New Thing, 10
Very briefly I considered saying Katie or Katherine or Klytemnestra. No. I was getting enough of a new life as it was, without adding a drastic name change. Besides, my name was on my books, although I could probably claim it was an alias. “Kes,” I said, and hesitated again. “Short for Kestrel. My mother breeds dogs and she was in her birds of prey phase when I was born.”
Billie laid two menus down on the table between us and said, “Specials on the chalkboard. The pork chops are really good. Ryuu made the applesauce today.”
“Go on,” said Serena to me.
I picked up the menu. “It could have been a lot worse. I could have been White-Rumped Vulture or Crested Serpent-Eagle. Or Dark Chanting-goshawk. Or Pale Chanting-goshawk. D’you suppose they’d let me have the meatloaf with the applesauce?”
“Yes,” said Serena. “I like Chanting-goshawk.”
“Yeah,” I said. “So did Mom. One of her foundation bitches was Chanting-goshawk. Chan Five is winning stuff now. And there was a time when my nickname was Bat-hawk. Don’t ask.”
“Why do I have the feeling your mom and my mom would get along?”
I grinned. “Well, they stopped with me,” I said. “You’re the youngest, right?”
Serena laughed again. Between the prospect of real food and the sound of real human laughter I was beginning to feel almost good. “Next youngest.”
Serena had the pork chops and I had the meatloaf. Billie put a tureen of applesauce on the table between us, and another tureen of cole slaw. Serena was deep in conversation with the offspring when the food came. “No you may not have microwave popcorn for supper. More microwave popcorn. This isn’t getting you the sympathy vote from me, you know. So climb on your bike and come here. If you order and eat some green vegetable I’ll treat you to Ryuu’s cherry pie. I saw it in the window as we came in.”
Urgent noises on the other end of Serena’s cell phone. If I was going to guess, I’d’ve said teenage boy.
“And why haven’t you replaced your bike light?” said Serena. “I gave you the money last week.”
More urgent noises. Serena closed her eyes. “Okay. Whatever. I’ll be home soon. I’ll bring you something.”
Quack quack quack went the phone. “You will not starve to death. Her name’s Kes. I’ll find out if she has a lawn she needs a nice young man to mow at an extortionate rate. You too. Bye.” She sighed. “Sorry. I know you only said coffee and didn’t say anything about a teenage boy. But I think Eats has a spell on it, or I do. I can’t walk through the door without being instantly ravenous. And it’s true, there isn’t anything in the house for a starving sixteen-year-old boy to eat except microwave popcorn, never mind it’s because he’s already eaten all of it. It’s frightening, keeping a teenage boy fed. And he has friends . . . they’re like a plague of locusts. I expect to come home some day and find them barbecuing pieces of furniture because I didn’t get back from the store fast enough . . . oh, there’s a Godzilla Food at the mall, if you need anything. When you need anything.”
“I need a car,” I said, looking regretfully at my empty plate. The food was divine. I was going to take up long-distance running so I could afford the calories. Another approach to the gas-price problem. “I’ve only got the van for two more days. I was going to ask Hayley tomorrow if there’s a used-car place around here that will sell me something that runs for longer than it takes to drive it home. And starts the next morning and stuff like that.”
“No,” said Serena bluntly. “Rick at Odin’s Autos is a lying snake who will steal your ass and sell it back to you. Let me ask Jan. He knows things like who has a car for sale.” Billie had reappeared at our table. “Double of the special steak platter to take home to Gus,” Serena said.
“Double green beans?” said Billie dubiously.
“No, single green beans,” said Serena, “but double cherry pie. And I’ll have a piece while we’re waiting.”
“Me too,” I said. “Do they provide wheelbarrow service back to the Friendly Campfire?”
“The fresh air will do you good,” said Serena, digging in her knapsack. “You want an appetite for breakfast tomorrow.” She pulled out her wallet.
“No, hey,” I said. “This was my idea.”
“Coffee was your idea,” said Serena. “Besides, I recognise the signs of a woman in crisis. Or aren’t those all your worldly goods in a van only slightly larger than a four-slice toaster? Given that I work for somewhere that displays neon campfires in public I will pass silently over the interesting logo.”
I winced at the reference to the size of the van. “Is it that obvious?”
“Possibly only to someone who’s been there. It gets better.”
I smiled faintly. “I’ll be sure to specify a lawn that will need mowing regularly to Hayley tomorrow.”
“Gus—short for Angus, by the way—will be thrilled. I forget what he’s saving for this week. It might be the class trip. It varies.”
“Say hello to Mrs Jennings for me.”
Serena stood up, cradling the huge brown-paper parcel Billie had just delivered to our table. After the cherry pie, which had been the most divine thing of all, I wasn’t sure I could stand up.
“I will,” said Serena. “She’ll appreciate it. . . . You’ll forgive me if I run. I might just get this home while it’s still warm.”
I had just a moment to wonder about the look she gave me before she turned away, pushed the door open, and disappeared.
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