Chapter 7: Consequences

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Neither Max nor Ashley could tell over the phone what had gotten Ryan so upset. He hated talking, and the majority of what he said out loud were one or three word sentences. He had long ago left the art of understanding living people to his sister, and spoke his true thoughts only in her mind. The fact that he was using the phone at all was entirely out of his norm. In short, the message had gotten through that it was time for Max to return home, now.

Worried, Ashley suggested they take her red pickup truck, and volunteered to come along. The truck was much faster than the tractor she'd arrived in. Max agreed without question.

Less than five minutes later, they met Ryan at the door. "What's wrong?" Ashley asked.

Mutely, Ryan turned and gestured toward the kitchen. Max spread her senses, and was delighted to realize she was watching the golden yellows and spring greens of Papa himself, making breakfast. "Papa's cooking!" She shared with Ashley, and hurried in to see better.

"You did something," said Ryan into her mind where Ashley couldn't hear. "What did you do?"

"I tried to fix him. Didn't it work? He seems happy, Ryan." Max peered around to watch from the kitchen doorway. Papa had something sizzling on the stove and the timer on the microwave was running. He was humming.

She'd done it! It had worked far better than she could have thought possible. Papa hadn't worn these colors in ages and ages. It had been like he was covered in a dark cloud. But now he hummed with the lightest heart, and was actually /cooking/ breakfast. He hadn't done that in months, either.

Ashley was mystified. "Ryan? Did you call us because you wanted to invite me to breakfast? Because this... Certainly isn't urgent."

Papa's voice, warm and half laughing, rumbled from the stove, his back to the trio. "Is that little miss Ashley I hear? Hope you're hungry, I got enough here to last a week!"

"I can't wait, Mr. Thompson!" Ashley called back.

Ryan growled his question aloud this time. "What you do."

Max blushed. Curse her blushes. Even Ashley could tell something was up.

"Do?" Ashley asked, keeping her voice as low as Ryan's. "Was this Max's idea?"

Max crossed her arms, as if by doing so she could hide from their judging expressions. Ryan in particular didn't look happy at all. He should be! He could sense emotions, too. He didn't see them as colors the way she did, and his abilities were much less intense. Where Max could read every emotion a person had, including some past and some future emotions, Ryan only got the vaguest of senses about how a person felt at that moment.

But still, even that would be enough to tell how happy Papa was!

With her arms folded, Max answered carefully. "Papa has nightmares every night. I fixed it. Now he won't have to worry about them anymore."

Ashley peered in the kitchen. "He... seems absolutely normal to me?"

"But he hasn't been normal! Not recently," Max protested. "He's been... grieving, since Mama died."

Ashley looked again to Max, and then to Papa, and she frowned. "Max, you guys. People are allowed to be happy, even after they lose someone important. Maybe he just actually felt like cooking breakfast?"

"Put him back," growled Ryan.

Max jumped, and looked down to her brother, eyes wide. "Put him back? Why? Ryan, he's happy."

"He's sick," Ryan protested. "Go see for yourself," he added into Max's thoughts. "And then fix him back."

This is what she had been afraid of, why she'd gone to visit Ashley. Ryan didn't get it. Papa was better now. She wasn't going to put him back. And besides, even if she wanted to, she wasn't sure any longer if she could put the nightmares back. She could try to pull on them again, but she wasn't sure if it would work.

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