(excerpt from Chapter One)
It was the dog. Or the dog was me. It didn’t matter how you said it. Yeah, I was drunk, but it was true all the same.
The dog was nosing around under the weeping willow near the lake. I couldn’t make him out well in the dark, except that he was long and scrawny and busy looking for something–a snack, a place to flop for the night, a friendly female. Whatever it was, he had no one to help him find it.
“Hey, dog,” I called. “Listen to this: ‘When in disgrace with Fortune and men’s eyes/I all alone beweep my outcast state…'”
The dog kept on about his business.
“Don’t like that one? Not big into Shakespeare, huh? How about this, then?” And I sang to him about it being another Saturday night and me with nobody.
The dog still didn’t look up.
“Okay for you, mutt. Here I offer you the kind of camaraderie only the lonely can share, and what response do I get from you? Zero. Zilch. Nada. Well, okay, ignore me. See if I care. In fact, I care as much about you as Vicki cares about me.”
I got dizzy then and I stretched out on the grass, but I didn’t break my train of thought. Vicki. Oh, Vicki. Long blonde hair, long lean legs, and the most beautiful breasts I’d never seen. Vicki, who looked like a Sunday in June–and acted like a Monday in February. Vicki, my girlfriend, depending on which hour of which day of which week you were referring to. And if it was the past hour, no dice.
I had showed up at her place forty-five minutes early.
“Storm,” she said. “You said nine o’clock. I’m not ready.”
“Yeah. Sorry. But you look ready…”
“Well, I’m not–and besides I don’t want to get to Gary’s too early. Nobody’ll be there yet except a couple of other guys, and you’ll be talking baseball and I’ll have to go into the kitchen to make the dip and all the stuff Gary didn’t get around to doing.”
I didn’t bother to remind her that I never talked baseball with anybody. I didn’t know diddly-squat about baseball. “So, take your time,” I said. “I’ll hang out with your folks, watch TV. They won’t mind.” I smiled.
“Look, Storm. You keep doing this. Every Saturday night you say you’re going to be here at a certain time and you show up hours early. How come?”
“How come?” I asked, smile wavering a little.
“Yes, how come?”
“Well, sugar, it’s because I always overestimate the number of hours I can bear to be apart from you.” I fixed my smile back in place.
“Hand me another one, why don’t you?” she sneered and marched upstairs to her room.
I went and watched TV with her folks. They didn’t mind.
At nine-thirty precisely she came into the den. “I’m ready to go,” she said. Those were her first and last words to me for the next two hours.
Maybe I should have told her the truth about the Saturday Night Frolics with Sunny and Boyce. Picture this, I could have said:
Storm Ryder, so named by his mother, Sunny, in a rare burst of wit, has just finished washing the dishes after also cooking and helping consume the dinner for three. This is not unusual. Storm has been doing these chores on an average of six nights a week for the past ten years. He also makes breakfast, cleans the house, irons and mends his own clothes and mows the so-called lawn on a regular basis.
Sunny is taking a bath. Storm can hear her wobbly soprano singing “Teach Me Tonight” over the running water. In their small five-room house, anybody can hear almost anything anytime. Storm is glad he took a shower two hours ago when he got home from his exciting summer busboy job before Sunny used up all the hot water. The heavy smell of Jean Naté bath oil seeps into the kitchen.
Boyce Owens, Sunny’s most recent and longest staying “house guest,” leans against a counter, whistling. “Bet you’re in a hurry to get over to that cute blonde’s house, huh, kid?” he says to Storm. “Guess she likes ’em skinny.” He jabs Storm in the bicep. “Well, there’s no accounting for taste.”
“You can say that again,” Storm mutters.
“What was that?”
Boyce studies Storm. “Jeez, your mama doesn’t feed you enough.”
“My mama doesn’t feed me at all,” Storm replied, louder this time.
Boyce gives a hearty laugh. “Guess that’s so. Well, you need more carbs. And you should weight train. Start with thrity pounds, twelve reps, and in a month or two you’ll be up to sixty. Then you can come work for me. Nothing like hefting drywall every day to build you up.” He pokes Storm again.
The sounds of Sunny singing and splashing suddenly cease. Boyce begins to him. Storm dries the dishes. Five minutes pass. Then Sunny, in a blue satin negligee, comes into the kitchen. “Oh, Storm,” she says, her eyes, if not her mouth, frowning. “You’re still here. Aren’t you going out tonight?”
Storm pauses. “Well, I don’t know. I thought maybe I’d stick around…”
Sunny’s eyes frown harder. “Really? That might not be convenient. Boyce and I have plans.”
“He’s pulling your leg, honey,” Boyce tells her, putting his arms around her waist. “I heard him on the phone this morning. He’s got a hot date tonight.”
“Oh.” Sunny smiles. “Well, why don’t you let me finish the dishes so you can go.” She takes the lone remaining plate from the sink and begins to dry it.
“Gee, thanks, Mom,” says Storm and lopes out the door.
Yeah, I could have told Vicki all that. But I didn’t feel like it.