“Mom, I… I messed up,” she managed to choke out before she started crying.

Her mom nodded and broke the hug long enough to pick up her suitcase and show her into the living room of her home. They sat down on the sofa, and Jessica noticed some tea and water was already set out for her. Gratefully, she picked up the water bottle and guzzled it down.


“Now, I’m so surprised to see you. You’re so big. You looked like a kid graduating high school, but you’re so grown now.”

“That happens after three years, and a lot of college life. Not that it’s been exciting till this summer. I studied a lot, focused on trying to get into a good Ph.D. program for lemur studies, but I just… Mom, you don’t even know.”

“I think I have an idea. You haven’t talked to me since high school.”

Jessica’s grip on the water bottle grew tighter until the plastic crumpled in her grip. “You haven’t talked to me.”

“After we fought, and you said some nasty things to Harold at your graduation, I thought I’d give it some rest. I thought maybe if you just had a chance to calm down and get used to the remarriage, things would be better, that you’d be able to handle things.”

“You didn’t reach out to me.”

“You didn’t call me either, honey. I just thought it was best, that maybe after college you’d finally seek me out. After that fight at your last graduation, well, I figured you didn’t want anything to do with me.”

Tears gathered at the corner of her mother’s eyes, and it hit Jessica like a two-by-four to the face. It was true. She’d been so hurt when her mother had cheated. Even though it was normal for a person to bring their new husband to family events – and she and Harold had already been married a couple years by then – Jessica just hadn’t wanted to accept that her family was changing. She’d called her mom horrible names when they’d tried to take pictures after the ceremony. Unforgivable things.

Pushed her away.

Just like she was doing to Brent now, but his father had started it. She couldn’t let her children be near a monster like that as their grandpa, and she couldn’t risk letting Donald Sanderson ruin her father’s career.

No choices.

Hence being here, but she hadn’t realized how she’d pushed her mom away as hard as her mom had just fallen from her inner circle.

“I was just hurt, Mom. You cheated. You cheated and then Harold was in our life, and I don’t even know. It’s all so broken.” She couldn’t hold back her own tears any longer. Maybe she’d blame the hormones from the pregnancy. After the shitty forty-eight hours she’d had, could anyone really blame her?

Her mom swept her up into her arms and rocked with her. “So much did happen. I was waiting for a chance to explain myself to you, about how I met Harold, about why everything changed, but you were never ready. Are you now?”

Jessica gulped in air and nodded against her mother’s shoulder. “As ready as I’ll ever be.”

Her mom stroked her hair and continued to do so as she spoke: “I shouldn’t have done what I did, but it was so hard. You were in middle school, and we were already trying to plan for the cost of college. Your father quit his job at Fox to come and work with his good friend at a tiny upstart indie studio. We struggled for a few years, had a month or two where I had to beg my father for the money for utilities till the studio started turning profits. It was so hard to struggle for every single thing. Your father was gone sixteen hours a day, and Harold… he was there, and he listened.”

“And rich?”

“No, it wasn’t like that. I don’t gold-dig.”

Jessica shuddered in her mom’s arms. Wasn’t that exactly what Donald Sanderson was accusing her of? She’d always picked at her mother for choosing Harold over her dad, but deep down, didn’t it look like she’d been as shallow with Brent? There were always hidden reasons behind choices, things that the public – even the rest of your family – couldn’t see. Jessica was only now beginning to see that. To understand that it wasn’t always black and white.

Her father wasn’t necessarily the hero of her parents’ marriage and her mother the villain.

Just like Jessica wasn’t some innocent girl Brent had seduced or some seductress out to take his money. Reality was far more complicated than that. It always had been.

“Mom, it just hurts. Why does everything hurt?” She sniffled and picked her head up to look into brown eyes so like her own. “I’m so scared.”

“Honey,” her mom said, squeezing her shoulders, “for right now, we’re all right. I knew it would take you time on your own schedule to get used to everything, to come to terms with Harold and me. I’m not mad. I’m just grateful you came. But I know something must be very wrong. What happened?”

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