Authors: Colleen Hoover
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.
Maybe it’s all been in my head.
Before I’m even out of the driveway, I’m dialing Aunt Jenny’s number.
“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.
“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
proposal. The day after I told Chris I was pregnant, he said,
“Well, I guess we should get married.”
“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.
“Including the one-night stand?”
She shakes her head. “Four, I guess. Or . . . well . . .
. That night counts as two times.”
Wow. They’re practically strangers. “Five times? And now you’re
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.
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—
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.
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.”
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.”
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
who Miller Adams is, but the name rings no bells. “He’s Hank’s boy.”
“Hank? There are still people named
in this world?”
Chris rolls his eyes. “Morgan, come on. Hank Adams? We went to school with him.”