Mr. Curtain is sitting in his cell at Stonetown County Jail at 9:30 AM, halfway considering asking one of the guards for a cup of juice, when a face he never expected to see again pokes its head through the doorway.
The face, which is attached to the head and body of Reynie-Reynard-Traitor Muldoon, peers around the room before finally, reluctantly, settling on Mr. Curtain. “Hello, Reynard,” says Mr. Curtain.
Reynard steps inside, still nervous-looking but unwilling to let Mr. Curtain shake him. “Hello, Mr. Curtain,” he says, in that strong, leaderly voice of his, the one that made him stand out among the other students.
“You’ve never visited before,” says Mr. Curtain. “I was beginning to think that you were never going to.”
Reynard suddenly becomes interested in his feet. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to, at first. You’re a pretty terrible person.”
“Yes, thank you, Reynard. Is this all you have to say?” says Mr. Curtain dryly.
“I mean, S.Q. is visiting you, but he’s S.Q. Poor guy doesn’t know how bad you are for him.”
“You know, Reynard, I do resent that. S.Q. and I have a special bond. I wouldn’t expect you to understand.” Mr. Curtain tilts his head and peers out the open doorway. “Come to think of it, where is S.Q.? He’s usually here when I wake up.”
Reynard half-smiles, coaxing a dimple to life. “I passed by him in the hallway. He was headed for coffee. Or to the bathroom. Either way, he’s probably lost.”
Mr. Curtain snorts. “Heaven knows he’s experienced at that.” He turns his eyes back to Reynard. “So, then why are you here, if you truly believe I’m a terrible person?”
“Well…” Reynard trails off. “I don’t know. I was alone pretty much my entire life. S.Q. is great, but he’s one person. I guess I didn’t want you to be so alone.” He makes eye contact. “Sorry.”
“Don’t apologize, Reynard,” says Mr. Curtain. “You are surprisingly astute for a child. Though I hate to admit it...” He hesitates, and Reynard nods. “I need the company.”
“If I may ask something, Mr. Curtain?” ventures Reynie.
“Of course,” says Mr. Curtain.
“Why did you like me?” he asks. “On the island, I mean. I mean, you liked me enough to want to make me an Executive. So why?”
“Well, I told you,” says Mr. Curtain. “You’re intelligent, and a strong leader. What’s more, you’re well-liked. I dare say that I saw myself in you.”
Reynard smiles, showing bright white teeth. “Everyone always seems to.” But quickly, the smile is replaced with a hard line, deep in thought. “Do you still see yourself in me?”
Mr. Curtain hasn’t heard such impudence from a child since he disbanded the Messengers. “Excuse me?”
“Do you still see yourself in me?” repeats Reynard.
“I thought you hated me,” says Mr. Curtain. “Why would you want me to see myself in you?”
“You’re changing the subject,” says Reynard. “And, honestly? I’m not sure. But I think you deserve a family as much as I do. And since you don’t like your brother, and S.Q. bugs you half the time, it’s up to me to be that family. But that’s only if you like me.”
Mr. Curtain exhales. “You sound a lot like I did when I was younger. Full of heroism and grit.” But despite himself, a small smile plays at his lips.
“So you do see yourself in me, then?” asks Reynard.
“Yes, yes, I suppose that I do. Are you happy, Reynard?”
“Do you want me to keep visiting?” presses Reynard.
Mr. Curtain sucks in a breath and lets it out. “Yes. Yes I do. This is the most intellectually stimulating conversation that I have had in weeks.”
Reynard smiles. “Then I will. I’ll bring a puzzle book next time. You can help me solve them.”
Mr. Curtain nods. “Agreed.” He tilts his head as a question almost as probing as Reynards’ flits into his head. “Reynard?”
“Hmm?” hums Reynard.
“Can I call you ‘son?’” Mr. Curtain asks, playing with his fingers.
Reynard smiles. “Would that make me S.Q.’s brother?”
“I suppose,” says Mr. Curtain.
“Then okay. Mostly because I can’t wait to see the excited look on S.Q.’s face when I tell him I’m his brother,” says Reynard. He checks his watch and mutters what is maybe a curse word. “I gotta go. Sticky and I are going to a museum to check out this cool rock exhibit.” He can’t hide the starry look in his eyes, nor the blush that creeps over his freckled cheeks. Internally, Mr. Curtain smiles. He remembers when he was young and adventurous.
Externally, Mr. Curtain says, “Have fun, son.” The word “son” is foreign on his tongue, but he’ll get used to it in time. “Tell George I said hello.”
“I will!” says Reynard. “Goodbye, Mr. Curtain!”
“Goodbye, Reynard,” says Mr. Curtain.
Reynard lingers in the doorway. “Oh, and, um, Mr. Curtain?”
“Yes, Reynard?” Mr. Curtain replies.
“Call me Reynie,” says Reynie, exposing that dimple again, and then he’s gone.
Mr. Curtain sits in his cell and waits for S.Q. to get back. He’s not quite ready for a family yet, but it’s a start.