This Old House


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Scene Title This Old House
Synopsis Settling in at Gillian's house, Squeaks runs into another resident.
Date September 12, 2018

It’s an evening where there’s an extra person in the house. Squeaks’ presence has slowly become a little more frequent, with a night or three spent here, at Gillian Childs’ house. It’s usually followed by a couple spent with her siblings at Lance’s apartment, and usually with a note written in unpracticed lettering saying where she’d be. But tonight she’s at the house, and this time she even let herself in, instead of waiting for Gillian like she normally would.

Her worn-out sneakers were left near the front door, half covered by her hoodie, and she’s made her way to the living room. Somewhere along the line she even found the blanket that she’s laid claim to — so it’s possible it wasn’t a direct route, and probably likely that the girl explored the downstairs at least a little bit. It’s good to know what your surroundings look like, and it’s definitely not the first time she’s toured the ground floor.

Now, though, she’s in the living room. The blanket was discarded on one end of the couch, not too far from where Squeaks has stretched out. She’s on the floor, with her chin resting on her arms. In front of her is a book, opened and roughly half-way read, or at least that’s what it looks like. The edges of a couple other books peek out of her backpack not too far away.

The Childs’ house is more full of life than it has been in years. With Eve staying periodically, and Jolene all but having moved back in, it should be hard to find time to be alone. And yet…

Aside from Gillian, Eve is like an outdoor cat that keeps her own inscrutable hours that don't often intersect with Squeaks, and Jolene’s schedule of classes at Brooklyn College leaves her little time to be around. More often than not, Jolene is felt by her absence rather than her presence. And yet…

There's a glass shattering sound in the kitchen, followed by an immediate yelp of surprise and the metallic crash of a crutch, followed by a throaty curse and then a strangled, emotionally overwrought sound. A few clatters and clacks later, and Squeaks can hear the sound of broken glass being swept across the kitchen floor.

The sound is almost scary, since no one is exactly expected, and Squeaks goes full body crawl to put the couch between herself and the rest of the house. She listens to the sounds that follow, then after a few seconds she decides it’s probably not the cat and maybe isn’t someone that shouldn’t be. That thought allows herself to peek around the arm of the couch for the opening that leads to the rest of the house.

Of course there’s nothing there to see. The kitchen is a little further away. So the girl picks herself up from the floor and slinks to the doorway. She pauses there to do some more listening, head tilting a teen bit toward a shoulder. Still sure it isn’t a bad guy, and it definitely isn’t Chandra — those were person sounds, not cat sounds, right? — she ducks around the wall and then tippy toes in the direction of the kitchen.

“Hello?” It’s a quiet, almost tiny greeting, and not quite singsong. But it’s something more than just Squeaks sneaking up on someone.

The sweeping stops almost immediately at the sound of Squeaks’ voice. But then, in the dim light of the kitchen Squeaks sees a passingly familiar woman's silhouette, her back to the range hood light shedding its warm glow. Broken glass glitters like stars on the tile floor, the shadow of a crutch rests against the sink.

Jolene Chevalier stares unblinkingly at Squeaks.

Sorry,” Lene mumbles, barely audible. “I just— wanted water. And. It— I slipped.” She's holding a broom awkwardly in one hand, dustpan on the floor, trying to balance on her other crutch to sweep. She's crying. Not audibly, but her eyes are full of tears; wetly reflecting the dim light.

Someone who looks familiar is probably allowed in the house. There are other people who stay here, and Squeaks is sure she’s seen them in passing with no time allowed really for hellos or goodbyes. But that she kind of might recognize the person she sees, she straightens to wander closer with more open curiosity and less suspicion.

The broken glass is given a blank look. So that’s what crashed. The broom and dustpan might make sense for the clatter that followed. The tears and sadness, that brings a touch of confusion. Compassion is a thing the teen doesn’t fully understand, even though she understands crying and sadness. So for a long second she stands silent and returning Jolene’s look.

Her eyes drop first, to the glass and the broom, considering the mess again. She picks her way across the floor to where Jolene stands, careful to avoid the glass sparkles. Squeaks looks up again and reaches with one hand to lay a finger lightly on the young woman’s arm. It’s a simple gesture, meant to offer comfort, the other motions for the broom.

“I can help?”

I can do it,” Jolene hisses in response, without realizing how sharp she's being. There's an immediate look of guilt and regret on her face when she hears her own voice. Her posture slouches, head bowed and shoulders slack. “I'm— sorry. I'm sorry.” Green eyes avert to the floor, then flick up to eye Squeaks.

“It's— it's nothing.” Lene says as she goes back into the motions of sweeping the glass, but it's clear she's having difficulty working both hands on the broom. Up close, her right hand seems to have little strength in it and considerable tremors. Between that, the crutches, and the way her right leg barely seems to move several things become abundantly clear.

“You must be… Jacelyn?” Spoken like someone who's only read the paperwork.

In a combined motion, Squeaks’ hand jerks back from the broom as though burned as she flinches and turns her head away from Jolene in expectation of being struck. When nothing immediately happens, she chances a side-eyed look at Jolene, thoroughly confused and a little uneasy. Usually people like help, and splitting work makes it go faster.

She retreats, slinking out of immediate arm range so she can watch the cleanup progress. It doesn’t take long to realize that Jolene is still having a bad evening.

“Jac,” is a quiet reply, offered as she gets down on her hands and knees. She starts picking up stray bits of glass and putting them into the dustpan. There’s plenty of suspicious looks for that broom as she begins, avoiding going anywhere near the bristles. “Jacelyn is what grown-ups use when they want something, or when I’m bad. Everyone usually calls me Squeaks, though.”

“Right. Right. Mom— Gillian,” Lene catches herself and tries to backpedal a bit, explaining how someone Gilliam's age has a daughter Jolene’s age isn't always an easy conversation. “She— mentioned the name Squeaks. I… I'm sorry. I didn't— ” She doesn't have a good way to end that sentence. So it just grows silent, and dies.

The awkward silence persists until the floor is swept clean, and Jolene picks up her crutch from where she'd set it against the counter and ambles over to the closer, tucking the broom inside and then coming back for the dustpan to dump it in the garbage. Assessingly, Jolene looks Squeaks up and down, then to the floor.

“I'm not used to people seeing me like this,” Jolene mumbles, as if that's an apology of its own. “I'm sorry. I'm not. I'm not normally…” Angry. Tense. Resentful. There's, again, no good ending. So she lets it die.

If there’s something strange about anyone calling Gillian Mom, Squeaks doesn’t notice it. She’s heard it from the older Lighthouse teens a few times, it’s probably normal to her to hear it. So when Jolene tries to explain, she just sits on her knees, watching with a quiet curiosity until sweeping starts again. Once the glass is cleaned up, she stands and eases several steps back the direction she had appeared from.

She isn’t much to look at; a scrawny thing in third or fourth cycle hand-me-downs. Curious and skittish both, but no judgement or real suspicion.

When the young woman’s words trail off again, the teen simply stands and watches. She follows Jolene’s gaze to the floor, then looks up again, still confused by everything. Her shoulders give a small twitch, sort of like a shrug, and she wraps her arms around her middle. “I’m sorry you’re sad.” Her voice still quiet. Squeaks looks like she might think about saying more. Her jaw even pulls a little toward one side, but she lets out a breath instead.

“Everyone is,” Lene says bitterly. With the cleanup done, she gives up on whatever she was getting a glass for in the first place and starts to awkwardly walk toward the doorway out of the kitchen, making slow progress of it all. She stops, though, watching Squeaks with an assessing stare.

“I don't want your sympathy.” Is Lene’s addendum to her earlier thought. “I don't want your help, I don't want your pity, and I don't want you to look at me like I'm some sort of— fucking— glass rose.” In spite of the simmering intensity of her tone, it doesn't really feel like she's talking to Squeaks. It feels like she's talking to anyone but.

Jolene exhales a deep sigh, eyes closed, just standing there just left of center in the kitchen. Already regretting her words.

There is a great lack of understanding for anything that Lene says. Squeaks looks lost and ready to run away by turns. She sidles another step backward, leaning into the hallway that returns to the rest of the house. There’s even a quick glance over her shoulder.

“But… you’re not a glass rose.” The girl’s eyes flick back to Lene, trying to find some sense in anything that’s been said. She isn’t any more sure about pity or sympathy in herself, but I’m sorry is something you say when you know people are sad. “You’re not even glass.” Because glass can’t move like people do.

“Yeah,” Lene mumbles as she ambles out into the hall in her rattling, metal crutch. She pauses, just past Squeaks, muscles in her forearm strained where she grips the handle of the crutch and braces her weight against it. Green eyes lift up to the young woman, thoughtful and silent.

After an awkward moment she looks down and then away. “I was glass once,” Lene can't help but admit. “More like a liquid glass, but it could solidify. You know, sharp hands, razor sharp eyelashes for whatever good that's worth.” Briefly, there's a hint of a smile that reaches her eyes.

Then, as she looks down at herself, it fades.

For Squeaks, it isn’t the look so much as it is Lene’s anger that makes her press herself backward. Her hands splay against the wall as she finds it, and she makes herself go still and wait. She even takes a chance to meet the look with one of her own, seeking answers without knowing the questions.

“What happened?” The question follows some seconds of silence, and comes before the teen can stop it. It’s honest curiosity, voiced in the wonder of a child hearing a new story for the first time. But when she hears herself ask, she folds her lips in between her teeth, afraid that Lene might lash out or become more angry.

Sucking in a slow breath through her teeth, Lene closes her eyes and silently counts down from five in her head. “Nerve gas,” is how she responds, clutching her crutch tightly, still with her back to Squeaks. “Or— something like that. They developed it during the war. We destroyed the facility making it. I was the only survivor.”

Pressing her eyes shut harder, Lene manages to weakly add a strained follow up. “If you call this surviving,” she says with a crack in her voice nearly as deep as the crack in the broken glass, now swept into the trash.

The answer prompts another look at Lene, a real look that finally takes in those details she probably would have ignored or not questioned. She’s seen plenty of people in her years on the streets with old injuries or different abled now, because of the war or otherwise. And a person learns to look beyond those things. There isn’t any judgement in the look, just the same interest the girl would give one of her books.

“Thank you.” Squeaks’ voice is quiet again, drawn back much like her posture. But it’s a sincere acknowledgement of what Lene did, even if she folds her lips in between her teeth again.

Lene is quiet in return for too long to not be awkward. Still, too. Just taking up space in the hall. After a minute she starts to slowly walk into the living room where Squeaks had come from. “You know,” Lene says to the room as she walks, not entirely making it clear who she's talking to if not herself. “You're the first person to ever thank me for what I did in the war.” Not her friends, not her family. She knew — hoped — they were thankful, but it never was said aloud.

Everyone is eager to tell me how sorry they are.” Moving to the couch, Jolene awkwardly settles herself down into a seat on one end, setting her crutch up against the armrest. “They'll tell me how they wish things were different, or that they could help, or that I'm a survivor and // so strong//.”

Closing her eyes, Jolene looks toward a dark corner of the living room. “I don't feel strong. I feel fucking helpless most of the time.”

The girl remains still until Lene has moved on. She relaxes a little and wraps her arms around her middle as she watches, still unsure and a lot confused, as the young woman walk away. It isn’t until she’s turned the corner into the living room that Squeaks finally moves herself. She follows slowly, slinking down the hall to slip into the space herself.

She starts for her earlier place, the spot on the floor near the opposite end of the couch, then decides against it. For now. Instead, the teen sits criss-cross on the floor just inside the living room.

As Lene continues speaking, Squeaks just stays quiet and listens. She isn’t sure what there is she could say anyway, but those ideas about people’s well meant wishes about things being different and being a survivor, she can sort of understand that a little bit from her own experiences. When the silence drags a little bit again, she nods and offers, “People get scared by things they don’t understand, I think…” The thought trails off, and she hesitates before adding, “I won’t help unless you ask.”

Eyes averted in her lap, Jolene silently nods to Squeaks, “Thanks…” seems like half a thought, but all she can muster at the moment. “I've gotta… I need to be able to do this myself. Because this,” she motions at herself with her good hand, “isn't ever getting fixed, and I can't always count on people to help me.”

Then, more quietly, Jolene adds, “I don't want to become a burden people resent having around.” The fear sounds real, to Jolene, in spite of everything and everyone in her life.

With her elbows resting on her knees, Squeaks cradles her cheeks in her hands. She watches Jolene with an open curiosity, studying so she can understand while she listens. It’s kind of a little bit like how she’s felt for as long as she knows. Resentment has taught a lot of lessons, lots of them not really the best.

She finds a spot to look at when Lene stops talking, to think more about what the woman has said. Some seconds pass, and she puts her hands on the floor so she can scoot a little bit closer to the couch. It isn’t too much closer though, there’s still some caution given since the angry voice and body language is pretty fresh in her mind. Folding her hands in her lap, she looks up at Lene.

“Sometimes grown-ups are really scary.” Squeaks doesn’t exactly whisper, but it’s pitched like she’s sharing a really important secret with Jolene. “They just… they don’t want you anymore and… but you’re stuck there. With them. But I don’t think Gillian is like that. She’s way different from those grown-ups.”

“Gillian’s different,” Jolene agrees, reaching up with her good hand to scrub tears away with the heel of her palm. “She's the best mother anyone could ask for, and she— her heart is so big. You'd love her brother, Brian. He's the biggest goofball, but he's strong, and kind, and there's a million of him.” A sad smile crosses Lene’s face, and she turns to look at Squeaks with a thoughtful expression.

“You… you don't know, do you?” The question Lene asks is as opaque as the glass she broke.

“Yes.” Squeaks’ agreement is a simple answer. She’s only just beginning to know Gillian, but she knows she’s safe with her. For the other name, Brian, there’s vague recognition. She’s heard some stories, but she’s never met him.

She shakes her head at the question. There’s plenty of things she doesn’t know, and what it is this time is even less known. “No.” The teenager’s tone is questioning, and almost worried.

“You'll find out eventually… living here. Being around Eve.” Jolene rolls her eyes a bit at that name, though with a fond smile at the same time. Breathing in deeply, Jolene exhales a sigh and goes through some effort to pull her legs up onto the couch at her side, still leaving some space on the couch.

“I'm not from here.” Jolene says quietly. “I don't mean… New York. I mean…” Closing her eyes, she shakes her head and then looks over to Squeaks. “Before the war, before everything went to shit, my friends and I leapt backwards in time to try… and stop what happened to the world. Nuclear war. The end.” Sadness hangs in her eyes, and Jolene looks down to her lap.

“I was born in October of 2020, when the war started in my time.” Nervousness flits into Jolene’s eyes, and her brows furrow together. “I came back from the year 2040… to save the world.”

“Find out?” Nearly as cryptic as all the things she doesn't know, what she would learn while living here, or being around Eve, is another puzzle all together. Squeaks’ interactions with the seer, all two or three times, have been puzzling. But she steers her attention from that topic when Jolene begins a different kind of story.

Her head tilts just slightly toward a shoulder as Lene talks. People from the future might be taken as strange or even unbelievable by anyone else. The teenager just looks contemplative.

“Is it weird,” Squeaks finally asks. Of all the questions she could come up with, she chooses that. “Being from here, but later?” She folds her lips between her teeth and thinks for a second or two. The war hasn't been ended for very long, and according to newspapers and people there's still a lot to be done to rebuild. But even with her limited understanding of the changes that were made, things aren't the same as before the fighting.

“That's real brave, what you did. And probably really scary.”

It isn't the response that Jolene expected. It's visible on her face in a brief flash of surprise, then relaxation. Exhaling a held breath, Lene folds her hands together in her lap and looks down at them for a moment. “It was reckless,” she seems reluctant to admit. She looks up to Squeaks again, watching her, waiting for the rebuke that it isn't possible, then looks down again. Was it so unbelievable after all?

“Most of us are dead now. Or missing.” Lene shifts her weight, slouching to one side on the sofa. “But we changed things. We changed them for the better. This world is… is so much better than the one we came from, but we…” her brows furrow, head hanging. “We gave up everything. It…”

Lene looks back at Squeaks and smiles faintly. “Sorry. It's not— It is weird.” She finally answers that question. “Everything's familiar but different, my mom’s alive and my dad’s…” she shakes her head. “It's nice, though. But I still screw up sometimes. I see people I knew back then and… I slip. Say things I shouldn't.” She gets silent, guilt briefly visible in her eyes.

For some, maybe it is unbelievable. The teenager that’s sitting and watching Jolene just takes it as a thing that is fascinatingly probable. It wasn’t very long ago that she had a conversation about superstrings and people visiting other worlds. She had also seen proof of it being for reals, so she doesn’t argue the impossibility of it.

Resting an elbow against a knee, she puts her cheek in her hand. “I don’t know if I could do that,” she says, wondering out loud. Leave everything in one world to make things better in another? That’s way bigger than her, and the sacrifices made aren’t lost on her. She hesitates visibly, going tense then reaching with her other hand to lightly touch a finger to Lene’s foot as thanks.

“Why can’t you say?” Squeaks’ question follows a few seconds of silence. She looks up at the woman, shifting both hands to cradle her chin. “Does it have to be secret?”

“No it's… I mean sometimes. But,” Lene’s brows furrow tensely, “most of the time it just hurts people. Like, I see someone and I ask about their father and he died here, or they're estranged, but where I was from it was somehow better.” The vague examples aren't helping, and Lene makes a noise in the back of her throat.

“There was this girl, maybe eighteen? I knew her as an adult in my time, sort of. She was strong, proud, talented. She and her father were important members of the Ferrymen. Here?” Lene closes her eyes and furrows her brows. “She can barely walk,” like Jolene, “and her relationship with her father is… fucked.” In a way, like Jolene.

Shaking her head, Lene looks up to Squeaks with a wan smile. “I guess I sympathize,” she admits quietly. “Empathize.” She looks away. “I'm honestly not sure which word is right, I never— graduated from anything.”

“I don’t understand those very good.” While Squeaks could probably give a definition of the words, actually understanding them is different. She doesn’t let herself wonder on it for too long, offering up a shrug without picking her head up from her hands.

“I’m not graduated either.” Now the girl’s hands drop and she sits up a little bit. “When the fighting started and we changed houses, then Doctor Ford died. Carolyn couldn’t take me. She was too busy.” It’s explained without much emotion, just stating simple fact. There’s no connection between her and those people she named. “But I read lots. And ask questions.” That last part is followed by a vague sorry look. She knows she asks lots of questions.

Jolene deflates. Any anger at herself bleeds out as she listens to Squeaks, and the expression is changed into something less troubled and more sympathetic. “Gillian taught me to read,” is said with pride. “I was terrible at it, because I wanted to be out in the fight, blowing up robots and…” Her expression screws up and she shakes her head, rubbing a hand across her cheek, then her mouth.

“I'm sorry you had t’grow up like that,” Lene says as if the entire civil war were her fault, as if the weight of the world and everything wrong that happened in this old house was her fault because she didn't fix it. “I wanted people like you t’be able t’have a normal life. Go to school, have friends, not…” She thinks back to the drawings of robots, of the Ferrymen, her childhood. Ygraine. Robyn.

Lene shakes her head, and gathers up the quilt to her chest in silence.

“Why are you sorry?” Squeaks’ question is honestly confused, she’s pretty sure that Lene wasn’t part of that life before. She rests her chin in her hands again, fingers curled against her mouth. She takes a breath, then tries to explain how it isn’t Jolene’s fault. “They… I was bad a lot?” She isn’t sure how she was always bad, but she remembers being told she was. “Carolyn was always mad, except when she had her juice and her friends. And Doctor Ford was gone lots. But there was lots of yelling and…”

She takes her turn to go silent. Her earlier reactions to Jolene’s anger can probably fill in what happened along with yelling.

The teenager rubs her knuckles against her lips, mashing them into her teeth until she feels brave enough to look up again. “I read all kinds of books. Except sometimes I saw Sesame Street or Mister Rogers.” It was a rare treat when she could sneak some television. “I have lots you can read. If you want. All kinds, but adventures are my favorites.”

Eyes focused on her lap, Lene can't ever really explain why she apologized. Instead, she looks up to Squeaks and smiles faintly. “Never had television until we came here. Just when I was getting used to it, we— ” She frowns. “Everything changed.”

Wringing the quilt in her hands, Lene looks up and over to Squeaks. “I read a lot too,” she admits, moving away from the more painful topics. “Mostly for school, but— I used to— ” Jolene fits herself off and shakes her head.

“Mom made me care about books from a young age.” Jolene finally settle on. “That… never really changed.”

“I read everything.” Lots isn’t the same as everything, so Squeaks puts a little more emphasis on that word. “Books and newspapers, all kinds of things. There’s lots to know. It’s how I learn about things right now, but stories are the best.” She picks her head up again as she talks and sits forward a little.

“What’s your favorite?” The girl had already offered her own. She leans way over, to her backpack that’s still sitting nearby. She pushes some things around, then sits up with a storybook in hand. The cover of Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz is looked over, and then held out for Jolene to take. “This one’s really good.”

A ghost of a smile creeps across Lene’s face when she sees the book, brushing her fingertips over the cover before taking it. “Mom used to read this to me when I was little…” her green eyes search the cover, looking at the faded parts and the cracks in the paper.

“I don't know that I have a favorite,” Lene admits, then motions to a backback leaning up against one end of the sofa. “What I'm reading right now is for class, but it's in there if you're curious. It's mythology,” she looks back to the cover of Wizard of Oz wistfully. “There's a hero, and magic, romance and sacrifice.”

Lene looks up to Squeaks with a smile. “There's a dragon, too.”

When the backpack is motioned to, Squeaks’ interest rises. But she doesn’t go to find that book just yet. She leans on trying to decide which way to go first. A long second passes, and she turns to her bag again. Another book is found fast, not an adventure and probably not something a young teenager would be reading. Or maybe it is, but Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is deposited into Lene’s lap.

Perhaps she just felt the sharing of books needed another trade. Being allowed into someone’s belongings is a big deal. But soon as the second book is given over, she crawls to Jolene’s backpack and carefully opens it up to pull out the book.

“I started reading stuff on mythology,” Squeaks explains as she sits again. Her legs go criss-cross so she can balance the book in her lap. “One book is about Zuni myths and the other is East-Asian. Like Japanese and Chinese areas.” She looks over the cover as she talks then carefully opens the book to start absorbing the words inside. “It’s all really neat and there’s these similarities, but the stories are different. In the creations, both say the world started as this formless blob and the the gods shaped it into the world with tall things to connect heavens and earth. Great Father Sun from the Zuni created Morning Star and Evening Star to help populate the earth and the Japanese creator made Izanagi and Izanami to do the same thing.”

Of all things, the book in Squeaks’ lap is about “quasi historic” Japanese mythology. The hardcover textbook depicts a black armored samurai locked in combat with a coiling serpentine dragon with blood red scales. Across the cover is printed:

Kensei and the Dragon
The Mythology of Shakushain’s Revolt

In return, Lene cradles the copy of Frankenstein in her lap. For whatever reason, seeing the book seems to have momentarily choked her up. But she's smiling, wiping a couple of tears from her eyes. “My friend,” is abruptly ended by a croak in her voice. Swalllowing the frog in her throat, Lene can't help but laugh to herself. “My friend Howard used to read this a lot. He loved it.”

Cradling the book to her chest, Lene looks over at Squeaks with a hopeful expression. “I've never actually read it. Do— do you mind if I borrow it?”

“You get to read this for school?” Squeaks’ voice holds notes of wonder as she floats her gaze over the words on the first page. No reading just yet, she’s busy being amazed by the book. She turns the cover closed again the trace her fingers over the artwork then each letter in turn. “That sounds like the best school.”

The teenager’s head comes up at the sad sounds, and she looks at Lene worriedly. “It’s a really good story,” she agrees, excitement quieted a little bit.

Keeping the Kensei book balanced in her lap, Squeaks uses her hands to scoot herself closer again. “Yes, you can borrow it,” she says after she’s settled again, with her back resting on the front of the couch. She tips her head back to shoot a quick grin up at Lene. “You should read it.”

“Thanks,” Jolene says softly, her grip tight on the book, some color in her cheeks and her smile broad. “I… it means a lot.” As she looks up at Squeaks, Jolene sees the young woman in a different light now. Briefly, she looks back to the book and threads a lock of hair behind one ear when it gets in her face.

After flipping through the book for a moment, Jolene looks back to the one Squeaks is holding. “School’s not all bad,” is a bit wry of a sentiment. “You should go. Soon. Don't wait like I did.”

“Yes,” is Squeaks’ easy agreement. School is going to happen one day, she knows. Probably sooner and not later. She opens the cover of the book again, carefully, and turns through a couple of pages without really looking at them. “Gillian said I get to go to school. I’m behind… a lot behind.”

That admission has Jolene smiling, faintly. “I was too…” seems like an easy way to dismiss it, but as she picks at the dog-eared corners of the novel in her hands, Jolene finds a different resolve. “But I'm a little bit ahead of you now,” she adds, surprising even herself.

“So…” Lene looks up, nervously, “how about I help?”

Turning another page is more of a stall tactic than avoidance. Squeaks isn’t paying much attention to the words in the book but takes great care with not messing up the pages. As the page settles, her eyes angle toward Jolene and then she tips her head so she can actually look up at her.

A small and slow nod answers first, the teenager finding herself a little bit shy. But it’s followed soon with a hopeful, “Yes.”

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