"Where's Ben?" Nicholas said as soon as he opened the door to Beau's Bakery.
It was their opening for that day, the morning after Sarah had left and Ben had disappeared. Nicholas had no idea where Ben might have slept that night, but he knew the bakery was too important to Ben and he would be there when expected.
Only Lilly was there to greet him, but she didn't do quite that.
"What now Nicholas?" She asked impatiently. "I'm hardly awake."
"I'm looking for Ben, is he here yet?" Nicholas asked impatiently.
She shook her head, looking forlornly back at him. "No, he quit yesterday."
Nicholas froze at her words. "Quit?" He asked slowly.
"Yes, he said he's moving away."
Moving?...Maybe he meant moving in with Nicholas?
Then it all made sense. Ben said he would bring his things over to Nicholas's to move in properly. That must have been what he had been doing the night before. And, he didn't need to work at the bakery anymore, with Nicholas giving him a place to stay, he could get a good job.
"Why are you smiling?" Lilly asked, bringing him from his reverie.
"Nothing. I was just panicking for nothing."
Lilly came behind the counter to face him, hard as it was with him a whole head and shoulders taller than her.
"Leave Ben alone Nicholas. He has a lot of problems he has to work out, and he's just a kid, age aside, you are still too old for him, maturity wise, as hard as it is to believe."
"You aren't his mother." Nicholas snapped, ruffled at her lecture. "You don't know what you're talking about."
"Please Nicholas." She sighed. "He doesn't need someone else chasing after him. When Ben quit yesterday he said the man he was living with was the reason he had to quit, because he knew he worked here. You don't want to make him have to move because of you too do you?"
Nicholas opened his mouth to tell her Ben wasn't living with anyone, but with him, then stopped himself.
"Why?" He demanded. "What did he say? Why did he have to get away from-from who he was with?"
She shrugged. "I don't pry. I'm surrounded by you kids, but I try to give you all privacy because like you said, I'm not Ben's mother, I'm no one's mother."
Nicholas stood stoically before her, but inside his mind was racing. What could he have done to scare Ben off? If it was Sarah, then Ben wouldn't need to quit his job. Lilly said Ben had to leave because he knew he worked there. What could Nicholas have done? It didn't make any sense.
"I feel so dumb." He muttered.
"Why?" Lilly asked.
He had never been rejected before. It hurt, it was a helpless kind of hurt that made Nicholas feel simply dumb. It also pissed him off, and the more he thought about it, the more pissed he got. How could he have not seen that Ben didn't like him? Even now, he couldn't see it, but there had to be a reason. Why hadn't he liked him? Why had he lied to him? Why on Earth had Nicholas let him live with him? Every time he brought anyone home, it turned to shit!
"Why didn't he even say goodbye or explain anything?" Nicholas asked, more to himself, but opting to let Lilly put in her two cents.
"He doesn't seem the type to say goodbye." Lilly said. "He's a weird kid, I don't try to understand him. I've told him to come to me if he needs help. If you want, if I see him, I'll tell him you are looking for him."
"No." Nicholas said quickly. "Fuck him, I don't want to see someone who doesn't want me around. I don't want to see anyone again." He turned on his heel and headed for the door.
"So this is goodbye then." Lilly said, not expecting any reply.
"I'll come by later and buy something." Nicholas said to spite her.
Michael never expected anything good to come of Jason's incident. Only more problems, that's all he could think the night he left Jason in the hospital to go home for some sleep. It was only going to get worse. But, the next morning had come and the world hadn't ended. Jason was released and the day went on like any other.
It felt like waiting for the other shoe to drop, but to his surprise, it hadn't. His mother decided to actually be a parent to at least one of her children. She called Michael.
"I found a new therapist." She said, pausing for him to ask her to go on, but when he didn't, she was forced to go on un-urged. "He works with transgender children, the hospital recommended him."
"Thank you." Michael said.
It was all he could say just then. He couldn't tell her how relieved he was, or that he knew it was her apology to him and her 'I love you' to Jason without having to actually say anything. It would only provoke a longer conversation with her, and neither of them were ready for that.
"You can keep him in that class on the weekends too, if you can find him a ride and you make sure I know where he is."
"I will. Can I pick Jason up now? I'd like to take him out to eat."
He wanted to take him to see Ariel. Michael hadn't gotten the chance to thank her yet. To thank her for being there for Jason when he couldn't be, for getting him help, for waiting patiently in the waiting room while Michael's life fell apart around him in the ICU. Most of all he wanted to thank her for understanding when he had cried into her shoulder, and never asked him what had happened. He couldn't thank her in words, so he wanted to let Jason do it. Showing her how well he was, how happy he would be to see her. It was the best thanks Michael could think of.
"We should have class here." Jason said, eyeing the glass counter of Beau's Bakery from where he sat with Ariel and Michael at one of the small tables.
"I bring food for every class." Ariel pointed out.
"But we could have more if we had class here."
Ariel glanced to the kitchen, Michael assumed to see if her aunt was there to listen, "If we did it here, my aunt might charge. You guys would eat everything in the place." She joked.
"When you open an art studio you can let Ariel and her Aunt sell baked goods inside." Michael suggested.
"You want to?" Jason asked Ariel, already excited over the idea.
"If you'll have us." Ariel joked modestly.
Michael looked up as Nicholas let himself in. He too glanced to see if Lilly was about, but seated himself without seeing her.
"Looks like this is the cool new place to be." He said. "Now that I'm here it's officially hip." He nudged Jason. "That's what you kids say now, right? Hip?"
Jason made a face at him and shook his head no.
"How's it going?" Michael asked.
Nicholas just looked at him. That meant not well. He was still upset about Ben and Sarah, both for a few different reasons, and a few similar ones. When he had told the story to Michael, he told it with an air of indignant outrage, but Michael knew he was hurt and offended. Not two emotions Nicholas was familiar with.
"What did I miss?" Nicholas asked, but directed it to Jason. "Were they talking about me?"
"No." Jason assured him.
"Too busy making out huh?" Nicholas scoffed. "You guys are gross, there is a child present." He chided.
Michael opened his mouth to tell him to stop, but Nicholas's attention directed quickly behind him to where Lilly came in from the back.
"I thought you were going to come back to buy something three days ago." She called to him.
"What are you talking about? Have you been drinking? That was this morning." He said, seeming completely shocked.
She just ignored him.
"Now that Nicholas is here, we can start the intervention." Michael said, getting Nicholas's attention back on the table.
"You better not." He warned. "If I'm having an intervention, it better be televised."
"What's an intervention?" Jason asked.
"It's when a bunch of people get together to tell Nicholas his addiction to himself is hurting us." Michael explained.
"If you would love me more, I wouldn't have to love myself as much." Nicholas pointed out.
Ariel reached out and patted Nicholas's hand. "Not even all together could we love you as much as you deserve." She said in the most heartfelt voice, but it was obvious she meant it sarcastically.
Nicholas smiled at her, taking her hand and squeezing it, then looking at Michael. "I found your replacement."
Ben all but fell to the floor and popped the magnetic door open to the entertainment system.
"Awesome, you have tons of movies..." He mumbled, trailing his hands along the dusty VHS movies.
"Ya, go ahead and go through my things." His cousin Sam muttered, sitting down on the foot stool beside him. "How long do you plan on camping out here this time?" She asked.
Ben shrugged, making a point not to look her in the eye. She had this super mind meld power, if you looked her in the eye, she could read your thoughts.
"Why don't you just go home?" She asked, her voice on the brink of begging. "Grandma is worried about you, she hasn't seen you in over a year."
"I don't want to see her." Ben muttered, pulling a few tapes out so see what was behind them.
"You owe her." Sam said softly, not wanting to start a fight. "She took you in when your parents died and you wouldn't even finish high school for her sake. Then you run off to live with strangers. You're breaking her heart."
"They weren't all strange." Ben said, pretending to mis-understand her. "Let's watch the Ninja Turtles." He suggested, putting in the tape before Sam could give her opinion.
Out of the corner of his eye he could see her watching him, waiting for something.
"Your heartless." She muttered, then got to her feet to leave him to think about his sins.
Instead, he grabbed her arm and dragged her down to sit beside him on the floor.
"Watch the movie with me." Ben said sweetly. "Don't make me feel unwanted. I hate that."