Alik stayed behind them few steps and watched as they made their way back to others. Maksim was chewing his lips, too afraid he’d let something else slip and add to the discomfort. Ergo was already pursing his lips and frowning so hard, he knew the boy was doing everything to keep his tears at bay. He kept staring at Alik, but seconds later his eyebrows arched and the traitorous tears made their way down his red cheeks.
Laura had to put him down, he was shaking so violently. They stopped, far enough to talk privately so others wouldn’t hear and he watched with his heart aching as the boy held tight around Laura’s neck and whispered something into her ear. Her face fell, but when the boy had finished and looked back at her, she was already smiling assuringly squeezing him into another warm hug.
“We’ll find out tomorrow, and we’ll tell the constable, OK?” She patted his hair and nodded towards others. He ran without looking back and she stood, taking a deep breath.
“What is it?” Maksim asked.
“He doesn’t know if he touched the box or not.” She said, pressing her lips into thin line.
“Oh.” Was all he managed. His mind was suddenly empty of all the things he should say to comfort them, but he hadn’t got a clue. Alik seemed to have more experience, because his hand immediately reached out and pat her on her shoulder.
“It depends where his fingerprint is,” he assured her, “if he just scraped it, then they can’t prove more than he was reaching for it with money.”
“It matters little if they have village boy word against an outsider.”
Maksim’s face darkened, feeling the jolt of anger press at his heart. That was uncalled for, he wanted to scream. He felt his brother stiffen on his side as well and knew he felt the same way. That’s not how things worked here.
“If you are suggesting -”
Her neck cracked when she turned her head and gave them a knowing glare which shut them both up fast. She truly believed it and they both realized they had nothing that would change her opinion of it.
“Tomorrow is Sunday.” Alik sighed. “We’ll see what Levi has to say, and Alice has never struck me as heartless -” there was a kid running past them and Alik chocked on his word. “-woman. Let’s go home and make pancakes.” He suggested instead and they started walking.
“How would a ten-year-old know to check on fingerprints?” Alik asked when the kids had climbed into the bus ten minutes later and it was only him and Maksim left outside.
“You don’t wanna know.”
It came out so sincere, Maksim almost opened his mouth and spurt out their little secrets, but Laura clearing her throat right behind him stopped him.
“It’s not your problem.” She said calmly, sounding apologetic and Alik gave her assuring smile.
“Don’t worry, I deal with insurance frauds.” He said without a beat. “But I can recommend someone, who takes charity cases if you need a lawyer.”
Maksim felt chilled, glancing at her direction quickly, remembering their conversations from few days back. She’d been so fierce, when she explained him her position that he was sure this was very wrong thing to say. Instead, she gave him a thankful, if not a bit tight smile. Her eyes flickered on him for a second though and he knew he hadn’t got it wrong.
They climbed on and Maksim decided she was better off sitting with the boys and took the wheel. Alik sat on the first bench on the seat nearest to him and leaned forward while he maneuvered their small bus out between the rows of cars lining the streets around the car show.
They drove about half an hour in silence, before he dared to glance in the rearview mirror. Laura had sat on the back seat and the older boys, who weren’t sleeping yet, had climbed around her, hugging her and each other tight with their heads resting on her outstretched hands. Tessa was sitting on the next row with the sleeping boys leaning on her. Both women looked tired and somber, looking at the scenery flying past behind the windows.
It hadn’t occurred to him, how vulnerable their whole game had been so far and how easily something like this could rip them out of their daydream they shared in the summerhouse and back to the reality that no matter how much they tried, they could still be pulled apart. Eventually, they would and this had somehow reminded them the reality.
He returned his gaze at the road ahead, trying not to fall victim to the sadness as well. He cursed them for planning an outing when all they could have done was spend the entire two weeks in some fancy dreamland that consisted nothing but themselves, the nature and sunny days with occasional ice cream trips to the local shop.
“She’s a prideful woman.” Alik said quietly, not looking back at all. Maksim didn’t like him saying that. She was, yes, but he didn’t like him criticizing her without knowing the facts. “I’ve seen her likes many times – blind faith in their children can make any mother close her mind up to what really happened.”
“Alik, this -”
“Hear me out, will you? Give me a chance before you shut me out.”
Maksim looked up, searching her from the mirror once more, but she seemed absorbed into their own little cocoon and not pay them any attention.
“I saw the spark in her eyes, OK? She doesn’t like taking charity, but when the time comes, I want you,” he sent him a strict look, “yes, you, big brother! I want you to convince her to do the right thing and accept the offer if this ends up in juvenile court. She may be prideful, but eventually, she’ll do what’s good for the boy.”