2.23 Advice

Dad caught me in my room looking sad.

It took two seconds after he asked me what was wrong for it to start spilling out.

I probably could’ve summed it up with “girl problems”. But it’s more complicated than that. It’s not that I have two girls I’m into. Summer’s my friend. I like her as my friend. And I like Brianna. And for some reason I feel like these are two opposites.

Dad’s all reasonable about it. “What’s the problem if Summer’s just a friend?”

“It’s Brianna,” I said. “She’s all jealous for some reason and treats me like I’m being suspicious and it’s like I haven’t been with her forever. It’s like she doesn’t trust me.”

“Well,” dad said in that tone. “Does she have reason not to trust you?”

Million dollar question right there.

And I guess it looks bad, me hanging out with Summer alone. Just because she’s gorgeous and we were like instant best friends doesn’t mean I’m in love with her.

I’m not, right?

Or, am I not as into Brianna as I thought? We like each other. She’s cool. We did the whole San Myshuno thing. But she wants to move there. I’m staying in Willow Creek. It’s not like we’re staying together after high school.

And Summer…

“I have firsthand experience with dishonesty,” dad said. “And how badly it can muck up a relationship. Don’t lead this girl on. Don’t do it to either of them. And if you don’t want to be with someone, dragging it out isn’t going to help.”

Which is good advice. Am I being dishonest? Well, yeah. With both of them?

The spring formal is next week though. I have no idea what I’m going to do.

2.22 Bowling Night

Summer called me today, telling me they opened a bowling place in Oasis Springs, and she invited me out.

I was hoping I could impress her with my bowling skills.

But the truth is I’m not that good.

Luckily Summer didn’t seem to mind. It’s kind of weird hanging out with her outside the context of family. It’s easier not to think of her as “Aunt Zoe’s daughter” and more as just Summer.

We’re both excited to be done with school. Summer’s still trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life, whether she’ll move somewhere else, what career she’ll start. I’ve already been looking at what entertainment positions are open around town. I’ve been writing a handful of routines and jokes that I don’t know what to do with. Summer’s less clear on what she wants, but she knows what she loves. She’s such a bookworm and a huge nerd, but she’s also been looking into working with non-profits.

After a while we weren’t even playing. The lanes were pretty empty, and we just sat together on the benches, talking about anything. Summer’s favorite book series and how I’ve been uploading some stuff to Simtube to see if it hit. I don’t even remember all the stuff we talked about. Our families and our moms and our siblings and what we were into. Even when we talk about nothing, it feels real. We were never actually close. Mom and Zoe hung out a lot, but she never really brought her kids around. Still, it feels like we’ve known each other forever.

We probably could’ve kept talking for hours, but I noticed the bowling alley was getting crowded. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Neal, and I realized a bunch of my friends had rolled in. Summer noticed too, and she said she had to go. I walked to the door with her when they stopped me.

I think this officially counts as sneaking around. I don’t know why. Summer is my friend. But Brianna saw her leave and walked up to me with this look on her face.

She didn’t ask me to explain, but I could tell she was looking for one. All of our other friends vacated the area. I think they could tell something was brewing.

“Summer lives down the street,” I said. “We were meeting up.”

“It’s weird that you didn’t invite the rest of us,” she said.

Which, okay, yeah. But the thought of Summer clashing with my friends is too much.

“You said you hated Oasis Springs,” I reasoned.

Brianna didn’t buy it. “It’s just–I’m your girlfriend, right? It feels weird you hanging around with some other girl.”

“She’s not just some other girl,” I muttered, which may not have been the best move, but Brianna let me drop it.

We hung out on the lanes for a while. James is part of a bowling league, which is why they were all hanging out. We chilled on the sidelines and watched.

Brianna seemed pretty down. I could’ve been a better boyfriend, but after a while I started to lag. I don’t know if Rachel could tell how awkward it was, but I saw her passing glances to Brianna.

Jarred pulled me aside, thank Wright. I should’ve talked to him about this, but he’s always cool as a cucumber. He doesn’t have girl problems. After a while I told them I was tired and headed back to Willow Creek. There’s gotta be someone I can talk to about this.

2.20 The Honeymoon (Part Five)

Our last day in Granite Falls was spent peacefully. Mira collected her bugs, Lance hung out around the cabin reading, mom and dad got in some more alone time, and I walked down to where Summer was staying. We sat by the lake and chilled. I kind of appreciate Granite Falls now. I’m still not a nature fan, but it’s really beautiful out here, and there’s so much to explore we didn’t even touch.

Zoe was more sad than I was to go back.

“It’s just so much drama back home,” she said. “Who’s dating who and who stole who’s look and all that stuff. I’m ready for high school to be over.”

“It’ll be soon,” I said. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot, ’cause of my mom.”

“Oh, yeah. Mom said you’re mom wants to build up the house. I think that’s kind of nice, you know? Having something for generations, leaving it for your kids. Mom’s life is kind of everywhere. It’s why I think she wanted to do this retreat.”

“Have you thought about what you’re going to do when we graduate?” I asked.

“There’s so much to do.” She had a dreamy look on her face. “I don’t know yet. Get out of Oasis Springs definitely.  I want to see the world.”

I was kind of disappointed to hear it. I’ve been thinking seriously on what it’d be like to be the adult in the house, to build up on it, to have my kids in that house, to watch them grow up in the same rooms I did. It’s something I’m starting to want.

“But hey,” Summer said, “we’ve still got a few months. You’re going with Brianna to the spring formal right?”

“Uh, yeah.” I felt guilty talking about it for some reason. Brianna’s my girlfriend. We’d been super excited about it up until now. “She already picked out a dress and everything.”

“That’s cool. No boys ever ask me out. I’m going with my friends.”

“It’ll be a big group of us,” I said. “I’ll see you there.”

We looked at each other, and I felt–I don’t know, bad. Like maybe I’d disappointed her somehow.

I’m trying not to think about it too hard. This trip was good, I think. Mom and dad look a lot happier, Mira’s got a bunch of new things in her collections, even Lance was smiling and stuff. I feel like I’m ready to be grown up.

And of course the second I got home, Brianna texted me. I’ve been putting off texting her back. I have to think about some things for a while.

2.19 The Honeymoon (Part Four)

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Mom and dad might be enjoying their honeymoon a little too much. I guess they deserve it or whatever, but I’m stuck watching the brats all the time. I let them run off today, mostly because I was too tired to keep up with them, and Summer found me hanging out by the campfire.

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It’s so good talking to her. She was telling me how she was trying to learn everything about the natural herbs that grew in Granite Falls, and normally that stuff would bore me, but I could listen to her go on for hours. I told her about the place we’d found the day before, but I couldn’t find it again. We’d gotten lucky, getting lost in the woods.

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I wish I knew anything about being cool. I was my usual jokey self, and she laughed at my dumb jokes. The joy of being me is I just go for it all the time, and sometimes it kicks butt, and sometimes it falls flat. But Summer seems to think I have a real thing going. I told her about how I wanted to be a comedian, and my friends have been pushing me to put all this stuff up online. She seemed really excited about it, and we talked about the channels we followed for like an hour. It’s weird how time flies with her, like I don’t even have to think about it. I can’t stop thinking about her, I know that for sure.

When she left to walk with her sister back to their cabin, I just. I don’t know. My chest gets tight around her, but in a good way. Like if I don’t see her I’m holding in all my breath, and when I do it’s all one big exhale. How is someone sweet and pretty and smart and cool all in one go? And she laughs at my jokes.

We all went back to our own cabin, and dad lit the pit again, though with a little more fire safety this time. It was our last night in the cabin, so we had a pretty easy time of it.

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Mom grilled.

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We ate out on the patio, beneath the stars.

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And as the night got later, the brats went to play Don’t Wake the Llama, and dad sat with them. Mom made coffee in the kitchen. I actually quite my barista job not too long ago, missing my free time and no longer having to worry about when I’d see dad, and I’ve been in a caffeine meltdown since then. I grabbed a cup and joined her outside.

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The night was… serene’s the only word for it. We could hear crickets chirping up a symphony all around us, with the croaks from the frogs in the nearby water, and the gentle rustling of small animals running through the brush. The smell of other people’s campfires made the air warm, and for a minute we sat there in silence, just enjoying it.

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“This was a really good trip,” I said finally, mostly to break the quiet.

Mom smiled at me. “I thought for sure you’d hate it.”

“I don’t hate everything you like,” I muttered.

That made her laugh. And I think that made me feel worse. I haven’t been the best son in the past few months.

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“Mom,” I said, “I’m sorry. I’ve been a jerk.”

She put her hand on my arm. “I was putting it up to teenage rebellion.”

“But seriously. I think I blamed you for a lot of stuff that isn’t really you’re fault.”

“What every mother wants to hear.” She sat back, looking up at the stars. “I’ve always tried to be honest with you, all of you, but especially you, Quentin. You’re the oldest. You’re always going to have the most amount of responsibility. And maybe it’s my fault for putting all of that on you now.”

“I know this legacy stuff is important to you.”

“I don’t have any other family,” she said with a sigh. “Even your dad has his sister and her family. The thought of any of my children moving far away scares me a little, but that shouldn’t stop you. You know I’d support any choice you made.”

I know it’s silly, but the way she said it, I felt like a kid again, like I wanted to have my mom hug me and tell me everything was going to be alright.

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“You know,” I said, “Willow Creek’s a pretty alright place. And I have been thinking about what I wanted added to the house.”

A grin stretched across her face. “What ideas do you got?”

“An arcade room for one,” I said. “You and Mira would love that. Maybe a basement for Lance so he never has to see sunlight again. Dad can have his own criminal lair.”

“And what about you?” she asked. “What do you want?”

I really didn’t know. I still don’t. What do I want?

“I’ll figure it out,” I told her. “Eventually.”

2.18 The Honeymoon (Part Three)

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Mom made flapjacks for us, mountain man style. Dad says the thing he missed most of all was mom’s cooking.

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Lance and I enjoyed breakfast together. Mira wouldn’t wake if an earthquake rolled by. Mom and dad really wanted to go up to the national park, all excited to use the saunas and hang out in the trees. Personally I could’ve done without, but they want to do everything as a family.

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Of course, the second we get up there, they disappear into the sauna together. Mira and Lance weren’t very interested, so we wandered around the forest together.

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At first it was pretty nice on the trails. We were near the cabins, but Mira was hunting for bugs and frogs and kept running off.

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We ended up wandering around for hours. Lance started complaining almost immediately. These two are the worst siblings.

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Mira wouldn’t stop grabbing frogs.

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And after a few hours we came to this weird break in the hedge. Mira and Lance ran straight up to it, spying through the entrance. I hesitated. Part of me was suspicious of weird passageways into the deepest part of the forest with my two kid siblings in tow. But Mira wouldn’t shut up about it, so I decided to look in.

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A dark tunnel stretched in front of me, but I could see light at the end of it. The trees twisted together and the leaves were like a wall. I’m not a big nature person, but I’ve been outside, and I’ve never been in a part of the forest as dark as this. Mira and Lance followed behind me as I walked through, and then we stepped into the light.

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I wasn’t expecting such a wide open area. Mira was instantly impressed, and Lance was just questioning where we were. I wasn’t sure. The falls came over on this side too, creating a pool of water, and a rainbow reflected off it. It didn’t feel like part of the forest.

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Mira immediately ran after some butterflies, Lance following after her.

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And then we saw someone walking towards the falls.

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We decided to go say hello.

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The old woman wore clothes that looked hand made, and she smelled earthy, like a mulch pile. She didn’t give us a name, just welcomed us to the woods. She barely spoke at all before wandering back to her house.

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I assume it’s her house. I don’t know why else there would be a cabin in the middle of the woods. I’m pretty sure you aren’t supposed to live out in a national forest, but no one seemed to bother her about it. We walked around to the back, where she was gardening her plants.

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Mom would probably love her garden. For once, Lance actually talked to another human being. He seemed excited to ask her about her garden and how she lived out here. She didn’t give many details, but we were strangers walking all over her home.

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It was Mira who started complaining that she wanted to go back weirdly enough. We said goodbye to the lady and headed back through the tunnel, ending up where we’d left off. I don’t know if we’ll ever find that place again, but it was cool while it lasted.

2.17 The Honeymoon (Part Two)

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I complained, but the cabin we’re staying at is actually pretty nice. There’s a bunch of rooms, and the brats don’t have to share if they don’t want to. Mira’s been running off everywhere collecting frogs and bugs and other gross stuff, and Lance and I have been chilling on the back porch.

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We’re both tired of mosquitos and tall grass flipping everywhere. I think that counts as brotherly bonding.

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Mom is in her element. she’s grilled for every single meal, even breakfast. At least she’s keeping it vegetarian, for the most part. She made steaks the other night, but dad and I got potatoes.

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It’s easy to forget mom is like an amazing cook. In another life she’d be running her own restaurant or something. She made dad and me these baked potatoes that might as well have been their own meal, and then it’s fruit cobbler for dessert.

Mom put on a weenie roast, inviting our neighbors over. I was hopeful Summer would show up, but Zoe said Trillian got bitten up and was in a bad mood, meaning Summer was babysitting for the night.

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It was still pretty nice. Mom showed me how to make a fire, and Mira and Lance roasted marshmallows. The adults were passing around drinks from the cooler, and I tried to snag one, but mom would never let me.

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Dad told this crazy scary story. Mira was laughing at it, but Zoe seemed pretty scared by it.

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Night in Granite Falls is so loud. There’s a million bugs all screaming at the top of their lungs and buzzing off the river and flying into the fire, and I’m pretty sure I saw a bear, though dad said there weren’t bears in Granite Falls. Mira showed me a beetle she’d caught before roasting it over the fire, because she’s an absolute freak.

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The night would’ve stayed nice, except one stray ember bounced out of the firepit, and next thing you know…

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There was an inferno. Both mom and Zoe jumped to it with fire extinguishers. That mom instinct hitting I guess.

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I grabbed the kiddos and pulled them as far away as felt safe. I tried my hardest not to panic, but to be honest it scared me more the thought of Mira or Lance getting caught in it.

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Mom and Zoe were absolute beasts though. As soon as the fire started, they had it under control.

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Mom absolutely will not stop bragging about it either.

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She doused out the fire, declared the party over, and sent Mira and Lance to bed. But I think we were all a little antsy after the incident.

It was kind of cool hanging out with the adults. Dad grabbed some cards and dealt us all in, myself included. I’m so used to mom and dad treating me like a kid, but they talked to me like they did to Zoe.

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Dad taught me how to play poker, even though we only played for pennies. Mom’s surprisingly good at it. I think it has something to do with how many video games she plays. They talked about grown up stuff: how much the neighborhood was changing, how Zoe was settling in now that half her roommates had moved out, how nervous dad was about his new job, and how mom was pushing for more promotions now that she was getting older. Mom’s always had an honesty policy with us, but this was the first time I felt part of the conversation.

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And, honestly, I don’t know if I’ve ever really talked to Zoe before. I didn’t even know if she was married, or which of her roommates Summer called dad, or anything about her life. Turns out she’s pretty funny too, and when I mentioned I was thinking about being a comedian, she gave me some pretty good tips. Is it possible all the adults in my life could be secretly cool? It’s too horrifying to contemplate.

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Mom walked Zoe out once she was finally too tired to keep going, and it was just me and dad. I don’t know what spurred it, exactly, but he told me he was proud of how I handled myself tonight, and I was looking more and more grown up. I pretended not to care, but it meant a lot from him. I went to sleep feeling pretty good.

2.16 The Honeymoon (Part One)

Special bonus week! I’m still not certain when Dabney Diaries will start back up on its regular schedule once again, but I did already have this honeymoon section written up. All week long, the Dabneys are on vacation!

 

Of course, since mom and dad didn’t get any kind of honeymoon, they drag all of us out to Granite Falls.

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Mom couldn’t be happier. It’s like a return to the wild for her. Mira’s excited too, and me and Lance are stuck on the bored train.

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At least they look like they’re enjoying themselves.

Weirdly, Aunt Zoe is staying nearby too.

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You’d almost think they planned this. Apparently Zoe was worried about her kids spending too much time on their phones or something dumb like that, and she brought Trillian and Summer with her. It’s been like ten years since I’ve been to Aunt Zoe’s house, so the last time I saw her daughters, Trillian was a baby in a basket, and Summer was some snot nosed kid.

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Now Trillian’s some snot nosed kid. Mira thinks she’s hilarious, but Lance kept telling me how annoying she was. Loudmouthed and a know it all. No wonder Mira loves her. And Summer…

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I don’t think I’ve ever met a girl like Summer. I hang out with a lot of cool girls. Rachel is always posting stuff on her blog ten times funnier than anything I can come up with, and Brianna kills at all things cool, but, like Summer is just.

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Smart. Like really smart. And not in the know it all way nerdy kids can get (looking at you, Mira). She was telling me about the history of Granite Falls which she only learned because she actually spent like three hours with a forest ranger learning about all the plants and rocks and how long everything had been there. There’s supposed to be some hidden spot up by the falls that’s like untouched by tourists. And she says all of this like it’s this brilliant new thing she just learned about, and she wants me to learn about it too.

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She talks like an adult, almost. Like now I start to think about all the conversations I have with Brianna, and it’s about school stuff, or what we’re going to wear to the spring formal, or what dumb prank I pulled this week. Summer is already thinking about what she’s going to do next. She told me how she wanted to try painting and music, and she had a million ideas going on in her head.

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I’m like the worst goof in the world and just tried to make her laugh the whole time, which admittedly I’m pretty good at. I’ve just never had such a real conversation before, except maybe with Jarred. And it was the first time we talked since we were probably six years old. It’s weird, right? Like instant connection.

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I really hope I see more of her this week.

Interlude: The Date

Alice sat down across from Ali, glancing nervously around the bar. This was the first place they’d met. At the time, he’d only been the bartender, and she’d been chatting with Zoe the whole time, but it was meeting number one. Number two had been the chance meeting outside her tent where he’d been fishing. Number three had been their first date. At that point it was starting to feel like destiny.

Maybe that was her problem. She’d always believed too much in fate and fantasy. It’d led her to a large empty plot of land with nothing but a tent, and it’d made her a happy family, a tidy house, and a husband she loved.

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“It’s been a long time since we’ve sat down like this,” she said.

He smiled. “Better than a phone call.”

Alice’s smile turned into a grimace for a moment. Quentin thought she refused to talk to Ali, that she was being purposefully withholding, but they chatted weekly, sometimes more. Her work was taking up more of her time as she climbed the ladder, and raising three kids, even kids who were practically done being raised, stress had become a regular part of her life. A call to Ali calmed her.

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“It’ll be great once the new job goes through,” he said.

She nodded. “I’m really proud of you.”

“Lacey’s going crazy, I think. Jarred’s about to graduate, and it’ll just be her and Kayla in that big house.”

“Quentin’s about to graduate too.” She let out a sigh. “I’m worried about him.”

“He’s just reacting,” Ali said. “I try to talk to him about it.”

“He’ll get there.”

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“It means a lot,” Alice said, “all the work you’ve put in.”

“It’s a bad habit of mine, falling back on old vices.” He put his head in his hands. “Lacey helped me whip back into shape the last time, but last time I didn’t also have kids waiting on me.”

“You’ve done more than enough to prove yourself.” She reached a hand across the table.

He squeezed her hand back. “It’ll be the last step.”

They smiled at each other, and Alice felt like she was twenty-three again, gazing up at a handsome man who took her dreams and promised to make them real.

“Do you want to take a walk?” she asked.

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There was a lakebed across the way from the bar, and they stood by the fishing spot. Alice looked over the clear waters and breathed in. She hadn’t gone properly fishing in years.

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“Alice,” Ali said, “I know I’ve said this a hundred times, but I am sorry. I screwed everything up.”

She looked at him, the man she’d married on impulse, who’d raised her children, who’d built her house, who’d cared for her for nearly twenty years.

“You didn’t,” she said. “You couldn’t. We have three perfect kids in a beautiful house we built together. There’s nothing you could’ve done to make that any less than it is.”

“But us…”

“I don’t know how understanding I’ve been.” She sighed. “Sometimes I wish I’d reacted differently. Sometimes I wish I’d let you stay.”

“You were right,” he said. “I was putting our family in danger.”

“But this wasn’t the only solution.”

“But it’s worked.”

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She moved closer to him, taking his hands. “You’ve done everything you can. I want you back home. I miss you. Quentin misses you, so do Mira and Lance. I want my husband back.”

He breathed out. “You have no idea how happy I am to hear that. I love you.”

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She embraced him. “I love you too.”

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A/N: I was originally going to give myself a break once I reached the end of the YA years, but summer started, I did a little bit of traveling, and I’m focusing on a few other projects at the moment, so I’m actually going to take a break here. Summer’s the wildest time for me, and I’m already dead tired at the time of writing this. I may continue updating with small stories in between, and if you want to check out my other writing, my 1950s monster mash will start updating again at my writing blog as of June 14, and I have a few small concept stuff I want to post there as well. If you haven’t read my other Sim blog, The Accidental Vampire, I’ve just gone on hiatus for that as well, though there are currently sixteen chapters to read through. I’ve taken a break from a large number of projects, including my old west horror serial, and my R.L. Stine’s Fear Street recap blog (though this one I should be posting again soon), but all of them have lots of archives to read through if you really love my writing. I don’t have an exact date I’d like to start posting again, but it’s fair to say end of July or beginning of August is probably the earliest I would get back to it. Thank you to everyone who reads this, comments, or likes. It means a lot to me, and I’ve been finding so many amazing stories through you guys. I’ll try not to disappear completely in the next few months, so keep an eye out!

2.14 Like a Family Again

It’s weirdly normal to have dad back in the house.

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He’s been helping Lance with school. He’s been talking to Mira about fighting with the other kids. We watch TV together.

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Aunt Lacey’s been visiting again, not just Jarred. You’d think there’d be an adjustment period, especially for the brats. Mira and Lacey barely reacted to dad showing up, and just like that he slid back into their lives. You’d think he never really left.

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Everything’s starting to feel normal again.