At the Risk of Forgetting(10)

By: A.M. Wilson

What was I supposed to do here? The curious part of me wanted to rip it all open and find out what’s inside. But the cautious mother in me said no way in hell was a stranger going to give my daughter a birthday gift without me knowing what it was first. Because let’s be honest; Law was a stranger. I might have known him all those years ago, but he’s the same person he used to be.

Yet, another part of me was screaming, “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 let me cry on his shoulder when I got sad and 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.

Law was a lot of things, most of them I didn’t know anymore. Too much time had 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 believed that.

With that thought, I scanned the inside of the card, confirming my suspicions when I found his signature, ignored the way my heart picked up at his familiar handwriting, and gathered the rest of the items from the porch and carried them inside. The door shut with a soft thud behind me. Two sets of curious, yet guilty, eyes followed me from the foyer down the hall to the living room while helium balloons bounced off my head.

“Hey, snoops.” I leveled them both with a glare of motherly disapproval. “You’ve got another gift, Ev.”

“Who’s it from?” Suspicion laced her tone, but a gleam of excitement lit her eyes.

I both hated and loved Law for putting it there.

No, not love. That word was too heavy for anything I could allow myself to feel for that man. Appreciate was a better description for what I felt.

I let myself smile, even though I wanted to frown, and told her, “An old friend.” Kiersten’s glare burned into the back of my head.

Evelyn cocked her head and reached out her hands. “I thought you didn’t have any friends.”

I handed her the gift box and card and deposited the balloons beside the couch. “I have your Aunt Kiersten. She’s my friend.”

“I meant other friends.”

She was not wrong, and I wanted to curse Law for putting me in that position. “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 started to read the card, so I used that time to think of a response that made sense. Unfortunately, there were none. And I hated lying to my girl.

“Honestly, I don’t know. We used to be really close friends.”

“I can see that,” Evelyn said, her voice sounding funny.

“What did you say?”

Evelyn lifted her head from the card and reached her hand out to me. There, between her index and thumb, was a 4x6 photograph, and my heart plummeted. It must have stuck to the inside of the card, and I didn’t see it when I opened it outside.

As if time had slowed, I leaned forward and took the picture from my daughter. I closed my eyes. I tried to steel myself, but I knew deep down that seeing a picture from the past was going to rip open old wounds and make them fresh. There wasn’t a way to hide it, though. The two closest people to me were watching my every move. It killed that the one lie I had ever told either of them was not telling them about my past, and it was now staring me in the face and I had to smile through it. I had to react fondly, because if I didn’t, the walls I’d spent fourteen years building around me would come crashing down, and I’d be ruined.

So, I opened my eyes.

And I smiled, even though it felt watery.

A sob crawled out of my throat, and I quickly forced it into a laugh. I didn’t even have to look at the picture closely to remember that day. I could easily recall where we were, the clothes we wore, and who was around us. Law and I had our arms wrapped loosely around each other in the backyard of his childhood home. My head was thrown back, laughing hysterically, because his fingertips were tickling my ribs. While I laughed, he looked over at me with a jovial grin, his gray/green eyes twinkling.