm eyes looking at me with so much love in them that I just want to hold her tightly and never let her go for the rest of my life.

“And you didn’t tell us why, exactly?” Liam asks again, looking around the table as if everyone else was insane for not asking that question.

“Because I didn’t know how to. I know it was wrong, and I sincerely apologize, to all of you.” She averts our gaze to look around the table, her eyes focusing on her parents at the head of the table. “I mean it. I know you raised us to be honest, and I always knew I could talk to you guys about everything. It just... It became a lot, and it quickly seemed like I hit the point of no return, the one where it would just get worse if I even tried to explain.”

“I also took most of her time,” I add, feeling the need to make clear that Mia didn’t just act on her own impulses. “She didn’t have much of a choice but to stay home with me most days.”

Liam looks straight at me now, and I see the questions in his eyes, see how much he wants to ask all of them. I know Mia’s brothers know that Max was involved in our separation, but they don’t know much about what exactly transpired back then. Her parents said it’s our choice how much we exactly want to share, they just want us to be honest.

“Why? Were you sick or something?” Liam asks, and I immediately feel Mia’s grip on my fingers tighten, she obviously doesn’t like the question very much.

“I was,” I answer, wrapping both my hands around Mia’s before I elaborate, “I was suicidal. Mia got me the help I needed, and that took a lot of her attention and time.”

The whole table is quiet for a moment. It’s a reaction I expected, honestly. Talking about this is a challenge in itself, reacting to it isn’t easy, either. But I know both Mia and I are sick of misunderstandings and secrets, and I learned how to talk about my issues. To be honest, as hard as explaining this to others is, I also feel a sense of pride every time I do. I know how much work it was to get to where I am now, to find back to myself and to who I want to be. And I learned to appreciate it.

“I’m sorry for the part I played in all of this. I can assure you that I’m better now, and that the last thing we both want is keeping things from you. I know how much you all value your family.” I look around the table when I speak, hoping they all believe me.

I don’t want them to fear that I might relapse, that I’m not strong or good enough for their daughter and sister. But they all just look at me, Max and Finn even have a smile on their faces when they study me intently.

“Well,” Noah chimes in when no one says a word for a while, his eyes settled straight on me. “I think that calls for a toast.” He raises his glass, and we mirror the motion, all eyes on the head of this family when he speaks again.

“I, for one, am very thankful for the family we are, even with the chaos that ensues on a regular basis...” He laughs, shooting his wife a wink who just chuckles along, shaking her head with a smile. “But I guess that’s who we are. We’re family, and family means chaos... We just have to embrace it. To family.”

“To family!” Everyone agrees while moving to the middle, a mess of clinking glasses echoing through the room.

And as the tension seems to dissipate into thin air, I can’t help but watch this family as they continue their evening, see how Mia slaps Finn’s head for something he said, Max and Liam discussing if said slap was executed the way they learned it. I don’t even bother asking why exactly they learned how to slap someone up the head. This family has so many layers... It will take a while to understand them all.

A tap on my shoulder makes me turn around, and I see Noah standing behind me by the door frame, nodding outside of it with a thin smile on his face. Both Mia and Hazel realize what’s going on, raising their eyebrows at Noah, who just shrugs, waiting for me to follow him. I know it’s not really a choice, and I suddenly regret that thought earlier on, remembering a certain phrase my mother used to say a lot.

Don’t praise the day before nightfall...

Minutes later I’m in a giant study, sitting opposite to Noah with a glass of scotch in my hand. I’m guessing this is it, the famous father-boyfriend talk I was waiting for. The fact that I don’t know half of Noah’s sketchy past, except for the little details Mia threw my way, doesn’t unsettle me. I actually feel pretty safe. I don’t know why, but I have a feeling that Noah likes me.

“So, Lincoln...” He leans back on the imposing office chair, swinging the scotch in his hand as he studies me with interest. “You probably know that I’m very protective of my family.”

I can’t help but laugh, nodding my head as I take another sip of my drink. “Oh, yeah. I think everyone in your family is protective of each other. I’m not sure who I don’t want to cross more. Both your wife and your daughter could kick my ass.”

“Oh, you have no idea,” he laughs, and I join right in again, knowing that he’s absolutely right about that. “Right, well, since you obviously know how protective we all are, you also probably have an idea why I invited you in here.”

“I think I do. This is where you tell me you’ll come after me if I ever hurt your daughter, or anyone in your family, for that matter...”

Noah nods, amusement dancing in his eyes. “Yeah, something like that. You get a pass for that first time, considering the circumstances. But let me assure you, if I ever see my daughter hurt like that again... It’ll hurt you, too.”

I’m suddenly extremely glad about the age gap between Mia and me - I’m pretty sure twenty-three-year-old me would’ve lost his shit already. Thirty-three-year-old me, on the other hand... I’ve stopped being scared. The only thing I’m scared of is losing Mia, which, coincidentally, works right with Noah’s threat.

“I expect nothing less. Believe me, I still hate myself for the way I handled things back then.”

“I can see that,” Noah says with a thin smile. “It’s the only reason I’ve managed to keep my cool so far. I believe you’re a good guy, Lincoln. And I can see that my daughter adores you, not that I’m totally fond of that idea, either...”

He sighs, running a hand through his dark hair before he studies me again, his facial expression telling me just how much he doesn’t like the idea of Mia spending time with a man. “I’d just lock her in here if I had it my way, but my wife would have my head if I did that, and I do value my life, to be honest...”

And I can only imagine how right he is about that. From what Mia told me, Hazel is an advocate for women’s rights, helping where she can to raise awareness to the issues in our society... It’s just another reason why I’m sure she would’ve been good friends with my mother.

“What I’m saying is: I like you. I think you’re smart enough to understand the structures in this family, but I also think you know that I will always protect my blood first.”

“I don’t doubt that for a second...” I answer, and it’s true. One thing I noticed early on is just how protective Noah is. He is very calculated, a silent spectator so to speak, but when he decides to come forward his words don’t leave any room for interpretation. I know he’ll most likely make me shovel my own grave if I hurt his daughter again, and I’d willingly lie down in it, too.

I don’t even want to remember the way she looked at me, how hurt she was by those awful things I said... It’s a sight that’s etched into my brain, though, serving as a blaring reminder that I have to keep working on myself. If not for me, then for her, because I don’t intend to let her go. Ever.

“Well, I guess that settles it then...” Noah says, leaning back on his chair with a smile.

“Welcome to the family, Lincoln.”

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