LaRose’s failed first attempt at making a mental outlet ruined an otherwise perfect breakfast. Uncle Taylor had made grits again. This time he could use stone ground cornmeal, soaked overnight in homemade broth, the way he said they should be. It was a richer version of what he had made their first morning together. LaRose had to agree that it tasted better, but the essential comforting nature of the meal, the way it warmed right down to the bones, had been present in both.
Along with it, he made bacon, scrambled eggs and put out a bowl of sliced strawberries. The coffee maker was making happy bubbling noises. Mr. Nick had said they were out of orange juice, but he had plenty of tea. LaRose had never had tea before. It sounded grown-up. He served her a stoneware mug full of something golden that smelled like flowers. Not like any particular flower; more like how the air is on a sunny spring day when twig and branch has exploded into bloom all at once. It tasted just the same.
“I like it,” she said.
“Chamomile,” Mr. Nick said. “There’s a girl with a shop across the river that buys up as much as I can make. Locally-grown organics are trending, she says.”
LaRose wrinkled her brows at him, unsure what he meant. His emotions weren’t giving her any clues; he was a still pond.
“Means people are buying more food that’s grown close to home, without pesticides,” Mr. Nick said.
Uncle Taylor laughed. “See what I told you, kid? ‘Vintage.’ ‘Retro.’ The good shit always comes back. And if a silly name tricks people into thinking they’ve made some new discovery, well, that’s just good marketing.”
Uncle Taylor’s reaction created ripples of amusement through Mr. Nick’s quiet mind. Also a little nostalgia; that longing that leaned backwards, stretching for a piece of the past to pull into the now.
“Shut up old man,” Mr. Nick said. “Where’s my coffee?”
“Pour it your damn self.”
For a while after that, LaRose was just happily quiet. A record of John Coltrane was playing, and there was no need for conversation. There were only grits, and bacon, and eggs, and strawberries for dessert. Breakfasts could have dessert, just like lunches and dinners. This was a pleasant thing to know.
Then Uncle Taylor started talking again.
“Did you try it? Making your outlet?”
LaRose froze, then nodded.
“How’d it go?”
“Now don’t give me that. I know you can talk fine. How’d it go?”
The thought of telling him how stuck she felt made her throat feel tight, like someone had wrapped their fingers around her neck and was squeezing. She shrugged again.
“Dammit, girl! What did I just tell you?”
Even as she told herself not to, she felt her shoulders rise and release again. The motion felt slowed down, like she was no longer in her body, and just watching it from a distance on a monitor. She was shaking too, and that felt unreal. She wasn’t sure whether she heard Uncle Taylor go on talking, or just felt anger-fear-frustration surge in a way that meant as much as words.
Everything else felt fake. Even the table under her fingertips felt like a lie.