Home 16-I

HANNAH
No Place Like Home.

Dinner was not fun.

The three of us sat around the table, eating in silence. It was a square, one side for each of us and the spare facing towards the kitchen. Mom sat on the opposite side of it, the closest thing to a head, Dad on her left side, me on the right. The only sound, above the barely audible humming of the central heating, were the clinking of cutlery and the subdued chewing noises that people make when it feels like even eating too loudly would be heavily out of place.

Sadly, we were eating nachos, so that was a bit hard. Mom and I were managing to keep the sullen mood going, but Dad looked like he was just barely resisting cracking up every time someone took a bite.

By the time I'd made it to the train station and gotten home from there, it was well past dark. I'd been greeted at the door by Mom, arms folded. I'd thought the train ride home would've given me the opportunity to calm down, but instead I'd spent it simmering, staring grimly out the window at the passing buildings. Evidently, she’d been doing the same, because her face had been still at 'Marjorie’ levels of angry. I glared at her, she glared at me, Dad honked excitedly as he pulled into the driveway. Pretty standard stuff.

I think she was going to try and inspect my bag, but his sudden arrival distracted her enough that I slipped inside and quickly made it to my room while she dealt with the running hug my dad surely launched at her. Locking the door had helped calm me down a little, but after a little consideration, I grabbed the chair from the desk and tucked it under the handle as well, just to be sure.

I didn't have a good hiding place for my ‘costume’, but neither of my parents came into my room often, so I just stuffed it into the back of the closet, behind an old pile of books. Then, I reconsidered, took it back out and neatly folded it before replacing it. It looked bad enough without being crumpled.

And then… well, then I sulked. Like a little girl, I threw myself across my bed at an angle and just lay there, staring angrily up at the creme plasterboard of my ceiling. Why was she being so horrid about this? She got to leave home for ages unexpectedly and not respond to calls, but when I did, it was like I'd robbed a bank! She was being a hypocrite.

As much as I would've liked lock myself away for the rest of the evening until things had cooled down, though, it was an ironclad rule of the Eiling-Kingsford house that if we were all home, we ate dinner together. No exceptions. So now I was sitting across from my mother, doing my very best to remain sullen while crunching on a mouthful of nachos.

“So, Hanners, how was your day?” Dad asked brightly.

I sighed loudly. “You know, Dad, it was fine. Sabi and I went thrift-shopping. It was fun.” As I said it, I stared straight at Mom, who met my gaze with one equally as chilly.

“And where exactly is all the stuff you bought, Hannah?” she asked icily.

“It's not about buying, Mother, it's about finding. Which you'd know, if you'd ever listened to me when I talked about it before.” Technically true.

“So,” Dad interrupted hastily, “did you find anything cool, then?”

“Not really. Well, I didn't. Sabi got this cool, uh,” I pretended to try and remember while I desperately scrambled around for something she'd buy. “Scarf,” I decided, “yeah, that was it. Cool patterns. I think it was silk?”

“Oh, well, that's good. How is Sabah, by the way? Are they all okay?”

“Yeahhhh, I dunno,” I said, getting drawn into the conversation despite my anger. “She says she's fine, and she's acting mostly fine, but there's been a few moments of… weird. And she doesn't want to talk about it, but she said it was a family thing, but she's not acting like someone died or anything, so…” I shrugged. “I dunno.”

“Hmm.” Dad looked pensive. “Sammy, do you think we should visit them? Check everything's okay.”

“Ohhh no,” I interjected before she could respond, “we already had this conversation. You're not gonna be weird about this.”

“Hannah,” Mom said condescendingly, “Elizabeth and Maha are our friends too.”

“Not that you ever show it,” I muttered under my breath. “Look, I was gonna head over there tomorrow anyway. If I think something's seriously wrong, I'll let you know. But there won't be.”

Mom frowned, but I took the opportunity to change the subject. “Dad, how'd your Oldtown thing go?”

He perked up immediately. One thing I really admired about my dad was that he loved his job. Really loved it. It was the sort of thing I hoped to have one day, if I ever managed to figure out what I was passionate about. “Really well! Sammy, you remember how I was telling you over the phone about the Titan-class they got in?” Mom nodded, hiding a little grin behind her hand. “Well, he worked even better than we'd hoped! We actually got right up near the epicentre, only a few blocks away!”

“What?!” Mom and I asked simultaneously, leaning forward in our chairs. I glanced over, realized we were mirroring each other, and leant back. “That's a big deal, right?”

He nodded, grinning. “I actually got to see it: we set up a temporary research centre at the top of the building. It was…” his expression sobered. “It was… heavy.”

I frowned. “Was that a gravity pun?”

The grin broke back through. “Wasn't sure if you'd get it.” Mom sighed as I groaned, exaggeratedly.

“I’m ashamed, Dad. Just ashamed.” His grin grew wider, and I immediately realized what I'd done. “No, no, don't you dare-”

“Hi ashamed,” he boomed over my protests in a hammy voice, “I'm dad.”

I groaned again and slumped down on the table as Mom began laughing. “David,” she admonished, “I thought we agreed no dad jokes until the second kid.”

“Is this your subtle way of delivering the news?” I asked, head still on the table. “Because if so, it sucks.”

“No?” He glanced at Mom, who confirmed it with a nod. “No, it is not. See, in my misspent youth, I promised my second-born child to a leprechaun, and now-”

Anyway,” Mom cut him off. “This discovery, it's a big deal, then?”

His smile died down a little. “Sadly, no. The Titan class had to be with us the whole time. He was just holding the radiation back temporarily, not cleaning it up. But, we did still get some excellent readings! Should be enough to get funding for another few months.” He gave a nervous little laugh at that. “Hopefully.”

“I'm sure it will, dear,” Mom reassured him.

“Yeah, Dad, it'll be fine. Besides, if they don't, you can just turn to a life of crime to get funding! Happens all the time.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Someone's been reading my old comics.”

“Actually, Mom’s. Yours are all gritty Dark Age crap.” I winced as soon as I said it. “Sorry.”

“That was very cruel, Hannah,” he said mock-stoically, lip trembling. “Very… very cruel.”

“Hannah, don't make your father cry,” Mom said, spearing a nacho with her fork and scooping some beans onto it. “It's too easy a target.”

“Okay, I've changed my mind,” Dad said, “we’re having another kid. I need an ally around here.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, “you'll finally have someone on your level of intelligence.”

“Yeah, exactly- wait, no!”

“Too late,” I teased, “you have the intelligence of a toddler, you admitted it.”

“Well, then, I guess it's in character for me to do this!” He flicked a nacho at my face, and I jerked back and knocked it out of the air. “Nacho shuriken!”

“David.”

“Sorry, hon. They're just so perfect for throw-” I hit him square in the mouth with one. It bounced off and landed firmly on his plate. “...well played.”

Mom sighed, resting her head in her hands. “What did I do to deserve you two?” she wondered aloud.

And, just for a little while, things were okay.

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