Pandora. Usually at this stage of a journeysitting on a hard plastic chair at the gate, waiting for the call to board the flightmy palms are sweaty

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Usually at this stage of a journeysitting on a hard plastic chair at the gate, waiting for the call to board the flightmy palms are sweaty, my heart is racing, and my stomach churns like Im about to puke. But this time my attention is elsewhere, my eyes focused entirely on the little diamond. . . .

I cant stop staring at the little diamond, in those sleek little legs, high up in the air and begging for attention. Its priceless to Mackenna, and I know that no diamond in the world means more to him than this one. No diamond in the world means more to me than this onebecause it was his mothers. And he loved her with everything in him.

Like I love my mother too.

My mother . . .

I think of her as I grip the armrest and hold on tight as the plane takes off.

Even with my clonazepam, the adrenaline rushes around my body so fast that I cant sleep. The pill allows me to relax briefly, but this time around, thats about it. Im still too hyper, my brain too wired, my heart too busy feeling . . . stuff.

My mother had the perfect setup for a pain-free marriage until we realized . . . she didnt. Shes wanted whats best for me. She was there on January 22.

There when the pain started.

There when my water broke.

There when I had the baby.

And there . . . when they took the baby away from where I lay on the birthing bed, never more alone.

No matter how much my mom hurt at the thought of me getting pregnant, she couldnt bear to see me go through an abortion. Shes . . . human. But if she kept me away from Mackenna . . .

Oh, is that an engagement ring? the woman in the seat next to me asks. She looks about my mothers age, except shes far warmer and chattier.

I smile at her, and before I even realize what Im doing, Im extending my hand like some idiot ready for the altar. Its a . . . promise ring.

Oh god, why did I take it? He doesnt know what hes doing, giving it to me again. He doesnt know who I am anymore, who I became after him. That we had a girl. Could have been a family. And yet Im so fixated on him that I slipped on the ring again, and Ive been turning it around on my finger ever since. Looking at it, lifting it to my lips, closing my eyes and kissing it, because I missed it like I missed him. His eyes, his smiles . . . the way we were happy.

Ahh, a promise ring, the woman says, sighing when I return my hand to my lap. Love is a wonderful thing, she tells me, gripping my arm with a little squeeze and a secret smile.

I smile at her and say no more. God, Im just so fucking dazed. Dazed, excited, hopeful, and as frightened as Magnolia is of the monsters in her closet. Im frightened of the monsters in mine! Im having real trouble coming to terms with this new, wonderfully scary situation where Mackenna and I may have a shot. We have a chance. God, even the word we is weird! He walked away, made me ache, but now he wants me back. And though I act like I wont be backand question whether I can ever really be back with himdid he ever really lose me?

How can you stop belonging to someone who has ravaged you like he did me?

How can your first and only love sweep through you like a tornado and not leave his mark?

And now my bodys acting ridiculous. My heart, my lungseven my brain. I feel like I did when I was seventeen and ready to run away with him, the critters wiggling in my insides when I remember the heated kiss he gave me a mere few hours ago before I boarded the plane. Ill see you in New York? he asked, kissing me again as if he couldnt help himself.

I said yes, but was that the truth?

Or did I lie?

Youre a fucking liar, Pandora. You cant have a future without telling him what you did, what happened after he left. You have to tell him. You blamed Kenna . . . but you see now it wasnt his fault . . . it was all you . . .

God, I wish our mistakes never had to see the light of day. Like little monsters, they could always remain in the closet. But if I let my monster out of the closet, it wont just haunt me; it will haunt us.

♥ ♥ ♥


BACK IN SEATTLE, I hail a cab and head home, my brain turning over my options slowly, the clonazepam dulling my speed. Right in front of me is the opportunity for a new start. A second chance. Why not? Anyone with just a little bit of self-love, anyone who loved Mackenna even a third of the way I love him, would give herself the chance.

Why not? a part of me screams.

I know why not, but I dont want to hear it. In fact, Im almost ready to pack again for a whole damn year. I have almost managed to convince myself we can pick up right where we left off, at a time when I was ready to head off into the sunset with him. Im already thinking of how his eyes will light up like the moon his inner wolf howls at when he sees that Ive returned. I can almost taste the desperation in his kiss when I plant a good one on him. Because thats the kind of kiss that Im going to give him when I see him again. The kind that makes a man stop asking questions and think of nothing but the woman in his armsthe woman luckily being meand we can pick up right where we left off. Him and me. In love, all over again.

Im already excited, letting the dreamer in me be dazzled by the promise ring on my finger.

Shes in her office with the door ajar, sitting behind a huge desk that almost seems built to keep a perennial wall between the world and her. Pandora, she says, and gives a light smile. But theres no emotion. Her voice doesnt waver very much.

Do I speak like that?

I almost shudder at the thought and hug myself, and thats the very moment when her eyesdark like mineflick to the ring on my finger. Her expression is overwhelmed by a fear Ive never seen on her face before, and for the first time in ages, I hear a crack in her voice.

He told you, didnt he? she suddenly whispers, lifting her eyes to mine. She looks terrified.

Im too stunned to answer, too dulled by my favorite pill.

My mother clears her throat, but her eyes remain wide and almost rabid for information as she gestures to the promise ring on my finger. Even though she remains in her seat, her gaze searches my face for clues, and several things strike me in unison:

Its true.

Why are you wearing that ring? I thought you were over that boy.

Im still very confused, but the adrenaline in my body is mounting fast, clearing my brain by the second.

Over who? I ask with deliberate slowness, narrowing my eyes.

Dont play silly. Mackenna Jones.

Yes. I was with him. I extend my hand so she can look at it, and while she looks I look at how valiantly she struggles to keep her expression composed.

And he told you. Of course. Now that his fathers out, why hide the truth? Her eyes flick up to mine. Cautious. Curious. Still with evident dread.

What is it that you think he told me?

An intense sinking sensation thuds within me while I wait.

I remember her in flashes.

A flash of her warning me to stay away from him.

A flash of her telling me, Hell hurt you. He wants revenge. Hell be just like your father, just watch. Stay away.

Flashes of memories assail me, especially the one where I sat staring out of my bedroom window and she came to stand at my back after we came home from the park, and without even asking what was wrong, she whispered, Its for the best.

You told him to stay away from me, I suddenly whisper when she doesnt dare. I remember Mackennas anger at me and the hurt in his eyes when he saw me again, and it all comes together like a puzzle.

A puzzle that wrecked me. Wrecked Kenna.

And was devised and designed by my mother.

What did you do? How did you make him? My pain is so raw, my voice is just a whisper.

I know. But I need to know everything, I need to hear it from her. My own family.

My mother rubs her temples and inhales deeply, and when I open my mouth to yell at her, she cuts me off. His dad was in trouble. Big trouble. He was facing many, many years in jail, as you recall. So I offered to cut him a deal. To lower the sentence if he stayed away from you.

You did that to him? I whisper. You did that to me?

He was no good for you, Pandora! He had nothing to offer you but heartache. I thought it was for the best, so when I noticed that ring on your finger, I realized he would take you away. I advised him to walk away unless he wanted his dad to spend the rest of his days in prison.

And you made me think he didnt want me all these years!

He thought he wanted you, but you were both too young to know what was best for you. Do you think you couldve been happy leading the life some silly rocker lives?

Six years, Mother. Six! I cry.

She stares at me, everything about her motionless.

And emotionless.

We have a daughter, I whisper.

My mother almost flinches. Almost.

A daughter that we will never get to see.

My heart is breaking even as I say it out loud.

Pandora, she says, reaching across her desk as if to take my hand. I leap back, and she stands and starts coming around. You were alone. You couldnt do it. You gave that baby its best chance.

No. Her best chance was with mewith me and her dad. But you made sure he walked away from me hating that I didnt have the guts to even tell him to his face that we were over.

I feel the tears building, but I dont want them to come out. Not in front of her. I would not let her take my tears along with everything else.

I clench my teeth and hold back the volatile emotions threatening to break out of me. But even though I wont lose it, I cling to that angermy old friend, familiar to me. Why do you hate me? Why take the only love Ive ever had? Why, Mother?

She scowls for a moment. You think I dont love you because I dont say it? Ive tried to prepare you for real life. He was the son of a convicted drug trafficker. Do you want that for your daughter? Would that make you happy?

I will not cry in front of her. I will cry alone, in my room, but not in front of her!

I didnt know you were pregnant when I waited for him outside your window. Did you think I didnt know he was stealing into your bedroom? Please, Pandora. The devil knows more from being old than it does from being a devil. I wanted to protect you. Men never change. Men grow up to be who they are taught to be, and he was not good enough for you.

Men grow up to be who theyre taught to be, huh? Just like you taught me to grow up bitter, untrusting, and hateful? He was different, Mother. He cared for me. All he wanted was to be good enough for me, but he never felt that he was, because I never had the guts to tell you we were dating. He thought he was no good for me, and you sure as hell convinced him of that.

She sighs drearily as she reaches out to squeeze my shoulders. I cant undo what I did. I just hope you understand.

I shrug off her touch and step back. I understand. I just wish that youd taught me forgiveness, so that right now, Mother, I could not only understand but I could forgive you too. But you didnt, did you? You taught me to hate my dad. To hate Kenna for leaving, even though it was you who chased him away. I can never forgive myself for giving up my daughter. We all fucked up, Mother. And one of those fuckups was you not teaching me how to forgive. Because now . . . I dont know how.

Pan? I hear a little voice, followed by the creak of the door behind me.

My mothers expression softens when she looks at Magnolia. I can seeand have seen through the yearsthat shes also suffered guilt over giving up the baby. The way that she sometimes looks at Magnolia as if wondering about the granddaughter shell never have by her side, the one shell never see. She tries her best with Magnolia, as if that will absolve her. And so do Ias if that will absolve me.

Hey, Mag, I say, swallowing back my sadness as I kneel and open my arms.

She hits me like a cannonball and squishes me tight while she gives me a sloppy kiss on the cheek. Then she pulls back and tells me, I made a list, come see.

Okay, lets go, I say, faking excitement.

Pandora? My mothers voice stops us at the door. She looks as miserable as ever. I cant undo what I did, she repeats again in a whisper.

Neither can I, I whisper back.

Come! Magnolia says, tugging and tugging.

Pandora! my mother calls again. I stop, close my eyes, and turn one last time. Something awful is gripping my stomach, and theres no way of stopping it. I feel my ring on the hand Magnolia is grabbing.

Come because you want to, not because theyre paying you to.

Im sorry.

Two little words. Important words, but they wont give me back my guy, my baby, my choice, my past. So am I, I say sadly, then I hug Magnolia to my legs and absorb her happy little energy before she drags me over to her room.

What is this? I ask when she hands over a paper marked with neat red letters.

Things I want to do when I grow up, she says with a huge grin. You said to make a list! Its a long one. She turns it over, and I see more letters.

Wear pink in my hair like Pandora.


Bake a cake with one hundred lollipop candles.


Go on a safari.


Have a pet giraffe (from the safari).


I read all her tiny little wishes, feeling her enthusiasm by my side, and I remember that once, I was just like her. Dreamy and hopeful and alive. You know, I used to have one of these, I confess. When I made lists.

What did it say?

It said . . . It hits me. Suddenly I remember what Mackenna and I did on our recent road trip, and Im shocked.

You sneaky bastard, you remembered my stupid lists, didnt you?

One of them said, Ride on the back of a motorcycle. Another: Go on a road trip. And I also wanted to kiss a rockstar . . .

I cant go on. Impossible to. I stop and plant a smile on my face while my heart swells like helium has just been pumped into my chest.

OOOH!!! Is it true? Is it true? Did you go on a road trip, Pan? Did you go on a road trip, and ride on a motorcycle, and kiss a rockstar?

I nod, feeling dangerously emotionalbut isnt that what Mackenna and Magnolia do? Bring out the gooey stuffing in me that nobody else can see? With infinite tenderness, I kiss her temple. Yes, I did. I fell in love with him. And before he was even a real rockstar, he was my rockstar.

Youre my rockstar, she says, grinning.

And youre my Magnificent.


: 2015-09-13; : 4;

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