DISCLAIMER: Criminal Minds and its characters are the property of CBS. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SEQUEL: To Parallel Lines.
Lies My Parents Told Me
You adjust your backpack, pulling the straps tighter against your body, and straighten your shoulders. Your mom gives you a slow smile and you try to make yourself taller as she snaps a picture quickly, her eyes shining with unshed tears that you know are for you.
"C'mon mom," you tell her as you scuff your brand new sneakers on the pavement outside your house. She's sitting on the front porch with Avery in her lap, bouncing her legs up and down as he giggles. You don't like your new little brother, because he cries a lot and you think mom might like him better than you, because she smiles at him all the time and she yells at you whenever you burp. It doesn't seem fair. "I've gottas go, or I'm gonnas be late."
"Or you're going to be late," she corrects you while she fishes her keys out of her pocketbook, resting Avery on one hip. "Come here and take your brother for me." You don't move so she tilts her head to the side and raises one of her eyebrows. You're at her side instantly, hands outstretched. She gave you the "no nonsense" look. That's what your dad calls it.
"Can we go now?" You ask impatiently. "Where's dad?"
Her shoulders slump a little, you can see it, and she tries to give you a bright smile. "He promises he'll be back tomorrow, in time to see you leave, okay?"
You nod bravely, because you're still her little boy and all you ever want is for her to be okay. "Well I'm glad he's not here," you declare. "Cause now I gets to sit in the front seat."
She laughs and it makes you feel good. "You think so, do you?"
"I know so." And you hop into the front seat while she buckles Avery in your old car seat, silently laughing because since you're older and bigger, all you need is a seatbelt. She gets in the car and you watched, mesmerized, as she put the key in the hole and turns it once, the car coming to life right in front of you. You lean forward towards the knob, to turn it just like your dad does, but your arms are too short and your seatbelt is too tight.
"I've got it," your mom says, ruffling your hair before she switches the station to the CD in the player. She smiles when she realizes that's it the type of music she likes; she calls it "big band music" and your dad hates it, because he says "it's out of her league." You don't think so, because your mom knows all the words and she bops her head in time with the loud drum and because your mom smiles when she hears the music.
You like it the best when she smiles.
"We're here," she tells you as she moves the stick on the wheel and the car stops. "Want me to help you out of the car, or do you have a reputation to protect?"
You smile and duck your head. "I'm a big kid now, remember?"
She nods seriously but her eyes are sparkling. "Of course. I almost forgot. Well, off you go then."
You wrestle with the seatbelt and finally get it off, then slide down the side of the seat until your feet hit the pavement, remembering almost instantly that you forgot to kiss her goodbye. "I'll give you two goodnight kisses!" you promise her as you push the door closed as hard as you can. Even though it doesn't shut all the way, you run off anyway, your backpack tight on your back as you jump onto an abandoned swing.
"Hey, can I swing with you?" another boy asks, pointing at the empty swing next to you. You were saving that swing for Alex from down the street where you live, but you can see your mom still here, leaning up against the car, and you know what she says about sharing and being fair.
"Sure, if you want to." The boy smiles and drops his Spiderman backpack to the ground as he jumps into the swing. "Hey! I have the same bag!" you tell him excitedly, showing him your bag.
"Spiderman is the coolest!" He declares as he pumps his legs. Wow, you think to yourself. He can swing by himself and he likes Spiderman.
"I get to be Spiderman for Halloween this year," you tell him.
"Me too!" And before you know it, he's sitting next to you at lunch and when you go to recess, you take turns being Spiderman and The Green Lantern and all you can think about is how he's so much cooler than Alex down the street who likes Batman and doesn't even like the swings.
You meet Noah Casey when you're five and he immediately becomes your best friend for life, you even make a pact.
"Mom, we're gonna be late!" you yell out as you stomp your foot impatiently in front of the door. Avery comes running out of the living room with only a shirt on and you jump in front of him, lifting him off the ground as much as you can, but since he started getting older, he started getting bigger and heavier.
"Put me down Henry!" he screams, squirming. You clutch him tighter and haul him into the living room, dropping him to floor in front your mom. She looks tired and a little lost, so you take the pants in her hands and toss them to Avery on the floor.
"Put 'em on," you tell him as you narrow your eyes.
"Henry, don't talk to your brother like that," your mom says softly, running a hand over her face. You shoot a look at Avery that says "look at her, just do it" and he pulls them on, only getting them backwards once before he stick his feet in the right holes.
"Henry!" It's your dad. You scramble to the hallway, grabbing Noah's present off the table in the front hall. Your dad is standing in front of the door with his keys in his good hand, his other hand buried in his pocket. He hasn't been the same since his hand got shot, even you can tell that, but sometimes he tries and it makes it seem like your superhero is back. "I'll bring you to your party," he offers.
You open your mouth, ready to say "sure" but your mom grabs the keys from him and pushes Avery towards you. "I'll bring him," she says in her low voice. You know what the low voice means someone is going to get in trouble. You also know that it means that you should take Avery to the car, and get him buckled in.
"C'mon Avery, get your book." Your brother grabs his book and his cup of juice and gives you his hand. You walk down the driveway with him and open the car door. "Did you know that me and Noah have the same birthday? It means we were born on the same day," you explain to him as you buckle the seatbelt around his car seat. You leap over the middle front seat and settle into the front seat. You can reach the stereo now, but the car isn't on, so you fidget in your seat until you can't take the silence anymore.
"And Noah has two moms but no dads. But his moms aren't married, he told me so." Avery just blinks, like he could care less, and before you can say anything else, your mom is getting in the car. She doesn't say anything, just turns the car and backs out of the driveway.
"So," you find yourself saying as you reach for the radio. "Wanna listen to Chet Baker?" Your mom must not have heard you, because she doesn't say anything. So you fiddle with the knob and start singing, your voice awful and screechy. "My funny valentine," you start to croon.
It's not until you say "laughable" and your voice goes real high that she lets out a laugh. And then she's laughing harder and then she's crying. She pulls the car over and leans her head against the steering wheel, but you can see her shoulders moving and you can hear her crying.
"Mom. Mom? Mommy?" She reaches a hand out blindly and ends up patting your shoulder. You unbuckle and slide closer to her, and you rub her back the way she does when you're not feeling good. "Mommy, will you be my funny valentine?" you ask in a whisper.
She nods and turns to look at you with her head still against the wheel. Her eyes are red and her face is wet, but she smile a watery smile and you lean in real slow and kiss her forehead. "Good, cause girls have cooties," you say loud enough for Avery to hear. Sure enough, he giggles.
"Cooties, cooties! Circle, circle, dot, dot, now you have your cootie shot!" he yells happily from the backseat. She laughs again and rubs her eyes before she starts the car again.
"He's never going to stop saying that," she tells you as Avery continues to shout from the backseat.
You smile proudly. "I know. Wait 'til I teach 'im the second part."
"Oh, please, don't," but you don't promise as you pull up to the address on the party invitation. You hop out of the car and shout a "hello" at Noah's mom Amy before sprinting inside. You run back when you realize you forgot to kiss your mom goodbye.
"Sorry, sorry!" You yell as you come back to her side.
"Jennifer LaMontange," your mom is saying, shaking Noah's mom's hand. Amy smiles down at you. You like her, because she always gives Noah two packs of Gushers, so that you can have one too.
"Amy Casey, Noah's mom," she says while you impatiently tug on your mom's sweatshirt.
"Is Emily here?" you ask Amy as your mom attempts to fix your hair. You frown at her and pull away, sticking your tongue out at Avery through the window. Avery yells, but you can't hear him through the window.
"She'll be here soon. She had to go to work for a little while, but why don't you kiss your mom goodbye and head on inside, I know Noah is really excited. He mentioned something about Cowboys and Indians, I think." Your eyes light up and you jump up, smashing your lips against your mom's cheek.
"I ain't an Indian!" you yell at the top of your lungs as you hurtle through the house, dropping Noah's present on the table in the living room.
Amy and Emily who are the coolest parents you've ever met bring the cake out later and surprise you by singing happy birthday to both you and Noah and even put twenty-two candles on the cake so that you both have eleven of them.
The principal's office is drafty and it makes you wish you had a sweatshirt on instead of a lousy Woodrow Wilson Senior High School gym shirt. Noah glares at you from across the small waiting room and you only cross your arms and glare back.
"Sumabitch," you mutter under your breath. His head snaps up and he raises out of his seat a little.
"What did you say?" Before you can tell him exactly what said, Principal Williams in standing in front of her door with one hand on her hip, the other beckoning the two of you into her office.
"Let's go boys," she says in her no nonsense voice that makes you think too much of your father. You both settle into the seats in front of her desk, ignoring each other. "So, which one of you wants to tell me what happened? Ms. Moten told me it took her and Mr. Scotti to pull the two of you apart."
You look past Williams head and stare at the plaque on the wall, her words not really registering in your mind. You can see Noah out of the corner of your eye and you know he's going to break down soon and tell her what happened, because it's the way he's always been. He told you once that his mom Amy could never keep secrets and could never stay mad for long, while his other mom Emily could hold a grudge for years. You told him that you were like your mom; that you could be angry and never really show.
Except that it failed when you saw Noah talking to Jamie Levesque the same Jamie Levesque you both decided was off-limits, because you both thought she was cute and then declared no girl would ever come between you. To be fair to him, you think to yourself, that wasn't the only thing.
Your entire week has been a mess: your dad came home drunk again the other night, and Avery is pissing your mom off to no end, and your mom is worn down and just took Avery and took a little vacation and Noah just has it so perfect. He just can't understand why you're angry a lot more than usual, because his life is perfect: he has two moms who love him and who would give him the world.
He's just got is so fucking easy sometimes.
"I've called your parents," Williams says, and that grabs your attention, because your mom is back in Pennsylvania which means that
"Principal Williams, Mr. LaMontange is here," the phone speakers squawks from the desk. Noah's head whips in your direction and you don't need to be looking at him to know he's staring at you with his eyes wide and afraid. He's afraid of your dad, and so are you, but he's the only one who knows that.
The door opens and your dad walks in and you immediately wish you'd gone with your mom and Avery to see your grandparents.
"Mr. LaMontange, thank you for coming," Williams starts to say before your dad cuts her off.
"Whad he do?" He drops a heavy hand down onto your shoulder and squeezes it just enough to make you want to wince. Noah is still staring at you and you just want to turn to him and give him another black eye, just so he'll stop staring at you like you're a goddamn sideshow freak.
"Mr. Casey and your son got into a fight in gym class this morning." The hand on your shoulder squeezes harder as the speaker squawks again and the door opens. Noah hangs his head in shame, and you don't need to turn around to know that Emily came instead of Amy and that Noah hadn't wanted that. Amy, you know, would have sighed a little and said "boys will be boys," but Emily will probably be disappointed in Noah in both of you and Noah hates disappointing people.
"Noah," Emily says in an exasperated tone and for some reason, your dad's hand goes slack on your shoulder. You're two seconds behind, so when you turn to look at him, he's staring, mouth open, at Emily and his eyes are wide in shock.
Emily, for her part, looked almost the same way, but managed to snap her jaw shut and look everywhere except for at your father. Instead, she caught sight of Noah's black eye and the bruise forming on your cheek and the small scratch under your eye, and she sighs. "Boys," she says in a breath.
Williams goes on about how fighting is an automatic three-day suspension, and that she's disappointed in the two of you, because she thought you were "such better friends than this" but you ignore her and dread leaving the school and heading into the parking lot where you know your father will have a few things to say and a few things to demonstrate. You don't even realize Williams dismissed you until Noah carefully kicks your foot.
But when you get to the parking lot, your dad just turns and starts in on Emily and neither you or Noah knows what to do.
"Whad the hell are you doin' here?" he asks, his eyes angry and his bad hand in his jacket pocket. When Noah steps forward his intentions good you roughly yank him back, because there's something unfamiliar in your dad's eye; something you can't put a finger on.
"Picking up my son from school," Emily tells him coolly.
It suddenly occurs to you how bizarre this all is. You've been best friends with Noah for eleven years now and not once have your parents really met. Sure, your mom has met Amy a bunch of time, but never Emily, and your dad hasn't met either of them. Every time you hang out with Noah, it's always at his house and never at yours, and for the first time ever, it seems so strange.
What seems even stranger is that your dad might possibly know Emily. And that he hates her.
"Your son?" your father spits out, his eyes flashing. "Your son? What's a whore like you doin' with a son?"
Emily doesn't flinch, doesn't bat an eye. You've always noticed that she seemed silently strong, like she had this self-control and self-confidence that no one could ever touch. "What's a drunk like you doing with a son?" she asks back, stepping towards you and Noah, putting distance between the two of you and your father and you're silently grateful.
"I dunno what the hell you think you're doin' here, but I think id be best if you just left." Your dad leans forward and you can smell the acholhol on his breath and all you can think about is where they hell your dad went and who is the imposter in his body. "God! Woulda just get the fuck outta our lives already!"
Emily tenses and her eyes grow dim, like the two of them Emily and your dad know something that no one else knows, like they have this secret, and now Emily sees the shell of your father for the sad excuse he is. "Will, I " she starts to say.
"Don't act like you " he stops and sighs and for a glimmer of a second, you recognize this man. "Just stay outta our life, just stay away."
He grabs you by the shoulder and even though you toss a pleading look at Emily, she doesn't stop him, just stands there with her eyes heavy and her mouth locked in a firm life. He drives you home and doesn't say a word to you as he heads into the basement, but you can hear him rifling around and cursing.
Noah calls you later you don't apologize and he doesn't ask you too and says that Emily and Amy got into an argument about you, and you tell him that when your dad left the house earlier in the night, you went downstairs and found what he was looking at: pictures of your mom and Emily and a bunch of other people.
You both vow to figure out what's going on.
It takes a year, and as you realize this, you can't believe it took this long to figure everything out.
It takes phone calls to people you've never met that you've heard about, of course, but never actually physically met.
It takes waiting until Emily goes to work and you and Noah hounding Amy for any information at all.
And when you finally figure it all out, you're not sure what to do with it.
If you asked your mom, she'd probably ignore you, and you're dad is living out of a motel outside of the city, and Amy only give you half-smiles now, and Emily is never around whenever you come over.
So you tell Noah to tackle Amy she is Emily's best friend after all (nothing more, you made sure he told you truth about it, because it sometimes kept you awake at night) so she should know something. And you, you decide to talk to Emily.
You finally catch her alone on her way to work, and before she can say anything, you're opening the passenger seat and buckling the belt and shoving your old CD into the stereo.
"Henry, what the hell do you think "
"Please." Your voice is a whisper and she stops mid-sentence to just turn and look at you. She hasn't changed much from her pictures in the last 17 years: a little older around the eyes and a few frown creases in her forehead, but the rest of her is the same.
You can see why your mom fell in love with her; why your dad hates her.
So she starts the car and heads down the driveway and you fiddle with the radio knob until Chet Baker is singing "Let's Get Lost." She turns to stare at you like you've grown three heads and you can see that her eyes are just a little misty.
"Why are we listening to this?" Her voice wavers at the word this but you ignore it and soon she's pulling the car into a parking lot and you're sitting in silence.
"You made her happy," you announce, almost like she might not have been aware of that. Here you are, seventeen years old, and you're actively pushing your father your lousy, drunk, no-good father out of the picture for your best friend's second mom who made your mom smile when she was younger and made her days a little brighter. "Everyone told me so."
She snorts indelicately. "And who the hell is everyone, exactly?"
You're prepared for this; there's a note in your sweatshirt pocket that makes you prepared for this. "Penelope Garcia, Derek Morgan, Spencer Reid, Aaron Ho "
The paper is ripped out of your hands before you can finish. "Where the hell did you get this?" You've never heard her curse so much in the twelve years you've known her. "What is your problem Henry? This isn't a joke, this is people's lives!"
"Yeah, it's my life! I've had to live with both of them for seventeen years and they've been miserable! I know exactly what I'm doing. What are you doing? Why are you such a coward?" You're screaming without realizing it and you know your face is red, and you're breathing hard and you're suddenly angry; angry at the woman who could have made your life easier, who could have loved your mother the way she was supposed to be loved.
She leans forward, the space between you disappearing, and her eyes flash. "I'm not the coward," she whispers fiercely. "I tried to stay, I tried to act like everything was okay. I tried and it was just too much." She sighs and tries to breath. "It was just too much to see her with to see her with him and know that she wanted me to sit around and play the best friend and the aunt. I gave her a chance to chase me, I told her I was going, that I wasn't coming back, and she did nothing."
You just blink at her. "So who's the fucking coward?" she asks under her breath.
"Fix it," you plead.
"I can't Henry. I can't do that," she sighs out, placing a hand on the steering wheel. "It's too late for that now Henry."
"It doesn't have to be." All you can see is the way your mom was smiling in those pictures and how you've never seen her smile like that before; all you can see is the potential for your mom to be happy and for Avery to not be sullen all time; you can see the rest of your life falling into place. "You can make this better; all you have to do is talk to her, just say something to her, anything. Make her better."
"I'm leaving," she says minutes later and you're still staring at her, eyes wide in hope, but now in disbelief. "Amy, she knows what's going on and I'm leaving, alright?"
She pulls back into your driveway, the look on her face barely hiding her relief at there being no other cars in the driveway. You're not sure how you even got here, but she gently reaches across you and opens the door for you and Chet Baker is crooning on repeat and it just seems like nowhere.
"I " but she leans forward and presses a lingering kiss to your forehead, the way your mom does when she thinks you're sleeping.
"You're so much like her," she whispers against your skin. "Thank you for letting me watch you grow up."
She puts the car in drive and you watch her leave, following her out into the street and just staring, knowing you're just a tiny dot on her rearview. When Noah calls you, he sounds upset and angry and when he tells you that he hopes he never sees her ever again, you agree with him.
"May I present this year's graduating class of Woodrow Wilson Senior High School!" Principal Williams sweeps a long arm back at the 400 hundred freshly graduated students and even though it feels like there is a billion people here, and cameras are flashing, your mom's smile is brighter than anything in the room and for a minute you think god, she really is beautiful.
Noah claps you on the back, Jamie Levesque clutching his free hand. "Dude! We graduated. We're free and clear and isn't this awesome?" Jamie smiles sheepishly at you, as if she's trying to apologize for her boyfriend's behavior.
"Also," Noah pulls you closer as he goes to whisper in your ear. "I wanted to tell you before you freaked out: your dad is here." You head snaps up and it's almost like a magnet, the way your eyes lock on his. "But on the plus side," Noah continues, holding up Jamie's hand in his. "She said yes!"
You blink once, and then again, and then you feel a slow smile start to slide across your face and before you can stop yourself, you let out a "whoop!" and grab Jamie by the waist, swinging her in a circle. Noah grins and watches as you finally put her down. You lean in to give him a hug, a manly hug that turns out mushy and brotherly and feels perfect.
"Jeez you two," Avery mutters under his breath, suddenly appearing next to you. At thirteen, he's moody and stubborn and silently sullen almost like he's a little, little kid again and nothing's changed. Except that he looks more like you now than ever: all never-ending blue eyes and pale blond hair that hangs in his eyes. Between the three of you Noah and you and Avery you could all pass as brothers. "What's your problem?" he asks as you lift him by midsection and toss him over your shoulder.
"Henry, put your brother down," your mom calls out as she fights her way through the crowd, Amy close on her heels. It still amuses you not that you'll actually admit it that they have gotten so close over the last year, when they never really knew each other before. It was Amy that helped your mom through the divorce, cooking and cleaning the house, because a part of your mom still loved your dad and it hurt her a little. It was Amy who demanded you stop being so bitter about life and to "get off your ass and do something useful with all of your free time."
It was Amy who put the pieces together, who lost a best friend, and still managed to stay strong for everyone else.
"Hey you two!" Amy squeals, throwing an arm around your shoulders, her other arm around Noah's. She presses a fleeting kiss to each of your temples and you smile sheepishly at her when she nudges you in the ribs. "I'm so proud of you. We both are," she amends with a cough from your mom.
"You going to hug me, or are you just going to stand there and smile like a goon?" your mom finally asks when you don't move towards her. Her words are like magic, and you're taking a large step at her, pulling her close and holding her tight. "Don't suffocate me," she whispers, even if it's your line.
"You're the best, did you know that?" you ask, your own voice a whisper. "I mean, I'd never have gotten here without you and I never said 'thank you' for that. So thank you." She's shorter than you and her forehead is pressed against the spot between your shoulder and your collarbone and it's easy to lightly kiss her forehead, like she's the kid and you're the parent.
"I'm prouda you too," someone says from behind you, breaking the moment. Noah steps in front of your mom, like his scrawny, lanky frame could actually stop your father from doing anything and glares. Avery is already grabbing her elbow and Amy and Jamie are standing close enough to touch her. You can feel the burn behind your eyes as you realize that everyone important in your life cares about you enough to rally forces and protect those you love.
He might not do anything, but your mind automatically flashes back to outside the courtroom after your mom got full custody because what person in their right mind who grant custody to a boozehound with a heavy hand who's own kids hate him? and the way he stood millimeters away from her, his eyes flashing fire and his good hand raised like he had the guts to do something.
"I know that I ain't been the best lately, but " A flash of anger hits you hard in the chest and you see red.
"You haven't been anything lately. I don't even know you." You scoff and out of the corner of your eye, you see Amy and Jamie chatting with your mom, trying to distract her and Avery and Noah are moving away, staying within eye sight. "I never even knew you."
"You woulda never understood. Your mother your mother never really loved me Henry. She loved Emily. And, jeez." He scuffed the toe of his foot on the ground like a small child. "I don't really blame her. Well, I mean, at first, I didn't really blame her. Emily was charming and even when I first met your mom, I could tell they were crazy about each other. I never shoulda gotten in the way, but your mom it's easy'ta fall for that one."
"Will " He flinches when you use his first name. You sigh resignedly. "You're an asshole."
He nods. "She always deserved better than me," he says, gesturing to your mom. "Maybe now she'll get it."
With that, he turns and disappears into the crowd and you can feel your mom come up behind you, an open hand on your shoulder, her warmth calming you instantly. "C'mon," she says. "I bought a new Chet Baker CD, and I've heard there's going to be a party later." You laugh at her hopeless attempt at a distraction, but leave with her anyway, screaming Baker the entire way home while Avery pretends like he's not humming in the backseat.
When you pull into the driveway, still dressed in your graduation gown and holding your cap in one hand, you check the mail and shuffle through the usual bills. The postcard catches your attention and you turn it over curiously, catching the return address and wondering who it is you know in Costa Verde, California.
And then you catch the handwriting.
I'm sorry about the way we left things. I just wanted to apologize for the way I acted. Costa Verde is nice, but it doesn't snow here. Congratulations on graduating. You're bright kid who could go anywhere, so harness your talents and use them.
"Henry?"your mom calls from the doorway. "Whatcha got?"
You shove the postcard through your gown into your pocket and jog up the driveway. "Just some bills, the regular stuff."
She smiles soundly. "Junk mail." On her way into the house, she looks back and you can feel her eyes following the lines of your face, like she's looking at you for the first time, her smile fading.
"What?" She instantly straightens and tries for a bright grin.
"Nothing. It's just sometimes, you remind me so much of of someone." She clears her throat. "It just messes with my head sometimes. Let's go party!"
Your dad's words echo in your mind: "even when I first met your mom, I could tell they were crazy about each other."
Of course she's here, you think to yourself as you spot her standing on the edge of the giant white tent. Noah is in the middle of a speech something he wrote on the paper towels in the kitchen. Jamie is sitting next to him, her head buried in her hands, because Noah keeps dropping things and stuttering and it's just like when he first asked her out and promptly turned around only to run into a water fountain.
Some things never change.
"Hey, Henry, come over here and help your mother, would ya?" Amy must not have seen her, because she's still smiling widely and glancing proudly at "her little boy" all grown up, even if he turned 21 months ago. You sneak up behind her, throw an arm over her shoulder and she jumps, but you've got her in place.
"He can pull off a tux, can't he?" She smiles even wider.
"The one thing he can do right," you mutter under your breath, but she elbows you anyway, because she's a mom and she's got this radar that every mom seems to have. "I mean, for God's sake, Amy, he's going to grow old before he finally finishes that speech."
She can't deny it; doesn't try, and instead, turns to tell you that it's your fault for making it so long in the first place because you're the one who wrote it; Noah's hands were shaking too much but before she says anything, she stops short, her mouth hanging open and her eyes almost comically wide.
"What is she doing here?" she breathes out.
It could be a disaster. Noah still hasn't forgiven her for leaving not that anyone really expected it. Noah loved her and she just left and never gave him a real reason why and he hadn't even tried to pretend it didn't hurt. And then there's your mom, who watched Emily walk out of her life twice now. She lies and tells you she's fine whenever the name Prentiss comes up, but no one in the house believes her.
"Want me to " Amy looks back over her shoulder; at Noah fumbling for words; at your mom who's grinning like an idiot; even at Avery who's too busy making out with this week's girlfriend to really pay attention; then back at you, and you're sure she can see the broken little boy in your eyes.
Which is ridiculous, because Emily wasn't ever really anything to you.
Only a possibility.
Maybe that's why it hurts so much.
"Yeah, if you " You nod once and you're moving before she even finishes the sentence. It's not until you're a few feet away from that she looks away from Noah and sees you coming; her shoulders tense and she crosses her arms over her chest, like she's bracing for an attack. She might have something there.
"You need to leave." The last word catches in your throat and you feel like you're fifteen again, standing in front of your mom while your dad stands in the doorway, swaying and muttering. You try to sound demanding; try again. "You need to leave."
She ignores you. "When did he even get engaged?"
You glance over your shoulder and Avery catches sight of you and he starts to wave you over before he sees her. His smile drops to a frown and he starts to stand all 150 pounds of him with a glare.
"I'm not kidding," you whisper urgently. She finally turns to look at you and you're not really surprised that she hasn't changed too much in the last four years. She's always seemed like the kind of person who doesn't ever change too much on the surface, but changes on "the inside, where it counts," or so says your mom.
"Neither am I."
You break first. "At graduation. They wanted to wait a little."
She nods approvingly and you glance back again. Avery is still half-standing, his date trying to capture his attention and you know if you don't get her out of here soon, or get him to sit down, Noah will catch on and then your mom who's telling Amy a story, her arms flying in all directions and then hell will actually break loose under this white tent.
It could only be better in a way that's worse if your dad decided to show up.
"Where's your mom?" But that right there, that's crossing a line. She goes to take a step forward and you make her take one back, forcing her into the harsh sunlight of the summer. She blinks a couple of times and then smiles softly, like she knew to expect this resistance.
"Henry, you don't understand "
"I don't want to." You take another step forward; she steps back.
"You don't get to decide what happens between us," she says low, stepping into your space, her face inches from yours. Her eyes are almost hollow, empty, and you remember seeing your dad just like this, when he realized he'd never have your mom as his own again. It looks just like that except you're not afraid of her and you're suddenly aware that you have the chance to give her hope back; give her the light back and make her smile again.
It's a power trip.
"I " you look down, grateful she's taken a step back. "If she tells you to leave, you leave, no begging, no pushing the issue. You just leave, you got me?" She nods eagerly and you grab her elbow, pulling her through the crowd.
Amy stares at you, your mom's back to the two of you. Noah materializes at her side, a smile on his face. It fades when he sees her next to you, and the expressions on the Caseys' face is enough to make your mom turn around.
And then you wish you'd said "no" to Emily. Because your mom looks broken and torn and lost and you're indirectly causing it. But she grimaces and tries to smile, so you let yourself relax; let yourself get lost in the idea that this could be your big family reunion moment.
Neither of them says a word, until Amy give Emily a half-hug, half-body crushing wrap. Then Amy's punching her in the shoulder through tears and calling her an idiot. Noah is still glaring, and you have to put on hand on his chest, press against the tux he's wearing a silent "calm down."
"Can we talk?" Emily asks with her head tilted to the right and it makes you think of a picture that you found once, that's tucked in a bag with all the other ones that are shoved under your mattress, where Emily is younger and your mom is smiling at her and her dark head is tipped to the side, like she's trying to figure something out.
Your mom only nods and turns without waiting for her, marching into the house. Now you've got a hand on Noah and a hand on Avery and Amy is telling them to calm down.
You see them through the window in the kitchen: Emily pacing and your mom leaning against the countertop coolly. Emily moves in and out of view and to other people at the wedding, the five of you because Amy and Avery and Jamie and Noah are all crowded around your shoulders watching must look insane. Or distressed.
There's shouting and yelling and your mom is waving her hands around and Emily is standing stationary and then there's silence and you can't see them anymore.
You decide to leave it alone; see what happens next.
Noah sidles up next to you with a grim face. "What do you think is "
You put up a hand, wait for a tense minute then sigh. "Sorry, I thought I could hear them."
"You two are worse than a couple of girls, do you know that?" You turn and make a face at Amy and when she only sticks her tongue back out at you, you can't help but let out a small laugh.
"Okay, this is ridiculous. I'm going in."
The reactions vary: Noah looks like he wants to say that was his idea first, Amy looks like it's the worst idea in the world, Avery looks like he wants to go in there and create havoc. Only Jamie nods reassuringly and gives you a gentle push forward.
You inch closer to the door to the kitchen, avoiding the wedding messes and find yourself pressed against the wall.
"Do you have any idea how "
"Yeah, I do," Emily admits with a sigh.
"I asked for you. For you! When they asked me who I wanted to call, I told Garcia to call you and you never came." Your mom's voice sounds heavy and suddenly, maybe this wasn't the best idea.
"Don't try and pretend like it's my entire fault. I told you I was leaving and you didn't do a single thing. You didn't call or chase me. For christsakes, you didn't even blink when I said I was going. You know what you did do? You went to him." You can hear the venom in Emily's voice, the pure hatred she has for your father.
There's a silence, but you can hear Emily breathing hard and your mom scuffing her foot against the tiled floor. "I " Your mom takes a breath. "You didn't get my letter?"
You hear a sharp intake of air must be Emily. "Your letter?"
"You didn't get my letter," your mom says, almost to herself. "I wrote you a letter, because you stopped talking my calls. I thought I thought you got my letter."
"JJ, I didn't "
"You didn't get my letter." You poke your head around the corner and when they don't even notice you, you remain there, eyes fixed upon them. A part of you feels like you're invading on a private moment, but the other part of you believes that this moment belongs to you almost as much as it belongs to them.
Emily is standing on one side of the island in the kitchen, your mom standing on the other, but as you watch, Emily takes a couple of steps towards your mom cautious steps with her hands by her side.
"JJ, I didn't get your letter."
"You didn't get it," your mom repeats. You wonder if Emily, or the situation, broke her. "But I gave it to Will and "
It hits your mom at the same time it hits you and Emily.
It's official. Will your "father" is an asshole.
Emily agrees. "Well, now we know why it never got to me," she scoffs. "JJ, if I knew that I would have come back for you. I would have been there and I would have "
"Yeah, well I managed just fine without you, didn't I," your mom asks rhetorically.
"No you didn't." You watch your mom's face change from disbelief to anger.
"Yes, I did. I raised two boys without your help, without anyone's help and you not being there made it easier." Her voice is eerily calm, which makes you sweat just a little; makes you just a little nervous.
"That's not true." Emily takes a step forward. "You were miserable, I know it. Your son is my son's best friend JJ. I know things. You know that he told me to "fix" this?" She doesn't wait for an answer. "He pretty much broke into my car and told me that I was the only one who could "fix" you and that his entire life, all he's wanted is for to be happy."
Your mom sniffs. "And he thinks you can make me happy."
Emily takes another step forward. "I can make you happy. If if you give me another chance." You're actively standing in the doorway, and either they're oblivious or they're ignoring you. "You just need to forget everything that happened, just go back to Miami, and just " she takes a deep breath. "Just go back to when I told you to go for it, and ignore me. Forget what I said and choose me instead. Choose me, and we can redo everything and he'll never be a part of it."
"You can't just erase time Emily," your mother tells her through clenched teeth. "You can't just close your eyes and pretend that you didn't push me to him, that you didn't give up on us. It doesn't go away that easily." She pokes Emily in the shoulder. "You. Gave. Up."
Noah slips up next to you.
"I want a second chance."
"Maybe you don't get one," your mom spits out.
"Would you two just kiss already? I've been waiting for-freaking-ever for you two to get over yourselves." Amy suddenly appears in the doorway with her hands on her hips and a serious expression on her face. "I'm not kidding. I've had to listen to Emily whine about you for 17 years, and JJ, I've had to listen to you bitch about her for the last four years, and let me tell you, if gets old real fast."
Emily looks at your mom and shrugs, stepping forward one foot at a time, until she's inches away.
This should creep you out. This should make you roll your eyes or grimace or even cover your eyes and run from the room. But you're not eight anymore.
And then your entire life regains the balance it's been missing because Emily leans in real slow and kisses your mom right there in the kitchen in front of everyone.
Everything is the way it should be.
You and Noah troop outside and thank all the guests who are leaving. Under the tent, in the far back corner, he opens two beers and you clink bottles before taking a long sip.
"Did you know, when I first met you, I only wanted to be friends with you because you liked Spiderman?"
Noah scoffs and grins. "I only wanted to be your friend because I didn't want anyone to think I copied your backpack." He smiles wider at your bewildered look. "I figured if we were best friends, people would think we planned it like that."
"I didn't think that."
He shrugs. "You weren't ever the brightest kid on the block."
You ignore it. "We've been through a lot," you say instead. "Fights and tree houses and now you're married."
"Now we're almost brothers," Noah adds.
"Soon you'll be father.
"And you'll be an uncle."
"And maybe I'll have a kid." You give a harsh laugh and shake your head. "Who am I kidding? I'm only twenty one. The only thing I've ever done is graduate high school, and make it to my senior year of college, and maybe I'll graduate from there, but I don't have anything planned after that.
Noah is quiet and after he doesn't speak for a while, you look up. He's staring at you with one of the more serious expressions you've ever seen on him. "Henry, pay attention to me. Do you know what you've done?" He points back to the house. "You've made two people happy. You defied all the odds and the fact that you didn't know almost anything about the situation or that you even belonged in it, and you worked tirelessly to make two people happy. That counts for so much more than you're giving yourself credit for."
He points. "See that right there?" Emily has her arm looped around your mom's waist and for the first time in a long time, it looks like you're mom's smile is glowing. "You're the reason that sight exists. Don't forget that man." He claps you on the shoulder, stands and heads towards Jamie Casey, sweeping her in a circle and letting her laugh into his neck.
When you were five years old, you met Noah Casey for the first time and you thought he was going to be fun because he liked Spiderman and could swing. When you were sixteen, you got into a fight over a girl, that he ended up marrying.
And along the way, you watched your mom fall out of misery and into love.
If someone had asked you if you thought Noah Casey and his two moms were going to change your life forever, you would have said no.
Now, you can't imagine life any other way.
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