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Jason wandered home from McAndrews about thirty minutes after his parents left. He bounced down the stairs from the front door in a happier mood than I’d ever seen him. “This is all they had.” He set a box of tea on the counter and reassured himself that his folks weren’t sitting on the kitchen chairs. “Where’d they go?”
“Home.” I picked up the box and stuck it in the back of a pantry shelf. “I assume. From the way your mom was driving, I’m not so sure they got there in one piece.”
Jason leaned his back against the sink and tried to decide between a look of concern and a laugh. “She got a little mad?”
“Yeah.” I pulled out a box of noodles and a can of tuna. “Just slightly. I’ve seen prunes a lighter shade of purple than her face. Get that pan and put water in it.”
A grin danced across his face as he picked up the only saucepan I possessed and ran water into it. “Sorry it took so long but...”
“That’s not what she was upset about.”
He set the pan on the burner I’d tried to use for tea earlier and turned it on.
“Your dad’s not any too happy either.”
“Yeah, well...” He centered the pan on the burner. “He never is. Not when it comes to me.” I handed him the noodles and the tuna can. He forgot himself and made a face at my choice of food for dinner then remembered and rapidly opened the box. “So what was mom mad about?” He eyed the pan and looked at the back of the box. I let him read it and watched to see if he made the right connections. “You want me to dump this in there?”
I sighed. He was going to take a lot more work than I thought. Which annoyed me more than the fact that I couldn’t get rid of him. Maybe I should have paid more attention to Gino, and why he thought it was so funny when I told him what my final casting would be. “Yes Jason, dump it in there but...” Too late. The cheese packet hit the water and promptly got soggy. “Take the cheese out first.” I whapped him on the head and fished out the packet. “Dummy.”
He winced and grabbed his head with both hands, and then snuck a peek at me with one eye. I lost it and burst out laughing. He reacted by grinning and standing up straight. “You did that on purpose, didn’t you?”
He grinned harder and started digging through the drawers. “Yes.” He pulled out a large spoon and stuck it in the pan. “I’m not a total idiot.”
I leaned against a counter. “You know, that wasn’t the most intelligent thing you’ve ever done.”
“Yeah, I know.” He twisted his head and looked at me over his shoulder. “You mad?”
I considered the possibility and decided I liked this version of Jason a lot better than the one which found my floor fascinating. I might even get an intelligent conversation out of him at this rate. “No, but don’t push it.”
He gave his attention to the noodles long enough to rest the spoon against the side of the pan and turned around. “You don’t have to threaten.” His eyes darted to the terrarium for a moment and centered on my face. “I’m not stupid.”
I could feel the knot twisting in his stomach and my emotions tangled with his. I took two steps across the kitchen and put my arms around him. “I’m not mad and you’re not in trouble.” He tensed for a second then cautiously put his arms around me and hugged me again. Only this time he didn’t let go until I did. Which I almost forgot to do. The last time I’d hugged someone, and meant it, was when I saw my parents off for their fifteenth wedding anniversary cruise five years ago. I made a mental note to call them in the next few days, released him and stepped away.
Jason dropped his arms and turned back to the stove, but not fast enough to keep me from seeing the tears on his cheeks. I patted him on the back a couple times and walked out of the kitchen before he saw the water on mine, plopped down on the couch and sat brooding at the blank wall at the other end of the living room.
A month ago I had everything all figured out. Now everything was all tangled up. I glared at the wall and let my mind run over the various parts of the spell I’d cast that night, and then looked over my shoulder into the kitchen.
Jason was reading the tuna can. I decided to let him figure things out, or ask, and glared at the wall some more. For about a minute. I needed answers and I wasn’t going to get them from white paint and plasterboard. I got off the couch and walked back to the kitchen. “You think you can do that without setting the house on fire?”
“Yes.” Jason’s voice was calm again and the tears were gone from his cheeks. He switched his attention from the can to me. “Do you want this in there before or after they’re drained?”
“Okay.” He turned back to the can and waited for me to move out of the kitchen doorway. “Oh, so you know? I got a job.”
I spun around halfway to the front door and walked back. “Say that again?”
“I got a job.” He retrieved the can-opener from a drawer and started opening the tuna. “At McAndrews. I filled out an application while I was down there and they hired me on the spot. I guess they’re kind of short handed. Starting tomorrow. Stuff like bagging groceries and mopping the floor.”
I grinned and he returned it then finished opening the can. “I thought you might like that.”
I leaned against the kitchen door-jamb and watched him drain the tuna into the sink. “Jason....”
“Yes?” He turned around and set the can on the counter.
“Nothing.” I knew what I wanted to ask him. Why he’d acted like such a dunce, why he’d been so clumsy, why... but I knew the answer. He was scared. I wondered what had changed and decided maybe the visit from his parents was a good thing after all. I stopped viewing him as a thing I could order around, or a kid with no brains, and tried to see who he really was. His face lost the smile and he gazed at me with something far more serious in his expression.
“Maybe you should have thought about that a month ago.” His voice was soft but the words echoed in my ears and I felt like I’d been hit with a truck. “It’s a little late now.” He walked across the kitchen and stopped in front of me. I sagged against the door-jamb and gazed into his eyes. The noodles chose that moment to boil over and he jumped. I clapped my hand over my mouth and tried not to laugh as he dealt with the mess on the stove.
“I’ll be back in a while. Try not to set the house on fire.”
He tossed me a grin over his shoulder. “Can I flood it instead?” I made a face at him and he ducked in mock fear then focused on getting noodle juice out from under the burners. I chuckled and headed out the front door.
A nice breeze had kicked up outside, swirling bits of debris into the air. I stood on the stoop watching the dust devils and trying to decide what to do. Gino was an obvious choice, but I knew what he’d say. He’d just laugh and say he’d told me so. I considered hunting Kathy down, but her shift at the café didn’t start for a couple more hours and I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to berate her. I wasn’t sure what frame of mind I was in, come to think of it. I stared at the street and watched the cars pass, then started for the park. Maybe the ducks could sort things out.
Copyright © 2006 by Crystalwizard