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A Beautiful Funeral (The Maddox Brothers #5)(10)
Author: Jamie McGuire

He kissed her knuckles. “I’m fine, kiddo.”

“You burned them so badly last time,” she said, wiggling out of his grip to further inspect the wounds under his bandages. “Please use the mitts.”

“Okay,” he said, patting her hand. “Okay, sis. I’ll use the mitts.”

Camille began opening cabinet doors to find the oil, seeing that the drumsticks had already been dipped in Dad’s special flour mixture and were sitting on paper towels next to the pan on the stove.

She waved us away. “Go on. I’ve got this. Yes, Dad, I’m sure,” she said, just as Dad opened his mouth to ask.

He chuckled. “All right, then. Dominoes, it is.”

“Aren’t you sick of losing? We played dominoes for two hours this afternoon.”

“Did we?” he asked. He shook his head. “I can’t remember to wipe my own ass most days.”

I blinked, surprised he didn’t remember, but he didn’t seem concerned.

“Cards, then?” he asked.

“No, we can play dominoes. I owe you a rematch, anyway.”

Thunder rolled in the distance as we sat down at the table. The front door opened and closed, and then Olive appeared at the end of the hall, holding her hands out to each side, dripping wet. “Oh. My. God.”

I burst into laughter. “Ever heard of an umbrella, Ew?”

She rolled her eyes, stomping over to sit on the dining chair next to me. “Will you ever stop calling me that? No one gets it.”

“You get it,” I said. “How hard can it be? Your initials are O.O. Together, they make the sound ew. Like moo. And too.” My gaze drifted up to the ceiling. “Shoo. Boo. Coo. Goo. Poo. I could go on.”

“Please don’t,” she said, grabbing a domino and turning it over in her thin fingers. It was getting harder and harder to impress her. She used to think I was god.

“Oh! Damn!” Camille yelped from the kitchen.

I pushed out my chair, standing halfway. “You okay, baby?”

“Yeah!” she called back, appearing with her jacket and her keys in hand. “Out of oil.”

“But I just bought him some last Friday,” I said, looking at Dad.

“Oh. That’s right. I knocked it over Sunday.”

I frowned. “We had sandwiches for lunch and pizza for dinner Sunday. You didn’t make chicken.”

He mirrored my expression. “Well, damn it, one of those days.”

“I’m going to run to the store. You need anything else?” Camille asked.

“Cami, it’s pouring,” I said, unhappy.

“I’m aware,” she said, kissing at me before heading out the door.

Dad brought down the dominoes from the shelf, and we made small talk. He asked me a few of the same questions he’d asked me earlier, and I began to wonder if he’d been forgetful all along and I was just noticing it, or if his memory was getting worse. He had a doctor’s appointment that Friday. I’d bring it up then.

My cell phone buzzed. I pressed the receiver against my ear. “Hey, cunt puddle!”

“They just keep getting better,” Thomas said on the other end of the line, unimpressed.

“Christ on a bicycle, Trenton,” Dad fumed, nodding toward Olive.

I winked at him. Shocking him with my insults had become a sport.

“How are Mom and baby?” I asked.

“We’re headed home,” Thomas replied. “I think … I think we’re going to head that way earlier than expected.”

“Everything okay?” I asked, noting that Dad’s interest was piqued. I waved him away, assuring him nothing was wrong.

“Yeah … yeah. Have you heard from Trav?” Thomas asked.

“No. Why?”

Thomas had been an enigma since I could remember, and the questions only multiplied when he became an adult.

Dad was staring at me, both patiently and impatiently waiting for an explanation. I held up my finger.

“Just curious.”

“You’re going to put a newborn on a plane? I knew you were brave, big brother, but hell.”

“We thought Dad might like to meet her.”

“He would. Dad would love to meet …” My mind drew a blank.

“Stella,” Olive whispered.

“Stella!” I repeated. “Dad would love to meet Stella.” Dad popped me on the back of my head. “Ow! What’d I say?”

“So we’ll be in tomorrow,” Thomas said, ignoring the circus on the other end of the line.

“Tomorrow?” I said, looking at Dad. “That quick, huh?”

“Yeah. Tell Dad not to worry. We’ll get the room ready when we get there.”

“Cami has been keeping the guest room ready. She knew you’d be over some time with the baby. She even got a pack ‘n whatever.”

“She purchased a Pack ‘n Play for Stella? Really?” Thomas asked. “That was nice of her. How is sh … that was nice of her.”

“Yeah,” I said, suddenly feeling awkward. “We’ll see you tomorrow, I guess.”

“Tell Dad I love him,” Thomas said.

“Will do, shit pouch.”

Thomas hung up, and I shot Dad a wide grin. The two lines between his eyes deepened.

“I should have spanked you more,” Dad said.

“Yes, you should have.” I looked down at the dominoes. “Well? They’re not going to shuffle themselves.”

I settled on a dining chair, the golden brown leather making fart noises under my jeans. Even though I’d moved out, Camille and I visited Dad at least once a day, usually more. Travis visited when he wasn’t traveling for work. I glanced up at the shelf that ran just below the ceiling, filled with dusty poker memorabilia and signed pictures of our favorite players. A few cobwebs had formed. I need to get up there and dust. Don’t want the old man falling and breaking a hip.

“Cami didn’t say anything about the test today,” Dad said, moving the dominoes around in a circle on the table.

“Yeah,” I said, staring at the white rectangular tiles as they slowly circulated around, under Dad’s hands, moving in and out of the pack. “It’s a monthly thing now. I think she’s tired of talking about it.”

“Understandable,” Dad said. He gave a side-glance to Olive, and I knew he was choosing his next words carefully. “Have you been to the doc?”

“Gross,” Olive said, disgusted despite his efforts. She wasn’t a little girl anymore.

“Not yet. I think she’s afraid to hear it’s something permanent. Honestly, so am I. At least now, we have hope.”

“There’s still hope. Even the worst circumstances have a silver lining. Life isn’t linear, son. Each choice we make or every influence branches off the line we’re currently on, and at the end of that branch is another branch. It’s just a series of blank slates, even after a disaster.”

I peeked up at him. “Is that how you felt after Mom died?”

Olive let out a tiny gasp.

Dad tensed, waiting a moment before speaking. “A while after Mom died. I think we all know I didn’t do much of anything right after.”

I touched his arm, and the tiles stopped spinning. “You did exactly what you could. If I lost Cami …” I trailed off, the thought making me feel sick to my stomach. “I’m not sure how you survived it, Dad, much less got yourself together to raise five boys. And you did, you know. You got yourself together. You are a great dad.”

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