When Neal came back from prison the second time, there was a silence in him that wasn’t there before. Byron had been in and out of prison throughout their dating years and even a little after their marriage, so she was used to seeing a man have a need to regain his footing, but this was something else, something more.
She imagined it was at least three-fourths about Kate. Peter hadn’t said much about it, but his terse pauses when he’d relayed the information had told June everything she needed to know.
For the first week or so, June let it go. She sicced Bugsy on Neal more than once, convinced of the power of fur therapy—it regularly worked for her. She talked quietly with Mozzie, who seemed every bit as bemused. Mostly, she waited to see if being back in a comfort zone—she didn’t kid herself that it was Neal’s comfort zone—would help him find his feet. After half a month had gone by, though, it was time to take drastic measures.
Wealth was not something June had been born into. Until she was well into her twenties, she’d held down jobs as domestics for the better part of her life. It was why she was so insistent on having house staff—now that she could afford them, she didn’t want any part of the menial labor involved in keeping up a house.
Every once in a while, though, she did like to slip into the kitchen, and make something from her early years. Her mom had been a brilliant cook, and a smart one, forever able to make a few bucks stretch to an entire meal for June, her father, and two hungry brothers.
The easiest way to do that—and yet, something her mother had saved for special occasions, birthdays and the like—was French Toast. Some good slices of bread that were getting a bit old, a few eggs, some milk, sugar and cinnamon, and there was a breakfast engineered to lift anyone’s mood.
Of course, now June could more than afford to splurge on the ingredients—buy the challah she’d never had as a child, fresh berries from a Farmer’s Market for topping, and real Vermont maple syrup.
She laid out the pieces and slowly put them together, her mother’s voice and movements echoing through her own. When she was finished, she poured two glasses of orange juice, made up a tray, and went to see if she could wake Neal from his stupor.
Neal was awake. He was sitting on the porch despite the morning chill, wrapped in a blanket. She called, “Neal.”
He startled and looked around at her. “Oh. Good morning, June. Was there something I could do for you?” Pitch perfect smile, like always.
June knew the tricks of cons. “I was hoping you’d have breakfast with me. I made it.”
Something sparked in Neal’s expression, and he stood to come inside. “I didn’t know you cooked.”
“Rarely. Special occasions, and the like.”
Neal sat at the table and she handed him a plate, stacked with three generous pieces of French toast. He pulled the bowl of berries to himself. “This looks incredible. What’s the occasion?”
“It’s a beautiful morning,” June told him. More softly she added, “And you’re home.”
Neal paused for a moment, but then his movements went back to being fluid as he added just a bit of syrup. He raised his glass of juice and held it out to her. She raised hers as well. He said, “To mornings with you.”
His words had an ache to them, but they were sincere. She clinked her glass against his.