Lindsay had warned me the groomsmen were at the house, so I tried to force a smile as we entered the living room.
“How did it go?” Mark asked when we appeared. Then his eyes landed on me and the concerned look that shadowed his face told me I wasn’t doing a very good job of faking it. His head cocked to the side and he started to speak when Lindsay skirted past me and planted herself between us.
“Went fine. Everything is ready to go,” Lindsay said. She stepped to the side, introducing me to the men in the room, by pointing at them. “Grace, this is Tom, Harold, Brent, and of course you know Trevor.”
I waved at each of them, and they waved back. “Nice to meet you. I don’t mean to be rude, but I have a headache starting,” I lied. “I’m going to excuse myself to my room. It’s really nice to meet you.”
I didn’t wait for a response and just headed for the safety of the basement.
I’m not sure how long each stage took to go through. When I flopped down on the bed, tears poured out as memories of my childhood with Lionel played on repeat. I heard the venom in his voice on that last phone call I’d had with him, words that will forever leave a mark on my soul. How I was worthless and a word I hate so much, I don’t repeat even in my thoughts. That he wished I had never been born. How he regretted ever taking care of me. And the one that hurt the most was him telling me the only way I could have made it where I was with my career was on my back. The thing is, I’d had worse said about me—to me. My own mother had told me more than once that I’d been a mistake. But hearing those words from Lionel had nearly killed me.
I don’t know how long it took, but at some point, that pain morphed into anger. How dare he try to contact me after that? And through Mark, of all people, the one person who had been a constant source of positivity in my hellish life. I wanted to march down there and punch him right in the nose. It would serve him right. He’d been the first to teach me how to throw a punch, after all. I wanted to go there and scream at him. I wanted to call him names. Hurtful ones. I wanted to see the look of shock on his face. I wanted to inflict pain.
Eventually, the anger subsided, and I stopped yelling at him in my mind as I numbed. He was nothing to me anymore. Not worth my time. Definitely not worth the effort of going to see him. He didn’t deserve my forgiveness if that’s what he was wanting. Even if he was truly clean, which I questioned.
Upstairs though were the people who actually cared about me. Those were the people I needed to focus on. It was only for a week, and then I’d be back in New York—or wherever my life was going to take me next—and Lionel would be a blip on the radar again.
Peeling myself off the bed, I washed my face and brushed my teeth, then headed upstairs. I rounded the corner of the living room and found only my family, with the exception of Henry. They were relaxed and watching an animated movie on the big screen television that hung above the fireplace. Mark was seated on the end of the couch, popping popcorn in his mouth from a big, white, plastic bowl, and Lindsay was stretched out on the couch using Mark’s thigh as a pillow. On the floor next to them, Bryan was on his stomach, his chin propped on his hands and his legs in the air behind him, ankles crossed. Thomas was curled up under a blanket on the chair.
As I entered, Lindsay craned her head to look at me, then bent her legs to make room for me on the couch. When I sat down, Bryan immediately moved from the floor and onto my lap.
“Where’s Henry?” I whispered.
Already drowsy, Lindsay shrugged. “Being a teenager.”
Returning to the movie, I sat in silence, giggling on occasion with the boys when something funny happened, but otherwise, just enjoying the moment. I looked over at Mark and Lindsay, then at the boys. Despite the chaos of their lives, in that moment, I saw how truly happy and in love they still were, and my stomach pinged a little with jealousy. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed my no-strings attached lifestyle. I liked sleeping in until late and working until the wee hours. I enjoyed not answering to anyone, not having to include anyone in my decisions, whether it was what to have for dinner or whether to go out. I enjoyed my freedom.
But the truth was that I knew nothing else. The moment I was sitting in had never been a scene from my childhood. I didn’t need a therapist to tell me I was traumatized when it came to relationships. Relationships scared me. Relinquishing control scared me. The scene surrounding me scared me. Yet, there was a small part of me that yearned for it and knew time was running out.
Looking down at Bryan, still cuddled in my arms, I let myself wonder what it would be like to have a child of my own. Feeling my gaze, he looked up at me. There was something in his eyes. Something different. Something, had I been his mother, I probably would have recognized.
He whispered, “I don’t feel so good.” Then proceeded to vomit all down the front of me. I gagged. He vomited again. I took it all back. No kids for me.
Both Lindsay and Mark vaulted from the couch. Mark snatched him from my lap and stuck his head over the popcorn bowl then football-carried him with one arm, while holding the bowl under his puking son’s head.
The smell hit me, and I gagged again. Thomas had already run from the room screaming, “Gross!”
Lindsay grabbed my arm and yanked me from the couch. “Hold it in Grace. Hold it in! Do not puke on my new couch!” she yelled, as she steered my gagging self down the hall to the bathroom.
Helping me strip off my puke-covered shirt with a yank over my head, Lindsay jumped back as I darted to the toilet and proceeded to empty the contents of my stomach like I’d been mixing beer and shots all night. When I finished—and I was sure nothing was left to come out—I sat back on my heels, wiped my mouth with my arm, and took a deep breath.
Lindsay’s soft giggles reached my ears, and I glared at her. “Really?”
“Sorry,” Lindsay said, trying to hold back her smile but doing so unsuccessfully. “Take a shower. Give me your clothes. I’ll grab you some new ones and I’ll throw these in the shower. You’ll be fine in a few minutes.”
I glanced at my bright green-and-pink puke-covered shirt in Lindsay’s hand. “Why does that look like icing?”
Holding her head back, she glanced it and wrinkled her nose with a groan. “Because it is. Guess I need to have a talk with my kid. Get cleaned up. I’ll be back in a minute.”
She exited the bathroom, closed the door, and laughed.
“I heard that!” I shouted.
“Sorry!” she responded and moved down the hallway.
As I stripped off the rest of my clothes, I held back the urge to puke again when my hand touched slime on my jeans. Stepping into the shower, I turned it on, then scrubbed my hair and the rest of my body. Thankfully none had made it onto my actual person. I heard the door open and close again.
“You, good?” Lindsay asked.
“I’m good,” I replied.
The door closed again and when I stepped out, my soiled clothes had been removed and the new ones were neatly folded on the closed toilet seat. After I dried myself off and slipped on the clothes, I went back to the living room to find Lindsay inspecting the couch and carpet.
“Just so we are all aware,” I said. “Your son puked on me. I win the “world of suck” award today.”
Lindsay laughed and I did, too. It had been a long time since we’d measured our bad days and declared “world of suck” winner for the day.
“You saved my carpet, my couch, and my sanity, so I willingly relinquish the title,” she said as she stood up and stretched her back.
“Is Bryan okay?”
“He’s fine. Mark’s in there with him. Apparently, he got into the cookies you bought and ate them all on a dare. We will deal with his brothers later.”
“All twelve of them?”
“Yep. And two cupcakes.”
I rolled my eyes. “You tried to warn me. I didn’t listen.”
“Nah. This one was on me. I knew better than to leave them sitting on the table without clear instructions. Mom fail. Are you okay?”
“I’ll survive. But I think the universe is telling me to go to bed and try again tomorrow.”
Lindsay laughed. “Okay. We’ll see you in the morning.”
“Do you need anything from me?”
“Nope. We got it. Go on. More puking could occur before this night’s through.”
“I’ll miss that bonding moment, if you don’t mind.”
“Not at all. I’d miss it too, except he’s my kid.”
Mark entered, wearing a new shirt and carrying the soiled popcorn bowl. “He wants you,” he said looking at me.
He shrugged. “We don't ask why questions to puking kids.”
It was clear by the way Lindsay was avoiding eye contact that she was not going to save me. Defeated, I walked down the hallway and turned into his bedroom. Bryan was propped up on the pillows, his normally cheery face ashen and drooping, a small trashcan clutched in his arms. When I entered, tears formed in his eyes. “I'm sorry I threw up on you, Aunt Grace.”
My heart twisted at the sound of fear and embarrassment in his voice. This apology, he meant with every fiber of his little body.
I crawled into the bed with him, and he immediately snuggled into my arms. “Don’t you worry about it at all, little man. It washes off.”
“You’re not mad?”
“Nope. Not even a little bit,” I said, giving him a squeeze. “You know, I threw up on your daddy once.”
“You did? Did you eat too many cookies, too?” he asked. Thankfully, the pathetic sound of his voice was replaced by that of a curious child.
I chuckled. “Sort of, but I ate too much Jell-o.”
“Really. I've never heard of someone getting sick from Jell-o!”
“Give it time. One day you will.”
There was brief silence, before he spoke again. “Will you lay here with me for a little while?”
“I’ll lay here until you fall asleep. How about that?”
“On one condition. You puke in that trashcan instead of on me,” I said, giving his shoulders a gentle squeeze to show I was joking.
“I'll try,” he giggled.
Silence again. His breaths started to grow shallower as he drifted off to sleep. Then, heavily and slowly, he whispered, “Aunt Grace. I love you.”
My heart exploded. “I love you too, little man.”
I sat there, my arms wrapped around the child who had covered me in vomit only a short time before, and smiled. So, kids. Maybe not so bad after all.
Except for the whole puking thing. Someone else was going to have to handle shit like that.