It’s been 10 years since I’ve seen her. 10 years since I stepped foot in this town and risked everything to be with her.
Today is the day I face it all. Today is the day I clean up the mistakes I made.
Mistakes. I made a lot of them in my young life. But loving April wasn’t one of them.
I look down at where I was born and raised, and memories flood my mind. Some of them invigorate me. Those will stay with me for all eternity. But others, encrusted in guilt, are so painful that they eat at me from the inside out.
I was on a different path then before she came back into my life. That was a time when I was my parents’ pride and joy.
A time when I knew nothing of the hardships that were to come, nor of the pressures of being perfect for the world.
How things have changed.
I’ll ask for forgiveness for the people I hurt along the way. I don’t know if they will accept it.
The crisp wind howls in protest and stirs up the snow flurries that came in from the mountains. It’s almost Christmas, and from up here I can see the decorations and lights twinkling in the early evening darkness.
Christmas is about redemption and forgiveness, but as I prepare to go into my hometown, I wonder if that will be enough.
Even as the scent of pine cones welcomes me home, I know this is punishment for my love. I can feel it.
I shouldn’t be here. I should let the past be the past. Yet, I can’t go on until I see her one last time. There’s so much I need to say, so many misunderstandings that could have been avoided. So much unnecessary pain.
I promised her I’d return for her and I have—10 years late. I only hope April’s waited for me, and no other man has stolen her heart. I only hope she forgives me for what I did.
She might not recognize me. I’m not the clean cut 19-year-old with rosy apple cheeks she knew all those years ago.
My skin-and-bones frame is now a muscular one. My short-cropped hair is now long and untamed, like a rock star’s.
Maybe April looks different too, but I cannot imagine her as anything but beautiful. I’ll love her just the same no matter the wrinkles or grey hair, the roll or curve—she’ll still be perfect to me.
True love does that to you. It stays with you. It never leaves you. No matter the years, no matter the distance, no matter the guilt.
But sins—the type that rip families apart and ruin lives—may be the only exception.
I hope not.
I think about what happened to our love and our families, and my blood boils. But life will do that to you—test if your love is real. Ours was as real as the evergreen trees that cloak Forest Hills.
I take a deep breath and head down the hill that overlooks my hometown. I only hope she still feels the same way about me.
Making love in the back of the pastor’s church basement was foolish, but then true love makes you do foolish things.
Years had passed since Josiah and April had last laid eyes on each other—years since they’d been forcibly separated.
But true love never runs dry.
They met in the playground on a sunny summer day when they were six. After that, they were inseparable. On her seventh birthday, at the birthday party he organized for her in his backyard, he told her: “I’m going to marry you one day, April.”
That promise never left him. After all, it’s not every day a man meets his soulmate. It’s not every day when he finds his twin flame in this sea of cold souls called life.
It was a bitter cold November afternoon, the sun setting on scattered dead leaves in his front yard, when Child Protective Services ripped April from her mother’s arms—and out of Josiah’s life. The two tried to find each other for years after that.
They thought they’d never see each other again—each thinking of the other as boy became young man and girl became young woman.
Yet here she was in his arms once again. At 19-years-old, their prayers were answered. Breathless pants were silenced only by passionate kisses.
The church’s dim light made April glow like an angel and Josiah’s light eyes made her heart leap. Her damp dark hair draped over them like a blanket, entangled in each other’s arms.
It was Josiah’s first time with a girl, but true love needs no guide.
Their love was forbidden. No one could know. Not that he was the son of a preacher. Nor that she was a former prostitute.
True love forgives everything—even a painful past.
Even his burden—of being the perfect son and handling the pressure his father put on him.
Even her battle scars—of living on the streets and struggling every day to stay alive.
They both held secrets that they entrusted only to each other. But they would soon see that even true love isn’t enough to shield them from the dark perils of the world.
Breaking my mother’s heart all those years ago was almost as bad as what happened between me and April.
I stand across from my mother for the first time in years, and it strikes me how much time has passed.
Gone is her flawless complexion—her laugh lines replaced with wrinkles, thanks to me.
Her once dark hair has been strangled by lifeless strands of gray and silver, as if to remind me of the havoc my absence created.
I look around my old stomping grounds and I have hope that forgiveness will begin in the form of my mother’s unconditional love.
A pathetic plastic mini-tree sits atop the cracked formica kitchen table, reminding me that Christmas is almost here.
There will be no chestnuts roasted on an open fire this year. No presents under the tree.
It’s my fault that the church—who once treated her like a second mother and our cabin as a second home—has evaporated from her life.
I take a deep breath and she wipes the kitchen counter as if I’m not even here.
I’ve got to say something to fill the cold empty silence. “Ever think about getting back together with Dad?”
I force an uncomfortable laugh, though there’s nothing funny about ending a marriage of more than 20 years.
She rubs the goose pimples on her arms. I grip the edges of the counter for support and swallow around the lump in my throat. I came here to say something, just one important thing. I clear my throat.
“Mom, I… I’m sorry I—”
My mother walks right past me like she doesn’t want to discuss it. Silence is the worst kind of punishment, especially when assaulted by someone you love.
I change the subject to one just as sensitive. “Mom, you haven’t seen April around, have you?”
She opens the outside door and an arctic wind rushes in, as if hinting it’s time for me to go.
I stop before the door and give her a last look. “Just know… If you ever need anything, I’ll be checking on you. Hope you don’t mind.”
Pregnant? The words whispered from April’s mouth, and Josiah didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry.
He had to stay strong for her, though his heart pounded so hard he couldn’t swallow.
He sat on the arm of the La-Z-Boy chair next to her, his arm behind her neck, her hair flowing over his arm like delicate strands of silk. He pulled her closer and kissed her moist forehead.
Her mother’s home was simple and that was good because April often found herself cleaning it up after her mother’s liquor-fueled binges.
“How did this…? When did this happen?” His words came out faster than he could retrieve them. He closed his eyes in preparation for the retort he’d earned.
Her eyes narrowed at him as if he’d slapped her across the face. “Oh, I think you know how it happened.”
He put his tongue between his teeth and bit down. The joy and the fear welled up all at once as a weight in his throat that threatened to explode. But he breathed through pursed lips and calmed it. One thought punched through the calm: Their lives were ruined. He was staying with his April—he’d never leave her—but this baby was going to ruin their lives.
They harbored the dream of revealing their secret relationship to their parents—and the fantasy that they’d be welcomed with unconditional love. That was impossible now.
The moment the word got out about their pregnancy, his father’s position as the town’s pastor would be in doubt.
His mom would be shunned. Worse yet, both April and Josiah will be excommunicated from the church.
His reputation as the perfect son, the benchmark every parent compared their own children to? That would be lost forever. Now he would be the cautionary tale, the one they could all consider themselves superior to, no matter how badly they screwed up.
A lone tear trailed down April’s cheek and he lifted her chin, their lips meeting in a kiss.
“So long as we’re together, that’s all that matters,” said Josiah, his eyes locking with hers.
Nothing was more important to him than April. Josiah would fight to protect her, to treasure her, to keep her in his arms. Nothing would stop that. Nothing.
He was broken. My father, the former pastor, slopped the mop in the bucket and ran it down the faux marble elementary school floor. His eyes focused on nothing, slack and circled in shades of red and purple.
It stung to see his fall from grace as much as it stung to smell the stench of the dirty Clorox he cleaned with.
Had my love for April been worth all of this?
At the height of his career as a pastor, he was the best in the state. They’d called on him to travel far and wide giving his trademark sermons—with plenty of fire but not too much brimstone. There were even guest appearances on TV and there was talk of his own show. He was well on his way to becoming a national pastor. My dad could have been one of the greatest.
But now he was a janitor. I’d taken it all from him.
Josiah looked around at all that had become of his father’s career. Children’s homemade Christmas cards hung to the walls. Plastic mistletoe dangled from the classroom doors.
The old man’s bony shoulders arched with age and shame. His once flat stomach and muscular build ruined by drinking his problems away.
My parents—once the sterling example of a married couple—were torn apart by the havoc of our careless love.
His turned his back to me. Excommunication extended itself even to the family and he didn’t want to hear what I had to say, nor could he say anything back to me even if he’d wanted.
Still, I couldn’t hold back. “Dad, we never got to talk about what happened all those years ago.”
A cold breeze made my dad shiver and zip up his custodial uniform tighter. I had to ask the one thing I came here for.
“Dad, you haven’t seen April around town, have you?”
But he just walked into the supply closet as if I wasn’t even there, dumped the slop from the bucket and slammed the door shut in my face.
There was a time when we were best friends and now… I only hoped I could at least see April. That might make facing all of this worth it.
If anyone would understand, it would be Josiah’s parents. They were more like his brother and sister sometimes than anything.
That evening was their 20th wedding anniversary, and the more Josiah thought about it, the more he wondered why he’d taken so long to introduce April as his girlfriend.
“Do you think they’ll like me?” April spun around, her emerald green dress finally out of the closet for the event. She was ravishing.
“They’ll adore you—and our child.” Josiah snuck a quick kiss in the shadows of a nook of the Community Hall. How could they not?
His eyes met theirs from across the crowded hall and his parents smiled from ear-to-ear. Josiah was their pride and joy.
Josiah grabbed April’s hand and squeezed. He was tired of hiding this relationship. So many times he’d wanted to scream out to the world: “I love April and April loves me!” He cleared his throat. But this was going to be hard.
His dad received an energetic handshake from one congregation member and his mom took a warm hug from another. “Thank you. Thank you so much. We are truly blessed,” his father said.
“Dad? Mom?” Josiah stepped in, April in tow, her face dark and tense.
The room quieted around them, the vigorous conversation of before replaced by the judgmental looks and whispers of the brothers and sisters of the congregation.
“Yes, son.” His father’s eyes darted from Josiah to April and back.
“There’s something I need to tell you.” Josiah swallowed around the lumps in his throat.
“She’s pregnant!” The double doors to the hall slammed against the wall and April’s mother staggered into the room, preceded not just by her voice but also by her trademark stench of cheap whiskey.
All heads turned to them. The congregation had shunned Harriet years before she lost custody of April to Child Protective Services. And they weren’t any happier to see her now.
Indeed, Josiah and April had seen firsthand the permanent stain of judgment that was excommunication in a small Christian town.
“And you call yourself a Christian.” Harriet coughed, her voice gravelly like a lung cancer patient. She pushed her way through the reeling crowd to the front of the stage—and next to his parents.
“Harriet, perhaps we can discuss this privately.” His father radiated his trademark aplomb and warm smile. But his eyes were cold, and scared.
Harriet waved something around in her hand.
“Oh my goodness.” April blushed a crimson red, and Harriet flung the pregnancy test at Josiah’s parents.
“Your perfect Christian son did that to my daughter.”
The waves of crowd murmurs drowned the pounding sound of his heart. April dashed towards the door, her hands like blinders at the side of her head. Josiah chased. As if the shock and shame on his parents’ faces wasn’t painful enough, the hisses the congregation made was like being stoned to death on that long sprint for the door.
I was invisible, lost in a stream of people and drowning in my own misery. They scurried about in their winter coats in the hustle and bustle that was Christmas season.
April. I needed her. Only she had a way to lift my spirits.
It was she who I could laugh with for hours about almost nothing, never running out of things to talk about.
It was she who was my other half. I’d been lost all these years without her. I wondered if she still felt the same. I wondered where she was.
There she was—the answer to my prayers and my one bridge to the love of my life. Harriet.
I didn’t recognize April’s mother at first, talking to herself, bundled in tattered clothing and pushing her overfilled grocery cart through the mass of pedestrians.
She was homeless. My heart broke for what had become of her life, but I couldn’t help but feel that maybe she deserved that dose of karma.
She froze, her eyes widening as they met mine. She turned pale as if she’d seen a ghost.
And she had.
The little boy who ran right through me probably gave it away. Perhaps it was the cold chills and goosebumps. Most people got those when spirits like me were near.
She hauled butt across the street and down a back alley.
“Wait!” I chased after her. There was no way she’d avoid me.
“Get away from me!”
I wasn’t about to lose my only opportunity to see my April again. She turned left, then right into the maze of alleys that made up the infrastructure of Main Street in Forest Hills. But it wasn’t enough to keep me away.
She made a wrong turn and I appeared right in front of her, trapping Harriet in the dead end of a back alley.
She pounded her head in denial. “I’m crazy. The doctor said I just need to take my meds.”
“You’re no more crazy now than you were all those years ago.” I crossed my arms, ready for any sudden escape attempts.
“Our Father in heaven. Hallowed be thy name,” she said, crossing herself incorrectly, by the way.
“Thy will be done in heaven as in Earth.” I finished her prayer with a smirk. “I can’t believe you can see me. I can’t believe you can hear me.”
I shrugged. “I’m glad to see you too. I need you to help me reach April.”
“I ain’t doin’ squat.” She slipped past me and dashed into a church.
There went my one and only chance to reach the love of my life.
“What do you mean you want to break up?”Josiah rolled the cold, smooth metal of her promise ring around in his hand.
They really thought they could make it through this. The unauthorized public outing of their relationship and April’s pregnancy had been devastating for the two of them.
She focused her eyes on the cracks in the sidewalk and turned to leave from his parents’ doorstep that day. “It’s better this way,” she mumbled.
Josiah pulled her back into an embrace, and took her face in his palms. “I’m lost without you.”
She struggled to look away and her chin quivered as a lone tear ran down her cheek. “This is destroying your family.”
As much as he wanted to deny it, the damage had already begun. They’d already demanded his father step down as the town’s pastor.
And the once close sisters in the congregation barely muttered “Hello” to his own mother at the market.
These so-called friends, many of whom they’d been there for in their darkest hours, now avoided them like the plague.
Was loving April worth all this? For Josiah, there was only one answer.
His thumb brushed the lone tear from her cheek. “We’re going to run away together. That way we can live our own life together. You, me, and our baby.”
“Look at me.” Josiah kissed her lips. “I promise.”
The blood-curdling scream pierced my ears. “Get away from me!” Harriet’s voice echoed in the women’s public bathroom.
I cornered her against the bathroom sink. “I don’t think you understand the gravity of the situation. I don’t have much time left and I need to speak to April while I still can.”
A smirk spread across her face. “Well, I guess then we have a conundrum because I ain’t helping you.”
“Why not?” I asked. Enough games.
She bowed her head in shame though she masked it with a chuckle. “Even if I wanted to, she won’t speak to me. Hasn’t in 10 years.”
“Why not?” I asked, though I knew the answer before I finished speaking.
She scoffed. “After ruining things for you two lovebirds? Not going to happen. Good luck on your journey to the light.”
She staggered away, clearly still drunk. I was desperate. I had to think fast as so the words slipped out of my mouth before I could stop them. “You’re going to die.”
She rolled her eyes, reaching for the doorknob. “Ain’t everybody?”
“You’ve got cancer—terminal cancer.” It was a terrible thing to say, especially since it wasn’t true, but I had no other choice and I could only hope it would work.
She turned to face me. “How much time do I got?”
“Not much. It’s best, if there’s something you need to say to someone, you do it and soon,” I said, trying to mask how horrible I felt about doing this.
She took a long breath. “The world has treated me like trash most of my life. I wanna say nothin’ to nobody… except April.”
“Then do it and do it quick.” I crossed my arms. Harriet had fallen right into my trap.
In the end, saying goodbye to his parents before he slipped out the window that night was just too painful.
He wanted to bring up the subject over dinner, but his mother faked that she wasn’t hungry in order to make sure there were enough baked beans for him and his father. And it tore his heart out.
Through it all, with his father losing his job and his mother ironing people’s clothes to scratch out a living, his parents stayed strong.
But the threads of the relationship were coming undone.
April was right. Their love was destroying everything.
His parents would only try to talk him out of leaving. His goodbye letter was the best way, he told himself. He laid it on the kitchen table before disappearing from their lives—forever.
April was waiting for him at her house. Josiah was to pick her up at 11 p.m. They would leave together for the last Greyhound bus that night from Main Street.
But Josiah never made it there.
April slammed the door in her mother’s face. I really shouldn’t have been surprised.
They hadn’t spoken for years. Before that, their relationship had always been rocky. So, the chances of her mother getting through to her for me were slim to none.
And yet, I had to try.
Harriet charged down the hall of the fancy high-rise condo where April lived. Even the Christmas decorations were gold-plated.
She glared at me as if April’s response was somehow my fault. “Told you she wouldn’t talk to me.”
“So that’s it? This could be my… Your only chance to talk to your daughter and you’re just going to give up?” I stepped out in front of her again.
She tried to walk through me, but the strength of my emotions blocked her.
Her eyes widened. She wasn’t the only one. I could manipulate something physical!
“You can’t make me do it.” She refused to look at me.
“Do you want to die, knowing you didn’t make amends to the one ones you loved and hurt the most?” I pressed her shoulder.
I thought of my own guilt. I never got a chance to say goodbye. I never got to tell the people I loved how much they meant to me.
I didn’t know how much time I had left, but I could feel a force calling me back to where I’d escaped from.
A force that wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Her eyes glistened in the brightly-lit hallway. “I was such a bad mother. I made so many mistakes. I don’t know what to say.”
I never thought I’d hug that woman, but for the first time in my life, I realized who she was: just a mom who wanted her daughter’s forgiveness.
“We’ll figure something out.” I hoped I was right.
Tonight was the night he and April would run away together. It was difficult to leave his family behind, but this was the only way.
Josiah only hoped that in time things would calm down—that he, April and their baby could return to Forest Hills and be reunited with his parents.
That evening, the rain poured so hard he couldn’t see more than three feet in front of him, let alone the dirt road that led to April’s house.
He glanced at his watch. It was already past 11:30 p.m. Goodness knew when he’d arrive at April’s. He had to find a faster way.
Turning to the right, the only possible route was to cut through the woods and across the river.
He might get a little wet, but it was better than April thinking he’d abandoned her.
At first, it seemed like a good idea—even with the river rushing below. He took a tentative first step in the soft mud.
The world flipped on him and the cool cascade of river water shocked him into an otherworldly stupor as he hit his head on the sharp rock.
April’s face crossed his consciousness one last time. Now he was going to be really late.
The river rock came up fast and filled his vision. His lifeless body floated down the river like a loose log.
Harriet walked behind my dad at the school, her shoulders hunched and her face downcast.
What happened to my family was her fault. If only she’d minded her own business, my parents could have helped me and April work things out.
Maybe then my parents wouldn’t have had the stress which eventually split them apart. I only wanted them to accept April as the love of my life.
I’d made Harriet take a shower at the community center and change into some more presentable clothes. Even so, the mouthwash would only mask the liquor on her breath for so long.
Dad hit play on a busted old boombox and tired Christmas music burst into the hallway. Harriet opened her mouth. “Merry Christmas, pastor,” she yelled, and cleared her throat.
My father chuckled before turning around. “Been a long time since anybody’s called me—” His eyes met hers and his smile faded. “You.”
“I just need a second of your time,” said Harriet.
“Out.” His voice echoed down the hall like a cannon.
“Tell him it’s about me.” I had to get through to him.
“Josiah asked me to pass along a message.” She planted her feet in a surprising show of determination.
My father froze and, for a moment, his face softened—a glimpse into the man I knew before. “You’ve seen my son?”
“He… never meant to hurt you or your wife when he left that night. If he could have done it all over again, before he died, he—”
“Died?” asked my father, his eyebrows arching.
Rage rose in me. “I didn’t tell you to say that!”
“You’re telling me my son is dead and what…? You’re some kind of psychic?”
“Not exactly. I…” Her mouth moved but nothing came out.
“Get behind me, Satan! Get behind me!” He stepped towards her, his eyes big and his jaw set. Harriet screeched and scuttered back down the hall.
“Wait! Harriet!” I yelled. But the exit door slammed shut behind her—and, with it, my only chance at my father’s forgiveness.
I stayed with my father, and he squatted in a corner, his hand frantically wiping away the streaming tears.
Josiah’s body washed up on a river bank, miles from Forest Hills. It was there that a little boy found him while hooking a chunk of ham on his fishing hook.
The boy screamed to his parents that he’d found a dead man with no identification and they immediately ran to investigate.
Only Josiah wasn’t dead, not yet.
He was just unconscious. They had him helicoptered to the nearest hospital. Josiah was alive but barely. His spirit was trapped in the comatose shell, floating in the darkness with only a shaft of light that called to him.
He knew what it was. It begged him to cross over. But Josiah refused. He would not—could not—go. Not without his April.
Christmas was tomorrow and I could feel a strange, new pulling to the other side.
I was fading. If I was going to have any chance of undoing what I’d done when I left, we needed to move fast.
After our disastrous attempt to connect with my dad, I didn’t get my hopes up when Harriet approached my mother in the grocery store parking lot.
At first, she listened calmly and dug through her purse for something.
Harriet explained how I’d come back to apologize and that I only wanted to join them for one last Christmas.
“What he wants more than anything is for you, April and—”
“Ah, here it is.” My mother looked up from her purse and sprayed a fine mist from a black canister in Harriet’s direction.
Harriet screeched and grabbed for her eyes. “Mace?” she screamed, her eyes revealing a mix of horror and disbelief.
Heads turned in the parking lot to stare at her, and people scurried to their vehicles, tightly clutching their Christmas dinner fixings.
“That’s what you get for splitting up our family and for concocting this cockamamie story about my son! My son is still alive. I can feel it!” My mother’s quivering hands covered her face. She turned, opened her car door, then slammed it and faced Harriet. “I’m sorry.”
“No,” said Harriet, sobbing. “I deserved it. My daughter… she won’t even talk to me and it’s my fault.”
My mother strode over to her and pulled a few Kleenexes from her purse. “The mace is a low dose. Shouldn’t last any more than a few minutes.”
“Tell her I miss her sweet potato pie on Christmas and the time she made taco pie,” I said.
Harriet told her and my mother gasped. “I’m sorry Mom, sorry I put you through so much pain.”
Her eyes turned red and she turned away. “No, son, you listen to me. You went with love. And God is love. No one has the right to deny that to you.”
I touched my mother’s hand and goose pimples ran up her arms. She shivered. “Is that him?”
“Wait until I tell your father,” my mom said, smiling through the tears.
“Not so sure he’s open to that idea,” said Harriet.
“You let me take care of him… Thank you, Harriet. Thank you.” My mother hugged her, a gulping laugh bursting through her tears.
Harriet smiled and a tear rolled down her cheek.
My mother turned to her car, then back again. “Do you have any place to eat Christmas dinner? I make the world’s best sweet potato pie.”
Harriet wasn’t used to such kindness and became fidgety. “No, I…”
“Say ‘yes,’ Harriet,” I said with a smile.
She chuckled. “Yes, I’d be honored to join you for Christmas. Thank you… for forgiving me.”
now & then
Something was wrong. Jonah could feel it. He was no longer in the parking lot with Harriet and his mother.
He was in the hospital where his lifeless body lay comatose. The physician and specialists murmured next to him. That’s what brought him here.
They were going to unplug his life support. That much he knew for sure.
After years of being a vegetable with no identification, hospital funding cutbacks meant they couldn’t continue to keep him alive, not when he had no chance to wake up and no people who cared about him.
It would be done in a matter of hours. Gone with it would be any opportunity he had to reach April.
He had to do something. Now.
“So, wait…” The confusion was etched on Harriet’s face. They were on their way back up to April’s condo in the elevator. “So, you’re not dead?”
“You need to tell my parents to keep calling hospitals, describing everything I tell you,” I said.
“All right,” said Harriet, texting my mother.
“Take this all down.” I recounted to her every detail I could see. In and out of the hospital, name tags on hospital personnel, the smells, the train and factory in the distance. Anything and everything I could think of that could help them find me.
Harriet looked at me. “Sent. I hope it’s enough.”
“Me too.” I sighed, and the elevator doors opened. Standing in front of us was April. Goodness, she looked amazing. It was the first time I’d gotten a good look at her.
Age had been kind to her. She still had that sweetness to her. I didn’t know how this was possible but she’d become even more beautiful.
“You again. I’m calling security.” April strutted down the hall toward her condo, her rage beating its tempo on the hard floor.
“Tell her about how I remember the first time we made love in the church basement.” I needed something that would make April take this seriously.
“What?” said Harriet, contorting her face. “Really?”
“Just tell her.”
“Who are you talking to? Should have known you’d lose your mind eventually with all that drinking.” April opened the door to her condo just enough to squeeze through.
“He wants me to tell you two… ‘did it’ in the church basement.”
On the other side of the door, April froze and looked at her wide-eyed. “I beg your pardon?”
“He says he proposed to you when you were both five and he never gave you the dream. He’s only sorry he didn’t get to fulfill it.”
April’s face hardened and rage clouded her beauty. “You’re a cruel woman.”
“It was under the oak tree. You two called it your fort. Fort Green.”
April froze, her mouth hanging open in shock.
“He says he gave you a promise ring years later and you tried to give it back to him when you were standing outside his parents’ house.”
“If this is some kind of trick…” April narrowed her eyes at her mother.
“No trick. Just a mother trying to make up to a daughter and get her to love her again. I’m sorry you hate me, April. I know I deserve it for what I did.”
“I don’t hate you. I just… You really hurt us, what you did.”
“I know… I… I’m pond scum. I… he loves you still. I was jealous. I never had what you two had and the closest way to have a piece of it was to ruin it. I’m sorry, will you ever forgive me?”
April’s eyes met her mother’s. “It’ll take some time. But I’m willing to try.”
I wanted to tap Harriet on the shoulder. “Tell her, I tried to get to her that night, that something happened. An accident. I couldn’t leave this world—not without saying goodbye.”
Harriet relayed my words and April’s face turned red and she slid down the wall, grasping onto her condo door for support. She sobbed, and covered her mouth, her glance both hopeful and hurting. She babbled so many questions, we could hardly keep up.
We talked for hours through Harriet, discussing things from the past that only we knew.
“What about our baby?” I asked.
April looked away. “Without you, I wasn’t sure I could be a good mother, Josiah. In the end, I felt the best thing for our child was—”
“You terminated the pregnancy? You gave him up for adoption?” I contemplated each possibility and each one hurt deep inside me.
Harriet’s anxious eyes wandered. “No, I—”
Her front door burst open and a ten-year-old boy looked down on April. “Mom! Can I play video games?”
“After homework. Josiah, Jr. meet your… grandmother, Harriet.”
Harriet’s eyes lit up. I couldn’t believe my own eyes. He was like the perfect cross between the very best of April and me.
Harriet hugged her grandson and I didn’t want to leave. “You-know-who says he’s beautiful,” Harriet said.
“Grandma, do you know how to make chocolate chip cookies?” Josiah, Jr. asked.
“I sure do, but—” Harriet’s phone rang. “Yes? Uh-huh… We’ll be right there.”
“What is it, Mom?” April asked.
“We found him. We found Josiah.”
“Where am I?” Everything was bright, too bright, and I had to close my eyes.
“We’ve waited so long,” my mother said.
I covered my eyes and peeled one eyelid back. My parents fidgeted at my side, their arms around each other and their tearful eyes lighting up.
I smiled weakly at them. “Me too,” I said, my voice scratchy.
They kissed each other, and my father looked in my mother’s eyes, his grin growing. “Best Christmas present ever.”
But my thoughts were on the reason for my existence—the love of my life. “Where’s April?”
“Josiah?” April stepped to the side of the bed with our son in her arms. She looked at the boy. “Say ‘hello’ to your daddy.”
“Hi, Daddy. Wanna play catch?”
“Maybe you should let him recover first,” said April, laughing. “Go downstairs with your grandparents and get something to eat.”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Josiah, Jr.
“You did good with him,” I said, my throat clenching up not just from the emotion of it, but also from the pride I felt.
Christmas music buzzed in the background and April cleared her throat. “Welcome back,” she whispered.
Harriet stepped up next. “So, you decided to come back, did ya?” She gave me a side smile. “You son-of-a-gun… Come on, Junior.”
I watched them all walk away, getting along beautifully in the spirit of Christmas. “I guess I should probably tell her that she’s not terminally ill after all.”
“What?” asked April, looking at her mother and back to me.
“It’s a long story.” I reached my hand out to hers. “Never got to say goodbye.”
“Now, you don’t have to.” She leaned over and kissed me, our lips meeting for the first time in years. The sweetest taste and the best Christmas gift ever.