Lee looked up at the clock with bleary, irritated eyes. Seven thirty. Way too early for Francis to be smiling. Something was up.
“What is it?” He said as his friend sat down at the kitchen table next to him. Before Francis could respond Lee sifted through his mind and found what he was thinking about.
“Not interested,” he murmured. Francis frowned in confusion, then sighed and rolled his eyes.
“I hate it when you do that,” he said quietly, “but hey, come on! You’ve been pretty pent up over this whole Julian thing, wouldn’t it be good to let all of that anger dissipate a little?”
Lee met his eyes. Francis, who had honed his own skills as a professional social porcupine for many years, knew when he was beaten.
“Fine,” he shrugged, “be like that then.”
He walked over to the fridge to find some milk. Lee turned his attention back to his cereal, which floated forlornly in the milk like little corpses bobbing in a still lake. Ha, Lee thought. He’d like to see Francis in a bad mood come up with a more depressing simile.
“You know that police officer may have been right,” Francis sat down next to him, “Julian was a pretty powerful psychic. You said so yourself. There’s a chance he used his power to trick you into thinking he’d done nothing wrong.”
Lee fixed him with a glare so unusually angry that Francis fell through his chair onto the floor with a resounding thump.
“For the last time Francis that’s not how it works,” he said, his voice rising, “do none of you get it! I saw his mind. You cannot hide your mind from someone else!”
Francis got to his feet, rubbing his bruised behind and staring reproachfully at Lee, who ignored his gaze.
“Okay,” he muttered, “how come you’re so defensive of this guy anyway? You only knew him for… what? Twenty minutes? You seem to have bonded in that time.”
Lee was silent. Francis watched him, eyebrow raised, for a few moments, then gave up hope of getting anything useful out of him this morning and walked off to the door.
It was a little disconcerting actually. Usually it was Lee who had to convince him to perk up, not the other way around. Francis was many things, but a morning person was not one of them. The reversal of roles was as inconvenient as it was disconcerting. Francis needed to moan about something before he started the day or he’d just feel incomplete, like he’d missed something vitally important.
It was then that he had an idea. Sweeping up the newspaper from the doormat he pulled his phone out of his pocket and made the call.
Lee didn’t bother to look up this time as Francis reentered the kitchen. He kept his head down and continued to eat his breakfast quietly.
“I just invited Lydia, Alexis, Emma and Anna over,” Francis commented casually, flopping down opposite him into a chair.
“Because someone needs to cheer you up,” Francis shrugged, “and it sure as hell isn’t going to be me. For the first time in our lives we’ve got friends other than each other. Might as well use them.”
“I wouldn’t call Alexis or Anna friends,” Lee said, “I hardly know them. As for Emma, you seem to have some kind of argument with her…”
“Yeah okay fine,” Francis groaned, “so maybe they’re not friends by the strictest definitions. If so, they should be. Besides, Adelaide’s busy doing something else today so I couldn’t invite her around.”
Lee nodded. Despite his gloomy horizons things seemed to clear a little and he permitted himself the pleasure of looking forward to seeing Lydia and Emma, not least because it would be a welcome escape from Francis’ forced cheeriness. However, he certainly wouldn’t be showing this change in perspective. Francis would be receiving no such satisfaction.
“Before they arrive,” Francis said, leaning forward over the table conspiratorially, “I just want to say that I think I understand why you’re so defensive about this Julian guy.”
It’s not insulting at all that you can’t talk about it with your oldest friend, he added mentally. Lee gave him a look that told him he’d heard. Francis returned with a ‘didn’t want to hear it didn’t have to read it’ expression.
“Oh really?” Lee cranked out the sarcasm, “Pray enlighten me then.”
“He’s a psychic,” Francis said, “for the first time you’ve met someone who’s like you. Not just like you as in super-human, but like you in terms of outlook. You think the same way because you’ve got the same powers. You’ve never been around someone like that before. All the time you’ve felt alone in a world that doesn’t see things like you do, confused and a little afraid that everyone treats you differently. It must have been… nice… knowing you weren’t alone. And then that was snatched away again.”
There was silence for a few seconds. Then Lee dropped his spoon and hand-clapped Francis slowly.
“Eight out of ten points for psychoanalysis,” he said dryly, “you missed out the bit where Julian replaces the father figure that I’ve never really had on account of my parents abandoning me. Other than that, it was spot on.”
Francis grimaced at him. At the very least he’d been expecting something better than this. He was further surprised, but not unpleasantly, when Lee grinned and clapped him on the back.
“Ha,” Lee said, “that’s the perpetually grumpy Francis I know and love. Man, I’m sorry if I seemed a little down. You’ve got to admit though you’d feel the same way about someone else who could phase.”
“Nah,” Francis shook his head, “all us phasers are annoying and tetchy, we probably wouldn’t be able to stand each other.”
Lee laughed. It was a weird experience whenever Lee really laughed because small objects around him tended to suddenly start to vibrate very fast. Francis reached out and steadied Lee’s bowl before milk slopped onto the table.
“Well,” he said when his friend had finished, “I’m glad you’re feeling better.”
Lee smiled at him. It was a sad smile, but it would have to do.
Leaning back in his chair with the paper Francis stared at the headline in front of him. After a few seconds of staring blankly at the page he froze and his eyes widened to the size of saucers.
“What’s up?” Lee looked over at him.
Francis put the paper down carefully onto the table.
“There’s been another murder,” he replied.