Home > The Lights on Knockbridge Lane(4)

The Lights on Knockbridge Lane(4)
Author: Roan Parrish

   Gus cheered up.

   “Oh, yeah!” she said. “Probably we should ring his doorbell and give it to him in person.”

   “Listen, kiddo. I know you want to see those lizards and the—” He swallowed hard. “Tarantula again. But Wes is a stranger. He seems like he enjoys being left alone. You know how sometimes you want to be alone in your room?”

   She rolled her eyes and nodded.

   “Wes feels that way about his house. So it’s okay to put a letter in the mailbox. But we can’t bother him at home.”

   She sighed the sigh of injustice, but nodded again.

   After a few unenthusiastic bites of macaroni, she said, “Papa doesn’t want to be bothered either.”

   And Adam’s heart broke all over again. Because Wes Mobray might not have had any responsibility toward Gus. But Mason? Mason absolutely did.

   Mason had said he would call the night they arrived in Garnet Run, and hadn’t. Gus had called him instead. Mason had said she could call him anytime she wanted. When she FaceTimed, he usually didn’t pick up the phone.

   “Papa loves you, Gus. But he’s not the best at doing everything he says he will. It’s not you.”

   A tear ran down her cheek to salt the macaroni.

   “He got rid of us.”

   She said it so fiercely and with such certainty that it startled Adam. And it was true, in its way. From the moment he got River’s call about their sister, Marina, Adam had burned with purpose. Marina couldn’t take care of Gus, but he could. He wanted to. And he’d assumed that Mason would want to as well. It had been a mistake—a genuine one, but a mistake nonetheless, and as much as he wished he could blame Mason for that, it was undeniably reasonable for a young man who’d never thought about kids to be less than enthusiastic about suddenly having one.

   No, it wasn’t Mason’s ambivalence that Adam resented. It was that for a few years, he’d seemed committed. After his initial shock, he’d simply said, “We’ll make it work.” And for a little while, it had.

   Mason’s uneven attention and affection had been enough—just enough, but enough—for Gus to want more. Just enough to honor the letter of the agreement he and Adam had struck. For every dinner he ate out and play time he worked through, Mason was there with a few minutes of attention so intense that it seemed like it had lasted far longer; a gift that came at just the right moment.

   It would have been better, Adam thought, if Mason had said from the beginning that he had no interest in this life. Better if Gus had never had to experience the singular cruelty of parental rejection. His blood boiled.

   He grabbed Gus and pulled her into his arms.

   He started to tell her no. To tell her it wasn’t like that.

   But Gus put her small, slightly sticky hands on his cheeks and looked directly into his eyes.

   “No lying,” she said, voice flinty and far too adult. “Not ever.”

   “Okay, no lying.”

   Adam squared his shoulders and looked right back into her eyes. His sister Marina’s eyes. There was no point in explaining that, yes, Mason had gotten rid of them, bit by bit, over the years, but that it had been Adam, finally, who gave the ultimatum: I choose Gus over you, so either choose Gus over all the rest of it, or we’re gone. No need to give Gus one more reason to feel like this was because of her. Besides, it was just as likely she would end up angry at him for taking her papa away.

   So he told the only truth he was absolutely sure of.

   “We’re going to have the best time just the two of us. It’s going to be Christmas soon, and we’re going to have so much fun. I love you to the moon and back, and nothing will ever change that.”

   There was a flicker in her eyes at Christmas.

   “What kind of fun?” she asked, not yet convinced.

   Unprepared for the question, Adam said vaguely, “Oh, all kinds.”

   “Can you be more specific?” she demanded, echoing his own words back to him, curse her.

   “What would be the most fun for you? If you could do one special thing.”

   Gus thought hard. She put her elbows on the table and her chin in her hands. And then she looked at Adam, eyes glistening with her earlier emotion, and made a somber declaration.

   “I want our house to have the most Christmas lights of any house in the world.”

   Adam swallowed hard. It could have been so much worse! he told himself. She could have wished to turn her bedroom into an entomology laboratory or learn to ride a motorcycle. This was fine.

   Adam’s mission was clear: in order to convince his daughter that they could still have a wonderful Christmas despite leaving Mason, their home, and all their friends far behind them, he just had to find a way to procure the most Christmas lights in the whole world.

   What could possibly go wrong?

 

 

Chapter Three


   Wes


   As the sun set outside his house on Knockbridge Lane, Wes Mobray came alive.

   He’d always preferred going out at night. Not because—as his neighbors believed—he was a vampire or a witch or whatever the rumor of the moment was. But because nighttime was peaceful, quiet, and blissfully free of human interaction.

   No doorbells ringing or neighbors shouting; no telemarketers or music blasting; no smiling, chatting, questioning, people. No one looking at him.

   Just peaceful, calm darkness in which to wander in the woods, collect dirt samples, or source small rodents.

   Wes’ doorbell rang.

   He froze.

   It couldn’t be James with the compost; he knew better than to ring the bell. There must be a new delivery person on his route; all the regulars knew to simply leave his packages outside the front door. But winter was tricky: it got dark early enough that people thought it was still okay to intrude. When whoever it was realized he wasn’t going to answer, surely they’d go away.

   Wes turned his attention to chopping his food waste from the previous day to add to the biogas generator.

   The doorbell rang again.

   Wes stalked to the front door and threw it open, ready to inform the new FedEx employee of the agreement he had that his packages simply be left outside without disturbing him.

   But it wasn’t a delivery person. It was the new kid from across the street who’d crawled through his basement window.

   She stood on his front stoop, arms crossed and face twisted in a scowl.

   “You didn’t write me back,” she said, and her voice was softer than her posture, like perhaps anger was a cover for disappointment. Sadness. Wes was familiar.

   “What?”

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