Lois Towans stared down at the bottle of obviously very gone-off milk with disdain. It was one thing to have part of a bottle sit a little past its expiration date, but this was downright disgusting. How it’d gotten to the point of turning almost black was beyond her, and she was careful to avert her eyes as she emptied the contents down the kitchen sink, running the water full force. She’d have to remember to have a talk with Jacob about doing his chores around the house; he didn’t seem to be keeping up with them recently, and she was determined he’d be pulling his weight if he was going to be staying under her roof.
After her task was completed, she turned back and stared intently at the empty bag of coffee resting on the counter. For just a second, she could have sworn it was the can of tuna she’d gotten down for her sandwich. She shook her head, as if to physically clear the cobwebs that were becoming more and more prevalent in the recent months, before reopening the cabinet to retrieve her lunch.
Within seconds of the can being placed on the counter, a scruffy, thin black cat was purring loudly and twining around her feet.
“Take it easy, missy; you can have the can after I’m done. We haven’t let you starve yet.”
The cat replied with a short, impatient mix of a purr and meow, which brought a smile to the old woman’s face.
“Despite your protests, madam, I don’t think you’re actually going to keel over from hunger any time soon.”
Lois finished arranging the tuna and a few tomatoes on thick, crusty bread, grabbed a can of soda from the fridge, and headed toward the table. She sighed heavily as she cleared away several stacks of books and papers before sitting down.
“He’s just like his Uncle Jon that way, you know. Always leaving books and papers strewn around…” Her voice trailed off, though the cat hardly paid any attention to it, far more interested in the few remaining tidbits of fish stuck at the bottom of the small can. “Oh Jon, I still miss you so much.”
Sometimes she felt as though reality was thin enough that she could just close her eyes and wish him back, but today wasn’t one of those days. Today, the rough and gritty hand of reality was all too apparent. She tucked her memories away for another time and shifted her focus back to the present. There were dishes and laundry to be done, and she wanted to get the boy out of bed before too much longer since the yard needed tending.
She finished the last bite of her lunch and was just about to take her plate into the kitchen when there was a knock at the door.
She was a bit startled to see a well-dressed middle-aged man waiting patiently on the other side.
“Yes? Can I help you?”
“Yes, that’s me.” The young man was oddly familiar to her, yet she couldn’t for the life of her place how she knew him.
“I’m Andrew Stone. I’m so sorry to disturb you, but I wondered if I could have a little of your time to talk to you about your nephew.”
She let out a heavy sigh and stepped aside.
“You may as well come inside and have a seat, Mr. Stone,” she said. “No sense jabbering back and forth on the front porch like this.”
“Thank you; I appreciate this very much.”
“Did you want any coffee or soda?”
“No, thank you; I really only need a few minutes of your time.”
She led the way into the living room, where she motioned to one of the couches.
“You with the police?” she asked, getting straight to the point. Her grand-nephew had had his fair share of problems in the recent past, so there was no use in pretending otherwise. “What’s he done this time; shoplifting again? I thought things were looking up for that boy, but I guess I was wrong.”
“Nothing of the sort, Ms Towans. As a matter of fact, Jacob is an employee of mine, and an exemplary one at that. That’s part of why I came to talk to you this afternoon.”
“Are you the manager down at the grocery store?”
“No, ma’am. I own several businesses in town; he’s the janitor at one of the research facilities I finance.”
“Oh, that’s right. You’ll forgive me; I seem to be a bit scatter-brained lately.”
“It’s all right; I’m under the impression he’s gone through quite a few jobs recently. I’ve got to tell you, though, I am a bit worried about him.”
“He’s got a lot of problems, but he’s a good boy,” Lois agreed. “Things were really bad after his parents died, but the last few months he seems to be stabilizing a bit.”
“I’m concerned about his wasted potential. I’ve talked to him on several occasions and have been very impressed with his curiosity and intelligence. I’d like to offer him a scholarship at UW, with the opportunity to work for me in a full-time research position at the end of his studies.”
“Well that’s just fantastic! But, why tell me? Why not go to him?”
“I understand that he’s nineteen now, but you’ve been his legal guardian for the last few years. I wanted to speak to you about it first just so you wouldn’t worry he wasn’t falling for some hoax or anything.”
“That’s right. You can’t be too careful with all the scammers out there these days.”
“He wouldn’t happen to be home, would he? If he is, I’d be happy to give him the offer straight away.”
“Well, he’s home, but I’m afraid he’s a bit of a late sleeper, especially what with him always managing to find jobs where he has to work night shifts. Plus, you know how teenage boys are; they’ll sleep the whole day away if you let them no matter what. I could wake him, if you don’t mind waiting for him to come down.”
“Oh, no, that’s all right. I’ll just speak with him at work this evening.”
“Probably better that way, less of a chance he’ll think he’s dreaming!”
The well-dressed young man – she’d already forgotten his name – stood up with a smile.
“Thank you again for your time, ma’am. I realize my coming here may have inconvenienced you, and Jacob mentioned that you liked tea, so I brought you some. It’s Iron Goddess of Mercy, which is an oolong from China; I’m told it’s very good.”
“You really didn’t need to do this. Thank you very much, though. I am quite fond of tea.”
“I hope you enjoy it! I’m just sorry I wasn’t able to speak with Jacob personally about this matter yet.”
“He does tend to sleep all hours of the day.”
“I don’t doubt that he does. Enjoy the rest of your day.”
Lois smiled and waved as her last piano student for the day left. Little Jimmy was certainly improving, but it was obvious he could use a bit more time practicing. She headed for the kitchen, softly humming the Brahms concerto he’d been working on, and made herself a cup of tea.