But really, what are the chances of that? If I had to guess, I’d say Drew just wasn’t ready to grow up—to take on that level of responsibility. Of commitment.

Look at my hand. Do you see a ring? That’s not an accident.

he’s a wonderful uncle to Mackenzie. Dedicated. Nurturing.

The kind of man who would beat the hell out of another shopper for the last Tickle Me Elmo or Cabbage Patch Kids doll, two days before Christmas. he’d do anything for her.

But being a father is different. It’s all on you and yet nothing is ever about you again. And that’s the part I think Drew couldn’t handle.

Personally, I blame Anne and Alexandra. Don’t get me wrong, they’re good people, but . . . let me put it this way: Last summer, Alexandra had us all up to her parents’ country place for Mackenzie’s birthday. Drew and I got there late because we pulled over on a deserted road to make out.

By the way—car sex? It’s a wonderful thing. If you ever want to feel young and uninhibited, do it in the backseat. But I digress.

So there we are, hanging out by the pool, and I get up to grab a slice of pizza. But does Drew get up? Of course not. Because his mother has already heated him a crispy, fresh slice in the kitchen.

And his sister brought it right to his lounge chair—with a cold beer.

Were his legs broken? Was he suffering from some early onset Parkinson’s disease that made it impossible for him to heat up his own food? Or—God forbid—eat it cold? No. That’s just the way they are with him, the way they’ve always been.

Coddling. Overindulgent.

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And I can’t help but think that if Anne and Alexandra had let him get his own goddamn pizza once in a while, then maybe he would have taken the news better. Been more prepared.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Knowing why doesn’t change anything. So as I passed the WELCOME TO GREENVILLE sign, I promised myself that I wouldn’t ever ask why again. I wouldn’t waste the energy.

But you know something? God has a sick sense of humor.

Because I would be asking why again in just a few short days.

For a completely different and infinitely more devastating reason.

Sorry to be the one to tell you this, but yes—it does actually get worse.

You’ll see.

have you ever visited your high school years after you graduated?

And the desks and the windows and the walls are the same . . . yet it still looks different? Smaller somehow.

That’s what this feels like.

Driving down Main Street, coming home, it’s all exactly like I remember it . . . but not. The red awning outside Mr. Reynold’s hardware store is green now. Falcone Pharmacy turned into a Rite Aid. But the gaudy pink palm tree is still in the window of Penny’s Beauty Salon where Delores and I got our nails done before prom.

The old green park bench is still there, too, outside my parents’ restaurant, where I used to chain my bike after school.

I park the car and get out, my duffel bag hanging on my shoulder. It’s a little after noon, and the sun is high and hot, and air smells like sand and burning tar. I cross the street and open the door. The hum of conversation simmers down as I stand at the entrance, and a dozen friendly, familiar faces look me over.

Most of the people in this room have known me since I was born. To them, I’m Nate and Carol’s daughter—the small-town, dark haired, pigtailed girl who made good. Who beat the financial odds and did her family proud. I’m the success story the grade school teachers tell their students about, in the hopes of inspiring them to bigger dreams than the automobile factory has to offer.

I force my lips to smile politely, nodding and waving brief greetings as I make my way between the tables, toward the door in the back. See the sign?

EMPLOYEES ONLY.

I blow out a big breath. And all the anger that kept me going— that got me here—goes out with it. Exhaustion swamps me. And I feel drained, empty. My limbs are boneless, like I just crossed the finish line of a ten-mile uphill marathon.

I push the door open. And the first thing I see is my mother, bent over a table, scanning a produce delivery list.

Beautiful, isn’t she? I know most daughters think their mothers are pretty—but mine really is. her dark brown hair is pulled into a high ponytail, like mine. her skin is fair and clear, with the barest of lines around her lips and eyes. If wrinkles are hereditary, I’ve hit the genetic jackpot.

But beyond her looks, my mother’s beautiful on the inside. It sounds clichéd, but it’s true. She’s unchanging. Steady. Dependable. Life hasn’t always been easy for her—or kind. But she moved forward, carried on, with dignity and grace. My mother isn’t an optimist. She’s stoic, like a statue that’s still standing after a hur-ricane.

The door swings closed behind me and she lifts her head. her eyes light up and she smiles big. “Kate!” She puts the list down and moves toward me.

Then she sees my face. And the corners of her smile fall like a feather in the wind. her voice is hushed and laced with concern.

“Kate, what’s wrong?”

My arms give up, and my bag drops to the floor.

She takes another step.

“Katie? honey? What happened?”

Now, there is an excellent question. I should answer—but I can’t. Because my hands are covering my face. And the only sounds that escape my lips are gasping sobs.

her arms pull me forward, strong and warm and smelling of Downy April Freshness. And she holds me, tight and secure, like only a mother can.

Remember the steel box? Yeah, it’s open now. And everything that happened comes spilling out of it.

Chapter 9

The average human being spends a third of their life in bed.

Eight thousand, three hundred, thirty-three days. Two hundred thousand hours.

Why am I telling you this? Because you should never feel bad about spending a lot of money on decent bed linens. A good blanket is priceless. When you’re young, it protects you from the boogeyman. And when you’re not so young, it keeps your old bones warm.

My mother pulls my down comforter up to my chin, tucking me into my childhood bed, like a six-year-old during a thunderstorm.

After my meltdown in the break room, she brought me upstairs to the small but quaint two-bedroom apartment above the diner where I was raised. Where my mother still lives. The home of my youth.

She wipes at the tears that stream down my cheeks. I hiccup and stutter, “I-I-I’m . . . s-so . . . s-s-stupid.”

I was valedictorian of my high school class. I graduated from harvard Law School.