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Lucille Bennet might have moved in, but she would never take our mother’s place.

Not if we had anything to say about it, and with Cassie always beside me, I was sure we would.

Facing Demons

I HEARD DADDY and Lucille’s laughter as I walked toward the den. They were standing beside each other, hovering over the bar. Then they kissed. I stepped back out, not wanting them to see I had walked in on them. I waited a moment and then walked in. They both turned as I entered.

“Well now, officially welcome home, Semantha,” Daddy said. He stepped forward to give me a kiss. “How about a drink? You’re old enough. What do you like?”

“Just some white wine, maybe,” I said.

“Very wise,” Lucille said, holding up her wineglass to show me that was what she was drinking.

Daddy poured me a glass, and I sat on the ruby leather settee. I remembered when Mother had decided to buy new furniture for the den. It was always a major decision to replace anything in the Heaven-stone mansion, no matter how worn or damaged it might be. Daddy used to say it was like burying history when we changed anything.

Lucille sat in what had always been Daddy’s favorite heavy-cushioned leather chair, and he remained standing beside her. They both looked at me for a moment with identical silly grins on their faces.

“I suppose,” Daddy began, “you’re wondering why Lucille is still here.”

I shrugged. “No.”

She looked at him and smiled, and he took her hand and held it as he turned back to me. “Lucille has moved into Heaven-stone, Semantha. It was on a trial basis, and I do believe the trial is over and the verdict is in.”

While he spoke, Lucille continued to look up at him with admiration. I remembered how Cassie would look at him that way. It always made me feel as if I weren’t paying enough attention to him or showing him enough respect and love.

Suddenly, he put down his glass of scotch and reached into his jacket pocket to produce what was clearly a box holding a ring. I held my breath as he opened it to show Lucille.

“Oh, Teddy!” she cried, putting her wine down and carefully plucking the ring out of the box. Even from where I was sitting, I could see it was a very large diamond. She slipped it on her finger. “Perfect fit.”

He knelt to kiss her. Then he turned to me. “Well, Semantha, you witnessed it, the moment Lucille and I got engaged.”

I saw he was waiting for me to say “Congratulations,” but it was as if Cassie had her hand over my mouth. I struggled to offer a smile.

“Semantha?”

“It’s a bit of a shock to her, I’m sure,” Lucille said. “And it’s

been a very long day.”

“It should be your day,” Cassie whispered. “Not her day. You graduated!”

I nodded, still speechless. I had known this woman less than twenty-four hours, and she was soon to be my stepmother, my father’s new wife. This was unfair. Why couldn’t it have waited until I had spent some time with her? Why hadn’t Daddy thought of that?

Daddy started to turn a shade of crimson, which was a clear indication that he was becoming angry. Cassie would have said, “Here it comes! Hold your ears.”

“You’re a young lady now. We brought you up to know the social graces. You could have the sense to offer us your congratulations, Semantha.”

“I’m sorry. I was just about to, Daddy. I was taken by surprise. Congratulations, Mrs. Bennet. And you, too, Daddy,” I said, forcing a wider smile, but he still didn’t look satisfied by my reaction.

I couldn’t help that it must have looked forced. I was second in line again! I had always been jealous of the affection Daddy had for Cassie. I had always known Cassie was his favorite, the more perfect daughter. After all of his discoveries about her and her death, I thought he would really get to know me, really look at me. We would finally get to be a real father and daughter.

Just when I thought all of that would happen now, Daddy inserted Lucille Bennet between us. I recalled when he had first told me he was going on a date with her. It didn’t seem that long ago. How could he make such an important decision as marriage so quickly? Daddy was never impulsive. Was it simply because of his loneliness?

And why couldn’t Daddy see what bothered me and understand? Weren’t fathers supposed to be able to understand their children more easily than anyone else? What did I have to do to get him to see my pain? Burst out in tears?

“Please, call me Lucille, Semantha. I do hope you and I will be on a legitimate first-name basis. I’d like to be more your friend than just a stepmother.”

“And you’ll be a lucky girl to have a friend with Lucille’s wisdom and experience,” Daddy said. “I hope you have the sense to appreciate it,” he added firmly, his eyes beady with angry authority. It was the same as his saying, You had better appreciate it, or else.

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