Tap. Tap tap. Tap tap ta-tap tap, tap tap.
The knocking at the door was finally met with a sigh, and a grumbled reply. A few last taps at her phone, and then the girl craned her head towards the door.
"Come in. What is it?"
The door opened. It wasn't like it was locked, after all. A tall woman stepped in, smiling down at her daughter warmly. She didn't return it in kind, keeping a neutral expression. A buzz, and her eyes flickered back to her phone, and a new message.
"I'm not intruding, am I, Lily?"
"No, not particularly. I was texting Aster, but she just sent me goodnight. I wasn't doing anything outside of that."
"Alright, great. I just wanted to let you know I made a few plans. You wouldn't mind holding down the fort tonight, wouldya?"
"I guess not. It's a bit late to be going somewhere, though. What secrets are a Thursday night holding?"
"Work stuff, that's all. I'd be back tomorrow, maybe late."
"Uh-huh. Masterful explanation, mom."
"Sorry. The specifics are just a bit dry. And a mouthful."
"And utterly too much for my meager adolescent mind. No, no, I get it."
Lily's mom rolled her eyes and set herself down on the bed, beside her daughter. She looked down at her, still smiling. She set a hand on hers, seemingly doing her best to exude warmth.
"C'mon, you know it's not like that."
"I know. That's the joke."
"Right. Duh. Anyways, you are okay with this, yeah? I don't gotta go. Work's not the end-all be-all."
"Yeah, it's fine. I'm a big girl. I'm not trying to give you a hint. If it bothered me, I'd say it. Scout's honor."
"No offense, darling, but I couldn't see you in the Scouts."
"Fair enough. Is there even a chapter of them in Wade?"
"Uh, yeah. They're everywhere. I mean, right? Where else would people get the cookies."
"Preparation to live in nature given way to training in door-to-door sales. Truly a triumph of modernity."
"On that note, shouldn't you be speeding off to attend to whatever pressing matter demands your presence?"
"Don't worry, I've got time to hang out a bit first. I'm not just gonna cut and run."
"That's appreciated. In exchange, I won't wreck the place while you're away."
Lily sighed, looking up at her mom with a small smile. She was practically grinning back, because of course she was. Lily couldn't think of anything else to say, and neither could her mother. Or maybe she was just content to let the silent moment stretch out. It was kind of nice.
Eventually, the moment seemed to taper off, and awkwardness crept into the silence. Lily turned her hand over to hold her mother's, and offered a somewhat wider smile.
"Sorry I'm not the most talkative."
"Nah, don't worry about it, pumpkin."
"Alright, if you say so. Still, we should hang out for longer whenever you're back from your mad science endeavors."
"Of course! Gonna hold you to that, Lily."
Lily felt strangely melancholy, holding her mother's hand and just sitting together. She wasn't sure why. Her mother was affectionate as ever, and there really wasn't anything special about it. She had decided to indulge it more than she usually did, and as a result she was sad? Reticently, she let go of the hand again, and lifted her arms a little. She didn't really commit to it, but her mom brought her into a gentle hug all the same. It didn't really help resolve her emotions at all.
"Um. Thanks. You should probably get going, now."
"Yeah, okay. Yeah. Seeya later, sweetie."
"Mmhm. Bye, mom."
Her mother tightened the hug for a moment, and then let go of Lily. She stood up, tousled her daughter's white hair with that big grin she always had, and finally headed out. They were both pretty bad about goodbyes, in their own separate ways. Lily just sat on her bed for a minute, letting whatever it was that had just happened sink in. Something had been odd about it, but she couldn't really put her finger on what. Maybe it had to do with her mom?
Thinking back over it, she could almost imagine picking up on a sense of sadness behind her mother's eyes in that encounter. Sure, she had been as incessantly cheery as she ever was, but... Well, nobody was actually that upbeat. She had to be trying. And trying too hard. It wasn't that Lily disliked it, not exactly, but she generally couldn't keep up with that saccharine act. Even then, though, it didn't make her sad to be around, usually. Maybe she was just thinking about it too hard.
Lily rested her head on a hand, thinking it over a bit more anyways before giving up on it. She glanced at her phone, but nothing had happened since Aster's 'Have a nice night!'. She could probably still message her again, but she should probably leave her to her homework. She was back to her own devices, then. She drummed her fingers against her leg before getting up and heading out of her room, phone slotted into her pocket. There wasn't much reason to sequester herself away if she had the run of the place.
The house was pretty big. Too big, really, for a building that only housed two people. That was one of the things it had taken a while to figure out. It was pretty hard to avoid assuming the usual was normal. Her mother had made admirable efforts to fill the space, with fancy furniture and legions of decorative plants. The furniture was sturdy despite the looks, mostly desks, dressers, and bookshelves. Useful things, even if they couldn't possibly use all of them. The plants were hardy in addition to pretty, the better to withstand being accidentally skipped in the watering schedule, maybe. There was a pragmatism behind it all that Lily had to respect, even though it was so patently unnecessary.
Also unnecessary? All the fucking pictures everywhere. She could hardly look at a flat surface or a wall without seeing her own countenance stare meekly and unphotogenically back at her. Some of them were just her, but others had her side by side with her mother, trying to politely smile. Some others had her with her grandparents, and maybe she fit in a little better with their almost-stern composure than her beaming mom. The most tolerable were the ones where she was with Aster, although her mother's own childhood photos were sort of nice. The absolute worst photo, on the other hand, was the one that had been framed with a magnetic back and stuck on the fridge. Her little baby self, staring at the camera with disgustingly red eyes. Like a lab rat.
Her eyes weren't actually red. That wasn't really how that worked. The photo was just a victim of a camera flash artifact, and she could still see the blue around it if she looked, but she still didn't like the look of it. Maybe she wouldn't have come to resent it so much if it wasn't in one of the spaces she really couldn't avoid looking at every day. But it was, and she had. She probably should have asked her mother to move it somewhere else, but it was pretty much too late to bother doing something about it now. Besides, how would she explain it? It wasn't a bad photo, per se, amateur lighting mistake aside. And what kind of animal liked their own baby photos, anyways?
She pulled her thoughts away from the pictures of herself, walking around a bit to find one of her mother as a teenager. Something to do with high school, but not graduation. She had a winning smile back then, too. Lily wondered if she had been constantly cheery even then, or if the smile was just for the camera. Naturally, she couldn't make any headway on that, and her questioning started to flow down another channel. She couldn't help but wonder if the house hadn't been meant for more people. Maybe a lot more people. There was the space for it, and more guest bedrooms than they possibly could need.
She had no way of answering that, either, of course. But she couldn't stop herself from speculating, anyways. Had her father died? Had he abandoned them? Had there even been a relationship, or was it just an accident he never found out about? She couldn't tell. Her mom never talked about it, and nobody else would tell her anything either. Aster had promised to pass on anything she found out, but she wasn't getting told anything either. It bothered her, and not just because she wanted to know about it.
She was sixteen years old, she was almost an adult. She could handle an inconvenient truth, or a past tragedy. The fact they still weren't telling her? That meant that everyone thought she much more of a baby than she actually was, or... It meant that it was really, really bad. Bad enough that her mother wanted to bury it forever, or bad enough that telling her might strain their relationship. Not that it would do much to help with the latter. Not telling her had just left Lily to wonder on her own initiative if she was maybe an inconvenient accident, a sudden burden, or the product of something evil. Her mother didn't seem to miss or mourn her missing father. Did that mean she resented him? Did she hate him? The thought was an ugly, heavy one. Not that she really wanted a dad she could love or be proud of. Whoever he was, he didn't really mean anything to her. But, she couldn't shake the thought that if he meant something negative to her mother, was she a living, breathing reminder of him?
It was a little stupid. Her mom did absolutely nothing to suggest she thought of her daughter like that, quite the opposite. Still, Lily couldn't bury that thought. There was something between them, that much was obvious. Maybe it was that. Maybe it was something else her mother was keeping from her. Maybe it was just herself. Maybe it wasn't really anything at all, and she was just being absurd. That would be nice, but she didn't quite buy it.
Lily rolled her eyes, and moved away from the photo. She had really let that strange melancholy get to her. She glanced at a clock, an ornate grandfather style pendulum thing. It was already fairly late, though not enough for her to be considering heading to bed. Had her mother really left for something work-related at this hour? Odd, although it wasn't the first odd thing about her work. Her mom was evasive about exactly what it was she did, other than that it was research. Something proprietary, the kind of thing she supposedly couldn't talk much about. It was certainly profitable, whatever it was, considering the house.
Lily sighed, and checked her phone. Still nothing new. She walked into the kitchen, to try and occupy herself with something other than chasing old thoughts in circles.