Authors: Alice Clayton
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Contemporary Women, #Humorous, #General
I spent the next hour asking Lou everything I could think of about Our Gang, while Sparkle and Joe napped peacefully at our ankles. And I went straight home that night to tell my mother all about the new charity I wanted to support.
My mother had other ideas. She always has lots of ideas, as you can imagine. Is she a snob? If you consider a snob to be a blue-haired old woman who eats crustless cucumber sandwiches and complains about how hard it is to find good help, then no, she isn’t a snob. But she does have very particular ideas about everything and everyone, and into
preordained, predestined, predetermined box we all must go. And for her daughter, who she expected to ride her tiara straight into a wealthy marriage, how things appeared was key. Appearances are everything, didn’t you know?
So her daughter, she of the crown and sash, going to work with rescued pit bulls? Not. Going. To fly.
I’d tried to explain to Lou as best as I could why I couldn’t work with his organization, and he told me he understood. All too well. But we bumped into each other occasionally when I was out with a therapy dog, and we emailed, and I followed his organization on Facebook. And whenever I clicked on one of those gorgeous faces, usually with that telltale pit bull grin, I’d think about what a wonderful opportunity it would be to work with dogs like that.
So when I saw Lou’s name in my in-box now, it made me smile. And when the subject line read “Want to work for Our Gang North?” it made me sit up straight and forget all about calling
o the first important phone call I made was to Lou Fiorello. And after hanging up, I realized that for the first time in my life, I had options.
Scratch that. Options that I’d found
on my own
Emboldened, I decided to call my mother next. I sat back in the chair, drumming a pencil nervously on the legal pad I’d made notes all over during my call with Lou. After several rings, she answered. Had she deliberately let the phone ring? I’d seen her do that to other people. “
Always keep people wanting a little more, Chloe. Don’t be rude, but don’t be too eager either
.” It had never had occurred to me to think she’d employed this technique on her own daughter.
“Hi, Mom,” I said, and she waited a beat.
“Oh, hello, Chloe dear,” she replied, managing to sound unconcerned and somewhat surprised I’d called. She knew it was me; she had caller ID right there on the phone—but no matter. I’d be cool as well.
“I’d like to come by the house to talk to you, if that’s okay.”
“Yes, I think that’s a good idea. Will it be soon? I’ll put on some tea.”
“I can come now. I’ll just get changed and be right over.”
“Still in your pajamas?”
Only four words, and yet oh so much judgment. I sidestepped the obvious trap. “I’ll be there in twenty,” I replied, clenching my hands.
“I’ll be here,” she said.
“Oh, and Mother?”
“If I see his car in the driveway, I’m turning around.”
Silence. Sigh. And then finally, “I’ll see you in twenty.”
I’d won nothing in actuality. But I unclenched my hands, and that was good. I then texted Charles:
He responded right away:
I wasn’t a robot. I could feel a bit of remorse beginning to poke through.
I’d like to call you later, talk about some things?
He didn’t respond right away, so I went to get changed. I was, in fact, still in my pajamas. But as I pushed my head through a San Diego State sweatshirt of my dad’s, I heard my phone beep.
Talk about some things? I’ll say we need to talk about some things. I’ll come by at 5 and pick you up.
I didn’t want to see him. Not yet.
No, no that’s not a good idea. I need some more time. I’ll call you, let’s start there.
Whatever you say . . .
I texted him bye, but for the first time, didn’t add XOXO.
I pulled on some sweatpants and went downstairs. “I’m heading over to Mom’s to talk; you need anything while I’m out?” I asked my father, who was reading another newspaper. Each Sunday he had the
New York Times
Wall Street Journal
delivered. He liked to “cover his bases.” What he covered were his fingerprints with ink, as well as doorjambs and countertops.
“You want me to go with you?” he asked. “Nice outfit, by the way.”
“Thanks. If I hold up the pants on the side I should be able to keep them on,” I laughed. “And no, I’m good to go solo. If you hear a sonic boom coming from her side of town, you’ll know how it’s going.”
“I’m familiar with that boom,” he replied, one corner of his mouth turning up.
So I headed out the front door to explain to my mother why
I’d canceled her perfect wedding. Hopefully I’d be able to think up a good reason on the way over.
walked into the house, my house, and saw that everything was still exactly as it was yesterday. Chairs were arranged in the living room in the semicircle I’d been in when I’d freaked out. There were still nail polish bottles on the coffee table. One thing was different, though. My wedding dress had been in my room but was now displayed in the entryway, hanging from the banister so you couldn’t miss it.
“Hello?” I called, walking through the foyer and past the living room carnage.
“In the kitchen,” she called back, and I headed for her voice. I found her sitting at the breakfast table. Teapot. Cups. Saucers. Milk. Sugar cubes. And holy fudge, she was wearing her Chanel. The suit she wore when she felt she needed something a little extra.
I hovered in the doorway. “Hi.”
“Hello, dear,” she said softly. Uh-oh. Softly again. Usually her default position. She rose, deposited a quick kiss on my cheek, then poured the tea. “One cube, or two?” she asked. She never encouraged me to have more than a solitary cube. Hmm . . .
“Three please,” I volleyed, and sank into my usual chair.
She clenched her jaw for just the scantest second, and then three sugar cubes were placed carefully into my teacup with silver tongs. We’d traveled to London when I was in sixth grade, and every afternoon we had tea at Fortnum & Mason. It was something we both enjoyed, and tried our best to replicate when we came home. I can remember the two of us giggling as we ate
our crustless sandwiches and spoke in the poshest British accent we could muster.
Over the years, however, it started to feel remote; less of a shared pleasure and more of an opportunity for a talking to. And I could see this was where she wanted it to go now. But I had some talking of my own to do first.
“So here’s the thing, Mother,” I began, startling her into sitting down quickly, a surprised expression on her face. Which she masked just as quickly. I pressed on. “I can’t tell you exactly why I ran out of here so fast yesterday, and I realize that I seemed quite crazy. But I’d had an epiphany, a sudden, frightening epiphany, that I couldn’t marry Charles. And I knew if I stayed in this house for one more minute, I’d let everyone talk me out of it.”
I paused to sip my tea, and burned my tongue. “Dammit,” I swore under my breath, making her raise the stoniest eyebrow this side of Mount Rushmore. “Oh, for goodness’ sake, I burned my tongue,” I snapped, this cup-and-saucer game wearing so very thin.
“What a charming vocabulary you seem to have developed all of a sudden,” she replied, fluttering her eyelashes.
“For God’s sake, Mother, its 2014. This isn’t some Edith Wharton novel. No one wears white gloves anymore, no one sends calling cards, and
women fucking swear
!” I banged my fist on the table, spilling tea and tumbling cubes.
“That’s enough, Chloe. I did not raise you to speak to me in this way—”
enough! I was about to get married, possibly have a child by this time next year, but I’m not old enough to curse? I’m a grown-up, for pity’s sake! I need to be able to say what I want and do what I want, and not worry about you frowning at me all the time.” I paused to take a breath, adrenaline rushing through
my veins. “Maybe this is exactly what I need—to shake things up a bit, ruffle some feathers!”
“You certainly did that. You can’t imagine the phone calls I had to make yesterday; the conversations I had to have. I had to call your mother-in-law and try to explain that my daughter had run out on her own wedding and I had no idea where she might be!”
“She’s not my mother-in-law!” I yelled.
Now the gloves were off. Her forehead was showing the tiniest glisten; that didn’t happen even when she played badminton.
“Mother, do you realize that every single time you’ve mentioned yesterday, it’s all been about how this affected
? I know how worried you’ve been about appearances, but haven’t you been worried about
? Not even once have you asked me if I’m okay, or if Charles did something to make me flip so quickly.”
Her head snapped up and she looked at me intently. “Did something happen? He didn’t hurt you, did he?”
For the first time, I saw concern for me. Is it weird that I almost hated having to tell her no?
“No, not at all. It’d almost be easier to say yes—then my decision would be much more black and white, and not so gray. But, no. He never raised a hand, he never even raised his voice to me.”
“Then why, Chloe? Just tell me why you can’t marry him?”
The million-dollar question. Literally, since Charles was loaded.
“I don’t love him,” I said on an exhale. And there it was.
“That’s it?” she asked, incredulous.
“Isn’t that kind of the
?” I asked, joining her in the incredulous boat.
“Love isn’t everything. It’s not even the most important part of a marriage,” she said. But she looked younger, softer, for a split second. Wistful?
“Shouldn’t it be?” I asked.
Her eyes cut to mine, hardening again. “Oh, grow up, Chloe,” she snapped, grabbing the teapot and heading for the sink. Teatime was over.
“Don’t you see that I’m trying to do exactly that? How in the world can I grow up if I continue to do as I’m told, smiling and nodding like some pretty robot? What kind of a life is that?”
“Yes, what a terrible life, married to one of the most powerful lawyers in California, living in a beautiful house, raising beautiful children—it sounds just dreadful,” she mocked, and my blood boiled.
sound dreadful to me. It’s not happening, Mother. We can go around and around about this all you want, but it’s not happening.” I walked to the window and gazed outside, looking over the manicured lawn, the pool, the good life. “I’m sorry for rushing out of here yesterday, and I’m sorry that you had to deal with the ramifications. I really
sorry to have put you through that. It wasn’t fair of me to do that to you.”
She stood at the kitchen sink, her back to me, rinsing out the teacups. As she finished she slowly straightened to her full height, regaining her composure with each vertebrae stacked. When she turned back to me, she wore a gracious expression.
“Thank you for the apology, Chloe. I appreciate that.”
We stood there in the kitchen, no words being said, but I couldn’t help but feel like something more was coming. “So . . . what needs to be done?”
“Done?” she asked.
“Yes. What phone calls still need to be made, who do I need to contact, what can I do to—”
“Heavens, Chloe, I’ve already handled everything. You don’t think I would let all those people just wait around, do you? No no, I’ve already cleaned up this mess.”
“Okay, well, thank you again. I’ll just go up to my room, then, and—”
She set the teacups back in the cupboard, everything where they belonged. “It seems to me, dear, that if you’re so sure you want to be a grown-up, then you should start immediately. Don’t you agree? Look at how strongly you felt yesterday, and poof! You made it happen.”
“Okaaaaayyyy?” I said, no idea where this was going.
“So grown-up to grown-up, I think its time you leave the nest.”
“You want me to move out?” I asked, confused.
“Yes, living here would only get in the way of your lofty grown-up ideals. So I think it’s best that you fly this confining coop. Right now.”
And with that, she slipped on her gardening gloves, set her big floppy hat on her head, and went outside to trim her rosebushes.
nd the hits just kept on coming.
The good thing about being already packed for my honeymoon and subsequent move into my new husband’s home is that I was pretty much ready to move out when my mother politely told me to do so. But when I walked out the front door twenty minutes later with my last suitcase, there was Charles, exactly
where I’d told him not to be. In my driveway. Excuse me—my mother’s driveway.
“Didn’t I say I’d call you?” I said, rolling my suitcase toward my car.
“Didn’t you agree to marry me?” he asked, going for my suitcase.
“Didn’t I tell you I needed some time?” I grabbed my suitcase back, then opened the passenger side and tried to cram it into the crowded car.
“Chloe, baby, talk to me. And where are you going with all this stuff?”
“Don’t call me that.” I pushed the car door shut with my butt, the latch finally engaging. “I’m going to my dad’s. My mother told me to move out. She’s not so thrilled with me right now.”
“She just wants what’s best for you,” he said, leaning against the car next to me. I could feel the warmth of his skin next to mine, his arm close to mine.
so sure that she knows what’s best for me, and
so sure that you know what’s best for me, but I don’t have a clue. Except that I can’t do this, Charles,” I said, looking straight into his eyes.
“Bab—Chloe, you’ve just got cold feet. Don’t throw everything away just because you’re nervous,” he coaxed, wrapping his arm around me and pulling me into his side.