From Farm to Fame: Haylie- Chapter Twenty-Three

I knew Ericka was unhappy to be home and stuck with me; it was obvious when I saw the police trying to drag her up the front path while she cried and tried to pull herself free. I still found it hard to believe that my little girl who’d always been so sweet and happy was so miserable and didn’t even want to be home with her family. I’d already grounded her for a week and taken away all her TV and computer privileges for that time; I hated to punish her for being sad, but I also knew that she knew better and I couldn’t let her get away with it for any reason. I just hated the part of being a parent where I had to punish them and make them upset with me, I hated being upset with them, I was happy when we were friends. I hoped after I got the part of punishing her out of the way, I could get Ericka to talk to me like a friend again. I hoped she would open up to me about what was bothering her so we could work it out.

I made her change into her warmest pajamas while I started a fire in the fireplace, and started making calls to call off the search. She’d only been wearing a short sleeve dress and leggings when the police brought her home, they’d found her hiding inside an old abandoned house by the river while investigating suspicious activity in the area, which I suspected had something to do with Chase, though they hadn’t found any evidence yet. I was relieved that she’d had shelter from the snow and the wind, but I couldn’t imagine the house was heated, and wouldn’t have done any better than to keep the snow and wind off, it wouldn’t be much warmer than outside and would still verge on being dangerously cold. I made her sit in my lap in the chair in front of the fireplace and hugged her as tight as I could despite her squirms of protest. 

I waited until she stopped trying to pull away before I tried to get her to talk to me. “Now I know you know it’s wrong to run away, because of our conversation the other day. I know you’re upset because you feel like you don’t have a real father in your life, and I know you don’t want me to marry Max… but it seems like there’s more going on.” I didn’t want to rat Maya out for telling me anything, I didn’t want her to be upset with Maya since she was only answering the questions I asked her and she was just as concerned as I was, and I wanted her to be comfortable talking to Maya so she wouldn’t keep everything bottled up.

She kept her gaze focused on the fire, and wouldn’t look up at me, but I could tell from her voice that she was crying. “Why do you care?”

“Because I love you, and I don’t want you to be upset, I want to make things better.”

“You don’t love us…”

It broke my heart that she could ever think that, no matter how upset she was. “Why would you think that? I love you so much; you and your sister are so special and important to me. I love you girls more than anything, I don’t know what I’d ever do without you, and I was so scared that I was going to find out.”

“Daddy said you abandoned us, you wouldn’t if you loved us.”

“He has no idea what he’s talking about. I did something that kept me away from you girls for a very long time, way too long, and I hated being away from you and I tried every day to find my way home to you.” I wanted to say I’d made a stupid mistake, but I couldn’t say that it was a mistake, as I felt like I’d learned so much about myself and I’d never have been able to settle down in life otherwise; I’d still be searching for what I’d learned and I’d never have ended up in Hidden Springs, and I’d never have met Max, and I wouldn't have come up with a novel to publish, I just wouldn't have had the wonderful time I'd been having because my life would have gone a different way. It wasn’t a mistake; it was just an important experience with horrible consequences and hurdles along the way. “That’s a story for another time, but that’s what he was talking about, but he doesn’t know what happened, he never wanted to listen and he’s just assuming things. I do love you girls and I hated when I couldn’t be with you. He’s the one who abandoned you, he took off while I was gone and left you girls behind, the other day was the first time he’s even tried to talk to me since. Your aunties and uncles were the ones looking after you until I could go home to you, but I called and asked about you all the time, because I always worried about you. He’s never called to ask about you, he’s not here because he cares about any of us, though I don’t know why he’s here. Don’t trust anything he says, in fact I'd rather you didn't speak to him at all if you see him again.”

“Why doesn’t he care about us? You said he was mad at us, but that’s no reason to stop caring about us. Why aren’t we good enough? Is there something wrong with us?”

“There’s nothing wrong with you, there’s something wrong with him if he can’t see how wonderful you are and how lucky he was. He’s stupid for leaving such amazing girls behind.”

“Nobody likes me though… everybody at school hates me…”

“They’re all stupid kids; don’t worry about what they think. I love you, I always have and I always will. So does your sister, and your aunts and uncles. Max loves you too. Max loves you just as a father should. There are a lot of people who care about you, and who’ve just been out looking for you for in the cold for hours because they were worried.”

It sounded like she’d stopped crying, but she still wouldn’t look up at me.“But Max isn’t our father…”

“A father isn’t determined by genetics, actions make a father. A real father is the one who loves you and looks after you. The one who tries to cheer you up when you’re sad or sick, chases the monsters out from the closet and under the bed, reads your bedtime stories, goes to your ballet recitals, puts you pictures on the fridge and the wall; A real father is the one who does all the things like that and doesn’t even think twice about it because it’s what makes you happy, and is just always there for you no matter what. I know how you feel right now, I don’t have my biological father either, and it bothered me when I was your age. I learned with time what the difference was between a biological father and a real father, and it took time to be okay the difference and just be able to be happy to have a real father no matter who it was. Max is the one who acts like a real father, and I understand if it still doesn’t feel that way to you, but you can’t run away because you don’t want me to marry him instead of your biological father, or because the kids at school are mean to you. It doesn’t solve anything, you need to talk to me about these things, because I do care and I want to help; I want things to get better, not worse, and running away is just going to make things worse.”

She finally looked up me, apologetically, before resting her head on my shoulder. She seemed to feel comfortable there finally. “I’m sorry mommy.”

“Just don’t do that ever again, ever.”

Neither of us said anymore, we just sat in silence in front of the fireplace, until Ericka started to complain that she wasn’t feeling well, though I’d suspected she wouldn’t be; not after being in the cold, and I’d worried when Maya said she felt sick that it meant Ericka was sick too… or worse. I put out the fire took her up to my room and tucked her in beside her sister, and laid down beside her while she fell asleep, trying to comfort her. I planned to stay up and wait for Max to get home, it already seemed like it’d been a while, it couldn’t be much longer, but I must’ve fallen asleep myself. 

I don’t remember anything until the next day, late in the day when I finally woke up. Ericka was still sleeping beside me much to my relief. Maya was already awake and painting in the girls’ room, and Max was asleep on the sofa in the living room. I just started on lunch, and by the time it was done Ericka and Max had woken up. We all ate together, Ericka was slightly more involved in the conversation than she had been for a while, but I could tell she still didn’t really want to be part of it. I was glad she was making an effort and it seemed each day afterwards took less effort and was less miserable for her; she was also more open about her problems at school, but she still seemed to be a very sad little girl despite her efforts. Part of her was still missing, and I didn’t know if we’d ever find that part. Chase seemed to have disappeared as fast as he appeared, but I had a haunting feeling that he would show up again and ruin everything, I just didn’t know when. I tried not to think about it too often, I just wanted to keep him in the past and keeping going towards the future.

Max and I agreed we wouldn’t start any plans or set a date for our wedding until Ericka was more comfortable with the idea in an attempt to make it easier for her to adjust, I did see how it could be a lot at once for her and it helped me understand more how she felt when she ran away. It seemed to help a lot when I told her that we would wait until she was okay with it too, it was less overwhelming, and it wasn’t long before we were able to set a date and start planning, by that point the girls were only a couple weeks from going off to art school, so we set a date for the following summer while they were home.