Bruce reached the door to the apartment as his lungs screamed at him to stop. Besides catching his breath, however, Bruce felt he had to stop and think. His mom was going to be furious with him for being so late, and he needed to come up with an excuse, but his mind was blank. Trying to get a sense of the mood, Bruce listened at the door, but all he heard were pots being moved in the kitchen. Suddenly, Bruce steeled his nerve and plunged in, deciding to brave whatever he had to face in the apartment.
But his mom was not home. Instead, Stevie was standing on a stool by the stove, and by the look of things he planned to cook his own dinner, with water heating in two pots and a box of Mac-n-Cheese nearby. Bruce smiled in spite of himself. For a seven-year-old, Stevie had a lot of confidence in his ability.
“Momma’s gonna tan you for turning on the stove, Stevie” said Bruce.
“Nuh uh” retorted Stevie. “Cuz if you tell her I turned on the stove, then I’ll tell her how late you are. Wazzup, anyway?”
“Same o” answered Bruce. “Ight, let’s make a deal. I’ll make you something to eat if you stay away from things that will get us both in trouble. Deal?”
“Deal” smiled Stevie, and he turned on the TV and sat down in front of it.
An hour later, Stevie was fed and washed, and Bruce had cleaned up the table and kitchen. But his mom was still not home, and that was bad. Bruce began to worry.
A while later, Bruce heard a commotion in the hall. It was his mom and someone else, a man, and drunk by the sound of him. His mom was saying something quietly, but with a sense of urgency. Bruce knew from experience not to stick his head out and see what was happening, because this often meant embarrassing his mom, and that always led to whippings for Bruce. A few minutes later, his mother entered, alone.
“Hey, babe” she said to Bruce. “Stevie asleep?”
“Yeah” answered Bruce. “You’re late.”
“I know, sorry” answered his mom. “I got a chance at some overtime, and God knows we need it.”
For some reason, Bruce didn’t want to talk about what had happened at school. Well, it never did any good to complain, and he’d seem like a total wuss if he admit he was freaked out by some strange sounds and a bad smell. So he let his mom take his mind off that by doing a half-hour of Bible Study, which was boring enough to make him sleepy. Bruce suspected his mom used Bible Study to get him to go straight to sleep, which seemed to be what the book of Deuteronomy was made to do.
Bruce fell asleep and dreamed of a cockroach uprising.