Home > The Wishing Tree(9)

The Wishing Tree(9)
Author: R.J. Scott

I followed Dad inside, the warmth of my childhood home like an old sweater that hugged me and made me feel warm.

“There’s something you need to know,” Dad said with more caution in his tone than I was used to.

“What’s wrong?” I immediately started imagining the worst, but when there was a sound behind me, I turned to find Megan Ricard, former librarian, and wicked cookie-maker, in the kitchen doorway, and all the embarrassment of what I’d said in the summer hit me again.

“Hello, Kai,” she said cautiously.

I remembered her from my school years. Mrs. Ricard had been a harridan about fines and floated around the library shushing one rebellious teen after another. I’d been so scared of her when I was a teen, but now, I was so damn happy to see her because maybe my dad wouldn’t be lonely, despite my drunken assertion in the summer that he was dishonoring Mom’s memory. Lashing out had done nothing but upset him, and her, and had made me look stupid. It had been five years since Mom had passed, and Dad was entitled to find love again.

“Mrs. Ricard. Hi.”

“Call me Megan.” That wasn’t right—she would forever be Mrs. Ricard to me, but clearly, to my dad, she was Megan. And the way he was smiling? I hadn’t seen a smile like that since long before Mom had gotten ill.

“Okay. Mrs. Ric—Megan. Look I’m sorry, I never meant what I said at the barbecue. I wasn’t… I don’t have an excuse that makes sense.”

“It’s forgotten.” She offered me a more natural smile.

“This is us together, Kai.” Dad held out his hand to Mrs. Ric—Megan.

She took it, and he pulled her to his side. He was more his old self, not so gray, softer around the edges, and Megan was smiling, even with me standing there with an open-mouthed expression. He was waiting though, for me to comment.

“That’s wonderful,” I said with genuine love for my dad, and a ton of affection for Megan, who was responsible for replacing Dad’s grief with hopeful smiles.

“Megan lives here with me now.” Dad lifted his chin, daring me to say something, and I felt about two feet tall. “Since October, actually.”

“We thought we’d rent out my house for the season,” Megan murmured.

I didn’t have words to express how okay I was about this, or how sorry I was for being defensive about Dad seeing someone else after losing Mom. So instead, I dropped my bags and tugged them both into the biggest bear hug. “I’m so pleased for you,” I announced. When I released them, Megan was emotional, Dad was grinning, and I was so damn happy, despite wishing I’d known all along that they’d moved past casual dating. I could have been part of something meaningful for Dad, and it was yet another thing I’d fucked up.

“Would you like a hot drink?” Megan glanced at her watch, “Or a whiskey maybe?”

“I haven’t touched alcohol since the meltdown.” Dad shot me a worried glance, but I sent him a reassuring smile. “I’d love some cocoa, though, because I never got any at the rink.”

Megan headed straight for the kitchen, chatting about cookies. I followed, Dad after, but he stopped me just before the kitchen door.

“I thought the Harriers wanted you observing games, ready to get back on the ice. Are you okay?”

I’m glad it was my dad in front of me, and not Brooke. My sister would’ve known that something was wrong beyond the simple injury sidelining me for the last six months. With only ten months between us, she had an understanding of me that she gleaned from one of my many weird-ass expressions—her words not mine. She’d immediately know I had secrets, but when I explained them, she’d understand that I didn’t feel washed-up and done, I felt peace.

But asking me if I was okay was one hell of a leading question. I should come out and say I was retiring, but there was more to the story than me walking away, and I wanted to tell Brooke at the same time—both Dad and my sister deserved to know the full extent of everything. Instead, I decided to stay light and normal.

“What? A son can’t just decide to visit his old dad?” I teased.

Dad stared at me in confusion, then took the comment for a way to change the subject and honored it for now. “Fifty-five is not old,” he said, “and certainly not too old for me to ground you.”

I sidestepped as he went to punch my arm, and then crossed to one of the kitchen stools, watching Megan prepare hot chocolate and plate up beautifully frosted Christmas cookies. I promised myself that, tonight, I would enjoy seeing my dad and Megan, and work more on that apology. We’d talk about Wishing Tree, and in no way edge towards hockey, or my career choices, or how I owed my sister an apology for ghosting her, or how it made my heart hurt to see Bailey and know that the scarlet in his cheeks was because he couldn’t bear to be anywhere near me. So many questions spun in my thoughts. Like, what if he found out I’d taken his wish? What if he never forgave me for what I’d done to him last summer? What if the love he said he had for me when he was fifteen was something that had waned? Was he dating someone? I didn’t know.

More importantly, what if I never understood the fire in my heart whenever I dreamed of him, or the way I couldn’t breathe when I saw him?

Dad didn’t ask questions. If anything, he was giving me the space to just be. And he and Megan had forgiven me my shit so easily that I regretted not contacting them sooner to give us all a resolution. All I’d done was cut myself off from the people who mattered and who could’ve helped me as I made the huge decisions that changed my life.

I’d been an idiot with Dad, but at least I was back in Wishing Tree, and I could start to fix things.

It was good to be home.



Chapter Five




I headed straight back to my apartment, letting myself into my workshop and shoving the door shut, cursing as I got my scarf stuck, and then yanking it free so I could lock up. Tears that had threatened in the snow, spilled over, scorching on my cold skin. Humiliation gripped me, and I scrubbed at my eyes, the anxiety and embarrassment so strong I couldn’t breathe. Why couldn’t I be normal around Kai? He’d been part of my life for so long, but everything he meant to me wasn’t just about family, it was so much more.

Boots was at my side in an instant, winding around my legs and purring, then nestling in my arms when I picked him up. I buried my face in his fur and felt the hurt ease a little. My cat didn’t care if I messed up, or couldn’t talk, or stared like a goddamned idiot. Boots loved my silence, if said silence came with food and fuss. In that order.

I pressed a kiss to his head and settled him on the counter so that we were face-to-nose, and he purred as I scratched behind his ears.

“This is ridiculous,” I murmured.

He meowed loudly, as if he empathized with what I was going through. But how could he know? It wasn’t as if he’d fallen in love at fifteen, told his brother’s best friend that he was gay, plus exposed a kink that he should have kept quiet, then made a wish on a stupid tree that had no hope of coming true.

Nope. That was all me.

“You know what, Boots? I don’t think about him at all.” I lied, trying the words out and knowing I could never deliver them with any kind of conviction if Kai was standing in front of me. “Yes,” I said miserably, “I think about him all the time.” Anxiety welled inside me. Yes, goddammit, I thought about Kai all the time, and I hated that my wonderful fantasy of him falling in love with me had been battered in the summer. Even more that it didn’t make me love him any less.

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