“Me too,” I agree. “You don’t get to choose your family, right?”
“Right,” Judge Otero says. “You’re stuck with them until you’re old enough to choose your own. He’ll find a new one. He’s on his way.”
“I think I’m on my way too.” I don’t want to push Judge Otero into a decision. I understand that learning to be a responsible parent takes time. But I really want to move forward and I want today to be the day.
“Have you made a decision about where you’ll live?”
My lease is up in a few days. Mateo paid for the first six months, and that’s just about over. “I… I don’t know yet. I might be seeing Mateo tonight?” It comes off as a question because it’s not really up to me. “His last code said, Congratulations. So I think he’s expecting a celebration. But…” I hesitate. “It’s up to you. And I respect your decision, Judge. So if I’m not ready yet…” I have to stop because I want to cry. But I gather myself together and take a deep breath. “I’ll accept that.”
I’ll go home and sob is what I’ll do, but I’m not going to try to influence his decision with that threat. I’m done skating through life. I want to earn it. I need to work for it.
He looks down at my file and then signs a piece of paper. “I think you’re more than ready, Shannon. I think you’re going to make a great mother.”
He leans forward and takes Olivia’s little hand. She loves him to death and shoots him a smile. “You had a rough start for sure. But your mommy loves you a lot.”
It was difficult weaning her off the codeine, but she’s better now. She no longer cries because of the withdrawal, and the foster family did such a great job with her. I’m eternally grateful.
Judge Otero looks back at me and smiles. “Tell Mateo that congratulations are indeed in order and I wish you both the best.”
Epilogue - Mateo
My heart thumps like crazy when Shannon pulls into my driveway. We agreed months ago that she needed to do this herself. She needed to find her own solution to this problem. And that when she was ready, and things were in order, she’d come here and we’d talk in person again.
Maybe the codes were silly, but it was the only way she knew how to communicate with me. She wanted to start over and I didn’t. I wanted to keep going. But even though she doesn’t have the wisdom of experience, she’s the smartest person I know. Because she was right.
We needed a new beginning. One where the power was shared and the secrets were over.
She gets Olivia out of her baby seat in the back of the car, and I can see Shannon wiping her tears from the kitchen window. But they’re happy tears. Everything is good right now or she wouldn’t be in my driveway.
I’ve stood here in this spot every Wednesday at six o’clock for months waiting for this moment. And each time she didn’t come, I missed her more. I’d sit down and write her trig problems, trying to find the perfect message to make her feel better about not getting the thing she wanted most.
Her own family.
I wait at the window to see what she will do, and she walks to the back porch.
There are a few moments of hesitation. She chews her lip as she raises her hand to knock.
But she doesn’t knock.
She reaches for the handle and opens the door, letting herself in. I hold my breath as I smile, unable to dare to believe it’s finally time.
But then she speaks and everything is right in the world.
Because she says, “We’re home.”