Past Interlude #9
Mrs. Jaworski scrubbed Scott's face extra hard but he didn't say anything. Dad told her to get them cleaned and dressed up. Alex took to the scrubbing a lot worse; he didn't like anyone interrupting him from his Legos.
Curling his knees to his chest, Scott licked his finger and turned the page on his book. They were probably going to eat out. They always ate out when Dad was accidentally late. Always driving slowly, always taking the quietest routes to the restaurant no matter how much longer it took. Alex still cringed when he heard brakes screeching.
"Alex, dear, put the juice down for a minute so you don't spill it over your nice shirt." Their babysitter struggled to button Alex into his shirt. His little brother was a big wriggler.
"I like my old shirt," said Alex mulishly.
"It's a great shirt but your daddy wanted you to dress up. You're probably going to dinner in a nice restaurant! How would you like that?"
"I don't like nice restaurants!" Alex yelped. "I want hotdogs! With strawberry syrup! And peanut butter!" He giggled at his own joke.
"You don't want to eat that at the same time," said Mrs. Jaworski. "That'll give you a tummy ache."
"Mommy would let me eat it."
Scott could feel the discomfort oozing out of Mrs. Jaworski.
"Oh, honey." She tried to tuck Alex's hair back but the little boy backed away.
"I'm not your honey; I'm Mommy's honey! You're not my mommy so you can't call me honey!" He kicked his precious Lego castle over. "No one can call me honey except Mommy!"
"Okay." Mrs. Jaworski held both hands out, half kneeling so she could look Alex in the eye. "Okay. I'll never call you that name again. You're right. What should I call you instead?"
Meantime, Scott's ears picked up the sound of wheels on the driveway. He knew that engine. He folded the corner of the book's page, his heart beating raggedly in excitement. But it was Alex who voiced his hope.
"Daddy!" The little boy whooped and scrambled to the front door. "Daddy's home! Daddy's home! Daddy's home!"
Scott jumped off the couch and slid on fuzzy socks to the entrance. He could hear his father's deep murmur just through the door and it was all he could do not to jump up and down like a kangaroo on sugar just like Alex.
The door swung open and Chris Summers strode in, arms laden with plastic bags, teeth white and sparkling under his moustache. "How're my boys? Oh, pardon me, how is my boy and my yellow-haired monkey?" Alex had latched onto his leg like a leech.
Scott shifted on his feet. "I got an A in my math test," he said, not knowing why he wanted to duck when his dad ruffled his hair. "Long division."
"Of course you did," said Chris. "I didn't expect any less. How about you, monkey?"
"Ooo-oo-oo!" Alex grunted. He peered into the plastic bags. "Did you get me new Legos?"
"I got you something better," said Chris. "Scott, could you get this bag for me? No, just the one; the other's too heavy. Ah! Sofia, thanks so much for staying over while I was gone."
"Not at all," Mrs. Jaworski said. "They're fun to be around when they're not spilling Kool-Aid on the kitchen floor." She tweaked Alex's nose who, appeased by their father's return, could forgive anyone anything at the moment.
"Did you lick the floor clean again?" Chris asked Alex.
"That's my boy." Chris gave the rest of the bags to Mrs. Jaworski. "I'll be right back. I left my surprise in the car. Get into the living room, both of you, and no peeking."
"I bet it's a super triple duper big Lego set!" Alex babbled as he climbed on to the sofa. "A huge, huuuge, huuuuuuge box with a million hundred million ten hundred Legos!" He flopped back on the cushions with a sigh, dazedly contemplating what he'd do with his mountain of imaginary Legos. Scott pushed his legs aside to make room. He was still clutching his book, the tips of his fingers white with the pressure.
Mrs. Jaworski's heels clicked-clacked out to the driveway and the door opened again. Scott wanted to look at his dad's face, he really did, but all he saw was the hand his dad laid on top of another boy's head. He was scrawny with a scornful set to his mouth and a row of half-healed scratches on his arm. Bad enough he was glaring at them but did he have to glare with such weird eyes?
"Who's that?" Alex demanded.
"This is Remy." Scott had never seen his dad so uncomfortable. Chris rubbed the back of his neck. "Remember I told you I was going to New Orleans to pick up a surprise? Well, this is the surprise." He nudged Remy forward but the boy refused to budge. His hands clenched on his bag's strap much in the same way Scott's were around his book.
"I don't get it," said Scott.
"He says he's my dad," Remy said bluntly. His words tumbled out half-formed, like he was still sleeping while he was talking. "Pert 'near took my tongue off when I heard, me."
"Remy, I'll handle this, son."
Scott saw Remy cringe at the same time that he did and scowled at the coincidence.
Chris led the new boy into the living room, pushing him to the big armchair by the fireplace. He then turned to face Scott and Alex. The latter was frozen in the upside-down position he'd taken after bouncing around on the couch. Sighing deeply, he crouched in front of them.
"I know you boys miss Mom a lot," he began. "I miss her, too. But that's why I brought Remy. He's the new member of our family so there'll be four of us again just like it was before."
The explanation made absolutely no sense to Scott but he didn't want to say so.
"He's not Mommy," Alex said, finding his voice. "He's not Mommy!"
Chris closed his eyes. "I know that, Alex but--"
"He's not Mommy and you didn't bring Legos and I hate you!" Alex leapt off the couch and ran to his bedroom,
Massaging the bridge of his nose, Chris said, "Scott, you can handle this, right? You're my champ; come on, show Remy you've been raised right."
Scott's grip on his book was so tight the pages bit into his fingers. He'd find paper cuts later. But for now, he nodded and stiffly slid off the couch to where the boy-- Remy-- stood.
"I'm Scott," he said. He wanted to say more-- maybe something about sharing rooms or video games or favourite Saturday morning cartoons-- but the sides of his throat glued shut. He could barely even breathe properly. Forcing a gulp of air into his lungs, he opened his mouth but again, nothing came out.
The boy-- Remy, he had to remember his name!-- looked everywhere before meeting his eyes. One of his weird eyes had a bruise forming just under it. He leaned back and crossed his arms, his chin lifting imperiously. "Done staring?"
"Done posing?" Scott shot back as soon as he recovered from the shock.
Remy's eyes flickered to his book. "So you're the family nerd."
"Better than the family dog." Scott wrinkled his nose. "When was the last time you had a bath?"
"'Bout the same time you last got called to play ball."
Chris let his forehead fall on the sofa. Suddenly, this "reunion" was beginning to look like an explosively bad idea.