Ben was on the way to his Mom’s house to pick up Cole after work. On the drive over, he couldn’t stop thinking about the last four months. He wanted to tell Sofia how he felt, or at the very least, move their relationship forward. But he was still afraid of pushing her too much because she had given him zero indication she wanted to be more than good friends. His mom said to go slow, and God knows he had never gone slower in his life.
Sofia’s attorneys had made a deal with Jesse. They had dropped the charges on the condition that Jesse would leave Willow Creek, cease all contact with Sofia and get counseling, validated periodically by her attorney. Jesse had agreed. He asked his employer for a transfer to the Roaring Heights office and promptly left town.
Ben thought the worst was over for her. Sofia had relaxed once she learned Jesse accepted her offer and was moving. She was almost back to the person Ben had known his whole life – funny, eager to learn, and passionate about everything she did.
However, anytime the subject of Jesse came up, she shut it down. He wondered if she might need to talk to someone because she certainly wasn’t talking to him, about Jesse anyway.
Ben and Sofia had been de facto ‘dating’ for the past three months. Even though they spent a lot of time together, she had friend zoned their relationship. It was back like it was before Jesse attacked her. The intimacy she had allowed him right after, was gone. They no longer held hands or touched in any intimate ways. Their non-date dates were almost always with Cole. Not that he was complaining. He loved being with the two of them – Playing at Magnolia Park:
Watching movies at Ben’s house . . .
Lounging by his mom’s pool with Cole vying for their attention . . .
Going to festivals and simply being together.
The rest of their time together was spent working on the Rec Center, which was coming along nicely. They should be ready to open in 30 days.
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When Ben pulled into the drive at his mom’s house, he had decided to ask her advice.
Ben walked into the playroom and Cole ran to him. “Daddy!” he squealed and held out his little arms to be picked up.
He scooped up his son and hugged and kissed him before turning to his mother. “Mom, can we talk, privately?”
“Sure. Dakota can keep an eye on Cole while we go get coffee.”
18-year-old Dakota came into the room looking so grown up. “Sure Mom. Hi Ben – let me take that little man,” she said cheerfully as she took Cole from his arms.
To Ben, Dakota was still the little girl dressed up in the fairy costume at Halloween, trying to find her place in their family. But just now, when she called his mother, no, their mother, Mom, and even sounded so much like her, the rest of the puzzle clicked into place. Family is what you make it. And this was his family, including Dakota and Hailey and Leroy. He yearned for Sofia to be a part of it too. And not just as a friend. He wanted her to be his wife, and for Cole to call her Mom, just like Dakota had just now called her own adopted mother Mom.
As they were leaving he turned back and smiled at Hailey, his 12-year old half sister. “Bye squirt. See you later.”
She looked away from the show she had been watching long enough to flash Ben a smile. “Later Ben.” She was a perfect mix of Leroy and Kaitlin. Such a little doll. He had never paid much attention to her after he went to live with his dad. That was going to change.
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When Ben and Kaitlin sat down with their coffee, Kaitlin didn’t say anything. She was obviously waiting on him. Ben needed to get some things off his chest before he asked about Sofia. He took a deep breath and filled the silence. “Mom, first I want to apologize for my entire life. I have been ungrateful, jealous, mean and just plain disrespectful. Yet you always came around when I needed you. Why?”
Ben was overcome at the love reflected back at him in his mother’s eyes, sparkling with unshed tears. “Ben. I love you. There is nothing nothing for you to apologize for,” she said with sweet smile. Then her expression became sorrowful before she continued, “It was my fault. I missed that you needed much more than I was giving you. I truly thought that if you lived with your father….”
Ben got upset at the mention of his father. “I don’t want to talk about him,” he snarled, interrupting her.
Kaitlin took a deep breath, apparently shocked at the animosity in his voice. “Ben, I know you were disappointed in your father but he has turned his life around. Do you have any idea how hard that is? If I hadn’t left, he would never have changed. He was escalating. When he attacked Reese, it was the last straw. Next it would have been you or even Maddy. I had to protect the three of you. But I ran with no money and no plan.”
Kaitlin studied her coffee before looking back up and continuing. “I made a lot of mistakes too. I didn’t have the means to properly care for you three. I was lonely and scared. Reid was nice to you and me, but I had fallen in love with Leroy and didn’t realize it until Hailey was born. We tried to build a relationship but PTSD reared it’s ugly head and threatened everything. I didn’t want you and Reese to know. But Reese saw me breakdown. PTSD was a real problem and I had so many triggers. Thank god for Leroy insisting on therapy and getting me properly treated. He was there for me, helping me. He still helps me through the occasional bad time – like after Sofia.”
Ben felt like shit hearing how much his mother struggled because she loved her children. Yet he had perceived it as she didn’t care. If he known this 4 months ago, he didn’t know if he would have asked her to talk to Sofia, but knowing her she would have insisted.
“Mom, you were incredibly brave and selfless. I don’t know how I didn’t see what was going on. I didn’t want to believe Reese when he said Dad hit you. I didn’t know you had PTSD until after Jesse attacked Sofia and Leroy told me. Even as a teenager, I didn’t fully understand. I felt isolated and abandoned. Unlovable. Reese had Brooke and the boys, you had Leroy and the girls.”
Ben paused thinking about seeing Dakota and Hailey earlier. He smiled at his mother, his voice thick with emotion. “They are so well adjusted. Do you know that Dakota sounds just like you when she talks? She could have been a mess, yet you and Leroy – you loved her unconditionally. Just like you do all of your children and grandchildren. You are an amazing person. So don’t you dare apologize. I see it much more clearly now, but then, I couldn’t see past my own selfishness.”
“It’s okay Ben. You were 11-years-old and ill equipped to handle what life threw at you. Like I said before, you are here now. We need to let the past be the past. Learn from it, but move forward.”
Kaitlin relaxed apparently finished talking about unpleasant memories. She looked at her son curiously and smiled. “Why do I think there is more you wanted to talk about?”
Ben laughed nervously, twisting his wedding band. “It’s Sofia. Mom, I need to tell her how I feel. It’s killing me. She won’t even get close to me anymore.” He stopped, he might as well be totally honest. He continued softly. “That day, when Jesse walked in on us, we were literally two seconds away from a kiss.”
“Oh….” said Kaitlin and her eyebrows shot up.
“Nothing happened Mom,” replied Ben, embarrassed. Ben was sad thinking about that day. He should never have allowed Sofia to leave with Jesse. “Anyway, after he attacked her, she held my hand and let me hold and comfort her. But once she was free of him, she distanced herself from me physically. Since then, I’ve been afraid to upset her, so I haven’t made any attempt to touch her.” Ben shook his head slowly, begging for an answer with his eyes. “How do I know when it’s okay to take the next step?”
“Ben, hun. Look at your hand. You still wear your wedding band. If I was in love with a man and he still wore his dead wife’s ring, I would think he wasn’t ready to move on. Are you ready Ben?”
Ben teared up unexpectedly. His right hand automatically went protectively to the wedding ring and he began to twist and rub it, as had become his habit ever since Grace died. It was comforting to have something intimate to help him cope with her loss.
“I’m sorry Ben. I didn’t mean to be so blunt, to upset you.”
He looked at his hands while he thought about his mom’s question. He was ready. He knew he was. Then why was it so hard? He continued to look at his hand when he answered. “It’s okay. I am ready. It’s just, if I take it off….”
Kaitlin watched Ben toy with the ring, compassion evident in her eyes and her voice. “Honey, I can’t pretend to understand the amount of pain you have been through. You are naming a park after Grace. And it was Sofia’s idea. But if you really want to move on, it’s time to let Grace go.”
Ben swallowed hard and took deep breaths to keep the tears from falling as he slowly took off his ring. He clutched it tightly in the palm of his hand, placing both hands over his racing heart. He held it there for several minutes while he tried to come to terms with the significance of his action.
Kaitlin watched her son, her own tears silently rolling down her cheeks. “Baby,” she said, her voice gentle and soothing, “you’re not throwing her away, you just letting her go. No matter what happens in the future, Grace will always be an important part of your life. She did something none of the rest of us could.” Kaitlin stopped for a beat, now smiling through her tears. “She made you love yourself enough that you could love others. She will forever hold a special place in your heart, and mine too. It’s okay to feel sad.”
Ben handed his mother the ring with shaking hands. He was saying goodbye to Grace all over again and it brought back painful memories. A few tears managed to escape as she took it from him. He wiped the tears from his face and took a cleansing breath. “Please, put this in your purse. I don’t want to lose it in my pocket.”
Once his mother had the ring, He could breathe again. It actually began to feel liberating once he worked through the initial pain that came from thinking about what that ring symbolized. It was his last link to Grace. But his mother was right. He needed to let her go in order to fully move on.
Ben smiled at this amazing woman, his mother, sitting across from him. “How did you get so wise? I will put it with Grace’s wedding rings and give them to Cole when the time is right.”
Kaitlin smiled brightly and without skipping a beat said, “I bet I know who you are taking out tonight!”
“But, what if it’s too soon?”
“I see how she looks at you when you aren’t looking. I swear, you are the only one that doesn’t see it. She loves you, trust me. And she loves Cole too. Sofia is stronger than you think, and she is not letting what happened control her life.”
At the mention of ‘what happened’, Ben’s mood changed. “Did she tell you what happened that night?”
“She did, and we have spoken once since then. But we didn’t talk about you and her, just Jesse. She was concerned about dropping the charges. Still, I don’t think it’s too soon. She’s probably waiting on you to make the first move.” Kaitlin’s face lit up, “Need a sitter for the night?” she asked and waggled her eyebrows.
Ben was mortified. “Mom! Not for the night, just a few hours. I thought I might take her to a nice dinner.”
Kaitlin laughed. “Are you serious? You never know, Ben. It’s been a long time. Almost 3 years. And Sofia probably needs the closeness of someone that loves her right now. I have a feeling you will have a very romantic evening.”
Ben felt himself blush. “Stop it Mom, you are embarrassing me. I don’t plan on seducing her.”
Kaitlin grinned at Ben. “I know. But you love each other. It’s time to own up to that. And, well, I know how it was, still is, with me and Leroy.”
“Mom!” He said and stood up to make it stop. He swore she was trying to embarrass him to make up for lost time.
Kaitlin laughed. “Okay, let’s go. You have a date to make!”
“Yes. And Mom, thanks. I love you.”
“I know sweetheart,” said Kaitlin and kissed him on the cheek. “I love you too.”
Ben pulled her into a hug and they walked out of the coffee shop with his arm still wrapped around his mother, feeling more hopeful for his future than he had in a long time.