An Army of Angels: Alex

AAOA cover (final)

4 – My Brother…Or My Father?

I sat in front of a computer at the public library, staring at the image on the monitor in disbelief.

He’s dead?

It couldn’t be. Finding Andrew was my last chance, my only chance of getting the answers I needed. My only chance to find out what the future held for me. There was no one else I could turn to, no one in whom I could confide.

I continued to stare at the image on the monitor. Andrew was chronologically older than me by almost ten years. His hair was longer and he had a beard now.

My hand went to my own hair. I saw my own reflection in the monitor as well. At first glance, we were no longer identical….

***

I hauled a squirming, soapy mutt from the washtub and turned the spray on him to rinse him off. The little ingrate managed to wiggle himself free of my grasp and shook his whole body violently, showering me with suds. “Dirty little rodent!” I laughed, hauling him up by the scruff of his neck and returning him to the rinsing sink. “Here I am, trying to be Mr. Nice Guy, and this is the thanks I get!”

“You really like these guys, don’t you?”

Recognizing her voice, I turned. Robyn stood in the doorway, watching me with open affection in her eyes. “Employees only allowed back here,” I said, looking around to make sure nobody on the staff had seen her come in.

“Relax,” she told me. “As I told you before, I have special status around here, thanks to my record number of adoptees. Nobody’s going to say anything.” She paused. “Except maybe hello, which would be better than I got from you just now.”

“Hello,” I offered weakly.

“Hello. Be ready to go soon?”

“Give me ten minutes–I don’t think you want me in your SUV like this.” I gestured toward my soaking wet clothing.

“I’ve had a lot worse in that old klunker.”

“Ten minutes.” I dashed off to change into the dry jeans and shirt I kept there for the days the dogs got rowdy.

***

“I was beginning to think you wouldn’t even come here for a visit,” Robyn said as she braked her SUV to a stop in the driveway.

“Did I ever say that?” I pushed open the door on the passenger side and climbed out just as her army of pets came charging across the yard to greet them.   “None of them bite, do they?” I called out to her.

“Some of them don’t even have teeth,” she laughed. “About half of these guys are really, really old. Old critters in shelters are hard to place–a shame, since they make such good pets.”

“Most people who come in are looking for puppies or kittens,” I agreed.

“They don’t know what they’re missing.”

I grabbed the grocery bags in the back seat as the animals ganged up on Robyn. She reached into her backpack and took out a large freezer bag full of treats, tossing them out. The animals grabbed them enthusiastically.

I followed her into the house via the torn screen door off the kitchen. The kitchen was big and cluttered. Jackets hung on the backs of the chairs. Food and water bowls were lined up against one wall. Dishes were piled up in the sink, and the trash can overflowed.

“I see Paulie forgot to take the trash out,” she observed with a shake of her head.

“I can do that,” I offered.

She nodded. “Great. There’s garbage cans out front, at the end of the drive,” she said, in case I hadn’t noticed them when we came in.

I nodded and gathered up the trash. It took me less than five minutes to do the task. “Any other odd jobs I can do while I’m here?” I asked when I returned to the house.

“Maybe after dinner.”

I loved her house. It was homey. Lived in. Very different from where I’d grown up. My parents’ home had been almost antiseptic. My father was a control freak who wanted perfect order at all times. I couldn’t remember ever being allowed to leave toys in the middle of the floor or get dirty at play.

“I’ve changed my mind,” I told Robyn over dinner.

“About what?” she asked.

“Your offer, if it’s still open,” I said. “I’d like to move in here–temporarily.”

She nodded. “Of course the offer stands. As you can see, there’s plenty of room.”

“For three?” I asked.

“Three?”

“I want to adopt two of my buddies from the shelter,” I explained, grinning. “But to do that, I’ve got to have a home to take them to.”

She laughed. “They got to you, didn’t they? Y’know, when anybody makes references to ‘dumb animals,’ I always find that funny, because they’re not dumb at all. They just speak a different language.” She passed me the potatoes I wasn’t able to reach in spite of my best efforts. “Sometimes, I think they conspire to get themselves adopted–like one turns to another and says, ‘Watch me get that sucker over there to take me home,’ or ‘Hey, he looks like he eats well. I’m going where the food is!’”

I nodded. “They probably do, at that.”

“So who’d you get snookered by?”

I laughed. “Snookered?”

“Don’t make fun of my vocabulary–that’s a word I got from my grandma,” she said, tossing scraps under the table, which created a feeding frenzy.

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” I assured her. “To answer your question, I’m taking Garfield and Odie.”

Garfield and Odie?” She roared with laughter. “You are kidding–”

“It fits, believe me. Wait’ll you see these two together,” I said. “The cat’s fat, lazy and manipulative, and the dog’s an idiot.”

“Apparently not so much of an idiot that he couldn’t do a snow job on you,” she pointed out.

“All right, so maybe he did.” I paused. “You have to see this mutt to believe him–he’s so dumb, you have to wonder how he managed to stay alive out on the streets. And the cat…broader than he is tall. No exaggeration.”

Robyn smiled. “I’m glad you changed your mind about this, Alex. I think you’ll be happy here.” She paused. “I should probably warn you, though.”

“Warn me?”

“This is as quiet as it will ever be around here,” she told me. “When everybody’s here, it can get pretty crazy.”

“I was sleeping in a bus station when you found me,” I reminded her. “Does it get crazier than that?”

She laughed. “You have a point.” Then: “I do think you’ll like it here, once you adjust to the chaos.”

“I know I will.” I paused. “This is the first home I’ve ever been in that actually felt like a home.”

She hesitated. “What about your own home?” she finally asked.

I shook my head. “That was more like a hospital than a home,” I remembered. “Sterile, antiseptic, never cozy. Never comfortable.”

“Sounds like fun.”

“Anything but,” I said. “My father had a thing about germs.”

“Like Howard Hughes?” she asked, recalling the eccentric millionaire’s descent into mental illness in his last years of life.

“Yeah. Times ten.”

Then I abruptly changed the subject. Again….

***

“My parents were hippies,” Robyn told me.

I thought she was joking at first. “Hippies? You mean–”

“Hippies,” she repeated. “Pot-smoking, peace-and-love believing, down-with-the-establishment hippies. They didn’t turn respectable and get married until I was twelve.”

I grinned. “You don’t act like a love child,” I told her.

She laughed. “How is a love child supposed to act?” she wanted to know.

I shrugged. “I don’t know…I just don’t think you act like one.” Take your foot out of your mouth, idiot, I told myself.

“I was born and raised in a commune. I’m the youngest of six kids. Mom and Dad said they decided to keep trying until they got a daughter,” she continued.

“You have five brothers?”

“Yes. Mom and Dad gave them weird names like Peace and Love. I was originally named Karma.”

“Karma?” I laughed aloud at that.

Robyn made a face. “We all changed our names as soon as we were legally able to do so.”

“So you have five older brothers…..”

“Yep. All big guys, too. Pro wrestlers.”

“Thanks for the warning,” I said. “They do know we’re, uh, just friends, right?”

Robyn gave me a look I didn’t quite understand. “Yeah,” she said. “They know.”

She sounded disappointed….

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