"How long have you and Nate been dating for, sweetheart?" Nate's mom asked me on my fifth visit with her. I have been visiting Nate's mom every day this week, and even though we've only had a few meetings, we have gotten fairly close.

"Four months, 'mam." I said politely.

She smiled and picked up another brownie that I baked for her. "What did I tell you about calling me 'mam', Callie?"

I smiled back and apologized. "Sorry, Bethany."

"That's better," she chuckled. "Now that we're almost family, we should be more comfortable around each other, right?"

"Family? But Nate and I are only seventeen."

"I know sweetie, but I'm talking about the future. You will get married in the future, won't you?"

I blushed at the thought of marriage and said, "It's still a little too early for that…"

"I hope you will consider marrying him," she said with a content sigh. "I haven't seen Nate this happy in years. It seems like you take really good care of him and that's what he needs right now."

"More than anything else, he needs his mother," I said almost to myself before I could stop it from escaping my mouth. "Danielle and Matt, too – They all need you."

"I don't have the right to be called their mother anymore," she said sadly, looking down at her hands on her lap.

"Why not?"

"I'm not sure if Nate has told you about my husband's, um – " I could tell she didn't want to say the word 'death,' so I nodded.

"He told me," I said softly.

"After that, I completely shut myself away from my family." She said, picking up her cup of tea and taking a small sip before continuing. "To be honest, I've locked myself in this room ever since 'the incident,' because I was afraid that my kids wouldn't look at me the same. I was scared that they would think I was weak – that I was no longer their strong, caring mother. And instead of facing my fears, I ran away from them. Maybe I am what I was scared I would have become."

"You know, it's never too late." I told her, giving her the best convincing smile I could muster. "It's never too late to face your fears."

"Do you really think so?"

"I do," I nodded. I took a deep breath and gathered up my courage to tell her my story, hoping it would help her in some way. "When I was six, my dad left my mother and I for a different family. My parents had their divorce filed on my birthday, as a matter of fact. Ever since then, I've always hated him – I hated that I have his green eyes, I hated that his blood ran through my veins and I hated that my family was never going to be the same again."

She gave me a sympathetic, yet understanding look and said, "I am so sorry, dear." I gave her a small smile and shrugged.

"It's okay. Actually, I'm slowly recovering from it all. Nate taught me that I can't stay mad at them forever and that people make mistakes – we just have to learn how to forgive and forget."

"Nate really thinks that way?"

I nodded. "He was the one who made me realize that it wasn't my fault. My parents just didn't love each other as much as I thought they did, and that's why they aren't together anymore. He taught me that what happened turned out for the best and that I shouldn't blame anyone for the past."

"He's grown up to be a mature young man, hasn't he?" she thought aloud.

"Yes, he has." I smiled at the thought of Nate's smiling face. "And that's why you should give him a second chance. Your children love you, and they always will. Danielle especially needs a mother at this time in her life. She needs someone she can talk to when she has problems or even just gossip she wants to share things with you. Matt needs someone who he can look up to – someone who will always be there for him and support his dreams. You are present in all of their hearts, but they also really need you present in their lives."

Nate's mom had tears in her eyes and some were slowly falling down her cheek, which she quickly wiped away. "You're right, dear. I'm going to stop being so afraid of myself and take care of my family, who need me more than anything right now."

I smiled and gave her an encouraging hug. "If you ever feel like you're alone, remember that you have three loving children who care for you. And now I'm here for you too, and I promise to never leave you."

"Thank you, sweetheart." She smiled and wiped the remaining tears from her tired face. She stood up and did a quick stretch. "It's been a while since I've cooked for my kids. Tonight will be a special occasion, won't it? Would you like to stay for dinner, dear?"

"I don't want to intrud –"

"Sweetie, you would not be intruding." She smiled and said, "You're a part of the family now."

"I'd love to stay for dinner," I smiled back. "Thank you."

"No dear, thank you," she said and took a brave step outside of her bedroom.

Nate, Matt, and Danielle came home from the mall when Bethany and I were cooking dinner in the kitchen. "Nate, I'm starving!" I heard Danielle complain to her older brother, as they got out of Nate's car. "What's for dinner?"

Bethany's attention shot up when she heard her children's voices from the other side of the window. She looked at me nervously and I gave her a supportive smile. "Stay strong," I said as we listened to the front door creak open.

"Can you order pizza or something?" Matt asked his brother. "I'm st –"

The three of them froze when they walked into their kitchen and found their mother cooking dinner for them. Danielle immediately started tearing and the boys remained still, as if they weren't sure if they were dreaming or not.

"Mom?" Danielle said so quietly, it almost sounded like a whisper.

Their mother was just as frozen as they were, until I gave her a light nudge. She was finally out of her trance and shook her head in order to coming back to reality. "Hi, sweetie." She said quietly.

"Oh my god," Danielle cried, running up to give her mother a hug for the first time in months. "I missed you so much!"

"I missed you too, sweetheart," their mother cried as she hugged her back like she never wanted to let go. "I missed all of you."

Matt sniffled, trying to hide his tears, but caved when he walked up to hug her. "I missed you like crazy, mom. You have no idea," he said with a smile on his face and tears in his eyes.

"I missed you too, Matt." She said, stroking her youngest son hair. "I missed you so much."

Nate remained shocked as he took in the scene. He looked at his mother and then to me, as if confirming if he was dreaming or not. I smiled and nodded at his mother, signaling to him that he wasn't dreaming and that it was really happening. He smiled at me and walked over to his mom.

"Welcome back, mom." Nate said, as he gave her a longing hug. "I missed you so much."

"I missed you too, sweetie." She said with tears running down her face. She kissed his cheek and forehead countless times and said, "You got yourself a real winner, son."

Nate smiled at his mother and then to me. He walked over to me and hugged me, lifting my feet off of the kitchen floor. "Thank you, Callie! Thank you so much," he said.

I laughed and hugged him back. "I didn't do anything," I said, laughing as he placed a light kiss on my nose. "It was all your mom."

Nate looked at his mother, who was smiling adoringly at us and finished wiping the tears from her eyes. "I swear, Nate," she said. "If you ever let this girl out of your sight, you'll be grounded for life."

Nate smiled brightly at his mother's comment and said, "I swear – I won't ever let her out of my sight."

Nate and I were grocery shopping for dinner with his mother. Suddenly, my cell phone rang and I jumped, surprised at the loud ringtone. Nate laughed at me and I playfully hit his arm. "Shut up," I joked.

He smiled and took the cart from me. "Who is it?" he asked, looking at the unfamiliar number on my cell phone.

"I don't know," I shrugged and noticed that it was the same unknown number calling me for weeks, but no one would speak when I answered the calls.

"Why don't you answer it? It might be important."

I agreed and answered, "Hello?"

When no one answered, I said again, "Hello? Is anyone there?"

"C-Callie?" An unfamiliar voice finally said.

"Yes, this is she. May I ask who this is?"

"It's dad…"

My voice suddenly got caught in my throat and I couldn't respond. Nate seemed to notice my strange behavior, so he looked at me with concern and asked, "Cal, what happened?"

I still couldn't respond, but the voice on the other end snapped me out of my shocked trance. "Callie, are you still there?" My father said on the other line.

"What do you want?" I said to him, sounding more brusque than I intended.

"Callie," he sighed. "I know you're mad at me for what I did a few years back, but can you please forgive me? Everything turned out the way they were supposed to – your mother and I just weren't meant for each other."

"Then why are you calling me?" I asked, which caused Nate to look at me more cautiously. "Why now? Why wait until I was almost completely over the fact that you left us? What made you decide that you suddenly want to be in my life again?" Finally understanding the situation, Nate place a comforting hand at the small of my back, as I listened to my father sighed heavily.

"Callie," my dad said in a wavering voice. "I am so sorry that I left you. I never wanted to, I swear. For the past couple of months, I've tried calling you but every time you picked up, I would chicken out at the sound of your voice and hang up. Now that I'm getting ready to get settled down with Stacie, I decided not to back out anymore. I'm ready to face the consequences of my mistakes, Callie. I don't regret what I did, but I really do regret leaving you behind. Is there anyway that you could forgive me, Callie?"

His wavering voice made my heart feel heavy and I felt tears in my eyes, but I couldn't let him back into my life – I had to stay strong… Or maybe being strong would be to forgive him and give him a second chance? Maybe I was scared of adjusting to a new life that didn't consist of just me and my happily married parents. Maybe I was scared of change…

Nate seemed to have noticed and understood the mental battle I was having with myself. He pulled me closer to him and gave me a comforting hug, as he stroked my hair. "You know what to do, sweetheart," he said, as he placed a loving kiss on the top of my head. "You're strong and ready to forgive your dad. I know you can do it."

I closed my eyes and sighed heavily before saying into the phone, "I forgive you. I'm ready to forget the past and ready to move on. What matters now is that you're back in my life – I'm ready to mend our father-daughter relationship."

I heard a sniffle on the other end and my dad said, "Thank you, Callie! I promise I won't abuse your trust ever again. I won't ever make the mistake of leaving you again – I promise."

"All right," I said, wiping my tears with the sleeve of my oversized sweater. "I'll see you soon, dad."

"Bye, sweetheart," he said before I hung up. I sighed and slid my phone in my back pocket. Without saying a word, Nate pulled me closer in a warm hug and I buried my face in his chest.

"I'm proud of you, Callie." Nate said quietly, stroking my hair in comforting gesture.

Maybe things will never be the same for my family but yet, maybe things will turn out even better than I expected. I'm done with running away from my past, and thanks to Nate I'm finally ready to face it headfirst. I may not know exactly what I'm doing, but I know that whatever I'm doing – Nate will be right by my side.

Hello Seashells! I am so sorry it took me so long to update a new chapter, but I have reasons – I promise! Along with my schoolwork, I recently started a second job. Also, I did my first ever fashion show and that took up a lot of my time. Now that it is over and I don't plan on participating in any more shows for a while, I can update more often! :) Thank you sooo much for waiting and remaining faithful!

Stay tuned for an update very soon; maybe even later today! I LOVE YOU, SEASHELLS! xoxo, Chelly