Jade would always look forward to her family reunions, even though they seemed to happen often and at the most haphazard of times.
She had a big family full of friendly, vivacious people and it always felt like it was growing daily like an out-of-control vine in the desert of her life and coated over everything, dropping its seeds wherever it went and turning parched soil into beautiful flowerbeds.
Even nutty members like her great uncle Jakob, the crazy archaeologist, were kind and well-liked, while in normal families he would have been considered something like the black sheep.
In Jade's family, the true black sheep was not shunned, but treasured. And he was anything but black- the son that Jakob's mother had vicariously adopted through him was a snowflake among the dark-haired, predominantly Romani- and Italian-blooded people that made up the Harley-Egbert clan.
Literally a snowflake, Jade had thought to herself when she had first laid eyes on him. He had been a ghost-white, rail-thin waif in a hospital blanket that had been whisked away by a beautiful nurse, like a piece of paper whisked away by the wind before she could hardly blink.
But young Jade knew, as did her grandmother, that she was inexplicably drawn to care for him from the moment that she saw him.
Jade would seek him out at family gatherings, the little lamb that talked out when he was around adults that would marvel and laugh at his precious nature but shrink back when he was surrounded by children who would stare at his odd eyes and gape at his pale skin.
Dave was something of a novelty and he knew it, so he would avoid the other children until they were safely seated by their parents for dinner. As an only child, he was accustomed to getting all the attention when he wanted it followed by long bouts of solitude. Dave had a talent for retreating into it and hiding away from unwanted company.
Jade always managed to find him, though.
"Come play with us," she told him one summer day, as they were all having a barbecue at a local churchyard. "There's a playground with swingsets and a slide and I think Jonah and Gammy are trying to start a game of King-of-the-Hill!"
He looked up from the book he had been reading. "I don't like Gammy. He laughs at me like some kind of hyena does at a drowning goat even though he's the one who looks funny."
"He laughs all the time and at everyone! He isn't trying to be mean," she said. "I think you might really like him if you just talked to him."
"Thanks, but no thanks. I can entertain myself without going out to watch the clowns," he said, turning his attention back to his book.
Jade put her hands on her hips and looked at him. She was a good bit older than he was, but she could still play the difficult child card.
Wordlessly, she plopped down next to him and craned her head over to see what he was reading.
He waited a few moments before acknowledging her. "What are you doing?" His annoyance rang clear in his voice.
"Can you stop?"
"Nope," she grinned, "the story's too good!"
"No it isn't," he said, obviously just trying to contradict her regardless of his own opinion.
"Oh, really? It's too bad you don't like it. I certainly do! Especially the pictures."
"Well I don't. And the pictures are the worst part," he lied. "The boy looks stupid in that white dog suit. Anybody who wears dumb little pointy dog ears like that is stupider than the preschoolers that go to school with me."
"Okay, then. But if that's true, why are you reading it?"
Dave was stumped then and racked his young mind for a good fib, but couldn't find one. "I'm not reading it," he confessed.
"I said, I'm not reading it. I can't read that well yet."
"Really? But you are so smart- you sure can speak really, really well for your age!"
"Adults like to hear me talk, so I learned to talk like them. But kids don't like to hear me talk. They just like to look at me and make fun of me because they know I'm smart. But I don't need 'em."
"Oh. Kind of like how you are looking at these pictures and making fun of them?"
Dave grew very quiet. "Except I do like the pictures," he muttered. "They look fun. Even the boy in the dog suit. I like his ears. They're kind of cool."
"But then why did you lie about that?"
"Because," he insisted, like that one word alone could explain everything. "Because I just wanted to."
"That's a weird reason!" Jade laughed and turned to face him more. "But what if the reason the other kids like to look at you is because they are jealous and think you are cool, like you think these pictures are?"
"Because they don't. Nobody does," he glowered.
"I think you are cool! You're kind of silly, too, since you lied, but still pretty cool!"
He looked at her, his face blank, and handed her the book. "This is my favorite book. And I'm not lying anymore." He fidgeted. "You can borrow it if you want to."
Jade smiled at her little relative. "Gosh, thank you! But I don't want to take your book from you if you really like it that much!"
"It's okay. I wouldn't be able to read most of it anyway and if you like it so much, you should get to read it."
Jade pursed her lips. "Hmm. You said you wouldn't be able to read most of it. What do you say we read it together? You read the parts that you can and I'll help you out with the harder stuff. How about that?"
"You won't get mad that I can't understand all of the words?"
"Of course not! There's a lot of things I haven't mastered yet, myself. Nobody can just immediately be able to do everything. Like I'm bad at tying shoes so that they look like little bows. Mine always look lopsided." She held out the book to him and he took it from her, flipping it over so that he could see the cover.
"I'll tie your shoes for you if you want me to. I'm good at that," he told her proudly before focusing in on the title of the book.
"I'd like that."
He smiled a little and regarded the letters in front of him."W-wuh- Where t-t-the Wild T-t-Things Are," he began.
Doctor Roseanne placed her hands in her lap and took on a more personable tone of voice. "How long has this precocious crush of yours persisted?"
"It's not-" he sighed and ran his hands through his hair. "I don't know." He let the clock take over the conversation until he couldn't stand its persistent nattering any longer. "You ask me this like it's some kind of thing that I marked on my calendar so I could celebrate the anniversary of its happening. Y'know, gather up all my friends together and say, "Hey, break out the booze! We've got hangovers to want to earn like a stripper wants ones!" "How bad of hangovers, Dude?" "Badder than that case of the mono you got from cheating on your ex, my sweet Bro!" "Oh, shit, Dude! But is it also worse than that burn I got from yo' momma?" "You bet your ass, Bro!" "Damn, son! Broseph, go get Broski and Bronathan and tell them that Dude's about get us all a hangover so bad, Mother Teresa couldn't even forgive it! He's goin' for it! He's making this happen! It's gonna be a bigger thing than… than December of 2013! Merry Apocalyptic Christmas season early, you dumb fucks!"" Dave's voice broke down near the end of his rant and he put his hands back on his face.
"Are you done?"
The doctor gave him another moment.
"Have you told Jade about how you feel?"
Suddenly, Dave's smoldering eyes appeared and some fire came back into his words like the popping of sparks as they flew off of waterlogged firewood. "Oh, what? Sure I did! I was all, "Hey, Jade, by the way, I love you and not in a familial way even though I'm significantly younger than you and jailbait and we're related by all but actual flesh and blood and we should move to, oh I dunno, Alabama where they don't give a flying fuck about marrying relatives and you would still get a lot of business for stuffing dead animals and putting them on display versus staying here and being put on display yourself? Oh, and while we're at it, we could even get married there since I just need the consent of my legal guardian to get hitched before eighteen and- oh, hot damn! That's you! How fucking handy! We could tie this knot right now, all neat and happy like a child's damned shoelaces."
"You've obviously put some thought into this."
Dave sneered to retort but no snappy denial came out of his mouth.
Doctor Roseanne tried to lighten the mood. "But that's a very negative and close-minded assumption you have about all of Alabama."
"If I were born anywhere from Texas to Georgia, I'm sure I'd be a fucking pinnacle of an example of a redneck," Dave half-joked, half-snarled.
"You know, your biological mother was from-"
"Exactly!" he shouted, throwing his hands in the air. "That's the solution, right there! Bring nature over nurture into this. Let's just make this whole ordeal into a menagerie of unnecessarily complex, interwoven threads like some bogus sci-fi comic book, while we're at it! Hell, let's even add in some actual institutions, like a conspiracy from the Betty Crocker Corporation, to give this mess some kind of basis in the real world." He sneered again. "They can't be satisfied with the bread-and-butter of mythical universes? Fine. Give it a touch of ours. Let them eat cake."
"Let me ask you a different question," Doctor Roseanne finally said. "Do you generally like older women?"
"I've asked myself that one, too. But I've had crushes on girls my own age before. Recently. And besides world-renowned babes like Halle Berry and Beyonce Knowles or whatever her last name is now, no, not really. I'm not particularly partial to the cougar-hunting lifestyle. I don't like to rough it in the wilderness that much. I'm too much of a domesticated guy."
"Do you go on dates?"
"Tell me about your last one."
"We went to a movie. She tried really hard to hold my hand and I took the hint."
"Is that all?"
"She kissed me when I dropped her off at her house."
"She kissed you?"
"Why didn't you kiss her?"
"But that isn't what you said."
"She initiated the kiss. I was just kind of on the receiving end."
"Are you going to see her again? On another date, I mean."
"I didn't like her as much."
"As much as she liked me. As much as I wanted to like her."
"Did you feel disgusted with yourself?"
"About not liking her as much as I wanted to?"
"About using her as a distraction."
"Not really. It wasn't that serious and she went into it knowing that."
"Let me rephrase my query. Did you feel disgusted with yourself for kissing a girl who wasn't Jade?"
It was out of Dave's mouth before he could think. "Yes." He recoiled a little, as if the words had bit him.
Doctor Roseanne held her questions to give him time to digest what he'd just said.
"In my head," he began weakly, "I… I think that I think I'm already with her. That's why… that's why I always try to help her around the house, too. And leave her surprises."
"What do you mean?"
"I get her flowers, usually around Mother's Day and Valentine's Day so that she doesn't get too suspicious. But usually I just leave small trinkets or candy that I say I picked up when I went to go visit Eritan and Johnny at the bowling alley."
"Valentine's day gifts aren't suspicious?"
"After Valentine's Day, everything's cheaper. I treat it like a gift of convenience rather than specific thought. It's not rocket science, Doc."
"You are completely torn on whether or not you want her to figure it out."
Dave ignored her. "And I do laundry. You know that. We've mentioned it. And I cook dinner for her, sometimes, when she hasn't already started one of her godawful meat roasts. And change out the sheets. But not like a kid doing chores for their parent. I…"
With a rustling of paper, the doctor retrieved another clipboard from beneath her couch and read off of it. "The expression you used when I first met you both was along the lines of, "serving you hand and foot like some geriatric foot servant", I believe."
"So you actually do use those things for more than just doodles and a prop. Huh. Looks like you're actually doing real work sometimes."
She winked. "That's only what I want you to think."
"And here you almost had me fooled. I knew you were a quack, Doc. I called it. I so totally did. I'm gonna call the cops now and tell 'em about a case of wildfire fraud happening up in this joint, streamin' out the windows of the second through fifth stories of this building. Mothers are screaming for their precious babies down below. Firefighters are on the way." He allowed a small smile.
"Indeed. Now, I'm going to ask you some questions that you may not want to answer. I feel I can skip the part where I ask you to explain why you haven't simply told Jade how you feel. You made a majority of your reasoning to that quite accessible, if not crystal-clear, earlier."
With a twist of his head, Dave invited her to continue.
"The only real special qualification for a romantic relationship- or the desire for one- versus any other kind of interpersonal relationship is the romantic part."
"I know that. I'm not stupid," Dave crossed his arms."
"Dave." She lowered her voice. "How often do you think about her?"
Like a hiccup in time, the gears of the grandfather clock hitched again.
The words were loaded and Dave felt his very core quake in embarrassment, outrage, disgust, guilt, and so many other things he couldn't identify. He felt and heard the blood rush into his head and he lost himself in the red whooshing that clouded his senses and just sat, glaring daggers at the world, at his own hands, at the floor.
The clock's chimes echoed in his ears and he felt like his head was going to explode. He wished it would. He wished he was dead and that he could start a brand new life and reset this one so that he was not in this position, here, now.
Most of all, he wished he could have met Jade under different circumstances.
"You're right. I don't want to answer that," he said.
"You don't have to be embarrassed," Doctor Roseanne soothed. "None of this makes you into a monster of any kind-"
"I'm not embarrassed about what you think!" Dave hissed. "I'm ashamed and disgusted in myself!" He raised a hand to his chest like he could stab through it if he pushed hard enough. "But to give you some information so you can tear it apart in your brain-bending machine and then declare me a candidate for shock therapy like in Shutter Island," He closed his palm in tandem with his eyes. "I… I want Jade. But I want her to go back to school and get her degree in science and still have a job and a good reputation and happy, not-fucked-up life and a… a good husband or boyfriend or whatever even if it means that I don't get her. I want that the most."
"So you are expressing that you need to move on beyond her for the good of both of you."
"Yes." Dave calmed himself and folded his hands into his lap. "I'm hoping to move out the minute I turn eighteen. And I have plans that will help me make that a reality. And friends. Just because I am sitting here enacting to you my half of the worst love yarn since Twilight doesn't mean I do absolutely nothing with my life besides sit around and pine for my great niece like a crippled war hero getting drunk off his ass at a bar in those shitty old movies."
"Of that I have no doubt."
"Yeah, 'cause you know so much because of inane observations like "you hate socks and make fun of a whole generation of teenaged girls' book of choice"."
Doctor Roseanne's face remained constant, but her voice softened. "Dave, you are a wonderful young man with a terribly unfortunate problem born from circumstance rather than a fault with yourself. You have already taken steps to fix this on your own and I believe that you can overcome this with time, honesty, and preparation as well as a little help from your friends. The next step is that we figure out the best way to go about this business. And we will." She stood and walked to the door. "But most of all, you need to learn that there are those in this world that absolutely treasure Stephanie Meyer's Magnum Opus. I am best friends with one of her fans and if you do not respect the vampiric tomes, word will reach her ears and you may just wake up to find that you have been drained of blood and are doomed to enact The Twilight Saga verbatim instead of only alluding to it.
"Oh snap," he said, following her. "I'll have to watch my tongue. I'll watch it so closely that it'll be afraid to let loose a glob of saliva lest I feel the need to silence it for its unauthorized spitting. Best be off before your Team Edward and Team Jacob conglomerate hear me talkin' and bust in here to take me down. They work faster than even you believe them to. Y'know. Vampire speed. They can flash-step and shit."
"Well, then, here's to hoping that a mythical creature does not bestow upon you the kiss of death." She held the door open for him. "Do survive. I wish to see you next week, Dave."
When Aradia watched the children in the real world, the unreachable prize beyond the game, her robotic heart, a mechanical contraption that spun 'round and 'round just like the gears and notes of a musical round, was a little delighted to see that music boxes, her own little delights and demons, existed in a land so strange.
Not that she could identify such sentimentality with a metal trap pumping something even more foreign than oil through her.
But it held Aradia's attention. There, in a tiny blonde creature's lap, sat the most exquisite box a little girl could hope for. The black wood had cloisonné roses of red petals and green vines inlaid into it, wrapping around and into one another in spirals upon spirals, like a kaleidoscope of red, green, and black spilling over the top and all around the polished ebony sides.
"Roses for my Rose," the tiny one in a velvet purple dress read from the card.
The lusus figure, the taller human, clasped her hands together in anticipation to see what her child thought of the gift.
The small child's perfect lips twitched as if they might quirk upwards on her pixie face, but whether in an expression of smug triumph or true joy, Aradia wouldn't have known even if she weren't still a mechanical time bomb. And it didn't matter, as the toddling little one's lips quickly regained their still, placid, unshakeable placement.
With an enthusiasm that one would normally expect to be on the face of the naïve babe instead of one her age, the caretaker, or "mother", leaned forward and urged her child (a girl, Aradia had been told) to wind up a little golden knob protruding from the base of the box and open its lid.
A deliberate lethargy accompanied the girl's movements as she cranked the little box and opened the lid, as if trying her best to make her mother into the wonderstruck child and herself into the jaded adult.
Two dancers, one dressed in a red suit and the other in a black dress, moved around on the inside of the box in tandem with the music in a waltz that seemed like it was meant to go on forever. Slowly, they spun in overlapping circles like the pattern of the Seventh Gate, like the dance had no beginning nor would ever end. They would only pause when the lid was closed and patiently wait for the moment when they were fortunate enough to have the light smile down at them, when they could continue orbiting in eternity like twin moons.
Red and black and black and red. They existed always and when the music was playing, they could dance together like a pack of cards in a player's hands.
The mother gasped and spread her fingers wide, as if she were trying to make her baby smile through her wonder alone.
But her baby, a girl of surely no more than two sweeps, only looked on at the porcelain waltz with an appeased stare, as if this wonderful gift were expected and she owed her mother no other indication of appreciation besides a passing mention.
"Thank you, mother. It is a very nice thing," the girl said, and closed the lid on the two dancers. She set it aside next to a pile of books, including a black one that was rather daunting in size even for a girl three times her age, and gestured to a package sitting behind her guardian, propped up against the trunk of their voluminously decorated green tree. "Now it is your turn to open a present."
Aradia watched over this little girl for some time, secretly hoping that she would open the music box again and let the dancers continue. But the girl never would- she preferred to keep them locked in there, forever waiting in a steadfast limbo where only a void awaited them.
The two figures were stuck in an enchanted sleep, doomed to wait forever until they could dance together again.
Somewhere, within the confines of her artificial heart, Aradia pitied them.
"Kitty, can I ask you something?" Jade turned to her friend. "Has Dave been acting strangely lately?"
Kitty Leijon, the youngest member of Witch's Stitches Taxidermy, looked up from the wire form of the bobcat that she was making. "I dunno. He's always been kind of silly. But why? Do you think he has been?"
"No," Jade said, flicking the excess paint off of her brush, "Not really! He just seems like the same old Dave he ever was. Teresa just told me that I should go take him to see a therapist and even though she told me that whatever the big, mysterious thing that was up with Dave wasn't a big deal, she sure was treating it like one!"
"Dave's funny," Kitty said. "So is Teresa. And they both like to keep secrets."
"I guess." Jade looked over at the workroom's resident "dragon", an unholy combination that Teresa and Dave had made out of a lizard, two snakes, a bat, and a platypus ("The platypus is just so unexpected," Dave had said. "It's fucking hysterical. Almost, like, ironic that the body for the beast that's captivated practically the entire world's collective imagination is something as stupidly squat and modest as the world's most iconic, awkward, and un-majestic monotreme") just because they were bored. How they both managed to get their hands on the animals, Jade would never know and she never wanted to know- although she was decently sure that the Iguana head and spines were ceramic sculptures that Dave had made and the bat and at least one of the snakes were the artificial replicas of Teresa's own hand.
The platypus, whose head was on Dave's (incidentally, also "ironically" amusing) Psyduck-from-Pokemon-in-real-life creation, which proudly clasped its prosthetic skull in an eternal migraine above its master's bed, would forever remain a mystery.
Whenever that thing was brought up in conversation, Teresa would just grin madly and say, "Ah, yes. Mister Carroty Duckbill was met with a just fate" and then cackle, which, while hardly unusual for her, was incredibly unsettling.
Sometimes Jade seriously wondered if her friend was in any condition to have concerns for anyone else's brainwaves.
"Maybe it's all some big, elaborate joke," Jade muttered. "And they're just being mean and leading me on."
Kitty's eyes widened. "Oh, they wouldn't do that, would they? That's positively awful! And awful of you to say, too! I'm sure they wouldn't be like that."
Jade felt guilty and looked into her normally cheerful friend's dewy eyes. "I'm sorry, Kittynip. That really was a terrible thing for me to say."
Kitty smiled at the nickname and turned back to her work. "I'm not that angry. After all, I'm getting to work on my favorite thing today!"
"You really do know how to make cats look really lifelike," Jade commented. "It's no surprise that those are your favorite. Dave even likes your cats."
"Really?" Kitty brightened. "He always just tells me that it's creepy that my name is Kitty and my favorite animals are cats but the thing I like to do most is preserve dead ones."
"He means it as a compliment, sort of. But he's also kind of right." Jade shrugged.
"But why? I don't go out and hunt the cats myself, and I wouldn't unless I really had to. Maybe if I was starving and all there was to eat was cats, I would!" She adjusted the hat on her head so that it wasn't falling into her eyes. "Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a cat. Letting their cuteness go to waste is a shame and this way I can preserve them! And since they're my favorite animals, why wouldn't I like to work with them the best? They have the bestest poses and I like seeing that these big kitties look as good as they possibly can, even if they are dead!" She huffed. "Like you can imagine them in the wild, like they were for real and not just stuffed figures! Like why Teresa is always trying to make a really perfect dragon."
"I guess you've got a point there. And he's got no good reason to call you weird, when he's the one that collects dead stuff and puts it all in his room like a crow hoarding its ill-gotten treasures."
"But," Kitty blushed a little. "It really makes me happy when Dave asks to keep some of my smaller cats. It's nice to have somebody appreciate what I do," she reached over and flexed her fingers on the nearby bobcat's fur.
"It is," Jade said. "Dave likes to act like a butt sometimes, but he is really a cool kid. And nice to have around."
"What are you going to do when he moves away?"
"Oh. That's not for a while. But… I haven't really thought about it! When he first moved in, it was a little weird because it was so new and sudden and sad… but I got used to it so fast that it's felt like he's always been there." She paused. "I'll be really sad when he leaves the nest, but I'm sure he'll come back sometimes. My family always tends to keep us all gathered up too frequently to let us drift apart."
"I'm a little jealous," Kitty confesses. "I don't really have a big family like that. It's just me and my mom,"
"But that's good! She's really nice and sweet and I know how close you two are."
"Well, I'm a little jealous I don't have another girl to talk with all the time. Sometimes, I wish Dave would get a girlfriend and bring her to meet me just so I'd have somebody to bond with over really girly stuff!"
"I like girly stuff sometimes, but I don't do it a lot. Like put on makeup or wear cute clothes- I'm not very good at that kind of thing, but I like looking at them. I guess I'm maybe a little bit of a tomboy," she said.
"Well, maybe that's because nobody ever taught you or played dress-up with you."
"Mom plays with my hair and puts it up in pretty ways. But I'm scared to wear it like that all day. I might mess it up."
"I think you'd do fine, Kitty Nep-nip."
Katy- or Kitty, as she was called- Leijon had always been a sheltered and unusual girl. She was chipper and cheerful, but she suffered the unfortunate fate of being brushed aside like an insect by most of her peers for her eccentricities and overzealous eagerness to make friends. She had begun working at Witch's Stitches when she was sixteen and it was where she spent most of her time even before she graduated high school. The majority of her income either being put away for an apartment or to supplement her mother's earnings and pay the loan on their house off. Teresa often speculated that Kitty was using her mother's debt to keep the pressure of moving away at bay, although her mother did not seem to mind her daughter continuing to live at home in the slightest and probably would have let her stay even if Kitty wasn't contributing to the payments.
Hey, Jade?" The girl finally said, "I'm sorry I asked about something as sad as Dave moving away from you. I'm just nervous, I think."
"I know my mom has friends at the post office, but I'm scared of leaving her all on her own. She's really quiet and I'm scared she'll be lonely." She tightened her grip on the bobcat fur. "And I know I will be. I'm not good at making friends. Dave's right. I am weird."
Jade stopped working and looked at her friend. "Aw, Kitty, but we still like you! In fact, we like you because you are weird! I'm your friend, and so are Teresa and Dave! Going out of your comfort zone can be scary, but you might like it when you try it! Changes like that are only hard at first, but they can be wonderful, too. Like having an epiphany that you never had before."
"Maybe." She kneaded the soft fur between her fingers and smiled a little. "I remember how scared I was of Dave when he first came here."
"You were scared? Of Dave?"
Jade couldn't stifle her laughter. "Why? He's just a silly kid that likes to talk about a lot of even sillier things!"
"I dunno. When he came here, I was scared that everything was going to change. I had just started working here a month before and I really liked it and liked you and Teresa and I thought he was going to come in here and tease me and be mean to me because of my hobby and that you and Teresa would like him better and make fun of me, too."
"We would never do that!" Her bright eyes flashed.
"I know that now."
"Okay. But to be fair, he does tease you," Jade, convinced that Kitty was okay, continued adding some more of her signature color to the fake fish's scales.
"But it isn't mean," insisted Kitty. "It took me a little while to get used to, but it's just like you said- it's all silly! And he is funny." She adjusted the fur onto the wire frame she made. "You're lucky that he came to live with you. He likes you a lot."
Jade grinned. "He likes to act like he doesn't, sometimes, but I think you are right!" She put down her brush and dabbed a little more silver onto her sculpture's underbelly with a sponge. "When I'm mad at him or just feeling sad, he likes to leave candy out on the counter and pretend that he was being a lazy teenager and "didn't feel like putting it away, what is this, the residence of Mr. Clean and his hunk of furniture-polish chocolate love, the Pine Sol lady? Do we have to keep this place immaculate all the time? Button down the hatches, don't leave anything out for more than five minutes or the clean police are gonna come by and take all our shit. They have a warrant and everything!"" She crossed her arms and sat in a lethargic pose, deepening her voice and exaggerating her exasperation in an amusing caricature of her housemate.
Kitty's giggles rewarded her efforts. "You're really good at that!"
Jade's triumphant smirk vanished when she looked down at her arms. "And really messy. Look!"
She stood and turned towards her friend, displaying the splotches of paint she had smeared onto herself and her clothes.
"Oh," was all the cat-lover said.
"I guess Dave's not going to be too happy with me. He washed this shirt yesterday."
"I think it's funny he does all the chores."
"Not all of them," Jade corrected. "But he does a lot of them. And it's nice. He gets perturbed when the living room and kitchen are trashed. It's like he's afraid that if we let anything stay in there that doesn't belong, it'll accumulate and take over the room. He gets especially testy about me taking up a lot of refrigerator space."
"He says it's because his gigantic BJ's economy-sized bottles of apple juice won't fit in there otherwise, but maybe he's scared there won't be any room for food? He made some crazy story up about how, if I kept putting things in there, an avalanche of stuff would fall out and impale him somehow. I don't know! But he keeps his bedroom an absolute mess. A clean mess, I guess. He washes his sheets a lot, at least. And he moves stuff around so that it's never very dusty. Still, it's so cluttered!" Slowly, Jade turned and gave Kitty a conspiratorial glance. "I think he's really embarrassed about the sheets thing and that's part of why they're always strewn about everywhere 'cause he knows he'll just have to wash 'em again. I feel kind of bad, but I don't want to offer to do them and embarrass him more."
Clueless, Kitty blinked. "Why would he be embarrassed about you washing his sheets? He washes yours."
Jade blinked back. "Well, no, see, he's a teenaged boy and he thinks he can let me be oblivious and while he keeps his secret and I-" Bright green eyes went in and out of focus as she regarded Kitty's background and remembered that she was too innocent to catch on to what Jade was getting at.
Suddenly, Kitty gasped and held both of her hands up to her mouth. "Does he still wet the bed?" Her face turned pink and her eyebrows knit together. "Oh, poor Dave. That is embarrassing!"
"…Um, Kitty, that's not what I mean. But don't you worry about it! It was not something I should have mentioned! My fault!"
"But now I'm curious! What did you mean? Does this have to do with why you were asking me if I thought he was acting strange?"
Oh, no. Jade mentally kicked herself for letting this out of the bag and started thinking of all the possibilities of rambling explanations her adopted relative would have to say about this whole situation if he found out. "Maybe we should just say that he was wetting the bed and then not ever bring this up to anybody. Curiosity killed the cat, after all."
Kitty returned to her work and gave a small nod. "Okay." She sounded a little hurt.
Jade sighed. Now she felt guilty. After all, Kitty had only meant well and Jade hadn't intended to push her away, especially now- Kitty needed to have people care about her and be her friends.
"Kitty?" Jade asked. "Would you like to come over for dinner tomorrow night?"