Sep 26, 2021 9:30 AM
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"Feel free to ask my dad. I'm kidding, don't ask my dad."

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"I'm asking you."

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"And I," he says, "am not the one who didn't give me one."

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"Yeah, my dad gave me a key, but you wouldn't have to ask him to find out his motivations."

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The door opens.

"Junior," says a smiling woman with long, curly brown hair. "And Junior's new friend Bella." She steps back to usher them both inside. "Come in, come in."

It's clear that Alice got his looks from his mother, but not his dress sense; he appears at school almost exclusively in jeans and old T-shirts for 70s rock bands, today being no exception, and his mother is wearing a tastefully gorgeous long gown in a pale cream that coordinates subtly with her pearl earrings. Her hair is pinned up impeccably, not a single strand out of place. She looks like she belongs in a different universe, possibly one containing no dirt and definitely one containing no 70s rock bands.
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Bella touches her sleeve to remind herself what she's wearing. T-shirt, cardigan, coat, jeans. Ordinary clothes. Who wears gowns for hanging around at home receiving visitors in their teens?

Well, Alice's mother, apparently. "Hello, Mrs. Hammond. It's nice to meet you." She steps inside and offers her hand for shaking.
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"It's nice to meet you too," Mrs. Hammond says warmly. "I was beginning to think he wasn't going to make friends at this ridiculous little school."

"It's not like I made friends in New York either, Mom," Alice puts in. His mother smiles and pats him on the shoulder, which he grudgingly tolerates.
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"Well," says Bella, with a shrug and a smile. "I just moved here, days ago, so it didn't take long once someone he clicks with better came along. It is a very small school." She decides the current avenue of conversation might lead to awkward tiptoeing around how she met Alice. "You have a beautiful home," she says instead.

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"Yes we do," Mrs. Hammond agrees. "Did you want to show her around, Junior?"

"That was the plan," he confirms.

"And will she be staying for dinner?"

Alice looks to Bella to answer that one.
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"That hadn't come up yet," Bella says. "I can call and ask if my dad's up for fending for himself, but when it's not an emergency that can take a couple tries during the day." She produces her phone.

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"You're welcome to stay as long as you like," Mrs. Hammond says encouragingly. Alice gives her a quizzical look, like he can't figure out what is going on in her head.

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Bella dials the phone. The police station secretary-type-person picks up, but is able to relay a conversation between her and her paperwork-laden father. Bella's side of the conversation sounds like this: "Hi, Mr. Jenkins. Yeah, it's me - is my dad in? It's not an emergency, no, I know the number for that. Just a quick question. At a friend's house, they've invited me to stay for dinner. Yeah, I can hold. ... Great, tell him I'll see him sometime tonight after dinner, then."

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"Lovely," says Mrs. Hammond. "You don't have any dietary restrictions, do you? I think it's lobster tonight."

Alice continues to regard his mother with vague suspicion.
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"I can eat most anything that a typical member of my culture can," Bella says agreeably. "Lobster's one of those things. I'd be fumbling for excuses if it was snails."

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"Well, that's convenient," Mrs. Hammond says with a smile. "I am happy to welcome you into our home." She turns her smile on Alice for a moment. "Show her the piano, Junior, that's always good for a laugh."

"I play the piano," Alice confesses. "Badly." The subject nevertheless seems to put him at his ease. "Where's Dad?"

"I'm sure I can whisk him away to preserve his delicate ears if your friend would like a demonstration of how badly," laughs Mrs. Hammond.
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"I think I learned Chopsticks and some churchbell-related song before I lost interest in walking four blocks to piano lessons," Bella says. "What's the difference between playing the piano, badly, and not playing the piano?"

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"I think it has something to do with the number of lessons you sit through before your case is declared hopeless," says Mrs. Hammond. "Sit through or run away from, as the case may be." Alice laughs.

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"Well," Bella says. "This I may have to hear."

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"I'll just go and distract my husband," Mrs. Hammond says with a wink, and turns to head up the unnecessarily pretty stairs. Alice leads Bella through an unnecessarily pretty archway to an unnecessarily pretty sitting room, where there sits a piano whose beauty is wholly justifiable.

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Bella touches the piano. "This is gorgeous. How did it get through the door?"

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"You know, I don't have a clue," he says thoughtfully. "By the time I got here, it was there already."

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"Someone else moved ahead of time to prep the place?" Bella asks. "Or it came with the house?"

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"First one," he says. "It's the same piano from back home, I'm pretty sure. And this place needed a lot of prep, the way I hear it. For all I know, they dragged it in through a wall."

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"Ooh, giant fixer-upper. How will you get it out if you move again? I suppose you could remove the enormous window." She pauses. "Why'd you move here to begin with?"

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"Tell you later," he promises, easily. "Wanna hear me totally fuck up some Mozart?"

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