Merle stretched out the measuring tape and got the
dimensions of the huge family space, then paced it off into dining and living
areas. Once he had enough measurements to buy rugs, he wandered past the big
island into the kitchen and opened each cabinet. His mind filled in the spaces
with dishes and pots and pans—yeah, a lot of stuff he didn’t have. His current
apartment in Santa Monica was still a transition space from starving-actor digs
to TV-star quarters. TV star? He snorted softly. More like vampire of the
month. Of course, he’d been lucky enough to be vampire of the month for two
I’m killing time.
Go down to Ru’s studio and take him to lunch.
“Want part of my sandwich, Merle?”
He looked up into the truly pretty face smiling at him
from the other side of the island. “I don’t want to take your lunch, Tom. I’ll
go get some.”
“It’s okay. I made two sandwiches, so there’s lots.”
I should go, but—“Sure,
I’d love half of your sandwich. What kind is it?”
“I’ve got peanut butter and I’ve got avocado and cheese.”
“Which kind do you like best?”
“I like them both.”
“I’ll take avocado.” He looked around the big room still
covered in drywall dust, nails, and wood shavings. “Where shall we sit?”
Tom made a waggling motion with his finger.
Merle cocked his head and walked around the island to
where Tom stood, towering over him. Suddenly he was flying through the air and
made a little gasping sound as Tom sat him on top of the island, then grinned
and easily hopped up beside him. Merle laughed. “No fair.”
“Oh, didn’t you like it?” Tom looked serious.
“I’m teasing you. I just meant it’s funny that you’re so
much bigger than me.”
He shrugged. “I’m much bigger than anybody—except Billy.
I’m just a little bigger than him.” He handed over his half sandwich. It was on
some kind of multigrain bread and appeared to have cheese that wasn’t American.
“This looks delicious.”
“Mrs. Allison taught me to make it.”
“Who’s that?” He took a bite and was very happy he did.
“The lady I live with.”
“Oh, you live with a lady?” Duh, Merle.
“She owns the house, and I rent a room from her.” He
chewed his peanut butter, which also looked like it might have some organic
roots. “I help her with stuff, and she helps me too. Like teaching me about
food and water and how to feed the boys.”
“How many dogs?”
“Two. Fluffy and Tigger. I got them from the shelter where
I work sometimes.”
“Most landladies don’t let you have dogs.”
“Mrs. A. is really nice. She doesn’t want me to have big
dogs, though. Wish I could.” He chewed thoughtfully.
“You could probably get an apartment or house with enough
space for bigger dogs if you want them.”
He shook his head matter-of-factly. “No. Can’t afford
“I guess rentals in Laguna are pretty high.”
“Yeah, but Billy pays me good. I just need the money for
my folks to take care of Lily.”
“Right.” He grinned like he was happy Merle knew her
name. They chewed companionably. “You’re on TV, right?”
“I don’t see TV much, but I’m going to watch this week.
Mrs. Allison said I can.”
Why did his saying things like that wring Merle’s heart?
“Do you like movies?”
“Oh yes. I go to movies sometimes.”
“What kind do you like?”
“All kinds. Except the ones with the words. I’m not so
good at that.”
Merle’s glance snapped to Tom’s face, but Tom didn’t seem
to be complaining or confessing. Just stating a fact. “Do you have trouble reading?”
He tried to ask it with great nonchalance.
“Yes. That’s how Billy and I got to be friends. He
doesn’t read so good either.” He grinned. “But we’re better now.”
“May I ask you a personal question? You don’t have to
“Sure, Merle. You’re my friend.”
Again, that thump on his heart. “I know you passed the
electrician’s exam. Billy tells me that’s really hard. If you have trouble
reading, how were you able to do it?”
“Mrs. A. read it to me.”
He looked up from licking his fingers clean of avocado.
“I gave her the tests that were like samples, and she
read them to me. And she read all the handbooks too. Then a nice guy named Burt
read me the questions on the test, and I said the answers out loud.”
“So you learned everything when Mrs., uh, A. read it to
“Um-hm. I remember really good.” He finished the last
bite of his avocado. “Most people don’t, you know?”
Merle grinned. “Yes, I do know.”
“Do you like being on TV?”
“Yes. It’s a good job. Long hours, but I get time off
sometimes. Like now.” Funny. He wanted to tell Tom. “I might have a chance to
make a movie.”
Tom’s whole face lit up. “That would be really good,
right? Would you like that?”
“Yes, it’d be a step up in my career. And the guy
directing the movie is very well-known and respected.” He glanced over. Did Tom
have the slightest idea what he just said?
“Do you like him?”
Merle smiled. Leave it to Tom to get to the heart of the