Emberlynn couldn’t decide whether she was going to throw up or cry as she stood on the front steps of the cafe. Why on Earth had her feet decided to lead her here? Ugh. I hope I don’t regret this.
She let out a soft sigh, knowing she couldn’t stay out there forever. She’d made it this far. It would be foolish to try and turn back now. She just had to suck it up and get it over with, didn’t she?
After a few calming breaths, Emberlynn finally went up the stairs and made her way inside.
The cafe wasn’t crowded, and it was easy to spot Gigi, sitting by herself at a table by one of the windows.
Emberlynn felt her throat tighten at the sight of her — part of her wanted to scream while another wanted to burst into tears as she gazed upon the woman who had caused her so much anguish over the past several weeks.
Though it appeared for a moment like Gigi might burst into tears herself, she managed to keep her composure much better than Emberlynn had been expecting.
She did, however, rise to her feet at her daughter’s approach.
“Hi, Sweetie.” Gigi said gently as Emberlynn drew closer.
She said nothing in reply, but took an involuntary step backward when her mother tried to pull her in for a hug.
Gigi’s face fell as she lowered her arms to her sides. “I hope you’re doing well.” She said as she reluctantly took a seat back at the table.
Emberlynn shrugged but remained silent as she slowly lowered herself into the chair across from her mother.
Gigi simply stared at her for a few moments before she finally spoke again. It still looked like she was going to cry. “I’ve missed you so much.” She said at last.
I’ve missed you too, Emberlynn almost wanted to say. But she didn’t. She couldn’t. She was still too sad and angry to form any words.
“And your grandparents and Tristan… They all miss you too.” Gigi continued seriously. “I know they really hope you’ll come home soon.”
Emberlynn narrowed her eyes at these words. She could already see right through her mother’s scheme. “Oh really? And how would you know that?” At last, she broke her silence.
Gigi looked taken aback by this reaction. “What do you mean?”
“Tristan hasn’t spoken to you in weeks. He told me himself. So how would you have any idea what he wants?” Emberlynn replied, her voice dripping with venom. “And I just talked to Oma Harper the other day. She told me she understands. She said to take all the time I need.”
She watched with satisfaction as all the color drained from Gigi’s cheeks. “Emberlynn…”
“Unbelievable.” Emberlynn shook her head in disgust. “You and Papa rope me into coming here to talk to you, and what’s the first thing you do? Try and guilt me into coming back home… With a lie!” She could feel several pairs of eyes watching her as her voice grew louder. “But you’re really good at those, aren’t you, Mama?”
Gigi lowered her head in shame. “It’s not a lie.” She explained weakly. “We all want you home.”
“Oh yeah?” Emberlynn tried as hard as she could to calm herself, hoping to avoid more attention from the other guests and employees of the cafe. “And why exactly would I want to go back there after what you did?”
“Emberlynn, please.” Gigi’s voice shook slightly as she replied. “I know that it was terrible of me to lie to you. But I need you to know that I never wanted to hurt you. I know this might be hard to believe, but… I did it for you.”
Emberlynn almost laughed in her face. “Are you kidding me right now?”
“Just let me try to explain?” She asked. “Please?”
Her daughter did not immediately reply. Did she even want to hear any of what her mother was about to tell her? But then, what could she possibly say to make things any worse than they already were?
With a small sigh, Emberlynn nodded. “Fine. But Mama, I’m serious — no more lies. Just… tell me the truth.”
“I will.” Gigi promised. “But I’ll warn you, it’s kind of a long story.”
And it was.
It was the long and very sad story of a strong-willed and confident, but selfish young girl who was terrified at the idea of losing the man she loved.
So she made the rash decision to get married and follow him halfway across the world while he followed his dreams. And he was so kind-hearted and eager to make her happy that he let her.
And even though things started out just fine… They went downhill so quickly. She grew bitter and resentful of all the time he spent away from her, and the time she spent cooped up in their tiny house. All the little things that used to annoy them about each other grew more and more unbearable until they couldn’t take it anymore.
They started fighting all the time. And eventually, they were each drawn to other people.
Him, to one of his very best friends.
And her, to her friend’s coworker. A handsome young man who sold beautiful jewelry and could make the girl laugh and feel special in a way that only her husband ever could, but hadn’t for a long time.
The selfish young girl found comfort in this man’s arms, but it didn’t last long. The guilt weighed heavily upon her heart until she finally decided to end things.
But by the time she did, it was too late.
And the girl was left with the most difficult decision she’d ever had to face in her life.
“When we took that test, I had a feeling.” Gigi explained softly. “So I made sure to ask for them to mail us the results. It was easy to make sure I could open them on my own. And when I saw what they said…”
“You printed out fake ones.” Emberlynn finished for her, the disgust apparent in her voice.
Gigi nodded. “Emberlynn, I need you to understand. I was even younger than you are now. I was pregnant. I was thousands of kilometers away from home. My marriage was falling apart… And I panicked. It was selfish of me. I’ll admit it. That was part of why I did what I did. I didn’t want to lose Phoenix.” She confessed. “But more importantly, I didn’t want you being without a father. Because the man who… Who, um…”
“Yeah, I know who you mean.” Emberlynn replied softly, urging her mother to go on, in spite of herself.
“He was a sweet man. Funny. Charming. But what we had was never real.” Gigi’s voice was pained as she spoke. “He didn’t want a relationship, he made that clear from the start. And he most definitely didn’t want a child. Not back then, anyway. And definitely not with me. He would have wanted nothing to do with you. I’m sure of it.” She spoke the words with such desperation that Emberlynn was almost willing to believe her. “And you deserved so much more than a father like that. I wanted what was best for you… For both of us.” She admitted.
Emberlynn said nothing as she tried to wrap her head around everything her mother had just told her. There was so much to her parents’ history that she’d never known. All the turmoil of their marriage now made more sense than ever before.
But none of it changed the simple fact that Gigi had been lying to everyone for years. It didn’t matter what her supposed reasons were. No matter what, Emberlynn’s entire life up until now had been a lie. Her Papa had been completely destroyed by learning the truth. Her poor brother was being forced to watch his entire family crumble around him. And Xander had grown up never knowing who his father really was.
All because of Gigi’s lie.
“Does he know?” She asked at last. “The… the guy.” Emberlynn clarified uncomfortably. “Did you ever tell him about me? Does he know I exist?”
Gigi shook her head. “He never even knew I was pregnant. I haven’t spoken to him since before you were born.”
Emberlynn hesitated before speaking again. “What was his name?” She asked, hating herself for wanting to know.
“Brandon.” Gigi replied in a whisper. “Brandon… Weston?” She shook her head. “No, Westfield. Sorry. It’s been a long time.”
“Brandon Westfield.” Emberlynn repeated. Something felt so wrong about saying the name out loud. Like it was some terrible swear word that should never be spoken.
Her mother nodded slowly. “Like I said, I haven’t spoken to him in over twenty years. But…” Gigi paused, eyeing her nervously.
“I think I know how you could get in touch with him… If you wanted.”
Emberlynn shook her head. “No.” She replied without hesitation.
Gigi seemed surprised by her response. “Are you sure?”
“I already have a Papa. I don’t need another one.” Her voice was firm. “And I think you’ve already ruined enough people’s lives with your lies, don’t you? Why add this poor Brandon guy to the list?”
“You’re right.” Gigi replied quickly. “I just wanted to give you the option. And it’s always open if you change your mind… okay?”
“I won’t change my mind.” Emberlynn insisted, turning away from her.
So much for making things ‘easier’. All this conversation had done was make her feel worse. I’ve gotta get out of here, Emberlynn thought. She’d heard enough.
With a heavy sigh, she rose to her feet. “I should go.” Emberlynn muttered uncomfortably.
“Already?” Gigi’s face fell at her daughter’s words.
“You wanted me to listen, I listened.” She replied, her voice cold. “And honestly? That’s probably more than you deserve.”
“So even after all that… You still hate me?” Her mother sounded almost like a frightened little girl as she spoke.
“I could never hate you, Mama. No matter how much I want to.” Emberlynn admitted sadly. “But things are never gonna be the same again. You lied to everybody for my entire life. It doesn’t matter how sorry you are now. That doesn’t change what happened… And there’s no way we’ll ever come back from this.” Her voice was thick as an unexpected wave of emotion rose inside of her. “You know that, don’t you?”
Despite her anger, Emberlynn’s heart ached as she watched the tears finally fall from her mother’s eyes. “I do.” Gigi nodded slowly, choking out the words between her tears. “I know.”
Emberlynn bit her lip before replying, still holding back her own tears. “Do you want me to call Papa and have him come back here?” She asked. Somehow, a part of her still felt guilty about leaving her mother all alone in that cafe.
Gigi shook her head. “Not til he’s ready. I don’t mind waiting. It’s nice and cozy in here.” She glanced down at the empty mug in front of her. “And the coffee’s pretty good too.” She managed a small smile through her tears as she spoke.
“Alright, if you’re sure…” Emberlynn shuffled her feet uncomfortably. Why was it suddenly so hard to leave? “Then… This is goodbye, I guess.” She mumbled. “I’ll see you later, Mama.”
But when would ‘later’ be, exactly? Weeks? Months? Years? Emberlynn tried her best not to think about it.
At last, Gigi rose to her feet, her tears still sliding down her cheeks. “Thank you for coming, Honey. And for listening. I love you so much.” Her voice cracked on the final words.
Emberlynn felt a few of her own tears finally escape. “I know you do.” She replied sadly.
This time, she did not pull away from Gigi’s embrace. And, for one brief, shining moment, she felt just as safe and warm in her mother’s arms as she always had.
But as soon as she pulled away, the spell was broken.
And Emberlynn headed back home feeling just as cold and empty as before.