It had been a long and stressed filled night, fears of her plan failing as she gathered her belongings and cradled a precious being in her arms. There was no time to second guess, no time to look back or over her shoulders as she fled from what had long felt like captivity.
Beads of sweat dripped down the sides of her face, along her neck, and down her back. The plain white t-shirt she wore soaked through to the very bottom, the uncovered parts of her body sticking to the seat beneath her. The sweltering heat overpowered the bit of cool air circulating throughout her small Toyota, draining what bit of energy she had left.
Summer sat in her car, parked in the driveway that led to her childhood home. Beside her, the precious being she’d promised to love and protect at all costs. Darius, her son, slept with no worries on his mind or heart; mouth wide open and short body stretched across the seat. The corners of her mouth turned up in a gentle smile, her hand reaching over slowly before her fingertips found their way into his soft, curly hair. She looked down on the nine-year-old, pride swelling in her heart. If she wasn’t sure before, Summer knew now that she’d made the right choice.
“I hope you always know this type of peace. I hope your cares are few and worries are non-existent for you. I love you.”
Taking one deep breath, Summer braced herself for the words to come and gently stirred Darius from his slumber. The child took his time, wiping the sleep from his eyes before he sat up and looked out the window. The surroundings startled him.
Gone were the giant towers of metal and glass filled with people in fancy suits, yelling and screaming, ripping and running. No homes and small businesses clustered side by side with little to no room for personal space and breathing. No hot, hard pavements swarmed with impatient bodies struggling to get by and on to their destinations. No loud noises, horns blaring as cars sped by or sat jammed in traffic. Hot and humid with not a drop of shade to be found.
Before him stretched miles and miles of land, dirt and grass. Scrawny trees and small animals scattering about. “Mama, where are we?”
“Home.” The word tasted bitter in Summer’s mouth. She’d left this place wide-eyed and hopeful, so certain that she would make it on her own. She was returning with her eyes lowered to the ground, her heart and spirit shattered, and her soul broken. Ashamed of all she’d done and the troublesome world she’d brought her child into. She sat still, afraid to hear the words surely waiting for her behind the front door. I told you so, I told you so. “We’re home.”
“How come you’ve never brought me here before? Will there be people that I know?”
Shamefully, Summer shook her head. “They know you.” Looking towards her son, she smiled. “No worries, Honey, they’ll be so kind to you. They’ve loved you your whole life, even from afar.”
“And what about you?”
For the moment, she didn’t want to think of how any one would react. “Don’t you worry about me. Come on, let’s get inside.”
The strides they took towards the front door were slow, short. Darius continued to make observations of their surroundings while Summer mumbled silent prayers that all would go well. For once in her adult life, she was in no mood for arguing.
Up four tiny steps, across a short porch, they stood in front of a basic white door. She knocked two times, waited, and knocked twice more. Quickly, she leaned down and began to make a fuss over Darius. While she’d thrown on anything, she made certain her son looked well put-together and clean. She would not have him looked or talked down on.
“Mama, I’m fine.” She smoothed the front of his shirt, checking for food and drink stains. Satisfied after adjusting his cargo shorts, she picked at his curls before he gently pushed her hand away. Summer huffed, stepping closer. She quickly pulled a wet napkin from her purse, carefully cupping Darius’ face with her free hand. Wiping the corners of his mouth, she mentally scolded herself for not insisting on a better outfit for him. “There was nothing there, Mama, I looked before I got out of the car.”
“I just want you to look perfect.”
“I’m perfect just like you.” Those five words did wonders for her broken heart. Before she could continue, the door creaked open. Darius’ eyes grew large as they traveled the full length of the man before them. “Mama, who’s that?”
Summer stood straight coming face to face with a man she hadn’t seen a day in her life. His face was youthful, and held a mischievous look that didn’t settle well within her spirit. As she pulled Darius closer, the man stood still. His eyes focused on hers, staring like a deer caught in headlights. “Who are you? Where’s my mother?”
He didn’t answer, lost in his thoughts until a soft yet stern voice broke his concentration. It came from kitchen, mixed with the rattling of pots and utensils. “Benjamin, who’s that at the door?”
He swiftly pulled himself together, smiling as he stepped aside. “Your daughter, Miss Julia.” As Summer rushed herself and her son past the man, he smiled and spoke lowly to himself. “Your very beautiful daughter.”
“Benjamin, since when do you announce May or Autumn as just ‘your daughter’? I-” As she turned from the stove, Julia Huston’s eyes began to cloud with tears at the sight before her. A sight she hadn’t been blessed to witness in years. “Well, I’ll be.” She rushed as fast as her body would allow her across the kitchen, pulling both her daughter and grandchild into her arms. She made a huge fuss, holding them tightly and kissing all over their faces until she felt content that she’d given them a good bit of the love they’d missed out on.
Summer felt a small bit of peace wash over her, unwarranted tears briefly spilling from her eyes until she was able to pull away and regain control of her emotions. Darius reveled in the affection, laughing as the older woman fawned over him.
Watching from the kitchen doorway, Benjamin leaned against the frame and looked on. It was the first time in months he’d seen a genuine smile on the older woman’s face. It was the first time in months he’d heard her hearty laugh, and it made him happy that someone had finally come along to bring a bit of joy back into her life. “Are you my grandma?”
Julia nodded gleefully as she kissed Darius’ cheeks, overjoyed at the sight of him. Like she’d done with Summer, she took a loving glance at him, inhaled his scent each time she brought him closer to her body for a hug. She loved them deeply, still, as if she hadn’t been denied so many years of having them in her life. As if no time at all had passed between this meeting and their last nearly nine years before.
She answered his question eagerly. “I most certainly am, and how proud I am to be. My God, you’ve grown so much. Just as handsome as you want to be, a spitting image of your pawpaw.” Darius looked up at his mother and Summer nodded, confirming her mother’s words. “Those ears for sure.” Julia tugged at them, causing the child to laugh before he threw his arms around her. “Lord knows I’ve been wanting a moment like this for so long. Welcome home, my babies.”