"You have pretty eyes."
"Renfield." I shush brother's name, taken aback at his random compliment for the little girl in the bus seat across from us.
"What?" He tilts his head at me - it is very distinctively him, and a strangely adult mannerism for a six-year-old - and blinks a moment before looking back to the little girl.
The girl - she appears about ten or eleven - doesn't seem offended by Renfield's presumption, to my relief. Her look is far more surprised, and the compliment seemed to snap her from a blank look out the bus window. "...thank you."
Renfield smiles sweetly, apparently very pleased with the reaction. Privately, so am I. "You're welcome! I have some celery." He's already digging into his bagged lunch to pull out a stick of it, peanut butter half smudged off of it. No doubt smeared on the inside of the bag. Careful little fingers offer the stick out to the girl across the aisle. "Would you like some?"
The girl looks appropriately baffled, and I sigh, certain I should intervene. "Renfield, you really should leave this nice young lady alone, I'm sure she doesn't want to share your lunch."
"--no." The girl waves me off with a tentative, if still confused, grin, putting out her hand for the offering. "That's-- that's all right, thank you."
Renfield looks up at me; a look I think every small child has tailored and perfected as a means to whatever end with their parents. Please?
I give in, as I always do, when he looks so earnest as that; I suppose those looks are more effective with sisters than mothers. When I nod he bounces once excitedly and passes her the celery, and I can't help but grin.
That smile steals across her face, too, and she holds the food in her lap, apparently not hungry.
"What's your name?" My, but Renfield is being outgoing today. It's a bit rare by virtue of his tendency to stay indoors most of the time. I've often thought it's something of a pity, even if I might've hoped he would do so now in a more appropriate setting. He has a knack for inspiring smiles in people when he chooses to talk to them. This little girl is no different.
"Meg." She fidgets, looking like she's unsure of where to wipe a bit of peanut butter that smudged her fingers in the transfer. I pull out a handkerchief and hand it over, motioning for her to keep it as she wipes it off. I've given up on the propriety of Renfield pestering her; it appears to have morphed into a conversation, and I've no wish to be a spoil-sport.
"Meg. My name is Renfield."
"Renfield." It's a question I know he gets often. I've never thought it was such an odd name.
"All... all right." Meg tips the celery in Renfield's direction and then dutifully takes a small bite; it's clear to me that she's no celery enthusiast. I'm impressed. She's clearly willing to eat it regardless of her distaste, all to please a little boy she doesn't know. I give her an apologetic smile and she flicks her look to me momentarily as she crunches away.
Admittedly, the reward is ample. Renfield beams in that way he has when he feels as though he's done something to truly make someone happy.
Meg swallows and holds the rest of the stick in her lap. "I'll save the rest for later."
"Okay. I've got some pens and some paper, if you want to borrow anything..."
Awkwardly, Meg waves it off. She looks that kind of uncomfortable one gets when one would much rather daydream than chat, and I consider directing Renfield to be quiet again. "No thank you. I'm fine."
Still, Renfield is paging through the paper, appearing to ignore her request. I'm on the cusp of telling him to leave her be when he pulls out a picture he drew; the flower is crudely drawn in the grand scheme of these things, but of skill greater than his age. He holds it out for her, and now the paper is smudged with peanut butter, too. "You look a little sad. Here."
Meg is blinking, appearing as taken aback as I am. Finally, I speak. "Renfield, that really isn't your business, you mustn't bother Meg any longer."
Still, the girl is taking the drawing, and she looks at it as though it's some sort of puzzle box. She ignores me, as she ignores Renfield's proclamation that she looks sad. "It's a daisy?"
Renfield looks to me a moment, and when I say nothing, he takes it as tacit permission to continue. "Yes. Why're you sad?"
"I'm not sad. I don't want to talk about it."
"If you're not sad, why don't you want to talk?" He says it before I can stop him. No. I am not a very effective parent, at times; I try to tell myself that I'm his sister, and I'm not meant to be. If I were more careless, I suppose that would be a sufficient reassurance.
Meg lays her daisy drawing aside, turning a vaguely annoyed-suspicious look on my brother. "All right. I don't want to visit my grandmother. Her house is stuffy, she smells funny, and she always asks me when I'm going to--" She stops there, shaking her head. "She isn't very nice."
"Oh." Renfield takes it in far better stride than I do; I can't believe this girl would talk so freely to strangers about her family's business. Renfield seems to have no such sensibilities. "I'm sorry." Neither does he appear to understand personal space. I know I have taught him better, but as he's accustomed to doing with only me, he reaches over without asking and takes Meg's hand.
I'm at a loss as to what I should say. Meg stares at the hand wrapped around hers; she comes to a decision, and holds his in return. They block the aisle with their arms.
He beams at her, too earnest and sweet an expression to allow for any scolding from me. Awkwardly, and without making eye contact, she smiles back.
Indeed, the situation is awkward for two of us, at least. The city passes by us; we are silent, and Renfield seems charmingly oblivious to how strange this is.
When the bus brakes to a halt, I find myself silently thankful our travel is short.
A man behind us asks to be let through, and they let go. I stand and collect Renfield's lunch bag and our jackets. Meg has turned a bit red.
"You could try opening a window," Renfield offers her as he takes my free hand and stands. When Meg only looks baffled, he clarifies. "It might help the smell. 'Not very nice' is harder to air out."
Meg looks up at my brother like he's grown a second head before breaking into a genuine laugh. I have to chew down one of my own.
My brother is busy looking very pleased with himself, and he looks back at her as I lead him off the bus.
"Goodbye." He waves his stack of paper back at her.
She's still smiling.