He tried to find something witty to say to that, but by the time his idle mind had come up with an answer to, the boy was calmly trotting back to his pals. Was the boy testing him? Should he even have an answer to it? Smile and pat his head until you found one in your bed followed by big drama of squashed snake and him begging someone to call hospital for viper poison?
“Earth to Maksim?”
She was snapping her fingers. His eyes fixed in hers and he said hauntingly. “I don’t want snakes in my bed!”
She blinked. “What?” She burst laughing out loud and slapped the towel over her knees, kneeling in front of him and touched his cheeks gently, searching signs of sunburn. There was a big pile of burdock leaves on her side.
“The white haired dude…”
“Victor.” She nodded and kept rolling his cheeks from one side to another.
“…wants to adopt a snake.”
“You’re not taking it seriously?”
“Snakes are not as bad pets as they’re made out to be. Besides, I have to adopt him first, then he can have his pet. They’re not allowed at the orphanage.”
Forget the snakes, she wanted to adopt him? He turned to look at the woman while she unpacked the cups and water bottles.
“Why him and not anybody else?” He couldn’t see it happening without their little happy group breaking up.
“All of them.” She didn’t miss a beat. “I want to adopt all of them.”
The golden glow suddenly lighting up her face had eerily saint-like features, he thought, shocked. Was she insane, prison of her own unrealistic world?
“You’re insane!” He let out in a gasp.
She nodded and her eyes filled with the same worry he’d seen there when he told him about their little orphanage. “You’re allowed to say that.”
He burst laughing, dismissing it all as a big joke. Surely, she was just pulling his leg. Just like Victor with his snake. Instead, he began unpacking the sandwiches and helping her with handing them over, wrapped in burdock leaves as makeshift napkins she said she’d forgotten. The woman was surprisingly full of mistakes and it made him feel warm inside. It reminded him his mother and how she’d often brought them out here to catch a little sun, also forgetting things home. She hadn’t been as resourceful as Laura turned out to be when she stuck willow sticks through the younger one’s sandwiches to keep them together while they dig in like little squirrels.
“You know what you’re doing.” He praised her, handing over next cheese and ham combo.
She giggled and leaned closer, whispering. “Nah, I read through few scout books before coming here to impress them.”
“It’s working.” He admitted loud and eyed the boy the last sandwich had gone to. Petro, wheat blond part of the “twins”, Ergo and Petro seemed to go everywhere together and they were of same age, immediately began picking out the cheese and offered it to Petro, the dark haired part of the “twins”, who butchered them between his bread slices.
“You know, you could have just told us you want one without and other with double cheese.” He crumbled at the boys.
“It’s always too much fuss.” Ergo said, using his sandy thumb to fish out his lettuce and handing it over as his part of the exchange.
“Too much fuss.” He repeated, following the dirty finger’s journey.
“Too much fuss.” Laura nodded and instructed Jevgeni, who got Joni’s sandwich, to pick out the pickle before he gave it to the preschooler. Obviously, Maksim mocked the way she said it, the boy hated pickled cucumbers, but said nothing as the eldest ate it in one go and sat Joni on the root next to Maksim before handing him his hamburger – a fancy name for fancy kiddo.
“How about pickled apples?” Maksim asked, watching him rip the salad green and smiling back at him with his wide gorgeous teeth.
“Apples you eat raw!” The boy knew his fruit. “Or with caramel.”
“Not paradise apples. They are bitter and need to be pickled before you can eat them months later.”
The boy said nothing and ate his sandwich, mulling over the information.
“Are they salty like cukes?”
“Cucumbers.” Jevgeni translated. “Sister Emil called them cukes.”
He huffed, pinching a rouge ant that had got on his sandwich while he’d been giving out the others. Joni wasn’t the only one up for a lesson it seemed.
Ten minutes later the basket was empty and already left their side as they began digging out flatter stones to take home. Despite the collection of cars and other toys at the house, apparently it lacked of building blocks, so they decided to get their own. Maksim had deliberately turned off internet in the house, keeping it only in his own phone for emergencies, but between the forests it was as bad as a storm flying past, and removed the TV. With the same excuse. Jevgeni ogled him with suspicion, when he’d announced it, but when Ergo tried to argue over lack of technology in 21st century, he stood with grownups and ranted four different seemingly scientific reasons off his head why the image waves would have hard time getting through the hillside and wooden areas. Maksim was thankful for the boy’s quick thinking.
Maksim checked his watch. It was nearing later part of the evening. They’d have to get going if they didn’t want to be in the high grass during the time when shadows were messing with your head. Especially when he himself was starting to wonder if perhaps the snakes had indeed returned. Besides, Urmas would be worried. Yeah, that was a nice excuse. The old man always worried and he’d always accepted it. The old worker had been with his family for decades. Maybe, he mused, he understood, why she’d go through all this trouble for the ones she loved.