Melissa’s mother spun around, stirring spoon still in her hand, “Melissa! It’s so good to have you home again.” She held out her arms. Melissa set down her bag and hurried across the kitchen to hug her.
After a moment, they separated, her mother careful to keep the stirring spoon away, so it wouldn’t drip anything on her. Smiling contentedly, her mother asked, “So, did you drive?”
“No, I took the train and an Uber.”
“Oh! We would have picked you up at the station. Cabs are expensive. Trains too. I’m sure your dad can give you something to help with the cost.”
“No, no, I told you, my summer job pays well.”
“Well, that’s good, although I’m sorry your dig thingie didn’t work out. At least you found something to help fill up that hole in your bank account.”
Melissa felt her ears burning. Her mother looked at her more closely. She was rescued from her rising panic by her father walking into the kitchen. He boomed out, “I thought that was my favorite daughter’s voice I was hearing in here.”
She laughed at the sudden relief of tension. “I’m your only daughter, dad.”
“Details, details.” He gave her a hug, then gestured at her bag. “If you run that up to your room, your mom and I will put dinner on the table.”
“Okay. Anyone else home?”
“Sean and Liam are in the basement, playing computer games I’m sure. I’ll give them a yell.”
Melissa grabbed her bag. “I’ll be back downstairs in a minute.”
On her way upstairs, she paused near the top to calm herself down. Down in the kitchen, she heard her mother say quietly, “Henry, our little girl has fallen in love.”
He asked, “What did she say?”
“Nothing. It’s as plain as day. She’s glowing.”
“Oh… well… I hope he’s a good man.”
Melissa felt a catch in her throat. Very quietly, she continued up the steps and down the hall to her old room. Her mother had put away all her sewing materials, which usually filled the room when Melissa wasn’t visiting. She gently set her overnight bag down on her old bed.
She softly whispered to herself, “Oh shit. She saw right through me. Dear God, give me strength.” Then she heard her brothers’ voices calling from downstairs.
“Mellie? There’s a rumor you’re around, somewhere.”
She yelled, “I’m upstairs. Be down in a sec.” On her way back to the hall, she stopped to look at herself in a mirror near the door.
Taking in a deep breath, she told herself, “All right, you can do this.”
* * *
After dinner, Melissa was helping her mother dry and put dishes away in the cabinets when the question finally came. “So, is there a man in your life now?”
All through dinner, her brothers’ boisterous conversation and good-natured teasing had given her cover, but now she and her mother were alone. With a silent sigh, she answered, “Yes.”
“Melissa, my darling girl, if I wanted tiny little answers to great big questions, I’d go talk to your brothers.”
“I know… I know, but it’s all so new.”
“What’s his name?”
“Ah, Erik Greenwood.”
“The man you’re working for!”
“Yeah, it’s sort of complicated.”
“Isn’t he a lot older than you?”
“Only about five years.”
“Just that? From what you said about your job and all the things he’s done, it sounded like he’d be much older. He’s done so much in a very short time.”
“He has. He… works hard. And, I guess he’s good at what he does.”
“So, did he really hire you to help him with this Sunstone company, or was it to sleep with him?”
“Mom!” Melissa cringed, certain she was turning bright red.
“Or a bit of both,” her mom ventured.
“Maybe. I don’t know. But no matter what, at the end of the summer, he’ll move on. I’ll be done.”
“And then he’ll break my little girl’s heart.”
Melissa hung her head, “He already has.”
Her mother set down her dish towel and came over to wrap Melissa in her arms. Unbidden, tears spilled out of Melissa’s eyes, onto her mother’s shoulder.
Stroking Melissa’s hair, her mother said, “There, there, little one. It is the lot of Donoghue women to throw ourselves at hopeless men. I did with your father, only, it turned out not to be so hopeless.”
Melissa tried to staunch her tears, lifting her head up to wipe her eyes and cheeks.
Her mother stepped back a little to look Melissa in the eyes, “And it was your father who asked me, ’is he a good man?’”
An image of Erik and Jake standing together sprang into Melissa’s mind. She could feel, deeply inside, how fiercely protective Erik was of the good hearted boy-man with Down Syndrome.
She smiled back at her mother, fresh tears welling in her eyes, “Yes, he is.”