Authors: Colleen Hoover
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.
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.”
I shrug. “I don’t know yet.”
He tilts his head. “But why now? You’re thirty-four.”
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.”
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
be being a housewife.”
“It could,” I say. “Some people are perfectly fulfilled in that role.” I
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
. 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
“When you think of me, what one word comes to mind?”
“Mother,” she instantly says. “Housewife.
” 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.
“I mean . . . not in a bad way.”
sum a person up in a
way? I can’t think of a single person in the world who’d want to be summed up as predictable.
“Maybe I meant
,” Clara says. She leans forward and hugs me. “Night, Mom. Happy birthday.”
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
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.
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
. “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.
“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.”