Authors: Colleen Hoover
Miller tucks hair behind my ear, hugs me, and then says, “Thank you for coming to see me.”
“Thank you for putting up with me.”
When we get out of his truck, he gives me one final hug. It’s comforting, and on the drive home I think about his hugs. My dad’s hugs. Jonah’s hugs. They’re all great.
But if I’m being honest, nothing really compares to my mother’s hugs. Or her kisses. I don’t really remember a lot about last night, but I do remember her helping me in the bathroom. And for some weird reason, I remember she was in my bed, singing me a random Twenty One Pilots song.
And I remember her kissing me on the forehead, right before she told me she loved me. Even at seventeen years old, I still feel all the comforts of childhood when I’m sick and my mother takes care of me.
I woke up with my blanket and my sequined pillow. It made me smile, even through the headache. Even through my anger.
I wonder if I can somehow separate the anger from the love. I don’t want her actions with Jonah to have an effect on the way I feel about her. She’s my mother. I don’t want to hate her. But what if I won’t be able to forgive her?
But how do I even know that Jenny and my dad aren’t happy for my mom and Jonah? What if they somehow set this in motion from wherever they are?
What if my anger is interfering with that somehow?
I have a lot of questions. Most of them I know can’t be answered. It’s making my head hurt even more.
When I finally walk into the house, my mother is awake. She’s sitting on the couch with her laptop. Probably still applying for jobs. She glances up at me as I shut the door.
I nod. “I thought I could do school, but I was wrong. I have a Nebraska headache.” I point toward my room. “I’m gonna go back to bed.”
when Clara got home this morning but couldn’t figure out what it meant. I thought maybe it was slang, but if it is, it must be brand-new slang.
I feel fairly productive today. I have a job interview for a secretary position at a real estate firm next week. Not ideal, because the pay is low, but it’s a start. I find the idea of selling real estate appealing, so I thought if I could get the job, I might get a taste for it and see if that’s what I want to study. I’ve been looking up ways I can somehow work and go to college at the same time. There are so many more options now than there were when I was eighteen. If I had the opportunity to take night classes and online classes when Clara was younger, I probably would have finished my degree.
I’ve been feeling sorry for myself, but in reality, this isn’t all Chris’s fault. I knew he wasn’t invincible. I could have easily gone to college part-time to prepare myself if something were to ever happen to him.
And I’m honestly lucky he had a life insurance policy that’ll give me time to figure it out.
As I was looking through paperwork in the bedroom, I came across my birthday board, which Clara and I worked on the night before Chris died. I never put it back where I usually keep them because the next day altered everything. It somehow ended up under my bed. It reminded me that we still need to do Clara’s. I know she probably doesn’t feel like it, but it’s tradition, so when I hear her up and showering, I pull out the craft supplies and set them on the table. I make a charcuterie board and set it on the table next to her birthday board because I doubt she’ll feel like eating much, but she needs to eat something.
When she finally walks out of her room, I’m at the table on my laptop. She stares at her birthday board. I close my laptop, and surprisingly, she walks to the table and takes a seat without a fuss. She pops a grape into her mouth. We make eye contact, but neither of us speaks. She grabs a blue marker, and I grab a purple one.
She stares at her board—at all the things we’ve put on it over the years. I like it because her handwriting has evolved throughout the years. Her first goal was written in green crayon, spelled wrong.
“Americun Gurl dol.”
It was a want rather than a goal, but she was young. She eventually learned the difference over time.
Clara begins to write something. It’s not just one thing. It’s several things. When she’s finished, I lean forward and read the list.
Clara puts the lid back on her marker, pops another grape in her mouth, and walks into the kitchen to get a drink.
Her goals make me sigh. I can tackle the first one. I can pretend to tackle the second one. But the third one is tough for me. Maybe I’m too realistic. Too practical.
I follow her into the kitchen, and she’s pouring herself a glass of ice water. She pops two aspirin and swallows. “I know you want me to major in something more practical, but at least I’m not running off to Los Angeles without getting a degree first,” she says. “And I need to start looking at schools soon. I need to know what we can afford now that Dad is gone.”
“What if we compromise? What if you get a degree in something more realistic, like psychology or accounting, and then after you graduate, you can move to Los Angeles and audition for roles while holding a
a real job,” she says. She walks back to the table and takes a seat, selecting a piece of cheese to eat. She talks while she chews. “The way I see it, my life is going to go one of three ways.”
She holds up a finger. “I get a BFA in acting from the University of Texas. I try to become an actress. I succeed.” She holds up another finger. “Or, I get a BFA in acting from the University of Texas. I try to become an actress. I fail. But at least I followed my dreams and can figure out where to go from there.” She holds up a third finger. “Or. I follow
dreams, major in something I am absolutely not interested in, and spend the rest of my life blaming you for not encouraging me to follow my dreams.”
She drops her hand and leans back in her chair. I stare at her a moment, soaking in everything she just said. I realize as I’m looking at her that something happened. I don’t know when or if it was gradual or overnight, but something has changed in her significantly.
Or maybe something has changed in me.
But she’s right. The dreams I have for her life aren’t nearly as important as the dreams she has for herself. I grab my marker and pull her birthday board toward me. I write,
“My dreams for Clara < Clara’s dreams for herself.”
Clara reads it, and it makes her smile. She takes another bite of cheese and starts to get up from the table, but I don’t want to be done yet. I feel like I may not get another opportunity to talk like this with her for a while.
“Clara, wait. There’s something I want to talk to you about.”
She doesn’t take her seat. She grips the back of the chair—an indication she doesn’t want this conversation to last long.
“Last night, you said something to me, and I want to know what you meant. It might have been the alcohol talking, but . . . you blamed yourself. You said the wreck was your fault.” I shake my head in confusion. “Why would you think that?”
I see her swallow. “I said that?”
“You said a lot of things. But that one seemed to really upset you.”
Clara’s eyes immediately moisten, but she releases the chair and turns away. “I don’t know why I said that.” Her voice cracks as she walks across the living room, toward her bedroom.
For once, I can tell she’s lying.
“Clara.” I stand up and follow her. I reach her before she disappears down the hallway. When I spin her around, she’s crying. It’s heartbreaking, seeing her so upset, so I pull her to me, holding her, attempting to soothe her.
“I was texting Aunt Jenny when they had the wreck,” she says. She’s clinging to me like she’s scared to let go. “I didn’t know she was driving. One second, we were chatting, and then the next . . . she stopped responding.” Clara’s shoulders are shaking against me.
I can’t believe she thinks it’s her fault.
I pull away from her and hold her face in my hands. “Jenny wasn’t even driving, Clara. It wasn’t your fault.”
She looks at me with shock. Disbelief. She shakes her head. “It was her car. You told me . . . at the hospital, you said she gave Dad a ride.”
“I told you that, but I swear it was your father who was driving. He was driving Aunt Jenny’s car. I never would have told you that if I knew you would think it was your fault.”
Clara takes a step back, swallowed up in confusion. She wipes her eyes. “But why would you tell me that? Why would you say she was driving if she wasn’t?”
It hits me that I have no idea how to back up the lie I told her. And I have no excuse for it either. And I’m a terrible liar.
I shrug, trying to make it seem like it’s less than it is. “I just . . . maybe I was confused? I can’t remember.” I take a step toward her and squeeze her hands. “But I promise I’m telling you the truth now. Your Aunt Jenny was in the passenger seat. I’ll show you the accident report if you don’t believe me, but I don’t want you thinking this was your fault for another second.”
Clara isn’t crying anymore. She’s looking at me with suspicion in her eyes. “Why was Dad driving Aunt Jenny’s car?”
“He had a flat.”
“No, he didn’t. You’re lying.”
I shake my head, but I can feel my cheeks reddening. My pulse is racing.
Just let it go, Clara.
“Why were they together, Mom?”
“They just were. He needed a ride.” I turn to go back to the table. Maybe if I start cleaning, I won’t start crying, but when I reach the table, my fearful tears begin to pour out. This is the last thing I wanted. The
“Mom, what aren’t you telling me?” She’s beside me now, demanding answers.
I turn to her, desperate. “Stop asking questions, Clara!
Just accept it and never ask about it again.”
She takes a step back, as if I just slapped her. Her hand goes up to her mouth. “Were they . . .” There’s no color left in her face. Not even
her lips. She sits down in a chair and stares at the table for a moment. Then, “Where’s Dad’s car? If it was just a flat, why did we never get it back?”
I don’t even know how to answer that.
“Why did you refuse to combine their funerals? They basically had all the same friends and family, so it made more sense, but you seemed so angry and kept demanding they be separate.” Clara covers her face with her hands. “Oh my God.” When she looks at me again, her eyes are pleading. She’s shaking her head back and forth. “Mom?”
She’s looking at me with fear.
I reach across the table. I want to shield her from this blow, but she’s running toward her bedroom now. She slams her door, and I’ll follow her in a second, but I need a moment. I grip the back of the chair and lean forward, trying to breathe slowly—to calm myself.
I knew this would kill her.
She opens her bedroom door. I look up, and she’s rushing back to me, full of more questions. I know exactly how she feels, because I’m still full of questions.
“What about you and Jonah? How long has that been happening?” There’s an accusatory tone to her voice.
“We weren’t . . . the night you walked in on us. That was the first time we ever even kissed. I swear.”
She’s crying now. She’s pacing, like she doesn’t know what to do with all the anger. Who to throw it at.
She clenches her stomach and stops pacing. “No.
, no.” She points at the front door. “That’s why he left Elijah here? That’s why he said he couldn’t do it?” Clara is gasping now between tears. I pull her in for a hug, but it doesn’t last. She pulls away from me. “Is Dad? Is Jonah not Elijah’s father?”
I feel like my throat is so constricted noise can’t even slide up it. I just whisper, “Clara.
She sinks to the floor in a heap of tears. I lower myself and put my arms around her. She hugs me back, and as good as it feels to be needed by her right now, I’d give anything for this not to be happening. “Did you know? Before the wreck?”
I shake my head. “No.”
“How did you . . . when did you find out about them?”
“The day they died.”
Clara hugs me even harder.
She says my name with such a guttural ache it’s like she’s needing something she knows I can’t give her. A comfort I don’t even know how to provide.
She pulls away from me and stands up. “I can’t do this.” She goes to her room and comes back with her purse and her keys.
She’s hysterical. I can’t let her drive a car like this. I walk over to her and take her keys out of her hand. She tries to snatch them back, but I don’t let her have them.
“You aren’t leaving. Not when you’re this upset.”
Clara drops her purse in defeat and covers her face with her hands. She just stands there, crying to herself. Then she slides her hands down her face and looks at me with imploring eyes, dropping her arms to her sides. “
I need Miller.”
Those words coupled with that look in her eyes—it all shatters me. It feels like my soul has been stomped on. But somehow, even beneath all the pain, I understand. Right now, I’m not what she needs. I’m not the solace she’ll find the most comforting, and even though it feels like the death of a huge part of our relationship, I’m grateful to know there’s someone out there who gives her that besides me.
I nod. “Okay. I’ll take you to him.”
Miller has a line of customers when I walk into the theater. As soon as he looks at me, I can tell he wants to jump over the counter. He looks worried but helpless. He holds up four fingers, so I nod and walk to theater four.
I sit in the closest seat to the door this time. I’m too tired to walk all the way to the top.
I stare at the blank screen, wondering why Jenny never decided to act. She’d have been good at it. My dad too.