Matt and Mary barely got any sleep. At 900 hrs, a typically arcane wake-up time on a Saturday morning for them, a distraught Mary sent Matt a video message on her ultraphone requesting they meet their mother downstairs.
A few minutes later, they trudged to the living room in their Everton T-shirts and shorts. They found Stacy, fully clothed in a white tracksuit, hair in a bun, reading a news article on her holotab. They approached her with anguished sternness.
“Mom,” a trembling Mary pled, “can we have a talk out on the patio?”
Stacy lowered the holotab and sighed. She appeared equally melancholy. “Kids,” she murmured, “We should fix ourselves tea, because we may be out there a while.”
Their hearts sank, as if they realized their mother sensed something was wrong.
“Why the patio?” Mary asked. “Is there more media out front?”
“Your father called in another favor to the police,” Stacy responded. “They’re gone.”
After they ventured into the kitchen and poured themselves tea, they exited to the concrete patio, met by a graying sky casting a darkened shadow over the wicker chairs surrounding the wooden picnic table overlooking a freshwater bond beyond the backyard picket fence.
As Mary and Matt sat on the opposite side of their mother, they became more concerned when they noticed her loudly slurping her tea.
“Mom,” Matt babbled, “we came to talk about Jesse, but what about you? You don’t look well.”
After a lengthy pause, Stacy rotated her chair towards the pond, and fidgeted her fingers on her DRF flag-emblazoned mug. “You know,” she began, “I’ve never taken enough time to admire the view of that pond.” Her ominous tone caused fluttering under her children’s chests. She studied the mug and fidgetingly twirled it as she continued speaking. “To think about the innocent creatures that dwell beneath and the tranquility of the waves blown by a gentle breeze. It makes you remember how much we take for granted; our holoTVs, holotabs, hovercars, all the modern technology that keep us warm and fuzzy.”
“Um, mom,” Mary nervously interjected, “I apologize for being presumptuous, but have you been reading projectdriht.link with Jesse?”
“Project what?!” Stacy scoffed, “I don’t even know what that is!”
“Well,” Matt muttered, “you sound like Jesse has recently, and we’re concerned about his mental health. He may snap soon.”
“He will be fine,” Stacy replied with bizarre defensiveness. “Jesse’s tough. He can handle it.”
“That’s not what we’re seeing,” Mary bluntly retorted. “He has been talking a lot about the W word and how convinced he is we will invade New Alaska.”
Gingerly, Stacy countered: “it’s natural to have that fear when you see all this stuff in the news. Plus, the New York thing he and Sarah went through was definitely odd.”
“Mom, you sounded a little… gleeful when you referred to New York,” Matt nervously replied.
“I’m not nervous,” Stacy stammered, without making eye contact.
“Well,” Matt continued with more force in his tone, “he needs to realize he will do something really stupid if he’s not careful!”
Stacy stared into space, having tuned out her son’s statement. “I apologize that this will offend you two,” she stammered. “It’s a generational thing, I guess–but I one hundred percent believe we’re going back to war.”
Matt and Mary cringed. “Mom, careful! Those NOR reporters will be all over you!” he quipped.
“So, that’s why you seem so glum,” a temporarily relieved Mary stated. “Well, has Jesse ever asked you about this ridiculous notion of a teenage draft, because you-know-who thinks we’re all complacent or something?” Mary chuckled.
The anxiety within Mary returned when her mother didn’t reply; instead, she had panned her eyes back towards the pond.
“Wait, you don’t believe that baloney, do you?” Mary apprehensively asked.
“Matthew, Mary,” Stacy replied, still staring at the pond, “I have no idea what will happen. I only have beliefs. I just want you both to know that your father and I love you both very much, and that like Jesse, you two are smart, strong, and capable of anything.”
Matt and Mary’s jaws widened as they both looked at each other with dread. “Mom,” Matt stuttered, “is there something else you’d like to tell us?”
“No,” Stacy calmly responded, then strangely chuckled. “Am I not allowed to act a little scared? I mean, I’ll talk to Jesse if you both are that concerned!”
“Can we keep this conversation between us?” Mary pled. “I think he would be upset if he knew we were showing pity for him.”
“And we’ll lose to New Orange next week if he isn’t mentally okay,” Matt quipped.
Stacy then stood up and walked around the wooden table, raising her arms in a pseudo-prayer as she contorted her face inwards to avoid showing raw emotion. When she stood between her children, she asked them to stand up. After they did so, she wrapped her left arm around Mary and her right around Matt, and squeezed them toward her like slices of bread layered between a sandwich.
“I love you both so much,” Stacy quivered, tears beginning to stream down her face, “and I believe in you.”
Matt and Mary peeked toward each other in utter mortification.
“I love you too, mom,” Mary drawled.
“I love you, mom, but can you please not squeeze so tight?” Matt pled.
Moments later, a bed-haired Jesse slid open the patio door and stepped onto the concrete barefoot. “What did I miss?” he inquired while yawning.
Stacy released her children, scampered to her nephew, and embraced him with similar intensity. As she buried her head in Jesse’s left shoulder and began crying, Jesse bewilderingly looked at his cousins, pleading for an explanation.
Matt and Mary shrugged their shoulders.
“Um, Dromann’s after this?” Jesse gingerly asked his cousins.
“Um, sure,” they warily replied simultaneously.
“But I need some harlowcane,” Matt added.