If you need to get caught up, you can do it here.
Title lyrics: 'Breaking the Habit' by Linkin Park, because it fits the scene.
CHAPTER TWO (continued)
It is starting to get dark by the time she shoves the key into the front door. She hurries inside the house, eager to escape the biting evening wind whipping around her ankles. She closes the front door behind her and trudges towards the staircase, blinking against the black spots playing in her peripheral vision.
She hesitates at the bottom of the stairs, tempted to pretend she hasn’t heard him. She immediately curses herself for even considering it and turns towards the rumpus room, forcing her heavy feet to shuffle towards the sound of his eager voice. He is sitting on a small yellow chair at a blue, plastic table in the corner of the room.
“Hey, Spider-Ted,” she says, leaning against the frame of the arched opening into the rumpus room. “How was your first day? Did you have fun?”
He looks up, grinning at her. He is still wearing his Spiderman costume, but the mask is on the floor beside him. He stands up, dropping a fistful of crayons onto the child-sized table.
“I drawed you a picture,” he says, pulling a sheet of paper from underneath the scattered crayons. She straightens up and enters the room, taking the picture and kneeling in front of him. Three crayoned faces stare back at her, all smiling widely. One of them has a thick pink line on one side of his face, running from his forehead to his chin.
“This is me on my first day,” Teddy says proudly, puffing out his chest. “This is my teacher, and this is my friend. He likes Spiderman too and we had the same bag and the same lunch box.” The words come out in a rush as he eagerly tells her about his day. “We gotted to sit next to each other and we played in the sandpit together and my teacher sayed that we had to stand next to someone in the line and my friend sayed he wanted to stand next to me.” He looks up at her expectantly, smiling so hard that even the ruined side of his face seems to lift a little.
“That’s great, Teddy!” Her voice is saturated with forced enthusiasm. “What’s your friend’s name?”
Teddy opens his mouth to speak and then closes it again, frowning. “I forgotted.”
She laughs, shaking her head. “Well, what’s your teacher’s name, then?”
“Miss Isaacs. See?” He points to the barely legible letters scrawled across the top of the page. She can make out that it’s meant to read Me and Miss Isaacs and my friend.
“Oh yes; I see,” she says, nodding. “I didn’t see that bit before. I’m sorry; my brain must not be working today.”
He laughs, sitting down on the yellow chair in front of the table.
“You’re silly,” he says, picking up a crayon and beginning to draw on a fresh sheet of paper.
“I sure am.” She stands. “Can I keep this picture?”
He nods without looking up, sticking his tongue out of the corner of his mouth as he concentrates on drawing what looks like a dog. She kisses the top of his head and musses his dark hair before leaving the rumpus room and heading towards the stairs. The smell of onions and garlic wafts in from the kitchen and her stomach growls, reminding her that all she’s eaten today is a single piece of cereal for breakfast and a few bites of an apple for lunch. She wanders into the kitchen, deciding to capitalise on her appetite while she actually has one.
“Autumn,” her father says, looking up as she rounds the corner. “I didn’t hear you arrive. When did you get home?”
She shrugs, walking towards the fridge.
“A few minutes ago. I went to say hi to Teddy.”
She opens the fridge, inspecting the contents. She pretends not to notice the way he shifts on his feet.
“Well how was your first day? How did it go?” His voice is full of false cheer and she takes a deep breath in, closing her eyes briefly. Pressure mounts inside her chest and she pulls a bottle of juice from the fridge door, trying to ignore it.
“Fine,” she says, getting a glass from the cupboard. “Would you like some juice?”
He shakes his head, turning towards the pan on the stove and stirring the contents with a wooden spoon.
“Just fine, eh?” She can hear that he is working to sound casual. “Don’t I get anything more than that? What are your classes like? Did you make any friends?”
She takes a sip of her juice as the pressure expands into her stomach, leaving little room for food.
“My classes were good. People were nice.” Her scalp prickles and she wants nothing more than to flee from the room and bolt up stairs. Must they go through this dance every day? Her father sighs, putting the spoon down beside the pot and turning to face her.
“Look, Autumn…” He looks weary as he meets her gaze, leaning back against the kitchen counter. “I’m trying here, kid. Could you at least try to meet me halfway?”
She swallows. Her mouth feels like it is filled with sawdust.
“I know you miss her,” he continues, shaking his head slightly. “I know you do. I do, too, but it’s different for me. I lost my wife, but you…you and Theo lost your mother. I can’t even imagine what that must be like.”
She takes an infinitesimal step back. They haven’t spoken about this in months. Why now?
“I guess I just thought that maybe the move would help, you know?” He glances towards the entrance of the kitchen and drops his voice. “I thought that maybe a change of scenery would help you to…Help you to start to move on.” He looks at her expectantly, waiting for her to say something. She chews the inside of her lip and drops her gaze, staring at his shoes. They need to be shined. He sighs, folding his arms across his chest.
“Please, Autumn,” he says softly, crossing one foot in front of the other. “Let me know what I can do to help you. I’m worried about you.”
She scoffs slightly and looks up. She won’t be fooled by his concerned father routine. She knows the truth.
“I’m fine,” she says evenly, setting her glass down on the counter. “I don’t need any help.”
He stares at her for a long moment before he answers.
“I don’t think you are,” he says finally. His voice is strained. “Maybe…Maybe we should look at getting you back in to see someone. It seemed to help before.” He looks away, running his hand through his dark brown hair. It was the same shade as Teddy’s up until a few months ago, but now it is peppered with flecks of grey. It only started to change colour after That Day.
“I don’t need to see anyone.” She can’t show any trace of weakness now. Not now. “Anyway, dad, I’ve got a lot of homework to do. I’d better get started.” She turns on her heel and walks towards the staircase, resisting the temptation to run.
“Dinner’s almost ready,” her father says softly from behind her. “I’m about to set the table.”
The pressure inside her expands at the mention of food. She looks over her shoulder, glancing at him. His hand is outstretched towards her, like he wants to catch her arm and stop her from leaving.
“I had a big lunch at school,” she says, turning away. “I’m not really hungry.”
“Autumn.” He takes a step towards her. “Please.”
She leaves the kitchen without looking back, waiting until she is sure she is out of his sight before running up the stairs.