Aug 01, 2021 10:17 PM
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Her hands twist in the folds of her skirt.

"I thought he would be... different," she says. "Manageable. But that is the one thing he isn't." She looks away. "And I don't think it's good for him, to spend so much time being - managed."
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"He's a little old to be managed now, anyway," Bella says. She pauses, and takes a risk - "I'm a little surprised he still lives at home. Some parents would have sent him to boarding school or something."

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"My husband doesn't believe in foisting his problems off on other people," Mrs. Hammond murmurs, very neutrally.

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Bella nods slowly. "Some parents would have kicked him out of the house on his eighteenth birthday," she says.

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"Some parents, yes," she says, looking down at her skirt and smoothing it out again with exquisite care. "Not these ones."

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Bella nods.

Anything else she might say would probably be too dangerous to say aloud, in this house.

She does say, "I wonder what it's like to be Delaney, though." Pause. "I don't think I'd like it."
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"He seems to," Mrs. Hammond observes. "Sometimes, I have to say, I really wonder how."

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"Well. As long as he's happy and safe. Those seem like reasonable goals."

Bella tries not to sound too knowing. The "vaguely dim" persona helps.
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Mrs. Hammond lets the silence stand a little too long after that one.



Alice's footsteps are audible coming down the hall; shortly, he pokes his head into the room.

"Good news, guys," he says. "Dinner's on the table and not a snail in sight."
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"Excellent," says Bella. "Not-snails are my favorite thing."

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"Then you're gonna love dinner! C'mon."

He turns to head back down the hall. Mrs. Hammond waits a moment, then gets up and follows.
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Bella trots after Alice. She is rather hungry.

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Dinner is indeed on the table, it turns out. The extremely formal dining table with the spotless white tablecloth and the obviously antique chairs.

Mr. Hammond sits at the head of the table, of course, with his wife on his right and his son on his left. There's a place set for Bella on the other side of Alice.

No one seems inclined to start a conversation.
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Bella's willing to eat in silence, especially if the food's tasty.

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The food is exquisite, actually. Alice and his mother both utter non-verbal expressions of delight; Mr. Hammond just looks inscrutable.

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Oooh. Bella joins in the delighted expressions. She wonders if Hilary cooks or if there is a separate cook. If Hilary cooks, perhaps she can convince Charlie to marry her.

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"Good, isn't it?" Alice murmurs after a few minutes. "Our housekeeper is the best."

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So it is Hilary.

"It's marvelous," agrees Bella. "Much better than anything I've ever made."
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"I'm so very glad we found her when we did," Mrs. Hammond agrees, beaming. "The cooks we had before her simply do not compare."

Mr. Hammond contributes nothing to the conversation and, astonishingly, Alice seems disinclined to talk with his mouth full.
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"She's called Hilary, is that right?" Bella says. "I think she's made friends with my dad."

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"That's heartening," says Mrs. Hammond with a smile. "I think it's very nice how we're starting to become part of the community. Don't you, dear?"

Mr. Hammond nods with apparent reluctance.
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"It's a pretty friendly town. I've been coming for summers all my life, but only started to make friends my own age when I came during a school year," Bella says chattily. Slightly dim, slightly dim. "My dad's friends don't have kids, except for some much younger than I am."

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"I think it's charming," says Mrs. Hammond. "Oh, have you been living with your mother all this time?"

Mr. Hammond chews his next bite of lobster with unnecessary force. Mrs. Hammond doesn't seem to notice, but Alice hunches a little lower in his seat, an ineffective move since he is the second tallest person in the room.
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Bella glances at Alice, and at Mr. Hammond, and slowly relates things that anyone in the room could learn by asking anyone who has heard that Bella even exists. "My parents split up when I was very young. Until recently, I lived with my mom most of the time, and my dad during summers. Now I live here, because my mom is going to be traveling a lot with my new stepdad."

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"That must be hard for you," Mrs. Hammond says sympathetically. "I'm glad you're settling in and making friends."

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