“No. Jesus. Shut up and let me talk.”
Kiersten holds up her hands. “Sorry. Okay, I’m done.” She silences herself by stealing a drink from the bottle. When she lowers it from her lips, I snatch it back and take my tug.
“I’m cutting to the chase, since I’m predicting you can’t handle sitting here for the long haul.” Her look says get on with it.
“I haven’t seen that man in nearly a decade and a half. Prior to that, he was the love of my life. But when it came down to choosing between the life I was living and my unborn baby, I chose Evelyn.”
“Why did you have to leave? Teens get pregnant all the time. That doesn’t mean they have to leave town.”
“I couldn’t have stayed with her. My dad died a few years prior, and my mother was barely alive, choosing to straddle the line between life and death. She lost her legs in the accident that took my father, but it was losing him that took her will to live. Ritchie was losing his battle with Leukemia. I was working full-time after school and on weekends, which I had to do once I left anyway, but once mom died, the disability payments would end. Our house was in poor shape. I wouldn’t have been able to fix it, let alone sell it for much, and then where would I have gone? If I had wanted to stay in Logansville, I would have had to terminate the pregnancy.”
“If all that were true, how did you afford to move and make it on your own as an underage, single mother-to-be? I’m not following.”
Ice floods my veins. I secure my hands beneath my arms for warmth and draw my legs up beneath me. Staring out the window, I grab onto an ounce of heat before it all flees. “In exchange for my silence, he offered me the money to raise Evelyn if I left town.”
Kiersten gasps. “The father blackmailed you?”
I shake my head. “It doesn’t matter. Blackmail or a new beginning? I couldn’t turn it down in my predicament, and it ended up being the best thing that could have happened to me.”
She steals my hand from where I tucked it and holds it between both of hers. Her face fills with concern. “Sweetie, I know you love your daughter more than anything, but blackmail is criminal. How have you been holding onto that this entire time and never said a thing?”
“What would it have changed?” My voice cracks.
“Let’s get back to how you haven’t seen the love of your life in fourteen years, and I’ll answer that question.”
“No.” I tug my hand from hers. “See, that’s exactly why I haven’t told you after all this time. I can’t dwell on what could have been if I hadn’t left. I can’t sit and run through the scenarios of telling him I was pregnant at sixteen and imagining what he would have done. I can’t pretend or hope we’d have somehow become a happy family because that’s not what happened. That’s not what I chose. After all this time, that could absolutely never be how things will turn out.”
Kiersten thrusts the bottle of bourbon into my hands. “Here.”
“Thanks,” I whisper as I uncap it.
“Then why is he here?”
I swirled the liquid over my taste buds and contemplate her question. “He isn’t here for me, if that’s what you’re getting at.”
“Isn’t he? Girl, I have ex-lovers. A lot of ex-lovers. Hell, I even have a few ex-I-thought-you-were-the-one-lovers. No way in hell would any of those dudes come back after a decade and bring my daughter a birthday gift.”
“You’re being ridiculous. When I say Law and I—?.
“Law?” She shrieks, scaring the shit out of me. “Oh, Lordy, even his name is sexy. All unconventional and hot. Someone call 911 because I’m going to break Law’s—?.
Her body visibly jolts. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t help that fantasy train. It shot straight out of the station into vagina town.”
“He and I were the best sort of childhood friends falling in love. It happened so slowly over the years, neither one of us really caught onto it until… Well, until it was crashing and burning into a fiery pit of lost hopes and dreams. Ugh.”
Kiersten seizes the bottle of bourbon from me, and I jump. “I sense we’re getting to the depressing part, so I’m just going to take this. I don’t think Evelyn needs to see her mom drunk on her birthday.”
“I hate you,” I grouse.
“You love me. So, go on, keep talking.”
“He was my everything, from my best friend to my first love. He stole my first kiss, and I freely gave up more after that. We were each other’s dates for school dances. I always had the impression we were together, even when we were too young to put a label on it. As we got older, I thought the label just adhered itself to our situation, but I guess I was wrong.”