This story contains homoerotic thoughts. If you are looking for a lot of erotic action, then you'll be bored during this chapter. (Yes, I am slow, I know.) Anyway (I still doubt this chapter would be illegal anywhere), if you are not supposed to be here: leave (or lock the door and remember to remove your virtual footprints once you finish reading).
So, now I feel bad about (almost) never mailing my favorite authors; apparently I have a lot of e-mails to write....
Please, let me know if you have any comments or are interested in becoming a beta reader on The Tail.
And please - mail a writer, whose works you enjoy, if you haven't done so already. Believe me, you'll make somebody happy.
Hope you don't fall asleep during this chapter....
Hugs from Morgenfryd
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The Tail of the Tiger
Chris Finds His Busta
The wheel and the stick were both sticky with apple juice from my hands. I was alternately chewing an apple and the chunk that I had broken off the bread. My hunger for proper food had even tricked me into considering the micro meals when shopping. My belly growled painfully, and I wished that I had had the sense to realize that a handful of crackers wasn't going to carry me through the shopping trip.
There, the roof of Mormor's house peeked through the trees. Great. I wanted to get started cooking.
I activated the indicator and made ready to turn, but had to hit the braketo keep from bumping into a car. Some idiot had parked in the driveway, effectively blocking my way. I growled. Now I would have to juggle fragile paper bags all the way from the street and into the kitchen. Who was the idiot that had forgotten to bring the shopping bags - again?
Of course everything had to be carried in one go and of course there was no other way to do it. Common sense like using the wheelbarrow or some other container just didn't stand a chance when stupidity could fuel my anger. That was of course asking for it - one of the bags broke during the battle with the screen door.
Hence, my mood was not exactly positive when I was picking groceries up from the floor and from the basement too; a couple of potatoes had tried to escape down the stairs. It wasn't until I had collected everything on the counter that I got out of my self-centered funk, and realized that an unknown somebody had to be in the house, and that Tom was not in sight, neither was Frida or Leika.
The sight of Jennifer's bulky pocket a couple of hours ago was still in my system, and it was with hammering heart that I made my way through the house looking for Tom.
He was in the pups' den with a stranger and sent me a smile when I walked through the door. A soft and boyish smile that made my fear evaporate, taking most of my anger with it. Tom looked almost happy.
A stranger was sitting on the floor with the pups crawling all over him. He muttered softly, "Oh, man. Oh, man", obviously under the spell of pup-charm. He looked to be in his twenties, short and stocky, a mop of thin braids was bunched on the top of his round head. A tuft of beard was straggling to survive on his chin. His hands seemed to know what to do, touching the dogs the way they like it.
He was completely oblivious to my arrival until Violet greeted me by wagging her tail. He turned his head and looked up at me, pushing a stray braid away from his face. The expression in the brown eyes behind the glasses went from soft and warm to guarded and cool when his attention shifted from the pup to me. The shield around him slid into place with an almost audible click. The lips parted, showed teeth in a glittering smile that went out of sight just inside his shield. If I hadn't seen the sudden change, I wouldn't have known how closely guarded he really was. He removed the pup and moved as if he was about to rise.
"Hi," I said and waved to tell him that he did no need to get up. "I'm Mikkel."
"I'm Chris," he said. "I'm afraid the pups have taken me captive." The pups scampered on board his lap again.
I nodded. It looked like he had entered the trap quite willingly.
"Mikkel can tell you which ones are sold already," Tom said.
I stepped into the enclosure. "Sure. That one and, ah, that one." Violet came over and I scratched her. A couple of the pups came over to get their due as well. I petted them while my mind was scrambling to adjust to the unexpected situation.
"Man, I don't know how you can tell them from one another, they are completely alike," Tom said. "I only know them apart because of the size. Acutally, I can only recognize the small one."
"This is Busta," Chris said and held up the dominant female. It wriggled, more interested in playing than in being petted. "Please, don't tell me that he is sold already."
"It's a bitch," I said and he sighed. "I mean, the pup is female and, no, it is not sold yet."
He nodded and set the wriggling bitch down and joined its pup games.
I sent Tom a look, willing him to explain the situation.
"Granny met Chris at a charity event a couple of months ago, and she promised he could have one of the pups."
I sifted slowly trough that statement. My head just doesn't work properly when I am hungry. And I don't like being shoved when I am hungry. And I had just had an incident involving a screen door and my own stupidity; anger with myself does not further coherent thought processes either. "Must have been a bit more than a couple of months ago," I finally concluded, knowing that Mormor would not have left the house for longer periods around the time the bitch was supposed to whelp. Tom frowned at me, making me listen back to what I had just said. It had come out rather grumpily. Surprise.
"Closer to three," mumbled Chris with a quick look at my face before he turned his attention back to the pup. "Heey, Tiger." The pup had discovered the beads around Chris' neck, and he fended the curious assault off in a way that was bound to tell the dog that this was the best toy in the den, and it was all right to go for it.
"She promised you a dog?" A charity event? If that was the case, then hopefully their relationship went further back than that single event.
He kept his attention on the dog. "She said we could talk about it." As if that was a minor difference. "I just haven't had the time before now. I didn't know she was in hospital, so when I was in the area I figured I would drop by for a visit, like she had said I could," he said and sent me quicksilver surface smile. "I'm glad Busta isn't sold."
"Uhm. Right. We'll have to talk with Mormor."
He sent me a blank look. I ran over the sentence in my head, but Tom had registered the confusing word before I did. "Mormor - Granny. That's Rose."
"I'll go call her. If you are interested in that dog we better put a hold on it."
Chris nodded and I went back to the kitchen and called Mormor.
She picked up the phone after a single ring. "Yes?"
"Hi Mormor. How are you?"
"Hello Mikkel. How are the dogs?" She spoke in English, a sign something was bothering her.
I switched to English. "They are fine."
"You told Sara to bring her awful despicable wall hangings!"
Oh-oh. "I did?" I couldn't remember what exactly had been said. "Was that wrong of me?"
"I told her to shove them in a dark place."
"Ah. Right. So she took them with her again?"
"Is that why you are speaking English at me?"
"Yes. Don't give Sara or anybody else advice on how to "handle" me, you hear? It is not your buisness!"
"Aye Sir. Order understood and received."
"Don't you talk to me like that! I am a grown woman!"
"Uhm. Yes, of course. Sorry."
"I will not have you discussing me with my. friends and handing out advise behind my back. Understood?"
"Ah. Sara isn't talking about you much anyway. I've tried to pump her, but it doesn't work. You really set the dragon fear in her. I didn't think she had the guts to bring the hangings."
"Well, you will have to stop doing that!"
"I have to tell her I am sorry I got her in trouble."
There was a pause. "I hate gossip!"
I moved the phone away from my ear and sighed. "Hm. I didn't say I eat everything raw or just let my mouth run amok, you know. Still, it was gossip that got me here in the first place and not properly channeled information."
"Exactly my point, you impertinent runt." That one made me blink since I am pretty tall. Maybe I didn't understand"runt" correctly. "You come over here and disrupt everything. My house, my personal life - everything! You are a nuisance!"
I really wasn't in the mood for dicussing wall hangings and gossip. Really not. "I know I am a nuisance! So is your frigging leg and the whole damn universe!"
"Shove language in a dark place, store it with the frigging wall hangings, for all I care."
There was a pause. Then a pensive voice. "You know, I don't think Sara would like that."
She took me by surprise there. I was laughing before I knew it. "I am not sure about that. I think she needs-"
"Mikkel! I do not want to hear that."
"Alright." Mormor must have had the same thought at some point; how else would she have known where I was going? "Can I change the subject?"
"Certainly!" Was she smiling?
"Chris came by."
"You met him at a charity event about three months ago, and you told him to come by if he was interested in getting a pug."
"Yes? Uh, Chris. Chris? What does he look like?"
"He looks to be in his twenties. He's short and stocky and has a sharp edge, very guarded, you know, the type of guy that can be real vicious in a fight."
"I wouldn't know about that."
"I'm glad to hear that. You recognize him yet?"
"No, I don't think so. Go on. What does he look like?"
"Dark hair, lots of little braids, like dread locks. Brown eyes, not the warm kind, more like... flat. Sideburns, a bit of fluffy beard. Sexy round ears, like a bear cub, sexy-"
"Skip that part."
"Alright. Ring a bell?"
"Yes, I think so."
"From the little I have seen, he has a good contact with the dogs but no real understanding. I think he is a natural without much experience." There was a faint rustle of clothes behind me. I turned and saw Chris in the doorway.
"What was his name? Christopher Kirkpatrick! Yes. I remember now. A nice young man. Very well-mannered - as opposed to somebody else that I know." I had to smile. The well-mannered young man appeared totally unabashed about listening in on my private conversation with my grandmother. "Is he still interested in getting a pug?"
"Yes, he is."
"The dominant bitch. Is it still free?"
"Yes. Ah. Not exactly the best one for a beginner."
"My thought. I take the proper screening hasn't been done yet?"
"No, no it hasn't. I suppose I should talk with him."
"He's still here. You want to talk with him now?"
"Yes. Go get him."
I handed Chris the phone. "Mormor wants to talk with you."
The phone screeched, "Mikkel!"
Chris wordlessly handed me the phone back, amusement flickering over his face.
"Where are your manners, boy?" Now she was speaking Danish. "You should have told me that he was standing right there! You don't talk about people like that when they are right beside you. It is rude."
I stuck to English. "He just came through the door like half a minute ago." I was tempted to add that I had no idea how long he had been listening in in secret, just to be mean. "Besides I don't say things about people I wouldn't say to their faces."
"Well put him on. What are you waiting for? And mind your language, boy!"
I handed Chris the phone again.
"Hello. This is Chris Kirkpatrick. How are you, Rose?"
I began putting the groceries away, working as quietly as I could while listening to Chris' end of the phone conversation. Not that I learned much, it was mostly Mormor talking. The few questions Chris asked were about the accident. Apparently he didn't like hospitals much either.
It had just begun getting interesting, when Tom appeared in the doorway, holding a paper tissue to his forehead. There was fresh blood on his T-shirt.
He grimaced. "I scratched myself and it sprung up again. I think we better put something on it. Where did you put the box?"
"Right here." I got it out of the cupboard. "Let me. I'll just wash my hands."
He stood still while I held paper tissue lightly against the gash and waited for the bleeding to stop before applying disinfectant.
Chris finished his talk with Mormor. I could feel his eyes on me when I picked up the package with plaster. "I wouldn't use that."
He came over and looked in the box. "No. It's waterproof and real sticky. It could be a bloody mess if you have to pull it off again."
"I think that it's all there is." Tom looked too.
I checked that the contents in the already open package were all of the same kind. "It is. I'll go buy something not waterproof."
"There might be some in Lance's car. Let me look." Chris disappeared out the door. He moved like running was his natural gait.
Tom studied my face. "Don't you like him?"
"Like? I don't know. I cannot read him. Why?"
"You don't act all that friendly around him."
"He is not my cousin." Tom smiled a little at that. "Besides, I am hungry and that makes me cranky when things get complicated. Right now he is complication on two legs. How about you, aren't you hungry?"
"Not much. I ate some cerials after you had left. You know, Chris is-"
He broke off when the outer door was opened. Chris came in, carrying a red plastic box. "I knew it. Lance would keep something like this around." He put it on the counter before opening it and looking through the contents. It looked to be the de luxe edition compared to Mormor's economy one. "Here. This is good stuff." He handed me a flat paper-wrapped package before reaching out to check the bottle with disinfectant that I had used.
"Thanks." He didn't comment so I figured it was all right put the patch on Tom's forehead.
He added a couple of the packages to the contents in Mormor's box. "Did you have that gash checked by a doc?"
Tom was standing very still while I patched him up. "No. Mikkel cleaned it up."
"Headache? Nausea? Dizziness?"
"No, no and no."
Chris snapped the boxes shut. "The scar would be smaller if you had had a bit of embroidery but that's too late, I think."
I opened the fridge and pulled out the orange juice. "So, what did Mormor say?"
"Not much. The doctor came in, so she had to break off the conversation. She said that her impossible grandson would know what to do. Who of you is the impossible one?" Chris looked at me as if he already knew the answer.
"That would be me." I got three glasses from the cupboard and poured the juice. Not at all glad that I had to be smart while hungry.
"What was that talk about a screening? Is there anything wrong with Busta?"
"Probably. Lots of genetic problems with pugs." I got the cookies out and a platter to put them on. "It might be a good idea having her x-rayed. But the screening we talked about was the screening of you."
"Me? I need x-rays?"
"I wouldn't know about that." I poured a pile of cookies onto the platter and added a pile of biscuits. "But we need to find out if you and the dog fit one another."
"You are not just going to sell me a dog?"
"No. That would be highly irresponsible." I paused to empty my glass of orange juice. Whew, a pleasant rush though my body told me that orange juice was a very good idea. "I don't know what kind of guy you are. It-"
Tom interfered. "Mikkel."
"Hu?" I poured myself another glass of juice and downed it.
"Just - be fucking polite. Alright?" Cool dark gray eyes held me, wanting a promise from me.
"Uhm. Right." I gave Tom a nod and the promise he wanted from me before turning to our guest. "Sorry, Chris. I get rude when I am hungry. It's none of your doing, just a generally rotten Mikkel." I poured another glass of juice and took it and the platter with me to the table.
Chris eyed me neutrally. "Would you prefer me to drop by some other day?"
"No, it's alright. Bring your orange juice. I'll start cooking in a minute. Let's just find out whether you are wasting your time."
He took his glass and came over to the table.
Tom sent me a warning glare and I nodded. Yes, I'd do my best to be polite. "I'll go work on my assignment." He picked up his orange juice and went into the living room closing the door behind him. I wondered why Tom was so protective of Chris. Perhaps he was attracted to him. The intensity in Chris was quite obvious, despite the shield, and he wasn't exactly bad looking either. I liked the way he moved, as if there was a drum rhythm beating in the core of him.
I ate a couple of cookies. Mormor apparently left me in charge of the initial screening. Clean orders are much easier. You just have to decide whether to obey or not.
The sugar intake cleared my head somewhat. "This would be your first dog?"
Chris nodded and put down the biscuit he was eating.
"What experience do you have with dogs?"
He shrugged. "Just - some of my friends have dogs. I used to walk other people's dogs when I was a kid. Did I just fail this test?"
"No." I ate a biscuit mulling over my explanation. "Listen, there is a number of questions I want answered. Or to be more precise, I want to make sure you ask yourself those questions." I drank a bit of juice; the rush was fainter this time. "First there is the question whether your should have a dog at all, then there is the question whether it should be the one that you call Busta or a different dog. Perhaps you should look to an entirely different breed.
You heard me talk to Mormor, so you know what my impression is so far. You have good instincts but no proper framework of knowledge. You may need to build some framework before you can make your final decision about getting a dog. I don't mind supplying you with that knowledge or waiting for you to figure it out your own way."
He nodded and picked up the biscuit again. His shoulders were less tense, apparently I had said something that he had wanted to hear.
"So, tell me why you want a dog."
He nodded and took his time finishing the biscuit. "I just want a pet. A friendly, hugable pet that is there just for me...." He seemed to run out of words.
"Just somebody that doesn't expect me to be other than me. You know what I mean?"
"I think so." I drank a bit of juice collecting the words. "If you are lonely.... A dog will make it more bearable being alone, but it isn't going to solve anything, really. Dogs are not little humans in furry disguise."
"Oh. I have friends." He frowned. "I don't expect Busta to solve any of my problems."
"She is likely to add to them. Do you have room in your life for more problems and inconveniences?"
A fleeting grin. "Yeah."
He looked like he meant that. "A dog needs to be walked, petted, fed and paid attention to several times a day, work days included. It needs to know its place with you. That place is the backbone of the dog's world. The dog will trust you to keep its world in order. Can you handle that kind of trust?"
His eyes held the connection with mine, unwaveringly. "Yes," he said softly.
"Dogs are not humans, you cannot reason with them. Everything has to be organized by rules. Your rules - remember you are the backbone. The dog will do its damnest trying to understand you, but you have to supply the clues. Like in all relationships you too will have to listen, but opposed to human relationships - this time all the responsibility for a working relationship is on your shoulders alone. All misunderstandings are yours to figure out and correct. Everything the dog does is your responsibility, as if you did it yourself." It got more complicated than I had intended. Gods, I was hungry, my thoughts were falling apart in my head. "Do you understand my babble here?"
Chris had kept eyecontact through my sermon. I had the feeling that he was really paying attention, he was intense. He nodded.
"Good. Pugs crave company. If you want a dog that can be left alone for hours on end you should not get a pug."
He frowned at that and nodded hesitantly.
"You ready for twelve years of that kind of commitment?"
"Man. Twelve years. Yeah." He smiled a little with his mouth and a lot more with his eyes. "Was that the end of the oath taking?"
"Oath? Oh. Yes. I suppose you can say that. That was part one. The Big Words."
"The Big Words." He smiled fleetingly. "Alright. What else?"
"Uhm. Let's play a game. Can you imagine how yesterday would have been if you had had the responsibility for a puppet that is not good at being alone for more than a few hours at best."
"Uhm. I kind of figured I could take Busta with me."
"To where? I'd like to play this thought a bit. You mind or is it too private"
He shook his head. "Yesterday there was practice and an interview. Other than that I was at home."
"Won't those activities demand your full attention when you are engaged in them?"
"Ah. Yes. Well, not the interview, I mean I could keep an eye on him then. The door could just be closed during practice, that way he won't run away. I really don't see any problems."
"Hm. Right. Now - practice.... What is that like?"
"We are in a big room with mirrors on one of the walls. Yesterday we ran through some new moves our choreographer wanted us to try out."
"Alright." He was a dancer? Odd, I would have thought him a little short for that kind of work, that is, if he were making a living from it. Perhaps he was just too good for his height to be an isue. "This little pup is watching you work and you are not paying it any attention. It is seriously bugged by the lack of attention, and it is bored, really bored. It runs over to you and begin barking and wagging its tail."
"Yeah? I see it. Uhm. Wade gets seriously bugged when it disturbs us.... I take Busta back to its mat."
"It has a mat?"
"Uhu. A big comfy cushion thing. It's in the corner of the room. There is a bowl of water too and some toys."
"Right. Let us say you give it a toy and it keeps to the mat. That lasts for like ten minutes. Then the same thing repeats it self - Busta runs to you."
"I take some time with Busta. Pet him and talk with him. Now both Justin and Wade will be seriously bugged." He rubbed his nose.
"Ah. Well, the dog is happier now and will accept entertaining itself for a while. It also has Justin and Wade pegged. They are the competition for your attention. The dog is going to make a point. Say, are there any shoes on the floor? Preferably shoes that belong to either you, Justin or Wade?"
"Hm. Yes. Both Justin and I have shoes laying around."
"Ah. Now, let us say it finds Justin's shoes. It grabs one of them, drags it into hiding, because it knows perfectly well this is forbidden. The shoe gets a really good, wet, deep chew. Yummy."
Chris grimaced and grinned. "Man, when Justin finds out...."
"How is the schedule - how often do you practice?"
"Enough to bankrupt me if I have to keep Justin with shoes. He would just have to put his shoes out of reach."
"How will it impact on your relationship with Justin and Wade when they always has to keep all their stuff out of Busta's reach?"
"Not good. Can't Busta learn to stay near the mat?"
"Yes. With a lot of patience on your part. Pugs are not easy to train. On top of that, the pup you have picked will be the most difficult one in the litter to work with. Busta is very curious and close to fearless. The other side of that strong self is that it will fight for the place it, by its own programming, is entitled to - which is not at the bottom of the ladder. Those are staying traits. It is not a beginner's pug you have your eyes on."
"Ah. But - it's the Busta I clicked with. I like dominant bitches."
I laughed. "Open your mind, eh. You just had a first impression. We are talking dog-life long relationships. You really should look other litters too. I know about one other pug litter, maybe your Busta is there."
"Alright." He ate a cookie. "Can I train the dog myself?"
"Maybe. Some kind of supervision in the beginning would be a good idea. One thing is teaching the dog rights, another is unteaching it wrongs. That is a battle with patience. You will want to get it right the first time, believe me. Ask Mormor about your options. I know she'll help you as much as she can and so will I."
He nodded. "How realistic was that scene we just played?"
"Pretty realistic." My belly rumbled. I fed it another cookie and emptied my glass. "Have you talked this over with Justin and Wade and the other people whose life and job will be influenced by you getting a dog?"
"Not really. I have talked about getting a dog but. I figured I would wait until I found one that I wanted."
"You have considered other dogs before coming here?"
"I almost got a dachshund. That was before I talked with Rose. When she said that pugs are very friendly to everybody, I thought I might like a pug better. Dachshunds can be really jealous."
I nodded. "Self-centered little buggers." A thought had rumbled in the back of my head for a while. I might as well ask. "Do you expect the dog to perform with you?"
"No. Well, if he really wants to, if he thinks it's fun then yeah. There will be no contracts with Busta's name on them. The dog is for me and not for the show. Do you think he would mind earplugs?"
Earplugs? "She may learn to accept them, but you have to be careful. You don't want her to have a phobia about having her face groomed." My belly rumbled again. "Want to stay for dinner?"
"What are you having?"
"Mashed potatoes and some chili sauce on top." I had found a choice of chili peppers like none I could have found in Copenhagen. This was the beginning of my exploration of chili peppers. There had been other interesting new vegetables as well.
"Great. Have I passed this round?"
He thought for a moment, then he grinned, showing a wide crack in the shield. "Yeah. Barely, but I got there. I need to do more homework, and talk with my friends, and look into getting a dog sitter or something."
"Yes. You are welcome to come over and help me train the pups. I'm teaching them the basics - like walking on a leash, accepting grooming and how to behave around humans. It would be good for you to try your hand at it."
"Yeah? You charge by the hour?"
"Charge? Oh. No, no. Mormor would have my head on a stick if I charged you. If you get a dog from Mormor then you also you get free consultation for as long as the dog lives." I got up and began piling the vegetables by the sink.
Chris came over to stand leaning against the counter. "Can I help?"
"Sure. You can peel the potatoes." I handed him the bag. "The peeler is in the drawer there."
He opened the drawer and poked around in it. I began sorting through the pile of groceries on the counter, putting away the things that I wasn't going to use for dinner.
Tom appeared in the doorway. "You guys finished?"
Chris sent Tom a smile, sparkling warmth. "I passed first round."
"Ah. Congratulations, Chris." Tom frowned. "You don't have to - I can do that. You are the guest."
"When the Spanish Inquisition sticks you with vegetable duty you have to roll with it. Besides, I asked. Mikkel, are you sure the peeler is in this drawer?"
"No. It might be in the dishwasher."
While Chris checked the dishwasher Tom came over and looked in the drawer. "Here." He held up two peelers. "You want the red or the white one?"
Tom's gaze came to rest on some of the ingredients on the counter. "You aren't going to use all the cream are you?" He looked at me with distaste evident on his face.
"Cream isn't good for you. Hey that's. butter!" He was not happy about butter either.
"Go peel, you barbarian."
"Barbarian?" He joined Chris by the sink. "That stuff is unhealthy!"
"Beg to differ. It enhances the quality of life tremendously by making the food taste and feel better. In short - cream and butter prevent depressions." The next meals that I made could be low calorie. Right then I craved the taste of cream and butter.
Chris chuckled and Tom grunted something that would have made Mormor comment on his language.
Neither of them appeared to have much routine peeling potatoes. The bacon and the onions were sizzling in their respective pieces of cookware before Chris and Tom were half way through the pile. Chris making potato carvings of little dogs and weird faces didn't speed the peeling up either, but it made us laugh when he gave them voices and it removed the last of the meanness in me. He probably did that on purpose, but I didn't mind.
It was a bit crowded around the sink when I came over to rinse the chili peppers. Chris offered a few choice words about the size of Tom and me and elbowed both of us aside. Tom grinned and sent a small spray of water after Chris. It wasn't hard to see where that would have gone if the phone hadn't rung. Chris' face pouted disappointment when Tom left to answer it.
"Yes?... Yeah, it's me. Hi...." He shot us a glare, obviously wishing both of us out there. "Yeah, I talked with your mother..."
"Tell him you'll call back when the phone is moved. You can call him from my room."
"Hu? Wait a sec." Tom looked irritatedly at me. "It's stuck to the wall, goof."
"Stuck is a matter of degree." I went to Mormor's bedroom and fetched a screwdriver from the toolbox.
Tom frowned at me while talking to Paul. "My cousin is moving the phone. I'll call you in a minute. Are you at home?... Yeah, sure. Bye."
He watched me take the phone down and ran a hand over the pale spot on the wall. "Now, what will you do about this?"
"Put an ironing board in front? Paint it orange?" I put the phone in his hand. "Go talk."
"Maniac. Excuse me guys." He picked up one of the new boxes of paper tissues, and disappeared up the steps the to back of the house.
Chris had been watching. He sent me a smile and went back to peeling potatoes.
One of the carved potatoes in the pot caught my eye and I picked it up. The mouth, nose and eyes were askew and uneven in shape. The cuts were apparently inexpertly done, yet they had a willfully rough and dynamic rhythm to them. I turned the potato over in my hand and the expression in the face changed dramatically. Perhaps it had been luck on Chris' part. I looked into the pot and found another potato that had the same qualities and idea. Some kind of monster, mean and... sad as it turned. No accident, I was sure.
A wet square hand picked the potatoes from my palms and dumped them in the pot. "Whaa, we are drowning! Help, help! Evil humans are going to boil us!"
"Hey, I hadn't finished looking at them." I reached for the pot.
Chris slapped my hand. "Let them rest in peace, you graverubbing son of a turnip."
"That from the mass murderer that gives them life and then drowns them all." I began gutting the chili pepper. "Calling me names. I dare say." I cut a piece of the chili pepper and tasted it. It was hot and I bent under the tap to rinse my mouth.
Chris peeled the last potato. There were no carvings this time. "What do I do now? I've run out of potatoes."
"Start peeling the carrots." I took the pot with potatoes and changed the water in it before putting it on the stove to boil.
"You are a slave driver. And Tom is a deserter." Chris pointed a dripping half-peeled carrot at me. "I was supposed to help, not do effective work."
I thought I was beginning to understand the way he communicated and wanted to tell him I enjoyed his company too. "Teach you not to ask for it."
Chris chuckled and watched my face closely when I tested another type of chili pepper. This time there was no show. The pepper had a full and slightly perfumed taste. I cut off a larger piece and chewed it.
"Yes. Very." I cut him a piece before checking up on the situation in the cookware on the stove. "I think this kind should go into the pot at the very end." I pushed the mild peppers aside and checked the last unknown kind. It wasn't hot - it was nuclear pyrotechnics. I dived under the tap and filled my mouth with water.
Something landed in my hair and slithered down my cheek. A carrot peel. "Isn't that carrot a bit big and hairy for the pot?" He knocked on my scull. "Not that I want to criticize your cooking..." Another peel landed on my head. This time in slithered inside my shirt. "Oops." A cold nimble finger pushed it further down. "Sorry, didn't catch it." He went back to peeling, only now the gap was wide enough for every peel to fall inside my shirt.
I pulled back from the water and waited a few seconds before going back in when the burn returned. First things first, the peel could wait.
A rain of peels fell on my head and inside my shirt as Chris' peeling picked up speed. Water sprayed all over my head when he held a carrot under the tap. It was well into the next peel shower before I pulled out and found the burn had subsided to an acceptable aching numbness.
I straightened. Cold, wet peels slithered down my back inside the T-shirt. Water dripped from my hair. I shook my head, spraying water and carrot peels.
I growled at him and he smiled fearlessly, eyes glittering behind the glasses. "No waterfight. I am hungry."
"Then why don't you stop showering and start cooking?" He went back to peeling the carrots.
I pulled the shirt over my head and used it for drying my hair and face before dumping it in the corner. "Those peels - it's like they are alive, they wriggle!"
"Yeah? Maybe I should try them on Justin..." He tried one on himself. Then he grinned and stuck his fingers inside his shirt and pulled the peel out. "Ice watered rubber worms would probably be better."
I rinsed the hot chili peppers that I wanted to use and added them to the onions. It was almost time for adding the meat to the pot.
Chris turned the water off. "Everything is peeled, what do I do now?"
"Rinse the sweet peppers and the stuff for the salad. It's in that pile over there." When I looked up he hadn't moved. He was watching me chop the carrots.
"Man, you a professional cook or something?"
"What? No, no. I used to help out in my mother's restaurant. A lot of my childhood was spent on vegetable duty. Do you mind doing this? I know rinsing is kind of boring."
"Oh, it's alright. I like doing things in a kitchen but I don't really know what to do. Joey usually does the cooking." He moved the pile closer to the sink; a couple of items escaped and thudded into the sink.
"Joey is your boyfriend?"
He opened the tap and began rinsing. "No. He is one of the guys in the group. I rent a room at his house. Lance, another of the guys, live there too. Or shouldn't I tell you this?"
"Depends how they are with you getting a dog."
"Oh. Joey will be alright. He likes everybody, even spiders. Lance goes sappily imbecile every time he sees something with feathers or fur, so I guess he'll be alright too. You want all the green leafy stuff?"
"Remove the outer leaves, then take five or six leaves of each kind for the salad. Same with the red-green stuff. Put the rest into a plastic bag - they are in the third drawer." I flipped the bacon and added the chicken to the mix of onions and chili peppers. "You mind garlic?"
"No." He picked up the knife I had used and cut two slices of the sweet chili. "Here." He handed me one before biting into his own with white and even teeth.
It still tasted good. Maybe I should bring some seeds back with me. My dad might be able to make them grow in his little green house. "You can bring your friends if you like. Introduce them to the dogs."
"I'll ask them." He got busy rinsing. "Dogs really live for twelve years?"
"I don't know the exact statistics for pugs but I doubt it's a very unusual age."
"Man. I'll be old then."
"Late or mid thirties?"
"That's not old."
"It's into my next life or perhaps even the next one again. My present career will be old history then. That's old. You know what I mean?"
"Yes..." I still hadn't gotten around to check up on the Danish law and the time limits. To be honest - it was mostly fear that had kept me back. Maybe the limit was more than ten years, say, twenty. Another ten years of guarded silence about my past would be a hard thing to face.
Chris turned the water off, and leaned against the counter while chewing another stump of red pepper and watching me chop the ingredients for the salad.
"What do you do? For a living, I mean."
"A friend and I run a small business. I'm a university student too."
"You like what you do?"
"Aye. A lot. What do you say in English - happy as a clam?"
He smiled and nodded.
"You clammy too?"
He grinned. "Yeah. I do what I most want to do. I guess I am lucky - making a living doing what I always dreamt of doing and doing it with some of my best friends. Life is good to me. A dog would top off the icing. You've got a dog?"
"No. My ex breeds collies. I lived with him and his dogs for a couple years. I never had my own dog." I took the bacon of the frying pan and went over to pick up the peppers by the sink. "Having a dog around just grows on you. I really miss the collies a lot. So be warned - dog company can be addictive. They didn't take well to the divorce either, by the way."
He started rinsing the dill, flipping it so that I got a spray of cold water on my naked belly. "Why don't you get a dog if you miss them so?"
"Well, long and irregular hours doesn't really go with getting a dog. The new buisness, my studies.... Sometimes it's like I am pulled in a thousand directions at once. I want things to calm down a little before I take on a dog. Maybe when we can afford more employees." I took a small handful of peels from the sink and stuffed them inside his shirt just to tell him that I liked him.
"Isn't that a reason for getting a dog? Having something to keep you grounded." He turned the water off and calmly emptied his shirt of peels. "Surely you could make the time if you really wanted. I mean, you are here now, you found time for that."
I grinned at the reversal of out roles and began chopping the stuff for the salad. "Yeah. I see your point. We use the same argument and come to different conclusions..."
"What kind of dog would you want? A pug?"
"No. My kind of dog is one that I can hug and it has to be one that can follow me when I bike or go swimming. I don't have a car and I don't want one either. Let me show you something." I dumped the carrots into the pot and stirred. Then I washed my hands to make sure there was no chili on my fingers and called Leika.
I knelt on the floor and patted her when she came up to me, and spent a moment making her relax before gently pushing her on to her side. "Look at her belly. See those scars?"
"Yeah. What is it?" Chris was kneeling next to me patting Frida who had come running too.
"Cuttings for getting the whelps out. I don't know the word in English."
"Thanks. Look, she has had two. See how narrow the behind is, compared to how wide the face is? Not a good combination. Often the whelps cannot get out. Mormor's dogs are show winners; this is how pugs are supposed to be... Ah, don't encourage her to lick your face. You haven't had the sermon on parasites and germs yet." He sent me an ironic grin. "Now, do you know where one of the dogs main cooling systems is placed?"
"Uhm." He thought for a moment. "They pant when they are hot."
"Yeah. How much nose does a pug have?"
"None, well almost none." He reached out and stroked Leika.
"Right. That is why they cannot handle overheating very well. Half an hour in a parked car in the sun and a pug is very likely dead. You cannot take them trekking or running and on a hot day they cannot go outside. Now, look at the eyes. What characterizes them?"
"Soft, brown, friendly, nice. Actually, they remind me of Joey's."
"And almost popping out of the head."
"Joey's eyes don't do that." he smiled at me.
"In this case, when you add it all up, I'd say the price of cuteness is a bit on the high side."
"Now, what about them eyes, man? Don't tell me they fall out."
He looked sick.
"But that was not what I was going to say. Relatively large and outstanding eyes and no nose to keep a distance to what ever the dogs are exploring make a bad mix. They get infections very easily. Checking the eyes is an important part of the regularly done grooming. Also, because of the short nose pugs drown very easily. You really have to watch them around water."
He stroked both dogs thoughtfully. "You are getting at something, aren't you?"
I shrugged and rose. "Nothing deep." I washed my hands. "I'm just not sure I agree with them being bred at all. But I like the dogs here alright. Fellow living beings and all that."
"You discussed this with Rose?" he asked with a grin.
"Nope and I doubt I am going to." I washed my hands before stirring the meat. It had browned a little too much but it would be all right. Chris stayed on the floor with the dogs while I finished the sauce to simmer and mixed the salad dressing.
Frida grew tired of the patting and scratching and ran up the stairs. She stopped in the doorway and gave a bark, looking at Chris and wagging her tail.
"What does she want?" asked Chris.
"She is inviting you to come play. She is bored and a little jealous having to share your attention with Leika. Ignore her and she'll find a toy to attract your attention. It'll probably be the blue ball, that's one of her favorites. She is not allowed to play in the kitchen and she knows that, but she tests the borders a lot. Busta is that kind of dog too. Please, use one of the other rooms or go outside if you are going to play with her."
"Yeah?" He grinned, ignoring Frida and scratching Leika. Frida turned and ran off.
"Yeah." I checked the potatoes. They still needed a few minutes.
A series of thuds told me that Leika had let go of the ball while standing on the top of the low staircase. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the ball rolling across the kitchen floor.
Chris picked it up when it passed him. He looked up at me, full of mischievous challenge. One could clearly see the debate going on between the angel and the devil inside him. It wasn't a long debate but a very intense one. I raised an eyebrow at him, not quite daring him... He came across as someone easily provoked by a dare. He chuckled and rose with the ball in his hand. Frida came down the stairs, wagging her tail.
Chris studied her. "You want to come with me outside?" he asked her.
She barked and followed him eagerly, keeping her eyes on the hand and the ball.
So I had the kitchen to myself while finishing preparing the meal. Knowing there were other humans in the house was a comfort that I had missed sorely the first days of my stay.
The table was set, everything was ready, but there were no eaters. Intend on finding some and picking up a clean shirt on the way, I ran up the stairs - and nearly stumbled over a very eager pup. It greeted me happily, not at all aware that something was amiss. I picked it up and continued around the corner and met another pup curiously sniffing the table in the hallway. A more timid pup stood in the open door to the dogs' den, eyeing the new world and not quite daring to cross the threshold.
"No you don't." Chris' voice came from the dogs' den and he appeared, picking up the timid one. Our eyes caught and he bit his lip. "Oops. They are not supposed to go in the house, are they?"
I shook my head. "They are not house broken yet. This is not the time to begin that. Dinner is ready. Let us put them in their enclosure."
Four of pups were quickly accounted for. The fifth, Busta, apparently had disappeared.
"He isn't outside," Chris came in from outside while I put the alpha-male in with the others.
"She might have reached the living room. The door wasn't closed." I was not about to call a bitch "he". Chris didn't seem to find any inconsistency. He nodded and we went to look in the living room.
At a first glance there were no dogs. The door to the kitchen was open so I went there to look. No pup.
"He's here, Mikkel. Shit. Stop that... Busta!" Chris sounded exasperated and I went back, closing the door to the kitchen area behind me. I was just in time to see the pup disappear under the low sofa.
"You little cheat... Damn." Chris got down on all four and looked under the sofa.
Never mind the food that was getting cold in the kitchen; never mind what the pup might be doing under the sofa. I had the most exquisite view of a delicious bottom and a strip of warm golden back. My hands curled for want of running over the strong buttocks. The stretched cloth and the warm body underneath would feel just so...
"Fuck, no." He sat on his heels looking up at me and biting his lip. "He's pissing, I think."
I walked around the table and kneeled facing Chris. There definitely was a lake under the sofa. "I think she finished. Come here pup."
"It happens." I picked the pup up.
"I know. That's not what I meant. He came to you right away. How do you do it?"
"Honestly - she was probably more in the mood for company when I called than when you did."
"Ah. It's a matter of timing."
"Aye. To a certain extend. Here, take her. Don't pet her, we don't want her to think she just did something right. I'll get the bucket." I gave him the pup. He took her, his warm hand touching my arm briefly in the transfer process. The echo of the touch lingered.
"Let me do the cleaning," he mumbled. "I'm the one that let them in. Just tell me where the bucket is."
"The bathroom in the dogs' den. Use the stuff in the blue plastic bottle, a cap and a half for three thirds of a bucket of hot water. There are rags and surgery gloves in the box on the shelf. The surgery gloves might be a little small for you - you can see."
He nodded and headed towards the back. I began moving the furniture to make room for the cleaning team.
Tom came limping down the steps. "What is going on?"
"Dog pee under the sofa. Help me move this, will you?"
"I mean, what happened to you?" He stared at me. It took me a moment to understand he was referring to the way I looked. I shrugged. "Chris."
He shook his head and came over and helped me move the sofa. "Busta?"
"Yes. How did the talk go?"
He had cried but looked relaxed if somewhat worn. "Fine. Paul is picking me up tomorrow morning. I think I am ready for Granny. Or whatever. It's just hanging there over my head; I want to get it over with so I know where I stand. You can pick me up at three o'clock? I'd like you to be there too, if you don't mind."
"Certainly. I'll pick you up and go with you to the hospital." It was a relief not having to lie to Mormor.
"Ah. The deserter has returned!" Chris carried the bucket down the stairs. If he hadn't removed his shoes, then the right one would have been full of foamy water, his sock certainly was wet. "You are sentenced to cleaning detail."
"Me?" Tom stared at him.
"Yup. Don't complain or I'll have you do it with a toothbrush with like two hairs."
I thought of Tom's sore knee.
"Somebody's got to heat the sauce. Tom?"
Tom looked back and forth between Chris and me. He smiled. "You know, if I can choose...."
"Then you clean the carpet."
"No." Tom grinned and walked towards the kitchen. If not for the limp it would have been a good swagger.
"Put it on low heat, you don't want it to burn, stir it. Don't heat the potatoes, just leave the dishcloth around the pot."
"Sure." He disappeared from sight.
"You are letting him off that easy?" Chris said indignantly, his eyes flashing at me. "He went AWOL before we got to the carrots!"
"He's my cousin. Family connections, you know." I got down on my knees next to the dark spot on the carpet.
"Ha!" He set the bucket down beside me and dumped the rags. "What are you doing? Didn't I say I would do this?" He got to his knees across from me. "Go away." He dipped a rag in the water and I did the same.
"No." I began rubbing the soapsuds into the carpet.
"Suit yourself. Just don't say I didn't offer." Our arms touched when he too began cleaning the carpet and our eyes met briefly and he smiled. I found a smile on my own lips as well. An unruly thought burst in my head. A kiss would be nice. I looked down and tried concentrating on the job at hand.
"How do you potty train them?" he asked.
Nothing disperses randy thoughts like talking about potty training. Still, the occasional touch of a shoulder or an arm would make the hairs on my neck stand up.
We finished and I was quick to pick up the bucket this time; backtracking was easy, I just had to follow the wet trail Chris had left on the wooden floor in the hallway.
"Uhm," was all he said and stopped to remove the worst dribbles with a handful of rags.
I got rid of the water and washed my hands before going to my room to find a dry shirt. Somebody had flung the wet one across the hamper to dry. Probably Tom in action. A quick look in the mirror convinced me that a bit of brushing was in order. Just enough to get rid of the last peels and untangle the hair enough to make a braid.
Chris' words about a 'next life' had touched off something in me. I really wanted to be free of my old life. Not that the dates were going to do the whole trick but it would be a step. I could ask Sonja to find out about the time limits.
I hadn't liked mirrors for a very, very long time and usually avoided looking the guy in the mirror in the eyes, even when I was shaving him. Only I hadn't realized that about myself, hadn't wanted to realize it. I drew a deep breath and looked at the redhead in the mirror. He looked like the usual me; it is odd how invisible changes can be. Suddenly I wanted the change to be visible, fed up with the hiding that sneaked in like poison behind everything I did and did not. I pulled the hair back, trying to imagine what it would look like if I had the mop chopped off.
"Are you really gonna do it?" Chris was looking at me from the open door. He eyed my hair with a critical eye.
Feeling caught, I didn't know what to say.
"It would look good on you. More distinguished, but you would loose some of that wild edge you have now...."
"Considering my new "next life" perhaps that wouldn't be such a bad thing." I finished making the braid. "Come let's eat. I'm starving."
He grinned and fell into step next to me. "Maybe Tom ate it all."
"Wouldn't he just regret that when I tell him about the cream and the butter."
"You use cream in the mashed potatoes?"
"Ah. Perhaps butter would improve the stuff that Joey makes with the powder."
"Powder?" I was horrified. "Powder?!"
Chris grinned, dark brown eyes dancing with mischief. "You wanna hear about my favorite homemade meal before, during or after we eat?"
"Definitely not at all. Powder! That hurts."
I hopped down the stairs. Tom looked up from stirring the pot. "What powder hurts?"
"I imagine that it has a very misleading "mashed potatoes" on the package." I washed my hands.
Chris chuckled. "In big red letters. It says "vitamins added" too."
"Ye gods!" I waited for the shiver to subside before removing emptying the two bowls of the hot water that I had put there to warm them.
Tom handed me a dish cloth. "What's so wrong about adding vitamins?"
"Adding vitamins? Now, that is a discussion of ideologies and basic values. Anyway, powder does not compare to this. Might as well eat plastic as powder. It shouldn't be mentioned in the same breath at all." I poured the mashed potatoes into the biggest bowl. "This is food." Tom helped scrape the last out. A Chris-finger appeared and snatched a dollop.
"Just checking if it needs salt," he said cheekily and put finger and dollop in his mouth - doing it so sensuously that I had to slam a lid on my thoughts in a hurry.
"Hm. Did you wash your hands?"
He stared at me with his finger still in his mouth. Then he smiled and pulled the finger out. Slowly. It glistened wetly. My thoughts reared, ready to take of in a very earthy direction. I put the lid on them as fast as I could. Was he doing it on purpose? "I used soap too." A pink tip tongue flickered across his lips.
I was speechless. Tom smiled. "And does it need salt?"
"I'm not sure...." Chris eyed the bowl and pouted when Tom put a lid on it.
When I poured the sauce in the other bowl Chris checked the salinity again. "Ouch." The sauce was steaming and he was quick to pull back the finger, leaving Tom room enough to get scrape the pot.
I had thought that Tom put the lids on the bowls as an illusory protection against salt checks but I was wrong. He did it in order to keep it warm, expecting us to eat the salad before the hot stuff.
I had made the salad to fit being eaten along with the hot food, it didn't really fit being eaten as a first course. Well, each man to his habits.
"Eat," I said and sat down. Tom humphed and sent me a glare I did not understand at all. "What?"
"I think he wants to say grace," Chris mumbled and quickly put the salad bowl back on the table.
Grace? That was not part of my vocabulary. I found out what it meant, though, when Tom said a quiet prayer of thanks. That left me a bit dumbfounded. Not knowing how taboo it was I figured this was not the time to ask questions about religion.
Judging by the way they shoveled the food into their mouths, it tasted all right.
I was going to do seed hunting before leaving, never mind how illegal it was. Those sweet peppers were good. "You tour a lot?" I asked Chris once I was sure that the food was acceptable.
"Mm." He nodded.
"How big is the show?"
"Man, it's a circus," he said and drank.
"Why didn't you say so! You must be used to be around animals. That's a qualifier."
He paused; the glass hung a few centimeters over the table. He sent me a questioning look, then the mirth exploded in his eyes. The glass came down slowly and the laughter broke free. Two seconds later Tom joined him.
"Yeah. I'm really just a trained monkey in disguise. You should se the other four." Chris grinned at me.
I smiled and tried to sound sincere. "Sorry."
"Don't be. They would love it. Animals!" He chuckled and picked up his fork. "What I meant is that we travel with a lot of staff and gear. Depending on the way things are arranged, we either go on a tour bus or on a plane. We spend a lot of time doing promotion."
"What do you do on stage?"
"Sing and dance, we are a vocal group." Chris got himself more sauce. "I could get both of you tickets for a concert. We start the next tour late in April though I might be able to get you tickets for an earlier show."
"That would be great." Tom said distantly. He was frowning and it looked like he tasted the mashed potatoes.
"I would really like to see you perform. Only, the problem is I probably go back to Europe around the twentieth of April, maybe earlier. What kind of music do you sing?"
His eyes swung from Tom to me. He smiled. "Pop-rock. Name is 'NSync?"
I shook my head. "No. Doesn't ring a bell."
"Well, you aren't exactly part of the main target group. You might like it anyway." He smiled. "I do."
"I'll give it a shot," I smiled back.
"How much butter did you put into this?" Tom suspiciously eyed the pile on his plate.
"Ah, three chunks? Just enough to get the right texture and flavor. I don't really know. Not a lot."
"Hm." He tasted the sauce.
Chris continued eating with gusto while watching Tom.
Tom, who still had that inward look of deep concentration on his face. "How much cream?"
"The answer is the same. Three dollops. Enough for the right texture and taste. Look, if you want, then I can weigh the approximate amounts on the kitchen weight and we can do calculations on it. There must be nutritional tables on the net. What are you used to eating?"
He took a tentative bite ignoring Chris who was grinning into his food. "Dishes out of packages. My mother doesn't do much cooking from scratch."
"You ever checked what it said on the boxes? I bet the amount of fat in that stuff is higher than in this and the natural vitamins are totally zapped in the processing."
He shrugged and took another bite. "This is good, anyway."
We ate for a while in silence. Chris kept throwing me penetrating looks.
"What kind of business are you in?" he finally asked.
"Mostly data security, administration systems and networks. We keep a web hotel and a design web sites too."
"There is only you and Kurt?" Tom asked and ate.
"No, there are a secretary and two programmers. It's not big. Sometimes we call in help, recruiting mainly from our fellow students. We haven't been seriously at it for more than a year or so."
"What does Kurt think about you haring off to baby-sit your grandmother's dogs like this?"
"Something like, "Hurray! Now I can have fun for two months!". He's upgrading our servers and probably redoing our entire system, trying out all sorts of smart ass solutions that would drive me up the wall during the test runs." I scraped the last food off my plate. "Besides it's not like I cannot work from here. I still keep and design the web sites and do some of the paper work. Our secretary is good at keeping the three nerds grounded.... And she can keep the books, which Kurt can't."
"You do low-budget home systems too?" asked Chris.
"I suppose. Why?"
"We have like three computers at Joey's place. I was just thinking that if we could set them up in a net we could really have fun playing."
"Wanna shoot one another up? Sure. You could probably do it yourself if you know a little about computers."
"I don't. It's all maths to me. Joey is hopeless and Lance... well, he could probably study up on it if he was interested enough. Which he isn't; I did try to talk him into it."
"If you are still interested when I have finished fixing Mormor's house, then we can look into it. Throw in a ticket for Mormor and I'll be real good."
"Sure." He smiled and pushed his own plate away.
"You are not taking Granny to a 'NSync concert?" Tom stared at me.
"Why not? Don't you think she'll want to?"
"She's past sixty and stuck in a fucking in a wheel chair!"
"I'll make sure it's for a show at one of the handicap-friendly places," Chris said. "Some of them have pretty good facilities for people in wheel chairs."
Tom shook his head. "Don't make it too much trouble. She likely won't go. She's an elderly woman, for heavens sake."
"She's been confined for so long. She'll be like shrunk in here." I knocked myself on the chest. "Doing things that she perceives as a little crazy will be good for her. Crazy stuff expands... the soul or what ever."
Chris nodded in agreement and pushed his plate away. "Best medicine there is. I know." I had no doubt that it was a medicine man that was speaking.
"Yeah, right. " Tom began stacking the plates. "And sometimes crazy stuff gets you into deep trouble. I'll fix the kitchen." He looked pointedly at me. "We never let guests fix the kitchen."
Chris aped my voice and accent. "And you went AWOL!"
Tom grinned and carried the plates over to the sink.
"Do you want to help me with the dogs?" I asked Chris.
There came a snap from the sink. "You are not having our guests clean the pups' enclosure."
I wasn't going to make any promises so I kept my mouth shut. Chris grinned and got up. He walked ahead of me out of the kitchen. Leika and Frida followed us to the back of the house.
"I'll show you how to clip their claws and groom their faces." I let the pups out of their enclosure. Chris and I sat down on the floor, surrounded by dogs. "Let us start with Violet. You can hold her while I fix the left hind paw. The claws need clipping. I've already done the other paws, one a day, pugs have really sensitive paws." Chris picked Violet up without having to ask which dog was which. I figured that I would leave Leika for last. She was the most docile and he could try his hand on her.
He liked doing the clipping a lot less than Leika liked having it done, which she basically didn't. "What if I cut too much?"
"Then she will bleed."
"Man." He looked sickened, but his hands were sure and she didn't bleed.
Tom came in just as a very relieved Chris put the clipper away. "What are you doing?"
"Grooming the dogs. Come, sit."
He came over and lowered himself stiffly into the sofa. Violet clambered onto his lap, he hugged her and watched what Chris and I were doing.
"It's easy for you to tell me that I have to feel them up and check for changes. I wouldn't know what changes feel like," mumbled Chris and stroked Leika in a slow and attentive way that made me wish for being a pug. "I mean.... Oh. I think there is something here."
"She has a little knot by the left hind leg, it's nothing to worry about. Mormor had the vet look at it."
"Ha. It was a test," he informed Leika, who didn't care what it was as long as he kept scratching her neck.
It was downright cozy sitting there with the dogs all around us. Even the pups calmed down, and Busta let Chris groom and pet her until she fell asleep. There was a soft quiet in his eyes when he bent his head to listen to the sound of Busta breathing.
When I had had enough I got up and began cleaning the pups' enclosure, making everything ready for the night. Chris and the pups exited cozy mood and went into play mood. I threw them out to play in the enclosure outside and Frida joined them.
Tom helped me. He appeared relaxed; dog snuggling apparently had a therapeutic effect on him as well.
"How are you?" I asked Tom.
"Fine. I just needed to think some things over. Are you going to let him have the pup?"
"I'd like to let him make an informed decision himself. It's still Mormor's choice, though." I sat down on the old sofa.
Tom sat down next to me. We could hear Chris and the dogs outside. Maybe the neighbors would have something to say tomorrow. "I nearly got a shock when I saw who was at the door." He smiled a little.
"You recognized him?"
"Yeah. 'NSync is pretty big in Europe. I am surprised you haven't heard of them. Didn't know his name, though, but I knew who he was. Maria has a huge poster of them on her wall." He leaned back looking thoughtfully at the ceiling. "Man, did she get mad at me the day I had drawn glasses and an ugly mustache on Justin. Justin is her favorite. I had to get her a new poster. I so hate her getting caught in the middle of this mess."
"She knows what is going on?"
"I doubt my parents have given her a fucking explanation. She probably doesn't understand shit."
"Exactly. Fucking shit. I'll have to find some way to contact her without bringing her in trouble." He sighed, red eyed but not really crying. "Do you think that Granny will let me stay?"
"I expect so, but then I don't really understand the relationships between you people in the American branch. She hasn't told Jennifer about the accident, has she?"
Tom shook his head. "They haven't really been on speaking terms for almost two years. Something to do with a man. Granny found a boyfriend and my mother and Annie got mad at her. I never met him."
"Hm. She hasn't mentioned anybody to me and neither has Sara. Why did they get angry?"
"I heard my mother call him a gold-digger...." Tom shrugged, telling me I shouldn't put too much into that. "Suddenly we never went visiting and Granny no longer came to our place. My mother got angry when Maria or I spoke about Granny, so we mostly didn't. It's not like we used to see one another a lot, mostly at birthdays. She and my parents never got along that well. Maria and I always found her a bit scary..." Tom yawned. "Sorry. I think I'll go to bed."
"Yeah. Tom, even if Granny should act up, I'll still help all that I can. Also, my mother and I set up an emergency fund in case Mormor wasn't as well off-"
"Don't. Right now you can't afford a lot of pride. I'm going to put a chunk in your account. That way you won't need to beg or answer questions. You can pay it back when you have a full time job."
He nodded. "Thanks. I already have about a thousand in the bank. I don't think my parents can get at them..."
"Ask at the bank tomorrow. We can drive by on our way to the hospital. You'll feel better if you are rid of the doubt."
He nodded and yawned again before getting to his feet. "I'm beat. I'll make myself a cup of tea and go to bed. Do you want anything?"
"What kind of tea?"
"Is there chamomile?"
"Yeah, I think I saw some in the cupboard over the fridge. Make a pot of coffee for me. Chamomile sucks."
He nodded and left. I got up intending to go outside to see what the wild gang was doing. When I was almost by the door, I was taken by surprise when the medicine man came running with the furry gang at his heels. We both tried an evasive maneuver. Unintentionally, I tripped him and he tumbled to the floor while I caught myself against the wall.
"Man," he mumbled, rolling onto his back, mindful of the eager gang that trampled him and found this behavior highly intriguing. "That was sneaky and evil."
"You alright?" He was... edible. Lickable. His shirt had twisted, baring a strip of naked warm belly. A dark few dark curls were visible and hinted at a narrow lovetrail from his navel and down. Flat on his back like that.... Follow the lovetrail, lick the all way.... I pushed away the persistent images that appeared in my head and wordlessly told my dick to shut up.
"Uhm. Yeah." He stared wide-eyed at me, had likely caught what the look on my face meant. "I'm alright." He rolled onto a sitting position. I pushed the door shut and turned the outside light off, mostly to do something that broke the stream of images. By the time I turned he had gotten to his feet and had covered his delicious belly.
I began picking up the pups and putting them in their enclosure. Chris helped.
He turned to me once the last one was in the enclosure. "What do I do from here? About Busta, I mean. When can we talk again or have you decided I cannot have the pup?"
"Talk it over with the pack-"
He interrupted me impatiently. "Dude. I already said I would."
He was so... like mercury. It made me feel like a slow plodding ham head, when I labored through my English. "You can call anytime. If any of us are at home you can come see the dogs. If you could make it over here in the morning you can help me train the pups."
"How early?" he asked me suspiciously.
"Uh. Just before first light?"
"Are you mad! Sure. I'll be here. Is tomorrow alright? I have to catch a plane at eleven. I could drop by on the way."
"Fine with me. Do you read? There are tons of books about dogs."
"I read. Know any titles?"
"I'll ask Mormor about the good ones. I can copy the links from her computer if you want. She has a lot of bookmarks..."
He followed me through the house. We met Tom and his mug coming the opposite way. He called good night and went into his room.
Chris sniffed and frowned while considering the message from his olfactory sense. "Chamomile?"
I nodded. "Do you want some?"
He smiled and shook his head. "I think I smell coffee too?"
We brought our coffee to the library and I hooked Mormor's computer up to the monitor and keyboard and powered it up. Chris browsed the shelves while I copied the links to a disk.
He was standing by the shelf reading a book when I finished.
What was it about him? He wasn't a looker, really. Not like Peter or I-don't-want-to-think-about-him-Martin-shit-I-did-it-anyway. It was just that he drew my attention.... When he moved the rhythm inside him became visible - like when he turned a page in that book. Or when he reached out without taking his eyes away from the book, picking up his mug with sure precision. His lips were soft against the rim; the pink tongue came out to lick them.... Whoa!
I punched the disk out of the computer. This wouldn't do. It wouldn't be right. For Busta's sake - I had to keep a cool head and cool pants. Not that he appeared interested.... Maybe you should ask, just to make sure.... No! I shut my dick up, again.
It was too long since I had gotten laid. This one is really nice. Nice to lick. Shut up!
Chris hadn't looked up when I ejected the disk. Maybe it was good book. I decided to check my mail to keep my attention elsewhere, while he looked through the books. Since I was sure there would be attachments, I hooked my own computer up to the monitor before going on-line. On impulse I reached for the remote and started the CD player. The opening tunes of Beethoven's violin concerto seeped softly out of the speakers.
Chris looked up and sent me a smile before returning to the book. Nice smile.
There were several mails; the most interesting one was from Jane. I went through the pictures she had attached. It would be a quick thing to finish their spring site; it was mostly done already.
Chris was still reading, only now he was sprawled decoratively in an armchair, one leg flung over the side of the chair and swinging slowly back and forth. Look at that cute little bulge.... Lick....
I went to work on Jane and Kamilla's site, desperately letting the work absorb me. I was still deep down when I was interrupted.
"Man, what is that?" Chris was standing behind me and looking over my shoulder.
"Jane and Kamilla's web site. They are a couple of our customers. They make clothes for people. I working on their spring site. They like their site to change every season. This time it is a major change because they have a new collection to present, and there is a change in the layout of the site."
"Hey, that's you! No - go back. Yes, it is you."
"That, that's just one of those no-faces Jane draws. I like her sketches." The drawing hadn't been in the batch they wanted on the site. It showed a set of light pants and a shirt that she thought she should make for me. The rough and dynamic lines would look great on the site. I had sent her an e-mail requesting more sketches.
"I don't care if he has a blob instead of a face with lot of red hair - it is you." He pushed my hand away from the mouse and activated the link to the gallery. "Ha. That's you too. You have an arrogant ass." He looked through the pictures. "Hey, these girls are good. They do their own designs?"
"Yes." Arrogant ass?
"Move over." He pulled up a chair. "I wanna see this. You mind?"
"No. Go ahead. It is mostly done. I was just checking it out to make sure everything worked."
I moved away so that he could sit in front of the screen and navigate the site. Everything seemed to work. Now I just needed optimizing the pictures.... Perhaps do a little processing of the sketches to enhance the contrast between handcraft and computer aided design, a contrast that was part of the theme for the site.
"What does it say?" Chris pointed to the text next to the picture of Jane.
"Hm. That's Jane and a few quotes. She wants to help people stay happy with who they are." I made a hash of the translation.
"Ah." He chose another link. "So this is the other one, Kamilla, telling about clothes?"
"Yes. They have different ideals, sort of. Kamilla is very much about making people stand out in a crowd. She is into the club scene..."
Kamilla's piece was filled with Danish word plays and made for a very clumsy translation. Maybe I should look into a proper translation while I had natives around. Kamilla had said something about wanting an English "annex", so it was likely just a matter of time before Jane came around and demanded one.
"Hm. Any of these girls speak English?"
I grinned. "Both of them, I should think. With Kamilla you'll have more luck with Spanish, in case you speak that. There is an e-mail address...."
"I gotta show Dani this. This has some of what I want."
"You need new clothes?" I popped the disk into my computer. "I'll put a link to the site on the disk. It'll be a couple of days before the site on-line is updated to this, though. Move over." He made room for me by the keyboard.
"What's that?" He pointed to the box that had appeared on the screen.
"Virus warning. Mormor's computer must be infected..." It was an ancient one; I killed it and had the antivirus program run a generic test on the disk. It found nothing. "There, it's clean. So - you want new clothes?"
"Well, no. Dani and I are looking for a concept. I want to start a business. Preparing for my next life, so to speak. It has to be something creative - something to do with music and visual arts, something that fits mass production too. Danielle is an old friend of mine; she'll be the head manager of the company. You finished with that?"
I moved away so he could get to the mouse.
"This isn't German."
"Danish. Denmark is a small splotch of land and islands just north of Germany. Are you aiming at the same target group as 'NSync?"
"Yeah. Seems like a pity if all that potential should go to waste. Besides, I've met a lot of our fans. I figured it should make it easier to make something that people like, knowing members of the target group in person."
"Tom said you were big on my side of the pond. Are you aiming at Europe?"
"I don't think so. No. I don't understand you Europeans the way I do Americans, and I am a beginner at this. Besides, 'NSync is about to break through over here. I figured Danielle and I could sort of ride the wave so that the business is up and running when the group crests."
"Hu. Like a launch pad.... What's the present status?"
"Man, we are scrambling. 'NSync is going to break through a lot before I thought. Pop groups like ours usually don't last for more than a couple of years and I want to start while the group is still on the up." He emphasized up with a gesture, the sleeve slid down, baring the warm skin of his arm.
His enthusiasm was fetching. "Sounds like a lot of fun." Running with the opportunity, I really like the feeling of that. "If you are into what-do-you-call-them rollercoasters?"
Chris grinned and nodded, braids bouncing. "Rollercoasters are great."
He pointed to the screen. "Say, who's the main target group of this?"
"There are a couple, really. Originally Jane and Kamilla wanted to hit everybody, but we had to narrow it a lot for this site. That makes for a lot of discussions with artsy types who want to improve the entire world. Actually, they had to rethink their entire concept.... You sure this won't bore you?"
"Go on. Target groups, concepts, clothes."
"It'll be easier to explain if you go back to the main page. That link. Yes." When somebody willingly will talk shop with me I am not one to back down. When that somebody is asking for it I get all warm and happy.
Chris turned out to have a quick and sharp mind, running ahead of mine a lot of the time. It was pure pleasure jumping to the challenge. I even forgot to pay attention to the solid leg that would touch mine every so often while we sat at the computer.
A couple of hours later we were in the soft chairs. Chris once again was sitting sideward with a swinging leg over the armrest. He seemed incapable of sitting still, except when he was in dog therapy. The talk had slowed somewhat and we had hit a moment of quiet. It wasn't unpleasant. Rather it was nice having a chance to let the things we had talked about settle.
I got up and put another CD in the player.
He cocked his head. "What's that?"
"Grieg's Peer Gynt."
I leafed through the jewel cases. "Hey..."
He smiled. "Wonder where Rose got that? No, don't change it, I want to hear that other one. It sounds good so far."
I pulled out the leaflet and studied it. "What's the 'get going' like?" I asked, referring to something we had talked about earlier.
"Uh." He looked at the ceiling for a moment, thinking, before his gaze returned to me. "When the audience is boiling and the energy is pumping, like, in a feed back loop between them and us, it's... incredible. Orgasmic." He shook his head and licked his lips. "I sound like Joey. It's really difficult to describe but it's the part of my job I like best. It's like we are as big as the universe..." He smiled, his eyes had acquired a new light and his happiness washed over me. "What?"
"Language confusion. What do you mean?"
"Shimmer? Like... electric air, a fata morgana. I think it is your happy-aura...."
"Yeah?" Still smiling he eyed me a little warily. "You read auras?"
He looked relieved when I shook my head. "I don't remember seeing one before." It could be a flashback. I thought I had gotten over those. Not that I minded this one. "Do you read auras?"
"No." He shook his head and repressed a yawn. "I have to go home. I was told that I have to be up way too early tomorrow."
"Before the Devil gets into his slippers."
He grinned. "Yeah." He got to his feet and I followed him out.
"See you tomorrow."
"Aye." I watched him when he walked to the car. He had a very neat walk. Springy and full of music. I really wanted to see him perform.
It would be a sweaty while before I could sleep.
* * * * *
End of chapter