EIGHT

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As nervous as I was for our job later tonight, I found myself more nervous about facing my own mother in a few minutes. We hadn't seen her in a while, and that gave me even more guilt to deal with. I didn't know what I would say to her, or how to go about explaining why we hadn't visited in so long, but there was no backing out now.

"Are you okay?" Anna asked.

"Just a little nervous," I confessed.

"You know she'll be happy to see us."

"Happy to see you." I shook my head, "But me... I'm not so sure."

Putting mom in her last round of rehab hadn't been easy. Six months was a long time. But I had made sure to put her in the best program possible. She still tried to fight it, claiming that she would better herself and promised she wouldn't relapse again but I had smelt the alcohol on her breath. I had found empty bottles in the outside dumpster. And I had known she was lying.

I was still convinced that if Anna hadn't begged our mother to go then she would've never gone back.

We made it to the front lobby of the building. "We're here to see Eva Cortez."

The woman just smiled, light wrinkles appeared on her face. She seemed sweet, and maybe even relieved that mom finally had visitors. "Last time I saw her she was in the studio."

I nodded, faintly remembering where that was. The last time I had been here was the first visitation day. I had come alone since Anna was in school and mom hadn't been happy to see me. I hadn't visited her since.

We found our way to the door labeled Paint Studio but I hesitated to open it. I shouldn't be this nervous. It was just mom. She would be happy to see me, right?

Then Anna's hand slipped into mine for reassurance. Her other opening the door.

Mom's back came into view. She was painting, which was something she must've picked up since the last time I was here. She hadn't noticed our presences yet, and I didn't want to disturb her.

The painting was nearly finished. A vivid garden stretched over the entire canvas set on the easel in front of her. Mom continued to stroke shades of yellow into a few of the unfinished flowers. Her hand was steady with the paintbrush. No longer did they shake from weakness.

Anna knocked on the door.

Mom turned, and those identical hazel eyes she shared with Anna locked onto me. I stood tall as my palms grew sweaty. A blanket of guilt fell over my shoulders as my mom set down her palette and brush.

Then she walked over, her slender arms draped over my shoulders and pulled me into her. The familiar scent of the perfume I always bought her for her birthday filled my senses. I closed my eyes at the memory. A burning sensation rose through my throat and to my eyes.

Unable to recall the last time I had hugged my own mother I hesitantly reciprocated. Tears clouded my vision when I opened my eyes. What I could see was the time before dad had left us, playing back like old family videos. It had been mom and I from the beginning. She had been my best friend while dad came and went like the seasons. Anna's birth had only strengthened that bond, but when dad left it had ripped us apart.

But something was different this time. Something was better.

Mom pulled back. Tears were rimming her eyes. Soft hands cupped my face as her lips trembled. "Lex... I'm so sorry..."

Suddenly I knew what forgiveness felt like. It didn't erase the wrong she had done, but it allowed me to no longer live in the past. It would let me to close the gaping hole that had been burned into my heart ages ago. Forgiving mom allowed me to breathe without such unbearable pain.

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