Storm Page 24

She discovered her mom surrounded by a dozen boxes of cupcake mix and Shake \ Bake, scrubbing the shelf liner with a rasp-back sponge.

Becca sighed and grabbed a mug from the cabinet. ’’Really, Mom? The shelf liner?’’

’’This is filthy. It\s crazy.’’

Becca spooned three heaping tablespoons of sugar into her mug. ’’Right. That\s what\s crazy.’’

’’Did you know your dad was in town?’’

Becca almost spilled creamer all over the counter, but she saved it at the last second. ’’Oh?’’

Her mother was scrubbing with a vengeance. ’’He said he left a message for you.’’

Busted. ’’Maybe Quinn took it. You know how she is. You talked to him?’’

Her mother glanced up. ’’Obviously, Becca.’’

Becca poured coffee into the remaining two inches of space. ’’And you ... aren\ surprised he\s in town?’’

’’Well, I suppose I should have figured he\d show up eventually.’’ Her mother started slamming the boxes back onto the pristine shelf, punctuating every other word of her sentence. ’’I just would have appreciated a little forewarning that he\d called you, you know, so when he confronted me and asked if I\ve, you know, poisoned your opinion of him ’’

’’Mom.’’ Normally her mother wasn\ quite this keyed up. ’’Are you all right?’’

’’No, I\m not all right.’’ Her mom flung pasta boxes into the cabinet. ’’First, a man I haven\ seen in years shows up on the doorstep, and then I discover that kids spray painted all over the front of the house.’’

The coffee was burning her hands through the sides of the mug, but Becca kept a death grip on the ceramic. She\d been stuck on her mom\s comment about her father showing up, but now her thoughts went in a new direction. Was this retaliation for showing up at Drew\s party?

Her mom was still ranting, snapping yellow vinyl gloves onto her hands before grabbing a can of EASY-OFF. ’’I don\ know why these people think I have time to deal with the front of the house being treated like a highway overpass.’’

Becca carefully set her coffee on the counter and turned for the kitchen doorway. She would just go see for herself.

She was almost running by the time her hand seized on the doorknob. She yanked at the door, ready to throw herself onto the porch to see the damage.

So she almost fell on top of her father, kneeling there with a paintbrush in his hand.

He looked the same, but sort of different, which was surprising enough. It was like looking at her mom\s old yearbook photos still clearly the same person, just ... not. He was a good-looking guy, she guessed, with sandy brown hair that had yet to turn gray, though a few gray whiskers had crept into his goatee. His eyes were a steely gray she\d inherited, though his were deep-set over solid cheekbones. He was wearing some kind of uniform, khaki pants and a button-down shirt with patches on the sleeves, alternately reading Department of Natural Resources and Wildlife Control division. A green truck sat in the driveway, a matching logo on the door.

’’Easy,’’ he said. ’’The door\s wet.’’

She jerked her hand away, though she hadn\ touched anything but the interior knob. A fresh coat of paint made the door shine in the early light. He\d gotten three-quarters of the way down, and she could just see the edge of a line of red spray paint near the base.

She stared at the door, as if she could somehow read what had been written through the beige layer of Duron.

Her father put the paintbrush in his left hand, then held out his right. ’’Bill Chandler. Nice to meet you.’’

Becca scowled. ’’Hilarious.’’

He pulled his hand back, then gestured for her to step onto the porch. ’’Pull that shut so I can finish.’’

She was tempted to close herself on the inside. But she stepped onto the porch, careful of splinters, and pulled the door shut. Now, facing the house, she couldn\ see any graffiti, except the stripe at the bottom of the door.

She had no idea what to say to her father, so she stuck with the mundane, as if she saw him every morning. ’’Mom said it was all over the front of the house.’’

’’It was just the door. Your mom tends to exaggerate.’’

That pissed her off. Her back straightened. ’’How would you know?’’

He nodded, then dipped the brush into the paint can by his right knee. ’’You\ e right.’’ He paused and glanced up. ’’She used to exaggerate. Does she still?’’

Becca didn\ want to nod. But he was right. She stared out into the yard instead.

He brushed a stroke up the front of the door. ’’I left a message for you to call me.’’

’’I don\ return calls from complete strangers. You never know what they might be selling.’’

’’That\s true. Why take a chance, right?’’

An insult was hidden there, she was sure of it. She frowned. ’’What do you want?’’

’’Right this second, I want to finish painting this door.’’

’’You think slapping some paint on the door is going to put you back in Mom\s good graces? Where\d you even get that paint, anyway?’’

’’Your mother had it in the shed. And I have no idea about her graces, good or otherwise. I just thought I\d help out while I waited for you to wake up.’’

’’Why?’’

He looked up. ’’Because I\m your father, Becca.’’

She stared at him. ’’Wow, and you said that with a straight face and everything.’’

He looked back at the door and slid another line of paint up the side. ’’Be as nasty as you want. I know you\ e curious.’’

She wanted to punch him. Or kick him;the angle was better. ’’So?’’

’’I am, too. I have an assignment in town, so I\ll be here for a while.’’ He paused. ’’I thought maybe we could catch up.’’

’’An assignment.’’ She rolled her eyes. ’’How exciting.’’

’’Not at all. I\m investigating crabbing violations in Annapolis. Couldn\ be more boring.’’

She leaned against the siding next to the door and looked out at the street. ’’You want to just roll in here after years of nothing but random phone calls, and act like suddenly we can be ’’

’’Becca.’’ He looked up at her. ’’I don\ want to act like anything.’’

And then she was hit with a memory. She must have been four years old. Her father had been holding some kind of animal, a ferret, maybe, or a guinea pig the memory was fuzzy around the edges. Show and tell? She couldn\ remember. But she remembered the feel of his hands around hers, helping her cradle the animal, letting her show it to the other kids.

Jesus Christ, her throat felt tight.

He was still looking up at her. ’’Becca?’’

’’I\m busy today,’’ she said.

’’Doing what?’’

’’I need to go to the mall. My cell phone broke, so I need a new one.’’

He was looking at the door again, brushing slowly. The door had been green, but he must not have had enough paint. Now it was going to be beige like the back door. It looked unnaturally bright against the brown siding.

’’Well, why don\ you go get dressed.’’ He glanced up. ’’Maybe I could go with you. We could get lunch.’’

She snorted. ’’Yeah. Okay, Dad. Like Mom is going to let me go off with you.’’

’’I already talked to her.’’ When Becca couldn\ think of anything to say to that, he glanced up. ’’I\ve been here for two hours. We had coffee.’’

Becca fidgeted with the edge of her pajamas. Her mom was okay with this? ’’I was kidding about the cell phone. I don\ have money for a new one. Yet.’’

’’I can take care of it,’’ he said.

’’Oh, you\ e going to buy me off?’’

’’Is that possible?’’

She took a breath and fidgeted again. He sure had a cache of retorts. ’’I don\ want you to,’’ she said after a moment.

’’Sometimes it\s not about what you want, Becca.’’

’’Clearly.’’

He swung his head around, and she saw the first flash of irritation in his eyes. ’’All right, maybe we can cut the attitude.’’

’’Sometimes it\s not about what you want, Dad.’’

He stared right at her. ’’Clearly.’’

That made her flinch.

He didn\ hold her there too long. He looked back at the door, and his voice dropped. ’’I\m serious. Go get dressed. I\m not on the clock until one.’’

Great.

But now he was looking at her again, and she felt his uncertainty. That meant he cared. She could refuse right now, and there really wasn\ a whole lot he could do about it. But she got the distinct impression it would hurt him if she did.

She shouldn\ care. He didn\ deserve it.

But she did care. ’’All right.’’ She paused. ’’I have to take a shower first.’’

’’Take your time. I still have to do the molding.’’ He shifted so she could get back through the door.

But halfway through, she paused. ’’What did it say, anyway?’’

He was already reloading his brush. ’’What did what say?’’

’’The door.’’

’’It didn\ say anything. Just some stupid kid\s idea of art.’’

It didn\ say anything. Relief shoved some of the guilt out of the way. Regardless of how she felt about her dad, she didn\ want him reading that some ’’stupid kid’’ thought his little girl was a whore.

He ran the brush against the side of the can, scraping off the excess. ’’Seems a little early for Halloween, though.’’

She didn\ follow. ’’Halloween?’’

He glanced up at her. ’’Didn\ your mom tell you?’’

When she shook her head, he reached up to take hold of the door handle, obviously wanting to get back to painting before it dripped off his brush. ’’Yeah, they drew a pentagram.’’

Then he pulled the door shut, leaving her standing in the hallway, staring gape-mouthed at nothing.

Becca wanted to storm over to Chris\s house and demand answers.

Instead, she had to suffer through a phone demo at the Verizon store in the middle of the mall, given by a guy not much older than she was. Christ, she knew how to send a text message. Couldn\ they just swipe her dad\s card so they could get out of there already?

When the salesman finally went into the back to program the phone, her dad leaned on the counter and looked at her. ’’You all right?’’

She couldn\ stop thinking of the pentagram on her front door. Had Tyler done it? Seth?

They had a gun and they knew where she lived?

She shrugged and picked at her nails.

’’Do you like the phone?’’ he asked.

’’It\s fine.’’ It was great. Better than her last one, with Internet access and a keyboard instead of just ten digits on the face.

’’You want to tell me what\s bothering you?’’

Yes. She did. She didn\ care who listened, but she needed to spill her guts and ask someone what to do. If he asked twice, she might actually do it.

She hunched her shoulders and stared at the wall of protective cases. ’’No.’’

’’Fair enough.’’

Well, that solved that. She shifted to trace her finger along the peeling edge of the service agreement taped to the counter until the man came back.

’’Becca, this thing between me and your mom I think you might have the wrong ’’

’’God, Dad.’’ Of course he thought this was all about him. She spun to look at him. ’’Here? Really?’’

’’Easy,’’ he said softly, making her realize her voice had risen in pitch. ’’I\m just trying to talk to you.’’

She scowled. ’’I\m not going to listen to some story about why you screwed over my mother. And me, for that matter. In the middle of the mall or otherwise.’’


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