Sam’s fingers clenched a little tighter around mine, a question. Should we go? Could I?
I squeezed back and moved to stand up. Sam and Daniel were quick to help me. “Rest sounds good.”
“Home sounds better.” Sam gave the ruins a wry look. “Though I don’t seem to have one of those anymore.”
Daniel offered us a ride, but I shook my head. I wanted to walk. To let the dawn peace seep into our souls. It was a new day for us, in more ways than one.
Hand in hand, Sam and I started toward Gramma’s. I could go home again. I could pick up Poppy, and we could return to our little house. Sam would go with us. We would be his home now.
A block passed in silence. I felt…content. “Is it wrong that I don’t feel sad or guilty?”
He gazed down at me, his blue gaze moving over my face tenderly. “Nothing you feel could be wrong, Mila. She was an evil, damaged person, but at the end of the day, she was still your mother. She gave you life, and she tried to take it away. But you’re a survivor, Mila. You’re the strongest person I’ve ever known.”
I’d never considered myself particularly strong. Warped. Broken almost beyond repair. Almost. But Gramma hadn’t believed that. Sam hadn’t believed it.
“You know I love you.” I said the words simply, with certainty, words I’d never imagined myself saying to anyone besides my grandmother. They were sweet and lovely and felt so especially right.
He smiled, and that rightness filled me to overflowing. “I love you.”
We were less than a block from Gramma’s now, and I could imagine Poppy jumping at the bedroom window, delighted to see us, unbearably hurt that we’d gone outside with her. “I heard you ask about my real name. Does it matter?”
“Not in the least. Whatever name you use, you’ll always be my miracle.” He grimaced, then grinned. “That was incredibly sappy, wasn’t it?”
I bumped shoulders and hips with him. “It’s the sweetest thing anyone ever said to me.”
Now I didn’t have to imagine Poppy barking. I could hear her as the blinds in my window jiggled. As long as someone was that happy to see me, my life mattered. Sam would be that happy for me, and I would be that happy to see him, for the rest of our lives.
A new day, but not a new life. My old life made me the person I am today, and I wouldn’t give that up for anything.
—Excerpt, journal of Mila Ramirez Douglas
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