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“But you can’t sustain this part,” I say. “The natural process is that the relationship becomes more serious as time goes on.” Of course, there are exceptions to this.

“Yeah, or it fizzles out,” my mom says. “I don’t need a life partner. I’m not interested in a partnership. Someone to share the bills. Someone to raise children with. I did all of that, and I did it on my own. I make my own money. I pay my own bills. I want love and romance. That’s all.”

“But after a while, relationships become more about partnership and less about romance. That’s just how it works. It’s the nature of love. If you want to stay with Bill, he’s eventually going to stop bringing you flowers,” I say.

My mom shakes her head. “This is why I don’t want to commit to Bill.”

“Wait, what?” Rachel asks. “You are in love with Bill, right?”

“Right. Right now, I’m in love with Bill. And eventually, we will grow tired of each other.”

“And when that happens?” I ask.

“We’ll break up,” she says, shrugging. “I want romance in my life. That’s what I want. And I don’t need anything else from a man. I’ve lived my whole life, or, I guess, my life since you guys were little, dating for fun. If the romance dies, I want to be able to leave, is what I’m saying. I want to be able to have that feeling again with someone else. It’s how I’ve been living my life for a long time. It works.”

“So you’d never get married again?” I say.

“You just chew ’em up and spit ’em out?” Rachel adds.

“You two are ridiculous. All I’m saying is that I’m not looking for all of the work that comes with a long-term relationship. The best part of a relationship is the falling-in-love part. And there’s nothing wrong with admitting that.”

“You don’t think Bill’s different? You don’t think there is a way to have a long-term relationship that is worth the work?” Rachel says.

My mom starts to answer, but I jump in. “I guess if romance is your primary goal, then you can’t let him move in. I get it. Romance fades. It just does. If you don’t like the other stuff, then I get why you’d have to have an exit strategy.”

“I still think romance and commitment don’t have to be mutually exclusive,” Rachel says, but she says it in a wistful way, as if she’s pontificating on the theory of love instead of the practicality of it.

I think back to when Ryan made my stomach flip, the way he used to look at me. The way his attention was enough to lift me off the ground. The way it felt as if anything could happen.

What if I never have that feeling again? That sense where your nerve endings are so raw that you can physically feel everything that he says? That feeling where your head is light, your stomach is empty, and your legs are on fire?

Ryan is supposed to come home in three months so that we can decide if we want to spend the rest of our lives together. I mean, the goal here is to spend the rest of our lives together. If I really feel that romance doesn’t last, if I really think that’s true, am I ready to never feel that tingle again? Was I ever ready?

“Let’s talk about something else,” my mom says. “Lauren looks like she’s about to cry.”

“No, I’m sorry,” I say. “I was trapped in my own mind for a second. But we should get back to Natalie’s shower, right? What else do we have to go over?”

“Well, actually, before we get back to that, I just remembered that I need a copy of your social security card to add to my loan package as the cosigner,” Rachel says.

“Oh, sure. When do you need it?”


“Yeah, that’s fine. I’ll find it. It’s in my house somewhere.”

“I am so proud of you,” my mom says to Rachel. “This is such a brave thing you’re doing.”

“It’s stupid, right?” Rachel says. She still can’t fully believe in herself just yet. But I know she must believe in herself a great deal when she’s alone, working out what to do. Because you don’t go to the bank and discuss a small-business loan unless you’re serious. You don’t scout out bakery locations unless you believe in yourself at least a little bit.

“If no one ever did anything stupid, I wouldn’t have you girls and Charlie,” my mom says.

It’s supposed to be encouraging, but Rachel says, “So you do think it’s stupid.”

And then she and I start laughing before my mom can defend herself.

“Oh, you two are such a pain in the ass,” she says. “I swear.”

My desk is full of clutter. I used to sit down and actually do work at this desk in years past. I remember when Ryan and I first moved in and we had the extra space, and I would make a big show of sitting down at my desk to do things because it felt so fancy to have an extra room for things like desks. And then slowly, I got over the desk and started using it as storage for stuff that didn’t have a home.

I start searching through drawers for my social security card. It could be anywhere. I am not a person who labels files. One time, I labeled a file folder “Important Files.” That’s how lazy I am when it comes to organizing. I dig through the bottom drawer first, front to back. Oh, here is it. Here is my “Important Files” file. I open it, hoping to find the card, because, really, if you have an “Important Files” file, wouldn’t that be a good place to have put your social security card?

I have my birth certificate. I have my diploma. I have my old student-loan contracts. The title to my car. I even have the court order for my change of name from when my mom changed our last names after our dad left. She changed them all back to Spencer, her maiden name. Until I was about six years old, we were Lauren, Rachel, and Charles Prewett. I look at the document for longer than I realize. My eyes are focused on it, but my brain is elsewhere. I’m momentarily mesmerized, thinking about the life of Lauren Prewett. Would things have turned out differently if I’d kept my father’s name? Would I have met some nice young boy with the last name Proctor or Phillips in homeroom, the two of us seated next to each other thanks to the work of alphabetizing? Would my heart have held out for my dad longer if I’d kept his name? I don’t know. There’s nothing to know, really, because none of those things happened. But I’m thankful to my mother for changing it, for taking the time to go down to the courthouse and change our fates, for rightfully claiming us as her own.

I finish with the folder, and there’s no social security card. I put it back in the drawer. I shuffle through the things on the top of my desk, and that’s when I find Grandma’s Ask Allie columns. I glance at them, and one or two words catch my eye. I find myself sitting back, putting my feet up, and reading.

One man’s wife has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and he’s scared about how their life is going to change. He calls himself “Worried in Oklahoma.”

A mother writes in to say that she and her husband know their son is g*y, because he has told his two siblings. But he hasn’t come out to them yet. She wants to know how to let their son know that he can be honest with them. She signs her letter “Eager to Be Supportive.”

There’s a woman who thinks her mother shouldn’t be driving anymore and needs advice on how to broach the subject with her. She calls herself “Hoping to Be Gentle.”

Allie tells “Worried in Oklahoma” that it’s OK for him to be scared and to find people other than his wife to talk about his fears with. “Talk about them so much with other people,” she says, “that by the time your wife is ready to talk about what scares her, you have answers. Above all else, find someone who can say to you, ‘Me, too.’”

Allie tells “Eager to Be Supportive” that it sounds as if she’s concerned that her son doesn’t know she loves him unconditionally. “Don’t be. You’ve spent twenty-three years unintentionally telling him this with every fiber of your being. That love has shown through everything you’ve said and done. Unconditional love is the freedom to follow your heart and still have a home. You have given that to your son, and now all you have to do is sit back, be patient, and wait for him to use it.”