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The stench of sweaty male nearly overpowered the potpie cooking in the oven when LaVarr and Alijah started opening cupboards to set the table for dinner.
“Hold on a moment.” Melissa leaned over and did a quick sniff on both her boys. “LaVarr, figure out if it is you or your clothes and get whichever it is clean before we sit down.”
Looking smug, the younger brother declared, “Told you, you stink.”
LaVarr made to shove his brother but saw his mother cross her arms, so he just glowered instead. As a teenager, he was great at glowering and stomping; he proved the second by stomping to the shared bedroom.
Pulling out the juice and salad dressings, Melissa mentioned to her youngest. “You may want to figure out a better way to word things if you actually are trying to help.”
“But he does smell. How else can you say that?” He asked placing the glasses around their small kitchen table.
Melissa thought about it a moment before shrugging. “Better somehow.” She started speaking louder as the shower turned on elsewhere in their apartment. “Sometimes pointing out the consequences works.”
“Like learning about mythology can help you write better video games. Carrot works better than a stick.”
Alijah nodded, clearly remembering the argument his mom had presented last week when he tried to blow off an English paper, “Okay. Yeah. So telling LaVarr if he wants to date Sherra, he needs to look sharp.”
“That might work.” Melissa agreed.
Since her declaration in September the boys were in charge of cleaning their own room, Alijah and LaVarr had been going head-to-head a bit more. Alijah was a neat freak, and LaVarr, to put it mildly, was not. Alijah learned to do laundry and took over that chore from her by Halloween; he liked getting clean sheets twice a week, as opposed to her once every other week schedule, and thought it stupid to do less than a full load. The school lessons on recycling and saving energy found a convert in him.
But as successful as the new situation was with Alijah, after a month of picking up after his brother, a family meeting was necessary which resulted in a line of electrical tape down the center of the boys’ bedroom. Since the clear demarcation of territory, she wasn’t sure if any of LaVarr’s clothes had been washed. She had hoped he would have a sharper learning curve, but since turning fifteen his ability to be reasoned with seemed to have entirely disappeared.
LaVarr rejoined them in an entirely new outfit, one of the ones he never wears because it was beyond uncool, likely the only clean one in his closet that fit since his last growth spurt. He also had shaved the curly wisps from his chin. He glowered at them eating before dumping the rest of the salad on his plate, pouring on croutons and dressing, then stabbing into the tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, and lettuce like serial killer.
“So since neither of you have sports tomorrow, Grandma Clark offered to pick you guys up from school.” Melissa inserted the words into the heavy atmosphere her oldest had brought to the table. “She and PopPop are thinking about taking you to that new cartoon you have been wanting to see.”
>Alijah rolled his eyes before loading a second serving of potpie on his plate. “It’s anime mom. Hayao Miyazaki is a wizard. You really need to see some of his stuff.”
“Sorry, but I got to work late.” Melissa pushed the last of her peas onto her fork. “Afterwards, they will be coming back here so we are going to do some house cleaning tonight.”
“Is Dad going to come?”
LaVarr growled at his brother. “Of course Dad isn’t fucking going to come.”
“Watch your mouth LaVarr! I can have them leave you with the after-school program tomorrow.”
His mouth formed a grim line as he gritted out, “Sorry, mom.” Reaching across the table he grabbed the main dish, scouped out a double-sized serving, and started plowing his way through that. He clearly wanted to storm off, but the food was here and he was fifteen.
“Alijah, Grandma Clark had not mentioned anything about your father being there.”
Their father had managed to shirk his child support for the past six years, but just because their son ended up being a jerk, Melissa saw no reason to cut her children off from the Clarks. She had half grown up in their house and still loved and got along with everyone on that side of the family, aunts, uncles, and even second cousins met at the summer family reunions, everyone except for her ex-husband, whom had taken to dodging his entire clan because everyone was on her side.
“Oh, okay. Just wondering.” Her more sensitive son slouched in his chair.
“Well, I am done. Shall you and I start on the laundry? You were wanting to know how to do ironing.” Melissa took her plate over to the dishwasher.
Alijah shoved in the last three bites before bounding over with his dishes. Talking around his full mouth, he said. “Sure do, the orchestra tuxedo shirts look crummy unless ironed.” Glancing at his brother, he added, “Can’t get the girls looking crummy.”
“Like you get girls in orchestra,” his brother sneered.
“Sure can, over half the orchestra is girls.”
Alijah smiled wide. “Yep, nerd girls who like video games.”
“Anyone in particular you might like to ask to go to the movies with you tomorrow?” Melissa asked.
Alijah’s face lit up as they walked to the laundry alcove in the hallway. LaVarr would have gagged at the thought of having his grandparents be chaperons, but for Alijah getting to take a girl out would be a first. “Elaina, she plays in the violins, and loves sci-fi. We were discussing the mythology of Star Wars in class.”
“Do you know her phone number?” Melissa pulled down the ironing board and plugged in the iron.
“We are in the net-group for English, so I think I can get her.” Alijah frowned, considering.
Melissa nodded, “So it is possible to ask her and her parents tonight. Why don’t you call Grandma Clark while the iron heats up to see if she is willing to take on another passenger?”
(words 1,058 – first publication 2/21/2016)