“Kids behave for you?” Darren asks, leaning against the doorframe.
I say something that sounds a lot like ‘eeeeeeuuuuuuugh’.
He laughs. The prick.
“Forms,” I say.
“Forms?” he repeats.
I drop my head onto my desk.
Shaking his, he walks over to it, rearranging my papers and tucking them back into files. “I was about to head out, unless you wanted to get dinner first.”
This time I say ‘urf’.
“Yeah, Fox, I think it’s time for dinner,” he tells me, patting my arm.
I poke at his hand repeatedly. Eventually it comes off my shoulder. Then something deeply confusing happens and I end up in the cafeteria. I think I’ve been lured here by tactical deployment of cats. Damn Darren’s phone. And his head for strategy. And his funny cat-ptions.
At least there’s coffee in the mess.
Darren drops a tray in front of me. And food. There is also food here. Okay. Yes. Dinner break. Reluctantly, I put away the cats.
I’m about halfway through what appears to be a lasagna by the time I manage to pause, take a breath, and thank Darren for bringing me food. He’s eating at a much more sedate pace and trying his very hardest not to grin at me.
“Getting kitted out for a jetpack,” I mumble at him through a mouthful of cheese and noodles.
“Ooh, fun times,” he says, “is it going to be specially detailed in your colors? Are you getting a logo? Are they going to write your name on the back?”
I harrumph at him. “I don’t think they even come in colors.”
“Yeah, yeah, sleek chrome of the future and all,” Darren says. “I want it to be purple. Violently purple. Violetly purple. Teleki- damn, there’s got to be a pun here somewhere.”
“Te-lilac-inesis?” I suggest.
He considers it a moment. “Nah, can’t get it to roll off the tongue. Too awkward. Also, doesn’t really sound like a color?”
“Bartok taught me to fly,” I add.
“Uh-huh,” Darren says, “more like Bartok taught you to hover three inches off the ground.”
I stare at him.
“What? I watched the documentary,” he tells me.
“You’ll have to be more specific than that,” I say.
“History channel?” he offers, “development of flight?”
“With the planes?” I ask.
Darren sighs. “The planes were only like half of the first day.”
I nod at him.
“Look, never mind, I don’t make fun of your hobbies,” he says.
I shake my head at him and tut. “You make fun of my hobbies all the time, Darren.”
“I’m not making fun of your hobbies,” he protests loftily, “I’m in fact making fun of your proficiency within the realm of flying around like a lunatic.”
“I’m actually doing very well,” I tell him, taking a dainty bite of my lasagna. “Bartok says so, and she’s trained more people than anyone else in the state.”
“Oh, well, if Bartok says so,” Darren agrees.
“Why, you think she’s sugarcoating?” I ask.
“Oh, no, wouldn’t dream of it,” Darren says. “You’re probably her most proficient student ever. Did she even let you try any of the stabilizers?”
I pout at him.
Darren grins. “Well, the important thing is that she makes you feel like you’re good at flying.”
“Yeah, real important when I have to use one of these in an emergency,” I agree.
“Confidence promotes competence,” Darren says, “believe in yourself!”
I flip him off.
“I heard,” Darren says, punctuating with a stick, “that she actually turns off the gloves.”
“When she’s flying?” I ask.
He rolls his eyes at me. “Dumbass, no. When she’s working with armor-trained personnel.”
“Okay,” I say.
“Well?” he asks, taking a bite of his stick.
“What?” I say.
“Did she turn off your gloves or not, numnuts?” he says.
“I don’t know,” I tell him.
Darren furiously chews up the rest of his stick. “You don’t know? When you tried to use them, did they work or not?”
“I didn’t try to use them,” I say.
“Bullshit,” he says, pulling another stick out of a foil – oh, they’re cookies. “You’ve been using the gloves for years, what do you mean you didn’t even try?”
“They do a different thing on the flying kind,” I tell him. “She told me not to use them.”
“But if you didn’t even try, how do you know whether she was coddling you?” Darren says, snapping a stick-cookie in half and crumbling chocolate bits onto the table.
“Well, look, if I had reflexively used them, obviously it was correct to add in a preventative measure to stop me from using them,” I say. “And otherwise it doesn’t make a difference.”
“How doesn’t it – it’s like putting up fucking baby gates,” Darren says, “like she’s bubble-wrapping the whole house because she thinks you are a literal baby, Travis.”
“She does not think I’m a literal baby,” I snap.
“Oh, yeah, because positive reinforcement works so well on adults,” Darren says.
“All kinds of reinforcement work well on adults,” I tell him.
“That’s only because you can’t teach babies to fly,” Darren says.
“Also, yelling is negative reinforcement,” I tell him.
“Not if you yell when people do things correctly,” he argues.
I stare at him.
“You were wearing a diaper,” he adds.
“It’s not a diaper, Darren, they’re the exact same shape.” I steal one of his twig-cookies.
Darren snickers. “‘Come here, baby, come to momma, that’s it, kiddo, just one more step –’”
I flip him off with both hands.
“So how many steps did you make it?” he asks.
“Across the whole gym, fuck you very much,” I tell him.
“Did she tell you she was proud of you?” he asks, making that fucking face.
“Laces told me he was proud of me,” I say, “and he was definitely being sarcastic, so there you go, are you happy now, you can go home.”
“You know how all the videos she shows you have cartoon animals in primary colors?” he says.
“I do not know that,” I tell him, “the instructional videos she gave me – which I watched on my own time – had full technical specifications and navigation diagrams.”
Darren considers that for a moment. “Maybe it’s just Prime Mover she thinks is a baby.”
“Prime Mover is a baby,” I say.
“He’s the exact same age as you,” Darren says.
“Yeah, let me know when he fucking acts like it,” I say.
“Did he do something in particular?” Darren asks, looking kind of worried.
“No?” I say, “probably not? I mean I heard he photocopied his ass for everyone again and hung pictures up in all the break rooms.”
“Was that an actual person’s ass?” Darren laughs. “I assumed that was pulled off Google.”
I shake my head. “This is why I have to stock my office with my own supply of coffee.”
“Yeah, that’s why,” Darren says, mouthing ‘have to’ at me.
“Speaking of,” I say, getting up, “can I get you anything?”
Darren hands me his mug. “Decaf. Don’t need any more trouble sleeping.”
“Sure.” I take the mug. It has a baby crake on it. I must be tired, too, because it almost seems to wink in sympathy.