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“Hold on a second,” Marla said quietly.
Della continued toward the woods, a spot she knew where several large trees created a little alcove. She heard her sister on the move, too. Then she heard the door close.
“Sorry. I just wanted to go in my bedroom in case Dad was listening.”
Yeah, you wouldn’t want Dad to know you were talking to me. Della’s mood stood on the verge of sliding down the slippery slope of self-pity when Marla spoke again. “Something’s going on, Della. I don’t know what it is, but it’s bad. Can you come home?”
Home? Uh, no! “What? What’s happening?”
“That’s just it. I don’t know. They won’t tell me anything.”
“Are they fighting?” Della asked. Her parents weren’t perpetual fighters, they actually loved each other, but they’d had a couple of fights. And Della had hated that tension she’d felt during those times.
“Not really. Mom’s just so upset. Every time I see her, she’s got tears in her eyes. And Dad is acting strange. He didn’t come home until after ten last night. And when he did get home, he took Mom in his office and they stayed in there forever talking.” She paused. “You don’t think Dad’s got a girlfriend, do you?”
Della’s mouth dropped open. “No.”
Then it hit her. The reason her parents were upset. “Has dad talked to Aunt Miao?”
“I don’t know,” Marla said. “Why?”
“Nothing,” Della said, and closed her eyes. Shit! She’d done it again. Disappointed her dad, caused her mom more heartache.
“I want you to come home. I need you. I don’t like this ‘only kid’ shit.”
Since when did her sister say shit? “I can’t, Marla.” She bit down on her lip, but her throat felt tight hearing her sister’s request. While it felt so good knowing she was finally being missed, it felt equally bad knowing she could never go home. Never. Ever.
“Where is Mom?” Della swallowed a lump of pain down her throat.
“She left. Said she was going to the grocery store. Mom never shops on Saturday mornings.”
“I’ll call her,” Della said, but her stomach knotted thinking what her mom would say about Della going against her dad’s wishes and seeing her aunt.
Hanging up with Marla, Della called her mom.
It rang twice and her mom finally answered. “Hi, Della.”
Her mom’s voice didn’t sound right.
“Hi, Mom.”
“I told Marla to call you,” her mom said. “Did she forget?”
“No, she called,” Della said and tried to figure out a good reason for her to have visited her aunt.
“Look, Mom, I know you guys are upset—”
“I’m sorry I didn’t call you back,” her mom said. “We’ve been busy.”
Della held tight to her cell. Her mom never beat around the bush. When there was a problem, she put it out there. And fast. So did that mean the problem wasn’t that aunt Miao had spoken to her dad about Della’s visit?
Relief filled her chest, but the next second, fear chased it away. If whatever was wrong at home wasn’t about her, then what was it about?
“Mom, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing … Della.” Her mom’s voice broke. Was her mom crying?
Hell, yes, she was.
“Mom, what’s wrong? Just tell me what it is.”
“I’m sorry, hon. This isn’t something you need to worry about, okay? Chances are it’s nothing.”
“Are you sick or something, Mom?” Della recalled one of her friends’ mom finding out she had breast cancer. “Did you find a lump or something in your br**sts?”
“Dad? Is he—?” Her heart gripped.
“Nobody’s sick. And you’re just going to have to accept that I can’t talk about things now.”
“Mom, that scares me. If something is wrong, I need to know.”
“Not now, sweetheart. You just concentrate on you.” She paused. “I’ve got to go now. I love you,” she said.
Tears filled Della’s eyes. “I love you, too.”
Then her mom hung up. Della sat down beside the tree and gave in. She cried about whatever was wrong at home. She cried because it felt like forever since her mom had told her she loved her. She cried because she didn’t think she could save Natasha and Liam—and they would never get that apartment. All that love they shared would die with them.
She cried because she missed Chase.
After a good minute of letting herself go, she wiped her cheeks. She called Marla back and told her Mom wouldn’t talk, but she made Marla promise she’d call her if she figured out what was wrong.
“Hang in there, okay?” she told her sister.
“I will,” Marla said and she sounded alone.
“Why don’t you go see your friend Mickie?” Della asked. “Get out of the house and enjoy yourself.”
“I am,” Marla said. “Her mom is picking me up in an hour.”
“Good. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. No smoking, alcohol, or sex. French kissing’s okay, even if it is gross.”
Marla laughed and then said, “I miss you.”
The swell of emotion hit tight. “I miss you, too.”
Della hung up, the ache lingering in the pit of her stomach, and stared at the phone. The temptation hit. Don’t do it. Don’t do it.