The morning passed fairly quickly for Martha. Rose took care of delivering the order and then from there, was going to Gardner's Market for the usual Thursday run. Gardner's was basically a large indoor farmer's market with various specialty shops for meats, spices, and what-not. It was impossible to stay focused when you were there, so Rose most likely wouldn't be back for a few more hours. Fortunately, Martha hadn't been managing the shop by herself-Calleigh was there, also. Calleigh was a very sweet, highly driven nineteen year old. She had started working at the shop a few months ago to help cover the cost of her tuition. Typically when there were no customers in need, she had her nose in at least three books. However, this morning, Martha noticed that there were two more books added to the pile, Calleigh's normally perfect ponytail was replaced with messy bun piled high on her head with stray locks falling every which way, and she had on her glasses instead of her usual contacts. Martha also noticed that Calleigh had just filled her fourth cup of coffee within the last two hours. The girl was obviously drowning in her studies, so Martha took pity on the poor creature and sent her home, assuring her that she had it covered. Calleigh looked like she didn't know whether to cry or hug her—so she did both. Hurriedly grabbing her things, she made her way out the door just as Rose and Martha's favorite regular came in. Except this time, Donna wasn't alone.
Donna locked eyes with Martha, and the two mirrored each other with bright smiles. Donna was obviously happy to be there; however, the tall, skinny one looked put out and was muttering something unintelligible. Donna apparently had been able to understand him because she yelled "Oi!" before jabbing him harshly in his ribs. Martha bit her lip to contain her laughter as the man glared at her, pouting and rubbing his injured side.
"It's about time, Donna. I was beginning to think ya wouldn't show. Who's this then?" she asked, nodding towards the unknown man, "He isn't the legendary Jack, is he?"
The man rolled his eyes at "legendary" and Donna snorted. "God, no! Trust me-Jack's the complete opposite of this one. This is John."
Martha's eyes opened wider with recollection. "Oh yeah, your brother! It's nice to meet you John. I'm Martha. What can I get for ya?"
She was pretty sure she heard him mutter "a shotgun," but before she could clarify, he quickly said, "Oh, I don't know. What do you recommend?"
"Depends," Martha shrugged. "Want something hot, cold, sweet, strong...?"
Tilting his head back as if in deep thought, John said, "Weelll...I don't know. I'm not sure coffee should really be cold. Kind of defeats the purpose, I suppose. But then you have to take into consideration the temperature outside as to whether you want to warm up or cool down. Also, I have to take into consideration the type of beans you use—if they are Arabica or Robusta. Both have a distinct flavor and then I have to choose which I'm in the mood for. But then you have non-coffee drinks and…oh tea! Tea is brilliant but then that adds so many more variables to-"
"Oh for the love of God," Donna cut in, "Just surprise him." Turning to look John in the eye, she said, "Why don't you go sit down in one of those big leather chairs? Relax that big gob of yours." As he sulked off to said chairs, Donna turned back to Martha. "Please tell me Blondie made those Red Velvet brownies! Y'know, the ones with that cream cheese swirl?"
Martha's mind was still reeling from John's rambling, but she raised her eyebrow at Donna's rare nickname for Rose. "Y'know she hates it when you call her Blondie, right?"
Donna smirked. "Oh, I only do it to rile her up. Plus, she-...wait, where is she? She's usually here by now."
"She made a run this mornin' and then went to Gardner's. She should be back soon...well, hopefully. But, I think she put some of those brownies aside this morning. Lemme check the back. You want your usual, too?"
Donna looked like she was bursting with excitement. "Not today. Rose told me to try some concoction you made up. It had some kind of car name…," she trailed off in thought.
Martha nodded her head in understanding, "Rolls-Royce? Yeah, give me a few minutes, 'kay?"
Smiling, Donna went over to join her brother and Martha went into the kitchen. As she entered, she saw the fridge door open. Walking over, she found Tony rummaging around for goodies. Hearing her approach, he looked up at her, eyes wide as if she had caught him with his hand in the biscuit tin. It was much too early for him to be home from school.
Martha looked at him with cross confusion. "Tony, get outta there! What are you doing here now anyway? You should still be at school."
"But, I didn't go to sch-" Mickey came out of nowhere and cupped his hand over Tony's mouth, but it wasn't soon enough. Martha was livid with what she heard. She smacked Mickey on the arm, glaring at him.
"You didn't take 'im to school this morning?! Mickey, this is the third time you've let him stay home this month. We are not helping to raise a delinquent. He needs to be at school!" She slapped him again for good measure.
Mickey flinched as she hit him again, rubbing his tender arm. "Babe, calm down! It's not like he's gonna be boostin' cars now. Me and 'im just spent the day together. He wanted to help me work on the car. I was workin' on the engine today, so if you think about it, he was learning somethin'."
"Mickey, that's not the point and y'know it! We can't just give in every time his bottom lip quivers. Tony needs to...Tony? Where did he go?" Martha looked around the kitchen but didn't see him.
Mickey looked just as lost as she was. "I don't know."
"You weren't watching?!"
"No, I was too busy bickering with you!" he shot back.
They both popped their heads out the kitchen door and looked towards the front of the shop to see Tony in conversation with John.
John flopped down into the plush, worn leather chair. He fully intended to sit there and pout, but instead, he found himself studying the shop. The floors were hardwood and worn with age and character. Except for the large rug under him, there were no carpets. The large windows allowed the sun to freely stream in and highlight every unique feature. In addition to his own, there were three other leather chairs. The walls were brick and held various artwork, ranging from photos to paintings. There were also a few framed child drawings signed "Tony" on the wall beside him. The ceiling had what looked like brass panels. The entire far back wall was a bookcase, floor to ceiling, with a ladder leaning against it. A dark blue felt sofa faced the bookcase, looking like it was the most comfortable seat imaginable. The countertops were tiled and lined with assorted jars of biscotti, chocolate covered espresso beans, and even jelly babies. Various pastries and such were displayed in a rounded glass display. They looked mouthwateringly amazing. The menu on the wall looked hand written. Underneath it, there were two framed photos. One was of a middle-aged couple, the man with his arm around her shoulders as they stared lovingly at each other. The other was of Martha, a man and woman who looked about the same age, and a young boy with a mess of blond hair. His eyes were drawn to the blonde woman's smile. It lit up her entire face, even her eyes. He found it infectious even though it was merely a photo. John assumed the boy was her son considering he bore a striking resemblance to her. A feeling of disappointment crept over him as he thought about the possibility of the young woman being unavailable. What was THAT about? he wondered incredulously.
Donna was outside on her mobile yelling by the look of it, and therefore leaving him to his own devices. Sighing, John picked up a book that was lying on the coffee table in front of him and started reading. As he turned the page, his eyes involuntarily flickered upward and locked with two inquisitive brown eyes. He lowered the book and saw that the eyes belonged to a little boy who couldn't be more than eight. His eyebrows furrowed in concentration, trying to place where he had seen the boy.
The boy cocked his head and said, "Why are you makin' that face?"
"I'm thinking," John said as he put down the book and leaned forward to make a closer examination of the boy. Where have I seen him?
The little boy looked at him with a twinge of worry. "Be careful, you might break your brain."
John's eyes widened a little at that remark. "What?"
The boy looked at him with complete seriousness and said, "That's what Aunt Martha tells Uncle Mickey every time he says he's thinkin'. He doesn't seem to like it when she says it, either."
The picture—that's where I saw him! He broke out in a huge grin at the boy's statement. "Weelll, I don't think I have ever heard of someone breaking their brain. Although, there are times when under severe stress you can give yourself a nosebleed, but that's not due to anything being broken. But I wouldn't suggest you try that. It's very messy."
The boy giggled at his random rambling, then said, "I'm Tony. What's your name?"
"I'm John. Tony, eh? I take it then that these are your masterpieces?" he asked, motioning to the pictures on the wall beside him. Tony nodded his head enthusiastically. "They're quite good. I particularly like the one with the moons and rocket. I'm quite fond of outer space myself."
Tony smiled brilliantly at him. "That's Rose's favorite, too. I drew it after she took me to that place that puts stars and planets on the ceiling. It. Was. Awesome!"
John's smile grew wider at Tony's enthusiasm. Tony continued his space rant. "All of those planets and moons! I wish I had a spaceship. I'd travel to every planet and meet all kinds of aliens and strange animals!"
"With a big, curious mind like yours, I bet you love school." John's smile faltered as a gloom came over Tony's feature at the mention of school.
Tony looked down and kicked at his trainers. "'S alright, I guess."
John moved off the chair and onto the floor, getting closer to Tony's level. "Obviously not. What don't you like about it?"
"Trevor," he mummbled without looking up.
"And just who might this Trevor be?" John asked indignantly. He had only known this little boy for all of ten minutes, but he found himself becoming increasingly upset at the thought of him being picked on—which he was certain was happening.
Tony looked up at him with wide sad eyes. "He's…he's this boy in my class. He likes to call me names and makes jokes because I like doing science stuff...say's I'm a geek."
John straightened his posture. "Well, there's nothing wrong with being a geek. I'm called one frequently. In fact, there are lots of girls who like the geek-chic thing," he started but on seeing Tony's tongue stick out and face grimace at the mention of girls, he switched gears, "but obviously you are too young for that to be of any benefit to you…yes, I don't think I started caring about such things till I was at least ten, and you can't be more than…how old are you anyway?"
"Seven," Tony replied, standing up tall and proud.
"Seven," John nodded, "Good age. So you have at least three years till that becomes a concern. But in the meantime, let's discuss this Trevor. I think he deserves to be taught a lesson don't you?"
Tony shook his head. "Can't. I already asked if I could beat 'im up, and they all said no. Even Uncle Mickey!"
John laughed and shook his head. "No, no! I'm not suggesting you beat him up. Violence isn't the answer. You said you like experiments, yeah?" Tony shook his head yes. "Right. Then using that brilliant brain of yours Mr. Tony, we'll teach him a lesson. Tell me, Tony, do you happen to have a ketchup bottle?" With that, John laid out the master plan to him and wrote some instructions of a scrap piece of paper. Tony listened with undivided attention and amazement. John handed him the scrap piece of paper and Tony stuffed it in his pocket, and not a moment too soon, because just then Martha appeared with a couple of drinks and some pastries.
She sat them down on the coffee table and looked over at the boy. "Tony, you aren't botherin' John, are ya? I'm sorry the drinks took long so long. I was having an arg-…um, discussion…with my husband and my mind left me. I brought some extra pastries to hopefully make up for it."
Tony looked up at her, confusion written on his face. "I thought you and Uncle Mickey were fightin'."
John chuckled and Martha blushed at Tony's observation. "No, sweetie. We were just discussing something rather strongly."
John grinned at her explanation to little boy. "He was no bother at all! Quite the opposite actually. Tony and I were having a splendid time—a real bonding moment. Hopefully, we will get to do it again."
Martha eyed him, attempting to gauge his sincerity. "I'm glad he was no trouble. Well, I hope you enjoy the pastries. And YOU Mister," she said, looking sternly at Tony, "YOU get to tell Rose about skipping school today. Now, march!" Martha guided him by the shoulders towards the back.
"But Uncle Mickey let me!" Tony defended.
"I already yelled at Uncle Mickey. He faced the music, now it's your turn." The voices faded as they went into the back. John smiled again, something he realized he'd been doing a lot since he'd spoken with the little boy. He sat back into the chair and reached for his drink.
Donna finally came in from outside, and settled in the chair beside him. She picked up one of the pastries, making noises of delight as she bit into it. Looking at him, she asked with a hint of knowing, "You feel better?"
He didn't have to look at her to know that she had her "I told you so face on." Refusing to give her the satisfaction of looking at her, he took a sip from his drink and nonchalantly said, "Maybe."
Donna just took another bite and smiled.