Is it wrong that I wrote most of this while watching 'Game of Thrones?' Good thing the peach never flew over Westeros.
"Pretty good, eh, kid?" Centipede glanced down at James, who nodded eagerly.
"I knew the seagulls could lift us!"
"Yep. You're a pretty sharp kid." Centipede grinned at the little boy, who looked as happier than any other boy in the world. Of course, he had a right to since no other boy had ever conceived of a scheme to fly a giant peach over the Atlantic Ocean.
"Can you really fly us all the way to New York, Centipede?" James asked.
"Leave it to me! I'll get us there." Centipede knelt down, bringing himself James's level. "Just you wait, kiddo. You and me, we're gonna take New York by storm."
As he spoke, Centipede threw an affectionate arm around James's shoulders. As he did, he felt James tense and saw a momentary flash of fear in the boy's eyes. Centipede froze, wondering if he'd done something that would scare the boy he'd become so fond of. But the fear vanished almost as quickly as it came and James's face split into a wide smile.
"You'll climb the Empire State Building with me, right?"
"Uh, yeah. Yeah. You betcha." Centipede ruffled the boy's brown hair. For the second time, he felt James briefly tense, but again, the feeling seemed to pass as soon as it came.
"You okay, kid?" James nodded.
"I'm fine. Oh, there's a fence wrapped around the peach like a boardwalk. I'm going to see it, okay?"
"Sure. Have fun."
Centipede watched as James headed over to the edge of the peach where a small piece of wood was jutting up. Mrs. Ladybug, who was standing at the edge of the peach and admiring the view, noticed him.
"Where are you going, James?"
"Onto the fence."
"Yes. It's like the boardwalk back where I used to live."
"Oh, that's nice, dear. Just be careful."
"I will, Mrs. Ladybug."
"And don't go too far. We are high up."
"I won't. I promise." The little boy vanished from sight and Mrs. Ladybug started walking toward the stem, obviously heading for the pit entrance.
"Eh, Mrs. Ladybug?"
"Is he okay?" Centipede gestured toward the edge of the fence which James had vanished down. Mrs. Ladybug glanced over her shoulder and then back to Centipede.
"As far as I know, yes. Why? Did James say something to you?"
"Nah, he didn't say anything. But, uh, when I got close to him, he looked nervous for a sec." Centipede paused, then added,
"It... it was like he.... I dunno, like he was afraid of me."
"To be honest, Centipede, that doesn't surprise me," Mrs. Ladybug said softly.
"Well, yes," the ladybug replied, coming over to stand beside him. "I'm afraid this behavior is common among abused children. And considering how Spiker and Sponge treated James, he probably associates close contact with being hit, the poor dear."
"Oh, geez." Centipede gripped the peach stem under two of his hands, digging his fingers into the wood. "He knows we wouldn't do that, right?"
"I certainly hope so. But it'll take time for James to get over his fear completely. This sort of fear isn't gotten over in a day, you know."
"Guessed as much," Centipede muttered. Privately, he thought tossing Spiker and Sponge into a swarm of sharks while James watched would do a lot toward helping him get over his fear a lot faster, but he also thought Mrs. Ladybug would have a few things to say about that plan. "Can't we do anything to help him?"
"Of course." Mrs. Ladybug smiled kindly at Centipede. "We just have to treat James as kindly as possible. He'll come to trust us in time. But it will take time, Centipede."
"Time," Centipede repeated with a sigh. "Well, we're gonna have plenty of time with the kid from now on, aren't we?"
"I believe we are."
"So, have a good day?" Centipede asked as he and James began their usual walk home. James nodded.
"We finished our unit on time today."
"Yes. We made a huge paper clock that measured time from seconds to years."
"Wow. Must've taken you and your friends awhile."
"We've been working on it all week. Ms. Morris said she'd hang it up for Open House next week. You're coming to that, right?"
"Wouldn't miss it for the world, buddy," Centipede vowed, pulling James into a sideways hug. The little boy leaned into the embrace, looking up at his guardian without a single trace of fear in his eyes. Even now, almost a year after the adventure, Centipede never got tired of seeing his adopted son looking so happy.
"Besides, kid," Centipede added with a wide grin. "I like seeing just what time can do."