A quick glance through the peephole had her opening the locks in alarm. “Mom?”
Margaret Warner, mouth pinched, gray-streaked hair straggling in uncharacteristic disarray, stood with her fist raised as if to knock again. Behind her stood two massive suitcases, a duffel bag, travel tote, and several bulging cloth shopping bags.
“Mom.” Kate blinked. “What are you doing here?”
“I’ve left your father. I need a place to stay.”
“What do you mean you left him?”
Margaret glanced up and down the empty corridor. “Do we need to do this out here?”
Kate tightened the belt on her robe and tucked the phone into a pocket. “Sorry. Come in.”
Margaret swept inside, leaving Kate to bring in the luggage. While Kate dumped the last of the bags just inside the door and secured the locks, her mother inspected the sparsely furnished living room. It occurred to Kate that this was the first time since she’d moved back from Berkley that either of her parents had visited.
She moved past her mother and cleared some space on the futon. For a moment she hesitated, arms piled high with books. Then she deposited everything on the floor, beside several already precariously leaning stacks of texts, journals, and notebooks. “You want some tea?”
“Tea,” Margaret repeated, as if she’d never heard the word before.
“I’ve got chamomile and Sleepytime.” At her mother’s continued silence, she sighed and moved toward the kitchen. “Have a seat. I’ll put on some water.”
Kate took her time preparing a tray. She couldn’t begin to imagine what might have prompted her mother, after twenty-some years of animosity, to pack up and leave in the middle of the night. The kettle boiled. She poured two steaming mugs, dunked in a couple packets of herbal tea, and added containers of milk, sugar, and one of the packages of chocolate chip cookies she’d bought to fuel her grant-writing marathon over the coming week.
“So what happened?” she asked, after her mother took several tentative sips and set the mug aside.
“I moved out.”
“So you said. Why now? Why not tomorrow—or last week, or ten years ago?”
“I gave him the best years of my life.” Margaret paused, lips twisting as if tasting something bitter. “What a cliché. The best years! For what? You think I wanted to be at home, cooking, cleaning, ironing his shirts with just so much starch—because too much and they itch, too little and they wilt? You think I asked to be a single parent while he traipsed up and down the coast from project to project, on this conference or that?”
“I’ve been on my own twelve years, Mom. It’s a bit late to beat that drum.”
“Don’t you dare take that tone with me, Katherine. It’s not your place to sit in judgment. You don’t know what it’s been like, all these years.” She took a deep breath, nostrils flaring. “He owes me.”
“Really? How do you figure that?”
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