Serena drove what I want to call a normal car, but I was losing my bearings about these things, supposing I’d ever had them. I’d spent (almost) forty years looking on cars as something that happened during holidays or dog shows or that your minder drove while you got carsick looking at the schedule they’d just changed on you (again). The Eye of Newt wanted you at 9 pm instead of 7:30, but they’d managed to fill in the time (gods forbid you should have dinner), you were going to go sign stock at Really Baaaaaaad Books and then you had a five-minute interview on the local indie-underground radio station. You hoped the staff at this indie-underground were a little more on the planet than the last time you’d had such an interview. You distinctly remembered, however, that you’d said you would not sign for Really Baaaaaaad Books after the oh-so-amusing video they’d posted shortly after Flowerhair 2 (FLOWERHAIR THE RECKLESS) had come out. In this monument to handheld back room video art the demons were wearing leather bikinis and Flowerhair, in pink spandex and stilettos, complained in a little squeaky voice about breaking a fingernail, intercut with her chirping bad demon, bad demon as she smacked them with the flat of Doomblade—and Doomblade kept whining, But I want to kill something! This had had one small corner of the internet in stitches for weeks but I had somehow mislaid my sense of humor. My agent said, “Remember the way seventh grade boys show you they like you by sticking out their feet for you to trip over and stealing your pens? And Buffy complained about breaking fingernails. Let it go.” “Buffy never wore pink spandex or stilettos,” I said. “Let it go anyway,” said my agent.
Anyway. Serena’s car was green and had four doors and was neither too small nor too large. I contemplated relaxing but I decided that was taking things a little far. “You’re in New Iceland, aren’t you?” I said.
“Yes. Outskirts. Close enough that Gus can bike to school without his mother either having to pick him up any time he needs to stay late or sitting around enjoying the agonies of the damned till he gets home.” She was silent a minute. “Having a kid is actually pretty great in a crisis. You have to focus. My mistake was not going to a sperm bank in the first place.”
I laughed. “Sorry.”
“No, that’s the right response. Fortunately Larry emigrated after a couple of years. He’s got half a million sheep, two more ex-wives, and five or six kids in Australia. Gus went out there once when his dad was still married to the second one. He hasn’t wanted to go back. I’m a little bit sorry—Larry’s his dad, after all—but mostly I’m relieved. The rest of Larry’s family is all right so I’m going on the theory that Larry has a few mutant genes and Gus didn’t inherit any of them.”
She turned off the main road, out of the streetlights, a little way through the darkness, into a driveway and stopped. Before she turned her headlights off I saw an old-fashioned, maybe farmhousey building (I’m nearly as out of my range with houses as I am with cars), in grey or blue clapboard. I doubted there was a tower. And there was clearly no room for deinonychus under the porch. Lights were coming on rapidly all over the house. “That’ll be Gus,” said Serena, “having heard the car, tearing down from his room where he’s lost track of the hours as he plays intergalactic pingpong or whatever with his friends on line, having forgotten to turn the oven on like I asked him to. There’s the kitchen light. We will saunter slowly toward the front door, giving him a chance to meet us with the news that he did turn the oven on.”
The porch light came on as we climbed up the (three, low) steps to the porch, and the door was flung open. “I remembered,” said a voice. The owner of the voice was a large black shape against the light. “Oh good,” said Serena. “And you set the timer for fifteen minutes?”
“And the timer will be going off in—oh, say, fourteen and a half minutes?”
By now Serena and I were inside. The large black shape had become a tall teenage boy with one earring and a lot of shaggy hair. He turned away from his mother and grinned at me. He had a nice grin, and a gap between his front teeth. He stuck his hand out. “Hi. I’m Gus.”
“I’m Kes. Nice to meet you,” I said. I shook his hand. “Your reputation has preceded you. I understand you mow lawns.”
The grin got wider. “I sure do. You can have Sunday afternoon if you want. Is it a big lawn?”
“I think so. It needs a little rehabilitation before we find out how much of it is lawn.”
“Awesome,” said the tall teenage boy.
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