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Cast of Thousands, Chapter 2

Jessica scooted up nearer the headboard, gathering her knees together to get her whole body into the shrinking patch of midmorning sunlight. Her cat got up, stretching assiduously so that her muscles trembled with the length and force of it, and stepped carefully up onto Jess' chest.

Each paw felt as if it were made of furred lead. "Ow! Ow, Missy! Ow, sit DOWN already!" Jess tried to press the cat's butt down flat, but Missy just stared out the window and ignored her.

She should have been getting up; she should have eaten breakfast already. Probably there were doughnuts waiting for her, or one of the super-sugary cereals that were Treats, For Weekends Only. Her mothers were very firm about this - "It's bad enough when we have a whole backyard to run around in, we're not sending you off to some poor teacher in a tiny classroom with that much sugar under your belt." But today the thought of Marshmallow Sprinkle Sugar Puffs drowning in chocolate milk only made her feel sick and heavy inside.

Jess pulled her knees up to her chin, dislodging the cat who shot off like an offended cannonball. Today her friend Marcy was coming over to play for the first time. It was actually the first time a new friend had come over since she was about five. She'd had the same group of friends ever since; but now that she had moved up to middle school she sort of thought it was time to expand her circle of friends.

Jessica heard an aria of jingling and clumping as her mom prepared to go out. Every Saturday morning she went down to the Farmer's Market. Normally Jess loved to join her, sampling garlicky or jalapeno-roasted almonds while her mom gathered bags of the sweetest fruits and vegetables for that week's dinner. She gazed up at the pale blue ceiling and clenched her toes as tightly as she could, then released them and hurtled out of bed.

Getting dressed was almost equally difficult for her to face. Should she dress up a little in honor of Marcy's first visit, or would that just make her look like an awkward dweeb? Should she wear a sundress or would that get in her way? Should she wear her favorite jeans or would Marcy notice that they were dirty? Finally she grabbed two outfits that didn't seem too bad and headed to the kitchen.

"Moms, which of these do you think?"

Her other mother, tall and spikily short-haired, turned from the stove. "The glittery one!" she pronounced firmly.

Jess laughed. "I know what you want, Kitten, but I was asking my mom."

"It has glitter! It has a unicorn! What more could you want!" Her mother cleared her throat. "She COULD want something a little more adult to impress her middle school friends with. In which case I would go with the blue tank top and those highwaters or whatever they are."

"They're capris, Moms."

"In my day, they were called pants that were too short, but who am I to judge fashion," her mother sighed. "Now run along and change and I'll make you some pancakes."

Jess turned, but hung back, fiddling with the edges of her unicorn shirt. "Umm... could you guys do me a favor?"

Moms raised an eyebrow.

"Um, could you, like, not do that stuff when Marcy is here?"

"What stuff would that be exactly? Pancakes? General cooking? Sarcastic comments about pre-teen fashions?"

Jessica had the uncomfortable feeling that she was about to receive a lecture, but she persevered. "You know what I mean. Talk to each other out loud. Or like... act not like a mom."

"You mean, I shouldn't comment on football games or belch the alphabet?" Her mother set the spatula down, brushing pancake crumbs from her sleeves.

Jessica squirmed. "No...I mean... I love you guys and all but it would be really embarrassing if Marcy came over and somebody was acting like a little kid or freaking out about something or whatever."

Her Moms paused, rubbing the heel of her palm against her forehead. "I'm split," she said finally. "I mean, there are at least two answers here to that. I guess the main thing is that, you know, we wouldn't ever embarrass you on purpose. If your friend is here it's all on us to keep the peace and be the grownups for you - you know that. It's pretty unlikely that anything wild is going to happen, besides the fact that I'm sure you two wouldn't want to hang out with the parents anyway."

"That's true," Jess said, picking nervously at a loose thread.

"Besides that though... Jessie... do you really think we never think about this? I mean do you think that we haven't worried ourselves about how we look to other parents or your teachers ever since you were born? And the rest of the world even before that? This is not news to us, kiddo. This is old stuff that we've been working on forever."

"Oh," Jessica said in a small voice.

"Don't worry about it. It's normal for you to think that your parents are going to embarrass you. You're a kid." Kelly laughed and picked up the spatula again as the doorbell rang. "Quick, run and get dressed. I'll distract Marcy with fresh pancakes."

When Jess came back out, Marcy and Moms were already deep in conversation about the benefits of adding chocolate chips to pancake batter. Her mother gave her a wink as she grabbed a plate.

"Yeah, but have you tried them with chocolate syrup?" Marcy was saying. "Hi Jess. Great pancakes."

"No," Moms said thoughtfully. "I guess that's one of those weird grownup things - for me that crosses the line into dessert. Like it should have whipped cream on it or something."

"But it SHOULD!" Marcy exclaimed. "I've had that in restaurants before. With little chocolate chips on top? Mmm."

"On top AND inside?" Moms shook her head. "You kids have way stronger stomachs than I do. My sugar intake is limited to about two of these."

Marcy and Jess giggled. Jess forked up some pancake and announced, "You know what would rock would be CHOCOLATE-chocolate-chip pancakes with all that other stuff."

Moms laughed. "Or, you could just eat a stack of giant cookies for breakfast."

"Yeah!" the two of them said at once.

Mom pulled the screen door open, laden down with bags of fruit. "Hi, girls. Anyone wanna help me get these in from the car?"

"Who's that?" Marcy whispered.

"My other mom. They're Mom and Moms." Jess raised her voice. "Mom, this is Marcy."

"Hi, Marcy, nice to meet you. Say, if you help Jess take in some of this produce, you two can plunder the results." Mom dropped the armful of bags on the kitchen counter, pushing the braids out of her face, and turned back for more.

Marcy stood up. "Um - that's okay but I really have to go. Uh, I promised my dad that I would... come back and do chores."

"But I thought you were coming over to hang out all day!" Jess protested.

"Sorry, Jess!" Marcy said desperately, halfway out the door. "I'll see you in school!"

"What was that? Why did she go, Moms?" Jess stared at the door.

"Uh... I think she was upset that we were lesbians, honey."

Jess stared at her. "What? Why would anyone care about THAT?"

Next: O.K. Corral. Previously: My Family.