Fall by Winter - Cara Dee Page 0,1

thinks she wants to go to a school on the East Coast.”

I adjusted my glasses and waited for the punch line. Aurora had just started her sophomore year of high school. College was three years away.

“That’s okay with you?” he asked in disbelief.

I frowned. “Am I missing something? It’s a good thing that she’s researching schools. She’ll have plenty of time to decide, then.”

“But all the way across the country?” he pressed. “We’ll never see her.”

Oh, bless. “You and I attended college far away from home,” I pointed out. We’d met in Chicago, him from Washington, me from DC.

“And you’re living proof that college kids tend to settle down far away from home if they get their education out of state,” he stated. “It starts with four years, and then she meets someone there.”

She’s already met someone, I replied internally and took a sip of my wine. While this mother had hopes the crush would pass, I had a feeling it ran deep enough to be one of the reasons Aurora wanted to get away from Washington in three years.

I also had a feeling it would be the reason she eventually returned to us. To show this older crush of hers that she’d grown up. Because right now, he saw her as a kid.

It was teenage drama, but I was thankful for having a daughter who confided in me.

“It’ll be her choice, William.” I set down my glass and leaned back against the counter. “Was there anything else?”

He opened his mouth to respond, only to shut it and frown at me.

“What?” I waited.

He pursed his lips. “You’re going through a lot of changes.”

“I am.” I smiled and shrugged. “I’ve had my mourning period—and don’t misinterpret that.”

His gaze softened. “I know. I won’t.”

It wasn’t the unraveling of our marriage I’d been mourning for so long. It was the loss of myself. Out of our twenty years together, we’d had ten happy ones. It was something we’d discussed at length and agreed on. The first ten had been genuine and happy. Then everything had slowly started to come apart at the seams, and I’d lost sight of who I was.

“I’ve held you back for too long,” he murmured. “Is there anything I can do?”

“Don’t do that, William. Stop blaming yourself all the time.”

He let out a breath and smiled ruefully. “Maybe one day. And you can joke about my not noticing things, but you’re wrong, Lis. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable before—or eyeball you—with, uh—” he cleared his throat and gestured toward the hallway “—back there. With how you’re dressed. I’m just paying attention for once, and I like what I’m seeing. You’re more carefree and relaxed these days.” He paused. “You’re not holding an entire household together on your own anymore, and it suits you.”

He made me a little misty-eyed with those words. Despite…everything, he understood me well. Even so, blame had no place in our family. Depression turned every black-and-white surface into a blurry swirl of gray, and we’d all shared William’s foggy pain for years.

That fog had finally lifted, for all of us. It was what mattered.

“Do you remember what Aurora told us about the lanes?” I tilted my head.

“Of course.” He smiled. “I think about it sometimes.”

I nodded. So did I. In her young wisdom, she’d said that Mom and Dad used to drive in the same lane, but now the road was bigger, and it had three lanes. One for Mom, one for Dad, and one in the middle where he and I, and our kids, could drive together. Where we could check in with one another. A lane that still belonged to our family—and, recently, where William and I occasionally carpooled to navigate our way through this newfound friendship.

“I like seeing you in the middle lane,” I said, phrasing myself carefully, “but stay there.” I hoped he saw the humor of it too. “There’s nothing you can do about anything that happens in my lane.”

He sighed, then chuckled and ran a hand through his hair. “You’re right. I know you’re right. I’ll ease up.”

Good. I knew he wanted to make sure I was all right, but sometimes I feared he did it out of guilt because he’d moved on. Something I didn’t begrudge him at all. I’d moved on too; I just hadn’t moved on with anyone, and I had no desire to. Yet. Okay, I doubted I ever would, although it would be nice one day, maybe.

William didn’t just share a lane with