Sophie stuck her head through the trap door and looked around.
“Don't look so worried. There ain't no ghosts up here. You didn't really expect your dad to be here just cuz I said so, did ya?” Ronnie said, bent over to miss hitting his head on the slanting ceiling. He pulled the string and turned on the only dim light bulb in the place. “Geeze, can't even stand up straight in here.”
“It wasn't made for living space,” she said, going up the rest of the way and bumping her own head on the ceiling. “Ouch! Not for giants anyway.”
“Hey, you okay?” he said.
“I'll live,” she muttered. “Gosh, I haven't been up here in years. My dad always got the Christmas stuff down. Don't know where they are.”
“I do. Guess I didn't need ya after all,” he said pointing at some boxes in the far corner.
She laughed. “What was your first clue?”
“Oh, just the big XMAS printed on each one, is all,” he said, dropping to his knees and scooting over to grab them. “What's this! Oh, man, I always wanted one of these!”
“What? A box of crushed tinsel?” she said pushing the boxes toward the trap door.
“No, it's the whole set of Power Ranger zords!” Ronnie said, picking one out of the opened box labeled Kenny Toys. “Wow...this is so cool.”
“My brother's,” she said, kneeling beside him. “He loved those stupid things.”
“Stupid? It's awesome!”
“Well, then you'll get along with him fine,” she said, pulling another box toward her, one marked Sophie Treasures. “Oh, my God, I can't believe Mom kept this.”
“What?” Ronnie said, putting down the Zord. He turned in time to see her lift a tiny, pink dress out of the box. “Wow, you were so little!”
“When I was a month old. Even you were this little once,” she said.
He shook his head. “Not according to my mother. I was born like... three months old or something.
Sophie put down the dress and made a face at him. “That is ridiculous. How could you be born three months old?”
“I mean the size of the average three month old baby,” Ronnie said, spotting a baby blanket and pulling it out. “My Grandma Heidi made one just like this for me...only with boy colors, blue and white. All grandmothers think alike, huh?”
“When you say you were the size of the average three month old, what exactly does that mean?” Sophie said, frowning at him.
“Mom told me—won't ever let me forget actually-- that I was nearly twelve pounds when I was born and I hurt her something fierce, so... could be why she hates me. Simon was normal size, so she loves him...didn't hurt nearly as much to give birth to him.”
Sophie gaped, her mouth hanging open. “You are not serious! Twelve pounds at birth??? For Pete's sake, I was barely six pounds! That's twice my size.”
He grinned. “Not much different than now, huh? You're like....a hundred maybe and I'm almost double that,” he said. “I'd crush you if...uh... anyway. Better get the Christmas stuff downstairs.”
She stopped him from going with a hand on his arm. “Why do you do that, Ronnie?”
“You start saying something and you stop half way. You do it all the time. What were you going to say? You would crush me if what?”
He stared at her trying not to think of the many ways he'd like to “crush” her. He shrugged, looked away, pulling his arm free of her grasp and stuffed the baby blanket back into the box. “You know...how does anybody crush you? Just...you know...”
“Nobody ever did...yet” she said. “Kinda would like to be crushed by someone sometime soon.”
He didn't dare look at her. He just grabbed the box marked XMAS with big bold letters and started down the steps.
Sophie sighed. “So much for not so subtle hints,” she mumbled to herself, stuffing the baby clothes back into the box, pushing it back against the wall and taking the other box of Christmas decorations. Out of the corner of her eye she thought she saw some movement and she looked up.
There was nothing there, but she could have sworn she saw... but no, that would be so crazy.
“Daddy?” she whispered, suddenly trembling from head to toe. “Are you here?”
Richard crouched down beside her and touched her shoulder. “I'm right here, Darling,” he whispered.
“Did you say something?” Ronnie said, coming back for the other box and making her jump about a foot into the air. “Hey, you okay?”
Her heart pounding a mile a minute, she nodded. “Yeah...uh...just....looking around,” she said, feeling both stupid and angry with herself for wishing for something so ridiculous. A ghost dad, really? She should have her head examined!
“Do you want me to bring that other box down for you so you can look at your old things again?” he asked. “Reminiscing can be fun.”
“And how would you know that?” she said, in a snippy voice.
“My dad's just like Violet. He keeps loads of our old kid things and I like looking through them every once in a while. That's how I found my old car collection to give to Julian and some puzzles for Peter.”
“Nothing good for your sister?” she asked, pulling another box toward her, one she knew held her old dolls and toys.
“Only a worn and dirty old teddy bear from when I was like three or something. Not exactly good enough for her,” he said with a chuckle.
“Maybe I can find something in here that she'd like. We can look through it together and... you can have anything in here that you think she'd like,” she said.
“You don't have to give away your stuff if you don't want to,” he said.
“Time for me to let go of childhood, don't you think?”
He watched her for a minute as she looked inside the box, moving some things around to see what else was in there then she closed the box over again and pushed it toward the trap door. She looked sad, mad and glad all at the same time. He didn't know how she did that.
“I dunno 'bout that,” he said. “I'd rather stay a kid if I had the choice.”
“That's just it, Ronnie,” she said smiling sadly. “We don't have the choice, do we?”
He nodded. “I guess.”
Her emotions were definitely mercurial, he thought as he grabbed the box and brought it downstairs. He smiled as he realized he just used another “fifty dollar word” that Sophie would not expect out of him.
“What's so funny?” she asked coming down the stairs.
“What? Oh, nothing. Looking forward to decorating the tree. Haven't done it in a long time,” he said.
“You are weird, you know that?” she said.
“Yeah, I know and I'm okay with it,” he said, grinning at her. “I think I get that from my dad and that's probably the same part you don't like about me.”
“I never said I didn't like you!”
“Don't have to,” he said grabbing the bigger of the boxes taking it to the living room. “We can't seem to have a conversation where I don't tick you off, so...”
“I don't hate you, Ronnie,” she said following with the other box.
“If that's too heavy for you just leave it and I'll come back for it,” he said.
“I'm fine,” she said, even though it was a bit too heavy for comfort. “You know...I don't really hate your father, either.”
“Good to know,” he said, dropping the box at the bottom of the stairs and going back up to help her. “Maybe it's me that doesn't like you then.”
She gaped at him, stunned and hurt. “You don't like me? Why?”
“Cuz...” he said, already feeling bad for what he was about to do, but knowing he had to do it anyway. “Cuz you're one of those girls, like all those man bashing feminists at Wharton that won't ever admit when you're not up to a job even if it kills you.”
“What?” she said, utterly confused.
“I told you to leave the box cuz I knew it was too heavy for you, but no! You had to show me you were just as strong as me. You would rather hurt yourself than allow me to be the guy,” he said, grabbing the box from her. “You're nothing like your mom, and that's what I don't like about you. Your mom makes a man feel wanted and needed. She makes a man feel like a man. You and girls just like you, make men like me feel like a piss ant.”
“Wait...what?” she said. “Just cuz I wanted to help with the boxes?”
“It's not just the boxes, Sophie,” he said going back up the stairs, grabbing the last box and putting it aside. Then he folded the ladder back into place. “Where do you want this one?”
“My room,” she said pointing to the the room directly across from the bathroom.
He stepped inside and was immediately looking at a huge poster sized photo of his soccer team from high school, with his smiling self front and center. He blinked at it wondering why she would have this up here. He put the box down on the floor beside her bed and looked around. It was definitely a girl's room, all pink, purple and frilly...except for the poster.
“Mercurial, all right,” he muttered.
“What did you say?” she asked.
“I can't figure you out,” he said, not looking at her, but instead at the teddy bear propped up against her mountain of throw pillows.
“What do you mean? What's to figure out?”
“One minute I think your super girly and the next...you're like a female Rambo,” he said, pointing at the poster. “Really?”
“I like soccer. I played on the girl's team you know,” she said.
“Most girls that say they like soccer have a poster of David Beckham on their wall, maybe Mia Hamm, but not a stupid high school soccer team. That isn't even your soccer team!” he said.
She shrugged. “I like soccer guys, not girls pretending to play soccer. Did you ever see my team play? They sucked! Too busy polishing their nails to bother actually training. I wanted to join the boys' team cuz I knew you guys took it seriously, but they wouldn't let me.”
“Really?” he said. “I mean...okay, you were the best on your team, I know cuz I saw you play a couple of times, and you wouldn't have been the worst on ours, but...”
“Oh, gee, thanks for the huge compliment! Not the worst,” she grumbled.
He laughed. “Sorry, something else for you not to like about me. I'm a total sexist jerk.”
She stared at him for a minute and was about to agree with him, except...she knew he wasn't like that at all. “No, you're not,” she said. “A real sexist jerk wouldn't care if some guy was drugging girls and raping them. He would have let Antoine do whatever he wanted to me or Cassie or whoever and not care a bit. He'd want to join in on the fun. And FYI, just cuz you want to help me with a heavy box doesn't make you one either...just makes you a gentleman, like a knight in shining armor, somebody's hero. My father was like that with my mom and with me. I always thought she was taking advantage of him, though...never doing her share.”
“I doubt your dad thought she was. I'll bet he'd do anything for her and she for him. It's what people in love do,” he said. Feeling now that he might have said too much, he turned away and went back down the stairs and into the living room.
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