Page 69 of We Were Once

Carrying her bra and panties toward the door, she laughs. “This is a Fox party.”

I’m not sure what that means, but being around enough rich kids at Yale, I’m figuring this won’t be your average townie kegger.

24

Chloe

“Love suits you, Chloe.”

I look back at my mom as she arranges the flowers in a large vase on the kitchen island. I’m not sure how she managed to find peonies in November, but the vase is full of my favorite flower in various shades of pink. At the mention of love, I have a feeling my cheeks match the darker blooms.

“The past two months have been a whirlwind,” I admit, moving next to her, away from the caterers. It feels natural to see her working at the island, but then I remember she has a new life, the complete opposite of this one, running parallel in New York. It’s been nice to have her here for me, but I hope she’s happy. “Do you think I’m too young to be this in love?”

“Do you?” As soon as she spots me gnawing on my bottom lip, she says, “Grab a coat. Let’s take a walk on the lawn like we used to.”

After putting on our coats, we slip outside onto the veranda, and across to walk down the steps. After taking in the crisp air, she smiles at me. “I miss the smell of the ocean, but I enjoy the vibe of the city.”

“I’m glad you’ve found a place that feels like home.”

“You’re my home, Chloe.” We start walking toward the far end, and she asks, “How do you feel about the relationship?”

“I don’t regret a second I’ve spent with Joshua, but after your visit, I’ve started worrying about leaving for med school. I think he’s still unsure what he’s doing after graduation. He’d probably come to the city with me, but I know he’d never ask me to stay. He’d sacrifice us if it benefitted me.”

“That’s noble.”

“I find it heartbreaking actually.” I want to see the good in the gesture, but pain seeps in just from the thought.

“Because you’re afraid to lose him?”

I nod, not wanting to voice the thought out loud. I’m not superstitious, but I’m not willing to put that out into the universe. “But I don’t want to lose myself either.”

She says, “It sounds like you’re on even ground, trying to balance this change in your plans. Balance.” Nudging me, she smiles softly. “There’s nothing more I’d wish for you in a relationship than someone who treats you as an equal or better. It’s something I never had, so if you’re comparing our relationship to yours because of the similar ages we got together, wipe that thought away.”

“But you fell for him—”

“At seventeen. By your age, we were married. I’ve never blamed your father for my choices. I blamed him for the demise of our marriage. He told me to live life before settling down. He wanted me to experience dating and develop friendships outside of him, but I just didn’t listen. I was young and naïve.” We stop at the edge where the grass meets the beach. “You’re smarter than I am.”

“I don’t know how to navigate the dreams I have and the relationship I want. Graduation will be here before we know it, and I don’t like the unknown.”

“You never have. If you could control your whole world, you would, but that doesn’t leave much room for discovery. Or love. Or Josh.” Staring across what appears to be the entire ocean and a million memories, she adds, “He’s your first love.” Turning to me, she takes my hand. “He may not be your last, but you can’t live in fear of that. You shouldn’t question what feels right. Just experience it for what it is—wholeheartedly.”

When we both lived here, we weren’t like this. I was always studying, and my mom was . . . moving through life with no real spark in her eyes. That dark cloud has lifted since the divorce. She takes responsibility, but I also blame my dad for abandoning her and their marriage. Yes, he provided financially for us both. But my mom is vibrant, a romantic, and passionate about experiencing life to the fullest.

And because of how open she is now, she’s become someone I confide in. I know she wants what’s best for me professionally and personally, not only as my mom, but also as my friend. Continuing, she adds, “I said love looks good on you, but maybe it’s the happiness that shines in your eyes. I’ve never seen you look more beautiful than watching you become the woman that you love. Whether alone or with him, love the life you’re in.”

That does it. Now I’m officially mushy. With tears welling in my eyes, I hug her, resting my head on her shoulder. “Thank you.”

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