“Travis,” Hunch says, clapping a hand on my shoulder, “come have lunch with me, would you?”
I try to give him a skeptical look, but he’s walking ahead of me, so it’s kind of difficult. “Look, Gene, I appreciate you checking in on me, but honestly my mental health is not that precarious right now, and I don’t need a babysitter.”
He throws a glance over his shoulder. He looks confused. Shit. What have I done now?
“You, uh,” I say, “you heard about what happened?”
“No,” he says, slowly, “what happened?”
I shrug. “Nothing.”
He looks like he’s about to say something about it, but changes his mind, turning back around and heading towards the cafeteria again. “Okay. No, I didn’t want to talk to you about ‘what happened’, I wanted to ask your advice on something.”
“Oh,” I say, and wonder if this is really the best time for him to be asking my advice, “alright. That’s alright.”
The cafeteria is full of dogs.
Hunch glances at me. “Unless you wanted to go out for lunch? My treat.”
I shake my head. “No, I don’t really want to be away that long. I have a lot of, like, paperwork and stuff to catch up on. You know.”
God, I can’t even sound convincing when I’m telling the truth.
“Okay,” he says again, and heads over to pick out some food, “you want to share some onion rings? Or mozzarella sticks, if you want.”
I shrug. “Onion rings are good.”
“Great!” He grins at me. “If I only get half a terrible fried appetizer I can have half a terrible sugary dessert, too.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s not how eating healthy works,” I tell him, but I had pie for breakfast, so I’m not really one to talk about nutritious dietary selections.
“Uh-huh,” he says, “did you want to split a cheesecake or a tiramisu?”
“Cheesecake,” I say, without thinking, because, again, I’m not one to talk about nutrition. I am one to talk about a good cheesecake, though, just try and stop me.
Anyway, the point is, our lunch selections are in no way healthy, and I’m probably going to feel sick later from eating junk food all day. Maybe I can have a vegetable for dinner.
“So,” he says, “you know about the kid?”
“You’re asking me for parenting advice?” I ask him.
“A little bit,” he says.
“You’re barking up the wrong tree,” I say. Okay, all these dogs are influencing my speech patterns. This is…all I can think of is ruff, goddamnit. (Life’s a bitch.)
He laughs. It takes a minute to work out that it’s not because of puns. “I mean, it’s not in the strictest sense of – you know I’ve raised three babies before, right?”
“Right,” I say. “What were you asking?”
“You know the kid,” he repeats.
I pick at the onion rings. “By ‘the kid’ do you mean the new baby or Lee?”
Hunch waves a hand. “Both. You know, I’m just introducing the situation, so you have context for my actual question.”
“Okay,” I say, “shoot.”
“Should we get a dog?” he asks.
I blink at him. Then I look around the room. Then I look back at Hunch. I have to wonder whether I heard a different question than he asked. Or whether he’s just as influenced as I am by the dog thoughts. Such pervasive thoughts. What good thoughts, yes they are.
I want to pet every single dog, I swear.
Anyway, because I’m a professional…
“A dog?” I ask.
Hunch nods. “Should we get a dog for Lee?”
I sort of half shrug and make a non-committal noise. “I guess?”
Hunch rolls his eyes. “So the therapist is convinced he’s going to have trouble adjusting, and you know, he’s been a little bit annoyed about it, but I think it’s mostly he doesn’t like how much talking we’re doing about baby things, not that he’s jealous or anything, but she thinks he’ll have an easier time of it if we can get him something of his own to take care of. Hence, the dog.”
“Oh,” I say. “I mean, that sounds reasonable. What do I have to do with it?”
“I mean, you talk to him sometimes, right?” Hunch asks. “Has he been jealous? Does he feel left out? Would a dog actually help?”
“I don’t,” I say, “he doesn’t talk about anything personal really? Mostly he sends me facts about reptiles. It’s not like he complains about you or anything.”
“Reptiles?” Hunch says.
“Reptiles,” I agree, “the kid’s huge into reptiles.”
“He hasn’t said anything,” Hunch says. “He doesn’t even bring up animals unless Mel does.”
“I don’t know what to tell you,” I say, “this has been a thing for at least a couple years now. I mean, he hardly ever talks about aliens to me, so what do I know. Maybe he thinks I like reptiles?”
“So you think we should get him a snake,” Hunch says.
I stare blankly. “I have no idea where you got that out of what I said.”
Hunch nods. “No, that makes sense. If he likes reptiles, needs a sense of purpose, we can get him a snake. I’ll need to find, uh, someone else to recommend snakes to me, though.”
Oh. I look around. He was planning to interrogate people about their dogs. Well, today’s a good day to do it if you’re going to.
“No emails about the baby?” Hunch asks.
I shake my head. “Like I said, they’re not usually personal? I mean, he sent me an essay he wrote, because the teacher ‘is bad at essays’ and didn’t like it, but that’s about all lately.”
“Was it any good?” Hunch asks.
“It was fine,” I say. “I think some of the teacher’s comments were fair, and some of them weren’t, I don’t know, typical school stuff, really.”
“Lee won’t let us help with homework anymore,” Hunch says, with, what is that, nostalgia? He’s not going to tell me kids grow up so fast next – “A pet might help him with that independence, anyway.”
“Okay,” I say. “Not that it’s probably relevant, and it’s waned a little in frequency, but he really likes sharks, still.”
“Travis, I am not getting my child a shark,” Hunch says. “Where would it even live?”