It had been barely a day since Janelle had stormed back into the bedroom, determinedly non-distract-able. Beatrice and Arthur hadn’t been able to say a single syllable before Janelle grabbed Arthur by the arm and dragged him out of the room with surprising force.
Shortly after Arthur’s abrupt departure, Beatrice’s mother slipped into the bedroom, carrying a bowl of cereal and a glass of lukewarm water. It seemed the cousins were feeling momentarily and uncharacteristically generous, and thought the reunion could be mutually beneficial. Beatrice was happy to see that her mother was, for the most part, okay. She looked exhausted and worried, but her spirit was miraculously unharmed. Just as exciting was a surprise appearance from Pepe. He followed Beatrice’s mother into the room, and unlike Beatrice and her mother, he had gained weight since the last time Beatrice saw him.
“Oh, Birdy, those nasty little brats of children have been picking on my baby to no end,” her mother explained, holding Pepe and cooing softly into his chubby little face. “They play this awful game where they see how much they can make him eat before he gets sick! They don’t even care about his dietary restrictions, poor thing, he’s been farting up a storm since we got here.”
Beatrice knew it was only a matter of time until the cousins came in and forced her mother out of the room. Hoping her mother had helpful information, she quickly shifted the focus of their conversation.
“Mom, does this place, this house, feel oddly familiar?”
“Familiar, sure. Oddly, not at all.”
Taken aback, Beatrice couldn’t hide her surprise and confusion at her mother’s answer. Her face must have reflected her thoughts because her mother continued.
“Birdy, sweets, did someone hit you over the head or something?” she said, putting her hand to Beatrice’s forehead as if checking for a fever. “Don’t you remember?”
“Remember what?” Beatrice snapped back, more angrily than she’d intended.
Her mother’s face became suddenly serious. “We came here every summer for years. This house belonged to your grandparents.”
Memories came rushing back to her. The time they’d built a fort because they’d all gotten chickenpox. Building sandcastles by the sea. That all happened here.
“Every summer, your grandparents would invite all of their kids and grandkids here for a big reunion.”
“All their kids, including-”
Beatrice’s mother said those words very quietly, as if saying them would set off an alarm. She looked to the floor, absentmindedly fiddling with Pepe’s collar.
It was as if a dam had been broken. Every blipped memory came flooding back. Arthur had helped to fill in the blanks, but even he only knew so much. Her mother had been the final puzzle piece. This was the house they’d come to every summer. The secluded house just steps from the ocean. She remembered squashing bugs with her cousins and roasting marshmallows in the backyard.
She remembered the first summer she hadn’t come back.
She remembered why.