Emmaline Heath stared absently out the window to her left. People walked by Feltman's Corner, Griffin Hills' only coffeehouse, at a leisurely pace. Some laughed, most talked, others strolled in silence. Kids and teenagers rushed by on skateboards, bikes, and scooters. Ten years had proven to be generous to the city of Griffin Hills, if the number of people outside and the updated store fronts were anything to go by. Her gaze shifted up to the lamp post outside. A snowflake decorated blue banner swung from just below the light, reminding all who passed under it that Christmas was just around the corner.
She shook her head and looked down into her coffee cup. The golden brown liquid rippled as she turned the cup in slow circles. Christmas held no significance for her anymore, not since giving up her reason for finding joy in this season ten years ago. Her vision blurred and she squeezed her eyes shut tight to keep the tears from falling.
The sound of a chair scraping preceded an all too familiar voice. "Grief and loss should never be kept locked inside, my dear. They fester, like open wounds, and produce more unpleasant feelings that sometimes lead to rash actions."
Emmaline laughed bitterly as she opened her eyes and looked up. "I haven't done one rash thing this past decade, Sylvia. I don't think I'll start now."
Sylvia Tench, Emmaline's mom's best friend and next door neighbor, raised a graying eyebrow but said nothing. The sympathetic look in her brown eyes said it all.
But Emmaline didn't want anyone's sympathy. She wanted her son back. Ten years hadn't dulled the pain of losing him, neither had it softened her hatred toward Adam and his holier-than-thou family. The words he'd spoken that fateful day still echoed in her mind, obliterating his declaration of love a few weeks prior. God, how could she have been so blind? How could she have been so stupid? They grew up in different worlds, a fact that was still painfully obvious to this day.
"I am glad you decided to come, Emmaline," Sylvia said after ordering a cup of black tea with a slice of lemon and a raspberry scone. "Your visit is long overdue."
Emmaline snorted. "There's a reason for that."
Sylvia waved a dismissive hand. "Yes, yes, I know that. Still, you should have come sooner. They have no hold over you anymore. The agreement was only meant to keep you from him while he was a minor."
Wrapping her hands around her cup, Emmaline pressed her lips together to keep from speaking. What Sylvia said was true, but her reason for staying away had nothing to do with that damned agreement.
"Anyway, I hope you do find time to connect with him while you're here. He might even be willing to help you with the house."
The house. Her mom's house. Sorrow spread through her, and a hollowness she didn't want to feel took up residence in her heart. Cancer took her in a matter of weeks, leaving behind a daughter who struggled to live day to day and a house that reminded her of too many things she'd rather forget.
"She only ever wanted you to be happy," Sylvia said softly. "She understood why you wouldn't come home, understood as only a mother could. She left the house to you and said you can do whatever you want with it, but I have a favor to ask of you before you make that decision."
Emmaline swallowed hard. Dread crept up her spine as she nodded. "Yes?"
"Find Brandon. Get to know him. As much as you may think staying away from him is best, I'm telling you it's not. He needs you more than he did as a little boy, and you need him just as much. Don't let this chance pass you by, Emmaline. Don't miss out on the opportunity to be happy again."