Serena picked up the empty brownie pan, JoJo swung his long legs into the van and turned the key. It had always started fine for me but I thought I heard an eager little descant saying homehomehomehomehome. But JoJo frowned, got out and lifted the hood. There. He got to raise the hood after all. Mike joined him and I could hear words like ‘carburettor’ and ‘Pan Galactic Gargleblaster’.
JoJo dropped the hood again and as he climbed back into the driver’s seat I said humbly, “It really has run fine.”
JoJo looked at me and then at Sid and back at me again. “She’s only just adopted me,” I said defensively. “She’s been living rough all winter. I’m feeding her as fast as I can.”
“She likes you,” he said, as if it was the salient point, which I guess it was. “The van’s got about two hundred and thirty thousand miles on it,” he went on. “The boss was sure it would make it up here okay. The rest of us weren’t so sure, but it was all he had when Joe asked and he doesn’t like to say no to Joe.”
TWO HUNDRED AND THIRTY THOUSAND MILES? That’s really not wanting to say no to Joe the Doorman, I thought.
“It’s good,” he said. “But it’s going to need some work when I get it home. It’s finding parts that aren’t more busted up than what you’re trying to fix.”
“Yeah,” said Mike. “Tell me about it.”
“This gentleman,” I said blandly, “is selling me that antique maroonish object parked next to the van.”
“The Agate Ironman? Yeah. Great truck. You’re lucky.”
Serena laughed. JoJo and Mike exchanged a Boy Look and then JoJo slipped the van softly into gear—it had always gone thunk for me—and backed out. I felt positively nostalgic as it slid past me—at least as long as it took me to register the cumulative effect of JoJo’s t shirt with the skull screaming around the corner of the driver’s window. Unh. The skulls on the hood with the full-frontal of that t-shirt through the big van windscreen would probably make people move smartly aside as JoJo bore down on them on the highway. The flickering wash of street lighting would make it worse. I hoped no one had impressionable small children kneeling up on the back seat staring out the rear window. That’ll teach them to use their seatbelts. I winced for the shock absorbers as the van sashayed over the bump out of the parking lot. Two hundred and thirty thousand miles. If those were the original shocks they deserved a medal and a pension.
“Well,” said Serena. “That was unexpectedly engrossing.” She looked at her empty brownie tin. “Jan’ll be cranky—he likes his brownies —”
“Dad does not need to be eating any more brownies,” said Mike.
“Yeah, well, I need to get paid, and this is the best way to make him do his big boss stuff and pay me,” said Serena crisply, and Mike collapsed like a joggled soufflé. (Ask me how I know about joggled soufflés. Well, but it was chocolate, and it was still good. Just very, very gooey.)
“They were fabulous brownies,” I said, attempting to be placatory. This is not my best trick, as the laser glare from Serena told me. “Um—” I said, preparing to dig myself in deeper, “I wonder if Evie would like the country? More trees and fresh air and stuff. Better sidewalks in the city though. The cow pastures don’t look too wheelchair-friendly.”
Mike said, staring after the vanished van, “I got a cousin in a wheelchair. Rolled his motocross bike. I told JoJo we can always use a good mechanic.”
I was watching Serena so I saw her face soften momentarily. She did like him. Right. I had to get the story out of her. From where I was standing Mike was too good to be true: carrying unknown outlanders’ way too many books up a gratuitously steep flight of outside stairs, worrying about his father’s waistline, offering jobs to sole providers of wheelchair-bound sisters. And he had a nice smile. He could maybe be a little taller but I’d take the heavy-box-carrying facility to superfluous inches any day.
“They could always try it for a weekend. We’ve got several disabled-accessible cabins, one of them housekeeping. Jan, I’m told, put them in before he had to,” said Serena.
“Yeah,” said Mike. “And he helps little old ladies across the street, whether they want to go or not.”
“I admit I wouldn’t be looking forward to my son meeting JoJo,” added Serena, “who makes Gus look like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.”
Mike looked blank.
“Anne of Green Gables? Little Lord Fauntleroy?”
Mike continued to look blank.
“They just don’t make them read the classics any more,” said Serena. “Harry Potter. No, Legolas.”
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