“You mentioned seeing someone, but what I saw today has grown beyond that.”
I lean against the arm of the couch. “It’s become serious.”
She moves to the couch and sits, adjusting the cushion behind her. “I can see how much he cares for you. It was hard for him to keep his eyes off you. You know I’m happy you’re finding balance in your life, but how does this relationship work into your plans?”
“I’m confused. You wanted me to date, and then when I do, you want me to study?” Pointing at Frankie, I say, “I’m nurturing the plant. Is that not enough?”
“It’s enough. You’re doing a great job with the plant and your life. What I’m trying to say is that I know school is handled. I also know that you are a driving force when it comes to your goals. Is he coming to New York with you?”
“We have time to figure it out. If I get accepted, I don’t have to be there until August.”
“You’re not concerned about such a loose plan for the future?”
I get two bottles of water from the cabinet. “You’re sounding a lot like Dad.”
“Your dad . . .” She stops, seeming to bite her tongue. When I look back at her, concern has her reached the corner of her downcast eyes, weaving worries into the soft lines of her forehead.
“Mom?” I sit next to her, putting the bottles on the table. “What is it?”
When her eyes return to mine, she says, “Your dad came to see me in the city last weekend.”
“He did?” I fidget with my shirt. “He hates New York.”
“I didn’t want to lie to him, but I didn’t tell him much, Chloe. He knows you’re seeing someone, but I kept it light, which was all I knew at the time.”
“He wanted dirt on me?”
“No,” she replies, shaking her head. “He’s concerned.”
Frustrated, I cross my arms and sink back. “Why? I’ve given him no reason.”
“You know he wants you focused on school.”
“He’d be happier if I were a nun. Or sticking to his plan. Any deviation comes with repercussions.”
That makes her laugh humorlessly. “Maybe not a nun, but he’d be thrilled if you didn’t date until you were thirty.”
“It took twenty years, but I finally managed to disappoint him.” I’ve never been able to disappoint either one of them without guilt swiftly kicking me back in line. What about this time? Joshua? New York? The ER? Tugging my bottom lip under my teeth, I begin to worry.
Reaching over, she pats my leg. “He’s not disappointed. I think he’s more curious if this will stop the big plan he has for you.”
“That’s just it. It’s my plan now, and Joshua’s a part of it.”
Her hair briefly covers her eyes when she looks down as if the realization just hit her. Tucking her hair behind her ears, she sighs, a grin returning as she rests back again. “I can’t stay much longer, so I’d love to hear about you and Joshua concerning that plan.”
My heart beats to life from the mere mention of him, a memory of being with him at the lake and the way he looked at me that night racing back. I smile, not hiding it, but letting it match the afternoon sunshine streaming through the window.
Instead of playing down how important this relationship is to me, I free my heart to confess all the secrets I’ve kept to myself. “I’ve never met anyone like him.” Although I feel as transparent as cellophane, the urge to put words to these feelings overwhelm me. “We . . .” Doubt creeps back in, thickening my throat, hoping this doesn’t sour our conversation.
She embraces my hands and says, “You can tell me anything, sweetheart.”
“I had, have sex with him. We make love, and I feel it. I feel how much he loves me deep inside.”
The smile never wavers, but the corners of her eyes soften, like her tone. “I think you’re confusing sex and love, honey. Both can be very overwhelm—”
“I feel it when we’re not together that way, too.” Her smile allows me to drop my defenses, and the rush of relief is welcome. “Though now I know why people fixate on it. Studying it is way different from the act itself. Do I sound silly?”
“No. Not at all. It’s a beautiful way to connect with someone you love, and it sounds like that’s what it is for you. Seeing you two together, there’s no hiding the love you share.” Our hands entwine, and she adds, “It’s written in every glance.” Her smile is gentle and sincere.
“You’re not mad?”
“Why would I be mad? You’re twenty years old and a senior making straight A’s at an Ivy League university. You’ve found someone who treats you like you deserve, someone who makes you smile from within, and someone who supports your dreams. Joshua talked about you more than himself. What more could I want than for you to be with someone who treats you like a priority?”