It started out like any other day...routine and comfortable. I was in a great mood as I drove Chris to his third week in kindergarten. The leaves were falling all around us, shades of vivid orange and yellow lined the sidewalks as we pulled up to the curb of the elementary school. It was definitely cool but not yet cold.
"Make sure to listen to your teacher and do everything you're supposed to," I said as I opened the car door and helped him from the back-seat onto the sidewalk.
His chocolate brown eyes peered up at me, and he gave me a breathtaking smile. He certainly inherited his dad's charm and unbelievably good looks.
"I know, mommy," he replied, reaching his arms out for a hug.
I bent down and pulled him to me, wrapping my arms around him and the backpack he wore. I felt his lips press a kiss to my cheek, and I pulled back to frame his perfect face in my hands before dotting kisses all over his forehead and nose.
He burst forth with chuckles, and I smiled.
"I love you!" He exclaimed before turning from me and running as fast as his little legs could carry him through the gates of the school entrance.
"I'll see you at three!" I called in his direction.
He immediately whipped around in my direction and shook his head up and down emphatically.
"K!" I barely heard him say as he was engulfed by about twenty classmates all ready to line up for class.
I climbed back into the car and sighed. My trip home was when the loneliness and guilt became the worst. I would drop him off for school and then be faced with the reality of my life. A failed marriage at twenty-seven, a single mother, and writing deadlines...lovely.
I drove back towards the house, hoping fervently that I'd get a lot of work done and actually make progress cleaning the house.
My thoughts wandered back to Chris. He seemed to be adjusting to our life without his father, but I constantly worried that he's just really good at hiding things. Kids are so resilient, and I wanted to make sure that I didn't let him suppress any real issues until they became huge mountains for us to overcome.
Chris makes every day worth it. He is simply the most amazing thing to ever happen to me, and it's hard not to be insane with joy in his presence. I married his father almost four years ago. We fell in love fast during our junior year in college. I was only twenty-one, and I couldn't believe how patient he was with me, understanding that although I was hesitant to share the pain from my past, I would work at trusting him and loving again. I had to if I was ever going to fix the hole in my chest.
I would have sworn to you that the love we shared was unbreakable. Nothing like the love I knew when I was only seventeen with him, but close, close enough that I closed my heart off to the little seeds of doubt and gave myself to Josh as much as I could. Everything was great at first.
We were a happy couple, and when we learned I was pregnant only eight months into our relationship, it hardly phased us. Marriage was already our plan, and we welcomed our little boy into the world with open arms and hearts. My parents were ecstatic. Charlie bought him a miniature Sheriff's hat the day I announced my pregnancy, and Renee couldn't stop about how she was finally ready to be a grandma.
But one winter day two years ago, everything changed. Josh came home early from his office, and I knew immediately that something wasn't right. He was distant, cold, and unusually short-tempered with our three year old baby boy. Only a week later, he moved out, barely finding it within himself to explain to me that an old college girlfriend moved back into town and wanted to give things another try with him.
He confessed that he'd never fully gotten over her and couldn't stand not trying once more.
He assured me he'd be there for Chris in every way and swore he had never felt worse in his life for the pain he knew he was causing me.
I told him to get out.
I was in shock for a good two weeks. Renee came to stay with me and Chris immediately when I told her what had happened. I waited for the pain to set in. At least this time I knew what it was going to feel like, but the pain never came. The hole in my chest never widened, and with a sad heart, I realized I hadn't loved him enough either. We were two broken people, and we weren't meant to be. It didn't help to lessen my anger at him.
I was scared to death for Chris' sake, but I knew in the end that if it wasn't meant to work out, it simply wasn't going to.
Once I arrived home, I made a beeline for the cozy home office I'd set up for myself. It usually helped me to clear my head of all the household chores waiting for me during a typical day and allowed me to focus on writing.
I've got a great job writing for a local entertainment magazine. It's convenient and creative enough that it stretches my writing abilities, while still being easy enough that I get to spend the majority of my time with Chris, only really needing to work during the hours that he's at school.
I got as much done as I could, running a few errands and working on a movie review before it was time to head back and pick Chris up from school.
I pulled into a parking spot in the assigned parent pick-up area and got out to head toward his classroom. I loved being outside the door when the bell rang. The kids usually scrambled out, all falling into the arms of waiting parents - some of which I don't think ever really leave the school grounds because they always seem to be there. And, I do mean always.
All of the sudden, the quiet of the campus was shattered by the screeches of kids everywhere, and I fell back a few steps as he threw himself at me, his arms wrapping around my thighs.
"Woah, buddy! Hey there," I said, leaning down to be eye to eye with him.
"Hi mom," he shot back, his smile genuine and relaxed.
"Ready to head home?" I asked as I ran my hand through his light brown hair and mentally pondered how one child could get so much sand in their hair during one day on the playground. He's all boy.
"Ok, and hey, I got your favorite hot dogs at the market today. What do you say we barbeque them this afternoon and watch the big baseball game together?" I asked, knowing exactly what his answer would be.
"YES!" He shouted as I loaded him into the car and strapped him in.
We were only half way home when he excitedly started in on a story from school. It was his regular routine. He'd spend a few quiet minutes mentally rehashing the day to himself before settling on the most exciting part to tell me.
"Oh, mommy, today I almost fell off the monkey bars," he stated calmly, like it was no big deal.
I felt my heart stop. Those monkey bars are huge and extremely tall, and under no circumstances should my more than a little clumsy five year old be anywhere near them!
"What!" I replied, trying to sound less horrified than I really was, but failing miserably.
"I'm ok," he shot back with a smile as I glanced in the rear view mirror to see that, in fact, he was bruise free and seemed fine. I hadn't noticed any scrapes or bandages when I picked him up, but I was still concerned.
"So what happened?" I prodded.
"Well, Andrew and Jance wanted to climb up on them even though they are only for third graders and up..." he began, and I could tell he paused, waiting for me to get angry.
"Un huh..." I prodded, not wanting him to weasel out of the actual story.
"So, I went with them cause the teacher wasn't really watching us. She was drinking her coffzee," he continued, and I smiled at his pronunciation.
"Oh, I see," I supplied casually.
"I climbed up second, and Andrew made it all the way across them. His arms are really strong."
"But I was kinda scared, and Jance told me to just crawl on top of them to the other side so I started to do that but..." his little voice trailed off, and I glanced nervously at him in the mirror.
"What happened, Chris?"
"Ummm, Mrs. Pittman blew her whistle really loud! I thought I was in big trouble. I looked up to see her, and I guess I fell through the bars," he said.
"So, you did fall down?" I asked, growing absolutely furious at the school for neglecting to tell me about something so serious. Head injuries can be completely undetectable for hours after an incident like the one he described. At the very least, I was sure I'd find serious bruises when I got him home and checked his back and arms.
"Nope, this really nice guy caught me," he stated matter of factly.
"What?" I asked, completely confused.
"I thought you said your teacher was across the yard. Was the guy a parent - someone else's daddy?" I asked.
"No. I've never seen him before. He just showed up to catch me."
His simplistic tone and carefree attitude stunned me.
I tried to remain calm. So, a nice man just happened to get to the monkey bars in time to catch my falling child. That could happen...
I felt myself begin to shake despite my efforts. I felt my head and heart heading in a direction I hadn't allowed in years. I had so many questions I needed to ask my son, but I couldn't make my mouth work. I slowly edged the car over to the side of the road before I cut the engine.
Chris seemed to interpret me stopping the car as a sign that I was truly angry, because he continued to talk without any prompting.
I barely heard him, though. My mind was running in a million different directions. Surely, I was jumping to conclusions. It couldn't be possible. It couldn't be. He wouldn't. It's been almost nine years. There's no way he cares now. No way.
"He just smiled at me and set me down. I said hi, and he kinda laughed. He was really nice, though. Mommy, he had pretty hair." His words broke through the thick haze and ringing sound threatening to overpower my senses.
"He smiled at me really big."
That's when I lost it. Silent tears fell from my eyes, and I tried not to let Chris hear me as a choking sob fought to be released. It was Edward. It had to be him, but why was in town? And, how did he know my baby needed help?
"Mommy, I'm so sorry. I won't break the rules again. He made me promise, too," my angel begged from the back-seat.
I wiped at my tears and focused on him.
"What did he make you promise, Chris?" I asked, trying not to let my voice break as I spoke.
I was desperate to hear what this supposed stranger said to my child.
Chris only hesitated for a few seconds.
"He just said, 'Promise me you'll be careful, spider monkey'," Chris finished with a giggle at his new nickname.
And then, despite the hot tears continuing to stream down my face, I felt myself laugh lightly because I knew for certain. It was obvious that the one true love of my life reached out to protect me once again. He just didn't have to see me to do it.