He gasped when Brenda reached for her glass of iced tea and accidentally spilled it in his lap.
As he jumped to his feet, slapping the ice cubes off him, his wife followed him up with a handful of napkins, immediately pressing it against his crotch.
“Brenda!” Phil grasped her wrist and glanced around as if scandalized. “Not in public.”
“Oh, dear Lord.” Brenda sighed and glanced at me. “Excuse us for a minute,” she told me. Taking Phil’s arm, she led him away toward the bathrooms.
I stared after them in wonder. Phil reminded me so much of Oren in some ways. And Brenda...she was just awesome.
As soon as they were out of sight, I slapped Oren in the arm. Hard.
“You asshole,” I hissed. “Your parents are amazing.”
He glanced at me with a confused frown. “Well, yeah. I never said they weren’t.”
“But...you made it sound like it was such a hardship to see them again, as if they were terrible, but they’re...they’re really amazing. They love you and care about you and want to know what’s happening in your life. How can you not appreciate any of that? I mean, if I’d had just one parent who was even half as interested in me as both of yours are in you, I’d—”
My voice cracked, so I settled for glaring at him. He had no idea how great he had it in the family department. I mean, I appreciated everything Noel had gone through to bring us to Ellamore and save us from the life we’d been living. And I never would’ve made it as far as I had without Colton and Brandt around to suffer through with me, but...I still wished I’d had a mom who’d given a shit. Or even known who my father was.
But no, I had nothing, while Oren had everything; and he was complaining about it.
“I didn’t say they were bad parents. They’re not, not at all. And they’re supportive. Maybe too supportive. But they’re just—”
He broke off when he saw them returning.
I glanced over too, prepared to ask if everything was better. But something had changed in the time since Brenda and Phil had left the table to dry Phil. They looked stoic, almost sympathetic.
“Shit,” Oren muttered beside me. “Here it comes.”
I glanced at him, but he was too busy scowling at his parents.
They stopped in front of our table, but instead of sitting, they remained standing, obviously ready to make some kind of big united-front announcement.
Oren tensed beside me, so I slid my hand under the table until it found his. He had balled his fingers into a tight fist, but he opened them for me so he could squeeze his around mine.
“Oren,” his mother started. “I understand how much you don’t like talking about her, but we thought you should know... Your father and I petitioned the town to set up a memorial for Zoey in the city park, and they’ve agreed. We want you to come to the grand opening next weekend.”
I have no idea why hearing my parents talk about her always made me physically ill. But my stomach revolted, bile rose in my throat, and my vision went wonky.
“Really?” Surging to my feet, I glared across the table. “You’re going to bring this shit up in front of my new girlfriend?” And I’d been so sure Caroline would be the perfect buffer to keep family drama out of the conversation.
Mom glanced at Caroline, her eyes wide with alarm before she turned back to me. “This shit is your sister’s legacy. Don’t you want to honor her?”
The swirling in my gut turned into little needles of agony. I doubled slightly, setting my hands on my hips in an attempt to hide how much I hurt. “I don’t even want to think about it,” I hissed.
Mom sighed out a sad breath as Dad grasped her hand. I hated distressing them, but fuck, why did they always have to force this on me?
“Sweetheart, this is not healthy. Pretending she never existed isn’t going to stop it from hurting.”
Yeah, well, I had to disagree. It’d worked pretty damn well for me for the past four years.
When my dad tried to say something next, I held up a hand and snapped, “Don’t.”
“We think you need help.” Mom rushed out the words, making me jerk in shock.
“Our biggest fear was that you’d never be able to move on from what happened. And for a while, we thought you had. But clearly, you’re just repressing it. You haven’t even attempted the stages of grief to work through this, and it’s going to end up coming back and biting you someday when you least expect it.”
“I’m fine,” I exploded. “Please excuse me if I don’t want to spend the rest of my life purposely being all depressed over...over someone who’s never coming back.”