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Chapter no 20 – CLARA

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Jonah’s car is in the driveway. Hopefully he hasn’t lost his mind again and is here dropping off Elijah for another week. That’s the last thing my mother and I need right now.

I’m not sure what we need, but we need something. An intervention? Separate vacations?

Hopefully she’s as ready as I am to forget about what happened at school today. If there’s one thing I like about my mother, it’s her ability to avoid confrontation when she needs time to think about something. I don’t want to have to stay home and talk it out tonight, because all I want is to go inside, change clothes, and head to the theater to see Miller. But I doubt it’s going to be that easy.

When I walk into the house, I see Elijah asleep in the bassinet next to the wall. I start to walk toward him to give him a quick kiss, but my attention is pulled to the kitchen.

The door isn’t there anymore, but that’s not the weird part. The weird part is my mother and Jonah. And the mess.

My mom is on her hands and knees, wiping up the floor with paper towels. Jonah is pulling down the painting that Aunt Jenny bought my dad for his birthday. There’s stuff all over it. I tilt my head, trying to get a closer look, but can’t tell exactly what it is.

Food?

I take a few steps toward the kitchen before I’m able to put it all together. There’s an empty mayonnaise jar on the counter. Empty pudding cups on the floor. An empty carton of eggs on the counter. There’s food on Jonah’s shirt and in my mother’s hair.

What the hell?

“Did you guys just have a food fight?”

My mother’s head whips in my direction. She had no idea I was even here. Jonah spins around and almost slips. He drops the painting but

catches himself by gripping the counter. He and my mother look at each other; then they both look back at me.

“Uh,” Jonah says, stuttering. “We, um . . . don’t really have an acceptable explanation for this.”

I raise an eyebrow but keep my thoughts to myself. If I don’t judge them for behaving strangely, maybe they won’t judge me for not wanting to be here.

“Okay. Well . . . I’m going to the movies with Lexie.”

I expect my mother to protest, but she does the opposite. “My purse is on the couch if you need money.”

My eyes narrow in suspicion. Is this some kind of test? Maybe she feels guilty for what she said to me today.

Something isn’t right, but if I stand here much longer, she might realize it too. I spin on my heels and head toward my bedroom to change. I don’t bother taking money out of her purse. Miller never charges me for anything, anyway.

 

 

As soon as I walk into the building, Miller’s whole face lights up, and he stops what he’s doing to come around the counter. There’s no one around, so he pulls me in for a hug and then kisses me. “Meet me in theater one. I’ll be there in five minutes.”

“But . . .” I point at the concession stand. “Popcorn.” He laughs. “I’ll bring you some.”

I head toward theater one, surprised to see it’s completely empty and the lights are on. There’s nothing even showing on the screen. I take the top row like I always do and wait for Miller. In the meantime, I pull up the theater guide on my phone to see what’s playing in theater one.

Nothing.

The last showing was a cartoon, and it ended an hour ago. I text Miller.

Me: Did you say theater one? There’s nothing playing in here tonight.

Miller: Stay there. I’m on my way.

Miller rounds the corner a couple of minutes later, holding a tray of food. Nachos, hot dogs, popcorn, and two drinks. He walks to the top

row and takes a seat next to me. “I feel like we were mistreated at school today,” he says. “I’m pretty sure it’s a law that students should get to eat. Even if that means taking our food to detention with us.” He hands me a drink and balances the tray of food on the back of the seats in front of us. “Steven owes me about five favors, so he’s manning the concession stand for the next hour.”

I grab a hot dog and a packet of mustard. “Nice. Does that mean this is a date?”

“Don’t get used to it. I don’t normally go to such extravagant lengths.”

We spend the next several minutes eating and talking. I let him do most of the talking because it’s nice. He’s animated and he smiles a lot, and every time he touches me, I get a stomach full of cliché butterflies.

When he’s finished eating, he pulls a sucker out of his pocket. “Want one?” I hold out a hand, so he pulls another one out and gives it to me.

“Do you keep a stash of suckers on you at all times? You’re always eating them.”

“I have an issue with grinding my teeth. The suckers help.”

“If you keep eating them at the rate you do, you won’t have any teeth left to grind.”

“I’ve never even had a single cavity. And don’t act like you don’t enjoy how I taste.”

I grin. “You do taste pretty good.”

“Shelby hated my sucker habit,” he says. “She said they made my lips sticky.”

“Who?” I’m only teasing when I ask that, but he takes it like I’ve been insulted that he brought her up.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to go there. I don’t want to be that boyfriend who talks about his ex.”

“I actually have a lot of questions, but I don’t want to be that girlfriend who makes you talk about your ex.”

He pulls the sucker out of his mouth. “What do you want to know?” I think about his question for a moment. There’s a lot I want to know, but I ask him the most pressing question. “When she broke up with you after I gave you a ride that day, why did you seem so heartbroken?” I’ve been wondering how he could seem so affected by it that day but be perfectly okay with it now. It makes me worry he’s

hiding something.

His finger gently brushes over the top of my hand. “I wasn’t necessarily upset about her breaking up with me. I was upset because she thought I cheated on her. I didn’t want her thinking that, so I was hell bent on making her believe me.”

“Does she know you broke up with her for me?” “I didn’t break up with her for you.”

“Oh,” I say, a little taken aback. “You sort of made it sound like you

did.”

Miller readjusts himself in the seat, sliding his fingers through

mine. “I broke up with her because when I went to sleep at night, I wasn’t thinking about her. And when I woke up in the morning, I wasn’t thinking about her. But I didn’t break up with her just so I could date you. I would have broken up with her whether you and I ended up together or not.”

It doesn’t seem like there’s much of a difference in breaking up with someone for someone else or because of someone else, but it feels like it makes all the difference in the world when he explains it.

“Has it been a weird adjustment? You guys were together for a long time.”

He shrugs. “It’s been different. Her mom never cared if I spent the night at her house on weekends, so Saturday nights at home with Gramps are taking some getting used to.”

“Her mom let you sleep at her house? Like . . . in her bed?”

“It’s unconventional, I know. But her parents are pretty lenient in a lot of areas. And technically, she’s an adult in college. I guess that had a lot to do with it.”

“My mom will never let you spend the night. Just putting that out there.”

Miller laughs. “Believe me, I got that vibe from her. I’ll be surprised if I’m even allowed to visit you in broad daylight.”

I hate that he feels this way. I hate that my mother made him feel this way. And if I’m being honest, it worries me that it’ll be a turnoff for him later down the line, if she never accepts that he’s my boyfriend.

I can’t even believe I’m saying that. Miller Adams is my boyfriend.

We’re both facing each other now, our bodies turned toward each other in the theater seats. It’s so quiet in here that we can hear the rumbling of the movie playing on the other side of the wall.

I try not to think about everything he just said, because now I’m worried about all the times he stayed at Shelby’s house. All the times he slept in her bed. Will he eventually miss that? I’ve never had sex, and

with the way my mother has been acting, I’m not sure she’ll ever allow Miller to come over. She might even put a stop to me going out altogether, just to try and break us up. I hope not, but with her behavior this past month, I wouldn’t put it past her.

I feel like Miller has been completely honest with me, so I want to do the same. I pull the sucker out of my mouth and stare at it. “So. Just so you’re aware. I’m a virgin.”

“I know a cure for that,” Miller says.

My eyes flash up to his, but then he laughs. “I’m kidding, Clara.” He leans toward me and kisses me on the shoulder. “I’m glad you told me. But I’m not in any hurry. At all.”

“Whatever. You’re used to getting it every weekend. You’ll eventually grow bored with not having sex, and you’ll go back to her.” I immediately cover my mouth with my hand. “Oh my God, why do I sound so insecure? Please pretend I didn’t just say all that.”

He laughs a little, but then he looks at me intently. “You don’t have to worry. I already get more out of not having sex with you than I did during my entire relationship with her.”

I like him so much. More than I thought possible. Every minute we spend together makes me like him more than I liked him the previous minute. “When I decide I’m ready . . . I hope it’s with you.”

Miller smiles at that. “Trust me—I’m not going to talk you out of

it.”

I think about what our first time might be like. When it’ll be. I look

over at him and grin. “Our first kiss was a cliché coffee shop kiss. Maybe losing my virginity should be cliché too.”

Miller raises an eyebrow. “I don’t know. They might ban us from Starbucks.”

I laugh. “I’m talking about prom. It’s five months from now. If we’re still together, I’d like it to be a cliché after-prom deflowering.”

My choice of words makes Miller laugh. He takes his sucker out of his mouth and grabs mine from my hand and sets them on the food tray. Then he leans in and kisses me, briefly. When he pulls back, he says, “You’re getting ahead of yourself. I haven’t even asked you to prom yet.”

“You should ask me, then.”

“You don’t want one of those elaborate promposals?”

I shake my head. “Promposals are stupid. I don’t want an elaborate anything.”

He hesitates, like maybe he doesn’t believe me. Then he nods once and says, “Okay, then. Clara Grant, will you go to prom with me and have cliché after-prom sex with me?”

“I would love to.”

Miller grins and kisses me. I kiss him back with a smile, but I can feel part of myself sinking.

Aunt Jenny would have loved this story.

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