Home > The Serpent King(9)

The Serpent King(9)
Jeff Zentner

“Unfortunately,” Dill said.

Travis ambled up the front walk. He turned and waved again when he reached his porch, staff held high.

Lydia sped off.

“I’m in no hurry to get home,” Dill said.

“Habit.”

“Want to go to Bertram Park and watch trains until it gets dark?”

“I’d love to hang, but I really need to start putting some time into the blog for the next few months. I’ll be leading with it in my college apps, so there needs to be good content.”

“Come on.”

“Look, that’d be fun in its usual somewhat boring way, but no.”

They pulled up to Dill’s house. He sat for a moment, not reaching for the door handle, before turning to Lydia. “You gonna be too busy for us this year?”

Lydia’s face took a defiant cast. Her eyes hardened, her exuberant air evaporating. “Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention—what were we doing for the last several hours? Oh, right.”

“That’s not what I mean. Not today. I mean in general. Is that how this year’s going to be?”

“Um, no dude. Same question. Is this how this year will go? You not understanding and being weird when I need to do the stuff I need to do?”

“No.”

“Well, we’re not off to a great start.”

“I get it. You’ll be busy. Whatever.”

“But you’ll just be really silent and taciturn about it and maybe somewhat of a dick.”

“I have a lot on my mind.”

“I’m serious, Dill. Please don’t be gross when I’m busy.”

“I’m not being gross.”

“Yeah, you are a little.”

“Sorry.”

They regarded each other for a moment as though giving the opportunity for airing additional demands or grievances. Lydia’s face softened. “On a different topic, half of my salad from Panera isn’t much of a dinner.”

“I’m fine.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay. I better go. Buds?” She reached over and hugged him goodbye.

Dill breathed in her smell once more, gathering it along with his new clothes. “Thanks for doing this. I didn’t mean to come off as unappreciative.”

“Good, because I made you something.” She pulled from the center console a CD with “Joy Division/New Order” written on it in black Sharpie. “This is what we were listening to on the drive to Nashville. I knew you’d want a copy.”

Dill tapped the CD. “You were right. Thanks.”

“And you should know that ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ is my favorite song on Earth.”

“Noted.”

“Tomorrow, seven-fifteen.”

He gave her a thumbs-up. “I’ll be ready.”

Dill got out and walked up to his house. He climbed the cracked, eroding concrete steps to his front door and had his hand on the doorknob before thinking better of it. No use sitting in a gloomy house until it got dark. He laid his bags of clothes and CD on the steps, then sat and stared at the church sign.

No peace, no peace. No peace, no peace.

It cheered Raynar Northbrook’s spirit every time he returned from the hunt to see the battlements of Northhome. He wanted nothing more than to sit beside a roaring fire and let his weariness melt away with a flagon of summer mead, trading tales of conquest of lands and beautiful women with his captain of the guard. Until he looked down from his highest battlement and saw the ranks of Rand Allastair’s army of fell men and Accursed approaching to lay siege to his walls, he meant to enjoy life….

Travis walked in to see his father finishing off a can of Budweiser, his feet on the coffee table, watching the Braves play the Cardinals. A plate covered in congealing chicken wing bones sat on his lap. His eyes were red and bleary.

His father didn’t look up from the TV. “Where were you?”

“In Nashville, school shopping for Lydia and Dill. I told you.”

His father belched, crumpled the can, added it to a large pile, and drew a new can from a dwindling pile. “You get yourself some new clothes? So you don’t look like Dracula?” He popped open the beer.

“No. I like my clothes.”

His father chuckled. “And why on Earth wouldn’t you. Reading all that shit about wizards and fairies.”

“Clint, honey, please don’t curse,” Travis’s mom—timid and red-haired like him—called from the kitchen. How Travis ever came from such a tiny woman was a mystery. Actually, how Travis came from his father was also a decent mystery.

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