FIFTY-THREE

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Outside of the front door, I put my back against the white wall while my legs gave way to my weight. My grief could no longer be contained, the sobs ripped through the still early morning, as I pulled my legs up to my chest and buried my head against my arms I had wrapped around my knees.

I found myself panting, my chest and lungs hurt with the shallow breaths, and I was starting to feel dizzy. I dug my nails into my palms and focused on controlling the screams that were building in my mind.

"I can help you breathe," a quiet voice said beside me and I was surprised that I had already forgotten that he was there. I had forgotten that he had followed me outside.

Not seeing any other option, the lack of control in the situation frightening me, I lifted my head slightly to give him a nod.

His response was immediate. He placed a hand on my shoulder and within a fraction of a second I felt the pressure easing off my chest.

I took a deep greedy breath, the relief only making my tears flow faster.

I heard his clothes shuffle next to me as he sat down on the ground on my right side, keeping a polite distance between our bodies.

"She was a wonderful woman," Mr. Evans said quietly and my sobs were shocked into abrupt stillness in favor of being able to hear what he said.

As he continued talking, I came to understand that he had figured something out that I still hadn't. That the reason behind my panic attack was the grief over the loss of my mother. Brought forward by the indirect maternal love between Max and his mother, which I had experienced indirectly through the connection.

"Very full of life. Always close to breaking into a smile. Very caring."

My bottom lip trembled with the tears that needed to be shed, with the sobs that needed to break. But I was pausing it all in anticipation of what he would say.

I could hear a smile in his voice as he said, "Especially about you. From the moment she got pregnant with you, I knew that she would never succumb to Steven. She would never accept being a part of our world. She would do everything in her power to keep you as far away from that world that she possibly could. Even if it meant risking her own life."

I sniffled and looked to my side at him, wiping my face with my palms. "Why are you telling me this?"

There was real compassion in his eyes. "Because I know how overwhelming connections can be. Especially if you are sharing thoughts with my son. He's-" Mr. Evans shook his head and looked away from me, staring off into the darkness of the early December morning, "Max is very emotional. I've watched him for his whole life, and on some occasions I have shared his feelings through healing connections, and I know that his emotions are strong. Especially about things he cares about. Like his family-," Mr. Evans looked at me with a wistful expression on his face, "-and you."

I kept silent, not really knowing what to say to that.

"I had a feeling that his relationship to his mother would leak into your grief about your own."

I closed my eyes against the fresh tears and turned my head away, pulling my knees further up into my stomach, wanting the pain to stop, wanting the grief to ease.

"And with everything that's happened, I imagined you haven't really had the chance to properly grieve your mother."

It was like I was sitting next to a completely different person. This was not the man I had feared. The man I had hated. The man I had wanted to hurt for hurting Max. How could he be so different? How could he be so kind right now?

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