I stared down at my phone to read another text message from Mason calling me a slut and sighed. It had been only four days since I had broken up with him, but it felt like a damn lifetime. He hadn’t left me alone like I thought he would and he hadn’t told me when I could come get my stuff.
But I knew one thing… I wasn’t about to go back to his place alone. I didn’t trust him.
The elevator doors opened, and I glanced up to see a smiling Michael walk through them with a brown paper bag that smelt like italian grinders. He placed it down in front of me and went in for a kiss, but I moved my head away before he could.
“Not here,” I said, glancing down the hallway to make sure nobody had seen us. I watched him frown and felt bad about it, but he didn’t complain. Instead, he sat down next to me and pulled out our dinner.
“I’m taking you out on a real date Friday night,” he said to me.
I raised a brow at him. “I don’t remember agreeing to that.”
“You didn’t.” He smiled at me, his blue eyes lighting up with excitement.
My heart warmed, and I playfully rolled my eyes. “Only if Mom’s surgery goes well.”
“She’s having surgery?”
“Scheduled for the day after tomorrow.” I paused for a long moment and gazed back down the hallway toward her room. Since we were officially a thing, I hadn’t asked Michael to actually come into the room to see Mom with me. I didn’t want her to think that something was up with us because it’d just make her worry more. But I wanted her to get more comfortable with him around. “Do you want to see her?” I asked him.
“Of course,” he said. I stuffed our half-eaten sandwiches back into the bag and nodded toward her room. My fingers brushed against his as we walked, tingles shooting up my arm. When Mom saw us through her window, she smiled and waved at us to come into the room.
Michael opened the door for me, and I inched my way inside, glad I wasn’t hooked up to a monitor because my heart rate was through the damn roof. Michael followed me in, his hand brushing against my back.
And Mom saw. She definitely saw.
“Michael, how are you?” she asked, smiling weakly.
Michael glanced at me, then back at her. “Doing good. What about yourself? Mia says that you’ll be having surgery soon.”
Mom waved her hand at him. “Oh, it’s nothing.”
I walked over to her and sat at the end of her bed. “Mom, it’s not nothing,” I said. Michael pulled a chair closer to her bed and sat down in it, his knee brushing against mine. I tensed for a moment, then looked back at Mom and relaxed. “You’re having brain surgery.”
“I’ve had it before.”
My eyes widened, and I shook my head. “So?”
“She’s just being optimistic, Mia.” Michael squeezed my knee lightly, letting his hand linger.
Mom eyed us for a moment, then stared politely at Michael. “Michael, can I speak with my daughter alone for a moment?” Mom asked. My eyes widened slightly, my heart racing.
Michael nodded his head and walked out of the room, sitting on one of the benches right outside. Mom turned to me. “Alright, spill. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong, Mom.”
“Don’t lie to me, Mia.”
I squeezed her hand, my heart hurting. It didn’t feel good to lie but I didn’t want to tell Mom just yet. She didn’t need to stress of me and an older man, thinking she had to worry about me or ask me questions all the time if I was okay.
But, then, she asked, “What’s going on with you and Mr. Bryne?”
My eyes widened. She knew. She already knew. “I… uhm…” I swallowed hard and scooted closer to her. “We’re together,” I whispered. “And… I know it sounds bad. I know he’s older than I am. But… but I think I love him.”
Her eyes widened. “I knew there was something going on between you and him, but love?”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I haven’t told him yet. I don’t know how. I’m scared and I don’t want to be hurt again, but… he’s so caring and sweet and loving. He’s spent every night at the hospital with me while Mason barely could show up for five minutes.”
Mom brushed her thumb across my cheek. “Don’t cry, sweetheart. Come here.” She pulled me down in the bed with her and gently stroked my hair. “Mr. Bryne is a good man. I can tell even from all the way in here. He cares for you a lot.”
I pressed my ear to her chest and listened to the steady rhythm of her heartbeat. “You’re not mad?”
She laughed, her silky smooth voice fluttering through my ears. “Of course, not. I was hoping you’d break up with Mason. Saturday morning he looked like he was going to kill someone. And from that one moment, I could tell that he hadn’t been the best guy for you since I came here. He didn’t ever care for you, did he?”
My lips quivered, and I held her tighter--trying hard not to cry more because I felt like such a crybaby lately. But life was so fucking hard sometimes that I couldn’t help it. “No,” I whispered. “He didn’t.”
“Why’d you stay with him?” she asked.
And those five little words broke my heart even more. If I told Mom, she’d be disappointed that I sacrificed my happiness for hers. She’d feel worse than she did now, and I didn’t want that to happen, so I shrugged my shoulders and said, “I thought I loved him.”
We stayed quiet for a few moments, and a tear fell down her cheek. “I know the feeling…” she said. “Your father made me feel so good when we started dating, but I didn’t see that he was manipulative and abusive. I’m sorry for keeping you in that environment for so long.” Her heart rate monitor sped up, and she sniffled.
She pulled away slightly and furrowed her brows at me. “I know I shouldn’t pry, but I have to ask… Mr. Bryne didn’t coerce you into anything you didn’t want to do, did he?”
I smiled up at her and shook my head. “No,” I said. “He hasn’t.”
She lifted her gaze to the empty window. “Good… Now, why don’t you go spend the night with him. I’ll be having surgery in a couple days and would like to know that you haven’t been up for the past forty-eight hours worrying about me.”
She lightly pushed me off the bed. “Go, Mia.” Her lips curled into a smile. “I love you.”
A/N The entire trilogy is available on Patreon now. If you'd like to read it ahead of time, click "Support Me" in my bio!