Claire was about to sit down, but when Kent saw her about to set her bum down on top of the nest display cases, he quickly shouted: "Don't sit there!"
"Sorry!" Claire said, arising and hopefully realizing why she'd been about to make a grave mistake. From behind her, Kent could hear the footsteps of the red-haired man who'd showed up earlier. He wondered how much of the conversations he'd heard since arriving. But then he saw Claire about to sit on the carpet right beside the display cases, and so he was forced to stop her once again. "What?" Claire mumbled. "What's the problem now?"
"It's dusty there!" Kent said. "Look at it!" (She did so, noticing the spider web at the corner that was the main symbol of the room's need of a good cleaning.) "This whole place is dirty! And you're dressed so nice! Can't you find someplace else to sit?"
With no warning, Kent suddenly found Claire sitting on his lap, and the old man reappearing near the nest displays, rightfully curious about what was going on. "You were with a different girl earlier," he said.
"That was my girlfriend," Kent said, making extra sure to keep his hands at his sides and away from Claire's hips.
"And this is?"
"Hi," Claire said with a smile and a wave of her hand. "This isn't as bad as it looks."
"Why?" the old man replied. "What does it look like?"
"If you say so."
"Nice to meet you." The look on her face, with the threatening stare in the old man's direction, indicated that these words weren't as pleasant as they seemed, either, but rather, a polite warning to leave. Luckily, it appeared that doing so was already on his mind, and so he bid farewell and exited the bird station to see more of the gardens. Once he was gone, Claire swayed to her left to look at Kent and asked him, "Are we jerks?"
"Yeah," Kent sighed. "Probably."
"I like to think that it's part of my appeal."
"I wouldn't call it appealing, but it certainly makes you more attractive."
"It makes you less boring. It adds a sense of mystery to you."
"What kind of mystery?"
"You know. Why are you such a bitch towards me? And why are you sitting on my lap? I'm starting to get a sprain, and frankly, you're making me uncomfortable. Do I have to remind you of the injured foot?"
"Then would you get off, please?"
"Sure thing," she said as she stood back up and then turned around to lean against the door she'd earlier had trouble accepting opened from the inside. With the two of them now facing each other, she crossed her arms and legs and asked an annoyed Kent, "Do you think Jimmy's cheating on me?"
Surprised by this question, Kent replied, "Didn't we talk about this before?"
"Holly and I did. You didn't. I want to hear your opinion. What do you think?"
"Well, I don't know him as well as the rest of you do, so I really don't have much of an opinion at all. But, from what I've seen, he seems nice enough. He's lucky to have you."
"Especially now that he's seen me in my undies. At least now he knows what's at stake should he decide to fuck things up."
"Do you love him?"
"Not you, too!"
"I'm just wondering!"
"I have to think about it first."
"Good. That's a good idea. Wait until you're sure. Don't rush into things. And speaking of which…"
"Jimmy and I aren't having sex anytime soon, Kent."
"Another good thing. Holly and I certainly aren't."
"No shit. You practically just met. And she's not her mother."
"And I'm not my father." Saying this statement also served as a reminder of what else he had to tell Claire. "As long I'm talking about him, Claire, you should know that, thanks to your stealing the phone from me at the health office and talking to him last week, my father really has it in for you."
"How so?" Claire said.
Kent still didn't know for sure, but his worry about his friend's life being utterly destroyed by his petty father was compounded by his worry of revealing his wealth to those he didn't want to know about it. "I don't know," Kent said. "In fact, I probably won't until it's too late. But when my father is on the warpath, you'd better be careful. He called you the c-word."
"I know what you meant, Kent," she said, "I was just hoping that wasn't actually the case."
"He and my Mom don't know who you and Holly are yet," Kent continued. "So he told me that he's been searching through all my yearbooks, looking at all the Holly's and Claire's inside and wondering who's going to get it. And if he doesn't find out, he's even threatened to ruin all of the Claire's inside."
"Okay, your father is a motherfucker." The inherent humor in this statement went over both of their heads because of the situation they were caught in. "But you've been defending my honor this whole time?"
"Well, why not? I have nothing against you."
"You called me a bitch a few minutes ago."
"Because you are a bitch sometimes. But still a bitch worth fighting for."
"Hello," another familiar voice said from the doorway, startling Claire.
Kent gasped at the sight of his mother standing there. "Mom!"
Smiling and dressed in a pretty turquoise sweater, Gina turned to look at the girl Kent was talking to in the room whom she'd scared off to the side and who looked more surprised by her early arrival. "You must be Holly," she said.
"Oh no," Claire said. "No, no, no! You've got the wrong idea! I'm Claire Zielinski, the best friend!"
Gina raised an eyebrow as she turned back towards Kent. "Are you…?"
"No, Mom! I would never do that to her!" He turned his head to Claire, a few seconds too late, and said, "And you just told her your name!"
"I did?" Claire said. "I did!" she gasped. "Shit!"
"Whoa," Gina said. "Calm down, you two! What's the problem?"
"Dad!" Kent groaned as he leaned his head back and ran his arms down his face. "Now he'll know…"
"My name!" Claire answered, her hand on her chest. "What the hell's your husband going to do to me, Mrs. Thomas? Huh? What?"
"Why's everyone getting so bent out of shape here?" Gina said. "I just came here to see the gardens and pick up my son a little early! And you're both acting like it's the end of the world! Granted, you're teenagers, but still!"
"Mom," Kent said. "Don't tell Dad."
"I'm not going to tell Rod anything, Kent!"
"Rod? Rod Thomas?" Claire asked.
"Yes, that's his name. So what?"
"That almost sounds like Rob Thomas."
"Singer," Claire said. "He's the frontman for Matchbox Twenty."
"Who are they?"
"A really sucky band."
"Well, Rod doesn't sing for a living. He makes his money by—"
"No!" Kent shouted. "Mom! Don't say it! Don't say it!"
"Kent, why do you insist on keeping this a secret? It's going to come out eventually!"
"I know, but I want my new friends to find out when I want them to find out, and I want them to like me for me. That can't happen if you tell Claire now!"
"I don't know what's going on here," Claire said, "but it sounds to me like you're being really selfish, Kent."
"You'd understand if you were in my position."
"Why don't we just tell her, Kent?" Gina said.
"Don't want this off your chest?"
"Not right now I don't."
"This is stupid," Claire laughed.
"She's right," Gina said. "All you're doing is prolonging your suffering here."
"Fuck it," Claire said as she turned to Gina. "I'll just ask. Mrs. Thomas, what does Kent's dad do?"
"No!" Kent said, not thinking as he leapt out of the metal chair with only one working foot, sending him flying up but then quickly back down, his hands slapping onto the door but not doing enough to stop the force of gravity from completely pulling him down. "Ow! Ow!"
"I have no sympathy," Claire said, ignoring the boy in pain even as one of his crutches, resting on the wall, added insult to injury as it fell down and hit Kent's head. ("Ow!" he repeated.) "So, Mrs. Thomas, you were about to tell me what your husband—"
"Is this how you treat my son?" Gina said. Kent couldn't see her, only Claire, from his place on the door, nor could his mother help him until he moved out of the path of the doorway, but the tone of her voice was all he needed. "First, you call him a rapist, now you ignore him even though he's in pain right at your feet?" Kent grabbed onto the crutch, raised it to a vertical stance, and hopped up on his good foot until his body was back in balance, and then he sighed and collapsed back onto the chair. His initial (perhaps mildly sadistic) relief in having Claire's question remain unanswered soon turned to worry again. "What did you say your name was? Zielinski?"
"Uh…" was all Claire could muster, and she looked back at Kent in fear before returning to the angry mother. "Um…"
"Wait a minute. I don't need your name! I've seen your face now! You have to be in the yearbooks!"
Claire blushed, gulped and let out an uncomfortable laugh.
"Maybe you deserve whatever Rod decides to do to you."
"Now who's the cunt?" Claire growled.
"Oy," Kent said, slapping his face and making sure it hurt when he did.
"Pack up, Kent," Gina said, shooting Claire an icy glare. "We're leaving."