But it’s the least of my worries right now.

Sam is beyond excited to see his grandpa. He’s practically bouncing in his bed—the same bed he was puking from just yesterday—and all looks right in my kid’s world as they hug. Say whatever about my dad and the things he’s done, but Sam is crazy about him. My father has had a profound influence on Sam—the man he’ll be someday will be in large part due to the help my father gave me in raising him.

“You came,” Sam says gleefully, his expression saying he’d known he would all along.

“Sure did,” my dad replies, chucking Sam on the shoulder. “Got some time off work, so it’s all good.”

No mention about leaving protective custody or what that means. Sam knows that’s an issue, but he doesn’t bring it up. It’s a discussion I’m sure we’ll have later. For now, I’m just going to let my son bask in his grandfather’s love and attention.

A touch to my shoulder makes me jump, and I whirl around to find August has vacated his chair. “How about we go get a cup of coffee?”

I survey my dad and Sam as they chatter together. Sam points out his IV, then names the medications currently being dripped into his bloodstream. He proudly says he hasn’t vomited since yesterday before describing what will happen during the transplant.

I could use a cup of coffee. Sam’s in good hands. I can totally take fifteen minutes away from him without issue now that we’re on the downswing and he’s doing so well. Don’t really want to, but it might be good for me.

When I gesture to August, he follows. Outside the room, we ditch our isolation gowns in a specialty container. I have no clue where the cafeteria is, so I let August take the lead. He’s become a pro at learning his way around this hospital over the last week.

He buys himself a black coffee and me a latte, and we sit in a booth near the rear of the room. Given it’s between the breakfast and lunch rush, it’s fairly private.

Not that privacy is needed. We just sip at our brews in silence.

“You know we’ve got a tough road ahead,” August says, causing my eyes to lift from my coffee to him.

This is not news, so I just nod.

“And I’m not just talking about Sam,” he continues, his gaze becoming more focused and pointed. “You cannot stay here for his entire hospitalization. You’re barely functioning right now. We’ll work something out, but you need time away. Healthy food and rest. I’m sure between you, me, and Mike, we can come up with a schedule so someone is always with Sam.”

I hear what he’s saying, but it doesn’t compute. It’s hard to concentrate on anything. “We’ll see,” I reply vaguely.

August puts his arms on the table, leaning across the table. “I need a promise, Leighton. You’re going to run yourself into the ground if you don’t take some time away from here.”

Is he telling me how to parent? The notion offends me. “It’s none of your business.”

“It is my business,” he replies smoothly. “Sam is my son.”

“Agreed,” I snap. “And when it concerns Sam, we can discuss it. But we’re talking about me, and my choices are my own.”

“Your choices are poor,” August retorts.

The burst of anger within me is fiery, providing me with an energy I wasn’t feeling just ten seconds ago. Throwing my arms outward, I sneer. “Oh, here we go again. Let’s point out what a terrible person I am. I’m quite sure it’s the penance I’ll continually have to pay for what I did. Always having you throw in my face I’m a horrible mother for keeping Sam away from you all these years.”

“You’re goddamn right I will,” he snarls. “It’s no less than you deserve.”

And just like that, the subtle and unspoken truce we seemed to have reached over the last week Sam’s been getting chemo evaporates.

“Fine,” I growl, keeping my voice low so it doesn’t carry. I decide to go full-on martyr. “I’ll apologize to you… yet again. I know it was wrong to keep him from you. It was the wrong choice, and I’m a horrible person because of it. Knowing what I know now—being better informed—I’d obviously do things differently. But, damn it, August, I had no guidance. I was only nineteen when I had Sam. I was doing the best I could with what I had, and I was terrified we were in grave danger. It had been drilled into me over and over again to keep our heads down, because if we popped them up, we’d get them lopped off. And once Sam arrived, that fear not only extended to him, but it also amplified by a million times. I was terrified for my child, so it was easier to stay hidden. It felt safest for him, even though my heart bled because he didn’t get to know you—the amazing person I loved. But please remember, the next time you’re throwing around your nastiness toward me, I was just being a mom. Plain and simple. I was never doing it to hurt you. You just came out on the losing end of my choice, and I’m sorry for it.”

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