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I turn to Corinne and decide to pump her for intelligence. After I take another sip of tea, I ask carefully, “Why is your Aunt Trista packing?” Corinne takes a sip with her little pinky out, and I immediately snap mine out to mimic her. When she lowers her cup, she says, “She sold her house, and we’re moving soon.” I swallow hard, as I did not intend for Trista to move so quickly when I made the offer on her house and it was accepted. “Where are you moving to?” “An apartment,” she says with dancing eyes filled with excitement. “It has a playground and a pool, and I get to stay in my same school where my friends are.” My heart rate decelerates as I realize she’s not going far. Not leaving Vegas. “That sounds nice,” I tell her. “I bet Trista’s excited.” Corinne shrugs and her eyes turn sad before they drop down to her cup. “I guess.” Reaching over with my free hand, I give her a little tap on her knee to get her attention. “Hey… what’s wrong?” When she looks back up at me, my chest contracts so hard I almost wince. She’s got a light sheen of tears in her eyes, and I want to slay whatever monster put them there. “It’s my fault she has to sell the house.” “No, sweetheart, it’s not,” I hastily reassure her, but she’s already denying my words by nodding her head vigorously. “It is,” she insists. “I heard her talking to Grandma. She had to pay for my surgery, so she had to sell her house. Now she’s sad she has to leave, and it’s all my fault.” A single heart-wrenching tear slides down her cheek, and I’m at a loss as what to do. I love kids. Always wanted them, but I’m woefully unprepared and ill equipped to handle a bereft six-year-old with guilt issues. “Hey, Corinne,” I say in a soothing tone as I reach a hand out and wipe her tear away. I’m absolutely not in a position to guess how Trista is feeling, but I’m going to take one for the team. “Trista isn’t sad about this house, I promise you. She’s sad about something I did to upset her. It’s got nothing to do with you.” I didn’t realize a six-year-old could cock their eyebrow so effectively, but that’s exactly what Corinne does. I can also tell she’s intrigued. “She’s sad because of you?” I nod quickly. “I was an idiot and did something stupid to hurt Trista’s feelings. I didn’t mean to do it and I’m really sorry, but that’s why I’m here now. To tell her how sorry I am. Hopefully, she’ll be happy again.” “Do you love her?” Corinne asks solemnly. My eyes cut over to the front door, and I mutter to myself, “Shit… this is awkward.” But no sense in doing anything half-assed. I’m already committed to getting Trista back, which means I’ve got to open myself up to everything that’s been pushed away for so long, which will be a little uncomfortable. Sliding my gaze back to Corinne, I nod with a smile. “Yes. I love her.” Corinne nods again and gives me a look of such sage wisdom, I doubt she’s six for a moment. “When you love someone, and they do something bad to you, it hurts worse than if you don’t love them.” Fucking hell. She’s talking about her mom, but her logic is spot on. “Yeah… that’s why I really need to make sure she knows I’m sorry.” ♦ I follow Corinne into the house. We finished our tea first. She also invited me back for another tea party, and I’m hoping I get that opportunity. I hope I get a lot of opportunities, and I swear to myself I won’t waste them. Not like I have been doing. Jolene meets us as soon as we enter the house with a purse over her shoulder. She smiles at us, and then holds her hand out to Corinne. “Come on, honey. Grandma needs to go grocery shopping, and you’re coming with me.” “But I want to stay here and see Jerico apologize to Aunt Trista and tell her he loves her,” Corinne says in a slightly whiny tone that would be absolutely fucking adorable if that didn’t just embarrass the shit out of me. Jolene’s eyes cut to me and they’re twinkling, but she’s insistent with Corinne as she wags her hand at her to take. “We’re going to give them some privacy. I’m sure Trista will tell you all about it when we get back.” Corinne grumbles but takes her grandma’s hand. Jolene glances at me. I try to wipe the sheepish look off my face, but she sees it. Her eyes twinkle harder. Nodding her head to the hallway, she says, “Trista’s in her room packing. The room on the right.” I nod in acknowledgment. “Thanks.” I wait until Jolene and Corinne leave the house. When I turn around, I notice the living room has been completely packed except for the furniture. I walk by the little kitchen, seeing the cupboards are all opened and half the contents gone, with boxes on the floor that have already been sealed up. Apparently, their move is imminent and that means Trista’s been making big decisions. I wonder if I’m included in them.
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