When I got back home, Chris had left. I didn't care that he hadn't waited around to say bye. I didn't want to see him. As I closed the door and stepped into the hush of the brightly-lit hallway, out of the cold, I could hear the telling clack-clack coming from the study.
Rick was hammering away at the keyboard of the computer. He stopped and looked up as I tentatively pushed the door open.
"Hey," he said, leaning back in his seat and stretching. His grin wasn't its usual cheerful one, it looked frayed and weary. "How you doing, kiddo?"
I hoped he wasn't going to make a habit of calling me kiddo.
He stood up, rubbing the bald patch on the back of his head and yawning widely.
"Coffee break," he said. "Want one?"
I don't like coffee but I traipsed into the kitchen with him. I hadn't seen Rick look so tired before.
"So," he said as he fetched the milk from the fridge. "You thinking of this funeral?"
"Yeah," I admitted.
"Well... if it helps, Chris has arranged your first appointment with the counsellor tomorrow morning. Maybe you can talk over your feelings with them and that'll help you decide what you want to do."
Rick got out two mugs and filled them both with coffee. I didn't tell him even then I didn't like coffee. I wrapped my hands around the hot mug though.
"This has been a bit of a disrupted settling-in period for you," Rick remarked. "We didn't intend for it to be like this."
"I arrived under a black cloud," I said, thinking of my distorted mind and prone body as Chris hauled me out of the backseat into his arms. "Not your fault."
Rick just smiled sadly, staring into his coffee.
"What made you and Andrea decide to sign up for minding?"
It was a question which had been bugging me recently. Andrea seemed so professional, so ambitious and sophisticated… not the sort of person to offer a home to a dangerous outcast still not officially recognised by society.
Rick took a deep sip of his coffee. I bet it would have scorched his tongue.
"Am I the first?" I asked before I gave him time to reply to the first question.
Rick nodded. "It was something we've been considering for several years, since Dean became a teenager really. "
"I know what you're thinking. It's because of Andrea, right?" I was wrong-footed by his acute estimation of my bafflement.
"I…" I began falteringly, intending first to backtrack and then – well I'm not sure. It wasn't that Andrea had been unwelcoming… just… something felt wrong.
"Don't worry," Rick laughed. "Didn't mean to put you on the spot. I can see why you might think that."
He paused and then rubbed the stubble on his chin as he mulled over what to say next.
"I'm not sure how much I ought to go into detail… but Andrea has a past with the Touch."
This did surprise me. I waited for him to go on, but he shook his head.
"Maybe it's best you ask her for the rest of it."
He stood up.
"Another one?" he held up his mug. I hadn't even touched mine.
"Oh, no, I'm OK thanks."
"I'll leave you to it then."
He headed towards the door, then stopped and turned back.
"I know that what happened with Ryan may feel to be getting lost in the general chaos of settling in with us here. But don't ever think Andrea and I are taking it lightly. We know it must be awful for you to comprehend. If you ever need to talk, the door's open."
So saying, he turned and went back into the study.
Closing the door behind him.
"A counsellor?" Dean frowned. "What for?"
"It's just a formality. But those guys are hoping that it will help me work out what I want to do about Thursday."
Dean still didn't look happy. To distract me I glanced down at his homework lying spread out in front of him.
"You know that with fractions you need to times it by the reciprocal of the second one?"
He looked down at his scruffy scrawl of fractions.
"Meh," he shrugged uncaring and scratched out the sum. "So have you had counsellors before?"
"It isn't a big deal," I said, still frowning at his homework. Now I was looking at it properly I could see it was riddled with mistakes. It bugged me. "You know it's the denominations you make the same when adding?"
He pulled a non-committal face and flipped the book shut. "It doesn't' matter. The mocks are ages away."
"It does matter," I retorted, the ferocity in my tone surprising even me. "If you don't learn now it'll just be worse later."
I opened his book and pulled it towards me, reaching across him for the pen.
"Come on," I said. "I'll show you."
Dean let himself be patiently coached by me for the next twenty minutes.
"You like maths I take it," he said as I proudly marked the last three questions he did on his own whilst I'd watched – tensing or visibly grimacing each time the hovering nib of his pen threatened to write the wrong number.
"Yup," I said, finishing off with a nice large tick at the bottom of his page and a round smiley face like the ones primary school teachers used to draw.
"Um… Heather… you do know this is going to be handed in tomorrow right?"
I hesitated, in the middle of sketching a five-point star too.
"Oops…" he laughed.
"Ah well," I said, closing the book and handing it back to him. "I've saved him the trouble of marking it."
We both laughed. Then I remembered Ryan, and the funeral, and the counsellor, and Chris and I didn't feel like laughing anymore.
Andrea stood in the doorway. I looked up at her, the laughing already dying away on my face.
She had a strange expression as she watched Dean and me.
"You OK Mum?" Dean asked.
"Fine thank you." She then came over, grasped Dean's shoulders and kissed the top of his head, pressing her lips against his hair with her eyes tightly closed for what was a lot longer than a lingering peck.
"Mum?" Dean stared up at her questioningly and with an edge of concern to his voice as she drew back.
"Fine." She gave his shoulders another squeeze before smiling sadly at me and turning to go.
Dean sat round his chair, still looking puzzled.
"What was all that about?" he asked. As if I would know the answer.