"Taking care of you is literally what I was made for. You are the most important part of my life. You're my very best friend. I love you very much and all I would want to do if I were free is take care of you."
He threw his two stubby little arms around me, burying his face in my fur. "Promise me you won't ever leave me."
"I can't promise that I'llneverleave. There may come a time when you—"
"Okay, but just because I love you soooooo much." I pulled myself away from him and looked him straight in the eye. "I promise I will never, ever leave you. No matter what."
He hugged me tighter than he had before and held me the whole way home.
As I sat there, I thought about that box. Waiting for me. In the attic. Waiting for Ezra to be old enough to not need a tiger for a best friend anymore. To be old enough to want something more than plastic and steel whirring and chirping beneath microfiber fur. For when he'd want friends of flesh and blood to spend his life with. When he would realize that I was just a toy for children and not a companion for life.
But I was more than just a toy. Wasn't I?
I honestly didn't know.
DUH NANA NANA. DUH NANA NANA. DUH NANA NANA. DUH NANA NANA.
Chugging guitars bullied their way through the house, shaking the walls, rattling the windows, a tidal wave of sound flooding out the moment we opened the front door.
The Kinks. "You Really Got Me." It took a second. It really is the exact same song as "All Day and All of the Night," a fact Sylvia would point out once a year whenever she was planning her lectures on the incestuous nature of the '70s London music scene. She and Bradley both were humanities professors. He taught Latin, Greek, the literature of both, and their mythology. She held a Ph.D. in pop culture, with a focus on the music of the twentieth and twenty-first
This was the time of year when she would begin rattling on about Brian Eno, Iggy Pop, and David Bowie and how the breakup of one hitmaking group would invariably result in a genius album from another. Today she had clearly gotten to her lecture on the influence of the Kinks and how the rise and fall of Argent would breathe new life into their discography. It was a nice lecture, and it was a pleasure hearing it piecemeal every spring for the last six years as she rehearsed it while cranking their albums eighteen decibels higher than she should be.
I was hoping she hadn't already played the Argent. Ezra loved "God Gave Rock and Roll to You." Most arena rock, really. "They were meant to sing along to," he would say, echoing his mother. "Anyone can sing them. Even eight-year-olds." But "God Gave Rock and Roll to You" was a particular favorite.
I closed the door and loaded "You Really Got Me" into my audio profile, allowing me to filter out every sensor-shaking note. The house grew eerily quiet all at once, though Ezra's bobbing head made it quite clear that the music was still on full blast.
Sylvia danced around the corner, her hands balled into tiny fists, her shoulders bobbing with each chug of the guitar, a punk-rock disco queen lost in the rhythm of a song over a century old. Her eyes were pure light, her smile loving. Ezra was the very center of her world, as he was mine, and no matter how happy she was submerged in the soundscape of the Kinks before we'd gotten there, it was made all the better by his having dove into it at that moment along with her. She reached out to take his hands, pulling him into the living room, each step a dance.
"How was school, sweetie?" she yelled over the music, a fact made all the stranger to me as I was no longer hearing it. To my ears, she was someone shouting in an empty house, a woman gone entirely mad.
Ezra shrugged, his face a blank smile trying to hide his real feelings. Sylvia picked up on his dour mood immediately.
Jarvis, music volume eight," she said.
The music level dropped at once, the dull rattling of the windows falling silent. Sylvia fell to one knee an put her hands on Ezra's shoulders.
"What's wrong, baby?"
"Nothing," he said with the lilt of a buried sigh.
"Something's wrong. What is it?"
He tried to hold it together, he really did. But he couldn't. The dam burst, tears pouring out of the corners of his eyes, and he began, almost at once, sobbing. "I don't want Pounce to go!"
This excerpt ends on page 15 of the hardcover edition.
Monday, September 20th, we begin the book Scorpion by Christian Cantrell.