Maksim kept staring taggers in her back the next morning, basking in the discomfort it created in her. She was quiet and he was pleased to see she wasn’t happy about her decision either. He knew he was being petty, but he couldn’t help it. He hadn’t had much sleep throughout the hot humid night, which was thick with promises of a next thunderstorm. The whole household hadn’t got much sleep it seemed as boys were launching around without much energy either.
He’d woken from his light sleep listening the single set of steps sneaking past his bedroom door and had stared at the birch door as if he could see through it, who it was. He’d learned her footsteps by now. He glanced at the nightstand, where the clock was and saw others weren’t up yet. Alik and Tessa had returned late and he was sleeping it off like a log. It only fueled his anger, he felt jealous of his ability to sleep anywhere as if he was sleeping at home. He was home, he reminded himself, as if that little revelation helped.
Still, he did not wish to leave her alone. He’d contemplated over it last night and despite his first reaction to pack his bag and hightail it to town, he resisted the urge, when he realized that meant deserting her here alone with seven kids and it didn’t sit well with him. So he’d slipped the bag back under his bed, went to bed and let his body rest while his mind was training his forehead muscles.
He got up quietly and by the time he reached the kitchen, he could already smell the fresh pot of coffee. They’d wished good morning and that’s how they ended up in this awkward half hatred, half heated staring contest, where he was the only contestant. Alik and Tessa sensed the mood between them and for the first time in his life, Alik didn’t push things. This was as suspicious as if you’d leave a cat alone with open cream pot and instead of Laura, Maksim’s focus turned on Alik.
“What time were they suppose to come?” Laura asked, setting new pile of sandwiches in front of Jevgeni, who divided it between Joni and Kaspar sitting next to him.
“I don’t know, but probably before lunch.”
“Who?” Joni piped immediately.
“Social worker and the nice policeman.” Laura said.
Anton snorted and Ergo shot a questioning look at him, but didn’t say anything. Maksim gathered, he didn’t want to discuss policemen at all, especially if it got him in trouble for swearing.
“Will it be like at the orphanage?” Petro asked before he saw Maksim’s questioning look. “The grownups would always go in the principle’s office and discuss you behind your back and then come out with new orders.”
“No, honey,” Laura’s voice sounded calm, but Maksim knew the question had made her uncomfortable, “it will not be like it.”
“Ergo will be joining us as well.”
The boy did not look elevated by the sudden attention and pushed his sandwich away.
“Eat,” Maksim said quietly from his seat by his side, “you’ll need to be firm and exact with your words. That means you need to feed your brain.”
“What is brain?” Joni asked and Maksim let out a snort, seeing his big innocent eyes looking at him with such ignorance he could be nothing but envious about.
“It’s the part of your body that runs you.” Laura explained without raising her eyes from her work.
She probably answered a lot of those questions, Maksim thought with another jolt of loneliness in his heart. He knew he had to step aside soon to reel through his emotions in safe place if he didn’t want to say something he’d regret later. Then again, having only yourself as a conversation partner was something he didn’t want to do much.
“Like computer.” He took a sip from his coffee. He had refused the offered sandwich earlier, but thinking back, he decided to follow his own advice and reached for one. When he looked up, he earned a shy smile from her. It confused him – his brain said it was meant with good will, but oddly it rallied up the part of his brain that demanded she follow up the bargain she’d forced on them. The other side of his brain abraded him for reading too much into it. Thankfully he could submerge into explaining Joni the mechanics of humans, with Alik and Tessa joining in. He’d enjoyed it very much and after half an hour, he felt elevated again, realizing she’d stepped back and let him have it. Which in his calculations added up as her not being ok with her own decision either. Which was good.
Unfortunately, half an hour later the whole atmosphere inside the house matched with the booming thunder outside when Levi’s police car stopped in front of the house and both him, in full uniform again, and Alice stepped out. The small woman might look mild and warm with her blond hair and chubby looks, but he knew better than call her sweet tempered. The woman had the tongue of a serpent and they were in luck that she chose to use it in social work instead of turning into local politician, for she had the power and prestige to make any grown man cry. Her firmness had worked better on kids, who needed to know the strong grownup was on their side and often they instinctively picked it up on her, flocking to her side.
Laura shivered and for the first time since he’d met her, he knew she was not in a good place. He couldn’t recall her having anything to eat yet, so he picked up a cookie and pushed it into her mouth.
“You’ll need your carbonates.” He said softly, ignoring the muffled protest, finished off his coffee and set the cup in the sink while he prepared to greet their guests.