Kane brushed the crumbs from his lap as he settled into the armchair in the living space behind the kitchen area, where he and Elspeth had spent the two previous hours going over business terms until Kane’s head was ringing. He thought he understood most of it, but there was always a difference in learning something in theory and then putting it into practice. Elspeth had told him, with no room for argument, that she wouldn’t consider him ready to pass an exam until she had put him through several scenarios to test his newfound knowledge. The idea of an exam flared anxiety in his stomach but he decided he had faith in Elspeth to know when he was ready.
Elspeth had popped out briefly to greet Eilidh from her next-door playdate, and happily she flung herself at Law. Kane snorted as his son stumbled back in surprise, but he returned the hug with gusto.
“Lee!” Law grinned against her cheek which was smushed against him. Though he could say her name properly now, he stuck to the nickname.
“You can go off and play, so long as you stay within eyesight,” Elspeth said sternly to Eilidh, who made no sign of having heard her mother. Kane was happy to let them play somewhere in the house, knowing Law tended to reign in her more creative suggestions of how to pass the time, but he couldn’t complain to having the tykes under observation.
Eilidh wrapped her hand around Law’s and tugged him away. Law trotted after her happily, saying something too quiet for either parent to catch, but it sent Eilidh into hysterics. Elspeth watched them with a mixture of fondness and exasperation in her usually serious eyes.
“I have to say,” Elspeth sighed, “I did think you were exaggerating Law’s accomplishments at the group.” She waved away Kane’s immediate protests. “It’s what parents tend to do. Still, the more I see of him at these sessions of ours, and the more I realise you’ve been underselling him, if anything.”
“I expect it’s because you have nothing to compare him against. I’ve studied some early years development, and Law has an exceptional grasp of the world, he can carry a conversation and express himself, recognise letters and write his name, and even his social development is surprising.”
Kane watched, out of the corner of his eye, as Eilidh became distracted by something on the wall and Law crowded in for a closer look, seeing that what had captured her attention was a ‘spider with long thin legs’. Law glanced over to Kane and pointed to the wall, and Kane nodded and made the appropriate amazed noise.
“So he’s ahead of his age? That’s good,” Kane smiled, turning back to Elspeth.
The sound of dragging made Kane turn to look over his shoulder briefly, where Eilidh was pulling over her xylophone to play with Law within her mother’s field of view. Law had sat down to wait, as always happy to be directed rather than assertive, so long as he was happy with where their play was heading.
“Kane,” Elspeth said slowly, “he’s showing potential to be far more than simply ahead of his age.”
Kane turned back to Elspeth and his movement made Law glance up, but quickly he went back to the game and investigated the sounds they could make. Law played each block twice, repeating them in a hum, while Eilidh watched.
“I think when he enrols in school, next year, you should look into your options.”
“Options?” Kane asked, dumbfounded.
“Of advanced programmes,” Elspeth said seriously. “It could enhance his potential so much more, and though the programmes often expect payment, you could get a scholarship place if you look early enough.” She paused. “I’d be happy to help you, or give a recommendation.”
“Um,” Kane said, eyes widening. “Let me think about it,” he said, feeling flustered, and unnoticed by him Law repeated a jingle he’d heard on the TV earlier on the xylophone.
“Oh maaaaaan,” Jasmine said, holding the word out like it somehow communicated more of her thoughts to Kane. “I mean, Law defo is a lil’ genius, I’ll give him that, and as for the programme, hashtag yolo right? So what’s got ya?”
Kane scoffed at her ridiculous way of talking, which seemed to increase at certain times randomly through the months, and he also smiled at her quick understanding that he hadn’t brought it up to brag.
“I guess I’m looking ahead too much, but I don’t want him to put pressure on himself to get the best grades or whatever. I looked the nearest school up online,” Kane said, recalling the blue screen of death his laptop had given him moments after he’d closed the page. “There are exams even earlier than in regular schools.”
He glanced out of the window at a flash of movement; a robin perched on the edge of a dipping branch and sang. It was probably the only bird Kane had learned to recognise, and that was mostly because it was so obvious and because Law had taken a liking to the one that fluttered around their flat.
“I know I should want to give him the best opportunities…” At the word, Kane recalled his argument with Elspeth more than a year ago and wondered if he was just cutting Law off from an amazing springboard that would take him high in life. “I want it to be his choice,” Kane finished with, shrugging. “He doesn’t really know the difference right now.”
“But you can transfer right?”
“You can,” Kane acknowledged. “But it seems to be a lot less likely you’d get a scholarship. As in, pretty much non-existent.” Kane hugged his knee to his chest and sighed. “Maybe I could afford it in the future, if I get to be a manager somewhere, which should hopefully be soon, but… I don’t know, Jas.”
“I think you should trust your instincts,” she told him. “With or without this fancy programme, he’ll be amazing.” Her lips curled into a smile. “You’ve done a good job so far, Kane, I doubt that’ll change now.”
Kane laughed a little, if self-consciously, and shook his head. “Fuck knows how,” he said. “I think I just succeeded in not being an awful dad and he did the rest.”
Jas made a show of rolling her eyes. “Give yourself more credit! You’re a great dad, Kane.”
Kane flushed with pride and fidgeted under her compliment, and was surprised when she grabbed his hand and used it to pull her legs out over him.
“This sofa is so uncomfortable,” she said, by way of explanation, and Kane blushed harder at the weight and warmth of her legs over his. He wasn’t blind to Jasmine’s looks, and more than that, her kind and sunny personality, but he tried to tell himself he’d learned his lesson with Faye. Besides, Jas wouldn’t be here forever; he was determined to enjoy whatever time he had with her and not do anything to complicate that.
“You know, I’ve been reading up on palm reading –“
Kane cut her off with a groan, having experienced enough of Alicia’s tarot cards to be sick of all signs of scientifically dubious future-reading past times.
Jas laughed. “You never know, there might be something to it!”
“Yeah, what does my palm say then?” Kane asked dryly, noticing that she hadn’t taken her hand away from her previous movement.
Jas tugged his hand closer to her and drew her index finger over the lines in his palms. The oddly intimate touch made him hold his breath, a shiver running down his spine, and he forced himself to let it out slowly.
“It says you’re a good father,” she grinned at him, and then ran her finger back and forth over one of his lines. Kane’s toes curled, unseen, on the laminate flooring. “And you’re a dork. A really big one, look at this long line –“
Kane snorted and tore his hand away, using her vulnerable position to grab her foot and tickle her ankle, which he knew was her most ticklish spot. Her screech half deafened the entire apartment complex.
“Birthday bowling!” Jas cheered, letting Eilidh go ahead of her into the bowling alley. Elspeth – stating that there was nothing in this world which would make her step foot into the place – had entrusted her daughter to the care of Kane and Jas, as they planned to celebrate Law’s fifth birthday in a place neither of them had been before.
Jasmine flew away to put their names into the screen, giggling to herself as she nicknamed Kane as “bumface” (she would blame it on the children if anyone came over to complain) and half-listened to Kane’s dubious instructions about how, exactly, they bowled.
“Alright, fingers in holes, and then you roll it to the pins. How hard could it be, right?” Kane glanced up at Law, and though Law realised it was a rhetorical question, he still had to comment on it.
“If it was easy, it wouldn’t be fun.”
“Alright, smart-arse,” Kane muttered, leaving Law to giggle to himself as he tried to get a strike.
“Woot, you didn’t get a gutterball,” Jas cheered in the background, watching as the screen flashed and changed to advise Kane how to throw his next ball. The machine to their right whirred as the ball was fed back to their collection, and he picked it up again, testing the weight in his hands.
He tried to follow what the screen said, only to have the ball spin merrily into the gutter before it was even halfway down the aisle, and then he blinked up at the screen. “Hey,” he said accusingly, turning to Jasmine. “Why am I bumface?”
Law and Eilidh shared a look and giggled at the insult, and then Law skipped up to grab a ball. It was heavier than he thought it would be, even though they made sure to get the lightest one for the kids, and in hindsight he regretted refusing the weird black frame that would have helped him in his endeavour to get more than his group – or, at least, more than Eilidh.
He waddled over to the aisle with it and adjusted it in his hands, finding his fingers slipping out of the hole. Raising his head to the pins, Law corrected his stance and decided he would have to experiment a few times before he’d make a good hit, and got ready to swing his ball down.
He did so with a dramatic sound, something he only uttered to make Eilidh laugh, sounding like one of the silly fighters in one of the anime’s Jasmine watched with him in the evenings. He was a bit sad that she was moving out, to a flat on the other side of town, but since his daddy had told him that meant he was getting his own room, he decided it was a good deal.
Law watched closely as his ball rolled down to hit the pins perfectly in the middle, but he hadn’t put enough power behind the throw to get the pins at the side. He nodded to himself and got another ball to try again with once the weird contraption sweeping the pins away rose. He’d try with more power this time, and adjust after that.
Unsurprisingly, Law picked up the method to bowling easily, though Jasmine still beat him with several strikes (Law had heard daddy call it beginners luck, and then he’d accused her of hustling them, but Law hadn’t known what it meant and made a mental note to look it up in his Collins dictionary when he was home).
When the game ended, and there was a last laugh over Kane being dubbed ‘bumface’, Eilidh suddenly exclaimed that upstairs had fun arcade games and that her mum had given them money for it. She ran off, arms windmilling everywhere, and Law wondered how she didn’t get tired of being so excited all the time.
With a quick glance at his father, who nodded for him to go off and play, Law chased after his slightly older friend.
Eilidh had somehow already put money into her machine and placed a decently sized pile on the machine next to her. Law watched over her shoulder for a moment, seeing an animated screen of a very similar game to Mario, which Jasmine had let him play a few times on her battered DS.
Law came to stand beside Eilidh and they exchanged crafty grins at having left the grownups downstairs, mostly because it was worth running the risk of being told off for being here without parental supervision, but also because it gave the adults a chance to be alone. They had sneakily eavesdropped on a stilted conversation between their parents about dating as a single parent, and Law had quickly deduced that his daddy wasn’t talking theoretically.
Law joined her and examined his game. He didn’t skip over the instructions, instead reading them carefully, even though he knew Eilidh would have ignored them in favour of figuring out how the game worked in practice. Though she was a little older than Law, she couldn’t read as well, but Law figured everyone did stuff in their own time, like Jasmine had said.
“Oh,” Law said, in pleasure, as he realised the game was about natural selection. He was a little shaky on the theory, but he had first discovered it when he’d read a book about dinosaurs and wondered aloud why they didn’t exist anymore, which had prompted a long lecture by Elspeth about their evolution, probable extinction by a comet, and then about biology in general. Eilidh had very quickly become bored, whereas Law was entranced, though he didn’t understand a lot of it. It had taken a lot of reading and internet searches on his daddy’s almost-dead laptop until he thought he knew what all the words and ideas meant, more or less.
Law had a feeling the game wasn’t exactly accurate (a fancy word he’d learned from listening to Elspeth), but he enjoyed it anyway, and listening to Eilidh’s shrieks of joy or terror as she did well or had to start over made their afternoon even more enjoyable. He was happy to have been able to do something he knew was a little expensive for a change, and to have his bestest friend in the whole wide world beside him was even better. He wondered idly how his father was doing, but then realised that the longer he stayed downstairs, the more they’d get to play.
Kane, downstairs, was flailing his arms and letting an incoherent stream of swears cross his lips as he quickly realised how treacherous rollerskates were. Jasmine, after learning that he’d never owned a pair, had pulled him over to the rink and ordered him to get on. Kane didn’t mind her directing him – in fact he found it ridiculously cute – but there was nothing she could threaten to make him stay on these things.
Kane twirled his arms through the air and somehow reached the barrier, collapsing onto it with a relieved sigh. Behind him Jasmine’s delighted laugh warmed the air and he looked over at her to see her effortlessly skating towards him, showing off by doing a spin on the way. He glared at her playfully.
“C’mon, bumface,” she grinned, pulling him over to the middle with a strength that he couldn’t match, unsteady as he was. He groaned and shook his head, though she didn’t look at him until they were in the centre of the empty ring. “Have fun for a change, grumpypants.”
“Grumpypants, bumface, which is it?”
“All of the above,” Jasmine said, sticking her tongue out at him. “Here, it’s easy once you get your confidence.” She held up a hand and Kane blinked at it, then at the relative safety of the fence line, and quickly shook his head.
“Nope, nope, I’m fucking out.”
Jas snorted and caught his hand before he could figure out how to skate away, and Kane sighed as he realised she would get whatever she wanted from him.
He let her take his other hand without complaint and then she effortlessly pulled them backwards, somehow keeping Kane’s fumbling weight upright and relatively safe. She squeezed his hands after he’d regained his balance from a particularly heart-lurching stumble, and he felt warmth run up from the tips of his toes to the roots of his hair.
Her grin was, as always, captivating and contagious, and after a while he felt himself relax and skate with her, rather than allow her to pull him in whatever direction they were going.
“I’m going to miss having you in the house,” Kane said, adding to himself that’d he’d miss the help in paying the rent, too.
Jas smiled warmly at him. “I’ll be round so much you’ll be sick of me. You can’t get rid of me now, you know. Besides, Law’s too damn cute, and I can’t keep away from him.”
“Are you admitting to me that you have the potential to kidnap my son?” Kane asked, raising an eyebrow. Jas grinned at him, her brown eyes warm and playful, and twirled under his arm. Kane was amazed she could keep him steady while she did it, though as soon as he thought of that his left foot seemed to shoot off to nowhere and Jas grabbed him by the arms to keep him upright.
Jas pouted. “Only if you keep the little cutie patootie away from me.”
Kane laughed, and then he realised how close they were to each other, how the length of Jas’ body was almost entirely pressed against his as a consequence of his earlier stumble. His mouth was dry, face heated, and the little space there was between them felt electric.
Kane cleared his throat and nodded to the fence. “I think maybe I could enjoy not having wheels for feet.”
Jas tucked her hair behind her ear and nodded, helping him back over to the side. Kane wasn’t sure, but he thought maybe her cheeks were flushed, too.
Beside him Eilidh crumped up a piece of scrap paper and chucked it overhead, cackling in delight when it landed on Evan’s desk. He glanced up at the ceiling first, pointing at the balled up paper in confusion, and the teacher – Miss Rogerson, a nice enough woman but with no ability to think on her feet – sighed over at Evan. She didn’t miss a beat in her explanation to the confused Ava, however, and once again helped her with whatever piece of work she was stuck on. Law slipped further back in his chair and blew out a breath as he looked at the patterns of water damage on the ceiling, having already finished his work and the extras that Miss Rogerson had half-heartedly allowed him.
Eilidh’s worksheet lay forgotten in front of her and Law watched as Charlie’s face scrunched up in confusion, and Joey played with the ties on her hoodie. He tried to remind himself that everyone moved at different speeds, like Jasmine had told him, but unfortunately that meant he came to an all-out stop waiting for everyone to catch on.
Finally Evan turned around to glare at Eilidh and she laughed again, holding her stomach, and Law rolled his eyes in amusement beside her.
“You should finish your work before you make a nuisance of yourself,” he told her, and though he tried to copy the stern tone of her mother, he couldn’t help but grin at his best friend.
She prodded him playfully and stuck her tongue out, giving Law more cause to smile, and shuffled her worksheet a little closer to her. “What does this word mean?” she asked him, her voice pleading.
“I’m going to the bookshelf,” he told her seriously. “For the dictionary.”
Eilidh’s nose wrinkled in distaste. “Ew,” she said pointedly. “Why can’t you just tell me?”
Law sighed at her wheedling voice. “Because you’ll never learn, silly.”
“Yeah I will,” she returned.
“No you won’t,” Law muttered as he passed her, giving her a playful nudge with his elbow. Charlie chewed on the end of his pencil and watched them out of the corner of his eye, it being more interesting than the colourful worksheet currently waiting for his last answer.
Law found the dictionary and chucked it over to her, the loud thud causing Miss Rogerson to utter a warning from the other side of the room without looking up. Law remained at the bookcase, scanning the titles – if he didn’t have more work to do, at least he could learn something else, right? There was a book about natural selection, and he remembered his earlier interest in the subject even though he hadn’t grasped all of what had been said to him. He slipped it off the shelf and looked at the cover. Charlie glanced over and frowned at the picture.
“Why’s it a boat?” he asked, disgruntled.
Law shrugged and investigated until he found a caption for the picture. “It’s HMS beagle,” he said. “The ship that Charles Darwin sailed on.”
“Who’s he?” Charlie asked, at the same time that Eilidh (who already knew of the name thanks to her mother) asked, “What’s HMS mean?”
“A scientist,” Law told Charlie first, realising there was no point elaborating on any of this to him. To Eilidh, he smiled sweetly. “Why don’t you look it up in the dictionary?”
“UGH!” Eilidh groaned, which finally resulted in the teacher coming over to ask why Law wasn’t in his seat. Law slipped the book back with a sigh and did as he was told, resuming his bored slouch in his chair. He couldn’t wait until he was in an older class, with a teacher that would let him read whatever he wanted, and not allow him to sit bored while everyone caught up.