I opened the front door and my nose filled with the most delicious, savory aromas. I could hear meat sizzling in a pan, and Mom chatting with Zella, the lady who sometimes comes over and cooks for us when Mom isn't in the mood.
"There she is!" boomed Dad's voice, as he emerged from his office upstairs. His hair was pulled back into a short, low ponytail, pulled halfway through so his hair bunched at the base of his neck. "How was school today, honey?"
I set my bag against the stairwell and heaved a sigh of relief. "Fine," I replied. "I learned something cool today." My cellphone buzzed with a text. I checked to see who it was, and the name Tony brought back memories of seeing him just before the session in Natural Sciences. All in a moment, the weight of it crashed into me, and I physically stumbled a little as Dad put his hand on my shoulder.
"That's great, Pris!" he said. "I can't wait to hear about it over dinner."
I leaned into his touch as we walked toward the kitchen together. No matter what kind of cologne Mom gave him, or how many showers he took, Dad always smelled salty and musty, like the sea. "Speaking of which," I said as we entered the dining area, "What is for dinner?"
Zella stood at the stove, busily stirring smoking things in a large pan while she also slapped flat rounds of dough onto a hot griddle. Meanwhile, Mom placed the finishing touches on a beautiful salad. She smiled at me as she passed the bowl over the counter.
"Take this to the table, would you, sweetie? We're making your favorite--Lemon chicken gyros with tzatziki and falafel."
My mouth was already watering at the smell, never mind the suggestion of what was to come. "Wow!" I said, as Mom followed me into the dining room with a pitcher of water. "What's the occasion?"
We sat at the table as Dad and Zella brought the rest of the meal in serving dishes. Mom busied herself filling the glasses and fussing with spreading the napkin over her lap without really looking at me.
"No occasion, really," she said. "I just knew this meal would be easy and it's something we all like."
Dad took the seat next to her and leaned over to plant a kiss on her cheek. His large hand practically swallowed hers as he caressed it. He gave me a wink. "You're our daughter," he said, "Isn't that a good occasion to make a meal you like?"
I grabbed a flatbread and started loading it with ingredients. "I guess so," I muttered.
I heard Mom give a little sigh like she wanted to say something, but they kept eating in silence.
"So, Priscilla," Dad started the conversation instead. "What interesting thing did you learn in your classes today?"
Mom gave a little cough. "Patrick..." she muttered, giving me a sympathetic look.
It took me a moment to remember my dismal morning, and the failed test, not to mention the way I'd just unloaded on Mom over lunch.
"It's okay, Mom," I said. "Really, I'm over that now." I grinned. "I've got another chance at passing a quiz--and this one really counts for something!"
Mom set her fork down and glanced at me. "Oh?"
I nodded. "We had a visitor in Natural Sciences today--some representative from an archaeological expedition is offering an all-expenses-paid trip out to a dig site in the Mediterranean, and all we have to do is pass a test and submit and essay!"
I'd expected them to at least start peppering me with questions right away, since I knew at least Mom was of Mediterranean descent, herself--but neither of them uttered a sound. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mom catch Dad's eye and shift her eyebrows. His wiggled in response. It was that kind of "micro-communication" they carried on around me that gave me a sense of admiration that they could have such a close relationship, while at the same time driving me nuts because I had no idea what might be "said" in the slightest twitch!
"That's amazing, dear," Mom said in a low, even voice. "Archaeological digs are costly, arduous things. What is included in this all-expenses-paid guarantee? Is the college putting up funds for this venture?"
I shook my head and stabbed a chunk of cucumber from my salad. "No, some foundation is paying for up to five students and a chaperone to fly out and stay for a week on the island."
The conversation stalled again, and I could hear the wind rattling against the windows. The temperature in the house hadn't changed, but just the sound of it sent a shiver down my spine.
Dad set down his fork and leaned his elbows on the table. He cradled one fist in the other, pressing his hands so that his biceps flexed. "Island?" He echoed my comment--a bit needlessly, I felt. "What island is this? What kind of foundation pays for a bunch of students to spend a week in the middle of the ocean?"
I swallowed the bite of falafel in my mouth. All the elation and optimism I'd felt just minutes ago deflated. "Okay, geez! I get the picture! The organization is called Fortune Research and Educational Development, and the trip is being sponsored by the Daeva-Staite Foundation--but I haven't done any research yet. I'll get to it tonight, if it makes you feel any better."
Both parents seemed to relax a little bit. Mom dabbed the corner of her mouth with the napkin. "No need to get defensive, Priscilla. We appreciate hearing about these things you're doing for school."
"Daeva-Staite..." Dad mused, "That sounds familiar."
Mom gave him a little smile. "The Daeva-Staite Foundation was one of the donors at the adoption agency event last night."
I shrugged. "See? That at least proves they're not some shady front that wants to dupe a bunch of college kids."
"Priscilla!" Mom spoke, and I felt another blast of cold air down my spine as she frowned at me. She had a glare that could freeze boiling water, as Dad would say. "We weren't at all suspicious, we just wanted to know." Her features softened into a smile. "That's great that you're getting a hands-on opportunity to pursue your interest in archaeology. What was the name of the island you'll be going to?"
I sighed away all of the tension that had been building over the course of the conversation. Of course, my parents were only wanting to be parents! "It's really cool! I guess it used to be part of ancient Macedonia, and got separated from the mainland over time. The presenter called it Fourtouna, or something like that."
Both my parents froze stiff for several seconds. I saw it again, the micro-communication, flickering silently over their faces.
Finally, Dad nodded. "Cool," he mused, biting into another gyro.
"That's wonderful, Priscilla," Mom said, with her best smile as she speared a bite of salad. "I hope you do well on the quiz and the essay."
"Yeah, I can even help you study," Dad offered, reaching to put a hand on my shoulder. "After all, I know a lot of stories about Ancient Greek lore and whatnot!"
I caught Mom's eye, and we held a silent conversation of our own. With just a flick of my eyebrows, I could let her know that I was thinking about our conversation over lunch. "Yeah, thanks Dad," I shrugged off his touch. "But I think I'm going to try using other sources for this one."
"Oh come on!" he cajoled. "You used to love my stories! From the day you moved in with us, you would beg me to tell you all about those ancient times, and every night you'd fall asleep to the sound of my voice. Don't you remember?"
I winced. He was right, of course--but that was my problem, wasn't it? "I know, Dad, and it was great when I was little... But," I sighed, "honestly, now that I'm majoring in a degree that deals with a lot of ancient past, I'm kind of realizing that those stories you told might have been so memorable that it's making it hard for me to retain and memorize real facts from the textbooks and assigned readings--the things my professors are expecting me to know." I gave him an apologetic grin. "I just don't think, with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity like this, I can afford to fudge any details, the way you do with your stories."
Dad kept a cheesy grin under his thick beard, but I could tell he was a little disappointed at my response. He coughed a little and ran his thumb alongside his nose, a sure sign of his discomfort. "Okay, I get it. So maybe I get a little excited when I start telling stories, and maybe right now I can understand you're anxious about the quiz, and about doing it well." He reached over and took my hand, giving my palm a gentle squeeze. "What do you say, after the quiz is done, we revisit this topic, and I can get back to telling you about how the mighty general Vasilia Ton Thyellon took on the forces of Ereipia and vanquished them on the plains of Sithonia, granting victory to the Spartan settlers--"
I raised my hand, wagging my head slowly. "No," I gave him the answer before he could go any further. I swallowed hard, fighting for each syllable coming out of my mouth. It was one thing to complain about it to Mom--it was another, saying it right to my dad's face! "Dad, I think I'm old enough that I don't need bedtime stories anymore."
His gaze dropped to his nearly-empty plate. When he spoke, his voice came out more rumbly and husky than usual. "Oh... Okay."
Thunder rumbled in the sky outside, and the mood around the dinner table withered.
I set down my fork and wiped my mouth with the napkin.
"I'd like to be excused," I mumbled softly.
Mom calmly slid my plate toward herself. "Go ahead, dear," she said. "Pat and I will wash up."
I escaped to my room as the torrent of emotions crashed over me. My thoughts tumbled over one another. I wasn't sad, though I did feel like crying--was I lonely? Worried? Confused? Torn between wanting the companionship my parents had always lavished on me, and yet also wanting to make those changes that would allow me to become my own independent person?
I pulled out my phone and opened Tony's text.
"Good luck studying! You're going to blow the rest of us out of the water with that essay, I just know it. Meet at Study Hall before Ancient Civ tomorrow?"
I texted back "Sure" and glanced at the pile of books in my open backpack on my desk. I didn't feel like reading any of them right now, not even to get a glimpse at what I was supposed to know for this quiz next Monday. I got ready for bed and lay there, clutching one of my throw pillows to my chest. The room seemed so dark and empty, with the mood I was in. The spring storm crashed and raged outside--not unlike the thoughts clamoring and raging inside my head.
In spite of what I'd told Dad downstairs, this would be the first night in a really long time that we didn't go through our typical "good night" routine, of him wishing me good sleep with a multitude of flowery well-wishes, and me responding right back with more of the same. Instead, I lay awake until I heard my parents creeping past my room to go to bed, themselves. They were whispering to each other quite intensely, but I couldn't hear what it was about.
One question superseded the others, as I finally dropped off to sleep: Did I make the right choice?
One question superseded the others, as I finally dropped off to sleep: Did I make the right choice?