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Some Kind of Perfect (Calloway Sisters #4.5)
Author:Krista Ritchie & Becca Ritchie

“Daddy? Is that you?” Jane asks. I have a major height advantage over Rose, but I angle myself out of Jane’s view. In a quick second, I catch sight of her teal tutu behind Rose’s slender legs, and then Rose slams the door in my face.

“He’s still waiting for you,” Rose tells our daughter, her voice clear through the wood. “You can introduce him. Or you can exile him from the tea party.”

My lips curve up again. You would love that option; wouldn’t you, Rose?

Jane gasps. “I can’t exile, Daddy.”

Did you hear that, Rose? I picture her torrid glare and the roll of her eyes.

“What about temporary banishment?” she asks Jane.

“No banishment.” At three, her words are incredibly easier to understand compared to Jane at two or one, but it’s not as though she enunciates “banishment” perfectly. It’s partially garbled, and she only knows the word because we’ve used it before, just like exile.

Jane also adds, “Daddy’s never been to a tea party.”

Never one with toys as the guests, but Rose doesn’t correct her and neither would I.

“Then you better hurry and introduce him. Even if Daddy says he’ll wait forever for you, no one has the ability to stand in a hallway for eternity.” Her voice is frost, but every syllable heats my body.

“Introdoozing Daddy!” she announces. “Come in, Daddy!”

I open the door with the raise of my brows, mortaring on surprise like a mask I’ve worn before. I sweep her pale pink room, her toddler bed, armoire and regal chandelier before landing on the tea party arrangement and her eager blue eyes.

“Tu es de toute beauté, mon c?ur.” Such beauty, my heart.

Jane’s face lights, and she touches her black cat-ear headband, ensuring that it hasn’t fallen. Then without pause, she grabs hold of my hand and leads me further inside. With a partial smile peeking, Rose walks to her chair beside Beckett.

She catches me staring and reverts to a glare. Rose mouths, rusty guillotine and mimes slashing my neck. Then she triumphantly takes a seat, crossing her ankles.

I say hushed to Rose, “I’d believe your hyperboles more if they didn’t involve eighteenth-century machinery.”

Rose unties her hair and combs her fingers through the strands. “Guillotines were still used long after the French Revolution.”

She’s not wrong.

Jane stops me by two empty chairs and looks up with bold blue eyes. “What’s a googoniny?”

Rose tries hard not to laugh, hand pressed to her mouth, but she ends up snorting.

I can’t hide my smile. “Googoniny isn’t a word.” What I’m about to say next would make some parents balk or flame red. “It’s guillotine, and it’s a device used for executions.”

She has no clue what “execution” means, and before she asks, I take a seat in one of the free chairs.

“No!” she yells and grips my arm so I stand.

Rose is smitten at my misstep.

Matter-of-factly, Jane says, “That’s Sadie’s chair.”

I look to Rose. “You knew this seat was taken?”

“Yes.” She collects her hair on one shoulder, and I eye the base of her neck. Rose reaches over and spoons Cheerios onto Charlie and Beckett’s saucers.

I squat down to Jane’s height. “Sadie isn’t here.”

Jane puts her finger to my lips. “Uh-uh. Sadie is coming back!”

I collect her hand. “Not anytime soon, honey.” I don’t understand her loss. I can’t comprehend it, no matter how hard I try or how many ways I explain to her logically why Sadie can’t return. My cat nearly scratched Jane’s face, too unpredictable and aggressive. What if she scratched her eye?

I won’t take that risk.

I raised Sadie as a kitten, but my attachment to her is severely less than my attachment to these people in this very room. Call me callous. Call me unfeeling. Call me inhuman, but I raised her to be independent, to survive on her own. And I’ve given her a home with my therapist—this shouldn’t even be an argument anymore.

Jane refuses to hear me. “She’s coming back. That’s her seat.” She jabs her little finger at the seat. She even goes further to place her Kitty Cats coloring book on top, so I can’t sit there. I hear her mutter, she’s coming back once more.

I stand and wonder when a toddler will forget about a cat. If she ever will. I look to Rose, and her eyes have significantly softened. She mouths, play along.

I nod in agreement. We’re still hoping she’ll drop all talk about Sadie.

Jane tugs the heavy chair, trying to pull mine out. I help her and then sit down. All six chairs are now occupied, so I ask Jane, “Where are you sitting?”

“Imsevin!” she slurs together. I take it to mean I’m serving. She picks up her teapot and pours milk to the very brim of my teacup.

I don’t feel silly or awkward. I never have.

I’m entertained by my daughter’s delight.

When she finishes pouring, I say, “Merci.” Thank you. I take a sip. “Mmmm. Délicieux.” Delicious.

She smiles wider, understanding French since Rose and I make an effort to use it around our children. Then she serves her brothers. We both study Jane. We wait for her to be immersed in something else, and then—at perfect, equal timing—we train our gazes to one another.

Rose scoots her chair closer to the table, nearer to me, before whispering, “Sadie was her first friend.”

I try to empathize, but I’m empty. “Who was your first friend? Besides your sisters.”

Rose pretends to sip tea from an empty cup. “In preschool,” she whispers, “I had a friend named Amy. She moved to Maryland just before first grade. I was devastated.” She emphasizes the word, as though losing a friend at six is synonymous with an Armageddon.

“Hmm,” I muse.

“Hmm?” Rose snaps. “What is hmm?”

“It’s an onomatopoeia.”

Rose sets her teacup down so hard, it nearly cracks.

“Careful, darling.”

“No one invited your smartass comments to the tea party. And hmm isn’t an onomatopoeia. Onomatopoeias have to symbolize something. Like oink is referencing a cow. Hmm means nothing.”

“If it annoys you this much, it clearly means something.”

Rose growls. “You’re infuriating.”

“Because I’m right, and you hate when I’m right.”

Leaning even further forward, she whispers heatedly, “Because you twist things until you’re right, which is not so much a gift as it is a character ink blot.” She flicks invisible dust particles at me.

I adore Rose, so much so that I lean nearer too. “I think the word you’re looking for is stain.”

Jane gasps, and our heads quickly turn to our daughter. She fumbles with her teapot. Rose, sitting closer, catches the lid before it thuds to the carpet.

“Gently,” Rose coaches. Her tone is still icy, but Jane doesn’t regard her mother as intimidating or harsh.

Most mornings, Jane will crawl onto Rose’s lap and rest her head against her mother’s collar. Rose will stroke Jane’s hair, and they’ll flip through a Vogue magazine together. Jane likes picking out her favorite editorial pictures, and Rose will later cut them out and paste them in a scrapbook.

When Rose focuses back on me, I say quietly, “She should be over Sadie by now.”

Rose narrows her eyes. “Have you ever lost something you’ve loved?”

I’ve lost my mother, but I didn’t love Katarina Cobalt the conventional way that a son loves a mother. I’ve never loved anything as a child except my own successes. I was told not to. Rose knows this.

All I say is, “We can’t bring back Sadie because a toddler demands it.”

“I know,” Rose agrees, “but we can’t be callous about it either.”

I tilt my head. “What you call callous I call realistic.”

“Children aren’t realistic.”

“I was.”

Rose asks pointedly, “And how did that work out for you?”

I set my elbow on the table. “Seeing as how I’m smarter than ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the population, I’d say it went well.”

Rose raises her hand at my face. “Sideline your ego, Richard.” Her gaze flits to our sons and then Jane, all three distracted by the tea party. Jane mutters softly while serving her stuffed lion. She pats his head.

“You don’t sideline the most valuable player, Rose.”