She shut the computer with a furious snap. The offending laptop was shoved to the side and Lane leaned back, pressing her palms into the shag carpet behind her.
“No luck?” Wyatt questioned, not looking up from his papers. He shifted the papers to the recliner’s armrest, picked up another stack, and clicked his red pen.
“Does that surprise you?” Wyatt asked, peering at her over his reading glasses.
It had taken the fourteen year-old time before she’d learned that her foster father’s questions were not designed to disparage or condescend. Lane rarely spoke about her previous homes and he was curious. She still took the time to weigh the question, as if unpacking it for pitfalls. “In the city things were always open, even on Christmas.” Lane explained.
Wyatt nodded. “Heathens.” He said with a deceptively straight face and gained the reaction he’d hoped for when Lane snorted with a flash of a smile. “Nothing is going to be open for the next few days except the liquor stores.”
“And the hospitals.” The girl’s mouth twitched like she’d just won something.
Wyatt dipped his head, conceding the point. His wife, employed at the local ER as a nurse, would be working late into the evening. He frowned at a particularly blatant error on the page in front of him and marked it. “True, you’re stuck with Cole and I tonight. We’ll figure dinner out I’m sure. Is he still out?”
“You gave him a car.” She looked to the window and the freshly shoveled drive beyond it, either pointedly incredulous that he’d ask such a stupid question or that they’d gifted the second-hand truck in the first place. “Of course he’s still gone. Has to show all his friends.”
Even disguised as haughty disdain, Wyatt didn’t miss the envy in Lane’s dismissal of Cole’s friendships. He and his wife had been fostering children since their son was eight. They’d come to realize a certain amount of jealousy was unavoidable and natural between foster siblings and their permanent counterparts.
“Cole promised to be back before it got dark.” Wyatt said as if he did not remember the amount of times he’d lied to his own parents as a teenager.
Out of the corner of his eye Wyatt saw his foster daughter’s smile go sly. “I guess, but he was late last time he met Stephanie.” Lane said as if innocently slipping the information on his son’s true whereabouts.
Lane had only been with them for four months, but the season had been a crash course for Wyatt in developing a poker face. For most kids raised in the system, and most teenagers, boundary testing was expected. Intelligent and prematurely ruthless, Lane seemed to regard it as an art form and the petite fourteen year old had an unnerving eye for weakness.
Wyatt had not known that Cole was seeing his ex-girlfriend again, especially as the relationship had ended badly two months before. Cole brooded for weeks after the break-up, hardly leaving his room except for school or practice. Though Wyatt had not admitted it to anyone, parents were not supposed to think badly of children in general, it had affected his opinion of Stephanie. Lane had apparently managed to pick up on it despite his discretion.
He set down his pen and smiled. “I guess he was. Still it’s Christmas, I trust him to get back here on time.” Wyatt said truthfully.
Lane assessed him with a slightly narrowed look but accepted his words with a jut of her sharp chin.
“Would you like to help me grade until he gets back?” Wyatt asked. He’d been toying with the idea for a while. He’d never met a foster kid who’d devoured information as rapidly or as purposefully as their family’s new addition.
“Is that allowed?” Lane pushed herself forward, leaning over her crossed legs and striped Christmas socks.
“No, but some rules are less important in practice than they are in theory.” He picked up a pencil and tossed it to her. “Make sure to use pencil. I’ll ultimately still be grading them, but I’m curious what you catch.”
Lane took the stack of papers he offered to her with surprising hesitance. With pencil and hand and papers in her lap, she turned an openly wary look on him. “These are college papers.”
“Freshman first term papers.” He clarified. “I know you’ve been reading off my shelf, which means you’ve read more of what I assigned than most of my students. I trust you.”
Wyatt received one more suspicious look before she picked up the first paper and started to read.
My first line may have been stolen…. probably. Not sure. Anyway if there are thefts, they will be recorded at the Legal Theft Project.