Ed was having quite a lovely dream.
In his lovely dream he could walk. Not limp like some immobile freak, but walk like a normal human being. He glided. He jaywalked. He skipped and skated and pranced. It was a nice feeling. He felt like he was in a current remake of the Sound of Music. He was King of the World!
He approached a group of beautiful ladies that all looked like silicone-injected Playboy bunnies—but he didn’t mind one bit. Though, something puzzled him. One had Heather Gannis’s face! Another had a Tatiana head. But to his immense surprise—and pleasure—the one in the middle looked like none other than Gaia Moore.
Then he crashed straight into reality—and woke up.
Someone was calling his name. For a moment, he had thought that the buoyant delirium that attacked him in his dream had followed him to consciousness. There was no way that there was someone was calling him… His parents were out. His older sister had gone off into the swarm of educated fashion slaves. So who was it?
“Ed! Ed, wake up! It’s eight o’clock!”
Oh yeah. He’d forgotten about his little intruder that had spent most of the night instituting the Spanish Inquisition.
Opening one eye, Ed found five-year-old Jason Yuy frowning at him as if someone his age still sleeping at eight o’clock in the morning was something to be disconcerted about. There was something about his stare, however, that differed from the usual curious wide-eyed kid stare. It was almost as if he was memorizing his every movement, like a relative that was about to croak. It didn’t make Ed feel any better, given the circumstances. After all, it was entirely possible that Ed could be killed just for harboring this innocuous-looking kid. That didn’t make him feel any better either.
Man, it was just all too early in the morning for all this.
“Hold on a minute,” Ed muttered, trying to gain some sense of what the heck he was doing. Oh yeah. He was about to get out of bed. He rolled over and placed his feet flat on the floor. Meanwhile, Jason peered at him. Ed, despite his foggy brain, found the appraisal disconcerting. After grabbing his crutches, he turned to Jason.
“Are you alright?” Ed inquired.
Jason gave him an oddly thoughtful stare that Ed did not expect. As a matter of fact, he had almost expected for the small boy to be rambling on about how much he missed his mother and wanted to go home to his PlayStation II. Instead, though, he leaped off of the bed like the superhuman kid he seemed to be and took Ed’s crutches from him.
Ed blinked. He felt like someone had slapped him in the face with a plastic placemat. He remained rooted in place as Jason leaned his two assistants up against the wall. The gesture was bizarrely parent-like, as if the crutches were something illegal, not permitted for use.
Okay…what the hell is going on here?
Holding back exasperation, Ed limped to Jason. “Jason…why did you take my crutches?” he asked patiently. Now he knew why people complained about kid brothers and sisters.
Jason gave him another thoughtful stare. “Because,” he responded with a Dennis-the-Menace type innocence that could not be trusted.
Because?! “Okay. Um…you mind elaborating?”
It was then that Jason surprised Ed by taking his hand and leading him out of the bedroom. Perhaps stunned by the kid’s tenacity and thoughtfulness, Ed remained silent.
“My mommy said that sometimes you have to deal with the pain,” he told Ed, who was still in a foggy-brained, bothered stupefaction. “You can walk without your crutches, I know you can. You have to be like the little engine that could.”
Leave it to a five-year-old to bring up a hackneyed character from a book that way below Ed’s reading comprehension. But Ed then understood, and he felt a little bit of endearment for the young boy. Jason wasn’t trying to be annoying; he was trying to help Ed to embrace his destiny like some kind of child omnipotent being…or something like that.
Of course, that feeling turned into astonishment once he had gotten into the kitchen.
The kitchen was Pine Sol clean. It had a strange dirt-free smell that reminded Ed of the Mr. Clean commercials. Even more astonishing was the stack of French toast sitting on the counter and a plate of incredible, edible eggs steaming in a bowl beside them. Ed suddenly felt like he had stepped into a strange world in which fairies existed—Breakfast Fairy, Mop-and-Shine Fairy, Cascade Fairy—you name it, Johnson and Johnson probably could market it.
“Um, you did this?” Ed croaked.
Jason nodded and grinned, a-can-I-get-a-gold-star kind of smile that only a little kid could pull off. Ed couldn’t help ruffling his hair as if they were in some perfect sitcom show-existence and going to help himself to breakfast. It was…sweet. A kind gesture. A guileless gesture.
“Daddy taught me how to cook so I could help Mommy in the kitchen,” Jason prattled, heaping syrup on his ration as if it were going out of style. “And I help Josie when it’s her turn to do the dishes.”
Ed frowned at the little comment. It was a pretty normal thing to say, an explanation for this seemingly unattainable splendor that he achieved. But there was a note of longing in his voice—something he couldn’t ignore. He knew he was going to turn all Maury Povich on poor Jason—but it had to be done. It was his duty…or something like that.
“Look, Jason, did you run away from home?”
Jason looked at him with horrified blue eyes that demonstrated that Ed was very very far away from the truth. Okay. That looks like a no.
“Well then, what happened?”
“I did run away…sort of,” Jason mumbled reluctantly. Ed kind of felt like he was asking Jason to play with Ballet Dancer Barbie or to kiss a girl or something that a five-year-old boy would find disgusting. But he pushed thoughts aside and concentrated on trying to decipher what happened.
“Sort of?” Ed prodded gently. Seeing that Jason was still reluctant, Ed gave him a reassuring pat on the shoulder as if he was a buddy that shared beer and a good football game with him. “Come on, Jason. You can tell your ol’ buddy Ed anything.”
The expression on Jason’s face turned stonily serious. “Ed…I don’t think you should hear this.”
Something in his tone reminded him of Gaia. It screamed, Stay back, don’t prod you idiot! I’m doing this for your own good! Stillness hung in between them like a heavy cloth, and Ed could not speak.
He had a feeling…this was about to get complicated.