Eugene hugs me as soon as I show up. “He nearly threw a tantrum when he heard you weren’t coming. He’s been sulking in his room, at least until I got your second text. He made me show it to him.”
“Sorry,” I say, and make a face.
Eugene laughs. “He’s still waiting to develop TK, you know. He’s extremely mad at me for trying to keep you away.”
“You did explain I have a job and life and stuff?” I ask.
“He should develop TK,” Darren adds, “he can join the class and hang out with Travis all he wants. Wouldn’t that be fun, Fox?”
I elbow him, but Eugene hugs him, too, saying, “I’m glad you’re feeling better.”
Darren pulls his case of pills out of his pocket and shakes it.
“Ah, right,” Eugene says, “that would be courtesy of the other half of our case, I take it?”
Darren and I exchange a quick glance, and he shrugs. “At least I know how long ‘sick’ is going to last with this bitch, so better than it could be.”
Eugene nods sympathetically and glances at me. “You going to need tomorrow off?”
I shrug. Nod. Get barreled over by a newly minted fourteen-year-old.
“Uncle Travis!” he shrieks.
“Hey, kiddo,” I say, trying to stand up again.
“I knew you wouldn’t really miss it!” he gloats, hugging my neck as hard as he can.
“I got you a present,” I choke out, and shove it into his hands.
“Thank you!” Lee screams, right into my ear, and then tears the wrapping off some alien thing.
“You’re welcome,” I tell him, even though I can’t even hear myself speak anymore.
“What is it?” Lee asks, voice full of apprehension and wonder.
“No idea,” I say.
His eyes light up in even greater joy, and I think, not for the first time, that if he’s going to develop powers, they’re more likely to be of the techie or esper persuasion than his beloved TK.
“It’s an alien something or other,” he says to his dad, tone low and awed. “Uncle Travis is the greatest. I’m going to work with him just as soon as I graduate.”
Eugene makes a moue of annoyed consternation.
“You know, Lee,” I say, “your dad works with this stuff, too. He can get you more whenever –”
“Man, whatever, fuck my dad’s lame job,” Lee says, and turns to his dad. “No one cares, Dad, stop trying to get Uncle Travis to vouch for you when you know he’s ten times cooler.”
I don’t really know what to do with that one.
Darren hands over his pen. “I got you a pen.”
Lee looks up at him in wary confusion, pulls the wrapping off, and stares at his present for a minute. “Huh. It is a pen.”
“Yeah,” Darren says. I’d like to blame it on the fact that he’s a little under the weather, but at least he hasn’t asked the kid what his name is.
Lee pauses for a minute, still staring at Darren. “Who the hell are you?”
“Well, I tried,” Darren says, shrugging and wandering off to find something to eat.
“That’s Darren,” Eugene says, “he works with us.”
“Really?” Lee says, suddenly more interested in the pen. “Cool.”
Eugene shrugs at me.
“Uncle Travis?” Lee asks, poking me with the pen.
“Yeah?” I say.
“Do the thing,” Lee says, and waves his hand around.
I wiggle my fingers (for effect, but he’s used to it; I still had to if I wanted fine control the first time we met) and make the little shreds of wrapping paper dance in a circle around him.
He sighs. “That’s so cool. I wish I could do that. Anna from my English class can, but she won’t show off. Jake from Yearbook will, but he’s a giant asshole.”
“Yeah,” I agree, for complete lack of anything better to say, “not everyone with TK is nice.”
“Yeah,” Lee says, sadly.
“Sorry,” I say, not sure what to add there, except that I know better than to go on a rant about Prime Mover, who Lee is also pretty fond of, and who might well be at this party.
“Hey, squirt,” says a voice, coming up from behind me and not so much pushing me to the side as kind of not even noticing I’m in the way.
I move a little.
“Hi, Adam!” Lee says, smothering his brother in a hug. “I didn’t think you were coming back. Mel said she’s in school but she sent me a present anyway so I should open it and stop bothering her.”
“What better present than your big brother coming to visit you?” Adam asks, ruffling Lee’s hair.
He pats it back down really carefully, but grins. “Uncle Travis gave me some sort of alien thing. I have no idea what it is, but it’s alien.”
“‘Uncle’ Travis,” Adam says, with a snort, looking at me, “aren’t you a little old to still call him that? Tell you what, I have a friend who knows all about alien tech.”
“Really?” Lee gasps, and follows Adam off to a friend that I hope gets him in less trouble than most of the friends he’s had who were experts in, well, really, any given thing.
Darren comes back with cake and Sinead, who has another piece of cake for me.
“Hi, sweetie,” she says, giving me half a hug and the paper plate, “I hope Lee didn’t demand too much of your attention?”
“It’s fine,” I tell her, with a laugh, “just wanted a little prestidigitation.”
“I’ll explain to Lee if you need to leave suddenly,” she says, patting Darren on the back, “I understand you only barely made it here? Gene said the worst will probably hit in an hour or two.”
“No, I’m good until tomorrow morning,” Darren says, “probably back at work Wednesday.”
“Take your pills,” I tell him, and he rolls his eyes at me, but checks the timers on his phone, anyway, pulling out one of them and tossing it down.
Sinead pats him on the head this time, more condescendingly. “I heard you were promoted, Travis, how’s that coming along for you?”
“Pretty good,” I say.
She smiles at me. “Good. Let me know if you need any advice. I’ve figured out how to deal with a handful or two in my time.” She tilts her head at her sons.
I grin. “Thanks. I’ll probably take you up on that.”
“I find a spray bottle sometimes works better on children than dogs,” she says, with a wink.
“I like her,” Darren says, as Sinead leaves, “she’s funny.”
“You say that every time, Darren,” I tell him.
He shrugs. “She’s funny every time. You wouldn’t think a lawyer would be.”
“Did she even actually say anything particularly funny to you, Darren,” I ask him, “or are you still convinced that if she’s being nice it must be a bit?”