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By:Kim Linwood

God, this lump’s just getting bigger. Dad. Mom gushing. If this is just the lead up to her big revelation, I’m in trouble. Whatever she has on her heart, I don’t think it’s going to make the lump any smaller.

She puts her hand on my knee. “Herbert will never replace your father, but, he’s beginning to fill some of those roles. Faster than I would’ve thought possible. He’s strong, and possessive and caring, and... and I’ve fallen in love with him.” Her eyes are wide and teary, she’s so nervous. She knows how much I miss Dad.

It does hurt a bit, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so terrified, so I hurry to smile. It’s not like I wasn’t expecting it sooner or later. “That’s great, Mom. Really.” It’s true. She does need someone, and I can’t be that person. It’s not the same. But he’s not Dad. “I’m happy for you.”

Her relief is obvious, the way her shoulders and face relax, the way she eases back a bit in her chair. She swallows thickly. “That’s not everything.” Licking her lips, she picks her words carefully. “Herbert proposed to me last night.”

My heart stops, and I can almost feel the blood draining from my face. Dating, sure. Overnights, awkward but fine. Proposed? She has to be kidding me. It slowly dawns on me that she wouldn’t me telling me this if she’d said no. I look at Mom expectantly, willing her to continue. “And...”

She closes her eyes briefly. “And... I said yes. I’m sorry, hon, I should’ve spoken to you first. It’s just the two of us now, and I shouldn’t have—”

“Mom!” She looks up, startled. Sure, I’m freaked out, but if she’s found happiness, then it’s definitely not my place to get in the way, even if I’m screaming inside. This is going to require some serious thought later, but for now I put on the biggest grin I can and throw my arms around her neck. “I’m so happy for you. Congratulations!”

“Really? You’re sure? You have no idea how terrified I’ve been to tell—”

“Yes!” I cling to her. I am happy. Concerned, but happy. “You deserve it, Mom. But he better not try to make me call him Dad or anything, alright?” I try to sound like I’m joking, but I’m not really.

Apparently I don’t hide it well enough. Mom peels me off her and puts me at arm’s reach. She looks me in the eyes like she always does when she’s being earnest. “Never. You guys will have to find your own relationship and what works for you. I’m just terrified that you’ll think I made a huge mistake.”

I shake my head softly. “No, Mom. So long as you’re happy, I’ll be happy. That’s the only requirement I have for him. That he makes you happy.” I’ve never been good at strict, but I frown and try to look serious. “And if he doesn’t, I’ll take him out.”

She gives me that look. The one where she’s not sure if I’m joking or not. “Well, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, alright?” A smile passes between us, and everything’s good again. Then the doorbell rings.

“Expecting someone?”

Mom gets up to answer the door. She stops, smooths down her skirt and checks herself in the mirror. She usually wears a little makeup, but I suddenly realize it’s more than usual. And how did I miss those bright red lips?

“I asked him over for dinner. I thought it’d be a good chance for you guys to get to know each other better.” She pauses for a minute. “Oh, he has a son. I should’ve mentioned that. He’s a bit rough around the edges from what I’ve seen, but Herbie insists that he’s a good guy underneath it all. So you’ll have a stepbrother now, too.” She throws me a brief smile, then hurries to the front door.

Herbie? And a stepbrother? She definitely could’ve mentioned that earlier. Not that it changes how I feel about anything, but I like to have all the facts so I can prepare. I got that from Dad, I think. Him and his checklists. I stand, take a deep breath and smooth down my shirt. Alright, let’s get this over with. A brother might not be bad. I’d always wanted a sibling. Better late than never I guess.

Their voices carry through the house from the entry. Herbert’s voice is deep and gravelly, like he used to smoke. Or still does, I suppose, but that doesn’t sound like Mom’s type. I give them a moment to say their hellos before I approach.

“Hello... um...” I just realize I have no idea what to call him.

He smiles warmly, his face looking strangely familiar. Square jaw, deep hazel eyes. He holds out his hand. “Herbert’s fine. You must be Angela.”