What's wrong with you? Why have you been celebrating this day, decorating the whole house with flowers and candles, for years? Why do you spend countless hours going to those high, desolate mountains? I just want to know what is so special about today.”
Gia tried to dodge with a weak smile.
"Hey, Mommy, why does your smile seem to answer my thousands of questions even though you are silent? Today - I mean it - I can’t bear your silence anymore. Just say something! Why is this day different and so special? Wh-"
"It's your mother's birthday!" Gia cried.
"Don't joke. I know your birthday is in the coming months, not today," Tim countered.
"I said your mother's birthday. I'm not your mother. And I'm not in the mood for fun either."
Tim was stunned. He didn’t understand why everything suddenly seemed strange. The tears Gia had been holding back – for so, so long – now spilled from her eyes. Once she calmed down a bit, a name uttered from Gia’s mouth, accompanied by a storm of emotions.
“Tina,” Gia croaked. “This story begins with a cold winter evening. Sam and I were preparing to move into a new house. It was winter, but we had no idea what the weather would be like, so we left early to reach our new home.”
Tim’s eyes shined with intrigue as Gia continued.
“When we arrived, our new neighbors – Tina and Johnny – were standing outside their house, waiting to greet us. You were just six months old, bundled up in Tina’s arms. Tina and Johnny were so kind, and we immediately felt a connection. Joyful days quickly passed, and soon we had been living in our new home for a month. But behind Tina’s smile, there was always some restlessness, and I realized she was hiding something.”
“Huh? Hiding something – what do you mean, Mommy?” Tim asked.
Gia smiled, too lost in thought to reply, and continued her story. “After a while, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I marched over to Tina’s house, determined to find an answer. I sat down on her couch, and she turned to grab us some water. I sat, waiting, until I heard glass break in the kitchen. I rushed out, and saw Tina lying on the floor. She was fading in and out of consciousness, surrounded by millions of glass shards.”
“Oh no! Mommy, what happened? What happened?!!” Tim cried.
“I rushed Tina to the hospital – you see, Johnny wasn’t home at the time. After she was admitted to the emergency ward, we called Johnny immediately. Sam and I were so scared – we had no idea what was happening.”
Tim started to tear up. “Mommy,” he said softly, “Was Tina ok?”
Gia looked at him sadly. “We sat with Johnny, and he told us the truth. Tina had stage five brain cancer. For months, she had been pushing through the pain, doing her best to survive for you, for Johnny, and all of us. She hadn’t told Sam or me because she wanted us to cherish our time together. She didn’t want thoughts of treatment or tests to fill our brains, just as cancer plagued hers.
When he told me, I was speechless. I couldn’t believe Johnny – my dear friend – had held this secret alone for so long. For a while after, Tina remained in the hospital. Johnny rarely left her side, and Sam and I supported him throughout. You, not even a year old, came to live with us. They wouldn’t let you visit her because you were too young, so Sam and I alternated between taking care of you and Johnny. I would stay with you all day at home, making sure you were safe and loved. Sam would come in the evenings, watching over you all through the night. For a year, we followed this routine, each of us steeling ourselves what was soon to come.
We did our best to make Tina comfortable when it happened. We hugged her. We cried. We reminisced about our happiest memories. The four of us were there all day, until it was only the three of us.
Johnny, Sam, and I sat in the lobby for hours. I sat stonelike, staring at the floor. Reality hit Johnny first. A terrible cry came from his mouth, and he collapsed. Sam and I couldn’t save him – he wouldn’t have wanted it. Johnny died the same night as Tina.”
Gia looked over at Tim. Tears flowed freely down both of their faces. “Tim, I decorate this house with pink flowers on this day because they were her favorite. I go to the barren mountains because I can still feel her there. We used to sit and talk on those cliffs for hours.
Tim, I have always considered you my own son. Sam and I loved you from the moment we met you, and we love having you in our family. Every day I see Tina and Johnny in you. But I also see a unique young person, and I love that person so much. But if you feel I have done anything wrong after hearing all this, I understand. I promise you, though, that I will never, ever stop loving you. I will nev-”
"Mommy, after hearing this, how could I not love you? You are amazing; my respect for you has increased a thousand – no, a million – times. I couldn’t ask for a better mom. I just love you, mom.”
"I love you too, my sweetheart."