“You’re welcome to bed down here. The one couch turns into a bed and its really comfy. Zach and Anne have gone to her house for the night and Pat’s downstairs with Suzie. So there is room.”
“I thought Andy was sleeping on the couch because the kids have his room?”
“He decided to sleep outside. That boy is my wild one, and not in the tear up the world kind of sense.”
Eric nodded. He’d felt a connection with Andy when they talked and wondered about him on many levels. “Well, its just…”
Kate gave up. “Do what you want Eric. You’re welcome to the couch. I don’t lock the doors, so If you decide to come back, just walk in.”
Eric gave her a look of concern. “You don’t lock your doors? Isn’t that a bit on the dangerous side? Don’t you worry about break-ins and such?”
“No, not really. I’ve got the dogs as noisemakers, and to be honest I’ve had more trouble from people invited in than from those coming in on their own. I only lock the doors if I’m going out of town for a long time.”
“Oh.” He didn’t know what to add. The idea of not locking doors made him rather uncomfortable. He didn’t know this area well enough to feel that kind of ease. “Well, I’d still like to go down to the shelter to get clean clothes for the kids for the morning. Maybe I’ll sleep there, maybe I’ll come back.”
“Ok, you’ve got keys for the shelter. Just make sure the back door is shut tight.” Kate moved towards Eric as she talked and gave him a hug. “Good night, see you in the morning.”
“Goodnight Kate.” Eric returned her hug. He headed out the back door and down the stairs at a quick pace. One matched by his heartbeat. What in the world just happened he wondered as he moved swiftly down the street.
Kate closed the door behind Eric and watched him through the window as he ran, no loped down the street. It was the only term that fit. Just like when Gretchen or Luna ran in that liquid way dogs do. She turned and moved towards her room. What on earth had possessed her to hug him? Well, besides the fact that he so obviously needed one. She barely knew him and yet, there was that feeling that she had known him all her life. Strange.
Kate peeked in on the kids in Andy’s room. They were all sleeping, curled up with Gretchen the puppy, and about half a dozen cats of various colors. It brought a smile to her face. Walking down the hall, she thought again of the feeling she had when she hugged Eric. It had been like hugging an old friend or one of the boys. She shook her head. Perhaps being alone for the last four years was just getting to her.
Luna was on her bed, looking guilty. Kate wondered why until she saw the bones at the end of the bed.
“Aw Luna! When are you ever going to learn.” Kate spoke out loud as she picked them up and put them on top of the dresser. Rib bones from the barbecue. She’d dispose of them in the morning. Kate dropped her clothes to the floor and grabbed a teeshirt to sleep in. Never did to shock the house guests, especially as her door never managed to stay closed. Crawling into bed, she fell asleep listening to music and feeling Luna climb up on the bed.
Eric entered the shelter by the kitchen door and ran up the stairs to their room. He grabbed clean clothes for the kids and a new teeshirt for himself. Pulling off his old one, he put the new one on and then picked up the pile of clothes. He stuffed them in a bag and headed back down the stairs. He locked the back door and headed back up the hill towards Kate’s house.
He slowed down as he got to the top of the hill. All the lights were out, but Eric kept looking, searching. No, no one was awake. He walked quietly up to the house and in a corner put the bag with the kids clothes down first. Then he added his own clothes to the pile. After a moment of checking, he turned and headed off down the road towards the edge of town.
Eric took an easy pace as he headed down the alleys. A few dogs barked at him as he passed, but most just sniffed the breeze and headed back to their dog houses. He loped across the school football field and found a huge culvert. Cats, dogs, foxes and others had used this as a way into and out of the town. Eric used it too. It was cooler in the culvert and there was the occasional puddle. As he came to the other end, he sniffed the air. Smelling nothing more than grasses and a skunk, he exited out onto an open expanse of field. After getting his bearings, Eric plotted a course and just ran. Ran like he hadn’t done in months. He hadn’t had a safe place to leave the children since they’d left the ranch. Not that the ranch had been that safe near the end, but at least he’d been able to get out at night. Late at night.
Eric scared the hell out of rabbits and prairie dogs as he ran through the scrub oak and sage brush. Almost ran into a chola cactus too. He’d forgotten that there were cactus in this part of the country. That was stupid. He’d brushed past it and continued on his run.
He stopped on top of a sandstone rock outcropping. Low pines were all around it as well as more sage and cactus. It afforded him a beautiful view of the valley just outside of town. He laid there and caught his breath. It felt so good to be out. So good to run. The heat of the day radiated from the rock even this late at night. Eric rolled over and looked all around him. He rested for a while as the stars had begun to shift in the sky.
Eric felt his muscles stiffening up and decided that he’d better head back. Stretching, he found a few sore places, but overall, he just felt good. Heading down the rocks, he decided to change course just a little. This time he ran down an arroyo that was parallel to the highway for a little bit. This brought him in on the other side of the older part of town. Loping down the back alleys, he came up to Kate’s house from the other side. The house was still, and as far as he could tell, no one was awake. Over the fence, he walked across the back yard and froze. He had forgotten that Andy was asleep in the yard. Quietly, he walked around Andy and headed up the stairs.
Eric shoved the door and it opened. He took a quick tour of the house. Peeking in the one room he saw the children asleep. Gretchen saw him and started wagging her tail. He quickly left the room and headed down the hall. Kate’s door was wide open. Luna was on the bed, snoring. Kate was asleep, curled up in a ball around her pillow. Sure that all was well, he turned to leave when he spied the rib bones on the dresser. He carefully took them off the dresser and headed down the hall.
In her sleep, Kate dreamed that Gretchen had come into her room. She half woke, wondering why she had. In the hall, she could have sworn she heard the click of nails against the wooden floor. Glancing over at the dresser where the clock was she saw it was 4:45am. Way too early to be up. Her head was almost back on the pillow when she realized what was wrong. The rib bones were gone! Gretchen must have been in the room. She made a note to check the puppy in the morning and fell back asleep.
Eric slipped back outside and took care of the bones. He retrieved the pile of clothes and headed back in the house. Slipping into the bathroom, he cleaned up as quietly as he could and then silently headed for the living room. He was relieved to see that the couch was empty. Curling up on the futon, he fell asleep quickly.