Chapter no 4 – CLARA

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I probably shouldn’t have called my mother predictable last night, because this is the first time in a long time that I’ve woken up for school and didn’t find her in the kitchen cooking breakfast.

Maybe I should apologize, because I’m starving.

I find her in the living room, still in her pajamas, watching an episode of Real Housewives. “What’s for breakfast?”

“I didn’t feel like cooking. Eat a Pop-Tart.”

Definitely shouldn’t have called her predictable.

My father walks through the living room, straightening out his tie. He pauses when he sees my mother lying on the couch. “You feeling okay?”

My mother rolls her head so that she’s looking up at us from her comfy position on the couch. “I’m fine. I just didn’t feel like making breakfast.”

When she gives her attention back to the television, Dad and I look at each other. He raises a brow before walking over to her and pressing a quick kiss on her forehead. “See you tonight. Love you.”

“Love you too,” she says.

I follow my dad into the kitchen. I grab the Pop-Tarts and hand him one. “I think it’s my fault.”

“That she didn’t cook breakfast?”

I nod. “I told her she was predictable last night.”

Dad’s nose scrunches up. “Oh. Yeah, that wasn’t nice.”

“I didn’t mean it in a bad way. She asked me to describe her using one word, and it’s the first thing that came to mind.”

He pours himself a cup of coffee and leans against the counter in thought. “I mean . . . you aren’t wrong. She does like routine.”

“Wakes up at six every morning. Breakfast is ready by seven.” “Dinner at seven thirty every night,” he says.

“Rotating menu.”

“Gym at ten every morning.”

“Grocery shopping on Mondays,” I add. “Sheets get washed every Wednesday.”

“See?” I say in defense. “She’s predictable. It’s more of a fact than an insult.”

“Well,” he says, “there was that one time we came home, and she’d left a note saying she went to the casino with Jenny.”

“I remember that. We thought she’d been kidnapped.”

We really did think that. It was so unlike her to take a spontaneous overnight trip without planning months in advance, so we called both of them just to make sure she was the one who wrote the note.

My father laughs as he pulls me in for a hug. I love his hugs. He wears the softest white button-up shirts to work, and sometimes when his arms are around me, it’s like being wrapped in a cozy blanket. Only that blanket smells of the outdoors, and it sometimes disciplines you. “I need to get going.” He releases me and pulls at my hair. “Have fun at school.”

“Have fun at work.”

I follow him out of the kitchen to find Mom no longer on the couch but standing in front of the television. She’s pointing the remote at the TV screen. “The cable just froze.”

“It’s probably the remote,” Dad says.

“Or the operator,” I say, taking the remote from my mother. She always hits the wrong button and can’t remember which one to press to get her back to her show. I hit all the buttons and nothing works, so I power everything off.

Aunt Jenny walks into the house as I’m attempting to power the television back on for my mother. “Knock, knock,” she says, swinging open the door. Dad helps her with Elijah’s car seat and an armful of stuff. I power the television back on, but it doesn’t do anything.

“I think it’s broken.”

“Oh, God,” my mother says, as if the idea of being home all day with an infant and no television is a nightmare of an existence.

Aunt Jenny hands my mother Elijah’s diaper bag. “You guys still have cable? No one has cable anymore.”

There’s only a year of age difference between Aunt Jenny and my mom, but sometimes it feels as though my mother is the parent of both of us.

“We try to tell her, but she insists on keeping it,” I say.

“I don’t want to watch my shows on an iPad,” my mother says in defense.

“We get Netflix on our television,” my father says. “You can still watch it on the television.”

“Bravo isn’t on Netflix,” my mother responds. “We’re keeping the cable.”

This conversation is making my head hurt, so I take Elijah out of his car seat to get a minute in with him before I have to leave for school.

I was so excited when I found out Aunt Jenny was pregnant. I always wanted a sibling, but Mom and Dad never wanted more kids after they had me. He’s as close as I’ll ever get to a brother, so I want to be familiar to him. I want him to like me more than anyone else.

“Let me hold him,” my father says, taking Elijah from me. I like how much my dad likes his nephew. Kind of makes me wish he and Mom would have another one. It’s not too late. She’s only thirty-four. I should have written it down again on her birthday board last night.

Aunt Jenny hands my mother a list of written instructions. “Here’s his feeding times. And how to heat the breast milk. And I know you have my cell phone number, but I wrote it down again in case your phone dies. I wrote Jonah’s number down too.”

“I’ve raised a human before,” my mother says.

“Yeah, but it was a long time ago,” Aunt Jenny says. “They might have changed since then.” She walks over to my father and gives Elijah a kiss on the head. “Bye, sweetie. Mommy loves you.”

Aunt Jenny starts to leave, so I grab my backpack in a hurry because there’s something I need to discuss with her. I follow her out the front door, but she doesn’t realize I’m behind her until she’s almost to her car.

“Miller unfollowed me on Instagram last night.”

She turns around, startled by my sudden presence. “Already?” She opens her car door and hangs on to it. “Did you say something that made him angry?”

“No, we haven’t spoken since I left his house. I didn’t post anything. I didn’t even comment on any of his pictures. I just don’t get it. Why follow me and then unfollow me hours later?”

“Social media is so confusing.” “So are guys.”

“Not as confusing as we are,” she says. She tilts her head, eyeing me. “Do you like him?”

I can’t lie to her. “I don’t know. I try not to, but he’s so different from all the other guys at my school. He goes out of his way to ignore

me, and he’s always eating suckers. And his relationship with his grandpa is adorably weird.”

“So . . . you like him because he ignores you, eats suckers, and has a weird grandpa?” Aunt Jenny makes a concerned face. “That’s . . . those are weird reasons, Clara.”

I shrug. “I mean, he’s cute too. And apparently, he wants to go to college as a film major. We have that in common.”

“That helps. But I mean, it sounds like you barely know him. I wouldn’t take the unfollow too personal.”

“I know.” I groan and fold my arms over my chest. “Attraction is so stupid. And knowing he unfollowed me already put me in a shit mood, and it’s only seven in the morning.”

“Maybe his girlfriend saw the follow and didn’t like it,” Aunt Jenny suggests.

I thought about that possibility for a brief moment this morning.

But I didn’t like thinking about Miller and his girlfriend discussing me.

My father walks out the front door, so Aunt Jenny gives me a hug goodbye and goes to leave because she’s parked behind both of us. I get in my car and text Lexie while I wait for Jenny to pull out of the driveway behind me.


I hope you got my text last night about me picking you up half an hour early. You never responded.

She still hasn’t responded when I pull into her driveway.

Just when I’m about to call her, she comes tumbling out of her house, her backpack hanging from the crease of her elbow while she attempts to slide on a shoe. She has to stop and press her hand to the hood of the car to finish getting the shoe on. She stumbles to the door, her hair in disarray, mascara still under her eyes. She’s like a drunk hurricane.

She gets in the car and shuts the door, dropping her backpack to the floorboard. She pulls out her makeup bag.

“You just woke up?”

“Yeah, four minutes ago when you texted. Sorry.” “How’d the Tinder date go?” I say sarcastically.

Lexie laughs. “I can’t believe your family still believes I have a Tinder account.”

“You lie to them about having it every time you’re around. Why would they believe otherwise?”

“I work too much. All I have time for is school and work and maybe a shower if I’m lucky.” She opens her makeup bag. “By the way. Did you hear about Miller and Shelby?”

I whip my head in her direction. “No. What about them?”

She opens her mascara just as I pull up to a stop sign. “Stop here for a second.” She begins putting on her mascara, and I wait for her to finish whatever she was going to say about Miller Adams and his girlfriend. How random that it’s the first thing she brought up and it’s the only thing I’ve been able to think about since I gave him a ride yesterday.

“What about Miller and Shelby?”

Lexie moves her mascara wand to her other eye. She still doesn’t answer me, so I ask her again. “Lexie, what happened?”

“Jeez,” she says, stuffing the mascara wand back into the tube. “Give me a sec.” She motions for me to continue driving while she pulls out her lipstick. “They broke up last night.”

That’s my favorite sentence that’s ever come out of Lexie’s mouth. “How do you know?”

“Emily told me. Shelby called her.”

“Why’d they break up?” I’m trying not to care. Really trying. “Apparently, it’s because of you.”

“Me?” I look back at the road. “That’s ridiculous. I gave him a ride to his house. He was in my car for three minutes tops.”

“Shelby thinks he cheated on her with you.” “Shelby sounds like she has trust issues.” “That’s really all it was?” Lexie asks. “A ride?” “Yes. It was that inconsequential.”

“Do you like him?” she asks.

“No. Of course not. He’s an asshole.”

“He is not. He’s super nice. Annoyingly nice.”

She’s right. He is. He’s only an asshole to me. “Isn’t it weird that my father thinks he’s such a bad person?”

Lexie shrugs. “Not really. Your father doesn’t even like me, and I’m awesome.”

“He likes you,” I say. “He only teases the people he likes.”

“And maybe Miller is the same way,” she suggests. “Maybe he only ignores the people he likes.”

I ignore that comment. Lexie focuses on putting on her makeup, but my mind is whirling. Did their fight really have to do with a silly car ride?

It was probably the car ride coupled with the Instagram follow. Which would explain why he unfollowed me last night. Which proves he’s trying to get her back.

“Do you think their breakup will stick?”

Lexie glances at me and grins. “What’s it matter to you? It was





Jonah makes me call him Mr. Sullivan at school. I’m sure he’d like it if I called him Uncle Jonah outside of school, but he’s just Jonah to me. I haven’t known him long enough to feel like he’s my uncle yet, even though he just had a baby with my aunt Jenny. Maybe after they’re actually married, I’ll add the title. But for now, all I really know of him is what I’ve heard my parents say—that he broke Aunt Jenny’s heart in high school and moved away without warning. I’ve never asked any of them why he broke up with her. I don’t guess I really cared, but for some reason, I’m curious today.

Jonah is at his desk grading papers when I walk in. “Morning,” he says.

“Morning.” I have him for first period, so I toss my backpack in my usual seat, but I take the seat right in front of his desk.

“Did Jenny get Elijah dropped off with your mom?” he asks. “Yep. Cute as ever.”

“He really is. Looks just like his daddy.” “Ha. No. He looks just like me,” I correct.

Jonah stacks his pages together and scoots them aside. Before he gets into the whole film project thing, I let my curiosity get the best of me. “Why’d you break up with Aunt Jenny in high school?”

Jonah lifts his head quickly, his eyebrows raised. He laughs nervously, like he doesn’t want to have this conversation with me. Or with anyone. “We were young. I’m not sure I even remember.”

“Mom wasn’t happy when you got Aunt Jenny pregnant last year.” “I’m sure she wasn’t. It wasn’t very well thought out.”

“Kind of hypocritical of her, considering they had me at seventeen.”

Jonah shrugs. “It isn’t hypocritical unless the action she’s objecting to occurs after the objection.”

“Whatever that means.”

“It means people who make mistakes usually learn from them. That doesn’t make them hypocrites. It makes them experienced.”

“Didn’t they teach you in college not to dole out life lessons before the morning bell rings?”

Jonah leans back in his seat, a hint of amusement in his eyes. “You remind me of your mother when she was your age.”

“Oh, God.”

“It’s a compliment.” “How?”

Jonah laughs. “You’d be surprised.” “Stop insulting me.”

Jonah laughs again, but I’m only half kidding. I love my mother, but I do not aspire to be my mother.

He grabs one of two folders on his desk and hands it to me. “Please fill this out, even if you don’t end up doing it. If you place in the top, it’ll be great to put on your film school applications. Not to mention you’ll have footage for your acting reel.”

I open the folder to look through it. “So who is it that’s looking for a partner?”

“Miller Adams.” My head snaps up when Jonah says his name. He continues speaking. “When you guys were talking about him last night, I remembered reading in the notes from the teacher who sponsored this program last year that Miller was on a team that placed. Which means he has the experience. I asked him to sign up this year, but he ultimately turned it down. Said he’s got a lot going on and it’s a big commitment. But if the two of you do it together, he might be interested.”

I’m not gonna lie—I was secretly hoping it was Miller Adams, especially because he told me he was into film. But was Jonah not at the same dinner I sat through last night?

“Why would you try to pair me up with him on a project after what my dad said?”

“I’m a teacher, not a matchmaker. Miller is the perfect partner on this. And he’s a good kid. Your father is misinformed.”

“Either way, Dad set hard boundaries.” That I already know I’m not going to follow.

Jonah stares at me thoughtfully for a second, then crosses his arms over his desk. “I know. Listen, it’s just a suggestion. I think the project will be good for you, but if your dad doesn’t want you to do it, there’s not much I can do. But . . . you also don’t need a parent’s permission to sign up. You only need it for submission, and that’s still several months away.”

I kind of like that Jonah is encouraging me to disobey my father.

Maybe he and Aunt Jenny really are perfect for each other.

The door opens, and Miller Adams walks in. Thanks for the heads- up, Jonah.

The first thing I notice are his crimson, puffy eyes. It looks like he hasn’t slept. His shirt is wrinkled; his hair is a mess.

Miller looks from Jonah, to me, to Jonah. He remains by the door and tosses a hand in my direction while looking at Jonah. “This is who you want me to sign up with?”

Jonah nods, confused by Miller’s reaction. I’m not confused by it.

I’m used to him not wanting anything to do with me.

“Sorry, but that’s not gonna work out,” Miller says. He looks at me. “No offense, Clara. I’m sure you understand why.”

I guess his girlfriend really is the reason. “I gathered when you unfollowed me on Instagram five hours after following me.”

Miller walks farther into the room and drops his backpack on a desk and plops down into the chair. “According to Shelby, I shouldn’t have followed you in the first place.”

I laugh. “Your girlfriend broke up with you because I gave you a ride in one hundred and two–degree weather. There’s something off about that.”

“She broke up with me because I lied to her about it.”

“Yeah. And you lied to her about it because you knew she’d break up with you if she found out. Therein lies the issue.”

Jonah inserts himself into our conversation by leaning forward and looking back and forth between us. He pushes back his chair and stands. “I need coffee.” He tosses the other folder on Miller’s desk and heads for his classroom door. “You two figure this out and let me know what you decide by the end of the day.”

Jonah leaves, and it’s just Miller and me left in the room, staring at each other. He looks away and browses through the contents of the folder.

He really could have used those extra minutes of sleep. I feel bad Jonah called him in early for this. He looks like a truck ran over him between me dropping him off at his house yesterday and him waking up this morning. I can tell whatever fight he and Shelby had, it’s taken a toll on him.

“You look really heartbroken,” I say. “I am,” he says with a dull tone.

“Well . . . not all is lost. Heartbreak builds character.”

That makes Miller laugh, although it’s a dry laugh. He closes the folder and looks at me. “If Shelby finds out I’m working with you on this film submission, she’ll never forgive me.”

“So that’s a yes?”

Miller doesn’t laugh at that. In fact, he seems a little bummed that I’m making jokes at his expense. He’s obviously not in the mood. And honestly, I kind of don’t blame Shelby for dumping him. If my boyfriend lied to me about being in the car with another girl, then followed that girl on Instagram, he’d be my ex-boyfriend too.

“Sorry, Miller. I’m sure she’s great. If I can help in any way— maybe back up your story—let me know.”

Miller smiles at me appreciatively and then stands up, heading for the classroom door. He leaves the folder on the desk. “You should do the project anyway.”

I nod, but I don’t really care to sign up alone. For a few hopeful seconds, I was excited I might get to work with Miller on the project. Now that I had a taste of that thought, every other option tastes bitter.

Seconds later, Miller is gone.

I stare at the folder on his desk, then grab it and fill out the form, anyway. You never know—Shelby and Miller may not get back together, and it would suck if he didn’t sign up just because his girlfriend has jealousy issues.

Jonah returns with two coffees, just as I’ve finished both forms. He hands me one of the coffees and casually leans against his desk.

He’s been around for a few months now, and he still has no idea how much I hate coffee. This is why I don’t refer to him as Uncle Jonah yet.

“What was that all about?” he asks.

“His girlfriend hates me. Well . . . ex-girlfriend.” I take a sip of the coffee to be nice. It’s putrid.

“Shouldn’t be a problem then, right?”

I laugh. “You would think.” I hand him both the folders. “I filled them out, anyway. Don’t mention it to Miller. If he changes his mind, at least we’ll have met the deadline for signups.”

“I like the way you think,” Jonah says. He sets his coffee on his desk and picks up a piece of chalk. He’s writing the date on the board when two of my classmates walk in.

I go back to my seat. When the classroom begins to fill up, Jonah turns around and eyes the coffee on my desk. “Clara. Students aren’t allowed to have drinks in class. Do it again and I’ll give you detention.”

I roll my eyes at him, but I want to laugh at his ability to switch into teacher mode so easily, even if he is just toying with me. “Yes, Mr. Sullivan,” I say mockingly.

I trash the coffee, then pull out my phone and text Aunt Jenny on the way back to my seat.

Me: You busy?

Aunt Jenny: On my way to work.

Me: It’ll only take a sec. Two things. Your baby daddy is a smartass. Also, Miller and Shelby broke up. Not sure how long it’ll last.

Aunt Jenny: Why’d they break up? Because you gave him a ride?

Me: Apparently it was the Instagram follow that did it.

Aunt Jenny: That’s good news! Now you get to date the guy with the weird grandpa.

Me: I didn’t say his grandpa was weird. I said their relationship was adorably weird. Also, he’s trying to get his girlfriend back, so I don’t know that I have a chance.

Aunt Jenny: Oh, that stinks. Don’t pursue him, then. You don’t want to be the other girl. Trust me.

Me: You were the other girl once? I need to hear this story. Is that why you and Jonah broke up in high school?


The dots on my phone indicate Aunt Jenny is typing. I wait to hear about her juicy teenage drama, but the dots stop.

Me: I tell you everything. You can’t hint that you’ve had an affair and not elaborate.

Me: Jenny?

Me: Aunt Jenny?


“Clara, put your phone away.”

I drop my phone into my backpack with frightening speed. I don’t know who Aunt Jenny cheated with, but if Jonah doesn’t know about it, I don’t think him confiscating my phone and reading my texts would be good for their relationship.

I’ll call her at lunch and force her to tell me. Even if it involves Jonah, I want to know.

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