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Five Years Old

“Princess,” Daddy loud-whispers to draw my attention from the rainbow I’m coloring on the brick driveway with chalk. I don’t have all the colors, so I used purple three times. I think I like it better than a regular rainbow.

“Coming, Daddy!” I top off the rainbow with a fluffy white cloud and run to the front of the garage. My face spreads into a super big smile when I see the shiny car with the big red bow.

“What do you think, Princess? Will Mommy like it?” Daddy asks.

The car is big and small at the same time. Sneaky looking. Like it can go really fast without even making a sound. The color is special, too. It’s shiny and white, but not just white. Like one of the pretty pearls Mommy sometimes wears around her neck. Like white glitter.

“She’s gonna love it, Daddy!” I squeal with giggles as he grabs me and plops me up onto his shoulders.

“Too bad I don’t have anything for you,” he says in a way that makes me think he’s up to something.

“That’s okay. It’s not my aversity, silly,” I remind him.

“Ann-i-ver-sary,” he says for the ten hundredth time today, and I say the word the way he said it, even though it still comes out different.

Daddy walks us into the garage going slower than a turtle, and then I see it.

“Yay!” I start clapping and wiggling so much I almost fall, but Daddy catches me—he always does.

“Whoa, calm down there, Carleigh! You don’t want to break your neck before you ever get to drive it.” He laughs with his big mountain voice, and it booms like a happy drum through the whole garage.

I rush over to what I know is my present, even though it isn’t my a-ver-sity. It’s exactly the same as Mommy’s new car. Only smaller. And it has no top. A converble. It even has a big bow like Mommy’s car, except this one is my favorite color—purple.

“What do you think, Princess?” Daddy asks. “I had it made custom for you to match Mommy’s. They don’t sell it in stores, you know.”

I hug his leg as tight as I can—it’s as high as I can reach unless he picks me up or leans all the way down.

“It’s the bestest car ever,” I tell him. “I love it so so so much. Can I drive it now?”

Daddy bends down and picks me back up. “In a few minutes. It’s all charged up for you, but let’s give Mommy her present first, okay?”

“Will!” Mommy calls Daddy from inside the house.

“Come out here, Nik!” he calls back.

A minute later Mommy appears with my baby brother, Billy, in her arms. He is cute and tiny and I just met him a couple months ago when Mommy and Daddy brought him home from the hospital, and I already love him even more than my favorite doll. If I’m super careful Mommy lets me hold him sometimes, but only if I’m sitting down and either she or Nanny Marina is right next to me.

“God, what is it, Will?” She seems tired. Billy doesn’t really sleep so good, but Nanny Marina takes care of him at night and Mommy and Daddy’s room is so far away they can’t even hear him. Sometimes I hear him cry and I wake up, but I don’t mind. He likes it when I sing him songs from my favorite princess movies like Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid.

“Just wanted to show you something real quick,” Daddy says, and he smiles back at me in that sneaky way.

“Honestly, Will, I was going over instructions with Marina, and I still have to finish packing.” Mommy sounds like me when Daddy tells me I’m whining.

“Well, we could stay home. Celebrate our anniversary with the kids,” Daddy says, and he gives Billy a baby kiss. “We’ve been to the south of France plenty of times. We can take a trip when this little man gets a bit bigger.”

“Ugh, stop it. Last summer I just found out I was pregnant and couldn’t even enjoy a glass of rosé! It’s my turn for some fun,” Mommy says, and I wonder why she can’t have fun with me and Billy.

Daddy doesn’t say anything else; he just tucks Billy into his elbow and holds my hand with his other hand.

And then we can see Mommy’s present. Daddy turns around with a giant smile and I yell “Ta-da!”

Finally Mommy also smiles, and not the one that only shows in her mouth. Her eyes are smiling, too.

“Oh, Will!” She runs over to her new car and touches it from the top down to the front like she can’t believe it’s real. “You got me my Aston Martin!”

“Happy anniversary, Nicole,” Daddy says, and Mommy gives him a big hug and an even bigger kiss. “I promised you, didn’t I?”

Mommy claps like a little kid and gets inside, and starts pressing buttons and looking around.

“Told ya she’d like it,” I tell Daddy, and he pats me on my head like the puppy Mommy won’t let him get me.

“Right as always, Princess.”



Chapter One





Present Day

I wait, until my mother blows her air kisses and the door to my dorm room closes behind her, to let the fake smile fall from my face. I don’t know which of us is more relieved for her to go, but once she does, I allow the finality of her departure to finally sink in.


I turn to face my roommate and a genuine grin pulls at my lips.

Devin mirrors it. “She’s something, huh?” she says of my mother.

I raise my eyebrows in mock exasperation. Nicole Stanger is certainly something. I plop myself down onto my narrow twin bed—the smallest one I’ve had since I was in a crib—and sigh. “Well, she’s gone now,” I assure myself more than her.

Devin smiles at me in sympathy. We were fourteen when we met on a cross-country teen tour my summer camp was sponsoring, and we connected instantly, staying in sporadic touch despite rarely ever seeing each other. So when we learned we’d be heading to the same college, we put in our roommate requests immediately.

She has never met my mother before, and I’m sure she wasn’t quite what Devin expected. We’re nothing alike—never have been. I was a Daddy’s girl, though the idea that I might take after him isn’t something I especially want to entertain.

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