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With Dad and me both working to generate an unusually mutual income, we weren't bad off, but the financial drain of having a nice house and my eventually saving up for a car meant that we'd never really had the chance to travel.  Even when we'd had enough extra money, there was never time.  I'd never been outside the country, and the farthest I'd ever gone from Rosemère was London—the one in Ontario, not England.  That was my only excuse for being surprised that the twins had seen snow before.

"I didn't know it snowed in Vancouver…"

Faron laughed and threw a snowball at me, hitting me in the stomach.  "Why wouldn't it?"

I didn't have a ready answer, so I just threw a snowball back at him.  My knee was cramping from being bent to keep my double-socked foot out of the snow, but it did make any kind of movement interesting.  I glanced over to check on Lee, who was making snow angels.  He still hadn't said anything, but I was getting used to that.  As long as he was smiling or at least not frowning, I told myself not to worry too much.

They'd started on a snow man, but Faron had quickly gotten bored and started jumping on the half-constructed mound of powder.  It was maybe 14:39, and I was exhausted.  If someone had asked me yesterday, I would have said that I'd be right there next to Lee, making a monster footprint and getting just as soaked as either of the boys, but I was too worn out.  My lip stung like crazy thanks to the sharp biting winds of winter, but I couldn't complain without the risk of making Faron feel bad.  Go ahead and call me a softie, but I couldn't stand the idea of rubbing his nose in a mistake, especially when he'd apologized already.

At least they'd both put the fight behind them already.  Some may call it a short attention span, but I called it the knowledge that life is too brief to remember who kicked whom under the table last Thursday.  I had old girlfriends who could have benefited from figuring that out.

A familiar horn blast made me look up so quickly that I nearly injured my neck.  Matteo's green Ford Taurus had pulled up in front of the house, and he poked his head out of the window.  "Looks like you're doing all right on your own, choupinet."

When Mrs. Bernoulli called me that, it was embarrassing but kind of nice.  When Matteo did it, I had to find an opportunity to smack him.  He was seven years older than me, at least eight centimeters taller, and possibly twice as wide, but I could still hit him.  I made sure Faron and Lee were busy, then hobbled up to the car.  Matteo pulled his head back through the window before I could whack him, though.

"What are you doing here?  Don't you have work or something?"  Truth be told, I didn't know if Matteo had a job this month.  He worked off and on for his parents, I knew, but so did all of the other Bernoulli kids over the age of ten.  Matteo usually had side things going on, but it wasn't like he ever sat down and told me about them.

It didn't look like he was going to do that now, either.  He climbed out of the car on the side farthest from me, then rested his elbows on the car roof.  "Not today.  I didn't have any plans, so I thought I'd bring Christianna and Georges over to play with your new family members."

"That was… nice of you."

"You bet it was.  They spent the entire ride singing 'Dieu Aide Les Exclus', drove my out of my head."  He drummed his fingers on the car roof for a second, then made a patently Matteo© hand gesture that only mildly fit the gay stereotype.  "So do you want help that comes with extra children, or should I just take them to M—or should I just take them home?"

I had to bite the insides of my cheeks to keep from busting out laughing.  As legendary a big brother as Matteo really was, he was almost painfully prone to accidentally dropping words anyone knew better than to say around kids.  In this case, "McDonald's."  Apparently he was working on that.  I tilted my head to look in the backseat.  "Sure, it'll be fun."

"Fun, huh?  Is that how it's been…"

I gave him a funny look.  "Wha—"  Then I had to leap back because Christianna had pushed open the car door and then tumbled out.  She headed for the twins on a beeline, singing something incoherent at the top of her voice.  Faron was either going to love her or do his best to upstage her.  I couldn't wait…

Still on the other side of the car, Matteo opened the other door and started to free Georges from his carseat.  "Your lip.  What happened?  You didn't fall down again, did you?"

As indignant as I was, I knew I deserved that.  "No."  I closed the door Christianna had nearly hit me with, then leaned against it.  "It was an accident."  Call me a coward, a liar, whatever, but I didn't want anyone to know that I'd been stupid enough to get hurt breaking up a fight between two people less than half my height.

"You tend to have a lot of those."  He carried the squirming Georges a ways away from the street, then let him run the same way that Christianna had.

I shoved my hands in my pockets.  "Are you implying something?"

He laughed and walked back to lean on the car next to me.  "No.  Just concerned.  This is a lot of pretty big changes."

"I can handle it."

For a second I was afraid he'd argue—and win, I always lost arguments with Matteo—but then he just reached into his pocket and took out a handkerchief.  He handed it to me.  "Kids don't mind blood, but adults generally do."

Ugh, my lip must have split again, thanks to the freezing wind.  Perfect.  "If anyone asks, I just spent too much time outside, okay?"  My dad wouldn't buy that, but he'd either be able to tell it wasn't a big deal or he'd just plain figure it out to the last detail.

Matteo chuckled.  "Don't get your shorts in a bunch."  The kids were all working on a snowman now, with Christianna bossing Faron into staying interested and not destroying anything.

I ignored him and just stuffed my hands back in my pockets without giving him back his now-blood-streaked handkerchief.  If I kept on ignoring him, then I probably wouldn't trap myself into saying something stupid or embarrassing.  You know, the kinds of things that one always says among people older and cooler than one's self.  Instead, I watched the kids playing.

Once, Lucas had told me that I was a 'weather' person.  That apparently meant that I got excited about just about every change in the weather.  Which was true.  I loved rain, the way it changed the colors of the entire world, and how strong wind made everything fly.  But snow was my favorite.  In our slice of Québec, snow was nothing like a rare occurrence, but that didn't make it any less awesome.  It lent the environment a sense of unity.  Everything was blanketed in wet and cold, and brighter than a truth you want to ignore.

The kids were close to finishing their snowman now, it just needed a less flat head.  Or maybe it was flat on purpose.  Either way, it reminded me of Flattop, one of the villains from Dick Tracy.  I wondered if the twins had seen that movie…  I knew Christianna hadn't, and it was a safe bet that Georges hadn't either.  It looked like they were arguing about something, but it wasn't loud enough for me to hear specifics.

"I have to say, if you survive the week, that'll be the most reliable sign that this is a good arrangement."

I looked over at Matteo, frowning in confusion.  "Why wouldn't I survive?"

"Figure of speech, kiddo."  He opened the front door and gestured.  "Sit down, you're making my leg hurt."

Biting back a protest, I did as he said, also letting him take the crutches.  "I guess I'll have to figuratively survive then.  This is the only 'arrangement' we've got, so it has to be a good one."

Matteo tapped one of the crutches against the snow-covered sidewalk.  "Point taken.  You'll be fine, with an attitude like that.  How's the rest of your little family dealing?"

Even a slight sideways smile made my lip hurt, but I was used to it by now.  "Not so little now.  Dad's probably going to come home with white hair or none at all, though.  He didn't seem too happy about leaving us by ourselves."

To my surprise, Matteo sighed instead of laughing.  Then he tilted his head down so I could see him better, and grinned.  "You said 'us'.  That's good."

I stared at his stupid grin for a minute, then said, "Are you studying psychology again?"

"Ha ha.  Yes, actually."  He went back to the rhythmic tapping of crutch on snowy sidewalk.  "Although I've been hitting the books a bit more literally than I should."

I believed it.  I'd seen Matteo study—he could pitch a three kilo textbook a metre and a half.  "Got any tips for me?"

He shrugged, not a good sign.  It either meant 'no' or 'you have to find out for yourself'.  Most likely the latter.  "Hard to say.  Do you have a particular worry?"

That was a better answer than I'd been hoping for, even if it wasn't a magic know-it-all solution to Life.  "A few.  The biggest one though…"  I took a deep breath and let it out too quickly.  "Lee doesn't talk."

"Maybe he's just shy."

"I don't think so."  I checked on the kids for the umpteenth time; Faron and Christianna weren't arguing anymore, and judging by the way Christianna was sulking, Faron had won.  Lee was making footprints with Georges.  "He doesn't hide from me or anything like that, and he laughs, so he can't be mute.  Right?"

"It could be elective mutism, but I doubt it's a physical condition."  Matteo drummed his fingers on the car.  "As long as he still makes an effort to communicate, you probably shouldn't worry.  Although if I were you or your dad, I'd get them into therapy."

All of the Bernoullis were avid believers in therapy.  It would have been funny if I wasn't so suspicious that they were right most of the time.  "Speaking of my dad…  He'll be home soon—he called and said he was taking off early."

"Does that mean all visitors have to clear out?"  Some people could pull of a raised eyebrow and not look comical.  Matteo always reminded me of a tall Jack Black when he did it.

I shook my head, chuckling inwardly at the stupid face he was making.  "No.  I was just warning you that he may try and con you into making dinner."  Dad loved the Bernoullis' collective cooking skills even more than I did.  He was also 100 percent aware of how much they made fun of his lack in that area.  That had gotten us a lot of pity meals.  The only condition was that it always had to be from stuff we had in our kitchen.

"About that…"  Christianna threw a snowball and hit Georges in the back of the head, subsequently knocking him down.  He pushed his head out of the snow and started bawling immediately.  "Just a sec."

My crutches clattered to the sidewalk, sending up more snow than noise as Matteo ran off to take care of Georges.  I knew he'd be fine, Georges was kind of a crybaby even for a two-year-old.  Mostly I was just glad that it hadn't been Lee or Faron who'd thrown the snowball.  This was not an attractive thought process, so I hid it in the back of my mind.

Then I got up, closed the car door, and picked up my crutches.  Matteo was kneeling in front of Christianna and giving her a good old-fashioned telling off while Georges clung to him and sniffled.  The whole incident seemed to have put everyone off the idea of playtime, because Faron and Lee were both huddling together to one side, watching as solemn as anything.

It could have also had something to do with the fact that Matteo was scolding Christianna in French.  As far as I knew, the only word Faron knew in French was anthropomorphe, and it didn't seem likely that it would show up in a lecture.  I went to stand with them, maybe explain a little.  It would be so weird to translate, but if I really had to, then I would.  I was not used to people around me not understanding other people around me, and I didn't like it.

"That's French, right?"

I nodded.  "You really don't know any?  Not even 'bonjour'?"

He shrugged, and Lee shook his head.  Then Faron started brushing snow off of his front.  "I'm cold.  I wanna go back inside."

It was perfectly understandable, I knew I was freezing.  "You can if you want.  Kick the snow off your boots and put everything in the closet by the door, okay?  I have to talk to Matteo about something, then I'll go in too."  Then I realized that there hadn't been any introductions whatsoever.  That was weirder than the language thing.  "Um, Matteo is the big brother over there."

"Oh."  Faron walked up onto the first step leading to the porch and started scraping the snow off of his boots, Lee did the same a moment behind him.  "I thought he was their dad."

"You'll get to meet their dad sometime, they're good friends of ours."  Lee was leaning a little too far to one side, so I reached out to help balance him.  "A lot like family, except we're not technically related."

"Do they always talk French?"

I was half-afraid to answer that, because the answer was actually 'yes'.  But Faron had asked, and was waiting expectantly.  I looked back at Matteo, who was walking over.  "Yeah, but they'll all speak English if you ask them to.  Christianna did, right?"

"The baby didn't though."

I had to laugh.  "That's because he doesn't know much English or French yet."

"No problems here?"  Matteo had both Christianna and Georges hanging from his arms, although Georges looked happier about it than his sister did.  Thankfully, Matteo must have overheard, because he was speaking English.  He had a slight accent, I'd never noticed it before.  Probably because I couldn't remember the last time I'd heard him speak English.  It wasn't like we hung out all that often.

Faron waved, then backed up to the door with Lee behind him.  They both disappeared into the house with a speed I wasn't altogether comfortable with.  Apparently they were both shy.  I wondered why they weren't like that with me.  "Sorry about that," I said, still looking at the door.  "I guess they really are shy."

"Eh, that'll change."  Matteo let Christianna down.

As soon as her feet touched the ground, she yanked herself free and ran up to hug my waist.  "I like your brothers.  You got better ones than me."

The lump in my throat shocked me, but I was pretty sure that not even Matteo could tell it was there.  Outwardly, I grinned and patted Christianna's pigtailed head.  "Maybe not better, but yeah.  My little brothers are pretty awesome."

So.  WEIRD.

Even after she'd let go of me and settled for hanging on my arm, I couldn't stop Christianna's words from reverberating in my head.  Or my own words either.  I barely heard when Matteo told me that his mom had invited all of us to have dinner at their house tonight.  I did hear him say goodbye, though.

If he called me 'choupinet' one more time, I was going to take advantage of my crutches and give him some hard-to-explain bruises in lots of very uncomfortable places.  No one would blame me either, I was injured, and so could get away with just about anything.

~

The twins must have been almost as tired as I was, because I went in the house and trudged upstairs to look for them, they were both asleep on the floor in their room.  Probably still jet-lagged.  I picked up Faron first, because he was closer to the bunk bed, but then I couldn't decide what I should do with Lee.  Getting him onto the top bunk would have been difficult even under normal circumstances, but it would be virtually impossible now.

Still not sure what the best course of action was, I settled for the only one I could come up with.  I tugged a blanket and a pillow off of the top bunk and did my best to make Lee comfortable on the floor.  Then I curled up next to him and tried not to steal the blanket.

It didn't feel like much time had passed when Dad shook my shoulder and woke me up.  It had to have been at least a few hours, though.  I sat up and repressed a yawn.  "What time is it?"

"Half past 18:00."  He stood up, then held out a hand to me.  "I got home a while ago, but you all looked so peaceful, I didn't want to wake you."

The yawn defeated me and escaped, making my eyes squint nearly shut while I tried to look around the room.  Lee was still on the floor next to me, curled up on his side.  Belatedly, I realized that my dad was waiting for me to take his hand and join him in the world of the wakeful standing.  I was a little wobbly.  "The Bernoullis' invited us to dinner…"

"I know.  Lucie called me."

I yawned again and wondered inattentively whether I would ever be old enough to be that comfortable referring to Mrs. Bernoulli by her first name.  "When are we going?"

Dad handed me my crutches, then let go of the hand he'd been hanging onto to keep me upright.  "As soon as you're all awake and ready to leave."

That would probably be less simple than it sounded.  I was still mostly in la-la land, and Lee hadn't moved, not even to take the half of the blanket I'd given up.  Faron was tossing and turning, but it looked like the normal type that went with fidgety sleepers.  Good thing I hadn't made them share the bottom bunk, Lee would have ended up back on the floor.

While Dad went about waking Faron with the same soft voice he'd been using, I leaned my crutches on the bureau and sat back on the floor.  Lee yawned, then squirmed close enough to put his head on my knee.  For a second, I was afraid to wake him up.  It could be disorienting waking up on the floor anywhere, but in a strange place that he'd only been in for a day and a half?  I brushed his hair out of his face, then braced myself and patted his back gingerly.

"Hey.  It's time to get up, okay?"

He grumbled, and pressed his head harder into my leg.  I looked up to see how Dad was doing.  He'd gotten Faron into a sitting position, but it didn't look like his eyes were open.  I chuckled quietly, then patted Lee's back again.

This time he let out a very sniffly noise that was almost like a sigh, but had a closer resemblance to a canine sneeze.  It was really hard not to laugh.  "Up and at 'em, Lee."

Sadly, he didn't make that funny noise again.  Instead, he sat up and crawled into my lap.  My heart tugged itself into a corner to feel guilty, but I just hugged my small cousin-brother and rocked him a little.  It was going to be a headache and a half getting them to go to bed later tonight, but we were all still getting used to everything.

Dad had helped Faron push himself out of bed, and now they were both working on getting shoes on and tied.  I dubbed myself the family sucker, and groped around the floor for a pair of Lee's shoes.  He simply continued to snooze in my arms, drooling just enough to let me know I'd have to change shirts before we left the house.

While I was carefully jamming his feet into his shoes, he seemed to be waking up.  He moved his head and stopped drooling, then snapped his eyes open and rubbed his eyes frantically.

"Hey there…"  I didn't pause as I finished tying his second shoe.  "We're going to visit some friends for dinner, okay?"

My heart skipped into my throat and nearly shot across the room as he leaned back against my chest and whispered, "Okay."  I was such a dorky sap, I really almost cried.

Dad must have noticed, because he sent me an understanding look of pure kinship.  I forced myself to breathe normally and pretended it was perfectly normal.

What was normal anymore anyway?  The only light in the room came from a frog lamp on top of the bureau, the regular yellowish kind that all kids' lamps issued forth, but with a green tinge that must have come from the lampshade.  The suitcases had been unpacked, probably by Dad, and were stacked carefully in the open closet.  Faron was almost completely awake and was excitedly telling Dad about the snowman and how Christianna had gotten in trouble for hitting Georges.  And Lee was just resting against me, limp as a rag doll, but so much more solid.

Then Dad got up and turned on the light in the ceiling fan and the frog's homey greenish yellow light was drowned out.  "All right, you three.  Are you hungry?"

"Yes!"  Now so thoroughly awake that one might not believe he'd ever been drowsy, Faron hopped from one foot to the other.

Either Lee was still tired, or he didn't find it as exciting a situation as his brother did.  He just nodded and leaned his head back to look up at me.  After a second, he tapped my knee and whispered, even softer than before, "I can see up your nose."

I laughed, a little more than was really justified.  "I bet.  You and Faron should help Dad get ready, I have to get my shoes on."  And change shirts.  I couldn't say that, though.

Apparently two short sentences was the limit on how much I got to hear Lee say in one day, because he tapped my knee one more time, then crawled to his feet.  I was just glad he'd talked to me at all, Matteo had freaked me out talking about therapy and something-mutism.

Back in my room, I turned the light on and drew the shades, not necessarily in that order.  I wasn't naïve enough to say or even think that the twins were 'just fine', but they were as okay as anybody could expect.  And in my opinion, a therapist just now would do more harm than healing.  I thought of the woman that Faron had seemed to enjoy bringing up.  They didn't need more strangers with good intentions, they needed family.

Even though before all of this, we may as well have been total strangers as far as anyone was concerned.  I winced at my own thought and tugged my drooled-on shirt up and over my head.

My arms got caught in the clean shirt as I tried to get everything through the right holes, and at one point, I just sat on my bed and fumed.  It was a good thing I'd locked my door, the last thing I needed was for my dad to walk in and find me trapped in my own clothes.  With a few grunts of effort and the aide of frustration-born adrenaline, I finally got the shirt on the way its manufacturer's had intended.  Getting dressed was not supposed to be an extreme sport.

If that was any indication, I was still only partially awake.  I slapped my cheeks and unwound the Ace bandage so I could replace it with one that didn't smell awful.  I couldn't seem to wrap it tightly enough to still be able to fit it in my shoe, so I got a pair of hand-me-down shoes my dad had given me a while back.  They still didn't fit me, but one on my thickly-wrapped foot was all I needed.

Everyone was waiting for me downstairs.  They even had their coats on, and Faron looked pretty impatient.  I put on an apologetic expression, then yanked a coat out of the closet so we could just get out the door already.

Luckily, the coat I grabbed was not my hoser jacket.  Dad really did hate that thing, and I didn't want to risk a dumb argument.  When we got to the car, Faron surprised me by offering to take the backseat with me and let me rest my foot in his lap.  Judging from the way he glanced at Lee, I had to suspect that there was a deeper purpose, albeit not a sinister one.

After we'd all piled in, Faron tap-danced his fingers on my knee and explained without my even asking.  "Lee has to get the front seat a lot, 'cause he gets sick in the car.  Especially when he's nervous."

Dad reached over and put a paternal hand on Lee's shoulder.  "Are you nervous about meeting new people, or is it something else?"

I dug my fingernails into the seat, not sure if Lee would answer vocally, and really hoping he would.  After a few agonizing seconds, he said, "I'm okay.  Dschimi said they speak English."

The language thing must have been preying on his mind even more than mine.  The sooner we got them a tutor or something, the better.

When Dad pulled into the spot in the Bernoullis's driveway that practically had his name on it, I was beginning to get anxious.  Everything was great when it was just the three of us, or even the four of us, but that was kind of how I remembered things being when Mom had died.  At first, it had all been okay, it was just Dad and me.  Then Lucas and I had ended up having our first nasty fight.

At the other end of the backseat, Faron was humming something erratic, grinning quite contentedly while he waited for Dad to turn off the child safety locks or just open the door.  I half-smiled at him and quashed my anxiety.  For the moment.

Christianna was waiting outside, not dressed for the snow or even regular night air.  Mentally I counted down from three, and then repressed a smug look when Cecil rushed out of the house and scooped her up.  Matteo must have told them about the language thing already, which did a lot to make my entire family relax, even Dad.

We were greeted by a symphony of smells drifting from the kitchen through the rest of the house.  The living room and entranceway were in the process of being decorated for Christmas, but the job was obviously only half done.  Sandra was on a stepladder, putting up strings of teeny white lights while Lucas did the other half of the job from the ground.

Dad made all the pertinent introductions for this room, everyone waved and made nice with or at the twins, but then Mrs. Bernoulli came in and ushered them into the kitchen.   "I need to find out my new boys' favorite foods," she said.  Faron followed her like a very happy blur of color, with Lee in slightly less eager tow.

I stayed behind to talk to Lucas.  If I could take the dopey grin on his face as a sign of anything, then I would say that his visit with Karen had gone well.  I waved and lumbered over, watching the chaos on the floor out of the corner of my eye.  Tripping was understandable so no one would laugh, but I wasn't about to carelessly get my crutches tangled in Christmas lights.  "I take it she accepted your apology?"

His smile widened to a degree I would have thought impossible.  "No.  Yes.  Well, kind of.  It's weird."

I blinked at him.  "You're weird.  What happened?"

Sandra poked his shoulder with her foot, and he resumed his duty as her second-in-command of stringy Christmas lights.  It didn't do anything to change his expression, though.  "When I went to her house, she looked kind of embarrassed, and when I apologized, she… um…"

"What?"  The kitchen door opened and Lee came up to me and latched himself to my good leg, which actually did a bit to help keep me upright.  I tightened my grip on the crutches anyway, just in case.  He didn't seem in a talking mood, so I didn't push for anything.  He wasn't bothering me, and if it made him feel better, than okay.

"She started… crying."

I couldn't help it, I let out a weird coughing noise that was somewhere in between a scoff of disbelief and a shocked squeak.  Lee jumped, but didn't let go of me.  Guilty and feeling more than a little stupid, I performed some minute arm acrobatics so I could pat his back.  Soon, I was going to have to try to get him to go play with the other younger kids.  "You made her cry?"

"No!"  Lucas was used to kids hanging on people he was talking to, he didn't bat an eye at Lee.  "She felt bad about avoiding me.  I apologized, she apologized, then we just kind of…"

"Burst out laughing?"  I would have.  I wanted to now, it was so absurd.

"Pretty much."

Oh good.  If he'd made it clear that I couldn't laugh, it would have been that much harder not to.  "And your romantic gesture?"

Lucas actually blushed, and I guessed that meant something privately wonderful had happened.  A guy can't tell everything, especially with his sister chuckling next to him and nudging him occasionally with her stockinged foot.  I joined her—minus the foot-nudging, of course—then sent him a look that promised I'd bug him for details later.  Lee's grip was starting to get uncomfortably tight, so I did my best to drag him over to a sofa.

He shuffled along with me, slowly, but not exactly reluctantly.  When I leaned the crutches against the wall and tried to sit down, he let go scrambled onto the sofa so he could burrow into my side.  "What's the matter?" I asked, feeling completely out of my element.

The dining room and the living room weren't separated by a wall and a door, which resulted in a huge room.  There were people all around us; in addition to Sandra and Lucas still warring with the lights, Cecil was playing some kind of personal jazz while Matteo set the table and snuck sips of wine whenever he thought no one was looking.

Lee didn't even whisper an answer.  He just hung on to me and looked miserable.  It was an awful, mean thought, but I was embarrassed.  I also felt like a jerk for not insisting that we turn down the invitation.  But…  We'd never turned down dinner at the Bernoullis' house.  Not even that one summer when I was eight, and I'd put purple dye in the laundry.  Missing a Bernoulli dinner was worse than punishment, even in my dad's eyes.

Speaking of Dad…  He popped his head and upper half out through the swinging doors that separated the kitchen and the dining room.  When he caught sight of Lee in my lap, his brow furrowed and he walked over to join us.

He didn't ask anything pointless, like 'is everything okay?', but he did sit down on the closest section of sofa.  "Maybe I should take him home…"

I wanted to agree, but part of me was mumbling dissent in my head.  Home wouldn't be much better, and with the way Lee was clinging to me, I would have to go too.  That meant all of us would have to go.  The Bernoullis would understand, but they'd feel bad, I knew.  "No, let me talk to him.  Maybe…"

I stood up and tested my ankle.  It felt stiff, but putting my weight on it didn't make me howl in pain or anything.  I noticed my dad watching me with hawk-rivalling focus, and without meaning to, I thought about last summer.  That wasn't remotely relevant, so I just smiled and went about peeling Lee off.

He wasn't crying, or even sniffling which was a good sign and prevented me from collapsing into a bundle of remorseful nerves.  Everyone else in the room was politely going on with life and not even staring, but I couldn't help wondering if they had just expected this kind of thing to happen.

Lee tugged on the bottom of my shirt.  When I knelt down to his eye level, he cupped his hands around his mouth and reached for my ear.  "Can I go home?" he whispered, so softly that I could barely hear him over the noise level around us.  My heart cracked inside my chest, I could feel it, and then it oozed into my shoes, finding a place to hide in the bigger one.

"We just got here," I whispered back, opting against a normal volume.  "And everybody really wants to make you and Faron welcome."

He gave me a dubious look, but when I glanced back at Dad, he was smiling encouragingly.  It seemed to me that Dad was the one who should have been talking Lee into being at least somewhat social, but I had an inkling that Lee was more likely to listen to me.  It made me a little uneasy.

I kept trying though.  Someone had to, and if I was someone, then…  "You know what?  There's a lot of fun stuff to do in the den.  Books and games and things."  I was floundering and I just knew I sounded like an idiot on a badly written preschool cartoon, but no one was stepping in to save me.  "Why don't we grab Faron and Christianna, and find something fun to do?"  Gah, rescue me from my own lameness.

Amazingly, nobody laughed at me.  I knew that Sandra was listening and paying attention, I could see her in the mirror that spread out all over the wall in front of me.  Lucas was probably listening as well—he'd make fun of me later, I knew.  I would.  But Lee actually seemed to be taking my offer into consideration.

Then Christianna and Faron ran in from the kitchen and did exactly what I had tried to do, but with more flair and less stopping to hear what Lee thought about their plan.  Apparently that was the way to go, because they were off and laughing while I was just sort of standing there and attempting to make something make sense.

Dad made me sit back down on the couch and handed me a glass of something that I hadn't realized he'd been holding.  It was probably some of the same wine that Matteo was still sneaking, but most likely watered down.  Dad tended to do that when it was for me, I had close to zero alcohol tolerance.  I didn't drink it yet though.  I was still thinking too hard.

"Nice try."

I shrugged.  "It didn't work."

"That's not what really matters now," he said, smiling in a way that made me wonder if he was enjoying some sort of private joke at my expense.

"Then what does matter?"

"Lee opens up to you.  That's a big deal, Dschimi."

He was right, I knew he was right.  Worse, he knew that I knew.  I gulped down the contents of the glass and just listened to the different conversations drifting around the room, mentally leaning against the backdrop of whatever song Cecil was coaxing out of the piano.
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I checked. There is a McDonald's very close to Rosemére. :D

I've only got like... 588 words after this. ^^;
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:iconnaturesglory:
NaturesGlory Featured By Owner Aug 31, 2007
Nicely handled. We are learning more and more every word about Faron and Lee and even Dschimi. Everything is developing smoothly...maybe too smoothly?
So what is going to pounce on us, hmm? :sherlock:
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:iconkid-apocalypse:
Kid-Apocalypse Featured By Owner Sep 1, 2007
Maybe. I'm often bad at conflict, it's my bad sense of balance.

You'll see~
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:iconnaturesglory:
NaturesGlory Featured By Owner Sep 1, 2007
I'm on alert now. WHat're you gonna' do to us? You're gonna' make as really sad aren't you? Aren't you?? :sherlock:
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:iconkid-apocalypse:
Kid-Apocalypse Featured By Owner Sep 1, 2007
Might...that happens too. ^^;
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:iconnaturesglory:
NaturesGlory Featured By Owner Sep 1, 2007
Err, didn't mean it like that, and you know it! ^^;
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:iconkid-apocalypse:
Kid-Apocalypse Featured By Owner Sep 3, 2007
I think I missed the confusion...
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:iconnaturesglory:
NaturesGlory Featured By Owner Sep 3, 2007
Wait, what? ^^;
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:iconhagge:
Hagge Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2007  Professional General Artist
Poignant...nicely handled...Lee's talking, but I felt Dschimi could evoke that from him eventually, he's just that capable inspite of his feelings of inadequacy...I like that.
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:iconkid-apocalypse:
Kid-Apocalypse Featured By Owner Aug 2, 2007
Thank you. :) You don't think that I played it down too much or put it into too soft/unexcitable a scene? (Lee's speaking, I mean)
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:iconhagge:
Hagge Featured By Owner Aug 3, 2007  Professional General Artist
No, I don't think so...it's likely more true to form to have him speak quietly for a long time. It kind of lends the feeling of something building up, like in building up towards. It'd be in keeping with his shy character...:thumbsup:
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