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Chapter 1

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"Mom, I said I'm coming!" I practically spit into the phone. I'm rolling my suitcase with one hand, my coffee cup in the other with my phone pressed against my ear and shoulder.

"These spots are timed," she reminds me. I let out another irritated sigh as I exit the airport gate to try and find her. I spot the white SUV almost immediately, and before she can chew me out anymore I hang up the phone, knocking quickly on the passenger window.

"Oh!" She claps with glee, shuffling around the car once she steps out to hold me in a tight embrace. "Honey, I've missed you so much," she says. "You have to tell me everything."

Truthfully I don't want to talk about school. The best part about winter break is having a mental shut-off from it all. After finals, I'm wiped, but I know my mother, and I know that she'll use this opportunity of an hour car ride to grill me about every last detail.

We get my luggage successfully loaded into the trunk, and when I finally get into the passenger seat, I realize I'm sweating. Connecticut is so cold right now, but I'm quickly reminded that Arizona is not.

Shuffling off the jacket I had on, I turn on the air and start to fan myself.

"Already getting used to the up north weather, are we?" My mother asks as she pulls back out onto the road. "I just have to say, I tell everyone in my book club about you. I'm so proud! Tina doesn't say it, but I know she's jealous."

"Jealous that your daughter is in college?" I furrow my eyebrows together, but she quickly gives me a knowing look. That look that lets me know I'm being coy.

She rolls her eyes. "No. That my daughter is at Briarwood, the best school in the country!"

I shake my head and stare out the window at the desert, not realizing I was that homesick until now. "You'd think this would already be out of your system by now, Mom. I'm almost a junior."

"Doesn't matter," she states. "You should be so proud of yourself."

I tune her out and continue to look at all of the mountains and sandy landscape, and for the first time all year I feel like I'm finally able to breathe.

We dive into a conversation about my brother Ethan, and how he's finishing his final year at Arizona State. He transferred there after community college with his girlfriend—formerly my best friend— Maya. They seem inseparable as ever, and it makes me happy that they're still going strong.

Truthfully, I haven't spoken to Maya much, and that makes me sad. We've grown apart since I've been back at college. Hopefully while I'm back we can reconnect.

For the past three years I haven't been able to come home for the holidays. I'm always busy. I found an internship at a pediatric clinic and I love it, but it requires tough hours. I almost wasn't able to come again since Cindy went out on maternity leave early, but Doctor Parker insisted I go. I practically live at that office if I'm not in school, and he wanted me to be able to see my family.

My Mom was overjoyed when I called her and got a last-minute flight.

Suddenly, it dawns on me that there's one less member in the car than I thought there'd be. "Where's Dad?" I ask.

The expression on her face changes, and I see her gulp loudly before she pushes a strand of her short, gray bob behind her ear. "He had to work," she says, but I can tell it's a lie. "You know how busy he gets."

It's the holidays, and I just got back, so rather than press into the situation further I recline my seat back and listen to some music. I'll grill Ethan when I get to the house.

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