مرکزی صفحہ Regretting You
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Pls why am I unable to download a book while it's been more than 24 hours from my last download?
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Welp sucks for you guys i CAN download it ?✌️
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It won't download if you already downloaded 10 books of the day. But also it could have been some tech issue so you can try again.
03 June 2021 (19:35)
PRAISE FOR COLLEEN HOOVER “What a glorious and touching read, a forever keeper. The kind of book that gets handed down.” —USA Today on It Ends with Us “Confess by Colleen Hoover is a beautiful and devastating story that will make you feel so much.” —The Guardian “It Ends with Us tackles [a] difficult subject . . . with romantic tenderness and emotional heft. The relationships are portrayed with compassion and honesty, and the author’s note at the end that explains Hoover’s personal connection to the subject matter is a must-read. Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of the survivors.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review) “Hoover joins the ranks of such luminaries as Jennifer Weiner and Jojo Moyes, with a dash of Gillian Flynn. Sure to please a plethora of readers.” —Library Journal (starred review) on November 9 “Hoover builds a terrific new-adult world here with two people growing in their careers and discovering mature love.” —Booklist (starred review) on Ugly Love OTHER TITLES BY COLLEEN HOOVER Verity All Your Perfects Without Merit Too Late It Ends with Us November 9 Confess Ugly Love Hopeless Losing Hope Finding Cinderella: A Novella MAYBE SOMEDAY SERIES Maybe Someday Maybe Not: A Novella Maybe Now SLAMMED SERIES Slammed Point of Retreat This Girl This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Text copyright © 2019 by Colleen Hoover All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher. Published by Montlake, Seattle www.apub.com Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc., or its affiliates. ISBN-13: 9781; 542016421 ISBN-10: 1542016428 Cover design by David Drummond This book is for the brilliant and fascinating Scarlet Reynolds. I can’t wait for this world to feel your impact. CONTENTS CHAPTER ONE CHAPTER TWO CHAPTER THREE CHAPTER FOUR CHAPTER FIVE CHAPTER SIX CHAPTER SEVEN CHAPTER EIGHT CHAPTER NINE CHAPTER TEN CHAPTER ELEVEN CHAPTER TWELVE CHAPTER THIRTEEN CHAPTER FOURTEEN CHAPTER FIFTEEN CHAPTER SIXTEEN CHAPTER SEVENTEEN CHAPTER EIGHTEEN CHAPTER NINETEEN CHAPTER TWENTY CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE CHAPTER THIRTY CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ABOUT THE AUTHOR CHAPTER ONE MORGAN I wonder if humans are the only living creatures that ever feel hollow inside. I don’t understand how my body can be full of everything bodies are full of—bones and muscles and blood and organs—yet my chest sometimes feels vacant, as if someone could scream into my mouth and it would echo inside of me. I’ve been feeling this way for a few weeks now. I was hoping it would pass because I’m beginning to worry about what’s causing this emptiness. I have a great boyfriend I’ve been dating for almost two years now. If I don’t count Chris’s moments of intense teenage immaturity (mostly fueled by alcohol), he’s everything I want in a boyfriend. Funny, attractive, loves his mother, has goals. I don’t see how he could be the cause of this feeling. And then there’s Jenny. My little sister—my best friend. But I know she’s not the source of my emptiness. She’s the primary source of my happiness, even though we’re complete opposites. She’s outgoing, spontaneous, and loud and has a laugh I’d kill for. I’m quieter than she is, and more often than not, my laughter is forced. It’s a running joke between us that we are so different, if we weren’t sisters, we would hate each other. She’d find me boring and I’d find her annoying, but because we’re sisters, and only twelve months apart, our differences somehow work. We have our moments of tension, but we never let an argument end without a resolution. And the older we get, the less we argue and the more we hang out. Especially now that she’s dating Chris’s best friend, Jonah. The four of us have spent almost every waking hour together as a group since Chris and Jonah graduated high school last month. My mother could be the source of my recent mood, but that wouldn’t make sense. Her absence isn’t anything new. In fact, I’m more used to it now than I used to be, so if anything, I’ve become more accepting of the fact that Jenny and I got the short end of the stick in the parent department. She’s been inactive in our lives since our father died five years ago. I was more bitter about having to parent Jenny back then than I am now. And the older I get, the less it bothers me that she’s not the type of mother to meddle in our lives, or give us a curfew, or . . . care. It’s honestly kind of fun being seventeen and given the freedom most kids my age would dream of. Nothing has changed in my life recently to explain this profound emptiness I’ve been feeling. Or maybe it has, and I’m just too afraid to notice it. “Guess what?” Jenny says. She’s in the front passenger seat. Jonah is driving, and Chris and I are in the back seat. I’ve been staring out the window during my bout of self-reflection, so I pause my thoughts and look at her. She’s turned around in her seat, her eyes moving excitedly between me and Chris. She looks really pretty tonight. She borrowed one of my maxi dresses and kept it simple with very little makeup. It’s amazing what a difference there is between fifteen-year-old Jenny and sixteen-year-old Jenny. “Hank said he can hook us up tonight.” Chris lifts a hand and high-fives Jenny. I look back out the window, not sure I like that she likes to get high. I’ve done it a handful of times—a by-product of having the mother that we do. But Jenny is only sixteen and partakes in whatever she can get her hands on at every party we go to. That’s a big reason why I choose not to partake, because I’ve always felt a sense of responsibility for her since I’m older and our mother doesn’t regulate our activities in any way. Sometimes I feel like I’m Chris’s babysitter too. The only one in this car I don’t have to babysit is Jonah, but that’s not because he doesn’t get drunk or high. He just seems to maintain a level of maturity despite whatever substances might be running through his system. He has one of the most consistent personalities I’ve ever encountered. He’s quiet when he’s drunk. Quiet when he’s high. Quiet when he’s happy. And somehow even quieter when he’s mad. He’s been Chris’s best friend since they were kids, and they’re like the male versions of me and Jenny, but opposite. Chris and Jenny are the life of every party. Jonah and I are the invisible sidekicks. Fine by me. I’d rather blend in with the wallpaper and quietly enjoy people-watching than be the one standing on a table in the center of a room, being the one people are watching. “How far out is this place?” Jonah asks. “About five more miles,” Chris says. “Not far.” “Maybe not far from here, but far from our houses. Who’s driving home tonight?” Jonah asks. “Not it!” Jenny and Chris both say at the same time. Jonah glances at me in the rearview mirror. He holds my stare for a moment, and then I nod. He nods too. Without even speaking, we’ve both agreed we’ll stay sober tonight. I don’t know how we do it—communicate without communicating—but it has always been an effortless thing between us. Maybe it’s because we’re a lot alike, so our minds are in sync a lot of the time. Jenny and Chris don’t notice. They don’t need to communicate silently with anyone because anything and everything they need to say rolls off the tips of their tongues whether it should or not. Chris grabs my hand to get my attention. When I look at him, he kisses me. “You look pretty tonight,” he whispers. I smile at him. “Thank you. You don’t look so bad yourself.” “Wanna stay at my house tonight?” I think about that for a second, but Jenny spins around in her seat again and answers for me. “She can’t leave me alone tonight. I’m a minor about to spend the next four hours ingesting a lot of alcohol and maybe an illegal substance. Who’s gonna hold back my hair while I vomit in the morning if she stays at your place?” Chris shrugs. “Jonah?” Jenny laughs. “Jonah has typical parents who want him home by midnight. You know that.” “Jonah just graduated high school,” Chris says, talking about him like he’s not in the front seat listening to every word. “He should man up and stay out all night for once.” Jonah is pulling the car into a gas station when Chris says that. “Anyone need anything?” Jonah asks, ignoring the conversation being had about him. “Yeah, I’m gonna try to buy some beer,” Chris says, unbuckling his seat belt. That actually makes me laugh. “You look every minute of eighteen. They aren’t going to sell you beer.” Chris grins at me, taking that comment as a challenge. He gets out of the car to go inside, and Jonah gets out to pump gas. I reach into Jonah’s console and grab one of the watermelon Jolly Ranchers he always leaves behind. Watermelon is the best flavor. I don’t understand how anyone could hate it, but apparently he does. Jenny unbuckles her seat belt and crawls into the back seat with me. She curls her legs beneath her, facing me. Her eyes are full of mischief when she says, “I think I’m gonna have sex with Jonah tonight.” For the first time in ages, my chest feels full, but not in a good way. It feels like it’s being flooded with thick water. Maybe even mud. “You just turned sixteen.” “The same age you were when you had sex with Chris for the first time.” “Yeah, but we had been dating longer than two months. And I still regret it. It hurt like hell, lasted maybe a minute, and he smelled like tequila.” I pause because it sounds like I just insulted my boyfriend’s skills. “He got better.” Jenny laughs but then falls back against the seat in a sigh. “I feel like it’s commendable that I’ve held out two months.” I want to laugh, because two months is nothing. I’d rather her wait an entire year. Or five. I don’t know why I’m so against this. She’s right—I was younger than her when I started having sex. And if she’s going to lose her virginity to someone—at least it’s to someone I know is a good person. Jonah has never taken advantage of her. In fact, he’s known Jenny for an entire year and never made a pass at her until she was sixteen. It was frustrating to her, but it made me respect him. I sigh. “You lose your virginity once, Jenny. I don’t want this moment to be while you’re drunk in a stranger’s house, having sex on someone else’s bed.” Jenny moves her head from side to side like she’s actually contemplating what I’ve said. “Then maybe we could do it in his car.” I laugh, but not because that’s funny. I laugh because she’s making fun of me. That’s exactly how I lost my virginity to Chris. Cramped in the back seat of his father’s Audi. It was absolutely unremarkable and wholly embarrassing, and even though we got better, it would be nice if our first time had been something we could look back on with fonder memories. I don’t even want to think about this. Or talk about it. It’s hard being best friends with my little sister for this very reason—I want to be excited for her and hear all about it, but at the same time, I want to protect her from making the same mistakes I made. I always want better for her. I look at her sincerely, trying my best not to seem motherly. “If it happens tonight, just stay sober, at least.” Jenny rolls her eyes at my advice and crawls back into the front seat just as Jonah opens his door. Chris is back too. Without beer. He slams his door and folds his arms over his chest. “It really sucks having a baby face.” I laugh and run my hand across his cheek, pulling his focus to mine. “I like your baby face.” That makes him smile. He leans in and kisses me but pulls away as soon as his lips meet mine. He taps Jonah’s seat. “You try it.” Chris takes cash out of his pocket and reaches into the front, dropping it on the console. “Won’t there be plenty of alcohol there?” Jonah asks. “It’s the biggest graduation party of the year. The entire senior class will be there, and every one of us are underage. We need all the reinforcements we can get.” Jonah reluctantly grabs the cash and gets out of the car. Chris kisses me again, this time with tongue. He pulls back pretty quickly, though. “What’s in your mouth?” I crunch down on the Jolly Rancher to break it. “Candy.” “I want some,” he says, bringing his mouth back to mine. Jenny groans from the front seat. “Stop. I can hear you slurping.” Chris pulls back with a grin but also with a piece of Jolly Rancher in his mouth. He bites down on it while putting on his seat belt. “It’s been six weeks since we graduated. Who has a graduation party six weeks after graduation? Not that I’m complaining. Just seems like we should be past the graduation celebrations by now.” “It hasn’t been six weeks. It’s only been four,” I say. “Six,” he corrects. “It’s July eleventh.” Six? I try to keep the sudden onslaught of tension in every single muscle in my body from being visible to Chris, but I can’t help but have a reaction to what he just said. Every part of me stiffens. It hasn’t been six weeks. Has it? If it’s been six weeks . . . that means I’m two weeks late for my period. Shit. Shit, shit, shit. The trunk to Jonah’s car pops open. Chris and I both spin around, just as Jonah slams the trunk shut and walks to the driver’s-side door. When he gets in the car, he has a smug smile on his face. “Motherfucker,” Chris mutters, shaking his head. “She didn’t even card you?” Jonah puts the car in drive and begins to pull out. “It’s all in the confidence, my friend.” I watch as Jonah reaches across the seat and takes Jenny’s hand. I look out the window, my stomach in knots, my palms sweating, my heart pounding, my fingers quietly counting the days since my last period. I haven’t given it any thought at all. I know it was graduation because Chris was bummed we couldn’t have sex. But I’ve just been expecting to get it any day now, thinking it’s only been a month since they graduated. The four of us have been so busy doing a ton of nothing during summer break that I haven’t even thought about it. Twelve days. I’m twelve days late. It’s all I’ve thought about all night while at this graduation party. I want to borrow Jonah’s car keys, drive to a twenty-four-hour pharmacy, and buy a pregnancy test, but that would only make him ask questions. And Jenny and Chris would notice my absence. Instead, I have to spend the entire evening surrounded by music so loud I can feel it cracking in my bones. There are sweaty bodies in every part of this house, so there’s nowhere I can escape to. I’m too scared to drink now, because if I am pregnant, I have no idea what that could do. I’ve never given pregnancy much thought, so I don’t know exactly how much alcohol can harm a fetus. I won’t even take that chance. I can’t believe this. “Morgan!” Chris yells from across the room. He’s standing on a table. Another guy is standing on a table next to him. They’re playing a game where they balance on one leg and take turns downing shots until one of them falls. It’s Chris’s favorite drinking game and my least favorite time to be around him, but he’s waving me over. Before I make it across the room, the guy on the other table falls, and Chris raises a victorious fist in the air. Then he jumps down just as I reach him. He wraps an arm around me, pulling me to him. “You’re being boring,” he says. He brings his cup to my mouth. “Drink. Be merry.” I push the cup away. “I’m driving us all home tonight. I don’t want to drink.” “No, Jonah is driving tonight. You’re good.” Chris tries again to give me another drink, but I push it away again. “Jonah wanted to drink, so I told him I’d drive,” I lie. Chris looks around, spotting someone nearby. I follow his gaze to see Jonah sitting on the couch next to Jenny, whose legs are draped across his lap. “You’re DD tonight, right?” Jonah glances at me before answering Chris. It’s a two-second silent conversation, but Jonah can see in my pleading expression that I need him to tell Chris he’s not. Jonah tilts his head a little in curiosity but then looks at Chris. “Nope. I’m getting hammered.” Chris slumps his shoulders and looks back at me. “Fine. I guess I’ll have to have fun all alone.” I’m trying not to be insulted by his words, but it’s hard not to be. “Are you saying I’m not any fun when I’m sober?” “You are fun, but drunk Morgan is my favorite Morgan.” Wow. That kinda makes me sad. But he’s drunk, so I’ll excuse his insults right now, even if it’s just to avoid an argument. I’m not in the mood. I’ve got more important things on my mind. I pat Chris’s chest with both hands. “Well, drunk Morgan won’t be here tonight, so go find people you can have fun with.” Right when I say that, someone grabs Chris’s arm and pulls him back to the tables. “Rematch!” the guy says. With that, my level of sobriety is no longer Chris’s concern, so I take that as an opportunity to escape from him, this noise, these people. I walk out the back door and am met with a quieter version of the party and a blast of fresh air. There’s an empty chair next to the pool, and even though there’s a couple in the water I’m almost certain are doing things that should be deemed unsanitary in a swimming pool, it’s somehow less of a nuisance than being inside that house. I position my chair so that I can’t see them, and I lean back and close my eyes. I spend the next few minutes trying not to obsess over any symptom I may or may not have had this past month. I don’t even have time to start thinking about what all of this might mean for my future when I hear a chair being dragged across the concrete behind me. I don’t even want to open my eyes and see who it is. I can’t take Chris and all his drunkenness right now. I can’t even take Jenny and her combination of wine coolers, weed, and being sixteen. “You okay?” I sigh from relief when I hear Jonah’s voice. I tilt my head and open my eyes, smiling at him. “Yeah. I’m fine.” I can see in his expression that he doesn’t believe me, but whatever. There’s no way I’m telling Jonah I’m late for my period because (a) it’s none of his business and (b) I don’t even know if I’m pregnant and (c) Chris is the first person I’ll tell if I am. “Thanks for lying to Chris,” I say. “I just really don’t feel like drinking tonight.” Jonah nods in understanding and offers me a plastic cup. I notice he’s holding two, so I take one from him. “It’s soda,” he says. “Found a rogue can buried in one of the coolers.” I take a sip and lean my head back. Soda tastes so much better than alcohol, anyway. “Where’s Jenny?” Jonah nudges his head toward the house. “Taking table shots. I couldn’t stay to watch.” I groan. “I hate that game so much.” Jonah laughs. “How did we both end up with people who are our exact opposites?” “You know what they say. Opposites attract.” Jonah shrugs. I find it odd that he shrugs at that. He stares at me for a moment, then looks away and says, “I heard what Chris said to you. I don’t know if that’s why you’re out here, but I hope you know he didn’t mean it. He’s drunk. You know how he gets at these parties.” I like that Jonah is defending Chris right now. Even though Chris can sometimes be a little insensitive, Jonah and I both know that his heart is bigger than both of ours put together. “I might be mad if he did this all the time, but it’s a graduation party. I get it—he’s having fun, and he wants me to have fun with him. In a way, he’s right. Drunk Morgan is way better than sober Morgan.” Jonah looks at me pointedly. “I wholeheartedly disagree with that.” As soon as he says that, I pull my eyes from his and look down at my drink. I do this because I’m afraid of what’s happening right now. My chest is starting to feel full again, but in a good way this time. That emptiness is being replaced with heat and flutters and heartbeats, and I hate it because it feels like I’ve just pinpointed what has caused me to feel so empty these past few weeks. Jonah. Sometimes when we’re alone, he looks at me in a way that makes me feel empty when he looks away. It’s a feeling I’ve never gotten when Chris looks at me. This realization scares me to death. Until lately, it seems I’ve gone my whole life without experiencing this feeling, but now that I have, it’s as if part of me disappears when the feeling disappears. I cover my face with my hands. Out of all the people in the world to want to be around, it’s a shitty realization to know Jonah Sullivan is starting to top that list. It’s like my chest has been on a constant search for its missing piece, and Jonah is holding it in his fist. I stand up. I need to get away from him. I’m in love with Chris, so it makes me uncomfortable and itchy when I’m alone with his best friend and having these feelings. Maybe it’s the soda making me feel this way. Or the fear that I might be pregnant. Maybe it has nothing to do with Jonah. I’ve been standing for all of five seconds when, out of nowhere, Chris appears. His arms tighten around me right before he propels us both into the pool. I’m both pissed and relieved, because I needed to get away from Jonah, but now I’m sinking into the deep end of a pool that I had no intentions of getting into fully clothed. I surface at the same time Chris does, but before I can yell at him, he pulls me to him and kisses me. I kiss him back because it’s a much-needed distraction. “Where’s Jenny?” Chris and I both look up, and Jonah is looming over us, glaring down at Chris. “Don’t know,” Chris says. Jonah rolls his eyes. “I asked you to keep an eye on her. She’s drunk.” Jonah walks toward the house to find Jenny. “So am I,” Chris says. “Never ask a drunk person to babysit a drunk person!” Chris moves a few feet until he can touch, and then he pulls me with him. He rests his back against the wall of the pool and positions me so that I’m holding on to his neck, facing him. “I’m sorry for what I said earlier. I don’t think any version of you is boring.” I purse my lips together, relieved he noticed he was being an ass. “I just wanted you to have fun tonight. I don’t think you’re having fun.” “I am now.” I force a smile because I don’t want him to notice the turmoil beneath my surface. But I can’t help but be worried, no matter how hard I try to put it off until I know for certain. I’m worried for myself, for him, for us, for the child we might be bringing into this world way before either of us is ready. We can’t afford this. We aren’t prepared. I don’t even know that Chris is the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. That’s definitely something a person should be certain about before they go and create a human together. “Wanna know what my favorite thing about you is?” Chris asks. My shirt keeps floating up to the surface, so he tucks the front of it into my jeans. “You’re a sacrificer. I don’t even know if that’s a real word, but that’s what you are. You do things you don’t want to do to make life better for the people around you. Like being the designated driver. That doesn’t make you boring. It makes you a hero.” I laugh. Chris becomes complimentary when he’s drunk. Sometimes I make fun of him for it, but I secretly love it. “You’re supposed to say something you love about me now,” he says. I look up and to the left, like I’m having to think hard. He squeezes my side playfully. “I love how much fun you are,” I say. “You make me laugh, even when you frustrate me.” Chris smiles, and a dimple appears in the center of his chin. He has such a great smile. If I am pregnant and we do end up having a child together, I hope it at least has Chris’s smile. That’s the only positive thing I can think of that could come from this situation. “What else?” he asks. I reach my hand up and touch his dimple, fully prepared to tell him I love his smile, but instead, I say, “I think you’ll make a great dad someday.” I don’t know why I say that. Maybe I’m testing the waters. Seeing what his reaction will be. He laughs. “Hell yeah, I will. Clara is gonna love me.” I tilt my head. “Clara?” “My future daughter. I’ve already named her. Still working on a boy name, though.” I roll my eyes. “What if your future wife hates that name?” He slides his hands up my neck and grips my cheeks. “You won’t.” Then he kisses me. And even though his kiss doesn’t fill up my chest like Jonah’s looks sometimes do, I feel a comforting reassurance in this moment. In his words. In his love for me. Whatever happens when I finally take a pregnancy test tomorrow . . . I’m confident he’ll support me. It’s just who Chris is. “Guys, we should go,” Jonah says. Chris and I separate and look up at Jonah. He’s holding Jenny. Her arms are wrapped around his neck, and her face is pressed against his chest. She’s groaning. “I told her not to get on that table,” Chris mutters, climbing out of the pool. He helps me out, and we squeeze as much water as we can from our clothes before heading to Jonah’s car. Luckily, the seats are leather. I get in the driver’s seat since Chris assumes Jonah has been drinking. Jonah gets in the back seat with Jenny. Chris is flipping through songs on the radio when we pull away from the party. “Bohemian Rhapsody” has just started playing on one of the stations, so Chris turns it up and starts to sing. A few seconds later, Jonah is singing along. Surprisingly, I quietly join them. There’s no way any human can hear this song while driving and not sing along. Even if they’re in the midst of a pregnancy scare at the age of seventeen while feeling things for someone in the back seat of a car that they should only be feeling for the person in the front passenger seat. CHAPTER TWO CLARA Seventeen Years Later I look at my passenger seat and cringe. As usual, there are crumbs of an unknown source caked in the crevices of the leather. I grab my backpack and toss it in the back seat, along with an old fast-food bag and two empty water bottles. I attempt to swipe the crumbs away. I think it might be pieces of banana bread that Lexie was eating last week. Or it could be the crumbs from the bagel she was eating on our way to school this morning. Several graded papers are crumpled on my floorboard. I reach for them, swerving toward the ditch before righting the wheel and deciding to leave the papers where they are. A presentable car isn’t worth dying for. When I reach the stop sign, I pause and give this decision the contemplation it deserves. I can keep driving toward my house, where my whole family is preparing for one of our traditional birthday dinners. Or I can do a U-turn and head back toward the top of the hill, where I just passed Miller Adams standing on the side of the road. He’s avoided me for all of the last year, but I can’t leave someone I even sort of know stranded in this heat no matter how awkward it might be between us. It’s almost one hundred degrees outside. I have the air conditioner on, but beads of sweat are sliding down my back, being soaked up by my bra. Lexie wears her bra for an entire week before washing it. She says she just douses it in deodorant every morning. To me, wearing a bra twice before washing it is almost as bad as wearing the same pair of underwear two days in a row. Too bad I don’t apply the same philosophy of cleanliness to my car that I apply to my bras. I sniff the air, and my car smells of mildew. I debate spraying a bit of the deodorant I keep in my console, but if I decide to turn the car around and offer Miller a ride, my car will smell like freshly sprayed deodorant, and I’m not sure which is worse. A car that effortlessly smells like mildew or a car that purposefully smells like fresh deodorant to cover up the smell of mildew. Not that I’m trying to impress Miller Adams. It’s hard for me to worry about the opinion of a guy who seems to go out of his way to avoid me. But I do, for some reason. I never told Lexie this because it embarrasses me, but at the beginning of this year, Miller and I were assigned lockers next to each other. That lasted all of two hours before Charlie Banks started using Miller’s locker. I asked Charlie if his locker had been reassigned, and he told me Miller offered him twenty bucks to switch lockers. Maybe it had nothing to do with me, but it felt personal. I’m not sure what I did to make him dislike me, and I try not to care about his feelings behind his avoidance of me. But I don’t like that he doesn’t like me, so I’ll be damned if I pass him up and offer validation to his feelings, because I’m nice, dammit! I’m not this terrible person he seems to think I am. I make the U-turn. I need his impression of me to change, even if it’s merely for selfish reasons. When I approach the top of the hill, Miller is standing next to a road sign, holding his cell phone. I don’t know where his car is, and he certainly isn’t on this road because he’s out for a casual run. He’s wearing a pair of faded blue jeans and a black T-shirt, each a death sentence of their own in this heat, but . . . paired together? Heatstroke is a strange way to want to go out, but to each his own. He’s watching me as I loop my car around and park behind him. He’s about five feet away from the front of my car, so I can see the smirk on his face when he slides his cell phone into his back pocket and looks up at me. I don’t know if Miller realizes what his attention (or lack thereof) can do to a person. When he looks at you, he does it in such a way that it makes you feel like the most interesting thing he’s ever seen. He puts his entire body into the look, somehow. He leans forward, his eyebrows draw together in curiosity, he nods his head, he listens, he laughs, he frowns. His expressions while he listens to people are captivating. Sometimes I watch him from afar as he holds conversations with people—secretly envious they’re getting his rapt attention. I’ve always wondered what a full-on conversation would be like with him. Miller and I have never even had a conversation one-on-one, but there have been times I’ve caught him glancing at me in the past, and even a simple one-second graze of his attention can send a shiver through me. I’m starting to think maybe I shouldn’t have made the U-turn, but I did and I’m here, so I roll down my window and swallow my nerves. “It’s at least another thirteen days before the next Greyhound. Need a ride?” Miller stares at me a moment, then looks behind him at the empty roadway, as if he’s waiting for a better option to come along. He wipes sweat from his forehead; then his focus lands on the sign he’s gripping. The anticipation swirling around in my stomach is a clear signal that I care a lot about the opinion of Miller Adams, as much as I can try and convince myself that I don’t. I hate that things are weird between us, even though nothing has happened that I’m aware of that would make them weird. But the way he avoids me makes it feel like we’ve had issues in the past, when really, we’ve had no interaction at all. It almost feels similar to breaking up with a guy and then not knowing how to navigate a friendship with him after the breakup. As much as I wish I didn’t care to know anything about him, it’s hard not to want attention from him because he’s unique. And cute. Especially right now, with his Rangers cap turned backward and wisps of dark hair peeking out from beneath it. He’s long overdue for a haircut. He usually keeps it shorter, but I noticed when we started back to school that it got a lot longer over the summer. I like it like this. I like it short too. Shit. I’ve been paying attention to his hair? I feel I’ve subconsciously betrayed myself. He’s got a sucker in his mouth, which isn’t unusual. I find his addiction to suckers amusing, but it also gives off a cocky vibe. I don’t feel like insecure guys would walk around eating candy as much as he does, but he always shows up to school eating a sucker and usually has one in his mouth at the end of lunch. He pulls the sucker out of his mouth and licks his lips, and I feel every bit of the sweaty sixteen-year-old that I am right now. “Can you come here for a sec?” he asks. I’m willing to give him a ride, but getting back out in this heat was not part of the plan. “No. It’s hot.” He waves me over. “It’ll only take a few minutes. Hurry, before I get caught.” I really don’t want to get out of my car. I’m regretting turning around, even if I am finally getting the conversation with him I’ve always wanted. It’s a toss-up, though. Conversation with Miller comes a close second to the cold blast from my car’s air conditioner, so I roll my eyes dramatically before exiting my vehicle. I need him to understand the huge sacrifice I’m making. The fresh oil from the pavement sticks to the bottom of my flip-flops. This road has been under construction for several months, and I’m pretty sure my shoes are now ruined because of it. I lift one of my feet and look at the bottom of my tarred shoe, groaning. “I’m sending you a bill for new shoes.” He looks at my flip-flops questionably. “Those aren’t shoes.” I glance at the sign he’s hanging on to. It’s the city limit sign, held erect by a makeshift wooden platform. The platform is held down by two huge sandbags. Because of the road construction, none of the signs on this highway are cemented into the ground. Miller wipes beads of sweat off his forehead and then reaches down and lifts one of the sandbags, holding it out to me. “Carry this and follow me.” I grunt when he drops the sandbag into my arms. “Follow you where?” He nudges his head in the direction I came from. “About twenty feet.” He puts his sucker back in his mouth, picks up the other sandbag and tosses it effortlessly over his shoulder, then begins to drag the sign behind him. The wooden platform scratches against the pavement, and tiny pieces of wood splinter off. “Are you stealing the city limit sign?” “Nope. Just moving it.” He continues walking while I stand still, staring at him as he drags the sign. The muscles in his forearms are pulled tight, and it makes me wonder what the rest of his muscles look like under this much strain. Stop it, Clara! The sandbag is making my arms sore, and the lust is chipping away at my pride, so I reluctantly begin following him the twenty feet. “I was only planning on offering you a ride,” I say to the back of his head. “I never intended to be an accomplice in whatever this is.” Miller props the sign upright, drops his sandbag on the wooden slats, and then takes the other sandbag from my arms. He drops it in place and straightens the sign out so that it’s facing the right way. He pulls the sucker back out of his mouth and smiles. “Perfect. Thank you.” He wipes a hand on his jeans. “Can I catch a ride home? I swear it got ten degrees hotter on my walk here. I should have brought my truck.” I point up at the sign. “Why did we just move this sign?” He turns his ball cap around and pulls the bill of it down to block more of the sun. “I live about a mile that way,” he says, throwing a thumb over his shoulder. “My favorite pizza place won’t deliver outside the city limits, so I’ve been moving this sign a little every week. I’m trying to get it to the other side of our driveway before they finish construction and cement it back into the ground.” “You’re moving the city limit? For pizza?” Miller begins walking toward my car. “It’s just a mile.” “Isn’t tampering with roadway signs illegal?” “Maybe. I don’t know.” I start following him. “Why are you moving it a little at a time? Why not just move it to the other side of your driveway right now?” He opens the passenger door. “If I move it in small increments, it’s more likely to go unnoticed.” Good point. Once we’re inside my car, I remove my tarred flip-flops and turn up the air-conditioning. My papers crumple beneath Miller’s feet as he fastens his seat belt. He bends down and picks up the papers, then proceeds to flip through them and peruse my grades. “All As,” he says, moving the pile of papers to the back seat. “Does it come natural, or do you study a lot?” “Wow, you’re nosy. And it’s a little of both.” I start to pull the car onto the road when Miller opens the console and peeks inside. He’s like a curious puppy. “What are you doing?” He pulls out my can of deodorant. “For emergencies?” He grins and then pops open the lid, sniffing it. “Smells good.” He drops it back into the console, then pulls out a pack of gum and takes a piece, then offers one to me. He’s offering me a piece of my own gum. I shake my head, watching as he inspects my car with rude curiosity. He doesn’t eat the gum because he still has a sucker in his mouth, so he slides it into his pocket and then begins to flip through songs on my radio. “Are you always this intrusive?” “I’m an only child.” He says it like it’s an excuse. “What are you listening to?” “My playlist is on shuffle, but this particular song is by Greta Van Fleet.” He turns up the volume just as the song ends, so nothing is playing. “Is she any good?” “It’s not a she. It’s a rock band.” The opening guitar riff from the next song blares through the speakers, and a huge smile spreads across his face. “I was expecting something a little more mellow!” he yells. I look back at the road, wondering if this is who Miller Adams is all the time. Random, nosy, maybe even hyper. Our school isn’t massive, but he’s a senior, so I don’t have any classes with him. But I know him well enough to recognize his avoidance of me. I’ve just never been in this type of situation with him. Up close and personal. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but this isn’t it. He reaches for something tucked between the console and his seat, but before I realize what it is, he already has it open. I snatch it from him and toss it in the back seat. “What was that?” he asks. It’s a folder with all my college applications, but I don’t want to discuss it because it’s a huge point of contention between my parents and me. “It’s nothing.” “Looked like a college application to a theater department. You’re already sending in college applications?” “You are seriously the nosiest person I’ve ever met. And no. I’m just collecting them because I want to be prepared.” And hiding them in my car because my parents would flip if they knew how serious I am about acting. “Have you not applied anywhere yet?” “Yeah. Film school.” Miller’s mouth curls up in a grin. Now he’s just being facetious. He begins tapping his hands on my dash in beat to the music. I’m trying to keep my eyes on the road, but I feel pulled to him. Partly because he’s enthralling, but also because I feel like he needs a babysitter. He suddenly jolts upright, his spine straight, and it makes me tense up because I have no idea what just startled him. He pulls his phone out of his back pocket to answer a call I didn’t hear come through over the music. He hits the power button on my stereo and pulls the sucker out of his mouth. There’s barely anything left of it. Just a tiny little red nub. “Hey, babe,” he says into the phone. Babe? I try not to roll my eyes. Must be Shelby Phillips, his girlfriend. They’ve been dating for about a year now. She used to go to our school but graduated last year and goes to college about forty-five minutes from here. I don’t have an issue with her, but I’ve also never interacted with her. She’s two years older than me, and although two years is nothing in adult years, two years is a lot in high school years. Knowing Miller is dating a college girl makes me sink into my seat a little. I don’t know why it makes me feel inferior, as if attending college automatically makes a person more intellectual and interesting than a junior in high school could ever be. I keep my eyes on the road, even though I want to know every face he makes while on this phone call. I don’t know why. “On the way to my house.” He pauses for her answer and then says, “I thought that was tomorrow night.” Another pause. Then, “You just passed my driveway.” It takes me a second to realize he’s talking to me. I look at him, and he’s got his hand over his phone. “That was my driveway back there.” I slam on the brakes. He catches the dash with his left hand and mutters “Shit” with a laugh. I was so caught up in eavesdropping on his conversation I forgot what I was doing. “Nah,” Miller says into the phone. “I went for a walk, and it got really hot, so I caught a ride home.” I can hear Shelby on the other end of the line say, “Who gave you a ride?” He looks at me for a beat and then says, “Some dude. I don’t know. Call you later?” Some dude? Somebody’s got trust issues. Miller ends the call just as I’m pulling into his driveway. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen his house. I’ve known whereabouts he lived, but I’ve never actually laid eyes on the home due to rows of trees that line the driveway, hiding what lies beyond the white gravel. It’s not what I expected. It’s an older house, very small, wood framed and in severe need of a paint job. The front porch holds the quintessential swing and two rocking chairs, which are the only things about this place that hold appeal. There’s an old blue truck in the driveway and another car—not as old but somehow in worse shape than the house—that sits to the right of the house on cinder blocks, weeds grown up the sides of it, swallowing the frame. I’m kind of taken aback by it. I don’t know why. I guess I just imagined he lived in some grandiose home with a backyard pond and a four-car garage. People at our school can be harsh and seem to judge a person’s popularity on the combination of looks and money, but maybe Miller’s personality makes up for his lack of money because he seems popular. I’ve never known anyone to talk negatively about him. “Not what you were expecting?” His words jar me. I put the car in park when I reach the end of the driveway and do my best at pretending nothing about his home shocks me. I change the subject entirely, looking at him with narrowed eyes. “Some dude?” I ask, circling back to how he referred to me on his phone call. “I’m not telling my girlfriend I caught a ride with you,” he says. “It’ll turn into a three-hour interrogation.” “Sounds like a fun and healthy relationship.” “It is, when I’m not being interrogated.” “If you hate being interrogated so much, maybe you shouldn’t be tampering with the city limit.” He’s out of the car when I say that, but he leans down to look at me before he closes the door. “I won’t mention you were an accomplice if you promise not to mention I’m adjusting the city limit.” “Buy me new flip-flops, and I’ll forget today even happened.” He grins as if I amuse him, then says, “My wallet is inside. Follow me.” I was only kidding, and based on the condition of the home he lives in, I’m not about to take cash from him. But it seems like we somehow developed this sarcastic rapport, so if I suddenly become sympathetic and refuse his money, I feel it might be insulting. I don’t mind insulting him in jest, but I don’t want to actually insult him. Besides, I can’t protest because he’s already walking toward his house. I leave my flip-flops in the car, not wanting to track tar into his house, and follow him barefooted up the creaky steps, noticing the rotting wood on the second step. I skip over that step. He notices. When we walk into the living room, Miller discards his tarred shoes by the front door. I’m relieved to see the inside of the home fares better than the outside. It’s clean and organized, but the decor is ruthlessly trapped in the sixties. The furniture is older. An orange felt couch with your standard homemade afghan draped over the back faces one wall. Two green, extremely uncomfortable-looking chairs face the other. They look midcentury, but not in a modern way. Quite the opposite, actually. I have a feeling this furniture hasn’t been changed out since it was purchased, long before Miller was even born. The only thing that looks fairly new is a recliner facing the television, but its occupant looks older than the furniture. I can only see a portion of his profile and the top of his balding, wrinkled head, but what little hair he does have is a shiny silver. He’s snoring. It’s hot inside. Almost hotter than it is outside. The air I’m gently sucking in is warm and smells of bacon grease. The living room window is raised, flanked by two oscillating fans pointed at the man. Miller’s grandfather, probably. He looks too old to be his father. Miller passes through the living room and heads toward a hallway. It begins to weigh on me, the fact that I’m following him to take his money. It was only a joke. Now it feels like an extremely pathetic show of my character. When we reach his bedroom, he pushes open the door, but I remain in the hallway. I feel a breeze sweep through his room and reach me. It lifts the hair from my shoulder, and even though the breeze is warm, I find relief in it. My eyes scroll around Miller’s room. Again, it is not reminiscent of the condition of the outside of his home. There’s a bed, full-size, flush against the far wall. He sleeps there. Right there, in that bed, tossing about in those white sheets at night. I force myself to look away from the bed, up at a huge poster of the Beatles hanging where a headboard would normally be. I wonder if Miller is a fan of older music, or if the poster has been here since the sixties, much like the living room furniture. The house is so old I wouldn’t doubt it if this was his grandfather’s room as a teenager. But what really catches my eye is the camera on his dresser. It’s not a cheap camera. And there are several different-size lenses next to it. It’s a setup that would make an amateur photographer envious. “You like photography?” He follows my line of sight to the camera. “I do.” He pulls open the top drawer of his dresser. “But my passion is film. I want to be a director.” He glances at me. “I’d kill to go to UT, but I doubt I can get a scholarship. So community college it is.” I thought he was making fun of me in the car, but now that I’m looking around his room, it’s sinking in that he really might have been telling me the truth. There’s a stack of books next to his bed. One of them is by Sidney Lumet called Making Movies. I walk over and pick it up, flipping through it. “You’re really nosy,” he mimics. I roll my eyes and set the book down. “Does the community college even have a film department?” He shakes his head. “No. But it could be a stepping-stone to somewhere that does.” He walks closer to me, holding a ten-dollar bill between his fingers. “Those shoes are five bucks at Walmart. Go crazy.” I hesitate, no longer wanting to take the money from him. He sees my hesitation. It makes him sigh, frustrated; then he rolls his eyes and shoves the bill in the front left pocket of my jeans. “The house is shit, but I’m not broke. Take the money.” I swallow hard. He just stuck his fingers in my pocket. And I can still feel them, even though they’re no longer there. I clear my throat and force a smile. “Pleasure doing business with you.” He tilts his head. “Was it? Because you look hella guilty for taking my money.” I’m usually a better actress than this. I’m disappointing myself. I walk toward his doorway, even though I’d love a better look at his bedroom. “No guilt here. You ruined my shoes. You owed me.” I back out of his room and begin to walk down the hallway, not expecting him to follow me, but he does. When I reach the living room, I pause. The old man is no longer in the recliner. He’s in the kitchen, standing next to the refrigerator, twisting the lid off a water bottle. He eyes me with curiosity as he takes a sip. Miller sidesteps around me. “You take your meds, Gramps?” He calls him Gramps. It’s kind of adorable. Gramps looks at Miller with a roll of his eyes. “I’ve taken ’em every damn day since your grandma skipped town. I’m not an invalid.” “Yet,” Miller quips. “And Grandma didn’t skip town. She died of a heart attack.” “Either way, she left me.” Miller looks at me over his shoulder and winks. I’m not sure what the wink is for. Maybe to ease the fact that Gramps seems a little like Mr. Nebbercracker, and Miller is assuring me that he’s harmless. I’m beginning to think this is where Miller gets his sarcasm from. “You’re a nag,” Gramps mutters. “Twenty bucks says I outlive you and your entire generation of Darwin Award recipients.” Miller laughs. “Careful, Gramps. Your mean side is showing.” Gramps eyes me for a moment, then looks back at Miller. “Careful, Miller. Your infidelity is showing.” Miller laughs at that jab, but I’m kind of embarrassed by it. “Careful, Gramps. Your varicose veins are showing.” Gramps tosses the water bottle lid and hits Miller square in the cheek with it. “I’m rescinding your inheritance in my will.” “Go ahead. You always say the only thing you have worth any value is air.” Gramps shrugs. “Air you won’t be inheriting now.” I finally laugh. I wasn’t positive their banter was friendly before the lid toss. Miller picks up the lid and fists it in his palm. He motions toward me. “This is Clara Grant. She’s a friend of mine from school.” A friend? Okay. I give Gramps a small wave. “Nice to meet you.” Gramps tilts his head down a little, looking at me very seriously. “Clara Grant?” I nod. “When Miller was six years old, he shit his pants at the grocery store because the automatic flusher on public toilets terrified him.” Miller groans and opens the front door, looking at me. “I should have known better than to bring you inside.” He motions for me to head outside, but I don’t. “I don’t know if I’m ready to leave,” I say, laughing. “I kind of want to hear more stories from Gramps.” “I’ve got plenty,” Gramps says. “In fact, you’ll probably love this one. I have a video from when he was fifteen and we were at the school—” “Gramps!” Miller snaps, quickly cutting him off. “Take a nap. It’s been five minutes since your last one.” Miller grabs my wrist and pulls me out of the house, closing the door behind him. “Wait. What happened when you were fifteen?” I’m hoping he finishes that story, because I need to know. Miller shakes his head and actually seems a little embarrassed. “Nothing. He makes up shit.” I grin. “No, I think you’re the one making up shit. I need that story.” Miller puts a hand on my shoulder and urges me toward the porch steps. “You’re never getting it. Ever.” “You aren’t aware of my persistence. And I like your grandpa. I might start visiting him,” I tease. “Once the city limit is moved, I’ll order a pepperoni-and-pineapple pizza and listen to your gramps tell embarrassing stories about you.” “Pineapple? On pizza?” Miller shakes his head in mock disappointment. “You aren’t welcome here anymore.” I walk down the steps, skipping the rotted one again. When I’m safe on the grass, I turn around. “You can’t dictate who I get to be friends with. And pineapple on pizza is delicious. It’s the perfect combination of sweet and salty.” I pull out my phone. “Does your gramps have Instagram?” Miller rolls his eyes, but he’s smiling. “See you at school, Clara. Don’t ever come back to my house again.” I’m laughing as I walk back to my car. When I open the car door and turn around, Miller is looking down at his phone. He never once looks back at me. When he disappears inside his house, an Instagram notification pings through on my phone. Miller Adams started following you. I smile. Maybe it’s all been in my head. Before I’m even out of the driveway, I’m dialing Aunt Jenny’s number. CHAPTER THREE MORGAN “Morgan, stop.” Jenny pulls the knife from my hand and pushes me away from the cutting board. “It’s your birthday. You aren’t supposed to do any of the work.” I lean my hip into the counter and watch her begin chopping the tomato. I have to bite my tongue because she’s slicing the tomato way too thick. The big sister in me still wants to take over and correct her, even in our thirties. But seriously, though. I could get three slices of tomato out of one of hers. “Stop judging me,” she says. “I’m not.” “Yes, you are. You know I don’t cook.” “That’s why I was offering to slice the tomato.” Jenny holds the knife up like she’s going to cut me. I raise defensive hands and then push myself up onto the counter next to her. “So,” Jenny says, side-eyeing me. I can tell by the tone of her voice she’s about to say something she knows I’m going to disagree with. “Jonah and I decided to get married.” Surprisingly, I have no outward reaction to that comment. But inside, those words feel like claws, hollowing out my stomach. “He proposed?” She lowers her voice to a whisper because Jonah is in the living room. “Not really. It was more of a discussion. It makes sense for it to be our next move.” “That is the least romantic thing I’ve ever heard.” Jenny narrows her eyes at me. “Like your proposal was any different?” “Touché.” I hate it when she makes good points. But she’s right. There wasn’t a fancy proposal—or even a plain proposal. The day after I told Chris I was pregnant, he said, “Well, I guess we should get married.” I said, “Yeah, I guess.” And that was that. We’ve been happily married seventeen years now, so I don’t know why I’m judging Jenny for the situation she got herself in. It just feels different. Jonah and Chris are two completely different people, and at least Chris and I were in a relationship when I got pregnant. I’m not even sure what’s going on with Jonah and Jenny. They haven’t spoken since the summer after he graduated, and now he’s suddenly back in our lives and potentially our family? Jonah’s father died last year, and even though none of us had seen or spoken to him in years, Jenny decided to go to the funeral. They ended up having a one-night stand, but then he flew back home to Minnesota the next day. A month later, she found out she was pregnant. I’ll hand it to Jonah: he did step up to the plate. He got his life tied up in Minnesota and moved back here a month before Jenny was due. Granted, that was only three months ago, so I guess my hesitation comes more from not really knowing who Jonah is at this point in his life. They dated for two months when Jenny was in high school, and now he moved across the country to raise a child with her. “How many times have the two of you even had sex?” Jenny looks at me in shock, like my question is too intrusive. I roll my eyes. “Oh, stop acting modest. I’m serious. You had a one-night stand and then didn’t see him until you were nine months pregnant. Have you even been cleared by your doctor yet?” Jenny nods. “Last week.” “And?” I ask, waiting for her to answer my question. “Three times.” “Including the one-night stand?” She shakes her head. “Four, I guess. Or . . . well . . . five. That night counts as two times.” Wow. They’re practically strangers. “Five times? And now you’re marrying him?” Jenny is finished cutting the tomatoes. She plates them and starts slicing up an onion. “It’s not like we just met. You liked Jonah just fine when I dated him in high school. I don’t understand why you have an issue with it now.” I pull back. “Uh . . . let’s see. He dumped you, moved to Minnesota the next day, disappeared for seventeen years, and now he suddenly wants to commit to you for the rest of his life? I think it’s odd that you think my reaction is odd.” “We have a child together, Morgan. Is that not the same reason you’ve been married to Chris for seventeen years?” There she goes, bringing up another good point. Her phone rings, so she wipes her hands and pulls it out of her pocket. “Speaking of your child.” She answers her cell. “Hey, Clara.” She has it on speakerphone, so it stings when I hear Clara say, “You aren’t with my mother, are you?” Jenny’s eyes widen in my direction. She begins backing toward the kitchen door. “Nope.” Jenny takes the phone off speaker and disappears into the living room. It doesn’t bother me that Clara always calls my sister for advice, rather than asking me. The problem is Jenny has no idea how to give Clara advice. She spent her twenties partying, struggling through nursing school, and coming to me when she needed a place to stay. Usually when Clara calls Jenny with something important that Jenny doesn’t know how to answer, she’ll make an excuse to hang up, and then she’ll call me and relay everything. I’ll tell her what to tell Clara; then she’ll call Clara back and relay the advice like it came from her. I like the setup, although I’d much rather Clara just ask me. But I get it. I’m her mom. Jenny is the cool aunt. Clara doesn’t want me to know about certain things, and I get that. She’d die if she knew that I was aware of some of her secrets. Like when she asked Jenny to make her an appointment to get on birth control a few months ago, just in case. I hop off the counter and continue slicing the onion. The kitchen door swings open, and Jonah walks in. He nudges his head toward the cutting board. “Jenny told me I have to take over because you aren’t allowed to do anything.” I roll my eyes and drop the knife, moving out of his way. I stare at his left hand, wondering what a wedding ring is going to look like on his ring finger. It’s hard for me to imagine Jonah Sullivan committing to someone. I still can’t believe he’s back in our lives, and now he’s here, in my kitchen, chopping onions on a cutting board that was given to me and Chris at the wedding Jonah didn’t even attend. “You okay?” I look up at Jonah. His head is tilted, his cobalt eyes full of curiosity as he waits for me to answer him. Everything inside of me feels like it thickens—my blood, my saliva, my resentment. “Yeah.” I flash a quick smile. “I’m fine.” I need to give my focus to something else—anything else. I walk to the refrigerator and open it, pretending to look for something. I’ve successfully avoided one-on-one conversation with him since he moved back. I don’t feel like making it a thing right now. Especially on my birthday. The kitchen door swings open, and Chris walks in with a pan of burgers fresh off the grill. I close the refrigerator and stare at the kitchen door, which continues to swing back and forth behind him. I hate that door more than I hate any other part of this house. I’m grateful for the house, don’t get me wrong. Chris’s parents gave it to us as a wedding present when they moved to Florida. But it’s the same house Chris grew up in, and his father, and his grandfather. The house is a historical landmark, complete with the little white sign out front. It was built in 1918 and reminds me daily that it’s over a century old. The creaky floorboards, the plumbing that’s constantly in need of repair. Even after we remodeled six years ago, the age still screams out any chance it gets. Chris wanted to keep the original floor plan after the remodel, so even though a lot of the fixtures are new, it doesn’t help that every room in this house is secluded and closed off from every other room. I wanted an open floor plan. Sometimes I feel like I can’t breathe in this house with all these walls. I certainly can’t eavesdrop on Jenny and Clara’s conversation like I’d like to. Chris sets the pan of burgers on the stove. “Gotta grab the rest, and then it’ll be ready. Is Clara almost home?” “I don’t know,” I say. “Ask Jenny.” Chris raises his eyebrows, sensing my jealousy. He exits the kitchen, and the door continues to swing. Jonah stops it with his foot and then goes back to cutting up the vegetables. Even though the four of us used to be best friends, sometimes Jonah seems like a stranger to me. He looks mostly the same, but there are subtle differences. When we were teens, his hair was longer. So long he’d sometimes pull it back in a ponytail. It’s short now and a richer brown. He lost some of the honey-colored streaks that would show up by the end of every summer, but the darker color just brings out the blue in his eyes even more. His eyes have always been kind, even when he was angry. The only time you could tell he was upset was when his angular jawline would tense. Chris is his opposite. He has blond hair and emerald eyes and a jawline he doesn’t keep hidden behind stubble. Chris’s job requires him to be clean cut, so his smooth skin makes him appear years younger than he actually is. And he has this adorable dimple that appears in the center of his chin when he smiles. I love it when he smiles, even after all these years of marriage. When I compare the two of them, it’s hard to believe Jonah and Chris are both thirty-five. Chris still has a baby face and could pass for being in his twenties. Jonah looks all of thirty-five and seems to have grown several inches, even since high school. It makes me wonder how much different I look now than I did as a teenager. I’d like to think I still appear as youthful as Chris, but I certainly feel a lot older than thirty-three. Well. Thirty-four, now. Jonah brushes past me to grab a plate from the cabinet. He glances at me when he does and holds his stare. I can tell by the look on his face he has something to say, but he probably won’t say it because he’s always inside his head. He thinks more than he speaks. “What?” I stare back at him—waiting for a response. He shakes his head and turns around. “Nothing. Never mind.” “You can’t look at me like that and not tell me what you were about to say.” He sighs, his back still to me as he grabs the head of lettuce and sticks the knife into it. “It’s your birthday. I don’t want to bring it up on your birthday.” “Too late for that.” He faces me again with a hesitant look in his eye, but he concedes and tells me his thoughts. “You’ve barely spoken to me since I moved back.” Wow. He cuts right to the chase. I can feel my chest and neck heat from the embarrassment of being called out. I clear my throat. “I’m speaking to you now.” Jonah folds his lips together, like he’s trying to remain patient with me. “It’s different. Things feel different.” His words tumble around in the kitchen, and I want to dodge them, but the kitchen is too damn small. “Different from what?” He wipes his hands on a dish towel. “From how it used to be. Before I left. We used to talk all the time.” I almost scoff at that ridiculous comment. Of course things are different. We’re adults now, with lives, and children, and responsibilities. We can’t just go back to the carefree friendships we all had back then. “It’s been over seventeen years. Did you think you could show back up and the four of us would fall right back into place?” He shrugs. “Things fell back into place with me and Chris. And me and Jenny. Just not with me and you.” I waver between wanting to duck out of the kitchen and yelling all the things I’ve been wanting to yell at him since he left in such a selfish way. I take a sip of my wine to stall my response. He’s staring at me with eyes full of disappointment as I formulate a reply. Or maybe he’s staring at me with contempt. Whatever he’s feeling, it’s the same look he gave me seconds before he walked away all those years ago. And just like back then, I don’t know if his disappointment is directed inward or outward. He sighs. I can feel the weight of all his unpackaged thoughts. “I’m sorry I left the way I did. But you can’t stay mad at me forever, Morgan.” His words come out quietly, like he doesn’t want anyone else to hear our conversation. Then he walks out of the kitchen and ends it. It isn’t until this moment that I’m reminded of the heaviness I used to feel when he was around. Sharing the same air with him sometimes felt stifling back then, like he was selfishly taking more of it than he needed and I was hardly left with any air at all. That same stifling feeling is back again, surrounding me in my own kitchen. Even though he’s no longer in the kitchen and the door is swinging back and forth, I can still feel the heaviness bearing down on my chest. As soon as I stop the swinging kitchen door with my foot, Jenny pushes it back open. The conversation I refused to partake in with Jonah gets shoved to the back of my mind for me to stew over later, because now I need to know everything Clara said to my sister. “It was nothing,” Jenny says flippantly. “She gave some guy from her school a ride, and he started following her on Instagram. She wasn’t sure if he was flirting with her.” “What guy?” Jenny shrugs. “Morris? Miller? I can’t remember. His last name is Adams.” Chris is in the kitchen now, setting another pan on the stove. “Miller Adams? Why are we talking about Miller Adams?” “You know him?” I ask. Chris shoots me a look that lets me know I should know exactly who Miller Adams is, but the name rings no bells. “He’s Hank’s boy.” “Hank? There are still people named Hank in this world?” Chris rolls his eyes. “Morgan, come on. Hank Adams? We went to school with him.” “I vaguely remember that name.” Chris shakes his head. “He’s the kid who used to sell me weed. Ended up dropping out junior year. Got arrested for stealing the science teacher’s car. And a load of other shit. Pretty sure he’s been in jail a few years now.” Chris gives his attention to Jenny. “Too many DUIs or something. Why are we talking about his son? Clara isn’t dating him, is she?” Jenny grabs the pitcher of iced tea from the refrigerator and closes the door with her hip. “No. We’re talking about a celebrity named Miller Adams. You’re talking about someone local. Different people.” Chris blows out a rush of air. “Thank God. That’s the last family she needs to be involved with.” Anything involving his daughter and a boy is not an easy subject with Chris. He takes the tea from Jenny and leaves the kitchen to go place it on the dining room table. I laugh once I know Chris is out of earshot. “A celebrity?” Jenny shrugs. “I don’t want to get her in trouble.” Jenny has always been quick on her feet. She’s so good at improvising it’s scary. I glance at the door to make sure it’s closed, then look back at her. “Jonah thinks I hate him.” Jenny shrugs. “Feels that way sometimes.” “I’ve never hated him. You know that. It’s just . . . you barely know him.” “We have a child together.” “It takes thirty seconds to make a baby.” Jenny laughs. “It was more like three hours, if you really want to know.” I roll my eyes. “I don’t want to know.” Chris yells from the dining room to let us know the food is ready. Jenny walks out of the kitchen with the burgers, and I plate the rest of the vegetables and take them to the table. Chris sits across from Jenny, and I sit next to Chris. Which means Jonah is directly across from me. We successfully avoid eye contact while making our plates. Hopefully the rest of dinner will go much the same way. It’s all I really want for my birthday—little to no eye contact with Jonah Sullivan. “Are you excited for tomorrow?” Chris asks Jenny. Jenny nods vigorously. “You have no idea.” She’s a nurse at the same hospital where Chris is head of quality control. She’s been on maternity leave since Elijah was born six weeks ago, and tomorrow is her first day back. The front door bursts open, and Clara’s best friend, Lexie, walks in. “You started eating without me?” “You’re perpetually late. We always start without you. Where’s Clara?” “On her way, I guess,” Lexie says. “I was going to catch a ride with her, but Mom let me use the car.” Lexie looks around the table, taking in who all is here. She nods at Jonah. “Hey, Uncle Teacher.” “Hi, Lexie,” he says, seemingly annoyed at the nickname she’s given him. Jonah got a job at Clara’s school as a history teacher when he moved back. I still can’t believe he’s a teacher. I don’t ever remember him talking about wanting to become a teacher. But I guess there weren’t a lot of options in our small East Texas town when he decided to move back and help Jenny with Elijah. He came from the business world, but all you need to become a teacher around here is a bachelor’s degree and an application. They’re in short supply thanks to the shitty pay scale. “You sure you don’t mind keeping Elijah this week?” Jenny asks me. “Not at all. I’m excited.” I really am excited. He’ll be in day care starting next week, so I’ve agreed to keep him for the four days Jenny works this week. Sometimes I’m surprised that Chris and I never had another child after Clara. We talked about it, but we never seemed to be on the same page at the same time. There was a stretch where I wanted another, but he was working so much that he wasn’t ready. Then when Clara was about thirteen, Chris brought up the idea of having another one, but the thought of having an infant and a teenager at the same time seemed a little terrifying. We haven’t brought it up since, and now that I’m thirty-four, I’m not sure I want to start over. Elijah is the perfect solution. A part-time baby I get to play with and send back home. “Too bad I’m still in high school,” Lexie says. “I’d be a great babysitter.” Jenny rolls her eyes. “Weren’t you the one who put a random dog in my backyard because you thought it was mine?” “It looked like your dog.” “I don’t even have a dog,” Jenny says. Lexie shrugs. “Well, I thought you did. Excuse me for being proactive.” Lexie finally takes her seat after having made her plate. “I can’t stay long. I have a Tinder date.” “I still can’t believe you’re on Tinder,” Jenny mutters. “You’re sixteen. Don’t you have to be eighteen to even open an account?” Lexie grins. “I am eighteen on Tinder. And speaking of things that surprise us, I’m still shocked you’ve had the same boyfriend for more than one night. It’s so unlike you.” She looks at Jonah. “No offense.” “None taken,” Jonah says with a mouthful. Jenny and Lexie have always had this kind of banter. I find it entertaining, mostly because they’re so much alike. Jenny had a string of boyfriends throughout her twenties, and had there been Tinder back then, Jenny would have been Tinder Queen. Me, not so much. Chris is the only guy I’ve ever dated. The only guy I’ve ever kissed. That happens when you meet the man you’re going to marry at such a young age. Hell, I met Chris before I even knew what I wanted to study in college. I guess it didn’t matter, though, because I didn’t last that long in college. Having Clara so young put a hold on any dreams I had for myself. I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately. Now that Clara is getting older, I’ve been feeling this gaping hole inside me, like it’s sucking the air out of each day that passes by, where all I do is live for Chris and Clara. Clara finally walks into the house in the middle of my self-deprecating thought. She stops about five feet from the table, ignoring everyone and everything around her as her finger moves over her phone screen. “Where have you been?” Chris asks her. She’s only about thirty minutes later than usual, but he notices. “Sorry,” she says, placing her phone down on the table next to Lexie’s. She reaches over Jonah’s shoulder to grab her plate. “Theater meeting after school and then one of my classmates needed a ride.” She smiles at me. “Happy birthday, Mom.” “Thank you.” “Who needed a ride?” Chris asks her. Jenny and I look at each other right when Clara says, “Miller Adams.” Shit. Chris drops his fork to his plate. Lexie says, “Excuse me? Where was my phone call about this?” Chris looks at Jenny and then at me like he’s about to scold us for lying to him. I grip his leg under the table. A sign I don’t want him to mention we were talking about it. He knows as well as I do that Jenny is a good source of information for what’s going on in our daughter’s life, and if he reveals Jenny was telling me about their conversation, we’ll all suffer. “Why are you giving Miller Adams a ride?” he asks her. “Yes,” Lexie says. “Why did you give Miller Adams a ride? Don’t leave out a single detail.” Clara ignores Lexie, responding only to her father. “It was barely a mile. Why do you seem so bothered by it?” “Don’t do it again,” Chris says. “I vote do it again,” Lexie says. Clara looks at Chris in disbelief. “It was hot out—I wasn’t going to make him walk.” Chris raises his eyebrow, something he doesn’t do very often, which makes it all the more intimidating when he does. “I don’t want you involved with him, Clara. And you shouldn’t be giving guys rides. It isn’t safe.” “Your father is right,” Lexie says. “Only give hot guys rides when I’m with you.” Clara falls down into her seat and rolls her eyes. “Oh my God, Dad. He’s not a stranger, and I’m not dating him. He’s had the same girlfriend for a year.” “Yeah, but his girlfriend is in college, so it’s not like she’ll be in your way,” Lexie says. “Lexie?” Chris says her name as more of a warning. Lexie nods and runs her fingers across her mouth, like she’s zipping her lips shut. I’m a little in shock that Clara is sitting here acting like she didn’t just call Jenny and slightly freak out that this kid was flirting with her. She’s acting like she doesn’t care, to both Chris and Lexie. But I know she does, thanks to Jenny. I stare at Clara in awe of her ability to pretend otherwise, but that awe is accompanied by a slight disturbance. I’m equally as impressed by her ability to lie as I am Jenny’s ability to lie. It’s scary. I couldn’t lie if my life depended on it. I get flustered, and my cheeks flush. I do whatever I can to avoid confrontation. “I don’t care if he’s single or married or a billionaire. I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t give him another ride.” Lexie makes a move like she’s unzipping the imaginary zipper on her lips. “You’re her dad—you shouldn’t say it like that. If you make a guy off limits to a teenage girl, that only makes us want him more.” Chris points his fork at Lexie and looks around the table. “Who keeps inviting her to these things?” I laugh, but I also know Lexie is right. This isn’t going to end well if Chris keeps this up. I can feel it. Clara already has a crush on the guy, and now her father has made him off limits. I’ll have to warn Chris later not to bring it up again unless he wants Hank Adams to be Clara’s future father-in-law. “I feel out of the loop,” Jonah says. “What’s so bad about Miller Adams?” “There’s no loop, and there’s nothing wrong with him,” Clara assures him. “It’s just my parents, being overprotective as usual.” She’s right. My mother didn’t shelter me as a child in any sense, which is part of the reason I ended up pregnant with Clara at seventeen. Because of that, Chris and I take it overboard with Clara sometimes. We admit that. But Clara is our only child, and we don’t want her to end up in a situation like we did. “Miller is a good kid,” Jonah says. “I have him in class. Nothing like Hank was at that age.” “You have him in class for forty minutes a day,” Chris says. “You can’t know him that well. Apples don’t fall far from their trees.” Jonah stares at Chris after that response. He chooses not to continue the conversation, though. Sometimes when Chris wants to make a point, he doesn’t let up until the person he’s arguing with gives in. When we were younger, I remember him and Jonah always going toe to toe. Jonah was the only one who wouldn’t give in and let Chris win. Something has changed since he’s been back, though. He’s quieter around Chris. Always lets him get the final word. I don’t think it’s a show of weakness, though. In fact, it impresses me. Sometimes Chris still comes off as the hotheaded teenager he was when I met him. Jonah, however, seems above it. Like it’s a waste of time to try to prove Chris wrong. Maybe that’s another reason I don’t like that Jonah’s back. I don’t like seeing Chris through Jonah’s eyes. “What makes you say that about him? Apples don’t fall far from their trees,” Clara asks. “What’s up with Miller’s parents?” Chris shakes his head. “Don’t worry about it.” Clara shrugs and takes a bite of her burger. I’m glad she’s letting it go. She’s a lot like Chris in that she can sometimes be combative. You never know which way it’s going to go with her. I, on the other hand, am not combative at all. It bothers Chris sometimes. He likes to prove a point, so when I give in and don’t give him that opportunity, he feels like I win. It’s the first thing I learned after marrying him. Sometimes you have to walk away from the fight in order to win it. Jonah seems just as ready to move on from the conversation as the rest of us. “You didn’t turn in your application for the UIL film project.” “I know,” Clara says. “Tomorrow is the deadline.” “I can’t find anyone to sign up with. It’s too hard to take on by myself.” It bothers me that Jonah entertains this idea of hers. Clara wants to go to college and study acting. I have no doubt she’d be good at it because she’s phenomenal onstage. But I also know what the odds are of actually succeeding in such a competitive industry. Not to mention if you are one of the few who do succeed, you’re dealing with the price of fame. It’s not something I want for my daughter. Chris and I would love acting to be a backup major to something that can actually sustain her financially. “You don’t want to help her with it?” Jonah asks, his attention on Lexie. Lexie makes a face. “Heck no. I work too much.” Jonah returns his attention to Clara. “Meet me before first period starts tomorrow. There’s another student looking for a partner, and I’ll see if they’re interested.” Clara nods, just as Lexie starts to wrap up the rest of her burger. “Where are you going?” Clara asks. “Tinder date,” Jenny answers for her. Clara laughs. “Is he at least our age?” “Of course. You know I hate college boys. They all smell like beer.” Lexie leans down and whispers something in Clara’s ear. Clara laughs, and then Lexie leaves. Clara begins asking Jonah questions about the film project requirements. Jenny and Chris are in a conversation of their own, discussing everything she missed at the hospital while on maternity leave. I talk to no one and pick at my food. It’s my birthday, and I’m surrounded by everyone important to me, but for some reason, I feel more alone than I’ve ever felt. I should be happy right now, but something is off. I can’t put my finger on it. Maybe I’m getting bored. Or worse. Maybe I’m boring. Birthdays can do that to you. I’ve been analyzing my life all day, thinking about how I need something of my own. After having Clara so young, Chris and I married, and he’s always taken care of us financially since graduating college. I’ve always taken care of the house, but Clara will be seventeen in a couple months. Jenny has a career and a new child and is about to have a new husband. Chris got a promotion three months ago, which means he’s at the office even more now. When Clara is away at college, where will that leave me? My thoughts are still stuck on the state of my life an hour after we’ve finished dinner. I’m loading the dishwasher when Jonah walks into the kitchen. He stops the door from swaying before it even starts. I appreciate that about him. He’s a good dad, and he hates my kitchen door. That’s two things. Maybe there’s hope for our friendship yet. He’s holding Elijah against his chest. “Wet rag, please.” That’s when I see the spit-up all over Jonah’s shirt. I grab a rag and wet it, then hand it to him. I take Elijah from him while he cleans himself up. I look down at Elijah and smile. He looks a little like Clara did at this age. Fine blond hair, dark-blue eyes, a perfect little round head. I start to sway back and forth. He’s such a good baby. Better than Clara. She was colicky and cried all the time. Elijah sleeps and eats and cries so little that sometimes Jenny will call me when he does cry just so we can gush over how cute he sounds when he’s upset. I glance up, and Jonah is watching us. He looks away and reaches toward the diaper bag. “I got you a birthday present.” I’m confused. Before dinner he seemed so tense with me. Now he’s giving me a birthday present? He hands me an unwrapped gift. A gallon-size ziplock bag full of . . . candy. What are we, twelve? It takes me a moment, but as soon as I see that it’s an entire bag of watermelon Jolly Ranchers, I want to smile. But I frown, instead. He remembered. Jonah clears his throat and tosses the rag into the sink. He takes Elijah from me. “We’re about to head home. Happy birthday, Morgan.” I smile, and it’s probably the only genuine smile I’ve given him since he’s been back. There’s a moment between us—a five-second stare, where he smiles and I nod—before he leaves the kitchen. I don’t know exactly what that five seconds meant, but maybe we’ve come to some kind of truce. He really is trying. He’s great to Jenny, great to Elijah, one of Clara’s favorite teachers. Why—when he’s so great to everyone I love—have I been wishing he wasn’t in any of our lives? Once Jenny, Jonah, and Elijah leave, Clara goes to her room. It’s where she spends the majority of her evenings. She used to want to spend her evenings with me, but that stopped when she was around fourteen. Chris spends his evenings with his iPad, watching Netflix or sports. I waste mine away watching cable. The same shows every night. My weeks are so routine. I go to bed at the same time every night. I wake up at the same time every morning. I go to the same gym and do the same workout routine and run the same errands and cook the same scheduled meals. Maybe it’s because it’s my thirty-fourth birthday, but I’ve felt like this cloud has been hanging over me since I woke up this morning. Everyone around me seems to have a purpose, yet I feel like I’ve reached the age of thirty-four and have absolutely no life outside of Clara and Chris. I shouldn’t be this boring. Some of my friends from high school haven’t even started families yet, and my daughter will be out of the house in twenty-one months. Chris walks into the kitchen and grabs a bottle of water out of the fridge. He picks up the bag of Jolly Ranchers and inspects it. “Why would you buy an entire bag of the worst flavor?” “It was a gift from Jonah.” He laughs and drops the bag on the counter. “What a terrible gift.” I try not to read too much into the fact that he doesn’t remember watermelon is my favorite flavor. I don’t necessarily remember all the things he liked when we first met. “I’ll be late tomorrow. Don’t bother with dinner.” I nod, but I already bothered with dinner. It’s in the slow cooker, but I don’t tell him that. He starts to walk out of the kitchen. “Chris?” He stops short and faces me. “I’ve been thinking about going back to college.” “For what?” I shrug. “I don’t know yet.” He tilts his head. “But why now? You’re thirty-four.” Wow. Chris immediately regrets saying that when he sees how much his choice of words hurts me. He pulls me in for a hug. “That came out wrong. I’m sorry.” He kisses the side of my head. “I just didn’t know it’s something you were still interested in since I make plenty of money to support us. But if you want a degree”—he kisses me on the forehead—“go to college. I’m gonna take a shower.” He leaves the kitchen, and I stare at the kitchen door as it swings back and forth. I really hate that door. I kind of want to sell the house and start over, but Chris would never go for it. It would give me something to put my energy into, though. Because right now, my energy is pent up. I feel swollen with it as I think about how much I want a new kitchen door. I might remove the whole door tomorrow. I’d rather have no door at all than a door that doesn’t even work like a door should work. Doors should slam shut when you’re angry. I open a Jolly Rancher and pop it in my mouth. The taste gives me a feeling of nostalgia, and I think back to when we were all teenagers, craving the nights the four of us would spend driving around in Jonah’s car, me and Chris in the back seat, Jenny in the front. Jonah had a thing for Jolly Ranchers, so he always kept a bag in the console. He never ate the watermelon ones. It was his least favorite flavor, and my favorite, so he always left the watermelon for me. I can’t believe it’s been that long since I’ve had one. I swear, sometimes I forget who I was or what I loved before I got pregnant with Clara. It’s like the day I found out I was pregnant, I became someone else. I guess that happens when you become a mother, though. Your focus is no longer on yourself. Your life becomes all about this beautiful tiny little human you created. Clara walks into the kitchen, no longer a beautiful tiny little human. She’s beautiful and grown, and I ache at the loss of her childhood sometimes. When she’d sit in my lap or I’d snuggle up to her in bed until she fell asleep. Clara reaches to my bag. “Yay. Jolly Ranchers.” She grabs one and walks to the refrigerator, opening it. “Can I have a soda?” “It’s late. You don’t need the caffeine.” Clara turns around and eyes me. “But it’s your birthday. We still haven’t done your birthday board.” I forgot about the birthday board. I actually perk up for the first time today. “You’re right. Grab me one too.” Clara grins, and I go to my craft closet and pull out my birthday board. Clara may be too old to sit with me while I rock her to sleep, but at least she still gets just as excited about our traditions as I do. We started this one when she was eight years old. Chris doesn’t involve himself in this tradition, so it’s just something Clara and I do twice a year. It’s like a vision board, but rather than making a new one every year, we just add to the same one. We each have our own, and we add to them only on our respective birthdays. Clara’s birthday is still a couple months away, so I grab my board and leave hers in the closet. Clara takes a seat next to me at the kitchen table and then selects a purple Sharpie. Before she starts writing, she looks over stuff we’ve put on it over the years. She runs her fingers over something she wrote on my board when she was eleven. I hope my mom gets pregnant this year. She even cut out a tiny picture of a rattle and pasted it next to her wish. “Still not too late to make me a big sister,” she says. “You’re only thirty-four.” “Not happening.” She laughs. I look over the board, searching for one of the goals I wrote for myself last year. I find the picture I pasted of a flower garden in the top left of the board because it was my goal to uproot the bushes in the backyard and replant them with flowers. I met that goal in the spring. I find the other goal I had, and I frown when I read it. Find something to fill all the empty corners. I’m sure Clara thought I was being literal when I wrote it last year. I didn’t actually want to fill every corner in my house with something. My goal was more of an internal one. Even last year, I’d been feeling unfulfilled. I’m proud of my husband and proud of my daughter, but when I look at myself and my life separate from theirs, there’s very little I can find to be proud of. I just feel like I’m full of all this untapped potential. Sometimes my chest feels hollow, as if I’ve lived a life with nothing significant enough to fill it. My heart is full, but that’s the only part of me that feels any weight. Clara begins to write her goal for me, so I lean toward her and read it. Accept that your daughter wants to be an actress. She snaps the cap back on the Sharpie and puts it in the package. Her goal makes me feel guilty. It’s not like I don’t want her to follow her dreams. I just want her to be realistic. “What are you going to do with an unusable degree if the acting thing doesn’t work out for you?” Clara shrugs. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” She pulls her leg up onto the chair and rests her chin on her knee. “What about you? What did you want to be when you were my age?” I stare at my board, wondering if I can even answer that question. I can’t. “I had no idea. I didn’t have any special talents. I wasn’t extremely smart in any one particular subject.” “Were you passionate about anything like I am about acting?” I think about her question for a moment, but nothing comes to mind. “I liked hanging out with my friends and not thinking about the future. I assumed I’d figure it out in college.” Clara nods at the board. “I think that should be this year’s goal. You need to figure out what you’re passionate about. Because it can’t be being a housewife.” “It could,” I say. “Some people are perfectly fulfilled in that role.” I used to be. I’m just not anymore. Clara takes another sip of her soda. I write down her suggestion. Find my passion. Clara may not want to know this, but she reminds me of myself at her age. Confident. Thought I knew everything. If I had to describe her in one word, it would be assured. I used to be assured, but now I’m just . . . I don’t even know. If I had to describe myself with one word based on my behavior today, it would be whiny. “When you think of me, what one word comes to mind?” “Mother,” she instantly says. “Housewife. Overprotective.” She laughs at that last one. “I’m serious. What one word would you use to describe my personality?” Clara tilts her head and stares at me for several long seconds. Then, in a very honest and serious tone, she says, “Predictable.” My mouth falls open in offense. “Predictable?” “I mean . . . not in a bad way.” Can predictable sum a person up in a good way? I can’t think of a single person in the world who’d want to be summed up as predictable. “Maybe I meant dependable,” Clara says. She leans forward and hugs me. “Night, Mom. Happy birthday.” “Good night.” Clara goes to her bedroom, unknowingly leaving me in a pile of hurt feelings. I don’t think she was trying to be mean, but predictable is not something I wanted to hear. Because it’s everything I know I am and everything I feared I would grow up to be. CHAPTER FOUR CLARA I probably shouldn’t have called my mother predictable last night, because this is the first time in a long time that I’ve woken up for school and didn’t find her in the kitchen cooking breakfast. Maybe I should apologize, because I’m starving. I find her in the living room, still in her pajamas, watching an episode of Real Housewives. “What’s for breakfast?” “I didn’t feel like cooking. Eat a Pop-Tart.” Definitely shouldn’t have called her predictable. My father walks through the living room, straightening out his tie. He pauses when he sees my mother lying on the couch. “You feeling okay?” My mother rolls her head so that she’s looking up at us from her comfy position on the couch. “I’m fine. I just didn’t feel like making breakfast.” When she gives her attention back to the television, Dad and I look at each other. He raises a brow before walking over to her and pressing a quick kiss on her forehead. “See you tonight. Love you.” “Love you too,” she says. I follow my dad into the kitchen. I grab the Pop-Tarts and hand him one. “I think it’s my fault.” “That she didn’t cook breakfast?” I nod. “I told her she was predictable last night.” Dad’s nose scrunches up. “Oh. Yeah, that wasn’t nice.” “I didn’t mean it in a bad way. She asked me to describe her using one word, and it’s the first thing that came to mind.” He pours himself a cup of coffee and leans against the counter in thought. “I mean . . . you aren’t wrong. She does like routine.” “Wakes up at six every morning. Breakfast is ready by seven.” “Dinner at seven thirty every night,” he says. “Rotating menu.” “Gym at ten every morning.” “Grocery shopping on Mondays,” I add. “Sheets get washed every Wednesday.” “See?” I say in defense. “She’s predictable. It’s more of a fact than an insult.” “Well,” he says, “there was that one time we came home, and she’d left a note saying she went to the casino with Jenny.” “I remember that. We thought she’d been kidnapped.” We really did think that. It was so unlike her to take a spontaneous overnight trip without planning months in advance, so we called both of them just to make sure she was the one who wrote the note. My father laughs as he pulls me in for a hug. I love his hugs. He wears the softest white button-up shirts to work, and sometimes when his arms are around me, it’s like being wrapped in a cozy blanket. Only that blanket smells of the outdoors, and it sometimes disciplines you. “I need to get going.” He releases me and pulls at my hair. “Have fun at school.” “Have fun at work.” I follow him out of the kitchen to find Mom no longer on the couch but standing in front of the television. She’s pointing the remote at the TV screen. “The cable just froze.” “It’s probably the remote,” Dad says. “Or the operator,” I say, taking the remote from my mother. She always hits the wrong button and can’t remember which one to press to get her back to her show. I hit all the buttons and nothing works, so I power everything off. Aunt Jenny walks into the house as I’m attempting to power the television back on for my mother. “Knock, knock,” she says, swinging open the door. Dad helps her with Elijah’s car seat and an armful of stuff. I power the television back on, but it doesn’t do anything. “I think it’s broken.” “Oh, God,” my mother says, as if the idea of being home all day with an infant and no television is a nightmare of an existence. Aunt Jenny hands my mother Elijah’s diaper bag. “You guys still have cable? No one has cable anymore.” There’s only a year of age difference between Aunt Jenny and my mom, but sometimes it feels as though my mother is the parent of both of us. “We try to tell her, but she insists on keeping it,” I say. “I don’t want to watch my shows on an iPad,” my mother says in defense. “We get Netflix on our television,” my father says. “You can still watch it on the television.” “Bravo isn’t on Netflix,” my mother responds. “We’re keeping the cable.” This conversation is making my head hurt, so I take Elijah out of his car seat to get a minute in with him before I have to leave for school. I was so excited when I found out Aunt Jenny was pregnant. I always wanted a sibling, but Mom and Dad never wanted more kids after they had me. He’s as close as I’ll ever get to a brother, so I want to be familiar to him. I want him to like me more than anyone else. “Let me hold him,” my father says, taking Elijah from me. I like how much my dad likes his nephew. Kind of makes me wish he and Mom would have another one. It’s not too late. She’s only thirty-four. I should have written it down again on her birthday board last night. Aunt Jenny hands my mother a list of written instructions. “Here’s his feeding times. And how to heat the breast milk. And I know you have my cell phone number, but I wrote it down again in case your phone dies. I wrote Jonah’s number down too.” “I’ve raised a human before,” my mother says. “Yeah, but it was a long time ago,” Aunt Jenny says. “They might have changed since then.” She walks over to my father and gives Elijah a kiss on the head. “Bye, sweetie. Mommy loves you.” Aunt Jenny starts to leave, so I grab my backpack in a hurry because there’s something I need to discuss with her. I follow her out the front door, but she doesn’t realize I’m behind her until she’s almost to her car. “Miller unfollowed me on Instagram last night.” She turns around, startled by my sudden presence. “Already?” She opens her car door and hangs on to it. “Did you say something that made him angry?” “No, we haven’t spoken since I left his house. I didn’t post anything. I didn’t even comment on any of his pictures. I just don’t get it. Why follow me and then unfollow me hours later?” “Social media is so confusing.” “So are guys.” “Not as confusing as we are,” she says. She tilts her head, eyeing me. “Do you like him?” I can’t lie to her. “I don’t know. I try not to, but he’s so different from all the other guys at my school. He goes out of his way to ignore me, and he’s always eating suckers. And his relationship with his grandpa is adorably weird.” “So . . . you like him because he ignores you, eats suckers, and has a weird grandpa?” Aunt Jenny makes a concerned face. “That’s . . . those are weird reasons, Clara.” I shrug. “I mean, he’s cute too. And apparently, he wants to go to college as a film major. We have that in common.” “That helps. But I mean, it sounds like you barely know him. I wouldn’t take the unfollow too personal.” “I know.” I groan and fold my arms over my chest. “Attraction is so stupid. And knowing he unfollowed me already put me in a shit mood, and it’s only seven in the morning.” “Maybe his girlfriend saw the follow and didn’t like it,” Aunt Jenny suggests. I thought about that possibility for a brief moment this morning. But I didn’t like thinking about Miller and his girlfriend discussing me. My father walks out the front door, so Aunt Jenny gives me a hug goodbye and goes to leave because she’s parked behind both of us. I get in my car and text Lexie while I wait for Jenny to pull out of the driveway behind me. I hope you got my text last night about me picking you up half an hour early. You never responded. She still hasn’t responded when I pull into her driveway. Just when I’m about to call her, she comes tumbling out of her house, her backpack hanging from the crease of her elbow while she attempts to slide on a shoe. She has to stop and press her hand to the hood of the car to finish getting the shoe on. She stumbles to the door, her hair in disarray, mascara still under her eyes. She’s like a drunk hurricane. She gets in the car and shuts the door, dropping her backpack to the floorboard. She pulls out her makeup bag. “You just woke up?” “Yeah, four minutes ago when you texted. Sorry.” “How’d the Tinder date go?” I say sarcastically. Lexie laughs. “I can’t believe your family still believes I have a Tinder account.” “You lie to them about having it every time you’re around. Why would they believe otherwise?” “I work too much. All I have time for is school and work and maybe a shower if I’m lucky.” She opens her makeup bag. “By the way. Did you hear about Miller and Shelby?” I whip my head in her direction. “No. What about them?” She opens her mascara just as I pull up to a stop sign. “Stop here for a second.” She begins putting on her mascara, and I wait for her to finish whatever she was going to say about Miller Adams and his girlfriend. How random that it’s the first thing she brought up and it’s the only thing I’ve been able to think about since I gave him a ride yesterday. “What about Miller and Shelby?” Lexie moves her mascara wand to her other eye. She still doesn’t answer me, so I ask her again. “Lexie, what happened?” “Jeez,” she says, stuffing the mascara wand back into the tube. “Give me a sec.” She motions for me to continue driving while she pulls out her lipstick. “They broke up last night.” That’s my favorite sentence that’s ever come out of Lexie’s mouth. “How do you know?” “Emily told me. Shelby called her.” “Why’d they break up?” I’m trying not to care. Really trying. “Apparently, it’s because of you.” “Me?” I look back at the road. “That’s ridiculous. I gave him a ride to his house. He was in my car for three minutes tops.” “Shelby thinks he cheated on her with you.” “Shelby sounds like she has trust issues.” “That’s really all it was?” Lexie asks. “A ride?” “Yes. It was that inconsequential.” “Do you like him?” she asks. “No. Of course not. He’s an asshole.” “He is not. He’s super nice. Annoyingly nice.” She’s right. He is. He’s only an asshole to me. “Isn’t it weird that my father thinks he’s such a bad person?” Lexie shrugs. “Not really. Your father doesn’t even like me, and I’m awesome.” “He likes you,” I say. “He only teases the people he likes.” “And maybe Miller is the same way,” she suggests. “Maybe he only ignores the people he likes.” I ignore that comment. Lexie focuses on putting on her makeup, but my mind is whirling. Did their fight really have to do with a silly car ride? It was probably the car ride coupled with the Instagram follow. Which would explain why he unfollowed me last night. Which proves he’s trying to get her back. “Do you think their breakup will stick?” Lexie glances at me and grins. “What’s it matter to you? It was inconsequential.” Jonah makes me call him Mr. Sullivan at school. I’m sure he’d like it if I called him Uncle Jonah outside of school, but he’s just Jonah to me. I haven’t known him long enough to feel like he’s my uncle yet, even though he just had a baby with my aunt Jenny. Maybe after they’re actually married, I’ll add the title. But for now, all I really know of him is what I’ve heard my parents say—that he broke Aunt Jenny’s heart in high school and moved away without warning. I’ve never asked any of them why he broke up with her. I don’t guess I really cared, but for some reason, I’m curious today. Jonah is at his desk grading papers when I walk in. “Morning,” he says. “Morning.” I have him for first period, so I toss my backpack in my usual seat, but I take the seat right in front of his desk. “Did Jenny get Elijah dropped off with your mom?” he asks. “Yep. Cute as ever.” “He really is. Looks just like his daddy.” “Ha. No. He looks just like me,” I correct. Jonah stacks his pages together and scoots them aside. Before he gets into the whole film project thing, I let my curiosity get the best of me. “Why’d you break up with Aunt Jenny in high school?” Jonah lifts his head quickly, his eyebrows raised. He laughs n