And I believe him.

Chapter 16

I don’t know how long we stay like that, on the ground quietly clinging to each other, but when we rise the sun has moved low in the sky, beginning its descent into dusk. Drew convinces me to leave my car here, that we’ll come back for it later. he’s worried that I’m too exhausted, too emotional to drive safely. For once, I don’t argue with him.

As he drives us back to the diner, he keeps one hand on the steering wheel and one hand on me—my thigh, my shoulder, or softly entwined with my own. And it’s reassuring. Wonderful. I’d hoped for this moment, wanted it more than I ever wanted anything else.

To have him here, with me—loving me—after I’d honestly never thought we’d be together like this again.

It’s like a movie. The reunion. The reconciliation. The happy ending.

The only problem is, in real life, there’s no theme song that plays afterward. No rolling of credits. In real life, you have to deal with what happens after the reunion. The fallout from the things you said, the consequences of the things you did, that almost destroyed it all.

That still could.

That’s why we watch movies like that—because real life is just never that easy.

And it’s not that I’m not deeply happy in a way I can’t fully describe. Despite what I said earlier, there is warm comfort in the knowledge that Drew’s words, the stripper, all stemmed from a terrible misunderstanding.

It’s the prayer of every person who’s ever been told heartbreaking news. Your son was killed in a car accident, you have stage-four cancer. The hope is always that the bearer got it wrong. A misiden-tification. A misdiagnosis.

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A mistake.

But what happens after the “mis”? After you’ve accepted tragedy as truth, or blown your life savings because you thought you only had weeks to live? What do you do then?

You step forward. You rebuild. You climb your way up from rock bottom with the determination that not only will life go back to normal, but that it will be better, sweeter.

Because hindsight is more than 20/20. Perspective doesn’t just change how you look at things, it changes how you feel.

And once you think you’ve lost it all, you value every moment infinitely more.

We pull into the parking lot of the diner and walk through the back door into the kitchen, hand in hand. Like two teenagers who didn’t just stay out past curfew, but stayed out all night, scaring everyone who cares about them nearly to death.

My mother stands at the counter, furiously chopping raw carrots with a gleaming knife. It’s not difficult to guess she’s imagining the carrot is something else entirely. George sits at the small table beside Billy. Dee Dee’s on the other side of him, her cell phone at her ear.

When she spots us, she says in a low voice, “They’re here. I’ll call you back.” And ends the call.

My mother’s head jerks up. She slaps the knife down and turns to face us. Then she zeroes in on our joined hands and glares at Drew.

“You’ve got a lot of nerve, showing your face here again.”

Drew takes a resigned breath and tries to answer, “Carol—”

My mom cuts him off at the knees. “I don’t want to hear it! You don’t get to talk.” She points at me. “I realize my daughter is a grown woman, but to me? She’s my baby. My only baby. And what you’ve put her through is inexcusable.”

he tries again. “I understand—”

“I said you don’t get to talk! There’s nothing you can say that will make this better.”

“Kate and I—”

“Shut up! When I think about how she looked when she got here . . . What makes you think you can just waltz back into her life, after the things you said to her? After what you did!”

Drew keeps his mouth closed.

And my mother yells, “Well, don’t just stand there! Answer me!”

I’ve always thought of my mother as calm in the face of chaos.

Rational. That image is now totally blown.

Drew opens his mouth, but nothing comes out. Instead, he turns his baffled eyes to me. And I come to the rescue. “Mom, it was all a horrible mistake. Drew didn’t know about the baby.”

“You said you told him about the baby—and his reaction was to hire to a cheap stripper!”

And my newly retitled boyfriend thinks it’s a good idea to point out, “She wasn’t cheap, believe me.”

I dig my fingernails into his palm to shut him up.

Then I explain to my mom, “No, he didn’t know. he thought I was talking about something else. It was a misunderstanding.”

Dee Dee interjects, “Now there’s a song I’ve heard before. That tune’s starting to get real old.”

I roll my eyes. “Not now, Dee.”

My mother folds her arms and taps her foot. “I won’t have him under my roof, Katherine. he’s not welcome here.”

And this is why you should never complain to your family about your significant other. They don’t know him like you do, and they sure as hell don’t love him like you do. So they will never— ever—forgive him like you will.

Even though I can see where my mom is coming from, I’ve kind of got a lot on my plate at the moment. And she’s really not helping the situation.

“If that’s the case, then I won’t be staying here either.”

My mom looks shocked and her arms drop to her sides.

And Delores says, “hey, Moron—” Drew looks her way.

“Yes, you. This is the part where you’re supposed to say you don’t want to come between Katie and her mother. That you’ll go stay at a hotel.”

Drew snorts. “Guess I’m not that chivalrous. I’m staying with Kate. Where she goes, I go.”

Dee smirks. “Aww, it’s like Jack and Rose on the Titanic.” She raises her hand. “Who else is hoping Douche Bag ends up the same way Jack did?”

I ignore her and stay focused on my mother. Whose voice turns imploring. “It’s been an emotional day, Katie. You need space, distance, so you can think clearly.”

I shake my head. “No, Mom. I’ve had all the distance I can stand. Drew wants this baby. he loves me. We need to talk, to work things out.” I glance at Dee Dee. “Without audience partici-pation.”

Then I turn back to my mother. “And this wasn’t all his fault.

I made mistakes too.”

Like many mothers, mine is hesitant to acknowledge her child’s shortcomings. “Is that what he told you? That this is your fault?”