725. - Lucien
I wonder if the girls notice the irony in how they keep complaining about being interrogated by Nancy, yet won't let Daniel alone about his supposed girlfriend. Granted, the way he avoids eyecontact and gets just a little too defensive is definitely suspicious, but he doesn't seem like the type who'll cave under the pressure. If anything, he's just going to explode in anger and put a domper on Christmas.
"Just drop it, Em!" He snaps, the first sign that they really need to ease up on him. I've seen enough of Aleran's bursts that I know where this is headed. "It's none of your bloody business and either way, you'd be last to know!"
"Oh, don't be so difficult Dan!" Emma complains, attempting to keep it light. "I just want to know if I can look forward to meeting a girl in the future! Or a boy - doesn't matter either way."
Before Daniel gets to reply, he gets interrupted by a chocking sound and then vicscious coughing.
"I'm fine, I'm fine." Beth croaks as a reply to all our worried looks. "Just... went down the wrong pipe, is all. I'm alive."
"Barely." Eschieve comments dryly, offering Beth her glass of iced tea. She happily takes it, wiping tears from her eyes. Daniel lucks out, because neither of the girls bring up any possibility of a girlfriend again. He mutters something about getting new wood for the fireplace, and then ducks outside.
Time until dinner is uneventful. We sit in the living room drinking tea, singing along to the classic Christmas carols and watch Phoebe's favourite Christmas movie A Christmas Carol. She can recite every word, as can the rest of the Middleton family, while Eschieve and I oftentimes cross eyes wondering what the hell we're watching. At some point, Eschieve phone on the table lights up with a phone call, that she cancels before the name gets displayed for more than two seconds. She rolls her eyes at the screen, and pockets her phone so she doesn't have to look at it. It's thirty minutes and right after Nancy's announcement that dinner will be ready in a couple of minutes that my phone buzzes and displays the same name. I could do what my sister did and ignore it, leave him to it this year. But I can't get myself to do it. Maybe it's because I still have a sliver of hope he might become a decent father one day, or because of what he shared after Emma and I lost Claire, or even because Emma's holiday sentimentality is rubbing off on me.
"I'll be quick." I mutter to Emma, pecking her cheek. "Tell your mum not to wait for me if that means dinner is getting cold."
"Good luck." She whispers, her smile kind of sad. Eschieve's eyes briefly cross mine again as I head out of the room, and while her face is empty I know she must feel the same resentment she did when he called her. Quickly shrugging on my coat, I pick up on what probably would have been the last ring just as I head out onto the porch. "Lucien speaking."
I squeeze the phone between my ear and shoulder so that I can light a cigarette. As usual my father's voice awakens a need for something much, much stronger, but I don't think Nancy and Reginald Middleton have hard drugs laying around, nor will Reginald let me down an entire bottle of expensive whiskey. "Hello, father."
I rest my elbows on the balustrade of the porch, phone in one hand and cigarette in the other. The angle of my arm is awkward, so I decide to put my phone on speaker. "Merry Christmas to you, too. If you celebrated."
A sigh at my usual holiday difficulty. "Me and some colleagues went out for dinner after finishing up at the office."
"How very lavish of you. Don't tell me, you had problems squeezing in this phone call and just want to go back to singing Christmas carols around the fire while all in your jammies with freshly made hot cocoa?"
I refuse to apologise. At my stubborn silence, he heaves another sigh and changes the subject. "Is Eschieve with you?"
"We're both at the Middleton house, yeah. Why?"
"She didn't pick up her phone. I thought that if you were together, you could…" He trails off, apparently changing his mind. "I'll let you get back to your celebrations. Give them my regards."
He's hung up before I can even think of a reply. With a groan, I let my head hang down. For some reason, this conversation leaves an especially bitter taste in my mouth. Still leaning down over the balustrade I continue smoking my cigarette in relative peace, needing a moment to gather myself before heading back inside. What I'd give to be on my own couch with a tall glass of whiskey and a videogame, maybe a song or two on the piano. Before Emma came into my life, that was what the holidays were like for me.
"Don't let Nancy catch you looking this glum. She'll make a big fuss." The low voice and the heavy Scottish accent startle me and my head snaps up. Reginald Middleton stands in the door opening, lighting a cigar. I manage a small smile.
"I'm trying to ensure that doesn't happen, sir. These issues are between me and my father."
He just nods, and stands next to me to look out over his garden as he lights a cigar. His presence causes me to be on edge, because he's not just a closed book; there's a lock on him and the story is written in code. Which is why his next words surprise me all the more.
"That's no way to talk to your elders, if you ask me, but after hearing what kind of man your father is, I s'ppose you can hardly be blamed..."
I stare at him for a second or two, even though he doesn't look back. Then I make a split second decision to do something I had completely disregarded, considering my experience with family.
"Sir, I need to ask you something... It's about Emma. We briefly touched on it last year."
When we head back inside a few minutes later, Reginald immediately announces he wants to start dinner with a toast, despite traditions of reciting what we're thankful for halfway through. Because it's him, no one questions it. He makes a special point about newfound families, about extending his, and when he lifts his glass by means of toast, his eyes lock on mine and there's a glimmer in them that I might call pride.
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