Authors: Colleen Hoover
I feel like I’m living my worst-case scenario. Not only did I not get to meet my daughter today, but the only person who might have been able to lead me to her is now enemy number one.
I hate him. I hate that I let him touch me last night. I hate that in the brief time I spent with him yesterday, I gave him all the ammunition to label me a liar, a whore, an alcoholic. As if
He’s going to go straight to Grace and Patrick and reinforce their hatred for me. He’s going to help them build an even sturdier, taller, thicker wall between me and my daughter.
I have no one on my side. Not a single person.
I pause halfway up the stairwell. There’s a teenage girl sitting at the top of the stairs. She has Down syndrome, and she’s smiling at me adorably, like this isn’t the worst day of my life. She’s wearing the same type of work shirt that Amy had on at the grocery store. She must work there. Amy said they give grocery bagger positions to people with special needs.
I wipe tears from my cheeks and mutter, “Hi,” and then sidestep around her. I would normally make more of an effort to be neighborly,
especially if I’m going to be working with this girl, but I have more tears in my throat than words.
I open my apartment door, and once I’m inside, I slam it shut and fall facedown onto my half-deflated mattress.
I can’t even say I’m back to square one. I feel like I’m at square
My door swings open, and I immediately sit up. The girl from the stairs walks into my apartment uninvited. “Why are you crying?” She closes the door behind her and leans against it, scanning my apartment with curious eyes. “Why don’t you have any stuff?”
Even though she just barged in without permission, I’m too sad to be upset about it. She doesn’t have boundaries. Good to know.
“I just moved in,” I say, explaining my lack of stuff.
The girl walks to my refrigerator and opens it. She sees the half-eaten package of Lunchables I left this morning, and she grabs it. “Can I have this?”
At least she waits for permission before she eats it. “Sure.”
She takes a bite out of a cracker, but then her eyes get wide and she tosses the Lunchables on the counter. “Oh, you have a kitten!” She walks over to the kitten and picks her up. “My mom won’t let me have a kitten—did you get it from Ruth?”
Any other time, I’d welcome her. Really. But I just don’t have the strength to be friendly during one of the worst moments of my life. I need to have a decent breakdown, and I can’t do that with her here. “Can you please go?” I say it as nicely as possible, but asking someone to leave you alone can never not sting.
“One time when I was like five, I’m seventeen now, but when I was five, I had a kitten, but it got worms and died.”
She still hasn’t closed the refrigerator.
“What’s her name?”
“I haven’t named her yet.”
Did she not hear me ask her to leave?
“Why are you so poor?”
“What makes you think I’m poor?”
“You don’t have any food or a bed or stuff.”
“I’ve been in prison.” Maybe that’ll scare her off.
“My dad is in prison. Do you know him?”
“But I haven’t even told you his name.”
“I was in an all-female prison.”
“Able Darby. That’s his name, do you know him?”
“Why are you crying?”
I get off the mattress and walk to the refrigerator and shut it.
“Did someone hurt you? Why are you crying?”
I can’t believe I’m going to answer her. I feel like this makes me even more pathetic, to just vent to a random teenager who walked into my apartment without my permission. But it seems like it would feel good to say it out loud. “I have a daughter, and no one will let me see her.”
“Did she get kidnapped?”
I want to say yes, because sometimes it feels that way. “No. My daughter lived with people while I was in prison, but now that I’m out, they don’t want me to see her.”
“But you want to?”
She kisses the kitten on top of its head. “Maybe you should be glad. I don’t really like little kids. My brother puts peanut butter in my shoes sometimes. What’s your name?”
“I’m Lady Diana.”
“Is that really your name?”
“No, it’s Lucy, but I like Lady Diana better.”
“Do you work at the grocery store?” I ask her, pointing at her shirt.
“I start work there on Monday.”
“I’ve worked there for almost two years. I’m saving to buy a computer, but I haven’t saved anything yet. I’m gonna go eat dinner now.” She hands me the kitten and starts walking toward my door. “I have some sparklers. When it gets dark later, do you want to light them with me?”
I lean against my counter and sigh. I don’t want to say no, but I also have a feeling my breakdown is going to last at least until morning. “Maybe another time.”
Lady Diana leaves my apartment. I lock the door this time, and then I immediately grab my notebook and write a letter to Scotty because it’s the only thing that can prevent me from crumbling.
I wish I could tell you what our daughter looks like, but I still have no idea.
Maybe it’s my fault for not being honest with Ledger about who I was last night. He seemed to take that as some type of betrayal when he realized who I was today. I didn’t even get to see your parents because he was so angry I was there.
I just wanted to see our daughter, Scotty. I just wanted to look at her. I’m not here to take her from them, but I don’t think Ledger or your parents have any idea what it’s like to carry a human inside of you for months, only to have that tiny little human ripped away from you before you even get to meet them.
Did you know that when an incarcerated woman gives birth, if they’re almost finished with their sentence, they sometimes get to keep their babies with them? This mostly happens in jails, where the sentences are shorter. It sometimes happens in prisons, but it’s rare.
In my case, I was just beginning my sentence when I gave birth to Diem, which made it to where she wasn’t allowed to stay with me in the prison. She was a preemie, and as soon as she was born, they noticed her breathing wasn’t where they wanted it to be, so they immediately whisked her away and transferred her to the NICU. They gave me an aspirin, some oversized pads, and eventually took me back to the facility with empty arms and an empty womb.
Depending on the circumstances, some mothers are allowed to pump, and their breastmilk is stored and delivered to their baby. I wasn’t one of the lucky ones. I wasn’t allowed to pump, and I wasn’t allowed anything that would help my milk dry up.
Five days after Diem was born, I was in the prison library, crying in a corner because my milk had come in, my clothes were soaking wet, and I was still emotionally devastated and physically spent.
That’s when I met Ivy.
She had been there for a while, knew all the guards well, all the rules, how far she could bend them and who would let her. She saw me crying while holding a book about postpartum depression. Then she saw my soaking wet shirt, so she took me to a bathroom and helped me clean up. She meticulously folded up paper towels into squares and handed them to me one by one while I layered them inside my bra.
“Boy or girl?” she asked.
“What’d you name her?”
“That’s a good name. A strong name. She healthy?”
“She was a preemie, so they took her as soon as she was born. But a nurse said she was doing well.”
Ivy winced when I said that. “They gonna let you see her?”
“No. I don’t think so.”
Ivy shook her head, and I didn’t know it then, but Ivy had a way of communicating entire conversations through all the different ways she shook her head. I’d slowly learn them over the years, but that day, I didn’t know the way she shook her head translated to, “Those bastards.”
She helped me dry my shirt, and when we got back to the library, she sat me back down and said, “Here’s what you’re gonna do. You’re gonna read every book in this library. Pretty soon you’ll start to live in the lavish worlds inside these books, rather than the bleak world inside this prison.”
I was never a big reader. I didn’t like her plan. I nodded, but she could tell I wasn’t listening to her.
She pulled a book off the shelf and handed it to me. “They took your baby from you. You won’t ever get over that. So, you decide right now, right here. Are you gonna live in your sadness or are you gonna die in it?”
That question punched me in my stomach—the stomach that no longer contained my daughter. Ivy wasn’t giving me a pep-talk. In a lot of ways, it was the opposite. She wasn’t saying I would move past what I was feeling, or that things would get easier. She was telling me this was it—the misery I felt was my new normal. I could either learn to live with it or I could let it consume me.
I swallowed and said, “I’m gonna live in it.”
Ivy smiled and squeezed my arm. “There you go, Momma.”
Ivy didn’t know it, but she saved me that day with her brutal honesty. She was right. My normal would never be the same. It hadn’t been the same since I lost you, and losing our daughter to your parents just pushed me even further from center.
The way I felt when they took her from me back then is the exact same defeated misery I feel right now.
Ledger has no idea how much his actions tonight have broken the last few pieces of me.
Ivy has no idea how much her words from almost five years ago are still somehow saving me.
Maybe that’s what I’ll name the kitten. Ivy.
I’ve received three calls from Patrick on my drive back to the house, but I haven’t answered any of them because I’m too angry at Kenna to have a conversation about her over the phone. I was hoping the Landrys didn’t hear her beating on their door, but it’s obvious they did.
Patrick is waiting in my yard when I pull back into my driveway. He’s talking before I even get out of the truck.
“What does she want?” he asks. “Grace is a mess. Do you think she’s going to try to fight the termination? The lawyer said it would be impossible.” He’s still spitting questions at me as he follows me into the kitchen.
I toss my keys on the table. “I don’t know, Patrick.”
“Should we get a restraining order?”
“I don’t think you have grounds to do that. She hasn’t threatened anyone.”
He paces the kitchen, and I watch as he seems to grow smaller and smaller. I pour him a glass of water and hand it to him. He downs the whole thing and then takes a seat on one of the barstools. He drops his head into his hands. “The last thing Diem needs is for that woman to be in and out of her life. After what she did to Scotty . . . we can’t . . .”
“She won’t show up here again,” I say. “She’s too afraid of having the cops called on her.”
My comment only heightens his worry. “Why? Is she trying to keep her record clean in case she
take us to court?”
“She lives in a shithole. I doubt she has money to hire an attorney.”
He stands up. “She’s
I nod. “Paradise Apartments. I don’t know how long she plans to stay.”
“Shit,” he mutters. “This is going to destroy Grace. I don’t know what to do.”
I don’t have any advice for him. As involved as I am in her life, I’m not Diem’s father. I haven’t been the one raising her since she was born. This isn’t my fight, even though I’ve somehow immersed myself in the middle of it.
I may not have legal say, but I have opinions. Strong ones. As much as the entire situation doesn’t have one single positive outcome for all parties involved, the simple truth is that being a part of Diem’s life is a privilege, and Kenna lost that privilege the night she decided her freedom was worth more than Scotty’s life.
Grace isn’t strong enough to face Kenna. Patrick may not be strong enough, either, but Patrick has always made sure to at least pretend to be as strong as Grace needs him to be.
He’d never act this distraught in front of Grace. He saves this side of himself for the moments Scotty’s death gets to be too much. The moments he needs to escape and cry alone in my backyard.
Sometimes I can see them both start to unravel. It always happens in February, the month of Scotty’s birthday. But then Diem’s birthday comes around in May, and it breathes new life back into them.
That’s what Kenna needs to understand. Grace and Patrick are only alive because of Diem. She’s the thread that keeps them from unraveling.
There’s no room for Kenna in this picture. Some things can be forgiven, but sometimes an action is so painful the memory of it can still crush a person ten years down the road. Patrick and Grace get by because Diem and I help them forget about what happened to Scotty long enough for them to get through each day. But if Kenna is around, his death will slap them in the face over and over and over again.
Patrick’s eyes are closed, and his hands are in a point against his chin. It looks like he’s saying a silent prayer.
I lean forward over the bar and try to keep my voice reassuring. “Diem is safe for now. Kenna is too scared to have the cops called on her and too broke to start a custody battle. You’ve got the advantage. I’m sure after tonight she’ll cut her losses and head back to Denver.”
Patrick stares at the floor for about ten seconds. I can see the weight of everything he’s been through settled squarely on his shoulders.
“I hope so,” he says. He heads for the front door, and once he’s gone, I close my eyes and exhale.
Every reassuring thing I just said to him was a lie. Based on what I know of Kenna now—however little knowledge that may be—I get the feeling this is far from over.
“You seem distracted,” Roman says. He takes a glass from me and starts pouring a beer a customer has had to order from me three times already. “Maybe you should take a break. You’re slowing us down.”
Roman knows I’m not fine. Every time I look at him, he’s watching me. Trying to figure out what’s going on with me.
I try to work for another hour, but it’s Saturday night and it’s loud, and even though we have a third bartender on Saturday nights, Roman is right, I’m slowing us down and making it worse, so I eventually go take the damn break.
I sit on the steps in the alley, and I look up at the sky and wonder what the hell Scotty would do right now. He was always so levelheaded. I don’t think he got that from his parents, though. Maybe he did, I don’t know. Maybe it’s harder for them to think with a level head when they have such broken hearts.
The door opens behind me. I look over my shoulder, and Roman is slipping outside. He sits next to me. He doesn’t say anything. That’s his way of opening the floor for me to speak.
“Kenna is back.”
I rub my eyes with my fingers, relieving some of the pressure from the headache that’s been building all day. “I almost had sex with her last night. In my truck, after the bar closed.”
He has no immediate reaction to that. I glance over at him, and he’s just staring blankly at me. Then he brings a hand to his face and rubs it over his mouth.
?” Roman stands up and walks out into the alley. He’s staring at his feet, processing what I’ve just said. He looks as shocked as I felt when I put two and two together outside my house. “I thought you hated Diem’s mother.”
“I didn’t know she was Diem’s mother last night.”
“How could you not know? She was your best friend’s girlfriend, right?”
“I never met her. I saw a picture of her once. And maybe her mug shot, I think. But she had long blonde hair back then—looked completely different.”
“Wow,” Roman says. “Did she know who
I still don’t know the answer to that, so I just shrug. She didn’t seem surprised to see me outside my house earlier. She just seemed upset.
“She showed up and tried to meet Diem today. And now . . .” I shake my head. “I fucked up, Roman. Patrick and Grace don’t need this.”
“Does she have any rights as a parent?”
“Her rights were terminated because of the length of her prison sentence. We’ve just been hoping she wouldn’t show up and want to be a part of her life. I mean, they feared it. We all did. I guess we just assumed we’d have some kind of warning.”
Roman clears his throat. “I mean, to be fair, the woman gave birth to Diem. I think that was your warning.” Roman likes to play devil’s advocate in everything he does. It doesn’t surprise me he’s doing it now. “What’s the plan? Are they going to let Diem meet her mother now that they know she wants to be involved?”
“It would be too hard on Patrick and Grace if Kenna were in their lives.”
Roman makes a face. “How’s Kenna going to take that?”
“I don’t really care how Kenna feels. No grandparent should be forced to have to set up visitation with their son’s murderer.”
Roman raises a brow. “
That’s a bit dramatic. Her actions led to Scotty’s death, sure. But the girl isn’t some cold-blooded murderer.” He kicks a pebble across the pavement. “I always thought they were a little too harsh on her.”
Roman didn’t know me back when Scotty died. He only knows the story. But if he had been around five years ago to see how it affected everyone, and he still somehow managed to say what he just said, I’d have punched him for it.
But he’s just being Roman. Devil’s advocate. Uninformed.
“What happened when she showed up? What’d they say to her?”
“She didn’t make it that far. I intercepted her in the street and dropped her off at her apartment. Then I told her to go back to Denver.”
Roman shoves his hands in his pockets. I watch his face, looking for the judgment. “How long ago was this?” he asks.
“It’s been a few hours.”
“You aren’t worried about her?”
He shakes his head with a small laugh, like I’m not following. “I’m talking about Kenna. Does she have family here? Friends? Or did you drop her off alone after telling her to fuck off?”
I stand up and brush the back of my jeans. I know what he’s getting at, but it’s not my problem.
At least that’s what I keep telling myself.
“Maybe you should go check on her,” he suggests.
“I’m not going to
Roman looks disappointed. “You’re better than this.”
I can feel my pulse hammering in my throat. I don’t know if I’m more pissed at him or at Kenna right now.
Roman takes a step closer. “She’s responsible for the
death of someone she was in love with. As if that wasn’t hard enough, she went to prison for it and was forced to give up her own child. She finally shows back up hoping to meet her, and you do God knows what with her in your truck, and then you prevent her from meeting her daughter, and
you tell her to fuck off. No wonder you’ve been slamming shit around all night.” He walks back up the steps, but before he goes inside, he turns to me and says, “You’re the reason I’m not dead in a ditch somewhere, Ledger. You gave me a chance when everyone else gave up on me. You have no idea how much I look up to you for that. But it’s really hard to look up to you right now. You’re acting like an asshole.” Roman walks back inside the bar.
I stare at the door after it closes, and then I hit it. “Fuck!”
I start pacing in the alley. The more I pace, the guiltier I feel.
I’ve been unequivocally on Patrick and Grace’s side since the day I found out what happened to Scotty, but the more seconds that pass between Roman’s words and my next decision, the more uneasy I feel about it all.
There are two possibilities running through my head right now. The first is that Kenna is exactly who I’ve always believed her to be, and she showed up here selfishly, only thinking of herself and not at all thinking of what her presence would do to Patrick and Grace, or even Diem.
The second possibility is that Kenna is a devastated, grieving mother who simply aches for a child she desperately wants to do right by. And if that’s the case, I don’t know that I’m okay with how I left things tonight.
What if Roman is right? What if I ripped away every ounce of hope she had left? If so, where does that leave her? Alone in an apartment with no future to look forward to?
Should I be worried?
I check on her?
I pace the alley behind the bar for several more minutes, until I finally ask myself the question that keeps circling back around.
What would Scotty do?
Scotty always saw the best in people, even in those who I failed to find good in at all. If he were here, I can only imagine how he would be rationalizing all of this.
“You were too harsh, Ledger. Everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt, Ledger. You won’t be able to live with yourself if she takes her own life, Ledger.”
“Fuck,” I mutter. “Fuck, fuck,
I don’t know Kenna’s personality at all. The reaction she had earlier could just be dramatics for all I know. But she could also be in a really dark place, and I can’t sleep with that on my conscience.
I feel unsettled and frustrated as I get in my truck and head back to her place.
Maybe I should feel a sense of relief that I now think Roman was wrong, but I just feel pissed.
Kenna isn’t holed up inside her apartment. She’s outside, looking like she doesn’t have a care in this world. She’s playing with fucking
. Sparklers. Her and some girl, twirling around in the grass like she’s a kid and not a grown-ass adult who, just hours earlier, acted like her world was coming to an end.