Ready to Run
I sip my hot cocoa, not the powdered kind that comes out of a packet, but the shaved-chocolate kind made from scratch. Mrs. Meriwether places a plate of steaming croissants in the middle of my dining room table. They smell like warm butter.
Jaxon grins, poised to take a bite of French toast. "You've got that morning punk-rock thing going on again."
I touch my hair and discover that I do in fact have a cowlick. I smile. "At least I don't have toothpaste on my face."
Jaxon makes no attempt to check if I'm right; he just chews away.
"Sam and Jax—Monday-morning match: round one," my dad says, pouring a second cup of coffee into his #1 DAD mug and looking at Mrs. Meriwether. "I think there's a frightening possibility that our children take after us, Mae. Neighbors, best friends, surly dispositions."
Mrs. Meriwether pats the corners of her mouth with a white cloth napkin. "The way I remember it, I was mostly an angel. It was your mother who had to threaten you with weeding the garden for a month just to keep your slingshot on your lap and off her table," she says.
My dad smiles at her, and I stop chewing. His time in a coma felt like an endless walk down a dark tunnel. I'm sure I'll eventually get used to him just sitting here drinking coffee and smiling. But for these past six months, every minute I've spent with him still feels like borrowed time.
My dad's eyes twinkle with mischief. "Now, we all know it was your slingshot. You're too young for your memory to be slipping. Maybe you should do more crossword puzzles."
Mrs. Meriwether raises her eyebrows. "Be very careful, Charlie, or I'll tell them about the time you tried to prank Ms. Walters. Emphasis on the word tried." She looks at me and Jaxon. "I believe you know her as Mrs. Hoxley."
"Wait, you pranked my homeroom teacher?" I ask. No wonder she's always eyeing me like I'm about to do something wrong.
My dad shakes his head. He's got that dignified and refined thing about him—gray at his temples, big brown eyes, confident. When he wants to, he can shut the world out behind his stoicism and clean button-downs. But right now he's bright and alive, enjoying himself.
"I definitely want to hear this story," Jaxon says.
My dad checks his watch. "Don't you two need to get ready for school?"
"That bad, huh?" I say, and pick up a forkful of blueberries and whipped cream.
"Why are you wearing boys' clothes?" asks a little girl's voice just behind me. My fork drops with a clang, and a blueberry goes flying, hitting Jaxon smack in the face. I whip around in my chair.
A girl about ten years old stands a couple of feet away from me in an old-fashioned pink dress. Her brown hair is braided and tied with ribbons. She giggles, scrunching her dark eyes and small nose together as the blueberry sticks to Jaxon's cheek. No one else is laughing but her.
Jaxon wipes his face and stares at me without looking in the girl's direction. My skin goes cold. He doesn't see her. I shut my eyes for a long second and take a breath, turning back to the table and away from the girl.
Jaxon, Mrs. Meriwether, and my dad all watch me with matching worried expressions.
"Is everything okay?" Mrs. Meriwether asks.
My hands shake, and I put them under the table. "Um, yeah."
"Are you sure, Sam? You look spooked," my dad says, all his good humor replaced with concern.
I glance behind me; the girl's gone. My shoulders drop an inch. "I thought I heard something."
My dad frowns. "What?" We've only talked once about what happened while he was in a coma. And I only told him selective pieces. How Vivian sold our New York City apartment and lied about his medical bills. How when I found out she was lying, she threatened my friends to manipulate me. How when she realized I wouldn't do what she wanted, she tried to kill us with spells. And how those spells backfired on her. Mostly, he just listened with his eyebrows pushed forcefully together. When I finished, he had tears in his eyes. He
told me to get some sleep, and he kissed me on the forehead. He doesn't know how many people she killed. And I left out all the magical elements I could. Every time I said "spell," he flinched like someone had burned him. There was so much guilt on his face that I hated telling him even the pared-down version. He hasn't brought it up since. And I'm grateful, because I can't stand being reminded that I lied to him. That was the first time I ever did.
"Just a noise," I say, and look down at my plate. A second lie.
"A ghost noise or a people noise?" Mrs. Meriwether asks.