Chapter 7

“Hi, Wood.”

“Hi guys!” He leans back in his chair, holding up the movie listings. “There's that new horror movie playing at the's either that or a romantic comedy.”

“Lemme see,” Rock turns Wood away from the door. “I think I saw the horror thing, it kind of sucked...”

I half-tiptoe, half-sprint to my room behind their backs. Tanya lets out a quiet whine as I dump her on my bed and I shush her. She narrows her eyes at me, not letting me forget who's in charge here.

I sigh. “Okay, okay, sorry. So, did you have fun today?”

She wags her tails and nods vigorously.

“Do you like Rock?”

Her tails still wag, but a little less excitedly and she cocks her head.

“Well, is it okay if he comes over later? While I'm gone?”

She nods again and walks in a circle before curling up into a ball.

I smile and rub her head.

She lifts her lip and growls.

I pull my hand away and stand up. “Well...I'll see you in a bit, then.”

Still, I tell myself as I walk down the hallway. She let you touch her. That's an improvement. “So...we're gonna go see that horror movie?”

They look up and Wood folds the listings. “Yeah. Like I said, there's nothing else playing except for Two for Tee.” He rolled his eyes. “A romantic comedy about golf...that's gonna be popular.”

I smile. Sometimes I forget how funny my uncle can be. “So what time is it playing?”

“, five-thirty, eight o' clock...” He checks his watch. “And it's about one now. We should probably leave soon.”

Out of habit, I glance back towards my bedroom, worrying in spite of myself. Rock gives me a don't worry about it look and grins.

I grin back. “Okay, let's go.”

Wood and I don't have a lot of money. My parents hadn't left anything to us, obviously intending to live longer than they did. We don't have a computer or a car and I am the only kid in school without a cell phone. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining...we get by and I have clothes that fit...but this one trip to the movies will probably use up most of our extra cash, especially if we get popcorn.

I can tell Wood is worrying about this too, but he doesn't say anything and we joke all the way to the theater, annoying all the other passengers on the cross-town bus.

At the theater, we pause at the poster for the movie we're about to see. It looks a little cheesy...a woman looking in a mirror and seeing a guy with a knife looking over her shoulder, even though there's nothing behind her. Cheesy...but maybe the movie will be better.

“You know...” Wood comments as he empties his wallet paying for tickets and popcorn. “That actress looked a lot like Tanya.”

For a second, I think he means the animal and my heart speeds up without warning. Then, my logical side takes over and I realize he meant my mom. Heart still pounding, I shrug.

“Yeah, I guess you really didn't see her much,” He takes the bucket and pops a kernel into his mouth. “Do you remember anything at all about your parents?”

I nod. “A little. I was only three.” I feel like I shouldn't talk's always my instinct to clam up whenever my parents are mentioned. Besides, I think Wood's trying to make a point. But he did ask, so... “I remember one night, we had really loud music playing and Dad danced with Mom...then they picked me up and I danced between them, sort of.” We danced in a really big room too, I remember must have been in my parents' old house.

“Yeah...they were great people,” He holds open the door to our theater and lets out a little laugh. “In college, your father and I always used to fight over Tanya...she always liked him better.”

I sit down and wonder if I should say anything. “Were you...?”

“Mad when she married him?” He shakes his head. “It was just a stupid school thing...still, it was nice to have something to look at when Sam invited me over for dinner.”

I punch him on the shoulder and he laughs again. There's no one else in the theater except a young couple in the back row...and they don't really look like they're listening.

“So, um...” Maybe, since we're on the subject of my parents, who always liked Nonextants, I could ease Wood into the idea too. “They really loved their work, didn't they?”

His smile disappears and his face hardens. “Yeah.”

I persist. “Don't you think, if there were here now, they'd – ”

“They'd tell us it was an accident, yes. But it wasn't an isolated incident and they're not here now, so let's drop it.”

Oops. I almost never see Wood mad and never actually made him mad, even as a little kid. We're buddies and I feel guilty now for bringing up old feelings of grief and loss.

I'll buy him some candy after the movie and he'll be fine.

The movie is just as bad as the poster promised it would be and Wood and I spend the bus ride home making fun of it, again annoying all the other passengers.

My paranoia takes over as soon as we reached our building. I have to make sure Tanya was all right... “Race you.”

“Hey, no fair!”

But I've already taken off, through the door and up the stairs. Wood's fast, for a geezer, but I'm Dash Chamall, boy wonder, and no one can beat me in a race.

So, of course, I reach the apartment first and have the first opportunity to look around. My bedroom door is still shut and nothing seems out of place...good. Rock must not have caused that much chaos.

Wood catches up to me a couple of seconds later, breathing heavily. “That just...that just wasn't fair.”

I grin.

“Well, if you'll excuse me, I have to go change for my date.” He puts extra emphasis on the word and stands up a little straighter.

“A date? You?” I sit on the back of the couch, feet resting on the cushions. “What's wrong with her?”

He makes a face at me. “She's one of my co-workers, that's what's wrong with her. She's a lovely girl and she deserves more than the dead-end job she's got.”

“How old is she?”

“Thirty three.”

Wood's thirty seven, so the age difference isn't that bad. “Where are you taking her?”

“Ice skating.”

Cheap, but still meaningful...probably more meaningful than if he had taken her out to dinner. “Does she have any annoying boyfriends or anything?”

He shook his head. “She really doesn't have a lot of dating this interrogation over? I need to get ready.”

I nod and slip to the cushions of the couch. “Would you like me to clean up this place in case you get lucky?”

“Would you? That would be a big help.”

I sigh in mock exasperation and pick up the trash from the coffee table and the surrounding floor and toss it in the garbage...I'll take it out to the curb as soon as I'm done.

“Hey, that reminds me,” Wood pokes his head out from his room. “How's Melissa?”

I sigh again, louder this time. “Same as ever.”

“Great, amazing, perfect and beautiful?”

“You forgot 'taken',” I reply heavily, dumping the dirty dishes in the sink. “But I'll get over it one of these days.”

“You said that last month.”

“Yeah, and the month before that, and the month before that...” I shrug. “I'm working on it.”

He shuts the door to his room and I go out into the hall. There's a closet with some garbage bags and a vacuum cleaner and a bunch of other cleaning supplies that the tenants all share. I take the vacuum and run it over the small rectangle of exposed floor in our apartment, then up and down the hall so no one will be annoyed that I borrowed it.

Next, I start on the dishes...there aren't very many, but they've been sitting out so long that the gunk on them is practically impossible to get off. I manage it though and clean the sink after I'm done, washing all the greasy water down the drain.

“Well, how do I look?”

I don't turn around. “Like an idiot.”

“Just like normal then. Good.”

“How's your room? Clean?”

“Dan, if she sees the inside of my room, I don't think she's going to care that much.”

I laugh. “Good point. See ya, unc.”

“See ya, neph.” The door slams behind him.

I wait until I hear his footsteps go down the stairs to drop the sponge and rush to my room to check on Tanya.

Rock certainly was busy. In the corner of the room where the newspaper used to be, there's a blue litter box, with a bucket of fresh litter next to it and I have to admit, it smells much better than it did before. In the opposite corner, there's a big unopened bag of kibble with a picture of a bored-looking dog on the front. Tanya's next to it, sniffing curiously and occasionally pawing at a collar around her neck.

“Here...” I bent down and took off the collar. “You don't really need's not like you'll run off. You're smarter than that.”

She blinks warmly and jumps up on my bed, bracing her paws against the windowsill and wagging her tails.

“We'll go out later, all right? I promise. I just wanted to make sure you were okay.” I stand up and toss the collar under the bed. “I'll be back soon.”

Tanya lets out a soft whine.

“I know, I know, it's tough...but think of the alternatives. You could be in a giant arena, fighting against things that could easily rip you apart, all for other people's enjoyment.”

She pauses, then nods and settles down with her head in her paws. Yeah, you're right. Sorry.

I close the door behind me and grab the garbage bag from the kitchen, tying it in a knot and slinging it over my shoulder. I'll take this to the curb, then I'll go to the library.

I still have a little more research to do.
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