"Easy to To Do the Right Thing"
Now that Stan knew what a mess
Lawrence's home life really was --
how heartbreakingly empty it was --
he was determined to do something about it.
He had learned the hard way that
he couldn't just jump in with both feet,
that he had to be subtle about it.
So instead of bringing over a whole first aid kit
like he wanted, Stan snuck things in one at a time,
small enough to hide behind other stuff
in the medicine cabinet -- first a thermometer,
then tweezers, then an elastic bandage.
Other times he chose household items,
whatever he could use part of and leave the rest --
tape, rubber bands, glue, paper clips, string.
Stan always carried food, had to ever since
he gained superpowers, because his new strength
took a lot of extra fuel. It was simple enough
to share that with Lawrence, coax him into
eating one of the granola bars, half an apple,
or a couple handfuls of trail mix.
That worked great except that Stan forgot
to account for how sharing the food
meant that he wasn't eating as much himself.
It caught him off guard one afternoon
when he stood up and the room fuzzed out.
Stan came back to himself to find Lawrence
fluttering around him with an anxious look.
"What happened?" Lawrence demanded.
"You almost keeled over on me --
I barely got you back onto the couch!"
"Guess I didn't eat enough," Stan admitted.
"You stay right there," Lawrence said,
pointing at the couch like Stan was a dog.
"I'll get you something from the kitchen."
Lawrence came back with a cup of Cheerios
and a mostly-empty bag of chocolate chips.
"Sorry, I don't have anything better until supper,
we need to go shopping soon," he said.
"This is fine, thanks," Stan said
as he dug into the food.
Lawrence sat next to him,
watching him eat.
Only after Stan finished the snack
did Lawrence pick up the scatter
of his abandoned science homework.
Mrs. Cunningham came downstairs
and started cooking supper.
Lawrence looked at his mother in surprise,
then dropped his gaze back to his books.
"Normal," he whispered, barely more than a breath,
"everything is normal, it's going to be fine."
It wasn't meant to be heard,
but Stan had keen ears.
He kept his mouth shut anyhow.
"Hey, can you give me a hand with this?"
Stan asked Lawrence. It was science, not math,
but it still involved confusing equations.
Lawrence leaned over to look.
"This is where you're stuck?" he asked,
pointing to the relevant line.
Stan nodded. "Yeah, that's it."
"Let me get a better book," Lawrence said,
and just like magic he came right back with
a science text the size of the Omaha telephone book
that actually explained how the equation worked.
By the time Stan finished that page,
Mrs. Cunningham was setting the table.
"Supper," she called.
Lawrence had that anxious look again
as they got up from the couch,
and Stan didn't think it was all just
worrying that he might wobble again.
Normal, okay, I can give them normal,
Stan said to himself as he went to the table.
"Thanks, Mrs. Cunningham, this smells delicious,"
he said. It was just Hamburger Helper, but
Stan was so hungry he could've eaten the tablecloth.
Lawrence barely said anything, and his mother
was no more talkative, so that left it to Stan.
He filled the air with a running narrative of school,
going through both his classes and Lawrence's
in order, complete with current homework.
They hit a snag with social studies when Stan
mentioned that his topic was dysfunctional families.
"And what's that supposed to mean?"
Mrs. Cunningham said sharply.
"Well, it means I'm researching what can go wrong
and how to fix it at home," Stan said, realizing
that maybe he should've just skipped this bit.
"And Lawrence is doing interactions in public places,
like how people get along at parks or stores.
Then after social studies comes science,
which is what Lawrence is helping me with tonight ..."
Stan managed to carry the conversation
past the snag by sheer momentum.
Lawrence kept giving Stan nervous little glances,
but toward the end of the meal, he volunteered
a few stories from his chess club, which
Stan had to admit sounded kind of interesting.
After everyone finished eating, Stan stood up
to help clear the table, only to have the dishes
whisked out of reach by Mrs. Cunningham.
"The one who makes the mess cleans it up,"
she said, carrying the dishes to the sink.
"Okay, different house rule, I'm smooth with it,"
Stan said. "No wonder Lawrence glared at me
when I tried to help clean up after he cooked."
Stan looked at Lawrence. "You could've just said."
"No big deal," Lawrence said quietly.
"So I cooked last time, that makes it
Lawrence's turn next time," Stan said.
He knew how the one-at-a-time chore system
was supposed to work from his scouting friends.
"What are you thinking about making?"
Lawrence and his mother both blinked at Stan.
Stan just smiled and waited patiently.
"Uh ... well ... curry, maybe?" said Lawrence.
"Put it on the list," Mrs. Cunningham said.
It didn't take long for them to finish their homework,
and she was still putting the dishes away
when Stan needed to leave. "Thank you for
cooking and cleaning up," he said to her.
She gave him that slow blink again,
like he'd done something weird,
and Stan couldn't help noticing
how tired she looked, eyes smudged
and shoulders sloping downward.
"You're welcome," she said eventually.
Stan said goodbye to Lawrence,
then headed for the bus stop.
There was no fixing the whole mess
that was Lawrence's home life,
not all at once -- but Stan could
make it better a little bit at a time
by adding useful tidbits and
taking up some of the weight.
It was just like what he had learned
while earning his Equestrian badge
working with big, skittish horses:
Make it easy to do the right thing,
and hard to do the wrong thing.
* * *
Lola Cunningham -- She has blue eyes, long straight brown hair, and fair skin. She is Lawrence's mother. Lola struggles to support the family despite crushing debt and overwhelming workload. It's harder with her husband out of the house, even though he has a drinking problem and a tendency to hit people. She has some substance abuse trouble of her own, along with depression, and she often neglects Lawrence.
Qualities: Good (+2) Real Estate, Good (+2) Negotiation, Good (+2) Organization
Poor (-2) Nurturing
Running your body out of fuel results in a condition that cyclists call "the bonk." Bonking is bad. It's a particular risk for strongmen and speedsters because those superpowers have the highest metabolic demands. Stan's fetish provides some of the energy for his superpower, but he still has to carry part of the burden himself. Carrying trail mix and other high-energy snacks will help avoid the bonk. Cheerios and chocolate chips are two popular ingredients in trail mix -- Lawrence is simply mimicking what he's seen Stan eating.
Dysfunctional families often pretend to be normal, even though they may not really know what normal looks like. Here is an overview of healthy family life.
Hamburger Helper is an American box meal made of pasta and seasonings that you put in a skillet with some liquid and a pound of ground beef. It is cheap, easy to make, and filling ... although not very good for you.
There's a longstanding tussle over two variations of kitchen rule: the one who cooks is excused from cleanup, or the one who makes the mess cleans it up. Household chores can start arguments in general. It's a good idea for people to divide responsibility for the household chores in a rational manner.