Tom peered hopefully around the doorframe. Saturday morning breakfasts were his favorite. He got to see all his cousins and eat tons of awesome food. It was Aaron's turn to make breakfast this time and Tom was excited. Who knew what cool stuff his brother would make? The smell of oil frying in the pan was what finally drew him into the kitchen.
"Can I help?"
"Sorry, Shrimp," Aaron smirked, "You have to be tall enough to reach the counter."
"Mo-om..." Tom whined.
"Come now, let your brother help you," his mother scolded, "He's got to start learning some time."
"Fine. Here," Aaron bent down, "Take these plates into the other room, okay?"
"Okay!" Tom started to take off.
"And don't run!"
He moved slowly and carefully into the dining room, carrying the plates with both hands.
"Tell the boy to hurry up in there," his father called jovially as Tom started to pass the plates around.
"Hey, I'm going as fast as I can," his brother called back, "You wanna eat lumpy pancakes?"
"Put some fruit in mine," his sister yelled, "And use skim milk!"
"I'm not running a restaurant here. If you're so picky you can make 'em yourself."
"I can do it!" Tom exclaimed when he'd finished the plates. Everyone stared. "I can mix the batter and put the stuff in."
Aaron poked his head into the dining room.
"Well, I mean, if you really want to..."
Tom nodded fervently.
"Okay. Well, get in here, I guess." Obediently, Tom scampered back to the kitchen.
"Alright," Aaron lifted Tom up and placed him on the counter, "so, here's the whisk and you're gonna pour the wet stuff into the dry stuff and mix it around, okay?"
Tom nodded. The bowl was big and it was hard to keep it still and the measuring cup full of liquid was heavy, but he managed without spilling anything. The mixing was the hard part; the more force he used, the more gluey and difficult to work with it became. He keep pushing though, clockwise circles, and finally, it became more batter than glue.
"We'll make Kerry's at the end, since she wants weird shit," Aaron said, "this'll work for everybody else. We're gonna measure it into cup-fulls and personalize it that way." Tom promptly hurled himself off the counter and proceeded back into the dining room, coming back with requests for all sorts of mix-ins; walnuts, bananas, pecans, chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, dried cherries...when Tom finally reached Teddy, he was a little overwhelmed.
"What do you want in your pancakes?"
"Everything!" Teddy looked like he'd never been more excited in his life.
"Teddy," his mom replied, "You can't put everything in the pancakes."
"Now think, Teddy," said Tom patiently, "What do you really want?"
Teddy thought seriously for a moment.
"You can't give him sprinkles..."
"Let him have it," his uncle Ed retorted, "when he can't finish it, he won't get anything else."
By the end of the meal, Teddy's pancakes completely obliterated, mouth happily stained with blue.
When everyone was finally served and Kerry was eating her fruit-and-skim-milk pancakes appreciatively, Tom and Aaron sat down with their own plates (double chocolate chip). Aaron reached over and ruffled Tom's hair affectionately.
"You did good, kid."
And Tom smiled.
"What is this?" Teddy asked, as the teenager wandered into the kitchen, eyeing Tom's mess that was growing across the stove and counter.
"It's breakfast for dinner," Tom said shortly, in no mood to answer to his idiot cousin.
"Yes, pancakes. Unless you'd rather keep eating your fruit-roll up burritos with M& Ms and, what was it? Chocolate frosting?"
"Hey, those things are delicious."
"They're not food, Teddy."
"You ate three of them."
"That's not the point."
Teddy watched as Tom dumped oversized spoonfuls of batter into the hissing pan.
"That's not how mom makes them."
"Would you rather wait until Aunt Cathy and everybody gets back in a week or would you rather eat?"
Teddy pulled a face that made Tom roll his eyes.
"You should be grateful, you know. Not everybody would hang around here to make your stupid ass dinner."
"Like you have anywhere else to go?"
Tom retaliated by throwing the egg in his hand at Teddy. The thing left his hand before it even registered in his mind, hitting Teddy square in the face.
Blinking egg out of his eyes, Teddy started shouting in disbelief.
"Hey! The hell was that for?"
"Watch your mouth."
Teddy reached down to grab an egg of his own, but Tom latched onto his wrist almost instantly.
"Don't even think about it."
Teddy looked angry, then hurt.
"You're a bully, you know that? You're a bully and a dick."
"And I still care more about you than anyone in this house, which is why we're stuck here."
Teddy's face reddened and he looked at least somewhat abashed, which satisfied Tom a little.
"Come on, help me with all this. You can mix ."
Teddy was occupied with the batter for a few minutes while Tom took the opportunity to press some nuts into the half-cooked roundels.
"They realize the stupidity of putting us on punishment while they're on vacation, right?"
"You have good timing."
Teddy glowered at him.
"Not like they care what we do anyway," Tom continued, "They just needed to make us feel bad . They're happy about to have the excuse. Things are easier without us around."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Didn't I just tell you not to curse ? You don't see it yet. You will."
Tom flipped the cakes and started measuring another bowl's worth of ingredients.
"Why are we making so many?"
"For the rest of the week. I'd like to have some food ready to eat when I get home because I, unlike you, still have school."
"I never thought I'd be jealous. I'm bored out of my mind here."
Tom moved the cooked pancakes onto a plate, then took the bowl from Teddy's hands.
"This is lumpy."
"They're pancakes. They're going to be lumpy no matter what I do."
Tom took a stab at it himself, irritated when the stubborn lumps refused to break down. The batter had gotten gluey, or else he'd gotten lazier with the measurements. Suddenly, he heard his cousin's stomach growl. It occurred to him that Teddy might not have eaten since yesterday's junk-dinner. Teddy wasn't that irresponsible, was he?
"Tell you what, I'm starving," Tom said, "You wanna eat now?"
Teddy nodded appreciatively and Tom separated two paper plates from the stack on the counter, divided the fresh batch between them.
"Sure they're not too healthy for you?" Tom teased, "You need me to put some whip cream on them?"
"Yeah," Teddy laughed, "They could use some sprinkles."
They ate leaning against the counter, folding the pancakes in half like tacos... the only sound to be heard was chewing.
"How long is your suspension?"
Teddy finished his plate and started to head back to the other part of the house without a word.
"Where do you think you're going?"
"Umm, to take a shower? I'm covered in egg, numb-nuts."
"But you're coming back to help me clean up, right?"
"I've got a lot to do in that shower, you know. It takes me awhile." Teddy grinned nastily.
"If thirty seconds is 'awhile' to you." Tom scoffed.
Teddy flipped him the bird and continued walking.
"You can go blind from that, you know!" Tom shouted as he heard a door slam.
Tom looked around his darkened apartment thoughtfully, feeling somewhat deflated. He'd always thought having his own place would feel...special? Exciting? He'd always had to share space, toys, clothes...He would have thought it'd be freeing to no longer be encumbered, to have something of his own. Instead, it just felt empty. He could turn on the lights, he supposed, but light had never done much for him. He could afford the cost of the bill, he figured. At least for now, anyway, but why waste it? There was nothing to see in here anyway. Some of the glimmer had started to fade and he was beginning to feel, well, hopeless. He was between jobs again and while he didn't want to get too discouraged, it was starting to wear him down. Jobs were hard to get, that's what everyone said anyway, and Tom had certainly found it to be true. He'd been able to get work when he needed it, but he couldn't live off of temp jobs forever. The place wasn't much more expensive than California would have been, as far as he could tell, but costs were starting to add up. He'd known that it wasn't going to be just like in the movies or anything, but still, the journey had ended and now he was just stuck here. This was for real. Teddy had called him an optimist, a dreamer but Teddy didn't understand how much Tom wished those things were true, wanted to make them true. There could be nothing worse than to be without hope, without purpose. Tom glanced at the digital clock. It was hovering close to midnight, the witching hour if he believed that type of crap, which he didn't. Ghosts didn't live in shitty, 70s era apartments that were completely without personality-they lived in castles, and old brownstones, and palatial manors dulled by a thick layer of dust. He recalled some touristy book he'd seen around during his first couple of days in the city, Ghosts of New York, which had proudly claimed that the east coast was home to more ghosts than anywhere else in the country.
He couldn't speak for New York, but he'd certainly never seen one in California, that was for damn sure.
He didn't even need to turn on the lights to see, he realized, as he padded into the kitchen towards the light. The moon was full and, if that wasn't enough, the city that never sleeps had its lights blaring up at him from the streets and down at him from the top of buildings. Even some of his neighbors, sideways and across the street, were helping to illuminate his window, as well as their own. Tom felt an even greater desire to keep the lights off, to keep his house darkened and keep his neighbors from watching him silhouetted against his kitchen, the way he was watching them. Just the thought made him uncomfortable. Some had their shades pulled down, of course, but the light could still be seen, penetrating underneath and around the sides. Light was unrelenting, unforgiving. His house, his kitchen would stay dark. It was almost romantic, the big, bright moon looming over him, proud and white.
His stomach growled loudly, interrupting his reverie and he was startled to realize that it was past midnight.
He hadn't even heard the bells chime.
He suddenly realized that he was thoroughly ravenous. That's what happens when you stay up too late, he supposed.
He didn't have much food in the fridge...He hadn't gotten the hang of cooking for himself yet and he didn't know how much food he would need on a regular basis, his appetite proving to be a less-than-accurate guideline. It wasn't that he couldn't afford it, he could afford food at least, but stocking the fridge was just such a chore and it seemed like it was never-ending. Having food of his own without fear of someone else eating it had been something he had been looking forward to, as well, but somehow the fact that it was only meant for him was almost depressing. No one to share it with, no real reason to eat besides nourishment. It wasn't...fun. He hadn't had any real cravings in a while but it was a cool summer night and something warm was sounding nice. He knew there were eggs in the fridge, at least, and a little milk left. He rummaged through the cabinet on impulse...flour, sugar, baking powder(how did that even get in there?), he could do this.
He started pulling bowls and measuring cups out of the cabinet, going by memory for the proportions. Once everything was laid out, he turned up the flame on the old gas stove, watching it glow orange and blue before setting the frying pan on top of it and dropping in a cold chunk of butter. Teddy had accused him of throwing him to the wolves and maybe it was true, but better Teddy than him. Teddy would bounce back, he always did.
Tom didn't bounce. Sometimes he spread like the butter in the pan, and sometimes he stayed down, but he was starting to fear the idea of cracking like it was inevitable.
He drizzled the batter into the pan and listened as it hissed, lost in thoughts of Sonoma and Teddy, walking down the dark country roads in his mind like he'd never left them behind. Where was Teddy tonight? he wondered. Was he looking at the same sky, the same moon? What else was occupying his eyes?
He turned the pancakes over, trying not to hold onto these thoughts too tightly.
It was oddly calming here, cooking in the semidarkness. He looked at the moon again and almost fought the temptation to howl.
He flicked the stove off and slid the pancakes onto a plate. He laid the plate on the counter while he hunted for some silverware to eat it with(like a goddamn adult). He ran his fingers through the drawer, cursing slightly as he nicked his fingers. He pulled his hand from the pointy nest and nursed his injured finger in his mouth, angry at both himself and the utensils. Finally satisfied with his wet, partially numb finger, he moved his plate towards the sink and began eating, distracted again by the moon. Cliche as it was, it did have an almost ghostly glow. The streets were almost empty and that was something he'd never expected to see in New York...
The book wasn't lying, he thought. There were more ghosts here than anywhere else. They weren't white and transparent, though. They didn't clank around in manors. They were the homeless, lost, and forgotten haunting the streets. There was one thing he promised himself right there and then, as he chewed his pancakes, and that was that he'd never become one of them.
Tom couldn't sleep, but that wasn't new. His body never wanted to sleep when he wanted to rest, especially not lately. It was ridiculous how much excess sleeping could tire you out. It was a waste, being up in the middle of the night like this. Nothing to do and his attention span was shot to shit right now, anyway. And he was hungry, too. Maybe he could...hmm, no Sebs wouldn't have-well, maybe. He could just go check...
"Good morning, starshine. I made you breakfast," Tom greeted Sebs as he came to the threshold of the kitchen wearing his pajamas and a look of confusion.
"I could smell the stove. Tom, what are you doing up?" Sebs was still blinking sleep out of his eyes and he was a little pale from being woken up prematurely, an effect that Tom was far too familiar with himself.
"Making pancakes. Chocolate chip."
Sebs' eyes narrowed in suspicion.
"I didn't have pancake mix. Or chocolate chips."
"I went out," Tom shrugged.
"To a store. That's where you buy things."
"It's five AM. On a Thursday."
"Don't worry about it. Have some pancakes."
Sebs looked at them dubiously.
"I'm not hungry."
"What's the matter?" Tom smirked, "Think they're dangerous? Full of rat poison?"
"No, I think they're just pancakes. Besides, I don't have any rat poison, unless you bought that too."
Sebs looked at the plates that were slowly becoming piled higher and higher with Tom's handiwork.
"Somehow I don't think those are for me."
"Am I gonna eat a whole batch of pancakes by myself?" Tom deftly continued flipping the pancakes and pouring the batter.
"This is more than one batch. And I've seen you do it."
"Not recently. Who else would they be for? Somebody who I managed to meet because they accidentally wandered into this 500 square feet of space that I'm not allowed to leave ?"
"You're allowed to leave, I'd just like to know where you're going-"
Tom finished the last pancake of the batch he'd been working on.
"You're missing the point. Just take the pancakes."
Sebs looked like he was choosing his words carefully.
"Is this," he paused, "is this an episode?"
Tom let out a sharp laugh.
"Sebs, you really think that I could tell you if I was having an episode? You are clueless."
Sebs' ears reddened just a little.
"The fact that I want to help you doesn't mean I'm here to take your abuse. I'm not all that stupid. I know when you can help it and when you can't. You can choose to be a dick all you want, it's not going to do anything for you."
He seems really mad.
"You're not 'here', I am. This isn't my house, is it?"
Sebs' face creased in understanding and he bit his lip.
"I'm not trying to make you feel unwelcome. I want you here. I just don't understand," he gesticulated a circle around Tom and the pancakes, "All this."
"There's nothing to understand. It's breakfast."
Sebs gave him one of those looks. Tom sighed.
"If I understood everything that's going on in my head, I'd tell you. Probably. But I don't. I like pancakes. I like making things. I like doing stuff for myself and I finally felt like it for the first time, in a long time. I know it sounds weird but I swear there's nothing fishy going on. Okay?"
Slowly, Sebs nodded.
"Great. So, pancakes? I made honey butter," he gestured to the fridge, "I also made some blueberry-strawberry ones with mangoes," he pointed at a plate that he'd finished making earlier, "I used your fruit. I'll buy you more if you want."
"No, this is great," Sebs made a small smile, "Thanks."
"I made orange juice too."
They ate in silence, the only thing Tom could hear was chewing.
"These are good," Sebs breathed, "Like, really good."
"I didn't make the batter," Tom said sheepishly, "I just put the stuff in."
"You cooked it right, though. They're not mushy or rubbery," he continued to eat with enthusiasm.
"They're burnt around the edges."
"It keeps them crispy. Is this coconut?"
"Yeah, is it too much?"
Tom looked at him in disbelief. Sebs swallowed the mouthful that he was currently chewing on.
"I'm serious, I like them a lot. Thanks."
"Well, I'm glad you do, because you're doing the dishes."