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I drove around for a while before heading home, trying to settle my nerves. An all night convenience store provided a bit of shelter and I pulled into the empty parking spot and went inside. The clerk didn’t even look up as I walked through the door. He just sat on a stool behind his counter, fixated on a glossy magazine. I wondered what he’d do if I tried to walk out without paying for something. Not that I had any intention of doing so.
I roamed around the store for a while looking for something to buy and settled on a bag of chips and a small bottle of milk. The clerk dragged his attention away from the magazine long enough to ring up my purchase, and pour some change back in my hand. I stuffed it in a pocket, went and sat in the car and fed my face for a few minutes. Nothing changed, so I rolled down the top on the bag, drank the entire bottle of milk and drove home.
The covered levels of the parking garage were full and someone had taken my spot, so I left the car on the roof and headed for the stairs. It wouldn’t have been so bad, had the stairwell light been working, but the bulb had been burned out for weeks.
I stood at the top of the stairs and considered walking down them in the dark. The prospect wasn’t appealing, so I pointed at the stair-rails and muttered a couple of words. A fluorescent green glow began at the top of the rails and whizzed down their length, then washed up the concrete walls. The stairwell looked like someone had spilled several gallons of glow in the dark paint in it. Eerie, but at least I wouldn’t trip.
I snapped my fingers to dispel the glow-spell when I reached the ground floor, left the garage and walked across the street. The clock tower chimed three a.m. as I stepped up on the curb and I glanced at it over my shoulder. It shone under the flood-lamps and the hands confirmed what my ears had reported. I scowled and tried not to think about dragging out of bed to look for a job in the morning. Five hours of sleep wasn’t going to be fun. I scuffed my feet against the ground as I walked to the tower, kicking small rocks out of the way, and let myself in the front door.
The sound of Jason snoring hit me as soon as I had the door open and I relaxed then realized I’d been worried he might not have been home. Like he had any choice. Kathy’s words came back to haunt me and I glared at her from a distance. “Yeah okay, so maybe lemonade wouldn’t be all that bad....”
I shut the door gently, tiptoed across the living room and eased open my bedroom door. Jason mumbled something in his sleep and turned over on the couch. I stopped with the door half open and looked over my shoulder at him. He was oblivious. He was also too big for the couch. He needed a bed and that meant he needed a bedroom to put it in. I winced and looked at the ceiling. Another bedroom I didn’t have, and he wasn’t sharing mine. Maybe Gino would have a suggestion. I promised myself to talk to him the next day and went to bed.
The jangling of the doorbell dragged me back to the shores of reality from the deep blue ocean of dreams and I was on my feet before I realized I was awake. I threw my bathrobe over my shoulders, stuck my arms in it on the way up the front stairs and jerked the door open. “What...” I stopped and stared into a face I didn’t really want to see again any time soon. “Uh, can I help you?”
“Yes.” Jason’s father looked more than a little irritated. I wondered what new disaster had taken place while I was snoozing. “Where’s my son?”
“He’s...” My foggy brain dragged up a memory from the seaweed at the bottom of the dream ocean that I was still half-swimming in and I coughed. “He’s at work. He started this morning.” I had no idea what time it was, but Jason wasn’t still snoring on the couch so I assumed he’d gotten up and gone to work. “Would you like to come in?” I backed down the stairs and tried to play the gracious hostess even though I wasn’t feeling that way. The man on my doorstep obliged and walked down the stairs. Alone. I peeked out the door to make sure there wasn’t a wrinkled prune waiting to follow him, and shut the door.
“Have a seat.” I indicated the couch. “Give me a second to get dressed, please. We really need to stop meeting like this.” I ducked back inside my bedroom before he could react and shut the door.
A glance at the clock on my nightstand confirmed my suspicions. I’d slept through the whole morning. And past lunch. Almost twelve hours. I’d needed the sleep but I needed to put in some job apps worse. I tore off the robe, ripped off my pajamas and threw on my grubbies. My hair got a fast brushing and I plastered a smile across my face then rejoined Jason’s father in the living room.
“What brings you over today?” Dad was perched on the edge of the couch so I sank onto the only chair in my living room and tried to look nonchalant. I wasn’t feeling that way though. Something in his eyes told me he was less happy than he seemed.
“When does he get off work?”
“I’m not really sure. He just started this morning.” Jason hadn’t bothered to tell me what time he had to be at McAndrews and I hadn’t asked. I faced Dad without any idea whether Jason had been at work since eight am or twelve noon. I wasn’t about to go down to the store and find out and I had better things to do than spar with his old man. “Can I take a message for him, or have him call you, or something?”
Dad settled back on the couch. “Yesterday, you told me he was registered at the college.” I had not. I’d allowed him to think that, but I remembered my words quite well. “This morning, I spent several hours discussing his tuition with the registrar’s office and they can’t seem to find any record of him. Care to explain this?”
He sounded like me. I forced myself not to grin and presented him with a pretty good imitation of one of Jason’s lopsided smiles. “When did I say that?”
He pointed over my couch at the kitchen. “When we were having our little chat, before my wife decided she wanted to go home.”
“I don’t remember telling you any such thing.” His face darkened so I pushed on without letting him speak. “I said the college frowned on students taking roommates who weren’t registered. You assumed that meant he was. How is this my fault?”
He raised an eyebrow at me and debated my comment. “So is he or not?”
“Is he or not, what?”
“Registered with the college?”
“Not unless he can make enough money bagging groceries to pay his tuition by fall.”
I let the bomb sit on his lap and watched to see what he’d do with it. Yesterday he’d waltzed in here with the idea that Jason was still a kid. Today he was back and facing the unfamiliar notion that his boy might be willing to try and pay his own way to get what he wanted instead of bowing to his daddy’s demands and taking his money. Not that Jason had any idea he might get to go to school in the fall. I didn’t even know if he still wanted to.
Dad glared and tried the infuriated parent thing on me.
“Mr. Colters, I understand that’s not what you wanted but...”
He interrupted me by standing up and storming to the other end of the living room. No wonder his wife looked like a prune. She’d probably spent their entire marriage frowning at his back. I was sorely tempted to join her but decided my face wouldn’t benefit. I waited for him to calm down and turn around.
He did turn after a few seconds, but he wasn’t any calmer. He also wasn’t real sure what to say. I could almost hear the thoughts churning between his ears. I wasn’t his wife, I wasn’t his son and technically, he was my guest. He amused me for almost a minute by trying on various expressions before deciding it would be more comfortable to sit on the couch. I handed him back the ball as soon as his bottom touched down. “Can I ask you why you dislike our college so much?”
His face slid through another expression or two then he cleared his throat. “I don’t. What gave you that idea?”
“You’re so against Jason going there.”
“I’m against wasting money.”
“How are you wasting money?” That derailed him for about thirty seconds and he forgot that faces look better with their mouths closed. He remembered though, and shut his with a snap. “Mr. Colters, I know you’ve got Jason’s best interest at heart.” Except I didn’t know any such thing. “And I admire that.” Which I would, provided it turned out to be true. “And I know you want the best for him.” At least I hoped he did. I was making headway. Dad’s face had turned sunny. Probably expecting me to back him up and tell Jason to trot off to the army any second. I dropped the second bomb. “But I don’t understand why you want him to die.”
That threw him for a loop. He almost fell off the couch. His face wasn’t sure what expression to wear and spent several minutes trying different configurations. He took the easy way out. He spluttered and imitated a moderate summer squall with his features. I blinked and tilted my head. He wasn’t any less entertaining when viewed sideways.
“Now see here...”
“Well isn’t that what they do in the army? Go blow up things and get killed?” He provided about thirty seconds of further entertainment by trying to remember how to breathe. I wondered if I should make a preemptive call to the emergency ambulance dispatch but he inhaled before things got critical. “I’ll have you know...”
“Wouldn’t your wife be happier knowing he was safe and close to home?”
He spluttered some more and opened his mouth. Whatever he was going to say never made it past his lips. Jason interrupted him by opening the door. He spun around on the couch and they stared at each other. I rubbed my hand over my chin and settled back to watch the fireworks display. It didn’t happen.
“Dad?” Jason shut the door and walked down the stairs. Dad rose from the couch and met his son half way across the living room. They sized each other up like they hadn’t seen each other in a year or two, then Dad inhaled and drew himself up.
“I talked to the college today.” Jason got nervous. “They said you weren’t registered.”
Dad jerked his thumb over his shoulder at me. “She told me you’re bagging groceries.” He picked the name tag up from Jason’s shirt and squinted at it. “I guess you are.”
Dad reached in his back pocket, pulled out his wallet and extracted some bills. “Pay your tuition and don’t take anything stupid. Send me the receipt.” He shoved the money in Jason’s hand, stuffed his wallet back in his pocket and left the apartment. He didn’t slam the door.
Jason stared at the money like it was alive, ran up the steps and jerked the door open. Dad was gone. He stood looking out at the street for almost a minute, closed the door and turned around. His eyes met mine and I slapped my hand over my mouth so he wouldn’t see me laughing. He walked back down the steps and stood there looking lost. “Now what do I do?”
“Figure out what you’re going to take in the fall.” I stood up, walked across the living room and gave him a hug. “And don’t take anything stupid.” His face lit up and he hugged me back. The phone jangled and I slid loose and went to answer it.
“Hello, dear.” The voice was irritatingly familiar. “Let me talk to Jason please.” I sighed and held the phone out.
“Come talk to your mother. I’m going to see Gino.” I handed him the phone and headed out the front door. Lemonade was looking better by the minute, but I still had some things to discuss with Gino anyway. Like scoring a two bedroom apartment. Behind me, trouble was brewing, but for once I couldn’t see the storm clouds on the horizon.
Copyright © 2006 by Crystalwizard