Mom had told us what to expect: it would be livable. Now, as we walked through the second floor, I saw what she meant. We walked past four musty bedrooms full of broken furniture before we got to the end of the hall, and our room. I felt queasy as I pushed the door open, but it was the only room that didn't look like it needed to be ripped to the studs and renovated. The windows were thrown open; clean air wafted in. Our Jenny Lind beds were already set up, and a new chaise in pink velvet was waiting beneath the bank of back windows. There was a view of a dry terraced backyard leading up to the only living thing I'd seen so far. A willow tree.
"How did someone manage to put a regular room into the middle of a decaying mansion?" I leaned out the open window. The air smelled like rose water with an undertone of low-VOC paint.
"Mom must have redecorated. It is her job." Blythe removed her laptop before she dropped her bag to the ground.
"In a week? From home?"
Blythe looked at me. "Maybe it was...that guy. From the hospital."
I was about to speak his name when my mom walked in, leading with jazz hands.
"You love the chaise, don't you? It's custom. You have no idea what it cost to have it done so fast." I raised an eyebrow. She raised hers back, ruffled the velvet, and smoothed it down.
"We had to move because of money," I said, "but you got a custom chaise?"
"I wanted something special for you." She smiled.
I petted it, too. I couldn't help myself. So far, ruffled-velvet feel was the best part of my day.
"Besides," Mom said, "we moved because of taxes. That's different from money."
Blythe snorted from the corner, where her desk was almost set up, her screens already glowing. "Wi-Fi code?" Blythe asked, pulling out her phone.
"Oh. I don't know. For particulars you'll have to check with..." My mom flipped a hand. As if he'd been waiting for us all along, Charlie walked in. I looked between them. His smile was a sliver of ice down my back.
I'd never lost a parent to unspecified reasons before, but I was pretty sure most moms didn't decide to share their lives with a new guy soon after their husband's funeral.
I rubbed my thumbnail over my lower lip. "A death blow is a life blow, for some. For some. For you, maybe..." I pushed my hand down and pressed my lips together.
Too late. The weird had gotten out.
Blythe pretended not to notice. Or maybe she was oblivious by now. Since my dad had died, I'd been poeting more than usual.
I'd always had a little habit of reciting poetry. Poeting. Not on purpose. I wasn't winning poetry slams or anything. This was more inadvertent. It happened before I knew it, and it seemed to strike at random. Like the time I was supposed to be giving an oral report on the great state of Delaware (home of the Punkin Chunkin pumpkin-throwing contest), and ended up reciting half of e. e. cummings's "in Just-." Or the time Blythe and I saw our first horror film in the theater (The Babadook), and she said I ruined its scare-ability by whispering, "I took the road not taken, taken, taken." Or when we were saying goodbye to our dad in the hospital, and I couldn't stop saying "neverstops."
But now it was becoming a thing. A noticeable thing.