[1429.180.1500] Casimir District, Saorsa

The white edged window shook in its frame. Standing next to it, Wilbur looked out and up. A large ship rumbled overhead, it was likely bound for High Port. He squinted as the ship passed directly in front of the warm red sun. A bulk cargo freighter, so definitely headed for High Port. Jo could have told him the make and model. Gray could get a copy of the load manifest, it was probably one of AgraChem's shipments. Her parents ran AgraChem, and one day she would too.

Thinking of Gray made him smile. And then blush. Her last letter had been kind of gushy, which was unusual for someone as smart as she was. Her thirteenth birthday was coming soon. For Wilbur's birthday, Mom had gotten him a new chain for his bike. Gray was getting a party on the entire top floor of the South Plaza Mall. Her letter talked about the two of them coordinating their outfits, since they were 'you know, going together.' Gray had come up with the idea of writing actual letters, and sending them through the actual mail. It seemed to keep them more private than an electronic comm sent through dozens of wires and a few kilometers of open space between her family's estate and the comm speaker in Wilbur's duplex.

He was sure Gray's parents knew everything. That he and Gray had held hands. That they had agreed that they were 'you know, going together.' That they had both blushed during the entire conversation about 'you know, going together.'

The outfit Gray wanted him to wear made him look dorky. Her family's tailor had already picked out the material, but they were waiting until just before the party to make their suits. He and Gray were still growing; him with muscles and her...Wilbur blushed.

He shook his head. Wearing a dorky suit is the price you pay for 'you know, going together.'

"Mom, we need to...uh...can we talk?" Wilbur's voice cracked. He felt awkward, his pants were even higher up on his ankles than spring. The twins were out in the small yard giggling and playing in the dirt. The neighbor dogs barked and scratched their fleas.

He had been home for almost a week. Back to sleeping on the couch, since his mom and two sisters slept in the only bedroom. His little brother had a pile of blankets to crawl into. Back to washing dishes, which wasn't so bad. He had needed the break from training. The entire team had; they had pushed themselves hard for weeks. They had won, and they had come home. For a short time.

His mom smiled. She sat on the couch reading. Her print dress was threadbare; faded purple flowers reminded him how beautiful she was. He felt that stab of pain; she had been beautiful. Now she was tired. Raising a family on her own. Working two jobs. She never complained. But she never laughed, either. He stuck his hand in his right pocket; the folded up paper was still there. It would make her beautiful again. Not so tired.

She smiled at him and then closed the dog-eared Bible study booklet. Patting the space beside her on the old worn couch, she said, "Honey, I know you wanted to do a family meeting like the others do. But Janice got called into work, and we need the extra money. You and the twins are going through groceries like nobody's business!"

The couch creaked as he sat. She pulled him close. "Don't think for one minute I mind it though. You've grown into a real man these past few months! You look more like your daddy every day; handsome and strong."

"With last year's pants," Wilbur chuckled. "Didn't he used to wear old pants?"

"That he did. Now, I know you're doing your best as the man of the family, and I like how you treat me as your mom. What can I do for the son I'm so proud of?"

"Do...do you really mean it when you say I'm the man of the house?" Wilbur whispered. He felt her nod and kiss the top of his head. "Would you support me if I made a man kind of decision?" His hand dug deeper into his pocket.

He felt her gently pull back. Their eyes met and he saw a touch of fear.

"Honey, I'm your mom and I have to keep you safe. But if you need to make a decision, well, I'll do my best to accept it. Not 'cause you're a man and I'm not, but because I'm your mom and it's my job to help you be a good man. Just like your daddy was."

"Okay." Wilbur hugged his mom for a moment, and then got up. Going to the fridge, he pulled down the schedule for her second job. He looked at her as he set the paper on the small square table in front of the couch. Behind the couch was the blanket and pillow he used at night. From the worn pillowcase he pulled several sheets of rolled up note paper and a worn advertisement page. He was very careful not to reveal any of Gray's letters.

"It's my decision that you quit your second job." He pointed at the schedule. "We never get to do anything fun together and the...I miss that. Further, I want us to eat better. Mister Grishom let me copy some of his recipes and gave me a page with the pots and pans we need."

Wilbur neatly unfolded the hand written recipes and advertisement, and carefully laid them beside her old schedule.

"Honey, the world doesn't work like that. We can't afford new pans and that food is expensive. I know it's better for us, you've grown so much! But..."

Wilbur shook his head. "Further, Janice will start applying for colleges. Mister Ian told me about a couple good schools for math. She's great at math and he says she can make a good living if she studies hard."

"Honey, we can't."

"We can, and we will." He knelt on the other side of the small table, pulled the folded paper out of his pocket, and reverently unfolded it.

"No, honey, that's yours!"

"Mom, I'm the man of the house, and you said you would support my decision. I already checked; I can give Janice the one year of college award. Mister Murphy, at the bank, said the prize money would let us not need your second job for just over a year. He has the paperwork for you to have access to my account."

Tears rolled down her cheeks. "Honey, no. You need to continue to train, the Garradh games are just a few weeks away. You're going to need stuff, and travel money. You need new pants, too."

"No, Mom. Coach Ben said I could earn money helping with the ponies and keeping the shooting range fixed up. I just need you to sign the form since I'm working as a kid." He took a breath. "We're back to training beginning next week, and Mister Grishom already taught me how to cook most of the stuff. I can show you. It's pretty easy, really. When I'm back to training, you won't have to buy groceries for me."

"What about your girlfriend? Don't you want to get something for her?"

Wilbur blushed. "She's...well..."

"It's okay, honey. They're a nice family, and I appreciate all they've done for you and the team. Of course, I've appreciated having you here this week too. I know you have to get back to training. You need to take the prize money and the college paper and put it away. Put it someplace safe."

"No, Mom." Wilbur slowly shook his head. "I won that money fair and square. You said you'd support my decision, and this is it."

"But honey, what happens after you come back from Garradh?"

"Coach Radcliff says the teams at Garradh aren't any good this year. We'll win there and then head to Birach for the League games. The prize at Garradh is about the same amount of cash and some other stuff, and Birach is twice as much. The Alssijn games will be rough, but Coach says we have a good chance."

Wilbur's mom couldn't hold back her tears. She ran to the bedroom and slammed the door. He heard her crying through the thin wooden door as he scratched his left ankle with his right foot. "Dang, those stupid fleas are in the house again!"

The papers stayed on the table. She would support him, he was sure. He didn't know why she was crying, but for him, the decision was made. He went to the comm unit on the wall and pushed the activate button until it came on. "Mister Doughtery," He said. "The neighbor's dogs' fleas are in the house again, can you please spray?" It was a two microcredit message and he accepted the charge. He hadn't told his mom about the auto pay for the bills yet. She'd come around, though.

He looked in the fridge for supper fixings. Mom was still crying, though not as loud. There was some canned spread in the fridge and half a roll of stale crackers in the cupboard. "Dang!" He said. He quickly ran to the comm unit and checked the time.

"I can make it!" Wilbur said. "Mom, I'll be right back."

Pushing through the door and heading down the steps, he told the twins, "You clean up good and I'll get us supper, clear?"

"Huh? Ain't Mom cooking?"

"No, she's not feeling great." Wilbur got on his bike and started pedaling. He yelled back over his shoulder, "If you clean up real good, we can go to Brakey's. Otherwise I'll just make soup. Take your pick, but I'll check behind your ears and everything!"

"Brakey's!" The twins screamed. They sprinted into the house and started running water for the tub.

The Domici War novels are easy reading level science-fiction Coming of Age stories with a Christian Warrior ethos.

The characters struggle with their imperfections and the challenges of an unknowable future.

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