As Gina Maisie watched Zach Rivers leave her office, she deliberately pushed away any regret for making the decisions she had made that senior year of high school.
The past was done. It couldn’t be changed. And the future was open to all possibilities.
“Mom, can we go home now?” her patient son asked. Jack already had his backpack on, so he anticipated her answer was yes.
She did not disappoint.
“I’ll bet Grandma’s got cookies waiting for you, right?”
“Snickerdoodles. At least, I think that’s what she baked. Her text said Snack or Dude LOL.”
Autocorrect sometimes got the best of everybody, but it got her mom each and every time. Remembering some of the messages Gina had decoded in the past made her giggle now.
The reflexive smile on her face still astonished her at times. She had been worried that she’d lost it forever.
Sooner or later, Gina would have to have a discussion about nutrition with her mom or maybe it would work itself out. But for now, Mom was as thrilled to have her grandson home to spoil him as Jack was delighted to be spoiled.
Mom’s senior cat, Prissy, wasn’t so thrilled about sharing attention, although the calico was finally starting to warm up to Gina a bit. It didn’t hurt that Gina snuck the cat treats and gave her paper balls to bat around.
If only she could have come home sooner. If only it hadn’t taken such a violent reason to allow her to escape.
Again, Gina pushed away any what ifs or should haves. Right now, she had a home filled with the scent of fresh-baked cookies awaiting her. A home where no one raised their voice at the slightest of imagined provocation. A home where she and her son could be safe, in mind, body and spirit.
Her neck and throat relaxed as she thought about her welcome home. Prodigal daughter greeted with welcome arms. She’d been back less than two weeks and already she, her mom and Jack made the perfect multigenerational family.
“That kid, Cade, the one that was in trouble, he’s my age, right?”
“He’s a lot bigger than me.”
“Yes, he is.” Gina knew where this was going.
“How big do you think I’ll be when I finally get my growth spurt?”
Jack had been waiting for a growth spurt ever since he could say the word. Once again, Gina gave him the lecture. “People come in all different sizes. It’s mostly due to genetics. We don’t judge people by things they have no control over.”
“But Dad said—“
She used to try to walk that tightrope over not disparaging dad and telling the truth. But it was time to cut that rope.
“Dad is not always right. In fact, Dad is often wrong.”
From the corner of her eye, she could see Jack sitting up taller and squaring his shoulders. Gina realized she was watching the last vestiges of his childhood drop away as he lifted his chin.
“Dad is often wrong,” he repeated. “I know that in my head, but I forget sometimes.”
“Me, too.” Gina had been gaslighted for so many years, told she was forgetful, told she was imagining things, made to doubt herself that remembering, seeing, and understanding the truth was going to take some practice. Thankfully, therapy was covered with her insurance.
And therapy was teaching her that she had to accept the past as past and move on, even when it came to things she sincerely regretted. She had thought she had shielded her son from the toxicity of her marriage. Only after she left and got some physical as well as emotional distance had she understood how she had failed there.
She took a deep breath and said out loud what she had been practicing, “Moving on.”
“Moving on,” Jack echoed, then reached out his hand for a fist bump which she returned. “We got this, Mom.”
Her son reassuring her was still another sign that he was becoming a young man. In the past year since the divorce, he had grown in so many ways. They both had. Now that they were in Sagebrush, Gina accepted that there would be even more changes.
This change was a good thing, even when it was challenging. Even when seeing her childhood sweetheart made her question every decision she’d made since high school graduation day.
They drove in silence for a few more moments before Jack said, “Mom? Cade invited me over to ride his horse. I helped him with a math problem and he said I had a real knack for explaining things. He said he could trade out horse riding lessons for math tutoring.”
Inside, Gina cheered while outside she said, “Sure, son. I think that’s a great idea.”
A friend! Jack had made a friend! One of Gina’s biggest worries about moving back was knowing that small towns had cliques that were hard to break into. Since Cade Rivers was of founding father stock, being accepted by him would mean that making friends just became easier for Jack.
Would renewing her friendship with Cade’s uncle make things easier for Gina?
No, she didn’t think so.
The layers of complexity boggled her mind.
Why would she even think that Zach would be interested in mending what she had broken? Jack and Cade could be friends without she and Zach having to build any kind of relationship beyond casual acquaintance. And that was all okay. She was building a better life for herself and her son.
And somehow, she would make her head convince her heart that the zing she got when she saw Zach was just an old response and not her current state of mind.
Emotionally driven memories imprinted on the body and created all kinds of physiological effects. But memories were then and reality was now. So, time to move on.
She stopped at the town’s only red light and watched a couple of kids bike across the intersection. Jack could do that here. He would have never been safe doing that in San Francisco. He’d made a friend today and snickerdoodles awaited him. Today was turning out to be a pretty good day.
Until she pulled into her mother’s driveway and saw a rental car sitting in her parking spot.