Chloe did everything she could to move. Several applications had been submitted during the following week. Nathaniel was kind enough to procure boxes and packing material so she could actually pack her meager belongings. It was still harder than it looked. One room was too hard to pack.
“You’ll never finish if you never start,” Nathaniel said as he leaned against the door frame.
“I know.” Chloe muttered. She was just laying back on her bed, staring at the popcorn ceiling.
The bed sagged under Nathaniel’s weight a moment later. “Do you want help?”
Chloe moved her eyes just enough to look at him. To really look at him, and not just in his general direction. There were dark circles under his eyes and he looked haggard. “Hey. Are you doing okay?”
“I’m fine,” Nathaniel nodded. "You didn't answer my question."
“You look terrible…like you haven’t slept in days.”
Nathaniel laughed. “Because I haven’t.”
“If…” Chloe sighed. “If you’re not gonna sleep until Mom comes home—”
“She’s not coming back, Chloe. Not until you move out, at least. I’ll manage. Besides, it’s not like I don’t see her.”
“I guess. I just worry is all.”
Nathaniel wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her into a side hug. After a moment, he released her and stood. “Thank you for worrying about me. We’ll get you moved, and then maybe things will get better?"
“I hope so.”
Chloe watched Nathaniel leave, closing the door behind him.
It was determined that Chloe would pack all her clothes and bedding things (and things like it) last. After all, she would need to keep accessing those until she actually moved. There were far more important things to focus on. She started going through the boxes in her closet that were never marked. (Chloe knew what was there, so why waste ink?)
Old school papers, projects, things she was proud of resided in one box. When she became a junior in high school she stopped collecting things. Her mother never cared to look at them the first time and none of her flings deserved to see them. But she kept them anyway. Part of her said, “If you ever become a teacher, you can show your students these,” while the other begged her to throw them out. She carefully selected a handful of papers to keep and discarded the rest with a heavy heart.
A piece of paper folded and refolded so much it looked worn out sat at the bottom of the box. The smallest smile played on her lips. David wrote a confession way back in high school. They didn’t date then. But she always appreciated the thought. When they ran into each other again, that small piece of paper became the spark the ignited their relationship into what it was now.
And they were going to get married.
Chloe studied the ring on her finger. Such a small thing caused so much trouble! Well, maybe it wasn’t just that. She knew intuitively—because her mother never directly voiced her opinion—her mother did not approve of David. But Chloe wouldn’t break up with him. It could have been the beginnings of love. Or it could have been the way her mother stared at him. Her nostrils would flare, her eyes would narrow ever-so-slightly and she would demand details to make sure they were safe. Despite the lack of privacy…Chloe enjoyed it. The dates were okay. But she enjoyed seeing her mother’s skin crawl.
“Did I get engaged because I love him? Or just to piss her off?” Chloe muttered. She returned to the task at hand.
There were boxes of trinkets her mother gifted to her over the years. She didn’t even open those. They were reminders of the fact her mother didn’t know her. Ill-timed or misguided attempts to keep the fraying ropes of their relationship from snapping. The best thing her mother ever did for her was marrying Nathaniel.
It was hard having a step-parent not much older than herself. But she was adjusted now. It helped that he never tried to punish her like so many others tried. Nathaniel just let her be herself. When she needed help, Chloe approached him. And when she was clearly in the wrong he said so and left the punishment to either Chloe or her mother. Nathaniel always remembered her birthday. He only gave her gifts that he knew she would like. And if he didn’t know what she liked, he asked plain and simple.
For all intents and purposes, Nathaniel was her best friend.