With one box packed, I exited the room and went to the old kitchen with creaking floorboards and broken cupboards. “Dad!” I shouted when I saw him unpacking his candles. I had always thought that Poppa was the one who fancied them.
“Mila,” Dad muttered grumpily. “Not so loud, okay? I’ve got a migraine.”
“Dad,” I continued, ignoring his plea. “You can’t have candles in this house. Are you crazy?”
“Mila, it smells like rats shit in here. It hasn’t been cleaned and I really can’t stand the smell right now.”
“The Old Man is going to come and haunt us because we’ll make him think it’s his wife, but we’re not and oh, God we’re going to die!” I gripped the edge of the marble counter and tucked my chin into my chest, pretending to pray.
“Geez, Mila, come on. I told you already. It’s just a story. Philip was a good guy, very kind, and there’s no such thing as ghosts.” He stepped forward and placed his hands on my cheeks. My lightly tanned skin paled compared to his. “Darling, I’m hot, hungry, and tired. I don’t want to deal with the rumors you heard, okay? I don’t want to deal with your freak-outs.” I stood up straight and bit my tongue to try to hide the hurt in my eyes. Freak-outs.
“Right.” I paused and pulled away from him, dropping my eyes to the ground. Every curl of my toes made the floors creak. “Sorry.” Dad sighed and turned back to the candles. There were only five. Philip’s wife had way more than that. Maybe he wouldn’t think any of it.
No. He won’t, I told myself. It’s just a story and nothing is going to happen.
Food came less than an hour later. I had taken my box of orange chicken and retreated into my room, staring at the blank television screen. There was no cable, not even any wifi. I had good service, however, but it was useless since I had no friends to text. I didn’t want to go to the guest room because the stupid elf doll was still in there, but there was nothing else to do. So, I “womaned” up and walked to the room with pride. I snatched the doll into my hands and threw it in the garbage bin beside the bed.
“No way, Jose.”
* * *
It took about a month to unpack our things. Every day was as boring as the last. I went to the same school and got tormented for living in the old man’s house. Many people asked me questions like if there was blood, if I saw the original doll, or if I’d seen Philip himself. I always told them no. However, one thing I absolutely loved saying was that my dad lit candles every night and if you listened closely you could hear weeping.
I don’t tell them that the weeping comes from me.
A lot of people suddenly wanted to be my friend and come home with me and have a sleep over. I turned them down because I knew they were only interested in the house.
When word spread of why I had to move, less and less people came up to me and I got more looks of sympathy, some of disgust—because my dads are gay, or at least I thought they both were—and a few of curiosity. I was completely alone again, until a new kid came to school. His name was Kieron. He had neatly combed, black hair and almost always wore his black aviators. When they were off I noticed his bright, blue eyes. They had gold specks and held fury, passion, love, and darkness in them. He was something else. It was rumored that he killed his own parents, but there was no proof of that. His grandparents wouldn’t have taken him in if it were murder. He’d be in jail.
I admired Kieron from afar and wondered what his real story was. He was smart, though. He took all AP classes. He had English with me. He would always answer the questions and did all of his work. When we were paired up to write a short story, I learned that his dangerous demeanor was just a facade. He was a sweet boy—brilliant and heartbroken. His parents died in a boating accident. They were rich, and he would be, too, in May, when he turned eighteen.
Kieron and I worked on our story, which we got an A on, but every time we did, it was at his house. One day, he asked why we didn’t go to mine, and I told him not to worry about it. The project was almost done. He seemed hurt, but didn’t say more.
Apparently, he had been asking around. He knew about my gay parents and their divorce, he knew about Philip and Marge, and he knew that my dad was the man who got it all from the couple. I had asked if it frightened him and he quoted Lion King. “I laugh in the face of danger! Hahahaha!”
He came over the very next day.
Our project was done, however, and he still wanted to hang out with me. My dad found a recipe for lasagna and cooked it up for us. I knew he wanted to stay and eat, too, but I told him to go out and have fun. He didn’t look like he trusted me, but then he seemed to remember something—maybe the weeping. He left after telling us to be good and make good decisions.
The lasagna was delicious. Kieron and I ate three pieces each. When we were done, I offered to watch a movie. He said yes, but I could tell something else was on his mind. It saddened me when I realized he was probably more curious about the house than me. I didn’t show my suspicion or hurt. I just walked to the living room and turned on the T.V. We finally had cable and wifi, and I had never been so grateful for commercials.
When the movie was finished, we sat in silence. It was uncomfortable. I asked him if he enjoyed the movie and he nodded in response. Not being able to take his distance anymore, I blurted, “If you want to look at the house, just go. He died in the guest room, but we painted the walls and changed the bed sheets so it’s not the same.” He looked at me with confusion. “Just go!” I curled in on myself. He didn’t move, he just stared with his brows furrowed.
“Mila, what’s wrong?” he asked.
“You came here for the house, didn’t you? That’s why you’ve been so distant.”
“The house? No...”
“You can just look around, but my Dad doesn’t like it when I snoop so I’m sure he’ll hate it if he finds you doing it, so be quick.”
When I looked up, Kieron was there. He took my cheeks in his hands and pulled me closer to him. “Mila, I wasn’t here for the house. I was here for you.”
“Then why have you been so quiet?” My body went stiff. “I know you were thinking about the house and going to explore. I told you, you could go and look.”
“I wasn’t thinking about the house, Mila.”
“I was thinking of you.” I didn’t say anything. “While you gulfed down the third piece of that lasagna, I was thinking that you were comfortable with me. I was thinking that I felt honored. When you got some cheese in your hair and I reached over to get it out, I was thinking of the blush on your cheeks. When you smiled and mumbled thank you, I was looking at your mouth and wondering what it would be like to kiss you. I was thinking of you, Mila.” The blush had returned and my heart thudded in my chest.
“Mila, your house is creepy. You’re beautiful. Why would I want to focus on anything other than you?”
“Kieron,” I said sharply. He stopped, and the first time during his whole rant, I realized his cheeks had turned a bright shade of red that creeped up all the way to the tip of his ears. It was kinda cute. I tried to search for words to say to him, to tell him how I felt. I couldn’t find any. I leaned forward and took his face into my hands. I pulled him close, our lips just barely met. I was about to close the gap when my cell phone chimed. I wasn’t sure whether or not I should ignore it. It kept ringing, though, and I figured the moment was ruined, anyways. I sighed and mumbled an apology before I got up to get my phone from the kitchen. It was Poppa.
“Mila, my sweet?” he said quickly as soon as I answered the phone.
“I need you to do me a favor. Please just—shit.” There was a crashing noise in the background.
Fear spiked my chest. “Poppa? What’s the matter?”
“Call your dad, okay? Tell him to go pick you up, and... and whatever you do, do not open the door for anyone but him.”
“Mila, I have to go. Please, do as I asked. I love you, honey. I’m so sorry I did what I did. I’m so sorry.” The line went dead.