I registered in some dim part of my brain that Ingrid was looking at me, but I was too busy being shocked at myself to do anything about it.
Brother Pieneck smiled at me. "Well, that's really nice of you, son. Both of you stay safe now. It's already getting pretty windy outside. Let me walk you out to the parking lot."
He ushered us out into the hall, and sure enough the winds had picked up significantly since morning. Ingrid's pigtails lifted straight up, like she was Pippi Longstocking or something, and we all laughed, including Brother Pieneck.
He walked us as far as the parking lot, where my brother Sam sat in his old Chevy smoking a cigarette while the car idled.
Brother Pieneck nodded at the Chevy. "Is that your brother, Jack?"
"Yep. He went to Holy Cross Elementary, too, but he's a senior at Blessed Trinity now. He swears I'm adopted and not really his flesh and blood."
Brother Pieneck smiled again, his eyes crinkling at the corners. "Sounds like flesh and blood to me. Well, you both take care now."
"You, too," we both chimed back.
As Ingrid and I clambered into the back seat, I was careful not to look directly at her. I still hadn't gauged her reaction. I figured she wasn't upset because she had come with me. I hoped I hadn't done anything wrong.
"Hullo, Jack." My brother greeted me with the cigarette hanging carelessly from his lips. "Who's the little lady?"
"The little lady's Ingrid and she has asthma, so would you mind putting out the cigarette? Thanks."
Ingrid cranked open her window and sat back with a sigh. It was a relieved sort of sigh and it made her sound a lot older than her twelve or so years.
Sam waggled his eyebrows at me in the rear view mirror, but obligingly put out the cigarette.
I felt a hand on my arm. "Thanks, a lot, Jack. My mom works at a hospital and she doesn't get home till real late. I normally stay in the after-school program and then take a bus. But I'd much rather go home with you."
I looked at Ingrid for the first time since I'd told Brother Pieneck I was taking her home. I checked her face for any sign that she was making fun of me or being mean in any way, but there was none of that there.
"Sure, no problem," I said. Now I was the one clearing my throat and shuffling my feet.
"You got any video games?" she asked.
"Only about a thousand."
My brother chimed in, "Most of 'em mine and don't you forget it."
I groaned and slid down in my seat.
Ingrid laughed and asked my brother what systems he had.
We talked about video games all the way home, stopping to pick up some pizza.
I don't remember much else of the day. I remember it rained a lot, and we lost power for maybe an hour or two, but nothing major. I remember we played some games on my brother's PlayStation. Ingrid was really good at fighting games, better even than me. My parents came home from work and were patently surprised to see a girl in our house, but they didn't bat an eye. Ingrid's mom came to get her after 7 PM, and she was so grateful to me for taking her daughter home, she kissed me on the cheek.
But that wasn't what made me blush like a lobster. That happened after Ingrid kissed me on the cheek, too, before skipping out the door after her mother.