''Try that last combination again, Samantha.''
I nod and uncle Thomas takes his position again. I get ready and in my head I'm counting.
One, two, three and then kick.
''Much better, kiddo. That's enough for now.''
I sigh in relieve and I try to catch my breath. Boxing with uncle Thomas was always intense. According to my uncle we could always work harder and do better, what made him the most challenging trainer I ever had.
''Uncle Thomas, when does your leave ends?''
''Why do you ask that, are you sick of me already?''
I chuckle and I catch the bottle of water uncle Thomas throws at me.
''Yes, that's why I asked you that question!'' I say in a sarcastic tone. ''No, I was just wondering. I don't know how long a leave for a Marine is.''
Uncle Thomas puts away the last of the boxing material, before he grabs a beer out of the mini fridge.
''I returned from my last deployment and I will start my next assignment in three weeks.''
''And what would that be?''
''Training the new recruits and volunteering at the facility.''
I nod and I take a sip of my water. ''But you are staying with us, right?''
''I'm stationed closed to home. So, most days I will be coming home after work.''
''That's good.'' I say softly.
''If you like, I can bring you to the facility with me. Perhaps a familiar surrounding will help you and the equipment we have there, is far more impressing then the old crap in here. May I ask how long have you been in a youth correctional facility, Samantha?''
My mouth feels suddenly really dry and I can't even look my uncle in the eyes. I feel ambushed and uncomfortable. I want to leave and I want to leave right now!
''Breath in and breath out, Samantha.''
I look at uncle Thomas and I realise that I'm hyperventilating.
''Breath in and breath out. You don't have to panic, you don't have to feel scared. All you have to do is breath in and breath out.''
The soothing tone of uncle Thomas voice actually calms me down and I can finally think clearly again.
''One year in and one year semi.''
Uncle Thomas put his beer back in the fridge and he also grabs a bottle of water.
''Do you want to tell me about it?''
''Not really,'' I mutter. ''All I can say that staying there was the best decision I ever made.''
''But you didn't complete your program, did you?''
I shake my head and my gaze falls on the tennis balls in the bucket. I take one out and I start squeezing it.
I look at uncle Thomas who raises his hands. I throw him the tennis ball and I let out a deep sigh.
''There was no more time, Emma needed me.''
Uncle Thomas throws the ball back at me and I catch it.
''There was a day when my mom gave Emma too much insulin and she slipped into a coma. My mom said it was an accident and she played the part of a distraught mother so well. Everybody believed her and how could they not? She deserved an Oscar for that performance!''
I throw the ball back at my uncle, but I throw it harder this time. That day still haunts me and it makes my blood boil. My mom acting desperate and helpless, so everyone would feel for her. I knew she loved all the attention and I knew I didn't had any more time.
''The social worker said that your mom renounced her parental rights and that's why she reached out to us.'' says uncle Thomas absently. ''Apparently your mom appointed Laurel and me as Emma's guardians. Although she never told us or let us meet her. She deliberately kept the two of you away from us.''
Uncle Thomas stays quiet for a while and he looks deep in thought.
''I couldn't believe it when Laurel told me, it had to be a mistake. After five years of complete silence, Celeste named us Emma's legal guardians? It didn't made any sense, but that was typical for your mother. Always making crazy decisions and never taking responsibilities for her actions. That's why it never crossed my mind this all happened because of you.''
I stay quiet and I purposely look away.
''I will take that as a yes.''
''That is up to you.'' My tone is cold and I'm trying my best to remain calm. I don't want to lose my temper again, but I'm close.
''I already told you that Emma needed me and that's all I will tell you.''
''That's fine, kiddo.''
I snap and I throw the ball at my uncle, but he dodges it easily. I hear glass breaking, but I don't care.
''Stop it! Stop acting like you give a damn! Stop calling me kiddo, just stop it!
I clutch my fists hard and I close my eyes, while I take a step back.
Take a step back. Take a deep breath and clear your mind. Don't let your emotions control you, Samantha.
''I do give a damn.'' I hear uncle Thomas say. ''I gave a damn since the day you were born and that never stopped! We begged your mom to leave you with us, but she disappeared with you! I had to hire a PI to find you and every time after that!''
I grab another tennis ball out of the bucket and I throw it at my uncle. He looks at me confused and then he shakes his head.
''I was yelling.''
''Yes you were and we can't both lose our temper!''
''I apologise, Samantha.''
''You were in a YCF program yourself. You are a decorated Marine for crying out loud and you volunteer as an instructor to help at risk youth.''
''I was, I am and I do. What is your point?''
I chuckle and raise my hands.
''It's good to know that even someone like you can't control his emotions all the time. It makes me feel a little bit more normal.''
Uncle Thomas throws me the tennis ball, but I don't get the chance to throw it back. Uncle Thomas has me in a bear hug and he ruffles my hair.
''The work never stops, kiddo. There is no finish line that tells you that you're done. Why do you think I keep saying that you can always work harder and do better?''
''Isn't that a Marines thing?''
''Probably, but it's something that my instructor told me and that I never forgot. Routine and structure helps, but it doesn't mean that you are in control of everything. That's a mistake many people make, myself included and I think you are realising the same thing.''
''You hugging me to tight, uncle Thomas!''
Immediately uncle Thomas looses his grip and he ruffles my hair again.
''We both know you can take it, but can you answer my last question, Samantha?''
I sigh and I walk to the corner to get the broom. I quickly sweep the broken glass together, but then I just stare at the broken pieces.
''Not having control is not my problem, having it is. I don't know how to deal with that.''
Uncle Thomas sweeps up the broken glass and he throws it in a empty bucket.
''Can you explain that?''
I lean on the broom and I shrug my shoulders.
''Decisions were always made for me. Nobody asked my opinion of listen to anything I had to say. I never had control about anything, but now I do and it freaks me out.''
''Can I tell you something?'' uncle Thomas asks.
''You struggling with being in control is completely normal. Struggling to keep your emotions under control is completely normal. What happened to you was not! Remember that!''
''How will that help me, I don't even now what normal is!''
''Normal means different things do different people, Samantha. Our normal is building forts with Mia and Emma. Our normal is you and Tyler trying not to kill each other. Our normal is that we make sure that Laurel doesn't burn the house down or for you not to punch me, when I push you to hard. All of those things belong to our normal.''
''That's normal?'' I ask in complete disbelieve.
''Sorry to disappoint you, kiddo!'' uncle Thomas laughs as he starts turning off the lights. ''And brace yourself, because next week we are taking a family vacation. A tradition before I start my next assignment and a surprisingly normal thing to do.''
''Really? It sounds like ambush and a very bad idea to me.''
''We always make it out alive, so cheer up! What could go wrong?''
I look stunned at my uncle, but he just keeps laughing.
''UNCLE THOMAS, HAVE YOU MET ALL OF US?!''