And being disappointed.
The air rushes from my lungs at the empty doorstep. Beside the door, a bouquet of helium balloons bob on the string tied to a weight wrapped in metallic purple paper. Next to the weight sits a rectangle box wrapped to match—a gift. On top lays a card.
I check behind me to make sure the girls haven’t followed me to the door before I bend down to retrieve the card. Unaddressed and unsealed. I scan the street before me, but there’s nobody there. No one strolls down the sidewalk, no unknown cars park along the side of the road.
The hairs stand up on my neck. Only one person could be responsible for this, and that raises the question of how did he know where I lived?
This is becoming too much.
What am I supposed to do here? The curious part of me wants to rip it all open and find out what’s inside. But the cautious mother in me thinks no way in hell a stranger will give my daughter a birthday gift without me knowing what it is first. Because let’s be honest; Law is a stranger. I might have known him all those years ago, but he’s not the same person he used to be.
Yet another part of me screams louder than the rest, “This is Law!”
Law. The boy who held my hand at my dad’s funeral and then begged his parents to let me sleep over so I didn’t have to feel alone.
The boy who’s shoulder I cried on when I got sad, and who didn’t tease me for being a baby, even if I was being one.
The boy who stole my first kiss without my permission, because he knew, even if I was stubborn and wouldn’t admit it, that I wanted him to.
The boy who proudly made me a necklace for my fifteenth birthday, because he knew I’d appreciate something he made much more than something he’d bought with his parent’s money.
The boy who’d taken on driving my brother to chemo as soon as he’d got his license, because I had to work after school to make money for my family.
And the boy who’d looked for me after I’d disappeared. Who, to this day, couldn’t hide the pain and rage of having to do so and coming up empty-handed. Who, I was fairly certain, hated every ounce of me and yet, still dropped a gift for my baby on my doorstep.
Lawrence Briggs is a lot of things, most of them I don’t even know anymore. Too much time has passed. But he’s not cruel or malicious. He’d never leave something at my house that would endanger my daughter. To the bottom of my soul, I believe that.
With that thought, I scan the inside of the card, confirming my suspicions when I note his signature. I ignore the way my heart picks up at his familiar handwriting and gather the rest of the items from the porch. The door shuts behind me with a soft thud. Two sets of curious, yet guilty, eyes follow me from the foyer down the hall to the living room while helium balloons bounce off my head.
“Hey, snoops.” I level them both with a glare of motherly disapproval. “You’ve got another gift, Ev.”
“Who’s it from?” Suspicion laces her tone, but a gleam of excitement lights her eyes.
I both hate and love Law for putting it there.
No, not love. That word is too heavy for anything I could allow myself to feel for that man. Appreciate describes my feelings more accurately.
I let a smile stretch my lips, even though they burn to frown instead. “An old friend.” Kiersten’s glare sears into the back of my head.
Evelyn cocks her head and reaches out her hands. “I thought you didn’t have any friends.”
I hand her the gift box and card and deposit the balloons beside the couch. “I have your Aunt Kiersten. She’s my friend.”
“I meant other friends.”
She isn’t wrong, and I want to curse Law for putting me in that position.
“I have Nathan.”
“He’s your work partner.”
I cross my arms over my chest in affront. “He’s also my friend.”
Her gaze fills to the brim with opposition, but she holds a retort.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this friend. He came through town, and we ran into each other.”
“So why would he get me a gift?” She reads the card, so I use her distraction to think of a response that makes sense. I fall unfortunately empty, and I hate lying to my girl.