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There was a round of hugging, followed by Mark silently smiling as he shoveled oatmeal down. Czajka and Parker chatted with Jonah getting all the particulars out of the way.
“At the post-Equinox market, then?” Jonah confirmed. “We’ll bring him along with the rest of the trade goods.” There was a grin plastered across his face as he said it, and Mark rolled his eyes with the wisdom of a son.
Parker looked at Czajka who shrugged, then nodded. “’Sabout right,” Czajka said. “A bit early, but better that than being snowed in.”
Parker nodded, then turned to Jonah and nodded again. “That sounds fine by me. I will have to check with my folks, just to be polite. It is their place too.” Mark chewed his lip, rather than his oatmeal, at this pronouncement. “Don’t worry,” Parker soothed, “they’re always saying that want a little more life around the place.”
Mark nodded slowly and went back to his oatmeal. JJ pushed back his chair, scraping it against the floor, and stomped off out the door.
Parker looked around, eyeing Jules and Jonah’s expressions closely; neither seemed worried by this behaviour. Mark caught Parker’s eye as he turned to look at Gail.
“It’s ok,” Mark muttered, “JJ just gets annoyed when things are about me instead of him. He’ll come back later.”
Parker sighed in relief and looked to Czajka. “I guess we should get going since we have all this news to bring back.”
Czajka nodded. “I’m ready when you are. Just take your stuff out front and I’ll meet you there.”
Parker and Gail nodded. Parker rose, snagging their bags from the floor and passing Gail’s to her as he did so. “Thanks for the help and hospitality,” he said, bowing slightly toward Jonah.
“Not a problem,” Jonah grinned. “It’s always good to know the up-and-comers, and I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more of you in the future. Besides,” his voice softened as he moved forward to shake Parker’s hand, “you’ve given my son something to look forward to. No price on that.”
Parker smiled, proud and awkward. “I look forward to it.”
Gail waved a general good-bye to the room, and hoisted her pack onto her shoulder. Before she could open the door, Jules came over to here.
“Here,” Jules said, handing Gail a package. “I know you folks didn’t plan on staying over, so I expect you haven’t anything to snack on during your ride home. It’s not much, after everything, but at least your tummies won’t be grumbling.”
Gail peered into the sack; there were a couple of sandwiches, some dried fruit, and a water bottle. “Oh! You can keep the bottle.” She put the sack down and started rifling through her own pack. “But I’d love to refill mine, if I can.”
Jules nodded. “Help yourself,” he said, gesturing toward the sink.
Gail’s eyes widened, and she moved toward it. “Your sinks still work?”
Jules nodded. “Windsong is considered a priority area, so they make sure our water keeps flowing.”
Gail nodded and turned the tap; the water flowed out clear and fresh. Gail watched, unblinking. It wasn’t until Parker tapped her on the shoulder that she remembered to put her own water bottle under the flow. When Gail had filled her bottle, Parker slid his bottle under the flow.
Jules passed the sack, sans water bottle, back to Gail. “Thanks again,” Gail said.
Jules smiled, and his eyes moved towards Mark, sitting quietly at the table.
“Thanks,” Mark murmured as Parker and Gail moved toward the door.
“No problem,” Parker replied. “We all have to help each other out, right? That’s what makes the CommBlocs strong.”
Smiles greeted Parker’s statement, and a fresh round of ‘good-byes’ as he and Gail opened the door.
The sun was shining when they looked outside to see Czajka’s rickshaw backed right up to the front door. Czajka was not in sight, but the back of Alice’s skirt could be seen past the front edge; it seemed likely the two were in front.
Gail and Parker paused in the atrium, uncertain whether it was safe to intrude upon the couple outside. Before they could confer on the matter, they saw Alice step back, laughing, and wave them outside.
“You two are too polite!” Czajka chuckled as the door swung shut behind Gail and Parker. “What would you have done if we didn’t tell you to come out? Stand around the atrium all afternoon?”
Gail and Parker shared a glance, both going a little pink in the cheeks.
“Good thing my Alice rescued you, then,” Czajka smiled, his arm circling Alice’s waist.
“Yours, am I?” she chuckled, poking him on the nose. “I always thought I was my own.”
“Whatever makes you happy,” Czajka replied.
Gail shuffled, looking at her feet. Parker adjusted his pack. “Umm, if you two don’t mind,” Parker said, “we’d like to get going. Before there’s any further distractions.”
Alice laughed, and came over to hug Parker. “Such diplomacy, oh political one.” Parker shrugged, and hugged her back.
“Will we see you at the Market?” Gail asked, after her own exchange of hugs.
“Wouldn’t miss it,” Alice replied.
With the awkward shuffling and exchange of glances of those who, now the time has come to leave, decide they’d really rather stay, Gail and Parker went outside and climbed into the rickshaw. They had just lain their packs in the back and settled in their seats, when Czajka came out and got them underway.