“But I don’t wanna!”
“You don’t want to,” I say. I’m patient. Clenched teeth is patient.
“I said – I thaid I don’t want to,” Jay snaps. I’ve managed to drag him into the clothing store, but he’s drawing attention. He never does that. “I don’t need them, I don’t want them and I’m not getting them!”
“You aren’t actually ten,” I growl. “Pretend that.”
He says nothing that, lips tight together, hands balled in trembling fury.
I step to the side slowly, then flick him sharp in the left ear with a finger. He spins with a help, glaring up at me. Flecks of light glitter through his pale eyes, shards of colours flicking and vanishing like falling stars.
“Fine, I’ll get new clothing and strip naked in the middle of the – I’ll thtrip –.”
I reach out and put a hand over his mouth. “Jay. Stop it. You can’t keep forcing yourself to lisp. It’s mostly gone; it’s going away. None of us survived Joey and the Emissaries unchanged.” I lett go.
“Honcho went away,” he whispers, the words so soft I almost don’t catch them. I don’t think he meant for me to hear them.
I don’t say I was there, I don’t tell him I know. I just watch and wait.
“People are staring at me?” he says, only a little louder.
“You did just have a screaming fit,” I say as dryly as I can.
For a second he almost grins, almost looks proud, but just says: “Can we go elsewhere? Please?”
I snag his left hand and he follows me into another store of the mall. Malls are big, loud. Probably safe. “You could suck on your thumb,” I say, and it says too much that I’m suggesting it.
Jay just shakes his head. “Honcho went away. It’s too big a hurt to – it’th too big.” He stops at that. “I lisped!”
“I want –,” he begins, then: “Charlie?”
He hesitates, licking his lips, then: “Clothing?”
I take him into a second kids store, get clothing, nudge him into the dressing room. He comes out after in clothing that isn’t torn or ripped, face clean of dirt – I didn’t give him wipes, but he probably unbound the dirt from himself without thinking. He trembles a little, then walks to the mirror and shoves his face against it, draws back and raises his hands to his face, then touches the mirror with them. “Oh.” His gulp his louder than the word as he turns toward me. “Charlie?”
I hand him a pair of dark sunglasses; he relaxes visibly once he puts them on. “People are going to notice your eyes: this will help stop it a little.”
“My head isn’t hurting as much,” he offers after a bit, then goes still, eyes widening. “Charlie?”
“I’m right here.” I don’t move.
“But – but I broke bindings. Between us,” Jay says, and bites hard onto his lower lip, looking small and terrified.
“I know. You’re mad at the magician. You’re mad at me,” I add before he can claim he’s not mad at the magician, “and you’re mad at you.” I poke him in the nose with a finger. “You can still be Jay without the lisp, kiddo.”
“I can?” he asks, and it hurts so hard I’m glad he’s broken bindings with me; I don’t want him to feel that.
“Of courthe,” I say, and he starts at that, then flings himself at me into a hug. ‘
I hold him until he pulls away. “Fixing bindings?”
“A little? If that’s okay? If you – if you want me to stay?”
“I do.” Nothing else, but he stares up for a long moment in silence. “Jay?”
“I really do. It’s definitely not safe to have you wandering around on your own.”
He lets out a giggle at that that is almost not forced. “Okay. We can get food, and – and talk. I’m going to need help.”
Jay nods. “My eyes hurt; they’re not – not working well. Everything is blurry,” waving a hand in front of his eyes, “but he said I’d heal, tho it will be okay and I can still see bindings, but there’s so much. I have to learn how to see just surface ones so I can see more around me.”
“And you need help with that?”
Jay shakes his head and pulls out his phone carefully. “I need you go find lots of games I can play with sound alone.”
I stare at him. “You know,” I say finally as he fights back a grin; it’s not his grin, but it’s a grin and that’s worth this entire day, “it’s probably going to be a lot easier for me to smack you upside the head now.”
I do so. He yelps, then grabs my hand, pulling me toward the counter. “Come on. We can get food and you wanted to get a van for us and we can travel!”