Chapter 1

 

 

JEREMY RADCLIFFE could hardly see out the windshield. The wipers moved back and forth, but did little good. He turned on the radio and managed to find a station. The snowstorm had come out of nowhere, and according to the announcer, it was going to last for a while. Jeremy pulled off to the side of the interstate and got out, the door protesting the movement. He leaned over the windshield and wiped it clean of the wet snow with his bare hands. He cleaned the wipers and then jumped back into the car. Judging by the last sign he’d been able to read, the exit he needed was just ahead and he didn’t want to miss it.

It was easier going now that he could see, but he wasn’t sure how much longer that would last with the wind blowing right at him. He saw the sign for Wamego and breathed a sigh of relief. Putting on his blinker, he saw the lane for the exit materialize next to him and he slowly made his way over. He should have known better than to try to drive across the country in January in a car held together with duct tape and prayers. At least the heater was working, and he’d had the oil changed last month before everything went to complete and total hell. He pulled to a stop at the end of the ramp and saw the sign. It read that Wamego was to the left. His heart sank when he saw that he still had nine miles to go. The interstate had been bad enough, but the smaller roads were sure to be a worse mess. Jeremy put on his signal and made the turn.

Thankfully, the snow was no longer blowing right at him and the visibility picked up since the wipers could keep up now. The road ahead was dark and he kept to a safe speed, thankful that Petey was asleep in his car seat in the back, completely oblivious to the near panic that ran through Jeremy. He took a deep breath and did yet another mental inventory of what he had. Pushed up under the seat was all the money he had in the world. He’d sold everything he possibly could. He’d even let his cell phone lapse because paying the bill would have eaten into his dwindling supply of cash. He really regretted that now. After his mother’s funeral, he’d realized Petey, his little brother, was all he had in the world. In going through his mother’s things, he’d found the address and number for her brother in Kansas, his Uncle Milt. Jeremy had called him. Uncle Milt had sounded nice on the phone, and he’d said he’d help Jeremy if he needed it. Jeremy had thanked him, thinking he was just being polite, but then the world had caved in on him. He’d called again, not knowing what else to do, and his uncle had told him to come to Kansas.

Jeremy continued driving over the unfamiliar roads, becoming more and more nervous by the second. It seemed as though he’d been driving forever when the blowing snow got a green tinge and then turned yellow. Jeremy pressed the brake and prayed the car stopped. It slowed and he rolled to a stop at the traffic light. Letting out a sigh, Jeremy turned to check on Petey, and when the light turned green, he slowly inched his way forward. Some of the blowing snow abated in the shelter of the buildings, and Jeremy was able to see somewhat better. He pulled off the road and into a parking space.

“We made it, Petey,” Jeremy breathed, grateful his little brother was still asleep. He shifted on the seat and pulled out his wallet. There were just a few dollars in it, but the most important thing was his uncle’s phone number, scratched on a small Post-it Note.

It was gone. Jeremy began pulling things out of his wallet and stared. The number was gone. What was he supposed to do? Jeremy went through everything again and cringed. When they’d stopped for gas, he’d paid with cash and the Post-it Note must have stuck to the back of the bill. “Damn it,” he swore quietly.

He gathered up his things, put them back in the wallet, then looked outside the car windows. The snow swirled around. He unhooked his seat belt and shifted closer to the passenger window. He could see neon shining near him, and in between gusts of wind, he thought he could make out the words “Bar and Grill.”

“Jeremy?” Petey asked with a yawn and a stretch. “Are we there yet?”

“Almost, Petey. Are you hungry?” Petey nodded. Jeremy unhooked him from his car seat and helped him until he was standing on the tattered backseat upholstery. “Let’s get your coat, hat, and gloves on. It’s really windy outside.”

“What’s that?” Petey asked, pointing to the windows.

“Snow. Do you remember the white stuff on the top of the mountains a few days ago?”

Petey nodded.

“Well, that’s what it looks like up close,” Jeremy said. “It’s cold and wet so you need to bundle up good. Then we’ll go inside, get something to eat, and call Uncle Milt.”

Petey hated his hat and mittens but he was apparently too tired to argue with Jeremy, because he let him put them on without a fuss. Once Petey was dressed, Jeremy put on his own coat and hat.

“Will you stay right there a minute?” Jeremy asked. Petey nodded, and Jeremy opened the door and jumped outside.

The cold and wet went right through Jeremy’s thin jacket. He closed the car door, hurried around to Petey’s side, and pulled it open. He bent down and carefully took Petey in his arms. Jeremy hugged him close, closed the door, and dashed the short distance down the sidewalk to the restaurant.

A bell jingled cheerily when he opened the door and stepped inside. It closed behind him, and the few people inside all turned toward him for a second and then turned away again. The place looked like a combination of local diner and watering hole.

“Can I help you?” an older lady asked as she walked from behind the bar.

“Yes, ma’am. I’d like to get something to eat,” he said softly. She motioned him forward, and Jeremy followed her to a table. “Thank you.”

“Were you out in this mess?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am.” Jeremy set Petey in a chair.

“I’ll get you a booster seat,” she volunteered.

“Would you happen to have a phone book as well?” Jeremy looked at her hopefully.

“Sure,” she said with a nod. “I’ll bring it to you. Can I get you anything to drink?”

“A hot chocolate, please, with an extra cup,” Jeremy said and turned to Petey, who licked his lips.

“Sure, hon,” she said. She put a menu on the table and returned a minute later with a red plastic booster seat.

Jeremy helped Petey into it and then pushed his chair up to the table. Petey looked around and sat quietly, but Jeremy knew that would only last so long and then Petey’s natural energy would take over. Jeremy looked through the menu and did some quick mental math, knowing what he had in his wallet.

“I’ll get a hamburger and french fries, okay?” he said to Petey.

“Yes,” Petey said with a smile. Jeremy knew Petey would only eat a few bites of burger and some fries, and he could have the rest. When the waitress returned with the hot chocolate, she put down the mugs, a place mat and crayons for Petey—who immediately went to town on a drawing—and the phone book. Jeremy explained what they wanted to eat, and she flashed him a smile.

“If you don’t mind my asking, what brings you to town?”

Jeremy lowered his eyes to the table. “My mom died and I tried to take care of Petey on my own, but….” He stopped and raised his gaze, his pride kicking in. “My mom’s brother, Milt Radcliffe, lives here in town, and he said he’d help us. Do you know him?”

“I sure do,” she said with a smile. “Is that why you need the phone book?”

“Yeah. I lost his number.” Jeremy felt dumb, but he wasn’t about to explain that he couldn’t afford a cell phone or just about anything else at the moment.

“Don’t worry, hon. I can call him for you. Just give me a minute,” she said.

Jeremy watched her walk away and breathed a small sigh of relief. He saw her put in the order to the cook. She pulled a phone out from behind the bar, and Jeremy looked away in time to see Petey reaching for the hot chocolate. Jeremy moved it away. “It needs to cool so you don’t burn your mouth,” he explained. “I won’t drink yours, I promise.” Jeremy picked up his spoon and placed most of the whipped cream into Petey’s mug, then ladled in some of the hot chocolate. Once he’d transferred about a quarter of the rich liquid, he tested it and passed the mug over. “Use both hands and be careful, okay?”

Three-year-old Petey nodded, but Jeremy kept a close eye on him, making sure he didn’t spill from the mug. Petey drank and then lowered the mug, revealing a huge whipped cream and chocolate mustache on his upper lip. Petey smiled his toothy smile, licking his lips and making yummy sounds.

“You like that, huh?” the waitress asked as she appeared at the table. “Milt didn’t answer, but I have one of the guys at the bar calling his cell phone. Don’t you worry.” She smiled at Petey and he grinned back. “The food will be out in a few minutes.” The front door bell rang, but no one came in. “It’s the wind. If it blows just right, it does that sometimes.” She hurried over and pushed the door closed. “We need to have someone look at that door, Claude,” she said to an older man who’d just come out of the kitchen. He nodded and handed her a plate and went back in the kitchen.

“Hilda, I got Milt on the phone. He says he has a job he can’t leave but that he’ll be here in a few hours. Will you still be open?” said the man who’d been on the phone.

“We’re gonna close soon, but you tell him his kin will be just fine right here waiting for him,” she called across the room as she brought the plate and set it in front of Jeremy.

Jeremy’s eyes widened when he saw the massive portion he’d been given.

Hilda put a smaller plate in front of Petey and smiled. “Eat up and take your time. If I don’t tell them that I’m closing early now, I won’t get them out of here before doomsday.” She winked at Jeremy, walked back behind the bar, and started pouring drinks. Obviously no one was going anywhere in a great hurry.

Jeremy turned back to the plate and swallowed hard. He hadn’t been full since they’d left San Pedro. He placed some french fries on Petey’s plate. “Let them cool before you eat ’em.” He transferred some of the vegetables, as well, then cut up a portion of the hamburger and placed it on the plate too. He handed Petey a spoon, and Petey began to eat, blowing on everything before putting it into his mouth. Jeremy turned to the food on his plate and ate ravenously. If he wanted to get a chance to really eat, he had to do it while Petey was eating. Otherwise he’d have to entertain the toddler and there would be no time for him. “Is it good?”

Petey grinned and continued eating. He must have been hungry as well. Jeremy helped him drink some of the now lukewarm chocolate, then Petey went back to eating and Jeremy did the same.

By the time he’d cleaned the plate, Jeremy was stuffed to the gills. Hilda had refilled the hot chocolate, and Jeremy began to wonder if he had enough money. He thought about trying to go out to the car and get some more, but he couldn’t leave Petey, and it was warm in here. He didn’t have clothes for this kind of weather, and the thought of going back out in the blizzard made him shiver.

“Do you want anything else?” Hilda asked. “Maybe a piece of my homemade pie?”

Petey bounced in his chair, but Jeremy demurred. “No, thank you, ma’am. I don’t think I have—”

“Nonsense, hon. I put your bill on your uncle’s tab and I’ll handle it with him. So I’ll bring you some pie and maybe a small milkshake for the bottomless pit here.” She tickled Petey lightly, and he giggled and squirmed. Jeremy hoped he didn’t throw up. Petey had a tendency to do that when he got full and excited at the same time.

She hurried away and returned in a bit with a vanilla milkshake and a piece of pie, along with a plate. The warm apple pie smelled heavenly.

“No one bakes pie like Hilda,” one of the men at the bar said as he turned to look at Jeremy. He caught Jeremy’s eye for a few seconds and then turned back around. He wasn’t much older than Jeremy and seemed to be enjoying some of the same apple pie.

“You should know,” one of the other men said.

“I guess I would, since she’s my aunt and all.”

Jeremy watched the man get up and walk over his aunt where she stood by the cash register. He talked to her, then leaned down and kissed her on the cheek.

“You’re really going out in this mess?” she asked him.

“’Course, who else is going to clear the streets so you can get home? I’ve got the only dump truck in town, and I already put the snowplow on it.” He smiled at her and took the few steps to reach Jeremy and Petey. The man grinned at both of them, caught Jeremy’s eye once again, and then backed away. “Aunt Hilda will take good care of you, don’t you worry.” He turned and pulled the door open, then stepped outside. Cold air swirled through the restaurant.

“Shut the door—I’m not heating the outside,” Hilda called. Her nephew chuckled and pulled the door closed. Jeremy divided both the pie and the milkshake between himself and Petey. They ate and Jeremy looked around, wondering why everyone was being so nice.

As soon as the pie was gone, Petey squirmed to get down. As soon as Jeremy released the clasp on the booster seat, Petey slid under the table and took off at a run toward the back of the restaurant.

Jeremy jumped up and raced after him, catching his brother before he got into trouble. “You need to sit still and color for a while. Uncle Milt will be here soon.” Jeremy hadn’t seen his uncle in quite a while. He and his mother hadn’t gotten along and seemed to tolerate each other best when a thousand miles separated them. But Uncle Milt never forgot a Christmas or a birthday. Those cards and gifts had always arrived very nearly on the day.

Jeremy got Petey settled back in his seat to color.

“I remember when my kids were his age,” Hilda said from next to Petey. “They’d never sit still like he is.”

“This is sort of a miracle,” Jeremy said. “He never sits still for this long. It must be the strange place. At home he ran around all the time.” Jeremy stopped and swallowed hard. He and Petey didn’t have a home any longer. Everything they had was in the car outside. Suddenly Jeremy got very jittery. He stood up and walked to the door, peeking out into the swirling snow, relieved to see the car still parked in its space. He returned to the table, feeling a little foolish.

“Hon, no one here is gonna take anything from you,” she said softly.

“Sorry,” he said quietly, and Hilda smiled. “If they did, they’d have to answer to me… and no one wants to answer to me,” she said with a grin.

Jeremy settled back in his chair.

“Look, boys, the place is closing in half an hour, so have your last one and then get ready to face the music with your wives and sweethearts.”

“You say that every night,” one of the men at the bar said.

“And you’re here every night, so take the hint,” Hilda shot back. “The weather isn’t getting any better, so you all need to stop drinking and get yourselves home where it’s warm and safe.” She headed toward the bar and Jeremy picked up a crayon, drawing with Petey.

Half an hour later, most of the other customers were gone and Hilda had taken away the dishes. Jeremy and Petey sat at the table, coloring. Jeremy kept watching the door, and finally it opened and a huge man stepped inside.

“Jeremy,” the man said as soon as the door closed. He pushed off his hat and stepped closer. “You look exactly like your mother.”

“Uncle Milt,” Jeremy said quietly and then walked to the other man, who gathered him in his arms and held him tight. “I didn’t know where else to go and….”

“I know. It’s going to be okay now. I can promise you that: it’s going to be okay.”

Jeremy stepped away and walked back to the table. “Uncle Milt, this is Petey, my brother.”

His uncle paused and looked at him, totally shocked. “I didn’t know Clare had had another child.” He pulled out one of the chairs and sat next to Petey. “Thanks for taking care of them, Hilda.”

“Of course. No way we could let anyone go out alone on a night like this,” Hilda said. “Now you two take care of each other and come back when the weather’s better.”

“I surely will, ma’am. Your pie was amazing,” Jeremy said. He began gathering up their things and helped Petey into his coat. “Say thank you to Hilda.”

“Fanks, Hiwda,” Petey chirped, and Jeremy got him into his warm clothes and then put on his coat.

“I’m parked just outside,” Uncle Milt said. “You can follow me to the house.”

“Thank you. I didn’t know what else to do,” Jeremy said with a huge sense of relief. He thanked Hilda for everything again and then followed Milt outside. He pulled open the back door of his car and got Petey into his seat. Then he hurried around and started the car to warm it up. Then he began removing the snow from the windows with the sleeve of his jacket.

“Here. You’ll need one of these.”

Jeremy took the scraper and looked up into deep blue eyes. It was then that he noticed the rumble and saw the dump truck idling behind his car.

“Thanks,” Jeremy said.

“You should get some gloves and a better coat while you’re here.” The man smiled at him just like he had in the restaurant and then stepped back. He pulled open the dump truck door and climbed in. After he closed the door, he waved, and then he was gone. The truck moved on and Jeremy got busy brushing off the windows before he froze to death. He got in the car, the heater blasting warm air, put the scraper on the passenger side floor, and flexed his fingers. A pickup truck pulled out ahead of him, and Jeremy backed out of the parking spot and slowly followed his uncle.

“Where we go?” Petey asked from the backseat, bouncing around.

“With Uncle Milt,” Jeremy said. At least for now. He wasn’t sure how long they would be able to stay, but at least they were with family and Jeremy would have a chance to figure out what he was going to do. The roads hadn’t improved much. He wasn’t driving through as much snow as he had been, but it was hard to see and he made sure he kept the taillights in front of him in view. When the lights brightened, he slowed. They made a few turns, and then his uncle slowed to a stop. Jeremy wasn’t sure where he should park. He jumped slightly when Uncle Milt tapped on the window. Jeremy cranked it down.

“Just pull into the driveway right up by the door. I’ll help you unload your things.”

“Okay,” Jeremy said. Milt stepped back and Jeremy rolled up the window, then slowly pulled into the drive and turned off the engine. Jeremy leaned over the steering wheel and breathed a sigh of relief. After four days on the road, sleeping at rest stops to save money, and keeping Petey entertained with songs and time to run around, they could finally stop. “Come on, Petey, let’s go inside.” Jeremy opened the door and hurried around to the other side. He got Petey out of his car seat and lifted him into his arms.

“Hand me the keys,” Uncle Milt said, and Jeremy gave him the keys to the car. “Take him inside. I’ll be right behind you.”

Jeremy got Petey inside, out of the cold. He stood in his uncle’s kitchen, melting snow dripping from both of them. He set Petey on his feet. “Stay here and don’t run around, okay?”

Petey looked up at him and nodded. Jeremy kept his hands on Petey’s shoulders. He wasn’t really sure of the welcome they would get, and he didn’t want to make his uncle angry. Jeremy jumped when the back door opened and his uncle came in carrying two suitcases. He set them on the floor, then turned without saying a word and left again.

Jeremy was really starting to wonder what he’d gotten himself into. Had coming here been a good decision? He wasn’t sure. He tried not to get worked up; Petey would sense his nervousness and get upset. “Let’s get your coat off,” Jeremy said quietly when Petey began to get antsy. Jeremy knelt down and helped his brother out of his coat, hat, and gloves. He took off his own and wondered where he should put them. He settled for hanging them over the back of a chair and hoped that would be okay.

The back door opened again and his uncle trudged inside. He set down a stack of boxes. “I think that’s all,” Uncle Milt said, pulling the door closed. Then he began removing his coat and boots. “I’ll show you where you can put your things for the night.”

Jeremy nodded. Those words sent a chill through him colder than the wind outside. Well, he shouldn’t have expected his uncle to give them a permanent place to live. Regardless of what he’d said at the restaurant, his uncle had obviously taken pity on them for the night but expected them to leave in the morning. Uncle Milt bringing in everything from the car had given him hope, but maybe he did it only because of the cold and snow. Uncle Milt walked through the living room and down a hallway. He opened a door and stepped aside. “You can both use this room tonight.”

“Thanks,” Jeremy said.

“I’ll help you bring in your things,” Uncle Milt said before turning to leave.

“Petey, will you promise to stay right here?” Jeremy asked.

“I pwomise,” he said. Petey moved into the room and stood by the edge of the bed. There was no mischief in his expression, only some of the same confusion that Jeremy felt.

“Okay. I’m going to help Uncle Milt,” Jeremy said. He turned and walked back to the kitchen. He passed his uncle, who was carrying the suitcases, picked up some of the boxes, and took them to the room. His uncle placed the suitcases off to the side, and Jeremy set the boxes next to them. Petey hadn’t moved and was simply watching them.

“I’ll get the other boxes, and then you can get Petey ready for bed,” Uncle Milt said.

Jeremy knew that Petey wouldn’t settle down for a while, but he figured it was best to do as he was told. Jeremy got Petey’s suitcase and opened it on the floor. He rummaged carefully until he found a pair of pajamas and clean underwear. “Do you have to go?” he asked, and Petey nodded. Jeremy took him by the hand and looked at his uncle, who motioned to the door right across the hall. “Thanks.”

Uncle Milt nodded and left the room. Jeremy heard his uncle’s footsteps fade. Jeremy took Petey across the hall and into the bathroom. He let him go and then held him up while he washed his hands. Once Petey was done, Jeremy took him back to the bedroom and helped Petey get into his jammies. Then Jeremy took Petey’s hand and they walked out to the living room.

Uncle Milt sat in one of the chairs, deep in thought. Jeremy sat on the sofa and pulled Petey onto his lap.

“How long have you and Petey been on the road?”

“We left San Pedro four days ago.” Jeremy tightened his embrace. “Mom passed away about a month ago, and after that, all the stuff she’d hidden came to the surface. She hadn’t paid the mortgage in months, so when the bank found out she’d died, they foreclosed on the house. There was no money, and I only managed to save what I could put in my car. At least that was mine. Everything else is gone. I had a savings account, but I emptied it in case mom’s creditors came around.” Jeremy swallowed hard, and Petey turned around and hugged him around the neck. “I had a job, but it didn’t pay enough to allow me to get an apartment and put food on the table. And I had to take care of Petey.”

“So you called me,” Uncle Milt said.

“I didn’t know what else to do. Mom’s friends weren’t worth crap, and my friends couldn’t take Petey and me. You’re family, the only one I have, and I was hoping you’d be able to help until I can get a job and find a place of our own.” Jeremy rubbed Petey’s back. He knew he was asking a lot, maybe even the world, but he needed help and didn’t know where else to turn. He was twenty years old and needed to take care of his little brother. Petey came first as far as Jeremy was concerned.

“Of course you’re welcome to stay. But you know your mother and I didn’t get along very well,” Uncle Milt said. “We talked very seldom, and when we did she was usually asking for money.”

“She did that with everyone,” Jeremy said softly. “We had a parade of boyfriends through our house. Some were even decent guys, but Mom took what she could get from them and then moved on. That was good when the boyfriend was awful, but I always wished the good ones would stay. Luckily, most of them ignored me.”

“Do you know who your father is?” Uncle Milt asked, and Jeremy shook his head.

“I know who Petey’s father is because of the math, but he’s the biggest lowlife of them all.” Jeremy had often wondered how a scum like Herndon Janus could ever father a child as amazing as Petey.

“I want Mama,” Petey whispered. Talking about their mother in front of Petey always brought that response. Jeremy had explained things to him, but he knew that didn’t stop the longing. He felt it too.

“I know, but you know where she is,” Jeremy whispered.

“Wif the angels,” Petey said, lifting his head from Jeremy’s shoulder. “They should give her back.”

“I know,” Uncle Milt said and stood up from his chair. He walked over to where they sat and gently took Petey from him. To Jeremy’s surprise, Petey went to him without a fuss, curling up on Uncle Milt’s shoulder. “Let’s put him to bed, and then you and I can talk.” He walked toward the bedroom, and Jeremy followed.

Uncle Milt pulled down the covers and settled Petey on the bed. Jeremy searched in Petey’s suitcase, found his stuffed kitty, and handed it to him. The old animal had been loved and chewed to within an inch of its stuffing, but Petey cuddled it close and rolled onto his side. Uncle Milt left the room and Jeremy stayed with Petey a few minutes, lightly humming until he was sure Petey was asleep. Then he left the room, cracking the door so he could hear if Petey woke, before joining his uncle in the living room.

“I don’t know anything about kids,” his uncle said.

But Petey had taken to him, and Petey was a great judge of character.

“I know you don’t want us. I appreciate you helping us out tonight,” Jeremy said.

“Who says I don’t want you? Your mother and I didn’t get along for a lot of reasons,” Uncle Milt said, appearing slightly uncomfortable. “She and I disagreed on a number of things. I always thought she should take responsibility for the choices she made, and she hated the choices she thought I made. Hell, I didn’t know about Petey at all. That’s how little we’ve talked to each other.”

“But you never missed a birthday,” Jeremy said.

“Yeah. Why should you suffer because of the mother you had?”

“What did you and Mom fight about?” Jeremy asked.

“Clare hated that I left home and lived my own life. She lived with your grandparents until they died, sponging off them until they had nothing left. When they died, she took what was left and hightailed it for the West Coast. By that point, I was on my own and had bought this house. I was only a mile from Mom and Dad, but by the time they died, it might as well have been half a country. They listened to your mother about everything….” The hurt and anger in his voice were hard to miss. “But that had nothing to do with you.”

Jeremy fidgeted slightly in the chair. “Why did my mother not like you?” he asked softly. His mother had always spoken hatefully of Uncle Milt, when she’d spoken of him at all.

“I used to think the root of it was jealousy, but now I don’t think there was just one cause. Your mother was an unhappy person and she was always looking for the one thing that would change her life, be it men or some get-rich-quick scheme.” His uncle leaned forward in his chair. “I think the thing that sent her over the edge was when she found out I was gay. Clare expected Mom and Dad to disown me and then she’d be on top, but they were supportive and she wasn’t happy about that. I was already out of the house, so all she could do was hate me. Then, after Mom and Dad died, she left. We rarely spoke after that.”

“If you never spoke, how did you know where we lived?”

“I kept track of her on the Internet. She was still my sister, and I knew she’d had you. I guess I didn’t want her to completely poison you against the rest of the family. And now here you are.” His uncle stood and went into the kitchen. He returned with a beer and a Coke. He handed the Coke to Jeremy and sipped the beer before saying, “I know me being the way I am might be uncomfortable for you but….”

“Uncle Milt, I had gay friends in California. It’s no big deal.” He wasn’t ready to profess his own feelings yet, but at least he knew his uncle would be understanding. Jeremy knew his mother never had been, and now he knew at least part of the reason why. Whether he agreed with it or not was a completely different matter. His mother could be mean when she’d wanted to be, and she’d never been the most open-minded person. At least not that Jeremy remembered.

“Look, you and Petey are welcome to stay as long as you like. We’ll have to clean out the junk room, but then there will be another bedroom. Petey can have his own, and we can paint it up for him.”

“You aren’t going to throw us out in the morning?”

Uncle Milt shook his head. “Heavens no. You’re