If possible, he held me closer, tighter. More warmth surrounded my frigid core. “Nowhere I’d rather be than here seeing my sisters through a hard time. You just lean on me, sugar.”
And for a long, long time, I did.
When a sob scraped its way up from my chest and out my mouth, he held strong. As my knees weakened and I lost the ability to stand, he lifted me up. When I begged and pleaded for my father to live and prayed to God, he whispered the words right along with me.
I’d never had someone to fall back on, a person who dropped everything to be there when I needed him. Right there, locked in the haven that was his arms, he imprinted on my soul. I had a brother, and now that I did, I never wanted to find out what life would be like without him.
“Mia, sugar, you’re dead on your feet. You have to get some shut-eye or your body is just going to stop working for you when you least expect it.”
I pulled back from the warmth of his embrace, wiped my eyes on the sleeve of my shirt, and sucked in several calming breaths. “I’m okay. Really, Max, I’ll be fine.”
“No, she’s not,” came Maddy’s voice from about ten paces behind us as she made her way over. She looked at the coffee machine and pointed. “One of those for me?”
I nodded and followed her movements while she prepared both coffees. She actually made an effort to add cream and sugar. I’d just taken it black even though I hated black coffee. I couldn’t taste it anyway. Same with food. Pretty much everything had not only lost its flavor, but the world around me had lost a lot of its color.
Maddy shuffled over to Max and walked right into his chest. This was a first. Max put his arms around her and tentatively held her close, petting her hair. He closed his eyes as if the moment were a bit much emotionally. I knew he wanted to be close with Maddy and me, but everything in Texas had happened so fast they didn’t have much time to connect. From the moment we found out that Maxwell was our brother, to finding out she was his full biological sister, we got the call about Pops and had to bail.
She lifted her head, resting her chin on his chest. “Thank you for coming, Max.”
“Like I told your sister, there is nowhere I’d rather be right now.”
“Our sister.” Her voice shook a bit when she said the two words.
Max frowned and his eyebrows furrowed. “What’s that, sweetie?” Sweetie. Since he’d met us, he’d called her sweetie and me sugar. I kind of liked my endearment better.
“Our sister,” Maddy repeated. “Before, you said your sister. I was just correcting you. We’re all related, and I want to make it clear right now that no matter who’s got more matching blood running in their veins, Mia will always be one hundred percent our sister.”
Max’s lips pinched together. “You’re absolutely right. I didn’t mean to say it that way. I apologize.”
He apologized? What? “Max, no need to apologize, really. Maddy is just being a little oversensitive. Emotions are really high right now.”
Maddy’s eyes narrowed. “No I’m not. I’m telling it like it is. The same way you have always taught me growing up. Never hide behind a lie. Never hold your tongue when important information needs to be discussed. I don’t want to stew in this any longer. Max needs to know that you are more important to me than anyone else in this world. If we’re going to be a family in any way, no matter what, where you are in the lineup is where I’m going to be. And that’s just the way it is. Period. I don’t care who my biological father is.” She pointed down the hall. “That man in there is my dad. No blood test is ever going to change that.”