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“It’s true.” She sighs. I can tell that this disclosure is humiliating for her. Her hands are shaking when she says, “We had a wedding, but your father never wanted to be married. I knew that, I knew that if I hadn’t gotten pregnant with you, he’d have left me much sooner. Your grandparents pushed the marriage on him. You see, your father and I could never get along, not even for a day. It was exciting in the beginning, thrilling even”—the blue of her eyes is lost in the memory—“but as you will come to see, there’s only so much that one person can take. As the nights came and went and the years passed, I prayed to God every night that he would change for me, for you. I prayed that one night, he’d walk through that front door with a bouquet of roses in his hand instead of liquor on his breath.” She leans back and crosses her arms in front of her chest. Bracelets that she can’t afford hang from her wrists, a tribute to her excessive need to look stylish.

My mother’s confession has left me silent. She’s never been one for open discussion, especially when the topic is my father. The sympathy that I suddenly find myself feeling for this cold woman brings me to tears.

“Stop that,” she scolds me before continuing: “Every woman hopes to be the one to reform her man, but that’s all it is: false hope. I don’t want you going down the same path that I did. I want more for you.” I feel nauseous. “That is why I raised you to be able to get out of that small town and make a life for yourself.”

“I’m not—” I begin to defend myself, but she raises her hand to silence me.

“We had our good days, too, Theresa. Your father was funny and charming—she smiles—“and he was trying his best to be what I needed him to be, but his true self overpowered that, and he became frustrated with me and with the life we shared for all those years. He turned to liquor, and it was never the same. I know you remember.” Her voice is haunted, and I can hear the vulnerability in her tone and see it shining in her eyes, but she recovers quickly. My mother has never been fond of weakness.

I’m once again taken back to the screaming, the breaking of dishes, even the occasional “these bruises on my arms are from gardening,” and feel my stomach get tied up in knots.

“Can you honestly look me in the eyes and tell me that you have a future with this boy?” she asks as the silence ticks on.

I can’t respond. I know the future that I want with Hardin. Whether he’ll be willing to give it to me is the question.

“I wasn’t always like this, Theresa.” She gently dabs both index fingers under her eyes. “I used to love life, I was always excited about the future . . . and look at me now. You may think I’m a horrible person for wanting to protect you from my fate, but I’m only doing what’s necessary to keep you from repeating my history. I don’t want this for you . . .” I struggle to picture a young Carol, happy and excited about each new day. I can count the times that I’ve heard the woman laugh in the last five years on one hand.

“It’s not the same, Mother.” I force myself to say the words.

“Theresa, you cannot deny the similarities.”

“There are some, yes,” I admit, more to myself than to her, “but I refuse to believe that history is repeating itself. Hardin has already changed so much.”

“If you have to change him, why even bother?” Her voice is calm now as she looks around the bedroom that once was mine.

“I haven’t changed him, he’s changed himself. He’s still the same man; all the things that I love about him are there, only he has learned to handle things differently and has become a better version of himself.”

“I saw his bloody hand,” she points out.

I shrug. “He has a temper.” A massive one, but I won’t go along with her putting him down. She needs to understand that I’m on his side, and that from now on, to get to him she has to go through me.

“So did your father.”

I stand. “Hardin would never purposely hurt me. He isn’t perfect, Mother, but neither are you. Neither am I.” I’m amazed at my own confidence as I cross my arms and match her glare.

“It’s more than his temper . . . Think of what he’s done to you. He humiliated you; you had to find another campus.”

I don’t have the energy to argue with her statement, mostly because it holds a lot of truth. I’d always wanted to move to Seattle, but my bad experience this first year at school gave me the extra push that I needed.

“He’s covered in tattoos . . . though at least he removed those hideous piercings.” Her face twists in disgust.

“You’re not perfect either, Mother,” I repeat. “The pearls around your neck hide your scars, just as Hardin’s tattoos hide his.”

My mother’s eyes quickly flick over to me, and I can clearly see the words repeating in her mind. It’s finally happened; I’ve finally made a breakthrough in dealing with her.

“I’m sorry for what my father did to you, I really am, but Hardin isn’t my father.” I sit back down next to her, and dare to place my hand over hers. Her skin is cold under my palm, but to my surprise, she doesn’t pull away. “And I’m not you,” I add as gently as possible.

“You will be if you don’t get as far away from him as you can.”

I remove my hand from hers and take a deep breath to stay calm. “You don’t have to approve of my relationship, but you have to respect it. If you can’t,” I say, struggling to stay confident, “then you and I will never be able to have a relationship.”