Hold on Tight Chapter One Six years later . . .
I never expected to step foot in Sea Breeze, Alabama, again. When my parents had packed my bags and shipped me off to live in Fort Worth, Texas, with my mom’s sister, who I hardly knew, I had been told I would return to Sea Breeze after the baby was born. What I hadn’t been told was that they weren’t planning on my baby returning with me.
I glanced back at Micah, asleep in his car seat with his Darth Vader action figure clenched tightly in his hand. Our life hadn’t been easy, but we had each other. I wouldn’t go back and do it any other way. Micah was my life. He had healed me when I was sure nothing ever could.
Keeping Micah meant being disowned by my strict religious parents. My aunt wasn’t the most affectionate person in the world, but she’d disagreed with my parents’ decision. I had been expected to work and pay my own way, but at least she’d given us a roof over our heads.
Giving up on high school and getting my GED was my only option. My aunt Cathy was the principal at the local high school and helped me get a trade school grant, so when Micah was eighteen months old, I enrolled in beauty school. Before his third birthday I had a degree in cosmetology.
I owed my aunt more than I could ever repay her.
Micah and I moved out just last year and finally got an apartment of our own. I didn’t date because I didn’t trust anyone around my son. I also felt guilty paying for a sitter when we needed that money for more important things, like rent, day care, and food. It didn’t keep men from flirting, though, and trying to get me to go out with them. Janell, the owner of the salon where I worked, said that the men all thought I was playing hard to get. It just made them more persistent.
The truth was, I was lonely sometimes, but then Micah would smile and I’d see his father in him and I’d remember that for ten years of my life I’d had someone. A very special someone. And now I had Micah. I didn’t need anything more.
When the call had come two months ago from my mother to tell me about my father’s heart attack, I hadn’t known what to feel. He had never met Micah, and now he never would. My mother had used Dad’s life insurance money to move to a retirement community in central Florida. She’d given her house to Micah and me.
Not one time did she apologize for deserting me when I’d needed her most, or for turning her back on her only grandchild. But the fact that she had given the house to us meant something. I only hoped one day she would realize what she was missing by not knowing him.
Janell had helped me by giving me a glowing reference, and I had managed to get a job in Sea Breeze working at one of the most elite salons in town. I would be making more money, and I wouldn’t be paying rent any longer. Our life would be better in Sea Breeze. Micah would get to grow up in the small coastal town that I loved.
My only fear, and the one reason I almost didn’t come back home, was the idea of the Falcos seeing Micah. Once I’d realized that my parents hadn’t been planning on me keeping my son, I sent a letter to Tabby Falco, Dustin’s mother.
She never replied.
The first year of Micah’s life I wrote them countless letters and included pictures of him. He looked so much like his father. I wanted them to see that Dustin wasn’t completely lost to us. He had left a part of himself behind.
Not once did she respond.
A few times I’d almost worked up the nerve to call them, but if they weren’t replying to my letters, then they didn’t want to talk to me. They didn’t want Micah. It had hurt even worse than my parents not wanting him. I had hated the Falcos for their desertion. But then I’d learned to let go. Move on. Be happy with my life. With my beautiful little boy.
“Momma? Where are we?” a sleepy little voice asked from the backseat of my twelve-year-old Honda Civic.
“We’re home. Our new home,” I replied, pulling into the driveway of the house that had once been my home and would soon be again.
“Our new house?” he asked with excitement in his voice as he wiggled in his seat to see better.
“Yep, baby. Our new house. Ready to go inside and see it?” I asked him, opening my car door and getting out. It was a two-door, so I had to lean my seat forward to reach him in the backseat. He unbuckled himself, then scrambled out of his seat and jumped out of the car.
“Do other people live in there too?” he asked, staring up at the two-bedroom wood-frame house with wide eyes.
“Just us, kiddo. You’ll have your own bedroom here. Mine is right across the hall from yours.”
“Whoa,” he said, his eyes shining with amazement. Even when we had lived with my aunt Cathy, Micah and I had shared a room. Once we’d moved into an apartment, a studio was all I could afford with day care costs. This house was only twelve hundred square feet, but it was the biggest living space he and I had ever had all to ourselves. The studio apartment had been a third of this size.
“Let’s go see your new room. We might need to paint it. Not sure what color the walls are,” I told him. The last time I’d been in my old bedroom, it had been pink. Micah was determined that pink was for girls and wanted nothing to do with it.
From my purse I pulled out the key that my mother had mailed me along with the letter and the deed to the house. I took a deep breath before unlocking the door. Stepping back, I motioned for Micah to go inside. “Check it out.”
His grin spread across his face as he took off running into the house, whooping as he saw the size of the living room. Then he turned and headed down the short hallway. I paused at the door, unable to ignore the house across the street any longer, and turned around to look at it. I didn’t recognize the truck in the driveway, but then again, it had been six years. I was sure the Falcos were still there. Mother hadn’t mentioned that they’d moved.
I wondered if they would speak to Micah when he played in the yard. Or would they ignore him like they had since his birth? I wouldn’t tell him who they were. I hadn’t told him about my parents. He didn’t know this had once been my home. He didn’t know he had grandparents. In preschool he had been asked to tell the class about his grandparents, and when he’d told them about Aunt Cathy, he had called her Aunt Cathy. The kids in his class had teased him, telling him that his aunt wasn’t his grandparent. He’d come home confused and upset that he didn’t know who his grandparents were.
I had just told him he didn’t have any.
When he’d asked about his father, I had explained that God had wanted his father because he was such an awesome man, so he had brought him to heaven to live there with him before Micah was born.
That had been enough for Micah. He hadn’t asked any more questions. He was happy with the knowledge that his mother loved him unconditionally and that we were a family. It had been hard for him when he saw that other kids had large families, but once he’d understood that each family was different, he was okay with that.
“Momma! Momma!” Micah called out in excitement. “There’s a blue room. It’s a really cool blue room too! It’s even got toys in it already!”
Toys? I closed the front door behind me and headed down the hall. Stepping into the bedroom that had once been mine, I stopped and looked around me in awe. It was blue. A bright, happy blue. It had a full-size bed and a matching wooden dresser. There was a blue quilt on the bed with orange basketballs all over it, and in the center sat a basketball-shaped pillow. A toy box under the window was open, with pirate swords, a baseball bat and glove, a large red fire truck, and what looked like a big bag of Legos sticking out of it. An indoor basketball hoop sat in the opposite corner, with a ball lying on the floor beside it.
Above his bed was painted MICAH.
“Do you think the people who used to live here left it for me? Or do we gotta give it back?” he asked, a hopeful expression on his face. “And look, Momma, my name is already on the wall.”
Tears stung my eyes, and I had to swallow hard as I stood there taking in the room. I didn’t know what to think. This was not what I had expected, but then again, I hadn’t expected to be given this house, either. A white envelope caught my attention. It was leaning against the wall on top of the dresser, with my name and Micah’s name written on it.
Walking over to it, I wiped at the tear that had escaped, and I tried to hide my face from my very observant five-year-old. The envelope was sealed, so I slid my finger underneath and opened it up.
This is your home now. It doesn’t make up for the past or for the years I wasn’t there when you needed me. But it is all I have to give you. I don’t expect to buy your forgiveness. This room is as much for me as it is for Micah. I’ve always wanted to buy him things. Christmas presents and birthday presents and gifts just because he is my grandson. I couldn’t do that, though. Not while I lived with your father.
I won’t speak ill of your father—that is not what this is about. I loved him. He was a good man, but he was a proud man and I had to respect that. I believe in my heart that if he had it to do over, he would have done things differently. I hate that he never got to meet our grandson.
Please tell Micah that the room is his with love from someone who hopes she can meet him one day. When you are ready, of course. If you are ever ready. I just ask that you can find it in your heart to forgive me. I want to be a part of your lives.
My address and phone number are listed below. If you want to send me a letter or give me a call, I would love that. Or maybe send me some photos of Micah. I have a photo album full thanks to your aunt Cathy. He’s a beautiful one, but then, so is his mother.
“Momma, why’re you crying?” Micah asked as he tugged on the bottom of my shorts.
I folded the letter and tucked it in my back pocket before bending down and looking at him.
He reached out and wiped my face with his little hands. “It’s okay if we can’t stay here. Just so I’m with you,” he said. The sadness in his eyes hurt my heart.
This house was too good for him to believe. I grabbed his hands and squeezed them tightly. “This is our home. The person who gave it to us did all this just for you. These are happy tears, not sad ones,” I told him. I wasn’t ready to explain about his grandmother. I didn’t know how I felt about introducing him to her. There was too much pain for me to deal with right now. But her words and this room meant a lot. It didn’t make up for her abandonment, but knowing she loved Micah enough to do this did help me consider letting her into our life.
“So I get to keep this? All of it?” he asked, looking around at the room again, his eyes wide with wonder. We had even shared a bed up until now.
“Yes. All of this is yours. Just yours. You have your own space now. Your own bed. Even your own closet.”
Micah walked over to his bed and ran his little hand over the quilt. He knew what a basketball was. I had bought him one with my first paycheck. It was a part of his father I wanted him to have. “Did the person who did this for me know my daddy was the best basketball player in the world?” he asked, glancing back at me.
I nodded, biting back a smile.
“We’re gonna be happy here, Momma,” he said, then turned to go back to his toy box. I watched him for a few minutes I watched him as he dug through the things my mother had left him. Then I slipped out of the room to check out the rest of the house.
In the letter she’d sent with the house key and the deed, she’d told me she was leaving the furniture behind. The place where she was living now was furnished. I wasn’t sure how I felt about sleeping on my parents’ bed, but all I’d had was a mattress, and we’d left that behind in Texas.
Opening the door to the master bedroom, I froze before relief washed over me. It was my old bed, dresser, and vanity. Even my old desk. She had moved it all into here, knowing I wouldn’t want their things. The quilt on the bed was the same one that had been on my bed when I’d left six years ago. It was pale pink with big daisies all over it.
I was home.
Present day . . .
I pulled my truck into my parents’ driveway and parked beside my dad’s truck. Normally, I tried to come over and visit once a week. The past two weeks, however, I just hadn’t been in the mood. Momma had broken down and cried the last time I was here, reminding us all that it was the six-year anniversary of my little brother’s death.
The only way I knew how to deal with that was to get my ass drunk every damn night until I was numb again. Until I was past the pain, and the empty space in my chest didn’t ache so damn bad. After managing to stay sober for the past two nights, I decided I had better get back over here to see my momma before she came looking for me.
That woman had a temper on her, and I didn’t need her coming after me. I wasn’t scared of much, but Tabby Falco was someone I feared. Loved all five feet three inches of her, but I was terrified of her.
Glancing across the street, I noticed a beat-up white Honda Civic. It had seen better days. Nina Roy had moved out about a month ago, just a few weeks after her husband’s death. Momma said she’d gone to Florida. The place had sat empty for the past month. Was someone moving in? If so, that car didn’t make it look like it was the good kind of neighbors. I might have to stop by and make sure my parents were safe.
They didn’t need to be dealing with wild parties or a meth house from some trashy new neighbors. I took a step closer and checked out the license plate. Texas. Now I was as curious as I was concerned. Who the hell did Nina Roy sell her house to? I never even saw a For Sale sign in the yard. If she’d rented it, we might really have a problem. Just last week three rented houses just an hour north of here were busted for meth.
“What you gawking at our new neighbor’s car for? Get in here and see your momma!” I turned to see my dad standing at the door with it wide open, an annoyed look on his face. Once upon a time I wouldn’t have felt the need to protect the man. I wouldn’t have thought anything could touch him. But then he’d had the stroke. Things had changed. I had officially taken over my dad’s construction company, Falco Construction. Dad just couldn’t handle it anymore. He had always seemed larger than life, but nothing had been the same since Dustin’s death.
“You met them?” I asked him, nodding toward the house across the street.
He shook his head. “Car showed up. Haven’t seen who was in it. No moving van or U-Haul. Just the car. Sometime around noon yesterday. Car was gone at two today when I glanced outside, but then it was back when I went to water the flowers at four.”
This was just getting worse. Someone had moved in without stuff. This wasn’t the best subdivision in Sea Breeze, but so far it had been safe from things like meth houses. I wasn’t about to let that shit find its way into my parents’ neighborhood.
“I’ll be right back,” I told him, and started across the street before he could stop me. Not that he could stop me.
“Get back over here, boy,” he called, but I held a hand up.
“Just a sec. I need to check this out,” I replied, and kept my eyes focused on the door and the windows. I didn’t want to spook whoever was inside and end up getting shot if they were in there setting up shop.
Nina Roy should’ve thought about who she was letting move into this place. But then, I wasn’t sure that woman had much of a heart, anyway. Her daughter had been shipped off shortly after my brother’s death, never to return. They’d been best friends for most of their lives, and it had progressed to the relationship stage. Word was, sweet little Sienna had suffered a mental breakdown and they had sent her off to a facility. No one had ever seen her again. It wasn’t easy for me to accept for a long time. Much as I hated to admit it, I’d taken her leaving harder than I should have. Especially knowing what Dustin’s death had done to her. That was one more thing to add to my list of fuckups.
I knocked on the door and waited. I kept my eyes on the doorknob in case it slowly turned. If the fucker had a gun, I was ready to disarm him. Before I could think about just how I would do that, the door swung open and a pair of brown eyes were looking up at me with keen interest.
“Hi,” the little boy said, staring at me as if he wasn’t sure he had done the right thing by opening the door.
This was not what I had been expecting. I hadn’t imagined a family had moved in across the street, not from the looks of that vehicle. It didn’t look like a family car—it wasn’t safe for adults, much less kids.
“Hi, your folks home?” I asked him, and he stared at me a moment longer before frowning.
“I don’t have folks. I have a momma, but she’s in the bathroom. She had to go pee. I probably shouldn’t have answered the door.”
The kid was cute. And he was right. He didn’t need to be opening the door. And giving a complete stranger that kind of information. If he had just a mother, then the car in the driveway concerned me for other reasons. If that was all she had, how the hell had she afforded this house? It wasn’t an expensive house or anything, but I’d think a used rental trailer would have been more in her price range.
“Maybe in the future you should wait for her to open the door. You got lucky this time.” I pointed at my parents’ house. My dad was standing on the front porch watching us. “That’s my parents’ house. I was coming to meet the new neighbors.”
The kid peeked around my legs and looked at the house and my dad, then turned his attention back to me. “You live with your parents? My momma ain’t got no parents.”
Again, more info than he needed to be sharing. Hell, did this woman not teach her kid not to talk to strangers and spill her life story? It wasn’t safe.
“Probably shouldn’t tell strangers that, either, little man,” I told him.
He frowned and held out his hand as if to shake mine. “My name is Micah. What’s yours?”
Although he shouldn’t have been telling me his name, I couldn’t help but grin. The kid was a charmer. I clasped his hand in mine and gave it a shake. “Nice to meet you, Micah. My name’s Dewayne.”
His grin got huge. “Like Dwyane Wade? You know, from the Miami Heat?”
I didn’t keep up with basketball much, but I knew who Dwyane Wade was. I nodded.
“I wish I had a name that cool. But I would want to be named LeBron.”
“I take it you’re a Heat fan,” I said.
He nodded vigorously. “Oh yeah. I’ll be the best one day. My dad was the world’s best basketball player. I will be too.”
I thought he’d said he didn’t have a dad. Just a mom.
“Micah?” a soft, feminine voice called.
The kid’s eyes got big and he spun around. “Yeah, Momma. I’m at the door with our neighbor. He came to visit.”
I lifted my eyes from the kid just in time to see legs. Lots of fucking legs, all smooth and creamy and encased in tiny little cutoff blue jean shorts. Holy hell. My eyes continued their upward track, taking in the tiny waist and generous breasts barely covered up by a tank top before reaching her face.
Mary, Mother of Jesus. No. Fucking. Way.
I knew that face. It was older. She was a woman now, but I knew that face. Those bright blue eyes, all that long, silky red hair, and those pink lips that made men, young and old, fantasize. But this . . . She couldn’t—I stopped and stepped back, and then my eyes went back to the boy in front of me.
“Micah, go to your room,” she said in a calm, even voice. “Now. Go.”
“But he’s nice—” the little boy started, but she cut him off.
I watched the back of his head as he walked away from me. I wanted to see his face again. I wanted to study it. This was not . . . This couldn’t . . . No. He was too young. He wasn’t Dustin’s. There was no way she’d had my brother’s kid and hid him from me . . . from us. But the kid had said his dad was a basketball player. He’d never known Dustin. He obviously knew his dad.
“Hello, Dewayne,” Sienna said, with a tone of warning I didn’t miss. My head was still reeling. How did she have a kid? I thought she’d lost her mind when my brother had died. Not gone off and started a family.
I stared at her. I didn’t understand. I was trying to wrap my brain around it. How old was that kid? Where the hell was his father? Men didn’t let women like this one walk away. Especially with a kid that damn cute.
“Sienna,” I finally said. “It’s been a long time.”