Date Published: 03-29-2021
The man of the house since my father’s death at sixteen, I knew I’d be the guardian for my sister, Susan, who has Down syndrome. However, I didn’t realize I’d become her guardian while dealing with my mother’s mini-strokes, rehabilitation, and selling the family home. I’m drowning in paperwork and emotions as I try to get Susan adjusted. A new care plan and a specialized school act as light at the end of the tunnel. I never expected to find her new best friend at the school was my old high school crush.
I always regretted keeping my feelings for Solomon to myself. When we became the victims of losing touch in college, I added it to my list of regrets. Now he’s back as the guardian of a student, and the years have been exceedingly kind. My habit of following rules is suddenly out the window. Risking the reputation I’ve worked so hard to gain isn’t on my to-do list.
Can we manage a relationship without it becoming a conflict of interest?
The fire crackles merrily, casting ambient light over us in the cozy living room. Warm-toned, light brown wood floors contrast with an emerald-green velvet couch and matching chair. A tufted ottoman of the same vibrant hue is adorned with tassels around the bottom, emulating the roaring twenties’ glamour. I peer over at my girlfriend of a year and smile.
Camila is stunning in a scarlet dress with a sweetheart neckline that shows off her cleavage and hugs the generous curves of her hips, thick thighs, and an apple bottom I love to palm. Peaches and cream skin and a sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of her nose give her an innocent look that doesn’t match her true personality. My woman is a shark. As a successful lawyer making a killing in a male-dominated field, she be.
I trail the backs of my fingertips over the round apples of her cheeks. With her large, blue eyes, pouty, pink lips, and long lashes, she’d tempt any man. After kissing her lips softly, I scoot to the edge of the couch, grab our glasses of champagne, and hand her one.
We ate dinner at Bryan’s Steak House, then came back to the Little Pink Bed and Breakfast to enjoy chocolate-covered strawberries and champagne. Rose petals cover the floor leading to the bedroom. I can tell Cam is pleased. The smile hasn’t left her face, and her eyes are dancing with happiness.
“Happy Anniversary, baby.”
“Happy Anniversary, Sol. You’ve outdone yourself.”
“I figured we both needed to get away for a while.”
“You were so right.” Bringing the champagne flute to her lips, she hums. “I haven’t felt this relaxed in ages.”
“That was my goal.”
With her workload and my intense building project, we’d both been running ourselves into the ground. I admired her drive and sharp mind from the moment we meet at a charity event. She has goals she’s actively chasing. It’s sexy as hell to watch. She lights up when she speaks passionately about the things she loves. I hadn’t been looking for a long-term relationship. My schedule is packed, and , I’m a juggler with too many balls in the air. Our attraction and the way conversation flowed easily overrode my logic.
When things are going well, we have a fulfilling connection worth all the extra work and finagling it takes to make things work. Other times, I question my sanity for taking on another commitment. Right now, with champagne tickling my throat and her dark blue eyes fixed on me, I feel like I’m exactly where I need to be.
The scent of freshly cut flowers mingles with the smell of firewood. I drink up the peace and beauty of the moment. It’s not often I get to simply be.
“I love this place, Solomon.” She rests her head on my shoulders. “You know I have a love for the twenties and their sophistication and decadence.”
“I do. The minute I saw the bones of this home and the accurate furniture and details, I knew it was the place to celebrate.”
My phone vibrates in the distance, and she groans.
“You should ignore it.” Her lips curve upward. A mischievous gleam enters her dark blue gaze.
“You know I can’t,” I say softly.
“Why not? This is our time, Sol. Your family can wait for once. Tonight, you’re supposed to be just mine.”
I flinch at her words. It’s nearly identical to the things I’ve heard from previous significant others.
“I’m sorry it upsets you, Cami.”
“They’ve been just fine all evening. A few more hours won’t kill them. You can talk to them tomorrow.” Pulling away, she crosses her arms under her breasts and scowls.
“Yes, they were fine. That’s why they didn’t call. Now, something must’ve happened.”
She looks away, and her cheeks pinken slightly.
I frown as tiny alarm bells ring in my mind. “Camila?”
“They called at dinner when you went to the restroom. I hit ignore and put your phone on vibrate.”
I stiffen. “You did what?” Anger bubbles up in my stomach like lava.
“They have your attention nearly all the time. Susie gets a wild hair, and you spend all your time and energy coddling, consoling, and enabling her.”
“My sister has down syndrome, she doesn’t see the world like and I do, Camila. If she needs a little extra guidance or reassurance, I’m going to provide it for her. My mother isn’t as young as she used to be. You know my situation. I’ve never hidden it from you.”
“I’m tired of feeling like an afterthought.”
“When have you ever not been a main priority?” The phone buzzes again. Sweat beads on my brow as my mind conjures up worst-case scenarios. They’ve been reaching out to me for hours. I stand and move toward my phone on the desk.
“Don’t you dare.” Her voice raises shrilly.
I ignore her. There’s no fucking contest. I’ve been the man of the house since my father passed unexpectedly of a heart attack when I was seventeen. I take that position in my family seriously.
“Sol. Something’s wrong with Mama.”
I close my eyes as the air is strangled from my lungs, gripping the edge of the table to keep myself upright.
“What’s going on?” I fight to keep my tone even. If Susie senses my panic, she’ll feed off it.
“She’s talking funny. I don’t like it.” The fear in her shaky voice rips at my soul. I’ve let her down yet again when she needed me most.
“I’m coming, Susie.”
Camila scoffs in the background. Time’s precious when someone is having a stroke. I’ve wasted hours.
“I’ll be sending help, okay? When the nice workers come to help Mom, don’t be scared.”
“O-Okay.” Her voice wavers.
My fingers grip the phone tight. “I’m leaving right now. Just stay calm.” My heart aches in my chest as I disconnect and call nine-one-one, explaining the situation to the dispatcher. What feels like years later, I turn to peer at the pale-faced blonde.
“This is over. Your selfishness may have caused my mother permanent damage. God help you if that’s the case.” I grit my teeth as I shove my phone into my back pocket and grab my overnight case. Anything else I’ve left can wait.
“Sol, I didn’t know. You have to believe me.”
I shake my head. “I don’t have the time or energy to spend on you right now.” My words are clipped, and my heart turns to ice. The woman I poured all my time and emotion into has just betrayed me in the worst way possible. I’m numb as I rush from the house to my car. Unlocking it with my key fob, I toss my bag into the passenger seat and ignore the speed limits as I will my car to go faster. I pull onto the street and see the red lights flashing. My gut clenches. I pull into a spare spot on the street, fumble with the seatbelt, and fall out of the car. Slamming the door behind me, I break into a run as they bring my mother out on a stretcher.
My sister is hysterical as she follows, red-faced and sobbing.
“Susie.” Her head jerks toward me. Her sandy-blonde, wavy hair falls into her slanted, almond-shaped brown eyes.
“This is my sister and my mother,” I say to the EMTs. “I’ll be traveling with her.”
Pulling Susie to me, I stroke her hair. “It’s okay. Sol is here. I’m sorry it took me so long, sissy.”
“I’m scared.” Her shoulders shake as she buries her face into my chest.
“I know. I am, too. But Mom is strong.”
“Sir we’re going to have to ask you to meet us at the hospital,” the EMT says.
I follow the EMT’s directions. My mother is hooked up to machines and pale. Her eyes glaze over, and her lips are moving beneath her oxygen mask. Her lack of response to the questions terrifies me. I knew my mother was getting older, but this was the last thing I expected from a woman who eats healthy and walks daily. Nodding, I step back as they close the door behind them and drive off, leaving me to console my hysterical sister.
“Yes.” I disentangle my arm from my sleeping sister and stand to greet the doctor.
“I’m Dr. Brown. We’ve gotten your mother stable. She’s resting now. She had a mild stroke. That’s why she was unable to speak and disoriented. There was more time than we’d like between the initial symptoms and when she arrived at the hospital, so it’ll take time to see how much damage occurred and give you an accurate idea of what you can expect as far as recovery.”
I close my eyes as a wave of sorrow and regret crashes over me. I can’t let it carry me away. I have too much left to take care of. I shove the intense emotions down to be dealt with later.
“I understand, Doctor.”
“We have to talk about her current situation, Mr. Todd. In a best-case scenario, she may be able to work herself up to living on her own, but she won’t be in any condition to act as a caregiver.”
I nod my head. The moment I knew would come one day has arrived far sooner than I ever imagined.
“You should get your paperwork in order and think about what you want to do when your mother goes to rehab and beyond.”
“I appreciate your honesty.”
“Caring for my patients includes what happens to them after they leave the hospital. Go home, get some rest, and get your paperwork in order.”
“Yes, sir.” I shake his hand. “Thank you for everything.” My voice cracks like I’m a pre-teen.
I clear my throat and move away, making lists in my mind as I sink down into the seat beside my sister. How can I tell her the only life she’s known is about to change completely? Sudden changes have never been easy for Susie. With the trauma she’s already endured, this news may be a tipping point. Images of her previous meltdowns fill my head. I can hear my mother’s voice in my head. It can wait a day. My main objective right now is to get us both home to grab some rest.
Sinking down into the seat beside her, I rest my head in my hands. Pulling myself together, I exhale and sit up straight. I shake her awake gently.
“Sol?” she asks sleepily.
“Yeah, Sis. Mom is going to be here overnight, so the doctors can check on her. We’re going to head home and get some sleep.”
“Like a slumber party?” Her innocent excitement warms my heart.
I’ve never had a problem with taking over her care one day. My issue has always been feeling responsible enough to do it well. Family sticks together, and after losing Dad so young, I never took mine for granted. The missteps of youth haunt me, reminding me of how damaging mistakes can be on others.
“Yeah. I’ll even pick up a pizza, and we can make popcorn.” We could both use a pleasant distraction today.
She rubs her puffy red eyes and sniffs. “I’d like that.” Her expression falls. “But Mom will okay?”
I sigh. A long time ago, I promised my sister I wouldn’t lie to her, and I’ve always kept that promise. “She should be in time.”
Her body relaxes.
At least, I’ve brought her some comfort.
“Come on, kid. We’ve got some catching up to do.”
“What about Camila?”
“You don’t have to worry about her anymore.”
The open mouth smile that splits her thin lips apart writes me a novel’s worth of information. Finding a woman who truly accepts my life has been a challenge. I always thought I’d be married with kids by forty, yet here I am single and starting to think families aren’t in the cards for me.
About the Author
You can interact with Shyla Colt online via her website