She sniffs a few times, clearing her throat once again before replying. “Oh, I’m fine, sweetheart. It’s just a little cold.” Cough. Cough.
A little cold to my mom in her condition isn’t something to take lightly. I am suddenly feeling panicky. “How long have you had it? Do you have a fever? How’s your appetite?”
“Sweetheart, please relax. I’m fine, really. My nose started running yesterday and now I have this little tickle in my throat. That’s all. No fever. No nausea.”
“So you’re eating?” It’s very important for my mom to be able to keep her food down. She had lost so much weight when she started her treatments and we had finally gotten it back up to a healthy number a few months ago. I never want to see my mom that thin again.
“Yes, yes I’m eating. Soup mainly, but that’s good for a cold, which is what this is, Mia. I don’t want you worrying yourself to death over this. Your aunt has everything under control.”
“I can’t help it that I worry, Mom. You know that.”
She sighs, clearing her throat again. “Yes, I know. But I’m still the parent here, and if I say that I don’t want you to worry, then you need to listen to me. Now tell me, is the weather as miserable there as it is here? It’s so hot outside right now that you can’t even breathe. And don’t get me started on the damn sand fleas.”
Sand fleas. I don’t miss those. They are everywhere in Georgia when the weather gets hot. These tiny little nats that will bite you and make your life miserable. “It is really hot, but you know I’ve always loved Alabama summers. The air is just better here or something, I don’t know. I’m getting ready to get in the pool now.”
She sniffs again. “Oh, well, why are you wasting your time talking to me? Go have fun, sweetheart.”
“I’m not wasting my time. I just wanted to see how you were doing.”
“I’m doing great besides this tiny little cold. So please go swim some laps for me. Maybe by next summer we’ll be able to go to the pool on base together like we used to.”
I stand up and smile. “Absolutely. You’ll be so strong by then, Mom. I love you.”
“Love you too.”
She will be stronger by next summer. I can’t wait to see my mom doing everything she used to do. But with that joy comes the heart wrenching sadness of realizing that I’ll be with her in Georgia and not here with Ben. Life can be a total bitch sometimes. No, fuck that. I’m not going to let anything ruin my day or the rest of my time here. After brushing my teeth and pulling my hair up into a bun, I walk outside to the pool.
“Pwincess Mia! Watch dis!” Nolan is standing on the edge at the deep end while Ben stands a few feet in front of him in the water. I walk around and watch him with excitement. He squats down ever so slightly before jumping off the side and splashing into the water. He goes under and pops back up after a few seconds, prompting Ben to grab him.
I clap for him and sit down on the edge. “That was awesome. You’re such a big boy doing that without floaties. I don’t even know if I’m brave enough to do that.”
Ben moves closer to me in the water, holding Nolan out in front of him so he can splash around. He turns his body, putting himself between me and Nolan. His eyes do that shift from sweet to mischievous that he seems to do better than anyone as he rakes over my body. “You better hurry up and put that body of yours under the water before I do very inappropriate things to you in front of my son.” I give him a disapproving smirk. He wouldn’t dare. He leans in and nips at my bottom lip, sending a chill up my back in the sweltering heat. “I’m completely serious,” he warns with a smolder that I feel in places he is only familiar with.
“Well I’d hate to see you put those handcuffs to use if I choose to disobey orders, Officer Kelly.” I shoot him a teasing look as I slide into the water. It’s warm but still cools my body off instantly.
He brushes his lips against my ear. “You’ll be in my handcuffs soon enough. Disobeying me has nothing to do with that.” Good God. I was completely kidding, but given the look Ben’s currently giving me, he definitely isn’t. And I am down with whatever ways he wants to use them on me. He backs away from me and holds Nolan out in front of him. “Show Princess Mia how you can swim, buddy.”
I hold out my hands to him, backing up to the wall. His little legs kick as hard as they can, splashing Ben in the process as he slaps his arms against the water. It takes him a little while, but he finally makes it to me with the biggest dimpled grin on his face. “You’re like a little fish.” I wrap him up in my arms and he immediately draws me closer into a hug. He buries his face into my neck, holding on to me with all of his strength. “You give good hugs, Sir Nolan.”
“I wove you,” his husky little voice declares.
I lock eyes with Ben who is watching us intently. “I love you too,” I vow, never drifting from Ben’s eyes. His lips part slightly as he moves closer to us. Strong arms find my waist under the water and he pulls the two of us against his chest. And we stay like that for as long as Nolan allows, Ben and I stealing kisses above Nolan’s head. It’s the best time I’ve ever had in that pool. A perfect day with my two favorite Kelly boys.
* * *
I’ve never heard my son say I love you to anyone besides me. Not even to my family, and I knew he loved them. He was crazy about my parents and my sister. And I’m sure he loved his mom because all three-year-olds loved their parents no matter how shitty they were to them. But he’s never said those words to her in front of me. Like the nose thing, those three words were something that he and I shared. Something that he kept between the two of us. Until he met Mia. And I can’t blame him for loving her. She was incredibly easy to love. Hearing him say it to her hit me right in my soul. It was the same way I felt when he said it to me. Like I’d just been given this amazing gift. And he meant it. My son is brutally honest with his feelings. He’ll tell you exactly how he feels and he won’t sugar coat it. He didn’t hesitate in the slightest either. His words were strong and steady, just like I knew mine would be when she eventually heard them.
When she said it back to him, she looked right at me with those eyes that were impossible to look away from. No woman has ever looked at me the way Mia does. It was new yet familiar at the same time. Like she’s been looking at me like that our entire lives. Like she knew me better than anyone. I was used to women staring at me because they wanted me. I was familiar with that look. That desire that was completely superficial and void of any real emotion. I could easily break away from those women. I wasn’t completely pulled in by a single fucking glance. Ready to hand over my entire life because of just one look. But that’s how it was with Mia. When she looked at me, she saw me. My hopes, my fears, my future that for all intents and purposes belonged to her. She fucking owned me with that stare and I never wanted to look away.
I wanted Mia to come with me to take Nolan to Angie’s apartment. She seemed uneasy about it at first, but Nolan turned on that Kelly charm that she’d become completely helpless against. I wasn’t sure how Angie was going to take it, but honestly, I didn’t give a shit. No matter how much she wanted to deny it, Angie was very aware of my feelings toward her. I’ve always been straight forward and honest, even when I allowed the occasional blow job. And looking back, I hate that I was weak in those moments of loneliness. But she knew we didn’t have a future, and I wanted to show off mine.