Chapter 4 - Breakfast of Champions

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We all join Candy in the dining room. I lean against the wall near the archway that connects with the foyer, my arms hugging my stomach—a quick escape my first priority. Unless Pete comes up with a good reason to stay, I'm back out the door to rescue Nina from Margery.

Candy sits at the head of the mahogany table that's surrounded by ten high back chairs. She reaches into a bowl filled with Swedish Fish, shoves three at a time in her mouth, and chews with puffy cheeks. I'm guessing nothing short of an asteroid could separate her from the television mounted in the opposite corner of the room. Beneath the women arguing on the screen is a large picture window framed with flowered curtains. Morning light shines in and illuminates the room.

Archie sighs as he takes the seat to Candy's left. For the first time, I notice he spends a lot of time in the gym and could kick my ass despite me being a foot and a half taller. He even has the nerve to turn off the TV.

"Hey." Candy squeezes his wrist and fights him for the remote.

"Knock it off." Pete leans in, snatches it away from them, then sits to the right of Candy. "Our lives are about to get a lot shittier. I need everyone focused."

When they simultaneously turn my direction, I avert my eyes to the ceiling.

Ulla and Inez back their way through creaky saloon-style doors behind Candy. They carry a short stack of pancakes slathered with a ridiculous spray of whipped cream. Inez tells me, "You eat now."

The ladies put the plate down at the place setting beside Pete. Ulla looks up at me and smiles. "You're such a cute boy, and so tall." It's the first time anyone besides my mother has complimented my appearance.

I scurry to sit, wanting to stay on their good side. I lean in and whisper to Pete, "I really hate pancakes. Any chance I can get a Froot Loops chaser?"

"No special orders." Inez twists my ear backward and moves in close. The frown lines permanently drawn on her face tell she knows how to get what she wants.

My shoulders shrug through the pain. I rub my ear and reach for the syrup. I might as well be a kid again, forced to eat all his broccoli.

While Ulla and Inez return to the kitchen through the swinging doors, Pete says, "It's the antidote to release your soul from Margery's ability to inflict pain on you from a distance, like what she does to your gut to get you to report to work. Unfortunately, you'll still wake up at four forty in the morning, and the pancakes won't protect you from her cigarettes. Suggest you use a lot of that syrup and eat up, every last bite if you want the remedy to work."

I slip the knife between two pancakes, lift to take a closer look, and turn up my lip.

Archie stares at me with an evil grin. "You shouldn't have done that."

There's a good reason for the blanket of whipped cream. It hides insects. My breakfast was made from a batter heavy on thorax, legs, and wings. I sure hope my eyes are playing tricks because I swear some of the limbs are twitching. And I'm afraid to ask what all the tiny white beads might be. I sit back, hold my stomach, and for the fourth day in a row, wish I'd wake up from this nightmare I'm in.

Pete crosses his arms and says, "Did you really think freedom from Margery would taste like sugar and spice?"

I take his advice, pour all the maple syrup around the edge of the pancakes, then hold up the jug and ask, "Any chance I can get more?"

They all laugh.

My face turns red.

Candy leans in. "It might help if you close your eyes and think how some cultures consider bugs a delicacy."

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