Whatever had wrought change in Lana, Cary was pleased. She was home less and less, until it was rare to see her at all. Still, signs of her presence remained. He could tell at times she had been home, without actually having seen her. But Cary saw nothing of the smoke-filled car again.
Did Lana have a falling out with whomever drove the reeking thing?
Bird had reached a bottom, further than any Cary had yet seen. It was practically every night Cary was forced to clean the man up off the floor and put him to bed. Bird had even abandoned his ritualistic watching of Duck Dynasty. Stopped worrying about anything other than nursing his Mad Dog wine. Bird could hardly string two words together any other time Cary saw him. A few times Cary caught the man just after Bird had awakened.
“Swha ya durrin?” Bird slurred. Cary blinked, confused as his brain tried to translate that into English. Bird burped and drooled down his chin, which he wiped on the back of his hand.
If Bird noticed Cary had been cleaning the dried blood from under his nose or changing his filthy shirts while he was half-conscious he gave no indication, definitely nothing in the way of thanks or appreciation of any kind, not that Cary expected such. He'd learned long ago not to wish for things that could never be.
One morning Bird swayed and leaned against the jamb separating the dining room from the kitchen. Bird repeated himself in even less distinct phrasing. When it clicked to Cary what the man was saying he saw it was just before seven in the morning on a Thursday, in May of Cary's eighth-grade year.
Cary had just finished up the washing of the breakfast dishes, so he would not have to do them after dinner. He expected to meet up with Jonathan at the vacant house after dinner that night.
“What the hell you doin'?” Bird had said.
“Washing dishes, Bird.” Cary said. Bird's face clouded over but he didn't move towards Cary. Still, Cary froze, his soapy hands clutched the heavy Pyrex dish, ready to swing if Bird came running. He watched his foster-father from the corner of his eye. As Cary watched Bird, he recalled all the years gone by when the drunkard had seemed so threatening. Yet in that moment, somehow, Bird had shrunken. He was no longer more than vaguely threatening. The Pyrex dish slipped into the tepid, soapy water of the sink.
“Fine.” Bird murmured. “S'woors Lonner?”
Cary blinked again. His mind supplied a translation, “So, where is Lana?”, as he had heard this one many times.
“I don't know, Bird. I haven't seen her.” Cary said, drying off the last dish, draining the sink and putting things away.
Bird's face fell dramatically. He thrust forward, fell into a chair at the dining table. Bird dropped his head into his hands, swayed as though the chair, the table, maybe even the room were swaying, spinning of out control as he struggled to hold on. Bird kept mumbling something but Cary couldn't pick up any of the words until Bird pulled his head up.
“.why she cain't just stop all this nonsense.” Bird said, almost entirely understandable. Cary shrugged. He didn't have any answers to console Bird and wasn't in the least interested in finding them, or giving them if he ever did.
“I've got school.” Cary muttered as he dried his hands on a worn dishcloth and grabbed his backpack. He darted out of the house through the kitchen door before Bird could say anything further, his foster-father's pathetic grumblings almost chasing after him like an angry wind.
Cary bounced to school that day. He imitated Ryu's fireball at demons only he could see. He smiled at clouds, talked to amiable trees he passed. It was the last day of school. The last day of middle school. When it was over he had actually finished his eighth grade year with all B's and twice correctly answered a question in science class. Both firsts for Cary.
“Did you hear that, Mori?” Cary said to a large oak on the way home. “Mr. Deville said I was right about Newton's Second Law!” The tree kept its comments to itself. Cary went home.