Points hysterically at Cypher: His fault, his fault! He did it! He gave me the bunny...and he wasn't even trying this time. Eh, again, wanted a bit of a creative break from Glass and decided to throw out some major fluff. Even I think the sugar gets thick, here, so be warned. It's kind of a hadicap...I can do sick, dark, angst...or overly fluffy sugar-shock inducing sweetness...not a lot of middle ground. So, fair warning...don't strain yourself looking for a plot.
Author Notes unrelated to story: For the curious, and in case some of you have not figured it out yet, Through a Glass, Darkly has been moved to the R section. Unfortunately, this site does not seem to post the story when I update.
Also Glass related...Makkura has done it again! An absolutely gorgeous pic, inspired by Glass, is up at her website on DeviantArt. It's a scene right out of Chapter 10...very cool. The address is www,deviantart,com/view/15413875
Please note the commas between www and deviantart and com...they need to be dots.
Okay, enough of this, on with the show!
Disclaimer: I wish they were mine...oh how I wish they were mine. Alas, they are not, and I am only playing in the sandbox. Please don't sue.
1st : Baby Steps
Virgil peeked cautiously out from behind his hands, curious to see if the monsters were still there.
"Oh, Lottie, just look at those eyes! He looks just like Jean!"
"Such a little sweetheart…oh he's going to break a few hearts when he grows up."
"Is he talking, yet?"
Virgil shied away from the high-pitched squeals and buried his face back in his Nana's ample shoulder, wrapping chubby arms around her neck. "Nonononononono!" he chanted, wishing that his Nana would make the monsters go away. They looked nice, and sweet, like his Nana, but they were monsters! They had pinched his cheeks and rubbed his hair, and this was not Nana's house, and he wanted his Mommy.
"Oh, we can't get him to stop talking these days. He's just a little shy around strangers. Virgil, honey, it's all right. Look at all the nice toys Nana's friends set up for you." Virgil risked another peek as Nana carried him across the big room with the table in the middle, to a playpen that was set up right under a big window. It looked like his playpen at Nana's house, but Virgil could tell it wasn't. He screwed up his face, ready to start wailing (that always made Mommy and Nana fix things for him), when he spotted something in the playpen. Immediately, he squirmed to get down, reaching out one hand towards the treasure he saw.
"Bunny! Bunny! Nana, bunny!" he squealed. Nana laughed, her big, rich, rolling laugh that always made Virgil feel safe and warm, and set him down in the playpen. He crawled awkwardly over the blankets and pillows that had been piled up until finally he was able to snatch the bright yellow stuffed bunny up into his arms. He loved bunnies. They were so soft, and cute, and his most favorite cartoon show was 'The Adventures of Mr. Hoppity' on TV. Virgil didn't know what an 'Adventure' was, but he thought he'd like to have one, someday.
"Where are Jean and Sharon, Lottie? I was hoping to get to see Jean before she has to take the kids back to Dakota."
"Oh, she took Sharon out shopping. A little mother-daughter time. They're going to have lunch and get their hair done…so I have my little man all to myself!" Nana dropped a kiss on his head, which Virgil hardly noticed as he had found a squishy red ball in the toys and was squeezing it hard, fascinated by the way it changed shape in his hands. "They don't have to go back until Sunday night…why don't you come over for dinner after church?" Nana walked away from the playpen and took a seat at the big table.
"Sounds lovely. Now, where's Mary? Can't play bridge without my bridge partner!"
Just then, a knock echoed through the foyer. Still lost in the inherent coolness of a squishy ball, Virgil didn't take notice until the door opened and there was a new round of squealing from all the women Nana called her 'friends'. He glanced up and saw his Nana, and two other ladies all grouped around another lady, who had a big bundle wrapped up in a blue blanket.
"Mary! I thought Irene's children were all in school."
"Oh, this is my youngest grandson, Maggie's boy. I know I should have called, but Maggie just showed up last week asking if I'd take Richie for a few days…she was supposed to pick him up this morning, but it looks like she won't be here until later tonight. I remembered that Lottie said she might be bringing her grandson to the game this week, so I thought you wouldn't mind."
"Oh, shoot, honey…it's no trouble! We've got a playpen and Bobby and his wife left plenty of their kids' toys last time they visited. He can play with little Virgil."
"Oh Mary, he's a little doll. What hair!"
"Thank you, Jane. Oh, it's been such a whirlwind…I'm afraid I'm not as young as I used to be. He's such a good little boy, though. So quiet."
"Why on earth did Maggie leave him with you?" Virgil heard a heavy sigh as the group of women approached the playpen.
"Richie's teething again…should be the last set. It's the only time I've ever seen him really be fussy. Sean's on the night-shift again, and Maggie didn't want the noise to disturb him. What Maggie sees in that man…but it's not my life. And at least it's nice to have one of my grandchildren so close. Isn't that right, Angel?"
Virgil blinked as another little boy was deposited in the playpen in front of him. A pale, thin woman who smelled like flowers (which Virgil thought was strange, since Nana's were suppose to smell like cookies, like his) kissed him on the head, just like Virgil's Nana had done and then all the women moved over to the table to sit down. Virgil tilted his head and looked at the other boy, who was clutching a blue blankie and gnawing on a big cookie. He wasn't eating much of it, though, just chewing. After a moment, Virgil crawled forward and awkwardly patted the other boy's bright yellow hair.
"Hi-hi," he said. He held up his squishy ball for the other to see. The other boy smiled around the cookie and dropped his blankie. He squeezed the ball and giggled, drawing an answering giggle from Virgil.
"Ball!" the other boy laughed. Then he held out his soggy, half-chewed cookie. Virgil leaned over and took a bite out of the mostly dry half…hey, a cookie was a cookie! The other boy giggled again, then pulled himself up and crawled towards the corner of the playpen. "Bunny! Bunny, bunny, bunny!" he crowed. Virgil followed happily.
A few hours and two bridge games later, four elderly women were grouped around the playpen, just staring down at the occupants. The toys had been scattered all over the pen (most of them now sporting soggy patches from where Richie had sought relief from his aching gums after the zwieback had been eaten). Only the center of the playpen was clear.
"Isn't that the cutest thing? Someone get a camera…I want this for my scrapbook," Lottie sighed, smiling down at her little grandson.
"Make that two. Maggie hardly ever sends me pictures of Richie," Mary added, forgetting for a moment how much her bad back had ached from having to be up with a fussy two year old for most of the previous night.
The two boys, for their part, were oblivious. Richie's soft blue blanket had been wadded up into a lumpy pillow and both boys were sharing it, fast asleep. They were turned towards each other, sharing a stranglehold on a rather bedraggled-looking yellow stuffed rabbit.
"Heh, Lordy, Lordy…looks like Virgil's made a little friend, Lottie."
"Looks like. Mary, you know you're welcome to bring Richie over anytime. Jean and Robert don't get up here, much. I know chasing after a little one is going to be tiring in that big house of yours."
"Thank you, dear. It would be nice for Richie to have another child to play with when Virgil visits. Sean doesn't want Maggie to put him into any of the playgroups in their neighborhood, for some reason."
"Oh, I almost don't want to wake them up."
Even so, Lottie leaned down and gently hefted her grandson up. Virgil started slightly, his eyes popping open for a moment, before he snuggled back down into her arms, falling back to sleep almost instantly. Mary did the same, gathering Richie up in his blanket and hissing a little at the pull in her back. Richie whimpered softly and stuffed a fistful of blanket into his mouth, still trying to relieve the ache of new teeth, even asleep.
"We'll see you next week. Mary, call me the next time Maggie asks you to babysit. Even if Virgil's not visiting, I'd be happy to help."
"Thank you, I will. See you next week, ladies."
The two women moved towards the door, leaving their two friends to clean up the remains of the bridge game. Next week it would be Lottie's turn to host, and Mary would stay to help her clean up. It was a tradition that they had strictly observed for nearly ten years, and one that none of the ladies would ever give up.
Lottie and Mary parted ways at the front gate to their friend's yard, each having parked on opposite sides of the street. As his Nana carried him towards her car, Virgil peeked sleepily over her shoulder, blinking slowly at the retreating figure of the thin woman. The other boy poked his own head up, and one small, chubby hand waved slowly. Virgil returned it and then snuggled back into Nana's embrace.
"Did you have a nice time with your new friend, baby?" Nana whispered softly, rocking him a little.
Virgil didn't know what a 'friend' was. He heard that word a lot, but he wasn't really sure what it meant. Still, like an 'Adventure'…he thought he might like to have one, someday.
2nd : Halloween
"Nana, come on…everybody else is leaving." Virgil knew he was whining, knew his Nana didn't like it when he whined, but he couldn't help it. Already, he could see lots of kids in his Nana's street, and he couldn't wait to get out with them. For the hundredth time, he checked his costume in the big mirror on the front closet. Mask, check, green and black uniform, check, official fan club ring, check. He looked just like Green Lantern…it was so cool!
This was the first year his Mommy had let him go out Trick or Treating, and he was so excited. No more having to share stupid Sharon's candy…he was four years old now, he was a big boy! Best of all, Sharon had gotten sick a few days earlier and his Mommy and Daddy had sent him to Nana's so he wouldn't get sick, too. He felt kind of bad for Sharon…she was puking and everything, but it was fun to get to spend Halloween with Nana. Her whole street got really into it—Virgil had never seen so many decorations. Not even the Center his Daddy ran had this many decorations up in the Haunted House they had every year.
"Sakes alive, baby. Carmichael Street's never run out of candy before the last trick or treater gets through, and I don't think we'll start now. My friend Mary's bringing her grandson over and he's going to go with us while Mary passes out candy here. We'll go as soon as they get here."
Nana exited the kitchen with a big tray of caramel apples wrapped up in plastic. She set it down on the long table that lines one whole wall of her foyer along with three other trays, and a huge bowl of candy. She'd been making the apples all day, and had even let Virgil help put the nuts on. Virgil's mouth watered at the sight of the big caramel apples with lots of nuts sprinkled on them, but he knew she'd saved the very biggest and best one just for him, for after trick or treating.
"Okay," he pouted. He didn't know why they had to wait for some dumb old kid that he'd never even met. He didn't care if Nana said they used to play together…he sure didn't remember!
"You can just put that bird perch away, young man, or I'll be taking Richie out and you can stay here and help Mary pass out candy." Nana wasn't kidding. Hastily, Virgil reigned in his pout.
"Sorry, ma'am," he said contritely. Nana waited for a moment, then grinned at him and ruffled his hair. He smiled back up at her, and threw himself at her leg, wrapping his arms around her waist in a tight hug. "I love you, Nana."
"I love you, too, baby." Just then, a knock sounded at her door. "I'll bet that's them, now." She moved across the foyer and opened her front door to reveal a rather pale, elderly woman with a cane and a small figure that Virgil supposed was the woman's grandson. He was dressed as the green Power Ranger, and hung back behind the woman, nervously clutching at her free hand.
"Hello, Lottie…Virgil, it's nice to see you again. You were only a little baby last time I saw you," the woman said softly. She pulled the Power Ranger out from around her with a fond smile. "Richie, say hello. You don't remember…but you and Virgil used to play together, sometimes, when he was visiting."
"Hi Mrs. Henderson, hi Virgil," the boy repeated dutifully. His voice was almost as soft as hers had been. He glanced over at Virgil, and Virgil caught a glimpse of huge eyes through the eyeholes of his helmet. The boy waved, shyly, and Virgil returned it with a small smile. Okay, maybe it wouldn't be so bad to have another kid out with them.
"All right, boys, who's ready for some candy?" Nana said brightly, clapping her hands together. Virgil cheered loudly, jumping up and down, and Richie seemed to brighten a little, though it was hard to tell beneath the costume.
"Now, you be good for Mrs. Henderson, all right, Angel?" Richie nodded solemnly.
"I will, Granny," he said earnestly. The pale woman leaned down and hugged him tightly. Then she straightened with a small wince and glanced around the foyer.
"Well Lottie, looks like you've got everything all set up, here. You're just planning on going up and down our block, right?"
"I think that'll be enough for these two," Nana agreed. Virgil stubbed his foot forward.
"Aw, Nana…we're big boys! We can go longer." Nana winked at Richie's Granny over their heads.
"Of course you can…but I thought you wanted to watch the Snoopy Halloween special tonight."
"Oh! Oh yeah!" Virgil brightened immediately. He loved Snoopy. "Can Richie stay an' watch, too?"
"Can we, Granny? I love Snoopy!" Richie's voice was still quiet, but there was an undercurrent of excitement to it. Richie's grandmother winked back at Nana.
"I think that'll be okay. Now, you all better get going. I know for a fact that Janie Gardener made up her special molasses cookies to hand out. You don't want to miss those!"
Virgil didn't know what a molasses cookie was…but he was up for anything with 'cookie' in the title. He dashed forward and grabbed his Nana's hand, then began dragging her towards the door. He grabbed Richie with his other hand as he passed, and though the boy jumped a little, he didn't pull away. Nana laughed softly and snatched two plastic pumpkin baskets off the end of the foyer table.
"Bye Mrs. Nana's friend," Virgil called, not knowing the pale woman's name.
"Bye Granny!" Richie added.
"Saints preserve me," Nana murmured as they exited the house.
It took them only and hour to go up and down Nana's block, and despite Virgil's protests, both boys were lagging noticeably by the time they made it back to Nana's house. Their pumpkin buckets were heavily laden, and Virgil couldn't wait to dump them out and see what they had managed to haul in.
Richie broke free of Nana's hand as they turned in to the front walk, racing up the last few steps. "Granny! Granny!" he shouted. His grandmother opened up the door and he flung himself into her arms. "Virgil an' me went trick or treating, an' we went to all these houses, an' they gave us candy…an' Virgil says I can have his Almond Joys 'cause he doesn't like 'em, and I do, an' I'm gonna trade him my M M's!"
His grandmother laughed delightedly. "That's wonderful, Angel."
"Richie, come on…we're gonna miss Snoopy," Virgil said, letting go of Nana as well and racing up the front steps. The two tore their masks off and Virgil led them into Nana's living room. Virgil plopped down in front of the ancient TV set and began flipping rapidly through the channels. After a few moments, he found the opening credits of the Snoopy Halloween special and threw himself back onto the faded patchwork rug. Richie sat down gingerly next to him and the two dumped their candy out onto the floor. Within a matter of moments they were heavily involved in divvying up the candy bars, cookies, and gumballs they had collected.
"I like your Green Lantern costume," Richie said softly, sorting out all the packets of M M's that he'd gotten.
"Thanks! Lantern's the bestest. I wanna be just like him when I get bigger." Virgil was doing the same, fishing out the promised Almond Joys. Very quickly, the mess of candy began to divide into two piles, the boys sharing and trading almost without having to speak.
"I like Power Rangers…but Green Lantern's cool, too."
"Power Rangers aren't real," Virgil said, scandalized. How could someone like Power Rangers more than Green Lantern? Richie looked up at him and frowned.
"So? I still like them." Richie looked back down again and seemed to hunch in on himself. It was Virgil's turn to frown. He hadn't meant to make Richie sad. He looked around the room as if the answer was somewhere on the walls, before his eyes lit up.
"Here!" he crowed, snatching his official fan club ring off his hand. He'd waited forever to get it after he sent away for it, but he figured this was a good idea. Shyly, he held the ring out to Richie. "You can have my power ring and then you'll be a real Power Ranger hero!"
Richie looked up and as quickly as his frown had appeared, it vanished, and he smiled toothily. "Thanks! My Daddy wouldn't let me join the fan club." He put the ring on and the two shared a happy smile.
"I'm gonna be a superhero just like Green Lantern someday," Virgil said after a moment, continuing to paw through his candy. "I'm gonna help people, and live in a secret base, and I'll have a real cool costume."
"You're gonna live in a secret base all by yourself? Who's gonna make you snacks?" Richie asked worriedly. Virgil frowned a moment…he hadn't considered that. He quickly brightened, though.
"Well, my Mommy can come sometimes an' make me peanut butter sandwiches. An' you can come and live with me, so I won't be by myself!"
Richie grinned at him again. "Cool! Can I be a superhero, too?"
"Yeah! We'll be the bestest superhero team, ever. And your Mommy can come over an' fix us chocolate milk sometimes."
"That'll be great! My Mommy makes really good chocolate milk."
The candy sorted, the two quickly scooped it back into the buckets and settled down on the carpet to watch Linus's adventures trying to find the Great Pumpkin. After a few minutes, though, Virgil remembered that his Nana had set out some caramel apples for them all to have after trick-or-treating. Nana made awesome caramel apples.
"I'll be right back, Richie," he said, scrambling to his feet. He walked into the foyer and hurried towards the kitchen door. He slowed as he approached the door, hearing his Nana and Richie's Granny talking. They sounded upset.
"I just don't recognize Maggie anymore, Lottie. That man has her totally under his thumb! And Richie…Lord, that boy's scared of his own shadow!"
"Oh Mary, you don't think—"
"No, no…thank God, no. I don't think Sean's ever laid a hand on him. He just has such unreasonable expectations…he's crushing Richie under them!"
Virgil frowned to himself, not really understanding what they were talking about. Why would Richie be afraid of a shadow? Sometimes they were scary at night, but his Daddy had showed him that there was nothing to be afraid of. Maybe Richie's Daddy needed to tell him that, too. He pushed the kitchen door open and the two women fell silent, quickly.
"Virgil, baby, do you need something?" Nana asked, rising from the kitchen table where Richie's Granny was still seating, swiping at her eyes.
"Can we have our apples, now, please?" he asked politely. He shrugged off the strange conversation his Nana had been having. Grownups could be so weird. Nana nodded quickly, and grabbed a paper plate from the stack on the counter. She went over to the refrigerator and pulled out two big caramel apples, with nuts.
"Are you having fun with Richie?" she asked as she carefully handed him the plate. Virgil grinned widely.
"Yes, ma'am! Me an' Richie were talking, and we're gonna be superheroes when we grow up!"
"Superheroes, huh? I do believe you could, Virgil. I do believe you could." She smoothed a hand over his head, then gently turned him around and swatted his behind lightly. "Go on, now, it's rude to leave your guests alone."
"Okay, Nana." He scampered across the foyer, managing not to drop the apples, and flung himself back down in front of the TV, passing the biggest apple over to Richie.
The final credits of Snoopy's Halloween special were rolling across the screen when Mary finally called Richie into the foyer so they could leave. Virgil followed reluctantly, sad to see the other boy go. His Daddy was coming to pick him up tomorrow, and Richie had to go back to his parents', so they wouldn't get to see each other again. Mary and Lottie both chuckled at the caramel and nuts liberally smeared on their faces and clothes, shaking their heads and mentally promising baths for the boys as soon as possible.
"Bye, Richie," Virgil murmured, reaching over to hug the boy tightly. "Thanks for coming trick-or-treating with me," he continued, remembering his manners as his Nana liked him to.
"Bye, Virgil." Richie sounded as reluctant to leave as Virgil was to see him go. He hugged the other boy back, before taking his grandmother's hand. "Thank you for invi—invid—thank you for having me over, Mrs. Henderson."
"You're very welcome, Richie. Mary, I'll see you this Sunday?"
"Of course, Lottie. I'll be over right after church to help you set up the card table. Bye now, Virgil. It was nice seeing you again." The two exited and made their slow way down the front walk to Richie's grandmother's car. Virgil plastered himself against the screen door, watching them go. Richie turned around once just before his grandmother opened the car door, and waved silently. Virgil returned it, before allowing his grandmother to pull him away and close the door.
3rd: School Days
Virgil had long ago figured out how to look perfectly studious, while goofing off. It was all in the expression. If the teacher saw you concentrating too hard on something without ever looking up, it was a dead giveaway that you weren't really taking notes. The trick was to glance up every few minutes, look perplexed, and then look back down at your 'notes'. It helped if you could remember to throw in an "Ah-hah!" expression every once in a while, too…kept the teacher from asking if you understood everything. Virgil had it down to nearly a science, and Ms. Finch hadn't caught on yet.
She was talking about photosynthesis today. It was actually kind of interesting, but Virgil already knew all about photosynthesis. So, while all the other kids were either out and out day-dreaming or frantically trying to puzzle out the mysteries of how plants ate, Virgil was already virtually assured of an A on the test.
He glanced up at the board again in time to see Ms. Finch cast him a curious look over the rims of her glasses. Her eyes narrowed and he quickly shifted his gaze to the diagram she had drawn of the different parts of a flower, then glanced down and began erasing a random part of the doodles he'd been working on all period, as if he had just caught a mistake in his notes. He peeked up through his lashes at her and breathed a silent sigh of relief when she turned back to the list of vocabulary.
He went back to doodling random designs all over his notebook paper. Involved in the random whirls and swirls, it took him a moment to notice that the hushed whispering around him was actually a lot louder than normal. Curious, he glanced up again and immediately saw what all the commotion was about.
Mr. Daniels, the crusty old hall monitor that had been at Dakota Union Elementary for as long as Virgil could remember, was standing at the front of the classroom, handing Ms. Finch a note. She looked down at it, reading it quickly, and then smiled warmly at someone Virgil couldn't see behind the pudgy bulk of Mr. Daniels.
"Class, it looks like we have a new student joining us." Mr. Daniels tipped his baseball cap at Ms. Finch and turned to lumber out the door, clearing the view of the new kid, a pale, skinny white boy.
Virgil raised one eyebrow, immediately pegging the kid as a nerd, and heard a few snickers from around the room. The boy was staring intently at a patch of the floor just beyond his toes, clutching a stack of books and notebooks to his chest like a shield. His shock of blond hair fell into his eyes, which were hidden behind Coke-bottle thick glasses, and his clothes looked like they were a couple sizes too big.
"This is Richard Foley…he's just moved to Dakota with his family from Shaker Heights, up in the northern part of the state." The boy mumbled something, barely audible, and Virgil saw Ms. Finch frown softly. "What was that, Richard?"
The boy coughed softly, and finally raised his head from his contemplation of the floor. "Richie," he mumbled. "I go by Richie."
"Oh, I'm sorry. Richie, then. Well, let's see…" Ms. Finch trailed off, looking around the room. The class was pretty well full to capacity, with the only empty seat being next to- "Virgil? Raise your hand please. Richie, we'll put you next to Virgil, there. Now, we're talking about photosynthesis today, so you just follow along as best you can." 'Richie' nodded silently and shuffled towards Virgil's seat.
Virgil rolled his eyes as he put his hand down. Reluctantly, he pulled his book bag closer to his feet and stacked his notebooks and folder up a little more neatly. Darn it, he liked not having anyone else sitting next to him. He slumped back in his seat and crossed his arms over his chest, fixing his best glare on his face. The new kid slipped silently into the empty desk and went about arranging his belongings. Virgil deepened his glare, staring straight ahead.
The new kid pulled out his science book and turned to the page listed on the board.
Virgil slumped further, and made sure to sigh heavily, still glaring.
The new kid opened his notebook, obviously one he had already been using, to a set of neat diagrams and drawings of all the different parts of a plant, complete with most of the vocabulary Ms. Finch had just put up on the board.
Despite himself, Virgil leaned forward a little, curious to see how the other boy had organized his information. His notes were sure a lot neater than any of the ones Virgil took! Virgil glanced up at the boy's face and for a moment he had the strangest sense of deja vu. There was something kind of familiar about him…
The boy, Richie, looked up and shot him a tentative smile. "We did this last month at my old school," he whispered. The smile widened a little, and he flipped to the next page, which was covered with pictures of Pokemon…most of them being slaughtered in interesting and inventive ways. Virgil gasped out a snort of laughter before he could catch himself, immediately clapping a hand over his mouth. It was too late.
"Virgil and Richie?" Ms. Finch said sternly, the first of many times she would call on them thus, though she didn't know it. "Something you'd like to share?"
"No ma'am," Virgil mumbled hurriedly.
"Virgil was just telling me what page we're on," Richie added quickly. Ms. Finch's expression suggested that she wasn't buying it, but then she looked between the two, an odd look crossing her face. In the end, she just nodded, and turned back to the chalkboard.
"Thanks," Virgil whispered out of the corner of his mouth. "You wanna sit with me at lunch?" He wasn't really sure what prompted the invitation. While certainly not a recluse, Virgil didn't really have a crowd he hung out with. He rarely gravitated to anyone, instead letting them seek him out if they wanted his company. It was just…easier, that way. Richie looked surprised by the offer, but a wide grin split his face, and Virgil found himself smiling back, the odd sense of familiarity fluttering through him again.
And he suddenly had the strangest craving for M M's and his Nana Henderson's caramel apples.
"Sure!" Richie whispered back. Then Ms. Finch cleared her throat, and the two hastily returned their attention to their "notes." Richie was almost as good as faking 'studious' as Virgil was.
"Dude! There's no way Dr. Mysterious forgot about Plant Man's exploding spores. I'm telling you, Plant Man is walking right into a trap!" Richie stabbed a finger into the upper left-hand corner of the panel, pointing out some weird, shadowy shapes that might possibly have been one of Dr. Mysterious's evil machines.
Virgil wasn't ready to concede the point, yet, though. He grabbed the comic back, and flipped to the final page, showing the dramatic confrontation between Plant Man and a rather short guy with a crystal ball for a head and a bright yellow spandex costume.
"And I'm telling you that it's Dr. Mysterious! He's small potatoes. Plant Man could take him with one hand tied behind his back!"
Richie snatched the comic again, and rolled it up with even dignity. "Well, we'll just see next month, won't we?" He glanced up at the street signs of the corner they had stopped at, and seemed to deflate a little. After finding out that Richie lived in more or less the same direction that he did, Virgil had insisted that they walk home together. "Aw, man, this is my street."
"Oh…well hey, why don't I call my Pops and ask if I can stay and shoot some hoops or something?" To Virgil's surprise, Richie's eyes darted to one side, uneasily. He shifted from foot to foot before finally glancing up at a point somewhere over Virgil's shoulder.
"Uh…my mom is at some book club she joined and Dad doesn't get off work until late, so I'm not allowed to have anyone over." Richie looked mildly upset.
"Hey, that's cool," Virgil said easily, hurrying to reassure the other boy. "Well…can you call your mom and ask if you can come to the Center with me? My Pops runs it…lots of kids hang out there, and we have all sorts of stuff to do."
Immediately, Richie brightened. "Yeah! I can just leave a note for my mom…she doesn't care where I go as long as I'm home in time for dinner. Wait right here. I'll be right back!" Richie dug a key ring out of his pocket and took off down the street at a dead run before Virgil could ask why, if his mother didn't care where he went, would he not be allowed to have anyone over at his house?
True to his word, Richie was back within a few minutes, panting heavily and sans backpack. Virgil jerked his chin down the street they had been on and the two continued, still arguing passionately about the ambiguous ending of the latest Plant Man comic. And here, Virgil had thought he was the only boy in the sixth grade that recognized the total coolness of Plant Man.
It took them only about ten minutes to walk to the Center, and when they got there, Virgil practically fell through the doors, clutching his middle and howling in laughter. Richie followed in a somewhat more dignified fashion, but his eyes were sparkling and his shoulders shook suspiciously.
"Man…my…Pops…would've killed me!" Virgil gasped between gales of laughter. He couldn't remember the last time he had laughed so hard. Richie blushed faintly and rubbed the back of his neck.
"Well, what? It wasn't my fault Dad hadn't sprayed the hornet nest enough. He told me I could throw rocks at it."
"And he really jumped into a cow pond to get away from them?"
"Yup. Personally, I don't know why he didn't just run for the house, like I did. It was closer. Mom wouldn't even let him in the garage when he climbed out—she made him stand in the backyard while she hosed him down." Virgil wiped a few tears from his eyes and turned to find himself nearly slamming into his father's middle. Pops caught him by the shoulders, steadying him, before taking a step back.
"Virgil?" his father questioned softly. Virgil frowned at the tone of his father's voice, and at the look Pops was giving him…rather like the one Ms. Finch had shot him earlier when she caught him and Richie fooling around. As if Virgil had suddenly sprouted another head.
"Hey Pops," Virgil greeted brightly, shrugging off the looks. Grownups could be so weird.
"Who's this, son?" Pops asked, nodding back towards Richie, who had fallen back into his mute routine, staring at the floor and toeing it nervously. Virgil's lips quirked into a grin and he reached back, hooking an arm around Richie's neck and dragging him forward.
Something tickled at the edge of his mind, and for just a moment he had a flash of his Nana's house, and piles of candy, and caramel apples, and, weirdly enough, a yellow rabbit. It was gone as quickly as it came, though, as intangible as a wisp of fog. Still, the vague flash brought with it a sense of peace and happiness, such as he hadn't felt for a long time. Not since his Mom…
Abruptly he shook his head, and grinned up at his Pops. He'd only just met Richie that day…had talked to the boy for a total of four hours—less than that if you took into account that they hadn't actually been able to talk during all their classes. Yet, there was no uncertainty in his voice when he answered his father.
"This is my friend, Richie."
4th: Full Circle
Virgil plucked uncomfortably at the tie at his throat, struggling to undo it. His hands felt clumsy and disconnected from the rest of him, though, and he somehow only managed to tighten it. Growling in frustration, and something more, he pulled uselessly at the knot, until surer hands settled over his, pushing his hands aside before deftly undoing the offending garment.
"Hate those things," Virgil muttered thickly. "I mean, how bright is it to get dressed up by tying a little noose around your neck?" He laughed a little, and it came out as more of a whimper. The hands threaded themselves around his waist, gently guiding him to the old featherbed in the corner of the room that he'd claimed as his own for the duration of their stay.
Virgil sank down on the bed with a sigh. The mattress dipped beside him and arms opened in an offered embrace, an offer he took gladly. One hand made slow, soothing circles on his back while the other sought out Virgil's hand. Virgil turned his face into a warm neck, finally letting slip loose a few of the tears he'd stubbornly held back during the funeral services.
"It was a nice service. I was afraid it was going to rain," he mumbled, more to hear something other than the oppressive silence of the house around him. The guests and mourners had all moved on to a special get-together at the church, and Pops and Sharon had gone with them. Virgil had begged off, though.
"Yeah…yeah, it was," Richie said, his voice low and quiet. "Those flowers were really nice."
"Nana t-told me…a few months ago…right after she started getting real sick. She wanted sunflowers…she made me promise I'd have them c-cover everything w-with sunflowers." He took in a great, shuddering gulp of air, and a few more tears leaked out.
"You did good, V. I'm sure she loved it, wherever she is."
"Uh-huh. You did just what she wanted. That's why she trusted you with it."
Virgil laughed again, and this time it was a little closer to actual laughter. "I-I was her f-favorite. She never said, but I…I knew. She called me her l-little man."
Richie just smiled and helped Virgil ease out of the suit jacket. He'd already stripped out of his own, and within a few moments, he'd managed to get both their shoes off, as well. Virgil let him fuss, moving where Richie directed, and just soaking up the comfort the other youth offered. Richie had been a rock through the whole ordeal…not just Nana's funeral, but the whole sickness and hospitalization. Virgil didn't have words for how much it mean to him to have someone to lean on, to not have to be the superhero for once. But then, Richie had always been that for him, hadn't he?
"I really miss her. It's only been a few days, but I already miss her." Virgil's voice was steadier, now.
"I know, bro. It'll get better."
Virgil knew it to be the truth. It hurt…oh God, it hurt…but he could already tell that the wound would heal. It wasn't the gaping emptiness he'd felt when his mother had been snatched from him so violently. His Nana had had a good, long life. It had been her time…there was nothing anyone could have done to prevent it. He'd be okay, eventually.
Richie maneuvered them so that they were lying back against the pillows, Virgil's head resting on his chest right above his heartbeat. They lay there quietly, for several minutes, just watching the orange glow of the setting sun creep across the faded floral wallpaper. Tomorrow, Sharon and Pops would be going back to Dakota…they both had commitments that couldn't be put aside any longer.
Virgil had shouldered the task of sorting through Nana's things, deciding what was to be kept and what was to be donated to charity or thrown away. It would be a daunting task, even with Richie's help, but it had to be done. The League had even agreed to keep an eye on Dakota while they were busy, and Backpack would warn Richie of anything that needed their attention. Dakota was only about half an hour away, if you could fly.
He sighed heavily, and swiped at his eyes. He knew Nana wouldn't have wanted him to be upset. He also knew she'd know that was impossible. At least he'd have Richie with him. He rubbed at his eyes again, grimacing at the gritty, sore feeling to them. He hadn't gotten much sleep the past few days, and it was starting to catch up with him.
"Why don't you try to sleep? There's plenty of food downstairs for your Pop and Sharon. We can heat something up, later, too."
Virgil's lips twitched into a half-formed smile. If he didn't know better, sometimes he'd swear his partner was reading his mind. He reached up blindly and grabbed one of Richie's free hands, bringing their conjoined fingers to rest on his chest. "Stay?" he asked, a little irritated with himself for sounding like a little boy who needed the closet light left on, but unable to deny how much he needed the other youth right now.
In answer, Richie scooted down into a more comfortable position, and brushed a light kiss across his temple. "Anything you need, bro. Anything you need."
Four days later, and the clearing out of his Nana's house had become less hurtful and more of a chore. Nana herself had done a lot of the work for them…most of the truly sentimental and valuable things had already been sorted and labeled with small pieces of masking tape, denoting which person or charity the item was supposed to go to. Now, they were mostly just sorting through the impersonal items that made up a household. It was easier once all the pictures and knickknacks that had actual memories attached to them were packed away. The hardest had been clearing out Nana's closets—the clothes had still smelled of her perfume.
"Hey Virg? What do you want me to do with all these cake pans? Geez, there's enough in here to start a bakery!" Richie's voice floated up from the kitchen, barely reaching Virgil in one of the upstairs bedrooms, where he was clearing out the last closet. It seemed to have been a catch-all, and Virgil had spent most of the morning sorting through old Christmas decorations and bolts of fabric.
"Hang on a minute!" he hollered back down. Sharon had asked him to find Nana's set of antique cake molds for her, and so far, they hadn't shown up in any of the boxes of stuff Nana had pre-sorted. He pulled the last box out of the closet, a large, old-fashioned hat box that had no label on it. Shrugging, he tucked the box under his arm and headed out towards the stairs. If there was anything of value to go through in the box, he might as well do it down at the kitchen table, so he and Richie wouldn't have to keep screaming at each other.
He made his way into the kitchen, dodging Richie's careful stacks of kitchen utensils, waiting to be boxed up for the local rummage drop. He put the box on the clear end of the kitchen table, and sidled up behind Richie, who was searching through one of the top cabinets. He wrapped his arms around the other boy's waist and propped his chin on Richie's shoulder. "Man, that's just old Tupperware…that can be thrown away," he said at length. Richie shot him an irritated look over his shoulder.
"You couldn't have told me that three cabinets ago?" He jerked his chin towards several neat piles of stained plastic containers, all sorted according to size and actually matched up with their lids. Virgil chuckled a little and dropped a kiss on the corner of Richie's frown.
"Sorry! Next time don't be so efficient." Richie snorted, and turned in his embrace, leaning back up against the kitchen counter.
"How you doin'?" Richie asked seriously, reaching up to rest his hands on Virgil's biceps. Virgil sighed a little, leaning forward so that he was resting his forehead against Richie's.
"Better," he said, after a moment. "This has actually helped, a little. It kinda feels like I'm saying goodbye."
Richie said nothing, merely nodded, and moved to wrap his arms around Virgil's neck. Then he glanced up at the clock above the sink and leaned back a little. "Whadaya say? Another hour and then take a load down to the rummage drop?"
"Yeah…we're going to have to go to the grocery store, anyway." They were going to be at the house for another few days at least. Nana's friends had left them well supplied with casseroles and soups…but two healthy, American, eighteen-year-old male stomachs to feed had made short work of most of it. "What's that place you said is down on Potter?" Virgil pulled back and made his way back over to the table where he'd left the box.
"Albertson's. My mom used to come and get my birthday cake from them every year, right up until we moved to Dakota."
"Right, right. Man, what're the odds of both our grandmothers living in the same town?" Virgil had thought it an amazing coincidence, once Richie had realized just where he was going with the Hawkins' when Nana had started to worsen. Richie's grandmother had died of a heart attack right before he started kindergarten, but Virgil found the thought of their grandmothers maybe having known each other kind of amusing.
"One in six hundred thousand, seven hundred and fifty two point four," Richie responded automatically, barely taking a few seconds to calculate the odds.
"That was a rhetorical question, but good to know," Virgil said, pulling the top off the hatbox.
The top layer was just tissue paper, somewhat brittle, but not that old. Maybe a few years. He pulled that out and set it aside, to reveal a gleaming, leather-bound Bible. A scrap of white ribbon was poking out of it, and he curiously turned to the page it marked. He sucked in a breath when he found a slightly faded invitation for his parents' wedding tucked between the pages, along with a copy of the poem he knew his Pops had read his Mom for their vows. A lump rose in his throat and he reverently set the book down. Pops and Sharon would want to see that.
The hatbox was a treasure trove of such keepsakes—letters, books, photographs, a lifetime of memories. Nana must have gotten too sick before she got to this…surely she wouldn't have left it in a closet, otherwise. A few moments of silence from him, and he heard Richie stop banging around in the cabinet.
"Virg?" his partner asked gently, clambering to his feet. Virgil felt him come up to stand behind the chair, and Richie's warm hand dropped on his shoulder.
"It's okay," he said softly. "I just wasn't expecting to find anything else like this."
One by one, he pulled the items out. Some he recognized, and their significance brought tears to his eyes. Some were strange to him, but he treated them all with the utmost care, laying them aside as if they were made of spun glass. Richie remained silent through it all, but his hand never left Virgil's shoulder.
Finally, tucked into the bottom of the hatbox, were a final few items that were just puzzling. He pulled a small stuffed rabbit out of the box. The thing looked as though it had bee a chew toy for several generations of children, its fur faded to a dingy mustard color. He wrinkled his nose as he set the rabbit down, though for some reason, he found himself being very gentle with it.
Beneath the rabbit was a small, rather new-looking photo album. He picked that up and thumbed it open, propping it up on the lip of the hatbox. As he did so, a thick piece of paper slid out, falling to the floor. He swiftly bent down to retrieve it, and as he picked it up, he realized it was a printed program for a funeral service. 'In Loving Memory of Mary Catherine O'Riley, 1929-1993' What the—
"Hey Rich, wasn't your Grandma's name Mary O'Riley?" he asked as he straightened again.
"Uh-huh," Richie murmured distractedly.
"Nana had a program for her funeral in there…wow; I wonder if they really did know each other?"
"I'd say it's a safe bet. V?"
"Check this out." Virgil looked up to see Richie holding the photo album open to the first page. His partner extended the album, tilting it so Virgil could see the picture.
Two toddlers, holding tight to a much brighter version of the stuffed rabbit, were fast asleep in a playpen, sharing a blue blanket as a pillow. Their heads, one dark black, the other nearly white-blond were tilted towards each other and a small smile was playing about the darker child's lips.
"Recognize anyone?" Richie asked lightly.
"Hey, that's me! Man, I must be about two years old, there." Richie just stared at him, wearing the patient expression he got when he was waiting for Virgil to figure something out that should have been obvious. After a moment, it clicked. "No way! Bro, no way!"
"Granny babysat me a lot when I was a little kid." He flipped to the next page, obviously a picture taken a few months later. In it, a young Virgil was chasing Richie through a sprinkler, both of them dressed only in their diapers. Virgil chuckled softly.
"Man, it ought to be illegal to take pictures like that! Like parents need anymore blackmail material. He pulled Richie down to sit on the seat next to him and scooted his chair close, wrapping one arm around his partner's waist and propping his chin on the other's shoulder to get a view of the pictures.
There were plenty. Apparently, Nana had made good use of the camera whenever Virgil had been visiting at the same time as Richie. There were pictures of them playing in the park sandbox, pictures of them napping together, pictures of them covered from head to toe in what looked like blueberry pie filling, even…
"Huh, whadaya know…that time at your house wasn't our first co-bath." Richie reached back smacked him lightly upside the head.
The last picture was of the two of them, huddled in front of Nana's TV in Halloween costumes. Both of them were trying to eat enormous caramel candy apples, and getting more on their faces than in their mouths. Richie, dressed as a green Power Ranger, was pointing at the screen and laughing, and Virgil, dressed as Green Lantern, was half collapsed against the blond boy, obviously howling with laughter.
"Wow…you know, I think I kind of remember that costume," Richie said after a moment.
"Yeah, but I don't remember any of this," Virgil replied, gesturing to the entire book. Richie shrugged.
"Well, we were pretty young. But man…you know, I knew there was something familiar about you they day we met."
Virgil laughed and squeezed his waist more tightly. "I thought the same thing. I couldn't ever put my finger on it, though. Wow…I can't wait to show this to Pops and Sharon!"
"Yeah, they'll flip. Man, what a weird coincidence." Richie set the book aside and sat back, leaning over to rest his head against Virgil's.
That night, Virgil lay in the guest bed, just staring up at the ceiling and trailing one hand in slow strokes up and down Richie's bare back. By all rights he should have been sleeping like a log. After the discovery in the hatbox, they had forced themselves to get up and finish what they had agreed on. Virgil had never been so grateful for the muscle his years as Static had put on his frame as he was while carrying the boxes and boxes of junk up and down the porch steps and out to the car. Funny, Richie had seemed to do an awful lot of organizing but not much lifting…
"Hey V?" Richie mumbled suddenly, his words mostly muffled by the pillow he was currently buried face first in.
"Everything okay?" Richie pulled himself out of the pillow and turned onto his side, propping his head up on one hand. He hooked an arm across Virgil's stomach, and scooted a little closer.
"Huh? Oh yeah…yeah, I'm fine. Just thinking…" he trailed off and Richie's face gentled.
"About your Grandma?" Virgil smiled softly, and leaned over to kiss his partner.
"No, actually, about us."
"Uh-huh…all those pictures Nana took of us. It just blows my mind."
"Heh. Yeah, it is kinda trippy."
"All these years…you know, I've always felt like I've known you my whole life. And now—"
"Turns out we actually did," Richie finished, smiling. "That's kinda cool."
"Yeah, it is. I just wonder why Nana never said anything. I mean, I know I told her about you! She wanted to meet you!"
"Maybe she just didn't put two and two together…my folks never came back here after Granny died. Or heck, maybe she just got a kick out of having a secret like that."
"Heh…maybe she just wanted to see both our faces when she whipped that photo album out. That sounds like something Nana would do." Virgil rolled suddenly, pulling Richie to rest on top of him. "You know what the best part about finding that album was?"
Richie folded his hands on Virgil's chest and rested his chin on top of them, smiling softly. "Do tell, do tell," he said.
"We were always supposed to be together. Took us a little while to actually hook up for good, but there was always something trying to make sure we got there." Virgil liked the idea of that, and he didn't care how sappy it made him sound. He waited for one of Richie's long-winded speeches on metaphysics and the randomness of chance in the universe…sometimes his boy just couldn't help himself.
Instead though, Richie just hitched himself further up and pressed a long, wet kiss to Virgil's lips. After a few moments, during which Virgil firmly reminded himself that it had been his idea to impose a no-sex rule while in his grandmother's house, Richie pulled back and grinned at him. "I like that idea, Virg. I really like that."
He snuggled back down, apparently finding Virgil to be more comfortable than the old feather pillows Nana had kept. Not that Virgil was complaining. He too, settled back against the pillows, finally feeling as though he might be able to sleep.
"Can I still live with you in your secret base?" He felt Richie snicker, warm breath tripping across his chest.
"Only if you make me peanut butter sandwiches," he answered, and slid one hand down to splay across Richie's hipbone. He rolled again so that their positions were reversed, grinning wolfishly down at his boy. Richie cocked his head slightly and raised one eyebrow.
"I thought you had a rule while we were in your Nana's house?"
"Eh, hell with it. Nana wasn't that much of a prude."