Grace was sitting at her vanity, applying her make-up, when her phone chimed several times in a row.
She reached for it and saw that they were texts from Brianna.
Brianna: Are you home?
Brianna: Mom? Are you home?
Brianna: Would you like your favourite daughter to grace you with her presence?
Brianna: haha, get it? Grace…. as in your name…
Grace rolled her eyes and typed back.
Grace: I don’t know, I’d have to see what Mallory’s up to today.
She watched as the three bubbles popped up on her screen.
Brianna: Oh, wow, that’s cold, Mother.
Brianna: But I respect it.
Come on over. I’m home.
She didn’t bother waiting, she knew Brianna had turned off her read receipts years ago.
She pulled up Nick’s texts and apologised, telling him that something had come up and she couldn’t make it for their date.
He was kind and understanding, like he always was, which she was grateful for.
Honestly, if it were anyone else, she would’ve kept her appointment. She always made a big deal about sticking to one’s commitments.
But it wasn’t ‘anyone’. It was Brianna.
And she didn’t have a choice.
Not anymore, at least.
Before Mallory was born and back when Robert was always working late, trying to get his firm off of the ground, it was just Grace and Brianna most of the time. Back then, her daughter still liked her, actually preferred her. Of course, she was the one with the milk in her chest so Brianna chose her more out of necessity than anything else. But, there was a time when she was the only one who could quiet down her baby’s screams with a simple sway and a gentle shush. She was the one who knew her allergies and likes and dislikes by heart. And when Brianna took her first steps, it was the in the direction of her mother. Grace was the one who caught her before she fell.
And then Robert wanted another child. One wasn’t enough.
“A child needs a sibling, Grace.” He had said. “She can’t grow up alone. Imagine how lonely the world would be.”
She had almost forgotten how good of a lawyer he was. Negotiating and convincing was in his DNA.
She didn’t mention that he was barely around to take care of the one they already had.
She didn’t mention that she wanted a career too and that having another baby would set her back a few more years.
She didn’t mention that he had to talk her into having Brianna too.
He was aware of these things.
But he was her husband.
She was his wife.
And Grace wasn’t anything if not a perfectionist.
A perfect wife smiled and nodded when her husband asked for his dinner. Or to have his shirt ironed. Or his shoes shined. And she certainly smiled extra hard and nodded even more enthusiastically when asked to have another baby.
A year later, Mallory was born.
Robert was ecstatic. He had been tentative throughout her pregnancy, made sure she was as comfortable as he could make her. He knew how much she was sacrificing by giving him what he wanted.
She looked up at him from her hospital bed, watched as he smiled down at their daughter in his arms, swayed her back and forth.
He was happy. Truly happy. For a moment, she wondered what that was like.
She watched as he gently kissed Mallory’s forehead and then bent down and placed her in Grace’s arms, leaving a kiss on her forehead too.
“I’ll be right back.” He had said, his voice gentle.
Grace watched him leave the room and then looked down at her daughter.
Mallory was already looking up at her, her eyes full of wonder, full of innocence.
Grace took the back of her index finger and gently ran it down her baby’s cheek, trying to figure out how her body, the body she had been fighting with for decades, had managed to make something so perfect.
She suddenly felt immense sadness for the ways in which she knew she would fail her child.
She wished she could do better.
She wanted to do better.
“Mommy’s going to try a lot harder.” She whispered. “Okay?”
A minute later, Robert had entered the room again, this time with Brianna on his arm.
She watched as her daughter’s eyes lit up at the sight of her.
Brianna was three at the time and Grace was still her world.
Robert placed her on the bed and before even acknowledging her sister, she grabbed her mother’s cheeks with both of her tiny, chubby hands, looked into her eyes and kissed her nose.
Grace had been gone for a few hours and it was clear that her daughter wasn’t completely sure why. So, once Brianna was convinced that her mother had returned and hadn’t abandoned her, Grace directed her attention down to her arms.
“Sweetheart,” She had said. “This is your baby sister.”
Brianna had looked down at the baby and then back up at Grace, completely amazed.
Grace remembered thinking that she felt the same way.
For several weeks after that, Brianna would just stare at Mallory.
Grace would find her in the baby’s room, a stool underneath her feet, as she stared down at her sister in the crib. And at night, hours after Brianna had been tucked into bed and the house was dark, Grace would listen over the baby monitor as Brianna snuck into Mallory’s room and spoke to her in toddler English.
In the morning, Grace would find her nestled next to the baby in her crib, snoring into her sister’s ear.
After a few months, however, it seemed like Brianna had begun to realise that the presence of the new baby in the house meant that her mother didn’t have as much time for her. She watched as Grace spent most of her day seeing to her sister, watched as guests who used to coo over her, cooed over Mallory instead.
The only person who paid just as much attention to Brianna as she had before, was Frankie.
And the thing about Frankie was, she used to swing by unannounced.
It used to infuriate Grace.
Frankie would walk into the house, one of her own babies strapped to her chest, another clinging to her leg, an air of calm around her, like there wasn’t a toddler having a tantrum on the kitchen table, like there wasn’t a baby screaming in a high-chair.
She would just eye Grace’s uncombed hair, her mismatched socks, the damp spots on her chest from when Mallory began to cry and she lactated before she could feed her.
She wouldn’t say anything, she’d just take everything in.
Having Frankie see her like that, having Frankie see her as anything less than perfect, made her blood boil.
But then, she’d hand Mallory to Grace and order her to go upstairs to feed the baby, to take a shower and maybe have a nap if she wanted to.
She’d then unstrap the baby from her chest and place him in the high-chair, throwing a handful of cheerios onto the table.
She’d pluck Brianna off of the counter and simply hold her.
She’d rock her back and forth and say things like “I know, sweetheart,” and “is this big world getting my girl down?”
Eventually, Brianna would stop yelling and would cuddle into her neck, her eyes puffy and her little cheeks red.
Upstairs, Grace would fall asleep with a baby on her chest and wake up to a dark room and a blanket thrown over her.
And by the time she went back down, Robert would be home, Brianna beside him at the dinner table, Mallory in his arms. Frankie would be long gone and Grace always realised after the chaos that she never even told her why she came over in the first place.
Things got worse when she started her business. She had even less time for her family. But, by then, Robert’s firm was on solid footing so he could leave the office early most days and could afford to work from home. He gave Grace the freedom to focus on her company without having to worry about her other titles of being a wife and mother.
The downside to that arrangement meant that her daughters began seeing their father as the reliable parent. Grace was too flakey during their formative years, when they were developing and cementing their core relationships.
Robert was the one who picked them up from school when they were sick. He was the one who sat at the dinner table with them at night and listened to their days and shared their grievances about homework and teachers and dumb kids. He was the one who dropped them off at sleepovers only to pick them up an hour later because they got homesick. He became the one they’d invite to movie nights on the couch and who they’d introduce to their friends. She had gone from being the centre of her daughters’ universes, to being the woman who they rarely saw and who sometimes showed up to parent-teacher meetings. They began to grow distant. Brianna became resentful. They didn’t see her absence as a woman taking back the time she was owed. They took her absence and gave it their own meaning. And unfortunately, Grace was never around to defend herself.
By the time her business was strong and running well enough for her to take a step back, to take a breather, life had already moved on without her. Brianna was in high school and Mallory wasn’t far behind. Her daughters had grown up and no one had notified her.
Mallory tried her best to be understanding and gentle but Grace could always feel her anger lying just below the surface, could feel it in every conversation they had. Whenever Mallory came over for brunch, Grace was always tempted to set an extra plate for her daughters anger, always felt like it was an unwanted guest that they should probably get around to acknowledging. However, when Mallory became a mother, it seemed like she had found a way to forgive Grace. Like she had realised that not everything was as black and white as she had once thought.
Brianna on the other hand, did not hide her anger. Her daughter made sure that she knew that she preferred her father and that Grace was never around and that it was too late for them. At some point, Grace had stopped trying and allowed Brianna to distance herself from her as much as she wanted to. Grace didn’t chase her, didn’t beg her to come home from college to visit, didn’t call her to ask her about her week. Decades later, she realised that Brianna probably wanted all of those things. She just had too much pride and too much anger to ask for it. And Grace had too much pride and was too stubborn to let down her walls. Like mother, like daughter.
Which is why, when Frankie left and Brianna started visiting a lot more without having to be asked, Grace wouldn’t question it, didn’t turn her down. No matter how full her schedule was, no matter how important the appointment, all her plans went directly out of the window the minute Brianna said she was coming over for the day. She was giving her daughter the time she was owed. And she had an inkling that Brianna could feel it, this change in Grace. Which could explain why she was sitting less than arms length away from her mother. Usually, she’d be sitting in an entirely different room. But she was there. Her butt half on Grace’s couch cushion and half on her own, her eyes on the TV in front of them.
Grace kept looking at her and then looking away.
After the third time, Brianna turned her head, catching her before she could pretend like she wasn’t looking in the first place. “Hi, excuse me?”
“Do you need something?”
“What do you mean?” She feigned innocence.
“I can feel your eyes burning holes into the side of my head and it’s distracting me from being annoyed by this movie.” She pointed at the screen.
Grace looked up and watched as Hugh Grant and his friends piled into a car to chase after Julia Roberts.
“Only you could be annoyed by Notting Hill.” She took a sip of her martini.
“Oh, don’t pretend like I didn’t inherit my cynicism from you, Mommy.” Her eyes were on the TV.
Grace tried not to smile.
Brianna had her feet up on the coffee table, her back slouching into the couch cushion. She had the urge to tell her to sit up straight but she swallowed it down, not wanting to ruin the mood.
She looked up at her daughter’s face again.
The topic was at the forefront of her mind and she needed someone to talk to.
Who better than her own flesh and blood?
But having discussions with her daughters wasn’t something she was used to, she didn’t know what the protocol was, didn’t know where to start.
With a cup of tea maybe?
Maybe vodka. Vodka would be a good choice.
“Okay,” Brianna picked up the remote that rested between them and muted the TV. She lifted her legs off of the table and turned her body towards Grace. “Talk.” She looked at her expectantly.
“Talk.” Her daughter repeated. “Clearly something’s bothering you and it’s keeping me from hating on Julia Roberts and her annoyingly perfect face, so talk.”
Grace opened her mouth and closed it again.
“Is it Nick?”
“Did he do something to you? Did he hurt you? Is he cheating? He’s cheating, isn’t he? That son of a bitch, I’m going to fucking -”
“Nick isn’t cheating!” She raised her voice before her daughter could get even more riled up. “As far as I know.” She mumbled.
“Okay…” Brianna said carefully. “Well, there are currently only two people in your life you’d be this weird about so if it’s not Nick, it has to be Frankie.”
Grace knew what she meant. “I’d like to think I’d be this weird about my daughters too.”
Brianna ignored her. “Did something happen in Santa Fe, mom?”
Grace sighed and then downed her drink, setting her glass on the coffee table.
She then sat back and looked at Brianna from beneath her eyelashes. She couldn’t believe what she was about to ask her daughter. “Have you ever -” She paused and looked away, the question dying in her throat. She scratched her head and moved to get up. “Do you want some tea? I’ll make some tea.”
Brianna groaned and fell back onto the couch cushions behind her. “Mom, for fucks sake -”
Brianna sat up again. She waited.
“Have you ever…” She cleared her throat. “Been with a woman?” She said it as fast she could, wanting to get it out in one breath before she changed her mind again.
Brianna was quiet for a moment.
She suddenly swung her legs off of the couch and slipped on her heels.
Grace watched her stand up. “Where are you going?”
“Well, clearly it’s time for me to leave.” She picked up her bag.
“You’re the one who forced me to say something!”
“Yeah, because I thought you would tell me about a fight you had with Frankie or something about Mallory and Mitch, not ask me… that!” She cringed. “God, anything but that!” She turned around to leave.
Grace’s eyes were on her back. “Brianna.”
She was almost out the door but her mother’s tone made her stop. She dropped her head and sighed. She then turned back around, dropped her bag on a chair, walked over to the couch and sat down. “Fine.” She scratched her head, trying to seem nonchalant. She was quiet again, staring out onto the patio, refusing to look at her mother. “To answer your question,” She cleared her throat. “Yes.” She finally turned her eyes to Grace. “I have been with women.”
Grace’s eyes widened.
She fixed her face as fast as she could.
She swallowed. “Okay.” She nodded. “Okay.”
“Was that not the answer you were expecting?”
“I honestly don’t know what I was expecting.” She looked away.
“So why did you ask?”
She looked at Brianna again. She was quiet.
“Come on,” Brianna’s voice was a lot more gentle than Grace was used to. “I shared. Against my will. And I’m going to go home and regret it for the rest of my life. But I shared. And now it’s your turn. Isn’t that how these things work?”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“Me neither.” Brianna paused. “Should we call Mallory? She knows about…” She made a face and gestured between them. “Feelings and whatever.”
“Oh, God, no. I need to confess my sins to one daughter at a time.”
“So, come on.” Brianna sat up straighter. “Confess. I promise not to laugh.” She paused. “Unless it’s really funny.”
Grace eyed her. “You know, once I say whatever I’m about to say, there’s no going back. There’s no unhearing it. The conversation will have to happen.”
“I’m painfully aware of that.”
“And you still want me to tell you?”
“For some reason, yes.” She nodded. “I do.”
They were quiet.
“I, uh,” Grace started and then stopped. She rested her chin on her fist for a moment and then pulled it away. “I kissed Frankie.” She blurted, her voice soft. “In Santa Fe.” She elaborated. “I kissed Frankie. I kissed her.”
Her daughter stared at her.
And then she blinked several times in a row. “You kissed Frankie?” Her tone careful.
“Frankie. Your best friend. The woman you lived with. The woman you used to hate. The woman who basically raised me. That Frankie?”
“I’d like to think that I had a hand in raising you too but yes.” She confirmed. “That Frankie.”
“Romantically? You kissed her romantically?”
“I did.” She nodded.
Brianna was quiet, obviously processing. “Okay.” She said after a moment, adding in a nod of her own. “Okay.”
Grace watched her.
“Boy, that gay gene really runs strong in the Hanson blood, huh?” She laughed a little. “I wonder if Mallory -”
“What does this mean?” Grace cut her off, her voice pleading.
Brianna looked at her, her eyes free of judgement or any negative feelings. “I honestly don’t know, Mom. That’s kinda up for you to decide.”
“I was married to a man for more than forty years, I can’t be…”
“Maybe not.” She nodded. “But here’s the thing, dad was married to a woman for more than forty years and now he’s out there living his gay life in his new gay home with his gay husband and his gay dog. It’s possible.” She shrugged. “Also, bisexuality and all of that.”
Grace’s eyes were on her daughter. “Are you…”
“Bi? Maybe. I try not to think about it. Labels aren’t my thing.”
Grace was astonished at how casual she was.
“Look,” Brianna moved closer. “I can’t believe I’m about to ask my mother this but being uncomfortable seems to be the theme of the day.” She said as an aside and then looked at Grace. “Did you… enjoy it?”
Grace’s face turned even redder than it already was. “God, Brianna!” She looked away.
“Trust me, discussing my mother’s sex life was not on my agenda for today, or for any day, for that matter, but this is obviously something you needed to discuss, otherwise you wouldn’t have brought it up. So let’s just… let’s power through. Okay?”
Grace looked at her from the corner of her eye. “Why are you being so mature about this?”
“I have no idea.” She said honestly. “It could be the joint I smoked before I came over.”
Grace turned to her. “If you’re implying that you drove high…”
“The kiss. With your best friend.” She changed the subject before her mom could get mad. “Did you enjoy it?”
Grace eyed her, the anger not completely gone yet. But then she looked away and sighed, defeated. “I did.” She nodded. “A lot. More than a lot.”
“Okay, Mom, a simple yes or no is fine. Let’s leave here with as little emotional trauma as possible, shall we?”
“Yes.” She confirmed. “My answer is yes.”
“Okay.” Brianna nodded. “Okay.” She repeated. “And are you… do you have feelings for Frankie?”
“I don’t know.” She answered honestly. “Maybe? I’ve never really thought about it.”
“Okay.” Brianna said again. “So, for now, let’s not focus on the feelings you might have for Frankie. Let’s just focus on the fact that you enjoyed it. Isn’t that enough information? You enjoyed it. Full stop. You can figure the rest out later.”
“When? When I’m ninety and you kids have stuck me in a retirement home?”
“Oh, Mom, we’re going to stick you in a home way before you’re ninety.” She teased.
“I’m serious, Brianna. God, it’s not like I’m in my twenties with a whole life ahead of me to figure this out. I’m too old to be having an identity crisis!”
“I say! I say I’m too old!”
“Mom,” Brianna said gently. “There’s no time limit on these sorts of things. There’s no right age for you to have your sexual awakening. It happens when it happens.” She shrugged. “Maybe there haven’t been other women in your life who’ve made you feel as strongly as Frankie does. Maybe you repressed your feelings. Maybe you simply ignored them because you were married to a man for decades.”
“Your dad didn’t ignore his feelings.” She mumbled.
“My point is, don’t be angry about the fact that who you thought you were for all these years might not actually be who you are. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. You did your best with the information you had.” She paused. “Mom,” Her voice was soft. “Isn’t it by time you were a little more gentle with yourself?”
Grace suddenly looked up at her, her eyes immediately filling with tears.
Her daughter wanted her to be gentle with herself.
Her daughter knew that she wasn’t.
She didn’t say anything.
She simply looked away and cleared her throat.
Brianna did the same.
Grace watched out of the corner of her eye as her daughter wiped at her cheeks, her face turned towards the door.
Brianna gathered herself and stood up, she turned to her. “So, anyway, I feel like we need alcohol. Would you like some alcohol?”
“I have never wanted anything more in my whole entire life.”
She stood and walked with her to the kitchen.
“Except Frankie, of course.”
“Don’t start.” She warned.
She sat at the island and watched as her Brianna mixed their drinks.
Ten years ago, hell, even five years ago, she would never have pictured herself being where she was.
Would never have thought that she’d be able to have an open and honest conversation with her daughter.
But she did.
2012 Grace Hanson would never believe her.
Brianna slid a martini glass over to her.
Grace looked at it, watched the two olives tumble around for a moment and then casted her eyes upwards but barely moved her head. “Thank you.” Her voice was soft.
Brianna nodded as she poured her own drink. She refused to look at Grace, her eyes suspiciously wet again. “You’re welcome.”
Grace brought the glass up to her lips. “Don’t tell your sister.”
“Oh, I never wanna talk about this again.”
Grace hummed in agreement and then took a sip.
Brianna was looking at her. “In all seriousness, if you need to… talk some more, you can always -”
“I know.” Grace nodded. “You too.”
Brianna nodded back.
They were quiet for a moment.
“Okay, so now that the emotions are out of the way,” Brianna gathered her drink. “Let’s get high and finish that movie, shall we?”
“I thought you were already high.” Grace followed her into the TV room.
“Mom, please,” She was already digging through her purse for her stash. “Don’t dwell on the past.”