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Parker looked around as he stepped in. One large room encompassed kitchen, eating area and living area. Jonah and the two boys Parker had seen yesterday were seated at the wooden table shoveling down oatmeal with flecks of fruit. “Want some?” Jonah asked, gesturing with his spoon toward the kitchen.
Parker shook his head. “No thanks, Gail and I already made some in the Common House, thanks to Jules.”
Jonah nodded, and shoveled down more oatmeal. “Did you get introduced to the boys?” he asked when he’d finished swallowing. Again, Parker shook his head. “This,” Jonah gestured toward the burly blonde one, “is Mark. And this,” he gestured toward the thin red head, “is JJ. Occasionally known as Junior.” Jonah grinned.
“Dad!” JJ whined. “You promised.” JJ glared at his father affectionately. Jonah simply waggled his brows, and gestured for Parker to sit.
Parker slid out the chair at the end of the table, and sat. “So,” Jonah continued between mouthfuls of oatmeal, “what are you up to this morning? When do you head back to Strawberry Hill?”
“Waiting for Czajka,” Parker said. “You know, the rickshaw driver.”
Jonah looked puzzled. “Alice’s bloke,” JJ supplied, and Jonah nodded.
“We can’t go anywhere until he’s up, and that’s not till late morning.” Parker shrugged, unworried by his friend’s foibles. “I’d thought I’d come talk to you about governance, and the ‘Song while I was waiting. That is,” Parker said hurriedly, “if you don’t mind.”
Jonah smiled and shook his head. “Nothing going on that can’t wait till later. But no heavy talk while I’m eating, alright?” he grinned.
Parker smiled back; it was difficult not to smile with Jonah, he had an aura of calm charisma about him; it was easy to see why he was consistently re-elected.
“So what’s your friend, Gail was it? What’s she up to while you’re here?” Jonah queried.
“I don’t know,” Parker frowned. “She was cleaning our stuff in the Common House when I left, but I’m not sure what she was going to after that.” He shrugged. “She knows where I am. I’m sure she’ll find something more interesting, though.” He gasped, realizing what he’d just said, and sputtered, “Something more interesting to her, I mean.”
Jonah and JJ were both grinning. “It’s ok,” JJ quipped, “we know what you mean. Even if you don’t.”
This earned him a not quite disapproving glare from his father. “JJ,” Jonah said warningly.
“What?” was JJ’s innocent reply. “Did I offend you?” he asked, turning wide angelic eyes on Parker.
Parker smiled. He didn’t have any siblings at home, so he found this sort of family banter amusing, if somewhat hard to decipher. “Oh, no. No more than I offended you, at any rate.”
JJ and Jonah let out loud laughs. Mark covered his ears and bent lower over his oatmeal. This perplexed Parker, was Mark offended? “I’m sorry,” Parker said, bending toward Mark, “I didn’t mean to be rude.”
Jonah smiled, while Mark shook his still bowed head. “Not rude,” Mark said through his mouthful, “loud. I like quiet mornings.” He shot looks out of the corners of his eyes at his father and elder brother.
“Oh,” Parker muttered. Then he smiled, “You should come by my place sometime, then. Folks are off so early, it’s just me most mornings.”
Mark goggled at Parker. “Really?” Parker nodded. “You want a little brother?” Mark half-grinned. There was a wistful look in Mark’s eye that told Parker that Mark wasn’t exactly joking.
“I don’t know about that, but company’s always ok. Especially company with insights on the ‘Song.” Parker smiled gently at Mark, who was now staring wide-eyed, and darting glances at his father.
“What do you think, Dad? You always say we need to see more of GURD, ‘specially if we’re going to follow in your footsteps.” The outflow of words stopped abruptly, and Mark’s spoon began a slow circle through his oatmeal. “Not that I will,” he whispered, staring at the way his spoon moved through the oatmeal.
Parker glanced at Jonah, uncertain what to do next. Jonah was staring at his youngest son, pity and discomfort on his face, his hands still beside the empty bowl of oatmeal. JJ had retreated into his own bowl, letting the awkwardness move around him.
“Well,” Jonah began, the word stretching through the silence as both Parker and Mark lifted their eyes to him, “if Parker doesn’t mind, it should be fine.” Parker nodded carefully; he didn’t mind, at least not enough to object, and wanted to be as helpful to Jonah Kin as he could.
“Who’ll do his chores, then?” JJ muttered through a mouthful.
Jonah blinked, caught off guard. “What chores do you have this cycle, Mark?” he asked.
Mark shot a look of annoyance at his brother. “Weeding mostly. Some harvesting. Garden stuff.” He was staring intently at his father, wanting the opportunity yet afraid it might be taken away as quickly as it was offered.
Jonah mouth worked, his expression flashes of concern and resignation. “Those are important chores, Mark. We can’t just leave the ‘Song short while you visit Strawberry Hill.” Jonah propped his head on his left hand and began to beat his spoon on the table with his right. The boys looked at each other, chuckled, and went back to their breakfasts.
Parker sat in the silence, broken on by the taps of Jonah’s spoon and the slurping of oatmeal, not certain what had been decided.
When Jules tramped up the stairs with an armful of jars, he chuckled at the sight that greeted him. “So,” Jules grinned, “what’s the dilemma today?”