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Page 12

“I’m calling the bank in the morning. Sally will give us a loan. I know she will.”

Dad slammed his fist on the table. “Damn it, Mavis, I said no.”

Mama’s nostrils flared. “You got us into this! If you’d done your job, they wouldn’t have let you go!”

“Mama,” I warned.

“This is your fault!” she said, ignoring me. “We’re going to be penniless, and you were supposed to take care of us! You promised! Now you’re staying home all day while I’m the sole income! We’ll have to sell the house. Where are we going to go? How did I get stuck with such a screwup?”

“Mama!” I yelled. “That’s enough!”

Mama’s hands shook while she picked at her nails and fidgeted with her messy hair. She turned on her heel and rushed up the stairs, sniffling as she climbed.

Dad looked up at me, embarrassed and remorseful. “She didn’t mean it, Princess.”

I sat down. “She never does,” I grumbled under my breath.

Dad’s mouth pulled to the side. “She’s just stressed.”

I reached across the table, grabbing his clammy hand. “Just her?”

“You know me.” He winked. “Falling is easy. The hard part is getting back up. I’ll figure this out, don’t you worry.” He rubbed his shoulder.

I smiled at him. “I’m not worried. I’ll walk down to Braum’s and see if they’re hiring.”

“Don’t get your britches in a bunch. We’ll start talking about that next month. Maybe.”

“I really don’t mind.”

“What did you eat for lunch?” he asked.

I simply shook my head, and Dad frowned.

“Best get in there and make yourself something. I’m going upstairs to calm your mama.”

I nodded, watching him struggle to get up and then nearly lose his balance. I held his arm until he was steady. “Dad! Are you sun sick?”

“I’ll take this with me,” he said, picking up the water.

I watched him slowly climb the stairs, crossing my arms across my middle. He looked older, feebler. No daughter wants to see her dad as anything but invincible.

Once he reached the top, I went into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. It kicked on, humming while I searched for lunch meat and cheese. No meat, but I found one last slice of cheese and some mayonnaise. I pulled it out of the fridge and looked for bread. Nothing.

A full box of saltines was in the cabinet, so I slathered on some mayo and tore apart the cheese in small squares, trying to spread it out across as many crackers as I could. Mama had been so worried she’d forgotten to go to the store. I wondered how many more times we could afford to go.

Dad’s dining chair creaked when I sat. I picked up the first saltine and took a bite, the cracker crunching loudly in my mouth. Dad and Mama weren’t fighting—she wasn’t even crying, which she usually did when she was this stressed—and I began to wonder what was going on up there and why she wasn’t at work.

The chandelier above me trembled, and then the pipes began to whine. I exhaled, knowing Dad was probably running a bath to help Mama calm her nerves.

I finished my lunch and washed my plate, then sauntered outside to the porch swing. Elliott was already swinging there, holding two large brownies wrapped in cellophane and two bottles of Coke.

He held them up. “Dessert?”

I sat next to him, feeling relaxed and happy for the first time since he’d left. I pulled open the clear plastic and bit into the brownie, humming in satisfaction. “Your aunt?”

He squinted one eye and smiled. “She lies to her women’s auxiliary group at church and says it’s her recipe.”

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