The further they drove, the more uniform the houses got, and the bigger Mike's frown grew. He kept one eye fixed on Ted's tiny blue bug, hoping a little desperately that he'd suddenly make a u-turn and take them back the way they'd come, back to cheap pizza, Chinese, and Starbucks on every other corner, back to mysterious noises coming from above and below and either side. Back to being unable to drive in two hours what they'd just driven in five minutes.
In other words, back to the city.
Unfortunately, the bug persisted in driving further and further into the uncanny valley called suburbia, finally pulling into the driveway of one house that had a red sign out front declaring that it was SOLD. Mike wondered if Ted would've been able to tell it apart from the others without that sign.
Grumbling under his breath, he parked the U-Haul truck and got out, properly inspecting the house for the first time. Spotting him, Ted spread out his arms and grinned.
Mike looked at the uniformly cut grass, the neighbor's perfectly pruned bushes, the actual, real-life white picket fence, and gave Ted a dark look.
"Hey, you don't have to live here," he said, altogether too pleasantly for such a brutal lie. Mike couldn't afford to live in the city on his own; the two of them together had barely been able to afford it. But Ted could afford this place, and Mike had said he'd come along. He'd just have to get used to it - or find a better paying job.
Giving in, Mike sighed. He'd just have to get used to it.
The realtor had given Ted all the keys and whatsits when they signed the deal, so he went around opening everything while Mike started unloading the truck. He could already tell it was going to take awhile. Between the two of them, they had a lot of stuff. Plus, they'd forgotten to label most of the boxes - except for a couple Ted had stuck FRAGILE stickers and NFPA chemical hazard diamonds on, for reasons Mike didn't want to think about - so if he didn't remember to open it up in the truck to inspect the contents, he had to stop just inside the front door and check, to figure out where he was even taking it.
Once in awhile, even after he opened the box, he had no idea where it was supposed to go. Picking up a blue, bug-shaped lump of - plastic? metal? - warily, Mike shuffled through the rest of contents, eventually figuring out that it was probably one of Ted's latest doohickeys, and not a Dan Garrett collectible.
Which still left the question of where it was supposed to go.
"Hey, Ted?" Mike shouted, pretty sure that the 'open floor plan' Ted had bragged about meant he'd be able to hear from wherever he was in the house. "Where d'you want me to put your science boxes?"
Sure enough, a moment later a faint response came from somewhere below: "The lab's gonna be in the basement!"
Picking up bug and box both and hefting them with a sigh, Mike looked around for a downward staircase.
"There's gonna be a lab? Cool!" a strange voice shouted in his ear. Mike looked down. A small brown face blinked up at him. "Hi."
"Gyah!" He nearly dropped the box, and the kid with it.
"Whoa," the kid shouted, climbing out of the box - when had he gotten in the box? - and clinging to Mike's neck. "You should be more careful," he chastised Mike, "that stuff looks really breakable."
"I - uh - " What the hell? Who - how - well. When in doubt... "Ted?"
"Did you pack a kid in with your science stuff?"
A pause. "What?" The thud-thud-thud of steps was coming from the other side of the house. Mike followed it, still holding bug and box and kid, and found himself at the basement stairs (on the other side of the kitchen) just as Ted got to the top. "Mike, what are you talking - ?" He spotted the kid, who waved, and cut himself off. "There's a kid on you, Mike."
"Yes, there is."
"My name's Jaime!" the kid chimed in helpfully, sticking out a hand.
Ted frowned. "How - ?"
Mike held up the box. "He was in here."
"...okay. So where - "
"You're supposed to tell me your names now," Jaime interrupted, shoving his hand towards Ted insistently. "And then we shake!"
Mike looked to Ted for guidance. Ted was looking at Mike for the same. After a second, they shrugged. Why not?
"Okay, Jaime, my name's Ted," said Ted, shaking the offered hand. Jaime let go of Mike's neck and dropped to the floor, landing neatly on his feet and offering his hand now to Mike.
"Nice to meet you," Jaime declared, and he was just so darn earnest about it Mike couldn't help but return the sentiment. Then Jaime started poking around in the box he'd been in before, which Ted pulled him out of so quickly it worried Mike. He'd been poking around in there too... but suddenly he had an armful of squirming Jaime, and Ted telling him, "Go find out where he's supposed to be, I'll deal with this."
Mike considered the kid. Jaime made a face, still squirming, and when he loosened his hold the kid crawled up his arm and onto his shoulder, where he sat and peered down at the ground.
"You're really tall," he announced. Mike shrugged, shifting the kid up and down. Jaime laughed, so he did it again. "I like you," he said solemnly, once the giggles faded away, and Mike liked that about Jaime, that everything he said sounded like it was incredibly important to him.
"I like you too," he decided, and walked them outside, bending down just a little to keep Jaime from hitting his head on the top of the door frame. "But I get the feeling you don't live in this house."
"Nope! I live over there," Jaime said, pointing to the white picket fence house next door - nearby, good. Mike's shoulder was starting to hurt.
A worried-looking woman with Jaime's eyes opened the door, talking to someone on the phone. "No, Alberto, he wasn't in the back yard either, I think - " She looked up at Mike, saw Jaime on his shoulder, and stopped speaking. Someone on the other end of the line asked a question, and in a very low voice she said, "I'll call you back." She hung up the phone and gave Jaime a Look that made him gulp.
"I'm guessing you didn't ask your mom first before going to see the new neighbors?" Jaime nodded against Mike's neck, and he laughed. "Then yeah, 'uh-oh' is right." He lifted Jaime off his shoulder and dropped him in front of his mother, who kept her eyes on him the whole time. Jaime stared at the ground and scuffed his shoes.
"Jaime," she said lowly, and it was threat and punishment and forgiveness all in one. Jaime rushed at her, clinging to her knees and apologizing. She petted his hair, shushed him soothingly, and at last turned her attention to Mike.
He swallowed. Even when she wasn't trying to be threatening, it really was quite an impressive Look. Jerking a thumb over his shoulder at the U-Haul next door, he said, "Mike Carter, just moving in, found Jaime messing around with some of our stuff."
"Is that where you wandered off to?" she asked Jaime, who nodded into her legs. Satisfied, she explained, "I'm Bianca Reyes. My husband and I had talked about coming by later, after you were moved in, to offer a casserole to tide you over until you can get to the supermarket in town. Jaime must have overheard and misunderstood. Jaime, can you apologize to Mr. Carter for interrupting?" Jaime turned his cling-and-apologize act on Mike, who nearly stumbled at the force of it. (And at being called "Mr. Carter." That was just weird.)
"It's alright," he said, patting Jaime awkwardly on the back. That was what you did with kids, right? After a minute, Jaime detached himself and returned to his mother's side. Pulling out one of the old Product Placement smiles, Mike said, "I can't speak for Ted - my roommate - but some real food while we settle in sounds great to me."
"Mom's casseroles are the best!" Jaime shouted, waving his arms around enthusiastically. From the way Bianca smiled it seemed that settled that.