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Stripped Bare(11)
Emma Hart

Where was the freaking cranberry juice? In the pits of Hell, apparently. The exact same place I traveled to every time Mom called.

“And then you agreed I had to make my own mistakes because I’m not a child anymore. Remember that conversation?”

She scoffed as a red carton caught my eye. Holla!

“Yes,” she said, “and here is my obligatory call to remind you that, yet again, I was right. Lark, get off the curtains!” she yelled, momentarily distracted by the mischievous family tortoiseshell cat. “Mia, sweetheart, I just wish you’d find a nice man to settle down with.”

“I’m twenty-five! All I want to settle down with is a pitcher of margarita and a trashy movie on Netflix.”

“I married your father at twenty-two.”

“No. You’ve never mentioned it.” I tried not to roll my eyes. I did. Honestly.

“Are you giving me attitude?”

“Yes. Yes, Mom, I am.”

She sighed. “I don’t know where I went wrong with you.”

You keep calling. “Darren was a perfectly nice guy. He was, for all intents and purposes, the guy you settle down with. However, his penis did not want to settle, and that wasn’t my fault.”

“I warned you,” she said again.

I mouthed it as I poured my juice. It had been coming. I’d known it.

“I hear all sorts at the book club, you know. His mom—lovely lady, dear, can’t imagine how she raised such a loser of a man—was very annoyed at his womanizing ways the last time she attended.”

“What do you mean the last time? We broke up a month ago. Did you know he was cheating on me before I found out?”

Silence.

I knew referring to your mother as a bitch was wrong, but lord almighty, I wanted to.

“I suspected,” Mom finally answered. “But I didn’t know you were serious.”

“Of course you didn’t.” I put the carton in the door of the fridge, where it belonged, and shut it. “Look, I appreciate the dating help, but I’m on a dating vacay. I don’t need it right now.”

“As long as you’re not dropping out of the wedding.” She sniffed. “But you really should find a nice young man.”

“I’m not dropping out of my best friend’s wedding just because he’s the best man. That’s like saying you’re not going to visit your favorite coffee shop anymore because your ex-boyfriend who’s rarely there owns it.” Must. Not. Bang. Head. Against. Wall.

“Hmph.”

“Hmph? What is hmph?”

“Your attitude, Mia.”

I could picture her running her hand down the side of her face the way she always did when she got frustrated.

“It’s very upsetting when you speak to me like that.”

I closed my eyes and, pinching the bridge of my nose, counted to three in my head. Three times. It worked—she thought it was when the guilt was setting in when, in reality, it was so I could rein in the attitude and apologize without meaning it.

“Sorry, Mom.” Next, the excuse. “I’ve been working a lot this week and I’m pretty tired.”

“That’s okay, dear.”

I was done with this. “I gotta go. Another call is coming in. Bye, Mom.”

“Bye, dear.”

I hung up and let out a long, tortured breath before putting my phone on the counter, grabbing the edges of the kitchen counter, and dropping my head. Dear god. The woman was insufferable. As if a degree and a successful career in freelance marketing weren’t enough—she wanted me settling down, pregnant and barefoot in the kitchen, making sure dinner was on the table at five p.m. She never failed to mention that she had been married at twenty-two and pregnant with me at twenty-three. It was like a sick form of delight for her. Never mind that the most work she’d done since then, aside from raising me, was browsing Amazon for a new book for the book club.

Not that I was judging. I’d also put in several hours searching Amazon for a new book, but one day, maybe she would understand I held the dubious title of Queen of Dating Disasters, and to settle down, I needed to lose that title.

It wasn’t going to happen any time soon.

I straightened, finished my glass of juice, and set the glass in the sink. I’d actually woken up in a good mood this morning, but now... Well. Let’s just say I felt like a menstruating Satan. That was the delightful effect Mom had on me.

I could only guess that Dad was playing golf, because she knew better than to call me when he was around. He told her to shut up and give me a break if he caught her ripping me a new one.

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