Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.
September 30, 2020
"I found him with Mom and Dad," Emma whispered, wrinkling her nose distrustfully. Her round green eyes narrowed as she glanced between the stranger and her grandfather. "Grandpa, he sounds like a Southerner, but his accent's off. it might just be because he's from Florida--"
"Honey, Florida's always been a hot mess," McHale replied firmly. "I dunno if we can trust him just yet, but for now, he's staying with us. What was his name again?"
"Williams," Emma answered roughly, like the name was poison in her mouth, "Coryn Williams. Mom and Dad told me how they met him... said they found him half-dead in a patch of mud along I-75. I think they said it was near Valdosta-- that used to be in Georgia."
The strange boy sat on a lawn chair on the other end of the periwinkle porch as the sun cast long shadows across Memphis. In the distance, Coryn was staring at the magnificent bronze glass-glazed pyramid as it gleamed beneath the sky. Pastel reds and creams painted the heavens, only the brightest stars now visible. The pale moon was hardly visible, its faint outline overridden by the dying rays of the sun.
"He makes me feel... wary," Emma admitted.
"Wary?" her grandfather repeated to himself as if he did not know the word's meaning.
"Cautious," she confirmed, coughing as her mother opened the door and stepped outside, foul smoke rushing out of the house.
"Your father burned the turkey," Luna wheezed, half-choking on the air. "He says he forgot how to use the oven."
Coryn's head shot up from where he sat. "I can cook," he said. "I might even be able to salvage your turkey!"
Luna tilted her head, eyes widening with surprise. "You can?"
"As a teacher of mine once said, The world is but a canvas for one's imagination: if you test its limits in any way, you will always change where the line is drawn."
"That sounds like part of a Thoreau quote," Grandpa grumbled, "but different."
Coryn asked who Thoreau was, and Luna took him inside to explain while he began saving their dinner.
"What were you saying, Emma?" McHale asked after it was quiet again.
"I said cautious. There's something..." She paused, glancing around for a moment. "There's something off about him. Something... different." After McHale narrowed his eyes, she hastily added, "Not that different is bad, of course! Just-- he's different, and I don't know what to make of it."
The old man stroked his gray whiskers and suspired, shaking his head as he sat down in another lawn chair. "He's from Florida, Emma. It's been a hot mess as long as it's belonged to America. There's never been a president from Florida for a reason. It's Florida. It's the... it's the Italy of America."
"...do I want you to elaborate?"
"Probably not, Now let's go see what Austin's going to do when he finds out someone other than him or his father are cooking. I think we may just have dinner and a show."
"Coryn, I don't know how the hell you saved this bird," Austin insisted, "but this is the most succulent, tastiest turkey I have ever had. You must tell me your secrets or I will personally send you back to Florida."
"Magic," he replied simply.
Emma noticed that he seemed to regret it for a moment before Austin laughed, "Fine, keep your secrets! It's delicious nonetheless!"
"It looks like you're going to be drowned in praise," Luna chirped. "It's not often he glorifies anyone else's cooking-- even my own, let alone this much." She took a large bite our of her turkey-potato pie. She chewed through the flaky crust and creamy potatoes, sucking on the strips of turkey that had survived the oven. After she swallowed, Luna looked at Emma's plate. "Not hungry?"
"No," she admitted. "I guess I'm just worried about the virus thing that's going on... The radio said cases have been found all across New England, and--"
"Emma, no politics at the table, that's the rule," her father interrupted.
"Coryn?" Grandpa McHale interrupted before Emma could reply.
"Yes, sir?" the young man replied.
"Do you know how to cook bear?"
"No, sir. Why? Do you have some meat you need cooked?"
"No, no..." McHale jokingly looked at his son-in-law and said, "So long as we praise the Lord and pass the ammunition and Alistair holds his tongue every now and again, I can guarantee that--"
"Are you insinuating that it is morally upright to jokingly say that you may kill your son-in-aw due to your disdain for him or because he, in your eyes, acts like an animal?" It was Coryn's turn to interrupt.
Around the table, almost everyone dropped their forks, apart from Grandpa and the stranger.
He interrupted Grandpa.
No one interrupted Grandpa.
Not even Smith had dared to interrupt Grandpa.
McHale leaned forward and narrowed his eyes. "I am. Got an issue with it?"
Coryn's gray eyes glistened in the light of the dining room. "Considering that my people have previously been slaughtered because they were considered subhuman, I find it disdainful and inappropriate for anyone to make such a joke." He said joke as though it was a curse-- an evil word that ought not be said unless you wanted to truly insult someone.
Emma glanced between her grandfather and the stranger for several minutes. A never-ending, awkward silence settled upon the room. A pen could have dropped, and still the silence would have been unbroken. Then--
"I apologize for offending you," Grandpa McHale said, voice flooded with sincerity. "That was not my intention. You are a guest in our home; I promise you that I will not say such things again."
"Thank you," Coryn replied simply, setting down his fork. "Your apology is accepted." He turned to Luna. "May I be excused, Mrs. Nightshade?"
It took Luna several moments to realize he had addressed her. "Er-- yes, um, you may."
Coryn stood, took his plate to the sink and quickly washed it. After setting it up in the strainer to dry, he washed his fork and put it in its drawer before going upstairs in silence. After he was gone, everyone stared at Grandpa McHale.
"What the hell just happened?" the old man asked.
"That," Emma said with a smirk, "is called being one-upped b the next generation."