“Are you okay?” she asks softly. My answer is an immediate, “Fuck yeah.” Having her back in my life, knowing the future we’re building together, makes everything else seem really fucking unimportant.

Her body moves to the front of mine and my hands settle on her hips as she searches my gaze. “That phone call seemed…” She pauses, looking up before meeting my gaze again. “Kinda sad.”

“The only thing sad about it is how in denial my mother is when it comes to the fact that her family is in shambles and the role she plays in that. That, baby, is sad,” I agree, giving her a squeeze.

“I’m sorry,” she whispers, dropping her forehead to my chest, and that alone is enough to make me fall in love with her all over again.

“It was going to happen. I’ve been putting that phone call and that conversation off for awhile.”

“I only caught the last part,” she confides quietly, like I’m gonna be pissed she was eavesdropping, when she absolutely wasn’t.

“Then you heard the most important part. Unless a miracle occurs and my mother gets help, she’s out of my life for good.”

Her head tips back at that and her eyes meet mine, looking confused. “I… when we were together…” She pauses again. “You didn’t seem to have a problem with her.”

“I didn’t have contact with her often, baby.” I give her a squeeze then move us toward one of the chairs and tug her down into my lap. “I had my own place,” I say, wrapping my arms around her waist. “Jay was in jail, and my dad was doing what he’s always done, meaning he took off for parts unknown. When she’s not surrounded by them, she’s not sober, but she doesn’t drink as much,” I say, as she tucks her head under my chin and pulls her legs up, so her knees are pressed to my side and her arms are around my waist.

“Has she ever tried to get help?” she asks, and I run my hands along her smooth skin from the edge of her shorts to her knees.

“No one’s ever told her, as far as I know, that they know she has a problem.”

“How can that be?” she asks quietly, putting her hand against my chest, sitting up, and turning in my lap to study me.

“At first, she hid it well, but then it became our norm to find empty vodka bottles shoved under the sink in the kitchen or the bathroom behind things or full ones tucked away carefully, where she thought we wouldn’t find them. We knew she was hiding it, and I’m guessing, like me, my dad and my brother didn’t want to be the ones to bring it to her attention that they knew what she was doing.”

“Until now,” she says, leaning in and running her finger over my bottom lip.

“Until now,” I agree, grabbing her hand, kissing her fingers, and then wrapping my hand around her neck. I pull her close, kiss her forehead, and tuck her head back under my chin to hold her against my chest.

“Do you think you bringing it to her attention will wake her up?” she asks softly after a few moments.

“Probably not, but I learned awhile back to never say never,” I answer just as quietly, and her body goes tight before melting further into mine. “What do you want to do for dinner, beautiful?” I ask, wanting to take her mind off of her thoughts. I know she’s scared. I can feel her fear. See it seeping into her eyes or her body on occasion, but I know there is nothing I can do but wait her out and let her see I’m not going anywhere.

“I don’t know. What do you want to do?” she answers, then sits up when her cell phone rings in the house. “I was looking for that earlier.” She kisses my chin, climbing off my lap. Shaking my head, I know she’s talking about her cell phone; she never has it, or is always leaving it someplace she can’t remember.

Whistling for Ninja, who’s walking the fence and sniffing the ground, his head comes up and he runs full tilt toward the house then in through the open backdoor. Walking into the house, I slide the door closed behind me and watch June stroll toward me through the kitchen, holding her cell phone to her ear.

“Um, sure, we can do that,” she murmurs and then asks, “What time?” She nods. “Okay, see you then.” She ends the call, taking the cell from her ear and tossing it in the vicinity of the couch to be lost once more.

Feeling my brows draw together, I ask, “What’s up?”

“Mom and Dad are having everyone over to their place in an hour, so they want us to come by,” she says quickly then bites her lip. “I guess now we don’t need to worry about dinner.”

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