Disclaimer: The Animorphs and all related things belong to K.A. Applegate and Scholastic, not me. I just want to hang out in their world.
Author's Note: This piece is a sequel to "Whatever Else Cats and Children Need". This can be read alone, but for a clearer picture of how I have chosen to interpret Tobias' uncle, start with that story.
I suppose I should move back into the city. It's been about a year since those slugs blew it to kingdom come. There'll be plenty of work for someone in construction for a while, helping to get the place looking half-way normal again. You can't just snap your fingers and expect everything to be perfect again; someone's gotta put their sweat and blood into it before things get repaired.
Course, there's something else I should do back there. I'm not saying I wanna crawl back to her, I just wanna know if she's okay. Hope none of those space-men got her. I've had a year to find out, I just haven't yet. I'll get around to it, one of these days.
The house still kinda looks like it did when we were together, as few touches of flowery stuff that she didn't take with her. Not my style, but who cares, it's just a house. A place to stay when you're not working. I usually get back from work, when there is work, around four. I feed the cat right when I get back, because if I don't, I know I'm gonna wake up to claws in my face sometime around seven. Sack out on the couch for a couple of hours, crack open a few drinks and maybe take a nap. Order something to eat round eight, decide whether or not I wanna clean up and head out to a bar. But beer's cheaper in bulk, so I usually stay home. Consider calling her old number, but decide not to. I don't even know if it's still connected. If I'm in an ornery mood, I call up Sharon, and we bitch back and forth for a while, she calls me a bastard, I call her a whore, and that's that. Long distance calls are just kind of in the budget now. I pass out sometime around ten, make it to my bedroom if I feel like it, stay on the couch if I don't. Wake up in the morning when the cat won't shut up, shower, get dressed, and I'm ready to go. It's not a fancy life; I'm your basic white trash, I don't pretend to be anything else. But it's comfortable. It gets me from day to day with no fuss, and I guess if someone asked, I'd say I'm a happy guy. Or I'd say they should mind their own damn business. Either way.
But I do keep an ear out for word about him. Not that there is much floating around, not about him at least, but with the one year anniversary coming up, people are dredging it all up again. Right after it all came out, kids fighting brain slugs and space lizards and all that, a few reporters showed up at my door. I guess they dug out my address, and all the stations were paying big for anything about those kids. I slammed the door in their face; I don't need some suit sticking a microphone in my face and asking me why I raised the boy like I did. What do they know about it? Were they there? I'm not gonna talk about my personal business just to fill out their evening headline. I saw a couple of interviews with Sharon floating around, her preening to the camera and trying to make herself out to be some sort of goddamn Mother Mary, helping the fragile little orphan boy. Yeah, if she was so great, why didn't the boy go live with her afterwards? Just a thought, honey: if he chooses living in the woods eating rats over living with you, maybe you weren't such a fucking saint.
Course, he didn't go live with his mom either. She called here, once. Don't know how she got my number. She wanted to know if I had heard from him, and my first thought was that he must not have told her much about me. If he had, she woulda known he wasn't headed back here. Loren doesn't remember me, course, and in truth, I barely knew her the first time around. She was Sharon's baby sister, never really important in my mind till her kid got dropped into my lap. But I gotta admit I did feel bad for her, when she called. She sounded pretty sad over the phone.
"I just wanted to call and see if you've heard from him."
"Nope, can't say I have."
"Oh, okay. I just thought, since he lived with you for so long, he might have- anyway, if he does call or visit or anything like that, could you maybe… ask him to send a word my way? I just want to know if he's alright. I mean, I know he's not alright, but I-"
"Yeah, if I hear from him, I'll tell him to call you."
"I just hope he hasn't done anything…drastic. I know I wasn't able to be there for him, but he still has his friends and lots of people that care about him, and I know he loved that girl, but that doesn't mean he has to go off and-…and-"
She broke down then, and I could tell she was crying into the phone, but trying to sound like she wasn't, so I just sort of waited for a while, till she got herself together. Left me a number and address to give to him, or even for me to call if I heard anything. Can't imagine I'd ever hear anything before her, but I just kept agreeing until she finally hung up. Never been a big fan of criers. She has plenty to cry about, mind you, but doesn't mean I have to like listening to it.
Other then weird days like that, life just kinda goes on. By now, people are getting used to the whole space idea, so it's not the only thing you hear about all day. Course, the anniversary shook everything up. Everyone and their mother were trying to set up a memorial for the girl, show that they're in support of the kids. Not that they're kids anymore. Last month, the papers made a big to-do about his seventeenth birthday. Four years since I last saw him. He went off and fought a war, acted braver and stronger than most men could ever dream of. He lost it over the girl at the end, but can you blame him? He was a kid. Just a kid. And he had lost the love of his life.
I really should call Carla. They showed some maps on TV about where the damage was, and she lived right on the borderline between what got messed up and what didn't. Course, if she wanted to hear from me, she probably would have called. I'll think about it, see what feels right.
Work got called off cause of the anniversary. Some people were out in the streets with candles, wreathes and road-side crosses scattered everywhere. They didn't know the girl, who were they to cry for her? They spend the rest of their time happy as hell that they're still alive, that the Earth is still in one piece, that a bunch of kids were able to hold off doomsday, but today they all had to look sad. Me, I'm not gonna pretend. This was just one more day. I went home, fed the cat, and sacked out on the couch with a couple of beers. I even woke up at eight as usual, although I probably should have woken up at the noise earlier. I walked into the kitchen, reaching for the phone before my eyes were all the way open, but when they did open, I stopped still in my tracks.
He looked just like he did the day he left, sitting at a kitchen table like he could of just woken up for school. Different table, different house, but the same kid. Thirteen and not a day older; same hair, same face, same skinny body. The eyes were turned down, looking at the cat curled up in his lap, purring and kneading its claws into the pair of tattered up jeans. I just stood there for a minute, taking him in. The cat acknowledged me before he did, glaring at me like he always does. The boy's gaze followed the cat's, and suddenly I was looking into what seemed like the deadest pair of eyes I'd seen in years. His voice rasped when he used it, like he was so unused to the act of talking.
"You really should keep your windows shut. Birds could get in."