I really felt bad for Bryce sometimes. He was only thirty-three, and already saddled with the responsibility of two moody teenagers who occasionally beat each other up. He really did make an effort to be a good parental figure. But he was young, barely done being a kid himself.
Later that evening, I sat on the "porch" watching the snowflakes fall. I was by myself, naturally. It was too cold out for anyone else. I was actually starting to get numb, but sitting indoors for too long made me antsy.
I wasn't outside for very long before Bryce joined me, wearing a coat suitable for the weather, a cigarette hanging out his mouth.
"Sorry," he said, shutting the door behind him. "Did I surprise you?"
"No," I said. I didn't bother to look up. He came to stand beside me, and we both looked out at the lawn.
"Cold out," he said cheerfully. "Aren't you cold?" I shrugged.
There was blank silence. He was trying to get me to say something, anything, but we had played this game for ten years and I was not about to budge. After making an I-give-up noise, he sat down heavily on the chair next to me.
"Damn it," he hissed, immediately jumping back up. He hadn't bothered to brush all the snow off of the seat. I laughed a little bit. Visibly annoyed, he beat the snow off the chair and sat back down. He took the cigarette out of his mouth and exhaled, letting his head fall back.
"Those things are bad for you," I pointed out.
"Hey," he said, "I am an adult now. I don't need a twelve-year-old lecturing me."
"Har-har," I said, rolling my eyes. "I'm almost seventeen, thank you very much."
"Pfft. Potato, potahto."
I punched him lightly on the arm. Or as lightly as I could manage. Bryce pulled back, however, clutching his arm and looking truly hurt.
"Oh my God, I'm so sorry," I said, reaching out for him. But he relaxed and grinned impishly, catching my wrist.
"Just kidding," he sneered.
"You're the worst," I said, taking my arm back. I was faintly annoyed, but I allowed him a small smile. And then I could see it in his eyes -- that glimmer of hope that sprung up whenever I smiled. Like maybe he would get a chance to "talk" and "share feelings" with me. I pretended I didn't see it and that I wasn't immediately pissed off because of it. We sat in a comfortable silence for a minute or so, Bryce's cigarette perfuming the still air.
"So," he said in his father-voice. Here we go, I thought grudgingly. "What's going on, Rae? Anything at school you wanna... talk about?" I shook my head. At least that much was true. I hated having to lie to Bryce. I could tell he was looking at me, trying to search my eyes, read my face. "Anything, you know... else?" I looked up at him then. His grey eyes looked concerned, which made me want to hug him and punch him at the same time.
Where is my mother? "No."
"Are you sure?" I couldn't see if he could tell I was lying or not.
I miss my dad. "Yeah." The level of skepticism in his eyes was making me worried. I silently begged him to believe my lie. Or at least swallow it. Inside me, the tether tugged gently. It felt oddly warm, like I was hugging a small creature to my chest.
"You look like your mother," he said gently. His accompanying smile was cautious. I exhaled the tension that had built up in me and returned his smile. Bryce must have sensed that the small window in which I was actually approachable had closed. He squeezed my hand before getting up and going back inside the house.
I stayed on the "porch" until Kace poked his head out to yell at me. I was up for a very, very long time that night thinking about Bryce's comment. Was it a compliment? I had never seen my mother. All the pictures of her, my father had burned or buried a long time ago. I didn't even have a memory of her.