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to autumn

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Bug comes with a pie – pumpkin – and an apology poised on his lips. Gail knows better than to inquire about the occasion; his eyes are rimmed unusually pink against the rest of his golden skin, and he stoops at her front door lower than what is necessary to avoid the porch light. She pretends to not notice any of this.

“Let’s get a fire going, huh?” She says, after a quiet moment. There are insects beginning to swarm the porch lamp as the sun dips low, a chill in the air like the seasons have already changed without asking permission. Bug toes off his muddy shoes and puts them beside where a welcome mat might go, heels against the wall, like that’s the only way it ever occurred to him to do it.

The house warms nicely once the hearth is fed some logs. For a second, Gail had thought about pretending to be out of kindling, just to give the kid something to do with himself other than sit rigidly on her couch, but then she’d have nothing to do with her hands, and then where would they be. She sits down on the opposite end of the couch, perching on a pile of un-sorted laundry so high that it almost puts her eyes level with Bug’s.

The fire is enough to watch for a little while; not yet so big that it hurts to look at, but playful and reaching in a way that reminds her of lithe hands conjuring magic. Soon, though, she finds herself restless from inaction, wandering to the kitchen where she’s sure there are two clean bowls, somewhere or other.

“You make this?” She nods over her shoulder towards the pie, steaming quietly under a tea-towel. She hears the springs creak as Bug stands from his spot on the couch, like being on his feet is some kind of pre-requisite for answering.

“Yeah!” He says. It’s the first thing he’s said, really, and she hears the crack in his throat as the word forces itself out. With her head half-buried in her glassware cabinet, he thankfully can’t see her wince at the sound. “No one else was home, or awake and home, so I had the kitchen to myself.” Another pause; she fills it with the sound of pouring one glass of merlot and one of fresh milk. “But then there’s only so many things you can bake before you run outta flour, so. Thought I’d come here.”

“Well I’m glad you did.” He brightens a little at that, red rising on his scruffy cheeks. “Can’t remember when I last had a treat like this.” Gail cuts them both a slice, and Bug takes the bowls dutifully back to the living room. She follows with a wine glass in each hand, carefully balanced so that when she lifts her foot to clear a space off the coffee table for their meal, not a drop comes close to spilling.

Once she’s sat down, muscle memory brings her glass to her lips; she only remembers herself when the tannins hit her nose. “We should toast, actually!” She tries to inject just a little bit of cheer into her voice. Just for the boy’s sake. “Pick something.”

Bug’s brows furrow over his eyes again, and for a moment, Gail feels like she’s made some sort of horrible misstep. She watches as his gaze turns to the back porch sliding glass, follows it out further to the deep red that makes up the last dregs of sunset. Takes everything she has to not fiddle with her dessert spoon like a poorly weighted pocket knife; nervous energy brings her back to when her boys were little, how she knew they’d be okay, but not by what margin.

It’s a long moment before he turns back to her, and so suddenly that the couch shifts and they end up thigh-to-thigh, Gail sandwiched between Bug’s side and her little mountain of laundry. His eyes go a little wide, like he’s realised himself. “M’Sorry. Fall just ain’t my favourite season, is all.”

“In some places it’s called autumn.” Gail feels stupid as soon as she says it, but when she glances up at Bug, he looks like he’s got a few less worry lines on his face. She’s sure her expression mirrors the same, although she’s certainly got more lines on her face to pull from. After a breath, he picks up his glass of milk and clinks it feather-lightly against her wine. “To autumn, and to families.”

Gail drinks heartily.