When I wake in the morning, I start for a moment, forgetting where I am. Greg shifts in the bed. I turn, imagining Mom lying there, but then a grin spreads across my face. I take in his messy dark hair and two days of beard growth on his strong jaw. His brow furrows like he’s deep in concentration. His light snores are a comfort.
And I realize Mom didn’t plague me last night.
I lie there for a while, just taking him in, my mind at ease. His eyes flutter open. He smiles.
He sits up with a jolt of energy like the chirpy morning person he is. “Coffee?”
“Yeah, sure.” Meanwhile, I swing my legs over the side of the bed and stand with greater effort than a 25-year-old woman should feel.
The evidence of our lovemaking is in the scattered clothes. I grab my shirt and underwear, tug them on. The coolness of the hard floor under my feet feels good in the summer heat. I stumble into the bathroom and stare at my reflection. The circles around my eyes aren’t as pronounced, but my pallor could use some sun. Maybe a day at the beach soon, even if Lake Erie isn’t the same as the ocean…it’s a beach. I rake my hands through my tangled dark blond hair. The limp strands hang around my face. Greg tells me I’m pretty, but I don’t see it. Not lately.
By the time I enter the kitchen, Greg has a cup of coffee on the counter for me and is brewing his own in his single-serve coffeemaker. He takes the vanilla creamer out of the fridge, passes it to me.
I nod. “Yeah, probably the best sleep I’ve had since…you know…”
Greg grabs his cup of coffee and joins me at the island. “You know, you could just pour, sprinkle, whatever her ashes somewhere.”
“I tried to throw them away. Somehow, I couldn’t.” I take a long swig of coffee, allowing the warmth to calm me on its way down.
“But why? If she was such an awful person, why not just get rid of the bitch once and for all?”
“There’s a reason…well, lots of reasons…why I never introduced you, Greg. My mom was clinically insane at the end, kept in an institution since I was 22. I never wanted to tell you all that shit, all that went down growing up with her.”
“You told me some stuff.”
“Yeah, but it was better that way. I wanted to bury her with all the memories, yet I just can’t. She’s still my mom, you know? As fucked up as that is…”
“So there must’ve been something redeeming about her?”
I shrug, push the coffee away as my stomach churns. The heat intensifies around me, a thick cloud wrapping me, suffocating me as Greg stares at me. Imploring me. “Why are you looking at me like I’m the one who’s crazy? She was likely off since who knows when. She wasn’t fit to raise a kid, but there you have it. The damage’s been done.”
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