I flicked the one I was sitting next to with a fingernail. Tap tap. “What are these pots made of?”
He looked at them cursorily and shrugged. “No clue. I do cars and critters, you know? My front yard is cars and my back yard has been kind of redesigned by the dogs. Bonnie, our office manager at the garage, she has a couple big flowerpots by the door, and we built her a skinny flowerbed on top of the wall at the edge of forecourt for her fiftieth birthday. The rest of us just let her get on with it.”
I stood up. Okay, whatever. But I still had six rose-bushes. I lifted the sixth. My fingers didn’t pop and my ankles didn’t shatter. Small was good. “Can you bear to help me carry these upstairs too? I’d hate the deer to get them, their first night.”
“Yep,” he said and, like the gentleman he clearly was, yanked up the first one, in her big heavy pot. “And then we better get going back.”
My entire body clenched, but that was just the weight of the rose-bush—and the concentration needed for picking my way through the ruts of the driveway and then starting up the steep stairs. Mike, behind me, said, “You want to get these ruts filled in before next winter or your driveway is going to implode into the next universe and while it’s maybe a good way to keep visitors you don’t want away nobody, and that would include me, is gonna plough it for you.”
“Also,” I said, trying not to gasp because he wasn’t, “you’ll be really pissed off if Merry falls into some other universe.”
“That too,” he said. “But I was trying not to sound like a guy.”
I would have laughed if I had any breath to spare. “D’you sound like a guy a lot?”
“Cars,” he said. “Also. You know. Football. Baseball. Stuff.”
Gelasio had been even less interested in football than I was, which was really getting into the negative numbers, but I at least knew who the Giants were because my dad watched some of their games. If you said ‘Dodger’ to Gelasio he thought ‘Artful’. He wasn’t much of a fiction person but he read Charles Dickens. Gelasio didn’t believe in stairs though. If there wasn’t an elevator he didn’t go there. I was pleased to notice Mike was a little out of breath. I wondered what a guy kind of guy thought of Serena’s boa constrictor. Or maybe it was the pear and ginger crumble and the chocolate cake which was rumored to be better than Eats’ that riveted his attention. I could understand that. I was sure the pear and ginger crumble had a wide fan base.
I managed to jiggle the door open again without putting my rose-bush down. When I put her down I wasn’t going to pick her up again. Then I had to fend off Sid, who suspected when I’d moved the box propping the door open it was because she was being left out of something interesting. This was the moment for those panniers, but I hadn’t planned ahead. But I hadn’t planned for six potted rose-bushes at all.
Unfortunately bringing the next two pairs of rose-bushes upstairs went way too quickly, however determinedly I loitered on the stairs favoring my ankle, my knee and my blisters. My hands were not shaking as I put Sid’s lead back on. I could hear Mike talking to Caedmon in that guy way they do with machinery they understand and a creak followed by a clunk which I assumed was the wood-box door opening and closing again.
“Okay,” said Mike. “He’ll do.”
He? I thought.
“He’s burning nice and quiet. You can just leave him overnight and tomorrow morning when you want a little burst of heat—”
Or a big burst of heat, I thought. There, that’s why I was trembling. Nothing to do with fear—it would be DARK by the time we got back here tonight—supposing the road was wide enough for Merry and we didn’t just fall off into a cow field—nothing to do with any of that. I was cold. I folded my arms and tucked my hands under my elbows.
“—you pull the lever like I showed you, open the door and throw in some more wood. It’ll blaze right up. You got plenty of wood for a few days—”
Like I’m going to climb under the house to fetch it? With the giant millipedes, Shelob-sized black widow spiders, deinonychus and Shub-Niggurath? I could wait till Hayley got here tomorrow night. Supposing I hadn’t done a de la Poer by then with Sheila and was residing in a small dank cell with a straitjacket for company. No, no, I had a dog. It was hard to mix dog food in a straitjacket. I had to behave in a socially acceptable manner.
“But there’s enough in the kitchen now to see you through tomorrow morning.”
Mike looked at me. I was pretty sure I saw sympathy in his face. The Divorce Club. All the best people belong. “Ready?” he said.
I clutched Sid’s lead. I nodded again.
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