The humid air clung to everything in the room small well-appointed room. On the battered nightstand a buxom bovine smiled from a picture frame. Next to her a taller heavy set bull with dark eyes gazed out menacingly from the frame. Tom looked at the picture for some time as the faint sound of a running shower whispered with the fan's low chorus. As he looked at it he smirked knowing that what that bull didn't know wouldn't hurt him.
The young tiger stretched his lithe nude form across the damp tangled sheets as he yawned contentedly. Tonight was certainly a night of firsts for the eighteen year old. It was the first time he'd ever been in a woman's room that wasn't family. It was the first time he'd ever felt a meaningful kiss or the hot breath of a lover on his chest. It would, he reasoned, probably be the first time he'd ever have to explain why there were little red marks on his neck or why he was home so late.
None of that mattered of course. Tom sighed, hummed, and ran his nails over his black and white striped shoulder, his blue eyes gazed up at the barren white ceiling. He inhaled the sweet scent of the night's air and their love making. At that moment all was right with the world. He didn't think he could feel any better than he did.
"Hey baby, can you hand me a towel," called the sweet southern voice from the bathroom.
"Yeah, no problem," the teenager called back as he got up walking spryly to the closet and grabbing a frayed white towel. "Do you want anything else," asked the attentive tiger.
Tom smiled as he picked up his stride and handed the towel to the out stretched arm. "There you are," He said placing a small kiss on the wrist and heard a small giggle in return.
"You know hon, this is probably the best night of my life. But, well, why do you need a towel? I mean I think we both saw everything we had just a bit ago right?"
The bathroom door creaked open the rest of the way as the buxom collie wrapped the towel around herself. "Old habits die hard. Besides, a girl should preserve a little bit of modesty," she said, tousling Tom's short brown hair before pulling him to her and kissing him gently on the lips.
Tom blushed as he felt her warm canine form against him. His arms slowly wrapped about her, brushing the towel away, running his hands over her damp back. She sighed softly as they stood in the bathroom swaying back and forth.
"Holly," asked Tom slowly, "I'd like to stay the night. If, that is you don't mind."
There was a short pause as Holly seemed to consider the possibility. As she thought, Tom gently nibbled on the tip of her ear, his confidence continuing to grow as he gently pressed his hips to hers. "No, hon. Not tonight. Bobby Joe comes home early tomorrow and I don't think he'd like it if he found you and me in his bed.
"Oh, I'm not worried about Bobby Joe."
Holly giggled, "Is that so? Sounds like, one night with me was all it took to get you to wanna sweep me off my feet."
"Yeah, and take you away from here. I know I wouldn't mind it," said Tom whispering softly as he slowly nuzzled her neck.
Holly's eyes slowly shut as she tilted her head, "Oh hon, listen here now. You're eighteen and I'm married. Yeah, Bobby isn't the greatest guy in the world. Probably cheats on me and I know he drinks more than he should. But, he is my husband and he does put food on the table and pays the rent for this here place."
Tom sighed with some disappointment as he pulled away from her soft form. He didn't say anything but just looked down to a spot in the bath tub that had started to rust. Holly caressed the tiger's chest gently as he continued to stare off into nothing. "Hon, you know if I had to do it all over again, I'd probably pick you or someone like you. Now, I may be a married woman, but that doesn't mean I can't still have my fun. Or you yours, right?"
Tom blinked, his gaze that was fixated on that one spot shifting to Holly's lovingly sculpted features as he looked at her he started to say something but was cut off by the curvy collie. "After all sugar, Bobby Joe is gone for long periods of time driving those pigs and all up to the city stockyards. Sometimes, he's gone for weeks though I can't imagine it should take that long for him to get there and back. When he's gone hon, well, on those long trips you can stay here, if you want."
"That would be nice," Tom sighed as he went for his clothes and started to dress, "But, maybe you're right, maybe I should go home tonight."
"Change of heart?"
"No," he paused and looked to her, "You never did ask me where the bruises on my stomach came from."
"I didn't want to pry."
"My stepfather is," he paused briefly trying to find the right words, "He's a mean son of a bitch."
"I know Doug. We all do and I sorta remember your dad," Holly measured her words carefully, "You look more like him then you do your actual pa."
Tom could feel his face contort and his heart begin to pound in anger. He clenched his hand but left it as his side and muttered quietly, "My actual dad was a good man. He was a shepherd turned diner owner. He didn't drink, came home on time, and really was just the opposite of-," Tom zipped up his pants and looked at her with a sigh, "Yeah I probably should get home, if only for mom's sake."
Holly looked down and said quietly, "Okay sugar. I'll see you soon okay? "
Tom nodded and sighed kissing her one last time. It was passionless.
It wasn't summer but, the heat and humidity of the night air clung to Tom's clothing as he walked down the dark road back home. He whistled quietly to himself as he mulled over the night's events. While not all of them had gone exactly as he'd hoped, it had been a nice night, up until the end. He allowed himself to smile and figured she didn't know any better, but now she did. His smile broadened as he thought back to Holly's gorgeous curves and her own soft smile. One day, he'd be the one to treat her right. All he needed was enough time to pry her away from a man who didn't understand her needs.
"Her needs," Tom muttered to himself, his smile quickly twisting back into a scowl. His mother had mentioned her needs when she'd married a tiger named Doug Glenville. Doug was the local ice man and had a steady job, qualities that Tom supposed help put some food on the table even though his mom worked at his father's old diner now owned by a guy named Clancy. Even if it had meant more money, Doug was a bastard. He drank, slapped her and his siblings around with whatever he could get his hands on them, for any real or perceived injustice. Tom had had many bruises and cuts from his fake father until he'd started fighting back the past year. The last time he knocked out two of Doug's teeth.
For the past two weeks Doug brooded. He hadn't said much or done much except deliver ice and drink bathtub gin while staring out from the front porch. The older tiger was planning something, Tom knew it. Whatever it was though, the young tiger figured he could handle it and if he had to, he'd leave him toothless.
Tom smirked to himself as he thought about his toothless stepfather as his home came into view, the broken down De Soto rusting in front of it. The white washed wood house appeared gray in the moonlight as he approached it. As he did so he tried to figure out what would be the easiest way to sneak into the home without anyone knowing. Yet, as he approached the house a feeling of nervousness began to overtake him stopping him in his tracks.
As Tom stared at his home, he noticed that the air, which had once been heavy with the promise of spring, now felt cold. The sweetness of the honeysuckles that hung in the air had dissipated. His sweat turned cold and the smirk that had just briefly touched his lips was gone. Something was wrong.
The youth slowly approached the house trying to make as little noise as he could. Each step seemed to take an eternity. By the time he'd reached the front door he was holding his breath. In his mind's eye he could see it, the old son of a bitch waiting with a belt or worse. No matter how he got into the house he was going to make a noise and catch the beating that followed.
Slowly, Tom turned the doorknob and pushed it open. As it creaked, the moonlight slowly filled a vacant living room. Tom swallowed hard as he stepped through the doorway. He should have felt relieved not to see the old tiger waiting for him and yet, he felt worse. His stomach twisted into a ball as he crossed through the living room to the bedroom he shared with his five siblings. His hand clenched the doorknob tightly twisting it to the left and pushing on it. It wouldn't budge.
As he pushed on the door again and again, moving it an inch at a time, Tom stared down the hall to his mom and stepdad's room. His eyes widened in panic as he stared into the dark abyss waiting to hear the sound, waiting to hear anything other than his own heart pound as he continued to push against whatever it was that was blocking the door.
With one final shove Tom fell through the door and into a cold puddle that had collected on the planks under his chest and arm. "Damn it Jonny," Tom muttered, "If you were gonna make a mess why tonight?" Yet as soon as he'd said it he knew that wasn't right.
Blindly, the youth crossed the room toward the window and pulled the shade as it flapped moonlight spilled into the room Tom looked at his arm and shirt and saw he was covered in blood. Tom's heart stopped.
As he turned to face his sibling, his eyes widened as he gasped, tears welling up in his eyes. In the dim moonlight, he saw the faces or parts of Jonny, Sandy, Jack, Richard, and Karen. Their dead eyes and frozen expressions of fear gazed back coldly in the blood drenched bedroom.
"Mom," whimpered the teenager crossing through the carnage back into the dark hallway. He repeated it again calling out to her louder. Silence was the only reply. As he rushed to the bedroom and pushed the door open, two figures lay in bed very still.
"Mom," Tom called out choking on his sorrow, again silence being the only answer. He rushed to the bedside and opened the nightstand, searching blindly for the matches for and lighting the small oil lamp that sat on it.
As soon as the faint light filled the room, Tom wished it hadn't. Lying in the bed next to the lamp was his mother body. Most of her face gone from a shotgun blast was now smeared on the back wall while the body of his stepfather sat upright his shot gun in his lap the top of his s head missing from its blast in his hand a blood spattered note.
The next two hours were a blur to the teenager. He remembered running to Sheriff Dungy's home. The next thing he knew he was sitting in an empty cell in the town's jail curled up on the floor staring at the front door still covered in his family's blood and his own tears.
The front door opened as Sheriff Dungy's heavy footsteps thumped across the floor to the cell. The gray basset hound who weighed close to three hundred looked down at the boy seemingly unsure what to say for a moment before finally saying, "I'm sorry son. I don't know where else to put you right now. It's, Christ, I've never seen anything like this."
Tom said nothing and stared straight ahead until the Sheriff knelt next to the cell door, "You're not in any trouble. You know that right?" Not getting an answer the Dungy continued, "Your alibi even checks out. Though I can't say the rumor mill will keep that a secret for too much longer."
Tom sighed and shuddered all at the same time remembering the look Holly had given him as she told the Sheriff where Tom had been and what they had been doing. It was a look of both pity and regret, though Tom couldn't tell if any of it was really for him and more the beating she was likely to take from Bobby Joe once he'd heard of it and walked out quietly.
Sheriff Dungy leaned in, "Pardon?"
"In his hand... my... Doug... he had a note... what did it say?"
Dungy's droopy face frowned even more, "Son, I don't think you want to read that."
"Yes... I ... I have to know. What did it say?"
"You don't really want to know."
"Please," whispered the tiger.
Reaching into his pocket the old sheriff pulled out the note and opened it before putting his glasses on with a sigh, "Alright, but I warn you, you're not going to like it."
Tom didn't say anything but nodded. Dungy cleared his throat and began to read, "You think that that old soda jerk, that weakling you called papa, the one your mama was married to before me was your daddy? Not a chance. I'm the only dad you ever had. Nobody hits dad and doesn't get punished. How's it feel boy? Can't hit me back now can you? I'll see you in Hell. Dad."
Finally Tom knew the thing he didn't want to admit for all those years. He never looked a thing like his father the shepherd and barely like his mother. The truth, the horror, everything hit home at once. As the Sheriff read the last words Tom began to bawl.
Sheriff Dungy opened the door to the cell and put his arms around the teenager. As Tom cried, he clutched the sheriff tightly as everything slipped away into the darkness. "I don't know why he did what he did to you. You don't deserve this. We'll figure something out."
It was Sunday morning and Tom looked up and down the Main Street of Middleville in the purple and orange light. He sighed quietly to himself. There wasn't a soul around. There was nothing for him here anymore. No family, no girl, no real friends either, not now.
With a hole in his heart, Tom stuck out his thumb and slowly walked down the street. Even with it as vacant as it was, he felt as if the town was watching his every move like a barn cat watching a mouse that it wasn't as interested in keeping as it was interested in it not disturbing it any further. As he slipped out of town Tom couldn't help but wonder what awaited him.
Whatever it was it had to be better than this.