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Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

Chapter 1 (Michonne)

"Michy, what do you say we go have a mani/pedi day, do brunch, the whole bit?"

"I'm all for a mani/pedi day, Mom, but the fact that you are offering after we just had one last week makes your offer fishy."

"Maybe, I just want to spend as much time with you since you've been gone away at college all year. Ever think of that, smartass?"

"Yeah, Ma, I did think of that. But, then again, it's still fishy. So, what's up? Bad news? Good news?" I ask, my eyes roaming over my mother's face, attempting to pick up on anything that might give away a hint to the nature of her request.

With not a wrinkle to her name, Mona Kelly, my mother, is probably the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. Creamy dark skin, the color of rich fertile earth, drapes her keen nose, high cheekbones, and a tall curvy body that is always impeccably dressed. She has faithfully worn her hair the same way, for as long as I can remember, in voluminous loose curls that fall to the middle of her back. My cousin Sasha says her hair is like that because we have Cherokee in us, but my mother said the truth is that we come from as complicated a mix of slaves and slave masters as anyone else. With her statuesque frame, when I was little I thought she was a model, or a celebrity of some sort. There is just something about her charismatic presence, her constant smile, her kind eyes. My father used to call her his dark chocolate Pam Grier. She's not famous like Pam Grier though, she's the head of sports medicine at Emory Hospital, but sometimes I'm so in awe of her graceful poise and beauty that I question if perhaps the world got it wrong and she should be.

"Michy, let's have a chat then. Sit down here with me for a sec." She pats next to her on the bed, smoothing out the comforter where she wants me to sit.

Climbing atop the king sized four post bed, having a seat next to my mother, I realize by the tone of her voice that this conversation is more serious than I originally assumed.

"What's up, Mom?" I ask, trying not to sound worried, but the anxious look on her face is concerning me.

"It's just been me and you since your dad died five years ago, kiddo. I know it's been rocky sometimes, and you had to quickly grow up a lot since then. I never planned on being a single mom, so it was a big adjustment for both of us, right? And you have turned into an amazing young woman, Michy. I'm confident that you will accomplish every goal you set. I'm really proud of you honey." She smiles brightly at me, showing off her luminescent white teeth.

"Thanks, Mom."

"And even though we have been closer than I ever could have imagined, and I guess that is the only silver lining to your father passing away, you've gone off to college. Moved on. And well, you know me, Michy. I'm not good with being alone."

"That's true. But I'm just over at Spelman, Ma. You're not really alone."

"No, Michy, I am now. And that's ok. Change is good. You have school, and your friends, and Mike. This is a great time for you, I want you to enjoy being young and carefree. But no, I won't be alone much longer." Pursing her lips tightly as if she is attempting to fight off a growing grin, she continues. "You remember Hershel, right? Dr. Greene? We went to that Hawks game with him and his daughters over Christmas break. Visited his farm last month for Easter?"

"Yeah. Old white guy, right?" My brain is racing. I'm trying to put together what she's saying, what the point of bringing this guy's name into our conversation about me being away at college is. And then it hits me. We weren't just hanging out with this guy and his girls, she's been dating him. As soon as my realization bursts through she admits it…and more.

"Yes, that's him. He and I have been seeing each other for about nine months now. I really like him. And you seemed to get along great with him and his girls. They liked you. He wants to get married. To me. This spring, next month actually. I said yes, because I love him, and he loves me, and this is my chance to be happy again."

"What? You can't get married, you're already married to Dad. We're happy already, Mom." I stutter, letting the sting of her confession and my denial of her truth hang between us.

"Yes, we're happy. But, what you don't understand yet, sweetie, is that no I'm not married anymore, and I miss that. I miss having someone to be with, to help around the house, to love. It's a different need from being a mom, it's about being a woman. Having the affection of someone who loves you like a woman." Pausing her eyes roam over my face, gauging my reaction. Seeing the unresponsive stone wall my face has morphed into, she reaches for my hand then continues. "I don't say much because I know you are a smart young woman and we have had the safe sex talk, so I know you understand some of what I'm saying because of your relationship with Mike. Right? Because of how you feel about him? It's different than mother/daughter love, Michy, and that's ok."

"But, my daddy has only been gone for a few years. You want to try and replace him with that old white guy?" A few tears begin to form in my eyes, blurring the sight of my mother's face. Hurriedly I turn my head from her, and snatching my hand from her hold, I try to wipe away the tears threatening to spill down my face before my mother notices.

"No. Your father is irreplaceable, Michonne. I loved him fiercely, right up until the doctors said he was gone. That a damned heart attack took him from us. But, him dying didn't end my needs, my desires. This is a good thing for me, for both of us. All of us really. Hershel is a widower himself, losing his wife to breast cancer. And, he loves me, I love him, and his girls need a mother. Give this a chance, Michy. For me, please? I would like to know that you are ok with this because you mean everything to me. You may be grown, but you are still my baby girl." My mother asks, a note of pleading in her voice. Mona Kelly doesn't plead. She doesn't beg. As one of the best sports medicine doctors in Atlanta, mainly working with the Hawks, she is very used to being in charge, in male dominated spaces especially. So, for her to come down from that place where she is usually leading and commanding, to ask anything of me in this way, I know it's important to her.

My mother and I have become best friends since my father's untimely heart attack snatched him away from us when I was 13. He was a PhD, a physics professor at Morehouse, and from what I understand, the love of my mother's life, and she the love of his. Losing him hit both of us extremely hard. Me as a pre-teen who was very close to her adored father, and her as a woman who lost her best friend and soul mate. In our grieving we pulled together, leaned on each other, and as a result became tighter than ever. It's one of the reasons that when my boyfriend Mike and I decided to begin a sexual relationship last year, I didn't experience any of the hesitance to discuss it with her that my cousin Sasha experienced with her parents. I told her how I felt, that I researched different birth control methods, and that I felt like I was ready for this step. She understood, respected my honesty even. We get each other, and considering this from that perspective I feel like I owe it to her not to be a barrier to her happiness.

As much as my mother is an analytical, powerhouse doctor, she is also a bit of a romantic. So, yes, I get that she feels like this guy, Hershel, is her future, that she's in love. But, still the thought of leaving my father's legacy behind stings, and I am mourning the end of an era with us. The end of the Kelly family, the end of our best friend relationship, and the beginning of this new unknown thing as…the Greenes?

"Ok, Mom. Ok. So what? He and his girls are moving here from King County?"

"No. We're gonna move to his farm. It's only 45 minutes away, and they have a lot of room. It's a huge house, remember? I think you're gonna like it!" She perks up at the first hint of me thawing and warming to the idea of her remarrying.

"Wait! What about work? Your friends, family?" Exasperation is evident in my rapid fire questions as the reality of this is coming to light.

"Cars. There are these things called cars. You know, they have wheels and take you from place to place. Sometimes fast, sometimes not so fast. I've got a really nice one!" She jokes at my expense. Laughing lightly, she hugs me to her, and for a moment my mood improves. Clutched tightly to my mother, snug against the warmth of her form, her familiar powdery scent of Donna Karan's Cashmere Mist in my nose, I'm comforted that this thing will work out. "It will be ok, Michy. I promise. Hershel is excited, and he's telling his girls today as well. It's going to be nice to have a kind of big family right? To have little sisters! You always wanted someone to boss around, well here you go."


"Hi, honey. You look beautiful." Hershel leans over and hugs my mother tightly to his chest, and grins down at her. Spotting me behind my her he turns his attention to me. "Hello, Michonne, it's good to see you again." He reaches for me, and captures me in an unexpected bear hug.

"Hi." Squirming a little in his hug, I have to admit that it's not the worst thing to experience the coziness of a fatherly embrace again. Releasing me, he gestures for us to head over to the living room.

Running down the steps, Maggie and her little sister Beth in tow, barrel into the room with all of the youthful exuberance one would expect from young kids. Making a beeline for me, Maggie takes the lead. "Hey, Michonne! Do you remember me? I'm Maggie!" Unexpectedly she hugs me with fervor equal to that of her father's hug, then looks up to me, her green eyes wide with question.

"Yeah, I remember you. What's up?" I lightly hug her back, wary from all of the explicit affection from the Greenes.

"I'm excited! Like, can you believe our parents are getting married? It's gonna be so cool to have a big sister. Right, Beth?" Maggie exclaims in her deep country accent, tossing her long dark ponytail over her shoulder. Shorter and younger than me, Maggie is a nice girl. Very sweet and open, mature and with a hint of sadness to her, also a little protective of her father and little sister. I remember when we went to the Hawks game she always kept her little sister's hand clasped tightly in her own, and her dad firmly in her sights, as if she might lose either of them any minute. She sticks close to her dad, and I recall my mother telling me that even at only 13 years old, she helps her dad with the horses on their farm whenever she can. I respect that. I assume like me, she had to grow up quite a bit when her mother died 6 years ago. At the time she was only 7 and her younger sister Beth was still a baby really, at only 3 years old. I think a big gap was left in this family by her mother's absence, and a young Maggie has tried to some extent to fill it.

"Yes. But I already have one sister, so I guess having two is fine." Beth shyly shrugs in a small voice, hiding partly behind Maggie. She is a tiny thing, wearing a pair of well worn jeans, and a My Little Pony t-shirt. Sporting wild blond hair that could use a good brushing, it falls a little over her forehead and into her big blue eyes. Not wanting to leave her out of this apparent love-fest, I step around Maggie and lean down to embrace Beth as well.

"Well I guess I'm it. You can just add me to your big sister collection." I agree, and reach back for Maggie again, to hug these two girls, my sisters to me. Deciding right then to try and be as welcoming to this thing, to this new family, as I can. Last night after my chat with my mother, I laid awake for a long time. Looking through pictures of my family, my father, my mother and me before Dad died. In those pictures I noticed a stark contrast in how my mother looks now to how she was then. In the way she smiled, in the light in her eyes. The spark has definitely dimmed since my father's demise. Since she lost a part of herself in that cold hospital room 5 years ago.

Honestly giving it some thought, there have many been sad days for my mother that my juvenile mind reconciled away as something other than what it was, loneliness. There have been a few other guys that I can remember her dating, but nothing serious or lasting. Nothing that has put so broad a smile back on her face as she has now. No one has re-lit that fuse. No one has given Mona Kelly a reason to want to transplant her busy life from the city, to a quiet farm in the middle of nowhere. I considered all of this, and in my heart, I had to admit that this is right for her.

My mother deserves this, she needs this, the warm glow of affectionate and romantic love. The attentive hugs and kisses of a man that adores her. As long as this Hershel guy is a good guy, who is committed to giving her these things back, then I'm not going to stand in the way. I want that light to come back in her eyes, that flirty grin she always tossed at my dad to grace her lovely features again.

Observing how smitten Hershel appears to be with her right now, staring affectionately at her as he helps her find a seat on the loveseat next to him, their hips touching, his arm casually, but possessively thrown across her shoulders, he's mired in it too. In their romance. I can see that he loves her. My eyes are open now, and what my youthful self-centeredness did not allow me to recognize before, is now blatantly obvious. They are in love. It's a beautiful thing that I hope for myself some day.

"Can I sit next to you, Michonne?" Beth asks in that whispery voice of hers, as she pulls on my t-shirt to regain my attention.

"Sure, yeah." I agree, finding a seat on the couch facing my mother and Hershel, with Beth on one side of me. Maggie takes a seat in the armchair at her father's right hand.

"I'm glad we are all getting a chance to be together like this, to merge these two families. I'm very excited to welcome Mona and Michonne to the farm, this is going to be your home soon, and I want you to feel comfortable here." He addresses my mother and I, his smile open and inviting, genuine. "We have five bedrooms, so you can still have your own room, Michonne. No need to share. And I'm sure a young woman of 18 needs her privacy, so you'll still have that here, to a point. No boys in bedrooms, though you can still have visitors. And, there are a few chores that we all share on the farm, though there are workers for the majority of it. And my nephew Shane, and the Grimes boy help out when they aren't running the street." He pauses as if to think of what else he wanted to discuss. "Let me see. I run my veterinary practice out of the pole barn in the back of the property. I'm always looking for help, so if you want to earn some extra money this summer while you're home, you're welcome to work there some as well."

At this point my mother decides to chime in after allowing Hershel to pretty much run the conversation. This is a familiar dynamic, as she used to do the same with my dad. Letting him lead, then bringing up the rear.

"Now that you have completed your first year of college, we decided to give you a car. That Jeep that you have wanted for so long. But, in order to earn it, you have to watch Maggie and Beth over the summer. After that, you can take it back to school with you. This way you can still keep your connection to everything in Atlanta, help out with your new sisters, and get to know them better. What do you think, Michy? Not so bad, right?" My mother offers, using my nickname that only family is privy to.

Internally squealing with delight, I try to keep my cool in front of my new family, but my mother knows me well, and I'm sure she can tell that I want to scream. Instead I maintain my casual indifference and just nod my head in agreement. "Yeah. I can do that. It's a deal."

"Good! See, Mona! It's all going to work out just fine. Before we eat, while I get the roast from the oven, Maggie, Beth, why don't you take your new sister upstairs to show her around so she can pick a room?"

"Follow me!" Maggie exclaims, launching from her chair and heading towards the stairs in the center of the first floor.

Walking up the stairs I catch the faint sound of my mother and Hershel in the kitchen talking.

"See, Mona bear. It's gonna be just fine. I told you. I love you, you love me. We've got us a family here."

Did he just call my mother 'Mona bear' I wonder and roll my eyes, thankful that my mother can't see the grimace on my face. While I want to gag at the corny endearment, it just confirms what I've come to realize and accept. This is real, and this is a good thing.

"Hey, Michonne, up here!" Maggie calls to me, breaking me out of my thoughts. "So here is the master bedroom. I guess your mom will move in here with my dad. It's pretty big. My mom designed the house, when my parents got married and tore down the old house. This farm belonged to my granddad, he's dead. And he and my dad never got along, so when my dad inherited it, he tore down the house and built this one."

Opening the door to the master suite I don't want to be rude and go in and snoop around. Even though I was always welcome in my mom's room at home, I assume things will be different here. Who knows what's going to go down in there? I don't want to think too hard on it, so I just do a quick perusal and confirm that though the country décor will never match my mother's style and taste, and will probably be replaced, I could see her living there. It's just going to be difficult to imagine her doing so with a man that isn't Andre Kelly, my dad.

"Then down there at the end of the hall are the other rooms. My daddy calls 'em Jack n Jill suites cause the two on each side of the hall share a bathroom. Beth and I are in these two, so I guess you luck out and get one of these with your own bathroom." Maggie explains and gestures as she talks, reminding me of a tour guide or the realtors you see on House Hunters.

Walking into the room that will be mine, it's about the same size as my room in our house in Atlanta, but again the décor is too country for my taste, and I hope Hershel and Mom will be cool with me changing it up. There is a large closet, and a nice sized window that looks out onto the back of the house, onto the sprawling grass that leads out towards the woods. The window also has something that I've always wanted, a window seat. Joining me in the room, Maggie and Beth sit in tandem on the full sized bed in the middle of the room.

"So what do you think?" Maggie asks, watching me curiously from where she sits cross legged on the bed.

"Do you like it? Will you stay with us, or do you wanna go back to A'lanta?" Beth asks, eyes wide. She almost looks frightened when she asks this, as though I might actually say that I'm going to leave and abandon this growing family.

As a person that is used to being an only child, this is going to be a bit of a departure for me. Having to share my parents' doting affections was never a concern, and despite the fact that I'm 18 now, I don't know how I'm going to feel about dividing her time with these two motherless girls. But, the fact that they are also familiar with the aching loss of a parent's death, I feel compelled to submerge any past selfishness, and put it aside for the possibility of what could blossom in this new family by simply keeping an open heart and mind.

"Of course! It's great. What about you guys? Are you ok with this? My mom and I moving in, us being family?" Taking a seat on a nearby chair, I decide to dig a little deeper and get to know these two girls. My new little sisters.

"Well…I've never had a mama. So, I guess I want one. And if you'll share your mama with me that would be fine. She's real nice and pretty. And even though I only know one other family of black people, the Joneses, Daddy says folks are folks, so it's fine that I'll get to have a black mama, and a black sister." Beth honestly replies, beaming anxiously at me. Giddy I suppose at the thought of actually having a mother.

"Beth, you had a mama, she just died when you were too little to remember." Maggie pats her sister on the back, exasperation with the younger girl's assessment creeping in to her tone. "I'm cool with it too. Beth's right, it will be nice to have a mama again. I don't care what color she is, your mom is real pretty and real cool, and oh my gosh, Daddy is so smitten with her."

"Oh yeah? Why do you think that?" Knowing what I have witnessed on my own, I'm still curious about their perspective of things, and what these girls know about our parents' relationship.

"He calls her everyday. Like, when he sends us to bed, you can hear him on the phone in his room talking to her, like all night long. And Daddy hates to talk on the phone. And he was talking to Mr. Grimes and Uncle Dale earlier and telling them he's gonna get married, and he just kept saying how beautiful and smart she was." Maggie proclaims excitedly, happiness in her eyes.

"Heart eyes. Daddy has big ol heart eyes for your mama." Beth adds, nodding emphatically.

"It's gonna be a real nice wedding too. Everybody in King County is gonna want to come cause everybody knows Daddy. He tends to everybody's animals. It's a big deal round here. And, well cause she's black." Maggie adds knowingly, tilting her head at me and Beth as though she has just hipped us to some great secret that we were previously unaware of. To this I have to chuckle a bit. The sheer honest innocence and precociousness of these two is really pulling at my heart strings.

Truthfully, I never really gave too much thought to our blackness potentially being a big deal out here. When my mother mentioned us moving to King County, the main thing that crossed my mind was that I would now be 45 minutes from everything I've ever known. Once again confronted with the reality of what all of this change actually means, I have to consider that being out here is going to be more than just a simple move to the country. As the girls said, folks may be folks, but everyone doesn't feel that way.

I've been a city girl all my life, born and raised in Druid Hills, and in a big city like Atlanta you see all kinds of people and families. But I guess out here in the country, more isolated from the outside world, it might not be that way, and for the first time since my mother told me of her and Hershel's plans to wed, I'm a little nervous. I cringe to think of what negative thoughts the good folks of King County might have about my mother and I. In fact, I can only imagine the reaction this town might have to one of my best friends, Aaron, who happens to be gay and dating a guy named Jesus.

It must show on my face because Maggie immediately proclaims, "Daddy would never let anyone be mean to y'all though. To him you're already family, and he told Mr. Grimes and Uncle Dale that. He and Mr. Grimes are best friends, and Uncle Dale, and Mr. Jones too. They play cards and used to drink together before Daddy had to stop drinking after my mama died." Her voice lowers to a slight whisper on that last part, as though speaking about her dead mother still pains her. I'm sure it does, and though I am older, I can definitely relate. What I also take particular note of is that she probably inadvertently divulged that her father may have had a drinking problem at one point. I have to remember to mention this to my mother.

"There are no other black folks around here other than the Jones family, huh? Seriously?"

"Yeah. But now the Greene family is kinda black too, right?" Beth chimes in, an impish grin on her face.

"I guess so." I laugh, surveying the room again. "Tell me about King County. I have only ever seen this farm, so is it all country like this or what?"

"Oh, um, kinda. There are mostly farms around here, and then there is a small kinda town area. It's really just like a few buildings, the post office, sheriff's office, courthouse, a diner, a bar, and a general store. Maybe a few other shops, but it's nothing like Atlanta."

"Hm. How far are the neighbors from here? Seems lonely out here by yourselves. Who do you play with, where do your friends live?"

"Maggie is my friend. And I have a few friends at school, but they don't live close by."

"Awe, Bethy, you're my friend too!" Maggie declares, once again hugging her little sister close to her. "The closest neighbor is the Grimes farm about a mile west. And our cousin Shane, Rick Grimes' best friend, lives about 5 miles the other way. There's a creek that separates our properties. They don't have a farm really, cause my uncle Dale is a lawyer, just a house. Um, my best friend Tara lives closer to town. She hangs out when she can get her brother Eugene to bring her, but he's weird so…" She shrugs as though her noting that he's weird explains something.

"Who is Rick Grimes, I keep hearing his name? How old is your cousin Shane?" I'm beginning to get more interested in their answers now with the mention of neighbors and family members. I wonder what they think about Hershel and my mother?

"Rick is cute!" Beth answers in a dreamy voice, raising her eyebrows in a way that is more comical than anything coming from someone her age.

"He's ok. He's old though, older than you, Michonne. Like in his 20s. Rick is a deputy, Shane's his partner. He's real nice, kinda quiet. He and Shane used to babysit Beth and I sometimes, and they'll still work on the farm in the fall for harvest if they have time." Maggie answers with assurance in her voice, but not really providing enough details about Rick or Shane, I let it go and figure that eventually I will have to meet everyone in this small town anyway.

"Michonne! Maggie! Beth! Come eat y'all." Hershel hollers up the stairs and breaks up our little chat.

"Yes! I'm so hungry! And Daddy is a real good cook, but he said your mama can burn, so it's gonna be nice to not have to just eat steak and pot roast all the time." Maggie jumps up from where she's seated on the bed and rushes out of the room.

Beth follows behind her and stops in front of me to reach her tiny hand out in offering. "Come on, Michy."

"This horse is yours. Her name is Flame. We just got her, and she is a beauty. What do you think, Michonne?" Hershel asks me, as he strokes the coat of the chocolate brown mare. "Your mother thought you would like her the best."

Standing together in the stables, I take a careful pause before I answer him. During my first year of college I have matured a lot, and a part of that growth has been me trying to think about others and how my words and actions affect them. Losing my daddy was the hardest pill I have ever had to swallow. At 13 I was adrift in melancholy, no longer wanting to live. Buried in anger and pain, I was a defiant and aloof mess. Lashing out at anyone who tried to help me, wounding my mother with my careless behavior, I was so detached I was nearly lost for good. But, my mama brought me back. Her attentive guidance, and love, her will and desire to not lose me as well is what saw me through the darkness of loss, and into a place where I want to bask in the light of life. This thirst for life, mindful living is what now allows me to see past the slight blur of selfishness and recognize how my reaction to this marriage can help or hurt the situation.

"She's beautiful! Thank you very much, but you didn't have to get me a horse, or a car. You guys don't have to try and buy my agreement." I respond in awe of the grandness of this gift. "I'm happy for the two of you, I am. At first I was caught off guard because my mother didn't tell me you two were dating. And, well it felt like at first she was doing something against my father. I know he's dead, but it hurt a little to think about her moving on from his memory. But now, seeing you two together, how close she is with you and your daughters already, I'm good with it."

"You know I can't replace your father. In your mother's heart, or yours. But I am going to try every day to make her happy, to let her know I love her. And you too. I'm a man that was destined to be blessed with women in my life. My daughters. My brother Dale and I have four sisters. I am grateful for the opportunity to add you and your mother to that group. I love her more than I thought I could love again after the death of my wife. But your mama has opened my heart in a way that is wholly unexpected. And I know that you will do the same. You are a smart, beautiful, young lady. I'm proud to call you my daughter, if you're ok with that." Expectantly, and with hope in his blue eyes, crinkled in the corners from age, Hershel looks over to me and pats me on the shoulder.

Giving him a once over, I notice that Hershel could not be any different from my father, but I can't help but think that once again Mona Kelly has chosen well. About four inches taller than my 5'7" frame, he is fairly average looking, at least by my adolescent estimation. Probably in his early 50s like my mother, his hair is a dazzling mix of stark white, gray, and some chestnut brown strands, all groomed together and combed back from his receding hairline. His eyebrows are a little bushy, but hold the same color mix as the rest of his hair, and his full beard that surrounds his thin lips. With a medium build, clad in a pair of slacks, white shirt, and suspenders, he seems to always be standing tall, erect, maybe even a little stiff. But the kindness of his blue eyes, combined with the steady directness of his voice, make me feel at ease in his presence. And when he's around my mother, he seems to feed off her relaxed charisma, with his demeanor becoming more tranquil and carefree. I suppose all of that combined is what attracted her to him.

My father on the other hand was very tall, and lean. Well over six feet tall, I remember my uncle Ronnie used to call him "Stork" as a nickname. If I close my eyes I can recall everything about him, the roundness of his nose, the constant smile on his full lips, traits we both shared. Wearing glasses all of his days, he looked studious, uptight even, a visage similar to Hershel's. But, even though he was a physics professor, smarter than any other man I have ever met in my life, he had a great sense of humor, often pulling laughter from both my mother and I at the drop of a hat. I loved that about him. And he was protective and kind, and more than anything, the greatest loss of my life. When my daddy died, my mama tried to keep the laughter and lightness alive in our house, in our hearts. It was never the same. But, she tried, and for that I will always love and respect her.

So, Hershel is correct in that he can never replace Andre Kelly in my life or heart, but I have to admire a man that is up to the daunting challenge to try. While he isn't the jokester my father was, I have never felt anything but a pleasant but halting curiosity from him towards me, as though he is not entirely sure how to interact or engage me in conversation. I assume this is due in some part to my mother telling him that I might not take so easily to their relationship, but I really am attempting to give this thing between them a chance now that I am fully aware of how deep their "friendship" actually goes. Giving his kind words some thought, I once again get the sensation of a cozy fatherly thing between us, same as when he hugged me earlier.

"I'm fine with that." I say, a hint of bashfulness coloring my admission. My heart feels a warmth I haven't experienced in 5 years, but also my stomach clinches a bit, hoping that my father is in heaven, proud of my acceptance of this man's role in helping my mother find her way back to love, and in his pledge of fatherhood to his daughter.

"Good! This is gonna work out just fine!" He happily throws his arm around my shoulder and places an unexpected kiss to my temple. "Ya know, I think once school is out and you're moved in, after the wedding, I will have my nephew Shane, come on over and show you around town. Help you get acclimated. He's a knucklehead, but he's got a big heart, and generally means well. Him and Rick are like peas in a pod, and I'm sure they would be happy to show you around."

"Cool." I agree, eager to embark on this new journey with my new family.

"Cool indeed." Hershel parrots my agreement. "Let's get back to the house and see what your mama and the girls are up to."

"I used to go out to parties
And stand around
Cause I was too nervous
To really get down
But my body yearned to be free
I got up on the floor and thought
Somebody could choose me…"

Entering the house with Hershel following behind, I can immediately hear the blare of my mother's favorite song by Marvin Gaye, accompanied by her awful, off-key singing. Mona may be beautiful, accomplished, and intelligent, but a singer she is not. Following the trail of the music, bellowing, and raucous laughter, I locate my mother and the girls. Bopping across the floor, bumping her rounded hips against a giddy Maggie and a giggling Beth, I find my mother. Swiveling my head back to check out Hershel's reaction to the scene unfolding in front of him, I witness something that at first impression would be completely antithetical to who I think he is. But, I'm finding out that I don't know what I think I know.

Popping his fingers to the music, kicking up an off-beat two step, is Hershel. Gliding his way towards my mother, he wraps his arms around her waist. Putting down a mean shimmy and grind on him, she pops a little kiss to his lips, that he instantly returns. I watch the joyous scene for a moment, taking it all in. Shrugging my shoulders, I decide to join the fun, and break out a few on-beat moves of my own, thinking anybody who can get down to some old school Marvin Gaye is alright with me.

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