My parents seemed to buy my routine. My mom looked at my dad and gave him that reassuring smile she makes when she's certain her children are the most precious creatures in the world. My dad did his complimentary, "I concur," smile.
I took another, much smaller, bite of my pancakes and chewed it slowly. After trying to eat nearly a quarter of them in one bite, they were less appealing than they had been when my dad and I had initially made them.
My mom cleared her throat the way she does when something important needs to be said, but she is not sure if she should say it or if my dad should. They were looking at each other making small shrugging motions. Finally, my mom said, "Cassidy, you should probably know that your sister has decided not to go back to school right now."
My fork clattered out of my hand onto my plate. "What?" I asked. I had heard some unusual things recently, I guessmaybe they weren't that unusualbut this one seemed right out of left field. "Why not?"
"Well," Mom continued, still looking at my dad like he should be the one speaking, "she's decided to take a break. This situation with Drew has been hard on her. She's decided to take a job with Aaron's company for a little while."
None of what my mother had said made any sense to me at all. For as long as I could remember, Cadence had been talking about becoming a teacher. The thought of my super smart, high-achieving sister not finishing college was mind boggling. And what did my mom mean by the "situation" with Drew? Since when was dying a situation? If anything, it was a guarantee all future situations would never occur. Finally, what kind of business was Aaron in, anyway?
I could have asked one of dozens of questions, but the one that came out of my mouth must have caught them both off guard. "You mean where Grandma used to work?"
Mom said, "Yes."
While Dad said, "No," at the exact same time.
They looked at each other, their eyes somehow wider than they had been before, the shrugging even more adamant.
"Well, which is it?" I asked as I began to grow dizzy from watching them gesture at each other without speaking for too long.
"It's both," my dad said triumphantly, as if he'd come up with a suitable answer. "The company has gone through a few changes recently, so it's like the same company. But different."
A wide grin split my mother's face, the victory shared. "That's right," she nodded. "It is both."
"And what sort of company does Aaron work for?"
They exchanged glances again, daring the other to speak. My mom lost. "Security," she said with a shrug. "It's complicated. I don't know the details."
While part of me wanted to continue to question them simply because I was beginning to not believe a word they said, I also realized I didn't care. Part of me wanted to. There was a little spark in the back of my mind, niggling in my brain, thinking, "Cassidy! This is important! This isn't right! It doesn't make sense!" But the rest of me said, "Ah, who cares?"
"Is it all right if I go to Lucy's?" I asked, deciding I was done with my pancakes. I hadn't been out of the house at all for a few days and thought it was time to go see some people who were not related to meor strange men dressed in all black.
"Sure," my dad said. My mom made a humming sound, making him look at her. That was her signal that he had said something wrong. He looked as astonished as I did. "What?" he asked.
My mom did a little head bobby thing which means, "Think about it," but my dad was still confused, so she let out a sigh and said, "Do we think that's a good idea right now?"
Confusion crinkled my dad's forehead. "I don't see why not. Honey, have you been talking to Lucy or anyone else on the telephone about what's going on with your sister?"
I raised my eyebrows. "Not really," I said, ignoring the formality of his use of the word "telephone." I looked at my mom and then back to him. "A few of my friends have called to see if she is okay." I had spoken to Wes, Milo, Lucy, and Emmawho seemed about as upset about the whole situation as I did right now, which wasn't much. "I just wanna get out of the house for a while."
My dad looked at my mom, clearly asking permission without opening his mouth. She did that "I'm exhausted, so I give in" face and pressed her hand to the middle of her forehead while looking down at the table. I had no idea why she was arguing in the first place or why this would be exhausting. Since when did they care if I went to Lucy's house?
"Okay. But bundle up. It's a little chilly." My dad seemed confident in his answer this time.
But he shouldn't have been. "Eli, I think it would be better if you drove her over." My mom said each word like she was talking to a person standing on the edge of a building, like one false step and my dad would plummet into oblivion.
"Of course, Liz." Whenever my dad uses my mom's name, especially in that tone, it is because he is also exhausted. "Let me know when you're ready, and I'll give you a ride."
"Lucy's house is, like, five blocks from here." I can't remember the last time they gave me a ride to her house, or even Emma's, which was about a half a mile away.
"I know. But we don't want you catching cold." My mom's smile was so fake she looked like a cheap mannequin.
"Okay," I said, gathering up my plate and taking it to the kitchen. I hated throwing away my dad's hard work, but I had lost my appetite pretty quickly once my parents started acting so weird again.