This is the day I've been wishing my whole life would never lead to. The day that tells me all the years of protection, of hiding the truth, have done nothing. Nothing. And that's enough to remind me I'm a failure.
Watching her teary eyes as Mia climbs out of bed is enough to cause the hammering of my heart in my chest. Although I already know the source of it. The way she tiptoes over to me, as if she doesn't want to exist in this moment, scares me. Because I know that if she can't take this much, how will she take the truth?
Hands shaking, I place one on her shoulder. She falls into me immediately, arms wrapping around my body. She rises and falls with every deep breath. I want to know what she's thinking, what's she's expecting. But it'll never come close to the truth.
"He's coming isn't he?" she whispers.
I pull back immediately, my eyes on fire, my mind alight with fear. She knows? She can't know. She doesn't know. It's not possible for her to know.
"Who's coming?" I manage to calm myself enough to ask.
"Dad. He's coming back."
I keep my mouth a slit, although I'm tempted to fall on the bed behind me. She doesn't understand. She'll never understand. But I have to protect her for her own sake - whether that's telling her the truth or not.
"He never left us, sweetie." I say through gritted teeth.
"Then what happened?" She whispers.
I hate seeing her like this, her eyes wide with innocence, but I know I have no choice but to live with it. Pretend I don't know.
"We left him."
I watch as her eyebrows furrow. "Why would we leave him?"
I take a deep breath, scrunching my eyes up before letting them go. Tears. I feel them falling. Keep falling. Let me remember you.
"He's after us." I just about whisper.
Her expression changes from innocence to curiosity to fear. Is this the way to protect her? I find myself doubting myself at every hurdle but I know that if it works out, it'll be worth it. It has to be worth it. I promised her a good life and I have to give it to her. By doing it this way.
"He's a killer, Mia," I cry out, sobs erupting, "He's after us and we have no option but to go..."
The pain on her face is enough to make me regret it. She deserves better. Two parents who are always there for her. A Mum who doesn't tell her lies to avoid the truth. But I know I shouldn't feel this way. I must be sick to even go along with everything. But I'm a mother. She's my daughter.
We have to stick together.