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AUTHOR’S NOTE: I’m so, so sorry for the long delay!! Especially after how the last chapter ended. Hopefully, that won’t happen again! I got very busy with classes and distracted with reading. Here’s the next chapter though, I hope it was worth the wait!

xoxo

The clock read 6:13 AM.

Emma sat at the kitchen table, already dressed for the day. She wore denim shorts, a loose, pale pink tank top, and a grey cardigan. She had her elbows propped up on the table, her fingers knotted in her messy hair. Her phone laid next to her cup of Earl Grey, the screen black and looming.

She held a bunched-up tissue in one hand, slightly damp with her tears. Emma had stopped crying a while ago, but she felt like she could start again at any given moment. The tears were more out of frustration and panic than anything else.

Her mom was coming home. And that meant she expected Emma to go home.

Emma thought about their old apartment, about the dreary gloom that hung over it like a fog. That apartment wasn’t her home anymore.

Emma didn’t want to leave.

She’d been up for hours, and her body felt weak and weary. Her mind was muddied, and her thoughts moved at a crawling pace.

Emma didn’t know what to do. How was she supposed to tell her mom that she didn’t want to live with her anymore? How was she going to convince her that she wanted, more than anything, to stay with Daddy?

“Here,” he said quietly, setting down a bowl of fruits and berries in front of her. “You should eat something.” He offered her a fork, stabbing it into a strawberry when she didn’t make a move to take it. Emma had tried not to wake him. She’d crept downstairs and cried without making much noise at all. Of course, when she hadn’t returned to bed, he’d ventured out to find her.

He’d been more than a little surprised at how much her mother’s words had upset her. He’d seen her crying and gasping for breath, doing her best to muffle the noise, and had immediately assumed it had something to do with Jeremy.

He didn’t quite understand her level of panic, or the heaviness of the dread that had fallen around her.

“You knew she was going to come back, eventually,” he’d said.

“But it’s so soon,” was the only answer she’d had.

Emma wasn’t ready. She didn’t want Mom to come back and pull them apart. The thought of living with her again was depressing, to say the least. Emma liked living with someone who genuinely cared about her; she liked it a lot. It made her realize how much she’d been missing before. She’d been forced to acknowledge the neglect her mother had dealt her, as well as the general lack of affection. Emma had never fully realized just how much it affected her.

Daddy pulled out a chair, sitting to her left. He, too, had gotten dressed. He wore basic blue jeans and a white cotton T-shirt. His dark hair was ruffled in an endearing sort of way. His shirt was wrinkled and even had some old paint splattered on the shoulder and on the side. It was a stark contrast to his usual suit-and-tie.

Under different circumstances, Emma would have found it utterly adorable and charming. She still did, but it was as if she was seeing it from a distance.

“Can’t you get custody?” she asked, gnawing at her lower lip.

“You want to take this to court?” he half-smiled. “Have you talked to your mom about this?”

Emma leaned back in her chair, pulling her feet up and wrapping her arms around her legs. “I barely talk to her. It’s not like she cares. Maybe she’d even be relieved if I moved out…”

“I’m sure that’s not true.”

Emma glanced at him, frowning. “Do you know her well? I mean, um, how long were you, uh, together?” Her cheeks heated at the question, at the memories it must have brought up. Emma didn’t want to think about her mom and Daddy together, ever. In fact, she did her best not to. Because the thought of them together… it made her want to scream. Or vomit. Or both.

Daddy winced at the question. He opened his mouth, then closed it. “Oh hell, Emma,” he muttered, running his hand down his face. He leaned forward, digging his elbows into his knees and clasping his hands. “I… I guess I should have told you. I thought she would have… Emma, darling, your mother and I…” He rubbed at his neck, looking at the ground. “We weren’t together. Ever.”

Emma’s feet hit the floor. She straightened in her seat, staring at him intently. “What,” she said flatly, little to no emotion in the word.

He met her gaze, smiling apologetically. “We didn’t date. I knew her in high school, but we were never really friends. There was only one night. It never happened again.”

They’d never dated? Emma blinked. In her mind, she’d imagined them as high school sweethearts. The thought had disgusted her, for purely biased and selfish reasons. She’d imagined they’d dated for years, that they were madly in love but the pregnancy – Emma – ruined it all. She’d imagined her mom finding out she was with child, and breaking Daddy’s heart because of it.

“I canlı bahis don’t… I…” She was born out of a one-night stand? A hook-up? Was that what he was saying? She’d always known she’d been an accident, but to hear it said out loud, so plainly… It was a blow that struck harder than it should have. “She left with me with someone she didn’t even know…” she whispered, her gaze dropping to her knees.

Pain twisted in her chest. Fresh tears stung in her eyes, but they didn’t fall.

Her mother had left her with a stranger. A man she’d slept with once. A man who she hardly knew. Her mom had left her to go off on a trip with her boyfriend.

Did Emma mean that little to her?

He took her hand in both of his, cradling it as if it were the most fragile thing in the world. “I’m sorry,” he said, so sincere that it coaxed her tears to slip free.

Emma took a breath. She closed her eyes. She breathed deeply and slowly until she felt a heavy sense of calm. Emma looked at him, swallowing. “I’m not leaving,” she said firmly. Then, softer, “Daddy, I’m going to stay with you.”

He smiled, and there was a touch of sadness to it. “I’d like that. I want you to stay with me, always.”

Emma climbed onto his lap, resting her head on the space between his neck and shoulder. His arms came comfortingly around her. He sighed, grabbing the bowl of fruit and putting it in her lap. He speared a blueberry and held it to her lips. He let out a low, breathy laugh at her reluctance. His smile lightened her sadness as she, eventually, permitted him to feed her.

They didn’t talk much. He held her. He fed her, even. When the bowl was empty, they simply rested. He let her think and spoke quietly only when she needed an answer.

Daddy would’ve stayed home with her if she hadn’t been so insistent on him going to work. He hadn’t wanted to, but Emma didn’t want to do any damage to his career. He’d laughed at that, saying she was being ridiculous. But Emma wouldn’t have it. So, he’d gone off to work. She’d kissed him goodbye, watching him walk to the car.

He made it a few steps before she grabbed him and pulled him back inside.

Emma had pressed into him, kissing him until she was dizzy. He’d wrapped his arms around her and lifted her into the air. She’d laughed as he’d spun her, and he’d laughed too. Daddy had told her he loved her. He smiled as she kissed him, one last time.

She’d watched him drive off, and, selfishly, wished he’d stayed.

It was almost 10 AM.

Emma sat on the bus, fidgeting anxiously. Her bag slouched on the floor next to her feet. She was immensely relieved that she wasn’t headed to the apartment. Mom wanted to meet at an old gelato place downtown. Emma hadn’t been there in years.

It took two buses to get there. It felt like she was sitting on the cracked, peeling seats for hours. The heat of the crowded bus was stifling. The smell was worse.

She folded her cardigan on her lap, putting it back on only a while after she exited the bus.

Emma walked inside the small restaurant. It was more of a café, really. There were a couple families inside, both with young kids, and a handful of teenagers in the corner. Emma looked around but didn’t see her mom.

She checked her phone; there were no new messages.

Emma was too nervous to eat. She sat and waited, glancing around every so often. The lady behind the counter gave her a look but didn’t say anything.

A thin woman with huge sunglasses and bleached, damaged hair walked into the store. She was wearing rolled-up jeans and a sweater two sizes too big for her. Emma stared at her, amazed at her clothes considering the weather. The woman must have been boiling!

Emma straightened as the woman walked right up to her and sat down at her table.

“Um, excuse me?” she said awkwardly.

“What?” The woman had a dry, croaky voice. She seemed horribly exhausted, but jittery at the same time. Emma couldn’t quite explain it. “Emma, it’s me. Your mother? Or did you forget about me already?”

“O-oh! I… Um, I didn’t recognize you.” Emma’s hands pressed into her thighs, her fingers curling into fists. Her mom looked so different. Her hair, once dark and wavy like hers, hung in defeated looking strands that were bleached a pale blonde inching close to white. She looked so thin, too. Like all the fat and muscles and been sucked back until her skin was wrapped around bone.

It was shocking at best, frightening at worst.

“What happened to you?” she asked uncertainly.

Her mom scoffed, shaking her head. “Really? I haven’t seen you in over a month, and that’s what I get? Very nice, Emma.” She looked away, her cracked lips twisted into a scowl.

Emma couldn’t stop staring. Her mom had transformed, physically, into an entirely different person. What had happened to the woman in the picture? There was no way her body could’ve changed this dramatically in so little time. Unless the photo was a lot older than Mom had let on… But why would she lie? bahis siteleri

“I… I’m sorry.”

“Sure.”

Whatever words she’d had prepared dried up at the sight of her. Emma wished she’d ordered something, if only so she’d have something to do with her hands. Some distraction – any distraction – would be a blessing.

Emma shifted in her seat. Part of her felt like she was with a total stranger. “So, Mom, um, why did you ‘need’ to see me? What’s going on? Did something happen?”

“Does a mother need a reason to see her daughter?” Mom crooned, a wad of loving affection suddenly heaped on her otherwise cold tone.

Emma stared at her.

Mom scoffed again and looked away. Gone was the loving mother who’d missed her daughter. Emma tried to hide how much that stung. Did she intend to be cruel, or was it just a not-so-happy coincidence?

Emma looked at Mom’s yellowed, jagged nails as they drummed impatiently against the table. “I’m home. I’m home, okay? I’m back. Isn’t that enough? Why do you always have to hound me with questions? I asked you to meet me because I didn’t want to go to that house.” Mom sneered at the last word, at the man who lived there.

Emma straightened. Her nails dug into her palms. She gritted her teeth.

Mom looked at her, waving her hand in her direction. “Where’s your stuff? I told you to pack. Did you already bring it home? That was fast.”

“I’m not…” Emma exhaled sharply. She shook her head, glaring at the table. “I didn’t pack, Mom.”

“What? Why not?”

“Because… Mom, I didn’t pack because I don’t want to leave. I’m happy where I am.”

The silence between them was taut, like a breath held in too long. Sunglasses or not, Emma could feel the simmering heat of her mother’s gaze. The innocent laughter of the kids and the chatter of the teenagers was out of place. The sounds jarred her.

Meeting here had been a mistake.

Emma wished she’d stayed home.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Mom whispered finally, her voice hoarse and angry. Emma, despite herself, flinched at the bitterness. “You want to stay with him? With him?” She emphasized ‘him’ too much for Emma’s liking. “You greedy, selfish-” She cut herself off, remembering where they were.

“You don’t want to go back home, huh? Yeah, I bet our apartment looks like a piece of shit now, doesn’t it? What, you got used to living in a big, fancy house? Now you don’t want to leave. I can’t believe this. I should’ve known. You like the money, don’t you? Did he buy you a car, huh? Is that it?”

Emma sat back, stunned. “I – No! He did not buy me a car! Mom, that’s not-“

“Well I’m sorry I can’t shower you with money!” Mom yelled suddenly, standing so quickly her chair toppled over and crashed to the ground. The café went dead silent. “I’m so sorry I’m such a horrible fucking parent, Emma! I’m sorry our home isn’t good enough for you anymore!” She slammed her hands down on the table, lowering her voice to a hiss, “You stupid, selfish little brat.”

“Mom-“

“You want to stay with him? You want to live with him?” Mom laughed coldly. “Fine,” she snarled. “Go ahead. See if I care.”

Emma didn’t move, didn’t breathe, as her mom stormed out of the café and slammed the door shut. Everyone was staring at her. No one said a word.

A few minutes passed. The silence faded away, though the laughter didn’t pick up again. Emma stood, mumbling her apologies as she walked out the door.

She walked right past him. She didn’t even notice he was there until he grabbed her arm.

“Emma.”

She whirled around, eyes going wide. Her heart staggered, her stomach churning. “J-Jeremy?”

Seeing him was the last thing she needed. What was he doing here? He’d been waiting right outside the café. Waiting for her.

He swore as she clawed at his hand, letting her go at her obvious panic to get away from him. “Don’t run, okay! Shit, stop looking at me like that. Jesus! Emma, stop it! Hey, hey don’t – don’t run! You’re looking at me like I’ve got a knife or some shit. Would you knock it off?” He held up his hands as if showing he was unarmed.

Emma stared at him, hating his hesitant, stupid smile.

“What – What are you doing here?” she demanded shakily. “Are you st-stalking me?”

He scowled. “Fuck, no! God, you really think that? No, your mom texted me.”

“What? My mom… What? Why would she-“

“Hell if I know. I want to talk, okay? Can we talk? Please?”

Emma shook her head, backing away. The more space between them, the better. She didn’t understand what was happening. It was like she’d been dumped into some strange, vivid nightmare. She wanted to rip off the blankets and splash cold water on her face. She felt like she was trapped. Everywhere she turned, something bad waited around the corner.

“Last time we talked,” she began weakly, “you chased me through my house.” Jeremy threw up his hands in exasperation. Like he couldn’t believe she was still hung up on that. Like she was exaggerating. bahis şirketleri Bastard. Was he really so oblivious to his actions? Emma inhaled deeply. She swallowed. She stood a little straighter, squaring her shoulders.

“I don’t want to talk,” she said, firmly but quietly. “I don’t want to talk to you, Jeremy. You hurt me. You scared the hell out of me. And you’re an asshole. Are you starting to see why I don’t want to talk to you?” He glared at her, but she cut him off before he could start defending himself. “Jeremy, I don’t want to talk to you. Ever. In fact, I don’t even want to see you. I don’t owe you anything but believe me when I tell you I never cheated on you. I wasn’t happy, but I didn’t cheat on you. I wouldn’t do that.”

He reached for her as she backed away. Emma held up a hand, ready to swat his away. “Don’t touch me,” she snapped, hoping he didn’t catch the panic in her words. “Just… just leave me alone.”

“Emma-“

“No,” she said sharply. “I’m done, Jeremy. Leave me the fuck alone, okay? Just leave me alone.”

He didn’t try to stop her as she turned and walked away. Emma was glad for it, but it did little to lighten her mood.

“How did it go?”

“She didn’t take it well. She thinks I just want to stay with you for your money… I don’t know, she got pretty upset.”

“Are you okay?”

“I… Yeah, yeah I guess. I’m fine. I didn’t think she’d get that mad.”

“Maybe there’s something else going on.”

“Maybe.”

“Do you want me to come home?”

“No, no I’ll be fine. I’ll see you later, okay? I love you.”

“I love you too.”

Emma walked around downtown, not going into any stores or stopping to buy anything. She just wanted to walk. Her mom’s words rang in her ears. Why had she gotten so mad? Emma didn’t understand. She hadn’t expected her to smile and be happy for her, but she’d never thought her mom would explode like that.

There were so many things Emma wanted to ask her.

Why did she leave her with him?

Was Dave so much more important than her?

Why did she choose now, after so many years, to introduce Emma to her daddy? Was it merely because it was convenient? Was it just so Emma wouldn’t hold her back, so she could run off with her boyfriend?

Emma had wanted to ask her all of this, but she hadn’t been given the chance. Everything had gone wrong so quickly. Her mother’s accusations stung more than Emma wanted to admit. She wasn’t with Daddy for his money! She loved him! And she didn’t care about the house. It was a very nice house, of course, but she wanted to be with Daddy. She didn’t give a damn where they lived, as long as they were together.

And Jeremy. Why had Jeremy been there? Why would she invite him? Emma ran her hand through her hair, wincing at the ache pulsing against her skull. Seeing him, right after the disaster with her mom, was the last thing she’d needed.

He’d left her alone, though. That was one thing. But what if he tried to see her again? Emma didn’t know what she’d do then. She just wanted him out of her life, for good.

Part of her wanted to cry, or scream. The other part wanted to track down her mother, shake her by the shoulders, and demand answers.

Or, if not answers, an apology.

Emma didn’t know which sounded more far-fetched.

If she still had her fake ID, she might have gone to a bar or a club. She longed to drink away her sorrows.

Sorrows. Emma scoffed. It sounded so dramatic. But, Emma supposed, her life had taken the turn for the dramatic. Maybe she should write it all down, turn it into a soap opera or something. What a scandalous show it would be.

Emma kept walking, her fingers fidgeting against one another. She watched the toes of her boots as she took step after step after step. Emma had never imagined her life turning out like this. First off, she’d never really thought she’d meet her father. She’d daydreamed about it when she was a little kid, but that dream had been one of the first to go.

She’d never thought her mother would abandon her, either. Certainly not on some vacation with some guy, without even saying when she’d come back. Or if she’d come back at all.

And never, ever, had Emma ever thought that she’d wind up sleeping with her own father. Much less falling in love with him.

No, she’d never thought she’d end up where she was. What path had taken her here? Were there certain choices that she’d made? What would have happened to her if she’d never met Daddy, if she’d never let herself take that step and be with him?

Emma wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer, but she couldn’t help but wonder.

Emma stepped onto the bus, plugging in her earbuds and doing her best to zone out to the music. She was so tangled up in her own thoughts that she nearly missed her stop. She got on the next bus, and watched the streets pass through the murky window.

Emma shoved her hands in the pockets of her shorts as she walked the rest of the way. She licked her lips, swallowing. Next time she went out, she’d be sure to bring a water bottle. Maybe she’d take a cold shower when she got home. She folded her cardigan over her arm. Her tank top stuck to her back.

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