It’s 9 p.m. when she finally leaves. Annie watches as her friend Christine waves goodbye after a 3-hour visit. She smiles a closed-lipped smile that doesn’t quite reach her eyes. As much as she loves her dear friend, the last 2 hours have been mentally draining.

As Christine’s car screeches away from the visitors parking lot, Annie waves back until the car is completely out of sight. She turns around and immediately hugs herself as she prepares to brave the half-block walk back to her apartment. She’s wearing much too little, considering the 30-degree cold, and her decision to step out in flip-flops and a t-shirt was a colossal mistake. As she walks, she vigorously rubs her palms together before placing them on her cheeks, in an unsuccessful attempt to fend away the chills. Her 47-year-old body is not as resilient as it used to be.

Five minutes later, she’s almost home. Her steps are now a brisk walk, teeth clattering, teary-eyes, hands tucked under her t-shirt. Desperate for anything to distract her from the cold, she looks up from the concrete sidewalk to see a Porsche pull into a parking spot right in front of her building. It’s bright red like the comfort ride of a man with major mid-life crises. The loud music stops alongside the engine and before long, the headlights go dark. Now only a few feet away, she catches a glimpse of the driver as he leans towards the passenger seat and stays there. Thanks to the building’s safety light, she can see the man. She can see the woman too. Not a woman, a girl, one she knows. She slows her pace to a stroll and eyes the young people through the front windscreen. She quickly looks away when the young driver comes up for air and almost catches her staring. She’s in shock. This young man was just kissing her 16-year-old daughter Maddie.

Jake watches as the woman strolls into Maddie’s apartment complex. He’s sure she’s her mother. He turns to Maddie, his left hand on the steering wheel and the other hand in hers. The blank stare on his face suggests he’s just seen something unsettling. Maddie looks at him half smiling, both eyebrows raised, like she does when she doesn’t quite understand something. Jake nods in the direction of the woman, and Maddie turns her head just in time to lock eyes with her mother.

Annie holds Maddie’s gaze while punching in the security code to her building. Her free hand is now at her side clenched in a fist, gaze piercing Maddie’s. After a few subtle puffs, she walks into the building and disappears down the stairwell.

As soon as Maddie sees her mother, her face slumps in fear. Afraid that her mom might see her holding hands with a strange boy, she quickly pulls her hand out of Jake’s before her realization of the futility of that action, prompts her to hold it again. Still thrown, she jerks her head around, checking for signs of more people she might know. The coast is clear. Jake squeezes her hand sensing her fear and she leans in for one last kiss before scurrying out of the car, her face scrunched with worry.

A now shivering Maddie pushes the front door open just as her phone buzzes in her back pocket. She reaches to get it and props the door open with her foot. It’s a text from her mother; “MY ROOM! THIS MINUTE!”.

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