“Be that as it may, I’m assuming you wouldn’t have come out of whatever hidey-hole you’ve been tucked away in without something you considered a very good reason, and that means you need us.” Dad kept glaring as he spoke, choosing each word with exquisite care. That was something else he had in common with George. Both of them knew how to use words to wound. “If you want us to cooperate with whatever mad scheme has brought you back here, you will sit down, and you will eat breakfast with your parents like a civilized human being.”
“Right.” I shook my head. “And if you get some ratings out of the deal, well, that won’t suck for you, will it?”
“Perhaps not,” he allowed.
“Oh, good, we’re all together.” Mom appeared behind him, hair brushed, and a light layer of foundation on her cheeks. Not enough to show on camera—oh, no, never that—but enough to take fifteen years off her age. Her hair was the same silvery ash blonde it had always been.
How many times have you had to dye your hair in the last year? I wondered, and felt immediately bad about even harboring the thought. I didn’t like the Masons. I didn’t trust them. But at the end of the day, they were the only family I had left—and I needed them.
“Hands are clean,” I said, holding them up for inspection. Becks mirrored the motion, letting me take the lead. I was so grateful I could have kissed her.
“Good. Now go set the table.” Mom kissed Dad on the cheek—a glancing peck she normally reserved for public photo ops—and pushed past us into the kitchen. “Eggs and soy ham will be ready in ten minutes.”
“Thanks, Mom,” I said. I opened the nearest cabinet and took down four plates, passing them to Becks. Getting the glasses and silverware out of their respective places only took a few seconds more. “Come on, Becks.”
“Coming,” she said, and followed me out of the kitchen. Unsurprisingly, Dad tagged along behind her, looking studiously casual, but almost certainly making sure we didn’t make a break for it before he’d had a chance to grill us on what, exactly, we had come for.
The lights were on in the empty dining room. I stopped in the doorway, a lump forming in my throat. The dining room table was clear. The dining room table was never clear, not even when someone was coming to interview one or more of us; it was a constant bone of contention between the two generations in the household, with Mom and Dad insisting the dining room was meant for eating, and George and I insisting it was a crime to let a perfectly good table go to waste for twenty hours of any given day. We fought over it at least once a month. We…
But that was the past. I shook it off, blinking away the tears that threatened to blur my vision, and felt Georgia’s hand on my shoulder, steadying me.
The house is haunted, she said softly, but so are you, and your haunting is stronger than theirs. You can do this.
“Shaun?” asked Becks. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” I said, answering them both with a single word. I stepped into the dining room and started putting glasses down on the table. “Sorry. Just memories.”
“We have a lot of memories invested in this house—in this family,” said Dad, moving around the table to keep us in view. “It’s good to see you, son.”
“Can we not?” This time, the tears were too close to blink away. I swiped my arm across my eyes in a quick, jerky motion. “Don’t bullshit me, okay? Please. The last time we saw each other, you were threatening to take me to court over Georgia’s will, and I’m pretty sure I told you to go f**k yourselves. So can we not play happy families for Becks’s benefit? She knows better.”
Dad’s smile faded slowly. Finally, he said, “Maybe it’s not only for her benefit. Did you consider that? Maybe we missed you.”
“And maybe you’re trying to get the best footage you can before I run out of here again,” I said. Suddenly weary, I pulled out one of the dining room chairs and collapsed into it. “You missed me. Fine. I missed you, too. That doesn’t change who we are.”
“No, I suppose it doesn’t.” Dad turned to Becks, a seemingly genuine expression of apology on his face. “Would you like to wait in the kitchen while we have this conversation? I’m sure it’s not very comfortable for you.”
“I’ve come this far with your son. I think I’ll stick with him a little longer.” Becks took the seat next to mine, folding her hands in her lap as she directed a calm, level stare at my adoptive father.
He blinked, glancing between the two of us before clearly coming to the wrong conclusion. A smile crept back onto his face. “Ah. I see.”
No, you don’t, I wanted to scream. I didn’t. Instead, I said, “We’re here because we need your help. We didn’t have any place else to go.”
“That’s the sort of thing a mother always loves to hear from her only living child,” said Mom, stepping into the dining room. She was carrying a tray loaded down with quiche, slices of steaming artificial ham, and even a pile of waffles. It would have been more impressive if I hadn’t known she’d pulled every bit of it out of the freezer. But it was food, and it was hot, and it smelled like my childhood—the parts of it that happened before I knew just what the score in our happy little family really was.
“At least I’m honest.” I leaned over as soon as she put the tray on the table, driving my fork into the top waffle on the stack. She smiled indulgently, picking up the serving spoon and using it to deposit a slice of quiche on my plate. “Isn’t that a virtue around here?”
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