Major (capital “M”) angst and have tissues at the ready for this story.
Ian nodded again, feeling like he was suddenly moving on automatic somehow. “Th—” He had to clear his throat again. “Thank you.” He looked up and his eyes traced the face in front of him, studying it carefully. He could see slight differences as he took in each of the features. Isaiah’s nose was a little longer, a little wider. His face was slightly rounder, his eyes a little bigger. It wasn’t Hayden. It was Isaiah.
“I… thank you,” he said again, his eyes darting out the door. Parked in the same spot it usually was, on the street at the end of the sidewalk, was the blue Jeep. Behind that was Mrs. Green’s Honda, still running, the woman in question behind the wheel, undoubtedly waiting for Isaiah.
“You’re welcome. I hope it… comforts,” Isaiah said, his voice low. “Take care, Ian. I’ll… call you later about the paperwork.”
Ian nodded. “Okay. Thank you. Um… how are you?”
Isaiah started a little in surprise, but he smiled, a small one that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Getting there,” he answered and Ian nodded.
“Yeah. Take care”
After Isaiah left, Ian turned toward the kitchen and Kane was standing at the end of the short hall, leaning against the wall, his arms crossed. Ian held out the key. “Hay… the… jeep.”
Kane stood up and nodded, walking to Ian. He put one arm around his friend and closed Ian’s hand around the key. “Do you still want pancakes?”
Ian closed his eyes for a brief moment, willing the tears back. He squeezed his hand around the key, letting the sharp edge bite into his palm. The slight physical pain brought him back and he opened his eyes again. “Yes, I do.” He gave Kane a watery smile. “I’m hungry.”
Kane smiled. “Good.”
When they got into the kitchen, the table was set with the good plates, glasses and silverware, and their mom was setting a big platter of pancakes on the table. A large jug of orange juice and a carafe of coffee were already in place. “Hi, baby,” she said, wrapping Ian into her arms when he stepped up to her.
“Hi Mom,” he managed around her shoulder. He closed his eyes and just accepted the hug for a moment, then swallowed the latest bout of shame for putting her through the shit he did. “Mom?”
She pulled back and he looked up. “What, baby?” She tilted her head, running a hand down his face. She brushed the bangs back again as he worked to be able to speak.
“I’m… I’m sorry,” he started, but she shook her head.
“Nope. You don’t need to apologize. If… you want to make me happy, let me see you put away a chunk of those pancakes.” She squeezed him quickly and let go, taking her seat.
Ian smiled, and it hurt a little – physically as much as emotionally – since he hadn’t really done it in a while, but it felt good too. He got another slight pang that maybe he shouldn’t, but he was getting better at pushing those pangs aside with each jab. He settled in at the table, then forked half a dozen of the pancakes onto his plate, smeared butter on them, and dumped syrup over top.
He didn’t even notice the other two watching him until he’d stuffed the first bite into his mouth. “What?” he said, his mouth full then blushed, his eyes going from one to the other. Both his mom and Kane laughed. He forced himself to finish chewing and swallowed. “What?” he asked again.
“Nothing,” his mom answered, a grin spreading across her face.
“Bet I can eat more pancakes than you can,” Kane said in lieu of an answer.
Ian knew what his best friend was doing and gratitude filled him. “Ha. I’ll take that bet. Winner gets to drive the Jeep first.” He swallowed around the lump again, forced air into his tight lungs, then stretched his face into a fuller smile.
Kane started at the prize, but his smile grew. “You’re on.”