I look down, not sure what to expect, and gasp. I don’t remember the moment. I was too young, but I recognize us instantly. She’s right. The picture outlines the dock and the trees surrounding their property line to perfection. It also highlights the two figures sitting at the very end of the dock. I must have been around six or seven in this picture. It was the year I convinced my mom it would be a brilliant idea to cut my long, thick hair to my chin. Cohen, even at eleven, was so much larger than my tiny frame. We’re sitting close, our heads touching temple to temple, and his scrawny arm is wrapped around my shoulders. I have no idea what we were doing or talking about, but it’s clear in that picture that there was something so loving about the two of us.
“Even at a young age,” she continues, “he was always drawn to you. If you were hurt, he was there. When Nate was being . . . well, Nate, he was always around to make sure whatever upset you was fixed. And the same went for him. Even as a baby, if you knew he was around, your sweet, chubby face would light up. You and Cohen have been a long time coming, and I know that everything that has ever happened in the past was to make sure this moment, every moment since then until now, was going to happen. It’s fate, baby. I used to think it hated me, but I just realized that it works with the bigger picture. I never would have met Greg if it wouldn’t have been for everything I went through, but I also wouldn’t be able to be the mom you need—the one with the experience of what you’re going through—if I hadn’t lived it myself.”
“Oh, Mom,” I gasp and choke back the sob that so desperately wants to escape.
“I guess my point is, you might not feel whole right now, and, sweetheart, I understand why, but you will soon. Fate won’t keep you two apart when it’s been so clear that together is where you’re meant to be. Hold strong and don’t let this pain of missing him make you push everyone else who loves you away.”
Clutching that picture to my chest, I let her words sink in and vow to do better at this whole “missing someone” business.
AFTER ALL OF THE EMOTIONAL heaviness at lunch, we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon shopping. Even though it’s a pastime I know my mother loathes to an extreme, she knows that it’s something I love. I didn’t realize how much I needed some mother/daughter time, and now that she’s opened up my eyes to how well she knows what I’m going through, it’s easier knowing that I have her to talk to about everything I’m feeling with Cohen being gone.
The sun is starting to fall behind the trees by the time we make it back to the complex where Sway’s is located. Even with the late hour, the parking lot is far from empty.
Mom pulls her car next to mine and gives me a big hug. “I want you to come to me if you start feeling down again, Dani. Don’t let it fester until you’re being dragged down with exhaustion. Miss your man, but don’t mourn someone who’s coming back to you.”
“Promise. I love you,” I respond, feeling lighter for the first time in weeks.
I don’t think I realized how much I needed this. I just don’t feel like I can talk to the girls about this knowing that they’re missing their brother just as much as I am. Lee doesn’t understand even though I know he would try. And Chance is just . . . Chance.
“I’m going to go and see your father before I head home. Do you want to come with me? I know he would love to see you.”
“I’ll be over in a little while. Let me drop all of these bags in my trunk and head in to tell Sway I’m going to take tomorrow off. I think I just need a mental day. One that’s away from those damn cameras.”
“All right, baby.”
She walks away, waving at Sway through the floor-to-ceiling windows on the salon and heading through the door to Corps Security, my dad’s company he co-owns with the rest of his buddies. It’s not lost on me that he probably loved it when I started working right next door so that he could keep his eyes on me.
Absentmindedly, I walk behind my car and toss in the bags that hold the clothes I did not need to buy. My mind is still on the afternoon and everything my mom and I talked about. It isn’t until I step between the cars that I notice the piece of paper sticking out from the driver’s side door, flapping against the window with the light breeze.
Reaching out, I snag the slim paper and look around. Shrugging off the feeling of being watched that crawls up my spine, I unfold the paper and almost lose my lunch.
I must be screaming. That’s the only thing that makes sense, because not even seconds after my shocked and terrified hands dropped the note, I see my daddy, who is followed by Greg and Maddox, barreling through the door of his office and charging across the parking lot. Right as my head slams against the ground, I feel my body being lifted and cradled in his strong arms as he rushes away from that piece of paper, which is now being clutched between Greg’s fist as he and Maddox look between each other with trepidation written all over their faces.