“It doesn’t work like that, Peanut,” Rube says, poking at his bacon. Apparently finding it satisfactory, he tucks into his eggs.
“Because you say so?” George responds, snagging a piece of toast off a smaller plate near her elbow where Rube has left it sitting. “And stop calling me that!” she adds for good measure.
“It’s a nickname. You don’t get to pick your own nickname,” Rube responds brusquely between bites.
“Yes, but a legume?” George is surprised when Daisy chimes in on her behalf. “It’s so undignified when compared to a stately name like Georgia.”
“Oh, good. Puns,” George says. Daisy smiles brightly and gives a little shrug, obviously pleased with herself.
George takes a swig of her grapefruit juice, then promptly spits it back into the glass. “Why the fuck did I order this?” she wonders aloud.
Across the table from her, Roxy raises an eyebrow in silent judgment. Mason takes advantage of the distraction George has provided to snake his arm across the table and snag the remaining triangle of Rube’s toast. Rube swats idly at Mason’s hand, but allows him to take it.
“I hate to say it,” Roxy says lifting her cup of coffee to her mouth, “but these two buttheads actually have a point for once.”
George ignores the insult at beams at her. “Thanks, Roxy!”
Rube tosses his fork onto the table in disgust. “How so?” he asks Roxy.
Roxy gestures at George with her coffee cup as she sets it back on the table. “You can’t keep treating her like a child and expect her to magically turn into an adult. You want her to act like a grown-up, you treat her like a grown-up.”
Throwing some money down on the table and sliding on her cap, Roxy stands up to leave. She holds out her hand expectantly until Rube lays a post-it on it, a pained expression on his face.
“Don’t fuck it up,” Rube says unnecessarily, and Roxy sniffs in disdain before walking away from the table.
“I must be going, as well,” Daisy says, forcing Mason out of the booth to squeeze past him. He appears to enjoy the experience.
Rube slaps her post-it down on the table without looking at her, then peels off two more from his date book and places one each in front of George and, as he lowers himself back into the booth, Mason.
As George gathers up her coat to leave, Rube speaks.
“Georgia, you owe me fifty cents for the toast.”
Looking up to find Rube staring directly at her, “Bullshit!” George complains. “How come Mason doesn’t have to pay you anything?”
“Because Mason is a perpetual child, and needs someone around to clean up his screw-ups,” Rube says matter-of-factly, folding up his date book.
Mason frowns slightly, then begins to nod. “That’s true.”
“Fine,” George says, tossing two wrinkled dollar bills onto the table. “Here’s fifty cents for the toast, a dollar for the juice, and fifty extra cents for the tip!”
She turns to flounce away, but is surprised to see Kiffany standing behind her, holding a pot of coffee.
“How generous,” Kiffany says.
George’s flounce turns into a slink as she exits the restaurant.
The thing is, this time, Rube hasn’t expressly forbade George from visiting her family.
George figures this either means that he expects her to do it, anyway, and plans to chew her out for it later; or he expects her to try to prove that she’s an adult and can show restraint by choosing not to go of her own free will.
She spends several minutes wondering whether it would piss off Rube more if she broke the unwritten rules again, or if she deprived him of the chance to yell at her about it, but then she realizes that she just doesn’t care.
“Fuck that,” George says aloud, just to hear the sound, sticking her hands in her pockets and walking on.
The community center is small and cold, and smells like old people feet. The art class is smaller, less than a dozen kids, and George skulks around behind a corner until all the parents have left.
She’s five minutes late for the class, but the instructor smiles at her when she enters, glad to have another volunteer to help with the kids.
Shoving a stack of boxes into George’s hands, the instructor asks, “Will you pass out the colored pencils?”
Going around the room, George notices that most of the kids are seated with brothers or sisters, or friends.
One girl sits at the back, alone, eyes averted from everyone else. She adjusts her pigtails nervously, giving her hands something to do.
When George approaches her to give her a set of colored pencils, the girl’s eyes dart up to her face, then back down again. Then she takes a second, closer look at George.
“Do I know you?” the girl asks.
“No,” George tells her sister. “I don’t think so.”
“Oh.” She looks away again.
“I’m…” George pauses as her voice fails her. “I’m Millie,” she introduces herself.
“Reggie,” her sister says, flicking a braid over her shoulder. “Can I have my pencils now?”
The instructor has already started explaining the day’s activity.
“Yeah, sure.” George hands her the last box.
The instructor walks around from table to table, placing two sheets of paper at each work station. “Now, remember,” she says, “only move up the top piece of paper one inch at a time. Leave the rest of the picture covered by the top sheet. Copy what you see into your sketchbook, and then move the paper up another inch.”
Most of the kids try gamely at first to follow instructions, but quickly grow bored, and start to peek under the top sheet. Some remove the sheet altogether, and begin to draw freehand.
Reggie sticks to the directions, and George can see her affecting boredom as she becomes more and more frustrated with the drawing.
“This is stupid,” Reggie says, adding another wobbly line as George walks toward her.
“It’s not stupid,” George replies. “You’re learning about how lines connect to form shapes. Sometimes they connect in ways you don’t even expect.”
“You can’t even tell what it’s supposed to be,” Reggie complains.
“Not yet,” George says. “You don’t like surprises?”
Reggie presses her lips together for a moment before she responds. “No.”
“I know the feeling,” George says, straightening up and wrapping her arms around herself.
George collects the pencil boxes as the kids file out of the room to be picked up by their parents.
“Thank you for lending a hand, dear,” the instructor tells her. “And for being so kind to that little girl. She just lost her sister in a terrible accident,” she adds in hushed tones.
“No problem.” George forces a smile. “When is the next class?”
“Oh, didn’t they tell you? This was the last one until next summer. You missed out on all the fun!”
“I guess I did,” George replies.
The vinyl makes a loud squelching sound as George tries to slide into the booth.
“Being an adult sucks balls,” George declares.
Daisy, Mason, and Roxy pause to look up at her, then return their attention to the food in front of them.
Without looking up from his newspaper, Rube slides a mug toward her.
It’s filled with hot cocoa, topped with whipped cream. And sprinkles.
“Welcome back, Peanut.”