“Um, I think I’m in love with Brian,” Chloe confessed softly. “But I—I don’t wanna be. I don’t wanna be in love with him. How do I stop?”
Meredith sighed. “That’s a tough one. Some things you just can’t control. You love who you love.”
Chloe released a shaky breath. That was pretty much the last thing she had wanted to hear.
“What is it?” Meredith asked, taking Chloe’s hands. “Why don’t you want to love Brian?”
Chloe looked down at their joined hands. How to explain? Even if she could tell her mother that she was Mai, and that kissing Brian would kill him, that wasn’t the only reason she didn’t want to love him. The biggest, sure, because she’d already caused one death and couldn’t bear the thought of causing another, but not the only reason.
“Alek,” she eventually admitted. “I don’t want to love Brian because I want to love Alek.”
Meredith leaned back a little, looking confused.
“That’s a bit of a sudden change,” she said. “You wanna tell me why?”
Chloe looked away.
“Uh, you’re gonna be late,” she said.
“I have time,” Meredith said, squeezing her hands. “I always have time for you. C’mon. Why do you wanna love Alek?”
“Alek—Alek’s better,” Chloe said simply. Then she shook her head, annoyed. “That didn’t come out right. I just…”
She tried to think of a way to put into words exactly why Alek was a better choice, and what he meant to her—preferably without mentioning their shared Mai-ness, his protective habits, and the whole ‘saving her life’ thing.
“You know last week,” she said finally. “When Alek, Amy, Paul, and I went out to a movie?”
They’d done no such thing, of course, but that was the excuse she’d come up with to explain her absence while searching for Vanessa. She’d told her mom that her friends were taking her to see a movie to get her mind off of things.
“Yeah,” Meredith said, nodding. “I remember.”
“We were hanging out at the coffee shop, waiting for it to be a little closer our movie time,” Chloe began. “Alek said something really sweet, so we were kinda having a moment.”
Despite the mood she was in, Chloe couldn’t help smiling slightly as she remembered Alek’s words. ‘I could tell it was important to you.’ The knowledge that he had chased a car across town—on foot, no less—just because it was important to her had filled her with a strange, giddy feeling. She’d had no idea how to express the feeling to Alek, but she had wanted to so, so badly. Telling him he could be sweet sometimes was completely lame, compared to what she was feeling, but the circumstances (and Brian’s interruption) had prevented her from elaborating.
“Then Brian showed up,” she continued. “He wanted my help with something. He just asked for ten minutes, so I figured it was no big deal. I told Amy and the guys that I’d be right back and we went over to the store to talk.”
That was being a little vague, but she wasn’t about to go into all of that with her mom, especially since her mom had somewhere to be and was definitely going to be late as it was.
“While we were talking, Alek came to get me because it was time for the movie. He grabbed my arm to get my attention, and Brian freaked out about it.”
“Freaked out?” Meredith echoed, surprised. “What do you mean?”
“He told Alek not to grab me like that. Alek told him it wasn’t any of his business, and Brian…” Chloe trailed off, recalling the complete horror she’d felt. She’d warned Alek against hurting Brian—she’d never thought to warn Brian against hurting Alek.
“Brian?” her mom prodded.
“Brian shoved him,” Chloe said simply. “Alek shoved him back, and then—then Brian punched him. I could tell Alek wanted to hit him back. Of course he did. But I told him not to, and he didn’t.”
Meredith just looked at her, sensing that there was more.
“Alek’s not exactly the type to back down,” Chloe said, biting her bottom lip. “But he did. Not because he couldn’t take Brian, or because it wasn’t a good time for it. He backed down because I asked him to.”
She cleared her throat.
“Brian apologized and I forgave him,” she explained. “But I can’t just forget it. And it’s just one of a million reasons why I’d rather be with Alek—why I’d rather love Alek. I just…don’t know how.”
She’d managed to control the urge to cry while telling her mom about the ‘fight’ between Brian and Alek, but it was coming back now that she was back to thinking about her dilemma.
Meredith was looking at her thoughtfully.
“I noticed that little smile you got when you told me you were having a moment with Alek,” she said. “How did you feel when you were talking to Brian about whatever he needed your help with?”
Chloe thought back to Brian’s hopeful face as he excitedly told her about the letter from his grandmother. That day had been such an emotional roller coaster that she couldn’t remember exactly how it had felt to hear that Brian had finally found a clue. She’d been happy for him, of course, but…
“I don’t know,” she admitted, confused. What did that have to do with anything?
“Was it important?” her mother pressed.
“Yes,” Chloe said immediately. “Very.”
“Do you really want my opinion?” Meredith asked after a moment of thought.
“You have no idea how much,” Chloe said.
“I think that if you ever did love Brian, you’re already falling out of it,” Meredith said gently. “You looked very happy when you were telling me about Alek, but when you were talking about Brian, you didn’t look much of anything. I bet if I asked you, you could tell me exactly how you felt when Alek said whatever it was that was so sweet.”
That was true, Chloe admitted to herself. Hadn’t she just been thinking of it? That weird, bubbly feeling—she was even feeling it a little right now, just recalling the moment.
“Do you think I love Alek?” Chloe asked, confused. If she loved Alek, why was she still so attached to Brian? Why did everything with him matter so much?
“No, sweetie,” Meredith replied, shaking her head. “I think you care a lot about Alek, but falling in and out of love isn’t like changing clothes, Chloe. You can’t just take off Brian and put on Alek. You need time. It doesn’t matter how well or how badly a relationship ends. When it’s over, you need time to heal from it. You can’t move right on.”
Chloe swallowed. Was that really it? Was that why she was so dedicated to helping Brian? She hadn’t had time to heal from him?
No, she thought suddenly. Helping Brian find out what had happened to his mother had nothing to do with whether or not she was in love with him. She’d do the same for any of her friends. But she’d been so sure it was love. How could she know what she felt for Brian or Alek if her feelings were so confused? And if she wasn’t in love with Alek or Brian, how come she could remember so clearly the way she’d felt with Alek but not Brian?
Chloe was emotionally exhausted. After all the drama of the day, it would have to be enough just to admit to herself that she didn’t know what she felt. She could accept that. There was always tomorrow. And she was definitely through talking about it.
“Okay, you’re really late,” she said to her mom.
“I can cancel,” Meredith assured her, looking worried.
“No,” Chloe said, shaking her head. “It’s a big deal. You need to go. Me and my heart will be fine. I’ll just head up to bed.”
Meredith looked at her intently and then smiled a little.
“You’re amazingly resilient,” she said, then leaned forward to kiss Chloe’s cheek. “Goodnight, Chloe.”
“Night, Mom,” Chloe returned softly as her mom got up and left.
Chloe spent a few more minutes sitting at the counter. Her mother’s words were bouncing around her head, mixed with her own thoughts on Alek and Brian. Finally, reminding herself that she was done for the night, she stood up. She glanced at her phone. She knew that she should text Amy, but she was so exhausted that she didn’t think she’d be able to coherently recount the discussion with her mom.
She eventually slipped her phone into her pocket and headed upstairs, thinking longingly of her bed. It wasn’t really all that late, but all she wanted to do was sleep.
She pushed the door open and froze. Alek was in her room, sitting on her bed, looking at her with an unreadable expression. How long had he been there? She licked her lips, trying to think of something to say. Alek was strangely silent for once.
Apparently she wouldn’t be getting to sleep yet after all.