Chapter 14

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Immediately, I can tell Dad has no idea what to say next. "Um, can we meet somewhere?" he finally asks after the most awkward moment. I turn my head to see Josh return to the table. He looks confused, and searches around until he finds me. He nods when he sees the phone by my ear and sits down to eat.

I return to the conversation. "Why?" All my responses seem to be only one word at a time. "You haven't bothered to call before." OK, not anymore.

A sigh. "Matthew, I'm sorry." I grimace, on both the name and the apology. I find it annoying when people do that to save their asses. Now, if they were really sincere, maybe. "I was . . . busy." Sure you were. "But I'm here now. And I feel like I need to give you an explanation for why I left."

"There's no need to explain to me. You cheated. Mom found out. You left." The words fly out of my mouth without a second thought. I bet if we were conversing face-to-face, Dad would show a pained facial expression.

"Just, meet me at the strip mall in Federal Way, please?" He sounds weary.

"When?" I ask.

"For God's sake, um, after school." When I don't say anything, Dad adds, "We can meet at GameStop, like when you were little."

Out of the corner of my eye, Josh is doing an interpretive dance to ask me how long I'm going to take on the phone. I hold up an index finger, and he makes a big deal to act as dramatically disappointing as possible. If my best friend keeps this up, the drama teacher might catch him in the act and coax him to be in a play.

"Fine," I say. "I'll be there." Before Dad can reply, I hang up. Putting the phone in my pocket, I head back in the cafeteria and sit next to Josh with his heaping pile of food.

I roll my eyes. "I swear if this is the paranormal world, you'd easily pass off as a werewolf," I say.

Josh makes a face at me before taking a huge bite of one of his burgers. "At least I'd look more amazing shirtless than that Jacob douche in Twilight." He thinks about it. "Hell, I look amazing shirtless now."

I snort. "Keep dreaming, buddy." I dodge as Josh throws a pickle slice at me.

_______

By the time Dad arrives at the video game store, I've already been waiting for half an hour. For someone who's trying to make amends for a bad deed, he's not really doing well. He finds me sitting at a corner, reading the back of one of the cases.

I scoot closer to the corner to make room, and Dad sits by me. "You remember all those times I took you here?" is the first thing he says. "Almost every time, you had to drag me out to get home in time." An amused smile appears on his face.

However, my facial expression is blank. "I didn't agree to meet you here to share memories," I say. I put back the case on the nearest bottom shelf. "If you want to redeem yourself, then get talking."

It's as if I had cast a spell. Dad's happy look evaporates, and he's serious now. "Alright." He glances at his watch. "Why don't we walk around a bit? I'm pretty sure that employee over there is a step away from kicking us out."

As we walk out of the store, we turn left and start wondering down past the other stores we're either not interested in or not understanding why they're there. Frankly, I don't know why Dad has chosen this place to talk; we don't go here often. And when we do (Did, I remind myself), it's to get a game or two to add to Dad's collection of the games he's started to play but never finishes. I get there's not a lot of places to choose from, but still.

"How about here?" I offer, pointing at a resting area. Really, it's just a few couches and chairs and benches placed on tiles different from the ones placed everywhere else. As of right now, only one chair is occupied by an elderly man taking a nap. Dad nods, and we take the bench.

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