“Is it your treehouse?” I ask Mason.
He’s sitting on the second floor sun porch, the one that overlooks the backyard. In his lap is a knitted purple afghan—mine, of course—and in his hand, a thick book. He lays the book face down, its spine bent backwards over his knees. I sense he’s resisting the temptation to sigh over my having interrupted him. “Beg pardon?”
“The reason you’re blue. Do you miss the laboratory in Brazil, the one you built in that wonderful treehouse?”
“I’m fine.” Mason sounds surprised I’d think otherwise. Yet I’m not wrong. Something’s up. His face is pale and it’s thin, and thinness isn’t a normal state for Mason. Plus, it used to be that Mason could be relied upon to laugh at my jokes. Not any more. Now if I say something funny, instead of that delighted, deep laugh of his, he gives a smile.
“It’s too darned quiet around here,” I say. “I mean it. You’re quiet, Eve’s quiet—even I’m quiet, out of respect for the ridiculously quiet Dials.”
“Seems to me Chloe and Lark can still raise a decent ruckus.”
“Thank the good lord sweet baby Jesus for that,” I say. “Come on, Mason. Tell me.”
This time he does sigh. The late daylight hits his face as he turns sideways to face the windows. I watch his profile. His Adams’ apple rises and falls, and his expression—at least on the side I can see—looks so suspiciously sad, he might be about to cry.
“It’s not the easiest of times,” he says. “It’s difficult for a man to know what he is…supposed to do.”
The porch is cozy and so small that there’s no chair to sit on other than the one Mason’s in. So instead I sit down on the ottoman where Mason is resting his feet. I could ask him more questions. That would be my normal routine. But for now, I rest my hand on the afghan somewhere along where his calves must be. And I take in the bare branches of the oak outside the window, and the watery gray sky beyond that, and we sit together that way until a flock of geese comes into view from the right hand side and flies out of view to the left, and then I rise and go make dinner.
Jill Riddell is a writer in Chicago. She teaches at the School of the Art Institute and has a weakness for nature, magic, and pennies abandoned in sidewalk cracks.