Riley had been frustrated the next morning when she’d woken up. She had fallen asleep on the couch and no one had moved her. The rest of them must have been allowed back into the living room after she had passed out as she saw their empty sleeping bags across the floor. She also observed the additional distance between them and where she had slept. Far enough that she could never have possibly, accidentally have touched any of them while she slept.
She wondered if her aunt had made them do that, or if they had done it on their own.
She couldn’t fault them for being afraid of her, but she the stab of pain in her chest still hurt as she felt her eyes moisten. She wiped it away before it could morph into tears and found the dried tears from the night before. Little pieces of sleep still lingering in the corners of her eye and all the pain that was held with it…
She remembered Suzy, how she had looked when they were all pulled out of the dream. Suzy had been terrified… of her.
Riley had done that too her, and they were right to be afraid.
They were so afraid…
They weren’t even there when she woke up. Had they all left? Were where they?
“Hey you.” Bruce said as he came around the corner. He took a bite out of something he had in his hand and started chewing as he spoke. “You slept in. You almost missed breakfast.”
“Breakfast?” Riley said, not grasping the concept.
“She’s up.” Bruce called over his shoulder to whomever was in the kitchen.
Riley expected one of the girls to emerge behind him but was surprised when her father emerged. He was wearing an apron and had a frying pan in one hand, a spatula in the other.
“Hey Ray Ray, you’re up. Your friends have already been filling their goblets with scrambled eggs and bacon. Still little bit left for you but you’d better hurry.”
Her dad. This was her dad, and she couldn’t remember the last time he had called her Ray Ray or had cooked her breakfast. What was going on? This wasn’t him. He was the gone all the time, only home to yell at her guy. Where did that go? He hadn’t cooked at home since… since before her mom had left.
Three years. Three long years and a state away since he had set foot Inside a kitchen and cooked a meal. If it wasn’t pizza or something microwaves it had not existed in their house. If she wanted a home cook meal, she went to Suzy’s because her father never cooked. He was never home to cook…
So why now?
“Is everything okay?” Riley asked as she got up from the couch and followed him back to the kitchen.
“Yeah, just taking some time off work. Alice said she thought you could use some father daughter time, and God, I can’t remember the last time took some time off.”
Riley wanted to ask him about how Alice could get him to take some time off, but she was interrupted by the sight of everyone as they were eating heartily in the dining portion of their eat-in kitchen. The kitchen area was separated from the dining room table by a counter that had four stools. Her three friends were sitting there instead of the table. The fourth spot had been vacated by Bruce whose plate was still at the empty stool.
Patty and Cat both looked like everything was normal and were going to town on the eggs, attacking them viciously as they shoveled in mouthfuls. Suzy on the other hand was at the far end of the countertop and eating her bacon in slow measured bites, not really paying it much attention as she ate. She had a far away look when she looked up at Riley, but then went back to stare blankly at her plate.
Her father cleared away Bruce’s empty plate and set down a new one with steaming hot eggs in its place.
“What are you guys up to today?” Her father asked as he put the plate in the sink. No doubt Riley would have to do the dishes later in her continued punishment from breaking her leg when she was supposed to have already been staying home grounded.
Riley made her way over to the stool and eased herself on it. It was uncomfortable with her cast and had been why she hadn’t been eating in the kitchen since she had broken it.
“Don’t know.” Patty said before anyone could answer. “School starts up next week. So gotta get ready for that I guess. I might head to the bookstore later and see what new books I can get.”
Patty had been answering her dad, but Riley noticed she had kept her eyes on her. Since the secret headquarters for the Dream Chasers was under a bookstore, Riley doubted she was going there to get books for school.
“Why would you go there to get books for school?” Cat asked. “Anyways, my mom’s taking me out shopping later to get new clothes. Can’t start the school year without a fresh new wardrobe, am I right?”
“Ugh, clothes shopping.” Bruce said as he went around them and sat by himself at the table.
“Hey, you know what, we should do that.” Riley’s dad said. He looked at her, a smile that made Riley feel more than a little uncomfortable, spread across his face.
“I don’t know.” Riley said, picking at her eggs. She wasn’t really hungry. Her stomach was still tied up in nots and this whole new dad thing was actually kind of creepy. It was like the body snatchers had taken away her real dad and left her with this all-to-pleasing copy of him that Riley didn’t know.
“Well you need new clothes, right?”
“I guess. I mean, what I have still fits.”
“It doesn’t matter if it still fits hun,” Cat said, giggling as she took her plate over to the sink. “It’s all about starting the new school year in fashion. Gotta have the latest.”
Riley could already tell that Cat was one of the more popular kids in school. No wonder Riley didn’t know her too well. Riley was more than a few cliques down on the social ladder and would never be sitting by her at a lunch table.
“Thankfully my parents do most my wardrobe shopping online.” Bruce said.
“Yeah, well, your parents are never home, that doesn’t really surprise me.” Cat said.
“Your parents all that much better?” Bruce asked.
They both shared a knowing look and Riley caught it before going back to her own breakfast. One thing Riley had noticed was that much of the families in <town name here> had parents that were away from home quite often. It was weird.
“Speaking of shopping though, I think I’m going to head out and get to the bookstore. I gotta talk to Max.” Patty said as she put her plate in the sink. “Thanks for breakfast.”
Patty rushed out of the kitchen and Riley could hear her getting her stuff organized in the living room.
“Yeah, me too.” Cat said as she left the room.
“I can stick around and help you clean up.” Bruce said as he got up from the table. He was offering to help, but he was still moving towards the hallway.
“We should be fine.” Riley’s dad said as he waved him away. Riley watched as Bruce disappeared down the hall before she turned back towards her dad. There, she saw the smile stretch awkwardly. It was still there, but now seemed forced.
“Dad, is everything okay?” she asked.
Her dad looked at her and nodding, still smiling, as he started to fill the sink.
“What did Aunt Alice say? You never come home.”
“Not like this.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“What did she say? When will she be back?” There was more that Riley wanted to say, so much she wanted to talk about with him.
There were always things she wanted to say to him. Most times she imagined angry conversations of her yelling at him, blaming him for how they had moved there, how her mom had left them. Something was different though, and she didn’t want to yell at him. She could see something to the softness in his eyes. Something was off, and it scared her. What was wrong?
“You okay?” Her father, shifting his eyes away from hers and turned to ask Suzy who had remained sitting their quietly.
Suzy looked at Riley again and then back at her eggs.
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Suz- Your mom’s here.” Bruce yelled from the hallway seconds before a large woman came barreling into the kitchen.
“Suzy, get your things.” The woman said, her Irish accent clipping the words. Her face was red, and it was obvious she was upset.
“Good morn-” Riley’s dad had started before he was cut off by the angry woman.
“You! How dare you let a lad sleep over in a house of young girls. What kind of sense in ya?”
“I’m sorry, but they were all supervised and they all slept in the living room.”
“Hump. You. Supervised. When are you ever home to supervise? Suzy, we’re leavin’.”
With that, she stormed out of the room. Suzy slid off her stool to follow, not saying a word to either Suzy or her dad as she left.
“Finish up with breakfast. I’ll get cleaned up and we can go shopping. Get you some clothes.” He said as he turned from her and ran the water in the sink. She had missed it. She could feel it. She had missed that moment where she could finally ask him about what happened to her mom. Why had she left them?