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“Hey baby, what are you up to?” Michael asked as he walked into the study with a plate of pasta. He knows good and well that I don’t like anyone eating in this room especially if they’re eating pasta on the white couch but I was in such a good mood that I didn’t feel the need to remind him of that. “I’m re-editing the last few chapters before I send it off to my agent.”

I was almost finished writing my first cookbook. Technically it was already finished but I just needed to make sure it was as close to perfect as it could be before sending it off. Michael was the one who pitched the idea of writing a cookbook since I had fallen into a space where working at Sakura wasn’t enough for me anymore. I still loved working there but it had become a routine and I needed more of a challenge.

I contemplated getting back into the restaurant business again but I didn’t want to leave Sam hanging after all he had done for me over the years. Business was great and he always praised me by saying I was the reason for it. When I told him about my cookbook he was excited as well though I had to promise I wouldn’t use any of the restaurant’s special recipes which wouldn’t be a problem. My cookbook would have all the recipes I make at home for my family like the meatless casserole I make for Olive or Nori’s favourite peanut butter cookies, and the almond butter substitute to those cookies that I make for Poppy since she’s allergic to peanuts. And of course, there’s every single recipe that my carnivore, chocolate-loving husband devours. I put a lot of us into writing this book and all of the recipes so it had to be done well.

“I thought you finished it already. Wasn’t it the final draft you gave me to read last Wednesday?”

“It was but I decided to make a few more changes.”

“Just send the thing to Angela already. It’s great. It’s funny and insightful and all your recipes are amazing. Believe me, I’d never lie and tell you something was good when it wasn’t.”

“I know.” I shrugged.

He looked at me for a moment before asking. “Tell me what’s on your mind. Describe how you’re feeling.”

I laughed. “You’re beginning to sound like Dr. Harris!”

“Well, she knows what she’s talking about. With all the money we paid her over the years she ought to!” He chuckled. “But seriously, what’s the matter?”

“I just feel pressured to get this right. It seems like every time I tried to do something on my own I end up failing, like The Nookstone.”

“This won’t be like that. And even if it does fail, which it won’t, at least you can say you wrote a book. Don’t do like I did, focusing on the negative stuff and letting it run your life. You have to let go of your fears otherwise it’ll only hold you back…okay, yeah, I get what you mean. I am beginning to sound like Dr. Harris!”

Just then Olive entered the room, “Mommy, daddy, we need to talk.” She announced as she sat down next to Michael.

“What about?” I asked.

“I was thinking, and I think it’s time I get a puppy.”

Not this again! “You can’t get a puppy.”

“Why not? I’ll be super responsible. I’ll clean all the poop, I’ll feed it, and bathe it and everything!”

“We went over this already sweetie.” Michael chimed in. “You know Mommy is allergic to pet dander.”

“But that’s why I have a great solution!” She announced.

“What’s the solution?” I asked, thinking it probably wasn’t a good one.

“You can take allergy medicines. Josie’s Mommy takes allergy medicine all the time just so Josie can get a cat.”

I knew Josie and her mother all too well. That woman would do anything so her brat of a daughter wouldn’t throw a tantrum. I remember the time I was leaving work after midnight and saw her at the 24-hour convenience store around the corner from the restaurant buying milk because Josie just had to have milk and cookies as a midnight snack. It was the craziest thing ever!

Unfortunately for Olive, I was nothing like Josie’s mother and even if I were, my allergies were pretty bad. I’d break out in rashes every time I went over to Patrick and Ashely’s house because of their dog. I’ve tried all sorts of antihistamines and all they ever do is relieve my symptoms just a little. Having a dog in our house would make me miserable all the time. “Sorry honey, that won’t work. You can always go over to Amiyah’s and play with her dog if you want.” She would just have to stay away from me until after a shower and a change of clothes of course.

“That’s not fair! Nori wanted a stupid keyboard and you got that for her! Poppy wanted to play basketball so you got a whole court for her! All I want is a dog and I can’t get it cause of your stupid allergies!”

I think Michael was too busy savouring his food to notice the attitude in her tone but I heard it loud and clear. “You better not take that tone with me, young lady.”

“But Mom, it’s not fair!”

“Life is not fair! You don’t always get what you want!”

“Ugh!” She growled in disgust. “You’re so annoying!”

“That’s enough!” Michael scolded her in a deep voice that even made me jump a little. “Apologise to your mother for being disrespectful. Now!”

“Sorry, Mommy.” She said with a pout. Michael rarely gets firm with them so whenever he does it’s always more effective than when I do. With me there’s always push back, with him they immediately fall in line. The thing is though, I don’t think they even consider him the ‘bad cop’. He’s totally ‘good cop’ while I’m the ‘bad cop’ whose never taken seriously. I think back to all those times when Lyra and Mom used to butt heads but she always listened to Dad. It must be a mother/daughter thing, that’s why. Olive ended up sulking out of there with the most pitiful look on her face. She can be such a drama queen!

I just knew she would end up running to Mary and convincing her to speak on her behalf which is exactly what happened the next morning at breakfast.

“I hope I’m not overstepping any boundaries, Maia…”

“Oh don’t be silly Mary.” Though I wish Olive wouldn’t keep running to Mary every time her father and I turn her down, I know it’s not Mary’s fault for being concerned. “You’re helping us with our girls, you’re not overstepping at all.”

“Okay…I just think Olive might be feeling a little left out.” She said. “I used to see it all the time. Call it middle child syndrome if you will?”

“I don’t get it. Olive gets plenty of attention and love from Michael and me.”

“I know that sweetie, but I think what she’s looking for is something to make her feel special. Nori has music, Poppy has basketball, so I think Olive just wants something of her own. She loves animals so I think that’s why she’s so adamant about having a pet.”

“We can’t have pets.” I sighed. “If I didn’t have allergies I would get her a dog in a heartbeat. I’ve always liked dogs myself, I just can’t be around them.”

“Maybe it doesn’t have to be a pet?” She suggested. “Olive is a natural people person. Maybe you can look into putting her in a social club or something? Like girl scouts or a kid’s volunteer group?”

“Hmm. That’s actually a pretty good idea and I know just the thing. Thanks a lot, Mary!”

I thought for sure she was gonna try to convince me to get Olive a pet but she ended up convincing me to do something better. I had noticed Olive was a little moody lately so maybe she was feeling a little left out and not special. I could relate to that.

“Hey kiddo, do you like the vegan spinach frittata I made?” I asked. “It’s got tofu, coconut cream and fermented yeast instead of eggs, cream, and cheese.” It actually hurt me a little to have to make those substitutions for her sake. Eggs, heavy cream, and cheese are some of my favourite ingredients! It tasted great but it was not a real frittata in my opinion.

“It’s fine.” She chewed quietly while still pouting.

“Hey, I have an idea,” I said. “A friend of mine was telling me about this program for kids that lets them do volunteer work. Once a week they’ll help clean up the beaches, and…”

“Clean up the beaches?” She finally perked up. “Why do they have to clean it up?”

“Well, some people litter so there’s a lot of garbage and…”

“People throw garbage in the water?” She asked in genuine disbelief. “But it’s like…sooo bad for the fishes and sharks…and the seagulls too!”

“It is bad. That’s why they need good people who care about the environment to help out. Would you like me to sign you up for it?”

“Well…are Nori and Poppy gonna do it too?”

“Nope, just you, and well Miss Mary’s agreed to go with you since you’ll need a parent or guardian to accompany you. And maybe on some weekends your father and I can come too? Wouldn’t that be fun to do something good for the beach animals?”

“Yes! That sounds so cool Mommy! I wanna do it!”

She finally had a smile on her face and hopefully, I wouldn’t have to hear another word about a dog anymore.

A few days later, Michael and I were talking about Olive’s volunteer program. “I think she’s really doing well in this. She talked my ear off about all the new friends she made and that stray dog they found on the beach and ended up taking to the animal shelter. It’s a great idea you had babe.”

“It wasn’t really my idea. Sam told me his niece was involved in the Kid’s Beach Clean-up program so that’s how I got the idea for that but Mary was the one who observed why Olive was acting up and suggested we get her into an activity. I don’t know what we’d do without her.”

“Hey, we all love Mary but you should give yourself some credit too. I’m sure we would have figured it out on our own.”

I shrugged. “Maybe.”

I didn’t think so. If Mary didn’t have that talk with me I never would have known what was going on with Olive. She always runs to Mary or Michael with her problems before she comes to me. She’ll even ask Nori for help with her homework before she comes to me. I know it’s my fault for working so much. Olive has always craved a little more attention than my other two daughters and I rarely get to spend as much time with her as I know she wants on top of doing all the other things I have to do. I just wish I had more hours in the day.

Olive and Poppy strutted into the room after just getting home from school. “Hey Daddy, hey Mommy!” they both said in unison.

“Hello, how was school today?” I asked to both of them.

“It was alright.” Olive shrugged.

“It was awesome!” Poppy squealed. “Olive totally put Josie in her place!” Olive shot her a look as if Poppy just revealed a big secret.

“How exactly did she do that?” I asked knowing this was not gonna be good.

“She called me a garbage collector when I told them about what we do on the beach clean-ups so I just…told her that her face was garbage too and…I could put it in a bag if she wanted…” She said it so sweetly as if to try to make her clear insult to this little girl sound innocent.

I could hear Michael stifling a laugh as he avoided eye contact with her and me. He obviously found it amusing but I didn’t. “Olive that was very rude!”

“I know but…ugh…she was so mean to me first!”

“She totally deserved it, Mommy!” Poppy joined in and as usual quick to defend her big sister. “Josie was picking on me and my friends so Olive told her to leave us alone but then she started saying mean things!”

“I understand but saying mean things back to someone won’t help the situation. You have to be the bigger person.”

“Ugh! But that’s so hard when the person is a jerk like Josie!” She groaned.

“I know it is but you have to try. Our words can have an effect on the people who listen and we must be careful with them.” She seemed receptive to what I said so I’ll take that for now. There was no need to punish her since it was her first offense and she was protecting her sister but I hoped she wouldn’t repeat this mistake again.

Poppy and Michael then started talking about basketball. They both loved the OS Llamas and often went on and on about point scores and slam dunks and all sorts of sports lingo I couldn’t understand. I always joke that Michael got the son he always wanted in Poppy.

In the middle of their exchange, I noticed Nori come in quietly and grab a serving of quiche while looking bummed out.

“What’s the matter, sweetie?” I finally asked.

“Nothing.”

“Nothing? You sure?”

“Yes! I said nothing! Just get off my case already!” She yelled. Nori never yells. Something was wrong!

Everyone stopped what they were doing and looked at her, just as surprised as I was. “First of all, you don’t take that tone with me,” I said calmly. I was more worried than I was angry that she yelled at me.

She sighed. “I’m sorry. I just had a bad day, that’s all. It won’t happen again.”

“Tell me about your day. What happened?”

She sighed before answering. “Mr. Pollock wants me to perform a solo at the recital.”

Mr Pollock was her music teacher and from what I heard, a very difficult man to please. If he wanted Nori to perform at the school’s annual music recital then it must mean she impressed him with her skills. “But that’s great news. Isn’t it?”

“No! Mom, do you even know me? I can’t perform in front of all those people by myself!”

“Think of it as an opportunity to get over your stage fright,” I suggested. “Honey, you’re so talented. As much as we all love hearing you play, don’t you want to share your talent with other people?”

“No.” She said plainly.

“Why not?”

“Because…I just…don’t want to.”

I was confused as to why she was so adamant about not performing. Her piano and singing skills were even better than Lyra’s when she was that age. I could already see her being a successful musician, succeeding where my sister failed. Lyra was too distracted by partying and boys back in the day and then she got pregnant with Liam and had to give up on her dream of stardom. Nori’s more disciplined and responsible than Lyra ever was, if only she wasn’t so introverted.

“I get it, sweetie,” Michael spoke up. “It’s fine if you don’t want to perform in the recital. I’ll talk to Mr. Pollock tomorrow.”

I couldn’t believe Michael wasn’t encouraging her. He was artistic as well so I thought he of all people would want to encourage her to put herself out there. Then I remembered how hesitant he was to show off his paintings back in the day and how I had to push him into taking his work more seriously.

Maybe I needed to do that for Nori as well.

“Mom! What did you do?!” She yelled at me the next day.

I guess Mr. Pollock told her that I called him that morning instead of Michael. “Relax sweetie, it will be fine.”

“I said I didn’t want to do the recital. Why are you making me? Dad said I didn’t have to!”

“You father and I talked it over and we think you should perform the solo.” Actually, Michael disagreed with me. He didn’t think it was a good idea but said I could do what I felt was best so long as I deal with the fallout by myself.

“No, Dad wouldn’t do this! This has you written all over it!” I’d never seen her so worked up before. Nori has always been my sweet little angel, so polite and warm and never once talked back to us. Except for now.

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“You always do stuff like this! You never listen to me Mom. I said I didn’t want to join the school band but you made me do it and now you’re forcing me to perform this solo against my will. Why are you so hell-bent on ruining my life?!”

“I’m not trying to ruin your life. You’re being overdramatic!”

“I can barely keep it together performing with the band, and there are eleven other people there! I can’t do it by myself! I just can’t!”

“Yes, you can! Trust me, you just have to focus and relax…”

“You don’t know shit Mom!”

“Ex…cuse me?” I was not naïve enough to think my teenager didn’t know curse words but I’d never heard any of them come out of her mouth before. Not even when she was talking to her friends and didn’t think I was listening. I was speechless.

“I…I’m sorry…I shouldn’t have said that…” she quickly apologised.

“No…I…look Nori I’m only doing what’s best for you.”

“I know. I’m sorry for cursing at you Mom. I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay.” I said. “Just don’t let it happen again.”

She was quiet for a little bit but then put her guard back up and frowned at me. “But I’m still not doing the solo and you can’t make me.”

I knew that look of determination. I see it all the time with Olive and even sometimes with Poppy but I’d never seen it before with Nori. I guess I pushed her too far this time. Michael was right, she needed to come out of her shell in her own time.

But I don’t understand what the big deal is. She plays and sings in front of us all the time, even when we have guests over. Sure there’s gonna be a lot more people in the audience at the recital but it’s just people and she’s so talented, she’s gonna be great. She’s way better than anyone else at her school and I’m not just saying that cause she’s my daughter, it’s a fact! But I guess my attempt at helping blew up in my face.

Sometimes when I think I’m getting the hang of this parenting thing situations like this come up and I realise I really don’t know shit.

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