Jim scowled at his book reader. He hated Sundays. Ronnie’s dad had declared Sundays "Family Days" and so Ronnie was trapped with her mom and dad doing family crap. Ronnie said it wasn’t too bad, and that she’d try to get her dad to let him come over sometime.
Jim’s dad was at his office. He didn’t take days off. Days off were for the weak, and quality family time was a waste of his talents.
Jim flopped back on his bed and sighed. Before Mars, spending a Sunday alone wouldn’t have been a problem. He would have been perfectly happy to just read, maybe watch a vid or two, play some video games. But he couldn’t concentrate. He kept imagining Ronnie and her parents, laughing together, playing board games or baking or something.
Jim went to go find his mom. She was in the kitchen, making sandwiches. Hydroponic tomatoes and dried trout on algae bread. "James," she said, giving him a little smile.
"Hey, Mom, I was wondering if you wanted to do something. Maybe play some scrabble."
"Oh, honey, that’d be lovely, but your father wants me to head over to the lab to help him."
"Oh. Okay," Jim said.
"Maybe we can play when I get back," his mother said, slipping the sandwiches into a lunchbox. "We shouldn’t be more than a couple of hours."
Jim shook his head. "Nah. Don’t worry about it. I think I’ll go for a walk."
His mom looked down at the table. "Do you want me to make you a sandwich?"
Jim shook his head again. "I’ll get something at the cafeteria."
Okay. Love you, James. I’ll see you for dinner."
Jim watched her walk down the hall toward his father’s lab, and turned the other way. "It’s Jim, Mom," he muttered.
He wandered aimlessly, his feet automatically taking him down the now-familiar paths, until a voice shouted, "Hey!"
Jim froze. Was this one of the places where he wasn’t supposed to be? Almost everywhere Ronnie took him seemed to be out-of-bounds. He turned and prepared himself for a lecture.
A maintenance engineer waved him over. Jim thought Ronnie had introduced him, but he couldn’t remember his name. "You’re Jim, right?"
Jim’s stomach sank as he nodded. The engineer was going to tell his parents.
"I’m Don." He held out his hand, and Jim shook it, confused.
"You busy?" Don asked.
"Not really," Jim said.
"Want to give me a hand with this?" He nodded to a pump that he was fixing. "Hold this while I tighten this over here."
Jim did as he asked, and Don thanked him. "Can I help you with anything else?" Jim asked.
"Sure." Don handed him a toolbox. "We’re always short staffed on Sundays."
Jim spent the next four hours helping Don. He squirmed into spaces where Don’s wide shoulders didn’t fit, handed him tools, and held things steady. The whole time, Don explained everything that he was doing, step by step.
Jim forgot all about Family Day, and absorbed Don’s lessons like a sponge. He’d always been fascinated by mechanical things, but his father said that manual labor was beneath him.
Don wiped his hands on his pants, leaving greasy streaks. He glanced at his watch. "I’d better let you go, or you’re going to miss dinner. I really appreciated your help, today."
Jim’s stomach rumbled, and he remembered that he’d missed lunch. "Would you mind if I came back next Sunday?" he asked.
"That’d be great, Jim." Don grinned. "Thanks again. See you in a week."
Jim managed to get home and shower before his parents got home from the lab. He was looking forward to next Sunday.