Chapter 2: Contemplation

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I glance over my shoulder, eyeing Momma's partially opened door. "Let me tell Momma."

Peytr nods and strides into the hall. "I'll wait for you in the living room."

Nodding at him, I walk down the corridor and approach the door. I push it open, startled to find Momma standing beside the bed.

"Momma?"

She looks at me, her face turning bright red. Her fingers curl around the strap of the bag she's holding.

"I . . . I can explain this."

Realization dawns on me. Momma hasn't been as sick as she's let on. She's been planning her escape for quite some time.

"You're leaving for good," I say, my voice barely a whisper.

Her face turns a deeper shade of red. "I can explain."

Anger courses through my veins. All this time, I've been bending myself over backwards in the hopes of helping her through her ordeal, yet she's been making plans behind our backs.

"You're not staying with Aunt Mol, are you?"

A muscle twitches along Momma's lower jaw. Her shoulders slump with defeat. She lets go of the bag. It tumbles to the floor, spilling its contents in front of her feet. She drops onto the edge of the bed and leans forward, pressing her elbows against the tops of her thighs. Momma curls her hands around her dry, brittle blonde hair.

"I'm sorry, dearest. I can't do this anymore," she whispers.

"Do what? Be a mom to us? Take care of Joren and me? Are we that much of a burden to you?"

Her head snaps in my direction. Her dark blue eyes fill with tears.

"Ever since yer father left, it's been on me to do what needs to be done. Th—The night I tumbled down the stairs, it . . . wasn't an accident."

My face blanches. "You tried to kill yourself?"

The corners of her mouth tilt downward. "I tried," she confesses.

Disgust fills me. Perhaps her leaving might be for the best. I shake my head, hating myself for ever thinking such thoughts.

"We need you," I say, my voice cracking with emotion.

Momma's eyes fill with unshed tears. Her lips tremble.

"I'm sorry," she says.

"All this time, you've been making plans. Joren's leaving . . . It wasn't unexpected either, was it?"

She bursts into tears. Momma tucks her chin against her chest and rocks back and forth. Her shoulders shake with every sob.

I turn and walk away, unwilling to watch her walk away and leave us behind. Peeking into the living room, I wave at Peytr.

He stands and follows me out of the house.

An uncomfortable silence envelopes us. I've no doubt that he heard every word of my conversation with Momma.

On automatic pilot, I head for the edge of the forest. The treehouse Peytr and I built when we were younger sits on the forest's outskirts. A safe haven, it's the one place I can go to and let go of all my worries.

"She loves you guys, you know," Peytr says, several minutes later.

I ignore his words. The last thing I want to do is talk about Momma.

"Ignore what I say all you want, but it's true. I guess she feels there's no other way out."

I stop walking and turn to face him. "So leaving us is the solution?"

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