Jax was 16, in 2 months he will be 17- and he'll meet his match.
He already liked someone.
There was none.
“Watch,” said his grandpa, “this is an important family recipe.”
Jax bit his retort down. He’d really like to be outside, gliding with the other guys in the city but instead, he was here. In an old fashioned house, in a kitchen filled with relics.
One of the relics was square-shaped, it was hollow and had metal shelves. The sides of the inside had slits. Grandpa Johnathan called it an ‘oven’.
Jax was pretty sure he saw one of those in a museum.
Back in the more primitive days, only 70 or so years ago, when instead of having their food done in minutes by molecule nutrition they slaved in the tiny room for hours for the same outcome.
All he had to do was type in the order at the beginning of the day and it would be ready to eat come mealtime.
But Grandpa Johnny always scoffed at it. Looking disturbed whenever a full meal was assembled out of 'nothing'. Grandpa Johnny says a lot of stuff about ‘back in his days’, about how they fought a pandemic, how they used to wait in line to be fed, how cancer was still a threat and earth was a wreck. It sounds like hell.
Grandpa Johnny also talked about ‘having to dig holes with a shovel and or a bulky machine’, ‘climbing trees’, ‘sneaking out’, and most popularly ‘cooking’. He talked about dating and bad dates. None of these things sounded all that appealing but the way Grandpa Johnny spoke it would sound like it was the best thing in the world.
He talked a lot about cooking.
About the satisfaction of starting with vegetables and meat and ending with soup. About beating butter and sugar and ending with a cupcake.
He always said that one day he’d teach Jax the value of true food. Jax’s parents always said to humor him so Jax always told him that he looks forward to it.
But, Jax didn’t think his loony grandpa would drag him away and drive him to a secluded area, to an old but well-kept home.
Grandpa Johnny got all sad when he saw the area, it was completely forgotten. A ghost town falling apart. Grandpa Johnny said the place used to be called ‘Hightstown’. It used to have a library filled with physical books, and the lake beside it used to be shiny and blue-green. He said that the small tow had plenty of different cuisines and not too far away was the highschool he used to go to.
Jax remained quiet.
“Are you listening, you punk?”
Grandpa Johnny had a strange dark self-deprecating humor. It was half-times amusing and concerning. Grandpa Johnny said it was 'in his gen-z blood'. Mom said to just nod and agree.
“Yes Gramps,” said Jax.
And he tuned in, he watched as his grandpa took healthy red apples and ‘cored’ it. Cutting the sides then skinning them, then slicing the sides into smaller sizes, he did the same thing over and over. In a bowl to his side was sugar and cinnamon and something else probably but he couldn't remember. Jax watched as his grandfather dropped the apple slices into the sugary somewhat liquidy mixture and mixed, the apples coating themselves with the brownish substance. It had a gooey consistency.
He was listening but the words seemed to fall away, all he could see was his grandpa's weathered hands rolling out ’the dough’ and then drape it into a ‘pan’. He watched as his grandfather then proceeded to pour the apple sugar mix into the dough covered pan and then pop it into the warming oven.
His grandpa was talking the whole time, about fast food stores, having jobs, taking the bus to school. About falling in love by chance and choice instead of a system.
And Jax heard it all. He listened to his grandfather, finding that he was asking questions too.
“What if the date didn’t go well?”
“And how would a bus individually pick everyone up?”
“Why would you miss such tedious chores?”
And the answers came little by little, Jax’s grandfather glowing with tenderness as he described the ways buses would go to certain areas to pick up a collective group of kids. How the schools gave tests to measure an IQ instead of a brain scan.
How the stress was something that made everything more special.
“Sometimes,” his grandpa said “it’s nice to get your hand dirty. It makes the reason for getting them dirty more special.”
“Without the system to give you a match,” Jax ventured “how did you meet Abuelo?”
His grandpa smiled fondly, “In the worst way imaginable. I picked on him.”
Jaz titled his head, “Like, you made fun of him?”
A laugh, “Yes, exactly. He was a nerdy skinny little thing. And I was the captain of my soccer team. Really athletic, a playboy.”
Jax rolled his eyes his grandpa was fond of bringing out books ad showing every one of how athletic and handsome he was in his youth.
“Your Abuelo didn’t like that,” he scoffed ‘called me a white fu-” he clears his throat “maybe I shouldn't repeat that to you. Anyway, in return, I’d make fun of his every action. He answered a question correctly? I’d laugh. He’d answer incorrectly, i'd laugh. Everything he did, I laughed at him.”
Jax watched as his grandpa talked, looking much more alert and free than he has for all the past years. Jonathan was so caught up talking and Jax was so caught up listening that they didn’t notice when the timer dinged and alerted them to the pies completion- at least until the smoke started to leave the oven.
Grandpa Johnny rushed there and with towels covering his hand (he warned Jax a while ago to not touch the oven directly) he brought it out. The crust was burnt and the pie was steaming. But Grandpa Johnny just laughed.
He set the pie on the counter, inhaling deeply “Eventually your Abuelo grew tired of my shit- er poop” Jax resisted the urge to roll his eyes “he told me off and got a girlfriend.”
His grandpa was grinning widely, Jax snorted “Weren't you jealous?”
“I was annoyed but I wasn’t sure why. I just remember teasing him more, once my buddies tried to join in on the fun- I told them off really quick.” He points a spoon at his grandson “no one messes with your Abuelo but me.”
“I corner him, saying dumb stuff and then he just- he pulls me down and kisses me.”
“Gross,” Jax says, “Grandpas shouldn’t be talking about kissing. They should talk about golf or something. Did you play golf?”
“Oh be quiet,” Grandpa Johnny was grinning “I kissed him back. Then we dated.”
“He cheated on his girlfriend?”
Grandpa Johnny snorted “they were never dating. My jealous but just gave them that label in my dumb jock hormone-fueled head.”
“So you guys just got together...without the system? And it was still perfect?”
“No,” Grandpa Johnny smiled “It was far from perfect. It was” grandpa Johnny covered the pie with some shiny metal-paper sheet and put it in an icebox “amazing, fiery, domestic, sweet, hot-headed but never perfect. It was... better.”
“You don’t need a machine to tell you how you feel.”
Jax's answer was immediate, “Humans make mistakes.”
Grandpa Johnny’s eyes lit up a bright blue, “But they are our mistakes to make.”
A few stories later Johnny brought out the pie, it was still burnt at the bottom and the corners. And it tasted different from any pie from any machine he ever tried. It was not perfect. It was better.
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