Never Tied Down (The Never Duet #2)(2)

By: Anie Michaels



“What’s wrong? Is it the wrong color? There were a few choices, but I thought red was the color you’d like best. We can take it back and exchange it if you want the blue one.”

“Mom, we can’t afford that.” My eyes darted down to the brand new Game Boy Color I’d seen in the store the week before. They’d had a display set up and I’d spent a half hour standing there playing it. I’d seen the price tag. There’s no way my mom could afford to buy me such an extravagant gift.

Her eyes softened when she heard my words, but she didn’t agree. “Don’t worry about what we can afford. It’s your birthday, and I know you want it.”

“Mom….” I didn’t want to argue with her, or seem ungrateful, but how could I play on a new game system and eat cake I’d bought at the dollar store? Or play on that game system when, in a few weeks, I’d hear Mom cry because she didn’t know how she was going to pay the electric bill? The gift, although I wanted it very badly, would haunt me every time I knew things were tight.

“Listen, last week a few of the girls at work donated their tips. So, I didn’t buy it all on my own.”

I could hear in her voice it hurt to admit that and I thought, in that moment, it was probably pretty hard for my mom to accept money from her coworkers. I didn’t want to make her feel any worse.

“That’s awesome, Mom. Thank you.” I went to her and gave her a long and tight hug. When I pulled away I kissed her cheek. “You’re the best.”

“No, nine years ago I gave birth to the best. I’m so lucky to be your mom.”

I hugged her again, feeling like I was the lucky one.

We ate dinner, iced and ate my cake, and my mom sang me an extremely out-of-tune rendition of “Happy Birthday.” Then we sat in the living room and watched Full House. Well, Full House was on the TV, but I was busy playing on my new Game Boy.

That night, as my mom pulled the covers up to my chin, I asked the question I’d been thinking all evening but hadn’t found the courage to ask. Perhaps being in the darkness of my room gave me strength.

“Did you check the mail today, Mom?”

I saw her shoulders slump in the light sweeping in from the hallway. I also heard the sigh that escaped her. Both of those things told me the answer to my question before she said the words.

“I did, baby. There was nothing there for you.” She leaned down and pressed a kiss against my forehead, lingering there. The longer she kissed me, the harder it became to hold back the tears welling in my eyes, and ignore the stinging in my throat. “You are the best thing that ever happened to me, Kalli. Just because your daddy isn’t here, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you.”

I wanted to argue with her, wanted to shout that was exactly what it meant, but the words were trapped below the lump that had formed in my throat. If I opened my mouth, the only sounds that would come out would be sobs.

“Somewhere, he’s thinking about you and he wishes he could be here with you. But he can’t, baby.”

I knew it wasn’t true. I knew she was only saying the words she thought would make me feel better. I couldn’t fault her for that, for trying to comfort me on my birthday, but I didn’t have to believe her.

I never brought it up again, but every year on my birthday I silently hoped to hear from my father.

I was disappointed every single time.





Chapter One

Made of Glass

Kalli

I heard the sounds of Ella moving throughout the house, heard her sweet voice floating up the stairs as she spoke to her adorable little girl, Mattie. She was a master at the “mom voice.” You know, that voice women use when they’re talking to babies? It’s almost the same tone you use when talking to a puppy, but not as shrill and just slightly more singsong. Ella was saying something to Mattie about their day, telling her that her daddy would be home later that evening, and then I heard a smacking kissy noise and I could picture Ella’s lips mushed up against her daughter’s chubby cheek.

I lay in bed, staring out my window, until I heard the front door close, then slowly climbed out of bed and walked up to the window to watch Ella’s car disappear down the extensive driveway of her Salem home. It was early October and the trees lining her property were turning beautiful shades of orange and red, and the sun breaking through the leaves as it rose made for quite a breathtaking view.

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