“Well, I don’t live in it yet,” I replied, possibly with asperity. I’d wasted five whole minutes chatting.
“That’s what I’m here for,” he said. “You got something to prop the door open? I’ll just bring stuff up and stack it inside, yeah?”
“Er,” I said. I’d closed the door against the draft. I moved one of the few pathetic boxes I’d brought up back in front of the door, by which time Mike was halfway up the stairs again with a book box and some dangerously-teetering dog food balanced on top of it. I hadn’t realised garage work gave you that kind of stamina. He set them down and turned back to the stairs. “Um,” I said.
He looked at me, eyebrows raised.
“Um,” I said again. “Why are you here?”
An expression it took me a moment to translate crept over his face. Sheepish. He looked sheepish. It made him look about eighteen. No, sixteen. “Serena likes you,” he said. “And I like Serena.”
“Ah,” I said, but he was gone down the stairs again.
Things went a lot faster after that. Boxes seemed to be steaming up the stairs by themselves, although I heard the tramp of human feet often enough not to get too worried about this possibility. (If one of them broke open revealing cascades of burgundy velvet and cream lace, then I’d worry.) Mike was booming along at such a rate that I’d only get in his way if I tried to help, so I settled cravenly for moving the boxes he heaved through the door a little further toward their eventual location, kitchen, parlour, bed, books. I did pelt down the stairs to the van once, avoiding Mike like Jason and Gwen dodging the chompers, with a box I’d emptied, and scooped up all the freshly-revealed loose plastic bags of underwear and t-shirts and a few pairs of All-Stars that hadn’t fit into the All-Stars box, and a few odds and ends I couldn’t remember ever having seen before, let alone expending valuable van space on, like the little silky bag of what looked like hair ribbons. Hair ribbons? I hadn’t held still for a hair ribbon since my mother had a brief spasm of pigtails when I was about six. Flowerhair had been known to indulge in hair ribbons. Not me. Well, little silky bags of what might be hair ribbons don’t take up much space.
By the time I’d tottered up the stairs again with my feeble addition to the mêlée there was a wall of boxes inside the front door. Between it and the house wall I could see something tall and narrow; I’d decided at the last minute to save my cheap but nicely framed Burne-Jones and Margaret MacDonald repro prints. I put my minimal contribution at the foot of the stairs to the second floor with the two other boxes of clothing and headed for the kitchen. I wanted my cup of tea and I wanted to offer Mike a sandwich, which meant I needed to take inventory of what had come out this trip that you could make a sandwich with. In light of Mike’s heroism I was even willing to sacrifice Eats’ muffins.
Sid reappeared from wherever she had been, terrorising the indoor vermin or possibly making friends with the madwoman in the attic. I wondered if she recognised a kitchen as a Place Where Food Happens (although her previous owner didn’t sound like the kind of person who would want a dog just hanging out being a dog) or whether she was learning the rustle of a biodegradable Godzilla Food grocery bag. I was holding a bag containing the end of a loaf of bread that Sid had had most of already, a can of parsnip soup and a tin of what should be rather good ham. She caught my eye and sat. Busted.
“You just ate,” I said. She gave me a that was dog food look and remained sitting.
“I don’t approve of feeding dogs ham,” I said. “But there might be more dog food.” I rummaged, and came up with a bag of Supa-Vit Chickee Deelite and a can of Blood and Chrome (“Make Your Dog a Galactic Hero!”). I rinsed out the brownie pan. I might still have my old brownie pan. It was green china with white polka dots and I could remember trying to decide whether it reminded me too much of late nights with Gelasio watching Galaxy Quest and Red Sonja and Serenity and eating brownies, but I couldn’t remember what I’d decided.
When I set it down Sid looked at it a minute, and then looked at me. “Yes,” I said. “It’s more dog food. It’s good for you. Muffins are not good for you.” Sid gave me a I would dispute that look, but she did then deign to eat her dog food. I put more water in her bowl and went to find Mike.
I found him setting another book box down. When he straightened up and spoke I was relieved that he was a little out of breath. “Your neighbors are here,” he said. “I thought I’d warn you.”
“They are?” I said in surprise. “Hayley said they’re never here. Uh . . . warn me?”
“Yeah,” he said.
Please join the discussion at Robin McKinley's Web Forum.