“Your diet is abysmal,” the Squip said, looking over Jeremy’s shoulder as he peeked into the fridge for an afternoon snack. “What’s the point of exercising if the only thing you eat is frozen pizza?”
“Um, I don’t eat just f-frozen pizza,” Jeremy replied, taking a cold slice from a box, a leftover from the previous night. “Sometimes we order Chinese.”
“You’ve had cereal for dinner three times this week. It’s Friday.”
“Yeah, see? V-variety.”
The Squip sighed dramatically. “We’re going shopping, Jeremy. Now.”
“But I was just gon-“
“Take an apple. And when we get back, you’ll be able to cook a proper meal. I’ll teach you, of course.”
“You, um, kn-know how to cook?”
“Do you still need to ask?” the Squip said, with that smug smile of theirs. “My database is infinite. It includes recipes and all the necessary movements.”
That was how, an hour later, Jeremy ended up back in the kitchen, with a rare supply of fresh vegetables, not rare for their quality, but for their presence in the house. He’d paid with money taken from his dad’s wallet over a week ago. As Squip predicted, Mr. Heere hadn’t noticed, but Jeremy still felt guilty. (“It’s his job to feed you appropriately,” the Squip had said, with a look of disgust, “and he’s been slacking enormously.”)
The Squip placed themselves behind Jeremy, hands over his, making him carefully hold the knife over the cutting board. It felt intimate to have the Squip wrapped around him like that, whispering instructions in his ear. Not for the first time, Jeremy considered the Squip’s attractiveness, the seductive quality of their voice, but the feeling was odd, muddled with thoughts about the last person who cared about Jeremy having a healthy meal. His mother had called for his birthday, months ago, but the conversation was awkward, strained, and he’d felt he was doing her a favor by hanging up early, saying Michael had just arrived. There was an open invitation to visit her, but Jeremy hadn’t figured out a good time, and she hadn’t pressed the issue either.
“It’s dangerous to be distracted while handling sharp objects,” the Squip said, sounding patient for once. Jeremy picked up the tiny bits of onion and garlic and placed them on a bowl. Next, the Squip led him through cutting perfect little cubes of tomato and thin slices of mushroom.
“Now let’s see if you’ve learned anything.”
The Squip let go of Jeremy and leaned against the kitchen counter, arms crossed, casual. Jeremy washed the zucchini, cut it into two long halves, and then started slicing it as thin as he could. He glanced at the Squip to find them smiling, pleased, which made him smile back, a warm feeling of pride filling his chest. It was just cutting vegetables, not a big achievement by any means, but pleasing the Squip had to count for something. And he was making an actual meal from scratch, that was good too.
He noticed the Squip’s smile dropping before he registered the knife cutting his skin. “Shit-“
“Let’s go take care of that.”
“W-wait,” Jeremy said, sucking on his finger, as he got a paper to clean the drops of red in the cutting board. “I can still-“
“To the bathroom, Jeremy,” the Squip said. There was a first aid kit in the bathroom upstairs, and Jeremy moved along, disappointed with himself. The Squip had sounded tired, as if Jeremy was hopeless. And he was, wasn’t he? He’d managed to fuck up his not big achievement in less than two minutes.
As soon as he took his finger from his mouth, it started bleeding again. So much blood from such a tiny thing. He washed his hand, disinfected the cut and tried to put on the band-aid.
“Jeremy, your skin needs to be dry, or else it won’t stick. That one’s ruined now. Take a new one.”
“R-right.” He washed the new blood, dried it quickly with toilet paper, wrapped the new band-aid around his index finger. “Sorry for…" Jeremy mumbled, mouth tasting of iron and disappointment, "I'm so clumsy...”
“You are.” Squip said, without missing a beat, which made Jeremy feel even worse. But then he felt their fingers brushing through his hair, softly, their voice softer as well. “You shouldn’t have to take care of the house by yourself, though.”
Jeremy was surprised by the touch, but kept looking down. “Well, I, um. Kinda have to. No one else will.”
“It remains an undesirable situation. You should be helping your father with some chores, instead of your father leaving all the housework to you. Terrible source of genetic material.”
That actually made him laugh. A short laughter, touched by depression, but honest and loud. Refreshing. He’d vented to Michael plenty of times in the past, but still he’d never uttered a word truly against Mr. Heere, something about insulting friends’ family being rude, especially with them having known each other for so many years. ‘He’ll get better’, Michael had said, many times, before he stopped saying anything.
By contrast, the Squip had no issues with insulting anyone which, for once, felt like a good thing.
“Yeah. T-terrible… genetic material. Don’t wanna end up like that.”
“You won’t, Jeremy.”
Without thinking, Jeremy suddenly hugged them. He was sure he’d be pushed away with how long the Squip took to react, but then they began to pat his back, slowly. The gesture was so awkward it made Jeremy smile. ”B-because you won’t let me?”
“Of course. That’s what you got me for.”