Disclaimer: RENT belongs to Jonathan Larson

"It's a complete emergency!" A wooden spoon clattered against the tiles of the kitchen counter. "It's destroyed. Thanksgiving is called off," she declared, fighting back the tears that welled as things went wrong again and again.

"Angel, calm down, baby." Even as he said it, Collins knew that the chances of her actually listening to him, taking a deep breath and realizing that she had no just cause for hysteria, were slim to none with a heavy weight on the "none" side.

He was right. That made Collins happy. He liked being right.

"Calm down?" Angel repeated. She pushed a sauce-streaked clump of hair behind her ear. "We have guests arriving in twenty minutes, an angry teenager upstairs, and you know he can't be polite—"

Not if his life depended on it, Collins agreed silently. Aloud, he said, "They're family, Ang—"

"And they've been driving for six hours," she continued, deep into her fervor, as though he had never spoken, "and seeing as it's not going to be an easy Thanksgiving the least we could do is have proper food, but we don't!"

"We're not eating until this evening," Collins reminded her levelly. "Listen, I doubt they'll even be hungry when they get here. Joanne probably stopped for drive-thru."

"She hates--"

"Two teenagers," Collins reminded her.

"Oh, yeah…"

"Still." Collins kissed her cheek. "What is it you need?"


He paused. "Flour? They'll be here in twenty minutes!" When Angel only stared, he ceded, throwing his hands up. "All right! I'll go buy flour if you will try to get him out of his room."

Even when she agreed, Angel knew she wouldn't. Well, she might try, but not very hard.

As her luck had it, all she needed was a call upstairs. She stood at the foot of the stairs and, without asking herself why, called into the faint pillow of Rolling Stones music, "Roger, would you come downstairs please?"

Angel didn't ask herself why any more than she acknowledged that she seriously doubted he would come down. Had she asked, she would have had to admit that she did not expect him to come down, almost ever, as her imagination had chased away from her like a kitten with a bit of string.

The boy in the upstairs bedroom, the one in the front of the house with the big window that didn't open, the room tucked away to the left behind the staircase (not because it was small, but for privacy), had become a phantom to her. He was Quasimodo, picking eerie tunes on his guitar at all hours. He was the glass in the sink, used and cleaned in the night without waking anyone.

The pictures had made her gasp and convince Collins that this was the child. Turns out, he was right. "I don't think we would know where to begin. We're not ready—" But Angel had pouted and argued and had her way in the end, and he was right.

He did that a lot. It was starting to annoy her.

To Angel's surprise, she had barely finished calling his name but the music stopped. The door creaked open, and a slight figure with hands deep in his pockets half-jumped, half-ambled down the stairs, as though drawn by an invisible thread.

"Yes?" he asked her feet.

"Why don't you come and help me in the kitchen?"


Angel swiftly found that Roger followed directions well. He laid out the tablecloth and plates, but when faced with cutlery, he paused. Roger bit his lip. He glanced at Angel, who was in the kitchen humming to herself as she arranged something in a dish. Smells reached his nose, and Roger's nostrils flared to take in as much as possible of the spiced, tomato-like scent. His stomach began to churn, and he gave it a stern look.

"How's it going in there?" Angel asked, stepping over to the dining room table. When she saw the arrangement, she paused. "Oh, honey." Roger had set the cutlery in a log-cabin formation on each plate. "If you don't know, ask me."

"Sorry," Roger mumbled, kicking the back of his leg with the opposite foot.

"It's like this—are you watching?—put the fork on the right-hand side… there. Now the knife on the left." She moved slowly, and Roger imitated. "Little forks up top, point the tines right, and—yes. Just like that."

Roger finished with the first setting and moved onto the next, suppressing the urge to grumble about fancy holiday settings. He had to admit, it did look nice.

He counted the plates: one, two-- Collins and Angel three, four, five-- for Collins' sister and her two kids six, seven, eight Collins' brother, his wife and stepchild. Nine.

Roger frowned. That didn't add up.

"Honey, have you eaten today?" Angel asked. Roger shook his head. "Come on." She jerked her head in the direction of the kitchen. "Let's find you some lunch."

Ten minutes later, Roger sat on the back steps, the creeping, rickety staircase he loved stealing down in the night, with a plate balanced on his knees. He hunched over his peanut butter and jelly sandwich and jammed a quarter of it into his mouth for one bite.

The sandwich was gone in under a minute.

Outside, a dog barked. It was not Mrs. Widowed-Across-the-Way's little lapdog—Arthur had a much higher yap—or Mr. Swingin'-Bachelor's golden retriever, a pup who women loved but Mr. Swingin'-Bachelor did not particularly care for. This, Roger knew, was a new dog. New dog meant new people.

"That's Benny," Angel said as the doorbell rang. "Roger, would you—"

But the boy had disappeared, leaving only a plate on the stairs. Angel heard a door slam shut upstairs. She sighed, then went to answer the door herself.

To be continued!

All right, I know I've started a lot of new stories lately and that most of them have gone quickly into hold. This one is already partially written and largely plotted, so it should be seen through.

Reviews would be fantastic! ...please?