We went into the front room and sat without sayin’ much. When Mom came in ten minutes later with what she called not real food Pak quailed a little and Victor said somethin’ elfish under his breath. Aid just stared.
“Yeh’re kiddin’,” I said. Mom gave me a dark look.
“The leftovers can help fill out supper,” she said.
“The leftovers could probably be supper,” I replied. “We walked up from the river, Mom, we didn’t scale a mountain.”
“How did you do that in ten minutes?” Paka asked. “Maybe you could teach me.”
“I know one or two tricks,” Mom replied. “There was a time in my life when I cooked for two growing boys who’d show up without warning and be gone half an hour later. Here—don’t feel the need to eat it all just to please me. Charles is always tellin’ me I cook too much.”
Not by accident, though. It was Mom’s way a’ dealin’ with a situation like this. She made enough food that all awkward silences could be covered by eating.
She set the tray down on the table and for about five minutes we made good use a’ the food to cover the fact that we were all tryin’ to think a’ somethin’ to say. Not that we needed a reason to eat—Mom’s an excellent cook, and even if we’d all had pressing things to say we woulda put them on hold to taste her cooking. After a little while, Paka paused, and cleared her throat carefully, and said:
“I want to thank you for this—for your generosity to us. It must be a bit of a shock.”
“It was,” Dad replied, and I thought a’ all the fights we’d had. “Took some gettin’ used to, and I ain’t used to it yet, but I trust Tam.”
“I don’t mind,” Mom said suddenly. “It’s nice to have people over again—to have friends of Tam’s over again, since—” She stopped.
We never talked about Aris being dead, my parents and I didn’t. I mean, we talked about it a little when I told them what I’d been doing for the month I’d been gone, but beyond that, nothin’. We didn’t talk about the hole he left. For all that the GypCirc and the northside vamps had seen in our last month together, it was still my parents who knew him best, besides me, and who knew best what he’d meant to me. So we just didn’t talk. We woulda gotten around to it eventually, I think, ‘cept Aid got there first.
He guessed immediately what my Mom wasn’t sayin’ but didn’t bother with why she weren’t sayin’ it, and instead started talkin’ about Z in his own peculiar, irresistible way. Part a’ the time he talked like he was still alive, and it was only by one or two odd things he said that yeh woulda guessed Z’d been undead when he knew him. He talked about the crazy things we did as we might talk about tryin’ a new type a’ coffee or switchin’ newspapers, and he weren’t shy about cryin’ either. Nor could he stick to the topic, but wandered all over the place and eventually fetched up by sayin’, to my father no less:
“And then Tam left too, and he came back into the city, and I was afraid once he was here you wouldn’t let him leave again, so I was very, very happy when he came back, and only a little bit less surprised than I’d’ve been if Z had come back, too.”
Course growin’ up with the GypCirc he didn’t realize how insultin’ that was, and a’ course my parents picked up on that, but he actually meant it as a compliment and they missed that completely which is hardly surprising. Paka knew it was an insult but she couldn’t know that my parents realized it weren’t meant to be, and Victor knew it was an insult but he didn’t care. Weres tend to be the most bitter a’ the others cause they start out as humans and get the full brunt a’ human cruelty. I could see what everyone was thinkin’ and I couldn’t think a’ somethin’ to say that would ease everyone’s mind.
While I was tryin’ to think a’ somethin’ Dad said, “Yeh should never be surprised to see Tam go where he will. Lily and I haven’t had the directing a’ him since he was about fourteen, and we were hard put to keep any semblance a’ control even that long. Tam was always an independent boy.”
“He was right to stand by Aris,” Mom said, and then her voice broke and she had to stop for a minute. “We both think so,” she continued, when she’d swallowed her tears. “And he was right to stand by you.”
Then she did start cryin’, and Dad took her hand and Aid came round the table and crawled into her lap and hugged her. She put her arms round the boy and held him, and cried quietly. No one else could see it, but I knew she was cryin’ for him too. Once a mother, always a mother, I guess.
I took a deep breath, and said what had to be said.
Maybe, if I died and she could understand how important what I died for was, it wouldn’t break her heart.
“He ain’t runnin’ the black market, I don’t think, but he’s heavily involved. We’re going after him. I’m going after him. And we ain’t gettin’ the police involved. I can’t risk it, not with Sebas and the northsiders so involved.”
“Eastwick,” Dad repeated. “Yeh’re sure?”
“Oh, Tom,” Mom whispered. “Tom, yeh can’t. He’s a spark.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Well. Not by myself I couldn’t, although if I knew and I was alone I’d have to try, wouldn’t I? Knowin’ what he was doing.”
Mom shook her head, but Dad said, “Yes, yeh’d have to try.”