Page 1 of We Were Once

Prologue

I’ve never died before, but I recognize the feeling.

1

Chloe Fox

“Promise me you’ll protect Frankie with your life, Chloe.”

Glancing sideways, it’s hard to take this seriously. “Um . . .”

My mom hugs Frankie to her chest like the son she never had. “You’ll give him a good home, feed him, and nurture him?”

I think this is taking it a little too far. “It’s a plant, Mom, not a human.”

“It’s not just a plant. It’s a bonsai tree. They’re fickle creatures—”

“Technically, it’s not a creature. It’s a miniature tree.”

“Creature or not, promise me you’ll take care of it, Chloe. This isn’t just a plant. This little guy can provide harmony and calm to your place.”

“Mom, I got it.” I attempt to pry the potted plant from her, but when she resists, I ask, “Do you want to keep Frankie? He’d love New York City. You can take him to Central Park or a show on Broadway. A quick trip to MoMA or the Statue of Liberty—”

“Very funny.” She shoves him toward me. “Take him. I bought him for you.”

“We can set up a visitation schedule if you’d like?”

That earns me an eyeroll that’s punctuated with laughter. “You might think I’m being dramatic, but I can already tell this is what your apartment is missing. I wish you’d let me decorate it more. So, mock me if you must, but that little guy is going to bring balance to your life.”

“It’s a lot of pressure to put on a plant, don’t you think?”

“Little tree,” she corrects stubbornly as if I’ve insulted the thing. Crossing her arms over her chest, she raises a perfectly shaped eyebrow. “You want to be a doctor, Chloe. Treat it like a patient. Water, attention, and care. The basics.”

Holding the plant in front of me, I admire the pretty curve to the trunk and branches. It’s easy to see why my mom picked this one. “I’ll try not to kill it like the plant you gave me last year.” I set the plastic pot down on top of a stack of textbooks on the coffee table. “But you have to admit that I gave that ivy a great send-off.”

“You did. Right down the trash shoot.” She laughs again, but I hear the sadness trickling in.

“Why are you getting upset?”

The green of my mom’s eyes matches the rich color of the leaves when she cries, just like mine. “I think the bonsai has had enough water for one day. Don’t you think?” I ask teasingly to hide how much I hate the impending goodbye.

She laughs, caressing my cheek. The support she’s always shown me is felt in her touch. “I’ve had the best time with you over the past few weeks. I’m going to miss you, honey.”

Leaning into it, I say, “If everything goes to plan, I’ll be in the city next year and we can see each all the time.”

“You’ve worked hard. Now it’s time to enjoy your senior year.” Her departure pending, we embrace.

“I enjoy working hard, and my grades still matter this year if I want to get into med school.”

A sympathetic smile creases her lips when she steps back. “I’m sorry you feel you have to be perfect all the time or that you feel medical school is the only option for you. It’s not. You can do—”

“It’s what I want.” This subject was the final blow to her marriage to my dad. They disagreed about a lot, but my schooling and future were the sticking points. I don’t want to relive it.

Moving to the couch, she fluffs a pillow, but I have a feeling it’s only out of habit. “Seeking perfection is the easiest way to find disappointment.” She eyes the pillow, satisfaction never reaching her eyes. Standing back, she swings her gaze my way. “Happiness is a much nobler mission.”

After she divorced my father, she put it into practice. After leaving Newport for Manhattan two years ago, she’s happier than ever. “I know you have big plans, Chloe, but you’re only young once. Go out with Ruby. Have fun. Kiss boys. You’re allowed to do what you want instead of what others want for you. You’re allowed to be you.”

Be me? The words strike me oddly. “Who am I?”

“Ah, sweet girl, whoever you want to be. New experiences will allow you to see yourself through a new lens.”

I sit on the couch, blocking her view of the pillow she just fixed. “Is that why you left Newport?”

“Yes, I wanted to discover me again. In Manhattan, I’m not Norman’s wife, or the chair of the preservation society. I’m not running an eight-thousand-square-foot house or hosting garden parties. In New York, I get to be Cat Fox and Chloe’s mother. Those are my favorite roles I’ve ever had.”

Working with my father might have been great for my résumé, but back home, I’ll always be compared to the great Norman Fox. I’ll live in his shadow if I return to Rhode Island and won’t ever stand on my own accomplishments. So I understand what she means a little too well. She seems to think she was saved. Is it too late for me?


Tags: S.L. Scott Romance
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