He had a way of looking at her, as if he saw the whole way through, to all of her. It was unsettling.
There were days when she wanted to grab him and kiss him just to see what he’d do.
But working with James was the best thing that had ever happened to her. She didn’t want to mess that up. And then there was the fact that no matter how hard she worked at it, she couldn't silence the voices in her head. Her mother’s voice. Her father’s voice. Eddie’s.
“I bet your parents thought you were great, didn’t they?” She blurted the words out before she could stop herself. “Of course they did. You are great.”
He frowned slightly. “If you’re asking if my parents were supportive, then yes they were.”
“Did you have lots of books? I never had books. That’s why I want Mia to have them. Books are good, aren’t they? I’m trying to read a book a week but sometimes it takes longer because I have to keep stopping to look up words. I keep thinking that if I’d had more words in my head I would have known what to say to Eddie.”
“You handled Eddie just fine.”
“Maybe, but I should have handled him sooner. I should have told the police sooner. Not been so afraid. I keep thinking of that day in the summer when he broke into the apartment—” She swallowed. “It’s lucky Frankie saw the open door and went to investigate, but what if it had been me who arrived home first? With Mia? I wouldn’t have been able to do what she did. Two karate moves and smack, he’s on the floor and howling. She’s amazing.”
“You would have protected Mia.”
“I don’t know.”
“I do.” The conviction in his voice touched her.
“Sometimes, all I can think about is all the things I’m not,” she confided. “I’m not clever enough, not brave enough, not confident enough.” Not good enough, she thought, but she tried not to listen to that voice and never in a million years would she have admitted it out loud. The idea that she might not be good enough wasn’t something she wanted to put in her daughter’s head.
“I only see the things you are. I see your passion, your loyalty, your fierce devotion to your daughter. You’re clever, Roxy.”
“I didn’t even go to college.”
“That was just circumstances. Clever can mean a lot of things that don’t involve going near college.”
She felt like an impostor. She was nothing like Frankie, who could tell you the Latin name for a plant after a single brief glance. Roxy hadn’t spent time poring over books, until now.
“College is the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me, but it makes me feel guilty the whole time.” It was something she’d never admitted to anyone.
“Guilty?” As usual he didn’t dismiss what she said, or prejudge. He simply listened. “Why does it make you feel guilty?”
“I’m all Mia has in the whole world. When I’m away from her I miss her horribly, but part of me also loves the fact that no one is tugging at my shirt asking for a drink or one more page of a story. I love that I get to go to the bathroom on my own.” She felt as if she was confessing a terrible crime.
“That’s why you feel guilty? Because you enjoy having a bathroom break without company?” His gaze softened. “You’re a wonderful mother, Roxy. You’re also human. It’s okay to enjoy a life for yourself as well as the life you have with your daughter.”
She felt guilty for enjoying time for herself, away from her baby who was the most precious thing in the world to her.
Guilty for hoping that one day she might meet a man. A man exactly like James.
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