The one about Rhyme's grandparents


The photo album had been returned to the bookshelf, and the TV switched from the news channel to Saturday morning cartoons. Amy sat on the floor with her legs pulled to her chest, sketching on a clipboard she'd found in a kitchen drawer. She'd been silent for ten minutes now, which had to be some kind of record. Who'd have ever guessed drawing would be her thing? Tyler lay on his stomach behind her, taking up as much of the couch as he could possibly reach. Both cats had fallen asleep on top of him. He knew better than to try and move.

When their show ended on a cliffhanger and dove into commercials, Amy reached back and prodded his leg with the cap eraser of her pencil. "Hey. Tyler."

"What?"

Amy turned her clipboard around to reveal a stick figure with a square head, crossed eyeballs, and a large nose. Scruffy hair had been scribbled in on top. She grinned. "It's you."

Tyler pressed his fingers to his chest, pretending to be insulted. "That's what you think I look like? And you've known me how long?"

Amy laughed and flipped the first paper back behind the top of the clipboard. She smoothed the paper underneath with a few strokes of her hand. "Just kidding. This is what I really drew."

"… Whoa," Tyler shifted very slightly to get a better view. Her second drawing looked, well… better than her stick figure, to say the very least. She'd only done his face and the tops of his shoulders, but that was all she'd needed to. It was obvious that was him. There was his nose, big and pointed. His eyes beside it, eyebrows thick and bushy. She'd caught the shine to the waves in his hair with just a few quick scratches of her pencil. And she hadn't even twisted around to look at him while she did it. Tyler blinked. She'd remembered the tiny hairs forming a baby goatee on his chin. Even he forgot he had those sometimes.

He stretched out his hand. "That's pretty good. Let me try you."

"Cats," she reminded him, and stuck out her tongue. Tyler stuck his tongue out back. Nyeh. She had a point. He'd always preferred dogs to cats, and would've loved to adopt one had the apartment ever allowed it. But as far as cats went, Misty and Ember seemed okay. They'd spent all morning trotting up and butting their faces against his hands. It seemed rude to disturb their comfort by sitting up now that they'd finally settled down.

It was just as well. Right then, the knob on the front door began to rattle. Keys scratched against the other side. Amy and Tyler both looked up, drawings and cartoons forgotten. Amy's shoulders tensed. She dove forward and switched the TV to Off. At that, Tyler winced. She'd always done the dive when they were watching cartoons in her apartment and they heard Zephyr at the door. Amy kept insisting her grandparents weren't as controlling as her father was, but did she even believe it herself? Her words said one thing. Her actions said another.

Force of habit, he hoped.

Amy rolled backwards and flipped to her feet. Her arms went out for hugs. "Gran! Gramps!" In a literal flash of bright blue light, she zipped to meet them at the door. The curtains and papers on her clipboard rustled behind her.

"Whoa!" Gramps stumbled back, grocery bags and all. Ignoring his amused protest, Amy darted behind him, squeezed his shoulders, and then rushed outside to catch her grandmother on the sidewalk.

It was as good an excuse to finally move as any. Tyler sat up, bringing both cats around to his lap. Misty hissed and sprang to the floor, but Ember cuddled up in his arms. He stood, and with the hand that wasn't cradling the cat, offered Gramps an awkward wave.

"Thanks for going to the store. I really appreciate it."

Gramps lifted a shopping bag-laden arm and wiped his shaggy hair from his eyes. "Our pleasure, Tyler. It's not every day you get to welcome a legitimate eloping granddaughter and her fiancé."

Tyler blinked. Twice. Then a third time for good measure. Is that what Amy had told her grandparents after he'd fallen asleep? Maybe for his own good? Would her family throw him out in the street if he corrected them, because while they might support two young kids in love on the run from an abusive father, they wouldn't look twice at a boy and a girl with no romantic commitments of any kind? She didn't expect him to actually pretend he was in love with her, did she? Just to be safe, he checked the door for Amy's reaction. She wasn't there. Tyler tensed his shoulders, curling his fingers into Ember's fur. Fortunately, Gramps noticed, and his expression softened.

"I shot the wrong deer in the dark, didn't I?"

Thank goodness. Tyler bent down to set Ember back on all four paws. "Best friends ever since we were kids." Then, out of the blue, he added, "I actually took this other girl I knew to prom. That was three days ago. So."

Gramps nodded, saying nothing. He wandered into the kitchen with the shopping bags. Tyler caught sight of round tortilla chips, and suddenly realized that salsa and melted cheese sounded amazing right now.

The door opened a little wider. Gran shuffled through, wrapping up a story over her shoulder with, "If you ever do see him again, tell him his mother said to write." Amy hopped up the steps behind her, holding some sort of small white box. Grinning, she tossed it to Tyler. He caught it in one hand and glanced down. Ah. Dental floss.

"Ha ha, I can take a hint. Should I use this right now?"

Gran laughed. "After lunch, of course. Goodness, how the morning flies! Is it that late already? I've got to hustle if I don't want the both of you dropping dead from starvation on my floor. Do cinnamon waffles sound good?"

Tyler couldn't help himself. He groaned. "Yes, please! I had to eat Frosted Flakes this morning."

Amy shut the door and tossed her hair. "You brought this on yourself. I gave you a warning."

"No one actually likes Frosted Flakes."

"I like Frosted Flakes."

"Waffles for our late little lunch it is," Gran said cheerily, sweeping past them into the kitchen. Tyler followed her with a shake of his head.

"You fawn over me even more than my own grandparents. And I have good grandparents- they're Canadian. Can you just adopt me?"

Gran winked. "I'll add you to the waiting list."

The grocery bags went down on the corner table. Tyler took three and handed three more to Amy. By the time Gran had found and plugged in the waffle iron, they were done, with everything but the immediate ingredients tucked away exactly where they should be. Amy perched on the edge of the counter, swinging her legs. "Don't bump your head," Tyler said absently as he scooted past. She pushed him with the tip of her shoe.

"I never bump my head."

"That's because I tell you not to." Tyler leaned against the fridge. He watched Gran feel in the lower cabinets for her mixing bowl, then asked, "Can I help?"

She glanced up at him, bemused. Her eyes sparkled green, and Tyler couldn't hold back a smile. She was Amy's grandma, all right- no DNA test necessary. "I'm no needy old woman yet," she retorted. "But far be it for me to deny you the chance."

"I've always wanted to learn."

"And I'd like a turn," Amy chimed in.

Gran nodded. "Tyler, grab the salt, sugar, and vanilla. My measuring cups and spoons are yours to command. Millie, you can whisk the eggs."

Amy leapt up, but Tyler's heart sank. Oh. Was it just a coincidence he'd been assigned the easy task of measuring ingredients, instead of mixing things around? It wasn't like mixing even required a lot of strength. Kids could do it.

Maybe he stood in silence for a moment too long, because Gram straightened up and looked him dead in the eye. "You can warm the milk in a minute."

He blinked. "Warm the milk?"

"Just a secret trick of mine to keep the butter soft."

Well, maybe it wasn't as exciting as spinning a whisk around a bowl, but at least warming things up was something he'd probably have an easier time doing than Amy would. Her cold hands or excited breathing would cancel out the effect of warm milk in an instant. Tyler nodded, and grabbed the ring of tablespoons.

"Sugar?" he called, reaching high to snatch the salt from its overhead cupboard.

"Third left bottom cabinet, second shelf, right side," Amy called back, kicking the fridge door shut behind her. Her hands fumbled with the egg carton, but when he shot her a questioning look, she waved away the unspoken offer to help with a smile.

"Third shelf from the left on this wall, or that wall?"

"This wall."

"Which wall?"

"That wall."

The waffles were ridiculously good, of course. Weird how someone with rock powers could bake something so light and fluffy. Gran even taught him how to keep them crispy by not stacking them all as they came off the hot iron. There were bananas, blueberries, chocolate chips, and strawberries all in their own color-coded dishes. Whipped cream, too. And Gramps had given in to Amy's pleading and brought out his special homemade syrup, which probably put one of those ice cream sinks you're supposed to share with your friends and family to shame in terms of health value. It was worth it. Tyler had never eaten more than eight waffles in a single sitting before, but suddenly, faced with all that food, he found the strength deep within him to overcome any trial.

Gran shook her head, splurting a generous amount of whipped cream atop her waffle. "Who usually cuts your hair, dear? If your bangs get too long for you, I'll be happy to bring them back in line. After being married for fifty-one years to this man, I've become quite an expert on cutting grass."

"I like my hair," Tyler protested, covering his mouth with his hand. Amy kicked his ankle beneath the table.

"You're getting syrup in your beard."

Tyler stuck out his tongue. Maybe he still had food on it, because Amy laughed so hard she shot milk from her nose. It turned to chunky ice crystals and splattered on his wrist. Tyler called it quits after that. He left the kitchen with his arms up in surrender to go take a full-on shower, while everyone behind him laughed and dove into another round of waffles.

When lunch finally ended, Gramps pulled Amy into the living room so they could talk about the legalities involved in bringing Zephyr to court. Tyler tried to follow her, still adjusting the hem of the oversized shirt her grandpa had leant him, but the warning look Amy shot across the room froze him faster than her freeze breath ever could. He took two steps back, and hovered for a moment in the doorway as she settled on the couch. The two cats immediately jumped up beside her. She held Ember to her chest, while Misty settled in her lap.

Gran kept him busy around the kitchen, though. After gathering the dishes near the sink, she pulled a cookbook filled to the brim with dessert recipes down from a high shelf. This, she handed to Tyler. "Pick what you like for tonight," she suggested. "And if I have to make another run to the grocery store, well, then so be it. I live for a little adventure. Today, you're our guests."

Tyler couldn't bring himself to laugh, so he smiled instead and promised her he'd look as soon as the dishes had been washed and put away. After all, he was a guest, not a hotel patron. It seemed rude to make her clean up after him and Amy all by herself.

Gran stuffed the plug in the left-hand half of the divided sink, then flipped on the water. She followed this with a squirt of purple soap. White bubbles began to sprout like weeds. "So, what's your story, Tyler? I understand that you're in Millie's year at school."

And I seriously, actually dropped out just a few weeks before graduation. Tyler's eyes glazed over. He picked up a fork that dripped with syrup and held it beneath the gushing water.

"Yeah, we've been in the same school ever since my family moved to her apartment building when I was 8. We're exactly four floors above her."

"Where did you used to live?"

"Toronto."

"Go Maple Leafs," she said with a wise nod, and Tyler smiled. He figured he was allowed to hold true to one Canadian stereotype, and if he said he didn't like hockey, that would be a lie.

"Yeah. So, my family moved to the States, and Amy and I have been best friends ever since."

Gran whistled and picked up a sponge. She adjusted the spout of the sink so it began to fill the second half. "A whole decade. That's nothing to sneeze at." Her eyes trailed towards the living room. "Poor girl. If Quinn could see what's become of Nathan now, she'd be turning in her grave. It sounds as though he isn't the charming young gentleman I remember picking her up at the door every other evening." She pressed her palm against her cheek. Softer, "I'm glad, at least, that Amy had you."

Tyler rubbed behind his neck again, glancing at the ceiling. "Yeah, well. If I'd known things with her dad were half as bad as this, we'd have run away sooner."

"Long way," she murmured.

"I know. But my parents don't get Amy. I mean, to them, she's… Well, she's a super. You know how some normals get about supers. Or how some supers get about normals. They think Amy's supposed to be trained to use her powers by other supers, and having normals look after her would be wrong. I dunno." Shrugging one shoulder, Tyler mumbled, "I guess my mom and dad always thought I'd grow out of being her friend someday. I mean, lots of supers go on to charm schools instead of public school. Amy was just one of the few who didn't. Her dad wanted to train her all by himself, and I knew he pushed her, but… I should've realized what was really going on. I'm supposed to be the one person she can always trust, and…" Soapy fingers grabbing his hair, Tyler choked out, "I wasn't? I don't- I don't even know how I feel about that."

Gran watched him for several more seconds, then turned off the sink with a soft hand. "Don't blame yourself, Tyler. It sounds to me like you truly do have her best interests at heart."

He frowned at the fork in his hand. Hot water droplets ran from his wrist to his elbow. "I couldn't just let her run away without me. It's all so crazy, it hasn't really sunk in. All I know is, there's no way she could stay in my apartment- that's the first place he'd look. I don't know. I love my family. I left them a note before I ran away." Glancing up, Tyler shrugged again and said, "I knew we had to leave the city if we didn't want to get caught and dragged home again, but I thought we'd still stay in the area. I didn't know we were going to leave Massachusetts. Crossing into Connecticut came out of left field, and I get the funny feeling that Amy wants to keep on running as far as she can. It's just in her nature. She's, well, wild. I'm a planner. Now I don't know what to plan for, I guess."

Gran nodded. Silence passed. Tyler handed her a plate, and went to collect the empty fruit dishes from the table. A few faint words of Amy's conversation with her grandpa drifted into the kitchen. Stuff about lack of sleep, getting dragged out of school early to work with Zephyr at the gym, running outside in the rain and hail at 2:30 in the morning every night for too many nights to count… it all seemed like such insignificant stuff that had piled up too fast. Stuff that should've been too huge to have gone unnoticed for this long.

Maybe he wasn't the best friend she deserved.

That night, unrolling his sleeping bag next to Amy's on the soft living room rug, Tyler scratched behind his neck and asked her, "Do you think Zephyr's going to guess where we went?"

Amy shifted her attention away from the puzzle box in her lap. She brushed her hand over the picture of a giant sandcastle one last time. The box went back on the coffee table. She wrapped her arms around her knees. She'd borrowed some of Gran's old charm school sweatpants and a sweatshirt to use as pajamas, although since the shirt had kept in such good condition all these years, Tyler wondered if it had belonged to Quinn. Maybe Gran had simply held onto it, waiting for the day when Amy would ask for some of her mother's things. Sympathy trickled down his spine. He shivered. Weird. Without her glasses, Amy's eyes looked so fragile. So exposed.

"I don't know," was all she said for a moment. Tyler shooed away the cats and sat down beside her, and Amy added, "He never really got along with Gran and Gramps after Mom died. I remember he was always too nervous around them to even say 'Boo.' Maybe he'll come. Maybe he won't."

Tyler studied her face, not wanting to pry. Amy pushed her wrist across her cheek, then tossed him a struggling smile.

"Isn't it sad that I almost want him to?"

Huh? Tyler looked her up and down. "Wait. You… want to see Zephyr again?"

Amy's gaze darted away, but she kept facing him. "I mean…" Here, her head tilted in the opposite direction. Her eyes flicked back to his. She pulled her knees tighter. "I hope he still loves me. Even though… I don't want to live with him anymore."

He swallowed. "I, uh… I don't know what to say. That's so you. Maybe… things will all work out in the end."

He hated Maybes, but Amy didn't. They shared a smile, awkwardly, and in the end fell asleep facing opposite walls.


The thought that Zephyr might discover them - that on a perfectly innocent day when they were just trying to get by, that jerk could potentially invite himself inside their safehouse and tear their friendship apart for good - nagged like a constant drumbeat in the back of Tyler's mind for over a week. Gran kept him distracted with an endless waterfall of new and interesting desserts to bake, and Gramps pulled a different game from the hallway closet every night. Tonight, it was Scrabble. Normally Tyler loved Scrabble, but his heart wasn't in it. Even Amy could tell, judging from her sideways glances, gentle elbow nudges, and silent hugs. Amy could always tell.

He couldn't sleep. Well, I mean, he never woke up screaming from nightmares or fumbling around to assure himself that Amy was still there beside him, or anything like that. Especially since the cluttered guest room had finally been cleaned out, and she had moved down the hall. Tyler spent his nights on the couch with the cats. So she wasn't there, and he knew she wasn't there, just like every other night for the last ten years. He never woke up scrambling to find her. He just… couldn't sleep. Hours passed as he lay with his fingers laced behind his head, staring and staring at the high ceiling in this house built for people so much taller than him. When cars drifted past outside, lights and shadows rippled along the walls. Each time the full moon slipped behind the clouds, the room darkened by at least three shades. Or when he did sleep, he couldn't stay asleep for long.

Because Zephyr might sneak in if I do.

He'd never worried about burglars or murderers before, living in his old apartment building. Having spent a decade of his life there, Tyler had gotten to know most of the people pretty well, both the stable families and the newcomers. They were his neighbors. People who would never hurt him.

Zephyr would.

He rolled over, clenching a puff of the thick quilt in his arms. It wasn't exactly a teddy bear, but it made him feel a little better. Another exhausting night.

"I don't think it's a good idea for Amy and I to stay here," he told Gran as they scrambled eggs the following morning. When she paused, he tightened his grip on the pan handle and barreled on with, "You've been great, really. I love it here. I'm just not sure it's safe. You're Amy's grandparents. Sooner or later, Zephyr will guess where we ran off to. He's escaped from jail before. I think it's great that Gramps wants to take him to court, but the truth is, if the police arrest him again, I don't see what they can do to keep him locked up any longer than usual. Plus, he has super speed."

Gran thought for a moment, prodding the eggs with a wooden spatula. "Well. It's true that Zephyr has always been a quiet, calculating man. It's also true that with his ability to manipulate air currents, it's hard to keep him locked away. You make a very valid point."

When she wasn't watching, Tyler made a face. Yeah, he liked being right, but in this case, he almost would have preferred the false reassurance.

"I guess I shouldn't worry," he said, grabbing a plate for the eggs. He squinted, unable to decide whether they were too runny or too crispy. "You, Gramps, and Amy all have superpowers. If he showed up on your doorstep, he'd be challenging all three of you. That's pretty promising… I just wish I could help."

Another thoughtful moment passed. Then Gran set aside her spatula. "Tyler, how much do you enjoy cleaning?"

Tyler shrugged.

"You must, since you're always the first to volunteer when there are chores to be done."

"I guess my parents raised me right?"

"Henry and I are in the landscaping business." Gran nodded into the hallway to indicate Gramps in his room, in case Tyler didn't know who she was talking about. "There's a hotel about twenty miles from here. Lovely place; simply stunning. Twelve floors high and their service can't be beat. We drive down there several times a month to tend to the courtyard."

"We can't impose on your generosity longer more than we have to. You've done enough. Really. Thank you."

She shook her head and dialed down the temperature on the stove. "We're familiar with the man who runs the place, and if Henry and I recommended you to him personally and explain the situation, I suspect he'd take you onboard his housekeeping team for at least a few months. Provided, of course, that you really do work as hard as we promise you will. That would give us all enough time to plot our next course of action."

Tyler had given up trying to balance work and school following a brief affair with a dry cleaning business two bus transfers from his apartment. He'd always meant to spend the summer after graduation earning money for college… maybe even spend an entire year in one place before he even applied seriously. Still, he found himself frowning.

"At least think about it," Gran coaxed. "You could earn the money and the right to rent a room, all on your own. You'd be far enough away that Nathan won't find you easily, and Henry and I could check in on you every week. Would you like that?"

Tyler stared down at his plate of eggs. He tilted it one way, then the other. "I dunno… Cleaning a big hotel every day sounds a little lonely. And can Amy and I actually afford two separate rooms? That sounds like a lot of work."

"You could always share one room."

"What?" Tyler reeled back his head, and, well… stared at her. Gran continued working with the eggs, whistling innocently. "Me and Amy? Just the two of us? Alone? And… you would be okay with that?"

"Why not? I trust you two to be alone in this house when I'm away, don't I? You're both old enough to make your old decisions. Besides, you're a rational planner, like me. You won't ever dig yourself into a hole too deep to climb out of."

She winked in her typical way, and Tyler squinted.

"… Huh." One thing was for sure, he never would have gotten that lenient of a response from his mom.

The more he thought about it, the more sense it actually made. He'd need some time to talk it over with Amy, of course (and he'd need some time to talk it over with the other parts of his own brain before that), but at a glance, everything seemed to line up. Neither he nor Amy really minded cleaning, although she probably wouldn't bother if she felt like she could get away with it. The hotel sounded just the right distance from Amy's grandparents' place to offer them independency, and close enough to reach within an hour if something came up and they needed to. And, Gran was right. Tyler never really felt happy unless he felt like the work he was doing was meaningful. If there was anyone in the world he would have felt comfortable sharing a room with for months on end, hands down he would pick Amy.

He only hoped this hotel manager would be as willing to work with them as Gran suggested.

"Though, you may want to get some fake wedding rings you can wear to keep the clowns away," Gran mused, tilting back her head. "Or you could get married in actuality… You are both 18, so you wouldn't need your parents' permission…"

Amy appeared in the kitchen doorway like a firework in December, her blue hair mussed and teeth half-brushed. Seriously, her mouth dripped with foam, and she still had her toothbrush in her hand. "We could get friend-married!"

"No, that's okay," Tyler protested, lifting his hands near his chest. "Really. I'm fine just wearing a fake ring if you feel like we have to."

A mischievous twinkle crept into Amy's eyes. Cupping a hand below her chin to catch the toothpaste leaking from her mouth, she said, "I've got something better than a wedding ring."

"Wait," he tried again, but Amy zipped down the hall before he could explain. She was back in a flash. There, on the kitchen floor, she lowered herself to one knee and held up her clasped hands. Instead of a small box with a ring inside, she held… Tyler wasn't really sure what she held, but it was small and attached to a cord.

"What are you doing?"

"It's a friendship marriage," Amy chirped. She'd lost the toothbrush, but hadn't wiped her mouth. "We've been calling each other best friends for ten years now, so it feels like we should make it official." She separated her fingers just enough for Tyler to make out what was in her hands: Two necklaces, each bearing a single large charm shaped like a piece of bread. One had peanut butter smeared across its front, the other jelly, like a matching pair. Both were accented with gaping smiley faces. "At least, if you're not too embarrassed. Tyler Horace Eiffel, would you accept my humble gift? To keep and to hold and to never part with? To signal our friendship will last until death, meaning we'll know we're best friends until our last breath?"

Gran chuckled. The stove crackled. Too flustered to respond properly, Tyler lifted his scrambled eggs above his head. "I, uh… Amy, you know, you could have waited to spit out your toothpaste before you did this."

"I'm authentic," she said, spewing icy bubbles. "So?"

He arched his eyebrows. The eggs went down on the counter behind him. "Will I be your best friend for time and all eternity, until death do us part?"

"Yes, exactly. And with all of your heart?"

"Sure, I'm okay with that. I've put up with you for this long, haven't I?"

Amy smiled, and rose to her feet. "Me too. Turn around."

He did, but couldn't resist glancing over his shoulder to figure out what she was doing. Amy shook out the tangled necklace chains, then unclipped the back of one. She spread her hands apart, and settled the necklace around his neck. It took her a moment of fumbling with the latch (long enough for ice crystals to start forming in his hair), but in the end, her endeavor was successful, and she stepped back to admire her work. Tyler lifted the necklace in his palm and squinted down at his half of the sandwich. Jelly. The happy piece of bread dangled from its chain by a loop at just one corner.

"Huh."

"Okay. Now, you do me."

"Seriously?" he asked. He took the peanut butter necklace with a smile and dropped down to one knee. Amy, who had already turned around in anticipation of Tyler simply latching the back of hers, spun to look at him again and burst into giggles at the sight.

They started work at the hotel four days later. Amy catnapped for most of the drive, but Tyler kept his attention beyond the window. When Gramps finally turned the car into a lot, Tyler pressed his palms against the glass. A proud, elegant castle of a hotel gazed down at them from on high, every window glittering in the sunrise. The courtyard burst with flowers and fluffy grass, not to mention a few well-placed decorative giant boulders.

"You work here?"

"Oh, this little place?" Gran asked modestly.

The inside of the hotel was no less impressive. Tyler ran ahead of the group, his borrowed briefcase of a suitcase slapping at his legs. The walls glowed with yellow paper. All three counters in the lobby gleamed, and every box of pamphlets had been ordered into a neat, perfect display. The floor was so reflective, it looked more like a pool than the ground.

Speaking of pools, the hotel did have one. Tyler glimpsed it on their tour, wishing suddenly that he'd packed a swimsuit. Grams and Gramps were nice and had already taken him shopping for new clothes that fit, but a swimsuit wasn't something that had been on his list. Oh well. Maybe he could save up some cash to buy one he liked all on his own, with money he'd worked for himself. At that, he smiled and hurried through the halls a little faster.

The hotel manager did seem to like them, true to Gran's word. He welcomed them cheerfully and shook their hands, then threw in a short spiel about how any grandchild of Gran and Gramps had to come from good stock, and how shaken he was to hear about their problems with Zephyr. "If there's anything I can do," yadda yadda yadda. Tyler and Amy nodded.

They were each presented with a plastic shower caddy of simple cleaning supplies for the bathrooms, as well as careful instructions on how to make the beds to the guests' liking. It was enough to start them off, and with that, they were on their way. Their assignment was to practice tidying up a few rooms that had just been checked out of that morning, and which weren't scheduled to fill up for a few more days. When Tyler opened the first door with his master key, his mouth dropped.

At least three different homesick pangs rapped him on the back of the head and stabbed him in his guts. The hotel room before him looked like, well… It was small, with spiral-patterned carpet and old-fashioned brown and white wallpaper. Not exactly as ritzy as he'd been hoping for given the swimming pool and the shiny lobby tiles, but it reminded him piercingly of home. There weren't posters on the walls, but there were plenty of familiar cracks and dents nonetheless.

And that bed!

It was bigger than the bed his parents shared, hands down. Not only higher off the floor, but wider as well. You could have fit, well, every person in his entire family in that bed. Enormous cushy lumps carved hills and valleys in the blanket. Pristine white sheets met black pillows that didn't have any lint on them. It looked so… so…

Tyler inhaled the fresh smells of the room, and blew out his breath again. "Clean…"

Don't get him wrong- Amy's grandparents were great. And their home wasn't a disaster by any means. It was just a little too… warm and fuzzy for him. Now, this- this was sleek and modern, with lamps on both sides of the bed and a big color TV on the dresser across from it. It probably had 500 channels on it. The desk wasn't stacked with pencil shavings and crumpled bags of chips like the one he'd always had to share with Keaton. Bright white lights instead of yellow ones. With the curtains pulled back and the city lights gleaming, the entire room looked as new and shiny as a baby. A baby with some seriously excellent tastes.

"Ours won't look like this, Tyler."

"Oh, yes it will. Someday. We just need to plan carefully and work hard." Tyler couldn't resist. Shoving his cleaning supplies into Amy's hands, he raced to the bed with a yelp and then threw himself across it face-down. Goosh! He sank into the mattress practically up to his ears.

"Can I live here?" he mumbled into the pillows.

Amy whistled softly. The cleaning supplies clattered as she shifted her arms. "I wouldn't mind cleaning every day if it means a place like this is where we get to stay."

Tyler rolled over, still hugging a pillow to his chest and grinning like a lunatic. His eyes wandered to the pale whiteness of the ceiling. After a respectful moment of silence, Amy wandered over and peered down at him. He pressed the pillow into his face.

"Oh man. This is the kind of life you dream of having."

"It's a lot," she said, sitting on the edge of the bed.

"I dig it. If I were rich, I'd stay here every day."

Amy flopped down beside him and folded her arms behind her neck. She tilted back her head. "Me? I think I just prefer the simple way."

Tyler lowered the pillow. "Do you think either of us will ever be rich?"

"Nah. But I hope we'll be famous."

"That's basically the same thing, isn't it?" He shrugged. "Well, if I ever become rich, I'll split it with you."

"Yeah?" Amy turned her head, eyebrows raised. "50-50?"

"Probably. I guess it depends on if I'm married…" Tyler's voice trailed off, and he frowned. His arms tightened around the pillow again. "I barely turned 18 a week ago. My parents were married at 21, and they had Pearl just a year after they were married. Oh, wow. I could be married with a kid in just five years."

They gazed at the ceiling for a long time. Tyler glanced sideways at Amy, who stared upwards for a few more seconds before glancing at him, too. She bit her lip.

"We should get back to cleaning," he said, and tossed the plump pillow back where he'd found it.