Home > Love in the Present Tense(8)

Love in the Present Tense(8)
Catherine Ryan Hyde

I waited a long time for her to answer. I thought she was just taking her time. I never heard her hang up the phone. Until I heard that dial tone I didn’t realize she had.

Twenty minutes after nine the following morning, I got a knock on the door. All of us were hard at work. Well, not all of us. Hannah and Cahill and me. Graff hadn’t found his way in yet. When did Graff ever fall in before ten a.m.? He’s the one I should’ve canned. Only he’s not the one who blew the FedEx pickup; that was Hannah. And I couldn’t fire her because she thought the sun rose and set on me. She’d have never been the same.

“Come in,” I said without getting up. But nobody did. “Come in.” I said it louder this time. All of our customers—that is, the very few who care to drop by in person—know enough to just barge through the door. I was thinking, goddamn Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was thinking one of these days I’d have to tie those suckers up or hold a gun to their heads and make them listen to my views for a change. See how they liked it.

I blasted out of my chair and over to the door. Threw it open. I was pissed.

On my doorstep was this little girl. Maybe sixteen years old. Or maybe as young as fifteen or as old as seventeen or eighteen. Maybe part black but definitely Asian, with the sweetest, deepest dark eyes. She was one seriously beautiful little girl. Hanging off one of her hands was the irrepressible Leonard.

I thought, this could not be Leonard’s mother. No way. Unless she had him when she was like, twelve. That’s not possible. Is it?

“Pearl?” I said.

“Maybe Leonard could stay here today. I’m still thinking.”

She walked past me and looked the place up and down.

Both Hannah and Cahill fell out of their seats and fell into line, like some kind of military inspection. Pearl inspired that. I introduced them both, but Pearl didn’t offer her hand to shake or anything. Just looked up at them like she was taking mental notes. Pearl was very small.

Meanwhile Cahill was giving me this look and I knew he was filing this as further evidence against me.

I introduced Leonard to the Avian Americans, as Cahill liked to call them. I had these two big cockatoos. A rosy Moluccan and a pure white. Pebbles and Zonker. I explained to Leonard with great care that Zonker was very nice and friendly but Pebbles had to be avoided at all costs. And I color-coded them for him. White good. Pink bad.

“Why is she bad?” he wanted to know.

“She bites,” I said.

“Hard?”

“Very hard. She has a beak that can crack walnuts.” He didn’t seem impressed. “Know what a walnut is?”

“Like a peanut?”

“No, much harder. She could break one of your little fingers.”

“Ouch,” he said.

I took Zonk down off the cage and he hopped rather eagerly onto Leonard’s head and preened at little bits of his spiky weed-hair, causing the kid to positively shriek with laughter and delight.

“Okay,” Pearl said. “He can stay here. I’ve decided it’s okay.”

She moved toward the door. Cahill gave me this snooty look, this kind of sarcastic thank-God-we-passed-muster thing. She was rude, there was no arguing that. No defending her.

“Leonard,” she said. “Got your inhaler?”

“Check,” he said, patting his shirt pocket. His shoulders popped up around his ears, like that would somehow make his head, with its big overwhelming bird ornament, disappear.

I took Zonker onto my fingers, put him back up on the cage.

Pearl stopped at the door and looked over her shoulder at me. Such a tiny, fragile beauty. “Mr. Doc,” she said. “Thank you. This is very nice.”

And she left before she could see how stunned I was to hear it.

Not ten minutes later Leonard stuck his hand out to the wrong bird and got it bitten. I was in the kitchen area starting a third pot of coffee. The shriek brought everybody running. Even Graff, who had managed to get his sorry ass into work by then.

Leonard held his little damaged finger up for me to see. It wasn’t broken. Actually it hadn’t even broken the skin. But there was a definite red mark.

“Go get him some ice,” I told Hannah. I was feeling a little better about Pebbles, because I knew that had not been her best shot. She had cut the poor kid a moment’s slack.

“Remember what I told you about Pebbles?” I said, wiping off his tears with the paper towel Hannah brought us and applying the ice, which made him wince.

“Yuh. You said she’d crack me like a nut.”

“Right. She’s the rosy one.”

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