Sitting on a bench beside the water, Lexi felt very self-conscious. When Brittany asked to meet her at the park, her initial reaction was to say no. After a couple days, she decided to say yes. She wanted to know what Brittany had to say. Everything about it felt strange and awkward, though. She felt like she was sneaking around. Not only did Brittany insist on Lexi coming alone, necessitating her asking her elderly neighbor to let the girls stay with her for the afternoon, but she also insisted they meet at the park. It all felt so clandestine.
Lexi looked up to see Brady’s younger sister standing nearby. She looked nervous.
Without waiting for a response, Brittany said, “I’m sorry I’m late. Dalton’s bus was late and I got behind.”
“No problem.” Lexi scooted to one end of the bench so Brittany could sit down. “What’s up?”
“I wanted to talk to you about Dalton.” She didn’t look at Lexi as she talked. Instead, she watched the wind blowing the leaves of the tree they sat beneath. “How’s he doing in school?”
Surprised, Lexi answered, “He’s doing great. He’s one of my best students.” After a pause, she added, “You know you can schedule a parent-teacher meeting if you have any questions about his progress.”
Brittany nodded. “That’s not really what I wanted to talk about.”
Lexi waited. This whole interaction was incredibly awkward.
“I wanted to explain why I did what I did.” She paused, biting her bottom lip. Her hands were shaking.
“What do you mean?” Lexi knew what she meant, but Brittany seemed as if she needed help getting the conversation started.
“Brady told you what happened with me and Kyle?”
“I was just a kid,” Brittany’s words were defensive. “I was trying to protect him. I really loved him.”
“But you lied to him,” Lexi attempted to keep the judgment from her voice.
“I know,” Brittany sounded defeated. “I was trying to do the right thing, but I probably didn’t.”
“My mom never knew her grandson.” Lexi, too, stared at the leaves, as if the gentle waving could alleviate the tension between the two women.
“I’m sorry.” Brittany sighed. “To be honest with you, I never really thought about Kyle’s family. I was a kid. I couldn’t see past my own problems.”
“We would have loved to have been a part of Dalton’s life,” tears burned the back of Lexi’s eyelids, “and we could have helped.”
“I didn’t need help.” Brittany lifted her chin. “I took care of Dalton. My parents helped when I needed it. But I did what it took to take care of him.”
“I understand.” Lexi fought to keep the anger that was threatening to rise under control. “I wasn’t saying you didn’t do a good job. I just meant, we could have helped . . . because we wanted to. Not because you needed it.”
Brittany exhaled, and balled her fists in her lap. “It was really hard. I missed Kyle so bad I couldn’t stand it, and I hated lying to him. When I told him I had . . . ended the pregnancy . . . it was because I was really planning to do it. But, when it came down to it, I just couldn’t.”
“I’m glad you didn’t.”
“Of course,” Lexi turned in her seat to face the other woman. “I’m really, really sad that I missed out on six years of my nephew’s life, but I’m glad to be in his life now. Even if it’s just as his teacher. He’s really great.”
“He really is!” There was urgency in Brittany’s voice as a tear escaped down her cheek. “I made a lot of mistakes with how I handled things, but Dalton was not a mistake.”
“Of course he wasn’t.” Lexi reached for her hand, and gave it a squeeze. “You did what you thought was best.”
“You really are nice,” Brittany sniffed. “Dalton and Brady won’t shut up about how nice you are.” She chuckled. “And how pretty.”
Lexi blushed at the thought of Brady saying she was pretty.
“Where is Kyle?” Brittany suddenly asked.
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“I’ve not heard from him in years.” Lexi let go of the other girl’s hand and wrapped her arms around herself. “He used to call my mom ever so often, but he would never tell her where he was. He doesn’t even know she died.”
“Oh, wow.” Brittany’s voice broke as one tear after another dripped off her chin. “It’s all my fault, isn’t it?”
“No,” Lexi shook her head, “he was an adult. He’s a grown man now. He has to own his own choices.”
“I broke his heart.” Brittany sniffed and wiped at her cheeks with the sleeve of her shirt.
“I think you broke your own, too.” Lexi reached for Brittany’s hand again and gave it a squeeze. “It’s okay.”
“It was.” Brittany shivered in the crisp air. “Until you showed up and everything got stirred up.”
“It’s not your fault,” Brittany admitted. “I just thought . . . well, I thought it was all behind me. And now you’re Dalton’s teacher? And my brother is in love with you? This is crazy.”
Lexi’s heart skipped a beat. “Brady’s not in love with me. We’ve barely dated. We’re not dating anymore.”
“Whatever,” Brittany shook her head, “it is what it is, but he’s really hung up on you. That’s why I wanted to talk to you today.”
“Because of Brady?”
“Yeah.” Brittany pulled her hand back, and fished in her purse for a tissue. “Brady’s my best friend. He’s been a really good brother to me and a really great uncle to Dalton. I want him to be happy. He thinks you will make him happy. So . . . I wanted to straighten things out with us so that you and Brady can do what you want to do. I don’t want to stand in the way of my brother being happy.”
Lexi’s mind was racing. “What do you mean, ‘straighten things out?’”
Brittany shrugged. “I wanted to explain things to you, and I’m going to tell Dalton you’re his aunt. So that we aren’t standing in your and Brady’s way.”
“There is no ‘me and Brady.’” Lexi took a deep breath. “Thank you for talking to me, Brittany. I appreciate it. And, if you want to tell Dalton I’m his aunt, that would be great. I’d love for him to know me as his aunt and to get to know his cousins. But, as for me and Brady, that chapter’s closed.”
Rachel Holbrook writes from her home in Knoxville, TN. She is the author of the syndicated serial, Little River, Volumes 1 & 2. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in Burningword Literary Journal, *82 Review, Ink in Thirds, Akitsu Quarterly, The Avalon Literary Review, The Society of Classical Poets, and various other literary journals. She recently won an Honorable Mention for her short story “A Slow Burn” at the Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society’s annual convention. She also received the Springs of Helicon Award for Poetry, awarded by Tennessee Wesleyan University. When she’s not writing, she enjoys going on literal and literary adventures with her husband and six children.