Worst. Day. Ever.
This was pretty much the only thought I could manage the day before Christmas when my grades showed up in the mailbox. Of course, it was supremely unfair that my grades would arrive just in time to obliterate all the holiday cheer from my life, but it had been my great fortune, at least, that I was the one to check the mail that morning.
Well, that afternoon, I should say.
So, I had slept in. Until two in the afternoon. I was on a break from college, where I kept more conservative hours, of course. Kinda.
Oh, who am I kidding? I slept through most of my classes and didn’t even remember most days which classes I was even sleeping through. Which might explain why my poor grades came with a letter explaining that I had been kicked out of college.
The third college in two years, that is.
Great. Just great.
I was back home in Louisiana for… well, for a while now. I had a great, exciting life in Texas with college friends, college parties, and college boys. Lots and lots of boys. If the opposite sex could have counted as a field of study, I would have majored in it and made the dean’s list every semester. But, it wasn’t, unfortunately. And even more unfortunately, my knowledge in the classroom was nowhere close to my knowledge outside the classroom. And most unfortunately of all, I was injured.
Yes, the one thing I could do well – tennis – was something I couldn’t even do now. I had gone to college on an athletic scholarship, after years and years of private tennis lessons and what all of my coaches deemed great talent, and a semester into my first season, I tore up my knee. After extensive surgery and rehab, I was done with the sport. Forever.
And now? It appeared that I was also done with college.
“Chloe, we’re home!”
I stuffed the letter back into the envelope and stuck it in with the junk mail, throwing it all straight into the trash, smiling as my mother entered the house with grocery bags brimming full.
“Hey,” she said to me. “Glad to see you’re finally up. Late night last night, huh?”
It had been. Christmas break meant all of my friends were back from college, and there was no shortage of people looking for fun in our otherwise dull hometown. I had been out until five in the morning the night before, hanging out by the lake, drinking, and talking. It wasn’t as thrilling as my life in the city, but it sure beat hanging out with the rest of the Thibideaux clan.
“Chloe,” my older sister, Sophie, said to me, bringing in bags as well, “I got everything you put on the list for tomorrow. Praise God you’re here to cook it all, because I wouldn’t have a clue.”
“Yes, praise… Jesus and all, I guess,” I sighed, thinking of how the early morning in the kitchen would cut into my social schedule for the evening. I couldn’t complain too much, though, because my ability to cook up against my sister’s complete ineptitude in the kitchen? Made me feel like I had at least gotten some of the brilliant, successful Thibideaux genes when most of the time I was certain that she and my brother had used them all up long before I was even on the scene.
You see, the Thibideauxs are known for being successful. They were money long before my father –brilliant, accomplished, and (it must be said) geeky – engineered some sort of widget during college. He took his invention, patented the thing, and began his own manufacturing company while still in school, thanks to the investment dollars of several faculty members and distinguished alumni. In no time at all, he graduated, went on to become CEO and COO of the then booming company he had created from the ground up, and took the whole thing international, outsourcing most of his work to China.
Meanwhile, my mother, brilliant and accomplished in her own right, had finished college and gone overseas on some sort of Jesus mission to China. She came back a few years later speaking perfect Mandarin Chinese and was hired on at entry level by my father’s company as a translator, where thanks to her winning, sorority girl personality, she was quickly assigned to be the CEO’s personal translator for official business in Shanghai. Raymond Thibideaux and Trish Chenevert had never even laid eyes on one another until she showed up at corporate headquarters there in China, a petite, blond knockout, who, I’m told, caught my father’s undivided attention when her first order of business was to share the Gospel with him.
He, of course, already knew all about it, being into Jesus himself, and they spent two hours discussing Christ and faith before even talking about widgets, China, or the job ahead of them, much to the confusion of the other businessmen present.
You can probably guess the rest. After just a few weeks of walking the streets of Shanghai together, my parents were sappy sweet in love. I’m sure people thought my beautiful mother was after my geeky father’s money, but after forty years together, she still seems to believe that he hung the moon. So, it must have been something significantly more substantial. Whatever it was, it was certainly enough to motivate him to bring her home to Louisiana, where they married, had my brother, had my sister, and then lived happily ever after.
Oh, and then fourteen years later, they had me. Surprise! Oh, sweet, sweet lovin’ on a long trip to Beijing, where my mother actually told my father, I’m told, that she was happy to have teenagers back home and that she was looking forward to an empty nest with him so very soon. Thoughts of having my mother all to himself again must have inspired some passion of a decidedly non-widget variety in my father (if you know what I’m saying) and because the odds weren’t good that a woman in her forties would be bearing any more children, they just went with it, caution to the wind.
She was convinced the whole first month that she just had the flu, but a woman that tiny starts showing really early, making it impossible to ignore the evidence of new life. Who knew that Ray and Trish, even in their late forties, were still so fertile? I’m a walking testimony to middle-aged passion and virility.
As you would imagine, given my surprise entrance into the Thibideaux clan, my brother and my sister have always regarded me as… well, as an oddity. And I am kind of odd, actually, up next to them. Age alone was enough to separate them from me completely, but to add insult to injury, they were also brilliant and I was… well, not brilliant.
My brother, Beau, is a rocket scientist. I mean, seriously, he is. There’s some technical term for what he does, but “rocket scientist” sums it up well enough. If that’s not enough by itself, he’s married to Melissa, who’s just as smart as he is and does some super secret government job where she blows things up. Yes, for real. Two nerds in love, working themselves to death at their respective jobs, and boring all the rest of mankind with their talk of rockets, missiles, launches, blah, blah, blah…
Then, there’s my sister, Sophie. Excuse me – Sophia Renee Thibideaux, CEO and tight-fisted dictator of her own accessories empire. Currently, she has five franchises. I know, right? She pitched the idea for Sophie’s Choice Boutique, an upscale accessories shop, to my dad before she was even done with college in an effort to get him to be an investor. He turned her down, but one of his stock holders caught wind of it, loaned Sophie her start-up money, and tripled his investment in only a year. Sophie’s Choice Boutique has since gone statewide, to the surprise of absolutely no one. As if all that wasn’t enough reason to feel miniscule up next to my big sister, she’s also beautiful. Supermodel kind of beautiful, which blinds the men she deals with in her business ventures just long enough for her to come in and masterfully and ruthlessly get hers in dollars and cents.
She’s a shark. A brilliant, beautiful shark.
And me? Well, I’m just stupid Chloe Thibideaux, who… well, who was a college student. With no job. And, soon enough probably, no life.
Great. Just great.
In light of the fact that my social life would likely be dying a horrific, gruesome death, I went back on my word to get plenty of sleep that Christmas Eve and decided to sneak out instead. Once my parents caught wind of my grades and my unceremonious booting out of school, sneaking out one night surely wouldn’t even be a blip on the radar, right?
And besides. I was twenty years old. A grown up, you know.
A grown up who, thanks to her tiny stature and trim build, had no trouble at all shimmying down the lattice from her upstairs bedroom window, jumping to the grass below, and backing her car out of the driveway as silently as possible, cranking up her stereo as soon as her house was out of view, anticipating a great night out with friends, forgetting all about college.
Of course, it was inevitable that college would come up in our conversations, seeing as how all of my prep school friends were still currently enrolled in college, most of them in big schools out east. The rest had gone to schools closer to home, except for me with my tennis scholarship. Now that I faced the very real possibility of my parents forcing me to come back home for a while to “get some perspective” as my dad enjoyed saying, I thought it would be good to get reacquainted with the local crowd.
Which was at the forefront of my mind as I joined the group down by the lake, took the drink that was handed to me, and jumped right in on the conversations already going on.
“Chloe,” Heather, one of my best friends from our days at prep school, told me in a whisper after I had finished my first bottle and was starting in on my second, “Trevor is home from Duke.” She raised her eyebrows at me meaningfully.
“Trevor,” I grinned. Ah, Trevor. He had been one of the better looking guys at our school, had gone off to Duke to be pre-med like his dad, and his dad’s dad, and his dad’s dad’s dad, and… well, you get the point. He came back home that first summer looking twice as hot as he had back in high school, but I hadn’t seen him for myself until the last week of the summer, thanks to rehab from my knee surgery and the way my mother wouldn’t leave my side for eight weeks straight. That last week, though? Had been super awesome, as we had gotten reacquainted very quickly and very intimately… if you know what I mean. I wouldn’t mind revisiting some of those “talks” we had up in his room when his parents were out and –
“And Graham, of course, is supposed to come out tonight, too,” Heather continued on.
“Graham,” I grinned. Ah, Graham. Second verse, same as the first, basically. Except Graham and I had spent fall break together… mainly in the backseat of his car, on more than one occasion, and –
“And they’ve both asked about you, Chloe,” she smiled at me.
I thought about this for a second. “Anyone else?”
She gave me an incredulous look. “Isn’t two enough?”
I shrugged. “Well, what about Eric? And Hayden? And… oh, what was his name… the guy from Tulane that came home with Jay over spring break?” Then, as an afterthought, “Oh, and add Jay to the list, too.”
“Well,” she sighed, “they’re probably all coming, too. You have your pick of the lot, just like you always do. Which one will it be?”
I smiled at her. “Why limit myself to one? Not like I’m leaving town tomorrow.”
“Girl,” she laughed. “You are a skank.”
We continued laughing and drinking, including everyone else there in our conversation, up until another car pulled up and out stepped a familiar someone who shot me a sexy smile…
… that I could only see by squinting. Two beers will do that to a ninety pound girl, you know.
“Chloe Thibideaux,” Mr. Tall, Dark, Handsome, and Blurry murmured, sitting beside me. “Where’ve you been?”
Oh, I knew that drawl. “Hayden Johnson,” I smiled. “I’ve been right here, waiting for you.”
And in no time at all, we fell into the familiar back and forth of two people who know one another just well enough to know all the right things to say, just the right way to say them, and just the right time to say them.
Just like he knew when to whisper, “Wanna go for a ride with me?”
“You bet,” I said, tapping my final bottle to his chest, letting him pull me up, and shooting Heather a knowing look as I followed him to his truck.
Afterwards, long after he dropped me back off at my car, after I drove home, and after I was back in my own bedroom, I marveled over how great it felt to be someone worth seeing and knowing, even if it was only for just a handful of heated minutes in some random guy’s truck.
Christmas had dawned earlier than early. The sun wasn’t even up when Sophie turned on my lights on her way outside for her morning jog. I had trudged down to the kitchen to start cooking, like miserable, sad Cinderella being woken up and mistreated by her evil, wicked, running fiend sister.
Except not, because I love cooking. And that day? Cooking was even better, because not ten minutes into my pre-dawn prep work, my favorite relative came downstairs to join me.
“Hey!” I exclaimed, giving Melissa a hug as soon as she stepped into the kitchen. “I didn’t know you and Beau got in last night!”
She hugged me back, groaning as she did so. “If it can even be called last night. It was more like this morning. 3am.”
I had just barely missed them during my climb back up into my bedroom. Whew.
Her eyes swept over the massive kitchen. “I can smell coffee… but where is the coffeemaker?”
“Over there,” I pointed, going back to my work.
“How can Trish find anything in here?” she asked, shaking her head in my mother’s dream kitchen, which was likely bigger than most people’s entire homes.
“She doesn’t cook,” I whispered, smiling. “This is all just for entertaining. With someone else cooking.”
“Which is why you are in charge today, since you’re the only one in this family who can cook,” Melissa smiled, pulling up a stool and watching me as she sipped her coffee.
“Hardly,” I muttered. “Just wait till Sophie gets back. Then we’ll see who’s really in charge.”
“Turkey and dressing on the menu?” she glanced over my work hopefully.
“With an exciting twist or two, yeah,” I smiled at her. “Kudos to you for expanding Beau’s food tastes to include something besides just fried chicken.”
“It was hard work, and they said it couldn’t be done,” she said with feigned severity, “but I changed that man.”
“For the better, most definitely,” I laughed at her. “I wouldn’t spend any time around him at all if it wasn’t for you.”
“Hey,” Melissa said, “we didn’t get that dinner you promised me before you left for the semester.”
I sighed. Melissa and Beau lived in Fort Worth, only about a fifteen minute drive from my apartment and the (last) college I had attended. I loved meeting up with them and going to their house, but I had avoided them a few weeks ago when my finals were going so poorly.
Melissa probably could have guessed this from my silence. “How were finals?” she asked softly.
I looked up at her. “Well… they’re done. And that’s pretty much all the good that I have to say about them.”
“Gotten your grades back yet?” she asked, her eyes never leaving mine.
I shrugged. “Why don’t we enjoy Christmas? And just… just worry about that all later.”
“Later” happened about seven hours later, when we all gathered around the table for lunch.
I had done, if I do say so myself, a great job on the feast, but the family barely noticed as they dug into their food and discussed (what else?) careers.
“Dallas?” my dad asked Sophie, nodding appreciatively at what she’d just said.
“Plano, actually,” she clarified. “Suburb of Dallas and in a really great spot towards where the city is growing out. I’m in talks right now about doing something similar down in Houston, but,” she took a breath, smiling, “one thing at a time, you know.”
“Yeah,” Dad added. “Best see if it’s even worth the bother, financially speaking.”
“Oh, it will be,” she said. “We’re projecting, at this point, that the Plano store will do three times the business that the Baton Rouge store does.”
“Really?” He glanced at my mother with raised eyebrows, then looked back at my sister. “That’s my girl.”
Sophie shared a smug smile with him. Ugh.
“How are things at work, Beau?” my mother asked my brother, who was a few bites away from coronary failure, based on the way he was devouring his meal.
“Good,” he managed, around a bite. “Lots of work organizing a launch that’s going to take place in a few months down in Houston. Lots of trips across Texas this spring to get it all done, unfortunately.”
“Oh, Melissa,” my mother said, “you should come out and visit us on some of the weekends he’s gone.”
“I would,” she smiled at my mother, “but I just got a new promotion at work myself.”
Gasps of delight and congratulations all around the table, of course, as Melissa explained some of her new responsibilities. “I’ll be traveling even more than Beau will, actually. I have trips scheduled for Germany and Bahrain in the spring already.”
“Bahrain!” my mother exclaimed. Then, taking another bite, she murmured, “Well, no grandchildren any time soon, then.”
Melissa couldn’t hide the tight expression this encouraged as Beau shook his head and Sophie continued daintily cutting up her food.
Well, as perfect as they were, they couldn’t give my mother everything she wanted. This was somewhat of a comfort to me as I –
“Chloe, how are things at school?” my dad asked.
I said nothing for a moment, my appetite suddenly gone as I picked at what was left on my plate, looking up to find that every set of eyes was on me.
“Well,” I said, a bright smile on my face. “I flunked out. Again. Anyone ready for dessert?”
Oh, man. Was my dad steamed.
Dinner ended with a lot of yelling. Not on my part, of course. Mainly just my parents, with a few choice words thrown in from Sophie and Beau, all while Melissa watched me with no small amount of concern. I felt bad for ruining everyone’s Christmas, of course, but more than that, I was just ticked off at how they all ganged up on me. My father, obviously, led the charge, explaining to me in no uncertain terms that I was running out of chances and that my life would go nowhere if I couldn’t figure out what I was doing.
Eh. I’d heard it before.
What I hadn’t heard before, though, was the speech he and my mother had prepared for me a few hours later, when they called me into his study, sat me down, and told me what they had planned.
I should have known I was in trouble when I saw my mother’s puffy eyes, the clearest indication that she had been crying.
My father, though? Had not been crying.
“Sit down, Chloe,” he said.
I flopped into the chair across from him. “So…???”
“You’ve made it painfully clear to us that you have no plan,” he said. “For today, for tomorrow, for the rest of your life.”
“Well, actually, the girls and I are going to Cabo next week, so –”
“Like I said, no plan,” he fumed, as my mother wiped at her eyes.
“Okay,” I said. “So I don’t know what I want to do with my life. But, hey, I’ll try harder next semester. And I’ll figure something out. Okay?”
“Where, Chloe? Where will you try harder?” my mother asked. “You’re running out of places!”
I shrugged. “Well, I…”
“Chloe, I think your problem is one that… that I don’t even know we can fix for you. I just… Ray, can you explain to her that we don’t want to do this, but –”
A cold sense of dread washed over me. “Explain what? Are you making me move back home?” I could see my fun, Fort Worth life slipping out of my grasp –
“No,” my dad said.
“We’re cutting you off. Completely. No more money.”
“I’m sorry… what?”
My dad nodded at my mother, then fixed his steely gaze on me. “We’re not supporting you anymore.”
I stared at them in disbelief. “Really?”
“I don’t care what you do, Chloe, but you better figure out a way to support yourself. And quick. You won’t be getting any money from us anymore. And we’re taking your car –”
Not my adorable little Jeep!
“—your credit cards –”
“—and your phone.”
I gasped out loud. “Are you serious?!”
“Starting tonight. Starting right now. You can keep what’s in your bank account.”
Well, that was really making me rethink the shopping spree I’d gone on before the holidays, where I’d all but spent everything except for a couple hundred dollars.
As I fought for words, my mother looked at me, tears streaming down her face. “Oh, Chloe, you have to figure this out. We can’t do it for you anymore. You just… you just have to grow up.”
I gave her the coldest expression I had ever given her. “No help from either of you, then. Fine. I’m done.” I stood up. “And you know what? I’m not even staying here another minute.”
“Chloe –” My mother stood with me, weeping as she reached out for me.
“You know, Mom,” I said snidely, “I would feel bad about the way you’re crying right now, if I thought that your tears meant you actually cared about me. But clearly, you don’t. And little surprise, right? Since your life would be just about perfect right now if you hadn’t had so much fun back in Beijing twentysomething years ago, huh? One, two, now you’re through, and WHOOPS! There’s one we weren’t counting on, Ray! And she’s not nearly as great as the other two!”
She looked at me as though I had slapped her.
“Come on, Trish,” I said. “Not like I can’t tell how you really feel every freakin’ time you look at me and sigh like I’m some huge mistake that you made, and –”
“Chloe Irene, you will NOT speak to your mother like that,” my father said to me, very severely.
“Free country, Ray,” I challenged.
“Not in my house,” he challenged right back.
“Oh,” I sighed. “That’s right. La Maison de Thibideaux, where Ray is king, Trish is queen, Beau is prince, Sophie is princess, and I am… holy freakin’ cow, I’m nothing. Absolutely nothing. Yeah, it’s going to really, really break my heart to leave. Whatever.”
I turned to do just that.
“Chloe,” my mother cried, panic in her voice. “Will you just stay and –”
“No, I’m going to drive over to –”
Ugh. I wasn’t going anywhere without my Jeep.
“I’m going to walk over to Heather’s house. And you’ll be done with me. See ya!”
I ran up the stairs, packed two suitcases, and was gone, out into the cold ten minutes later.
No one followed me.
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