readingrat: (Kelpie)
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Chapter 13: The Piano

Julia wakes her earlier than the other mornings. "Rachel, do you want to go home to your mom?"

Too sleepy to talk, she just nods.

"Fine, I'm taking you to my workplace today. You'll be picked up from there. But you need to get up now and start getting ready, okay?"

Her uncle Rob is already at the breakfast table when Julia wheels her into the kitchen, as is Ethan, slouched over a bowl of cereal, his music turned on so loud that Rachel can hear the heavy metal beat through his earbuds. Mom would never allow her to listen to her music on the iPod during meals, but Julia and Rob don't seem bothered.

Nana sails in and says brightly, "Good morning!"

Julia echoes her greeting, so Rachel follows suit. Rob looks up from the newspaper and grunts something that can pass for a good morning at a stretch. Ethan doesn't say anything because he doesn't hear Nana. Nana lifts an eyebrow, which doesn't impress Ethan, because so far he hasn't looked up yet. So Nana looks expectantly at Rob and Julia.

Rob dives back into his newspaper while Julia turns to the stove, asking, "What would you like for breakfast, Mom?"

"Nothing special. Pancakes, if you have any," Nana says.

"I'll make some," Julia says.

"Oh, no! Don't bother. Toast will be fine."

"It's no bother," Julia insists, getting an egg out of the fridge. "Rachel, would you like pancakes too?"

"Yes, please," Rachel says, impressed by the way Julia has distracted Nana from Ethan. Mom tends to get involved in lengthy discussions with Nana that don't lead anywhere, because whenever Mom is right about something, which is practically always, Nana starts off on something completely different.

Julia's strategy has one downside: it calls Rachel to Nana's attention. "Why are you up already?" she asks.

"I'm going with Julia today," Rachel says.

Nana swivels around in her chair to face Julia. "You don't need to get her out from under my feet. I don't mind having her here, and how will you keep her busy all day in your office?"

"Lisa is picking her up from my office," Julia says, whisking the batter briskly.

"Lisa is picking her up? She's taking time off from her busy work schedule, her personal commitments, and her oh-so-many health issues to take care of her daughter? I'm impressed!"

"Lisa really isn't well," Julia says mildly. "Besides, I enjoy having Rachel over."

"You have enough on your own plate," Nana says.

"True," Rob mutters, venturing a peek at Nana from behind his newspaper. Rachel suppresses a giggle while Julia rolls her eyes at Rob.

Nana mustn't have understood what Rob meant — Pete would say she has no 'irony detector' — because she continues undeterred, "You have a husband, three children, and a job. Not to mention an irritating old mother." She cocks an eyebrow at Rob as she says that. Oh ouch, then she did understand him! "Lisa only has one child. She should be helping you, not the other way round."

"Lisa," Julia says, putting a hand on Rob's shoulder, "doesn't have someone like Rob."

She doesn't mention that Mom has a disabled child to deal with, for which Rachel is grateful. That would only make Nana rant on about how it's all Mom's fault that Rachel is in a wheelchair, and Rachel has heard that tirade often enough.

"That's because Lisa doesn't recognise a good thing when it's staring her in the face!" Nana states.

If something or someone doesn't stop Nana, then she'll go into the rant where she accuses Mom of scaring all the nice guys away and of being too picky, but also not picky enough about the men she dates. (Apparently it's possible to be both at the same time.) Yesterday the rant had a new part: Why hadn't Mom married that nice man James Wilson yet? Surely if she tried just a little, he'd propose, and then Rachel would grow up in a proper family, a Jewish family, with a father figure, and so on.

Today Nana doesn't get that far.

"Mo-om!" Sam calls from upstairs. "Ben's blocking the bathroom. Tell him to get out. I'll be late for school if he doesn't let me in the bathroom!"

"Ben, your brother needs the bathroom," Julia calls.

A muffled "In a moment!" comes back in reply.

"He always says that!" Sam whines. "Can't I use your bathroom?"

"No!" Julia and Rob say together.

"What does that boy do in the bathroom that he takes so long about it?" Nana murmurs.

"Trust me, you don't want to know," Rob drawls.

Nana opens her mouth and then shuts it again. She looks around for some other topic and her eyes fall on Rachel again. Rachel ducks inwardly.

"So," Nana says, drawing the word out, "why doesn't Lisa pick Rachel up from here?"

"She has some business close to my office," Julia says. She's not a good liar, Rachel thinks.

"She's making you go out of your way so that she doesn't have to go out of hers?"

"I'm not going out of my way," Julia says placidly, placing pancakes in front of Nana and Rachel. "I'm going to the office anyway."

"You know what I mean: she's inconveniencing you."

"Mom, I'm old enough to look after myself. Besides, I've always wanted to show Rachel where l work."

Nana doesn't look convinced, which doesn't surprise Rachel. Her guess is that Mom is avoiding Nana.

Upstairs, the bathroom door opens.

"You stupid jerk!" Sam yells.

There's a scuffle, a few loud thumps (Sam being shoved into the wall, Rachel assumes), a yell of pain from Ben (Sam must have gotten a jab in), more thumps, and then something bumping down the stairs, followed by a drawn-out wail.

Rob rises, sighing. A few moments later he reappears, hustling Ben in front of him.

Sam, sniffling, follows in their wake. "Ben ..." he starts.

"I don't care," Rob cuts him off. He points to two chairs at the far ends of the table. "You, here. You, over there. Don't move without my permission!"

"He threw me down the stairs!" Sam protests.

"Ben!" Julia says reprovingly.

"He provoked me! Besides, he knows I need the bathroom at this time. He can go in earlier," Ben grumbles.

"Why do I have to go in earlier? Why can't he ...?"

"Enough, both of you. Eat your breakfast," Rob orders. "Ethan ... Ethan!" Leaning forward, he plucks an earbud out of Ethan's ear.

"What?" Ethan asks, bewildered. "l didn't do anything!"

"Do I need to pick you up from band practice this evening?" Rob asks patiently.

"Oh. Yeah, you do. Anything else?"

"No, but thank you for taking the time to communicate with me."

Ethan looks confused. "S'okay," he finally says, popping the earbud back into his ear.

"He's dumb," Ben says.

"Look who's talking!" Sam snipes.

"Stop it!" Julia reprimands them. Rachel wishes she could have slept longer, like on other mornings, and gotten up after the boys leave for school.

"Children didn't behave that way when you were young," Nana says.

"We're not children," Ben says. "We're —"

"Ben!" Julia says warningly. To Nana she says, "You didn't have boys. Too much testosterone during puberty."

"Too many fancy words for bad behaviour," Nana says.

Ben pushes away his plate. "Not hungry," he says with a covert glance at Nana and a beseeching one at Rob.

Rob eyes him, then says, "If you aren't going to eat anything, you may as well leave for school. Sam, you can leave too."

Sam flees after Ben, shooting his father a grateful look.

"And you," Nana says, glaring at Rob, "encourage them to be rude."

"Sure," Rob says equably. "Ethan … Ethan!" He flaps his hand in front of Ethan's face.

Ethan removes an earbud. "Yeah?"

"Go to school."

Ethan shuffles out. A few minutes later the boys pass the window, Sam and Ben scuffling and kicking each other again, Ethan still immersed in his music.

"We should sell them," Julia says, shaking her head.

"Let's face it, no one would take them even if we offered a reward," Rob says, rising. He gives Julia a peck on the cheek and ruffles Rachel's hair in passing. "See ya in a week," he says to her. "That's if you still want to go on vacation with three teenage boys."

And Nana, Rachel adds silently. Nana is as bad as Sam and Ben together. Ethan's okay, but he's about as interesting as a goldfish now that he's all into heavy metal.

When Rachel is ready, Julia packs her things into the car. "The boys don't need their Lego anymore. Would you like to have it?" she asks.

Rachel nods enthusiastically. "Oh yes, please! I have plenty of room now."

"They've mostly got Star Wars, though, not Harry Potter."

"Doesn't matter; I have most of the Harry Potter sets already."

Three big boxes are added to Rachel's things, Rachel allows Nana to give her a hug, and then they're off. They drive downtown to the bank where Julia works. Julia shows her the office, a big room where she works with about twenty other people, each sitting in a little cubicle. It's not really impressive, but when Julia's co-workers ask her how she likes it, she says it's nice.

"Okay," Julia says. "You'll have to wait for Hou … Pete out in the visitors' lobby. There's no room for you in here, and my boss wouldn't like it. I can see you from here, and if you need anything, just wave."

So Pete is picking her up, not Mom. She shouldn't be surprised, really, but she's a bit disappointed. She sits in the lobby among potted plants, a water dispenser, and an assortment of magazines. Every now and then someone who is passing by stops to chat with her; even Julia's boss drops by. After what seems a long time, Pete turns up.

"Where's your stuff?" he asks

"In Julia's car."

"And where is Julia's car?"

Julia must have been on the look-out for him, because she's there almost at once. "You're taking her back to Lisa's place?" she asks.

"Nope. The moment I have her in the car, I'll run for the Mexican border and sell her to the organ donor mafia."

"Very funny. How's Lisa?"

"Crappy. But doing good compared to Sunday. Does it matter?"

"Of course it matters! I care about how my sister is doing."

"It won't change anything."

She gapes at him, her jaw working. Finally she expels a long breath and says, "Never mind. Can she take care of Rachel?"

Pete sighs. "I'm still there and there's help for the household. I'd say, yes."

Julia looks at Rachel. "Then I guess that's the best solution. I didn't think it would be this tough for Rachel, but she's really missing Lisa. The boys' behaviour doesn't help; they're in puberty and they're godawful."

"You don't have to explain yourself to me," Pete says. "I'm only the executive arm; I have no stake in this either way. And I haven't got all day."

He goes to Rachel and releases the brakes of her wheelchair. "Let's go, crip."

"I'll get her things," Julia says. "By the way, did you call my place yesterday around noon?" she asks casually.

Rachel stiffens, giving Pete a beseeching look, but he isn't looking at her.

"Why would I do that?" he asks Julia.

"I don't know. My mother says you called."

Rachel waits for him to tell Julia that he only called because she called him first, but he only says, "If I'd wanted anything from you, I'd have called you at work or on your cell, not at home. It's not like your mother can help with Lisa, is it?"

Rachel is impressed: so far he hasn't told a lie.

He pushes Rachel out of the bank onto the sidewalk. The disability parking space is occupied by another car. Pete has parked Mom's car right next to it in the right hand lane, blocking it in. A woman is standing next to it, looking around — probably for Pete — while the cars on the road have to change lanes to pass Mom's car. When the woman sees Pete she walks briskly towards him, only to stop short when she spots Rachel. Rachel gets that a lot: people doing a double take when they see her, only to pointedly look somewhere else.

Pete gives the woman a fake smile, cutting off her apology for parking in the disabled spot. "Would you mind stopping the traffic for us so I can get the kid into the car?" he asks her.

When she grasps what he wants she nods and steps out into the left lane, holding out her hand. While traffic piles up on the street, Pete ambles over to the driver's side and opens the rear door. Then he pushes Rachel out into the lane and helps her to pull herself into the car. Finally he folds the wheelchair laboriously, taking his own sweet time before he finally moves off the road again. Rachel is mortified; she can sense the drivers of the cars stuck behind them staring at her.

By this time Julia has arrived with Rachel's suitcase. Behind her, a young man from her office is carrying the Lego boxes. Julia takes in the scene — the woman on the road, holding up about twenty cars by now, Mom's car parked in the right hand lane, Pete with the folded wheelchair — and shakes her head.

"You're a piece of work," she says to Pete.

"Whatevs," Pete says.

When everything is stowed away in the trunk, Pete gets in the car without saying goodbye to Julia or thanking her for having Rachel over, which Rachel is sure Mom would want him to do, so she waves hard to make up for Pete's rudeness.

"Why don't you like Julia?" she asks Pete.

"She doesn't like me," he says.

"She never will if you're rude to her."

He glances at her in the rear view mirror, his eyes stony. "She never will anyway, so it isn't worth bothering."

Rachel doubts that. Julia gets along with everyone, including Nana, and doesn't dislike anyone. But experience tells her that it's no use arguing with adults about such things; they have set opinions that they hardly ever change.

"Why can't I sit in front?" she asks. "If you hadn't put me in the back behind the driver's seat, we wouldn't have needed to stop the traffic."

"Exactly," Pete says, which doesn't explain anything. He sighs dramatically. "Why waste the potential of the situation? That woman will think twice before blocking a disability parking space again. Furthermore, we have increased people's awareness of congestion in urban areas, encouraging them to leave their cars at home and use public transport." Pete's expression is angelic, but somehow Rachel doubts that he cares about … whatever that was what he was saying about public transport.

As they approach a large intersection she notices which way they're going. The big road sign pointing to Philadelphia shows that they need to turn off, but Pete keeps going straight ahead. Pete has this thing about not finding the way, sometimes even with GPS. He must have programmed it all wrong.

"Uh, you're going the wrong way. You need to get on the Interstate."

"We're going somewhere else first," he says.


"Got something I need to do."

Rachel remembers how Peter didn't say yes when Julia asked him whether he was taking her home. Was it another of his clever evasions, and if so, does Mom know where he's taking her? Maybe Mom never asked Pete to pick her up; then he'd be kidnapping her now. Ben says no one would ever buy her, because she's 'damaged goods', but she isn't so sure. None of the kids in her class are ever allowed to go anywhere on their own (even though they can all walk, skate or cycle), because their parents worry about them, so there must be a market for kids, even not-so-great ones. What was that Pete said about selling her somewhere?

Her voice quavers as she asks, "Does Mom know where you're taking me?"

Then it strikes her that if Pete was kidnapping her, he'd lie about it and about Mom knowing where he was taking her, so her question was useless. She bites her lip, wondering what to do. In movies, the heroine opens the car door and jumps out, but even if she wasn't a paraplegic, she'd be too scared to jump out of a moving car. She supposes she could bang against the window and call for help, but the people in the other cars wouldn't hear her. Or she could hold up a note that said, 'HELP!', only she doesn't have pen and paper. Besides, if she's wrong about being kidnapped, then there'll be a lot of trouble and Pete will dislike her as much as he does Julia.

Pete's arm snakes out in between the front seats, holding out something. "Here, call your mom and ask her." It's his cell phone.

Mom's voice reassures her, and Mom knows that Pete is taking her someplace. So that's okay. By the time she has finished talking to her, they've arrived at a warehouse-y sort of place in the middle of nowhere.

"What are we doing here?" she asks.

"Rescuing my belongings," Pete says tersely.

That leaves Rachel as ignorant as before. "I suppose you wouldn't care to explain?" she asks in the same haughty tone that her English teacher uses.

Pete grins as he says, "No." A moment later he adds, "You'll see."

First they go to an office where Pete has a long argument with the lady in charge. It seems he loses that one, because he's in a foul mood afterwards as he pushes her through the warehouse-y place (which is kinda like a huge room with lots of indoor garages), so she keeps her mouth shut, not even pointing out that she can wheel herself. Finally they arrive at one of the garages — they're called 'units', Pete tells her when she asks whether the garage is his — where two men are shifting boxes onto a trolley. After staring at her one of them comes forward to meet them.

"Dr Wilson?"

Pete nods. Rachel decides to keep her mouth shut a bit longer. No one will thank her for pointing out that Pete isn't Wilson, and he happens to be her ride home.

"We're moving this lot," the man waves a hand towards the boxes, "to your new unit."

"Not the piano. I need that moved somewhere else." Pete says, walking into the open unit and looking around. There's a couch in it, some shelves, a closet and something covered in big sheets. That must be the piano. It isn't one of those that stand up against the wall like a closet, but a big one like the ones that they use at concerts.

"We don't do that. You'll have to get someone else for the piano, doc."

"How much more do you want?"

"It's not the money. We're not piano movers," the man says.

"What happens when you clear the units of people who go MIA without paying their dues?"

The man shrugs. "We clear everything out."

"So, clear the piano out, and then clear it where I want it."

"Look, sir," the mover says. "You don't want that. When we clear abandoned units, we heave everything out, and if the contents get damaged, then that's too bad. We aren't equipped to move a piano from one place to another. You organise a mover while we clear out the rest of your things."

"Fuck!" Pete says.

"There's a good piano mover in Trenton," the man says. "Do you want me to call him?"

"Fuck!" Pete says again. "Yeah, call him."

"Okay. Where do you want the piano taken?"

Pete hesitates, scratching his chin. Then he says, "Philadelphia."

While they wait for the piano mover, Pete goes through the boxes and sorts a few things into an empty one. Rachel, bored, rolls herself to one of the other boxes. It contains books, but they're not interesting. They're medical stuff, like the ones Mom has.

"What are you looking for?" she asks Pete, who is rooting through another box.

"Piano music," he says. "If we're to have a piano now, we might as well take some music to go with it."

"Can you play the piano?" Rachel asks.

"Yes. The question is, can I play any of this?" He upends a whole box on the ground and sifts through the pile of sheet music.

"You don't know whether you know those pieces?"

"Oh, I know them; I just don't know whether I ever learned to play them." He looks at a manuscript. "Brahms? Bombastic. Not my cuppa. Though maybe …?" His eyes narrowing, he glances over at the piano, but the movers have pushed it to the back of the unit so they can get the other stuff out and right now they're trying to get the closet past it. Grimacing, Pete places the manuscript on top of a box. His tongue probing his cheeks, he squats in front of the box and flexes his fingers. Then his fingers crawl up and down along the edge of the box, and Rachel realises that he's playing the piano on it. "Huh, I can play this. Must've had a 'bombastic' phase, probably in my teens."

Rachel wonders how he can tell that he can play the piece when there's no sound. For all she knows, he could be playing something completely different or he could be playing the piece all wrong, but if she asks he'll probably say something she can't understand.

He looks at the back of the manuscript. "It's got the stamp of a second-hand shop in Baltimore on it, so I must have bought it when I was in college. A bombastic phase at the age of twenty-two, all sturm and drang. Well, it's over now, so back into the box Brahms goes."

He picks up some more sheet music. "But something tells me that I can't play this: Beethoven, Opus 106, 'Hammerklavier'." He holds up some sheet music in one hand. "Or this: 'La Campanella'." He tosses both aside.

"You could learn to play them," Rachel suggests.

The corner of his mouth twitches. "You've been exposed to too many motivational posters. Guess what: not everyone gets to be an astronaut when they grow up. Or a ballerina, for that matter." This last with a pointed look at her legs.

"That," Rachel says haughtily, "was absolutely superloof- … superloofous … unnecessary!" Wilson taught her to say that when people are annoying, only she can't remember the word with 'super' at the beginning.

"You can't even do outrage right," Pete says, casually pushing her wheelchair aside so he can get past her.

That does it! "Fuck you!" she says.

The movers stop what they're doing and stare at her.

Pete whistles. "My, we're feeling naughty today!"

She flushes, but says defensively to the movers, "He said it first. Twice! You heard him!"

"Doesn't make it okay for you to use that word," one of them says. He asks Pete, "That your kid?"

"Nope," Pete says perfunctorily. "Not even related."

The mover isn't impressed. "If you're looking after her, you should try to be a good example, even if she isn't your kid."

Pete throws more stuff from one of the boxes haphazardly on the ground. "This is me being a good example. I can do a lot worse. Now, why don't you do what you're being paid for?"

Shrugging, the mover pulls the couch out of the unit. Rachel sulks in a corner until the piano movers come. Thankfully, that doesn't take long, and after Pete's usual haggling about the price they take the piano out of the unit.

"Where are they taking it?" Rachel asks Pete, forgetting for a moment that she isn't talking to him.

"Didn't you listen? To Philadelphia."

"To our place?"

"Got a problem with that?"

"Where are you gonna put it?"

"Has anyone ever told you that you're an inquisitive brat?" Pete asks. "Let's go; we need to get there before the piano does."

Car trips with Pete are a pain. He doesn't talk to Rachel the way Mom and Wilson do, though he does allow her to ride shotgun this time round.

"Is that supposed to be music?" she asks after about three minutes of screeching and wailing accompanied by a penetrating beat. The radio stations Pete chooses are not Rachel's favourites.

Pete sighs in an exaggerated manner. "Your ignorance of the cultural highlights of the last century dismays me. That's Led Zeppelin, 'Whole Lotta Love'."

Knowing what it is doesn't make it sound any better. "Can we listen to something else? Please?"

Pete ignores her. Wilson would have let Rachel choose the radio station and Mom would at least have switched to something nicer.

She tries again. "Can I have my MP3-player?"

"Where is it?"

"In my suitcase."

"Then no."

Rachel stares out of the window. "There's the piano movers' van," she says.

The movers left the storage rental before Pete and Rachel did, because it took Pete longer to get Rachel into the car than it took the movers to get the piano into their van. (Loading the piano looked easy enough; Rachel has no idea why the other movers, the ones who emptied the storage unit, made such a fuss about it.) Now the van appears ahead of them on the freeway.

"Right," Pete says. "Hold on tight!"

And with that he accelerates and swerves into a gap between two cars on the left lane, forcing the rear car to brake hard. He continues accelerating, overtaking two sedans in the right lane, until he's practically hugging the bumper of the car ahead of him. Then he moves back into the right lane again and accelerates some more, pulling ahead of the car in the left lane in the process, before weaving back into the left lane.

"Whoopee!" Rachel cries. Mom and Wilson never drive like that. They complain about lame drivers in front of them, but they never actually do anything about it.

Grinning, Pete repeats the process a few times until they've caught up with the piano movers' van.

"I'd tell you to moon them, but since that isn't possible, just stick your tongue out, cross your eyes, and waggle your hands next to your ears," he suggests.


Pete blows the horn to gain the movers' attention, and then he takes his hands off the steering wheel. Half leaning over the passenger seat, he does what he just described, right down to the hand waggling. The guy driving the piano van stares in utter disbelief. Mom's car swerves to the left, Rachel gives a little scream, and Pete grabs hold of the steering wheel again, correcting their course just before they hit the median barrier. Rachel holds her breath until she's quite sure that they won't crash.

"Everything's under control," Pete says. "No need to wet yourself. Oops, forgot; you can't wet yourself, can you?"

She musters the last vestiges of her dignity. "I wasn't scared," she says, "but I don't think Mom will like it if you crash her car." Especially with me in it, she adds silently.

"She owes me. I'm bringing her daughter back and throwing in a baby grand for good measure."

Rachel considers this. "I don't think Mom plays the piano," she says at last.

"It's never too late," Pete says breezily.

"Yeah, and I get to be a ballerina, right?"

Pete gives her one of his lopsided half-grins. "You're too sassy for your own good," he says. Before she can think of a cheeky reply, he's doing that 'weaving in and out of the lanes' thing that would drive Mom crazy if she saw him do it. It's scary and exciting at the same time, so Rachel clutches her seat and concentrates on not squealing, because she knows that if she does, Pete will shower her with ridicule again.

Back in Drexel, Pete barely helps her to get into the house before abandoning her in order to suss out a location for the piano. The movers arrive while he's still prowling around the living room, pulling the couch back and shifting the armchairs.

"You want it in here?" one of them, probably the boss, asks.

"Yeah," Pete says, tugging the couch. It shifts suddenly, throwing Pete off balance right onto his butt, his peg leg banging hard against the coffee table. Rachel chortles while Pete scowls, waving away the helping hand proffered by one of the movers as he struggles back to his feet.

"That didn't sound good," the mover comments. "Sure your leg is okay?"

In answer Pete tugs up the end of his jeans to give him a glimpse of his prosthetic.

"Huh," the mover says. He looks from Pete to Rachel and back again. "You guys got something hereditary?"

Pete gives him a really nasty glare.

The mover is unabashed. "I mean, both of you have bad legs."

"That wasn't heredity; that was stupidity," Pete says. Rachel isn't sure what he means, but she sure hopes he doesn't mean that the mover is stupid to ask such a question, because the mover is a lot stronger than Pete is.

"Car accident?" the mover asks. "Both of you?"

With a sideways glance at Rachel, Pete nods. "Sort of."

Now Rachel remembers that Pete lost his leg in a car accident. She considers correcting Pete (which would be very satisfying, because he's such a know-it-all) and telling the movers that it was a whopping big hurricane that crippled her, not a stupid car accident, but that would entail more curious stares and questions, and she's had enough of being the monkey in the zoo for the day.

The boss mover, who has gone over to the windows, shakes his head. "Not a good place," he says, nodding at the space Pete has cleared. "Direct sunshine isn't good for the piano. You'll ruin it if you put it there."

Pete grimaces as he nudges the coffee table aside. "I know, but there's nowhere else … ."

He straightens with that faraway look that he gets just before he has really bad ideas. He had the same look before he built that cool contraption that went from the kitchen right into the living room of Rachel's old apartment. It was constructed out of pots and pans, spoons, CD cases, all the kitchen chairs, and every bit of string they could find in the apartment, and it switched off the television in the living room when you tugged at a string that was tied to the strainer, because that made a ball roll down the table to … well, wherever. She can't remember how it switched off the TV, because the downside of the contraption was that she was trapped in the kitchen by all those strings running from chair to table and back again, but she can remember Mom being upset at having to tidy up two hundred CDs and unravel a few miles of string just to release her from the kitchen.

Definitely a good time to get out of the way, Rachel decides. She's only just back, and she doesn't want to make Mom mad. She doesn't even want to witness Pete doing something that'll make Mom mad at him. Besides, she's hungry. Maybe there's something in the fridge that she can eat. She backs her wheelchair out of the living area and into the kitchen, where she finds that she has to make do with fruit and cereal. (Well, there's a bowl of salad, but that doesn't count.) There's no 'good' stuff like cheese sticks or granola bars, let alone cookies; it doesn't look like Mom has done much shopping since Julia took her to Trenton. The sound of furniture being heaved around the place drifts into the kitchen, but she can't reach the stereo to drown it, so she gets out two saucepans and pretends they're bongos.

When the movers have left, Pete also turns up in the kitchen and fixes her some food. Then he carries in the Lego boxes from the car, drags her own Lego and her big play table from her room into the living room, and lets her play in peace while he tries to tune the piano.

Finally he returns to the living room and levers himself onto the ground next to her. "Why do I have a piano tuning set if I can't tune pianos?" he says, picking up a random piece of Lego and placing it on another brick that's already in place.

"That doesn't belong there," Rachel says, removing it again. "You also have piano music that you can't play. … Don't ruin my house; build something of your own!"

To her surprise he promptly takes one of the big baseplates, snags all the grey bricks he can find and starts building something. She can't quite figure out what he's doing until he gets up and paces up and down the living room, counting his steps. She has never seen anyone build freestyle as quickly and efficiently as Pete; his nimble fingers pick out suitable bricks unerringly, and within no time at all, their house's layout is recognisable. Watching the house grow is so fascinating that finally Rachel abandons her own project (which is pitiful in comparison) and starts sorting bricks for Pete – a corner piece here, a window there. He takes some pieces, others he discards.

Wilson would have taken them all, Rachel thinks. But Pete isn't Wilson and he isn't building the house for her. Although he accepts Rachel's help, mutters an occasional word of explanation, or voices demands for special bricks every now and then, he's more or less oblivious to her presence. Mom phones at five, asking whether Pete is picking her up, but he tells her to take a cab. By the time Mom walks into the house, the first floor is completed, with furniture and all the rest of it, and Pete is using a matchbox as a piano so as to figure out where else his piano might fit. As far as Rachel can make out, there aren't many options.

Rachel speeds over to Mom, who bends down to hug her. There's a long silence before Mom lets go and asks, "Everything fine?"

"Yeah," Rachel says, deciding to spare Mom the not-so-fine parts: Nana being nasty non-stop, the boys fighting all the time and calling her an annoying brat. "I got tons of Lego from the boys. Julia gave it all to me. Look at what we built!"

"We?" Pete mutters.

Mom surveys the living room. Pete's edifice is on the floor because both Rachel's table and the coffee table serve as sorting stations for all the bricks that Pete needs. The house is pretty colourful by now, because they ran out of grey bricks, then white ones and finally black ones, so Pete had to take whatever he could get, but now that all the rooms are partitioned and furnished, there's no doubt that it represents their new place. Rachel didn't get to help much in the actual building work, but she's sure that without her sorting and finding skills Pete would have taken much longer.

"That's great!" Mom says, and she seems to mean it. She lets Rachel show her all the little details that they've added.

"We've done each bedroom in a different colour. Mine is red, 'cause I'm in Gryffindor. Yours is blue for Ravenclaw, 'cause you're clever. And the guest room is green for Slytherin," Rachel explains.

When Mom gives her a reproving look she hastens to defend herself. "That wasn't my idea. Pete said he's a Slytherin. And he says Wilson's a Hufflepuff. I think he's a Gryffindor, though, don't you, Mom?" Hufflepuffs are boring. Even Slytherin is better, but Pete insisted on Hufflepuff. He'll probably make the entire second floor of the house Hufflepuff yellow-and-black just to annoy Wilson.

"Wilson's a squib, like Argus Filch," Pete says. "He should be lucky he's allowed to stay."

Mom doesn't appear to be interested in who gets sorted where, but thanks to Rachel she knows who's who in the world of Harry Potter. "Lay off Wilson," she says to Pete. "You deserve whatever he's dishing out, with compound interest."

Pete sticks his tongue out at her, which she ignores. She turns back to Rachel. "Any reason why you're building Lego in here and not in your room? This can't stay here, you know."

"There's a piano in my room, so there's no room for the table anymore," Rachel explains.

Mom's eyebrows rise, and so does Mom from the spot where she's been crouching. "A piano?" she says, heading towards Rachel's room.

"Yes. We picked it up after we left Princeton," Rachel says, following Mom. Pete is exceptionally quiet, though he tags along too.

Mom comes to a stop in the doorway of Rachel's bedroom. "A piano!" she says hollowly.

"Not just any piano. It's a Sohmer baby grand," Pete growls. He finally looks apprehensive, which is how Rachel has been feeling ever since she saw where Pete had the movers place the piano.

"Why is it in Rachel's room?" Mom asks, not taking her eyes from it.

"It's the only room that's large enough and has a suitable climate. The living room is too sunny and draughty; over there, the piano would be out of tune in no time and it would run risk of permanent damage," Pete answers. (He and the movers were in rare agreement about that.)

Mom doesn't say a word.

Pete rambles on, "It looks good in here and it isn't in your way. You can forget it's even here. Besides, if Rachel decides to take up the piano, it'll be right there, waiting for her."

Rachel has no intention whatsoever of learning to play the piano — she has bad memories of a short stint at the instrument when she was six, before Mom gave up and put her into the percussion group instead — but she doesn't want Pete in more trouble than he is already, so she nods her head with what she hopes is a show of enthusiasm.

Mom harrumphs. "How is she going to get to her closet? Do you think she isn't going to need clean clothes the few next weeks or months or however long you want that 'thing' to stand in here?"

Mom has a point. The space between the piano and the closet is too small for her wheelchair. In fact, Rachel isn't sure the closet door can be opened at all.

"I'm going to bed," Mom says, turning to her bedroom.

"No, you're not," Pete contradicts her. "We're going for a run."

But Mom simply goes to her bedroom and closes the door on them. And that's that.

Pete looks at Rachel and sighs. "What do you want to have for dinner?" he asks. "Hamburger? Tacos?"

She guesses it's his way of saying he's sorry he upset Mom on Rachel's first evening back home.

"Sushi," she says.

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Date: 2015-11-08 12:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Well, I think it was very considerate of Pete to think about Rachel's musical aspirations like that and provide her with a piano to learn on, and have it situated so close to her so that she need not travel far to play it :)

I love all the Pete & Rachel interaction in this chapter. Pete doesn't treat her like an adult normally treats a child - which can be both good and bad but one thing for sure - life with Pete isn't is boring!

Rachel is getting more aware of the various nuances in her somewhat dysfunctional family life - choosing to spare Cuddy details that would only cause her angst, even if she still isn't fully aware of Pete's history and why exactly Julia will never like him. I'm not surprised that Rachel wanted to get out of staying at Julia's as quickly as possible given that breakfast scene :)

Date: 2015-11-08 01:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
it was very considerate of Pete to think about Rachel's musical aspirations
Quite. All Cuddy thinks about is clothes and Julia gives her Lego. That child would go to the dogs if Pete weren't there to keep an eye on her intellectual development :)

Pete doesn't treat her like an adult normally treats a child
As a figure of authority or a source of comfort he's a cop-out, but he has other qualities. He certainly 'gets' Rachel, even if 'compromise' doesn't feature in his vocabulary.

I'm not surprised that Rachel wanted to get out of staying at Julia's as quickly as possible
No, she wants to leave, even though she's really fond of Julia and Rob, and who can blame her? The boys, OTOH, probably wouldn't be happy with Cuddy, and no one enjoys staying in the same household as Arlene Cuddy! There's no such thing as the 'perfect' solution.

If I'd told the scene at the breakfast table from Julia's pov, it would have read differently: 'Same business as usual: the boys squabbled, Mom provoked everyone, and Rob showed angelic patience in dealing with all of them. Thank goodness Rachel didn't cause a bother!' End of scene. You wouldn't even realise that Rachel was miserable, and I think that for most children childhood is like that. Adults make assumptions based on their perception, but children often have a completely different angle.


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