Author's Note: Some of you may or may not have noticed that I screwed up on the last chapter. But I fixed it. Blame the fact that I like to get these out in a hurry after I'm done with the first draft bit. Anyway, on with the chapter.

Chapter 12: The Dinner Part 2

Arthur was baffled. He'd never seen anyone hang onto every word Mr. Ratburn was saying like that. Ever. Not even when there was a test coming up and everyone knew that what he was saying was going to be on it.

He wasn't saying anything all that interesting either. Abigail had asked him about his hobbies and so the topic at hand was marionettes and other sorts of puppetry. Arthur couldn't even guess what had Abigail so fascinated.

"When I think of marionettes I think of thin-limbed girls with awkward joints who're wearing long lacy skirts and dresses." Abigail said.

"Which is a bit romanticized, but a better idea of what a marionette is than most people have. Usually when I mention that I manipulate marionettes as a hobby the first thing people ask is 'What, like Pinocchio?'" Mr. Ratburn replied. "Which is technically accurate, but it's a bit limited"

"Well, that's where everyone first hears of them." Abigail conceded.

"Actually, my great grandmother helped to paint them for a puppet theatre. So when I was little my grandmother had several older marionettes in her attic that were nearly as big as I was back then." Mr. Ratburn said. "I was one of those shy and imaginative sorts as a child so I took to them right away."

Arthur had a hard time picturing that. It seemed to him that Mr. Ratburn must have been stern and efficient and well grounded even when he was a child. Mr. Ratburn didn't seem to have any imagination at all from his point of view.

A picture of Mr. Ratburn at D.W's age pretending to hand out homework to a bunch of puppets sitting around a table in an old attic came to mind. Arthur shook his head to clear the bizarre image away.

After a bit when everyone had cleared their plates, some going back for seconds David noted with satisfaction, the dishes were cleared off the table. An air of expectation settled as Jane helped by putting down the dessert plates.

"So... What are we having for dessert?" Nigel asked. An innocent enough question that fooled completely no one.

"Something I suspect you knew to save room for." David said. He pulled the cover off of the chocolate cake and set it down in the middle of the table.

David, being an excellent dessert chef, had looked it over with a rather sharp eye once Abigail had proclaimed that she was done with it. Considering that all he'd done was give her the right tools and a book all about how to decorate a cake she'd done exceptionally well. It was a little crooked, and the shells around the trim weren't all perfectly symmetrical. But the 'thank you' at the top was written in perfect cursive, and the singular rose she'd decided to put on it was as good as any he'd seen professionals make.

He'd tasted the crumbs from the uneven bits that she'd cut off too. It wasn't a half bad cake.

Of course, Nigel wasn't nearly so critical.

"What a perfectly wonderful looking cake." Nigel exclaimed. "But that doesn't look like your usual decorating style." He wasn't blind either.

"Oh no, Abigail made this cake. Especially for you as a thank you." David explained. He cut off a large slice and placed it on the plate Nigel held up.

"How delightful. Thank you so much Gale." Nigel set his plate down on the table and eyed it eagerly. Despite his eagerness he wasn't about to let his manners fail him.

"You're welcome." Abigail answered. "I hope you like it." David almost laughed.

"Oh, I don't think you'll need to worry about THAT Abigail." David said simply.

Nigel gave him a look of pure scorn.

Once all the plates were filled Nigel dug into his, completely forgetting the jibe. Aside from Abigail, no one was holding their breath for his assessment of the cake, everyone knew he was going to like it. So rather than looking at Nigel's face, David turned his attention toward Abigail's reaction.

Abigail wasn't really nervous. She knew the cake was good. But the anticipation of Mr. Ratburn finally eating a piece and getting some sort of approval for the effort was a heart-pounding experience. She knew she was putting too much into this, but nothing seemed more important in that moment right before she knew he was about to taste it. He just HAD to like it.

When Mr. Ratburn took that first bite Abigail almost melted in her seat. The look on his face said it all. He liked it. A lot. Actually, Abigail had to wonder if he liked it a bit too much, all things considered. The face he made was sort of strange.

But it was delightful anyway.


Later, after much dawdling around the dinner table and more pleasant conversation, and Mr. Ratburn politely attempting to decline 3rds on the cake but taking them anyway, the dinner finally started to draw to a close. The dishes were stacked neatly in the sink and some tea was served in the living room to keep Mr. Ratburn occupied while Jane put Kate to bed for the evening.

Abigail was set to starting the clean up with a somewhat put upon sigh. She was much more interested in whatever conversation David and Mr. Ratburn were having in the living room. As the self centered teen she was she couldn't help but imagine it was all about her. Which worried her. But not as much as the idea that they weren't talking about her at all. When she strained her ears she could just barely hear them. She could swear she'd heard Caroline's name in there somewhere, that meant they were talking about her... right?

It wasn't long before Jane came back down and it was time to see Mr. Ratburn off. Abigail dried her hands quickly and made a mad dash for the door when she heard them start to say their goodbyes.

"Well, perhaps you'll come over to my place next time. I know how it disturbs my pupils so to have me walking around and talking like a normal adult." Mr. Ratburn said with a grin just as Abigail was sidling up to the group.

"You knew what would happen when you went into teaching while all of your friends were having children." David jokingly scolded. Mr. Ratburn just shook his head with a smile. He used Abigail as a distraction to get out of the conversation.

"Well then. Gale, it was very nice seeing you again. Thank you very much for the cake, it was wonderful." Mr. Ratburn said, turning to her.

"It was no problem, I like baking. Come back for another anytime." Abigail chattered happily.

"Oh, don't say that. I might not eat anything else." Mr. Ratburn protested. Everyone chuckled.

Then goodbyes were said all around and he was off to his car.

After the door was closed and everyone dispersed Abigail snuck back to the door to watch his car drive away.

"Come help finish the dishes Abigail." Jane said with a laugh when she caught her.

"Coming." Abigail almost yelped as she fled from the entryway. She smiled as she recovered from her surprise.

It'd been a really nice dinner.

Author's Note: OMG, I don't know why this was so hard to write! But finally, we are past the whole Rat comes to Dinner bit and I can go on with the story.
Anyway. Hope you liked this chapter. Mr. Ratburn might not make another significant appearance for a little while since I've got other stuff planned for Abigail. But maybe.