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"You're not going out."
"Excuse me?" Alex whirled, hair swinging in a dark blur, to look at her father. Actually, the back of her father's head, because he hadn't even bothered to turn around as she breezed down the hall to the door. While she waited for him to answer, she didn't take her hand from the doorknob.
Her father glanced over his shoulder at her and gave her the look that she'd grown to hate -- over the rims of his glasses, eyebrows raised as if he couldn't imagine that anyone would possibly countermand a word that came out of his mouth. "I said you're not going out."
She glared at him. "Why not?"
Looking away from her and back to whatever he'd been doing, he replied, "I'd like you to eat dinner with me."
"Isn't Juliet coming over?" she snapped.
"Which is why I would like you to eat here."
"Yeah right; what do you care if I have dinner with you and Juliet?"
"Because," he answered mildly, "it would be nice if we could all do something together once in awhile."
Nice? Alex tore her hand from the doorknob and stalked over to him, a scowl on her face. When she planted herself in front of him, arms crossed angrily over her chest, all sharp angles and elbows, he finally looked up at her and put his book aside. "Ben," she spat, because she knew it would upset him (and hopefully hurt his feelings, assuming he had any to hurt), "I am going out. The last thing on the planet I want to do is sit around with you and Juliet. Okay? Good-bye."
Ben's face, up until then an infuriating mask of calmness, had twitched at her use of his name. It gave her a savage pleasure. She ignored the niggling sadness, the part of her that remembered wanting to make her dad happy and succeeding. No point in even trying now -- making him happy meant giving up what she wanted. Of course, that was normally the way to make him happy, for everyone, not just her. Maybe Juliet would wake up and realize that soon, and then Ben would have to stop with this charade of having them all spend time together, as if they really belonged together or fit together in any kind of semblance of harmony.
She couldn't help it; she took another dig at him, relishing the feeling that she could wound him. "Do you think we're like a family?" she asked, scorn dripping from every word. "Is that the little fantasy you've been living in?"
His eyes hardened. "Clearly I have been living in a fantasy -- thinking I've taught my daughter to have any respect for her father."
"Oh, please!" Alex laughed spitefully, wildly, at the thrill of throwing everything back in his face. "It's true, you think that Juliet is really going to stick around, like she's not going to get sick of you and figure out what you're really like. And you know what? I'm not stupid and I know what you're trying to do, and she's not my mother, she's never going to be my mother, so why don't you stop trying to force everyone around you into what you want them to be?!"
They stared at each other for a very long, tense moment, Alex with silent defiance on her face and Ben's expression unreadable. She thought maybe she'd won; that he actually understood that she was right (surely he had to at some point) and would apologize to her and let her go meet Karl. Not that she'd stop being mad at him, but if he'd just say he was sorry for once, it would be a start.
But when Ben spoke, all he said was, "Are you done?"
Her eyes narrowed and her lips thinned, but he cut her off before she could say anything.
"Spare me another self-righteous, adolescent rant, please." The harshness in his voice brought her up short. He'd never used that tone with her or such scathing language. Deep inside the most detached part of her mind, she knew that meant in a way she had won -- she'd hurt him and now he was lashing out in the way he was best at. But she felt like she'd been slapped, even punched, as her reply died on her lips, choked off by the sudden lack of air in her lungs.
And the worst part was that he knew. He knew exactly what to say to make her feel just the way she did -- she could see it in his eyes. She didn't stop just then to think about the quick flash of regret that she saw, because why should he regret tearing her down?
"I hate you," she forced out.
"And you think I haven't heard that before?" he asked, smiling completely humorlessly. It made him look cruel.
Something seemed to crack inside her, to splinter into a thousand pieces, and it hurt, as though her heart or her soul or something was made of glass and now the shards were piercing her insides. Drawing blood, like her father was so good at. And like she was. Like she had learned from him.
Before he could say another word, she fled from the room to hers, where she could slam the door shut and fling the window open violently and climb out and just run. She didn't know where she was running. A sob tore itself from her throat and she was struck by a sense that she had no idea if she was running from something or towards it.
Maybe what she'd felt break within her was her childhood. Her innocence. The illusion that her life here was normal and that she and her father could have the relationship they'd had before. That they actually could be the family he wanted them to be.
No amount of running would bring her closer to that, though.