Light rain hits the bedroom window of a 27-year-old woman named Jennifer. She’s pacing back and forth in her bathrobe, curly red hair tied up in a bun, arms crossed across her chest. She looks at the digital clock on her nightstand; it is 3 o’clock in the morning and she can’t sleep. She has a long day ahead of her and her insomnia means that she’s really excited or immensely nervous. She’s a combination of both. She stops in the middle of the room to rub her face in frustration. After taking in a deep sigh, she decides maybe a glass of water would help her breathe a little bit better.
She quietly closes the door to her bedroom and walks to the kitchen without waking anyone else up in the house. It seems like it’s been decades since she sat in her mother’s kitchen table at this hour of the night. She closes her eyes and remembers when she was a teenager sneaking back home at all hours of the night and sat at this very table to grab something to eat before bed. She smiles at the memory.
She doesn’t open her eyes until she hears the stairs creaking. She looks towards the dark hallway to see who it was. She finally exhaled once she realized it was her mother, Lydia.
Lydia: Hey, girlie – what are you doing up so late into the night?
She sits across the table from Jennifer.
Jennifer: Just couldn’t sleep, that’s all.
She looks down at the mug of water that’s in her hands on the table.
Lydia: I mean, I hate to break it to you, kid, but there’s no way a makeup artist could erase the tired off your face if you don’t get some sleep.
Jennifer deadpans at her mother. The joke wasn’t funny.
Lydia: …Okay, so something is clearly bothering you. Is everything okay? *gasps* Are you having second doubts?
Jennifer: What? No, mom, no, sheesh. *sighs* It’s just, everything.
Lydia gets up from the table and goes into the fridge and takes out the leftover cake from earlier that night and slices a piece and puts it on a plate. Jennifer is visibly confused. When Lydia places the rest of the cake back into the fridge, she grabs two forks and places the plate in front of Jennifer.
Lydia: Cake helped me get through it the first time I went through this, but I was also very pregnant with you and cake was my favorite thing in the world.
Jennifer: *smiles* Then what explains the rest of the 27 years since I’ve been born?
Lydia: *raises an eyebrow* Well I’m glad you’re not too distraught if you can still crack jokes on me, Pep.
Pep. She remembers the exact moment she got that nickname. She was in preschool when her best friend at the time — for life really — called her “Pepper” for her fire-red hair and her “spicy” personality. Somehow that nickname carried on to the rest of her family and friends; all because of that one best friend she met back in 1996.
Lydia: Seriously though, what’s going on? You’ve been acting weird all night.
She snaps back into reality when she hears her mother’s voice.
Jennifer: I’m just… nervous.
Lydia: Well, it’s normal to be nervous, honey. We all were nervous the night before ours.
Jennifer: I know, but… what if I’m making the wrong decision?
Lydia sits up from her seat in shock.
Lydia: Do you not want to do this?
Jennifer: It’s not that, mom, it’s just… I think about the first time I was supposed to do this and–
Jennifer takes a deep breath and closes her eyes for a moment. She remembers the moment she arrived in New York after living in North Carolina for a year and a half. She remembers sitting in a cafe with her childhood best friend after not speaking to one another for a year and a half. When her best friend asked if Cullen came with her to visit, she remembers telling her best friend, “Cullen passed away from his illness three weeks before the big day. So no, he didn’t.”
Jennifer opens her eyes to the sight of her worried mother, now leaning forward to empathize with her.
Lydia: Things happen for a reason, Pep. I’m not saying Cullen was a mistake; maybe at that moment, that was the right choice. But you were also young. You packed your whole life to be closer to him. You guys were doing it because he was dying, Pep. You know how intense were between you two.
Lydia takes Jennifer’s hands and holds them from across the table.
Lydia: You came back home for a reason, Jennifer. Don’t forget that.
At that moment, the last three years flashed right in front of her eyes.
She remembers the airplane ride back to NYC, leaving her old life back in North Carolina after leaving Cullen’s house for his parents and only taking a carry-on of her essential belongings. She remembers the first moment she laid eyes on her best friend at their mutual friend’s baby shower. The adrenaline rush of seeing her best friend again after so long was intense: her best friend grew taller. Her best friend’s hair grew longer. Her best friend looked so different in a good way. And the nervous smile her best friend gave her when they said “hi” to each other for the first time in a long time was unfathomable.
Lydia: Don’t forget that because you came back home, so many blessings came from it.
Jennifer remembers the exact moment she confessed that all this time, she was in love with her best friend, and on that calm Halloween night, they shared their first-ever kiss.
She vividly remembers her first date with her best friend being so natural like it was always like this; like they were always supposed to be together like this.
She remembers them both stumbling into her best friend’s apartment, taking the opportunity of her best friend’s 9-year-old son being at a sleepover to finally show each other how much they’ve been in love with one another, after all these years.
Lydia: And don’t forget that if you didn’t come back home, you wouldn’t have had Micah in your life.
Jennifer remembers sitting hunched over the toilet one night, her best friend sitting at the edge of the tub holding up her hair, then looking at each other like they knew what was the next thing to do. In pajamas, her best friend comes back to the apartment from the pharmacy with a bag and tells Jennifer that “the pharmacist congratulates us in advance if the test is positive.” Jennifer takes the test out of the box and throws the box at her best friend, who seems to be more excited and happy rather than scared and anxious.
In the present time, Jennifer smiles and her mother then notices the calmness her daughter has now.
Lydia: You wouldn’t be where you are now if you didn’t already know that Milo was the one, honey. *leans back on chair* I mean, anyone with a brain knows that you were always meant to be. You guys, even at a young age, were so inseparable. And you guys fought like you were a damn couple all these years anyway.
Jennifer: *laughs and smiles* Hey, we just always had each other’s backs.
Lydia: Even when the universe pulled you guys apart. I don’t know if he ever told you this, but he always asked about you whenever he came over to pick up his son from a play date with your little sister. Ever failed to not ask me if you were doing okay in North Carolina.
Jennifer: *in shock* He… he never told me that.
Lydia: I’m telling you, Pep. I know you always think you’re making the wrong decisions in life and you run away from them. You always have, and I know Milo knows that as well. But if there’s one right decision you ever made in your life, it’s this one.
Lydia gets up from the kitchen table.
Lydia: Go up to bed, girlie. You only have a couple of hours before the wedding.
She kisses Jennifer on the forehead and heads into the dark hallway towards the stairs. Jennifer smiles and looks down at the slice of cake on the table. She picks up a fork and begins to eat it.
— The End —