“You just surprised me,” he whispers. I glance over to see his lower lip wobbling, but I don’t offer him comfort, sensing that it wouldn’t be welcomed.
“You know,” I begin, “when I was a kid, my dad beat on my mom.”
From the corner of my eye, I see Seth’s head whip up, his eyes wide.
“Yeah.” I nod and continue to frost. “He was a really mean man. Sometimes he’d pound on Ty too.”
“Did he hit you too?”
“Not really. He mostly just ignored me. My mom and dad both just sort of ignored me. I hid in the closet a lot.” The pain that I grew up with has long since healed, and in its place is a numbness that I find equally sad. I feel nothing at all when I think of my parents.
“My mom ignored me too.”
I nod and work to keep my hands steady as anger washes through me. Who in their right mind could ever mistreat this gorgeous boy?
“For a long time after Dad went away, she would leave me with babysitters and just go have fun,” he tells me, his voice low.
“Were the babysitters nice?” I bite my lip, not sure that I really want to know the answer.
“Some were.” He shrugs again. “Most of the time, they made me watch a lot of TV. Then she started bringing men home with her.”
He swallows hard and lowers his frosting to the table. His eyes are fixed on his cookie, but that’s not what he’s seeing. Instead the horror of the last few years with his mother is playing through his mind. I want desperately to pull him into my arms but I wait, sensing his need to talk.
“Most of the time, they just liked to yell a lot. I was in the way.” The last few words are said with a whisper. “Then one day, this one guy slapped me.”
A tear slips down his cheek and without thinking, I reach over and cover his hand in mine. “What did your mom do?”
“Nothing.” He raises his head and meets my eyes with his bright hazel ones. “She didn’t tell him he couldn’t do that. She just . . . laughed.”
I swipe at my own tears and clench his hand in mine even more tightly.
“And she always said really horrible things about my dad. She said he left on purpose because he didn’t love me. And lots of other things too. I didn’t know that he asked to talk to me when he called. She didn’t tell me.”
I didn’t know it was possible to feel the physical pain of your heart breaking until this moment with this amazing boy. She had the gift of a beautiful child, something I would have given anything for, and she treated him like trash.
I want to rip her apart.
“Seth,” I say softly and scoot close to him so I can wrap my arms around him. I tuck his head under my chin and kiss his head, soothingly rub circles on his back. “I want you to hear something very important. Are you listening?”
“You are loved very, very much. Your dad talks about you all the time, and you are the most important person in his life. That will never, ever change.” I press my lips to his head and breathe in his shampoo. “Your mom was a shitty mom, Seth.”
“I know. Cara said that too.”
I grin and nod. “Cara is a smart woman. That’s why she’s my best friend.” I lean back so I can cup Seth’s face in my hands, wiping his tears with my thumbs. “You’re with all of us now. Your dad, grandparents, Josh and Cara, Ty and Lo and me, we all love you and best of all, Seth, we like you. We like having you with us. You make us laugh and there is nowhere else we’ll ever want you to be. Got it?”
His lips twist and fresh tears fall from his eyes as he nods. “Yeah.”
“Good.” I kiss his cheek and pull away and we both busy ourselves wiping up our faces and sniffling, then look at each other and laugh a little.
“Jill?” Seth asks tentatively as he chooses another cookie to frost.
“I really like it that you’re with my dad.”
I raise my eyes to his and offer him a wide smile.
“I like it too.”
Suddenly the front door opens and Thor comes clomping into the kitchen, covered in snow. He hops his front paws onto Seth and then me, licking, tail wagging furiously, happy to be back inside. He backs onto all fours and shakes frantically, sending snow and water all over us.
“Damn dog!” Zack comes running behind him into the kitchen, scowling and holding an old towel. “I went to get a towel to wipe him down and he ran away from me.”
“It’s okay.” I take the towel from him and run it down Thor’s back, rubbing him vigorously. “Did you have fun in the snow?”
“He did,” Zack confirms and sniffs. “It’s damn wet out there.”
“Here.” I hand the towel to Seth. “You help Thor get dry. I’m going to help your dad.”
“Okay,” Seth agrees happily and falls to his knees on the floor to wipe down his dog. Thor sits on his haunches, his tongue hanging happily out of his mouth, and enjoys the massage from his young master.
I stand and take Zack’s hand and lead him through my bedroom to the master bath.
“You’re freezing.” I lean against the sink and hold his hands between mine, rubbing them. “You didn’t have to do all of that.”
“Why have you been crying, sugar?” he asks quietly. He tips my chin up with his cold finger and cups my face in his chilly hand. “What happened?”
“Seth and I had a heart-to-heart,” I reply softly. Zack’s brow wrinkles in confusion.
“Did he say something to hurt your feelings?”
“No, not at all, babe. He just confided in me about some things that happened when he lived with his mom.” Zack’s eyes close on a sigh. I hold his face in my hands and kiss his chin in comfort. “We’re fine. He’s fine. In fact . . .” I grin up at him when he opens his eyes and gazes down at me. “He said he’s happy that you and I are seeing each other.”
“Good.” He boosts me up onto the sink and leans down to brace his forehead on mine. Even his head is cold from being outside so long. “Death is too good for her, Jilly.”
I brace my hands on his rib cage and stay silent, letting him talk.
“For a while, I wished her dead for what she put him through, but honestly, that’s too good for her. I want her to suffer. God help me, I know it makes me a monster, but I want her to feel every bit of pain she ever put him through times a million.”