“Would you like to go with them?” Maksim asked Laura quietly while they waited for Alik to fetch the boys.
She snorted and gave him a very angry glare. Her eyes were glistering, but instead of putting it in words, she bit down on her lower lip and quickly cleaned the corners of her eyes, frowning hard. She was the youngest of the grownups there and Maksim knew she took it far more personally than they did. Then again, it was more personal, for she was just reminded how she was not part of the boy’s life while she had gone through all the trouble to be accepted as being someone to them.
Alice was watching her, leaning on the door. She was judging her, just like everybody else had been before her and after a while Maksim couldn’t take it any more. He got up and stood between them, hiding her from Alice until the woman heard the boys come in the living room and left.
He reached out his hand expectantly. She hesitated, but took it. No matter what would happen, she understood the importance of showing unanimity on the matter.
“I don’t like it.” She whispered softly, following him to the living room. He prepared to assure her, but she squeezed his hand hard and tried to pull away again. “Don’t tell me it’ll be alright! I can’t stand lies like that!”
He nodded, but wouldn’t let her go. So he kept his thoughts to himself. She was right though, he wasn’t happy about this either and his mind couldn’t stop his heart beating faster, thinking he was to stand aside and let them do it either. But which parent would agree to –
Damn, his mind was going in that direction again and he pressed the feeling back into the dept of his heart it came from. All of them, or none at all – that was the choice, and there was no alternative. At least not where he or Laura were concerned.
“We can read handwriting, you know?” Petro said and Ergo rolled his eyes when Laura and Maksim stood on the side of the kitchen table.
Alice gave them a small smile. “Yes, well, I wanted to be sure you can read what you are signing.” She explained and handed them a pen, instructing them to write their names and birth dates after they had read out loud what was written on the paper. Both boys hesitated and quickly glanced at Laura for permission. She nodded silently, resolved to keep her feelings out of it.
“With this, we agree to buy packet of cigarettes…” Ergo’s voice faltered and he coughed, realizing what he was reading. His face involuntarily turned to her and Petro paled as his eyes jumped on Alik.
“Go on.” Alice urged him, her voice as soft as a mother urging her kids take their first steps.
“From the Hardeneye grocery shop…” he continued reading out the statement and when he got to the end, he set the paper down. “Are we in trouble? ‘Cause if we are – Petro had nothing to do with it!”
“It’s nothing of the sort.” Alice assured him. “We need you to do it again.”
Both boys looked straight at Laura. Maksim realized they weren’t asking Alice if they were in trouble, but wanted her assurance.
“No trouble, but if I hear you’ve done it again, I will whoop your asses until they shine like brimstones.”
“Brimstones are yellow!”
“Would you like your behind to be yellow?” She asked jokingly, urging them then to turn their attention back on the paper. Maksim felt her ease a bit and he let go of her, knocking on the table for them to focus faster when Alice opened her mouth to add something on the way they spoke with them.
They scribbled their scrawny letters under the paper and Alik offered to take them to the edge of the town while Laura wished them good luck, excused herself right after and went to search for the others, grabbing one of the two footballs sitting on the edge of the veranda. Tessa had lead the boys further down the hill, where the fire pit lay and was keeping others there until the conversation was over. He would’ve given his three drops of blood to the Devil to be with them right now, to join in the game she was proposing in the next minute, but as Alice and Levi stood in the middle of his front yard diligently following Alik’s car with their eyes, he knew he had to play the good host.
“Won’t take them long, I guess.” He offered, pulling their attention away from the road and beckoning them inside. “Want some coffee?”
“I wouldn’t say no.” Levi sighed and they went to the kitchen.
“How are you?” Alice asked immediately after they sat down while Maksim prepared their coffees. They’d known each other long time and Maksim expected the question, although he didn’t like the undertone it had.
“You want to know if I’ve lost my head, don’t you?” She shrugged and smiled knowingly. He returned the smile. “Perhaps I have.”
“You’re worried about her?”
“Let’s not do this right now, ok? I’m not comfortable discussing her while she’s not around.”
Alice and Levi exchanged looks he didn’t want to interpret.
“I’m not taking the kids away from her.” Alice said bluntly and Maksim exhaled audibly. She was doing it anyways, but at least now that she’d said it out loud, he could understand how absurd the idea had been in his head. “I’m only saying you’re interested in her.”
“Oh!” He did a very dramatic impression of a shock before downing the entire cup and staring daggers into it’s bottom. “Don’t worry, we’re not sexually involved.”
“With that many kids around, I’d be surprised if you were!” She laughed openly and Maksim joined in, remembering she herself had four growing at home.
“I like her though.” She added as an afterthought.