Authors: Colleen Hoover
“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
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
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
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
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.”
“Who needed a ride?” Chris asks her.
Jenny and I look at each other right when Clara says, “Miller Adams.”
Chris drops his fork to his plate.
Lexie says, “
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.
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
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
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
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
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.