Mom enters the kitchen and shreds away all of my half-courage.
“Chloe, sweetheart, I need to talk to you,” she says.
There’s not a single social event I can think of that I may need to cancel today. No parties. No festivals. No lunch dates. Maybe Aralie had something planned, and I have to do damage control.
“This is really hard for me to say, but Ms. Sue called me this morning,” she says.
Who in the world is Ms. Sue?
“She said you stopped by their store last night,” Mom continues. “She wasn’t trying to rat you out, but she was very concerned and wanted me to be aware of what was going on.”
Oh God. The cigarettes! I ease over a few steps and look into the dining room. Jules stares back at me, wide-eyed and stupid. Then he looks away and buries his face. Noah hits Jules’s arm, and Jules motions for them to shut up. He’s seriously going to let me take the fall for this! I turn my back to the dining room because I have to keep my composure through this, and seeing Jules Rossi right now is not helping my composure.
“Chloe, I know things have been rough these last few months,” Mom says. It’s the sympathy tone. “But smoking isn’t the answer. If you need to talk to someone, you can always come to me or Dad or even Godfrey. Or we can pay for therapy sessions.”
“Mom, I’m not smoking,” I insist. “And I don’t need therapy. I’m completely fine. Really.”
She tilts her head and studies me like she did on graduation night, while she cried because her baby was all grown up. She has those same worried eyes now that she had when she talked about setting her baby bird out to fly on her own. Please, Mom. Don’t call me a baby bird while 3/5 of SAS is listening.
“Sweetheart,” she says. “I just know you went through a lot with that break up, and seeing Deacon the other day couldn’t have made things any easier, especially when he acted like he did. I know you had big plans this summer, and I wish things could’ve gone as planned.”
“I’m okay, Mom,” I say through my teeth.
“Then why were you buying cigarettes, Chloe? Ms. Sue wouldn’t just make that up,” she says.
Her voice pleads with me, like she’s truly heartbroken and worried. She doesn’t even seem mad about it. I don’t know who this Ms. Sue woman is or where she was hiding at that service station, but damn her all the way across the universe for running her big freaking mouth.
“They were for me.” The voice is directly behind me.
But it’s not Jules.