The knock on Jack’s door was heavy, but held almost the same sense of hesitancy that Beth’s used to have.
He spun in his chair, cracking open the door.
“Dad! You hardly ever come up here.”
Jack’s father shrugged. “Your mother and sisters banished me. Something about spoiling surprises. It’s a mess of paper and ribbons down there. May I?”
Jack stepped back, opening his door, and his father stepped into his room, glancing around.
“Hasn’t changed much.” He pointed to the star map above Jack’s bed. “Out of date. Remind me later and we’ll go into town to the bookstore and pick up something a little more recent.”
Jack nodded. He gestured towards his chair. “Do you… want a seat?”
The man nodded, sitting down, glancing over Jack’s shoulder at the dreamcatcher dangling in the window.
“That’s a pretty little bauble.”
“It’s from Beth. I’m just borrowing it. It’s a dreamcatcher. Supposed to keep bad dreams away.”
Jack’s father frowned. “Bad dreams? I didn’t think you even had good old regular ones.”
Jack sat on his bed, leaning back against the wall. “I didn’t, until a few months ago. But… I’ve had a few bad ones.”
“Well, you’re growing up. Lots more things on the mind these days. A lot of things changing around.”
Jack nodded. “You didn’t come up here for the ‘birds and bees’ lecture, did you?”
Jack’s father laughed, but it sounded nervous.
“Jack, you’re growing up. And I know you have a good head on your shoulders. Your mother and I trust you. And we trust Beth. But… you two can’t be making a habit of your sleeping arrangements.”
Jack’s father held up a hand.
“Your mother and I have decided that it would be best if Beth went back to her place after she… gets better. She is still free to spend as much time as she likes here, but she will be sleeping in her own room.”
Jack stared. Blinked.
“Yeah. I heard you.”
Clomping feet on the stairs filled the silence. The doorknob rattled, and Ellie swung into the room, hanging upside-down from the doorknob.
“Okay, the boys can come downstairs now!” she announced.
Jack’s father got slowly to his feet. “Well, your mother and I need to head into town to grab a few things. Is there anything you want from the store?”
Jack didn’t think his father would find a request for a box of condoms appropriate, so he just shook his head.
“I want marshmallows!”
Jack’s father leaned down and swept Ellie up over his shoulder.
“Come on then. You’ll have to come with us so you can pick out what kind you want.” He looked over the other shoulder. “Jack? You know we can talk about this later. If you want to.”
Jack nodded, getting up, going to his bureau, looking through it for something to wear.
“Talk about what?” Ellie asked, as they descended the stairs.
“Guy talk. Nothing you’d be interested in.”
* * * * *
“And where do you think you’re going?” Hannah asked, as Jack sat on the stairs, lacing up his winter boots.
“Out. For a walk.”
“Well, don’t go too far. They said it’s supposed to snow some time today. Mom’ll kill you if you’re out in it.”
Jack shrugged into his coat, pulling his gloves from one of the larger pockets. “Look. Boots, gloves. I even have a hat.”
Beth poked her head out from the kitchen. She had flour in her hair, and her nose was smudged with it as well.
“Where are you going?”
“Just… out. Nowhere in particular.”
“I have a couple more batches of cookies to put in the oven. Can you wait? I’ll go with you.”
“No,” Jack said, “finish your cookies. I’m not going too far. I just need to think.”
“Well, I’ll see ya later,” Jack said, and tugged his gloves on after he opened the door. He stepped out, carefully, stomping his feet to break up some ice that had built up on the porch. He pulled the front door shut after him.
* * * * *
“Uh oh,” Hannah said.
Beth looked over at her. “What?”
“He’s going to go sulk. Guess Dad broke the news to him.”
Beth sighed. “It’s not like it’s the end of the world.”
Hannah shrugged, going back to her book. “You’re telling the wrong person that.”
Beth reached back, fumbling for the apron strings. “Could you—”
“I get to eat the ones I make,” Hannah said, putting the book down and heading towards the kitchen.
“I already made them, I just need someone to plop them on the pan.”
Hannah shoo-ed the girl away. “Go chase after my idiot brother and make sure he doesn’t slip and hurt himself. Again. And try not to break him yourself, either.”
Beth finished washing her hands. “I can only promise to return him in the condition I find him.”