Tom tiptoed up the stairs carrying the two big boxes. He’d
knocked, but no answer. Mist met him at the top step, giving him a little hop.
He nodded at her, patted her with one hand, then carried the pizza quietly to
the kitchen. Merle was sound asleep. Boy, he must be tired. Maybe I should put the pizza in plastic bags
and carry Merle to bed?
“Don’t even think about eating all that pizza by yourself.” Merle
laughed behind him, and it made his whole body feel warm to hear it.
He turned. “I think me and Mist can do it. She gets one and I get
Merle stood, and he looked yummier than the pizza. “Can dogs eat
“Nope. It’s bad for them. But they do it anyway sometimes.”
Merle nodded. “I guess we’re all like that, aren’t we?”
He shook his head. “No. We like to do stuff that’s bad for us.”
Merle wiped a hand over his face.
The words made his ears feel tingly like they wouldn’t stop
repeating. Tom swallowed. Yeah, Merle
thinks I’m bad for him. People would make fun of him for having me around. I bother him for sex when he should be
making friends with people like Renee. Important people. He turned so Merle
couldn’t see his face.
forgot how much this hurts.
Tom grabbed the plates and set them in front of two stools by the
island. “This is a good place to eat, and it’s easy to clean up.”
Merle touched his back. It made him jump. “I really love the way
you worked out the feeding station for Mist. How did you ever think of it?”
He tried to smile. “That’s what I’d do if I lived here. I thought
Mist would like it.” He looked up. “I just made it for her. The boys ate on the
floor. They didn’t mind.”
“Where are the boys?” Merle opened the refrigerator. “Oh good. You
“Yes. In the sewing room.”
“What?” Merle looked up really fast.
“The boys are in the sewing room at Mrs. A.’s and yes, please, I’d
like a beer.”
Merle opened the bottles and put one in front of each place; then
he dished salad onto the plates. “How come you left the boys there? Will Lily
watch them for you?”
Tom got the forks. “No, I’ll take them out when I go home.”
“Oh.” Merle looked really surprised. “I thought you were staying
His heart leaped so high it tickled his throat. “Oh, I—”
Merle frowned. “Sorry. I don’t mean to take advantage of you. I’m
sure you want to be in your own place.”
Tom stared at the pizza. It didn’t look quite so good as it did
before. “I don’t have a place, Merle.”
“What do you mean? Aren’t you staying with Mrs. Allison anymore?”
“Lily lives in my room now. I just stay in the sewing room with
the boys.” He didn’t want to feel bad about that. He liked having Lily stay,
but he didn’t have anything that was his.
“You can stay here.”
He nodded and pushed the slice of pizza on his plate. “Yes. Thank
you. I’ll bring the boys back Monday night and look after Mist and watch the
“Oh.” Merle looked unhappy. He took a bite of his pizza and chewed
slowly. “I was thinking you might want to stay tonight.” He looked up. “You
know, go get the boys first.”
Something strange happened in Tom’s chest. Like growing and
shrinking at the same time. It hurt, almost. Words came out before he could
stop them. “That’s okay, Merle. Thank you. But you need to have fun in your
house. I better go be with Lily since I haven’t been with her too much and she
probably gets lonely too.” He stood before he could even stop himself. “If you
don’t mind, I’ll take some of this great pizza to Lily because she really loves
it. You know that.” He rushed over to the drawer where he’d put the plastic
bags, got one, and stuffed it full of pizza slices. Merle stared at him really
funny. “You have a good sleep, and I’ll come back Monday and stay for as long
as you need me to, okay? I’m really glad you like your house. That makes me
happier than anything.” He waved and hurried toward the steps. “Bye, Merle.”
Just like that, he was down the steps and out the door and into
his truck with the warm pizza kind of squished in his hand. The front door of
the house opened, so he backed out really fast and gunned it up the street
before he could see Merle and change his mind.
He made it all the way to the Pacific Coast Highway before the
first sob made him bite his lip. Why did
I do that? Why? I wanted to stay with Merle so bad.
He drove straight down the highway in the right lane so he didn’t
have to pass or go too fast ’cause he couldn’t see so good. He hooked his
shoulder to wipe the wet from his jaw where it was about to drip.
it hurts so much worse when it’s over.