The Sweetheart Sham

By: Danielle Ellison

“Please, don’t.” Ma doesn’t really tell me much about Dad, ever. Collectively, we choose to usually not talk about him. I prefer it that way. Dad lied, he cheated, and he let us go.

She holds up her hand. “Hear me out. All I’m going to say is that I hope you give him a chance.”

I sigh. “To what?”

“Be your father.”

I shake my head and start to get up. Talking about Dad isn’t on the top of my to-do list. “I’m all right without him.”

Ma pulls me back down. “You are, but he’s going to be there with you. I don’t want you to look back one day and wonder. Think of this as an opportunity.”

“Okay,” I say, mostly to appease her. I plan to spend the summer avoiding him as much as I possibly can.

She clears her throat. “I was also going to tell you…” She pauses. “I think Lawrence is going to propose.” Ma looks at me. “What would you think about that?”

I stare at Ma this time. Is she crazy? She wants to get married again? She learned the last time that marriage doesn’t mean anything.

I respect her too much to say that. “What do you think about it?”

She looks away and then back at me, like she’s nervous. Ma doesn’t really get nervous. “I’d say yes.”


I don’t mean to say it the way it comes out. Even Ma looks surprised. I just don’t understand how she’d even consider this again.

“He makes me happy, he loves me. I love him, too.”

He does make Ma happy. I know that much.

“So what do you think about it?” she asks again. “I really want your blessing.”

I think it’s reckless. Stupid, even, not that I’m one to tell Ma that. He looks at Ma that way now, he loves her that way now, but Dad did once, too. Then one day he’ll start lying to her, hiding things from her, and then sit back as it destroys them. People lie, they cheat, and they keep secrets. What’s the point of that?

I shrug. “As long as it’s what you want.”

This place isn’t my home; that would be true with or without Lawrence in it. It’s all temporary, everything is. You can really only depend on yourself in life, so yeah. It’s Ma’s life, not mine.

Her lips form a hard line. “That’s not really an answer. I want to be sure you like him, that you’re okay with it. We’re talking about forever. Adding someone to your life, and mine, forever.”

Forever. Is it possible to love someone forever? To have someone forever in your life? Ma and Dad promised that and failed. Even my family has failed me in many ways.

“I’ll think about it.”

“I understand,” she says. Ma sighs and kisses my cheek. “I’m going to bed.”

I can tell she’s disappointed I didn’t give her the answer she wanted, but I can’t lie to her. I won’t tell her I approve of the idea when I’m not sure I do. It’s not even about Lawrence, it’s a general marriage thing. I don’t understand how she can think about love and marriage again.

“Night,” I say.

I look at the empty suitcase on my floor. I am going to Culler. Home. It’s about time, too. I don’t want to have to think about Ma’s possible marriage or relationships.

I’m excited to be going home. I just want to hang out with Will and see my old friends and relax. Summer means milkshakes, camping, and cotton candy. Basketball, friends, no school, and swimming in the lake.

It’s going to be the perfect summer.

Chapter Three


I’d planned to spend my first Monday without school asleep, but Momma has other ideas. She prances through my room opening curtains. Her heels sound like nails tapping into my head.

“Up ’n’ at ’em, sunshine!”

I cram my pillow over my head and groan.

“You can’t spend the day like a bump on a log.”

I groan again.

“Emma Claire is coming with her mother this morning. We’ve got a lot to do and only eight weeks to finish it all!” Momma pulls the pillow off my head.

“Momma!” I yell, reaching for it. She steps back.

“Up, Georgia Ann,” she says, throwing my pillow back at me. Momma may be short and sweeter than anything, but she’s a viper underneath. “And get yourself presentable.” Then she’s gone.

I glance at my phone—6:34 a.m. Momma is going to be the death of me if she expects me to wake up this early every day all summer. I sigh. If I don’t get up and in the shower, she’ll be back.

I pull myself out of bed and glance at the mirror with a groan. There, on a bright pink notecard tucked into the frame are two bold words in my own handwriting. Be grateful. I wrote that the day of Momma’s brain surgery.

It’s been a year and a half since, not too long after Beau and Kerri moved. Back then, Momma was her usual self until bam, she was out. Two days of nausea and vomiting. We thought it was a stomach bug, but then she couldn’t stay balanced and got a headache. A whole week she was sick and nothing was making her feel better. It was the scariest moment when we were standing in the kitchen, talking, and then all of a sudden her glass of sweet tea slipped through her fingers and shattered on the floor. She looked at me—right at me and through me at the same time—and she tried to say my name, but no words came out.