Estranged

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"Can you believe that nerve? Who just shows up without calling?"

Nan slammed a pan of ziti down on the table, causing Rachel to jump.

Papa cleared his throat.

"You're getting yourself all worked up," he snapped. "Why shouldn't she come over to see her kid?"

Nan's entire body stiffened. Her arms straightened at her sides. The glare she sent Papa's way was one filled with a terrifying mixture of confusion and contempt.

"You know why."

Nan's narrowed eyes darted over to Rachel and then back to Papa.

Papa's cheeks reddened. His eyes grew wide.

"I should be worked up," Nan continued. "We all agreed it was best if she didn't have contact with Rachel."

"The kid's the one who called her."

"That's right," Nan muttered, giving Rachel another angry glare. "You aren't having a sleepover with Yasiris next weekend."

"But Nan-"

"But nothing. You should be ashamed of yourself for snooping like that. Why did you call her without asking me?"

Rachel twisted her plastic spoon in her hand.

"I don't know. I thought you'd say no."

Nan snorted. "Of course, I would have said no. There are things you're too young to understand. Your grandfather and I know best. We know the sort of person your mother is."

"Watch what you're saying in front of the kid," Papa growled.

Nan stopped talking and began to eat, but Rachel could see the angry clenching in her jaw. She wasn't just chewing. She was grinding her teeth. Nan only did this when she was really upset. Like the time that Papa had hit her. Then Rachel had seen Nan grinding her top and bottom rows of teeth together. She'd done it nearly constantly for a period of nearly two weeks. But then she'd cracked her bottom tooth and the grinding had stopped. Rachel thought of reminding her Nan that grinding her teeth together could damage them again, but ultimately thought better of it. Nan was really mad and somehow grinding her teeth together made her feel better. Rachel didn't understand how, but it was helping her somehow.

Rachel poked at her ziti. It still looked a bit too hot to eat.

"Rachel! I'm telling you right now that I'm not going to deal with any of that shit tonight!"

Nan knew that Rachel didn't like to eat hot food because she was afraid of combusting. Both Nan and Papa got really angry whenever Rachel talked about her Spontaneous Human Combustion. Rachel suspected it was because they both knew it was true, but neither wanted to admit it.

"I'm just waiting for it to cool down," Rachel said.

"I'm warning you, Rachel. I'm done accommodating this. You're already eating this with a spoon, like a crazy person."

"It's just....I'm fine. But hot foods can cause the digestive juices to ignite-"

"Knock it off," Papa snapped. "It is impossible for ziti to start a fire in your stomach. Just eat the damn thing before your grandmother and I lose our fucking minds."

Rachel picked up a spoonful of ziti and jammed it into her mouth. She tried not to think of the heat against the roof of her mouth. What that heat may do when it met her digestive juices...

Papa cleared his throat.

"I'm assuming Helene is coming back sometime soon?"

Nan dropped her fork. It hit the plate with a sharp clatter.

"Back? Why would she come back?"

"Don't you think it's time for us all to move past it already?"

"It's not the sort of thing we can move past."

"Regardless of what happened-"

"Regardless? You're kidding, right?"

"Regardless," Papa repeated. "Helene is our daughter. Rachel is her daughter. Nothing more important than family."

Nan scraped her fork over the plate. Her bottom lip trembled.

Rachel's gut twisted.

There was something they weren't saying. Something about her combustion?

"Oh, give it a break, Nancy." Papa shot Nan a look of utter disgust. "You go see Helene sometimes. It's not like you're estranged from her. Why should Rachel be? It had nothing to do with her and it's her mother."

"You want them to have a relationship? You think anything good can come out of that?"

"Absolutely. Let them get to know each other now, while Rachel is still a kid."

"I don't think so. Rachel is far too nervous a child to be around her, and she's obsessed with this fire nonsense."

"What do you think will happen?"

"I think that Helene will scare Rachel with all her witchcraft and craziness, and Rachel will worsen. And I think that Rachel will cause Helene to spiral into a depression, another very long one. You know how guilty she feels. All Rachel's jabbering about bursting into flame will bring up all of that..." Nan trailed off, giving Rachel a wary look. "Let's discuss it later."

Unable to contain herself any longer, Rachel exploded with questions.

"Witchcraft? Is my mom a witch? That won't scare me. Only combusting scares me. Why does she feel guilty? Can I see her again soon? Can she come over again? Please?"

"Stop."

There was a warning in her grandfather's voice. There were threats inside of that word.

Rachel's heart palpitated.

"Okay," she murmured. "I'll stop. But we can talk about it another time, right?"

Nan rolled her eyes once more.

"We'll talk about it," she muttered. "But not right now! Rachel eat that ziti! If you let it get any colder you're gonna Spontaneous Human Refrigerate!"

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