"Look, I'm sorry. I didn't think they'd be right outside the door!"
Why did Cameron and Amelia have to see a certain someone hop out of the boy's restroom? The questions started afterwards, which meant June had to explain. Everything. Not like she could lie her way out of it.
The subsequent embarrassment was unfortunate for the both of them. But Blake was more worried about the weapon he left in the girl's bathroom. At least Amelia didn't have a full bladder, or Cameron for that matter. But what about the next person that stepped foot in there? He could only imagine the yelps or screams that would ensue.....
"Still, I feel bad." June's voice washed over him like honey, sweet and genuine. "They were laughing pretty hard."
"I can take it, I promise. You know me; I don't take a lot of things personally."
She wanted to say more. But nothing came to her mind, evidently. The two of them kept walking, not a block from his house. She stuck close to his side as they strolled, and even followed Blake as he turned for his own home. He paused before even reaching the front door.
"Um, you don't need to follow me?" he said.
"I told you earlier, remember? During lunch. I forgot my house key. So I gotta wait until Mom gets home. She won't be back until around seven, as usual."
"Oh. Oh yeah. Right." His shoulders tensed up for a moment, but he forced the relaxation onto himself. He fished the keys from his backpack in a matter of seconds, and unlocked the door with a jangle of the little metal object. He and June both walked into the quiet abode.
"Thanks for letting me stay over for a bit," said June. She set her bag beside the cough, and stretched her arms upwards. "Do you have any snacks, by any chance?"
Blake nodded while setting down his own bag. "We got some grapes and....a couple oranges, I think."
"Hmmm. I'll take the first."
Once he got to the kitchen he opened up the fridge, and looked. But he took his time with it. His mind still raced, and his thoughts continued rushing back to the park bathroom. This was torture. He needed to get back and retrieve that scythe. But how could he possibly justify that to June without looking suspicious in any way?
He pulled out some green grapes from a drawer, then headed back to the living room. June by now had pulled a notebook from her bag and opened it up.
"You got your English notes here?" she asked as he sat down.
"Oh, yeah." Blake set down the bag on the coffee table in front of the couch. Then he reached for his pack.
"Mr. Donnell is definitely gonna test us on the lessons and books for the final, so we ought to review those chapter notes."
"Any particular one you think we should study?"
"Well....I missed a bunch of chapters from Little Women. You got all the notes on those?"
"Yeah. I can share them with you. Let me just find the page...."
June shuffled closer to him as Blake flipped through the notebook pages. Together, they read through the various passages of handwritten notes. Blake's handwriting must have been decent enough, because he heard no complaints from June. He occasionally observed her squinting at some words, as if contemplating their meaning, but then would continue onto the next section after a few more seconds of thought, twiddling with her rosary every now and again. She also leaned forward to grab small bunches of grapes. He did also, but less often.
It must have been ten minutes. Or twenty. Maybe thirty? Blake couldn't really tell, but they read through the notes for some time. For half of it, he focused on the notebook. But the rest of the time his mind wandered. He would think about his mom, the park, the scythe....it was difficult to commit his thoughts to any one thing. And it hadn't gotten dark outside yet, not even close. How much longer did he have to wait before he could actually do something about his situation?
Blake reached over for a few more grapes. But it seemed June also had reached out. She picked out a small bunch and pulled back, but then offered it to him. After a momentary pause, Blake gave her a little smile and graciously picked one from the cluster. Then they looked back at the notes. But Blake didn't really focus too much on reading for a few moments.
He almost couldn't discern June's mumbles, but he did twist his neck to look at her. She eyed the notebook, however, but cast a quick glance sideways every now and then. Blake raised an eyebrow, taking this as his cue to speak. "Is something wrong?"
"I don't know." She then lifted her chin. And faced him. "Is something wrong?"
Her eyes seemed so soft, and gentle. Yet there was this troubled nature behind her expression, as if she stared right into his own soul with a searching intent. Normally it did not send any unease up his spine. But this time was different.
He set an arm on the back of his neck, unsure how to respond. "What do you, what do you mean by that?"
"Well, I guess I can never find the right time, huh?" Strangely enough, a weak smile crept over her face. "The church sermon will start. Maybe our friends will intercept. Seems the moment is always interrupted."
"Maybe not the best word for it," she laughed. "But, I can tell something's been off with you for a while."
He dare not look her in the eye, nor did he respond with any sort of confirmation or denial.
"Come on, Blake." June lowered her chin, and her voice. "You've seemed real anxious lately. You space out a lot. And, not because of school or something. You get this weird look on your face, like something's off. You haven't talked a lot either. I-I mean you don't normally talk a lot but lately you've been awfully, well, quieter."
His hands were visible to her. He wished they weren't. He wanted so badly to clench his fists tightly, and then she would definitely notice. How could she not?
"We're best friends, and when it feels like there's something wrong with your best friend, you wanna help." Now, she looked up at him again. "So, if something's wrong, you'd tell me, right?"
He did not know how to respond. But he had to. How? June would see through even the best of lies. Yet the shadowy creatures, the scythe....he could not possibly tell her any of that. Blake knew her well enough. She'd believe him, and every word of nonsense surrounding the strangeness as of late. The problem rested with the fact that he did not want her to be afraid of a situation he still didn't understand. Not to mention he still had yet to tell his mother about all this, and he wasn't sure if he wanted-
Wait a minute. That was it.
Blake did not glance her way. But at least now he could properly drum up a response.
"Well, we are best friends, right?"
He looked right at her when he asked that. And he made sure to smile too. June noticed this, and for some reason her gaze softened. Then Blake lowered his gaze and focused on his own lap.
"It's....Mom," he finally said after a few more seconds of silence. "I've been real worried about her lately. Last Thursday, we weren't the only ones to get home early. Mom did too. One of her coworkers drove her home, cause she fainted at work."
"Fainted?" June leaned forward to the edge of the couch as her voice increased a little in pitch. "But, that's happened before, right?"
"Usually it's brief," said Blake. "But it had nothing to do with food, and she wasn't even that tired. She had to go to the hospital so they could give her some fluids."
"You're....I can't believe she had to go to the hospital." June turned her away, from what Blake could see in his periphery, and she lifted a hand to move aside some hair. "She's...been getting worse, hasn't she?"
Blake didn't know if he should nod or not; even he didn't know what the correct answer was. "Maybe," he eventually said. "I mean, she's been like this for as long as I can remember. It does seem like she's been a bit weaker lately."
"She did look a little more pale than usual during yesterday's service...."
Did June really notice that? Blake saw his mother every day. So if there was a subtle change in her appearance it was possible he might not have seen it. But if his mother really was getting worse, then why? And how?
"But, she's got a lot of spirit at least."
Moments after Blake turned his head, June lifted hers. And that smile on her face was so tiny, and yet so sweet all the same, as though she genuinely believed what she said.
"You know, whatever she's feeling, she's always got a bright spirit," she soon declared. "Our moms always tell me mind over matter, right? Whatever is wrong, she can't help but stay positive."
"Not to mention looking after me even when I worry about her...."
"Okay, then, Blake." He felt a hand rest upon his shoulder, and turned his head as a result. "As your best friend, I'm here to tell you something."
After a couple of rapid eye blinks, his brows furrowed with confusion. "Okay?"
"I know you're worried about her. I mean, I am too, and probably a lot of other people too. But, she's your mom. You're not hers. And that means you gotta think about taking care of yourself first. I mean...."June looked away, and paused to search for words. "You know, Dad used to tell me something, something he picked up from riding and jumping planes for so many years. If a plane's about to crash, those breathing masks fall down. And airline staff always say to put on your own mask before anyone else's. Right?"
A momentary pause from her indicated to Blake that she awaited a response. "Right...."
"They ask you to take care of yourself before you take care of anyone else. And....that's all I'm saying." June let out a tiny laugh before she continued. "I know you wanna look after her, and care for her. But, you can't forget about yourself. Okay?"
A smirk came over Blake's face. And then he leaned back on the couch. "Yeah, okay. I get what you're saying. I'll keep a better eye on myself."
"You'd better." June raised her eyebrows in a matter-of-fact manner. "Headaches, staring off into space, lack of sleep lately....I'm worried about you, you know. She won't say it either, but I know Amelia gets concerned too, sometimes."
Blake about replied, but then he thought it over another moment and tilted his head. "Has Cameron said anything?"
"Well, no," said June as she tossed her hands into the air. "But you know boys, being one. They really don't talk about their feelings. Like, ever."
Even he couldn't help but chuckle at that. "Good thing girls seem to be so good at it. Where would us guys be without you to help us?"
Now both of them laughed and chuckled. They did so for a few moments until some random thoughts began crossing his mind, things he hadn't really considered before.
"Wonder how much practice Mom has with expressing her emotions...."
June opened her mouth as if to respond. But she did not reply, as both of their heads turned when they heard a loud honk coming from outside.
"Isn't that your mom's car?" asked Blake, his voice low with confusion.
"Yeah...." She seemed to feel the same as him. She reached for her phone on the coffee table and flipped it open.
"It's not even five."
"Doesn't she usually get home after seven?"
He finished asking the question as both of them stood up and stepped away from the couch. June did not grab her things and Blake walked over to the front door to open it. He and June stepped out, and immediately looked right. The headlights of a blue sedan shut off, and a woman stepped out into the driveway next door. She was a brunette, a bit taller than him, and a slight more heavyset. June walked down the sidewalk a little, then stopped.
The woman walked around the little sedan, but something looked off about the way she walked. Sluggish, as though a wave of exhaustion had overtaken her some time ago. Her purse nearly slid off her shoulder, and she slowly picked up some keys off the ground as she greeted, "Hi, baby."
Even the response by her was soft and sluggish. Blake narrowed his eyes but said nothing.
"You don't leave work early," June said. "Is everything okay?"
"Chance is still on vacation with his girlfriend, Gabe called in sick, and Sheryl was coughing practically all day," her mother explained. She rubbed her eyes with some substantial pressure. "I started coughing too towards the end of the day, so Johnston sent us both home."
June and Blake exchanged a quick glance with one another. "Is it that bad?" June finally asked.
"Probably just a little bug. June, hon, I know we were going to make some casserole together-"
"Hey, Mom, it's okay. If you're not feeling up for it it's totally fine. I can always just....make some sandwiches."
She didn't sound too enthusiastic about the idea. But Viola really did look exhausted and beat, especially with a few bags under her eyes. June looked at Blake and nodded her head.
"I'll just, uh, grab my stuff then."
She turned back for Blake's house, leaving him standing outside while Viola fished for something in her purse. She looked confused for a moment, until she lifted the hand that held a couple of keys on them.
"Right. House key and car key are on the same chain," she mumbled.
Meanwhile Blake crossed his arms. "Are you sure you're okay?"
The woman coughed a few times, quite loud and dry by the sound of it. Only afterwards did she reply. "Don't worry about me, I'm sure I'll feel better in the morning. But thank you, Blake, for letting her stay over."
He set his hands in his pants pockets and nodded. "Not a problem. Hope you feel better."
"Yeah, so do I."
At least Viola carried a smile on her face when she said that. The woman waved in his direction, and then made her way towards the front door of her house. A few moments later, Blake turned his head when he heard a little shuffle next to him. June carried her backpack on her shoulders, and her arms wrapped around a notebook and textbook over her chest.
"I'll see you tomorrow?" she said.
"Bright and early for school. Yupp. Um, see ya. And I hope your mom feels better."
"I'll keep an eye on her." June smiled, and walked away from his house, down the sidewalk, around the fence and up her house's driveway. Viola already unlocked the door and entered by the time June and Blake waved each other goodbye.
He closed the front door behind him, but stood in place for a couple of seconds. It seemed like such a normal, regular day, just like any other, classes, school, hanging out with friends and June....so why? Why did his stomach churn and his spine tingle with unease?