Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Like a Hand-Sewn Quilt"

This poem is spillover from the January 22, 2019 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] ravan, [personal profile] wispfox, and [personal profile] eseme. It also fills the "Verschlimmbessern (German): To make something worse when trying to improve it" square in my 12-31-18 card for the Untranslatable Words Bingo fest, and the "On Grandpa's Farm" square in my 6-4-18 Mixed card for the Winteriron Bingo Adventure fest. This poem has been sponsored by a pool with [personal profile] ng_moonmoth, [personal profile] fuzzyred, [personal profile] mashfanficchick, [personal profile] erulisse, [personal profile] technoshaman, [personal profile] bairnsidhe, [personal profile] eseme, EdorFaus, and [personal profile] torc87. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem contains some sensitive issues. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features angst, positive telepathic contact, an awkward reunion, ECR Boy is ambivalent all over the place, fumbling conversations about past and present life events, piecing together fragmentary memories, references to difficult past in foster care, tactile orientation, fraught reaction to photographs, sad and happy pictures of Shiv, funny family nicknames, privacy issues, past destructive behavior, alienation from positive feelings, past hunger, holiday issues, Shiv is not a joiner, confession of superpowers, past Family Services fuckups, might-have-beens, Precious gets upset over hearing about the Chyou incident, and Shiv blames himself, Shiv freaks out over being invited back into the family via foster care, Precious can't tell if Shiv even likes her (he does), and other challenges. Hanky warning! Parts of this poem may make some readers cry. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"Like a Hand-Sewn Quilt"

[Sunday, February 23, 2015]

It had taken Graham two months
of meticulous research and phone calls
to arrange this meeting between Shiv
and his foster mother Precious Wright.

Boss White had insisted that they use
the piano room in the design studio
behind his office, which was private
and soundproof and secure.

The artwork was attractive,
although Graham thought that
the loveseats of lipstick-red leather
were perhaps a little much, especially
when people needed to stay calm.

Precious took one look around the room
and made a beeline for the piano.

"My husband Jefferson plays,"
she said, her dark hand resting on
the ebony wood. "I don't recall if
I mentioned that bit before."

"He plays and you sing,"
Graham recited easily.

"Yes," said Precious. "It
helps hold the family together."

Boss White let himself in then.

Precious offered him her hand
at once, but he kept his clasped
behind his back for a minute.

"Good morning," he said.
"You must be Precious Wright.
Did Dr. G explain everything?"

"You're Boss White, you run
this place, you're a telepath,
and you want to make sure that
I'm a safe person," Precious said.
"I am on board with all of that."

"I won't pry, but I need to get
a feel for your character, not just
surface thoughts," Boss White said.

"Come on then," Precious said as
she waggled her fingers at him.

Boss White raised an eyebrow
but reached out to take her hand.

A moment passed, and then
Precious smiled at him, slow
and bright as a sunrise.

"Well aren't you a darling,"
she said as she brought
her other hand up to pat his.

Boss White bowed a little.
"I see our boy is in good hands,
ma'am," he said, and stepped away.

They said no more about whatever
had passed between them, and
Graham didn't ask, but he could
tell they both enjoyed the contact.

Anyone who could charm a telepath
like that was surely a good person.

That made Graham relax a little.
He trusted his own judgment,
but there was still a difference
between analyzing and knowing.

"Thank you for helping us
today," Graham murmured
as Boss White headed out.

"Any time," the boss said.

Graham gave a silent sigh
of relief. That had gone well.

Shiv minced into the room
on quiet cat feet, walking as if
he was trying to leave no footprints.

Precious gave him a breathless look,
trying to read everything about him all
in an instant, which was hopeless.

Shiv could be as opaque as
marble when he wanted to be.

"Hello, dear," said Precious.
"I hear you go by Shiv now."

He gave her a wary nod,
then turned to Graham.

"Did you do the thing?"
Shiv demanded. "You were
supposed to, but Boss White
didn't say anything about it,
just shooed me in here."

"Your boss is a great man,"
Precious said with a smile.

Shiv whipped around to stare
at her. "Yes. Yes he is."

"Now that we're agreed
on that, shall we sit down
and talk?" Graham said.

Precious sat down first, so
Graham sat across from her,
letting Shiv make his own choice.

The boy perched on the arm of
the loveseat, not even resting
his full weight on the furniture,
more leaning than sitting.

"What'm I supposed
to do now?" he hissed.

"You could say hello and
then tell her something about
yourself," Graham whispered.

"Hi. Welcome to Blues Moon,
how can I help you?" Shiv said.
"Shit, that's the wrong speech!
I work here. I say it all the time."

"I'm glad you found a job,"
Precious said. "This looks
like a wonderful place to work.
What do you do here?"

Shiv twitched, giving
Graham a panicky look.
"Now what do I say?"

Discussing supervillainy
would not be polite, so
Graham said, "Kitchen."

"Oh, right!" Shiv exclaimed.
"I, uh, work in the kitchen.
Buying things, mostly. Food.
I find the bargains. Or wash
dishes. Whatever Cook needs.
I also wait tables and bounce."

"Shiv shops the farmer's markets
in search of the best produce,"
Graham elaborated. "He has
quite a knack for it, I think."

"Well, he sure knew how
to find food when I knew him,"
Precious said warmly. "Life's
been good to us. We have
a full house, though most of
those are different folks now."

"Most?" Shiv's voice sharpened.

Every piece of metal or glass
on Graham's person vibrated
suddenly and faintly in response.

Precious frowned a little and
patted around her pockets.

The vibration stopped as
suddenly as it had started.

"Well, your foster brother Delonn
is still at home," Precious said. "He's
at the Metropolitan Community College
learning to fix heating and cooling units."

"That's a useful skill to have," Shiv said.
"Last time the air conked out in summer,
it almost killed the walk-in freezer too."

"Your foster sister Carmine, who's
a year younger than you, is still
in school too. She lives in a dorm
at the Omaha University, studying
music and social stuff," said Precious.

"Huh," Shiv said. "I play -- I'm learning
to play the saxophone. Sort of."

"That's good to hear," Precious said.
"We tried you on piano, a little bit, but
your fingers weren't long enough
to manage the keyboard yet."

"Did somebody else play, though?"
Shiv said, leaning forward. "I kept
hearing Christmas music in my head
for days, but not canned, like it was live."

"My husband Jefferson plays the piano,
and I sing," Precious said. "We love
doing Christmas songs as a family."

"Yeah, that's probably what I thought
I heard," Shiv said. "Kinda nice,
now that I know what it was."

He gave Graham an anxious look,
clearly at a loss what to do next.

"Let's explore the past a little more,
as long as it's going well," Graham said.
"We can also look for connections with
the present that might prove helpful."

"Okay, I guess," Shiv said, fidgeting.

"I remember that you liked pictures,
so I brought copies from the family album
if you'd like to see them," Precious said.
"I included some of yours from when you
stayed with us, along with current ones so
you can see what people are doing now."

The album she placed on the coffee table was
covered with pink-and-green patchwork around
a piece with My Family embroidered on it.

Shiv stared at the thing like a grenade
he wasn't sure if it was live or not.

Graham couldn't blame him,
not after what happened with
his memory book and Halley and
who knew what else over the years.

After a long minute, Shiv reached out
and ran his hands over the embroidery,
then pressed a finger over the green button
that held the covers of the album closed.

"Buttons," he whispered. "I remember
something about buttons. There was ...
a jar? You let me cut them off things."

"That's right," Precious said, nodding.
"We have a rag bag and a button jar.
We cut the buttons off clothes before
putting them in the rag bag. You used
to love sorting all them buttons!"

Shiv rubbed his fingers together,
chasing the phantom sensations.

It reminded Graham of when he
had brought tactile memory boards
to the prison for Shiv to explore.

There had been one about beaches,
another about gardening, and so on.
Each board had pictures and charms on it,
showing some objects relating to the theme.

Shiv's fingers had roved over the board
every time, even when he didn't talk much.

Now Graham and Precious both waited
patiently to see what Shiv would do.

It took him a few minutes to scrape up
the courage to unbutton the cover
and actually open the book.

Inside, some pages had photos
printed right onto the fabric, while
other pages had pockets that held
pictures or other memorabilia.

Shiv's fingers followed the lines of
thread that held the layers of
colorful cloth together.

"You used to say something
about this ... quilt and family,
but I can't seem to remember
quite how it went," he whispered.

"Our family is like a hand-sewn quilt
that grows more precious in time,"
Precious recited from memory. "You
were only with us for about a year,
so I'm not surprised it didn't all stick."

Her dark hands turned pages until she
stopped at a heartbreaking snapshot of
a miserable little boy with white-blond hair,
blue eyes huge above a pouting mouth.

"You were five when you first arrived,"
Precious said, then turned the page
to show a cake with the numeral six
made of rainbow candies. "You
turned six while you were with us."

"You made me a cake?" Shiv said,
frowning. "The hell you do that for?"

"Of course I did, it was your birthday,"
Precious said. Her eyes narrowed.
"Hasn't anyone else been doing that?"

"I don't remember," Shiv said. "I don't
think so? Well, I had one last year, but
that was different. And I don't need one
here, 'cause Cook makes sheet cake
every day, no point making extra. You
just stick a candle if you want one."

Precious grumbled something under
her breath and then leafed through
more pages, sliding them along
the rings that bound the book.

Graham couldn't blame her.
Most of Shiv's foster parents had
consistently cheated him out of
every childhood experience that he
should have enjoyed growing up.

"Here are your foster siblings
from when you stayed with us,"
she said. "That's Delonn, and here
he is all grown up. Boy got big! Here's
Janice, she's a dog groomer now."

"Her hair got even bigger!"
Shiv said, startled into a laugh.

"It sure did," Precious said.

Shiv tugged at his fringe,
making the locks stick together.

"Did you -- I put shea on mine,
just a dab to flatten it down some,"
he said. "Someone musta taught me
that trick, but it's blurry. I remember
a bunch of us had nicknames, and
I think the faces match, but it's
hard to tell. Was that you?"

"That was me," Precious said,
then smiled. "Comb your hair,
so you don't look like a used Q-tip."

"Uh-huh, and Carmine was a brillo pad,
Janice was a poodle 'cause she liked
poodles, and you called Delonn Buzz
since he didn't have enough hair
to do much with," Shiv said, then
frowned. "Where's the haystack?"

Precious turned more pages,
showing the others as children
and then adults. She came to
a girl with shaggy blonde hair.

"This is Blaine," said Precious.
"She's a veterinary assistant now,
working with farm animals."

Shiv started to reach for
the book, but then jammed
his hands between his knees.

"It's okay, you can touch it,"
she said. "I brought it for you."

Shiv shook his head wildly.

Graham held his breath,
hoping this wouldn't turn into
another fiasco like the one
with Shiv's memory book.

After his social workers
had violated his privacy,
Shiv hated that thing.

Graham had made sure
Family Services no longer
had anything they shouldn't,
now that Shiv was an adult.

It had still taken some fast talking
to convince Shiv to put the last copy
in a safe-deposit box for a year
instead of destroying it altogether.

In the end, Shiv had been satisfied
by shredding the duplicates, and they
had discovered that he hadn't even seen
most of what should have been in there.

"It's all right, I can handle the book
for you if you want," Precious said.
"Here's a picture of our current family."

There were Precious and Jefferson,
along with Delonn. Three younger kids
rounded out the picture, and everyone
had their arms around each other.

"This is Rhyland Solinger,"
Precious said as she touched
the other black boy. "He's fifteen,
and he likes all kinds of sports."

Her finger moved down the page.
"Here's Berry Wilkin, who's ten. They
moved in with us 'cause their parents
couldn't handle them being curious
about gender or wearing skirts."

Graham made a mental note
to tell her about Halley later, and
see if the kids could connect.

He was expecting Shiv to frost over,
just from the oblique similarity with
Halley, but that didn't happen.

Shiv just shrugged and kept looking.

Precious tapped the picture of
a young black girl. "Jubilee is
homemade, and she's eight.
She's crafty like me, loves
sewing and knitting and stuff."

"I thought you couldn't --" Shiv said,
frowning. "Am I remembering wrong?"

"No, everybody thought I couldn't
get pregnant," Precious said. "Turns out
I could, but it darn near killed me, so
no more of that. World's got enough
kids who need a lovin' family, I don't
need to make more from scratch."

Shiv's eyebrows scrunched tighter,
clearly distressed by the past hazard.

Precious picked up on it right away,
"Let's look for some more pictures of you ...
oh, here you are at the farm!" Precious said.

A little boy stood on a muddy beach
wearing nothing but red swim shorts
as he clutched something in each hand,
mouth open and laughing in delight.

"What in the world were we doing
that I got so muddy?" Shiv said,
staring at the beach scene.

"Catchin' crawdads," she said.
"You were good at it, too --
sharp eyes and fast hands."

"They were good eatin' and
I got as much as I wanted,"
Shiv said. "Tasted like shrimp,
and I was so confused because
they weren't shrimp, but the ones
from the store called dried crayfish
actually were freshwater shrimp."

"I don't know why they mix up
the names like that," Precious said.

"Dried crayfish are smoked, while
dried shrimp are sun-dried,"
Graham said absently.

"How do you even know that?"
Precious said, blinking at him.

"Jaliya told me," said Graham.
"She cooks with both kinds."

"Cooks good, too," Shiv said.
His hand hovered above the photo
without daring to touch it. "This
picture doesn't seem like me,
but damned if I can tell why."

"This is the only one we have of
you smiling," Precious said.

It was almost the only picture
Graham had ever seen of
Shiv smiling, in fact.

"That picture wasn't
in his memory book,"
Graham said quietly.

"It wasn't?" Shiv said.
"I knew I didn't recall it,
but I couldn't tell if that was
because I'd forgotten about it
or it really wasn't in there."

That memory book,
and now this family album,
had made it painfully obvious
how much damage Shiv's memory
had taken from his traumatic past.

Graham would need to bring up
the memory issues with Shiv
in some later therapy session.

"It wasn't in there," Precious said.
"You were so shy, it didn't seem
right to put it where everyone and
their therapy dog could see it."

"Huh," Shiv said, leaning over
the picture. "You didn't get in
trouble for holding out on them?"

"No, we included the basic photos for
Family Services records," Precious said.
"We kept the private ones for family."

Shiv just gazed at it for a minute,
then murmured. "Green grass.
It must have been summer."

"Yes, it was," Precious said.
"We went there on weekends
whenever we could -- still do,
in fact. Going outdoors helps
the kids to relax and unwind."

"Are there still blackberries and
black raspberries growing along
the fences?" Shiv asked suddenly.

"Goodness, yes!" Precious said,
laughing. "We'd need a bulldozer
to get rid of all them berry canes."

Shiv touched a finger to his lips.
"I think I ate more than I kept."

"Well, some of 'em made it into
the pail, at least," said Precious.
"Can't fault a growing boy for
eating when he gets hungry."

The dark light in Shiv's eyes
reminded Graham how often
people had faulted him for it --
and starved him badly enough
to stunt his growth even before
his superpowers manifested.

Shiv shook himself, then said,
"I remember the jam, it was
so good, and grape jelly too.
Storebought stuff is never as good.
Does your mom still make those?"

"Well, my parents retired a few years ago
and moved into town -- a cohousing place
called Prairie Meadows," said Precious.
"They left the farm to my brother Laverne.
He's married now, to a girl named Kiona,
I think you'd like her. Anyhow, Mom can
go borrow the kitchen whenever she wants,
so yes, she still cans jams and jellies."

"That's good," Shiv said, the corners
of his mouth twitching upward.

"If we get together again, I could
bring you some," Precious said.

Shiv nodded vigorously. "Yeah, yeah,
that would be just great," he said.

Precious turned another page and
revealed a large Christmas tree hung
with mostly homemade decorations.

"That it!" Shiv exclaimed, pointing at it.
"That's the tree I remember, the one with
all the ornaments that none of them match."

"That's because it includes decorations
from so many different people," Precious said.
Then she sighed. "We tried to help you feel
welcome, but I don't think it worked. You
pitched a fit over that Christmas tree."

"They're scary," Shiv muttered,
looking away. "Tolli and Simon
had to take down their tree and
put up a paper one instead."

"Oh, what a clever idea!"
Precious said. "Did it help?"

"Uh, yeah," Shiv said. He
reached into his pocket and
pulled out a crocheted ornament.
He meticulously fluffed the ruffles
with his fingers, then pushed it
at her. "Here. I know it's too late,
but I made you something."

"Why thank you," Precious said,
admiring it. The inside was made
from green yarn with sparkly tinsel, and
the outer edge was glossy red. "This is
pretty. What in the world is it, though?"

"It's uh ... ruffle?" Shiv said, frowning.

"That's a hyperbolic pseudosphere,"
Graham elaborated. "Shiv learned
to make those and other shapes
from a class at the local library."

"Over my head," Precious said,
"but I'm impressed with the results."

"No, no, it's dead easy," Shiv said.
"It's all single crochet! You just put
a lot of increases -- two new stitches in
every old one, and it wads up like that."

"Well, huh," Precious said. "It looks
a lot fancier than it is, then. I may have
to give that a try when I get home."

"I got patterns if you want 'em,"
Shiv said, pulling out his phone.

"Yes, please," Precious said.
"I never turn down free patterns!
Even if I can't make 'em work,
someone else usually can."

Shiv showed her pictures
of other things he had made,
ducking his head a little when
Precious praised each one,
then sent her the pattern files.

"I'm so glad to see that you
found some things you enjoy
doing," Precious said. "Most of
why I wanted this meeting was
to see if you're doing okay."

Shiv hunched into a ball.
"Depends on what you
mean by 'okay,' I guess."

"I'm listening," Precious said.

"I got a job, a place to stay,
people I hang out with, and I
ain't gettin' beat up all the time,"
Shiv said. "I know that's better
than a lot of folks, and especially
the ones who age out of foster care."

"That's true, and it sounds like you
have accomplished a lot," Precious said.
"Wanna tell me about the not-okay parts,
or would you rather just leave that lie?"

"I uh ... kinda turned into a soup,"
Shiv muttered. "You might as well
know that up front, in case you
wanna wash your hands of me."

Her eyebrows went up, but Precious
did not move away. "That's new," she said.
"I don't know if you remember, but it was not
our idea to move you to another placement.
Social worker said they had a group home
'better suited to your needs.' Baloney."

"Yeah, that sucked," Shiv said. "I got
moved around all the time, 'cause
nobody wanted me. None of helped."

"What happened was not your fault,
either of you," Graham said firmly. "Shiv
needed expert care that he did not get.
He has more resources now, though,
so he's making a lot of progress."

Like this meeting, which Shiv
would never have tolerated
had it come up last year.

"So, you're a soup?"
Precious asked him.

"Yeah," Shiv said. "I can
control metal, glass, stone --
anything strong enough that
it can take an edge or a point."

He brought out his old fidget,
the lump of metal that he used
as play-putty, and then shaped
that into a small, elegant knife.

It wouldn't take much imagination
to figure out what someone with
Shiv's past probably used it for.

"I can see that things haven't
been easy for you, but I'm glad
that you have skills to draw on,"
Precious said. "That's good."

Shiv scrunched the metal
into a ball and stuffed it
back into his pocket.

"Yeah, well ... I get by,
and it's better now than
it used to be," he said.

"I wish that you could have
stayed with us," Precious said.
"I think it might have gone better."

"Maybe so," Shiv said. "You were ...
I was miserable, but it wasn't your fault.
With you I was less unhappy than I've been
in most other places. But all that crap led me
here." He looked sidelong at Graham. "There
are things I wouldn't have wanted to miss."

"All right, I hear you," Precious said.
"We got to live the life we have."

"So we do," Graham said. "We can
imagine how it might have gone differently,
but we can't ever know for sure. Dwelling
on that generally isn't a good idea."

"You know the inside of my head,
though," Shiv said. "It's like my brain
latches onto something and won't let go."

"What kind of things?" Precious asked.

"Where this bit started is some shit
that happened around Christmas,"
Shiv said. "That's why I wound up
staying with Tolli and Simon then,
and it reminded me of your family."

"It's good you had someone
to stay with when you needed
that," Precious said. "And ...?"

"Before that, it was kind of a mess,"
Shiv said. "This woman got after me
when I was at work, and wouldn't take no
for an answer. When she grabbed me,
I just lost it and pulled a knife on her.
I'm so tired of people thinking that
they can just take what they want."

Precious was staring at him,
one hand over her mouth,
and then she started crying.

"Excuse me," she said,
and ran out of the room.

"Shit shit shit," chanted Shiv.
He sprang off of the loveseat
to pace around the room. "Why
I gotta fuck up everything?"

"You haven't," Graham said.
"Precious is upset, because it's
distressing to hear that someone
you care about got assaulted.
She'll go calm herself down,
and then she'll come back."

"Are you sure?" Shiv squeaked.

"Pretty sure," Graham said. "Given
the circumstances, getting through
this meeting without upsetting anyone
was unlikely. So we made plans for it,
and Precious knows she can turn to
Boss White for help if necessary."

"He'll fix it, then," Shiv said.
"Boss White can fix anything."
He drifted back to the loveseat
and landed gingerly on the arm.

He was shaking, a fine vibration
that rippled through his whole body,
but he was so prickly at the moment
that physical comfort was impossible.

"Boss White is very capable, yes,
and I believe that Precious has
good coping skills," said Graham.
"Don't worry, we'll get through this.
How are you holding up so far?"

"I dunno," Shiv said with a shrug.
"Okay, I guess? Could be worse."

"All right," Graham said. "I'm
here if you need me, though."

"I'm fine," Shiv said, shaking
his head. "I don't need any help.
I can take care of myself."

What he needed and
what he wanted were often
two different things, but that
didn't need to be said out loud.

When Precious came back,
she was much more composed.

"I'm sorry I had to duck out for
a minute, but I needed to get
a handle on things," she said.

"It's fine," Shiv said, not looking
at her. "People come and go."

"Boss White caught me up on
some things that happened
after that woman bothered you,"
Precious said. "Nothing about
you specifically, just stuff done
for backup around here."

"Yes, they got panic buttons
for all employees who want one,"
Graham said. "It's a good idea."

"I got one," Shiv admitted,
tugging it from his pocket.
"Never know when you
might need a bouncer."

"They work," Precious said.
"I know plenty of folks who
clean hotels, and they've had
them things a while now. It
sure cuts down on the riffraff."

"Blues Moon has also held
some discussions about how
to handle such problems at work,"
Graham added. "Several members
of my family have pitched in with
our different areas of expertise."

"I hope that makes people
feel safer," Precious said,
looking across at Shiv.

"I don't want to talk about it,"
he said hastily, leaning back.

"That's fine," said Graham.
"You don't have to. We can
talk about something else."

"Yeah, pick another topic,"
Shiv said, rocking in place.

"May I mention you to the rest
of the family? Let them know that
you're still alive and what you've
been up to?" Precious asked.

Shiv drummed his fingers on
his knee. "You can tell 'em that
I work at Blues Moon," he allowed.

"Could I get a current snapshot
of you for --" Precious began.

"No!" Shiv snapped, shaking
his head hard enough to make
his fringe flop. "No pictures."

"Okay," Precious said quietly.
"You don't have to give us
a picture if you don't want to."

Shiv heaved a sigh. "Thanks.
It's a touchy topic for me."

"Pictures in general, or
ones of you?" she asked.

"Mostly me," Shiv said. "I don't
like people pointing cameras at me.
Too many shitty memories of that."

"Would you like to keep copies
of other people's pictures, then?"
Precious asked. "They're extras.
I made sure you could keep
any of them that you wanted."

"I ... don't know," Shiv said,
looking utterly helpless.

"May I hold them for you,
then?" Graham offered.
"I could put the pictures in
your safe-deposit box, or --"

"Not with the thing in the box!"
Shiv yelped, waving his hands.
"Put 'em with my therapy stuff."

"Okay, I'll do that," Graham said.
"Do you want to choose which ones?"

Shiv just stared at him. "I dunno.
Whatever she brought, I guess?"

"I'll just bundle up all the ones that
I put in here, and you can sort them out
later," Precious said, tucking them into
an envelope. "There's a thumb drive
of electronic picture files, too."

"Fine," Shiv said, leaning away
so that Graham could take it
without coming close to him.

"Now I know this probably won't
appeal to you, but I want to make
the offer anyhow," Precious said,
looking at Shiv. "Do you want
to come home? You're still
young enough for foster care --"

"No! Never!" Shiv snapped,
scrambling away from her.
"I got out, I got free, you
can't make me go back!"

Her face fell. "All right, then,
you don't have to," she said.
"Just wanted you to know that
the door's open if you need it."

Shiv heaved a sigh and edged
back to the loveseat, perching
on the edge of the arm again.

"Sorry," he muttered. "It's not you.
It's the system. It sucks, and I want
nothing else to do with it, ever."

"Understood," Precious said.
"You're all grown up now,
and no grownup wants to be
treated like a kid again."

"Yeah, that's it," Shiv said.

"If I can do anything to help,
though, please get in touch,"
Precious said. "System never
needs to know about it, that can be
just between the two of us. I know
you aged out of care without finding
a forever home, and that's hard."

"I um, kind of did," Shiv said,
turning to look over at Graham.
"I mean, I found a family of my own,
later on. Families? Whatever."

"Blues Moon is a close-knit community,"
Graham said, nodding. "Then you have
the two branches of Finns, mine and Tolli's.
So I think you could call it 'families,' plural."

"I dunno what I'm doing, but I guess
they knew what I was when they
picked me up," Shiv said, fidgeting.

"That's good," Precious said. "It doesn't
matter how you find your family, only that
you got people to call if you need 'em."

"Yeah," Shiv said. "That I do."

"It will be okay," Precious said.
"I know that things have been
rougher than we wanted, but life is
like a hand-sewn quilt -- nothing that
can't be mended with a few stitches."

Shiv gave a ragged laugh. "Yeah.
Good thing I like sharp stuff."

That was another touchy topic,
but fortunately Precious didn't
press the issue any further.

Graham's vidwatch vibrated.
"Five minute warning," he said.
"Are we about ready to wrap up?"

"Oh yeah," Shiv said. "I am so done.
I need to go walk around the block."

"Then we won't keep you," Precious said.
"Thank you for this meeting. It's been
so good to see you again. I hope
we can get together another time."

"So you can bring me the jelly?"
Shiv said, perking up a little.

"I sure would like to do that,"
Precious said with a smile.
She stood up, spreading
her hands to offer a hug.

Instead of stepping into
her arms, Shiv sidled by,
brushing himself against her.

"See you later," he said,
and flitted out of the room.

Precious waited until the door
closed behind him before she
heaved a sigh and said, "I hope
that went better than it seemed to.
I don't know if that boy even likes me."

"Oh, he likes you, all right," Graham said
with a grin. "When he brushed by you?
That was Shiv Hug #1: Cat Style."

"Is there a Shiv Hug #2?" Precious said.

"Yes, the Horse Style," Graham said.
"He leans on you and either hooks
his chin over your shoulder or ducks
his head under your chin, depending
on which of you is the taller one."

Precious chuckled. "He always
did remind me of an alley kitten,"
she said. "Horses are new, though."

"My brother Tolli and his partner Simon
keep rescue horses," Graham explained.
"Shiv was a little dubious at first, but as soon
as he actually saw the horses, he liked them.
He even helps take care of them now."

"That's encouraging," Precious said,
wrapping her arms around herself.
"He needs to find things he likes."

"Well, Shiv may be hesitant about
attaching to individual people, but you
sure got him latched onto black culture,"
Dr. G said, waving at the jazz joint
around them. "That's a benefit."

Precious looked around the room.
"That it is," she said. "It's just so hard,
seeing my boy again and realizing
how horrible his life has been."

Graham understood that. He
had nightmares of it, sometimes.

"Would you like a hug, from
one cat herder to another?"
Graham offered gently.

"Lord, yes," Precious said
as she stepped into his grasp.

Graham held her for a couple of
minutes, then let go. "Thanks,"
he said. "I needed that too."

"Now that we got that outta
the way, what're we gonna do
about the dirty, no-good rats who
messed up our boy?" Precious said.

Graham took out his smartphone
and called up the relevant forms.

"Why Mrs. Wright," he purred,
"I thought you'd never ask."

* * *


This poem is long, so the character, location, and content notes appear separately.
Tags: #1, #2, cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, safety, weblit, writing
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