Page 106 of We Were Once

Ruby sits at the other end of the sofa from the spot I reclaim, curling my legs under me in defense. Watching my mom sit on the edge of the leather chair while Ruby crosses her legs with sky-high heels on, I know they are absolutely up to no good.

I finish my wine, hoping it saves me from the nightmare I see coming. My mom says, “We really did run into each other at Zabar’s, but we also thought it would be fun to surprise you.”

“Surprise!” Ruby adds with flair and a roll of her wrist. “More wine?”

Seeing my mom gulp hers down, I hold up my glass, thinking these two schemed way before now. “Seems I’ll need it, considering how the fish next to me is downing hers.” The glass is swiped from my hand as Ruby cuts between me and my mom to refill it. “And don’t be skimpy.”

She laughs. My mom, not so much. Nope, she’s focused on flattening a wrinkle in her shirt that had the nerve to embed itself. “Mom?”

“Hm?” Her eyes are still cast down.

I press her, “What is this about?” Ruby returns with a glass so full the wine runs over the side when it’s handed to me. At least it’s white wine and won’t stain. Not that I’m that concerned about my jeans. I have other worries, like the story they’re trying to hide. “I’m glad Zabar’s didn’t turn into Babka-gate, but it feels like there’s more to this story. Just tell me what’s going on.”

Ruby sits back down, too glamorous for the situation. With her arm draped along the back of the sofa, she says, “We’re worried about your sex life.”

“What? No.” I push up, ready to leave in a great wave of my arms in annoyance. “You do not get to lure me here with expensive wine and Mexican food, then start in on me like Julie does at work. Do I never get a break from everyone’s concern for my vagina?”

My mom chokes on her wine. Under our attention, she clears her throat, and says, “That’s not how this was supposed to go. We’re concerned about your social life.” Glancing at Ruby, she adds, “Not your sex life.”

“I’m socializing right now with the two of you.” At the receiving end of a pointed look, I hold up my finger while I gulp more wine. Clearly, my commentary isn’t going to end this. “Okay,” I say, lowering my hand. “You may continue.”

Wasting no time, she digs in. “You don’t date—”

“I’m twenty-seven, Mom, not ninety. I have time to find a partner. Anyway, Frankie and Dway—Hemsworth keep me plenty busy. You wanted me to nurture the plant, and I have been. I take care of two. They’re very needy trees.”

Ruby, highly amused, adds her two cents from two cushions away. “First of all, Frankie and Hemsworth are plants, not people. We let you carry on about them like they’re actual humans, but, Chlo, they’re not.”

My mom says, “I gave you Frankie to help you find balance with your studies. Now you’re using those poor plants as excuses not to have a life outside the hospital. If it’s not one extreme it’s another.”

Her words open an old wound. Not about the plants, but about a part of me that I thought I’d left behind. “One extreme or another,” I repeat quietly to myself. My chest aches under the realization. “I’ve become Dad.”

Not missing a beat, Ruby adds, “You stole my second point.”

“Have I become Dad?” I ask, staring at my mom whose gaze extends out the window.

“I would never wish that life on you for all the money in the world.” When her attention returns to me, she says, “I don’t hate your father for the choices I made. I hate that he gave you no choices at all. What good is all this money if you’re not happy?”

I argue out of spite, “I don’t need a man to complete me.”

My mom exhales heavily. “You’re right. You are amazing, have an incredible career, and . . .” A little smile appears. “Have plants that rely on you. When you’re home, do you get lonely? I do. I miss having a friend who shares my daily life, someone I can confide in, a lover, someone to spend time with when my daughter is busy at work.”

Honestly, yes. Am I comfortable admitting that? No. Staring at the stark white piece of art hanging in front of me, I say, “The work I do fulfills me.”

She adds, “When it comes to a career, there’s nothing more I’d wish for.”

“But when it comes to the other half of my life . . . I understand what you’re saying. My trees can’t replace relationships with other humans.”

My mom sips her wine, and says, “It doesn’t have to be a romantic relationship, but one that offers you support beyond us, Frankie, and Hemsworth—friend or otherwise.”

Tags: S.L. Scott Romance