“Do you play any sports?” Billy asked.

I held my breath. It was doubtful that Uncle Stewart would think of getting knocked out in a cage surrounded by drunken spectators as a sport.

“I used to wrestle in high school,” Hunter answered. “Do you play any sports?”

“Baseball and soccer,” he said, nodding sagely. “My mom won’t let me play football. She says the players hurt their heads too much.”

Hunter’s eyes shot quickly to me before going back to Billy. “Well, it is a dangerous game,” he said diplomatically.

“Yes it is,” my aunt said. There was agreement all around and we went back to our food.

We all ate in silence for a couple minutes. The food tasted good, but my mind was elsewhere. I couldn’t figure out why Aunt Caroline and Uncle Stewart were questioning Hunter as much as they were. It wasn’t quite unfriendly, but something seemed forced.

Suddenly I heard the sink come on, followed by the high-pitched sound of one of the kittens yowling.

“What’s that?” I asked.

But Hunter was already out of his seat and rolling up his sleeves to go to the sink. Aunt Caroline followed close behind. Hunter reached in and pulled out a soaking wet Taylor, who looked very displeased at what had just happened.

“I’m sorry,” he said to my aunt and uncle. “Do you have a towel or anything I can use to dry her off?”

The boys had gotten up for a better look at the unhappy kitty, who was squirming in Hunter’s arms. They were delighted at the excitement. Aunt Caroline handed Hunter a dish towel with an amused look on her face.

“Okay boys, excitement’s over. Back to dinner.”

“How did she turn on the faucet?” Hunter asked as he dried Taylor off tenderly.

“It’s one of those new sinks where you just have to touch the spout and it turns on or off,” I answered, finally realizing what had happened. “She must have touched it on somehow.”

“We just got it installed,” my aunt added, taking her place back at the table. “It’s amazing for when you’re cooking. Not so much for cats, I guess.”

Everyone laughed, including Uncle Stewart. It felt good to laugh at something silly. I was starting to feel more normal again.

After the laughter died down, Uncle Stewart gestured at Hunter’s arms as Hunter stood drying Taylor. “I see you have some tattoos.”

I swallowed nervously.

Uncle Stewart continued. “Caroline got a tattoo. To each their own, of course, but I have to say I don’t really get it. You have those things forever, you know.”

His tone didn’t seem quite hostile, but it still put me on edge.

Hunter shrugged. “I guess I see it as self-expression. If I wake up in twenty years and hate them, I guess I gotta deal with it then.”

Hearing Hunter talk about the future gave me a sick feeling in my stomach. Would he be around in twenty years? Would he be disabled if he was?

No. I couldn’t think like that. Treating Hunter like he was a patient just waiting to die was exactly what he was afraid of. I had to be stronger than that for him. Plus, I had no idea if it was even true. Maybe he’d be fine for years.

“Thank you, Hunter,” Aunt Caroline said. “Stewart has been asking me about my tattoo every other day since I got it.”

I exhaled, relieved my aunt had come to Hunter’s rescue.

“That’s not quite true,” Uncle Stewart said. “I just don’t understand what point you’re making by getting a tattoo.”

Aunt Caroline shook her head. “I swear you’re taking this thing as a call for help,” she said with a laugh.

My uncle turned to me. “Lorrie, what do you think?”

I looked furtively around the table and took a quick breath. “I think if the most Hunter and Aunt Caroline have to worry about in twenty years is their tattoos, they’re in pretty good shape.”

Sweat prickled across my skin. I had to keep reminding myself that nothing really bad was happening. I was just being nervous and assuming things that weren’t necessarily true. Hunter and I hadn’t really had a chance to talk too much about his condition. I made a mental note to ask him more questions about it as soon as we were able to get some alone time.

He shook his head. “I guess I’m on an island here. Boys, no tattoos while you live under my roof. Understand?”

I cracked a smile as the two looked wide-eyed at their father. They hadn’t been paying attention to the conversation. The spectacle of the kittens—and especially of Hunter drying off Taylor—was too much to resist.

“I think you’ll have to remind them,” I said.

He shook his head and we went back to finishing dinner, which by this point was getting lukewarm. I was finally starting to relax. Whatever motives Uncle Stewart and Aunt Caroline had, Hunter seemed to be handling this well. He came back to the table after finishing with Taylor and began eating his dinner quickly.

“So are you staying around town, Hunter?” Uncle Stewart asked.

“I was planning on getting a motel around here, actually. Me and Lorrie are gonna hang out some more before I head back to Studsen.”

My uncle nodded. “There’s no need to do that. We have room for you here and Caroline and I don’t mind having you stay.”

I was pretty sure my jaw had just dropped, but I didn’t even have time to check before my aunt chimed in. “I think it’s going to break the boys’ hearts if you leave without letting them play with those kittens just a little more.”

Hunter looked back and forth between them, as surprised as I was. “Oh no, I can’t do that. I really don’t want to be a burden, especially with the kittens.”

“Nonsense,” my aunt said. “I love cats, and none of us are allergic. I’m sure those little darlings will be no trouble at all. They’ve already gotten so much bigger!”

Hunter opened his mouth to respond, but Uncle Stewart spoke first. “You good with tools?”

Hunter’s mouth closed quickly and then he answered. “Pretty good, yeah. I used to help out with some repairs at my gym.”

“Well, how about you stay with us a few days and help us redo the dining room? It’s been a slow project and it would help us out a lot. I’ve been so busy with work and Caroline has to take care of the boys. Besides, it doesn’t make sense for you to waste money at a motel when we’ve got plenty of space here.”

Hunter looked back and forth. Both my aunt and uncle were gazing at him expectantly. I was too stunned to speak. He looked to me briefly, but I just shrugged.


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