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If I Blink Twice

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Bob hears the rumble of sleepy teenaged boy voices on the second floor landing even over the sizzle of the frying pan, and immediately turns to where his wife is filling the coffee pot.

“Uh-oh, here come the lovebirds!” he whispers into Alicia’s ear before turning the heat down on the potatoes. He sees the line of her shoulders immediately straighten and she stares resolutely at the open cupboards.

“About damn time. It’s nearly ten,” she mutters taking out two plates and mugs.

“Now, now,” Bob says in a placating tone. “We’ve both been there before. Let’s be fair.”

The way she raises her eyebrows without responding makes Bob chuckle.

Jack’s form appears in the open-plan dining room first, and he peers warily into the kitchen. Bob gives him a reassuring nod and Jack passes it along up the stairs.

Kent descends while Jack watches, in a kind of slow-motion teen movie moment. Not that Bob has room to laugh, as he’d have looked at him in much the same way when he was Jack’s age.

Kenny is slim and well-proportioned for his age with that fair blondness that seems to shimmer in the sun. The preppy boy blush that’s permanently on his cheeks is dappled over with freckles that set off his green eyes well. He’s wearing a set of Jack’s sweats with the legs and sleeves rolled up and it’s... fairly adorable.

He steps directly into Jack’s space and cranes his head back to murmur something that makes Jack light up with an affectionate smile.

They stay in a world of their own, sharing breathing space and leaning intimately against each other’s bodies as if Jack’s parents aren’t directly within sight. It’s a good look on Jack, who wouldn’t even hold hands with his girlfriends in front of his parents.

Bob muses to himself that it must be a positive sign, how Jack was treating a boy he could never date openly as less of a dirty little secret than any of the girls he had dated. The way Kenny was looking up at Jack as if he’d personally made the sky blue and the grass green, Bob figures Jack’s feelings couldn’t have held out forever against that kind of charm.

He realizes he’s smiling goofily at them and turns away. Alicia however, is looking downright disapproving. She quickly schools her expression into something placid before either of the boys can notice.

“You boys have time for some breakfast?” she calls out a little shrill.

It seems to jolt Jack and Kent back to reality and they wander over, expressions still love-drunk.

“Good Morning, Mr. and Mrs. Zimmermann,” Kent says as Jack mutters his own greeting.

“Please, son, call me Bob. I still think people are talking to my dad when they say Mr. Zimmermann.” Bob reaches out an arm and draws Kent to his side.

“Sleep alright?” Bob murmurs, nudging Kent and winking in a way that makes the kid flush up to his ears and giggle nervously.

Daaaad !”

Bobby !”

Bob grins at them both and makes a little swipe at Kent’s cowlick.

“What about ‘Bad Bob’, eh?” Jack chortles, sneaking some potatoes from the pan and passing some to Kenny. He only just misses his mom’s spatula thwacking at him. “That’s still what Kenny calls you when he talks about you, like, all the time.”

“Jaaack… ” Kent takes the potatoes, casting a guilty look at Alicia and an embarrassed one at Jack.

Bob steals one of the potatoes, and jostles the boy to make him relax.

“Alicia’s the only call who calls me Bad Bob to my face nowadays. And that’s only if I’ve been really bad.”

“Bob, I swear. I’m going to have child services come pick this boy up if you don’t stop!”

Kent uses their laughter as a cover to shake his head minutely at Jack, who had immediately shot him a concerned look.

“You should call Alicia ‘Mrs. Zimmermann’, though,” Bob mutters and pats Kent on the shoulder twice before shuffling back to work on breakfast.

Alicia shoves two store-bought protein shakes into Jack’s hands.

“Here. Since your father won’t let you give me an answer on breakfast, I’m going to assume you need to get going.”

“Thanks, maman,” Jack says, letting her kiss his cheek and switching the shakes to one hand. “Dad, can I have Kenny back now?”

Bob laughs and wraps his arm around Kent’s head in a half-noogie, pressing a kiss to his hair.

“Don’t be a stranger ‘round these parts, Kenny! At least not more of a stranger than Jacques is,” he says only slightly accusingly at his son.

Jack gives him an indulgent eye-roll in response.

Kent pauses in the doorway, one hand held by Jack who is already walking out of the room.

“Thank you for letting me stay over, Bob and… Mrs. Zimmermann.”

His eyes betray just enough frailty that Alicia relents and with a small nudge to the hip from her husband, she smiles as warmly as she can.

“You were no trouble at all Kenny. Feel free to stay any time.”

Jack casts an impressed look at her over Kent’s head and finally succeeds in getting them both out of the living room.

The kitchen seems to glow with teenage love, even after they’ve both gone. A trail of blushing, freshly-showered boy stays where they were and it makes Bob fall quiet in his own memories.

“Well, I guess that settles that then,” Alicia sighs, her annoyance breaking the silence.

“For me it was settled after the third round,” Bob rubs a hand over his tired face. “Ah, I remember those days.”

Alicia chuckles. “Did the headphones not work? I swear I thought we had more than the one pair of earplugs.”

“They managed to block out most of the racket--I tell you either our son is some kind of sixteen-year-old sex maestro or Kenny was putting on those operatics.  But the, ah, rhythmic stuff still made it through unfortunately.”

They both laugh ruefully and go about settling in for breakfast. Jack had been bringing home “friends” far too long now for them to suddenly mention how awkwardly sound travels even across a whole wing of a quiet house. Not without equally incriminating themselves all these years, at least.

“Still, it’s a good sign that he’s brought this one home so soon,” Bob muses as he smushes scrambled egg over his potatoes. “It’s only fair after all the times the other parents had to wear ear plugs when Jack visits.”

“I just,” Alicia sets down her slice of toast and finishes chewing. “We can’t seem to find out anything about him. He’s so evasive about his parents and even how he got into Juniors. And he seems troubled, Bob. I’m sure there’s something in his eyes…”

“Now, come on Ms. Worrier. Don’t go down that road,” Bob says softly, putting a hand on the kitchen island between them. “They’re unlikely to continue whatever they’re doing once they’re both drafted. So at the very most we only have to deal with a teenage fling for a couple of years.”

Alicia looks slightly comforted at the thought, but continues to frown at the margarine.

“And you know damn well Jack was going to go after that kid as soon as he laid eyes on him,” Bob continues. “Prince Caspian… “ he says winsomely.

Alicia joins in the imitation of their four-year-old son on first seeing twenty-something Sam West.

“Pretty! Pretty!” they both whisper in baby voices, raising trembling hands at a blond youth on an invisible TV screen. The memory loses them both in smiles for a moment.

Alicia sighs and stands to refill their coffee.

“But is it too much to ask that Kenny was some kind, steady little homebody as well as being stunning and blonde? I mean, who’s going to look after our baby when he’s drafted and living on his own?”

Bob raises his eyebrows and smirks. “That’s a pretty sexist remark from a feminist who wore shoulder pads up to her ears in the eighties--Ow! Ouch, okay, okay I’m sorry!”

Alicia whacks him with the newspaper once more for good measure.

“And actually it’s potentially homophobic as well as sexist. No!” She laughs and bats away the newspaper Bob is brandishing back at her.

“I’ve done my best, Bobby, but I’m working against your system here,” she continues. “It’s one thing for him to someday be a helpless twenty-year-old sharing a house with a teammate. But let’s face it, he’s not going to find some sweet young thing with a heart of gold who a) won’t immediately be swayed by who he is, b) also happens to love hockey and and c) won’t mind the wedding ceremony being at an ice rink. And nothing less would make Jack happy. He isn’t like you, Bob. He’s never going to love anyone as much as he loves hockey.”

Bob nods in agreement, but with a hopeful twinkle.

“Well, maybe we should keep an open mind about Kenny then? Maybe Jack ending up with a teammate is the only way for it to go. I mean, granted I had some good looking guys on my teams but personally I would’ve rather lived alone my whole life than actually married any of the bums.”

“Aw, gee honey! I feel so special!” Alicia simpers, and actually does get the brunt of the newspaper this time. They tousle a little before getting up to clear breakfast away; Bob on his usual dishwasher loading duty while Alicia looks on.

“I guess it was too much to hope that he wouldn’t grow out of the baby fat. I’m still not over the fact that my little awkward roly-poly is a big, strong mensch now. Let alone how soon he started getting interest from the other kids.”

She looks into the distance wistfully, kneading her husband’s ass absentmindedly where he’s bent over putting in a dishwashing tablet.

“Like father, like son!” Bob grins as he turns to her, taking the other hand and placing it on his ass as well. “Would you have been interested in me if you’d seen me as a young mensch at your bat mitzvah?” he wheedles, putting both hands into her hair.

“Honey, you were a Catholic.”

“Okay well, if you’d seen me as a handsome young schmuck at a non-denominational social gathering?”

Alicia smiles in a way that has made Bob weak in the knees for the past eighteen years.

“With that awful long hair and those hideous stonewash jeans you used to wear? You’d have been lucky it was bashert that we’d end up together. Now, let me worry about our son for another hour while you get on the phone and find out everything you can about this Kent boy.”

Bob slumps over, groaning and making a move to escape the room.

“Can’t the inquisition wait a couple weeks at least? It’s not like one of them is gonna get pregnant, or they’re going to run off and get married. Besides, if you ask me--” he pauses when he glances back and catches Alicia staring back at him. “What, what is it?” 

“Bobby, both of their sweaters had wet patches on the back.”

She sighs when Bob looks nonplussed.

“It takes less time to dry off from a shower than it does to take one,” she says, staring down at the dish towel and suddenly very serious. “Sweetie, how many sixteen-year-old flings did you ever share a single shower with? You know damn well this isn’t like all the others.”

She looks up into Bob’s startled eyes, both of them feeling a shadow of foreboding pass over the house, suddenly so quiet and empty.