A Woman's Journey
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Sam Martin just can’t catch a break.
A single mother with an ex-husband who won’t take no for an answer, she’s seen all her dreams shattered one by one. But it takes the death of her best friend to make Sam realize that she’s got to take charge of her life once and for all, even if it’s going to be the hardest thing she’ll ever do. For when one’s life is met by one disappointment after another - from growing up with a drug-addicted mother and moving from foster home to foster home - how can she expect anything else?
But for her son’s sake, Sam knows she has to try...
When she meets community doctor Erik Maystrom and his widowed sister, Olivia, they show her a world filled with possibilities, from returning to her art to a life filled with love and family. It’s a whole new world for Sam and her son, but will she welcome it with open arms or will she let the pain of her past take over only because it’s the only thing she knows?
There was something about Olivia and Erik that was pure and authentic. They had no hidden agendas. I'd gotten so used to hidden agendas all my life that I wouldn't know real honest-to-goodness affection if it hit me in the face.
But maybe the universe was telling me something, I thought, as I sat down in front of a plate of strawberry crepes and a steaming cup of strong coffee. And if that were the case, then maybe I should shut out the negative thoughts and begin to listen. Really listen.
Erik arrived fifteen minutes later, carrying my waist pack in one hand and a bouquet of flowers in the other. He hugged Zia Francesca, and as I got up from the table to take my waist pack from him, he hugged me, too.READ MORE
Erik spoke to the older woman in halting Italian, though, to my untrained ears, he might as well have been fluent in it. Olivia corrected a few of the things he said, but Zia Francesca only shook her head, as if saying not to worry about it. She beckoned for him to sit down, but Erik went to the sink first and began trimming the flowers before putting them in a vase filled with water.
He placed it in the middle of the table before checking up on the toddlers now sharing bananas and cereal. Bella managed to wear her food once again while shaking a rattle at him, calling him Dada. Zia Francesca then pulled Erik towards the chair and ordered him to eat breakfast.
She made a circling motion over her belly as if saying she had an upset stomach and wasn't in the mood to eat just yet. Then he set her chair close to the children, cooing in Italian, even calling Michael Signorino. Michael was laughing with her, loving the attention. It made me wonder—if my mother were here, would Michael look at her the way he was looking at Zia Francesca now? But then, would my mother even care that she had a grandson? Heroin was more important to her, for as long as I could remember.
"I drove by your house last night, but you must have gone to sleep already," Erik said.
"You didn't have to do that," I said, grateful that my bruised cheek wasn't facing him, and praying that he wouldn't notice. "I told you I was going to stop by today to pick it up."
"I had to pick up flowers at the Farmers Market in Torrance, so it wasn't a problem," he said. "You're here quite early."
"You're up early," I said.
"We had to pick up Zia Francesca," he said. "Her flight came in early."
"I didn't want to interrupt anything," I said. "I just came by to pick up my phone."
"Oh, stop it, Sam," Olivia chided. "That's why you have your key. It's your studio to use anytime you want. And I'm very excited to see my finished portrait."
"Liv, you can't impose on the artist. She'll let you see it when she's ready," Erik scolded before turning to face me, grinning. "So, is it ready?"
The rest of the meal was spent laughing over stories Erik and Olivia shared about Bella. Soon, Olivia joined Zia Francesca and Bella on the floor while Michael sat on my lap. He was still hungry, and so I fed him some of my crepes. I was beginning to feel more self-conscious, wondering if I had put enough makeup to cover the bruise on my cheek.
Noticing I was quiet, Erik turned towards me. He placed a hand over mine, but I pulled it away.
"I'm sorry about last night," I whispered. "I didn't know he was going to do that—stop by the house and insult you."
"I'm a big boy, Sam," Erik said. "I can handle myself. What's wrong with your eye?"
"I got soap in it this morning," I lied, avoiding his gaze. "But it's fine. I put eye drops in it."
“You mean which eye?” I asked.
“No, which brand eye drops?” Erik said. "Some work better than others."
I didn't own a single bottle of eye drops in the house, I thought, as I tried to remember a brand name. “I can’t remember what it was.”
Erik caught my hand again, and this time, he didn't let go.
"Look at me, Sam," he whispered, and this time, I could not look at him. I used to be able to lie so easily, I thought, back when I was so busy breaking the law because I was too young to know better and too stupid to care. But now, I couldn't even lie to save my life.
“He hits you,” Erik said, his eyes narrowing as he watched me turn to look towards Olivia and Zia Francesca, hoping they didn’t hear what he had just said. "That sonofabitch hits you."
I pulled my hand away, left the chair to grab Michael, who was making his way back to the Bella.
“We have to get going,” I said quickly. “We need to be someplace by ten.”
"Sam, don't run away," Erik said, standing up, his eyes never leaving my face. Michael was crying, refusing to leave. “You can’t be alone with him. Not anymore.”
“It’s not that easy, Erik,” I said as I grabbed my waist pack from the table and slung it over my other shoulder. Erik was about to say something when his cell phone rang. He looked at the name on the display, cursing under his breath, and that's when I made my escape. By the time he answered his phone, I was halfway out the front door and heading for my car, even as Olivia and Zia Francesca were protesting my departure.
I knew it was Serena the moment I saw her rollerblading towards me.
She was tall, with almond-shaped blue eyes framing a perfect nose and full lips. Her blonde hair hung straight about her shoulders, and I bet she used expensive conditioning products—unlike me and my long dark hair that had long lost the fight with frizz.
As I unlocked the door to the car, she rollerbladed past me but did a quick u-turn to peer at my old Toyota and me, as if wondering why I had parked there, of all places. Then she turned around and rollerbladed towards his front door. She pushed open the front door and rollerbladed right inside.
Her toned thighs and calves were to die for, I thought. Her perfectly shaped butt made me want to weep for the imperfections of my own.
Then I thought of Erik, and then his perfect life. His perfect house right on the beach, his perfect sister and niece. His perfect career. His perfect girlfriend.
As I finished buckling Michael into his car seat and got in behind the wheel, my reflection stared back at me from the rear-view window. And there I was, I thought, as I removed my sunglasses and saw my reflection in the mirror, the bruise showing through my make-up.