Mom was sitting in the media room when I finally came in for the night. Logan and I had walked until our legs ached and the moon was in the middle of the sky, yet there was my mom, waiting for me.
My heart, an uncontrollable force only minutes before, was now barely beating as I took in her pallor and thinning blond hair. It had been nearly a month since she stopped treatments, but it was already showing on her features. The cancer inside of her a black hole feeding off her life force.
When I was a kid and Elena was a toddler, mom and I used to make huge ice-cream sundaes--her's were always made with chocolate and I, wanting to be like her, made mine like hers--and have girl nights. We would watch Disney movies and other movies she deemed okay for my age. We would stay up until ten at night, when Elena was tucked in bed and dad was still at work. It was just us in this room full of picture frames and diplomas, degrees and achievements. The television took up most of the wall opposite the window facing the beach, so we would have to hang heavy curtains to block out the sun.
Those days, before I met Becca and started caring about useless things, were the best moments I had with mom. Later on, I found I had no more time for her and her movie nights. I made disgusted faces at the sundaes she shared with Elena, and stayed up way too late with boys that were way too old for me. But mom, I could see every time I declined her invitations, always had a glint of hope in her brilliant green eyes. She knew that someday I would realize that high school was just a phase and that too, would pass. Now I knew she was right, but her knowledge came at an unbearable price.
"Hi sweetheart," mom smiled at me, as I settled onto the black leather couch beside her. "Have a good night?"
I nodded and picked at my bitten down fingernails. They were once long, but I'd since spent sleepless nights biting them down to the quick.
"What did Logan and you do today?"
I quietly recalled the events of the day and my luck with the ring toss. I reminisced over Logan holding my hand and I returning the gesture. He'd dressed up for me in faded jeans and a button-up shirt. His hair had curled after his shower and he'd left it that way for dinner.
"Are you happy?" Mom asked in a tender tone, bringing me back to the present.
"I think so." I glanced at her, taking in her thin frame and tired eyes. "For the most part."
She reached out a hand and held my own. Her fingers were cool against my flushed skin, but I didn't pull away. She examined my fingernails and smiled wistfully at some private memory.
"I'm going to tell Elena tomorrow."
I swallowed the heaviness in my throat. "Okay."
She looked up and tears started to well in my eyes. "I need you to be there with us, okay?"
I nodded and stayed quiet as a tear slipped onto my cheek, my bottom lip trembling.
"Alexis," mom wiped away my tear with a surprisingly soft hand, then cupped my face with both hands. "You are so strong, I know you will take care of Elena."
"I don't want to be strong," I said. "I don't want to have a reason to be strong."
Mom's face twitched so that her smile became a delicate frown. "I know, but you need to be, okay?"
I nodded again. A few more tears seeped out and I laid down on the couch, my head in her silk-covered lap. The violet nightgown she wore was one of my favorites. Once upon a time, the nightgown clung to her curves and emphasized her beauty. Now, it hung like a blanket, simply keeping her warm.
Mom undid my bun and passed her fingers through my curls, her voice low and throaty as she sang,
Manana te esperare/
Si te caes/
en el mundo/
Yo te esperare./"
I will wait for you tomorrow./
If you fall/
Into the world/
I will wait for you./
I will wait for you./"
Her voice cracked and I knew she was crying too. She used to sing the same lullaby for me every night since I was born, until I was too old. But now, in the quiet of our large house and surrounded by millions of stars just beyond our bare windows, I was a child again, wrapped in the flowery scent of my mother and the warmth of her voice.
By morning, everything had changed.