"I talked to Ms. Ramone today and told her we decided to take the house. We can move in by the end of the month. Do you think you can be ready by then?"
Reese took a deep breath, and looked up from the dinner she was preparing. "There's going to be a lot to get ready. But I think we can make it by then."
"We could always move it back if we need more time, but I don't think I want to wait any longer than necessary," Simon said with a grin as he took out the salad ingredients and closed the refrigerator door.
"I don't think we'll have to do that. We'll manage somehow," Reese replied. "At least I hope so."
"I'm glad everything worked out with Natalie's father. Did your conversation go alright?"
"Yeah . . ." Reese said slowly. "It was fine. It was . . . not how I expected it to go. It was a little odd actually."
"It was his reaction . . . or his lack of reaction," Reese said, looking up from the counter as she searched for the right words. "All these years, whenever I considered getting in touch with him, I tried to imagine how he would react. A lot of scenarios ran through my mind, but not this one."
She sighed. "I didn't know if he would be furious or excited or maybe both, but I always thought he'd at least be curious and I thought he'd probably want to have some kind of relationship with Natalie, but he just seemed so disinterested and so detached. That's not like him."
"Maybe he was just in shock and needed some time to process the news."
"Maybe," she said doubtfully. "But he didn't seem very shocked, not at all . . . I don't know why it's bothering me so much. I have no right to expect anything from him after keeping everything a secret from him. Something just seems off . . ."
"Maybe you should try talking with him again just to get some clarity."
"I think I will. We're going to be neighbors soon. We're going to be running into each other. It's going to have to come up again sooner or later."
"Hi, sweetie, how are you? How are you doing?" Amanda gushed over the phone.
Meghan twirled the phone cord around her fingers. "I'm fine."
"Are you getting along with living with your dad and Shayna? How's school?"
"Okay, I guess."
"That's good to hear. I wish you were here. It's been warm and sunny everyday since we've been here and the water is so blue. You would love it. Ben has been working a lot, but when he's not busy he's been showing me all the sights."
"I wish I were there too," Meghan pouted. Then she looked around to make sure no one was in earshot before continuing. "Any place would be better than here."
"Why? Aren't things going well? What's the matter?"
"It's okay," Meghan said slowly. "I just liked it better when I was living with you."
"Oh, sweetie," Amanda said. Her daughter's words tugged at her heart. "I did too, but your dad and I decided this would be the best for you. You could get some time with your dad and go to a better school."
"I like the school and it is nice to see Dad more. It's just . . ." she lowered her voice. "It's strange living here. I don't think I really fit in."
"With Shayna?" Amanda asked, finishing the thought Meghan left uncompleted.
"She picks on me," Meghan said, the words flowing quickly now. "We had this 'family meeting' about rules and stuff and dad did most of the talking, but you could tell she was the one behind it. She doesn't like what I do or how I dress. In fact she wants to take me shopping tomorrow and help me pick out some clothes that she thinks are more suitable," Meghan groaned.
When Meghan heard her mother exhale sharply over the phone before responding, she held her breath anxiously.
"Is it really that awful for you? You don't think you'll adjust if you just give it some time?"
"No," Meghan replied with a roll of her eyes.
"Well, sweetheart, there's really nothing I can do right now. I can't pull you out of school and have you come here."
"I don't want to leave the school. I actually like the school. I've already made friends"
"I'll be home in a couple of months. Why don't you try to stick it out until then and if it's still not working out, you can move back home with me."
"No, I don't want to do that really," Meghan said, as she noticed Julian walk through the kitchen. "I can stay here. I just wish she wouldn't pick on me so much."
"Why don't you let me talk to your dad."
"Okay," Meghan beamed. "Thanks, Mom."
"So what do you think of this outfit?" Meghan asked, holding up a very short, low cut top with an equally short skirt.
"I think if my parents saw me in an outfit like that, they would both say, 'you're not leaving the house dressed like that young lady.'"
"Dare me to try it on just to see how much I can annoy Shayna? Do you think she would flip?"
Judith shrugged. "I think it might take more than that to get a rise out of Ms. Ramone."
"Hmmm . . ." Meghan said thoughtfully as she glanced sideways towards the front of the store where Shayna was browsing the racks. "Oh my gosh, what is she looking at, power suits?"
"She's going to have me dressed like a mini version of herself. Oh my God."
To that Judith only giggled harder. "I could not imagine."
"Oh, great," Meghan muttered. "Here come Melanie and Sara."
Judith turned to see the two upperclassmen enter the shop. "I thought you were all friends?"
"We are . . . sort of, I guess. I did not want them to see me here shopping with Shayna. That's why I didn't invite either of them when Shayna said I could bring a friend. I didn't want anyone at school to see me shopping with my sort of stepmother."
"So you invited me instead?" Judith frowned and crossed her arms, but Meghan didn't seem to hear her.
"Oh no, they saw me and they're headed over," she hissed, before smiling and waving. "Hi, girls."
"Hi, Meghan. What's up?" Sara asked.
"Not much, just shopping," Meghan replied. "What are you two up to?"
"The same," she replied.
Melanie looked at Judith. "Aren't you Jeremy Wilton's sister?"
"Yes," Judith replied.
"What are you, a freshman?" she asked.
"Yes," Judith said. She tried not to let her annoyance show, but she cold feel her cheeks flush involuntarily at Melanie's remark.
"She's my cousin," Meghan explained.
Unable to stand by quietly any longer, Judith spoke up. "Her older cousin, by almost 2 months." When Melanie and Sara looked confused, she explained. "Meghan's a freshman too . . . Didn't she mention that?"
Meghan looked at her cousin in horror, but Judith didn't care. She was fed up with the other girls' attitudes.
Melanie and Sara exchanged a look.
"No, she didn't."
Meghan shrugged, trying to play cool and salvage some chance at maintaining her popularity. "I guess it never came up."
"Well, we'd better go," Melanie said. "Enjoy your shopping."
As the two girls walked away, they had already lost interest in the conversation with Meghan and Judith and were checking out a couple of cute guys who had just walked into the store. Meghan felt like she was being left behind in the shadows for good and her chance at being part of the popular crowd at school had vanished as soon as it had appeared.
She frowned at Judith. "Thanks a lot."