After the concert, Sarah and I drove to the hotel for bed. Amber was asleep in the backseat, as it was well past her 8:00 bedtime. When we got there, I got out, opened the back door, and softly caressed Amber’s hair.
“We’re here, baby,” I said to her when she woke up, unbuckling her and picking her up.
“Home?” she asked.
I laughed. “No, we’re at the room. Baton Rouge is too far away; I’d fall asleep at the wheel. We’ll go back in the morning.”
The next morning, we made the four-hour trip back to Baton Rouge. We got home around lunchtime, so Sarah made us all ham-and-cheese sandwiches while I checked messages on the house phone. There was one from my Aunt Mary Lou, Mama’s older sister. She lives in Columbia, South Carolina. The message was from last night, and it was as follows:
Hey, Val, this is Uncle Oliver. Your aunt is on the brink of suicide again, and she needs your help. Give me a call when you get this message. Bye!
“Who was that?” Sarah asked when I hung up.
“That was my Uncle Oliver,” I said. “You know, Mama’s brother-in-law?”
“Yeah, you’ve told me about him. What’d he want?” Sarah placed the sandwiches on the table and put Amber in her high chair.
“He wants me to come over and talk my Aunt Mary Lou out of suicide again.”
“Again?! What’s wrong with her this time?”
“Well, it’s the twelfth anniversary of Ashley’s death, and she never got over it. She still has all her stuff, and Ashley’s room is the same way it was when she died. We’ve been convincing her to turn it into a guest room, but she won’t do it.”
“Wow! Crazy much?”
“I know! Uncle Oliver wants me there as soon as possible, and I’ll need you to take care of Amber for me.”
“Sure, Val! How long will you be gone?”
“I don’t know. However long it takes me to talk her out of suicide.” I picked up the phone and dialed Aunt Mary Lou’s number. Uncle Oliver answered it.
“Hey, it’s Valerie,” I said. “I got your message.”
“Great! Can you come over now?” Uncle Oliver asked.
I sighed. “Sure. I’m reluctant, though, because Sarah and I just got back from a One Direction concert in Houston.”
“Oh, how’d that go? I’ve never heard of them.”
“It was great! And remember Niall Horan, the boy I was friends with from third to eighth grade? Apparently, he’s in One Direction now.”
“Wonderful! Did he remember you?”
“Yeah, but I didn’t remember him until he used the nickname he gave me—Cockatoo.”
Uncle Oliver laughed. “That’s a funny nickname. So, when can you come?”
“Um…how about tomorrow morning? You can try to keep Aunt Mary Lou sane until then.”
Uncle Oliver sighed. “I don’t know, Valerie. I’ve tried everything. She needs you.”
“Well, what she really needs is a therapist…but I’ll be there tomorrow morning.”
“Great! See you then, hon!”