Hyacinth greeted Erik in the kitchen with a grin and a request for some violin when he was done with breakfast. Something really annoying. Perhaps scales or ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.’ This made Erik suspicious. He set his empty bowl on the counter without investigating the cereal supply in the pantry and returned to the bedroom, frowning. His uncle usually slept in on Sigurd’s Day, and he’d been up late the night before, but if Hyacinth was needling him like that, Uncle Mordecai might be sad or something. Hyacinth thought he was stupid for getting sad about things and she liked to tease him about it, which Erik could never quite fathom.
He didn’t hear crying on the other side of the door. He peeked in carefully and there appeared to be sleeping going on, but it was hard to tell with his uncle. There was enough light showing around the curtain for him to navigate the room and he shut the door behind him.
There was a groan from the pile of blankets in the bed.
“Uncle?” said Erik. “Are you… okay?”
Even half-conscious, Mordecai knew that another groan was in no way an option, nor was any coughing, although a little of that was customary upon waking. Not with Erik’s voice all concerned like that. With effort, he stifled the tickle in his throat and sat up. With similar effort, he attempted a smile. “I’m all right, dear one.” And now he drew out a tissue and allowed the cough. “I just, um, you know, I had a late night last night. Ann’s friends.”
“Just… tired?” Erik asked. It didn’t look like just tired. He sounded sick.
“Well… A little tired.” He sighed and hung his head. “They figured out they could get me to drink champagne if they asked for music I hated and they kept doing it. Like Hyacinth on fake Yule.”
Erik experienced visible relief, even in the dim room. “You’re drunk?”
Mordecai sighed again. “No, not now. This is the other side of it. My head is killing me and I feel like I’ve been licking a movie theater carpet all night.”
“Uck,” said Erik. All flooring at movie theaters was disgusting. Something about spilled sodas and anonymity.
“But I’m not sick, and it isn’t forever. I just need some sleep, then it’s aspirin and orange juice, like a cold.”
“Will you be okay tonight?”
“Yes.” Mordecai tilted his head aside and twisted the tissue in his hands. “Is it all right… They wanted me to come back and play again tonight. It’s not until late, I can still make dinner. But it’s not like an emergency. Nobody canceled, they have a band, they just liked me.”
“Are they gonna pay you?” Erik asked.
Mordecai snickered. “Yeah. Time and tips.”
“That’s pretty good,” Erik said. His uncle had explained the concept of gigs and cheques and not just getting paid if people liked the music but getting paid extra if people liked the music in the context of the previous night’s engagement. Erik thought it sounded like a pretty sweet deal. He was definitely going to grow up and get paid like that. He needed to learn some wedding music. I think, Billy Idol…?
“But, I mean,” said Mordecai. “I’d be like this again tomorrow. And I might be kind of silly tonight. Or stupid. If you don’t want to see me like that, or if you don’t want me to be like that…”
“It think it’s not scary,” Erik said, as he considered it. Either someone invisible had given him a hint about that or it was just that obvious what his uncle was worried about. Sometimes it was hard to tell the difference. “I know why it is, and it’s not from being sick or hurt. It’s just so you don’t care as much about the music and stuff.” He frowned. “Do you not like it when people make you do that because you’ll be hurt like this later?” His uncle got pretty mad at Hyacinth on fake Yule, but it wasn’t like he was scared, just annoyed about all the piano music, and it seemed like liquor didn’t taste very good. He drank it like medicine. Medicine for hating stuff less.
Mordecai shook his head, then he winced and touched it gingerly with a hand. “No. I don’t mind this so much, and it’s sort of fun when it’s happening, but… I guess I don’t like it because I think I shouldn’t. It’s not very responsible.”
“You’re responsible too much,” Erik said. “You should drink more.”
Mordecai couldn’t stifle a laugh, even though it hurt his head. “It’s sort of cheating, dear one. If I’m going to be responsible less, I have to come up with a way to do it with no headache or carpet mouth.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Erik allowed. “Auntie Hyacinth wanted me to play violin, but I’m not going to.”
“That’s very kind of you.” And I am going to remember that the next time she is hungover for any reason. “Will you try to be extra quiet when Milo gets home? He needs to sleep, too, and he’s got less time for it.”
“Uh-huh. Can I go to the movies later?” Being quiet around the house could get kind of annoying.
“If you want to. Ask Hyacinth to give you some money out of the glass jar.”
Erik left the bedroom quietly and shut the door. He scolded Hyacinth before collecting his cereal bowl, “You’re mean sometimes and it isn’t… funny.”
She just laughed at him.
When Milo came home at one, looking dazed and ragged, Erik had been in the kitchen finishing a sandwich with Maggie’s company. Quietly. He had explained very sternly about the quiet, but for some reason Maggie seemed to think it was funny, too. He’d clapped a hand over her mouth to get her to quit with the laughing, and she’d let him without consequences, but she kept snickering and grinning all through lunch.
And suggesting fun activities along with Hyacinth, like handball and a coffee can drum.
But when Milo wandered in and then wandered back out with a glass of water, Hyacinth said, “Okay, seriously, you two. Let him sleep.”
Now Maggie was back upstairs for lessons, which were not usually loud. After brief consideration, Erik decided not to avail himself of the movie option yet. It was kind of lonesome doing the movies alone. He decided to avail himself of the playspace on the front porch instead. It was nicer than the alley, and if Soup happened by, maybe then they could hit up the theater. Or maybe he’d swing by school later and see if he could pick up anyone friendly from there.
His soldiers and his elephant were still in the bedroom, but the crayons were in the kitchen. He took them and a few sheets of random-colored paper from from the lidless cardboard box on the bookshelf.
He had selected a yellow sheet and not quite finished plotting a scene yet (What do Ann’s married friends look like?) when the young brown man whose gift of comedic timing and paint cans Erik instantly recalled poked his head over the wall.
He was not wearing the long coat this time, which Erik found disappointing. But he was holding a small white box which might prove amusing. It was dripping something green.
Paint? thought Erik, glancing from the man to the box with a grin. Did you put paint in a box for some reason?
“Erik?” the man said. He lifted the box. “Is it okay?”
Well, it sure doesn’t look okay, Erik thought. It kind of looked like an emergency, but not a serious or painful one. He nodded, smiling. “Do you want Auntie Hyacinth?”
“No,” the man said quickly. “It isn’t… I’m not…” He had come around to the plywood board which served as a gate, and which he had experienced considerable difficulty with before. He considered it, and then his green-spattered hands, with a pained expression.
Erik thought about reminding him that he could just kick it over… Then he didn’t. Man, this is gonna be great…
He had decided to climb over the low place in the wall again, but the dripping box added a complication. The paint cans were one to a hand and he could set them against things and balance with them (he also could have put them down, but that did not occur until days later). The box required both hands and if he got up to anything complicated with it, it was going to spill. He clutched it against his chest, which did indeed engender a cascade of sticky green substance down the front of his white shirt (Oh, no, Mom’s gonna be pissed…) and, after sitting uncomfortably on the crumbling edge of the wall, he swung both legs over and stood up.
Erik was by this point within touching distance, and this apparent teleportation caused John Green-Tara to cry out and sit down on the wall again.
Erik caught him by the arm. “Don’t fall.”
“No, no,” John said. “It’s all right. I, um…” He stood up again and awkwardly twisted away from Erik. “I’ll get you messy. You’ll be in trouble with…” Another pained expression. “Your… parents?”
Erik absorbed the fact that sometimes other people slowed down when they were upset, too, with faint amusement. He shook his head. “I have an uncle.”
“Yeah,” John said. “Ah…” He glanced at the box. “Erik, do you like ice cream?”
John let go a quick sigh and managed a smile, but it faded. “Um, what kind do you like?” This was a complication that probably should have occurred to him hours ago, along with the difficulties of hiding outside a house holding a carton of ice cream on a summer afternoon and waiting for someone safe to come out. He had almost grabbed Milo aside, but he’d smartened up fast enough to remember Milo would hate that.
“Oh, I like, uh, spumoni,” Erik said, nodding. He liked it enough that he had a little bit of difficulty talking about it, but he hoped not enough to notice. “That’s three different kinds in one… scoop and it’s got nuts and, ah, cherries like a sundae. But they don’t… ever have that. Rainbow sherbet is good, and neapolitan is okay. And, um…” He eyed the dripping green substance, and the white box, which was familiar at this distance. “Pistachio is okay. That’s in spumoni.”
“Uh,” John said. After some more pained thinking (it looked a little like Maggie trying to do a lot of math, but way slower) he handed Erik the dripping box. It was mushy and practically all liquid at this point. “I like this kind,” he said. He vaulted back over the wall and took off.
Erik watched after him for a moment, then considered the box. Green Tea was handwritten on the folded top in tangled black crayon.
That’s an ice cream? Erik thought.
And, an instant later: What the heck am I supposed to do with it?
It didn’t seem like eating — or drinking — it was a good idea. Nor did carrying a dripping box through the front room seem like a smart thing to do. He went around the side of the house and came in through the kitchen door, hoping to find Hyacinth. He got his hands and shirt pretty well sticky doing so, and pasted a pale green stain on the door.
Hyacinth was not in the kitchen. He drew in a breath and opened his mouth to yell for her, then thought better of it. Still carrying the box, leaving a trail of green droplets and occasional footprints on the tile floor, he investigated the front room, then had a look in the basement, just from the top of the stairs. Rather at a loss, and beginning to feel the first inklings of panic, he stumbled into the front room proper and noted that the attic stairs were down.
He put one foot on one of Barnaby’s stairs before he decided that wasn’t a good idea, either. He stood at the bottom for a few moments, uncomfortably near Ann and Milo’s door, dripping melted ice cream like the advancing second hand of a stopwatch, before he chose the lesser evil and called up the stairs, “Uh, Auntie Hyacinth? The man gave me the box and ran away!” He winced. There were surely some better words for what he wanted to get across than those…
Hyacinth’s voice drifted down from the space above, “Is the box ticking, Erik?”
Erik frowned at it. “No! Dripping!”
The unmistakable sound of Barnaby’s laughter accompanied Hyacinth down the rickety stairs. She got about halfway before sizing up the situation — small green child with dripping box, sheepish expression, stained clothes and shoeprints behind him — and she produced an irritated click of her tongue. “What is that? Is it paint?”
Erik shook his head. “Ice… cream.” He shifted his sticky hands. “Sorta.”
“Oh, for gods’ sakes… Is there anything left of it?”
“Half?” was Erik’s estimation by feel.
“Put it in the cold box in the basement next to the ice. Maybe Milo or your uncle can do something to save it later. Did you bring it in through the front or the back?”
Hyacinth growled and began tramping her way down the sweeping staircase to the kitchen. “I’ll see about cleaning it up. What kind of an idiot brings melted ice cream? I don’t have ice cream up on the board!”
Erik could’ve made the attempt to enlighten her, but it was hard to do words quickly with Hyacinth ticked off like that and whatever was left of the ice cream needed to get cold fast if they were going to try to save it. He wanted to try some later, if they could get it somewhat ice-cream-shaped. He walked down the stairs behind her and made for the basement.
It was probably Cousin Violet, because of the ice cream. Violet liked to make things happen. Erik was kneeling and holding the box against him with an arm, while holding up the lid of the cold box, and when whoever-it-was told him the origin of the funny paint man, Erik dropped the ice cream and it went everywhere. On the ice. On milk bottles and boxed butter. On carrots and potatoes. On a paper-wrapped packet of sliced ham for sandwiches, which was expensive, and a hunk of leftover almost-meatloaf, which was not. On the stone interior of the box and the dirt floor inside. Even some on the wooden lid. Some on Erik, too, though he was already spattered.
He didn’t see it.
Two boys. Erik thought men, but they thought of each other as boys. One was pale with light brown hair, the other one reddish brown with black hair, and big, dark eyes. They were talking. Just screwin’ around. Just shootin’ the shit. You know. Nothing better to do.
“Hey, will you look at that dumb kid?” someone said. The brown boy with the dark eyes wasn’t sure which one of them. Maybe not even one of them. Maybe just someone walking past.
“He’s gonna get killed.” That was the light boy. Ed. Still smiling. It had only been a moment and there was no cause to stop smiling.
There was a green kid, a little kid, still in short pants and stockings, shyly approaching a fenced-in pen in a dirt lot with some horses. Everyone knew freaky weird colored people were supposed to stay away from horses and dogs, especially the colored people themselves. But here was this stupid little kid, all alone, walking right up to some.
All was chaos. The darker boy wanted to cry out. Except, he didn’t want to cry out. He wanted himself to want to cry out, but he hadn’t. Not even wanted it. Maybe there wasn’t time. Maybe he’d had his mouth open and been about to. Hey! Just a single syllable. Something. But he didn’t remember that. He wanted to cry out, but he hadn’t wanted to cry out, and he didn’t cry out, he didn’t even open his mouth, and no one and no thing stopped the stupid little green kid from getting right up next to the horses in the pen.
There was… screaming. The horses. Maybe the green kid. And the darker boy still didn’t open his mouth. No, Oh, my gods! Or, Stop him! Or, Get the police! Not even a gasp. Horses, rickety wood fence that kept them under control by mere habit, stupid little green kid, panic, arms flung upwards and hooves flying. Just an instant. Then, three horses with broken bridles running away and some people yelling about the horses, running after the horses, and this stupid little green kid crumpled up like a pile of bloody clothes in the cobbled street.
Call an ambulance! A loud cry. A decisive action. Something.
“Gods,” said the darker boy. Very soft. Nothing about an ambulance.
The bundle of stained clothing — of child — in the street did not move.
“You think it’s dead?” Ed asked him.
It. And the dark boy didn’t have anything to say about that, either. “I dunno.”
They walked over. Walked. Somehow they were permitted to walk. No one else was running. The running had gone off in the direction of the horses.
The kid had a red face and puddle of blood under his head. One eye was half-open but glazed and unseeing. The other was turned against the street. So much blood. It was impossible to tell the extent of the injury, but there was so much blood. It was like a car accident.
It was like a dog, that was what the dark boy was thinking. Like a dog that got hit by a car. Crushed under the wheels. Matted and red.
He nudged the green kid’s leg with the side of his shoe. He had done that. He started it.
He didn’t want to touch… that thing. That bloody, maybe-dead thing. He didn’t want to kneel down and get the blood on his clothes. His mom would be pissed.
It was dirty.
(But that’s me, Erik thought. That thing that’s so disgusting you don’t want to touch it or get near it — that’s me!)
It was like a dog in another way, too. You didn’t want to screw around with a hurt dog, because it might bite you. Colored people, even the kids, could do magic. What if it… he… what if he woke up and did something?
Ed spoke, “Hey, kid, are you dead?”
The dark boy breathed a fluttery little laugh. He toed at the kid’s leg again, well away from the mess of blood at the head. “He’s not dead. Wake up.” He leaned in a little closer but still did not kneel down, and he raised his voice, “Come on, kid. Wake up!”
Ed nudged the other side of him, also with his shoe. There was no response. Ed looked up with a wide, hysterical, perfectly horrible grin, and then down again, “Come on, kid! Quit foolin’ around!”
“Lazy!” the dark boy said. And he had kicked… Oh, yeah. He could kid himself about the first couple of times, but now there was definitely kicking going on. He had kicked the kid in the leg and it was like kicking over a piece of driftwood on the beach. He almost expected to hear clattering. But it had sounded, if it had sounded like anything, sort of soft. Like dropping a pillow.
Not like a dead human being. Not like that.
Ed laughed. “Crazy magician thought he’d take a nap in the middle of the street!”
“Hey, kid, wake up and go home!”
Oh, please, gods, wake up and go home.
And… it had been so fast. Like the horses. Except worse than the horses, because horses are dumb animals and they don’t need excuses.
They had been kicking him, and laughing. Not even words anymore, just two boys laughing. And this probably-dead kid that wouldn’t get up. And nobody said ‘stop.’ Nobody said, ‘what the hell are you doing?’ or ‘We have to get this kid to a hospital!’ Nobody said anything, least of all the two boys. And he was pretty sure, oh, yeah, he was pretty sure that when one of his blows knocked the dead kid in the side that something in there had snapped, but that didn’t stop him. Nobody was going to stop them, least of all the dead kid.
And when finally, finally, there was a scream, and an extremely angry colored man with a large, dark object approaching at all speed, the world had exploded in light.
And there was pain.
And something like relief.
Erik issued a low, wounded moan — like maybe he would’ve made after the horses, if he’d been capable of making any noises after the horses — and scrabbled backwards until his back hit the wall under the worktable. He had a vague recollection of Milo doing that. It was safe, like the small spaces in the bombed out buildings during the siege.
He wasn’t sure whose memories he was running on or what pieces of his mind were his own, but he wanted very badly to be safe.
He was wondering — a small, confused part of him was wondering — if he needed to be sorry.
No, I… I didn’t do that, did I? I’m not bad like that, am I?
He was crying, but very softly.
Is it me? Or did it happen to me? Can I still have crayons? There’s only one way in, I can see it. It’s okay. It’s okay. Straitjacket. No. There aren’t any bathtubs in this house. It’s okay. No one knows I’m here. I can see the only way in. Stairs. It’s good if there’s stairs, because of the gas. I think… I don’t know if the stairs should go up or down, but I think it doesn’t matter. It’s okay. If I have to get out, I can break the window. If I have to get out…
He pulled his hand back into his shirtsleeve and bundled the cuff in his hand.
There. Like that. It’s okay. I want to go home. I don’t want to go home. I don’t ever want to go back there. Why did he have to sell the damn house? It was my house, too! Oh, please, make it stop. Ann, I want to be in the closet…
No, Milo hurts himself in the closet.
I’m not Milo.
…Erik. I’m Erik and I’m in the basement and I’m crying and I’m hurt.
I need help.
But it was still a little while before he could make himself come away from the worktable and the wall where it was safe like in the bombed out buildings during the siege.
Hyacinth was on her hands and knees in the kitchen, mopping up stains with an old towel and a bucket of soapy water. When Erik came in, she said, “Holy shit, did you take a bath in that stuff?” but that was just her mouth running on autopilot.
“I’m sorry, I don’t care, it’s okay,” she added without pause. She was beside him, she was already on her knees, and she gathered him into her arms. “Honey, what happened? Can you tell me what happened? Please try.”
“Unh,” was all that came out of him. Guttural, like she had punched him. His arms went around her neck and he clung, but that was all.
“Okay, we’re gonna go get your uncle. That’s okay.” She tried to pick him up, but he was just on the very edge of the weight she could manage to carry and it was difficult.
“Movie theater carpet,” Erik said thickly.
“Yeah,” said Hyacinth, doubly sure that someone who knew his way around gods and emotional trauma was necessary for this situation. She tried to go faster.
But, what sounded incoherent was actually improvement. Erik was reorienting himself with reality, like when Barnaby tried to get his plot points straight.
My uncle said he feels like he’s been licking a movie theater carpet. He’s going to go back and play the wedding because they liked him. Ann’s friends are getting married. Time and tips.
“Do-o-on’t,” Erik whined. He squirmed and she had to let him down. The dining room floor was carpeted, but he was able to stand. “He’ll be… worried,” Erik said.
“Erik, I’m worried!” said Hyacinth.
“It hurt,” he said. He shivered and she put her arms around him again. He was willing to allow that. It was hard for him to put the rest of it together, but she was quiet and let him. “Why… didn’t… you… say… the… paint… man… hurt… me?”
“Nuh!” He cut a hand at her. He wasn’t through with it! “Why… did… you… let… them… tell… me… and… hurt… me… more?” Now he was done, and he was crying again. Not soft anymore, but he buried the sobs against her shoulder so his uncle wouldn’t hear and come.
“I was kind of hoping they wouldn’t tell you,” Hyacinth said softly.
“They… wait… until… it’s… funny,” Erik said.
“They’re assholes!” she cried.
“Yes,” he said.
She just held him. There really wasn’t much she could do about a bunch of invisible people being assholes, except try to clean up after it.
“The man who brought the paint brought us a box of melted ice cream?” she asked him, just making certain.
“And they told you about him just now when you were in the basement?”
“Uh-huh.” He drew back and looked at her miserably. “I spilled… everything.”
“Yeah, I don’t care. I’ll get to it. We’re doing this other thing now.”
“You want to sit in the kitchen or the big chairs in the front room?”
She put her hand on his back and walked him towards the table. “Coffee, tea or chocolate?”
You poor kid, she thought. Erik only favored tea when he was sick. She lit the stove and put on some water. “Wait until there’s tea or talk now?”
“Okay.” She sat down beside him at the table. “I know what he did, and I know you know, and you know I know. We don’t have to talk about that part unless you want to. You want to?”
Erik shook his head.
“Okay. Then you pick something and talk first. I’ll wait.”
“Why…” said Erik, but he shook his head. He knew why the paint man was being nice to them. He was being nice because he felt so sorry and so guilty he wanted to go back in time and strangle himself. That wasn’t the way to say it. “Why… are you… letting him be… nice… to us?”
“He lied to the police so your uncle wouldn’t get in trouble about blowing up Julia and hurting him. He said if there was anything else we needed to ask him, and he found paint. And he helped me find that violin.”
“Angie?” Erik said, blinking.
“Yeah. For gods’ sakes, do not tell your uncle about that. Your uncle hasn’t seen him and he has no idea. The gods didn’t tell you any of this stuff?”
Erik shook his head.
“I guess it was halfway nice, so they didn’t bother, huh?”
“After the violin, he wanted to know if he was upsetting you, and he wasn’t right then, so I said no. Then he wanted to know if he ought to come back here. I said that was up to him, but to stay the hell away from your uncle. I’m guessing that’s why he hung around outside until the ice cream melted. He is not the sharpest spoon in the drawer.”
“Spoon?” said Erik.
“I mean, he is very, very dumb. Not like he needs a minder, but he could use one. Do you want me to go find him and tell him not to come back? I can do that today if you want.”
Right away, Erik shook his head, but he sighed. “Hard. Need to think.”
“Sure thing. I’ll do the tea.”
Erik was very glad they didn’t have a teakettle with a whistle, like in the cartoons. He didn’t think he’d be able to take it. Even the clinking noise of Hyacinth mixing honey into his cup was a little much, but he did like honey and he didn’t want to tell her to quit. It only went on for a little. He accepted the cup in both hands and sipped it. His coffee mug, which also served for tea and chocolate, had a mermaid with a mustache on it. He wasn’t sure if he found that comforting or annoying.
Could everything please stop being ridiculous for a while? I’m not a happy person and I’d like reality to get with the program.
There should definitely be more grays. Everything should be gray. And no more minty-green ice cream stains all over everything, including him. It was way too cheerful and it reminded him how scared he’d been.
Damn it, why couldn’t it just be one of those things or the other?
Look, I’m gonna draw a line, okay? Everything cute and funny can be on this side, and everything scary and hurtful can be over here. Stop mixing them!
The mustachioed mermaid beamed at him. Greetings from San Rosille!
He breathed a soft helpless laugh and set the mug on the table. “I want to… see him,” he said. “And I want to… talk to him. But I… don’t want to… wait for him to… show up. I’d be scared. Like… like a Jack-in-the-box.”
“Is that okay?” he asked her.
“Sure it’s okay. I can ask him over… I don’t think we should have him at the house, but we can pick a day.”
“Could I go… see him?” He put up both hands, to prevent Hyacinth from cutting off his thought. “I think I’d like to see… he has a house. Like a… a real person.” He sighed. “It sounds… stupid.”
“No, it doesn’t,” said Hyacinth, frowning. “But it is going to be more difficult. We have to come up with something where you and I go out together, but your uncle doesn’t. Not because he’s worried or interested. Movies and the library are right out.”
“Not… tomorrow,” Erik said. “He’ll be… in bed.”
“You wanna do this tomorrow?” On the one hand, it sounded masochistic. On the other, maybe it was like ripping off a bandage.
Erik shrugged, then nodded.
“Hell, all right,” said Hyacinth. “There anything else you want? Liquor?” She bit down on her tongue to prevent it from offering cigarettes. He might actually say yes to those.
Erik spread his arms and looked both hopeful and pathetic. “Clean clothes?”
They told his uncle, and everybody else, that they’d spilled a bottle of milk.
Uncle Mordecai noticed him being too sad and quiet at dinner, of course. He pulled Erik aside in the dining room and told him, “Dear one, I don’t have to go tonight. Ann will understand.”
Erik, once again, looked visibly relieved. But his uncle wouldn’t know why, or any other context for it. He made a smile and shook his head. “No, I’m not worried about that. I really want you to go. I’m just thinking about… stuff.”
“Like what kind of stuff?”
“Chronic hunger in a world of plenty.” And when he saw his uncle’s expression he knew someone had fed him that answer to be upsetting. He shook his head. “No. I… don’t…”
“They’re not talking to you about that, are they?” said Mordecai, stricken.
Erik was still shaking his head. “No… just… teasing… me.” He spat the word.
“Do they do that a lot?” Mordecai asked softly.
“Sometimes… a lot,” Erik said. “Not… a lot… a lot,” he added, trying to mitigate it.
“I don’t want to go,” said Mordecai. He sighed. “But I don’t know what I’m going to do about it if I stay. Do you want to talk about it? Or anything else?”
Erik smiled at him. He slowed down a little, just to sell it, “I want you to go make lots of money so we can go to… Papillon Island and ride the… roller coaster.”
I want you to drink a lot of champagne so Hyacinth and I can get everything sorted out without worrying you more, he thought guiltily, still smiling.
Mordecai did not feel entirely secure in that smile. “Erik… There isn’t anything you feel like you can’t tell me, is there?”
Frowning, Erik shook his head. No. I know it doesn’t work that way. You can tell anyone anything anytime you want. But there are some things you shouldn’t.
Mordecai believed the frown. More so than the smile, anyway. He allowed Erik back to the table for dessert. And, fifteen minutes later, somewhat better-arranged, he departed with Ann and violin in tow.
And not much more guilt and concern than usual.
On the edge of sleep, Erik heard a familiar voice. Not a cruel one, but he flinched anyway. He was so tired of talking. Hyacinth had asked him if he wanted to talk more before she put him to bed, too.
Erik, Cousin Violet is no longer in this house. I don’t know how long I can keep her away, but she knows I don’t approve of what she did.
Thank you, Hester. I’m tired now. Can I sleep?
Of course, dear. Good dreams.
He didn’t remember any.
Sometime later, his uncle woke him. Either dropping the violin case or falling into bed. He wasn’t sure.
There was faint laughter and then he sang, “Good morning, Starshine…”
“Shh, Em. He’s sleeping.” That was Ann.
Erik kept still so they wouldn’t try to talk to him.
“Sing me the chorus again, Ann,” Mordecai said. “I can never remember…”
“It’s not even words,” he complained.
“I know, dear. I am sorry. Do try and sleep.”
Erik pulled a pillow over his ear so he didn’t have to hear his uncle humming. We are go for the paint man tomorrow, he thought. He went back to sleep.