By: Heather West

Chapter One

My luggage lay at my feet, nothing more than a duffle bag sporting the words New York City across the black canvas in bold white print. I’d splurged on it a while back when I first moved out there, a little drunk on the fact that I’d actually made it that far. Of course, it was only step one in a long succession of steps, most of which seemed to consist of going backward.

Maybe it was fitting then that I was standing at the airport back home waiting for my dad to pick me up.

He was late; not unusual, especially given the circumstances. Reaching up, I yanked out my ponytail holder, letting my mass of honey blonde hair fall about my shoulders. I shook it out, massaging my fingers along my scalp, before wrapping it back up again in a messy bun. It wasn’t glamorous, but I was tired as was evidenced by my bleary, red-rimmed eyes, and I wasn’t all that concerned with appearances right now.

I finally spotted my dad pulling up in the loading and unloading area. Relief filled me; I hated waiting at airports—or any transport terminals, really. It was a New York thing.

He pulled up in the sporty little car he and Selene had bought after all the kids had left the nest. Parking it along the sidewalk amidst the slew of other cars, he left it running and popped open the door to get out. He seemed older than I remembered, though that was stupid; it hadn’t been that long since I’d last visited.

Quickly, Dad came around the car and I scooped my bag up, throwing it over my shoulder, and heading over to him. Smiling, I embraced him as we stood on the asphalt amidst all the cars and coming and going passengers. As soon as we hugged, grief tugged at my heart. The reason why I was here flooded back over me once again and it was all I could do to not collapse in my father’s arms right then and there.

I couldn’t stop from crying, however, and had to blink back hot tears. Sniffling a little, I pulled back to see that he was teary-eyed, too. Of course, he was. If I was heartbroken, he had to be devastated.

“How are you doing, dad?” I asked in a quiet voice, trying to put as much love and sympathy into my tone as possible. I wanted him to know I was here for him.

He took a deep, steadying breath, before managing a shaky smile. “Not too good, kiddo,” he admitted honestly. It was a testament to how much things had changed between us, because when my mother had died all those years ago, he never would have admitted that anything was wrong. He would have been too busy being strong for me. But the fact that he was being honest now told me that he really thought I was an adult now. And it told me how much he had loved Selene.

“Here, lemme grab your bags.”

I let him take my duffle bag but held on to my backpack. When he searched around for the rest of my luggage, I offered him a wry smile. “Sorry pops. That’s it. I packed pretty light this time.”

He shook his head. “I remember when you were little, you used to pack three suitcases and a backpack just to go three houses down for a sleep over.” He smiled at me. “Half the time you didn’t even stay the whole night.”

I rolled my eyes at him though I was smiling. “I’m not ten anymore dad.”

“I know, I know,” he told me as we began to walk towards the car. “I just can’t help remembering what a sweet little girl you were.”

Dad threw my duffle bag into the trunk of the little car—far more spacious than I would have expected—and I kept my little backpack up front with me. We buckled in and began the trip home. Unable to sit in silence, I told dad, “I can’t believe she’s gone.”

He nodded his head, his lips pulling down in a deep frown as his face scrunched up momentarily in anguished grief. “It all happened so fast. A doctor’s diagnosis and then suddenly, we didn’t have any time left.”

“I’m so sorry I wasn’t here,” I told him meaning every word of it. “I should have been.”

“No, no,” he said immediately. “Don’t be ridiculous, honey. You were so busy and we all thought we had more time. Selene said herself that she felt fine, that the doctor was just being pessimistic.”

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