Leon at Eleven, Continued
(This is the continuation of the story that began September 17th, one post below.)
The cook was frowning at him now. “How’d you get that?”
“It was an accident,” Leon said. “Come on, Fiona. We should go.”
“No, have a seat,” said the cook. “I could use some help, actually.”
“What with?” Fiona asked.
The cook held up a strange tool with a handle and a curved, dull blade that circled around on itself in a wheel. He passed it to Fiona. “See if you can figure that out.” Then he turned and strolled to the other end of the large kitchen.
Fiona fingered the wheel, and while Leon could see she was genuinely curious about it, the shame of his lip was coming back to him. He had a bad feeling his father wouldn’t like finding them in the kitchen, either. It was one thing if they could sneak in for a couple apples, or if the old cook was there to pour them some milk, but he didn’t know Mabrother Cho at all, and the longer they stayed, the riskier it was.
Fiona rolled the device over the table. “I see what it is,” she said, delighted. “It cuts circles. He’s making donuts. Please, Leon. Can we stay?”
Leon wavered, and looked up to see the cook returning. He wordlessly passed over a small green bowl with a chunk of ice inside, then took the tool back from Fiona and began chatting with her about donuts. Leon stared at the hard, frosty ice. He picked up a piece with his fingertips and tried it lightly against his lip. It made him thirsty.
“Like this,” Mabrother Cho said, guiding Fiona’s hand to firmly, slowly draw the tool over the flat dough. Perfect circles with perfect holes lined up in a neat pattern, and Fiona enthusiastically started in to cut the next row. The cook slid up the circles with a spatula and dropped four into the boiling oil. Immediately, the dough puffed up and began to brown. Fiona kept chattering, and Leon was happy for her. He settled back on his stool and closed his eyes, rubbing the ice slowly over his swollen lip and sucking the moisture in as it melted.
“How about you? What’s your favorite food, Leon?” Mabrother Cho said.
“I don’t know.”
“I’ll teach you how to make it. Anything,” the cook said, smiling. He scooped out the first donut, dabbed it against a paper, dipped it in sugar, and set it on a plate.
“Right now?” Leon asked.
Nobody’d ever said “Sure” like that to him, not as long as he could remember. Fiona was already eating one of the donuts, getting sugar all over her little fingers and sleeves. She was such a kid, he thought.
“I guess I’d like to know how to make pumpkin bread,” Leon said slowly. “But not tonight. I need to take Fiona back up. Some other time?”
“I want to stay,” Fiona said.
“You heard your brother,” the cook said. “Finish up.”
“Leon didn’t have a donut yet,” Fiona argued.
“You can take a couple with you, then.”
Leon set the bit of ice back in the bowl, and glanced up to find Mabrother Cho regarding him thoughtfully.
“Watch yourself, won’t you?” the new cook said.
Leon felt something go still inside him, but it wasn’t fear. It wasn’t quite loneliness, either. He reached for one of the donuts to take with him.
“Thanks, Mabrother,” Leon said.
As he guided his sister back up the stairs and along the dark hallway, the darkness felt different. He wasn’t sure when, but some night he’d go back, with or without his stepsister, and learn to make pumpkin bread.