The Doctor could feel eyes on him. He tried to ignore it, but the temptation to meet the stare was too strong. He raised his eyes from his book and caught the culprit in the act.
Janie quickly averted her eyes and a flush rose in her cheeks. She adjusted her legs in the rocker and poured herself back into her own book. When the Doctor turned his focus back to his reading material, Janie cast a sneaky glance his way and smiled.
The front door swung open, and Sophia leaned around the screen. "Hey, Doctor!"
He looked over at the ginger girl and grinned. "Yes? That's me."
"Some of us are gonna play Twister. You wanna give it a try?"
The girl struggled for a way to describe the game. "Remember last week when Mimi was hanging laundry on you before taking it to the line?"
"I don't like where this is going. I don't want to play a laundry game. I don't like chores. Making laundry into a game is trickery. I'll have no part of it," he announced, leaving no room for compromise.
Sophia laughed and tried to smooth over his anxiety. "No, silly. It's a like a board game for your body. You have to twist and turn your arms and legs…you'll just have to see it. Are you in?"
"Nah. I think it would be poor judgment to let these wobbly things loose on innocent children," he replied with a smile, flailing his arms around his head.
"Okay. Suit yourself." The screen door slammed on the girl's yelling down the hall.
Janie had watched the scene with curiosity, and the Doctor gave her a small smile before he went back to his reading. The brisk wind moved the swing back and forth randomly, and the squeaking noise was rather distracting. His reading partner would cut her eyes to him occasionally as if he were causing the irritation himself. The Doctor dropped the book below eye level and returned her glare. "Well, if I wasn't in it, it would be all over the place…making it worse. I'm doing you a favor, really…"
She rolled her eyes and looked away from him once more. The Doctor raised the book to cover his face and smiled a beaming grin that spread from ear-to-ear.
There was a rustling in the leaves from behind him, and he swung himself backwards in order to peek around over his shoulder. He couldn't see who was coming, but they were making quite a production of it. A burst of laughter caused both he and Janie to be startled, despite foreknowledge that the crowd was descending upon them.
"There you are! We've been looking all over for you – "
"I appreciate the offer, ladies, but I'm staying put. There happens to be a swing versus wind situation that could get out of control."
The girls all laughed in an off-putting creepy harmony. Melody spoke up for the group. "Not you, lanky man. Jane."
"Sure! We are going to O'Malley's to get some candy. Mimi's got your allowance inside. Go get it and come with us," she pleaded. Since the night of the tree decorating, Janie was more likely to participate with encouragement from Melody.
"I can't. I'm reading with the Doctor."
"Oh, go on with you. Besides, I'm freezing out here. We can pick it up again tomorrow," the Doctor said, shutting his book and standing from the swing. He stretched out his limbs under false pretenses and made a noise that usually accompanied such elderly doings.
Melody jumped from foot to foot to keep the blood pumping in the cold wind. "See, you can read tomorrow. Pretty sure he's not going anywhere."
"Hey…I might. I'm just waiting on my ride." His argument lacked conviction, and the girls had yet to buy that excuse. Gus had informed him that the word around the girldom was that he was marrying Mimi and moving in after the state swept the house clean of children.
Marianne broke away from the group and began walking down the driveway. "Same story, Doctor…different day. If you're coming Janie, hop to it. It will be dark before long. Mimi will turn twelve shades of red if we aren't back by 5. I'll lend you some money until you get yours from Mimi."
Janie stood from the rocker and held her book out to him. "Could you please take this in for me?" She hopped down the porch steps and fell in line with the rest of the girls. The Doctor would even have sworn that he saw a smile creep across the girl's face.
Inside the foyer he dropped his coat on a hook and searched the house for River. He could hear giggling and shouting being unsuccessfully contained in an upstairs bedroom. Noticing the time of day on the clock in the hall, he followed his gut and went into the kitchen. Standing over the sink and muttering harshly was the woman with whom he had become accustomed to playing house over the last couple of weeks.
He snuck quietly across the room, his insides giddy from the excitement of knowing she was so close. It was a feeling that he thought would have certainly passed after two weeks, but it seemed to flourish instead. He didn't know quite what to think about it, actually.
River had set him up in the attic bedroom, and he had to admit that it was cozy enough. But he spent most of the night lying in bed convincing himself to stay in the attic and not seek her out. He reasoned that it wouldn't be at all appropriate in any room of the house while the children were there…but…it would make more sense for River to come to him. Which she hadn't. Therefore, he spent his time bemoaning how much he liked her, dreading having to leave her, and fighting the instinct to love her.
There was something about her in a pair of jeans that caused him to mentally come unglued.
"Thank you, Sweetie…"
"Oh, damn. Did I say that out loud?"
"You swore out loud, too."
The Doctor spun around on a heel to meet to disapproving gaze of the potty mouth police. "Look, there you are. Sitting in that chair. You won't tell…" The Doctor pointed up and whispered, "…you-know-who, will you?"
Gus beckoned him with a finger, and the Doctor leaned forward for the child to speak quietly in his ear – or so he thought. In a voice that was perfect for playground banter, Gus said, "He already heard you, Doctor. I can't help you."
The Doctor rose from his kneeling position and vigorously rubbed his ear to soothe the ringing. He thumped the child softly on the nose and walked to the far side of the kitchen. Leaning against the counter near River, he offered his help. Learning from several kitchen mishaps that had occurred during his prolonged stay, River demanded that he step as far away from the food as possible.
"In fact, go sit at the table and color with Gus."
The Doctor moped to the table and plopped into the chair like a chastised child. Gus looked up at him with compassion and slid him some drawing paper.
"Here you go. I know you like to start with the blue one," he said with his best empathizing face.
"Thanks, tiny person."
"You're welcome, Doctor person."
The Doctor crooked his neck to look at Gus' drawings. "That's quite magnificent. I don't think the TARDIS has ever looked so bright and shiny."
Gus held it up for further scrutiny. "Do you really think so?"
"Oh, absolutely. And did you know," he leaned over and said in a hushed tone, "that Mimi can fly her almost as well as I can?"
Gus' mouth gaped open in shock, and his eyes were glued to the back of River. The Doctor sat back in chair, terrified that he spilled some explosive beans and a bit smug that suddenly River was in a tight spot.
"You two have certainly have gotten quiet over…" River turned around to see a gloating Doctor and an astonished boy, both watching her with glee. "What?"
"Mimi!" He leapt to his feet and looked as if he would burst.
"What did you do? Gus, what did he tell you?"
The little boy immediately wiped the amazement from his face and settled back into his chair. "Nothing."
"What was that look for?" She had crossed her arms over her chest and leaned back against the sink.
Gus calmly gathered up his papers and crayons and walked over to River. He pulled her arm so that she would lean down for a secret. The little boy gave her quick peck on the cheek and turned to hurry from the room, yelling as he went, "Spoilers!"
"What did you say to him?"
"Hey, you heard the kid…I am bound by the scared laws of the spoiler." He waved his hand to clear the matter from conversation.
"I hate you."
The Doctor rose from the chair and sauntered over to River. "Is that so?"
She held her arm out to yield him. "Yes. Yes, it is. Stop right there." She reached behind her and quickly grabbed the nearest weapon. "I'm warning you...I will beat you senseless with this…chicken leg…"
"Really? A chicken leg?" He grabbed her wrist and wrapped her arm and foodstuff behind her back. "Is that the best you can do?"
She tried to wiggle away from him and only succeeded in creating more friction between their bodies. "I was going for the knife." She put her other hand on his chest to hold him as much at bay as possible.
"Well, aren't I a lucky boy, then?" He slid his hand just inside the waistband of her jeans at her lower back, touching nothing and everything at once.
River leaned in and left a lingering kiss at the base of his neck, catching him off guard. While he fought for control of his senses, she ducked quickly and broke away from his grip. "Lucky and a bit easy, Sweetie."
"Who hates who, now?" He asked with a pout and sulked back over to the table.
"Take a number and get in line behind everybody else who has taken issue with me, honey." River turned her attention back to dinner and wrestled with how to best explain her plans for the next day. "I will be gone for most of the day tomorrow, so you'll have the house to yourself. Try not to burn it down."
"Oh? I'd rather be wherever you are, honestly. I have enough time to myself," he said nonchalantly as he continued doodling.
"I have to take Gus into the city for his checkup, and it will take quite some time. You have a tendency to make life a bit more complicated than is necessary, and this is one thing that needs to go as smoothly as possible," River explained as gently as she could without having to give up the actual reason.
"River, I can be exposed to social situations without causing riptides and pandemonium. It has been known to happen," the Doctor stared at the back of her while she diligently worked over the sink.
She could hear the incredulity in his voice and struggled with an excuse that would pass muster. The delicate and tumultuous nature of their relationship had to exist within a fair amount of half-truths and smoke-and-mirror realities. She abhorred having to lie to him more than was required to keep time from collapsing.
"Amos is going with us."
He stood from the table. "Amos?"
"Going with you? And Gus? To his doctor's appointment?"
"Yes, in Philadelphia. What other clarifications do you need?"
"Amos? The unusually large man that once lived in your bathroom?" He crossed his arms over his chest and stood rigidly behind her.
River whirled around to face him, as strong in her stance as he was angry is his. "No. The Amos that helped raise the child and knows as much, if not more, about his condition than the other doctors. That Amos."
"Because he's the boy's father? Yeah? And he couldn't be bothered to raise him alone when his mother died? So he conveniently dropped him with you?" he spat, closing the space dividing them.
The skin of her hands stretched white over the knuckles and her nails dug into her palms. It would be so easy to lie and confirm his suspicions, and the words were on the tip of her tongue. Though she could just as easily confess the truth and rip his hearts from his chest. River had never had such a strong desire to intentionally hurt someone as she did in that moment. It was only the face of the little boy flashing across her synapses that reeled in her rage. She neither denied nor substantiated his claim, deciding instead to give him the smallest of glimpses into their lives.
"He's Gus' doctor, you ass. That's all I'm telling you, and you don't deserve to know that much." She stormed by him and was stopped as he grabbed her arm.
"What aren't you telling me, River?" He pushed the words through clenched teeth.
River snatched her arm away from him and followed with a slap across his face. The sound of the smack bounced off the walls of the kitchen. Putting her face close enough to his to nearly touch, she answered his question as honestly and pointedly as she could. "Everything."
She marched out of the kitchen before he could see the tears spill down her cheeks, and the Doctor fell into a chair at the table and dropped his head into his hands.