My mother squawked things rather loudly at Milo, so I decided to make conversation to drown at the sound of her.

“So, are you hungry?” I gestured to the pans of some kind of Italian creation Milo had been making on the stove. “Milo’s making something delicious. He’s a really good cook.”

“Actually, I just ate.” Jack smiled sheepishly and put his hand on his stomach. “Sorry. I figured that since we were meeting so late, you’d probably already have eaten. And Mae insisted on feeding me.”

“Oh, that’s okay.” But I felt more nervous.

I wasn’t that hungry and I could really care less if he ate or not. Without the distraction of eating, a conversation with my mother would be much less pleasant.

Then a tantalizing idea occurred to me. Maybe we could just turn this into more of a meet-and-greet kind of thing, where Jack could say hello to my mother and then just sweep me away.

“So… do you wanna go someplace or something?” I asked.

“I thought I was meeting your mother.” Jack looked confused and pointed to my mother’s closed bedroom door, where Milo was trying to convince her to put on some pants to see Jack.

“I mean, after that,” I clarified. “Since you’re not eating. It would be silly to sit around here and watch them eat.”

“Aren’t you hungry?”

“I’ll live.” There were like ten million places to eat in the Cities, and this was the only one that included strained dinner conversation with my mother. I’m sure that I could find somewhere if I really had to.

“Alright,” he shrugged and leaned back against the kitchen counter. “What did you have in mind?”

“Pretty much anything, as long as it’s not here.”

“I’m up!” Mom shouted, and a few seconds later, Milo rushed out of her room, looking rather frazzled.

“She’ll be right out,” Milo said.

He went back over to the stove and stirred something simmering in a pan, looking relieved to be back cooking instead of with Mom.

“Do you need help with anything?” I offered.

Freshly washed vegetables sat in the sink, and he had two pans on the stove boiling with food, not to mention the oven was preheating for something.

I felt guilty about him making this massive feast on my behalf, and I wasn’t even going to eat it. Well, later on tonight, I’d dig into the cold leftovers and watch cartoons, but that wasn’t the same as sitting down to it.

“You can slice some of the vegetables if you want,” Milo glanced back at me.

“What are they for?” I pulled out the cutting board and a knife, setting them on the counter next to where Jack leaned. Grabbing a tomato and green pepper from the sink, I repeated the question to Milo, who’d become distracted by seasoning a red sauce bubbling in a frying pan. “What am I cutting the vegetables for?”

“The salad.” He tasted the sauce, which must’ve satisfied him, because he flipped off the stove, and pulled out a cake pan.

I think he was making some kind of special lasagna with all types of homemade everything, but I couldn’t be sure because when he explained things to me, he always used culinary terms that I didn’t understand.

“Everything smells fantastic,” Jack complimented him.

Milo had his back to us, but I could see his cheeks reddening a little as he laid out noodles in the pan. Maybe Milo wasn’t completely immune to Jack’s allure either.

“I have bad news though.” I lowered my voice, afraid my mother might hear me. She had yet to emerge from her bedroom, but I decided that was a good thing. Carefully slicing a green pepper, I saw Milo’s shoulders tense up and he looked hesitatingly at me. “We’re not actually gonna eat here.” His face fell, but he quickly looked away, trying to hide it.

“It’s my fault really,” Jack said. As he talked, his voice worked its magic on Milo, and he relaxed a little. “I didn’t realize I was supposed to eat here, so I went ahead and ate at home. And then I made plans for us in a little bit. I’m really sorry, though. I can tell I’m missing a fantastic meal.”

“Its fine,” Milo said, and he sounded almost like he meant it.

He put the pan in the oven, and he’d already set the table, so he went over to clear the extra two places for Jack and me.

“Milo-” I turned to apologize to him further.

He had this way of looking like a little boy when he was sad, and it just broke my heart. Unfortunately, I decided keep cutting the green pepper as I turned, and that wasn’t the smartest move ever. The knife sliced sharply into the index finger of my left hand, and I yelped painfully.

“What?” Milo instantly stopped what he was doing and rushed over to me. He’d spent enough time with me in the kitchen to know that I usually ended up with cuts or burns. “What’d you cut?”

“I just got my finger,” I winced, squeezing my fingers around it to stop the bleeding. Milo, being the smart one, grabbed a washcloth to put on it.

“Maybe you should run that under water,” Jack interjected, his voice sounding oddly stiff.

Milo turned on the water, yanking my hand under it, but I looked over at Jack. He had taken a few steps away from me, and he’d gone pale. I guess the sight of blood didn’t agree with him.

Milo examined my finger under the water, but I kept my eyes fixed on Jack. He had looked away from me and taken another step back. The sight of the blood, even the small amount that it was, had really affected him, so I hurried to clean it up.