Jack somehow managed to knock without dropping the long oddly-balanced box.
“Hey,” he said, when Beth appeared in the doorway.
“Hey. What’s that?”
“My dad ordered too much Chinese.”
“I didn’t think you ever got takeout.”
“Only on special occasions,” Jack said. “Birthdays, graduations. Homecomings.”
“Your mom was too tired to cook.”
Jack nodded. “Yeah. She figured you would be too, so….” He hefted the box.
“Well, it’s going to get cold if you stand out there much longer,” Beth said, pushing the screen door open.
“It’s awfully dark in here. You didn’t blow out the lights again, did you?”
“No!” Beth’s eyes widened and she shrank lower, hunching her shoulders a bit. “My dad’s asleep,” she whispered. “He’s been up since the last Witching hour, traveling.”
“I get tired on a three hour car ride,” Jack whispered. “I can’t imagine all those hours on planes. And then a three hour car ride.”
They made their way to the kitchen, and Jack set the box down on the small table, unpacking the fold-up cartons while Beth rummaged in the silverware drawer. She stood on tiptoes to reach into one of the overhead cupboards, and retrieved a couple plates.
“Either your dad ordered a heck of a lot extra, or your mom sent over too much. There’s no way me and my dad can eat all this,” Beth said, looking over the cartons.
“Well,” Jack said, “it was sort of… hinted that if your dad wasn’t up, they didn’t want you to eat alone.”
“So you volunteered to play delivery boy?”
“Would you rather eat with Charlotte?”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing, Jack.”
“Charlotte, without my mom or Hannah around? Are you kidding? It’s terrible. She’d thoroughly corrupt you.”
“She’s not that —”
“She got you romance novels for Christmas. And don’t think I didn’t see the little book marks she left.”
Beth blushed, and suddenly found the contents of the cartons immensely interesting.
“Mushu Pork…. Broccoli beef, steamed vegetables! Kung pao chicken…. Garlic shrimp?” She wrinkled her nose at that. “Okay, that one’s all dad’s.”
“You can tell that just by smelling them?” Jack asked.
Beth looked up from the carton of lo mein. “No, silly. It’s written right there on the box.” She pointed to the characters on one panel of the lid, Chinese characters written in ball point pen.
Jack looked at the table. Beth had brought two plates, and two pairs of mismatched chopsticks.
Beth was portioning out of cartons onto the the plates, the chopsticks not the least bit alien in her grasp. She looked up. “What?”
“You have forks, right?”
* * * * *
Professor Harrison yawned again, from the top of the stairs. Beth and Jack kept their voices low, but their laughter at times escaped their control.
He smiled. It had been quite some time since he’d heard Beth’s laugh, even before the four months in Peru. She had plenty of smiles, but they were different for him than the ones she shared with Jack. He was reminded of the cocoons he and Beth would watch when she was younger, her green eyes widening as the butterflies wriggled free, to cling to their “sleeping bags” as she’d called them, waiting for their wings to dry.
She’d laughed, clapping when one tested those newly-formed wings, and then fluttered away.
“How does it know how to fly, if all it’s been doing is crawling around?”
“What do you think?” the professor had asked her.
She thought for a long while, those wide green eyes intent on another of the butterflies, her lips pursed.
“I think they must dream about it, when they’re sleeping, and then, when they wake up, they try it and off they go!”
As if on cue, the butterfly flexed its wings, and wobbled off in the air.
Beth’s wings, it seemed, had finally unfurled. Where would they take her, the professor wondered.
He turned, scratching his head, stifling another yawn, and went back to bed, more laughter drifting up the stairs from the kitchen below.