Okay, I know it's been a while, but here's chapter 7. This is more a transmission chapter, one to think about kind of thing. I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and such. :)
Anne didn't ask about Stephen's black eye and the bruises, or why he kept avoiding her questions. She didn't have to. She'd seen the kids in the playground shout after him as he walked to her car, and she'd seen the nasty glares they shot him. No, she definitely didn't need to ask.
The first few minutes of the car ride Stephen didn't talk, the only noise was the radio playing a Celine Dion Cd. Anne glanced his way a few times to make sure he was okay, but she thought it best not to break the silence.
"Thank you," He said at last, finally turning his head to look at her. Anne smiled, keeping her eyes on the road.
"You're quite welcome. So how's your mother doing, and more importantly, how are you doing?"
Out of the corner of her eye she saw him shrug and start fiddling with his gloves.
"We're both fine. She said she's gonna start working next week."
"So what's your favorite subject in school?" Anne thought this topic might lighten the mood, and as expected, it did. He began telling her about his art class and that the Teacher had liked his drawings and how the computer class was fun, except he'd accidentally disabled his computer by clicking the wrong button.
The grocery store was pretty crowded for a Tuesday afternoon, but they managed to find a good parking spot right up front. Anne was surprised to find Stephen had written a list, not his mother, and that worried her. Was his mother really that disabled that she couldn't even write a list for what she wanted at the store?
Scanning the paper, Anne found it mostly essentials, nothing extra, nothing expensive.
"Is this all you need?" She asked as they walked down the first aisle, Stephen picking up a few cans of soup and depositing them in the basket.
"Yep. I'm not very good at cooking," he grinned crookedly, a cute picture to Anne, but also something that struck her as odd once again. Stephen did the cooking?
Stephen picked up a few more various canned items, two boxes of cheerios, a box of granola bars, some apples, bread, lunch meat and cheese, milk, and yoghurt. Anne noticed he'd gotten everything on the list without even asking her what was on it (1).
After they'd paid for the items, Anne insisted that Stephen and her go to the little store next door that sold candy. He reluctantly agreed, but she could've sworn she saw excitement in his eyes. It struck her he probably hadn't had sweets in quite a while.
Stephen walked slowly, looking at the rows of candy with fascination. He remembered going to a shop like this when he had been 5 and his Uncle Jamie had visited. That burst of anger came again at merely the thought of his Uncle. Stephen almost wanted to blame Jamie, but he couldn't, 'cause deep down in his heart he knew that Uncle Jamie was completely free of blame.
Stephen could feel Anne's eyes on his back. Those pitying, kind eyes that made him feel comforted, but at the same time guilty. Guilty for being angry, for asking for her help. Putting these thoughts aside, Stephen focused on the candy in front of him, dragging his hand along the glass as he ambled past. There was chocolate, colored hard candy, sour and sugary strips of multi-colored dentist nightmares. Stephen stood for a long time, staring down at the chocolate covered nuts and next to them the gummy worms.
It was odd, he thought, that they were next to each other. They could've been called opposites. The sugared, artificial sweetness of the worms, and the practical sweet and salty flavor of the nuts. And then he went on to think of which most fit him, and he almost went for the worms, because at the moment his life seemed artificial, but then the nuts were not too sweet. They were realistic, just like the life he was in. Real, hard…un-yielding-
"Stephen, are you alright?" Stephen started at Anne's voice, turning to face her. It just hit him he'd been standing in front of the candy with a blank expression on his face while he analyzed which type was more for him. He would've laughed, except it wasn't entirely right for the moment.
"Uh, yeah. I think I'm gonna get the chocolate covered nuts."
"I was wondering, well if…if you think your mother is doing a good job looking after you?"
Stephen stared wide-eyed at Anne. It was hard to comprehend at first and then even harder to answer.
"I-I…well, she's gonna be fine soon. And Uncle Jamie will come back in the spring, he said, and-"
"Stephen, answer me truthfully please."
The pair was sitting in the car in front of Stephen's house. Anne wanted to get a few more answers before he disappeared into that silent, dark house.
The reaction to her question wasn't what she'd expected. Anne had anticipated Stephen lying outright, but he had looked startled, as if surprised that someone would care, and then nervous that she had been able to guess what was going on.
"I can look after myself until she's better. I'll…" he paused, probably thinking of the right words to say, "I'll call you if I need anything, if that's alright with you."
He looked hopeful, as if she would actually refuse. The idea seemed preposterous to the elderly lady.
"Of course. Take care."
"Yeah, thanks again, I'll get money to you as soon as possible."
"I told you not to worry about it," Anne reprimanded with a grin. Stephen stepped out of the car, carrying his grocery bags, his back pack, and sack of chocolate covered nuts.
"Bye," he called, ignoring her last words, though she saw him smile shyly back.
Stephen walked up his front steps, waving at the retreating automobile. The door was locked, like he'd left it that morning, so he unlocked it with his set of keys and stepped in, the only sound the television. That was all he heard in the house now a days, nothing had changed from the way he left it. Except…there was his mother, in the kitchen cleaning the sink. Stephen stared for a moment, dropping the bags on the countertop gently so as to not startle her. She did anyway, her eyes widened momentarily as she turned to look at him. And Stephen had a horrible feeling that she really didn't know who he was, until her eyes seemed to clear and she smiled. A false artificial smile that made him think that he probably should've gotten the gummy worms instead.
"Hi, Stephen. How was school?" She asked in a voice that matched her face. Stephen was pretty sure she was trying to make everything feel normal. If only she knew she was failing miserably.
"Fine. I picked up some groceries too." He slid into a seat and watched her sift through the bags. He hadn't bothered telling her that Anne had taken him. She probably wouldn't like the idea of a stranger taking him somewhere while she was trying to act so normal.
"I'm going back to work tomorrow. So how about I take you to school on the way?" His mother began bustling around the kitchen putting the items where they belonged, not bothering to wait for his answer.
"Sure. Uh, I'm gonna go upstairs," he said meekly, still intimidated by her odd actions. She didn't reply as he ran up the stairs with his backpack and candy and into his room where he dropped his backpack on the floor and his bag of chocolate on the bed. He was just going to start his homework when the phone rang. He'd moved the phone from his mother's room to his room when she started not answering it. Stephen picked it up and held it to his ear, absently saying hello.
"Hey, Stephen." Stephen paused, feeling that rage well up again.
"Yes?" He asked in a stolid tone, an inch away from putting the phone back in its holder.
"Is your mom there? I made some last minute plans and I forgot to contact her, so I mean…if she's sleeping it's okay, I'll call later-"
"She's not sleeping. What do you mean, last minute plans?" Stephen was suspicious and slightly curious.
"Well, before I left I told her I just had to get a transfer for my job and then I could come move in with you guys. It was supposed to be a surprise for you. I think your mom kind of forgot I was coming back," Jamie said in his deep voice, a voice that sounded dreadfully false. Stephen wasn't sure if it was or if he just wanted it to be.
"Hold on," Stephen instructed before calling down to his mother, "Uncle Jamie's on the phone, mom!"
He waited a moment then heard the click and his mom's voice.
"Okay, you can get off now, Stephen," she said in the same tone from before. Stephen grudgingly hung up, his mind running over the idea of Uncle Jamie living with them. As he dragged his pencil over the paper in a semblance of a line, he decided he really should've gotten the gummy worms instead.
(1) I kind of put that in just to show that Stephen was pretty smart and good a memorizing, something that would be needed in an Agent.
And why the thoughts of gummy worms? Just ignore it, I'm just being analytical.
R&R please. :)