Chloe awoke the next morning with a sense of dread, similar to when she would wake up in her mother’s home. It was the feeling one gets when they know a lot of big decisions must be made, but they don’t particularly want to make those decisions.
Learning that her father actually wanted a relationship with her was overwhelming. Her entire life, she was told her father abandoned her. But that wasn’t true anymore, right? In a way, even Nathaniel’s willingness to find the truth for her was overwhelming. He had no actual ties to her; no real motivation for seeking that knowledge on her behalf. Meeting her father to make sure he wasn’t going to harm her…
It was just so overwhelming.
Chloe crept into the kitchen from her pseudo-bedroom to make breakfast. Pancake powder and water mixed together until combined, but lumpy.
Through her whole life, Chloe’s father was gone. “He abandoned you,” her mother told her early on. There were no memories for her to remember of him. There were no positive stories, even from her grandparents. Anyone that she knew that knew him hated him. In her heart, she accepted that as truth. Could someone really be so different than what she was told? Could the version of her father she grew up with really be that different than the man Nathaniel met?
Chloe sprayed the pan down after each pancake was a nice golden brown on both sides. All the finished pancakes were placed on a cookie sheet in the oven to keep them warm. Six eggs were cracked into a bowl and whisked.
Nathaniel snored softly on the couch.
On the other hand, Chloe knew her mother was, essentially, a pathological liar who couldn’t even take her medications faithfully. It seemed that when push came to shove her mother would default to the easiest option, whether it was honest or not. If Nathaniel hadn’t heard that message she wouldn’t have known anything. Her father could be a good and honest man and spent more than the last decade looking for her. He could be some incredibly intelligent man who could have helped her with her homework. He could have been some funny dad who embarrassed her in the store.
He could have been part of her family. Above all, that was the part that hurt; the part that made her whole heart ache! Her selfish mother made the decision to hurt him, perhaps more than he ever hurt her. Because of her mother’s decision, Chloe didn’t get to know her father and he didn’t get to know her, either. That wasn’t fair!
It wasn’t until wonderfully fragrant bacon wafted through the air that he finally stirred.
“Good morning,” Chloe said.
“G’morning,” he yawned as he stretched.
“As well as I could on the loveseat. I rolled off a couple times.”
Chloe chuckled. “I’m so sorry. I should have blown up the air mattress.”
“It’s okay. I didn’t want to wake you up just for that. I’ll live.”
Chloe served up a plate handing it to Nathaniel before serving herself. They ate in relative silence simply enjoying the absence of stress they were usually in.
But once they were finished and the kitchen cleaned up, Nathaniel turned to Chloe. “I know you probably haven’t had much time to think about it, but how do you feel? About last night, I mean…your father.”
Chloe chuckled again, nervously this time around. “I know what you mean. And…I don’t know. The only version of my father I’ve ever known was the one my mother told me about; the one that hurt her and ran off. What if…what if I meet him and that’s the only way I’ll ever see him? What if he’s actually a really good person, but I can only see him through the lenses my mother forced on me?”
Nathaniel nodded. “That’s fair. That’s really fair.”
“I know it could be really good, but…there’s just a lot to think about. If I meet him and I decide Mom was wrong…I don’t know if I could ever talk to her again. I don’t know if I would actually consider her part of my family, you know?”
Nathaniel nodded again.
Chloe continued. “And I know that I would have a way of contacting him whenever I feel ready, but I’m also scared that, somehow, she’d find some way to keep me from doing it. Like…” Chloe started to tear up. She started toward the bathroom, but Nathaniel gently stopped her.
“What were you going to say?” His voice was soft in her ear; not demanding, but encouraging. Those simple words were a reminder she was safe here. Right here, in her own apartment, in the company of her best friend, she was safe. He would never shame her for the way she felt or the way she expressed her emotions, even if it meant crying rivers and oceans.
At first, Chloe said nothing; her body was tense with that familiar fear of actually speaking her mind. But she found her voice in all its shaking glory. “I’m afraid she’ll manipulate me. I’m afraid she’ll still be able to control me.” Chloe covered her face with her hands. The self-control she had let go completely. “I hate thinking like that! I want to love my mom, but I can’t!”
For a long time, Chloe stood in Nathaniel’s arms and cried. She would try to form coherent thoughts, but not all of them would come across clearly. She tried voicing the things she couldn’t before, even to herself. How she wanted to have an actual relationship with her mother. How she wanted to feel like her mother loved her, and feel like she loved her mother. How she grew up wishing someone would come take her away forever so she could get away. How the only time she remembered being happy was when Nathaniel joined their family because there was at least one person who didn’t scream at her.
At the end, when she couldn’t cry anymore, Chloe wiped her eyes. “I’m—”
“Don’t you ever be sorry, Chloe,” Nathaniel said. “You know you’re not the one who should be sorry.”
Chloe nodded. “But she never will be.”
“Maybe someday she will. But you can’t worry about that. All you need to worry about is trying to heal. Okay?”
Chloe nodded, avoiding Nathaniel’s eyes. “Okay.”
Nathaniel kissed her forehead in a way that, somehow, was different than in the past. It could have been because he hadn’t shown that affection since she moved out. It could have just been her imagination.
Clearing her throat, Chloe spoke again. “Do you know what you want to do about Mom?”
Nathaniel sighed, sitting on the couch. He sat forward to rest his elbows on his knees. “I don’t know. I’ll just bite the bullet and talk to her, I guess.”
“Good luck with that.”
Nathaniel chuckled as Chloe sat beside him. “Thanks. Oh, how’s David handling everything? I imagine he’s not too happy with his soon-to-be mother-in-law.”
“I haven’t told him anything actually.”
“Really?” Nathaniel stared at her. “Why not?”
Wiping the remaining wetness from her cheeks, Chloe shrugged. “I never see him. I hardly talk to him as it is. I don’t really want to spend the few minutes I have with him talking about drama. Or my mother.”
“Oh. That makes sense.”
They sat in silence for a moment. It was already turning out to be a rough day. Nathaniel stood.
“Thank you for letting me crash here. I think I should go home. The conversation isn’t going to get any easier the longer I sit here.”
“Nathaniel?” Chloe didn’t look up to him. “Thank you for telling me about my father. You didn’t have to, but I’m glad you did. Even if I don’t know what I want to do about it yet.”
Nathaniel always smiled so broad when she thanked him for something, so she assumed he was even now. “You’re welcome,” Nathaniel said before slipping out the door.