I didn’t want to turn on the light in the kitchen in case it woke Micah. His little, closet-for-a-bedroom hung off the back of the kitchen like an afterthought. I thought maybe a long time ago it’d been a covered porch that someone remodeled out of necessity. He still had an hour of sleep left.
I tripped over the laundry basket and barely caught myself on the edge of the counter. Scowling, I grabbed the basket and shoved it through the narrow doorway into the equally small living-room.
Someday...I’ll have a real, full size washer and dryer--in a real laundry room...I stopped before the day dream went too far. Letting myself fantasize about that kind of thing always led to worries about Micah. He couldn’t take care of himself. Not yet.
I won’t get placed anywhere until I’m 18, I reminded myself to stave off irrational concerns about Micah cooking for himself. Sixteen at the earliest.
I put together our lunches, skimping on the jam when I had to open another jar from the pantry. My little garden hadn’t yielded many strawberries this year. I canned them with our sweet, old neighbor Mrs. Mae. I suspected she added some of her own strawberries to my harvest.
I folded the laundry with quick, practiced movements, thinking about a rummage sale I saw a poster for while walking home from school the day before. Micah needed bigger shirts. I wondered when he’d stop growing. He already looked me in the eye. Dad had been well over six feet. I bit my lip and sighed. I was tempted to tell him to roll up the too short sleeves on the shirts he wore now, but that would just provoke him into stealing more food if he thought I couldn’t afford to get him more clothes, even just cheap hand-me-downs.
The sizzle of pancakes woke Micah. He drug his feet across the floor and slumped into a chair next to the table in the corner. He scowled when I dropped the plate, piled with golden pancakes, in front of him, but he didn’t say anything.
“They’re cheap, Micah. And they fill you up. Just eat, please.”
He doused them in the watery syrup I made at home--water, not enough sugar, and not much more than a drop of maple extract. “I could’ve grabbed a dozen eggs from that SUV. The spoiled blond lady probably wouldn’t have missed them.”
“Don’t talk about people like that. Eat.”
We walked to school together, but in silence; Micah probably brooding over thoughts of scrambled eggs. If I stayed a few hours later at work on Friday, I could get an extra dozen eggs. I grimaced. They were so expensive. Over five dollars for a dozen. Two and a half hours of work.
I followed Micah into the red-brick building that housed our school. He stared defiantly at the teacher-“cashier” standing by the door, waving his arm over the bar code reader Mom used to say reminded her of the grocery store.
The teacher glanced down at the little screen on the desk. "Good morning, garbage boy," he sneered.
I clapped a hand on Micah's shoulder, pushing him forward through the “check-out” and waving my own arm without a word. I knew what it said--Housekeeping, management--and I felt guilty for it.
He shook me off. "Like he's so much better. He teaches garbage boys."
"Try to stay out of trouble, Micah. Please."
He rolled his eyes and took off down the hall.
I turned at the sound of Headmistress Mason voice and smiled. “Good morning, Headmistress.”
She took me by the elbow. “Come with me, dear,” she whispered in my ear. She guided me down the hallway, toward her office. I tried to ignore the kids in the other classrooms the closer we got. The kids inside the rooms labeled Medical, Corporate leadership, and Government--Executive weren’t dressed in too small clothes and faded jeans. A girl stepping into one of the Medical classrooms smiled warmly at me. I looked away.
“What’s going on, Mrs. Mason?” I lengthened my stride to keep up with the formidable headmistress’s long steps.
“We have official visitors, Eve. I need to show them something. You won’t mind giving them a tour with me, will you?”
My cheeks warmed with pleasure. “Of course not, Mrs. Mason.”
She beamed. “I knew you wouldn’t.” She slowed to a more lady-like pace when we approached her office. Placing her hand comfortingly on my back, she guided me inside. “Good morning, sir,” she greeted the small entourage in her spacious office.
A man next to the desk turned. I couldn’t stop a small gasp from escaping.
“May I introduce you to one of our hardest working students, Mr. Vice President?”