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The Homecoming

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‘’Okay, time to talk.’’ Seth sighed in relief that his mother was finally moving out of the room with the food. They’d been doing a good job, so far, of keeping her from actually touching it; but he knew that wouldn’t last. They needed a plan, a strategy; and he had the beginning move. ‘’We need to make a pact. Something de facto to present to our guests and, maybe, even use to recruit their help.’’ There wouldn’t be any more last minute saves by way of a phone call from an almost forgotten member of the Atwood family. At least, he thought, looking at his (since the call: silent and brooding) brother; I hope there won’t be. ‘’A solemn vow not to let Mom anywhere near the food. Not the mixing, not the measuring, not even the peeling or chopping.’’

‘’I think that’s a little far, son.’’ Trust Dad to try and stick up for the woman. It was sweet (when he didn’t have to see it), the love the man had for his wife. This was serious, though. This was Thanksgiving. Lives (and the ability to ever eat again) were at stake. ‘’She slices bagels all right.’’

‘’Yes. In a nice, safe little instrument.’’ He waved a hand towards the cabinet where they’d stowed the slicer. ‘’Not freehand. Do we really want to spend the day at the hospital because Mom got a little too enthusiastic with the cutlery?’’ Seeing the beloved face go pale; he thought that maybe he should’ve worded that better. In his defense, though; it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility where his mother was concerned. He’d better rephrase, however; before his father overdid it on the paranoia. The idea was, after all; to instill a realization of the problem without creating a panic. ‘’Okay, so maybe she’s not that bad. But we have guests coming over. Summer! Guests who will expect actual, edible food to be served.’’ He stuck a hand out, palm down; shooting glances at the other two. So far, they’d been backing him out of friendship. He just needed to solidify that support. Preferably before The Cooking Fiasco (aka Kirsten Cohen) came back. ‘’Do I have to bring up the meatloaf incident? Or the time we had to replace the pan because Mom tried to boil water?’’

‘’Seriously?’’ It looked like Ryan was finally reacting with the appropriate concern, instead of just wanting a distraction from the earlier phone call. If there’d been someone in the kitchen who could actually cook (why had Rosa abandoned him? Didn’t she like him anymore?); he would’ve been glad to spend the time trying to convince the other boy to take him along on his prison visit. Things being as they were, however ……. he gave a huge, grateful smile when the calloused palm settled over his own knuckles. One down.

‘’All right. If only to avoid a trip to the emergency room. ‘’ The man’s larger hand closed over the two boy’s. Seth sighed in relief that his father wasn’t going to turn a blind eye to the disaster that was Kirsten in the kitchen by, Moses forfend, letting her ‘learn to cook’ and thereby ruining the holiday.‘’ Aside from the food poisoning; your grandfather would probably have a heart attack if your mother said she was cooking.’’

‘’True. I almost had one myself when I walked in and saw what she was doing, sans Rosa.’’ He went back to peeling, glad to have the allies he needed, even if one of them was going to bail in an hour or so. Speaking of allies….. ‘’We should swear grandpa in too. And the Wards. Summer as well. Maybe even Julie?’’ The more people between Mom and the food, he thought, the better.

‘’Not Julie.’’ He shared an eye roll with the other teen, expecting a rant on the evils of Newport’s ‘Dragon Lady’. Not that he didn’t agree that the woman was something of a rhymes-with (to quote his beloved brunette angel); but they had bigger problems. ‘’She’d love a chance to pick at your mother.’’ Okay, so that was true enough. Apparently, Jimmie Cooper had the same problems letting go (of an ex-girlfriend) that his daughter did (of an admirer who’d changed his mind), and Julie had some serious issues about it. The Jimmie thing, that is.

‘’She’s not bringing Marissa is she?’’ He would’ve congratulated his brother on the subtle; if the guy’s jaw wasn’t clenched tight enough to cause dental-visit level damage.

‘’No, the girls are spending the day with Jimmie and their grandmother Cooper.’’

‘’Here’s hoping the retirement community sprung for the caterer this year.’’ He got similar odd looks from both ends of the kitchen. ‘’Just because I don’t like someone doesn’t mean I want them to suffer cardboard turkey and mashed packing glue. I’m not a sadist. Or a masochist.’’

‘’We get it, son. Don’t let Kirsten near the food.’’ From the tone of voice, he’d better stop bringing it up. Nodding at the unspoken direction, he dumped the rest of the peels into the trash and washed his hands; only to find his father gone when he turned back around.

Having finished with the wrapping of the corn, the man had taken the tray out to the grill. Which was good, because at least the vegetables would be edible; but he could’ve used the help in deciding what to do with the now-naked potatoes. As he fondled the tubers, trying to figure out what was next, Ryan nudged him; calling his attention to the life-saver propped open on the counter by the stove.

‘’The book says to chop and boil them. Or is that boil and then chop?’’ Both boys looked over the cookbook; which had proved so invaluable not only in the creation of the stuffing, but also in the preparation and baking of the turkey. Reading the instructions carefully, they went back to work.

‘’So, that has to be a relief.’’ Seth observed, eyeing the blonde out by the grill with trepidation. So far, she hadn’t moved towards the food; but that didn’t mean he could risk taking his eyes off of her. He came by his stealth moves honestly, after all. ‘’Not having to put up with the drama queen and her smirking about how Taylor’s not here.’’ There was a flinch, but the other never lost control of the knife. Which was all of the good. Blood made a lousy condiment and he was, after all; doing the heavy lifting of cooking to avoid a hospital visit. ‘’Sorry, man. Would you rather talk about Trey?’’

‘’No.’’ Well, that was definitive. He wasn’t about to be dissuaded, though. Bottling things up wasn’t good for the psyche.

Besides, he was curious.

‘’We have to talk about something.’’ Cooking was turning out to not only be more involved than he’d thought; but was also, paradoxically, boring as all heck. He needed a distraction. Something to keep his mind occupied without diverting too much of his attention away from the food. Which requirement, of course, meant that talking about Summer was right out. ‘’C’mon. You’ve got this whole secret identity thing going on. A whole life we know nothing about.’’

‘’It’s better that way.’’ Better? How could it be better when keeping quiet made him hunch up like that? From the shadows under (and in) the blue eyes, the enigma of Chino!Ryan couldn’t be doing his sleep patterns any good, either.

‘’I don’t think …….’’

‘’I do.’’

And that, apparently, was that.

Any further inquiries he could’ve made were cut short by the sound of someone at the door. He saw Sandy waving his mother towards the main house to answer it; (causing a wave of relief that the pact was still secure) and decided to let the conversation with his brother stand as closed. People may call him self-involved and insensitive, but they were so wrong. Seth completely understood that, as unwelcome as his questions seemed to be in private; they’d be even more reluctantly (possibly even hostilely) received in public.

Besides, the person at the door might be Summer.