The next morning, Sagebear was tearing through the snow in the front yard, causing it to fly in large quantities. She was that determined to find the tennis ball that had been thrown for her.
“Come here, puppy! Give Daddy the ball!” Shark stood in front of the porch steps, patting his large thighs to get her to come back over.
Immediately, Sagebear ripped back towards him, her tennis ball in her mouth. When she got close enough to him, she stopped and dropped it at his feet.
He scratched behind her ears before picking it up. “Good girl!” Then his cheery mood dissipated when he heard the front door open again.
“I’m going to Blaise’s. I’ll, uh…I’ll be back soon.” Dennis didn’t receive an answer as he left the property. He did wave to Sagebear as he passed by her.
Sinbad casually stirred his bowl of oatmeal while watching Marc fix his own breakfast. He was a little set off at how bland the contents of the bowl was.
“You got any sugar or cinnamon, or…I don’t know, something?” He was also reminded of how often he made this for Shark. It always seemed to help him in some way when it was part of breakfast in bed.
He was then handed a shaker of what smelled like a mixture of both things he suggested. Deciding that was fine, he lightly shook a little bit into his food.
“If you’re hurting for meat that badly, I can always get you some bacon or sausage-”
But Sinbad just waved him off. “It’s cool. I’ve eaten worse things. Oatmeal’s pretty good.”
Marc just nodded. “Just say the word if you change your mind.”
After this came silence. Sinbad wasn’t entirely sure what he could bring up with Marc for conversation. Then he thought of the most important topic he could think of:
“So you never really told me how you started living here.”
Stopping at the counter, Marc set down what appeared to be a bottle of medication. He then placed his hands on the counter, and leaned forward.
“I think it was…around the time Amy started up her little plot. While she was trying to get me to take the fall, I find out I’m about to lose my house to foreclosure, or something.
“Which is weird, because I’m pretty sure I was making payments to the right people…” He shook his head to keep from digressing. “Anyway, I lose my house as a result, and I find out I’m discharged from my job because of health problems.”
Waiting for him to continue, Sinbad quietly spooned some oatmeal into his mouth. The addition of a few spices made it less tasteless.
“So you lost your job, and your house. Then Amy got on your ass for a kid that wasn’t yours, and you had health problems. Then what?”
The tone of Marc’s voice almost seemed to drop considerably. “Then…One night I’m at the Esplanade, thinking about, uh… ‘going for a swim’.”
It was clear what this was a euphemism for. All Sinbad could say to this was an astounded, “…Shit.”
Marc went on. “I guess at that point, Mister Clay was out on a walk. He probably recognized me, and…” He stopped again, this time to swallow his medication. “And he…I guess he caught me just in time.”
“Might want to define ‘just in time’, man,” Sinbad mumbled through a mouthful of his remaining oatmeal.
A shuddering breath preceded the words Marc said next:
“He caught me right before I hit the water.” Marc turned to face Sinbad again. “I forget what exactly he said, but it amounted to, ‘Don’t take the coward’s way out’. Then he offered me a place here and…here I am.”
Sinbad could only nod at the story’s resolution. He then remembered something he realized was something of utmost importance.
“I think Mister Clay called…either yesterday or the other day,” he mentioned while he stood up to put his empty bowl into the sink. “I dunno. He sounded like Big Boss, and asked if you were home.
Marc’s eyes widened. “He called while I was out? What’d he say?”
It had seemed like hours when Annette finally emerged from the hidden room.
After a few more surveillance videos, Horse-Face’s companion stated he was tired of sitting still. As soon as he left, Annette had taken her leave.
Making sure The Builder was nowhere in sight, she quietly skittered all the way to the kitchen. This time, none of the assistants came out to bother her.
When she reached the kitchen, she was startled at what she saw. Next to the door was a mask and ox horns, sitting on the floor.
“Ox-Head?” The big, blank eyes turned to the direction of her voice. He was a sight, kneeling on a chair while watching a pot filled with water and eggs on the stove. “I thought you went to bed.”
“I did!” His voice was cheery once more, a stark contrast from last time she heard him. “I tried to sleep, but someone kept pinching me. Then I wake up, and I think I was pinching myself.”
He then leaned over to check how his eggs were doing. “Can you do that? Can you pinch yourself in your sleep?”
“Um…” Annette approached him, eyeing a jar of mayonnaise and bowls with other ingredients. “I think so. Anyway, what would you be concocting here?”
Slapping his hands on the chair in rhythm, Ox-Head hummed a bit before answering. “I think it’s…It’s…Uh, some kind of salad, I think. It’s Russian?”
“Salad Olivier, I assume?”
He perked up at her answer. “Yeah! That one!” He then abruptly fell off his chair. Annette stood over him, watching awkwardly as he flailed and kicked like an asphyxiating turtle.
“You need any help getting up?” He shook his head. After rocking back and forth a few times, Ox-Head got back onto his feet.
“So how’s your newest odd job going, Blaise?” Alma had taken the day off from work for a ‘personal day’. As a result, she was now relaxing on the couch watching TV.
“Eh, could be better. Ya know me. It doesn’t really interest me unless there’s fire involved.”
Alma chuckled, knowing the truth behind this. “Yes, I know. Well, just do the best you can, and come home safe when you’re done, all right?”
Right after she hung up, Alma heard a familiar knock at the door. Making sure she was presentable, she went to answer.
“Oh, Dennis! Hello there,” she happily chirped as she led him into the house. “Have you talked to your son yet?”
“No, not yet,” Dennis answered as he took a seat at the nearest table. “Soon, though! I just thought I’d get something else done that’s been bothering me for some time now.”
Hearing Dennis had another problem concerned Alma. She sat across from him and waited to hear more.
“Is, um…Is Blaise home?”
“No, she isn’t. But if something is on your mind, perhaps you could tell me?”
Dennis scratched his arm in nervousness, trying to find the best way to start. “Well you see, Miss Alma…”
By the time Sagebear caught the ball a few more times, it was clear she was spent.
“You tired, puppy? Wanna go back inside where it’s warm? Huh?” Shark bent down to scratch behind her ears. “All right, let’s go inside. I bet you’re getting hungry.”
With that, he picked her up and re-entered the house. As soon as Sagebear’s paws touched the floor again, she rolled over onto her back.
“Oh, you want a belly rub now? Okay.” He got to his knees, and began doing so. Sagebear’s tongue lolled out, happy at the treatment she was getting.
While he was rubbing her belly, Shark started singing what he hoped was an appropriate song for her:
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.” Her leg kicked in the air when he scratched the right spot on her. “You make me happy, when skies are gray…”
He pulled his hand back, letting her jump up into his lap. He started petting her again as he continued.
“You’ll never know dear, how much I love you,” he sang as she licked his face.
“Please don’t take, my sunshine away.”
“So Mister Clay’s coming home, eh?” Marc and Sinbad were sitting on the couch now, wondering whether to turn the TV on or not. “He didn’t say when exactly, did he?”
Sinbad stated that he didn’t. “Just said he’d be home in a few days.”
Marc nodded, before his eyes bulged again. He jumped to his feet and began running for the door.
“What? What is it?” Sinbad couldn’t figure out why Marc was suddenly so worried and up in arms.
“I just remembered! Mister Clay wanted me to order some things for him for when he got back! And I haven’t done that yet!” Joining him, Sinbad tried to reassure him, to no avail. “Come on! Maybe you can help me get everything I need!”
Still perplexed by the shift in mood, all Sinbad could say was “Um, okay…” As he went out the door with him.
(Chapter has been cut due to length)