8 - Where Nothing, Sadly, is Gained

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         Mrs. Harold waved me right into their house when I arrived at seven thirty. One of the ups about being family friends with them was that they were so warm. Mr. and Mrs. Harold were still eating, but they insisted that I come in when I knocked.

         “I’m really sorry to come at this time of day,” I warbled, feeling embarrassed as Mrs. Harold offered to get me a plate of baked potatoes and Spanish rice. “No, really, I’m fine, I just ate at home. I’m er, kind of looking for Jacoby.”

         I blushed as she raised her eyebrows. Mrs. Harold was a kind woman…as long as nothing strayed out of the ordinary. Which was really ironic, since Jacoby was anything but.

         “May I ask why?”

         “I just have something to talk to him about.”

         “This isn’t about Iliadys, is it? Did he do something to hurt you, Jasslyn?”

         I blinked. I had never heard Jacoby’s mother speak about him like that. Normally she had nothing but good to say about her son. You could call him our school’s golden boy. “No, no, Mrs. Harold, nothing like that. I just have something really urgent to talk to him about, that’s all,” I said, hoping it would deter her.

         “Is that really all?”

         I was bewildered at her odd behaviour.

         “Really, Mrs. Harold, Jacoby hasn’t done anything!”

         Why was I defending him so adamantly?

         She hesitated a little, while her husband sat quietly at the dinner table, taking sips from his glass of water. “Emma told me before we went camping that you complained about him on several occasions,” she said carefully. “I just wanted to make sure nothing bad was happening behind our backs.”

         I shook my head. “Oh, no, Mrs. Harold, I just happened to be, well, a little grumpy all those times.” I fixed a smile on my face. “Really, it’s nothing.”

         “All right. He’s in the backyard with Emma.” She turned back to the table, ready to sit down. Just when I thought I was scot-free, she added, “I talked to him about it anyway, just in case.”

         My heart sank at that. How could I wrench the truth from him now when I had—albeit unknowingly—gotten him in trouble?

         “Uh, thanks, Mrs. Harold,” I said weakly.

         I stepped closer to the backyard. I could hear a set of voices travelling from the yard, into the living room, and into the kitchen. On the other side of the large screen door, Jacoby was speaking to his cousin.

         “Emma. No. You can’t have a horse.”

         “Why not?” she whined.

         I peeked through the screen at the two of them. Jacoby was lying on his massive lawn, vivid purple flowers curling around him. They had the shape of electrical plugs, right down to the prongs. Six of the flowers grouped together and reached for Emma, like they wanted to strangle her, or perhaps electrify her.

         “Because it makes no sense to own a horse.” He sat up, bits of grass clinging to his tidy hair. No matter what he did to it, it always seemed to fall back into its original, orderly state. “Where are you going to keep it, huh?” His eyes searched his cousin’s imploringly. He raised his eyebrows until they disappeared underneath his red-brown fringe.

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