“We’re not stopping,” Nezumi insisted, head tilted almost casually over his shoulder as he continued his steady march down the sidewalk. “I made cake.” He paused for a second and narrowed his eyes, “You didn’t drop it, did you?”
“Of course I didn’t,” Sion peeled himself away from the storefront window he was busily gaping into, the carefully wrapped and thoroughly un-dropped cake nestled tightly in his arms as he pushed his way past several shuffling pedestrians. “Though if you don’t slow down, I might-”
“You won’t,” Nezumi snorted, “Your mama would be devastated.”
“But that’s just the thing,” Sion mused, staring at the wrapped box, “We really ought to get her something nicer. She makes cakes all day-”
“Which is exactly why she’ll like this. She has excellent taste.” Nezumi jammed his hands into his pockets and quickened his steps just enough to goad Sion into nearly tripping over his own feet as he scurried to catch up.
“You’re really over-confident,” Sion grumbled as he finally caught up, just in time for Nezumi to stop dead in his tracks. Sion nearly dropped the cake anyway as he sidestepped to avoid him.
“Nah,” Nezumi grinned back at him, “I just know your mom better than you.”
Sion’s jaw dropped.
“Aren’t you going to go in?” Nezumi’s eyes darted meaningfully toward the alcove tucked into the wall next to them. His mother’s door. Of course. He’d made it the entire way here too distracted to even notice. Again.
“Right,” Sion mumbled as he pushed his way past. He still didn’t feel good about this. He hadn’t seen his mother in nearly a month – he really ought to have been bringing her something better than a homemade cake (really ought to have been doing more than just dropping by for dinner, but everything had been such a jumbled mess of business lately that he’d barely had time to breathe, much less take time out to enjoy well…anything). He stared warily at the wrapped box – he knew, on some level, that Nezumi was right, that the cake was fine and probably more than was expected but his mother-
“Sion…” Nezumi shook his head at him, “Eyes crossing. Again.”
“What?” Sion shook it off and headed into the bakery. His mother was busy carting the last few racks of rolls away from the windows for the night. It took her a moment to notice them; not for his lack of trying – he’d been informed that his particular brand of waving (especially with an armload of cake) was distracting enough to stop traffic – but it had been a long time since he’d closed down the bakery for the night and had forgotten exactly how much concentration went into closing down a store when you didn’t have electronic devices constantly bleeping at you to do one thing or another. It was Nezumi who finally caught her attention, sweeping in to move the shelves the last of the way to the wall.
“Oh, boys,” she met Nezumi with a quick peck to the forehead (which, Sion noted with more than a little bit of pride, he neither flinched or scurried away from), “I wasn’t expecting you for another half hour.” She glanced over at Sion’s package, “Goodness, what did you bring?”
“A cake,” Sion answered, staring at the seemingly infinite number of cakes lining the back shelves, “Chocolate.”
“Silly boy,” she ruffled his hair as she took the package, “You didn’t have to do that – I have so many here-”
“Nezumi made it, actually.”
“Oh,” Karan’s entire face lit up with this news, “Well, then, it certainly is a special occasion. I’ll take it upstairs. Why don’t you boys get your things off and head on up? I’ve got a pie baking for dinner. Nothing fancy - meat and potatoes.”
Sion nodded as she disappeared into the back of the bakery and turned to grab Nezumi’s jacket. Nezumi grinned back at him, “I told you she would like my cake.”
“I’m afraid I might be overloading you boys on baked goods,” Karan said as she shuffled the pie she’d just pulled from an oven onto the table.
“No such thing,” Nezumi assured her, and Sion could practically hear his salivary glands kicking into high gear.
“I’m afraid it won’t hold a candle to dessert, though,” Karan smiled as she settled onto her own cushion, “I can’t believe you baked a cake, dear.” She ruffled a hand through Nezumi’s hair, who in turned grinned toothily back at Sion. “And my favorite kind too…”
“Nezumi’s good with those sorts of things,” Sion quickly agreed and plunged a knife into the pie.
“That’s not what you said on the way here.”
“What?” Sion balked back at him, “That’s not what we talked about at all-”
“Don’t lie to your mama,” Nezumi chided him. He slipped a serving fork beneath the slice of pie Sion was struggling to lift with the broad side of the knife and forced it over toward Karan’s plate with a meaningful stare. “It’s very naughty. Not to mention unbecoming a senior government official.”
“He said my cake wasn’t good enough for his dear old mother,” Nezumi croaked, obviously working his hardest to affect an air that was somewhere between petulant and offended. Sion thought it fell more on the side of ‘melodramatic, out of work actor,’ but wisely bit his tongue. “And after I slaved away all day trying to copy her methods and everything.”
“Oh really?” Karan chuckled, “Did you manage to get the handkerchief tied in your hair on your own this time?”
“I did,” Nezumi beamed, “But I had pull out the old, ruffled apron because someone forgot to do the laundry, so I probably wasn’t quite as suave.”
“Nezumi-” Sion groaned. He was between shows, he could certainly pick up the slack on the laundry-
“Well, he’s good with organizing, but washing has never been his strong suit,” Karan agreed.
“I-” Sion picked at the slice of pie Nezumi slapped onto his plate. What was there to say to that? (That wouldn’t get him battered with even more of their double-teamed abuse?) “I’ve been busy,” he finally mumbles.
“I know, dear,” Karan smiles and fills his glass from a pitcher, “Which project have they got you wrapped up in now? The new greenhouses, isn’t that what you said?”
“Yes, um…” his voice faltered and he caught Nezumi’s worried eye from across the table. The entire project was turning out to be a bureaucratic nightmare – made interesting only by the occasional blow-up between colleagues or the passive-aggressive ego-baiting that littered his mailbox in between dismal progress reports – and he’d have happily neglected the topic for the whole of the evening. There just wasn’t much to say about it that didn’t incite gnashing of teeth and generally sending the mood of everyone within a five mile radius crashing into the gutter.
“He’s Grand Consulting Egghead on that one,” Nezumi laughed, quickly tucking his concern out of view, “They’ve got their top guy on it, no need for worries.” Sion breathed a sigh of relief – Nezumi could always be counted on to weasel him out of these conversations. He nodded in agreement (probably a little to enthusiastically, really) as Nezumi, now in full deflection mode, reached across the table to snatch the pitcher away from Karan, playfully chiding her for insisting on serving everyone with a clucking tongue. “Actually,” he continued against her protestations, “And far more interestingly, I believe there was mention of naked baby photos last time we were here.” He waggled his eyebrows suggestively and Sion considered diving beneath the table. So much for relief…
Karan clapped her hands together suddenly, “I think I might have out-done you on that.” In another second, she was up from the table and rifling through a pile on the sideboard. “I found this the other day, stashed at the back of the storeroom,” she said, waving a black data card at them, “I think he must have thought he was clever, tucking it away back there.”
“Mom,” Sion coughed, recognizing the card immediately, “Don’t.” It was too late, though, and Nezumi’s grin looked increasingly in danger of splitting open his cheeks. “That’s so old-”
“That hardly makes it less appealing,” Nezumi snorted. He leaned forward in his seat, obviously eager to view whatever it was Karan was offering and spend the rest of the night needling Sion to pieces over it.
“Can’t it wait till after dinner?” Sion hung his head in defeat as his mother waved this away and snapped the card into the reader on the television.
“Don’t be silly Sion,” she chided, “It’s not like you can’t eat and watch this at the same time. It’s even got its own soundtrack, so you don’t have to explain it.”
The soundtrack. He had so very nearly forgotten about that. But, there it was – in his own voice, nonetheless, even if it was at least an octave higher than he ever remembered it being – introducing both himself and his project. It was a standard presentation on the Calvin cycle he’d done for an introductory botany class years earlier (in fact, it had been the first in what had eventually become a long line of these) – he didn’t even know why he’d stashed the card away instead of just tossing it away. Probably because it had been the first and his mother had been so proud – he never was good with disappointing her.
Karan settled back into her seat, “Doesn’t he sound precious?”
Nezumi shook with laughter. “I don’t actually hear much of a difference.”
“What are you-”
“Yep, no difference at all.”
Karan gripped Nezumi’s shoulder and nodded back toward the television, “Oh, watch this part, it’s brilliant.”
Sion buried his face in his hands. On screen, the little stars designated as ATP molecules – already flashing obnoxiously to signal their…energy or something – began to dance around, banging into dejected-looking stands of 3-PGA and dragging them off to dance round the screen until they crashed headon into their NADPH and split off a bouncing baby G3P. He’d gotten in quite a lot of trouble for this bit actually – not that he’d ever told his mother. It was too fancy, too creative, he’d been told. It engaged the viewer at the expensive of maintaining a properly dispassionate and scientific tone. And that was certainly true, if the way his mother was making starry eyes at the screen was any indication.
“Isn’t it adorable?” she wondered aloud.
Nezumi looked vaguely horrified by the whole ordeal, which was probably the best reaction Sion could have hoped for. Maybe his mother would turn it off and end his embarrassment before they got to that bit in the third step where he’d been completely out of his league and messed up the chain reaction to make more RuBP…
“It’s amazing,” Nezumi said at long last, his lips twisting upward into a wicked grin, “How very similar this is to that presentation you gave on the local environmental effects of setting up new drainage in the East block.” Sion’s face fell. “I think you even used the same little shapes with faces there for the demonstration of fertilizers washing downstream.”
“I did not-”
“Oh he always uses those,” his mother interrupted, “They’re his favorites on the program. It’s like he’s afraid they’ll disappear if he doesn’t put them in every presentation.”
“Hmm?” Both Karan and Nezumi stared back at him, chins on hands and smiling from ear to ear. He slumped against the table. It was useless.
“I thought,” he said, as the sound from the television died down at last and the last remnants of the dancing particles faded away, “We should probably have that cake now…”
“Well that was certainly educational,” Nezumi laughed as they wandered home across the darkened streets some hours later.
“Stop,” Sion groaned, “I can’t believe you two-”
“Maybe next time I’ll bring some limes with and you can pick them all apart and tell us about the Krebs Cycle.”
“Did…” Sion paused, playing with the wrapping of the box his mother had foisted on him as they left (a cherry cake, baked specially for him – he’d checked), “Did you just make a biochemistry joke?” He paused for a second. ”A really bad one?”
“Maybe,” Nezumi sighed loudy and irritably, “I think it comes of hanging out with eggheads.”
“I thought I was an airhead.”
“You’re both,” Nezumi paused a few steps ahead, tapping his foot impatiently as Sion scrambled to catch up, “Luckily, your mom more than makes up for it.”
“No, really. It’s too bad you don’t take after her more.”
“You have to share that cake, you know.”
“I saw her note. But half of it is still mine.”
“You’re really greedy tonight.”
“Can’t help it,” Nezumi frowns, “My cake wasn’t all that good.”
Sion opened his mouth to argue, but their door already loomed in front of him. Nezumi chucked it open the door and kicked off his boots onto their much abused mat without further comment. Sion followed with a frown. The cake was actually quite good, he thought, but then again, this was probably the closest thing to a thank you (or an apology) he was likely to get for the evening. His mother’s cake is too good not to share, anyway.