“What is that?” I asked, my voice shaking. “You think you can buy me? You think I want your blood money, is that what you came all this way for?” My voice was rising, anger evident in every syllable I uttered.

Brandon moved to my side, his hand cupping my shoulder in a supportive, but calming, gesture.

Gage was shaking his head vigorously, beseeching me with his eyes to just give him a chance, to listen to what he had to say. “No, I don’t wish to offend you, nor do I wish to insult you in any way. Neither do my parents. That money is the total of Greg’s estate. He left it to me with very explicit instructions that you were not to receive a penny.”

“Then I don’t understand-”

“I have no use for the money, Chloe. Neither do my parents. But what I do intend with this gesture is to blatantly disregard my brother’s wishes as he so blatantly disregarded your life and that of your child.”

I flinched at this.

“I apologize once again, but we were made aware of the total situation just recently. I hope he spins in his grave for all eternity because of what I’m doing, and that he burns in hell for what he did to you. We want you to have this to do with as you please. We are hoping that you will use it for yourself, to make sure that you are provided for, for the rest of your life. If not, donate it, tear it up, burn it. I do not care.” He moved to the door.

“It seems odd, me showing up here out of the blue and dropping a load of money in your lap, doesn’t it?” he asked.

I nodded, completely confused by everything about this whole situation.

“I assure you, it’s odd for me, too. But there was no way in hell I was abiding by my brother’s wishes and there was nothing more that pleased me than to deliver his money to you personally with my deepest apologies, and those of my parents.” He laid a card on the table by the door. “If you ever need anything, please don’t hesitate to ask.” He inclined his head to me. “I know you won’t. It also seems like you’re very well cared for and loved by this gentleman. That’s good to know.”

He nodded once, sharply, and then left, striding out the door without another word or a backward glance.

I looked up at Brandon, so totally perplexed it wasn’t funny. “Did…uh, did that just happen?” I asked.

“Yeah. It sure did. At least I think so.” He stooped to pick up the check from the carpet. “Holy shit! Did you see this?”

I shook my head. “No, I really didn’t look at it. I just saw that it was a check and dropped it. I don’t want his money. It feels dirty to me, like they’re paying me blood money.”

“Chloe, look at this,” Brandon said, holding the check in front of my face.

I glanced at it, did a double take, and then felt my eyes bug out of my head. “Are you fucking serious?” I said breathlessly. “That’s…that a five and one, two, three, four, five, six…six fucking zeros! That’s…that’s…I need to sit down.”

Brandon chuckled. “Sunshine, you are sitting down.”

I sat there dazed for a moment. “I don’t want it,” I whispered.

“Okay,” Brandon whispered back. He met my eyes, his gaze steady. His fingers shifted on the thin sheet of paper, poising to tear it up.

“Wait,” I stopped him. “Just put it up for now. I can’t just waste what could help so many other people who might need it. And that’s something that he would have hated.”

Brandon kissed my head and moved down the hallway. I don’t know where he put the check, but it was gone from his hand when he returned. “Come on, baby. I’ve got to get to the shop and you’re coming with me. Okay?”

“No…no, I’m fine. I actually have something I wanted to do today, anyway.”

“Really? And when did that come about?” he teased me.

I let my smile shine. “When you decided to let me stay home today and I told you I might have a surprise for you,” I replied with a sassy wink.

“Hmmm,” was all he said before he finished getting ready, kissed me goodbye, and left for work.

As soon as he was gone, I picked up the phone and called my mom, just needing to hear her voice.

“Hey, sweetie!” she said happily when she answered. “I was just thinking about you. How was your fourth party?”

“Hi, Mom. It was good. Missed you, though. Wish you would have just flown in and spent a couple of weeks with us.”

“Chloe Jane, what’s wrong?” she asked, her voice sharp with worry.

“Geez, Mom, can’t a daughter just call her mother without there being a reason?” I said it jokingly, but I know she didn’t buy it. She confirmed it a second later.

“Not really, Chloe, because I can hear it in your voice. Something’s wrong. Now spill.”

So I did. I laid everything from the last forty-five minutes out for her, ending with, “I have no idea what to do.”

She was silent for a while before she said, “Well, honey, you have to do whatever you think is best. It’s a lot of money. We’ve always been pretty fortunate and I never raised you kids to be materialistic, but that would make you comfortable for the rest of your life, if you did it right. On the other hand, I completely feel you about the whole not wanting anything from him thing. I’d feel the same way. So, it’s up to you, sweetheart.”

“I know Mom, I just…” I sighed. “I don’t want his money. But I can’t just let it sit there and go to waste when it could help so many others.”

“What about donating it, then, to a charity or program that helps battered women and children?” my mom said softly.

That idea struck me silent, surprised that I didn’t think of it myself. “You’re right, Mom. That’s what I’m going to do. If I could help them have the resources they need to help just one woman, even, it would be worth it.”

“It would. And I’m proud of you, honey. You’re a strong woman and I admire you greatly and I love you very much.”

“I’m strong because you taught me to be that way, Mom. I wasn’t as strong as I should have been back then, but…anyway. It doesn’t matter now. I love you, too, Mom.” I said, feeling emotion clog my throat.

I heard a small sniff come across the line and laughed. “Knock it off, ya big cry baby!” I said, trying to lighten the mood.

She laughed, too, just like I intended, and I felt much lighter than I did when I called her. “By the way,” she began. “I was going to call you today, anyway. You and Jackson both, actually. Guess what?”

“Uh, chicken butt?” I said seriously, calling up an old joke.

“Guess why?” she said, playing along.

“Chicken thigh,” I continued, giggling the same way I used to when I was younger.

“Alright, alright. Game’s over. I can’t wait anymore!” she cried before yelling, “I sold the house and already put a down payment on a place out by Jan and Ben!”

I shrieked, literally jumping up and down around the living room. God knows if Brandon would have been home, he’d have thought I was a lunatic for sure.

“That’s awesome!” I shouted, so excited to have my mom close again. I regretted the distance I put between us when I was with Greg, physically and emotionally, but then I couldn’t really help it when I moved out here. But now, my family would be together again….just a little bit bigger.

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